A/N: I've taken a few comments by my readers into account and decided to rework the first chapter. The beginning of chapter two wasn't really that big a change in scene, so I compiled the two as well as fleshing out several of the scenes. I do apologize in advance to my previous readers for the somewhat rehashed update. However, I expect that the added dialogue and scenes will be worth the time it took me to redo them.
In addition, I'll do my best to prevent this sort of thing from happening again, and only release chapters of suitable length to avoid the multi-part chapter release in the future.
Without further ado, I present the first chapter of Kind of Sky Shaped, the Director's Cut, if I may be so bold.
Kind of Sky Shaped
A fanfiction by S3Cubed
Huddled behind the dojo, the bed sheet clad figure of one Saotome Ranma knelt down and desperately wracked his brain for some kind of reason for the trouble he was currently in. Fighting off the urge to shiver, he realized just how cold it really was. At least I'm not taking a mornin' dip in the pond, he mused. He'd finally worked his way into Nabiki's good graces over the past two and a half years only to have it blow up in his face like this. It just wasn't fair! But that wasn't his only concern at the moment. No, the whole, whatever it was, with Nabiki had been out of place in more ways than he could normally account for. It was almost as if she hadn't known who he was at all. Either she hadn't recognized him, or worse. Maybe she'd forgotten him.
It was a sobering thought, one that dredged up the good old days with his ex-fiancée.
Ranma frowned. It couldn't be possible. He'd dealt with the amazons, with Shampoo, months ago. And there had been that other thing. He could've sworn that Nabiki mentioned her parents, as in more than just her father. Ugh, it just didn't make any sense.
For that matter, what was she doing home from school anyway? He was pretty sure that Akane had told him Keio's schedule didn't have any breaks this early in the year. He needed to get to the bottom of this. But first, he had to get a hold of his clothes. The pigtailed martial artist eyed the Tendou home. It was still a school day, so he just had to wait for the girls to leave, and he could sneak back in. Getting past Dad and pop wouldn't be any big deal. He just hoped Akane wouldn't come looking for him or anything. He could apologize for disappearing later when he met up with her at Furinkan.
With that the martial artist sank into the early morning shadows to bide his time.
He didn't have long to wait. After about an hour or so he heard the girls leave, all three of them, which only served to reinforce the growing sense of unease he was feeling in the pit of his stomach. Steeling himself, he was just about to make his move when she walked out into the backyard with a basketful of laundry. He didn't recognize her face, but from the way she carried herself. He almost fell over onto the grass. Ranma's eyes grew wide at the sudden implications of what Nabiki had said earlier. Her parents. No, her mother, alive! Just what was going on here?
"Honey, I'll be back by lunch. There's that neighborhood meeting this morning," Ranma's father-in-law's voice carried out to the yard just before he poked his head out the back door.
"Of course dear. I have to go to the market, so we can walk together halfway. Just give me a moment to finish hanging these up," Soun's quite alive wife responded with a smile.
"That's good, I'll get my…"
Ranma tuned out the rest of the conversation. Certain implications started sinking in. On one hand he now had his chance to sneak in completely unnoticed, but he was starting to worry about what exactly he'd find once he did. Firmly cinching the sheet around his waist, he waited until he was sure the elder Tendou's had left the house before he made a quick dash across the yard.
A few minutes of anxious checking, just to be sure, and he was alone in the Tendou house.
As soon as he walked in, he knew what he wouldn't be finding. The whole place was familiar, but there were too many little differences. This wasn't the home he'd known since coming to Nerima. Just like that hadn't been his dojo out in the yard. He'd checked inside there first. The guest room he'd once shared with his pop before the wedding was a tea room now. There were a few more decorations and nicer furniture around the house. He was beginning to feel like more than just a stranger.
Last he stopped at the door to his- no, just Akane's room. He waited there for an indecisive moment, and then steeled himself, sliding the door open.
He almost gagged.
He'd tried preparing himself for the worst, but there was just too much. He couldn't believe that a person could have so many yellow things. He took another look once his stomach settled. She'd even painted the walls to match. His eyes were invariably drawn to the once place that had been saved from the horror, her desk, more specifically the pictures that adorned it.
They were mostly school pictures, though a few must've been taken on fieldtrips, and he recognized a couple shots of downtown Nerima. But the one thing they all had in common was the fact that his wife was a bit younger than she should be. He searched through the pictures a few times, and came to the conclusion that the oldest he could find were pictures of her in the local junior high uniform. He wasn't too good with guessing ages, let alone for girls, but she couldn't have been older than twelve or thirteen in any of the frames. It was mostly in the face that he noticed any real difference. Akane was a little fuller in the cheeks than he was used to. The faint change was just enough to render the younger version of his wife, well, kinda plain.
At least, he knew what she'd look like given a few years to mature.
He'd been too concerned with Akane earlier that morning to have taken any real stock of her sister, but he didn't doubt that she was probably younger too. The situation hadn't merited him taking a good long look at his sister-in-law. He'd been too focused on what shapes his wife was going to bend him into, to give her a once over.
Lost in his thoughts, he trudged out into the hall, and toward the one place he could possibly get clothes now. Even if he switched, it occurred to him that none of the Tendou sister's clothes would remotely fit him now. It was an oddly sobering thought.
He shook his head, feeling the beginnings of a dull ache. Really, just how bad could his life be screwed over now?
The entire day at school, Nabiki had been running through how she was going to broach the subject with her sister. It was a prickly topic at best, she was sure. Especially during the short portion the two of them actually were able to walk together that morning. Sure, she had more than enough evidence to talk the younger girl into a corner, but the problem lie in just how she'd gotten said proof. The fact of the matter was that Akane was dating, and obviously in a sexual relationship. That she was risking it all by bringing her interest into the house, was another. The fact it was with a guy that looked like he was in college…yet something else to chew on.
What was she supposed to say? It was out of the question to get Kasumi involved. If that happened it would be just as good as telling father. Nabiki shook her head; her older sister was growing further away from her each day. Nabiki herself had realized it the hard way. If Kasumi found out about Akane's little activities from her, she'd just take it the wrong way, and Nabiki would be lucky if her sister would speak to her again in the foreseeable future. Their mother would pick up on it and want to know what was going on. It just wasn't worth it. No, telling anyone else was simply too risky. She'd do better playing it close to the vest, for now.
When Nabiki finally met up with her sister outside the gate of the middle school Akane attended, she'd reached a tentative decision.
"Hey Nabiki!" The younger Tendo waved excitedly at her older sister, looking pleased with herself.
Good, Nabiki thought, she'd back to talking to me again. "Don't you look happy-" Nabiki paused, not having to feign a smile for once. "What's going on?"
"It's almost Saturday night, and I can't wait!"
Nabiki though about this for a second, and recalled that Akane had mentioned something about a party earlier in the week. "Uh huh, at Sayuri's house right?"
Akane rolled her eyes, "No, at our house. Of course it's at Sayuri's. You said you'd cover for me with mom and dad, right?"
Damn, she had promised too, but Nabiki chewed her lip, that was before. Now this party just sounded like an excuse to spend the night with her…Nabiki shuddered involuntarily as she recalled exactly what it had felt like just a handful of hours ago. This was frustrating. Maybe if the guy was younger; or even just in the same school as Akane… No, she could 'what if' herself all she wanted. It all came back to waking up and feeling violated. Not just by the position she'd been in, but that her own sister couldn't trust her enough to tell her about a boyfriend, especially one she was obviously serious about. "I don't know Akane. I overheard Sayuri's sister talking about it yesterday. I didn't realize there was going to be alcohol involved. You know how I feel about that." Actually, Nabiki did feel strongly about her little sister getting plied with beer and sake and who knows what else. But she hadn't heard anything of the sort, and didn't travel in the same circles as Sayuri's fluff-brained sister. Not that Akane would know any different.
Akane's face fell. "Sayuri said she was going to get Megumi to invite a couple of guys over, but I didn't hear anything about drinking." Then Akane brightened, "It's not for two days, I'll just tell her to forget the guys, it'll be plenty of fun with just the five of us. C'mon Nabiki, we already made a list of movies to watch!"
Now Nabiki was having second thoughts, just listening to Akane go on about the fun things she was going to miss out on. Then Akane suddenly changed tactics and started harping on how miserable she was going to be if she had to be stuck at home, and how much more miserable Nabiki was going to be because of it. She also suggested Nabiki go with her to the party and almost ended it right there. If I go, then there's no way she can meet up with that guy.I wouldn't be caught dead at a middle school party though. I don't even go to high school parties. She derailed the train of thought right there.
"Okay, I'll talk to mom and dad."
"Yes! Thanks Nabiki, I knew I could count on you!" Akane gushed.
Mmhmm. Well, maybe if I just take the direct approach after all, she'll have to fess up and I can guilt trip her into dumping this guy. Akane isn't making this easy, that's for sure.
"So, Akane, I heard Megumi's dating some high school…"
Decked out in an oversized brown do-gi, Ranma had already disabused all notions of going to see his former wife. With the realization that things had gone horribly wrong sometime between his going to bed last night and waking up snuggled next to Nabiki of all people, he had a more pressing concern. He needed to find out if anything had happened to his mother.
Speeding across the Neriman skyline, he made decent time to his parent's house, heedless of the strange looks he'd received along the way.
Slowing to catch his breath, he dropped back down to street level about a block from his mom's home. She was probably going to yell at him for showing up in a worn oversized gi, that he could deal with. What had him worried was if she would even be there. If the Tendou place had been strange, what could have happened to the other half of his family?
Resisting the impulse to just leap over the gate, he forced himself to press the bell and wait.
He jumped when the intercom clicked on; he hadn't even noticed it at first.
"Hello? How can I help you?"
Relief flooded Ranma and he found himself struggling for words, he recognized that voice anywhere, after having to hide from it for more than a year.
"Mom, it's me, Ranma," he croaked out, glad for things that didn't change.
The graying sky overhead mirrored Ranma's sentiments. He could felt his chest aching under the sad, almost scornful look his own mother was giving him. Things had started out as he'd hoped, with Nodoka practically flying out the front door to meet him at the gate, but it had swiftly crumbled when the hopeful joyous expression on her face shattered once she was close enough to get a good look at him through the bars. Sad eyes regarded him, saying wordlessly that there was no way she believed he was her son. Who was he to show up, claiming otherwise!
"I don't know how you found out about my son, but I'll have to ask you to leave immediately." All trace of emotion other than a low-simmering anger fled the woman's voice. "I do not take kindly to pranks."
It was easy to see that she'd already dismissed him before he said a word edgewise, but Ranma wasn't leaving so easily. There was nowhere else to go. What was he supposed to say to make her let him in? How could she possibly accept someone as her son who in all likelihood half a decade too old?
In the distance, thunder pealed softly. It gave him an idea that would have scared him witless in the past. It was simple and had next to no chance of failure. With his own assurance, he called out once more to her retreating form.
Hearing her mother say that dinner was almost ready, Nabiki flicked off the television and tossed the remote onto a stack of newspapers next to the lamp stand. She'd been listless ever since her conversation with Akane had borne no fruit and added only a mild headache of frustration. What was it going to take to crack that girl short of catching her in the act? All this tiptoeing around the subject was making her antsy and she didn't like feeling this way.
There was always that of course, but the repercussions of laying her whole hand on the table were more than she was willing to risk at this point, especially over some boy she didn't know. Damn it. Nabiki got up to go set the table. Maybe she'd think better on a full stomach.
As Nabiki finished, Kasumi pushed past the kitchen curtain and went upstairs to get Akane. Nabiki shook her head; her elder sister worried her sometimes. Kasumi was a little too quiet of recent. It had something to do with the boy she'd just broken up with, Nabiki was sure of it. But, her sister wasn't sharing, and the last time the short-haired girl had made mention of it, Kasumi had given her a look that told her it wasn't any of her business.
Frankly, between her two sister's secretive love-lives, Nabiki was tempted to just forget about the whole matter. They weren't talking, and she was out of the loop for some reason. She frowned, recalling exactly what had happened to make things this way. Suffice to say, if she was a little out of the loop, her father was behind a brick wall. Damn it. It was going to take time to get back into Kasumi's good graces, while for Akane…well hopefully Sayuri's party would go well toward patching things up between the two of them. Akane was still a little annoyed with her, but wasn't giving her the cold shoulder completely.
The Tendous sat down to enjoy their meal accompanied by the soft patter of rain on the porch.
Blue eyes snapped open wide, and a young man choked back a sudden yell, coughing instead, having escaped the edge of a nightmare. Ranma looked around woodenly, trying to figure out where he was. The room around him sparked a vague recollection, childish hand paintings, toys arranged haphazardly on a shelf. It was his old room. He was home.
Shrugging off the mantle of sleep, he wiped his brow to find his hair matted down with sweat. Bits of the dream poked at the edge of his mind's eye, but were all the more elusive for it. Something to do with Akane, and heavy lines of metal, but nothing more would come. He didn't want it to. Yesterday had been bad enough. And then, with his mother, not much better--
Ranma called out through the iron gate, "Mom, wait! I-I can explain!"
The pig-tailed martial artist pressed his face to the bars, the earlier stress of the day evident in his tone.
That alone gave the woman on the other side room for pause, and she turned to regard the young man she assumed to be from the mortgage company, or other such agency sent to weaken her resolve. They'd been showing up more frequently in the past few years, trying to get her to absolve the property. The house was still under her wayward husband's name, but she did have possession of the deed, and they seemed to be drawn to it like flies to honey. She'd noticed an abundance of high-rises being constructed in other wards of late, and it seemed Nerima was next on the expansion list. If this was another attempt to wrest the house from her…
Ranma caught the guarded look on his mother's face at his words and felt worse for it. Something else was going on, but he'd have to worry about that later. The first few drops that heralded rain spattered on the cold metal above him. "Mom, it's really me, but things happened," he felt the wet drops coming faster. "In China, with pops, I," his voice hitched as he thought about the last time he'd had to tell his mother this particular tale. It wasn't a pleasant memory. Still, he had to get this off his chest, realizing this was a chance for a fresh start. He'd lost too many years with the woman already, almost two years due to the curse and that damned contract!
Overhead the sky opened, and the rain fell down, washing away Ranma's masculinity.
Looking out at her mother's shocked expression through the curtain of her bangs; she wasn't surprised to find Nodoka quite frozen in place. Ranma sighed. It seemed a few years less weren't enough to change her mother's reaction.
"W-who…what are you," the older woman asked, as she started gathering herself.
Ranma winced, it hurt a little less each time someone freaked out through the years, but some people's opinions mattered much more than others she found. "I told you mom. It's me. Sorry, I got myself a little cursed, that's all," she said sadly, but not without a little hope. There wasn't much else she could do to get her mother to acknowledge her. "I was training with pop in China, a little while ago, and well, as ya can see, when I get hit with cold water, this happens."
"A curse," Nodoka appeared to be struggling with the concept, but hadn't yet completely disregarded the girl leaning on the other side of the gate in such a bedraggled and pathetic state. If this were in fact Ranma… Nodoka shook off the doubts and incriminations that had been creeping up. She could at least offer the bedraggled figure a warm cup of tea and some time. If this wasn't her son, it certainly was the most original scam she'd seen yet.
--"Are you up dear? I've made breakfast for us." The familiar comfort of his mother's voice through the door did wonders at easing his mind, bringing him back to the present.
"Yeah, mom. Just lemme get dressed first," he rubbed his face, scratching at the bit of stubble on his chin. Luckily if his father was anything to go by, he wouldn't ever have to worry about more than that. Then he frowned. His Pop was also bald. Whatever. He shrugged and got up to look for clothes. He'd have to raid whatever his pop had left behind.
The two Saotomes sat down to the first meal they'd had alone together in a long time. Like last night, Ranma found his mother constantly glancing at him, as if he would suddenly vanish. It made him a little nervous, but was strangely reassuring at the same time. It was kind of nice actually, to spend time with his mother without anyone else around. Times like this were almost unheard of, before. Before what?His head was still a little muddled, coping with the numerous changes to what he'd considered his life.
Still, there was the matter of his father that was bothering him. If he was here, and everyone seemed to be a little younger, where was pop? None of this was even remotely like the Nan Ban mirror incident. Not with the Mrs. Tendou in the picture. And for better or worse, neither the old ghoul, nor the letch would be around either. The Musabetsu Kakuto Ryu Grandmaster was still probably knocked out in whatever hole he'd been stuck in, and Cologne, she had no ties to Ranma now, and he planned to keep it that way. Who was he supposed to go to now?
"Are you feeling alright? You look worried."
"Nah, mom, it's nothin big. I was just thinking about pop," he said absently, rubbing the back of his head.
"Your father? Why? You said he was on his way home?" Nodoka's concern was evident, shadowed by another emotion. Anger? Ranma still didn't know his mother well enough to be sure, not when she was acting all flighty over this.
"Pop? Yeah. I just lost track of him on the way back from China is all. We…we said we'd meet back here if that kinda thing happened." That sounded a bit shallow to Ranma, but it could have been true, even if the two of them had never discussed such a situation. It just hadn't come up, and pop had always been easy to locate, the few times the two had separated during the years on the road.
"I see," his mother said before returning back to her meal.
She seemed to let the matter drop, but her expression said otherwise. Ranma wasn't convinced, but opted to let well enough alone. He knew that Genma wasn't going to be showing up anytime soon, if this were indeed the past. With nothing to point to the contrary, the young man felt he was at some unknown disadvantage for the time being. He'd have to start watching his mouth a little more before making claims that couldn't possibly be backed up. Ranma didn't wasn't to run the risk of alienating the one person that could be a shelter in the proverbial storm he'd floundered into.
Of course, now that he was thinking about it. If Genma did show up, what if a younger version of Ranma was tagging along? He'd have to consider possible angles and explanations, because right now, there were no easy answers.