Ranma: Hard Core

The one place Ranma never wanted to come to, yet if he wanted to find his wife, it would be this place that offered the next clue. Dr. Tofu proved to be no help, and Ranma wasn't too sure that the doctor would willingly give it.

The pigtailed young man steeled himself, pushing the earlier incident from his mind. Dr. Tofu was a foolish idealist; Ranma's ordeals would easily crush the older man as they nearly did the young Saotome.

Resolved to his current path, Ranma stiff armed the gates that held at bay the world beyond the walls of the Tendou home. Almost immidiately upon entering, Ranma felt a thickness in the air that matched the intensity of what he constantly felt, before Nabiki offered to help him carry the unbearable weight that pressed upon him.

Within the walls, the grounds looked different. The land was still well kept, but lacking much of the vibrance it used to contain. Flowers did not grow in neat rows, in fact, none were to be found. The bushes were cut in ultilitarian form, complimenting the even grass and landscaping. The grass itself fell short of lush green, settling for a faded green with a touch of tan.

Looking from the landscape, Ranma came upon the front door. He brought up his hand to knock, but paused. How would he go about this? If Nabiki said she was no longer welcomed, how would he be recieved? his presence could very well make things worse for all involved, but he didn't know what else to do. Steeling himself, he knocked on the door, firmly, but with a slight hesitation.

He then noticed the quiet within the yard, the sounds of nearby birds could not be heard, even the background sounds of civilization seemed muted to his ears. All that was changed, as soon as the sound of a latch and a creeking door was heard before him.

Ranma looked back at the man staring at him with a tired expression, the first thought in his mind being his gratitude it was not Kasumi who answered. "Mr. Tendou..."

"Somehow, I expected you would be showing soon," Soun responded, showing neither anger or concern.

Ranma did not allow the frank stare to unnerve him, "Nabiki, I'm looking for her."

Expecting a hostile rebuke at any moment, the young man was surprised, when Soun's face melted into a tired, desparing frown. "Yes, let us converse in the training hall. I have much to discuss with you."

"If it's all the same to you, if you don't know where she is-"

Soun slipped into a pair of outside genka, closing the door behind him, "Please, I will try not to take much of your time, but I do not wish for my other daughters to overhear us. They will leave us alone in the training hall."

Begrudgingly, Ranma allowed the man to lead him around back, and to the dojo. They both removed their shoes upon entry, and Soun motioned Ranma to the middle of the training hall floor. With a glare, Ranma dropped his duffel bag, and strode to the middle floor, expecting to meet a challenge.

Without a word, Ranma stood, waiting for an opponent, as Soun moved to stand across from him. "Please, sit."

Once again startled, Ranma hesitantly sat across from the Tendou Patriarch, as he sat before Ranma in lotus position. "What's this all about? Nabiki said she wasn't welcome here anymore... If you're actually willing to turn away one of your daughters..."

Soun shook his head tiredly, "No, Ranma, I would never turn my children away, I could never do that."

"Then what was she talking about, where is she? What *did* you do to her?" Ranma demanded, his eyes growing harder and harder with each question.

"I... she and Akane had a confrontation. I am unsure of what provoked it, but my dear youngest has been in a fragile state since you and Nabiki had been around last." Soun sighed, and looked towards the window, "I congradulate you and Nabiki. A child is a great blessing."

"Um... thank you," Ranma replied, a bit nervous now.

"I trust you have taken care of my daughter?"

Ranma's face became solumn, "There is nothing I wouldn't do for her, Mr. Tendou."

"Good, good. I'm glad she has someone who is so devoted to her, and is thoughtful enough to know their own limits, which is why I presume you had Nabiki return to live with us during her pregancy?"

"Yeah. I didn't want any risks. She needs to be with someone who can live stablely... even after the baby's born."

Soun turned to look at Ranma, "You seemed to have grown quite a bit."

"That was your daughter's doing."

"Yes, your wife. Wives have a way of doing that, I suppose," Soun admited, "And you sound as if you are unsure of things after your child is born."

"I...I don't want either of them to have to live like I did for ten years, Mr. Tendou," Ranma admitted, "It sucked. Sure Pop did try, and I know from his mistakes, but I just couldn't do that to them. Nabiki and our kid deserve to be somewhere stable, not moving around whenever it was necessary, which was all the time."

"That is understood, but you understand that you also have a place, within this home, as well as my daughter and your child?"

Ranma looked at Soun with the greatest surprise yet, "What?"

"Ranma, I am far from heartless, and though you do have much to atone for, I know that it is better to assist, than turn others away."

"So, then what happened with Nabiki?" Ranma asked, half-accusing.

Soun looked down at the floor, "Forgive me, Ranma. Before your initial arrival, I will admit that I was no longer strong as I once had been. With the ordeal that came about, and the departure you and Nabiki made abruptly, I came to realize that I needed to be strong again, if only to help Akane, and Kasumi..."

Soun looked at his hands, clenching his gi, "I even began teaching again, for steady income. And eventually, I thought I had found my way... I had believed that things would become better than they had been since my wife left us."

The Tendou Patriarch looked directly at Ranma, allowing the younger man to see the depths of his despair, "Akane didn't get any betterand withdrew into herself almost completely, and Kasumi still grew bitter and resentful with each day. When Nabiki returned... I... for a moment, the slightest moment... I considered placing blame with her, even a little. That instant was all I needed to realize, I am still too weak. That I am still a failure. Even as I came to realize this, I could not look into Nabiki's eyes, not because of anything she had done, or whatever blame I could selfishly tack upon her, but... but because of my own shame."

Ranma kept his eyes downcast, absorbing what he was just told, "So, that's why Nabiki said she couldn't stay here."

"Ranma, please, when you find her, just before you leave, bring her back, so that I can at least apologise. I never meant to hurt her, though I couldn't abandon Akane. I want Nabiki to know that I love her... care for her just as much as I do her sisters, and I will never stop, even if she feels she should turn her back on me." Soun looked to the ceiling, attempting to hold back his own tears, "The gods know I've given her the right to."

Ranma nodded, "I understand." The young man brought himself to standing, "Anything else?"

"You're welcome to stay here, in the training hall for the duration of your stay. I would invite you to stay in the house, but I am unsure if the prudence in that idea."

"I'll be fine, don't worry about putting yourself out," Ranma replied, walking over to his bag, and picking it up. "I'll find Nabiki, but it will be her own call if she wants to hear you out or not. I'm not gonna force her to do anything she doesn't want, understand?"

"That is all I can ask then," Soun replied, still sitting, and not turning to face Ranma, "If I indeed am not able to meet with her, please take care of her, and let her know how I feel towards her."

Ranma nodded, even though the older man could not see him do so, "Sure." With that, he left the training hall. Soun remained how he was, absorbing the feeling around him, trying to find the tranquility, the center that his home and beloved training hall had once been permeated with. He could not find a trace of it in its previous form.

_________________________

Ranma walked towards the gates of the back of the Tendou grounds, and stopped at their breech. He had faced another unpleasant confrontation, though this one different than with Dr. Tofu, but was no closer to finding Nabiki than when he had stepped from the train.

It was a big city, and even if Nabiki stayed within Nerima, it would be far from an easy search. If there were perhaps someone that Nabiki knew that she might look to for help...

Just then, Ranma felt himself being watched, and turned towards where the feeling was strongest at. In a window, looking down at him with unveiled contempt and resentment, was Kasumi. She didn't even waver her glare, when the pigtailed young man looked back up at her, matching her hateful look with an apathetic one. After several moments, the girl turned from the window, closing the curtains.

With little holding him there, Ranma opened the gates, determined to find his wife.