Into Every Life, a Little Rain Must Fall
A Ranma 1/2 fanfic by NemesisZero
Act 1: An Endless Gray Drizzle
Disclaimer... the part of the fic everyone usually skips
I don't own Ranma 1/2. Really. I'm just using the characters and situations created by Rumiko Takahashi in a rather creative way to waste time and enjoy the beauty and flexibility of the English language. If you're reading this, then you are on a fanfic site, which involves the above by definition. That being said, I probably could have gotten away with leaving this part out, honestly, but it seemed like a good place to start warming up my fingers for some serious typing, at least until I figure out how I want to start this thing...
Apparently QuickEdit can't make sense of my charecter-specific scene breaks... pity. Until they sort out this issue I guess generic breaks will have to do. Sorry for any confusion this technical problem makes. If you're new to the series, just realize that every time you see a divider that the POV has changed, even if the scene is still in progress.
Tendo Nabiki was not having a good day.
A shame, really, considering how nice the day had started. She slept in until eleven, enjoying the many-splendored joy that is the weekend, when the staccato sound of chirping finches and a mild late-spring breeze woke her from a rather, shall we say, 'pleasant' dream. A dream involving not only various 1000+ calorie chocolate desserts and a waist-deep pile of yen notes in denominations several factors larger than those actually printed. Either of these were astoundingly good starts to dream in her opinion, but topping all else was one exceptionally gifted, almost to the point of frightening, pigtailed young man, who wore nothing but the skin he was born with... unless she considered herself an article of clothing, that is.
"...Don't know what you were thinking, inviting..."
Sure, she felt a little guilty for dreaming about her sister's fiancé and her soon-to-be brother-in-law like that, but a girl's gotta dream, right? Living with a young man with an absolutely flawless physique, the World's Cutest Butt, and a killer smile will do that to you, especially if he has the odd habit of appearing in half nude chase scenes about the house at least once a week.
Actually, he had missed this week, on account of being in China for some silly reason or another. She had been very concerned when Akane had apparently been kidnapped again, with Ranma not around to save her, but that fear was gone now. Apparently, whoever took her was connected to Ranma's escapades on the mainland, big surprise, and now the two of them, along with Mr. Saotome, Hibiki Ryoga, and the Chinese Fiancée Front, were returning to Nerima this afternoon, safe and sound.
"...Sense of decency? Of family honor..."
As soon as she came downstairs her father thrust a batch of wedding invitations at her and told to go about town and hand them out to Ranma and Akane's friends. Well, a few stops at the local maniac hangouts and the crisis had been averted. With any luck, the chaos would prevent her father's latest 'Operation: Matrimony' scheme from forcing her sister into such an early marriage. With any luck, she would collect enough wedding gifts from the other guests to actually turn a profit after the repair bills they would surely cause.
Her suspicions panned out, of course, when the fathers jumped Ranma before he even had time to unpack his bags, and Kasumi had ushered Akane off to her room to prepare her. Surprisingly, she didn't put up much of a fight when the wedding plans were announced to her. Hmmm, maybe inviting the local maniacs wasn't such a good idea after all.
"...No idea how we can afford to repair the damage to..."
Things turned ugly real quick once Ranma came to. The list of Bad Things that occurred that afternoon included, but was not limited to:
1) An all out brawl over a cask of water
2) Two Kunos, one with a katana, the other a black wedding gown
3) Several unconventional small explosive devices
4) Hibiki Ryoga and Shampoo wall removal demonstrations
5) One really big explosive device of conventional, if dated, design
6) One frazzled Ranma, current status and location unknown
7) One Akane tantrum, as usual
8) Multiple injured and/or refund-seeking patrons
The 'honored guests' had gone way above their usual levels of destruction, even after she adjusted her figures to represent the affect of Ranma and Akane's absence allowing pressure to build, and a special factor added to represent the desperation that such a formal threat to their own perceived worlds would cause. By several zeros. "Well," she mused, "looks like I'm taking a semester off before I leave for college."
Suddenly she realized that her father's rant had stopped. She was sure that she knew, more or less, what he was going to say, and thus had no trouble responding despite her lack of attention.
"Are you done yet?" She began. Always a good idea to seize the power back in a discussion after the opponent has worn himself out with a rant, she thought with a smirk. Now just speak with authority and explain without apologizing and everything will fix itself.
"First off, I don't know how all those people knew about the wedding. The only people I gave invitations to were Hiroshi, Daisuke, Sayuri, Yuka, Dr. Tofu, Gosunkugi, Ukyo and Konatsu, and Ms. Hinako. Others must have told the rest, or, especially likely in Ryoga's case, just happened by. Ukyo is Ranma's best friend, despite her fiancée status, and I thought he would want her there. Konatsu I invited to help keep Ukyo under control. Gosunkugi is mostly harmless, and I only invited him on the premise of a photographer for the event. Ms. Hinako, despite your somewhat justified reservations, Father, was the best choice to act as a chaperone for the trouble that inevitably follows anything involving Ranma. Unfortunately, she was distracted by cake."
It was even true, that was the beauty of it. Sure, Shampoo may have found a 'misplaced' invitation just outside the cat cafe, and the Kuno's just may have overheard her talk when she took Hiroshi and Daisuke over to the practice sessions of the kendo and gymnastics clubs, respectively, before handing over their invitations. The rest were still a mystery, so she really didn't know how 'all' the people at the wedding got there.
"Don't worry about the dojo. As long as the framework is relatively undamaged it should be within my monthly budget to fix, provided we keep the wedding gifts and charge all the involved parties to the damage about 10,000 yen each. 20,000 each for the Kuno's because they can afford more, and to cover Happosai and Ryoga's shares because there's no way they'll pay up. Yeah, 700,000 ought to do it. Anything else, Dad?"
"Goodness, but what about the loss of face and the disturbance to the home's normal functioning that his has caused? What about all the food and effort that was wasted in preparing for the event? What about the effects on Ranma and Akane's relationship this will cause?" Kasumi added, looking up from her magazine. She smiled, but it was far thinner than normal, and her eyes were cold and focused, unblinking.
Nabiki was momentarily shocked, immediately rethinking the situation. Kasumi adding to the objections," she mentally tallied, "and even appealing to the loss of abstract factors? Yikes, this isn't good. Ok, time for plan B she decided: Blame Someone Else". Silently, she wondered just where Ranma was.
Cold, sore, slightly burnt, strained joints, mild concussion...none of these conditions annoyed Saotome Ranma as much as the constant fall of water that had decided to wake her up from a rather restful if unscheduled nap. "Why is it always water?" she dejectedly asked any gods that might be listening. The only answer was a distant roll of thunder.
Slowly and painfully, Ranma opened her eyes, forcing her way through needle-like pain. The ceiling of the Tendo dojo awaited her curiosity, sporting some morbidly impressive new holes. Beyond lay only seemingly endless seas of rolling gray clouds, oppressive and numbing. "Well," she sighed, "at least the world has the good sense to mirror my mood."
Pushing aside some unrecognizable debris, Ranma stood up, wincing as she absently placed weight on a twisted ankle joint. Apparently, she had forgotten that she severely sprained it earlier in the day over a bucket while being chased by Kuno. She leaned against one of the few surviving support poles and surveyed the scene. It seemed the dojo's walls and floor fared no better than the ceiling had. A quick glance around the darkened hall revealed the remains of several rows of hastily discarded seating, a smashed podium, several crushed bundles of flowers, several ruined dishes of food next to an overturned table, and a now empty cask of nannichuan water. "The Tendos really shoulda held the wedding in a better location," She mused, "Like a bomb shelter."
Apparently, the dojo agreed with her. She stumbled slightly as the post she wad been using as support fell, its subtle balance upset by even the slight weight of the redhead. With a low, ominous groan, and a shifting in the debris, the ceiling called it quits and fell. Ranma was momentarily off balance and the delay ensured that she was simply too far from an exit to get out before everything collapsed. With a deafening crash she was flattened to the floor by the joist of solid, ancient wood that was delicately supported by her rest-post, and then through it to the muddy, rain soaked earth underneath the dojo's supports as more lumber pilled up on her back.
Seconds later, as the dust cleared, there was a sound. Had anyone been outside to here it other than its utterer, they would have heard a very tired, resigned, and grossly understated "Ow." With powerful, if awkward, motions Ranma quickly freed herself from the ruins of the Tendo family legacy. For a moment the almost-groom had to stop and stare at the end of the only official home that the art of Anything Goes ever had, as well as the former site of the shrine to the late Mrs. Tendo.
With a sigh, she turned from the broken mass, an obvious bad omen, looking for a place to just think for a bit. One step on her now further injured ankle prompted the removal of the roof from the list of possible isolated spots. "Too far a walk to the bridge, so I guess it's the koi pond for tonight." She said to herself, hobbling through the wet grass and slightly chilly evening air. Once again, the thunder rolled. The overcast sky continued its light but steady downpour.
If Nabiki was having a bad day, Saotome Ranma was having a bad life.
While Nabiki tried to decide whom to shift what blame onto, she was saved from further questioning by a rather loud crash from outside. For a moment, she simply froze in confusion, staring first at her sister then father, both returning her empty, bewildered look.
After a few seconds, Nabiki gathered the courage to offer commentary.
"I don't think that was thunder. Sounded kind-of... wooden, and dull, like something heavy hitting the ground." Kasumi turned to look towards the eastern wall, the direction from which the sound came.
Soun merely nodded, slowly. "Perhaps a tree was struck by lightning, and a limb fell off?" He offered halfheartedly. It was a ridiculous supposition and he knew it, considering the sheer volume of the crash. "Or perhaps Akane is training extra hard with a wooden dummy."
Further ridiculous supposition was cut off as the eastern door opened briefly, allowing a petite red head to enter. She wore a mud-caked Tuxedo (formally of pure, unblemished white silk) that was very baggy on her, almost tripping her up twice as she crossed the distance from one side of the house to the other. No one spoke as she limped across the room slowly, but merely noted the details of her description, from slight bloodstains to scorch marks.
As she reached the western door, she paused and turned her head just far enough to look at Soun with one eye. "Oh, by the way," she commented softly, her eyes rooted on her feet, "You need a new dojo. I sorta accidentally knocked it over. Feh, not that it took much, after today." She left silently before any response could be made.
Tendo Soun looked across the room to catch the eye of his friend Genma, looking up from the TV. For a short but seemingly eternal moment he sat, silently meeting his blank stare, until the combination of Ranma's words and the facts of the sound sank into place. With sudden speed, the two men rose and dashed to the Eastern door, followed closely by the two girls present.
Soun ran clumsily but determinedly towards the wreckage through the mud and slightly too long grass of the yard until he reached the first piece of lumber. He collapsed then, and lay in the mud holding the wood beam to his chest like a small child. His frame shook slightly in a sporadic rhythm, but for the first time in years he couldn't find any tears to cry.
Genma's pace slowed at the sight, until he simply lumbered to a halt about five yards from his friend. His shoulders slumped as he stood before the wreckage of his dreams, facing the pile in stoic silence as his curse took hold in the light rain. After a few moments he gathered his friend to his feet and led him off towards their favorite bar, to drown this latest setback in the momentary distraction of cheap sake.
Kasumi stopped midway down the covered walkway, suddenly needing the support of the firmly rooted posts of the roof. She sobbed quietly while taking in the sight of her father, now a broken shell of a man, for the second time in her memory. She spoke only two words, separated by several seconds. The first, "Mother," was soft but clear, and full of reverence. The second, "Ranma," was delivered with a bitter rasp and clenched knuckles.
Nabiki stood silently within the doorway, without any clear response.
She simply froze up, having been caught without knowing just how she should feel at the moment. Seeing nothing she could do to help those gathered before her in homage to the fallen structure, Nabiki accepted the unhappy duty of informing Akane about the day's latest tragedy, mentally multiplying each dept by ten.
Ranma limped out into the cool evening air, sloshing through wet grass and mud holes on her way to the koi pond. Sitting on the largest rock, she casually untied her ruined bow tie, which was uncomfortably restricting, and dropped into the pool. She watched as it left ripples, which soon dissipated in the constant rain. "Just like my life," She realized. "The rain's been falling for so long, I only notice when a really big drop falls, or when it all stops." With a dejected sigh, she corrected as an afterthought "If it ever stops."
Through all the various signals of pain throughout her body, the worst hurt came from her heart. No one even bothered to bring her in the house, just left her on her back, buried among the wreckage of their latest ploy to control her life. With the hope of victory gone, their toy was no longer important. If that didn't show how they all really felt, nothing did.
"Maybe I should just end it all right now, just drown myself and get it over with." She offered grimly. "Suicide might be the only way I'll ever get out of this with any honor intact." She paused briefly to wipe away some wetness from her eyes, and then began to laugh grimly. "Nah, I'd have to commit seppuku for that, and there's no way I could get through the ceremony without someone interfering." She closed her eyes, bitter tears joining the wetness already on her face. "God, I don't even enough control over my life to end it properly. How sad is that?"
The pale, sickly green glow of a Shi-Shi hokodan began to form around her, flaring brightly as her depression fueled chi gathered without her even noticing. In the dark of the late evening, with the last faint traces of the sunlight creating dark reddish-orange spots on the rolling clouds, she failed to notice her aura grow darker, almost black along the outer edge. For just a moment, she thought she saw another face in the pool, grinning at her with pale skin and red eyes, but as soon as the image was in her mind, it vanished. Just a trick of the light, she supposed.
"Just go to hell for all I care!" A sudden shout from the night gave her enough pause to dissipate the gathered chi harmlessly, inadvertently saving the lives of everyone on the block. As the chi bled away, back into the air, water, and ground, Ranma felt a slight chill. She attributed it to the weather and her very damp attire, even though it seemed like it came from within her rather than from without.
"Great," she grumbled, "Not even the heavens care about my fate anymore."
Tendo Nabiki stood at Akane's door for a good ten minutes, her hand less than an inch from knocking. At first, she was trying to figure out how she would tell Akane about the dojo. Her usual attitude would fail her here, she knew. Soon her thoughts turned from devising a prepared statement to general defensive strategy should her sister decide to rant as daddy had. When she couldn't think of a way to totally remove the blame from her, she began to try and talk herself out of it all together. Only the thought that Akane would only be harder to deal with tomorrow if she wasn't told now kept her from just going to bed. Well, that and a spark of genuine human concern, but don't tell anyone.
Perhaps she had good reason to be a little frightened. Through the door all she could here were slow, rhythmic noises of exertion, and the occasional deep thud of something heavy striking the floor. From that information, either Akane was having sex, lifting weights, or beating something to death with a rock. Okay, so the first and the third were impossible because they would have involved Ranma, who was outside. Number two, however, was a definite Bad Sign, making it very likely that her sister was very, very angry at something, as the only time she ever worked out anymore was to burn off steam.
So lost in thought was she failed to notice the rhythmic noises end, and thus was caught in the awkward position of being startled when the door was opened roughly to reveal a sweaty, scowling Akane on her way towards the bath.
"Yeah, What?" Growled Akane, roughly pushing past her sister into the hallway.
Yup, definitely a bad sign. Oh, well. Here goes nothing... "Akane, did you hear that noise outside about ten minutes ago?" It was a simple, noncommittal start offering lots of flexibility depending on her response.
"Nope. What sound?" No emotional change at all.
Well, so much for that. Nabiki lightly held Akane by the shoulder and turned her around "Um, Akane, the uh..."
"Spit it out already! I want to take a bath before I start stinking." Akane gruffly shook off the offending hands, and adopted the classic hands-on-hips position of female aggression, her eyes hard and "Not that it really matters, seeing as how nobody's going to be in bed with me tonight to smell it. It's not like tonight was supposed to be my wedding night or anything."
"Oh Crap. Well, I'm already committed I guess..." she thought, steadying her will. "Akane," once again, the hands reached up, offering support that clearly wasn't welcomed. She lowered her eyes, softened her voice, and broke the news in the manner least likely to get her killed. "The dojo... Akane, it collapsed. There's nothing left but rubble."
She stood there like that for a moment, waiting for a reaction, any reaction. Instead, she was met only with an uncomfortably heavy silence, and found herself holding increasingly tensing shoulders. When Akane cleared her throat quite obviously, she looked up to a pair of impatient and threatening brown eyes.
"Well?" Akane broke the silence, but somehow Nabiki didn't feel any better.
"If you plan on apologizing, you are really ruining it with this waiting game."
"What? How can you blame me? I didn't do anything!" Despite her better judgment, she fell into a defensive spiral. "Why should I apologize for just trying to help you two avoid Dad's latest scheme? It's not like I told those idiots to blow the place up! They came up with that brilliant plan all on their own."
The reply was delayed much longer than could be usually expected. Akane stood in silence, her hands clutched into fists so tightly that her nails dug into the flesh of her palms and let loose a trickle of blood. She smoldered in her fury, her eyes held closed and her breathing irregularly deep and rapid.
As Nabiki watched, fixated on these developments, Akane burst right through her usual blazing fury and ended up on the other side, allowing a menacingly cold look to settle onto her features. Nabiki started to back away slowly, but Akane held her hands to her shoulders with a grip worthy of a hydraulic press, and brought her head forward until they were practically nose-to-nose.
"You are going to have the dojo rebuilt, using only the finest materials, in exactly the same state as it was in the day Father finished it. This duty falls to you, Nabiki, and only you. You will pay for this, but without any of your usual schemes: no by blaming the Kunos, no selling out Ranma, and defiantly no taking advantage of the gifts that our wedding guests left behind. I expect that it will be completed before Ranma and I graduate next spring, just in time for him to begin teaching while I go on to college. If you don't get the job done to my satisfaction, I will... punish you. You got that?" Akane's icy glare held for a few of the longest seconds of Nabiki's life, but ended with Akane shoving her roughly onto her backside and continuing on her way to the furo as if nothing had happened at all.
Nabiki scrambled to her feet and blocked Akane's path with an accusing finger. "Okay, first off that is an absolutely ridiculous demand and you know it. Where the hell do you expect me to get that kind of money without Kuno? You know that no bank will loan me that kind of money for a new building, especially not with your reputation around building supplies, and definitely not without a steady source of income."
Akane responded dismissively, "Your problem, not mine."
"Oh really?" Nabiki spat, finding her groove. "Have you ever stopped to consider just how the money I get from Kuno and my various Ranma projects get used? Have you? Take a good look at that nice new Gi you're wearing, little miss holier-than-thou. How about the water bills for the bath you want to go take? If it wasn't for my 'schemes' paying for repairs around here, the dojo would have collapsed at least a year ago, if not sooner."
Akane begin once again to simmer in fury. "Most of the damage around here only happens because you keep taking advantage of all those damned idiots and getting them to come around at all hours of the day! If it weren't for your constant meddling, we wouldn't need the money you bring in! That's why this is your responsibility!"
The middle Tendo was on a roll now, smiling slightly as she sensed her victory sealed in this verbal duel. "Please, Akane. Just accept the way I operate, because there is no other way that we're going to get the money to fix it. What do you think I'm going to do, sell myself on the corner to strangers?"
If Akane sensed her contradictory wishes, she pretended not to. "I don't care. Not in the slightest. If you have to sell your soul to a devil for it, then you can JUST GO TO HELL FOR ALL I CARE!" Akane slapped her sister across the face hard enough to knock her off her feet and leave her slightly dazed. While Nabiki recovered she made her escape, stepping over the prone form casually and heading down the stairs, swiftly but softly.
After a few moments Nabiki regained her wits and her footing, dusting herself off absently. "Resorting to violence, how typical," she mentally noted. "Well, better go and try to diffuse the situation with Ranma too, before I get both of them after me. At least Ranma will most likely just run off instead of hitting me."
Ranma sat by the pond, staring deeply at nothing in particular as she racked her brain for any solution to the fiancée dilemma that didn't involve destroying his honor and whatever honor his family still held. This was not the first time she had spent time in deep thought, contrary to popular belief, but unfortunately it was ending up wit only the same two answers: suicide, or to simply continue waiting around until only one was left.
She just couldn't bring himself to choose one, for several reasons, all of which no one seemed to understand but her. The conflicting engagements meant that, technically, she had to marry all of them. That being illegal, and really far too much for even her to juggle, any other solution broke her honor twice over. If she abandoned honor and picked one the other two would either kill her, her chosen, or both, unless she stopped them permanently. Running away would only prolong the game and frustrate everyone involved, as her father's poor example had shown.
Suicide worked for solving her problems, in a twisted sort of way, and would allow all the girls a chance to find love elsewhere, after they got over her, of course. Unfortunately, this would also destroy her family without a doubt, leaving the Saotome line and art no heirs to carry on. With her dead, she had no doubt that his mother and father would never speak again, assuming they didn't choose to follow her. For that matter, any one of the fiancée's might even choose death as well in the situation, creating one final pointless competition: a race to get the first shot at Saotome Ranma in the next life.
The other solution, which she was employing with great difficulty so far, had several drawbacks as well. The greatest problem was that the waiting game could conceivably last for years, or even decades. Was her honor really worth stealing away that much of her fiancée's time on earth? The waiting was hurting all of them a little more each day, and it was what was probably behind the constant escalation of threats and plots from his admirers and rivals. Could Ranma keep this up long enough? Would one or more of them die before it got resolved, possibly taking along bystanders? Ukyo had already spent ten years on him, shampoo was bound by law to continue the pursuit, and Akane would likely continue indefinitely, if only to never admit defeat.
Her reverie was cut short as she sensed a presence coming up behind her, slowly and cautiously. Ranma continued to stare motionless into the pool until this guest was almost on top of her before calling out a clear and hard "What do ya want, Nabiki?"
"Um, I wanted to" A confident tone, after a short throat clearing noise, became little more than a whisper. "A... ahem, apologize for what happened."
Without turning away from the pool, Ranma continued the discussion. "Why? What did you do?" Before Nabiki could open her mouth to respond, Ranma added, "Oh, I'm pretty sure what you did, in one way or another, but I want to hear you say it."
"I am responsible, indirectly, for all the damage that has occurred today. Although I did not give invitations to any of your rivals or fiancée's, I did make it convenient for them to overhear the information, for a price, of course. I," Nabiki's voice grew softer suddenly, as if she were close to tears. "I didn't think anything near this bad would happen. Please, Ranma, at least turn and look at me."
Ranma obliged her slowly, looking at her backlit outline directly where her eyes should be without comment for a moment, before answering her plea. "I think I can forgive you," she stated, "But only if you tell me why you did it. Was it just for some money or something, Nabiki?"
"No, not really. I just took the opportunity that the situation presented. I..." she paused for a moment, regaining her strength, "I found out about Dad's plan before you woke up, and I figured I'd give you a welcome back present by taking care of this one for you, on the house."
"I believe you, Nabiki. I'm not sure why, but I do. Apology accepted." The shadowy form sighed, a sound full of relief, before Ranma continued her questioning. "Nabiki, what made you think we needed your help? No matter what they do to set us up, a simple no at the right time would still stop everything. Do you really think for one minute that this wedding would have gone off if I wanted to stop it?"
"At first, I really didn't think it was a problem, but then I talked to Akane." Nabiki crouched down and put a hand on his arm in a gesture of honesty and concern that surprised her. "Ranma, you need to talk to my sister, and soon, before she does something truly stupid. She loves you, Ranma. She was willing to go through with the wedding."
"Yeah" she snorted, "She felt guilty about me saving her, more like it, and got blackmailed into it by your dad." Ranma tried to smirk but the expression didn't quite reach his eyes. His tone returned to a more somber state.
"Nabiki, I don't love her, at least not like that. I can't. Believe me, I tried to, but it just isn't possible. She can't possibly love me, either, no matter what you or she thinks. She's got no faith in me whatsoever and always jumps to the worst possible conclusion every time something involves me. How could any marriage work like that? Aren't relationships supposed to be built on trust?" With a sideways glance at the sky and a frustrated sigh she concluded, "I want to be her friend, Nabiki, but that's it. Too bad that isn't what's being forced on me."
Nabiki sat in silence, stunned by this new information. Ranma watched her, slightly amused despite his overall foul mood, as her eyes roamed randomly in the air, as if she were trying to reorganize her model of the whole world. Just before she reached the level of an uncontrollable chuckle, Nabiki refocused. "So then, which one do you prefer? If you don't mind me asking..."
Ranma stiffened for a moment in response, as if preparing herself silently for a battle. He silently turned his head, surveying the area for possible eavesdroppers before answering. "None. I'd like to call of them friends, but that's it, and for pretty much the same reason. I think they all have themselves convinced they love me, but in reality they're only competing to win me, as if I were some kinda damn prize, not a person."
"You could always run away, Ranma. Nobody could stop you if you really wanted to go," She replied.
With a grumbling sigh, Ranma turned back to the pond. "Why doesn't anybody seem to understand this but me? I can't just run away like some honorless coward, like Pop would. Even if I did do you think that Ukyo and Shampoo wouldn't keep looking? Same reason I can't just pick one and get it over with; Honor. It always comes back to honor."
Nabiki pressed on. "Is your honor or even your family's honor worth this much suffering? This situation is hurting everyone involved, not just you. The longer you wait, the worse it's going to get."
Ranma turned back and looked her in the eye in response. "Yes. The only things in this world that I can truly claim are my honor and the Art. To lose one is to destroy half my soul, Nabiki." Ranma broke the contact, choosing instead to watch her hands attempt to enumerate her problems.
"The situation is much bigger than that though, bigger than just me making up my mind and sticking to a decision. It's not just my honor on the line here. What's left of my family's honor is on the line. If I don't choose Akane, you, or Kasumi then your family will lose face as well, and Pop will probably lose his only friend. How can I ever repay Ukyo for the hell Pop and me have caused her if I don't go with her? Unless I choose Shampoo she'll be exiled from her people and branded a failure. At least Kodachi isn't tied to me yet, despite her trying everything she can to get her honor involved."
Ranma kept plunging forward, spilling all the complications of his daily existence in one bitter tirade. "There are considerations that go beyond just the fiancée situation, too. Ryoga's honor is tied to me, and I have to atone for something I did to him; though I won't explain what so don't bother asking. I'm kinda indebted to Cologne for all her help and training, despite the trouble she causes me. At least she had the good sense to stay out of it today."
Ranma threw up her arms violently, seeming to almost surrender to the crushing weight of her obligations. "Heck, I probably don't even know all the people who have claims to me! Who knows how many other fiancées' that pop set up I've got waiting out there, still trying to track me down? How many other rivals are out there with affronts to their honor and challenge matches waiting for me? I've almost given up hope of ever getting free of the effects of Pop's stupidity. No matter what I do, lots of people end up getting hurt."
"I never actually sat down and thought about it like that, Ranma." Nabiki was obviously shocked at just how much thought he had put into this. "Maybe you aren't as dumb as I thought."
"Yeah, well, welcome to my life." Ranma said with a smirk.
She joined him in a grin, but Nabiki's slight smile quickly faded. "And on top of all that, I, I had to go and cause you more trouble today. God, Ranma, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
She spoke the last few words quietly, her voice wavering. Ranma stood up from the pond and walked toward her in silence. "Don't worry about it. I said I forgive you already."
"But what if no one else does? What if I can't forgive myself? This is too much, Ranma. I really crossed the line here." Nabiki seemed simultaneously flustered and on the verge of collapse, vainly holding her mask of ice against the oncoming flood of guilty tears. She quickly reached up to her face again, intending to wipe away the renegade drop of liquid, but Ranma beat her to it and gently flicked it away with one hand.
As the redhead's hand brushed Nabiki's face she winced away from the touch, as if it caused her pain. Confused, Ranma simply stood nearby as Nabiki regained control over her emotions. "Come on, don't cry... you know I don't know how to deal with that kinda stuff."
For the second time tonight she had been completely caught off guard by someone's reaction. "He's trying to comfort me! Me, the ice queen, the one who just ruined his day and got him pulverized. How can he be so caring?" Nabiki as expecting some reaction, but when he reached up to gently wipe away her false tears away she was shocked. As Ranma's hand brushed against the bruised flesh of her cheek she was snapped out of her reverie and reflexively pulled away, immediately cursing her reaction.
"Come on, don't cry... you know I don't know how to deal with that kinda stuff." Ranma's tender, if clumsy, words seemed to melt her for a moment, and despite herself she just had to collapse into the smaller girl's offered embrace. She was surprised to find that Ranma respond not with a quiet strength as she expected, but with a grunt of pain and a slight stumble backwards.
She looked at the redhead before her, as if for the first time tonight, and suddenly remembered the disheveled condition that she had presented during her procession through the living room. Before her, Ranma stood with clenched teeth, her weight almost all on one foot, clutching at the opposite shoulder. The tables being officially turned, she helped Ranma back to a seat on the large, smooth, rain-polished rocks.
"Geez, Ranma, what the hell happened to you?" She asked eying the results of her well-intended interference.
"What didn't happen to me?" Ranma replied curtly, before her expression softened again with a sigh. "I wouldn't even know where to begin, unless you want it narrowed down to just tonight."
"Well, I suppose that is what I was asking. I couldn't see what was going on very well from the door, collecting gifts and greeting guests," she replied before wishing that she had chosen a response that didn't bring his attention back to her own part in the fiasco.
"I guess it started when Pops and your dad knocked me out, then after I woke up and had an argument with Akane, I came downstairs only to be greeted with all my other fiancées and to have several exploding things tossed in my face. Then I got into a fight with Pop, Ryoga, and Mousse over the nannichuan..."
"So dad didn't even let you use it, huh?" she said sadly, poking Ranma lightly in the breast, who she was surprised to find didn't flinch. "He said that he wouldn't give it to you until after the wedding, even though it was clearly addressed to you."
"What? It was mine the whole time and he kept it from me?" Ranma's fists were clenched so tightly that her knuckles audibly grated on one another, until suddenly she stopped and simply sagged. "Ah, what's the use? Beating on your dad won't bring the water back. I guess it's really over... I'll be like this forever." Ranma hefted her breasts to emphasize the point, her voice trailing off as she looked at herself. "Forever only half a man."
"Come on, Ranma, cheer up! So you missed out on another chance, what else is new? Hey, it could be worse, right? At least there's always more water where that came from..." Nabiki pleaded, not entirely convincing even herself of the sincerity of her words, until she noticed Ranma tighten up again at her mention of more water.
"That, that's just it, Nabiki. There is no more. While I was fighting Saffron we kinda destroyed the source of Jusenkyo's water, this big mountain with two magical water taps, and ended up flooding all the springs. That was probably the very last of it."
Ranma sat very quietly for a moment, and finally Nabiki couldn't take the oppressive feeling that settled over the scene. "Wait," she interjected suddenly, "You destroyed a mountain? Sure, Ranma, tell me another one. You're good, but nobody's that powerful."
Nabiki's slight mocking chuckle died as the red head turned her humorless steel-blue eyes towards her. "It wouldn't be the first time. Remember about four and a half months ago when I got stuck in my cursed form?" Nabiki could only nod in response. "Remember all the reports about a small volcanic eruption in the northern islands that the scientists couldn't explain, about the same time?" Ranma simply sat in silence, staring at her.
"No way..." she heard her own voice whisper, uncalled. "That, that isn't possible, Ranma. I refuse to believe that a person could destroy a mountain without the aid of something like a nuclear bomb, and even then I'm skeptical."
Ranma replied indignantly, with almost acidic tone. "Oh, and people randomly changing sex several times a day is ok by you? How about if the other person fighting was a dragon, or a god? Believe it then?"
Nabiki responded with less strength in her voice this time. "Well, you're 'curse' is most likely some kind of unknown water-bound microscopic parasite, but a dragon and a god? Get real, Ranma. Seriously, I'm not buying it, even with your money."
"Saffron had wings, four of them, and could fly. He threw around fireballs bigger than a car and intense enough to melt solid stone without any real effort. I cut off his wings and they grew back before he even started to fall. When I finally killed him, tore him to little scraps of burning meat smaller then a hundred yen coin, he was reborn as an infant, hatching from an egg less than five minutes later. If someone like that wants to call themselves a god, I'm not going to argue."
With Ranma's confident words came a simple and unimaginably blunt shock. "Gods?" she wondered silently. "There really are gods?" Ok, curses she could explain. To accept that the world really has superhuman entities in it like dragons and gods, however would push her view of reality seriously out of whack. At first all she could do was marvel at the description of the foe, but soon resolved herself that the 'god' in question must just be some guy who found powerful curse in Jusenkyo like that Rouge girl that stayed at the dojo a while back.
Okay, so the immortality thing and the ultra-fast regeneration was kind of difficult to explain away, but the fireballs could be just a stronger version of Ranma's own 'great tiger...' or whatever attack. Besides, if she accepted that Gods were real, wouldn't that mean that Demons were real, too? With a slight nervous shudder of doubt, starting in the pit of her stomach, a startling question arose about Ranma.
"You, killed him, Ranma?" She spoke hesitantly, looking at her shoes as they swayed in the rain soaked grass, watching the moisture collect the ambient light from the house and release it as a million tiny sparkles. Unsure of her own words, she pressed on. "If you killed a god... what does that make you?"
"A murderer, I guess." She could almost taste the self-loathing that accompanied that answer.
"But you said he was reborn! If he's still alive, then it's not like you really killed him, is it Ranma?" she offered quickly.
"No, Nabiki, he's dead and I killed him." He sighed and looked sideways to face her. "I asked his advisors before we left. They said that his powers and some of his memories always come back, but the details are lost, his personality is usually quite different. His body is alive, but I killed him all the same...and the worst part is I'd do it again without hesitation."
Nabiki was prepared to offer an excuse, a rationalization that would ease Ranma's lingering sense of guilt, but her nose had other ideas. As she opened her mouth to speak, she suddenly sneezed violently. Before she could speak again, Ranma was already on her feet and helping her up. "Come on, we been out here in the rain long enough. Lets get back in before you get sick."
Nabiki's thoughts were still set to sarcasm, but his words were beginning to change her viewpoint. "Sure, Ranma, sure, a convenient excuse to avoid any ore 'unmanly' emotional talk, more likely. Amazing, really, to think that anyone could have the willpower to stay so controlled under that kind of pressure from every conceivable angle. Still, the guilt from something like this must be really eating at him. It would probably be good to try and get him to open up a little more. If nothing else, it could give me any easy way to blackmail... No! Damn it Nabiki, don't let yourself start thinking like that. I will not take any more advantage of Ranma then I absolutely have to, he's got too much hanging over him as it is."
Doing her level best to keep from limping any more in front of Nabiki, Ranma was met at the threshold with a kettle of heated water and a warm, fluffy towel. She took both with a nod from the eldest Tendo Daughter, whose smile was thin and strained. Returning to his natural form, he handed the kettle to Kasumi, and shuffled into the house. At first he headed towards the kitchen for a snack, but after Stifling a sneeze he abruptly halted and turned back to the girls. "Think I'll hit the bath first, if no one's using it" he remarked.
Nabiki, face still wrapped in a towel while drying of her hair, offered a muffled warning. "Akane was heading that way earlier, right before I came outside. Make sure you knock, Ranma. Like I said, she's angry."
"Thanks, Nabiki. Make sure you get to bed early so you don't get sick, ok?" After waiting for a towel to offer a vague sense of a nod, he wandered past Soun's room to the outer door of the changing room. After several knocks, and no answer, he entered, stripped, and entered the furo proper.
Greeted with the sight of a sleeping, very naked Akane, and amazingly enough, floating, he immediately backpedaled and slipped on the tile, overturning a wash bucket, and landing solidly on the back of her head with a resounding, excruciating crack.
A sudden noise brought Akane back to wakefulness. Her unexpected shift in balance was enough to ruin her first victory over water and woke her up very quickly, sputtering as water entered her nose.
"Ptuu, hah, wheez... what the? Ranma?"
"Ugh... what?" came a very weak reply from the naked form on the floor clutching its head.
"What? Damn it tomboy, don't yell, my head is killing me."
"Get the hell out of here, you damned pervert! Why don't you ever learn to knock?" She punctuated her question with a sharp kick to the ribs, sending the naked, heavily bruised, burnt, and cut girl sliding across the tile, leaving a slight trickle of blood from her most recent wound on the back of her head.
Clutching at the pain, keeping her eyes firmly closed, Ranma replied through clenched teeth "I did. Three times. You were asleep. When I came in and found you, I slipped and fell on my head. Now please, just get dressed and get out while I keep my eyes closed. I won't see or touch anything."
"Of all the nerve!" her mind raged. "To walk in on her, naked, and expect me to leave! Especially after he had obviously just returned from a tryst with one of the hussies that he had his arms around when I last saw him, hours ago." With a resounding cry of "pervert!" She booted the smaller, unresisting girl through the door and out into the hall, where she struck the wall heavily and slid to the floor, remaining motionless.
Suddenly, her anger finally given a sufficient release, Akane realized just what she had done, and to who. Had the wedding gone off as she had hopped, she would be right now looking forward to that same 'pervert' looking at her naked body, and much more to be sure. Yet, she still couldn't bring herself to stop and check on the small fetal ball of red hair and pale skin, out of an inborn sense of righteousness and a sour hint of guilt.
Contenting herself with the justifications of a punishment for ruining the wedding, obviously all his fault, and for running off afterwards, not that she actually looked for him, and walked back to her room with her head held high and her nakedness blissfully forgotten.
"Really, Nabiki, you should not have been out in the rain like that. You'll get sick." Kasumi scolded lightly, taking the now soggy towel back from her sister as they entered the kitchen. She dropped it numbly when she saw what it had hidden from Ranma's view. She responded in a most un-Kasumi-like fashion by yelling a frantic "What happened to you?"
Nabiki mentally sighed at her recent injury's notice. "Well, at least Ranma didn't notice yet. Great, what story do I go with now? The fake waterworks won't work on sis; she's too perceptive on stuff like this. Just the truth, I guess."
"Well," she began to explain, "Akane was really upset when I told her about the dojo, but I think she was still upset from earlier.
"Akane hit you? My, it seems that I will have to talk to her about her temper again. It simply wouldn't do for her to end up... well, in any trouble."
Nabiki continued to hold out doubts, especially considering the number of talks that had gone completely unheeded by her younger sister. "Just leave it alone, sis, really. I kind of deserved it, I suppose, after what happened."
"But I thought you said that wasn't your fault, Nabiki. At least, that is what you told father. You weren't lying earlier, were you Sister?" The look she attached to the question was not a very pleasant one, and made Nabiki almost want to curl up into herself at her slip up.
"Great, one talk with Ranma and I apparently catch his 'foot-in-mouth' disease," Nabiki berated herself silently.
"I wasn't lying exactly... more like not mentioning other contributory factors. I may have been somewhat... careless with my selection of location for informing the guests." she admitted while making herself a cup of hot coco. "I guess I sort-of sabotaged the wedding, but I only wanted to keep Dad from forcing Ranma and Akane to get married, as a sort of welcome home present."
"Are you sure, Sister, that you were not really trying to keep Ranma available? For someone else, perhaps?"
Nabiki was momentarily shocked by the question, and flashes of her dream from that morning made her pause in her answer. She milled it around in her brain for a moment, summing up her conclusions under her breath with, "It couldn't be, could it?"
Any need for a response was cut off by the sudden shout "Pervert!" followed immediately by a crash and soon after by a wet, steaming mad, and very naked Akane parade past the kitchen and up the stairs.
"Well Sis, from the sound at least he didn't go through the wall again." And I even reminded him to knock... well, knowing Akane, that may not have even mattered at this point.
Kasumi did not look happy at all. Without comment she retrieved a bucket and mop from the closet and walked off down the hall, her final comments trailing after her. "That bruise is going to be black tomorrow. Be sure to ice that, Nabiki, to at least keep the swelling down."
"Well, that was convenient" Nabiki started to say, before cutting herself off shamefully. Ranma had probably just gotten himself hurt again, and all she could do was sit here and be glad that it helped avoid a tricky question. "Guess I ought to do something nice for him..."
While she was filling up one of the well-used icepacks, inspiration struck. "Hey, he'll probably be hungry when he's done with a bat, seeing as how he missed supper. I'll just warm up some leftovers for him and set them out for him." With a pleasant smile Nabiki quickly raided the fridge, gathering enough food for three normal people or one Saotome, and began reheating it.
"Ranma-kun, are you... goodness!"
The petite girl in question, currently rolled up in a ball on the floor, could only moan a half-conscious greeting to the eldest Tendo daughter. "Ughh." Before she was fully awake, she found herself drawn up off the floor and carried into the furo room. Kasumi sat the semi-conscious guest on a stool and shoved a bar of soap into her hands.
"Come now, Ranma, I can't have you bleeding all over the floor. Now just get cleaned up, take a bath, and go to bed. Don't forget, you have school tomorrow now that you're back." Informed Kasumi impatiently, continuing her lecture while beginning to clean the floor stains.
"Damn it, what the hell did I do to deserve that from Akane?" Ranma puzzled silently.
"Uh, thanks Kasumi, but could you leave, please? I don't think I could change back and take a bath with you in here. I'll take care of the mess when I'm done, I suppose," the red-head suggested.
Kasumi paused in her scrubbing, and stood to face the bruised, naked, and slightly shivering girl. With a sigh, she relented, leaving the bucket, mop, and scrubbing sponge on the floor. "Do hurry, then, Ranma. These stains will be much harder to get up if you let them set into the grout." She turned to leave, but was stopped by another question.
"By the way, did I miss dinner? I'm starving," asked Ranma as her stomach rumbled in agreement. Kasumi didn't move from the door, but turned back to face her guest.
"Yes, we ate what we could salvage from the wedding earlier." She answered. After a slight pause and a glance off into space she added, "Where do you run off to, by the way? Akane was very upset, and is convinced that you ran off with either Ukyo of Shampoo." Something in Kasumi's speech, or perhaps missing from her earlier smile, left Ranma with the distinct feeling that Kasumi was disappointed in her... or upset?
"Just doing some thinking, at least until the dojo decided to fall on me," she answered slightly bitterly. Kasumi's eyes closed tightly at the mention of the dojo, but she quickly stood back up strait, maintaining her role as the pillar of the family.
"Do you think you should to talk with her when you finish, Ranma?" She suggested, without any hint of a question. "She was sure you left with one of the other girls, trying to avoid the wedding. She was so upset that she yelled at the rest of the family, in front of all the guests. She said some very unkind and rude things, and I fear we may have irredeemably lost face in the community over this matter."
Ranma adopted her classic apologetic pose, with one hand raised to the base of her neck, wincing as she touched the point of impact. "I don't think I'm up for another argument tonight, Kasumi," she replied, as was strongly suggested by the continuing pounding sensation in her head. "I'll skip practice with Pops tomorrow morning and talk to her before school, I promise."
"Very well," she answered, her tone leaving no doubt that everything was not well in her opinion. "But don't put it off too long, and don't treat this lightly. The dojo meant far more to this family than you realize, Ranma." She heard the outer door close with more force than necessary.
"Scary," Ranma shivered, speaking to herself quietly, "even Kasumi's kinda pissed about this. Well, better get to it." With quick movements far from her usual level of efficiency, Ranma finished off the part of the bath he hated, the re-soak cold-water rinse. Sitting on the stool, she took a moment to survey the damage in an almost clinically detached manner. Bruises and light burns were completely ignored as she went through her checklist, due to a constant presence or as long as she really could remember, though not usually this extensive.
Head: Recent mild concussion, slight bleeding.
Torso: Two ribs fractured by Saffron, healing at usual rate, but aggravated by Akane and explosives.
Arms: Right shoulder has a long, fairly shallow cut from a katana slash. It should not require stitches, yet.
Legs: Left ankle badly twisted. Possible tear or sprain, may require medical attention.
After an all-too-brief soak, Ranma quickly scrubbed up his blood from the tile floor, and got dressed. He hobbled downstairs to the kitchen, intending to finally silence his impatient stomach with a few leftovers. He was surprised to find a large bowl of rice, pickles, and beef strips set at his place at the table, still steaming, next to a bowl of soup, a large glass of water, and a note. He sat down to enjoy the unexpected meal, but first investigated the mysterious writing.
"I thought I told you to knock, Ranma-kun." A quick sketch of a smirking Nabiki followed the text.
He wasn't sure whether he should be annoyed at the reminder, or thankful for the food, so he just gave up and ate in silence. "Too quiet, guess I'm the last one up," He silently noted. No sooner did he comment on the quiet then he heard the first faint sounds of an inebriated duet coming up the walkway.
As he finished his meal the front door opened, and in staggered a drunken panda and an equally drunk and crying Soun, leaning heavily on each other. They seamed to sober instantly upon seeing him, backs stiffening and throwing him angry glares. Ranma responded with an icy glare that almost surpassed the dreaded 'demon-head' technique for intimidation.
Mr. Tendo turned away abruptly, and walked toward his room without comment, but with a few wobbles. Genma responded with a sign, appearing from wherever the hell it was he kept them, that read, "Rest well tonight, boy. Tomorrow morning we will have a conversation with you and your proper fiancée." The panda turned it around revealing, "This matter will be resolved, and soon. It is a matter of honor; your feelings on the subject have no weight." Before he could fashion a reply, the panda dropped the sign on the table stiffly, and lumbered up the stairs.
Ranma finished his meal quickly, rinsed off his bowls and glass, and limped up to his room. The panda lay on its futon, its back to the door. "Pop, what's going on now?" he demanded. The panda ignored him, so gruffly he undressed and got into his futon. "This is all your fault, old man," he continued to complain, though more to himself then to the obviously unconscious bear. "All my problems come back to you and your stupid training. All you talk about is honor, but with a father like you how can this family have any honor at all?"
Ranma rolled around a bit, searching for a position that didn't hurt one of his injuries. At length, he just gave up the fruitless search and drifted off to a much-needed sleep.
Akane's point of view is labeled by the pound sign, at the suggestion of Freak247, AKA Brian #3 (apparently there are lots of us).
Way back in August of 2001 I posted the first version of this story, up until part 6, at which time I realized that I had made a big error in the plot, most notably, going WAY overboard on one scene. For those of you who don't remember, I won't ruin it by discussing it here, but suffice it to say that it was highly unbelievable, even given the set up I offered a few chapters back.
Also, at the same time, I had a new idea that I felt would make for a much better story, so I decided to just stop for a while and get the whole thing sorted out and back on track. Well, being a double major in English and Philosophy, the semester for me very quickly evolved into one huge chunk of reading, leaving me no time to write anything of my own.
Christmas break, however, has come and gone, and I have finally found the time to get this story back on track with a major rewrite. I can't promise that the updates will be regular, but the whole thing is just sitting in my brain waiting to sneak out, so I can say without a doubt it will one day be finished.
NemesisZero, AKA Brian #2
Reviews welcomed, appreciated, and sometimes even answered! Wow!