Chasing the Rainbow

Disclaimer: I do not own Ranma ½ or any related characters in any way, shape or form.

Author's Notes: well, by overwhelming decree, it is this sequel to Another Rainy Day in Nerima that will be our new primary project. We aren't sure how long this will last, or where it will go, but we hope that you'll all enjoy it!

On a off-topic, it appears that the next major project will probably be Legends of Aeron, once Chasing the Rainbow is complete. There's now a poll in my profile to determine what weapon we should have Ranma use as a Swordmage- please stop by and vote.

Prologue: Life Decisions

Ranma tried to fight it, to cling to sleep like he normally would, but there was just no denying it. He was awake and he wouldn't be going back to sleep any time soon. Exhaling something half sigh and half snarl, he thrust himself upright in his futon, eyes still bleary and hair mussed. He had not slept very well the previous night; his mind too occupied by everything he had seen in the Eye of Zygyg. He came home the previous night to little reaction from his 'family', who barely seemed aware of his absence- they hadn't blamed him for being late, but nor had they welcomed him. In fact, they hadn't made even the slightest reference to his having been hospitalized- not even a "you deserved it, but it's good to see you're alright".

He was taken away from his dreary, lack-of-sleep-induced thoughts when Genma suddenly gave a loud snore. Ranma looked the slumbering form of his father up and down, feeling a sudden urge to scream "Wake Up!" at the top of his lungs while simultaneously throwing him out the window and on a direct course for the koi pond. That image cheered him up, though he didn't act on it, and Ranma got up with his usual stealth... not that it really mattered, as being a heavy sleeper was definitely a trait that Ranma had inherited from his father. Genma probably wouldn't have woken up for anything less than a brass band playing in the room. And even then he'd probably try and sleep through it. Peering through the pre-dawn gray, wondering what the precise time was, Ranma headed downstairs.

As he padded downstairs, Ranma heard a gentle tune being hummed from the kitchen and realized that Kasumi was also up. Stopping in the doorway he watched as the eldest Tendo daughter busied herself at the stove and bench top and memories from the Eye flicked through his mind as he continued watching silently.

'She really doesn't get any help, does she? She gives up so much for all of us...' Ranma thought with a surge of sympathy. 'Well, I need to get my mind off of things anyway, so I guess...'

"Kasumi?" He asked softly. "Would you like some help?"

Kasumi stopped her work; she could have sworn she'd just heard someone... no, that was impossible. But then the words repeated, and she turned and found herself staring bemusedly at Ranma Saotome. "Did... you just offer to help me make breakfast?" She asked, mild disbelief in her tone; while the others did help out around the house, she couldn't remember the last time someone asked to help her specifically.

"I did." Ranma replied without hesitation. "I'm up now and I figured, since you handle most of the housework on yer own, well..."

"Are you... feeling alright?" Kasumi asked, trying her hardest to surreptuously examine Ranma's head for any visible signs of concussion or other personality-altering wounds, remembering that time when Akane had tripped Ranma into the koi pond...

"I'm fine. I haven't hit my head, I just feel like being nice." Ranma said, in a rather annoyed tone. "Am I really that much of a jerk?" He said, one half complaint to one half rhetorical question.

At that, Kasumi's pleasant expression, already starting to waver with concern, went glassy. Her kitchen already suffered from what Akane did to it whenever she took it into her mind to try and cook. Who knew what sort of carnage would result from Ranma without the concussion-induced feminine persona at the helms? Ranma was capable of so much destruction it wasn't funny...

Ranma blinked at the expression on Kasumi's face before his own soured. Honestly, even Kasumi obviously thought that all he was good for was lowering land values and allowing construction companies to test new ways to reinforce buildings! "Well, time to get to work Ranma. Miso first." With that mutter to himself, Ranma walked over and before Kasumi could protest as he gently moved her aside, started work on the miso and before her eyes, the soup dish was finished and simmering ready to be served as Ranma stood back to let the older sister study his work before moving to start on another dish with quick, efficient movements.

And nothing was happening, no smoke, no over-enthusiastic 'additions' of household chemicals and ingredients that would actually make people sick, Kasumi watched Ranma work, surprised and somewhat pleased by his skill, "" She paused for a minute to get her thoughts in order, "I didn't know you could cook, Ranma-kun."

"As to the how and when; me and pop lived on the road all my life. What, did you think we simply bought food all the time? I learned to cook before I learned to count. As for why I never showed I could before... well, how does Akane take me being better'n her at anything 'girly'? My girl side has a bigger chest, I can pull off the flirt act easier, I can sew, clean, do tea ceremony, dance..."

"You can dance? I've never seen you dance before." Kasumi blurted out in disbelief.

Ranma waved a hand in idle dismissal. "Well, my school does put a lot of emphasis on grace and mobility, so it's only natural I can dance. Besides, I picked up a few things when I fought that Master of Martial Arts Dancing. Flashy, stuck up boy too fond of his looks and his way with the ladies... even played his own theme music everywhere..." He shook his head. "Gotta admit though; if his partner hadn't learned he was cheating on her with her sister, I probably wouldn't have made it past the Tango."

Kasumi blinked, "And that's how you learned to dance?"

"More or less." Ranma admitted. "Pop never said a word against it... I think getting his butt kicked by a 10 year old girl who happened to be a master of Battle Ballet made him accept the idea that martial arts and dancing could be the same thing."

Now Kasumi was sure she felt a bead of nervous, disbelieving sweat crawl down her face, "Battle Ballet? Did you...?"

"No, she's not a fiancée." Ranma flatly insisted. "... At least, I don't think she is." He muttered to himself. He then refused to say anything more on the subject.

After that Kasumi returned to her own tasks and between the two of them, breakfast was ready by the time the rest of the house's inhabitants were awake, with Genma and Soun being first, followed by a yawning Nabiki and a cranky looking Akane.

'Looks like she didn't sleep well, wonder what happened?' As Ranma thought this, he helped Kasumi bring out everything, the eldest Tendo daughter calmly and gently told Akane that Ranma was helping her when the youngest Tendo gruffly asked what Ranma was doing. Ranma silently thanking Kasumi for stopping the impending temper outburst in its tracks as the entire group sat at their usual places.

Ranma ate his food slowly as he could; it had been a while since he'd had a chance to actually use his skills in that area, and he wanted to reassure himself that they remained as good as they had been. But even that couldn't occupy his entire mind, and so his thoughts began to drift- naturally, to matters brought up by the events of the previous day. Equally naturally, due to their presence, it was matters concerning the Tendo sisters that occupied his mind.

What was it that drew his thoughts to Akane, first of all? He tried his hardest not to think about it, but her constant explosions of fury, as shown to him by the Heartbourne Eye, kept pushing their way into the front of his mind. He would vehemently protest anyone insinuating he had romantic feelings of any sort for her, but... well… he didn't really have that many people he was close to. Oh, he knew now that he was actively pushing the other girls away, that he was being unfair about everything, but until now, Akane had been pretty much the only friend, the only confidant, the only true ally, that Ranma had in the world. She stood with him against the fickle attentions of his rivals, against the challengers, even against their fathers… he'd never had someone like that before, hence why he had latched onto Akane so firmly.

Well, yes, they got on best when Akane was happy, and she did have a tendency towards mood swings... and there was also a darker element to them that he'd been forced to confront by the magical mirror. While there were occasions where he did deliberately tease her, or simply say things that deserved punishment, Akane not only had a habit of overreacting, but also of blowing up at things that she should know didn't require it. Her immediately leaping to the assumption that he was possessed of perverse motivations or otherwise at fault when something went wrong might have been justifiable back when they'd first met, but it was, what, almost a year now that he'd been living here? Despite having so long to get to know him, despite how frequently it was that her suspicions were unfounded, Akane still refused to give him the benefit of the doubt. It was rather tiring, and the Eye had forced him to admit that it didn't exactly make for a healthy relationship.

Ranma forced himself away from that train of thought; he had enough of a headache already, and thinking such things was not doing any good for the already-considerable amount of guilt currently working through his system. Instead, he turned his attention to Kasumi, an easy thing to do after the previous events of the morning. Now, here was a girl with whom his relationship (not in that sense, of course) could only be said to be positive. At least, if you ignored the fact that they tended to ignore each other. Ranma offered her an occasional helping hand, she offered him the odd kind word or bit of well-intended advice, and they generally stayed out of each other's way, which at least meant that they avoided the barrages of insults and bouts of random violence that sort of characterized Ranma's interactions with Akane. For a moment, Ranma found himself wondering if that polite indifference towards each other was such a good thing, if maybe he couldn't make it work if, the next time things flared up, he persuaded the old men to transfer the promise from him and Akane to him and Kasumi...

Ranma promptly slapped himself across the face. What was he thinking? Dr. Tofu was in love with Kasumi and, while it was true that Ranma had no idea if Kasumi was even aware of the man's crush on her, let alone if she returned his feelings, Akane did believe it was so, and she'd go ballistic if she thought Ranma was trying to interfere with her beloved elder sister's "destined love". To say nothing of the fact that Kasumi was gentle and otherwise totally incapable of handling the sort of rough-and-tumble havoc that tended to make up a large portion of Ranma's life. To get her involved in that, against her will, no less, would be no less cruel then throwing a man with all four limbs cut off into shark-infested waters.

Of course, he didn't have much opportunity to contemplate anything as he realized that the whole table was staring at him for his sudden slap to his own face. Embarrassed, and somewhat afraid they might pry into his secret -he wanted to keep the Eye of Zygyg and what it had shown him to himself- his mind raced desperately for an excuse.

"Mosquito." He finally explained.

Nabiki snorted from her seat and shook her head with a mocking smile on her face, the action bringing the focus of Ranma's mind to the middle Tendo daughter and inwardly he seethed at her while resuming breakfast. There were many reasons Ranma could give for his feelings, but ultimately, it all boiled down to one simple fact. Ranma did not like Nabiki.

Now it wasn't the extortion that annoyed Ranma...apart from the fact that she did it for fun and the money didn't go to the bills, since all she really took was essentially his allowance. It was the fact that Nabiki did it when he was desperate, like she took some sick pleasure in watching him squirm all so that she could add to her own pocket in the end. Shampoo's arrival, Akane's 'swimming lesson', dropping hints in front of his mother without caring that he would have to ritually cut his own freaking guts open! All for her damn wallet!

Damn, if he kept this line of thought he'd likely fire off enough of an aura to tip people off. When you got down to it, what he was thinking was that Nabiki pissed him off enough that, even if he could do everything all over again, he still wouldn't waste his time trying to get to know her. She only considered him a source of profit and amusement? Fine; he'd just ignore her. Let her end up a lonely old maid- he didn't care!

Ranma blinked at the sharp krak of his chopsticks breaking in his hands and immediately went for a sheepish grin, " any spares Kasumi?"

As the girl smiled and went to get another pair, it allowed Ranma time to find something else to keep his mind occupied.

"Something the matter boy?" Ranma blinked and turned his head to see Genma looking at him with a hint of concern, "You're acting distracted, what's wrong?" Ranma waved a hand as he thought up an excuse, thanking Kasumi as she present another pair of chopsticks.

"Nah, its nothing. Just had a weird dream last night and its still in my head. Don't worry about it pops, I'll be fine." Genma frowned for a few seconds, but then shrugged and returned to his food while Akane stared at him suspiciously for a few seconds. He couldn't help himself; he had to respond to that stare, "What? Something on my face?"

"Are you sure you're alright? This isn't like you at all... in fact, the last couple of times you've acted like this... so, what is it this time? Another evil spirit visiting you in the night? Some pervert haunting your dreams? Some sort of mind-altering concotion? Hallucinations?"

"No, no, and how is that possible? You haven't cooked since I got back." Ranma replied absently, his eyes then shooting open wide as he realised what he'd just said. Akane growled angrily and Ranma promptly decided discretion was the better part of valor, hastily rambling apologies as he shot up from the table and ran for the rooftops, even as Akane's vehement insults buzzed in his ears like angry bees. Once he figured he was a safe enough distance away, he sat down to try and think- clearly, running from the thoughts in his head wasn't doing any good, so it was time to face them head on.

"What am I to do? I just can't seem to get my head around this stuff..." Ranma complained out loud. Talking to himself wasn't really the best of habits, particularly in Nerima, but it was one he'd picked up quite early in life and thus far he hadn't been able to shake the impulse to discuss his plans, problems, or whatever aloud as he tried to sort things out in his head. As part of the process, he envisioned a mirror-image of himself sitting beside him, to help him better concentrate on what he needed to do.

"Well, let's look at things simple-like." The fake-Ranma said. Well, he mouthed the words- it was the actual Ranma who was doing the talking. "What's the main problem here? It's the girls after your hand, isn't it?"

"That's right." Ranma admitted. "I've never really thought of any of them that way, but now I know I could have a happy life with... well, most of them."

"So, what it boils down to is this; do you want to marry one of them? Or do you want to see if there are other fish in the sea- maybe wait for Natsume to arrive?" The fake-Ranma asked.

"I don't know!" Snapped Ranma in exasperation. "I've never even thought about being with a girl, so how am I supposed to just up and choose a girl like that?"

"Then don't. Leave that question alone and just wait for the answer to come. Try some of the simpler questions; have you treated the girls worse than you should have?"

"...Yes." Ranma admitted shamefully.

"Can you start treating them better?"

"Yes." Ranma answered immediately, in a "well, duh" tone of voice.

"Should you start treating them better?'

"Yes!" Ranma snapped in irritation.

"Then do it. Stop worrying about the hints you've been given about the girls and start getting to know them better. Whether you fall in love with one of them or not doesn't matter; it's just something you should do."

"Yeah!" Ranma shouted, standing upright into a triumphant posture as his mental conjuration faded away. "Moping around and worrying about what could be ain't my style- I need to get out and do something! But... which girl should I...? Ah, I'll just go into town- I'll run into one of them sooner or later. First come, first serve, and all that."

As Ranma bounded off into the distance intent on putting his new plan into action, a nearby tree rustled and a masked head popped up of the top holding a tape recorder and microphone as Sasuke Sarugakure, ninja retainer of the Kuno family, stared after the rapidly vanishing figure, "What the hell is wrong with him? Master Kuno should be informed that Ranma Saotome has finally cracked."

People might have already guessed this, but, as Ranma brings up towards the end of this prologue, there's quite a few ways he could go now that he's taking matters into his own hand. While we do have the basics in our heads, the directions are legion- we could have him stay at the Tendo Dojo, get Natsume & Kurumi adopted into the Tendo family, and marry one of them. We could have him shack up with Kodachi and take her up on her offer to build him his own Saotome Dojo. We could have him go back to China with Shampoo, or stay in Japan to head a new enclave of Joketsuzoku. We could have him hit the road on his own, alienated from all of his former rivals and fiancées, and set out to find new skills and maybe new love. There's really so many choices, we can't pick. So, we're going to have you readers pick for us.

Simply review this story letting us know which of the following "romance options" you'd prefer us to use, and we will take that into account as we chart out the development of this story. You can vote in any chapter, as well; the path to love is many things, but smooth and straightforward it is not.
Kodachi Kuno


Ukyo Kuonji

Natsume "Tendo"

Nobody from Nerima