TWELVE: Man


When Ranma woke, he lay perfectly still in his bedroll, trying to sort dream from reality. He'd gotten up to I think Akane is a ghost and also alive when his contemplation was broken by the entry of tiny!Ranma, who ran across the room and flopped dramatically over Ranma's stomach, arms and legs trailing to the tatami mats on either side. "Hiya!" he announced brightly. "It's time for breakfast! It's our favorite!"

Ranma sighed, and then chuckled as the dark mood slid off of him, left behind on the bedroll as he amused the kid by sitting and standing while keeping the child in the exact same position as before. "Tell me," he said, "did you sleep at all?"

"Like the dead!" Ranma said, curling himself around Ranma like a donut until Ranma shifted him up to a more comfortable position against his hip. "Until three, anyway," the child muttered. "You?"

"Dunno," Ranma replied. "Seems like I had a lot of dreams."

"Oh, me too," said Ranma, and lay his head onto his counterpart's shoulder. "Some scary ones. But Ryoga and Ryoga were there, so that was all right."

"This is about to get confusing, isn't it?" Ranma muttered, shifting the kid on his hip. "What're we gonna be called, Ranma, Ranma, and Ryoga squared?"

"Oh! I get that. Because there are two of us!" Ranma exclaimed, and wriggled to the floor to run ahead of Ranma. "Hey, Ryoga. Ranma says you're squared!"

"Does he," said older Ryoga from his position at the table, looking up with grave eyes. "That's very clever."

Ranma found himself weirdly embarrassed. Shut up, P-chan, he thought, but again, the appellation wouldn't quite pass his lips. He wondered what it was about this version of Ryoga that made him watch his language so carefully. Maybe it was that one of the first things he'd ever asked Ranma to do was stay very quiet for me and answer only when I give you the nod…

Ranma shook himself. That wasn't right. The first thing Ryoga had asked him to do was to prepare to die. His gaze swung to Hibiki's right, where the younger Ryoga was seated, head ducked, as quiet as he normally was around Akane – although the youngest Tendo wasn't in evidence, yet. Kasumi was still bustling in and out of the kitchen, readying the table. Tendo Soun sat at the table's head, wreathed in pipe-smoke and reading a newspaper.

Ranma kind of wondered if that was some sort of prop to avoid looking at the situation. He wouldn't mind having something to hide behind, either.

"Come on, it's umeboshi and okayu and tamagoyaki!" little Ranma exclaimed, snagging Ranma's hand and leaning backwards.

"Yeesh, okay, kid," Ranma said. "I'm comin'." He sat down at the table across from both Ryogas; Ranma ran to sit on Hibiki's other side and wormed his way under the young man's arm. Hibiki didn't seem to mind, just shifted his stance to allow the boy half into his lap. Ryoga peered at this, then settled into consuming his porridge, wordless.

"Hey, P-chan, what's shakin'?" Ranma inquired.

Ryoga's head lifted, and he made eye contact. He looked as though he hadn't slept very well, either: dark circles framed each eye, which held a hint of typical Ryoga-madness, when the other boy'd gotten too much in his head. "Well, Ranma, let's see. I was looking after my greatest rival in child-form, when an older version of me called me to his bedside to explain that I'd actually murdered my rival, who's kind of also my friend. So I'm processing, if you can understand a word that long."

Hibiki lifted his hand to take hold of the back of his younger counterpart's neck, just as he had the night before. Ryoga's head fell forward and Ranma could see the man's thumb pushing along a stubborn tendon, followed by soothing sweeps. He'd never seen such an unconscious or immediate display of domination and surrender before, especially not in the context of… he wasn't sure. Care, he supposed. It made him want to look away, but this time, he didn't. And this time, instead of that stab of grief, he felt… glad for Ryoga.

"Here we are," Kasumi said, depositing the last dish, a steaming bowl of miso soup, onto the breakfast table. "Ranma, why don't you call Nabiki and Akane for breakfast?"

"Okay," both Ranmas said simultaneously.

"Little Ranma?" Kasumi prompted, and the small child darted for the stairs. "Ranma, perhaps you'll bring your father," Kasumi went on. "He's doing kata outside."

"Yeah," Ranma said, and pushed to a standing position. He almost wanted to let the old man practice through breakfast. He didn't think he could look Genma in the face after some of his revelations last night, and he really didn't want to let his father near the kid, because…

Ranma sighed. He had to allow himself to think it, even if he wasn't about to say it: he didn't want to let Genma around the kid because Genma was a bad.. he was bad around kids. He hurt the kid's feelings, he called the kid imaginary, he implied that Ranma himself was a fool for looking after the kid. He sent the kid off to the old ghoul, maybe angling for a way out of one of Ranma's arranged marriages. Used the kid.

That made him a bad father, and kind of a bad person.

Weirdly, the entire dojo did not come crashing down about Ranma's ears for thinking this; the earth didn't crack open and swallow him. Instead, Ranma began to feel a hair more resolute than worried.

It felt like an improvement.


"Hey, Pops! Breakfast time!" Ranma shouted, and ducked back inside before he had to see his father's face.

Breakfast was a quiet affair at first, with no one quite knowing what to say. Kasumi served food, and seemed serene enough, but Akane picked at her food, the younger Ryoga Hibiki still seemed in a wooden sort of shock, and Nabiki's sharp eyes kept swinging around the table, trying to take in everyone's features at once. Soun ruffled his newspaper and his food disappeared off his plate at a regular rate; beyond that, there was not much of his behavior to observe.

Little Ranma seemed cheerful, though, just as he had at the start of the day. He grinned at everyone and, in a feat of what Ranma would call 'maturity' if he weren't doing the exact same thing, himself, behaved as though Saotome Genma did not exist.

Eventually, Hibiki cleared his throat and turned to little Ranma, still half on his lap. "Has Elder Cologne been keeping you busy?" he said.

"Well," Ranma temporized, "there sure aren't as many chores here. Nothing to water or weed and no errands to run. But sometimes I sweep an' sometimes I even serve customers." He wrinkled his nose. "They think it's cute, though, which is a little annoying."

Ranma's father would have rolled his eyes at this news, but Hibiki seemed to find it of grave import.

"Oh? Well, I can see how that might be so," he agreed. "But I meant you to tell me what you've learned."

Little Ranma squirmed in his seat. "Well. Not much," he admitted. "Elder Cologne doesn't know what I know, and I don't remember what everything's called. So she keeps showing me things and saying can you do this yet? and I tell her 'yes' or 'no, ma'am'. Ryoga's been helping a lot."

Ryoga squirmed in his seat almost identically to the child. "Um," he said.

"I know I thanked you already," Hibiki said, taking in everyone at the table, "but I can't say what a relief it is knowing that he was all right. That Ranma was with people who had his best interests at heart."

Genma snorted, and little Ranma flinched, a beat behind. "I assume he's learned some martial arts along with all this science and math and poetry," Genma said.

Akane and Nabiki looked to Hibiki, who smiled urbanely and said nothing.

"C'mon, Pops, don't be so… narrow," Ranma said. "I remember, you used to teach me that stuff too." Ranma took a quick sip of his tea so that he would not have to meet his father's gaze.

"I did no such thing," Genma grumbled.

"If you think that, you've got a crap memory, Pops," Ranma said. "Listen: 'the autumn wind of evening blows away the clouds that mass over the moon's purest light; and those that cloud our minds you sweep away too. Now, we disappear - well – what do we think of it? From the sky we came. Now, we may go back again. Or so some say.' Hôjô Ujimasa."

Ranma looked up from his tea to see that everyone was staring with varying degrees of shock. "Hey, it's not Heike Monogatari," he defended. "It's a death poem. A few lines. Kami-sama," he said, frustrated with the stares. "I'm not an idiot, all right?" he bit out. "I can memorize a few words in a row!" Damn it, he was upsetting the kid. He could see the child twisting his napkin in his hands, and Hibiki was too busy staring at him to notice.

"Forgive us if we're not used to you spouting poetry over breakfast," Nabiki deadpanned. "Even you've got to admit it's a little unusual, Ranma."

"I never taught you samurai poetry," Genma growled. "Waste of time, if you ask me."

Kasumi smiled prettily. "Why, and here I'd always thought the samurai ideal was cultured, Uncle Saotome."

"Well, just look at Ranma's education until he arrived here with us, Kasumi," Nabiki said. "He wasn't exactly cultured, was he? Which just goes to show what Uncle Saotome values."

"So how did you learn the poetry, then, Ranma?" Akane wondered.

Ranma frowned. He distinctly remembered repeating the lines, again and again. Discussing the meaning at length after the memorization was complete. He looked up and caught the older Hibiki Ryoga's eye.

The man looked slightly sheepish.

"You taught me – him – poetry?" Ranma said.

"Some," Hibiki said. "Hold on." He rose from the table, returning moments later with a battered, slender volume with a blue, beaten paper cover only slightly thicker than the pages. He handed it to Ranma, who turned it over in his hands.

It was familiar. Ranma could remember curling up, head tucked against someone's warm chest – Ryoga's – the older boy's voice measured, sonorous. Whether a man passes on or remains – it is all the same. That you can take no one with you is the only difference. With trembling fingers, Ranma flipped to the fourth page where those selfsame words were printed on cheap typepaper, and read two awakenings and one sleep and remembered Ryoga discussing with him how this meant the samurai must have died at sunrise. The pages were well-worn, much-beloved. Ranma closed the book and turned it over and over in his hands; even the texture was familiar against his fingers.

No one at the table spoke, even little Ranma. Soun was a rustling bit of newspaper and a wreath of pipesmoke, but everyone else's eyes were on Ranma.

"Thanks," Ranma croaked, handing the volume back across the table.

"It's my favorite," little Ranma piped up.

Ranma closed his eyes.

"Don't tell me that you're turning into some kind of womanly fool who thinks martial arts are wrapped up in poetry and flower-arranging," Genma scoffed.

Ranma swallowed, opened his eyes, faced his father. "I can't help what I remember," he said.

"You aren't remembering," Genma protested. "You can't be. I raised you, not some namby-pamby –"

Nabiki interrupted him. "Sorry, Ranma, but your father's right. You can't have had two childhoods. Maybe you read the poem somewhere else."

"But I didn't," Ranma said, sick of pretending it wasn't all true. "I remember him reading it to me."

Genma's eyes narrowed. "I see what you're doing, boy. You're trying to conquer him by putting these womanish ideas into his head. You're trying to make him weak – don't think I don't see it."

"I'm not trying to make Ranma weak," Hibiki replied.

"You are," Genma countered. "It was your plan all along, wasn't it? But you can't change him," Genma said, glaring at the older Hibiki Ryoga. "You can't go back in time and unmake what I've made him: the best martial artist of his generation. I won't allow you to." He stood from the table and snatched the child up by the arm; both Ryogas stood, near-simultaneously. "Ryoga!" little Ranma cried…

And then Genma disappeared from view.

Akane leapt to her feet.

"Lock the doors," said Nabiki.

But Ranma knew it was far too late. His father could move just as fast in the Umi Sen Ken as he could out of it.

"No," Hibiki breathed, staring at the space where little Ranma had been.

Tendo Soun's newspaper was abandoned beside him in a pile of discarded pages, like broken-winged birds, so Ranma appealed to him, first. "Where would Pops take him?"

Soun shook his head. "I – I have no earthly idea."

"Daddy, this is not the time to beat around the bush!" Nabiki exclaimed.

"But I'm telling you all the truth," Soun replied helplessly. "This wasn't one of old Genma's plans, or if it was, he confided nothing in me. I believe it was a spur-of-the-moment decision."

Ranma swallowed. "It can't be. It can't be, because if it is, we have no way of finding him."

"Yes, we do," said Ryoga, and the spark of madness Ranma knew all too well was back in his eyes. "You have to remember where he took you."

"Can you do that, Ranma?" Kasumi wondered.

Ranma looked around the circle of the table and shook his head. "No. No, I mean – I only know a few things, just a few things, and I don't even know why I know them. I can't…" He trailed off when he caught sight of Hibiki, who was still staring at the spot where little Ranma had disappeared, and breathing in a way that showed him inches from outright panic.

Ryoga's gaze darted from Ranma and to his counterpart and back again. "H-has this ever happened before? That someone had the memories of their – other self?"

"Good question," said Nabiki, and turned to stare at Ranma, although Ranma wasn't sure why.

Hibiki seemed to realize he was being addressed after a moment. "What? No, no… at least, not that any of the others told me. And… I don't know what Ryoga here knows," he said after a moment's thought.

"Then somehow," Ryoga said, "this Ranma is the one that's just been kidnapped."

Everyone's gaze swung back to Ranma.

"No, it's not – I'm not," Ranma protested. "That kid ain't me."

Akane blinked at him. "Why not, Ranma?"

"Because!" Ranma shot back, desperately. "I'm not like that! I'm not small or helpless or okay with my girl half or smart or well-read or good at any subject in school! I stopped crying in front of other people at three or four years old! I don't speak Chinese, either, in case you hadn't caught it! And I'm not… not…" Well cared-for, he thought. Gently raised. But even agitated, he knew better than to mention that part.

"Fine," Ryoga said in a hard voice. "You're not the little boy, Ranma. We get it. But for some mystical reason, you know some of the things he knows. So maybe you could use that to help him out, huh?"

Ranma felt powerless. At a loss. "How?"

"I can't think for you, Ranma!" Ryoga snapped. "Figure it out! What's jogged your memory before?"

Ranma blushed, but now was no time to be self-conscious. "I was spying on you the first time you comforted the kid after a nightmare," he said. "I remembered a river. Fingers carding through my hair. I – I think when the people the kid was closest to are around, I remember more." He swallowed. "That'd be you, Ryoga."

Hibiki seemed to come out of his daze. "Perhaps if I tell you some things, remind you, it might help you recall," he said.

"Sure."

"Meanwhile, I'll canvas the neighborhood," Ryoga began.

"Uh, perhaps that's not the best of ideas," Akane replied.

Ranma left the girls to talk Ryoga out of such a foolhardy plan, blocking out their bickering. "Well, shoot," Ranma said, with a sweep of his hand to indicate that the floor was Ryoga's.

Hibiki took in a breath, and began.

Books in the evening. Martial arts before lunch, and before dinner. Farming, mushroom-hunting. Fireflies at dusk and milking at dawn. Elder Cologne, Wan Da, Shampoo, and Mousse. And through every tale told, every detail of every part of the story, the thread of love was woven.

As Ranma listened, flashes of memory began to play across his mind's eye: piggyback rides and trips to the river and Wan Da's cool, calm voice like a drink of water on a sweltering day: would you say your father never hurt you – really hurt you – on purpose? Now he knew what she'd been getting at, of course – was your father abusive? Do you think Ryoga might be, too? He kind of wanted to go back in time and hug her for that. It had been weird, to go from no one really looking after him to Ryoga, and Wan Da, and Elder Cologne with his best interests at heart, not to mention the score of 'aunties' the village provided, always slipping him sweets. Old De had let he and Shampoo spar in the pumpkin patch, much to the detriment of the pumpkins. Ryoga had scolded when he'd found out, but that was fine with Ranma, since the punishment amounted to canning the ruined pumpkin, which was fun anyhow…

Ranma's father was another matter entirely. Sometimes he ignored Ranma when he'd gone against his father's wishes, and other times the punishment was harsh and terrible. Once, after the Catfist, he'd made Ranma set a bowl of milk out 'for cats' three nights in a row as punishment. Never mind that there probably weren't any cats up on the mountaintop where they'd been training; it wasn't like nine-year-old Ranma had known that at the time…

Ranma's eyes flew open.

"What?" Hibiki said, taking him by the shoulders. "Did you remember something?"

Ranma swallowed. "No," he said. "I mean, yes, but – no, not anything that specific – but I think I know where Pops must've taken him."

And he must've looked so horrified, because Hibiki pulled him close and embraced him.

Ranma's arms hung loose at his sides in shock, but the clasp was meant as quick comfort, because the older boy drew back a moment later, gripping him by the shoulders. "Where?" he rasped. "Where do you think he's been taken?"

Everyone behind them was staring; Ranma watched the younger Ryoga's gaze travel to where Hibiki's fingers pressed into Ranma's shoulders, watched him swallow. Dismissed it.

"There's a mountain pass. It's hazy. I don't remember everything, but I think I could find it again."

The older Ryoga clasped Ranma to him again, briefly, swiftly. Ranma's nose fell into Ryoga's shoulder, and when he took a startled breath, the smell was achingly familiar.

When Ryoga drew back this time, Ranma found his hands half-extended, as though he'd been about to return the embrace. His fingers twitched as he let his hands fall.

"It's in Japan," Ranma said into the silence. "Kitadake, the Northern Mountain. He took me hiking there whenever I screwed up. You could bet that there was gonna be some crazy training exercises an' something to do with cats." He blinked. "Cats," he said again, blinking. Ranma brought his fingers up to his lips. "I don't have a stammer," he said, tracing them, looking up at Hibiki.

"Of course you don't," Hibiki said. "Get some gear, Ranma. Who knows how long we'll be there looking?"

"Yeah," Ranma said, and ran to the spare room.

He ransacked the place looking for travel gear. His father's stuff was already missing: no doubt he'd stashed the kid somewhere and claimed his stuff while everyone was panicking. Ranma found some interesting stuff he'd left behind, though. Some maps, a bit of jerky dropped in haste, an empty flask for water. Ranma stole it all shamelessly, and stuffed it into his own pack. He turned to find Ryoga leaning against the doorframe.

It took him a moment to figure which one.

"Porkchop," he greeted, shouldering the bag and tightening the straps. "You coming?"

Ryoga looked uncharacteristically troubled. "Ranma… look, you've gotta know what this all means, right?"

"Means?" Ranma double-checked the straps; if one gave while he was climbing, it could fatally unbalance him. The best case scenario was that he'd lose all his gear. On top of that, he didn't put it past the old villain to have sliced at the straps so they would give out, but he didn't notice any tampering.

"Yeah, idiot," Ryoga said. "I mean, that you were still with your father, when you came here. And, and that… you didn't remember me. Er, twice."

"What're you babblin' about, P-chan?" Ranma said, retreating to the kitchen to fill the two flasks with water.

"I just mean that maybe it's best to leave things the way they are," Ryoga said.

Ranma turned to stare. "Are you nuts?"

"I don't think you know what you're getting into."

Ranma blinked in surprise. "Right," he said, firmly capping each flask. "Listen, maybe Pops was right. Not about the other Ryoga, but about you. Maybe you're happy to see a kinder, gentler version of me, right? 'Cause that makes me that much easier to beat, and that's all you've ever wanted from me, isn't it?"

Ryoga jerked backwards as though Ranma had kicked him in the gut, blinking like the blow had taken him by surprise. "You idiot," he said, finally. "Don't know why I bother."

"Yeah," Ranma said as Ryoga retreated in a huff, calling for Akane. Well, at least he wouldn't get lost, then. "I dunno why, either."


"LET ME GO!" Ranma screamed, flailing his feet against his father's shoulders and back. "TAKE ME HOME!"

"Listen to you," Genma said. "Screaming like a little girl. That Ryoga's warped you."

"Warped?" Ranma whimpered.

"That's right," Genma said. "I know you don't understand right now, Ranma. You're too little to understand. That isn't your fault. But the Hibiki boy has corrupted you, tainted you. Gone back into your very past to change who you are. Made you a weak, helpless little girl early, so you'd never know what it was to be a man."

"I 'came a girl 'cause I disobeyed," Ranma muttered.

"What? Speak up, boy!"

"I said, I became a girl because I disobeyed!"

"Well, the boy's doubly foolish for punishing you with a girl body," Genma growled. "A man's got to work to be a Man Amongst Men. A man's got to work to be a man at all! Imagine how hard you'll have to work to be a man, now that you're in a little girl's body!"

Ranma bit his lip, hard, and a jounce against Genma's shoulder caused him to draw blood, but he didn't wince. All of this sounded wrong to him, wrong, wrong, wrong, but it also sounded… familiar. Right, in a way he couldn't deny. All of a sudden, he remembered the feeling of looking at the world through girl's eyes the first time, wondering if it was a sin to be curious. That feeling flooded back, now. What if Ryoga was wrong, and his father was right? What if being a girl had ruined him? What if his father's sort of man was the only sort of man, and he'd thrown it all away to be a second-rate girl? Or worse, some kind of in-between thing that wasn't a proper girl or a Man Amongst Men?

What if he couldn't belong anywhere?

"That's why I had to take you away, Ranma," Genma went on. "I could tell that just being around Hibiki was damaging you. I had to get you away from him. To protect you."

But that didn't sound exactly right. "But you sent me away," Ranma said, wary.

Genma knelt, sliding Ranma down off his shoulder so that they could speak face to face. Ranma liked that; it was a trick of Ryoga's, he thought, but maybe his father did it, too. Maybe he just hadn't remembered.

"Sent you away?" Genma said, looking very sad indeed. "No, Ranma. I would never do a thing like that. I didn't think you were real. You have to understand the kinds of things I've seen. I've seen Mirror copies and body splits and possession. I would never have been so cruel to you if I'd known that it was really you, really my son!" Genma exclaimed, taking Ranma by the shoulders and shaking him. "Don't worry, boy. We'll fix it. I made you the best martial artist in Japan, once; I can do it again. We're going to have to train you out of some bad habits, of course…"

"But what about Ryoga?" Ranma offered up, tentative.

Genma's affectionate expression seemed to melt. "That second-rate excuse for a man is never going to get his hands on you again," he said fiercely. "Listen, Ranma. Your manhood can be taken away at any moment, by anyone. A man who thinks he's tougher than you, who insults you. A woman, who thinks that she can manipulate you with the promise of love. A boss who forced you to work under him."

"I haven't got any of those," Ranma said, honestly. He hoped that Akane would love him, someday, but it had hardly come to that.

"More than that," Genma explained. "What Ryoga's done is encouraged you to be feminine. And being feminine..." He laughed, derisive. "That can take away your manhood, too. That goes without saying."

Ranma frowned. He was picturing the covers of romance novels, and heart-shaped balloons, and frilly dresses in store windows chasing and attacking him. At any other time, he might have laughed at the image. But his daddy seemed deadly serious, as though this were not a laughing matter, so he put on the serious listening face he did for Ryoga.

But Ranma's listening face must not have been very convincing, because Genma added, more stringently, "If men think you're weak, then they'll take what's yours."

"Well," said Ranma. "What if you have friends who help you protect what's yours?"

Genma's eyes flashed. "A Man Amongst Men relies on no one but himself!"

Ranma felt miserable. Ryoga must have been changing him. It used to be he could repeat some of this back to his daddy word-for-word, but now so much of it sounded so strange.

"If men think you're weak, they'll take what's yours," Genma repeated, but with straining patience, "and if they sense anything girly in you, they'll know you're weak."

Now, the picture Ranma got was scarier. Wolves, who could smell it when you weren't a Man Amongst Men. Sniffing you out. Tearing you limb from limb when they discovered you, found out you weren't who you said you were, weren't right.

The thought terrified him. "But I am strong, daddy!"

"Boys don't call their fathers daddy," Genma stressed. He paused. "I suppose I've always known this was in you. I've always known it was something that had to be chased out. Not just because of the contract…" he wavered. "Must be your mother's influence… should've taken you away sooner…"

Ranma found himself growing more and more panicked. If calling his own father daddy had been so terrible, what had it meant that he'd kind of liked it when Ryoga had called him sweetheart? He'd known it was wrong – known it was a girl-word at the time. He should never have let it happen!

"Perhaps I should give up on you, but I can't, as a father –"

Shampoo had it backwards. Ryoga had it all sideways, and upside-down. His daddy – his Pops was right. Of course he was. "No, Da… Pops! Please don't give up! I'll try harder, I swear!"

Genma smiled. "Good, Ranma. That's the first step. Now, let's see if we can take the next… together."


A/N:

This is the most anxious I've been during writing in a long time. Like, Draco-enduring-Cruciatus level of horror. I could barely write this chapter.

I've known all along that Genma was going to cause terrible trouble for tiny!Ranma, but a lot of said horror infusing this chapter comes from reading a recent article on the damaging nature of "what it means to be a man": how manliness is transitory, and can be taken from a man at any time. Think about the saying "handing in your man card" and asking someone if his wife/girlfriend carries his... er... MANhood... in her purse, when a man has done something we don't deem sufficiently brave, emotionless, or merciless. Men have to put down other men who aren't as MUCH men to feel like they ARE men. Or they could LOSE their ability to CALL themselves men. And Genma, more even than most parents, seems to see Ranma as an extension of himself, a reflection of his own hard work. Ranma is like a master painting he's been working on for sixteen years.

And, so far as he sees it, an inexperienced artist who thinks he can do a better job just scrawled all over HIS canvas. Perhaps for the sole purpose of degrading Genma's own work of genius, thereby proving himself the better artist.

This is the most villainous Genma I'll ever write, but I submit that he's in character. You are welcome to disagree. :)

I wish little Ranma were better at resisting what his father has to say, but it's how he was raised. And, unfortunately, even in the case of loved ones every bit as abusive as Genma in real life - and more! - people often become emotionally attached to their abusers, especially if the abuse comes from someone they believe should love them who's in a position of natural authority, like a parent.

I went back to chapter one and added some warnings. I'm beginning to believe this story needs them.

Someone wrote me a message that might have been a personal issue, and might have been related to this story, but I highly suspect they were trolling. If that's not the case, then please don't look for help from strangers on the internet. Talk to a professional.

As always, I'd love to hear what you think.

-K