"Yo! Old man! How are ya Gramps?"
Looking up at the smiling young man who'd just kicked open the door to his office, the Hokage felt the surge of renewal he always did as the irreverent youth returned like a breath of fresh air to his stodgy old office where all was always so proper and orderly. "Ah, Ranma. What can I do for you? Have you come to return that book you borrowed?"
The pigtailed youth flipped it up from his toes to his hand, twirling it like a shuriken in between and inserting it back to its place in the Hokage's bookcase, using the dramatic motion to conceal his palming of two others, which the Hokage politely ignored, both of them presuming the same agreements applied about returning it when he was finished. "No problem. Hey, old man..."
The Hokage observed with some amusement that the boy began fidgeting. Ranma was not nervous often, but it was easy to guess the reason. Surely this was something to do with the Hyuga heiress, who'd helped him 'celebrate' their team assignment.
Instead Ranma blurted, "How do I tell people the Kyubi got out?"
"Well Ranma, since you two are adults now in the laws of the village it doesn't matter what her parents..." Sarutobi's voice cut off as his ears caught up with his brain and chocked off his mouth halfway through his prepared statement.
The old man felt suddenly cold, frozen by the dread of fear.
Then he recalled who he was talking to, and stopped his reaction before slamming his palm down on the button that would have flooded his office with ANBU. Chuckling darkly, he scowled at the young man before him. "Now, Ranma, some things are not appropriate to joke about..."
As response, Ranma lifted up his shirt, exposing his belly, and channeled chakra.
No seal appeared, of any kind.
"JIRAIYA!!" Instantly the Hokage was standing, hand smashing the button.
Ranma spent the next day and a half naked and flat on his back down deep under Konoha in a medical lab layered with seals of every kind, every inch of his flesh being gone over by seal experts. They checked his back, sides, the top of his head and soles of his feet, but spent most of their time on his stomach. And in spite of all their effort never found any trace of any demon of any kind in him - nor the means to contain one.
Well, that was obvious. There had never been one in him!
They had every seal expert from Konoha in there checking on him and quite a few medics. They had even forcibly recalled back to town a couple of people they called 'The Sannin' although Ranma knew that meant 'Three Ninja' and could only see two of them.
Oh well, maybe the third had died, or something. The guy did look pretty old.
About the only thing that could have made the experience any more humiliating would have been if they'd made him change into a girl during it. Ordinary medical exams were ok, but the stuff they did to girls? Brrr! He'd rather not ever go through THAT again!
Once more Sarutobi sat down on a stool before him. "Okay, Ranma, can we go through this explanation one more time?"
"Sure," the boy scratched his cheek, wondering when he'd get to wear pants again. Sitting there in a hospital gown was just too embarrassing! "When that Mizuki guy told me I had the demon sealed into me I figured there had to be a seal, right? So I went looking for one, but couldn't find it. So that's when I figured it might have escaped. Like maybe sometime when I wasn't looking, when I was a kid or something."
Ranma was a bad liar. He wasn't good enough at this to adopt an expression of guileless innocence, so went for cluelessness. It was one he'd worn all too often as a genuine one.
Despite Ranma's mangled attempt at falsifying his testimony, the Hokage could judge the craftiness beneath, and could see that whatever he was trying to obfuscate, the boy wasn't strictly lying. Nor was this a prank. He could only conclude that Ranma had, upon learning he was the demon container, let the Kyubi out and was trying to pretend he'd never had it. No doubt trying to dodge the hate he'd always lived through.
Sarutobi could only conclude that no sooner had the boy learned the cause of his being despised than he'd immediately acted to negate it; desperately seeking that acceptance that had always been denied him. The realization almost broke the old man. Bowing his head, he waved his hand, "Alright Ranma, you can go."
Instantly as the words passed his mouth, the boy was gone, zipping out of there so fast the hospital robe was still falling to the floor by the time Ranma, clad in his regular gear, was already rocketing out of the hospital several stories above.
Raising a world-weary expression to the experts and medics around him, Sarutobi proclaimed, "Order our ninja to assemble together. I have grave news."
Nabiki had been having trouble getting any info at all about the bodies in the secret lab in the basement. And Ranma hadn't been available for days. Still, her best chance of getting some training out of someone, ANYONE, was to get someone who knew something to owe her - and the bigger the debt, the better.
Well, what more could anyone ask than to be rescued from being kept as frozen spare parts? If she could get one of the Uchiha out of that storage basement, they'd owe her big time, and the Uchiha were supposed to know this ninja stuff better than anyone else.
But she didn't kid herself about her ability to sneak in there and grab one, nor did she fancy running away from town with a body slung over her back, then nursing that person to recovery hiding out in a desolate wilderness somewhere - if that would even qualify as staying an 'active duty' ninja and not cause her heart to stop.
No, Nabiki was doing what she did best, prying at the system to learn how it worked so she could subvert it using its own codes to disgorge what she wanted.
Still, she'd had a hard enough time getting anyone to even admit that lab existed!
The med-tech she was talking to now was the first she'd found, and she'd only gotten that far by being on a team with Kakashi and the Uchiha, pretending to be an aspiring medic-nin, and inquiring about spare eyes for if either of those teammates got wounded.
"So you saved the bodies for the eyes, but didn't make a few hundred people like Kakashi because..." she prompted, reaching for information.
"Of course we saved all of the Uchiha's eyes. We're not complete morons. We just never implanted them in anybody, because..." The man trailed off, reaching for an answer he didn't have and couldn't think of. A few hundred ninja with one Sharingan eye apiece would have almost been better than the Uchiha clan, actually.
"While you're not complete morons, you're close," Nabiki finished for him.
"Yes." The medic rubbed the back of his neck in embarrassment.
The guy's nervous laughter got cut off as an orderly opened the door to their room, leaning in to announce, "All ninja are required to assemble before the Hokage's tower for a special announcement." The guy was gone almost before completing this statement, off to repeat it to others.
Hinata was stalking her Wild Horse.
Having had him once she'd become addicted. Having him twice had reinforced that, and now all she could think of was obtaining number three. And four, five, six, etc.
If she'd known he'd named his clones Second, Third and Fourth she'd find a unique similarity and might well be found chanting "Gotta catch 'em all!"
But no, she wasn't aware he had, and was presently squirming under her itch at not having been able to find him for two days. And next time she did, it had better be the original, because the mood she was in she'd destroy a clone out of sexual exhaustion!
She'd presently staked out Ichiraku Ramen, knowing that her beloved would go into withdrawal if he kept away from there much longer, secured on a cot suspended on the ceiling just inside of the door, behind the shop sign, waiting for her prey to arrive when every minute reduced the chances for her to have enough patience remaining to take him off to a hotel and increased the probability of her taking him right there, when Kurenai walked in and looked right up at her.
"Come along, Hinata. Your own sensei couldn't find you, but we've all been summoned before the Hokage's tower for a special announcement."
The open square before the Hokage's tower was packed, wall-to-wall, with ninja. And many more ninja stood on the walls and housetops surrounding the square. But ninja were not all that were there, as quite a few civilian faces peeked out of windows or around corners. For an announcement to be made to all ninja, obviously it could not be kept a secret, so there was even a radio crew set up there to broadcast it to all ninja who could not be physically present, and most of the town's population was already listening in. Recording would be available to those who couldn't be alerted to tune in on time.
No, there was nothing secret about this. It was impossible for anything to be more public.
Nabiki found herself shoved into this crowd of faceless ninja - each and every face of whom she was determined to learn, eventually, awaiting whatever this announcement was, when she spotted someone she recognized.
Squirming over through the crowd to stand by her, and wary of giving too familiar a greeting after that debacle with her father (and she was still smarting over how cruel it was for those cosmic guys to include him but not let him remember her!), she got up close and laconically stated, "That's a new look for you, isn't it?"
"Hmm?" Azusa Shiratori turned to face her, giving no indication of whether she recalled the Tendo girl from their earlier world or not.
Nabiki took a moment to examine her fellow dimension traveler. Some changes, like the ninja gear, were expected. Others, like the wonderful short skirted dress too fancy to wear outside of a ballroom, or a professional skating match, was nicely reassuring, as that indicated the girl had kept at least some of her old personality traits, and Nabiki's power depended on being able to read and predict the people around her.
However, there were one or two curiosities she could not explain.
Of particular note were her earrings, a pair of large dangly ones each set with a grape-sized ruby cut in a heart shape as the centerpiece to a fantastic design of silver tracery and smaller supporting jewels.
No, not merely rubies, but the rare variation known as star rubies, where impurities caused an optical phenomena to developed of a certain sort, creating an enhanced reflective area in the shape of a star at or near the center of the jewel.
That gave an interesting account of the girl's finances. Perhaps she could sponge off of this girl instead of Ranma? She had to do something since the Wild Horse had gotten so wary.
Actually, Nabiki narrowed her eyes. A pair of costly earrings would've been typical enough of the figure skating legend, except each of these rubies had a very interesting shaped star - that of three commas swirling in a circle in the center. Given the country they lived in, gems, especially rubies, with that kind of flaw had to cost a mint given what they resembled. She was surprised it wasn't the Fire Lord's wife, of some similarly wealthy individual with political clout wearing those pieces.
And there was really only one reason to buy or wear a set like that.
"Interesting pair of earrings. I didn't know you were an Uchiha fangirl," the middle Tendo girl drolly remarked, fishing for data.
"Don't be silly." Azusa dismissed her completely. "Emo boys are God's punishment on stupid women. Little Azusa has nothing to do with the Uchiha."
"Then why are you wearing Sharingan styled earrings?"
Azusa just laughed.
"Well," Nabiki stated dryly, "Perhaps you hadn't heard. Sasuke lost his eyes to a foreign ninja. But you wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"
Azusa just pointed innocently, letting the scene of Sasuke hanging on Kakashi's elbow in the crowd speak for her. The emo boy was turning and looking around, and the pair of eyes he had were the distinct dark black pupils of the Uchiha.
Nabiki grumbled quietly, so as not to be overheard. She was wearing a slightly dirty pair of panties since her clothes hadn't gotten washed since she'd arrived, her diet was suffering, and to top it off soon she'd have to be buying ninja tools. Why couldn't anyone around here just give up and let themselves be manipulated? She had expenses to meet, darn it!
And to top it off, she was running out of shampoo. Soon her hair would be a mess, as well as all of the other things that had gone wrong about her domestic life.
Still quietly grumbling, the mercenary girl decided to switch tactics. Nabiki wasn't kidding about what she'd give up to be able to have Kasumi's domestic skills. But... considering that she was only twelve at the moment, that wasn't too late to start getting them.
Kasumi wasn't much younger than this when their mother died and she'd had to take over caring for the household. And Nabiki had most of the same basic skills Kasumi had had back then - having watched food being cooked (sometimes), and tasted the final product.
Heck! Kasumi could hardly boil water at first! At least Nabiki had that much.
Then again, perhaps there was another opportunity there for her. Nabiki had noticed many of the shinobi children her age were just as badly off as her when it came to the domestic skills department. It might not be the same payout for effort as extortion, but mending a few tears in uniforms, providing a few home-cooked meals...
Yeah, if she was in their place, she'd pay for those.
Resolving to settle down with a book on how to sew once she got out of this meeting, Nabiki relaxed. Her chakra stores were small and her body weak, and she knew what sort of trouble she could get into by overextending her training on either. She could easily break, tear or strain something and set herself back for weeks.
So, since she couldn't be training as a ninja all of them time, once she'd run out of chakra to practice her Replacement technique and worked her weak body as far as it could go toward fitness before it began to be counterproductive, she'd catch up on domestic skills.
Then at least she'd have some marketable abilities.
The crowd growing hush alerted Nabiki to the Hokage taking the stands before them, and she turned her attention to the old man who led her village as he began to speak. "There is one among you who has borne more burdens than all the rest in keeping our beloved village safe. This person has bravely accepted both humiliation and abuse for protecting us, and what is worse, we were the ones inflicting it all upon him. It has often been said that: Greater love hath no man than this, than to lay down his life for his friends', but I tell you death would have been a mild pleasantry compared to the life we inflicted on our savior for the crime of having kept us all from a terrible destruction."
The Hokage inhaled to shout, "I am speaking of the Kyubi container! The method our Fourth Hokage used to defeat the demon fox required two, not one, to perform, and one of those had to be a child not yet even hours old! This child was to have been our guardian, jailer of the nine-tailed demon fox, and our protection against its rage. Yet because this, our very own home village, refused to see the situation for what it was they treated the jailer to all the hate they held for his prisoner! Our protector was injured BY OUR HANDS, even while he protected us! But I am afraid all of that has come to an end. Because of the efforts of one of our own ninja, Mizuki Touji, to destroy our guardian, and falsely informing him that he was the Kyubi itself, our guardian has at last rejected his role and the Kyubi has escaped."
The town went white. Many ninja fell over in dead faints. Others, many as high as jonin, fell down or curled into balls and wept with sudden terror. Screams rent the town, as badly as if people had just seen their children stabbed.
Not a few civilians died of heart attacks, hearts failing them for fear.
The Hokage raised a hand, cutting across the noise with a jutsu so he could continue to give his sad news. "Instead of treating this town's greatest hero as the protector and guardian he was, we have continually rejected, abused and humiliated him. He is not to blame for our faults. We convinced him we wanted the demon to go, so he bowed to our request and let it go. We have no one to blame but ourselves, for if we had wanted him to continue doing the job of containing the beast, we should not have punished him for doing it! The fault for this is our own. We are to blame, and if I find any of you trying to redirect this onto the hero who has been your victim for so many years, I will order your execution. Truly, if you had wanted him to continue doing the job, you ought to have rewarded him, not punished him as you have done. For twelve years he has served admirably in his position, and not one kindness was done to him because of it. If any of you tried to obtain any other service, rent or electricity or a ninja mission, without paying for it I assure you the provider would have cut you off long before suffering twelve years of abusive non-payment! That this person has not only put up with us, but continues loyal to this village is nothing short of astounding. I do not think any of you would have been half so loyal in his position. I do not believe I could have maintained my love or loyalty to this village had I been given the provocation he was. But he has proven himself absolutely beyond all question in his devotion to us, despite ourselves. If any of you have any capacity for shame, feel it now. You have earned it."
The Hokage now continued in ominous tones. "But it is not to the past you should look. The Kyubi is out there, and if it had no reason to hate us before it surely does now. He cannot be returned to the prison we once kept him in, nor will I permit the beast to be stopped using the same technique. Knowing just how ungrateful this town can be to their heroes I refuse to subject another innocent child to your unthinking rage. And, seeing as how we do not have any other method of stopping the beast should it attack, that means we are now helpless before it until another means can be devised to contain it. I have ordered our seal masters to begin working on an alternative method at once. For the duration of their search border patrols are doubled to give us warning to evacuate should the Kyubi approach, and we shall remain on emergency alert status as though at war. All ninja leaves are hereby canceled, and ninja of all ranks are advised to increase their training. That is all."
Ranma had been watching the Hokage give this little speech from the top of a building overlooking the stage set up before the tower. He was not alone in this, actually the rooftop was filled with ninja of all ranks looking on, just as were all other roofs around there.
But, having had an idea of what the Hokage was going to say, Ranma had taken the precaution of being in his girl form for this speech, just in case they decided to ignore whatever decree he made just like the last time, and look for his boy-form to slaughter him.
According to what he'd heard and seen, this town had never thought clearly about the kyubi or its container, and a mob fight scene starring hundred of ninja had been high on his list of things to avoid. Although he'd learned a few nice fire jutsu from the last one, when they'd torched his apartment.
But it was a different surprise that came upon the pigtailed martial artist.
"You! Girl!" A ninja stood out from among the crowd, shouting and pointing at dear little Ranko, the name Ranma sometimes used for his girl form. "According to the Bloodline Protection Acts invokable in time of war, which was just declared, 'All reasonable measures can and should be taken to ensure the continuation of valuable hereditary traits'. Seeing as how the Sharingan Heir has stated he would only breed with you, and he is the last and only bearer of that bloodline loyal to this village, you are required to come with me."
"WHAT?!?" Ranko was standing, her pigtail was also standing on end. "WHY?"
The ninja had the bad grace to smirk. "You will be compensated, of course, should you choose to view it as a seduction mission. But most girls your age would jump at this chance. You get to become the mother of the new generation of Uchiha."
Brrr! A chill passed up and down Ranko's spine, worse than anything she'd ever suffered in Nerima. This guy was serious! What's more, everyone around was taking him seriously as well, and just expecting her to go along with this! Did they really think they could just slip her some money and she'd be willing to marry that emo freak?
She could only be glad Genma wasn't around, he'd jump at their offer, serving her up in a wedding gown with a ribbon tied around her before she could believe he'd yelled, "Sold!"
Actually, looking around some of the the sober, jealous, or congratulatory faces around her, these ninja viewed this as a privilege! An honor! Half of the women envied her, wistfully dreaming they could take her place! Only there were some among them who'd seen she didn't like this and she could tell they were contemplating how to compel her obedience. Actually, as it became plain to most of the ninja how revolted she felt by the idea, many among them began to get mad over the insult she was doing to their precious Uchiha.
Wait. That was hundreds of ninja getting mad at her. That was worse than any mob she'd faced before. Heck! This was worse than the last magical prince who'd showed up! That guy's army hadn't been a tenth the size of this one!
Ranko had never in her life been so grateful to see Kuno show up. No, not ever. Literally hundreds of the Konoha ninja that had been surrounding her went flying, tossed in every direction by the great blast of wind as Tatewaki Kuno made his appearance, posturing on the rooftop beside her as a breeze dramatically stirred his new costume.
Heh, he always had been a great blowhard.
The wanna-be samurai clutched his sword in a two-handed grip, adopting a threatening pose to the other Konoha ninja, and declaring in that pompous way of his, "You want to grant the hand of the sweetest maiden in the Elemental Countries to a whining crybaby? I Tatewaki Kuno will NEVER allow it!"
For the first time in her life, Ranko was actually a teeny bit grateful for that declaration. Not that she enjoyed the obvious subtext - that Kuno wanted her for himself. But as he went on to rant about Sasuke Uchiha was no man she privately had to agree. The whiny pussboy was a spoiled brat who'd already gotten way more perks and benefits than he deserved., and she certainly didn't want to be just one more trophy tossed in his collection.
For that matter, she didn't desire to be had by any of the men wanting to possess her. The fact that she was still a guy under this curse hadn't seemed to matter to anyone but her, however.
And what was she doing thinking of herself using feminine pronouns anyway? Yech!
As dozens of jonin got sent flying in a single chakra-enhanced swing by the newly arrived swordsman, Ranko's eyes narrowed to slits. He'd not been this good even when he'd had that bokken made by Musashi. Kuno was now out of her league entirely.
That thought was completely galling.
As she slipped off, using this attack as a distraction, no more eager to be carried off by her amorous 'rescuer' than to go off to marry that emo-crybaby, hopping away in among a cloud of debris to disguise the motion, catching the lip of a roof and swinging around it like the most accomplished gymnast using a smooth practice bar, tucking her legs to flip in through an open window then disguising herself with a quick Shapeshift into an old woman in a worn kimono and slipping away, Ranko scowled over what she'd witnessed of the fighting now overhead.
First Mousse got a powerup and good eyes, now Kuno being a whirlwind of destruction... someone had set her near the bottom of the local totem pole as far as power players, and she didn't like it a bit. Sure, she was good at martial arts, but those two had been enhanced enough they were arguably better, and that wasn't even counting the local tricks!
Once more she reminded herself - that cosmic entity was betting against her. The game wasn't fair.
But she was going to push herself until she'd won it anyway!
Ten minutes later an exhausted Ranma emerged from a bathhouse, trembling as he sweated, exhausted in more ways than one.
He HAD to work on this chakra stuff! That or learn a simple Disguise technique. Shapeshift just took WAAY too much energy to hold for any length of time. She'd been forced to drop her old woman disguise five minutes ago, and the chase had been on since, five dozen ninja coming down on his girl form like an avalanche every time he turned around, only for Kuno to intervene once again, then repeat that over and over again all across the village!
The boy was honestly tired of his girl form being the most desired girl in town!
Anyway, between all the fighting and running he was panting from his exertions, and his chakra was exhausted by having maintained the shapeshift for so long, then cast it a few more times to arrange quick escapes. Lucky this bathhouse had been nearby on one of the few moments he could get away so he could return to his guy form, because while Ranma had plenty of body energy, or chi, the mana, or magical stuff he didn't have so much of, and chakra was, as the guy told him, a combination of the two.
And the shapeshift technique ate energy like Genma did Kasumi's cooking.
Ranma resolved he'd have to work on getting his stores up, and perhaps do some more work on getting an entirely magical version of this down. Only that brought up the question of how was he going to practice? He didn't have an apartment anymore, and the hole up the First Hokage's nose didn't have hot water. Sure, he could heat some over a fire, but a trail of smoke coming out of the monument's nostril would give that location away for sure.
He'd have to find a place in town to do more experimenting. And seeing how he'd be changing from girl to boy to back again trying to sense the inner workings of his curse in order to learn the technique, that meant he couldn't do it in a public bathhouse. That meant an apartment, and Nabiki was right, he couldn't afford one of those and still have enough money left to eat on.
His appetite once more got him into trouble. But the furnace of his metabolism took a load of fuel in order to keep his energy reserves running.
Actually, that was a scary thought. He already ate enough for a family of four. What was he going to be like once he started to get his mana reserves up too? He'd have to look into how to get his food budget down, otherwise he wouldn't be able to afford to eat! Not on a genin's mission payouts, anyway.
Hmm, speaking of that, Ranma's eyes lifted to a familiar blue shop sign in front of him, a grin sprouting on his face. This just might solve some of his problems!
He burst into the small restaurant, brushing the shop curtain aside as he loudly shouted. "Yo! Ucchan!"
Mousse and his team looked up at him from where they'd been eating at the counter.
Ahh, me. I'd nearly forgotten how much sheer, fantastic, insane FUN I'd had with this fic!