So yeah, two long runners that haven't moved for over a year updated recently, and they kinda shamed me into trying again. I combed through my list of fics for SOMETHING I had some inspiration to continue, beat the urge to continue contrast match back into the deep, dark hole it keeps crawling out of and managed to get this.
It's been a few years, but most of this story's aged fairly well, I think. There are some bits I don't like, Saffron's accent in the previous chapters is a bit thicker than the final Ranma accent I settled on, and I almost certainly screwed up and gave younger Ranma that speech pattern one or two times by accident, for example, but here we are.
New chapter, after... 3 years, this time? Oh well, I hope anyone still following enjoys the story.
Chapter 11: True Anything Goes.
Midori Tendo hummed to herself as she carried a basket of laundry out to the back yard, preparing to hang it to dry. The weather was supposed to be fairly good today, and she planned on taking advantage of it before the rest of the household got up. She was half way through hanging up one of Nabiki's uniforms when a slight feeling that had been building at the back of her neck for the past couple of minutes finally prompted her to turn around. She jumped a little, startled when she spotted their temporary houseguest squatting on the compound's back wall, his vision slightly unfocused and distant. "S... Saffron-san?" She asked, trying to get her heartbeat under control.
The younger man blinked. "Oh, um, Mrs. Tendo, I... didn't realize you were there," He said, scratching the back of his head nervously.
She narrowed her eyes. She hadn't noticed him, either, but given where he was sitting that seemed very strange. "What were you doing?" She asked pointedly.
"I was just... thinking," He replied, hopping down to the ground. "Sorry if I spooked you, I guess practicing Doc Tofu's aura suppression technique when I meditate isn't such a good idea."
"You were meditating on the back wall." She was still suspicious, but then she had heard of, or even seen martial artists doing stranger things.
"Yeah, um, you want some help with that?" He asked, gesturing to her basket.
"That's fine, I've got it," she picked up another bit of clothing and hung it up. As she worked, she stole another glance at the young man who was still in the yard, but had started flowing through a practice kata that looked a bit like one of her husband's. "So what was it you were thinking about so intently that you didn't notice me?" She asked, being sure to time her question at the most disruptive point in a series of complex balance changes.
The one she spoke to barely seemed to notice, finishing the kata and then replying. "Was just trying to figure out what I'm gonna do next," he admitted. "I thought maybe I'd be goin' home last night, but turns out... I guess not."
His tone seemed curious to the Tendo woman, regret, but tinged with something else. "You sound almost relieved," She took a stab in the dark.
He jumped guiltily. "I well, I mean..." He fumbled, the mysterious and slightly frightening atmosphere he'd given off earlier giving way to something much more normal. "I want to see my family and friends again," he started, "But it's been so long... I've been here for a decade, already. Does that mean I'll be missing for a decade back home? Or will I show up the day after I left, or..." He'd started pacing in agitation now. "And Skuld said that she has no idea what I'm supposed to do now, other than stop bad things, and I," He turned and glared at her. "Why am I telling you this?"
She tilted her head slightly. "Sounds to me like you've wanted to tell someone for a while now. I suppose I was your first chance?"
"I guess," he said, shaking his head. "I've been focusin' on the end of the training trip for so long that I never really thought about what'd happen when it ended."
She nodded. "That happens to everyone at some point," She said, starting to feel like she was giving advice to one of her daughters. "You know, for someone who was so sure of himself when you argued about the engagements yesterday, you seem fairly uncertain now."
"The engagements were easy," he snorted, falling to his hands and knees and beginning a set of pushups. "I've been turning' those things around in my head so long I've got two dozen plans to deal with 'em. Of course, most of those wouldn't work for my situation, it's too late, but for Ranma, if you get 'em early they're fairly easy to hammer down."
"I see," She nodded again. "So for the last decade you've been training Ranma and focusing all of your future plans on helping him out of the problems you had."
"Yeah, I guess you could say that," Saffron said.
Midori rubbed her hands on the apron over her dress and clapped them once. "Then it sounds to me," she declared, "Like you should stop desperately figuring out what you should do and relax for a while."
"Huh?" Saffron asked, looking at her blankly.
"Settle down, cool off, and let things come naturally," She said slowly. "If you want you could stay here until you hash things out, I'm sure Soun wouldn't mind an assistant in the Dojo."
"But I..." Saffron said, the situation seeming to go a bit too fast for him.
"Good, then it's settled," Midori said, bending down to pick up her basket. As she entered the house, Saffron blinked several times, trying to figure out what had just happened. It felt kind of like that time Nabiki and Kasumi had somehow double-teamed him into wearing a fairy-princess outfit, and he found himself quickly looking down to ensure that he was still in his usual chinese clothes.
"Come on, wake up already!" Urd groaned, trying to pull a pillow over her ears but realizing with some irritation that she'd already done that. "Urd, open up!" The rapping on the door felt like nails through her skull, so she irritably threw off the pillow and staggered out of bed. She was not a morning person, and her younger sister knew this. "What is it, squirt?" She snapped, pulling open the door and glaring angrily down at her tormentor.
"What is this?" Skuld demanded, shoving a screen into her face. She blinked at it for a moment, trying to kick her brain into enough working order that she could read and understand the text displayed.
"It's the diagnostic on the timeline predictive software you asked me to run," She finally said, pushing the holographic terminal out of her face.
"No," Skuld snapped, "It's a base level system diagnostic that I could have run in ten minutes."
"Well, yeah." Urd shrugged. "That's why I was so annoyed when you got me to do it. That's about all you need to check if the predictive system's working."
"No, it's not!" Skuld crossed her arms. "There's something wrong and this isn't showing it."
"Look, squirt," Urd growled, starting to look irritable. "The temporal predictive software is tied directly into the roots of the Yggdrasil. That's the only way it can work, it looks directly at the timeline and parses the data so we can see it. Since it's part of the core, it has more safeguards and error handlers than the rest of the system combined, and it would also take me two months to get down deep enough to look at it directly, where I might just break something myself if I'm not careful. The diagnostic says it's fine, so it's fine."
"Then how do you explain the data I gave you?!" Skuld demanded, a terminal interface once more almost being shoved up the goddess of the past's nose.
Urd brushed it aside. "Seriously, Skuld, I think you're paying way too much attention to this mortal. You're staring at his files so long that of course you're going to see something. I know you're sweet on him and all, but..."
"Urrrgh!" Skuld howled in inarticulate rage, turning and running down the hall. At the end, she turned back. "Fine, I'll do it myself!"
"Good luck with that!" Urd called back. "You don't have administrative rights. And if I catch you hacking into something that sensitive I'm going to have to do something about it."
Skuld just turned and ran off, her eyes welling up with tears of obvious frustration. Urd sighed and closed her bedroom door, slumping down on her bed. She was not going to be a popular person for the next few months, most likely, even if the reasons she'd given were true. "Just a little longer, squirt," She whispered to herself. "Just a little longer."
"Would you stop tugging at that already?" Ukyo asked as her traveling companion pulled at his collar for the sixth time. "These uniforms aren't that bad."
"There was no way they could just let me wear my gi?" Ranma asked plaintively, trying to roll his shoulders to get more comfortable.
"They have a dress code, and you don't have the excuse of moving in a couple of weeks," Ukyo said reasonably. "Just be glad it's not the girls uniform. That heavy skirt, ugh. Even the old man agreed the thing was impractical to fight in."
Ranma twitched. "Thank you for giving me a mental image of Dad in a Furinkan girls uniform," he mumbled to his best friend, as two girls in said uniform walked up to the corner they were standing at.
"Hey, Ucchan," Akane called, her older sister Nabiki waving casually.
"Who've we got here?" The brown haired Tendo asked, looking over the boy who stood next to Ukyo.
"That's Ranma," Akane said, irritably. "Remember? I told you about him showing up last night?"
"Hmm," Nabiki nodded, and then continued her study. "He is kinda cute, maybe Daddy wasn't nuts for setting up that engagement after all."
"He's also engaged to Ukyo," Akane snapped.
"Oh well, was a thought," Nabiki shrugged, Ranma just looking between the two in confusion.
"Can we get going, please?" Ukyo asked, crossing her arms over her chest.
"Okay, okay," Nabiki waved her hand in placation. "You don't have to get so edgy."
After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, Akane asked, "How was your first day back home, Ranma-san?"
"It was nice to sleep in a bed again," the pigtailed boy said. "Dad tried to spar with me this morning, but his injuries slow him down a lot. Could I train with you and Ucchan once in awhile?"
"Of course that's the first thing he thinks about," Ukyo muttered, causing Akane to chuckle.
"Well, I think Mom said your sensei would be staying around for a while to help Dad with the Dojo, and Dad's pretty good himself, so I'm sure there should be enough sparring partners around."
"Oh, so that's who that guy was," Nabiki snapped her fingers.
"Yes Nabiki, that was him," Akane said, slowly. "I know you don't do well in the mornings, but try to pay a bit more attention."
"If Mom'd let me drink coffee..." Nabiki grumbled as the group approached the school's entrance.
"Um..." Ranma said, puzzled, "Why's there a guy in a Hakama waving a sword up there?"
"That's just Kuno," Ukyo sighed. "You wanna deal with him today, or should I?"
"I dealt with him yesterday," Akane glared, while Nabiki moved off to the side and produced a small camera from her school case, hooking a lenze up to it and taking a few sighting shots.
"Fine, I've got this," Ukyo said, striding towards the Kendoist. "What's up, Kuno-Sempai? As if I have to ask."
"Ah, so the hideous kurr Kuonji fights his own battles today, rather than forcing the beauteous Akane Tendo to strike down her love against her will!" The black haired swordsman yelled, pointing his wooden blade at Ukyo.
"His?" Ranma asked, sidling up next to Nabiki to see what was going on. "I know Ukyo wears the guys uniform and everything, but her chest and hair are kinda obvious, aren't they?"
"Been staring, have we Ranma-kun?" Nabiki purred as she adjusted her focus and snapped a shot of the two facing off. "Don't mind Kuno, he's an idiot."
"Yeah, but..." Ranma started, only to be shhed by the girl next to him. He reluctantly quieted down as Ukyo unslung the giant spatula she wore over her back.
"Okay jackass, for the hundredth time, I'm a girl, Akane's my best friend, NOT my lover, she just doesn't like you!"
"Lies!" Kuno thundered. "I see the way you force her to act towards you! If it weren't for your evil magic, Akane Tendo would leap into my arms! I, the Unyielding Blade of Furinkan High shall make you cease your vile deeds!"
"I... think I've got a headache," Ranma mumbled as the kendoist charged at Ukyo, the two meeting in a clash of blade and over-sized cooking utensil. The fight lasted a surprisingly long time, Kuno showing more skill with his blade than common sense, but eventually Ukyo won, bringing the flat of her spatula down on the idiot's head and knocking him unconscious.
"Now you see why we had to leave early?" She huffed, returning her weapon to her back as she walked over to Ranma and Nabiki. "Huh, where's Akane?"
"I think she got bored," Nabiki opined. "She headed in just after the fight started."
"You... do this often?" Ranma asked, blinking.
"More than I'd like to," the chef replied. "Least Kuno's a bit of a workout."
"Should we do anything to help him?" Ranma asked glancing at the insensate figure that several other students were casually walking past on their way through the gates.
"You two go ahead," Nabiki said, putting her camera back in its bag. "I'll get him to the nurse's office."
"Thanks Nabiki," Ukyo said as she and Ranma entered the school.
"Ms. Tendo?" Kasumi sat at her desk, her eyes glancing over the human anatomy textbook she'd been reading, but barely seeing it. With how things had changed yesterday, it wasn't surprising. He had returned. Or more accurately, she had, a wrinkle that Kasumi still hadn't come to terms with. The idea that a magical curse could exist alone was a shock to her worldview, but the fact that he had one, well, it suddenly made that picture, the one she kept in her bedroom to remind her that the insane thing she'd heard when she was a child was real, make a lot more sense. Still, did it matter? He was still him, the one who had brought the warning to save her mother's life, strong, handsome, mature if the way he'd handled their parents during the engagement talk last night had been any indication. He was...
"Ms. Tendo!" She blinked, looking up to see her professor standing next to her desk, one hand tapping his glasses in a sign of impatience. "Could you please show me your work?"
"My... my work," She shuffled her papers, then looked up to the clock next to the classroom door. "Um, sir I'm sorry but I haven't finished it yet."
"I... see," the grey haired man said, frowning. "That's rather unlike you. Are you feeling well?"
"Um, yes sir, I'm fine, I just..." Kasumi looked around nervously, catching the eyes of several other students who were looking in her direction. "I was just thinking about something else. I'm sorry, sir."
The professor sighed. "Well, at least you're honest. Given your performance so far, I will give you an extension, but don't let this happen again."
"Yes, sir. Thank you sir," Kasumi bowed slightly in her seat, flipping pages back towards the start of the assignment.
"Okay, I think that's enough for now," Soun called, the dozen or so students in the dojo shifting into relaxed poses. His new assistant, who had been correcting the stance of a middle-aged man, stepped back and took his place next to him. Saffron had been fairly good at his job, only needing a bit of correction for some of the milder tactics he'd used on Ranma to be reapplied. The younger man was either a natural teacher, or his decade of practice had done some good. "Everyone get some water if you'd like and start your cooldown stretches," the mustached man ordered, each of the students nodding to him.
"Not bad son," he said, clapping Saffron on the shoulder. "I think we'll make a half decent instructor of you."
"Um, thanks Tendo-san," the ponytailed man said a little nervously.
The two exited the Dojo into the late morning sun, the older man discussing his plans for their next class, mostly consisting of office ladies on lunch break. He was trying to convince Saffron to shift to his other form, to make the class more comfortable, when the sound of a cane against wood caused the two to turn. Genma stood on the house's back porch, having obviously just walked in and come around, since Midori hadn't welcomed him.
"Boy, I need to talk to you," the balding man said, pointing his cane at Saffron.
"What about?" Saffron asked, his quick observation revealing that Genma didn't look happy.
"About the boy and his training," Genma growled, stepping off of the porch.
"You're gonna have to pick a different name for one of us," Saffron said, though his expression wasn't as laid back as his words suggested. "What about his training?"
Genma sighed, and began to speak.
"So," Ranma said before quickly biting off and swallowing a chunk of Okonomiyaki. "This idiot thinks you're a man who's using dark magic to trick the school into letting you into the girls' classes and you're brainwashing Akane?"
At his snicker, Ukyo frowned and irritably gave the batter she was stirring a solid jerk. "It isn't funny," She growled. "Reminds me way too much of my school before I went with you and Saffron."
"Yeah, I guess," Ranma nodded. "But why would he even think that? I mean, the guys' uniform, sure, but..."
"It's his stupid excuse for why I haven't fallen madly in love with him," Akane sniffed, glaring irritably at her own meal, which had a bit of charring around the edges and was sort of lopsided. "It started up right after summer break ended, like he'd been dreaming it up the whole time."
Ukyo shook her head. "Nah, I think you give Kuno Sempai waaay too much credit. Probably just hit his head or somet-"
"I will not allow it!" The three teenagers' heads shot up as a yell of rage erupted from the school building, many other students following their gaze as Tatewaki Kuno's bellow rolled across the field where they were taking lunch. Many turned away as Kuno's head whipped around, obviously looking for something, but their attention was drawn again when he apparently found what he was looking for. "I shall not allow you to marry Akane Tendo!" He boomed, charging for the tree where the three of them sat.
"Wait, what? How'd he even find out about that?" Ranma asked, shooting to his feet, his food forgotten.
"I've got a sneaking suspicion," Akane growled, looking up to the upperclassman's classroom window to see Nabiki leaning out of it, watching intently. When her older sister caught her eye, she merely waved and grinned.
"Akane? Your sister is a..." Ukyo started, packing away her cooking supplies as quickly as she was able. Fortunately, the target of Kuno's current rage wasn't her, Ranma leaping aside as a bokuto blade somehow scored a deep gash in the tree behind him.
He spared an incredulous glance at the damage before all of his effort was taken up by dodging, his opponent's yells of "I strike!" giving him a large amount of warning.
"Look," he tried to explain, swaying out of the larger boy's way as he attacked, "It's our parents' idea, and it isn't even going to happen for a few years."
"Lies!" Kuno yelled. "You are another who has come to take the heart of the mighty Akane Tendo, and you seek to bind her by family honor rather than magical binds! I shall not allow it!"
"First, like I said it's not a thing that's going to happen any time soon. Besides, you ever thought she might wanna be bound by someone other than you?" As his last words processed, he flushed and stumbled slightly in a dodge. "I... I mean, she might-" he started, but was cut off as his momentary distraction allowed Kuno's wooden sword to connect with a glancing blow to his side.
"His strength, speed and technique mastery are remarkable," Genma admitted, planting his cane in the ground and pacing around it. "There're no flaws there, he just doesn't have it."
"It?" Soun asked, though Saffron simply nodded.
"I know he doesn't," he admitted.
"What are you two talking about?" The Tendo patriarch asked.
"I'm actually surprised that you don't know about it,"" Genma said, glancing at his old training partner. "Then again, you focussed much more on in-battle results than analysing things for general use like I did. Still, you have it, though I have to admit that I don't anymore, since my injuries."
"You still haven't explained what this is," Soun responded, crossing his arms.
"It is the core of the anything goes," Saffron said, simply. "Kinda another sense, a running background in your head that takes everything in a fight apart a dozen times a second and puts it back together. Examines everything from every angle to gather an advantage, even when you don't realize it's doin' it. The old man's right, from the way you used and changed your style when we fought before, you've got it, even if you don't notice it."
"But the boy doesn't, even though you know about it," Genma pressed on. "With how complete the rest of his training is, I want to know why you didn't include that."
Saffron walked over and sat down on the back porch. "Because I couldn't," he admitted. "There's a bit of a flaw in your plan to pass the true Anything Goes down," he said, playing with his fingers. "Anyone who's been through it, and really understands what it is, can't teach it."
Genma snorted and crossed his arms. "Of course they can," he growled. "I'd been working on a toned down method to pass it along since the dreaded master was sealed away, and it worked, didn't it? You know it."
"You don't really understand what it is. Besides, you went for the Neko-ken within a year," Saffron said,, flatly.
Genma stepped back, looking down at his hand clasped around the top of his cane for a moment. "Th... the Neko-ken was a mistake, I know that," he started, but Saffron cut him off.
"Yeah, it was," 'n even my pops knew it," he closed his eyes. "But My pops didn't have years to himself to think like you did, he had a week before he got me back. The Neko-Ken marked the outline of the worst he could put me through, but that's a fairly wide border, and some training doesn't look so bad when you're starin' at it from outside."
Soun was going pale. "What you're describing, it's... is it really that bad?"
"Happosai," Saffron said, and the two older men reacted as though a gun had gone off, furtively scanning the area for the immortal terror that plagued their nightmares. "Thing about this state of mind, the core of Anything Goes," he explained, kicking at the ground and digging in the toe of his slipper. "It's avoiding pain, pure 'n simple. Your brain gets trained that if it can figure out what to do, it can stop the broken arm, or the concussion, or whatever, and that it's always gotta keep that up since they can come at any time." His foot dug in harder, making a little divet in the ground now. "I actually tried to teach it to him for a while, constantly switching up styles, surprising him with different attacks and strikes from nowhere, but then I realized, I wasn't really hurtin' him. No broken bones that took weeks to heal, no deep cuts, none 'o that. So he wasn't gettin' the message, yeah?"
"I changed the master's teachings to avoid most of that!" Genma blurted, now looking as pale as Soun. "I... I would never..."
"Y'know Ranma's actually stronger than me? I mean, me at his age," Saffron interrupted again, pushing his point. "Not quite as fast, but a bit taller, more physically fit, knows more styles, oh, and he's actually got a half decent education on top of that. You know why that is?"
Both older men shook their heads.
"It's because he didn't spend... huh, I guess about a year and a half healin' up crippling injuries, and he didn't suffer from food deprivation. So no, Genma, he doesn't have it, and though I really should be sorry about that, since I apparently needed to give it to him to fix things the way I was supposed to, I'm not."
"Ran-chan!" Ukyo yelled, preparing to charge to her friend's aid when Akane put a hand on her arm. She stopped for a moment, as Ranma recovered from the rolling fall Kuno's strike had sent him into, his foot digging into the ground and sending him back at the Kendoist. He danced to the side as several strikes missed him by inches, eventually reaching up, one hand glowing very faintly with blue light and catching the blade, grunting with the effort of stopping it in its tracks.
Kuno looked at him dumbly for a moment, before he yanked the blade out of his hand, punching him in the jaw. The kendoist wasn't quite lifted by the blow, but he did fall almost straight back, hitting the earth with a graceless thud. "Heh," Ranma said, twirling the bokuto in his hand for a moment before dropping it on his foe's chest.
"While that was neat and all," Ukyo said, shaking off Akane's arm and running up to her friend, "How's your side?"
Ranma looked down and winced at the torn uniform shirt and the small red stain that was already growing. "Gettin' distracted there was stupid," he berated himself.
"Yeah, especially by fantasies of a tied up Akane," Ukyo smirked.
"That's not what I was thinking about!" The pigtailed boy objected hotly, and then winced as Ukyo poked experimentally at his side.
"Yeah, well, whatever your fantasy life brought up, this doesn't look too good."
"We could go see Dr. Tofu and get him bandaged up," Akane offered.
"It's only lunch," Ranma objected. "I don't want you guys to miss the rest of the school day, I can make it until... Gah, would you stop doing that!" He yelped, as Ukyo poked him again.
"Yeah, I think Dr. Tofu's is a good idea," the brown haired girl announced.
As the three walked off towards the school gates, Nabiki stepped from the building, walking over to Kuno and kneeling down next to him. "Geez, Kuno-baby, couldn't you have made that fight last longer? I didn't get anything good and it wasn't fun at all." Sighing, she began dragging the boy back to the nurse's office... again.
There, crybabies, I changed my end tag to stop giving you heart attacks. Happy now?
And there we go, the basic groundwork being put down for Nerima. Some things the same, some things very much not, and Kuno is the unchangeable rock of stupidity that we all know and... er... tolerate.
Please let me know how I did, if I'm off my game, awesome, or just meh, and happy reading.