The big city.
Shinnosuke Kaede frowned as his gaze wandered across the unnatural angles of the suburb around him with the slightest of uneasy. On one hand, it wasn't Ryugenzawa, which was actually a good thing since it meant there wouldn't be any giant wildlife running around to terrorize the local populace. On the other... It wasn't Ryugenzawa. Obnoxiously oversized animals aside, the idyllic forest had been his home for nearly seventeen years. The city just didn't compare to its wonder. Here there was traffic. People. Things begging for attention. All in quantities far beyond that he was used to. It wasn't the quiet beauty of his home, and the sooner he returned to it, the better.
The guardian paused at a crowded crosswalk while considering what had lured him from his home. The task he was undertaking now was every bit as formidable as the animals he protected the countryside from, if not more so. He was here to liberate her from a life chosen for her since before her birth, and knew there would be obstacles to that quest. In some ways, he would rather be facing the life-water mutations of Ryugenzawa than pursue this impossible path, but the choice was no longer his. It was hers.
The crosswalk light clicked over and the sea of pedestrians flowed across, leaving Shinnosuke behind with a blank look on his face. The moment passed and the custodian of Ryugenzawa blinked, suddenly finding himself in unfamiliar territory on the corner of a city he had never seen before in his life. Buildings, cars, so many- Shinnosuke cut his mental wanderings off, already having been a victim of his own memory lapses too many times in the past not to recognize the signs. He took a moment to reorient himself mentally before tackling the more important question: Where in the world was I going?
The 'who' and 'why' were actually a known. She had affixed herself in his mind like a polestar, visible from every angle within his consciousness even as his very memories were little more than quicksand. She was the only reason he would leave the forest, though some of the details therein were found to be lacking. Even as he clenched his fist in silent frustration, something crinkled in his right hand. Paper. The black haired teen stared down at the new discovery for a moment before unclenching his fist to study the mangled parchment. Pulling it open for study, Shinnosuke produced a subdued smile. It was a map... To the only place- the only person -outside the forest he would want to go find. Not far now, he confirmed returning the map to its more compact crumpled state and hefted the shop broom back across his shoulder, crossing the street.
It took another fifteen minutes and three mental reboots before his destination came into sight, and even when it did, a forth was required before the placard labeled "Tendo School of Indiscriminate Grappling" registered as meaning anything whatsoever. He studied the aging lines of the property wall as he walked along the sidewalk, pausing only briefly to wonder at the sporadic patchwork of spackle that seemed to be evenly interspersed along its length as he made his way to the worn front gate.
'Ring bell to defeat owner in savage combat'
Shinnosuke's fingers around the neck of his shop broom tightened to a white knuckled grip while he wondered if there would be the need to engage in any savage combat himself.
Undoubtedly, was the singular response that came to mind. He had been a witness to her testimony... Her every joy and every fear; her soul laid bare even if she thought he would never remember a word of it. For anybody else, that probably would have been the case, but she was that single reference point within his mental landscape. He knew what she had gone through here and he would end it... by force if necessary.
Shinnosuke beheld the sign for another moment before tilting his head, looking at it as if anew.
What kind of business advertises indiscriminate grappling, anyway? The forest guardian shook his head at the title and turned away from the gate to behold his current surroundings. None of it looked familiar and he clearly wasn't in the forest. Looks like Tokyo? He wondered as neurons rebuilt logical pathways that had been washed away by his last relapse. If he was in Tokyo, there would only be one reason for him to be there, and had just begun the process to regain his bearings when the gate creaked open behind him.
"Oh, how do you do?" A slightly surprised voice pulled him from his study of the area, and he turned to find an attractive brunette in a tan-white dress exiting from the property. She looked upon him curiously, then smiled upon gaining his notice. "Can I help you?
Not her, Shinnosuke noted, but loosened the grip on his serious demeanor slightly. "I'm looking for somebody. I think she's nearby."
"Hmmm, perhaps I can help?" The woman offered courteously, glancing down to his hand. "Is that a map?"
The guardian wondered at her, also looking down to his hand to find the paper crumpled within his fist. He loosened his grip on it, attempting to return it to a readable state. "I think so..."
"Maybe I can have a look , then," The brunette offered politely, pulling the map from the teen's reluctant grasp to study it. It took another moment to smooth out the haphazard creasing to the point of legibility, whereupon she blinked in surprise. "Oh my, it looks like you've already arrived!"
"I have?" Shinnosuke blinked his own surprise, looking from the map, to the woman, then the gate behind her.
"Welcome to the Tendo Dojo. I'm Kasumi Tendo," She advised with a smile, bowing respectfully. "Are you one of Akane-Chan's friends?"
The custodian searched his own memories and found the name to be familiar, even if the details were lacking. "Yes... How did you know?"
"The map shows you coming from Ryug enzawa," Kasumi pointed, her finger tracing the route to its origin and the scribbled trees labeled such. The teen leaned in, following the hand written streets and landmarks for himself. The handwriting clicked. Hers. The woman handed the map to him, returning to the gates to open them. "I'm sure Akane-Chan would be happy to see you. Won't you come in?"
Shinnosuke just nodded and followed the eldest Tendo sister onto the property. While the layout as a whole was pleasing, the landscape itself seemed to have suffered from neglect. Patches of grass had been upturned andat random intervals, while the dojo itself seemed to suffer from the same patchwork repairs as the outer wall. The house itself was fortunately in better condition and Kasumi led the teen through the door into its interior where they slipped off their shoes. He set his ever present broom aside as well, even as his host turned away.
"Akane , somebody to see you!" The woman called out, then turned back to her guest. "She'll be right down. Tea?"
The teen nodded and Kasumi was away, leaving him to linger in the hallway until the sound of footsteps were heard. A familiar looking girl in a blue blouse and modest white skirt rounded the top of the stairs to negotiate the steps. She had barely begun steps downward when she nearly missed the next step upon catching sight of their guest. "Shinnosuke-Kun?"
The boy was just opening his mouth when Akane skipped several stairs to meet him in the hall, applying a sisterly embrace to his frame. "I didn't think I would ever see you again! At least not this soon! How is your grandfather?"
Shinnosuke held her with a bewildered look. "Who?"
"Silly," Akane pulled away with a cheery smile, already taking his familiar memory lapses in stride . "Your grandfather back in Ryug enzawa ."
Akane giggled. "I'll take that as a yes. How long will you be staying ?"
That was actually a very good question, one that all depended on her. How would she react to the news? Would she accept it? Would she leave it all behind? Until he knew the answers to those questions, how long he would be staying for was an unknown... An almost terrifying unknown, and he could only answer truthfully. "I'm... not sure."
"Then you'll just have to stay the night," The youngest Tendo decided, taking the boy's hand to lead him deeper into the house. Even as she did so, Nabiki watched from the sofa as her sister and the newcomer came into view. She put her magazine aside with a smirk, fully ready to poke her sibling with a stick.
"So who's the new boy-toy, Akane?"
Her efforts were instantly rewarded by the girl's pink faced protest. Even better, it was actual embarrassment. She likes him, Nabiki realized with a sharks grin from the privacy of her thoughts. Of course, there wasn't much not to like, she realized in looking at him. Kinda cute, really, she appraised. Athletic, well built, looks- Nabiki's thoughts stalled with bitter realization. Martial Artist. She pulled the magazine back in front of her as her interest in Akane's find suddenly flat-lined.
"Her friend from Ryugenzawa," Kasumi corrected, prompting a disinterested roll of the eyes from Nabiki as she rejoined the group with the tea she had promised. Shinnosuke gave her a slight bow and took the tea in hand, then turned to Akane.
"Are we supposed to be in these stranger's home?" He asked, loo king from the tea in hand to Akane herself. Kasumi blinked at his non-sequitur, while Nabiki simply arched a curious eyebrow .
"Oh, don't worry," Akane smiled sunnily, her embarrassment forgotten in favor of Shinnosuke's handicap. "These are my sisters, Kasumi and Nabiki Tendo."
A silent 'oh' appeared on the boy's mouth, and he bowed politely. "Very nice to meet you both. I am Shinnosuke Kaede."
Kasumi giggled demurely. "I believe we've met."
The teen shook his head. "I don't believe we have, Miss Tendo."
"He'll definitely give Ryoga a run for his money," Nabiki snickered, inciting Kasumi to giggle again. The Ice Queen sat up and walked over to their guest with a smirk. "I'm glad you're finally back. I've been waiting for that five thousand yen you owe me."
Shinnosuke blinked, looking from sister to sister. "I... I do?"
"Oh, definitely. If you could-"
"No he doesn't!" Akane snapped, inserting herself between her guest and middle sister. "Don't take advantage of him like that, Nabiki!"
The middle Tendo laughed derisively. "How can I help not taking advantage of such an easy mark?"
"Well don't," The girl huffed and returned her attention to Shinnosuke with an apologetic look. "You'll have to forgive my sister... She can get a bit too money hungry at times."
"Please don't take advantage of our guest, Nabiki-chan," Kasumi admonished, and the middle Tendo rolled her eyes again, but relented; turning back to the sofa and her magazine. The eldest returned her attention to their guest with a gentle smile. "We're happy to have you."
Shinnosuke simply nodded while Akane practically bubbled with excitement. "I'll have to show you around Nerima while you're here. We usually don't get giant forest animals, but some days you'd be surprised."
"And my little sister has a gift for understatement," Nabiki quipped from the couch, never fully turning her attention from the magazine before cocking her head with an introspective look. "Of course, we never believed those stories you had of the giant forest creatures as a girl, either."
"Told you so," Akane folded her arms with smug satisfaction, then turned back to her friend with a swell of pride. "We actually fought off a giant Phoenix two months back , if you can believe it.
The defender of Ryugenzawa did believe her. He also believed in Lucky God Martial Artists, Chinese Amazons, Half Dragon Princes... After everything he had heard plus what he dealt with on a regular basis, giant Phoenix birds were well within the realm of believability. Still, he broached the question.
"All of us. Me, Ranma, Ryoga, Ukyo..." Akane ticked off the names on her finger, until coming to her thumb with a grimace on her face. "Even that idiot Kuno. He's the one that started in the first place, you know?"
Kuno. Tatewake? Shinnosuke was able to pull the name from the shadowy recesses of his memory only for its association to his heart's desire. He figured largely in her stories and the fact that he would have something to do with these Phoenix tales didn't come as a surprise in any way, shape or form.
"Hopefully we won't run into him today," The youngest Tendo concluded in a derisive tone as Kasumi smiled, sipping tea. Shinnosuke suddenly remembered his own mug and took a sip. A soft patter from above began to sound through the house, causing Akane pause.
Kasumi glanced out the window as she returned to the kitchen, finding the rainfall outside gaining in density. "It looks like you may have arrived just in time, Shinnosuke-kun."
"Well, so much for going out," Akane sighed, then smiled with new found inspiration. "We'll look through photo albums!"
"If it'll keep your new found chipperness to a minimum, I'm all for it," Nabiki deadpanned. "It's getting downright creepy."
Akane threw another scowl her way before moving toward the living room's corner coffee table. She glanced back to the black haired teen. "Don't let her bother you. She's just-"
"Dammit!" A new female voice fumed as the front door clicked open out of sight, then slammed shut immediately after. "Why does it always gotta be rain?"
Akane rolled her eyes with the coarse feminine missive as their new arrival continued to shuffle around in the doorway, then returned fire. "That's what you get for not taking an umbrella, baka!"
"Well how the hell am I supposed to know it was gonna rain?" A redheaded girl rounded the hallway corner, more preoccupied by wringing the water out of the shirt tails of her silks than engaging in Akane's witty repartee. Nabiki glanced up and spied the soaked girl with no small measure of mirth.
"Watch the weather like everybody else, Saotome?"
"Yeah, yeah," Ranma huffed and began unbuttoning the red silk shirt on the spot. "I swear, it's like somebody upstairs has got it out for me or somethin'."
The third clasp was freed and Kasumi's eyes widened while the martial artist fingers moved to the forth in what was a typical lack of modesty for Ranma. She moved to prevent any further display of the redhead's ample chest before Akane's guest by forcefully clearing her throat. "Ahem. We have company, Ranma-chan."
The advisement had the desired affect and Ranma paused in her efforts, looking up for the first time since her entry into the house. Akane, Kasumi and Nabiki immediately registered. The fourth person in their midst was immediately recognizable as well, but took a different route through her brain on the way to that recognition that ended in her blue eyes widening to the size of five hundred yen pieces. The three sisters watched as martial arts heir simply froze like a deer suddenly facing down a multi-ton semi-truck. Nabiki's attention was slowly drawn away from her magazine as curiosity set in, while Akane's train of thought took an entirely different track.
"It's polite to say 'hi' you know?"
"Ya... ya... You..." The redhead began to gibber as her already porcelain features paled further. Akane's irritation faltered while the girl continued to gibber, stumbling back. "You can't... You... can't..."
Nabiki was now at a complete loss, and even Kasumi simply stared; her head cocked at an angle as she watched the girl's blue eyes pool into what could only be interpreted as panic. Even Akane was left blinking, and Ranma stumbled back further. The only time she had seen her on again off again fiancé more afraid of was in facing down a feline in some way, and there weren't any of those present. Just herself, her sisters and Shinno-kun, who himself broke the silent standoff.
That simple statement cause the girl to stumble back as she gulped down a pensive breath, her eyes still pools of fear and uncertainty. Ranma managed a strained reply through a tightened throat. "You... Ya can't."
Akane's wondering study flicked from her fiancé to childhood friend and back, finally resulting in that wonder spilling from her lips. "Shinno-kun? Ranma?"
The custodian of Ryugenzawa took a step forward and Ranma took a step back, while the trio of sisters watched with morbid curiosity from behind them. Even though they were well within Ranma's view, her attention was riveted to their teen guest as if he represented something far more dangerous than they could perceive. Shinnosuke took another step forward and Ranma gave ground again, this time looking for an avenue of escape even while denying his existence in front of her.
"This… this ain't happening," she took another uncertain glance back and yield another step, bumping into the wall that represented the end of the hallway. "You can't remember... not that..."
Ranma was on the verge of hyperventilation as Shinnosuke took a final step into her personal space, leaving her trapped between himself and the wall. Nabiki glanced up at Kasumi and the pair shared wondering looks at the unlikely standoff, then watched in near disbelief was their guest ran a single, gentle hand through Ranma's red mane to brush away her bangs. The act also brought a clear line of sight to her glistening eyes as she made one last protest. "You... we can't..."
"I remember, Hinode." The redhead was frozen by the name, completely powerless for what came next. The guardian of Ryugenzawa leaned into her personal space and gathered the shivering girl into a gentle embrace.
"But she's- I mean, who's Hinode?" Akane stumbled through the only rational she could formulate through the confusion: That being that her forgetful friend had also forgotten Ranma was in fact a boy, not a girl. Even so, it didn't come close to explaining why her fiancé- man among men -had even allowed herself to be embraced at all. She turned a befuddled look back on her sisters who could only stare at the scene taking place. She was about to pose the question to them directly when the sniffling of a muffled sob caught her ear. She looked back to find the martial artist's head buried in Shinnosuke's shoulders.
"You can't remember," The redhead choked even as the boy stroked her head. "You can't... It's impossible..."
"I do." Shinnosuke favored her with a gentle smile, then kissed her head. The act seemed to allow the Ranma a small measure of restraint as she pulled away from his shoulder with bleary red eyes. Those same blue orbs flicked uncertainty back at the gawking sisters, then returned to the custodian.
"How... how much?"
Shinnosuke tilted her chin up to his level gently. "Everything."
"You... can't." The redhead gulped with uncharacteristic timidness. Shinnosuke pressed closer, his eyes filling her world. She could feel the solid thud of his heartbeat as it seemed to echo through her existence. Instead of responding to Ranma's denial in words, he took up her lips with his.
The sound of Akane Tendo hitting the floor was heard seconds later.
It was the first thing Akane Tendo saw when she opened her eyes, starting first with a minor blur before resolving itself into the sharper features of crisscrossing wood supports that made up the spine of her house. What it wasn't, was the vision of a tear-strewn redhead kissing her old childhood friend like some fairytale, and the youngest sister breathed a sigh of relief. Better a martial arts stumble than that freakish nightmare that had visited itself upon her sensibilities.
"Baka." Akane grumbled at the thought as she sat up from the couch, scrubbing her eyes clear of any remaining blur; reoriented herself. That wasn't hard in and of itself, as she immediately recognized her own living room, largely empty of any other family members and quiet save a low conversation emanating from the porch. Deciding that she wasn't grievously injured, the dojo heiress hoped off the couch and navigated the living room around the corner to the porch exit, where her sisters stood; peering out as if watching something. The rain had obviously stopped at some point, though what was so special about that was a mystery.
"Hey, what's..." Her voice trailed off as she moved to gain a view around the backs of her sisters, only to have her nightmare revisited. Akane's cheek twitched while her mind once again attempted to wrap itself around the sight beyond the patio- A couple embraced at the edge of the properties koi pond; intimately, if she were any judge. Their separate identities were also quite unmistakable, and the youngest Tendo's frame began to tremble as the details were taken in. Ranma was a regular sight next to the pond itself, even if involuntarily and quite often in it. What was a less common sight was her childhood friend cradling the girl as they discussed something too low to be heard from her vantage point.
The occasional kiss and supportive hug, however, was clearly seen and Akane's jaw clenched with new found fury.
How dare he! She fumed as her thoughts congealed into a cohesive chain of events. That pevert- her fiancé -was once again trying to pull another stunt. With Shin-kun, no less! One foot stomped in front of the other as she made way across the threshold of the porch seeing red. Poor Ryoga, was bad enough. But Shinnosuke could barely remember where he was from one moment to the next. I swear I'll hit the idiot so hard that he'll- A hand grabbed her wrist suddenly, jerking her to a halt and stalling her fury. Her head snapped around to find Nabiki holding it, shaking her head.
"Not this time, sis," Nabiki answered evenly, motioning to the couple beyond. "I want to see how this one plays out before you go smacking the hell out of her."
"But Ranma's-!" Akane protested, but was met with a pleasant but unyielding admonishment from Kasumi as well.
"I would also appreciate your restraint, Akane-chan." The eldest Tendo sister nodded. A crinkling sound in her hand drew Akane's attention down to the bag of shrimp crackers in her sister's hand, a vice normally reserved for her afternoon soap operas in front of the TV. Akane's confused study flicked up from the crackers to her sister's pleasant demeanor, then over to her other sister, whose attention was turned back to Ranma and Shinnosuke, which in turn led her own gaze there as well. The youngest Tendo then watched as Shinnosuke cupped the redhead's hand in his, even as she was shaking her head emphatically about something. The forest custodian merely pulled her closer in response. The act seemed to calm Ranma some, which only served to confuse Akane further.
Her eyes lingered for a moment before her thought process finally derailed with a pair of balled fists and face scrunched up in frustration. "What the HELL is going on here?"
The redhead stiffened in the custodian's embrace as Akane's shock finally boiled over, though her counterpart remained calm. He simply squeezed her hand and said something, to which she sighed. Ranma's head hung in defeat for a moment before she turned her crystal blue gaze back at her audience, her expression morphing from that of a girl barely in control of her own emotional state to that of resolute determination. She took another moment to steel herself before rising to her diminutive height and walking over to the sisters, one of which all but vibrated in nigh uncontrollably anger.
"Are you okay, Ranma-chan?" Kasumi asked, having pulled a tissue from her blouse to hand it to the girl. The martial artist had been about to take it when she was cut off.
"Idiot!" Akane blurted, somehow curbing the need to inflict physical violence against the disapproval of her sisters in their presence. Regardless, an uncontrolled torrent of verbal spite erupted. "Moron! Stupid! Pervert! Did you think for one moment about poor Shinnosuke before involving him in one of your stupid stunts?"
"Maybe it's some sort of superiority complex?" The youngest Tendo continued without respite, leaning into Ranma's personal space with a furious look. "Being the best doesn't mean you have to play games with people and their feelings, you know?"
"Akane-chan, perhaps you should-"
"And with him, of all people!" The girl pointed emphatically, overriding her part time fiancé and eldest sister simultaneously as she leaned fully into her anger. "He can barely remember your name, and here you go playing with him like you do poor Ryoga! Have you no decency?"
"WILL YA LET ME TALK, TOMBOY?" Ranma blurted back, causing Akane to stumble a step back before her face contorted back into the malevolent visage it had slowly been building toward. Her fist balled as she trembled angrily, and she retook the step forward, taking the opportunity to initiate a blindsiding roundhouse that only gave the redhead's eyes enough time to widen before it was on her.
It was a punch Ranma could have easily taken. She had done so before, and would probably do so again many, many more times before the telling was done. She would bear it as before, because that was her only option. Reprisal, no matter how slight, would only make her angrier, which would in turn involve the old men. Somehow the other girls would come along and drag the guys in, creating one huge apocalyptic mess. Ranma braced for the impact. No, it was best to take what Akane was dishing now then let it snowball out of control like it had done so many times before. Air buffeted her cheek, but stopped without impact. After a moment of wonder, Ranma looked up from her cringe to find Akane's punch stopped centimeters from her face by a clearly male hand; one she recognize quite well. Akane's eyes were likewise wide open dishes as she stared at her encased hand, then back to its owner who merely shook his head.
"No more," Shinnosuke declared, removing Akane's now limp fist from any line intersecting the redhead he stood behind. She continued to stare at her childhood friend like a stunned deer until Ranma sighed wearily. The girl glanced back to the guardian with a thankful look, then returned to Akane.
"I... Look 'Kane," Ranma shook her head wearily as any pretense of her earlier confidence evaporated under obvious fatigue. "It's… we... me and Shin-kun..."
Akane simply stared at her with eyes as wide as 500 yen coins while Ranma fought for the words. Behind her, the schoolgirl's sisters eagerly awaited the culmination of the dramatic events playing out before them. After another attempt to piece together her thoughts, the martial artist opted for a more direct tack.
"It's over Akane. All of it." Ranma stated; a hint of regret creeping into her voice. Shinnosuke squeezed her shoulder in a show of support. "Me and Shin... We're... We're together now."
It took a moment for the statement to process, but when it finally did, Akane dropped to the floor for the second time in fifteen minutes.
Author's Notes: I was saving this for something truly dire, like if a card carrying KotTG member pissed me off, but I'm feeling pretty apathetic tonight, so I guess this is as good as an occasion as any. My apologies, but that makes you all victims. The match is obviously Shinnosuke, which makes this a ZOMG!RanmaChan production. I won't reveal too much for upcoming chapters or even promise a timely release schedule, but the direction should be discernable enough given the principle match involved. How I get from A to B is half the fun.
Shinno-who? Water of life boy from the 'An Akane to Remember' arc/OVA. I'm feeling meh right now, so you'll have to molest google yourself for the manga chapter if you're not familiar with this one shot character. To my knowledge, this match-up is a first. A tragic, wonderful first.
Hidone; Means 'sunrise'. Will be expounded upon in later plot.
Shinnosukification? Technically, yes. But it's so unique that it deserves its own title/category in my eyes.
Instant messenger; I had an IM accident and lost half my list. If you haven't heard from me for a bit, drop me an IM just in case. Or if your bored ;)