Dawn had just come to the land of the rising sun when an ear-splitting alarm echoed through the air, blaring its wakeup call around the room. A hand reached out from beneath the covers in response, searching for the source of the sound. It groped blindly in places until it found the clock, then quickly seized it in its grasp. A desperate manipulation of buttons followed, silencing the scream.
The covers pulled away, to reveal a lump of humanity beneath. The figure shone with youth even through the weariness, being only about fifteen or so. The creature's gender was quite obvious even through the unisex pajamas, as a woman's curves made themselves known from behind the outfit. Squinting at dawn's light, the figure unbuttoned her pajamas, leaving her as she was born. She looked down at herself with a tired frustration, then walked over to the closet.
The young girl's frown deepened when she opened the door. Set before her were clothes not appropriate to her gender: shirts, slacks, loafers, Nehru jackets, and other articles meant for a boy. She mechanically picked up some clothes, along with a piece of cloth, and set the pile in front of her. The cloth was first; she tied the fabric around her waist, then wrapped it in layers around her chest, taking care not to make the prison too loose or tight. The other clothes came on quickly, with a speed born of years of familiarity. Finally, she reached back and tied her long brown tresses back into a mannish ponytail.
The overall effect, from her perspective in the mirror, was simply transforming. The stoic face, the flat chest, the strong hands... this was no woman in the looking-glass. This was a man in every way that mattered.
But, if that were true... why did Ukyou Kuonji feel so empty inside?
Far and Away
Part one (of three)
All Ranma 1/2 characters created by Rumiko Takahashi.
All rights reserved. I ask that you not do anything with any part of this work without the author's permission. If you want to, please ask. I usually don't mind.
"Please... let it be empty..."
Ukyou strode quickly down the school's halls, her careful, rushed steps a clear indication of her problem. Nature was calling her (calling her LOUDLY), and she had to listen. She normally waited until everyone was gone to phys. ed.; unfortunately, her second cup of tea left her straining to get this far.
She ran into the restroom, careful of any others in the room. After a quick scan, she went into one of the stalls, and pulled her pants down. She finished her business with a sigh of relief,
restored her clothing to its former state, and made her way to the door.
"Er... pardon me."
Her heart stopped. A young man leaned against the wall, his expression that peculiar mix of amusement and curiosity that comes with the discovery of a secret. Ukyou frowned; his looks seemed more appropriate in some shojo manga rather than real life - tall, lean, with rebellious black hair shielding slate-gray eyes and severe features. Instinct told the okonomiyaki chef to run, but she knew the possible results of that. Instead of running, she held her ground, ready for a fight.
"Whaddaya want? Can't a guy go to the bathroom?"
The mystery man raised his head slightly, revealing more of his bishonen features. His gray eyes sparkled in the light. "Of course. However... would that apply to you?"
She grunted. "I'm more guy than most of the ones here."
"I don't doubt that in the slightest." He walked over to her, carefully examining her features. "I'd be careful, though, if I were you. Those cheekbones are a dead giveaway."
Ukyou didn't know how to take the indirect comment. "Yeah, well... some things can't be helped, I guess." She tuned around to leave.
"Wait." The man caught her by the arm. "You didn't even tell me your name."
She thought of lying, then thought better. "Ukyou Kuonji."
He bowed in greeting. "Toshifumi Yamada, but my friends call me Toshi. I hate to leave, but I've gotta go to class myself. See you around, Kuonji... chan." He turned and walked away, a cheshire-cat grin painted on his face.
Ukyou walked over to the sink and washed her hands, her moves unconscious. Someone knew her secret - someone she didn't know at all, and had seen or heard about maybe once or twice before. Still... he was kinda cute...
She instantly cut off her train of thought and dried her hands. She had class to return to, and she was already late.
It was night before Ukyou had a chance to relax. After school came an hour of homework, then an evening at the Kuonji Okonomiyaki-ya. She didn't complain; she loved to cook for other people, to make culinary magic from the most mundane of items, and to see the light in their eyes as they enjoyed one of her creations. She knew what she wanted to be when she grew up; it was only a matter of time.
The young woman walked outside, and took the sign down from the entrance. The air felt cool; the ocean's wind blew in against her skin, chilling the beads of sweat there. She looked up at the night sky, and smiled. All in all, today had been a good day.
"Ukyou, are you all right?" Her father called out from the grill.
"Yeah, Dad. I'll be there in a sec." She turned for one last glimpse of night, then walked back inside.
Hikaru Kuonji looked so old to her eyes at times like this. The old man had seen too much disappointment, too much heartache in his life, and it showed all too clearly in his dark eyes and sad wrinkles. His grizzled beard, now flecked with gray, hid scars she didn't want to know more about. He nodded without smiling, and started to clean the grill.
"What happened at school today?"
Ukyou shrugged; this was a question he normally asked her. "Not much. Yoshida-sensei gave a quiz earlier today, but that wasn't much of a problem."
The faintest hints of a smile tugged at his face. "Anything else?"
She swallowed. "Well... someone found out about me."
The smile vanished. "I see." He started to scrub the grill in earnest. "How?"
Ukyou felt small under her father's gaze. "I had to go to the bathroom, and I didn't notice him in there."
"Will it be a problem?"
"I don't think so." She bit her lip for a moment. "From what I've heard about the guy, he tends to be pretty quiet. It took an hour for me to find someone who knew who he was." She shrugged. "Of course, I won't know until I go back to school tomorrow."
The old man finished his chore, and walked over to his child. "Ukyou, you've got to be more careful than that. I don't want to have to send you to Uncle Tamiya's to live if I can help it." He brought her in close and hugged her, something he hadn't done in years.
"Ukyou... I know this is hard on you... but please. You've got to keep up the act, no matter what happens."
"I know, Father. I know." The words felt hollow in her throat, though, for some reason. She broke off the embrace, and stepped back.
"Father, do you mind if I go down to the beach tomorrow?"
The light returned to the old man's eyes; like any father, he took pride in his child's skills. "That's fine. Just make sure you're home by closing, okay?"
She nodded, and gave him a playful wink. "Sure thing, Dad." She ran up to her bedroom, to end what had been a most fascinating day.
On the other edge of the neighborhood, in a small, run-down apartment, a young man stared at the ceiling from his futon, pondering the day's events. The discovery he'd made today had come as quite a surprise to him; Ukyou was known by reputation as one of the best fighters in the school. Moreover, the "man" lived out the perfect tough-guy image, with hardened, skeptical brown eyes, a firm chin, a quiet, distant demeanor, and fighting moves that belonged on the silver screen. Ironically, the only one who ever bothered her was another cross-dresser, though Tsubasa'd apparently been like that for years.
Questions lingered in his mind from the morning's events, questions he didn't have the answers to. Why in the world would a woman willingly give up her womanhood? From what he'd seen of her, she didn't enjoy being a guy; to her, it was just something to do, like giving a greeting when entering a house. Moreover, he knew, both from experience and word-of-mouth, that she was frighteningly lonely. She only initiated conversations she was forced to, and rarely participated in any others.
Just like himself.
He turned over on his side and readied for bed, not wanting to listen to his thoughts any more.
"Tsubasa, you JERK!"
Ukyou stood in front of the school, fury radiating from her lithe form. Her eyes narrowed at the massive sight in front of her, a gift from a certain admirer. Her fists shaking, she walked up to the tanuki statue, ready to shatter it to bits, when it came to life, jumping in front of her.
"Ukyou-sama! Please go on a date with me! Pleeazzze..." The statue positively groveled, not an easy thing for it to do. Ukyou, needless to say, was not impressed.
"I have tried reasoning with you. I have tried bargaining with you. And I.... have... had... ENOUGH!" She hefted the statue with her spatula, sending it (and the occupant within) far from the school grounds. Still shaking, she dropped her spatula momentarily, allowing the adrenalin rush to pass.
"Excuse me... you dropped this." She turned around, startled. Few people were brave enough to talk to her at any time, let alone after a fight.
"Thank... You!" The old fighting reflexes started with Tsubasa's antics came to her again, and she glowed red with fury.
Toshi backed away slowly, close enough to talk, but far enough to run. "Sorry. I was just picking up your spatula." He held it out to her carefully, ready to act at any time.
Fortunately for him, the young student relaxed. "Yeah, well. thanks." She gruffly took the spatula from him, and started to walk into the building. He followed, a few feet behind her.
"Kuonji-kun? Are you okay?" The words were said softly, apparently from genuine concern.
"And why wouldn't I be?"
Toshi gestured downward with his head. "Well, the shaking in your hands, for one."
"That's normal. Besides, what do you care?" She whirled around, seeing another target for her affections.
Toshi just shook his head. "Don't give me that. I've seen you over the past week or so. Trust me, it's not normal."
"Whaddaya mean by that, you jackass?"
"Just think about it, okay? Please... before you hurt yourself any more than you have." He walked away to his class, leaving her alone.
Ukyou stood stock-still, her mouth agape, then stared at the spatula in her hands. She slammed the cooking implement into the wall, creating a sizeable dent, and stormed to class.
Cooking, as some people will readily attest, is not the best thing to do when in an angry mood. The culinary arts require a certain patience and delicacy to get right, both of which tend to go flying out the window when upset. Preparations are rushed, spices and ingredients are overloaded or ignored, and the final product suffers due to inattention or impatience.
Ukyou stood there, her eyes to the floor, shame and anger intermingling inside of her. It was clear she wasn't at her best form today, and several of her customers had loudly let her know their disappointment. Nevertheless, she walked back to her father's grill, ready to help out some more.
The result was, sadly, predictable. This time, she let her thoughts wander, leaving the okonomiyaki burnt at the edges. She balled her fists, ready to tear apart the grill, when she felt the hand on her shoulder.
"Ukyou." Her father's voice, in that stern-yet-gentle tone he usually used. She turned around slowly to face him.
"I'm sorry, Father. I..."
The old man sighed. "Take the night off, Ukyou. You're not doing anyone any good by staying right now."
The words, while unaccusing, hurt Ukyou, stinging at her insides. She wanted so much to please him, to please Mother, to please their customers... "Yes, Father." She grabbed her large spatula, and headed out.
After a modest commute, Ukyou stepped off the bus to look at the ocean. It was early spring; nobody came to visit the sea at this time of year save the foolish - or the desperate. Whenever she couldn't find peace in her work, she tried here, to find it in her warcraft. The practices would show her peace, as they always did.
She began the kata in her usual fashion, slowly, in a pattern resembling tai-chi, though the force of her movements could not be denied. Over the course of minutes, the moves increased in speed and complexity as she made herself one with the sea and wind, combining and combating with it, her technique culminating along the slippery rocks of the beach. The warrior leapt among the rocks, her spatula cutting through the water as though it were some monster to be defeated. Anyone watching could see she was pushing the envelope, taking risks too dangerous to warrant, though she didn't care. All she could feel was the storm of her own emotions, a cauldron far too chaotic for her to define or tame.
She did eventually realize her folly, though she found out too late. She felt her balance go when her foot slipped on the rocks, and knew that it was going to hurt...
Ukyou woke up to a feeling of warmth and pain. The latter seemed more abundant at first, as a dull throb echoed through her head, along with a stinging in her arm and shoulder. The warmth came to the forefront soon after, though, an intense-but-unobtrusive heat source at her left keeping her safe from the elements. She groaned involuntarily, the only venting of pain she'd allow herself.
"Are you all right?"
She opened her eyes slowly, careful not to jar recent wounds. The headache came on stronger now, nearly driving her back to slumber, but she held her ground. She had to; by rights, she would have died out there, and she needed to know what happened.
A fire's glow was the first thing she noticed, its blaze the solitary source of warmth in a night too dark for her liking. She looked down, and noticed her clothes gone, replaced by a dry school jacket which barely covered her attributes. She started to wonder what pervert she'd run across when she saw the figure sitting next to her.
"Welcome back," Toshi whispered.
She sat up, startled, then regretted it. "Ohhh...What are you doing here? And where are my clothes?" she asked indignantly.
He shrugged. "Your clothes are drying off right now. Sorry if I didn't have anything else, but my own clothes were soaked pulling you out."
"You... saved me?" she whispered, her mind still not quite able to grasp the concept. Toshi nodded.
"Well then, maybe you could tell me what you were doing out here."
"Making sure you didn't try to do something extraordinarily stupid, like try to work out your frustrations here when you're angry."
"What do you know about it? You don't know what I've been through." Her voice, already cracking, softened at the last words.
"True enough, I don't. Then again, you don't know what I've been through." He bit his lip for a moment, lost in thought, then checked his watch. "The buses stopped running out here about an hour ago. It would seem we have plenty of time. Tell you what: if I tell you my story, will you tell me yours?" He held out a package of rice crackers.
Ukyou looked intently at the food offered her. She was terribly hungry, and those crackers seemed to call out to her. She grabbed one, and started munching. "Awright. You first."
"Fair enough." He stared into the flames, letting the dance reshape events in his mind.
"I was born in a small town near Nagoya, the second of four children. Childhood was normal... I grew up with my older brother and my sisters, and had a good time.
"Then my dad decided we should move to Kyoto. It was sad to leave my friends and all, but I didn't know the reasons why we left - or the eventual cost - until later."
He picked up a stick and pushed the logs around, changing the shape of the shadows. "About a year ago, I met this girl..."
"Don't all problems start with similar words?" She made an attempt at a smile.
For once, Toshi laughed - a deep, resonant chuckle that Ukyou found strangely pleasant. "True enough. What I didn't know was that I had a rival for her affections - one who would go to any lengths to have me out of the picture.
"One day, I came to school... and everyone treated me differently. My old friends avoided me like the plague. The girl I liked - well, she wouldn't give me the time of day. I didn't even find out what was wrong until one of the burakumin students came up to me."
Ukyou turned to face the young man - his morose expression, the crystal tears flowing down his face - and swallowed. The burakumin were the 'unclean' minority of Japan, those whose ancestors had done jobs necessary to society, and were rewarded with ostracism. To be labeled a burakumin was to live a life apart from mainstream society,
shunned forever by so-called 'proper' Japanese. She shuffled her feet, trying to find the right words to say.
"So. You're 'unclean', huh?" she whispered, then winced at the inelegant phrasing. She tightened the jacket around her, feeling the ocean's wind a bit more keenly.
He sighed. "I guess. Truth to tell, I don't care; people will either accept me for who I am, or they won't. If not, then that's their loss. Unfortunately, my brother didn't see it that way."
He swallowed, the words uncomfortable in his throat. "A couple of days later, while we were getting ready to move, I came home... and found that my brother had restored his honor." Ukyou barely heard his next words over the wind. "It took a lot to keep me from following him after that happened."
Ukyou bit her lip; she knew all too well what that was like. "I... my story sounds a bit like your brother's. You see, I've been dead for nearly ten years now, ever since I was... dishonored."
"Dishonored?" Toshi stared questioningly at the woman, trails of tears still glistening on his cheeks.
"When I was six years old, I met this boy named Ranma. We... it's hard to describe the relationship we had. Ever met a person, and known that you wanted to spend the rest of your life with them?"
"Yeah..." Toshi smiled, then clammed up at Ukyou's look.
"Anyway, I asked my dad to arrange a marriage with him. He did, our family's yatai was given as dowry... and they ran off, taking the cart with them." She grabbed another cracker, and bit into it viciously.
"So that's why you dress like that," Toshi spoke matter-of-factly.
She nodded slowly. "When that happened, I was given two choices. Either I could live as a dishonored daughter, which would mean shunning from just about everyone, or I could live as an honored son. I chose the latter."
"A shame, really." He looked at her keenly, as he did in the bathroom. "You do look pretty, at least when you're not acting."
The glare she gave him could have melted steel. "Don't ever say anything like that again. I can't afford it."
"Why shouldn't I? Any non-burakumin who marries me is dead. That tends to give me a freedom with my words - after all, how in the world could they be binding?"
Ukyou sighed, and turned back to the fire. "I... sorry, Toshi. It's just... I don't take compliments like that well. I _can't_ be feminine. That girl is gone, and has been for a long time."
"Fair enough, I guess." His frown deepened for a moment. "You promise not to tell anyone?"
The sheer ridiculousness of it all sent Ukyou giggling. "I won't tell if you won't..."
"Okay." He shuffled his feet against the ground for a moment. "You want to be friends?"
Ukyou looked at the young man for the moment. While not the cleanest of souls out there, he certainly didn't look 'unclean', and had some decency beneath a rogue's mask. Moreover, they were both very much alone, a dangerous thing to be in their culture. She gave him a lopsided grin, and put her hand on his shoulder.
End Part 1
Ukyou stepped off the bus and rubbed her tired eyes, still weary (and more than a bit bewildered) from the pervious night's events. She still didn't know what to think about what had happened; her time spent with Toshi had been... emptying, to say the least. They talked of so much - past horrors, future dreams, primal fears... it was a sharing that she'd never known possible. She knew the young man now, in a way impossible to describe. She only hoped her parents wouldn't be too critical of him when he came by.
The young woman stopped for a moment, and frowned. Her parents were _not_ going to be happy when she got home. She slowly walked to the old place, put the key in the lock... then looked in the shop's window.
A middle-aged woman - her mother - sat at one of the tables. The smouldering in her dark eyes let Ukyou know she was wide awake, while the wrinkles around the eyes and the slight lethargy as she picked up her teacup showed her weariness. The woman brushed a stray lock of graying hair from her face as Ukyou entered, and calmly took a sip of her tea.
"Where were you?" The soft alto was stern, even-toned, with a touch of anger.
Ukyou gulped. She still wasn't sure how to explain what had happened. "Well, Mom... I was hurt while practicing, and knocked unconscious. By the time I woke up, it was past time to go, and I was stranded there for the night."
Mrs. Kuonji instantly got up, and started examining her daughter. "Are you okay? You don't have a concussion or anything, do you?"
"I'm fine, Mom!" Ukyou shook out of her mother's grasp and pulled her tunic down, to expose the bandages on her shoulder. "All I got were a couple of bumps and scrapes."
The old woman sighed. "Ukyou... I told you that place was too dangerous to practice. I don't want you going there by yourself, if you can help it."
The young cook shuffled her feet. "Well, Mom... I wasn't exactly alone."
"What?" The stern disciplinarian was back.
"Well... one of my classmates followed me, to see what I did there. When I fell, he went in after me."
Her eyes bored into the young chef. "Is it anyone I know?"
"Not really. I'll try to bring him to the shop in a few days." She stifled a yawn, and started to walk away. "Mom, I'm going to get some sleep, okay?"
"What about school?"
Ukyou just looked back at her with lifeless eyes. "Wouldn't do me any good. I'm too tired right now." She staggered up to her bedroom, her mind far too gone to notice her surroundings. If she had, she might have noticed an old woman seething in frustration, and grabbing the back of a chair with whitened knuckles.
Far and Away
Part two (of three)
All relevant characters property of Rumiko Takahashi.
All rights reserved. I must ask that you not do anything with any part of this work without the author's permission.
"Ukyou Kuonji, where are you..."
Toshi stared up at the blue noonday sky, his brow lined with worry. It had been three days, and nothing had been seen of Ukyou since their night on the cliff. It gave him pause to wonder: had she left out of fear? Lord knows how many times he'd feared discovery, and had made tentative plans to move each time. Could she have done the same thing?
He turned around, blinking in mild surprise. Ukyou stood in a nearby cherry tree, watching him intently. There was something different about her... it took a moment for the information to sink in. She was smiling. In fact, her whole body language seemed to radiate comfort and a lack of aggression. Almost unconsciously, he blushed; she really did look nice when she let her guard down.
"Um... yeah. I was worried about you, especially after you didn't come back to school."
She shrugged. "I wasn't feeling well after that night. What happened took a lot out of me."
"You'd better not let your parents hear that," Toshi quipped. "They might get the wrong idea about what happened."
Ukyou leapt to the ground, and playfully slapped him on the chest. "Watch it, hentai."
Toshi held up his hands in mock surrender. "Sorry. It was begging to be said." He tapped his fingers against his thigh nervously. "Um... you want to have lunch together?"
"Sure." She pulled a box from her bag, and handed it to him. "Here."
It didn't take a genius to figure out what was in the box. He opened it, and smiled as he saw the okonomiyaki. "Your specialty, I take it?"
She nodded enthusiastically. "Of course."
Toshi took a careful bite into Ukyou's work. The spices in the sauce flooded his senses without overbearing, bringing a wide grin to his face. It was, far and away, the best okonomiyaki he ever tasted. "Mmmm... where'd you learn to cook like this? I've tasted stuff from people twice your age who didn't have nearly the skill you do."
She blushed. "Well... when your art is all you have left, you tend to obsess on it."
"I know the feeling... sort of. I didn't even have cooking to fall back on when my life went haywire." He took another bite of his dish, his thoughts drifting elsewhere. "Listen, Ukyou... about the other night..."
"What about it?"
He bit his lip for a moment. "Did you get into any trouble?"
Ukyou crossed her arms, and gently stroked her chin. "Well... my mom was kinda upset about what happened, but not too badly. I was injured, after all." She picked up her own food and began to eat. "By the way, they don't know about what happened... not the details, anyway."
Toshi took a sip of his tea, his mouth bent in a frown. "That was the other thing I wanted to ask you about. How did you... what do you..."
She smiled. It was kinda funny to see this silver-tongued devil at a loss for words. "It's okay, Toshi." She ran her fingers through her hair. "I needed the release I got that night. If I didn't..." She cut off her own words, not wanting to think about the possibilities. The two ate in silence for a moment, the tension thick between them.
Finally, Ukyou spoke, her voice uncertain. "You want to come to my family's shop tonight?"
"Sounds good. When will you be working?"
She shrugged. "All evening. I have to make up for lost time."
Toshi shuffled his feet for a moment, then nodded. "Okay."
Toshi walked slowly down Kobe's streets, his palms sweaty, his heart racing. He worried about tonight's visit; after all, Ukyou's parents would be there. How does one address himself to someone who forced a daughter to live as a man for ten years, and would probably carve his heart out for one innocent night with said daughter?
He sighed quietly, and looked up at the sky. He never really understood such... extremism when it came to honor. He had his own personal code to live by, one formed by love and heartbreak, but he knew better than to commit seppuku or force a child into a life she didn't deserve. His brother, bless his soul, had taught him that lesson too well... he turned from the sky, and toward the shop's entrance.
Truth to tell, Toshi was quite impressed by what he saw. The restaurant was bustling with activity, as salarymen and schoolchildren alike grabbed a bite to eat and talked of their respective lives. Most of the tables were filled, but there were a couple of stools open next to the grill. He casually sat down, and waited to be served.
"Irrashai ma... Toshi! How are you doing?"
"Oh... fine." He smiled broadly, unable to repress himself. Ukyou was in her natural element, and its effect on her was simply amazing. She worked her hands over the grill with a master's precision and a child's joy, with an intense glow to her eyes as she wielded her magic.
"So... what would you like? First one's on the house." Her father, a few yards down, raised a bushy eyebrow at her words, but said nothing.
"Oh... I'll just have the shrimp 'yaki, modern style, and some tea to drink." His grin became a touch sheepish; he didn't want to impose on her. He continued to admire her skill as she whipped up his order, then set it down in front of him.
The chef's creation was every bit as good as the one Toshi had tasted earlier, if not better; this one was fresh off the grill, and still warm from its creation. Every bite seemed to fill his mouth with tangy goodness, leaving him melting in his seat.
The young man turned around, to find himself face-to-face with Ukyou's father. He swallowed involuntarily; the man was a walking mountain, with thick, treelike arms and a powerful chest. Toshi coughed once to find his voice, then nodded.
"Indeed. Mr. Kuonji, I presume?"
The older man nodded evenly. "And you are?"
"Toshifumi Yamada, at your service." He stood up, and bowed before the chef.
"Hikaru Kuonji." The cook scratched his beard for a moment. "So... how do you know Ukyou?"
"We go to school together. I... I was the one who pulled her from the water."
"I see... then you know about Ukyou's little problem." Toshi could feel Mr. Kuonji's eyes bore into him.
"If you wish to call it a problem, yes."
The growl that came from the man's throat sent chills down Toshi's spine. "You will not reveal that to anyone, nor will you use that information to take advantage of our family. We do not bow to blackmail, and we will demand honor for betrayal. Is that understood?"
Toshi stood up to his full height, and matched the elder's gaze. He was surprised to see Mr. Kuonji flinch; apparently the old man hadn't expected a resistance. "Sir, my brother 'restored his honor' a year ago. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't mourn his passing. And, yet, his death was a waste - all his suicide did was give an already-mourning family some more grief. I will never make such an assurance on my life, though I have the feeling you won't give me a choice if pressed.
"However, you have this assurance: I will not harm Ukyou in any way. I am her friend, about the only one she has, and I will defend her to the death, if need be." He gave a soft growl of his own, and continued to bore his gaze into the old man.
To his surprise, Mr. Kuonji smiled - a strange, lopsided grin more common among equals than elder-youngster. "Good. Make sure it stays that way. As long as Ukyou allows you in here and you do not overstay your welcome, you may come in here whenever you like."
"Thank you." Toshi bowed, and returned to his cooling meal. He took a sip of his tea - then noticed Ukyou's smiling face.
"I'm impressed, Toshi. That's the first time I've ever seen _anyone_ stare down my dad." Ukyou was busy clearing the grill, scraping away bits of food.
He sighed, letting the tension escape. "He touched on a sore point. Honor is something I know too much about."
"I know. Believe me, I know." She poured the batter for another dish. Her hands moved slower this time; apparently the young woman had something on her mind.
"Why did you tell me about yourself?"
He blinked. "Huh?"
Ukyou flipped the 'yaki with a theatrical flair. "About your background. Your life. Why?"
Toshi smiled gently. "I had you at a disadvantage."
Seeing only confusion from her face, Toshi continued. "I knew something particularly shocking about you, something which could ruin your reputation at the school. Not exactly the most level playing field on which to begin a friendship." He sighed. "Also... you needed to know that I wanted you as a friend, nothing more."
Ukyou blinked for a moment. "You mean to tell me that, if I offered myself to you, you wouldn't accept?"
"Now, I didn't say that... then again, I did." He morosely took a sip of his tea. "I don't know. Anyone... without my problem... gives up everything they worked for, all for a life with me. That's asking a bit much of one person."
"Oh, come on. Aren't you being a little hard on yourself? There are plenty of girls who'd love to spend their life with you."
"But at that cost?" He gripped his mug tightly, until his knuckles turned white.
He was surprised to find himself staring into large, rich brown eyes. Ukyou's gaze bore into him with a frightening anger. "Listen, Toshi. My fiance left me when I was six. I can never date or marry anyone - or be myself, for that matter - until I settle accounts with him." She turned back to the grill, her eyes cast to the floor. "At least you can find someone..."
Toshi sighed. He hated arguments like this. "I... I'm sorry, Ukyou. I didn't mean to hurt you."
"I know." She let out a small, bitter chuckle. "Ain't we a pair?"
"Yeah..." He reached under her chin and forced her to eye level, only to find a bitterness he knew too well. Those eyes... he stared at them for a long moment, wanting to know more of what was behind them... he found himself drawing closer to her face...
Ukyou coughed once, and turned her gaze away. For the first time that evening, he noticed she was blushing. "Anou... I need to get some supplies from the back." She forced herself away, and started to walk to the back.
Toshi watched in fascination as she walked away, then turned to his mug of tea. He had a feeling he had overstayed his welcome... he took one last sip, then headed out to the open road.
Sleep was not coming easily to Ukyou that night.
The young woman lay still on her futon, trying to sort out what was inside. She still couldn't get over what she was thinking earlier that night. She'd had to fight off impulses she didn't think possible anymore, in her disguise in front of everyone! She smacked her head, wondering what the hell she was thinking.
That was the problem, she quietly berated herself. She wasn't thinking, and was letting this man's presence distract her. She was almost ready to throw away a decade's worth of deception for a second's worth of pleasure.
But ohhhhh... it would have been worth it. She had been alone for so long that she NEEDED release of some sort. Even after all this time, the woman inside of her wasn't dead, she was very much alive and well, and had needs she barely understood. She pulled her hands to her face, imagining Toshi pulling her closer...
She stopped her daydreams, and sat up on her futon. Release. That was the key. If she could start to explore her feelings in safety, where nobody would notice, then she could find out what sort of person she was inside. There was a small aching... a need... something abandoned after Ranma left that required attention after all this time, and Toshi was the one person who could fulfill it.
Ukyou fell back down onto the futon and relaxed. Her course was set; all she needed was the courage to follow it.
"We need to talk."
Ukyou and Toshi blinked at each other, mildly startled, as they said the words simultaneously. Not much had been said between them over the past couple of days, and the silence was starting to grate on them both. Toshi smiled gently, then extended his hand out to her.
Ukyou blushed. "No, you first."
"Okay..." He looked over at the tree next to them, hoping the right words would come to him, then sighed. "Ukyou, I... I wanted to apologize for what happened at your father's restaurant. I acted irresponsibly, without any regard to you or how you felt. I understand if you never want to see me again, and hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me."
He looked up, to find himself staring once more in the chef's eyes. She sat there in front of him with an expression somewhere between bemusement and compassion. She reached out to grab his hand, and gripped it tightly.
"Toshi... what we both were thinking of was wrong. But... it had to happen.
"Do you know how lonely it's been for me at times? I am a woman pretending to be a man. I have no desire to be with other women, and I am forbidden to be with a man. The only way for me to love someone is to avenge myself on someone I haven't seen since my childhood. Trust me, I wanted us to kiss then, as badly as you did."
She touched a hand to his cheek, and slowly drew it across his forehead. "As it happens, I do have an idea. Can we go over to your place after school?"
Toshi swallowed. "Ukyou, I don't know if we should do this. I imagine your parents don't want anything to do with me after what happened."
Ukyou chuckled softly. "As far as I can tell, they were too busy at the moment." She looked away for a moment, seeing something beyond her vision. "Toshi... right now, I need a place away from all the lies and horrors I've gone through." He saw her wipe away tears, and shivered. He'd never seen her cry before... "Please. Take me away from here, if only for one night."
"Okay," Toshi whispered, before he could convince himself otherwise.
Ukyou walked into the apartment, and smiled. The place was your typical bachelor pad, both in size and content. The place itself was tiny, with only a small living-kitchen area, a bedroom, and a toilet. Trash littered the floor, forcing her to watch her step when she came in. She frowned at the few posters that lined the walls; she didn't get to watch much television, and barely recognized the artists shown.
Despite all this, she was in heaven. "Nice place, Toshi."
He blushed, and started to stack up some of his comics. "Sorry it's such a mess."
She giggled. It was almost comical to see him try to impress her, in an endearing sort of way. She looked over to his bedroom, and stuck her thumb over there. "Mind if I go in there for a moment? I'd like to get a little more comfortable."
"Okay". Toshi turned over to her, then blinked for a moment. She smiled back and walked inside, sliding the door behind her.
Under normal circumstances, she might have been concerned about the room's contents. Not now. She stripped out of her jacket and outer clothing, leaving her in just her wrappings. Those came off with a fiery determination, each untying a release from a personal prison. That done, she put the shirt back on, letting the now-freed curves stay as is.
The next thing the young woman did was reach up to her hair. With a single move, she unwrapped the band around her ponytail, letting the hair flow freely around her. She brushed her hair for a few minutes, then took out a hairband and affixed it over her head, giving her a style that looked far more feminine than the style she was used to. She jauntily swept her hair behind her head, and stared in a mirror.
All ready. She always knew she had flattering curves; the outfit she had on showed them off quite nicely, now that her breast bindings were gone. The hairstyle, while not exactly what she wanted, would do nicely to frame her features, letting those cheekbones be seen in a far more feminine light. She giggled, a nice, soft giggle she'd neglected for so long, then went out to her host.
She couldn't help but give another giggle when she went to the living area. Toshi was hunched over a pile of trash, apparently in a desperate attempt to clean the place up while she changed. At the sight of her, he dropped half of his load, and openly gaped at her.
"So... how do I look?" She gave a jaunty turn for his benefit.
"Um... anou... you look beautiful."
Ukyou held her hands in front of her, and blushed. He liked how she looked! This was... she couldn't even find a word to describe it. She found herself stammering out a simple thanks, then went over to him. He _had_ to know why she was here. She only feared it wouldn't drive him away...
"Toshi... I want you to know why I came here tonight. You deserve to know that much."
She could feel the heat of tears forming, the frustration threatening to overwhelm. "Toshi... right now I'm ready to scream. I don't know who I am, what I am, how I'm supposed to live... I can't live as a boy for the rest of my life, but I can't live as a girl,
"Toshi, when you came to my family's restaurant, my dad laid out several ground rules. I think they're appropriate here. If I start to overstay my welcome, or do something to harm you, let me know, and I'll leave." She bit her lip, fearing the worst... and, perhaps, the best.
She felt a hand against her chin, and looked up into his eyes. Toshi looked so beautiful to her... she could get lost in that sea of grey. "Ukyou... you could never do that. I am concerned, though, that we might be -"
Ukyou, seizing the initiative, wrapped her arms around him, and pulled him close, kissing him. She could feel the warmth of his body for the first time, taste a hint of okonomiyaki in his mouth, sense the slightly-rushed flutter of his heartbeat...
For the first time in ten years, Ukyou was home.
End Part 2.
Kobe positively glowed with life that late April afternoon. While the cherry blossoms had come and gone a month past, it did nothing to discourage the city's beauty, nor the peace that permeated the air. The wind brushed coolly against the skin, bringing a nice chill to balance the sun's warmth, while the trees still did their best to shield the powerful rays from the humans below.
Ukyou skipped along the city's streets, her heart aflutter. For the first time in far too long, she felt... young. She no longer lied to herself, denying her feelings and holding them deep inside, thus allowing herself to revel in those feelings she'd denied for so long. She was learning to trust herself again, and in doing so was beginning to trust others. She was innocent once more, sinless, without the burdens life had dealt her.
She stopped, and leaned against a tree. Children played nearby, their shouts and laughter music to a dreaming woman's ears. She watched in mild amusement as they kicked a soccer ball around, their movements chaotic ballet to an outdoor backdrop. She smiled and hummed an old tune to herself, remembering the fun times she'd had in her childhood.
Her senses let her know of the object's approach, and she deftly reached her hands up to catch at the last second.
"Nice catch, mister."
Ukyou paused for a moment to look at the soccer ball in her hands, then at the small child who'd run up to retrieve it. With dark hair, rich chocolate-brown eyes, and soft, delicate features, the child could have been her double back then. Except... this girl had eyes lighter than hers, by the tiniest shade. Ukyou smiled, and silently threw the ball back to her.
"Thanks." The girl dropped the ball, and went back to join her friends.
Ukyou spent another moment gazing at the children playing, then resumed her walk back to the shop. She'd wasted enough time here,
and her parents would need her help tonight.
Far and Away
Part three (of three)
A work of anime fanfiction by Nightelf
All Ranma 1/2 characters created by Rumiko Takahashi.
All rights reserved. I ask that you not do anything with any part of this work without the author's permission.
Hikaru Kuonji was worried.
This was not a new condition for him; he'd seen too much heartache in his life for him not to know its darkening effects. But, this time, it was different.
He'd always thought his child to be a levelheaded person, obedient to her parents in a way so few children were anymore. She ran the store with a skill and flair he could only dream of having, and had brought nothing but honor to the family name.
Now, though... it seemed she was threatening to bring all of that crashing down. Ever since she'd started hanging around that. Toshi, she'd been a little more playful to the customers, sometimes more playful than a boy should act. Indeed, she acted almost like some giggling schoolgirl whenever that particular young man came around. This was not good; Ukyou had a reputation and an appearance to uphold, and her behavior was threatening to shatter that.
Something clearly had to be done, before the situation became unmanageable. He really didn't want to send her to Uncle Tamiya; he loved his brother dearly, but he had some problems that worried him. He couldn't have her give up the boy's guise, as she was known both professionally and legally as a man. Unfortunately... Ukyou didn't seem to want to live as a boy anymore.
He went through the options in his mind over and over, searching for some way to resolve the problem. Ideas formed inside of his head, plans and plots that brought a thin, grim smile to his wizened face.
Sheer poetry. Those were the words on Toshi's mind that afternoon.
He stood on the rocks overlooking the beach, watching as his friend played her dangerous games along the rocks. Her moves were more fluid than the last time he watched from this position; more relaxed, he decided. She looked like she was enjoying herself; she'd occasionally throw in a bit of attitude, a gesture to the sea as she fought with it to show it that it wasn't a victory, as nature might claim, but rather a draw, with neither side claiming dominion over the other. Toshi worried a bit at some points, usually when she would start a particularly complex kata, but not too much; after all, she'd been fighting this way since she was six, and she was quite good when she had a level head.
After about an hour, the girl walked from the beach to the rocks above, a wide grin painted on her salt-streaked face. Toshi pulled out a large towel for Ukyou to dry herself off with, then invited her to sit down.
"Ukyou... you frighten me."
"How so?" She wiped the spray from her face and arms, and tossed the towel back to him. "Don't tell me you're actually worried about me..."
"Well... yes." He reached into his bag, and pulled out some drinks. "Why you insist on risking your life on these rocks is beyond me."
Ukyou popped open her drink, savoring the taste of citrus-sour on her tongue, and looked out to the sea. "Those waves were my only friend for ten years, Toshi. What may seem like a crashing wave to you is a cool splash to me."
Toshi stared down at his feet, unsure of how to respond to that. There was so much of her past that he didn't know, so many pains she still kept hidden from the world. Ukyou shook him from his reverie with a gentle touch.
"So... how have things been for you lately?"
"Oh... fine. Ol' Tanaka-sensei's giving us some grief, but I'm handling it. How about you?"
Ukyou shrugged. "Okay, I guess. Things have been a little tense around my parents, but otherwise fine."
"How so?" Toshi took a sip of his drink.
"Well... they've been kinda... distant of late. Dad hasn't said so much as a word to me, and Mom hasn't been much better." She looked down at her drink. "I think they don't like you very much."
"I tend to have that effect on people, for some reason," Toshi quipped, not entirely in jest. "Do you think it'll be a problem?"
Ukyou ran a thumb along her drink. "I don't know. They were the only people I had to talk to for a long time. Silence from them... it hurts."
Toshi looked up, taking in the beauty of the infinite sea. "I understand all too well. You are going to have to talk with them, you know."
Ukyou sighed and looked at her friend, taking comfort in his gray eyes. "I know." The two stood there for a moment, taking in the ocean's deceptive peace before the tide came in to send them running.
"Ukyou? We need to talk."
The young chef turned around from her chores, to face those she cared about most. Her father sat in one of the store chairs, silently fuming, while her mother stood supportive behind him. Judging by their expressions, this was not going to be a fun talk. Ukyou stopped her cleaning, and went over to them.
"Okay. What do you want to talk about?"
Mrs. Kuonji bit her lip for a moment, then placed a hand on her husband's shoulder. "Ukyou, dear, we're concerned about all the time you've been spending with your friend."
"You mean Toshi." Ukyou fought back her own concerns, and stood her ground.
"Yes, Ukyou. We're concerned that the young man's being a bad influence on you."
The teenager raised an eyebrow, and put her hands on her hips. "How so?"
"Well, we've noticed some changes in your behavior since he started coming around, changes that, while perhaps appropriate for a girl your age, is unbecoming for a young man."
"What sort of changes?" Ukyou asked, genuinely curious. She really hadn't noticed any change in her behavior, just her attitude. She still acted like the tough guy at school, and tried to keep up the act whenever in public.
"You don't even see it, do you?" Mrs. Kuonji stared at her child, slightly puzzled.
The older woman started listing the pieces of evidence. "Your stance right now, for starters. Guys just don't put their hands on their hips like that. Then there's the occasional giggle you produce, the exuberant way you've taken to greet some of our customers..."
Ukyou turned away for a moment, considering what her mother had just said. If she really was starting to act like a girl... "Mom, what do you want me to do about it?"
Her father coughed, more to get their attention rather than anything else. "Ukyou, we'd like you to work harder to maintain your disguise, and to stop seeing that Toshi boy."
Ukyou swallowed, trying to absorb what they'd said - what they asked of her. They wanted her to go back, to give up the only friend she had in the world, to give up the nice, comfortable feeling she had when he was around... "Dad, I can't do that."
"Excuse me?" her father asked, unsure of his ears.
Ukyou turned to face him, her eyes full of pain. "Father, I can't go back. I... if what you say is true, that I have changed, then I can't hide who I am anymore, not in the way you want me to.
"Do you know how lonely it's been for me? How it felt to hide in a corner of the locker room to change and shower? Putting up this mask for everyone so they could see how 'manly' I am? Never getting close to another human being for fear that they find out who I really am? Dad, I can't live that way anymore. It's... It's not me."
Ukyou's father let out a long, drawn-out sigh. "I see. Then it seems we have no choice."
"What do you mean?" Ukyou whispered, a trace of fear entering her voice.
Mrs. Kuonji gripped her husband's shoulder. "Ukyou, your father and I have uncovered some information about your friend's background, information that could be damaging to his reputation at school. If you're not willing to let him go, then..."
A chorus of emotions flashed through Ukyou in a second: stark, naked fear first, then dark shame, until finally settling on raw, undisposed anger. Her words came out more a hiss than anything coherent. "You mean... you'd ruin a person's life just to get him away from me?"
Her parents, used to her anger, stood their ground. "We don't want this any more than you do, Ukyou. However, your actions leave us no choice." Traces of frustration crept in the older woman's voice as she ended her words.
Ukyou nodded. She wasn't angry anymore; all she felt was a sadness, a mourning of loss. "I see."
She shook her head, not able to look her parents in the eye. "When I was growing up, the one thing I had pride in more than anything else was the honor our family had. No matter what, we were always fair to others, and carried on without getting involved in the petty secrets everybody else did.
"Now... I can barely look at you without throwing up. All Toshi wanted to be was a friend, nothing more, and to help me with problems I had in my life. That's all he ever wanted, and for it, you'd ruin his life. Real honorable, that."
Ukyou could hear her father's frustrated inhale. "Ukyou, we're just looking out for your own best interests."
"MY best interests?!?" Ukyou snapped, incredulous. "Don't give me that. All you ever cared about was your own 'honor'. Why else would you take a six-year-old and force her to live a lie?"
"Ukyou." Her mother was shaking, desperately trying to control her own temper. "We were only trying to protect you. Do you know what it would have been like for you to grow up as a girl after your fiance ran off? They would have torn you apart." She lowered her head to the ground, not wishing her daughter to see her face. "We only wanted the best for you."
The young woman swallowed, tears coming for the first time that night. "I... I know, Mom. But that's done, now. I can't go back to what I was." She mechanically picked up her jacket and headed for the door. "Mom, Dad, I'm going out for a walk. I need some time to think."
Toshi let out a gentle laugh as a meatball-headed character tripped over her own feet. For some reason, Sailor Moon always made him laugh despite himself. Sure, it was a show primarily geared toward eight-year-old girls. But, it also contained some hilarious dialogue, intriguing characters, and a storyline that appealed to the romantic in him. Despite everything that had happened in his life, he still found the courage to dream, and the show appealed to those dreams.
He heard Ukyou's voice calling him before he opened the door. His fingers fumbled with the latch, and he struggled with the door before finally opening it. When he did, and Ukyou came rushing into his arms, he almost wished he hadn't.
Ukyou's appearance could only be described as... haunted. Red-rimmed eyes were shut tightly as she held him, with a frustration and sadness only found among the lost. Her toned muscles shivered involuntarily, and occasionally sobs would shudder through her frame. He carefully guided the young woman onto his couch, gently sitting her down before taking a seat himself.
"Talk to me, Ukyou."
Ukyou stared down at her hands, apparently pondering their usefulness. She swallowed, and took deep breaths to gain her composure. "Toshi, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry... I can't come here anymore..."
"Why?" He had an idea, but he needed to hear it from her.
Ukyou's mouth hung open for a moment, frozen in indecision. "My parents... they ordered me not to see you anymore. They also found out... about your background... and threatened to let everyone know if I continued."
Toshi closed his eyes, fighting down the anger within. Events of a year ago played in his mind, images that haunted his nightmares, sending a chill through him. When he did finally speak, it was soft, almost inaudible.
"I... see." He rubbed his eyes, in a vain attempt to hide the pain. "Perhaps you'd better tell me the whole story."
Ukyou told the story to him as best she could, stopping at moments to get her bearings. By the time it was over, both of them were shaking. Toshi ran his slim, long fingers through his hair, and let out a deep sigh.
"So... what are you going to do now?"
Ukyou threw her hands up in surrender. "What can I do, Toshi? If I stay, you lose everything you've worked for! But if I go... I lose everything I care for."
Toshi slid closer to Ukyou, and put his arm around her. He honestly didn't know how to respond to that. "Ukyou... I... I care about you more than anyone else. You're my friend... and about the only one I have left in this world. I would love for you to stay here... if you're willing."
Ukyou shook her head quickly. "But... but... I... I can't! I... you... we..."
"I... I know," Toshi replied sadly, and he did. For all the problems she had with her parents, Ukyou would still care for them too much. He'd felt that way too a long time ago, and he missed that love terribly. "I know."
She lay down on the couch, and put her head in his lap. "Why does it have to be this way, Toshi?" she asked wearily. "Why can't we just live our lives in peace?"
Toshi took her hand, and gently rubbed his thumb along her fingers. "I don't know, Ukyou. Believe me, I wish I did. I wish I could take you all away from this, and let you live a life of your own... unfortunately, running has never solved anything - not for me,
The pair shifted around a bit, allowing Ukyou to look up at Toshi's face. "Look at me, Ukyou. I hide from everyone and everything, just so I can try to live a normal life. I almost never see my family; they're busy hiding or mourning my brother."
Toshi smiled bitterly, and stroked his fingers through her hair. "Maybe that's why we care about each other. We've both been running from ourselves for far too long."
Ukyou swallowed, then shifted her head slightly. "When you said... you'd still accept me... did you mean it?"
He smiled. His throat hurt; he was holding in far too much. "Of course. That's what friends are for, ne?"
She clumsily reached up a hand, to feel the tears coming down. Her voice was hoarse from her sobs, but her meaning was still clear. "Friends?"
Toshi never knew smiling could hurt so much. "Friends."
Gentle footsteps shuffled along in the night in a slow, seemingly-random pattern, like a lost soul trying to find a home. The artificial shadows from the lights stretched to infinity, the original form twisted in silhouette against the concrete. Occasionally a sound would come from the darkness, a faint touch of life from a nearby house or the scavenging of some animal, but silence still held sway over much of the night.
Ukyou walked alone along the city's streets - the closest place she could think of to home. Going back to Toshi after tonight would mean turning her back on her family; going back to her parents would mean caving in, and throwing away a friendship she held too highly to tarnish. So... she continued her walk, her thoughts her only family.
How had she ended up here? She only wanted a little light in her life; was it wrong for her to have a friend? If her parents were to be believed... yes. Unfortunately, the feelings she had gained from her friendship with Toshi could not be discarded. Giving up on this side of herself would be like cutting off an arm, or never cooking again. It was a hardwired part of her now, forever enmeshed in her soul.
So... what was she to choose? Her family, or her friend? The people who gave her life and a home, or a person who gave her a new definition of living?
No matter which she chose, she lost.
She looked down at a pebble on the ground, and kicked it out of sight. This wasn't some bully she could trash in the courtyard, or an overly-drunk customer who chose not to pay his bill. This was the ocean, in all its fury: indomitable and unstoppable, crashing against anything in its path. No matter what moves she made, no matter how many times she stabbed at it with her tools, it kept coming, relentless, until it overwhelmed her.
Biting her lip, she stopped, and remembered the first time she went to the ocean for comfort. She had been just a child of six; Genma and Ranma had just abandoned her near the ocean; she was left to fend for herself. She wandered around for a few hours, not wanting to go back home, and not knowing if there was a home to go back to.
The sea called to her then; after all, wasn't the ocean where everyone went to play? It was not the gentle seas and comforting beaches she found on that day, though; this was the spring, when the spray chilled the bones and the rocks held dangers unknown to a child. She walked out to the sea, encountered her first wave... and stood her ground, though just barely.
Finally, she had found something she could fight. She swung her spatulas at the crashing waves, fighting back against nature with all of her anger, salt tears and salt water mixing on her face, until she broke down on the rocks, too exhausted to continue. It took her an hour to go back to civilization and call home.
The young woman looked back at the path she had taken, and wiped her tears. Somehow, she knew the answer, the only possibility open to her, no matter how difficult. She had to erase ten years of darkness, of pain, of fighting the wrong battles in the wrong wars. It was time, she knew; she was strong enough to go on her own, and had saved up enough to make it on her own and then some.
Ukyou pulled a spatula from her bandolier and hurled it at a nearby pole, neatly landing it on target. She was ready, and it was time.
Kyoko Kuonji sighed contentedly to herself, and looked from her position at the grill to the street outside. The past week had been so peaceful, ever since she and her husband had taken a firm stand with Ukyou. They had nipped the problem in the bud quickly, saving their child (and, by extension, their family) from a potentially embarrassing situation. After scaring her away from Toshi, Ukyou had moped around for a couple of days, but soon got over it.
There was definitely something to be said for taking a firm stand with children.
Her thoughts, quite naturally, drifted to her progeny, and she turned to look toward the upstairs area they lived in. Much as she wished otherwise, Ukyou wasn't a child anymore; she was growing up in ways that frightened her. Was the dilemma with Toshi just a one-time affair, or the symptom of a larger problem? If so, what could be done about it, if anything? Should they even be trying to make her live as a boy, due to a family dishonor ten years ago?
The mother left her place at the grill. Ukyou hadn't been seen all day; she was apparently in her room, but hadn't bothered to come out yet. She walked up the steps to Ukyou's room, and knocked at the door.
"Ukyou? Can I come in?"
"Sure, Mom." The door slid open in front of her, allowing her access.
"Ukyou, dear, I was wondering what you... what are you..." The words faded from her lips as she took in the state of Ukyou's room. Walls adorned with posters for years were now bare, their bright emptiness glaring out at the older woman. A pile of packing boxes lay stacked and labeled neatly in a corner, unobtrusive yet speaking volumes. In the middle of the room was a single suitcase, half-filled with Ukyou's clothes. Mrs. Kuonji walked over to her child, and placed a hand on her arm.
"What are you doing? Why are you packing your things?"
The glare that came from her child's eyes was almost painful. The brown orbs held every bit of the fire and anger they'd held in the past, but there was a stabilizing factor tempering them now: determination. Ukyou had apparently made her decision, and it didn't appear to be in her family's favor.
The young chef coughed once, and returned her mother's grip. "Mom... I'm going away for awhile."
It took all of Mrs. Kuonji's self-control to keep from screaming, or holding her fast, or pleading for her to stay. All that came was a single tear. "To... Toshi?"
To her surprise, Ukyou shook her head and smiled. "No, Mom. I'm going to start a restaurant in Tokyo. Nerima district, to be precise."
Pain and confusion roared through the mother, sending more tears down her cheeks. "Why there?" she wailed, her voice cracking. "What in the world's in Nerima that you can't find here?"
Ukyou let go of her grip, and pulled some shirts out of the closet. "A young high-school student by the name of Ranma Saotome." She set the clothes in the suitcase with a purposeful air.
Mrs. Kuonji blinked. She was going after... which meant... She grabbed Ukyou by the arm, stopping her motions. "Wait a second. You're leaving your father and me - everyone you care about - to go find someone who you haven't seen in ten years, and who ABANDONED you? That's... that's..." Her voice trained off, as a low feeling started in her gut - feelings of guilt, and loss.
Not noticing the change in her mother's demeanor, Ukyou stormed to the offensive. "That's the reason why I'm dressed up as a boy right now, Mom! Did you ever think that maybe - just maybe - I might have had a chance to live a normal life if I'd caught up to them before?" She shook her arm from her mother's grip, and laid the shirts in the suitcase. "I have to go, Mom. I can't live like this anymore, and this seems to be the only way out."
The older woman looked at the packed goods around her, the shiver in her bones uncontrollable. Ukyou was leaving. In a foolish attempt to preserve her own family, she'd succeeded in tearing it apart. The tears were flowing freely now, though she couldn't bring herself to dry them off. Not knowing of anything else to do, she leapt for her child, sobbing soft pleas for her home.
"Please... don't go..."
Mrs. Kuonji began to hope when she felt the arms wrap around her; her child at least loved her that much. She felt strong hands separating her from her child, and forcing her into Ukyou's gaze.
To her surprise, the older woman found tears rolling down her only child's cheeks. The child tried to dry them off vainly, but couldn't quite manage it.
"Mom... I know this hurts... but I have to. I've been fighting the wrong battles in the wrong wars for far too long. If I didn't go... we'd probably be at each others throats by the end." Ukyou managed a weak smile for her mother. "At least this way... we remain friends. Okay?"
Mrs. Kuonji looked hard into those eyes, light and darkness intermingled in her soul. Ukyou was leaving; she knew that now, and there was nothing she could do about it. Her child had set her mind on resolving this, and she was unstoppable once she'd set her mind to something.
Despite the loss she felt, a hole which tore at her insides, she still found some reason to be happy. Ukyou was going away to set things right again, and to bring honor to her family. Nothing greater could be asked of her, and she was giving it willingly. Also, whatever mistakes she and her husband had made in the past were forgiven, if not forgotten.
Mrs. Kuonji grabbed her child in a hug, savoring the few precious moments before it all slipped from her grasp. "Okay... daughter." She swallowed, and tried to dry her tears as best she could. "Do you need any help packing?" she forced out.
Ukyou nodded. "Sure, Mom," she whispered, her voice strangled with emotion.
Mrs. Kuonji took in one last look at her ch... her daughter, wanting to remember her as she was before she faded away. She truly was a beauty; hands strong enough to handle any problem, but gentle enough to hold someone close... dark eyes shining with intelligence and passion... a trim, fit body the envy of any person, man or woman... The mother smiled, and reached into the closet.
Now, perhaps, the healing could begin.
The restaurant held the vacant openness typical of abandon; however, the shine to the grill and the gleam of the implements and furniture showed that this was a beginning, rather than an ending. The grill off to one side was smaller than the one she'd worked on at her parents' place, but such things to be expected. The faux-wood tables and chairs that littered the rest of the shop sat empty, begging to be filled with customers.
Ukyou took a sip of her tea, admiring her new home and restaurant. She still wasn't quite used to the 'hers' part of her thoughts; dreaming of owning a shop was one thing, actually seeing it in plain sight and feeling the solidity of the tables and chairs was another matter entirely. Here was a child's lifetime's worth of dreams, gambled into one small place on Nerima's east side. Part of her still wanted to go back ho... to her parents' place, to work and live safely - but she knew the folly of such 'safety'. For better or worse, she had built a home here, a place to build a new life and repair her old one.
She looked down at the letter sitting innocently on the table. She knew who it was from, and why it was written, and it scared her. She gently opened the letter, and spread its contents on the table.
Hello. I apologize if my words are a little rough; I may have a rogue's tongue, but I have an idiot's hand.
I just wanted to say thanks. Part of me wanted to strangle your parents for what they were doing to us. It seemed so much like what had happened in Kyoto that I was ready to scream. I don't think I could have withstood another mess like that. While I do miss you a lot, this was probably the best solution overall; leaving, but leaving to something, not away from it.
Things have sure been quiet since you left, although not as quiet as they used to be. I've actually gotten involved in school a bit more, crazy as that sounds. I'm scared one of them will find out, but at least that's better than total loneliness. Thanks for showing me that.
I hope your quest ends successfully, if it hasn't already. I will never forget that night we spent along the shore, or the peaceful evenings at my house. Take care, Kuonji-chan.
Ukyou wiped the tears from her eyes, and stared out at the dawn outside. The early light was always a welcome beacon to her whenever she opened, a calling for her to get up and go on. As she looked on at the light from her new place, she picked up her mug, snuggled into her chair, and smiled.
Today, it had come to welcome her home.
This is the perfect example of a story changing over time. My initial concept was for Ukyou to have a falling out with her parents after trying to begin a relationship with a young man, resulting in her making an interesting wish in a fountain - that Ranma know every bit of the pain she went through over the years. Hence, EVERYTHING that happened later on, from the curse to the monsters of the week, was all Ukyou's fault. Also, the concept of Ukyou-pre-Nerima hadn't been explored, nor her reasons for going to Nerima after all that time.
Well, I tried writing that... wrote a first draft, and part of a second... but it just wasn't working. I showed copies to people, talked a bit about it... then shelved it away for later use.
Sometime around early August, I dusted it off, and tried again, with a different focus. The relationship between Ukyou and Toshi was taking up more and more of my thoughts for the piece, and the work eventually focused on it. The result is what you see here.
Thanks to "Da Guyz" (James "Zen" Bateman, Sean Gaffney, Richard Lawson, Greg Sandborn, and Sebastian Weinberg) and to Doug Reeves and Bridget Ellen Engman for their C&C and help with this.
Initial release October 12, 1997
Released to fanfiction dot net March 17, 2010