The Silent Horse
By M. Zephyr
Disclaimer: Ranma 1/2 is a trademark of Rumiko Takahashi and VIZ Communications, and its characters have been borrowed without permission. This story was written for non-commercial purposes only.
Ranma x Akane. Ranma is traumatized upon his initial arrival in Nerima, leaving him mute. Alternate universe story.
Chapter 13. Okonomiyaki Fiancée
Ukyo and Genma felt confident that they had finally tracked down Ranma's whereabouts. Thanks to a chance encounter, they now knew that he was a student at Furinkan High School. Classes for the Fall were due to start the very next day, which meant that it would be easy to find him. In a voice filled with menace, Ukyo had just declared, "Tomorrow morning I will know where to find you, Ranma Saotome."
Upon hearing this, Genma looked at his traveling companion with sudden concern. "You know, boy, I don't believe you've ever mentioned why you're looking for my son Ranma."
"Haven't I?" Ukyo asked cheerfully as she unfolded the portable grill she carried. She mixed ingredients and poured batter on the grill, smiling grimly as Genma forgot his question, being too busy salivating over the enticing aroma wafting up to his nose. When the okonomiyaki were done, Ukyo flipped them up off the grill. Genma snagged them out of midair and quickly gobbled them down.
As the man fed his face and was thus distracted, Ukyo came up behind him while pulling out her massive battle spatula. Since Genma was a highly skilled martial artist, despite Ranma's tendency to deride him as a fool in other matters, he was not caught completely unawares. He sensed the blow to his head coming in time to ride it slightly, and therefore was merely stunned rather than unconscious when he fell to the sidewalk.
"What ... what are you doing, boy?" Genma asked thickly. He was barely able to hold himself up on his hands and knees.
The voice above him hissed. "The name is Ukyo Kuonji, you fat fool. The one you left behind." The spatula came down again, driving Genma to the ground. Several smaller spatulas sliced into his gi, pinning him down. Ukyo lifted the massive blade again, this time to make a final strike.
Genma looked up in fear, recognizing the name and wondering if his death was at hand. Ukyo herself was unsure in that moment whether she truly meant to kill him, or just maim him severely. However, she had no chance for either, as a voice of authority commanded, "Freeze!" Ukyo turned to see a policeman advancing rapidly. She growled in frustration, but wheels inside of her head were already turning.
"What's this all about?" the policeman demanded as he arrived at the scene.
Ukyo managed to produce some moisture in her eyes, and allowed her chin to quiver just a little. "I'm a wandering okonomiyaki chef. I'm a poor girl who has to send all of the money I make to support my invalid father." Well, sort of, she thought to herself, even if it is the sake that incapacitates the old man.
Going on for the police officer's benefit, Ukyo complained, "I was starting to cook some okonomiyaki here, when this man came up and stole some! He ... he started eating it. Without paying! Then he told me to hand over all of my money or he'd beat me up!"
The policeman frowned. Genma tried to protest, his head still dizzy. "That's a ... a lie. I'm inno-innocent."
"Luckily," Ukyo stated proudly, "I'm a martial artist. I was able to defend myself. I bet if you check his background, you'll find he's done this sort of thing before."
On the ground, Genma paled. The policeman was already pulling out his radio. As he did so, he asked sternly, "What's your name, sir?"
Genma just stared at him, but Ukyo answered, "He said his name was Genma Saotome. He acted like his name should scare me."
The policeman nodded, then gave a brief summary of the information he wanted together with this name. After a couple of minutes, the voice from the radio started speaking, at length. At great length. The officer's expression grew ever more grim as the list of past petty crimes went on.
A few minutes later a couple of other police officers appeared on the scene, to help bring in the suspect. After all, the rap sheet indicated that he had a reputation as a highly skilled martial artist. They made sure to handcuff his wrists and shackle his ankles before pulling the spatulas out of the ground so that Genma could rise.
"You're not going to get away with this, Kuonji," Genma growled. Ukyo just waved merrily as they led the man away.
"Now then," Ukyo smiled evilly as she spoke to herself. "Furinkan High School, tomorrow morning. Ranma Saotome, at last we shall meet again!" She laughed. It wasn't a pleasant sound.
On the first day of the new school term, Akane and Ranma ran to school together, along the tops of the fences. Not that this protected Ranma from getting splashed, but he didn't let his change of gender slow him down. They were both smiling, and occasionally making gestures with their hands, although Ranma had to look back over his shoulder to watch Akane's hands. Anyone who was present and could understand sign language would know that they were making plans for a date on the upcoming Friday night.
They ran through the schoolyard without incident, the hordes of boys who used to attack Akane a distant memory. Even Tatewaki Kuno had peacefully gone to his own classroom, keeping his word to leave the two first year students in peace. On arriving at their own room, they slid into desks beside one another.
At this point, Akane started to feel a touch apprehensive, although she kept the smile on her face. Nabiki, Yuka and Sayuri all knew by now that she and Ranma were officially dating, so it was a given that the word was already spreading to everyone else at school. She wondered how long it would be before other girls approached her, asking questions, wanting details. Akane saw a couple of her classmates turn their regard on her, lips and eyebrows turned up to indicate both amusement and inquisitiveness.
Luckily the bell rang before anyone had a chance to say anything, granting a reprieve until the next break between classes, at least. The teacher entered the room, causing all of the students to rise swiftly to their feet, bowing and greeting him. A boy followed behind the teacher, carrying something. He was wearing an unusual uniform, with a bandolier containing many small spatulas.
The teacher returned his pupils' greeting and then said, "Class, I'd like to introduce a new student ..."
This student set down the object being carried, revealing a portable grill. Slapping batter onto it, a delicious aroma immediately spread through the room. The young chef, dressed to appear as a male, introduced herself. "My name's Ukyo Kuonji. My hobby is okonomiyaki."
Lifting the cooked pie from the grill, she threw it at Ranma, who caught it reflexively. "Ranma! It's been a long time!"
A buzz quickly filled the room, voices whispering to one another, "Does he know Ranma?"
Akane looked over at Ranma, asking quizzically, "Another challenger from your past?"
Ranma shrugged, not recognizing the name. Looking down at what was in his hands, he saw a lopsided face scrawled in sauce on the okonomiyaki. For some reason, this awoke a feeling within him, something strangely familiar. Chasing after the memory, he finally had it. It was the face in the sauce that was the trigger. Standing up, he pointed happily at Ukyo.
The chef shouted, "For ten years I've hunted you!" Grabbing several small, and very sharp spatulas, she flung them at Ranma. Still beaming, he dodged them all, leaping to the front of the room. He grabbed Ukyo's upper arm with one hand, and punched the seeming boy lightly in the shoulder with the other. Ukyo tried to pull away, stumbling slightly as Ranma released her.
Turning back to Akane, Ranma started making rapid gestures. Akane translated for the benefit of the rest of the class. "This is ... Ucchan. He and I were childhood friends, when we were six. Every day he and I would fight. When I won, which I usually did, I would get free okonomiyaki."
Akane paused to ask, "Isn't that stealing?"
Ranma shook his head. Akane sighed and interpreted his continuing signs. "No. We were friends. He'd draw faces in the sauce. Every day he'd have a hot okonomiyaki waiting for me."
"What the hell is going on here?" Ukyo yelled. The teacher wandered over and sat in a chair, putting his head down into his hands.
Daisuke spoke up. "What do you mean, 'What's going on?' You're the one throwing things around. One of your spatulas is stuck in my desk! Ranma's just telling us about how the two of you used to be friends."
Ukyo's voice hissed and she pointed. "Ranma's not telling it, she is!" The chef turned to Akane. "Who are you? And how do you know about all of this?"
Put on the spot, Akane answered, "I'm Akane Tendo. Ranma's my ... um, er ... friend." She winced as she saw amused smiles on most of the faces in the room. "Ranma can't speak, but we've both learned sign language. He is telling the story, with the signs his hands are making. I'm just interpreting for everyone."
Ukyo turned to Ranma. "He can't talk?"
Ranma's mouth formed a crooked smile. He tilted his head to the side and shrugged his shoulders.
Ukyo turned back to Akane. "Since when?"
Akane responded, "It, er, happened in a fight. Back in May. We're still hoping ... but it's been a long time now."
Ukyo shook herself visibly, tossing aside any sympathy this revelation might arouse. "Whatever. That doesn't matter right now!"
Ranma made some more gestures and Akane relayed, "It's great to see you again, Ucchan. I was really sad the day I left you."
Ukyo lifted her massive spatula, shouting in Akane's direction, "How dare you?!" Then she had to swivel from Akane to Ranma, as if it took a moment to remember the one she was actually mad at. She tried to flatten Ranma, who sidestepped the blow easily.
"Hey! What's your problem?" demanded Akane. At Ranma's hand motions, she added, "And, uh, Ranma wants to know the same thing."
In a harsh, clipped voice, Ukyo inquired, "Do you remember anything about the day you left?"
Akane translated some more. "I remember you running down the road after my father and me. But we left you behind."
"And what were you riding on?" Ukyo asked in brittle tones.
Ranma put a hand on his chin and thought. Then his eyes widened and he held a finger in the air. Gesturing some more, Akane told everyone, "I remember! I was riding on your okonomiyaki cart. Why did we have ...?"
Akane broke off her translation, fixing Ranma with a mild glare. "Do you mean to say that you and your father stole their cart?"
Ranma held his hands out to the side, looking baffled. Making a few more signs, Akane sighed and translated, "I only just remembered! I was only six years old! I didn't know my father stole the cart!"
Akane turned to regard Ukyo and reluctantly stated, "He has a point, you know. You can't really blame Ranma for something his father did when he was only six."
Ukyo ground out through clenched teeth. "We had a deal. You were supposed to take me with you. You broke your promise and left me behind."
Akane looked at Ranma, who shrugged again, making it clear that he knew nothing about any promise or deal. She decided to voice her own opinion. "I've, uh, heard a lot about the things that Ranma's father did to him over the years. Even if they did break some promise by leaving you behind, you were probably better off. I mean, he might have put you through the same stupid things that he did to Ranma."
Ranma nodded his head, and tried to pat Ukyo on the back. She knocked his hand away, then grilled up another okonomiyaki and threw it at him. "Ranma Saotome, I have a special recipe I have prepared for my revenge upon you. Prepare yourself!" With that, she stormed out of the classroom.
Looking over Ranma's shoulder, Akane read out loud the message printed in sauce. "Meet you at the field behind the gym after school." Looking up into Ranma's eyes, she stated the obvious. "It's a challenge!"
Ranma nodded, eyes troubled. He was unable to figure out why his old pal Ucchan was so upset.
Ukyo spent the rest of the school day in frantic preparations, preparations which she had begun before the first bell even rung. In response to a phone call the previous day, a truck had pulled up to the school grounds at dawn and dropped off several crates. Years of daydreaming were about to culminate in a too long delayed revenge.
When Ranma and the other students arrived behind the gym after school, they found a strange sort of ring set up. There was a square of canvas in the center, as expected, but between that and the ropes appeared to be a surface of metal. Ranma leaped up onto one of the posts, wondering again why Ucchan wanted this fight. When the chef turned around to glare at him, Ranma flew a paper airplane in her direction.
Ukyo unfolded the paper to read, "Ucchan - Why are you so mad at me? Why can't we be friends like before? I'm sorry if my pop stole that cart, but I didn't know anything about it."
Ukyo growled. She swung her spatula at Ranma, but he leaped over it. "How dare you call yourself a friend? And stop calling me Ucchan!"
Ranma shrugged, seeing that there was clearly no help for it. He set himself in an obvious stance to indicate that he was ready to fight. Ukyo sneered and hefted her spatula. With a cry of "Take this!" she came in swinging.
Over the course of the next several minutes, Ukyo's dreams of revenge turned into a nightmare. Oh, there were small, inconsequential victories. Ranma burned his hand upon discovering that the metal surface was a giant hot plate. She locked him in place temporarily with glue and rubber noodles. She seared him slightly with tempura flakes mixed with gunpowder. But none of it actually stopped him.
Ten years of training. Ten years of dreaming about revenge. Years of planning. Now they were at the moment, but Ranma was still moving, barely slowed down. He was climbing to his feet again, a little singed but still in one piece. As Ranma tore the rubber noodles from his body, Ukyo saw that one thing had changed. Her opponent was no longer smiling.
Before Ukyo could comprehend what was happening, Ranma had flung some of the rubber ropes around her, pinning her arms to her sides. With a casual yank, he pulled her from her feet, tossing her far out of the ring over the heads of the spectators. Ranma leaped after her. Akane jumped after Ranma, right behind him.
A short distance from the school, three figures ran along the top of a fence. Ukyo in the lead was wondering how it had gone so wrong, trying to figure out how she was to get her revenge now. Ranma, running behind her, was wondering why his old pal Ucchan was behaving like a sissy, running away from a man-to-man fight. Akane was just wondering why Ukyo wanted to fight, and how Ranma always got into these situations.
Ukyo saw that they were circling back toward the school, and realized that she wasn't getting away. Making up her mind, she suddenly spun to attack, brandishing her battle spatula. Once again Ranma easily dodged the blow, grabbing the spatula's handle behind the blade, and driving his heel into Ukyo's gut.
Taking the spatula away, Ranma swung back around with it, cutting through the front of Ukyo's shirt and the chest bindings underneath. He even managed to slice the ribbon in her hair, causing the locks to break free and hang loose around her head. Ukyo backed away as Ranma crumpled the spatula into scrap metal, struggling to hold her shirt closed so as not to expose herself. Unable to hold her shirt and fight at the same time, she dodged a kick from Ranma and tried to run away again.
Except that when she turned around, she found Akane blocking the way. The latter had taken the time to dodge around Ranma and Ukyo while they fought, in order to pin Ukyo in the middle so that the "boy" couldn't escape without providing a more detailed explanation.
Well, if you can't move forward or backward ... Ukyo sprung to the side, landing lightly on the roof of the P.E. equipment room. Ranma and Akane jumped after her, but the weight of the three of them turned out to be too much for the aging roof of the shed. It collapsed beneath them, dumping all three into a bin full of basketballs and volleyballs.
Ukyo jumped up to try to get away, but Akane threw her arms around the chef. Ukyo froze in shock, and after a moment, Akane realized that she had two handfuls of breasts. She gave a startled "Eep!" and flung her arms out to the sides, backing away. Ranma, unable to believe what he thought he had seen, reached out and pulled the sides of Ukyo's shirt apart. She shrieked, and Ranma found himself tumbling backward courtesy of a mighty slap.
"You ... you're a girl?" Akane asked, breathlessly. Inwardly she was cringing at the way she had grabbed another girl's chest. Why hadn't Ranma warned her that his childhood friend was a girl? Wait. Hadn't Ranma used masculine pronouns for her?
Ranma handed Ukyo a sheet of paper. On reading it, Ukyo looked up and yelled, "What do you mean, 'How long have I been a girl?' What kind of stupid question is that?"
Ranma held his hands up and out, as if to suggest it didn't seem that stupid to him. Looking back and forth between them, Akane realized that Ranma really did expect Ukyo to be a boy. Suddenly wondering if yet another old friend of Ranma's had stupidly followed him to Jusenkyo, Akane went over to a sink and filled a pail with hot water. She came back and dumped it over Ukyo's head.
Spluttering in anger, Ukyo shouted, "What's the big idea?!" She kicked at Akane, who easily leaped above it, spreading her legs to either side of Ukyo's kick.
Akane's face was turning red as she landed back on her feet. "Um ... just thought that maybe you would change back to a boy with hot water." Coming up to stand beside Akane, Ranma nodded his agreement to this notion.
Ukyo's fists clenched as she stared at them both incredulously. "Does the sight of cleavage make you both insane?!"
"So ... you were always a girl?" Akane asked. "It's just ... Ranma seemed to think you were a boy back when you were both six."
Ukyo crossed her arms. Angrily she stated, "And just how the hell could our fathers have engaged us to one another if I was a boy?"
Akane turned slowly toward Ranma. "Engaged?" she asked quietly. To Ranma, the pain underneath the question was clearly audible. He started shaking his head back and forth in wild panic. His hands signed that he hadn't known anything about it, that he had thought Ukyo was a boy.
"Yes, engaged," Ukyo responded bitterly. "My father gave Ranma's dad our yattai as a dowry, in exchange for the two of us being engaged to marry, and Saotome's agreement to take me with them when they left. But instead they ran off and left me."
She scowled at Ranma. "On that day, my life as a woman came to an end. I devoted myself to revenge. For ten years I've trained so that I could have my vengeance when I found Ranma Saotome."
"Don't you think that maybe you went a little overboard?" Akane suggested. Besides ..." She sighed. "I think Ranma's telling the truth when he says he didn't know about it. That he always thought you were a boy."
Ranma's hands were gesturing again. Akane obligingly interpreted. "Besides, how could my father have promised I would marry you, Ucchan? He had already made an agreement for my engagement with ..." Akane broke off, blushing again and dropping her eyes. Her voice hissed, "I thought we had agreed never to bring that up again?" Ranma made a sign of apology to the girl he hoped was still his girlfriend when this dust settled.
Ranma's words were awakening old memories in Ukyo. "Huh. Yeah, my dad told me that Saotome said there was a previous agreement. He decided to ignore it when my father offered the yattai as a dowry. I believe his exact words were something about promises being meant to be broken. At least he was consistent, since he turned right around and broke his promise to my father."
Ukyo turned to stare at the other girl. "Wait a minute! Just what was Ranma about to say, er, gesture, whatever? What wasn't he supposed to bring up about an engagement?" Her head swiveled back and forth. "What's really going on here? Why are you two together?"
Akane felt a twinge of panic now herself, and hoped that the rosy hue of her cheeks wasn't too apparent in the dim light of the equipment shed. Of course, it wasn't that dim, what with the big hole in the roof. "Er ... Ranma's father and mine had made an agreement. That Ranma would marry me. Um, I mean, me or one of my sisters. Except that my father has decided not to insist on it. No one's being forced to marry anyone."
Ranma was trying hard to think of some way to deal with this situation. He felt sorry for Ukyo, but ... what could he do? He wasn't going to let her kill him. He wasn't going to marry her. He couldn't go back in time and stop his pop from making that promise, stealing the cart, or leaving Ukyo behind. He felt helpless, a feeling he did not at all care for.
Ukyo clutched her shirt and watched warily as Ranma stepped forward, stopping a meter in front of her. He bowed deeply. He turned and caught Akane's eye, then turned back and started making those gestures with his hands again. Speaking in sign language, Ukyo now recognized.
Akane began speaking, letting Ukyo know what Ranma was saying. "Ucchan ... Ukyo, I'm sorry. I'm very sorry for what my father did to you. I don't know what else to do, except to apologize. I wish that I could make it up to you somehow. Is there anything I can do? Any way that you'll forgive me?"
Ukyo got a gleam in her eye. "Yes," she replied sweetly. "You can ... hold still!" Her foot lashed out in a kick, trying to take Ranma's head off. However, he ducked under it, and also dodged her followup punches.
As she lashed out futilely, Ukyo was shouting. "When you abandoned me, you made it impossible for me to ever again embrace my own femininity! Since that dark day, I've sworn that I will never love another man!"
Tired of dodging, especially since Ukyo didn't seem to be tiring, Ranma thought of something else to try. Without warning, Ranma was in Ukyo's face, and she screamed and closed her eyes as she saw his fist coming at her, too late to block or dodge it. A few seconds later, still unharmed, Ukyo cracked open one eye to see a piece of paper being held up in front of her.
She opened her other eye, took the paper and read, "Seems like a waste. You're a pretty cute girl, when you don't pretend to be a boy. Too bad you'll never let any guy see it."
The paper slipped from nerveless fingers as Ukyo stared blankly into the distance, muttering, "Cyuh ... cyuh ... cyuh ..."
While Ukyo gave her impression of a scratched record, Akane reached down and picked up the sheet of paper. After reading it, she turned to regard Ranma with a lifted eyebrow and a medium intensity glare. "Ranmaaa ..." Akane's voice carried a low growl that brought Ranma up on his toes, sensing danger. "You're not supposed to notice that other girls are cute. At least, you're not supposed to say so!"
Ukyo found her tongue again, and went into immediate denial. Turning her face to the side, blushing, her hand shot out to shove Ranma away. For the first time he failed to dodge her, landing hard on his posterior. Ukyo proclaimed, "You're lying! I'm not cute! No one would want me!"
Ranma made a quick sign from his position on the floor. Akane felt obliged to translate. "Ranma says that you're wrong." With a sigh, Akane added her own opinion. "He's right, you know. Once you stop acting like a boy, you make a very nice girl. There's no reason to give up on guys completely just because you were disappointed once."
Ukyo stood there, dumbfounded, unsure what to say or even what to think. For ten years, her life had revolved around thoughts of revenge. She had been convinced that she would never marry, that Ranma had left her because she wasn't pretty enough or attractive enough. Now Ranma had told her that she was cute, and this other girl had even confirmed it. Her dreams of revenge had been shattered. She was unable to land a blow on Ranma, let alone do all of the damage she had planned. What was left to her?
She looked at Ranma, who had climbed back to his feet and was looking back at her, concern clear in his eyes. He was obviously a superb martial artist, strong, handsome ... He cared about her. He thought she was cute. He thought it was a waste for her to give up on love.
She was unable to obtain her revenge.
So what about carrying out the engagement instead?
After all, both Ranma and this Akane admitted that the original engagement between themselves had been called off. If Ranma were to marry herself, then there would be no need for revenge. It would certainly show up those girls in her hometown who had whispered that Ukyo would never get a man. The fact that Ranma, Ranchan, was such an appealing specimen was icing on the cake. Really, it seemed just about perfect!
"Okay, Ranchan." Ukyo essayed a small smile, and was pleased to see Ranma return the smile. "I'll forgive you for running out on me." She walked over and opened the door, stepping through it. She turned back and gave him a large, sunny smile. "I'll go and start making plans, shall I? Now that our engagement is back on, there's just so much to do!" The door shut behind her.
Akane and Ranma stared at the closed door for several seconds, before Akane shouted, "What?!" Ranma leaped for the door, but tripped over a volleyball. He crashed to the floor, dragging the bin full of balls over with him, blocking the door and spilling balls everywhere. Akane shook her head in disgust and jumped through the hole in the roof. Unfortunately, Ukyo was nowhere in sight.
‹So much to do,› Ukyo was thinking to herself. ‹We'll need someplace to live. Wandering around with a portable grill just won't do. I'll call father's friends right away, see if they can help me find a suitable restaurant to take over. Something with an attached apartment.›
Her mind got lost for a moment in a fantasy of being alone with Ranchan in said apartment, before she shook herself free of it. ‹Focus girl. How long an engagement? Not too long.› She couldn't suppress a giggle. ‹But not too short either. Must be proper. I need to find someone to teach me sign language. It wouldn't be right if I couldn't talk to my husband on our wedding night. Oooh!› She saw people turning to stare at her blushing cheeks, and tried again to rein in her thoughts.
‹Now what about ... my father-in-law? Hmmph. Let the jackass rot in jail for the time being. If we let him out too soon, he'll find some way to screw things up. Besides, Ranchan ran away from the old fart. He might prefer to leave his father right where he is.›
Ukyo continued down the street, her steps light, cheerfully making plans.
Akane and Ranma were walking together down a different street from the one Ukyo was on, and they were much less cheerful than the okonomiyaki chef. Akane was not happy with this latest development and she had let Ranma know of her feelings in no uncertain terms. He in turn was trying to think of some way to repair the damage. So far he had resisted his impulse to babble incoherently - insofar as hands can babble. He had remembered his promise to himself to try to think before speaking. The walk home was turning out to be very tense.
Still, Ranma wanted to try to sort this out before they got home. As they were passing the park he reached over and touched his fingertips on Akane's shoulder. She gave him an unhappy look, which he returned with a weak smile, a nod toward the park, and the hand signs for "Follow the leader."
Akane stood rooted to the spot for a moment as Ranma leaped across the street and atop the wall surrounding the park. From there he jumped into one of the trees. Snorting, Akane followed him, jumping onto the wall and into the tree. From there she followed him deeper into the park and higher into the trees. She was a little worried about her skirt given the aerial maneuvers, but for the most part the leaves hid her from sight below.
They ended up near the top of a very tall and leafy tree, completely hidden from the sight of people passing by underneath them, but with a nice view of the taller buildings out beyond the park's boundaries. They sat down beside the trunk on two neighboring branches, their knees nearly touching.
Ranma began signing, slowly. "I'm sorry about Ucchan ... Ukyo. I didn't mean for things to turn out that way. I'll try to find her and explain that she and I are not engaged."
"If she'll listen," Akane remarked bitterly. "She seemed pretty determined. Think about it, she's been obsessing over you for the last ten years. I don't think she's going to simply ... let go."
"It doesn't matter," Ranma signed. "Whether she likes it or not, my father had no right to promise me to her. Even if she won't listen, it doesn't matter. I'm not going to marry anyone I don't want to, no matter what my pop promised. I don't care for Ukyo in that way."
He sighed, then reached out to touch his fingertips gently to the back of Akane's hand, a touch which she permitted. He pulled his hand back and signed, "There's only one girl I feel that way about. You're my friend. My partner. The one who rescued me. The one who held my hand on my first visit to my therapist. The one who gave me the strength to fight my nightmares. The one who held me while I cried."
Akane's eyes were growing moist. Ranma decided he was on the right track, but told himself to be careful. "Ukyo ... she was my friend when we were children. You're my friend now. A lot more than a friend. It would be nice if Ukyo could be my friend again. But not if the price is losing you."
A tear escaped Akane's eye and slid down her cheek, but she was smiling. She reached over and brushed her fingertips along Ranma's cheek. "I don't want to lose you either," she whispered.
Motioning Ranma to stay seated, Akane got up then stepped over to his branch and gently lowered herself until she was sitting in his lap. She put her arms around his neck and leaned her cheek on his shoulder. "Thanks, Ranma. We'll both go see Ukyo. You'll need my help to try to explain to her. We need to try to let her down gently."
They sat that way quietly for a time, feeling peaceful and secluded. A breeze was blowing through the treetops, and the sky gradually darkened. Akane looked up into Ranma's eyes and told him, just a little breathlessly, "I was, um, thinking that, after our date Friday ... Well, after all, we've gone out on several dates now." She licked her lips. "I was thinking that maybe you could, we could ... kiss."
Ranma's eyes widened slightly, and his face took on a hue to match the blush creeping across Akane's face.
Akane's voice dropped to a barely breathed whisper. "If ... if you want to ... we ... uh ... don't have to wait, for Friday."
The tip of Ranma's tongue poked out of his mouth, licking his lips nervously. After a moment, when it was clear that she really meant it, his mouth curved up a small amount, and he gave a tiny nod. His face leaned forward, eyes closing, and Akane allowed her own eyes to close as well. She felt a pair of lips brush over her nose, and her eyes flew open to see Ranma's eyes right in front of hers, looking highly embarrassed. With steely determination, however, he corrected his aim and pressed his lips to hers.
Akane wanted the moment to go on forever, but it only lasted a few seconds. Unable to meet his eyes under the intensity of emotions crashing through her, Akane leaned her cheek against his shoulder again. Her eyes closed, as she replayed the kiss in her mind over and over, wondering how she could deserve to be so lucky.
She felt something wet touch her cheek and her first startled thought was to ask herself why Ranma was crying. As she looked up, another drop struck, and she saw that Ranma was looking up at the sky. Following his gaze, she saw that the growing darkness was not the coming of evening but was instead due to the thick gray clouds which had moved in. Within seconds, sheets of rain were cascading across them, and Akane was now sitting in the lap of a buxom red-haired girl.
"Let's go, Ranma," Akane said happily. Smiling and taking each other's hand, they leaped together from branch to branch down to the ground. From there they sprinted side by side for home.
The next day, Akane and Ranma took Ukyo aside at lunch to try to explain the situation. "Ukyo, I'm afraid you may have gotten the wrong idea yesterday," Akane began. "Ranma doesn't accept either of the engagements his father tried to make for him."
"Akane, isn't it?" Ukyo asked. "You really shouldn't go and try to put words in Ranchan's mouth. I'm sure he'll do the honorable thing and fulfill his father's promise. The fact that your father released him from the other engagement just makes it easier for him."
Ranma shook his head in frustration. Akane told the other girl, "I'm not saying anything Ranma wouldn't say for himself if he could speak. He was trying to be nice to you, not to declare any intention to marry you. The truth is ... he and I ... well, we're sort of ... seeing each other."
Ukyo's eyes narrowed. When she spoke, there was a hissing quality to her voice. "I thought you said your father released you from the engagement."
"He did!" Akane was looking frustrated now too. "But Ranma and I, well, we found we ... like each other. There's no talk of marriage, but ..." She let her voice trail off, hoping the point was made.
"Look, Tendo-san," Ukyo said grimly. "I don't know what your game is, but you better stop trying to get in between Ranchan and me. You heard him, er, saw him. Whatever! He thinks I'm cute! We're engaged. You've admitted that you aren't. He and I are going to get married, and if you keep this up, you're just going to get yourself hurt."
While Akane stared at her open-mouthed, Ukyo turned to Ranma and said, "I'll talk to you later, Ranchan. I have to leave school early to take care of some details about the restaurant I'm going to open. Once I've signed the lease, you and I can move in there together." She turned and swept out of the classroom they were in.
"That didn't go so well," Ranma signed.
On Friday night, Ukyo stormed into the Mexican restaurant where Akane and Ranma were eating. Lightning flashed in her eyes as she brandished her brand new battle spatula. "Listen, you little hussy. I've warned you for the last time. Stay away from my fiancé!"
She swung the spatula down at Akane, who leaped over the blade, allowing it to splinter the chair in which she had been sitting. Ranma jumped up to try to grab the weapon, but had to knock aside several smaller spatulas which were flung in his direction.
"Ranma, this is my fight!" Akane yelled. "Stay out of it!" Turning back to Ukyo, she grated, "You need to open your eyes, Kuonji-san. But in the meantime, what do you say we take this out of here?"
Akane ran for the door with Ukyo following closely behind. Shaking his head miserably, Ranma paid for the half finished meal and gave the manager a piece of paper with a name to contact in regard to the cost of replacing the chair. He was amused to see the manager's face pale upon looking at the paper and seeing the name 'Nabiki Tendo.'
Ranma ran outside and cast his senses around. Jumping up to the roof, he spotted Akane on a roof a couple of buildings over. He quickly joined her. On arriving, he found Ukyo lying against a roof vent, unconscious.
"Any trouble?" Ranma signed. "Did she hurt you?"
Akane shook her head. "No. And I tried not to hurt her. Not more than I had to, anyway. I just wish she'd get a clue."
Once again Akane felt drops landing on her face and arms, and looked up to see rain falling from the sky. Ranma changed forms, and Ukyo started to rouse. "You know," Akane spoke thoughtfully, "we ought to rent you out to farmers. You could go out and stand in their fields whenever they need some rain."
Ukyo blinked open her eyes, figuring out after a few seconds that it was raining. She lifted a hand and gingerly probed the small lump on the side of her head. She gritted her teeth in self loathing. Ten years of training for her revenge, and not only couldn't she take Ranma, she also lost to the girl who was trying to steal him from her.
Ukyo looked up to see an unfamiliar girl standing beside Akane. This confused her considerably, as she wondered what the other girl was doing on the roof with them. "Who are you?" she demanded, in no mood to be polite.
Akane sighed. "I know this is going to be hard to understand, but she's Ranma."
Ukyo snapped, "Cut the crap! She's obviously female! Now who is she?"
Ranma started making signs with his hands which, if Ukyo had understood them, would have said, "It really is me." However, even if she didn't understand the signs, the gestures struck a note of familiarity to the ones she had seen Ranma making for the last few days. The pigtail also brought a sense of recognition. A little more slowly, Ukyo realized that the girl was wearing the same clothes she had seen on Ranma in the restaurant.
"It's ... it's not possible," Ukyo stated, without conviction. "Stop kidding around! What's going on?"
"It really is Ranma," Akane said sympathetically. "He has a curse. Whenever he gets wet, with cold water, he turns into a girl."
Akane shrugged. "It's still true. Hot water changes him back to his real body. He became a girl just before you woke up, when it started raining."
Ukyo didn't want to believe this, but was getting the spooky feeling that they were telling her the truth. "You have to show me," she declared harshly, "and if you're lying ..." Climbing to her feet, Ukyo headed for the edge of the roof. "Follow me. My restaurant is just a couple of blocks from here."
When they arrived at their destination, Akane and Ranma saw that the sign above the door proclaimed the name to be "Ucchan's." Ukyo pulled out a key and let them in. The place seemed to be just about ready to open. The okonomiyaki counter was already in place. Tables and chairs filled the dining area. Ukyo confirmed the appearance by telling them, "The freezer's being hooked up tomorrow morning, and the final deliveries are coming in the afternoon. The grand opening will be on Sunday."
Ukyo led them into the back, where she quickly filled a cup with hot water. She handed it to Ranma and waited expectantly, her stomach writhing nervously inside of her. Seeing no reason to delay, Ranma lifted the cup over his head and poured. Instantly he was male once more. Ukyo reached a hand out to steady herself on the edge of the sink, trying not to faint.
In a voice which sounded to her own ears like it was wandering lost in the woods, Ukyo said, "I ... need to think about this ... Ranchan. I'll ... talk to you ... tomorrow." Not really seeing anything, she walked the other two to the door and let them out.
‹My fiancé turns into a girl!› Ukyo thought to herself. She giggled helplessly. ‹I dress like a boy, and my fiancé turns into a girl!›
On Saturday morning, Ukyo showed up at the Tendo home at breakfast. She said that she needed to convince herself that she hadn't been dreaming the night before. Arming herself with a pitcher and a kettle, she proceeded to change Ranma's gender back and forth several times. He put up with it in a good-natured manner until Ukyo giggled and proclaimed, "This is fun no matter how many times I do it!" Then he stood up and marched off.
Ukyo tried to follow him, but Ranma stopped at the bottom of the stairs and crossed his arms. "So what if you have a curse, Ranchan? I promise that I'll marry you anyway." With a grimace Ranma took her by the arm and led her to the front door. With a huff Ukyo told him, "Well, I have to go anyway. The guy is due to arrive soon about the freezer. But you are going to marry me! You'd better be clear about that!"
She turned and strode away. Ranma stared after her, wondering how he was going to put a stop to this.
When Ryoga came over later that afternoon, Ranma and Akane found they received surprisingly little sympathy from him.
"So, you've got a girl chasing you around, insisting that she's going to marry you?" Ryoga chuckled. "Hell, fair's fair. I've got that crazy gymnast Kodachi chasing me, swearing the same thing. I'll bet your chef doesn't try to use paralysis gas and other drugs on you. Count your blessings."
That night, preparing for bed, Akane stared at her face in the mirror while brushing her hair. There was a knot of worry in the pit of her stomach that wouldn't go away. She told herself that she knew Ranma had no intention of marrying Ukyo, or breaking up with herself, but she couldn't help but feel threatened by the other girl's persistence. No matter how many times Ranma reassured her, it just didn't seem to be enough.
Akane slowly pulled on her pajamas, facing her bed. She smiled as she remembered all of the times that Ranma had slept beside her in that bed. Always as a girl, of course. That triggered the memory of the night they had spent together in the tent, during the training trip. It had been very comforting to sleep beside Ranma that night. She had missed the warm presence of her friend beside her during the night. She thought about how he had been her friend before becoming her boyfriend.
The more Akane reflected on these memories, the more she wished that it were possible to reclaim that comfort. Of course, Kasumi would never permit such an improper arrangement, now that Ranma no longer needed it. On the other hand, a troublemaking little corner of her mind suggested, even Kasumi slept a little bit later on Sunday mornings.
Akane valiantly fought against the temptation. Or at least told herself that she was fighting it. She turned off the light and crawled into bed, then lay there thinking about Ranma in his room just down the hall. It was no use, Akane told herself. She was all wound up, worrying about Ukyo trying to come between her and Ranma. She wanted to be comforted, to be held while she went to sleep. Hesitantly, she slipped back out from under the covers.
Quietly Akane opened her bedroom door and crept down the hall. Opening Ranma's door just as quietly, she slipped inside, then closed the door again. Ranma turned the light on, wondering what it was that Akane wanted.
"Ranma?" Akane whispered. "I was wondering ..." She paused, unsure how to ask for what she wanted. Eventually she asked, "Do you ... remember that night in the tent? When you slept beside me?"
"It was ... I missed that. I miss having you beside me at night. It felt ... nice, to know you were there. I know that you're my ... boyfriend ... now, and we really shouldn't do things like that. But ... I miss having my best girl friend spend the night with me, from time to time."
Ranma looked Akane in the eyes, trying to understand what she wasn't saying in addition to the words she spoke. It wasn't something he was usually very good at, but it wasn't too hard to guess that the situation with Ukyo was worrying her. He raised his hands and signed, "Kasumi and your father won't like it. What if we get caught?"
"I ... yeah ... we'd be taking a chance. But I think we can get away with it. Everyone sleeps later Sunday morning. If you came and left through my window, so nobody heard you in the hall, and made sure to come back here early enough ... I think we'd be okay."
Ranma sat and thought about it for a long time, while Akane chewed her lip nervously. The truth was, he missed those nights too. There wasn't any strong sexual desire to it, aside from the normal undercurrent he was coming to recognize whenever he thought about Akane. He just missed having her there beside him through the night.
‹We're probably going to regret this,› Ranma thought to himself. He smiled at Akane, stood up, and went over to the table where he had a glass of water in case he got thirsty during the night. Akane smiled happily as he lifted it and poured it over his head. She jumped up and went back out into the hall, shutting the door quietly again.
Ranma went over to his window which was already open, since the September night was muggy. He slipped out and leaped up onto the roof. Walking as quietly as he could, he was over Akane's room in seconds. Ranma leaned over the eave to check if her window was open, saw that it was, and swung himself down and inside. Akane smiled at him again, gave him a quick hug, and they climbed into the bed together. Ranma wrapped his arms around Akane, and they settled down to go to sleep.
Down the hall, Kasumi stared at her ceiling and sighed. ‹You two really shouldn't be doing this, little sister. The question is, should I stop it? Or just keep an eye on you?›
With as much stealth as she could possibly manage, Ukyo jumped up onto the sill of the window. She had no intention of actually doing anything with Ranchan, or so she told herself. But she needed to make it clear to him that she was his fiancée. And if that hussy should just happen to walk in on the two of them tomorrow morning, sleeping together in the same futon, well Akane Tendo might get the message as well.
Her eyes quickly adjusted to the only slightly darker interior of the room. Ukyo saw in annoyance that the futon was empty. ‹Is he in the bathroom or something? Guess I'd better check.›
Moving as quietly as possible, Ukyo quickly determined that Ranma wasn't anyplace obvious. She then started checking less obvious places. Confronting a nameplate bearing Akane's name, telling herself that there was just no way, she eased the door open.
There were two figures in the bed. One of them had a pigtail.
Ukyo nearly went supernova on the spot. She was never sure afterward how she managed to contain the blast of emotion which erupted within her. But once she had, she acknowledged to herself that charging into the room screaming wasn't going to do any good. Her Ranchan would just get angry with her in turn, and they'd fight. That wouldn't bring him back to her side.
No, she needed another plan entirely.
Ukyo quietly closed the door, went back to the window in Ranma's room, and jumped to the ground outside. As she jumped over the wall and returned to her restaurant, she was seething. She'd show them! She'd find a way to force Ranma to acknowledge their engagement! Something that would convince him to marry her!
Genma walked down the hall to the visitor's area feeling just a little worried. No one had told him who had come to see him. If it was Ranma, that would be no problem. Ranma had bailed him out of jail before. If his wife had found him ... Genma shuddered, praying that was not the case.
It was infuriating the way the police were dragging their feet over his case. He hadn't even been allowed to speak to a lawyer yet! It wasn't as if any of the alleged crimes for which they were holding him were particularly serious. Genma sighed in resignation. Most likely he, or possibly even the master, had managed to offend one of the officials here at some point in the past.
His eyebrows arched helplessly upward when he walked into the room and saw Ukyo Kuonji sitting at the table. She was wearing her hair loose, except for a ribbon at the back, which made her identity as a girl a little less obscure. Even so, you had to look twice to spot it, given the clothing she favored.
Seating himself, Genma growled, "What are you doing here, Kuonji? Isn't it enough that you got me arrested?"
Ukyo smiled at the lack of a bandanna, displaying the weird ears for everyone to see. However, this was not the time to indulge her amusement. "I have a proposition for you, Saotome-san. Which includes dropping the charges against you."
Genma leaned back, crossing his arms. "I'm listening," he told her, still scowling.
In a lofty tone, Ukyo told the man, "I've located your son Ranma, but I've decided not to kill him."
"What you mean is, you weren't able to lay a finger on him," Genma responded.
Ukyo gritted her teeth. "Instead, I've decided to let bygones be bygones. He told me himself that he thinks I'm cute, that any guy would want me. So now we're engaged again. Isn't that great?"
Genma found that he was sweating. He had never meant to go through with the engagement between Ranma and Ukyo. That was just a scheme to get hold of her father's okonomiyaki cart. If Ranma married this girl, then the plans to unite the Tendo and Saotome schools through marriage were finished.
Gruffly, Genma suggested, "There's a small problem with that idea."
Ukyo smiled sweetly. "If you're talking about the previous arrangement for Ranchan to marry Akane Tendo, that agreement has already been set aside. By none other than her father, Soun Tendo. Not to mention that you chose to ignore it ten years ago. So it's not really a problem."
Genma, sweating harder, felt betrayed. How could Tendo have set aside their agreement so casually? The boy had to get married soon, before his mother Nodoka found them. But if Tendo wasn't going to cooperate ... "You said you had a proposition?" he inquired.
Ukyo's smile broadened. "Yes. I'll drop the charges and pay your bail. If you go along with me on this, you'll be eating at my restaurant free for the rest of your life."
Ukyo chuckled internally as she congratulated herself on correctly predicting Genma's reaction to that. The man was already salivating, and leaning forward in his chair. She continued speaking. "Now here's what I want you to do in return. ..."
Another week had come and gone. On Friday, when Akane and Ranma confessed to Mitaka that they had shared a bed the previous Saturday night, and intended to continue doing so each Saturday, she suggested that this might not be the wisest decision on their part. However, she avoided pressing them too hard out of fear that they might continue to do so anyway, and simply not tell her about it. Instead she offered them a couple of pieces of advice in that regard, to which they appeared to listen seriously.
Ukyo knew that Ranchan went out on a date with Akane that same Friday night, but made no move to interfere. All week long she had been quietly ignoring the way they acted. It had become increasingly difficult as all of the other students insisted on treating them as a couple. Ukyo focused her concentration on the preparations she was making.
She had Genma's full cooperation in those preparations. He had made quiet inquiries without revealing his presence, going so far as to make a telephone call to his old friend Tendo while pretending to be a distant relative. It had been confirmed that Soun had no intention of forcing one of his daughters to marry Ranma.
A letter arrived at the Tendo house on Saturday, inviting Ranma to come over to Ucchan's Restaurant on Sunday afternoon. It specified that Ranma should dress in a formal kimono, giving the impression that Ukyo was planning some sort of elaborate tea ceremony. Ranma and the Tendo's discussed this, arriving at the conclusion that Ukyo intended this as a way of acknowledging what Ranma had been telling her and clearing the air between them.
Thus Sunday afternoon found Akane and Ranma standing in front of the restaurant, which had a "Closed" sign in the window. They were both dressed in kimono, looking immaculate, and Akane had taken a great deal of trouble with her makeup. She even had a yellow flower pinned in her hair.
A bearded man whom Ranma did not recognize came to the door and let them in, beaming happily. He led them through the back and up the stairs to the apartment above the restaurant. As the man reached the door at the top of the stairs, he called, "Your fiancé is here, daughter!"
The notion that this man was Ukyo's father startled Akane and Ranma so much that they almost missed the reference to Ranma as Ukyo's fiancé. The small group stepped into the room, and the trailing pair froze in shock.
The walls of the room were covered in elaborate decorations.
Ukyo was kneeling seiza on the other side of a small table, wearing what was clearly a wedding kimono. All of the necessities for a Shinto wedding ceremony were on the table before her.
A Shinto priest was standing beside her, smiling benignly.
Another man was standing in the room, somewhat stout, with shocking eyebrows, and a bandanna that stood out from his head curiously. For Akane, his appearance was a little strange, but her eyes passed over him quickly to lock on Ukyo.
Ranma's eyes however were locked on Genma Saotome. His father. The man he had not seen since May. The man whose behavior he had complained, raged and wept about to Mitaka-sensei and Akane both. The man whose memory he thought he had been coming to terms with. The wash of emotions sweeping through Ranma revealed this belief to be a lie. Akane gasped as Ranma squeezed her hand painfully, and she looked where Ranma was staring. At the stout man.
"Well boy, it's been a long time," Genma said heartily. "I have a bone or two to pick with you about the way you left me, but not today. Today is a time for happiness! You're getting married! Congratulations!"
Ukyo smiled as she took in the changing expressions on Akane's face, watching the other girl arrive at the conclusion that this was Ranma's father. ‹Check and mate!› Ukyo chortled to herself. ‹He's mine now! All mine!›
Growing impatient with his son's stare, Genma strode over intending to grab Ranma's arm and propel him in Ukyo's direction. "Come, boy! It's time to ... urk!"
He landed against a wall, upside-down.
A small frown line creased Ukyo's forehead. "Ranchan, be careful! You don't want to ruin our wedding!"
Akane watched Ranma's face, worried and sad, wondering what was going on behind his eyes. She did not greatly fear that he would go through with this farce of a ceremony, though she was firmly suppressing her anger at Ukyo. Instead she was worried about how he would react, and whether this would inflict new damage on his barely healed psyche. With growing concern, Akane saw that he was holding himself so tensely that his arms were trembling, and his hands were clenched into white-knuckled fists.
There were so many emotions filling Ranma that he felt himself overflowing, sure that the others must see the emotions boiling out of him like some dark cloud. He hardly knew which one to latch onto first. Rage, pain, depression, sorrow, hatred, loss. The young man wanted desperately to scream, and the pain was all the greater for this outlet being denied to him.
The greatest pain of all was the knowledge that he was being forced again. Someone was trying to make him feel helpless, trying to force him to give in to their desires. Someone he had thought to be a friend. An internal howl of hurt and fury swept through his soul.
Ranma felt his senses try to sharpen. Grimly he pushed back, forcing the cat to remain buried, though not very deeply. No, he did not need the neko-ken for this.
Ranma moved forward, the aura of menace around him so strong that Ukyo rose to her feet, and both she and the priest took a step backward. On reaching the table, Ranma swept his hand down, the edge of his hand forming a knife. The table fell apart into two halves along a clean break. Sake spilled. Bowls and other implements dropped to the floor where the bowls shattered. Everyone's eyes other than Akane's widened in shock. When Ranma turned his regard on Ukyo, she saw deep pools of terrifying unhappiness in his eyes.
Genma had managed to climb back to his feet. He was growing angry himself, displeased by his son's rebellious attitude. On the other hand, the aura he felt from the boy was ... troubling. It reminded him of something, some memory of danger. He decided that a degree of prudence might be called for, an attempt to use words before fists. "Now listen here, y' ungrateful boy. You're gonna do what I tell you to do. And what I'm tellin' you to do is to kneel on that floor there, and marry your fiancée Ukyo."
Ranma spun and directed a blazing glare at his father, standing there as if he had walked out of one of the boy's nightmares. Ranma's hands were clenching and unclenching, as he fought desperately to keep his fury under control. His teeth were grinding loudly in his mouth. And in his mind, a dam was crumbling, releasing a raging flood of emotion.
Everyone in the room heard a whisper. So quiet that it was amazing they all clearly understood what was said. So cold that ice condensed around the words and froze them. "No ... I ... will ... not!"
It took several endless seconds for Akane to understand, as she looked around naively wondering who had spoken. It was only as her mind replayed the image of his mouth moving that it struck Akane like a thunderbolt that she had just heard Ranma's voice for the very first time. Heedless of everything else which had occurred in the room so far, Akane squealed, "You're cured!" She leaped over to Ranma in one bound, encompassing him in a crushing hug. Everyone else stared at them, and Ukyo let out a loud growl of warning.
The young chef reached around, and pulled her battle spatula out from behind a wall hanging. "Get your hands off my fiancé, bitch!" she snapped. She swung the spatula with the intent to smash Akane aside.
The spatula came to an impossible halt when Ranma reached out and grabbed it, its kinetic energy transferring back to Ukyo, who stumbled and fell. He rolled the weapon up into a softball-sized lump of metal, his eyes never leaving his childhood friend, the look in them pinning her where she lay. Ukyo looked up at Ranma in turn, with fear in her eyes, and an agonized cry of "Why?" on her lips.
Genma was becoming very worried, seeing the promise of a lifetime of free meals evaporating before his eyes. He was concerned about the feeling he was getting from his son, but decided that action was called for. Besides, the boy was momentarily distracted. The middle-aged man leaped forward to strike Ranma unconscious, and thereby render him more tractable.
Everyone winced at the sound of shattering glass as Genma Saotome disappeared through a window.
The elderly priest cleared his throat. "It, ah, seems clear to me that the groom, er, prospective groom, is not willing to go through with the ceremony. I'll, uh, just be on my way." He quickly left the room by the door.
Ukyo's father had had enough. Pulling out his own battle spatula, he charged Ranma. Seconds later he was lying on top of Genma on the street below, the metal ball which used to be his weapon bouncing across the asphalt nearby.
Ranma turned to look at Ukyo once more. Akane was still holding his arm, unsure whether to be ecstatic about Ranma speaking, or deeply unhappy about what had been attempted. She chose to remain quiet, and let Ranma handle matters.
"Ukyo," Ranma whispered. As he spoke, the words came slowly and sounded rusty, as of a machine after a long period of disuse. "Do you want to know how I lost my voice?"
Ukyo couldn't move. Couldn't answer. She had no idea how to deal with this being into whom her Ranchan had transformed.
"You remember that I change into a girl, right? After I arrived in Nerima, I was injured. Three men tried to rape me. Akane arrived just in time to save me."
Ukyo looked like a flower dipped in liquid nitrogen. Frozen, and likely to shatter at a touch.
The slow words continued, relentless, forcing themselves into the girl's ears. "I couldn't call for help, and afterward I couldn't speak at all. I was helpless, and I hated it. They tried to take something from me by force, and I hated them."
Ranma gave her a piercing look. Ukyo felt as if it were her heart that was pierced by the look.
"You tried to trap me today Ukyo. You tried to tie my hands. You wanted to make me do something against my will." His next whispered sentence, when it came, was filled with more bitterness than Ukyo had ever heard in one place. "Do you have any idea how it makes me feel, to know that my old friend would do something like that?"
Ukyo tried to look away from the tear which rolled slowly down Ranma's cheek. Tried, but utterly failed. Heart tearing within her, she watched as Ranma hugged Akane tightly, burying his face in her hair. Together the two of them turned and walked over to the door.
Just before stepping out of the room, Ranma turned back one last time. He whispered, "If you ever decide you can live with just being friends, let me know. But you'd best never again say the word 'engagement' in my hearing. I won't cut you any more slack." With that, the couple vanished through the doorway.
Ukyo slowly collapsed to her knees. She lifted a single flower off of the floor, staring down without seeing it.
Reactions at the Tendo home were mixed. Outrage over the attempted marriage conflicted with joy over Ranma's recovery of his speech. Kasumi decided to prepare a special dinner to celebrate the latter. Soun went off by himself to think, wondering how to handle the return of his old friend.
The front bell rang as dinner was winding down. Kasumi disappeared, only to return a minute later leading Genma Saotome. The man, dressed in a faded gi, regarded his son warily. He then gave Soun a smile and called in a loud voice, "Tendo! It's great to see you again!"
Soun looked nervous. "Uh, yes, Saotome. It's good to see you also. Ranma-kun has, er, been telling us quite a lot. I ..." Soun hesitated, looking puzzled. "What the devil is wrong with your head?"
Ranma was also staring at his father. There hadn't been time at Ucchan's to wonder about the man's appearance, but now curiosity finally won out over the other emotions. Quietly he asked, "Yeah pop. What's with the eyebrows? And what do you have under that bandanna?"
"Do you really turn into a panda bear?" Nabiki asked mischievously. She lifted a glass of water and threw it over the man.
Ranma stared in shock as there was no change. "You're cured pop? How?"
Genma grimaced, seeing no way out of explaining. "Not ... exactly. Y'see, when you went missing boy, I figured you headed back to Jusenkyo. So that's where I went. While I was there I found a pool called the 'Spring of Drowned Man'."
He shrugged. "I figured I'd be cured if the curse 'changed' me into a man with cold water. I dove in. I was a panda bear at the time."
Ranma smirked. "Lemme guess. Because you were a panda bear when you got the new curse, hot water turns you into a panda."
Genma winced. "Sort of. The curses also mixed, just a bit. That's the reason for ..." He waved his hand in the vicinity of his eyes. "Also ..." Genma pulled the bandanna off of his head. His audience stared in shock for a moment at the white fur and large black ears, before everyone broke down in laughter.
Wiping her tearing eyes, Nabiki said, "I have to see the rest of this." In what was almost a replay of her previous action, she grabbed a cup of hot tea and flung it over Ranma's father.
Everyone stared dumbfounded. He was a bear, all right. He might have even been a panda bear. It was rather hard to tell, since he was completely bald from head to foot. The bear lumbered over to the table, growling, where he picked up another glass of water and poured it on himself. The embarrassed man hastily rearranged his gi.
In a way, the comical nature of his father's problems helped Ranma. He didn't really want to hate the old man, but he knew they had a lot of issues which they still needed to work through. Beyond that, the man's simple presence grated against the scabs on his spirit. Ranma knew he wouldn't be able to tolerate his pop for long.
Trying to ignore his embarrassment, Genma spoke gruffly, "So Tendo! Has Ranma picked one of your daughters to marry yet!" This was answered by a ringing silence around the table.
Soun broke the silence with a nervous laugh. As his laughs echoed in the otherwise stony silence, he stopped himself and sighed. The Tendo patriarch looked up with a bleak expression. "No, Saotome. I've given Ranma and my daughters my word that they won't be forced to marry." The bleak expression did lighten, however, as Soun remembered that Ranma was nonetheless dating Akane.
"Nonsense, Tendo," Genma laughed. "I'm sure it won't take long for you and I to convince them to do what's right. So which one of them d'you think he should marry?"
Ranma and Akane both snarled. Soun shook his head. Over the last few months the Tendo father had watched Ranma slowly heal. He had also watched, breathlessly and with rising hope, as the boy and Akane gradually grew closer until they were now at the point of considering themselves to be a couple. The way that things were going, Soun found himself daring to hope that he would not only get his wish, but that his daughter would also be happy.
Now Genma was rocking the boat.
Soun valued his old friendship with Genma. The two men had suffered together under Happosai's tutelage. But Ranma was the future of his dojo, and that was more important.
"I'm sorry, Saotome, but no." Soun took a deep breath and steeled himself. "Back when Ranma was injured, I made a promise to him. I gave him my word of honor. That he would not have to go back to you. I didn't know it was you at the time, but I have no choice." He paused once more, then declared, "Until Ranma decides otherwise, I'm afraid that I can't let you stay here."
Genma stared at Soun in shock. "Tendo, don't be ridiculous!"
Soun hardened his face. "I'm sorry, Saotome. But this is the way it has to be."
Ranma sighed, then rose to his feet. "Come out in the yard with me, pop." Without even looking to see if he was followed, Ranma stepped out through the open door and sat down on a rock beside the koi pond. A moment later, Genma sat beside him.
Ranma spoke quietly. "Too much has happened since we split up, pop. After I left you, I got hurt. Hurt real bad. And I hated you for it." He held up a hand as his father started to protest. "I know it wasn't really your fault, pop. I know it," he repeated, pointing at his head, "but I don't feel it." The finger moved down to point at his chest. His father stared at him, frowning with incomprehension.
Ranma looked away from the man sitting beside him, studying the image of his face in the pond. A face hiding things he couldn't share yet, from a father he knew wouldn't understand. The young man let a hand trail in the water, spreading ripples, obliterating the face. "Deep down inside, I still ain't forgiven you. Doesn't matter if it's fair or not, that's the way it is. I blamed you for a long time. Now, every time I look at you, it makes me remember what happened. And I get angry at you all over again."
The boy snorted over his inability to control his emotions. "I've been seeing a therapist." He watched the reflection of Genma's face in the water as it twisted in disgust, just as he expected, and held up a forestalling hand. "Don't say it pop. Whatever it is you were about to say, I don't wanna hear it. Yeah, I'm seeing a therapist, and you know what? You should be glad. Real glad. Without her help, I might've killed you when I saw you today. If she wasn't helping me, I'd probably never be willing to talk to you again."
"What the hell happened?" his father demanded.
Ranma shook his head. "Sorry pop. I'll probably tell you someday. Not today. If I did, you'd say something stupid about that. Then I really would kill you." The boy sighed, and looked up at Genma once more. "I am a lot better now. And I'll keep getting better, but not with you hanging around making it harder. You can't stay, but ... maybe you can visit. We can talk. It's gonna take time." He gave a sad laugh. "Neither of us is very patient, but you're gonna have to learn how."
Genma's voice was filled with frustration, and fear. "Dammit, boy! You have to marry one of Tendo's daughters! As soon as possible!"
Ranma's face hardened. "No pop. I ... will ... never ... again ... do what you want just because you say so. No one is ever gonna force me again! I have claws now, and I'm willing to use 'em when I have to." He deliberately drew his fingertips along the rock, cutting parallel grooves into it.
The older martial artist shuddered, face freezing in a rictus of fear. He recognized that sign of the neko-ken, except that the boy was aware, in control. The meaning of his son's words, the threat they contained, was clear. Genma tried to speak, swallowed heavily, then tried again.
"So you expect me to just leave? Let you do as you please? What about your training?"
"It's been four months since you were around to train me, old man. I seemed to handle you easily enough earlier. I'm training Akane, and she's turning into a pretty good sparring partner. I'm sparring with a guy named Ryoga once a week too, and he works me harder than you did. I'm gonna be all right, pop." Ranma turned his face back to the house. "It's time for you to go."
"What if I refuse?"
"Don't make me throw you over the wall, pop," Ranma replied wearily. "Because I will. I'd rather not embarrass both of us." He stood, and walked back to rejoin the family. His family, as he realized he now thought of them. A short time later he walked his father to the gate, where he watched with a heavy heart as his old man trudged wearily down the street and out of sight.
When he turned to go back in, Ranma found Akane waiting for him just inside the gate. She leaned up and kissed him softly on the lips, then wrapped an arm around him as they walked together back into the house.
Things settled back down. Everyone at school was amazed to find that Ranma could speak again. In hindsight, Mitaka drew the now rather obvious conclusion that Ranma had been unable to recover his voice due to the unresolved feelings he had concerning his father. She suggested that this was why the emotional confrontation with Genma had cured his muteness, and that such a confrontation may even have been necessary to his recovery. Akane and Ranma simply accepted this explanation, not caring much about the why's and wherefore's, simply happy that he could talk again.
Ranma's speech remained soft and slow most of the time, unless he was making a conscious effort otherwise. To a degree he was content for this to be so. He wanted to make sure that he had time to consider his words before letting them escape from his mouth.
Ranma continued to sleep in Akane's bed as a female on Saturday nights, slipping back to his room near dawn on Sunday morning. They behaved themselves, and kept it platonic. Kasumi and Mitaka-sensei were the only ones who knew of this, and Kasumi helped the therapist to monitor the situation so that no harm would come of it. After Akane and Ranma finally figured out that Kasumi knew what they were doing, it actually became easier for them to resist the temptation to do anything inappropriate on those nights.
Ukyo continued to watch Ranma unhappily from her seat in the classroom. She had not yet approached him about the possibility of renewing their friendship, but neither had she made an effort to transfer out of the class or create any kind of scene with him or Akane. The young couple hoped that soon she would be able to come to terms with the situation, so they could all put the past behind them.
Genma found a place to stay nearby. He got a job as a maintenance man for an apartment complex, within which he rented a very small room. He came over to the Tendo house regularly to visit, and he and Ranma gradually began repairing their relationship. Occasionally he'd try to put some pressure on Ranma to marry Akane, but this invariably brought an immediate and painful end to the visit.
Kuno and Ukyo strode out onto the stage in front of the rest of the cast, drawing their swords and holding them up in the air, tips barely touching. They basked in the applause. Hiroshi came running out underneath their swords, dressed in his friar's outfit, and bowed deeply. The applause increased a notch.
Then Ranma and Akane ran out and underneath the swords, hand in hand. As they bowed, the applause grew thunderous and the audience surged to its feet for Romeo and Juliet. They bowed again, still holding hands, and the applause grew even louder. Yuka, still dressed as the Nurse, ran onstage and handed a bouquet of roses to Ranma. He dropped to one knee and offered them to Akane, whose eyes were shining.
The curtains closed, but the applause continued unabated. After a minute, the curtains opened again for a final bow, revealing Romeo and Juliet locked in another passionate kiss. As the applause threatened to bring down the roof, the two teenagers became aware that they were on display once more. Breaking apart and blushing madly, though unable to stop grinning, they bowed again. The curtains closed for a final time, as Ranma pulled Akane tight to his side once more.THE END
So The Silent Horse has come to an end. I think it may be my favorite of my stories so far, primarily because of the slowly developing relationship between Akane and Ranma which I think turned out pretty well. One point - don't bother asking for a sequel. Their lives go on but the words do not. I've told the story I wanted to tell.
Now I need to warn you that there may be a delay of a few months before you see something else posted by me. Or there may not. It all depends.
I've written first drafts of chapters 5 and 6 of Side by Side, but because of interconnectedness issues I feel that I need to write chapter 7 before I go back and edit those three chapters and finally start giving them to my pre-reader. Then, of course, I cannot start posting until I have at least chapter 5 back from my pre-reader and do the necessary rewrite based on her work.
I'm also working on another story which is drawing near the climax, but isn't quite there yet. Titled Fighting Chance, so far it is six chapters and forty-eight thousand words. I expect it to be seven or eight chapters when it's done.
So while there may be a slight delay, more is coming. If things work out faster than I expect, there may not even be a significant delay. Or I might add another chapter to Nerima Journals or get inspired to write a quick one-shot. We'll have to wait and see.
At any rate, I'll be looking forward to posting something else soon, and hearing from all of you.
Related sites on the web: Please visit my profile page for information on upcoming chapters or stories, by clicking on my name at the top of this chapter. My profile also has links to my web site, LiveJournal site and forum. The web site contains the official versions of my stories. The LiveJournal site provides updates on what I am working upon at any given time. The forum is a place to discuss my stories or Ranma 1/2 in general.