It's been a long time since Nerima. In all honesty, I haven't so much as thought about the place in years. Still, the point of this thing is to set my memories to paper, so that when... I seem to have lost five minutes looking for the correct word. Damn.

My mind is slipping further with every day. That is why I began this venture, so that when it has gone completely, I might pick up this journal and, if the gods are kind, the words within will stirr some recollection.

Still, Nerima. The memories are foggy, for the most part. Chaotic. Then, Nerima always was a hub of chaos until Saotome left. It's odd... Of all the individuals involved in the regular fracasses, that I can recall, he was the only one who went well out of his way to keep the noncombatants out of things. The logical result when he left would be for the rest, unrestrained, to completely level the district. Indeed, for the first few days after his dissappearance, that seemed to be the very near future, and the wiser of Nerima's inhabitants had long fled, however, things settled quickly. Inside the month, Nerima had returned to what passed for normality, and inside a year the prefecture was all but identical to any other.

It seems that Saotome really was, in spite of himself, the agitator that riled up the still waters around himself.

And I have wandered off topic once more. When my mind has left me, I shall have to forgive myself, should I find the time to read this journal. Even so, the majority of what happened during that period of chaos is inconsequential, and hardly memorable, and so I shall instead begin this segment with the events leading to Saotome taking leave of the area.

It all began....

-Excerpt from the private journals of Hiroshi Honda

xxx

"She's nuts! Seriously Ranma, what did you do?"

"I told you, I didn't do anything!" Ranma shot back, irritated at the accusation that had been recently repeated so often.

"Like you expect me to believe that! Honestly, what kind of person holds such a grudge over 'nothing'?"

An entire list of names shot through Ranma's head, Akane's own right at the forefront, but he wisely bit his tongue.

"I bet you... hey, where do you think you're going? I'm not done talking to you yet!"

"Told Ucchan I'd take care of a couple of things at her restaurant since she got detention. Shouldn't take more than an hour or two. Might eat there though."

With every word out of his mouth, Akane's face grew darker and darker, and her fists clenched. She couldn't say where it had come from, but she'd suddenly found a bucket in her hands, and hurled it at the back of Ranma's head before stalking wordlessly off.

Ranma spluttered slightly.

"Geeze... what's eating her?" She grumbled, wringing as much water as she could out of her hair and taking to the rooftops.

It was meant as a shortcut, but it was only a little further before she came to a complete halt. That was.... was it that same ninja-girl? Wrestling a dog? Why would...? Ranma frowned as the dog yipped away, leaving something cradled carefully in the kunoichi's hands... a chicken drumstick. Surely...?

She hopped lightly down, previous offenses against herself all but forgotten except to note that she hadn't ever seen Ranma in this form, so there wouldn't likely be a fight about to break out.

"Hey! You! You don't.... really intend to eat that?" Ranma asked dubiously.

In response, the kunoichi clutched the moldy scrap of meat tightly to her chest, a violent glint passing through her eyes.

"Mine! You can't have it!"

"Why would you think I'd want-? Ugh. Whatever, hang on to it then. But seriously, there's gotta be some other option.... you eat that garbage, you'll need a stomach pump, and those are never fun."

The Kunoichi stared blandly back, not answering and not budging in the slightest, although it was obvious that she was tense, and trying to decide whether or not to run.

"Man.... I know I'm gonna regret this." Ranma grumbled, rubbing at her temple. "But I can't really just pretend I didn't see anything either. If you're that hungry, come with me. I'll get you some food. Leave... that... in a pocket or something if you don't trust me enough to throw it back in the dumpster."

There was a quiet tension for several long moments. The Kunoichi, staring intently at Ranma, who in turn was behaving much as she would in the presence of a wild animal. Or at least, a wild animal she could not, for whatever reason, simply smack out of the way. Finally, Konatsu carefully secreted away the dubious food. Not the best possible outcome, as Ranma had really been hoping for a show of trust by tossiing the garbage away, but at least better than the very real possibility of the Ninja-girl simply retreating under a cloud of smoke.

xxx

Konatsu hadn't particularly trusted the redhead. Then, Konatsu had serious trust issues to begin with. It was difficult not to, when you grew up in what was essentially a brothel by any other name. It hadn't always been, of course. Konatsu could dimly recall youthful memories of an actual tea house and cafe, not getting many customers considering how far out of the way it was, but with a few devoted clientele.

Then, Mother had died.

Konatsu had never discovered what had pressed Father into remarrying so soon, especially to... and without any regard for a period of mourning. Had he been any hastier, they would have had to hold the ceremony on the cemetery grounds, even as Mother's remains were being entombed. Perhaps it was a madness of grief? In any case, it hadn't been terribly long after Kotetsu and her two daughters made themselves at home that Father had followed Mother into the afterlife.

Konatsu had always passively suspected Kotetsu of quietly assisting in that regard. There was certainly no evidence to suggest she had.... but then, she hadn't been at all distraught, or even surprised, when Father had passed on.

Afterwards had been a period of great upheaval, and Konatsu was rapidly forced to adjust to new circumstances. Working in a brothel. And.... working, in a brothel.

Oh, Kotetsu and her daughters certainly enjoyed it enough. Mainly, a bitter segment of Konatsu's psyche rationalized, because it was the most excitement they would ever get in their lives, though Kotetsu and Father's brief relationship gave lie to the thought.

Konatsu, however.... Konatsu was the pretty face, who lured in new customers. For the most part, the hideous trio inside were fast and efficient enough to get enough alcohol into them that they could.... Every time Konatsu thought about it, the kunoichi shuddered in aesthetic disgust. However, there were times that the customer held his drink particularly well, or simply managed to avoid it altogether, and demanded that his time be spent with 'the pretty one'.

Usually, that would swiftly descend into shock and anger after a short time, which was always unpleasant. Then there were the times that it didn't, which were much worse.

Konatsu had recieved a very thorough, but limited education, one of the primary tenets of which was that trust opened oneself up to pain.

But she had offered food. The starving kunoichi's one significant weakness, which Kotetsu and the stepsisters took great care in keeping open by denying it to Konatsu as much as possible. Even if it was guaranteed to be a horrible trap, for food, Konatsu would still happily rush into it, regardless of the sacrifice of personal safety or comfort.

And the redhead had offered. Even so, she seemed to instinctively know full well that Konatsu didn't trust the offer, and carefully left an escape clause. The drumstick certainly wouldn't be pleasant to eat, but an empty stomach may as well be made of cast iron. Once Konatsu got it down, it would stay, and the redhead had made no move to take it away, the expected betrayal.

There was no betrayal at all, expected or otherwise, as she lead Konatsu to a small restaurant and cooked a plateful of food with her own hands for the kunoichi to consume. It was wonderful. Fresh food, still hot.... it had been months at least since the last such luxury, and Konatsu reveled in it as the redhead busied herself with a number of small tasks about the area.

She finished about the same time Konatsu's plate had been scraped clean, and turned around to find the kunoichi on her knees before her in gratitude.

Then Ukyou walked in.

xxx

Hurried explanations, and the protestations of Konatsu's stomach, awakened from hibernation, later, Ukyou was happy to make some more okonomiyaki, at a much faster rate than Ranma could manage. She did, however, insist that Konatsu pay for what she ate.

Having no money, the kunoichi had meant to quietly leave before Ranma withdrew a handful of bills from about her person. As she put it, she'd just been paid for some part-time work, and Nabiki would fleece most of it anyway, so it wasn't any trouble to fill the belly of someone less fortunate than herself. Left unsaid was how great Ranma's own misfortunes were.

Konatsu simply decided, sometime around the third plate, that she was the kindest, most wonderful person in the world. By the sixth, the kunoichi was hopelessly devoted, and by the eighth eager to become her slave until the end of days.

At some point, the bit of chicken had fallen out of her rags and lay discarded on the floor, forgotten entirely.

xxx

A.N. And there we go. Part one of the prelude to Defender, to run until the end of the Saffron Arc, at least, with whatever extra crap I dream up crammed into it.

It's a bit darkish when I go into the fabricated backstory for Konatsu, yeah, but seriously I'm all but working from whole cloth here, and he grew up in a they call them 'tea houses', aristocratic sniff brothel place. Glossed over stuff, but really, what do you expect when you factor that the only people you see involved with that place are those four. Sure, there might be other 'workers', but they're never seen, forcing certain conclusions to be drawn when you stop to think about it.

And yeah, Konatsu took slightly longer to warm up to Ranma than he did Ukyou. That's probably because Ranma was just promising food, rather than actively hurling food at him.