A/N: I know I know. Just... give it a chance. Have I ever let you down before? Wait, hold on. Don't answer that. Just read it.
I don't think the old man ever realized just how scarring the Neko Ken really was to me. From what little I remember of my life back home, there had always been this white and gold stripped cat that was with me wherever I went. Every single one of my memories of that time seemed to have that cat in there, sometimes in the background, other times sitting on my lap for attention, ordering me to feed her (cats never asked after all) and so on. I don't remember much, but I do remember loving that cat to death.
And then my old man came up with the great idea of giving me the Neko Ken training. It did more than just mentally scar me. It seemed to rip all the childhood memories I'd had from my mind in order to protect my psych. I couldn't even try to remember them without intense pain. I couldn't leven ook at a cat without remembering the pit.
I couldn't remember my one childhood friend and bothersome pet.
At the age of eight, I abandoned my father, before he could strip away any more of my memories. One night, after he'd spent a long night at the bar, I raided his backpack, taking everything of value. The technique scrolls he'd had, the money he'd stolen, the route he'd planned out for our training trip, and even his lesson plans. And then I ran, using all the techniques the old man had taught me on how to cover my tracks and hide my presence. Genma had always operated under the fact that I was just a young kid with nowhere to go and wouldn't think of running away from him. As such, my escape had caught him completely flatfooted.
In all honestly, I was lucky. More than I care to admit. Over the course of the two years, I used all that I knew to survive off the wild, using things he'd taught me and others that I learned from his manuals. I practiced martial arts vigorously, it was the one thing I was truly good at and the only thing that was helping me to survive. I must have come close to death about four times. A pack of starving wolves, a band of thieves, a wild tiger, and a treacherous waterfall were just a few of the things that nearly killed me.
It truly was one of those man versus nature things, with me against the wilds of Japan, only descending into civilization when I couldn't find food. I made sure never to stay in one place for too long. I didn't want any word of my presence leaking out and somehow making its way back to my father, nor did I want to deal with the authorities who would be law-bound to contact my father if they could.
And then, everything changed.
It happened one night while I was traveling through a small shopping district during the evening hours, looking for a place to steal a little food from. It had been slim pickings for a while now and I knew I was going to have to relocate soon. I had been a bit reluctant to leave though, since my current home was a rather comfortable cave, abandoned by its previous animal occupant.
As I was hopping from roof to roof, keeping my nose sharp for any whiffs of available food, I heard a scream, which was quickly muffled. The sounds of a struggle were reaching my ears now as I unconsciously made my way towards the noise.
Few of the old man's lessons had stayed with me over my years-long trek through the wilds, but the most prominent one always seemed to stay, no matter how much I wanted to forget the old man himself.
"A martial artists' duty is to protect those who cannot protect themselves."
It was written at the top of every scroll he had and repeated in my head like a mantra as I watched a girl, maybe eight or nine years old being accosted by two figures in long coats. Their intent was clear and my anger was boiling. Silently, I leaped from the roof, aiming a kick at the man who was watching his partner covering the girl's mouth.
I hit him at terminal velocity, sending his face into the pavement in a spray of blood, violently knocking him out. The other man only had a second to react to the noise before my foot met his face. I was used to fighting people bigger than I was since my only sparring partner had been Genma for the last three years.
Recoiling from the blow, I dropped to the ground and aimed a kick right at his crotch, hobbling the guy over in pain. Grabbing the man's hair, I used my knee to finish him off, breaking his nose and sending him to dream land.
Breathing softly, I walked over to the two guys and began stripping them of their valuables. Money, watches, cell phones, and a couple of knives in their pockets. The looting finished, I turned to leave when the little girl finally found her voice.
I paused as the girl slowly got to her feet, regaining her confidence as the terror of her previous situation slowly faded. As she stood up fully, the shaking stopped as she bowed to me. "Thank you very much," she said politely. "My name is Nanami, what's yours?"
My throat stuck a little as I tried to form the Japanese in my mouth. I hadn't really talked to anyone in months, my only human interaction being at times where I beat up thugs like these and briefly dropping into a convenience store to buy things with their looted money. Even then I'd barely done more than nod and shake my head. I'd purposely left my last name out.
"Thank you...Ranma," she repeated cutely, bowing again.
"Your welcome," I got out after a minute. Opening the wallets, I withdrew the money. It wasn't much, but it was enough to buy a hot meal for tonight. My tummy grumbled audibly at the thought. I'd long ago given up starting cooking fires. They tended to attract the wrong kind of attention, both human and animal.
"Um, excuse me Ranma?" She was speaking again so I turned to listen. I eyed her as she timidly approached from the shadows of the alley into the streetlight where I could get a better look at her.
Height-wise, she was about an inch shorter than me, with large black eyes and straight brown hair tied off into two short braids with matching pink ribbons. A sleeveless shirt and pair of jean-shorts completed the cute ensemble. She was clutching onto a shopping bag with her right hand, probably full of food items.
I didn't speak but turned to look at her, letting her continue.
"Are you hungry?" I didn't respond, but my stomach was still growling loud enough for her to hear. "Would you like to eat at my place?"
I was still a Saotome by blood. Capitalizing on a free meal was almost hard-coded into our genetics. I nodded the affirmative, causing a smile to break out on her face.
Nanami, apparently, lived in an apartment with her mother, who was the landlady of the complex. It seemed like a decent middle class living place, with clean rooms and a small, but nice-looking building. Nanami chatted constantly, filling in the void of silence that I'd grown accustomed to. It was odd, listening to someone talk so much when I'd grown used to the sounds of the wild and the self-imposed solitary confinement, but it wasn't bothersome.
Still holding onto my hand, Nanami led me up the steps to the top (third) level of the building before knocking excitedly on one of the doors.
"Coming!" The voice belonged to a middle aged lady. A minute later, the door opened. "Oh, who's this?" The woman's voice was sweet and motherly, almost fitting the stereotype of a caring mother to a tee.
"His names Ranma!" she provided happily. "He saved my life!"
Nanami's mother's eyebrows disappeared into her brown hair. "Oh really? That's wonderful." She ushered us both inside. I barely remembered in time to take my well-worn shoes off. It'd been almost five years since I'd entered a house of any kind.
"So tell me," she said as we sat down around the table. "How did your friend save your life?" She talked as though she were humoring her daughter.
"He beat up some bad men that wanted to take my clothes away."
The shock was clear on the woman's face. It took a moment for her to regain her composure. "Nanami honey, why don't you tend to the pot on the stove?" Her voice was shaky.
"Okay mom," she said happily, jumping off the chair and running to the kitchen.
"Ranma...was it?" She addressed me directly now. I nodded at her to continue. "Can you tell me exactly what happened?"
I talked slowly, focusing on forming the words in my head before I spoke them. "She was being attacked by a couple of guys. I made them stop."
"You called the police?" she asked hesitantly.
I shook my head. "No. I beat them up." Reaching into my worn but still functional pocket, I withdrew the two wallets I had looted from their bodies and pushed them towards Nanami's mother. Her eyes continued to widen as she saw the people and their ages.
"How?" she asked weakly.
"Martial arts," I said simply. It wasn't as though they were that much older than me. Twenty-five years at most.
"Where did this happen?"
I described the place. I couldn't remember the street name, but she seamed to recognize the location because a minute later she was on the phone with the police, giving the names of the two people whose wallets I'd acquired. I didn't really pay attention to the conversation, but I didn't hear my name mentioned. The story she gave was that some stranger had helped her daughter out and given her their wallets, telling her to run home and call the police.
She hung up the phone a second later and sat down across from me. "I don't know how you did it," she began. "But you probably saved my daughters life. Is there anything I can do to repay you?"
"I just came for the food," I replied awkwardly. I wasn't used to being treated like an adult.
She smiled brightly at my request. "That's something I can do."
The police came during dinner, taking a testimony from the mother and daughter along with the looted wallets. Both were careful not to mention my name. The thugs had been found in the alley, still unconscious when the authorities had arrived to pick them up. When she heard the news, Nanami's mother looked at me with surprise. Obviously she had still doubted my story beforehand.
After the authorities had left, the atmosphere grew more relaxed as the conversation turned to mundane things like Nanami's day at school and what her friends were up to. I mostly stayed silent, concentrating on my food and savoring what may have been the last hot meal I'd get for a long time. Occasionally, Nanami or her mother would ask me a question, to which I responded to with short, one-word answers.
I wasn't eating fast intentionally, but I still finished first. "Thanks for the meal," I said when there was a lull in the conversation. I was getting ready to leave when Nanami's mother interrupted me.
"Ranma? Why don't you let me call your parents so they can pick you up."
I shook my head softly. "Don't have any." Not any that I wanted to see again anyways. I couldn't remember my mother at all. Wasn't even sure if she was alive. My pops had said she was dead, but it was hard to believe anything that he said.
"Do you have a last name?"
I shook my head again.
"Do you have a place to live?"
Another shake of my head. I could see the sympathy building in her eyes. She probably just saw me as a young kid without a home when in truth, I was far from defenseless. I'd made it on my own for this long after all.
"Ranma," she started softly. "Would you like to stay here for a while in this apartment?"
Nanami's eyes seemed to light up at the news. "Can Ranma stay with us? Really?"
"Well, it's up to him," she chided gently. "You'd be working as an employee here. Helping me clean the place up. In return, I'll let you use one of the rooms on the second floor. How does that sound?"
"I can work," I responded softly.
"Good. Now, let's get you settled in for the night."
"It's a bit dusty, but nothing a clean rag won't fix," said Nanami's mother as she unlocked the door to the room. The place was small, consisting of a main living room, a smaller bedroom, an attached kitchenette, and presumably a closed door leading to a water closet.
"Our rooms don't contain showers, but there's a public bath just down the street," she continued, moving over to the closet and pulling out a futon. "Feel free to sleep on this for now."
I nodded my thanks and took the offered futon. Questions were starting to enter my mind, like why was she offering me a job when I was obviously underage? Why was she letting me stay here for free? The only question I asked though, was why?
She seemed to think about it for a minute while she arranged things in the closet. "Nanami's father died when she was very young," she explained sadly. "And her grandparents passed away recently." I could see the tiny beginnings of tears in her eyes. "I was an only child, and most days it seems like Nanami is the only thing I have left in this world. And you protected her from people so much bigger and stronger than you."
Well, that was half-true anyways. Mutely, I responded with, "It's a martial artists duty to protect those who can't protect themselves."
Nanami's mother was smiling now, tears visible in her eyes. "I don't know what would have happened if you hadn't come when you did." Her voice was beginning to break up, and I was starting to feel rather awkward. She didn't seem to be expecting a response though.
"I want you to stay here as long as you want Ranma. Thank you so much for looking after my little girl." Before I could mumble out a response, she had knelt down and hugged me, crying almost too softly to hear. "I'm sorry, I'm getting all emotional." Sniffing softly, she released her hold, giving me a small smile. "I'll wake you up early tomorrow so try and get some rest tonight."
After that first night, things gradually started falling into a routine. Every morning I woke up early and ran to a nearby park to go through my routine. For some reason there were an unusual number of cats there that somewhat hindered my workouts, but as long as I stayed off the main path they usually didn't bother me.
Nanami's mother put me to work as promised, at first with basic cleaning jobs. Of course, when she found out that I was somehow able to get the entire complex clean in under an hour, my duties were upgraded to minor repairs and maintenance. Even with all those jobs though, my work rarely lasted more than a couple hours. To me, it was just another training exercise, and I was good at training.
Per her mother's request, I also began escorting her daughter to and from school, a small paranoia still present from the events on the night of my arrival. Nanami was all too happy to show me around town and show me off to her friends as her new big brother. It had only taken one beaten up bully to establish me as her unofficial protector, and her as untouchable.
The rest of the day I usually just spent training. Stealthily running from roof to roof, trying not to be noticed, stealing items from stores and putting them back without the owners noticing, and stopping the occasional street criminal.
Mostly, I tried my hardest to overcome my fear of cats. Progress was slow. Painfully slow. The first time I tried approaching the cats in the park, I couldn't get within a hundred meters. Even when I couldn't see them, I could still feel them on the edge of my senses. Every time I tried to walk closer, my body instinctively moved backwards, like someone moving their hand off of a hot stove that just burned them.
I had just gone through a week of failed attempts before I started to get discouraged, but then, something rather strange happened.
The door opened with a bang, admitting Nanami and her seemingly limitless energy. "Onii-san! Look what I got!"
I paused midway in my one-handed pushup to see her new purchase. She'd often come to my room to model clothes for me, seeking my approval. I don't know why since my clothes rarely ever changed from my classic Chinese shirt and slacks, but I humored her anyways.
What I saw today though, made me lose my balance and topple onto the floor. She was wearing cat ears. I couldn't recall exactly what happened after that, but I remember screaming, losing my balance, and hitting my head hard enough to see stars.
"Ranma! Ranma! What's wrong?"
I closed my eyes and focused on Nanami's voice. She wasn't a cat. Didn't sound like a cat. The only thing she had was cat ears. I felt Nanami's hand on my shoulder, her body language showing how anxious she was. Slowly, I began opening my eyes, focusing first on her feet. As I moved my eyes up her body, I repeated to myself "Not a cat, just Nanami" like a mantra. Finally, after what seemed like forever, my eyes came to rest on her worried face and attached cat ears.
"Onii-san? Are you okay?" she repeated.
I took a deep breath and focused on her face. "Yeah, I'm fine. Sorry about that. They look great sis."
Her worried face broke into a cute grin. "Yay! Thank you onii-san." Before I could react, she threw her arms around me in a hug, putting her cat ears right in front of my face. Biting back my initial panic reflex, I steeled myself and gave her a quick pat on the back.
"Why don't you go show your mother?" I asked quickly. Getting an affirmative nod, Nanami bounded out of the room and up the stairs. As soon as she was out the door, I let out a sigh of relief and a shiver of fright. That had severely tested my self control.
But, my mind thought suddenly, it didn't break it. And what doesn't break you, makes you stronger.
Almost unwillingly, my mind started formulating a plan. Nanami had triggered my phobia, but I was able to restrain myself. Maybe it was because she wasn't a full cat, but only part cat.
My mind almost rebelled at the sheer ridiculousness of it. Despite being on the road nearly all my life, I wasn't quite that oblivious. Catgirls were an acute otaku fetish and had more than their fair share of hentai material associated with them. If anyone ever found me with that kind of material...
I didn't even know why I was debating this. I was a martial artist. Almost anything that would help me further my art was a sacrifice I was willing to make, and being known to like catgirls was a rather small sacrifice comparatively. It's not like I was a pervert or anything, it was just for the sake of training. Really.
Acquiring the posters was easy. After I had been turned into the apartment's handyman, Nanami's mother had begun giving me a small weekly paycheck. I still had dinner with them every night so my food budget was pretty low, and after one clothes shopping trip, I didn't need another one.
Putting up the posters around my room was much harder. To help myself, I focused on the girl parts, keeping the ears and tails in my peripheral vision. Even so, I was sweating by the time I had finished setting up the last of them.
Trying to convince Nanami and her mother that I wasn't some type of otaku was near impossible, so I didn't even try. Being known to have a catgirl fetish was a small price to pay for getting over my phobia. I did notice that Nanami seemed to wear her cat ears around the apartment more often though.
Things continued on this way for about a month. I'd wake up early, stare at my cat posters for about an hour, before running off to the park to train until I was too tired to feel fear. Afterward, I'd run back to the apartment to walk Nanami to school, and then back to do my janitorial duties.
Progress was still slow, but looking at the posters was getting easier. I could now almost completely focus on their ears and tails and not have the urge to bolt from the room. Thinking about cats was starting to get easier too. I still couldn't picture a full one in my mind without instinctively shutting it out, but I could say the word out loud without stuttering now. Nanami's cat girl outfit didn't cause any reaction at all anymore.
And then, a new monkey wrench was thrown into the works.
Two Months Later...
"Yes Ranma, school." Nanami's mother had her arms crossed in front of her, a no nonsense gaze on her face. I could already tell I wasn't going to win this argument even before it began.
"What do I need school for?" I protested weakly.
"Basic life skills. Reading, writing, doing math, acquiring the things you need to get a job and make a living," she listed off.
"But I have a job."
"That's sweet of you Ranma, but I can't realistically expect you to take care of this place for the rest of your life. Even Nanami will move on eventually. No, you need this. Besides, you can protect Nanami better there." She pressed a school bag into my hands.
Reluctantly, I took it, but not without one last protest. "She doesn't need protection. Hits harder than a tomboy."
"I heard that!" came Nanami's voice from the other room.
"I bought your uniform yesterday. Would you like to try it on now?"
I blinked. "I have to wear a uniform?"
"Of course you do Ranma, why would you think otherwise?"
"Eh, no reason."
I sighed absently as I shouldered my book bag and walked on the narrow strip of the fence. "Man, what a waste of time."
"You didn't even stay awake!" Shouted Nanami from below.
"I could have just been sleeping in my room, but now I had to waste precious sleep time in school."
"You're not supposed to sleep in school!"
Nanami stopped for a minute to think about it. "Because the teachers told us not to!" Was all she could come up with.
I rolled my eyes at that before casually catching the book bag thrown at me. "Why do we have to listen to what the teachers say?"
"Because we have to!" she responded childishly.
"Why do we have to?" I replied innocently.
"Quit being mean!"
I laughed and ran ahead of her while balancing on the fence, but not fast enough to leave her behind. I had to look out for her after all.
I stopped on the fence in mid stride at the sound of the cat. For some reason, I hadn't felt it on the edge of my senses like I normally did. Slowly, I brought my foot down, watching interestedly as a small white cat, smaller than the length of my arm, crawled out onto the fence and began walking towards me.
There was an initial surge of terror that I desperately fought back. Amazingly, I even seemed to be gaining some ground against it, but I couldn't stop myself from taking a couple steps backwards. The cat, as if suddenly noticing my presence, turned its head to stare at me curiously, locking its eyes with mine. Unconsciously, my body began to tremble as I entered into a staring contest with the feline, who seemed content to just keep watching me.
"I think it wants to get by." I jumped as Nanami's voice seemed to come out of nowhere.
Hesitantly, I hopped off the fence and let the cat walk by, receiving an annoyed glance as it passed.
"Onii-san? Are you okay? You're sweating," said Nanami nervously.
At long last the cat finally went out of sight, allowing me to collapse onto my knees from the adrenaline rush. Dimly, I could hear Nanami's worried voice in the background, but I couldn't make out the words. Slowly, I felt consciousness leave me, but at the same time I didn't mind too much. I was able to stand in the vicinity of a cat for one minute without running, screaming, or yelling. And that was progress in my book.
"Amazing. Simply amazing."
I didn't recognize the voice above me, nor could I readily move my body. The very air around me felt like wet cement. Slowly, I opened my eyes, only to see a large white-
Adrenaline flooded my system and I shot up suddenly, accidentally hitting the big white cat in the head.
I turned, getting a good look at what I had just unintentionally hit. It was a white animal with yellow eyes and a red collar with a golden bell attached. In every sense of the word, it looked like a cat, however...
"You're not a cat," I declared.
The white...thing rubbed his nose a few times. "How rude! Of course I'm a cat, can't you tell? That really hurt by the way."
"Cats can't talk," I pointed out. Really, it was rather obvious.
"Your mind is just in denial right now," he explained easily. "Would it help if I looked more like this?" His body began to transform, his dimensions getting smaller and his body transforming into a classic feline variety.
"Alright alright! Fine, you're a c-cat. What do you want? Actually, where am I? Better yet, who are you?" The initial shock over, questions were starting to pop into my mind like fireworks.
The creature (not cat) returned to his form with a slight 'pop'. "Well, to answer your questions in no particular order, I'm the god of all cats, I wished to speak to you, and your soul is currently in that weird gray zone between the real world and reality that no one has ever really found a good name for."
"Limbo?" I asked hesitantly.
"Not even close to that hell-hole," he responded shortly.
"I'm a cat god. Do I look catholic to you?"
"Well what do you call it then?" I asked, genuinely curious.
"A nice break from divine duties and a good escape from the wife." Seeing my confused look, he shook his head. "Don't worry kid, you'll understand when you're older."
I shook my head, brushing off his last statement. "So, why exactly am I here again?"
"Well, honestly, I was just here to comment on how amazing it was that you were able to make such great progress in curing the Neko-ken."
I flinched at the mention of the technique. "Progress? It's been two months and the only 'progress' I've made is being able to stare at a cat-girl without shaking in terror! Just being in the vicinity of a cat for one minute knocked me out cold!"
"I think the important part is that you are trying," said the cat god smoothly. "Honestly, you've made it farther than most. Up until now, everyone who has tried the technique turned into a berserker or died during training. You've at least kept your sanity."
"This isn't making me feel any better," I spat out bitterly. "I don't suppose you have any sort of...oh I dunno, divine assistance to offer or something?"
The cat god seemed to think about it for a minute. "Nope. I'm just here to pat you on the back and tell you good job and to keep at it."
The only thing keeping me from punching him at that moment was that he could turn into a cat at will. "Okay. Great. Compliment accepted. Can I go now?"
My sarcasm didn't seem to register with the cat. "Sure thing. Now just close your eyes and-"
I blinked as a cloud of smoke suddenly appeared in front of me. "Now hold on just a minute dear," said a distinctly female voice, coming from the smokescreen.
"Oh dear," said the cat god, looking genuinely worried. "Brace yourself kid."
It was only due to my 'training' with the catgirl posters that stopped me from running in terror. This woman was a real-life catgril, complete with ears, tails, and sharp claws. Her skin was a dark brown, her chest was of enviable size, and only a small golden bikini covered it.
"Hello dear," muttered the cat god sullenly.
"Why do you always go off and play with the mortals without me?" she complained, making a cute face.
"Because you're always too soft on them," he countered quickly. "Every time you see one you can't resist-"
"Oh you got a cute one this time!" she squealed excitedly before running over to me and enveloping me in a hug.
"-hugging them," finished the cat-god lamely. It was apparent that this was an age-old discussion between the two.
I was barely listening to the words being spoken, trying desperately not to run and scream in absolute terror, even though many men would have killed to be in my position right now. I could feel the fur on her soft chest, smell the telltale cat aroma, and could feel her petting the top of my head as if I were a cat.
The cat-woman seemed to realize something was wrong from my lack of reaction as she pulled back after a few seconds of petting. Kneeling down, she looked into my wide eyes. "Oh dear, is he a neko-ken victim?" she asked worriedly.
"Yes," said the cat-god miserably. "I was trying to give him some words of encouragement-"
"C-cop out!" I stuttered weakly.
"-because he's kept his sanity more than anyone else I've ever seen," he finished as though I hadn't interrupted.
"Well, he seems to be regaining motor control," said the cat-goddess nicely. "Are you afraid of me little child?" she asked kindly.
Her sad face was almost too much to resist. "N-no," I lied shakily.
"Aw, he's trying so hard too. We should help him!" she decided resolutely.
"But Bast sweetie, you know the rules. The amount that we can influence the the human world-"
"-is limited and regulated," she finished easily. "But what if we..." She trailed off and a small smile appeared on her face. For some reason, it started to give me shivers completely unrelated to the neko-ken.
Walking over to her husband (at least I guess it was her husband), she knelt down and conspiratorially whispered something in his ear. The cat-god began nodding his head slowly. "Yes, yes, that could definitely work. That's a great plan dear."
"Of course it is, I thought it up," she teased lightly. "Well Ranma, it looks as though you'll be getting a divine gift soon!"
"Wait, what?" My mind suddenly snapped back to reality, having been fighting my terror back down into the recesses of my mind.
"We can't give it to you right away though," said the cat-god. "You'll have to wait a few more years. Something to look forward to on your sixteenth birthday I suppose."
"Um...thanks?" I was rather confused. What on earth could be so dangerous that I'd have to wait till I was sixteen to get it?
"Make sure to keep up your 'training' though," said Bast with a wink.
"It'll help when the time comes," finished the cat-god.
"You should probably wake up now," suggested Bast. "That cute human girl is starting to worry about you."
"-nma! Ranma! Onii-san!"
Nanami's voice seemed to echo in my head. As my vision of the small Japanese house faded, Nanami's voice grew louder.
The minute my eyes opened, a crying Nanami immediately tackle-hugged me. I quickly returned the embrace, softy petting her back and muttering reassurances into her ear. A minute later, Nanami's mother came into the room, smiling at the scene.
"Now now Nanami, let the poor kid breathe," she chided gently, attempting to pry apart Nanami's iron grip. After trying (and failing) she sat down across from me. "So what happened to you Ranma?"
My mind was still spinning with the otherworldly conversation I'd just had, so I was a little slow on the uptake.
"Nanami said you fainted on the way home from school. Is there some medical condition you have that we should know about?" she asked kindly.
"Oh um, nothing like that," I began nervously. "I just have a bit of a cat problem. One caught me by surprise and I fainted."
Nanami's mother looked at me skeptically. "If you fainted from seeing a cat, that seems to be a bit more than a problem."
"If you're afraid of cats," came Nanami's muffled voice from my chest. "Then why do you have cat-girl posters in your room?"
I winced as I saw Nanami's mother raise an eyebrow. "Aren't you a little young for those?"
"It's training!" I protested loudly. "I'm not as 'fraid of them as I am of real cats."
Nanami's mother still looked skeptical, but thankfully decided to let the subject drop. "Why are you so afraid of cats?" she asked instead.
"I don't like talking about it," I said sullenly.
"That's okay. You don't have to," she assured me. "Just try not to worry us in the future okay?"
I nodded my agreement and the older woman left the two of us alone.
"Onii-san?" Nanami's tears had died down now.
"Yeah?" I asked hesitantly.
With a small sniffle, she looked into my eyes. "Promise me you won't leave, okay?"
I blinked. "Um...well-"
"Promise!" She practically shouted at me.
"Alright alright. I promise. Yeesh. Tomboy."
I received a light smack on the head for that, but there wasn't any malice behind it.
Several dozen miles away...
Ranma's picture wasn't getting him anywhere anymore. People had recognized the small boy for the first few towns he'd tried, but Ranma was nothing if not a fast learner, sticking to the wilds when possible and remaining unseen when entering towns and villages. Nowadays, he'd been reduced to looking for abandoned campsites and telltale signs of human habitation.
It was a losing battle though. The boy had been steadily getting better at hiding the signs of his presence, and the last trail of his had just gone cold. Almost as if he knew someone was still following him.
"At least I taught the kid well enough,"
Japan, haystack. Ranma, needle. In the end though, it didn't really matter. He couldn't go to the Tendo dojo without the boy, and he'd never return to Nodoka without him either. Slipping Ranma's picture back into his gi, the martial artist made his way towards a convenience store, preparing to secure his evening meal.
Several hundred miles away...
"Where the hell am I now?" Ryoga looked around, desperately trying to find a familiar landmark, but failing. For some reason, he thought that it should be someone's fault, but for the life of him he couldn't think of a name.
About a thousand miles away...
Akane sat idly at the table, drumming her fingers as she watched the nondescript television program being aired.
"Hey sis," said Nabiki, looking up from her manga.
"Do you think ClanCrusher is ever going to give us a significant role in any of his stories?"
Akane sighed. "Nope. Probably not."
In a galaxy far far away...
"Ranma! Use the force!"
"It's ki god dammit!"
A/N: I...really don't have an explanation for this story. It's just...an idea. I don't know. It is going to be my first attempt at writing a romantic comedy story, so bear with me, and please let me know if you spot anything I could do better at. The next chapter will involve a six year jump forward, and the big reveal of Ranma's 'present' from the gods.
As always, reviews are appreciated, criticism even more so. Flames will probably be dissected and discussed on my forums, because that's what I do. I will make an effort to respond to everyone's reviews, as they are the only thing I'm getting from this (other than valuable writing experience that is).