Child of Imprisonment
If you must, shed no tears for me
Cry for those too blind to see
Crimes commited in the name of their own
Seeing not themselves if the mirror they're shown
Makoto could only wrap her arms around her stomach, knowing that the child within wasn't to blame for anything. Tears fell from her eyes as she rocked herself slightly, waiting for an opportunity to get out of here. She remotely heard a scuffle down the hall, and hunkered further against her wall.
"Probably another guard had a bad day and is getting ready to take it out on one of us girls. Can't let the child suffer because of these assholes," She thought despondently.
She started as the door suddenly opened. A black-haired young man with piercing blue eyes looked back at her from under a cloak.
"Who are you?" Mako asked, her eyes hard and resolute, even as a corner of her mind screamed, fearful of ending up in the hands of just another enemy.
"Name's Saotome Ranma. Don't worry, we're getting you out of this hell-hole." The man responded as he reached down and picked her up, his arms flashing out and snapping the chains that held her easily. Fear quickly became shock and surprise, and Makoto fainted.
"Who is she, Ranma?" Kasumi asked as she checked the girl over.
"Her name is Kino Makoto. Apparently was the undisputed winner in a few local martial arts tournaments since the impact," Ranma paced by the door, his hands clasped behind is back. "Can't believe those places are still popping up after this long.."
"It's only been a few years since the impact. Humankind sadly always seems to show it's worst sides fastest when it comes to recovery. And it's not as if you haven't dealt with these places already."
"Yeah, but to create yet another place where they were using the girls as nothing more than breeding fodder? And this one was obviously sanctioned, not just some folks gathered up and randomly doing it. There was too much money involved. Someone deliberately supported this one. I wish Cologne was here, one word of this to her and the place would've been flattened, no questions asked."
"Yes, but she's not able to help us anymore. Be thankful she taught you what she did before she was forced to return to Joketsuzoku. They had their own problems to deal with after the impact." Kasumi said, a slight smile forming the more she cleaned the girl up.
"Don't get me wrong Kasumi, I am thankful for that. She just has more of a killer instinct than I do. Places like that deserve to be treated the way the Amazons look at things. It's all I can do to hold to my code when I'm taking them down."
"Were you able to rescue anyone else from that place? Or would you be able to?"
"I probably could, but she was in the most immediate danger, and there's something else about her that I can't quite pin down, an extra touch to her aura that told me she needed to be brought out of there . Besides, from what I could tell, that place had connections. I couldn't quite figure out if it was Yakuza, or government perhaps, but I didn't like the vibe I was getting, so I got her and got the hell out."
"It's good that the Tendo home survived the impact then. As 'back-water' as we look compared to most of the city now, we get overlooked a lot." Kasumi responded, smiling even more as she continued to check over the girl's injuries. "I really don't understand how they could treat people so cruelly. Even if they were just using the women there as breeding stock, why would they be so harsh?"
"To keep them from fighting back. While I was there that was one thing I did notice. All of the women, other than her, have been beaten into submission, on top of the usual. They cringe back when a shadow passes their door. The other places didn't bother with that, just mentally broke them with the constant abuse. Hell, there were chains on her because they apparently couldn't manage to break her mind, and trying to beat her into submission probably cost them a few men's health. This place, it was a lot bigger, and didn't rely just on mentally breaking them. Certainly explains where some of the missing people reports came from here lately. I had a feeling there had been a surge of them on the news."
"You don't think that perhaps Akane was taken by one of these places, do you?"
"No...much as I want to say otherwise, I know Akane's gone. The day of the impact, she was with that expedition to the pole. These places didn't start to crop up till after that event. Besides, I'm sure you felt it as well as close as you were to her. It was like a spot in my heart just kinda...disappeared." Ranma said, blinking back a tear he hadn't realized had formed.
"You're...right. I keep hoping maybe I was wrong, but if you felt it as well, then perhaps it's best I accept it. I...suppose I could have saved myself the false hope if we'd talked about it before." Kasumi's smile faltered as she looked down into her lap for a moment, a few tears falling before she set herself once more. "She's actually not as injured as it may have looked. Mostly just exhausted, a few bumps and bruises, perhaps some muscle deterioration, but other than that she's fine. I'm honestly surprised considering the circumstances."
"It's probably the exhaustion is the only reason she ever ended up there to begin with. Perhaps drugs. She's got the conditioning of a seasoned martial artist, even if nowhere on my level or even Shampoo or Ukyo's. But we're also a pretty select bunch I'd say, so it's not fair to hold normal people to our standards." Ranma commented from his spot near the door of the guest room, his arms crossed.
"You're going to allow her to stay here?"
"I don't really see it as a choice, Kasumi. I had Nabiki do some research. She has no immediately family, lived in Juuban on her own, has a small circle of friends, whom Nabiki said she's going to contact. She's been listed as missing for around eight months, I'm guessing two of that was before they finally managed to subdue her long enough to actually impregnate her. When I do go back to that place, I'm making sure no one leaves with their balls intact." Ranma swore as he stood away from the wall, visibly building his battle aura, the area around him frosting over.
"Ranma," Kasumi admonished. "You need to calm down, it won't do her any good to catch a cold in her condition."
"Yes, Kasumi," Ranma answered, the Soul of Ice quickly evaporating from around him as he grinned sheepishly. "But like I was saying, she's here as far as I'm concerned at least until the kid is born, longer if need be. No one deserves to be treated like she did. And I won't change how this house works. Mr. Tendo may have entrusted it to me, but far as I'm concerned, it's still your home. That's why we've got Tofu moved in here instead of you moving in with him. I'm just glad he finally got his feelings under control so you two were able to get together."
"Oh? And who was it that took almost a full year after the fight on Mount Horai to admit his feelings for my little sister?" Kasumi grinned.
"Some baka of a martial artist, I'm sure," Ranma responded, walking over to the window and poking his head out to check the darkening sky. He looked up just in time to get hit with the first wave of a sudden downpour. "Well I was going to say that it looks like we're gonna get stormed on here in a few, but apparently the weather beat me to it."
Kasumi giggled as Ranma irritably shook her shirt off her shoulders.
"Well, at least some things never change." She said with minor aggitation. "Be back in a few minutes, if I'm gonna be female for the day, I guess I'd better dress appropriately. The rain's supposed to last a few hours anyway, so wouldn't even be worth trying to stay male for now."
Kasumi went back to watching over their new guest as the rain poured down. She was surprised as the girl began to wake up a few moments later.
"Oh my, must be true what they say about even weaker martial artists recovering faster," Kasumi murmured as the girl began to push herself up, only to be politely pushed back down by Kasumi. "Please, don't, you mustn't exert yourself."
"I'm sorry, but who are you?" she asked weakly.
"My name is Ono Kasumi. Ranma brought you here after he drug you out of that horrible place you were in."
"Ranma? Oh, right, that guy in my dream. This is just another dream, too, isn't it?" Mako asked morosely.
"Oh my, no, I'm afraid it's not. I wish I could say the months you've had leading up to here were a nightmare, but for now at least, you're safe. No one here will do anything like that to you. My husband has no need to do so, and Ranma...well, Ranma I don't think could ever bring himself to be like that even if he wanted to, and Akane would never forgive him anyway. On top of that, to do such a thing would be a rather large trespass on his code I think." Kasumi rambled on slightly as she squeezed the water out of a damp cloth and pressed it back on the girl's forehead. She smiled gently at her patient. "Now, do me a favor and stay here please while I go get you some food, okay? And perk up, those green eyes of yours will look a lot prettier if we can wipe that sullen look off your face."
Makoto could only nod and blush slightly as the girl got up and swiftly moved out the door and down the hall. Another girl with long red hair pulled back into a single braided tail stuck her head in the door and bounced into the room, dressed in a chinese dress, with a pair of tight pants on under it. "Oh, good, you're awake, I was hoping I'd get a chance to talk to you," the redhead rambled off enthusiastically, bouncing constantly on the balls of her feet. "How're you feelin'?"
"I've...been better." Makoto responded slowly, her eyes slightly wide. "You remind me of my friend Usagi. She's always bubbly and hyper like that."
"Oh, nah, I'm not normally that hyper, I'm just glad to see you're awake," the girl responded, her blue eyes darkening momentarily. "I'm always glad to see someone's alright when I manage to pull'em out of a bad situation. Makes the hell my life has been seem a little more worth it when I get to see the results of what my training's made me capable of."
"I...see," Makoto reponded slowly again, trying to take it all in. "So, who are you then?"
"Oops, forgot, you haven't seen me in this form before, I'm Saotome Ranma. Be right back a sec, I can explain it a bit better." Ranma spun on her feet and quickly ran out of the room.
"So much energy, far more than she's letting to the surface. But there's an almost palpable sensation of loss that emanates from her," Makoto thought to herself as she watched the tails of the dress dissappear through the doorway. Kasumi reappeared through it before Ranma, and sat a tray down. Kasumi smiled at her then helped her sit up on the edge of the bed. "Thank you, Ono-san."
"Oh my, no need to be so formal with me, please, just call me Kasumi. Ranma looked like he'd be back in a moment, I'm assuming he's getting ready to explain the curse to you, since he was running downstairs," Kasumi kept smiling as she handed Makoto the tray. "Eat up, while you don't look malnourished, you seemed to be exhausted when Ranma brought you back. We'll need to fix that. A few days should have you up and about a bit more"
"Okay, I'm back," Ranma announced as she walked back into the room. She sat back down, a couple glasses of water with her. "Alrighty, before I even start explaining this, I have to ask, how much of a believer in magic are you?"
"I know it exists," Makoto answered straight away, though she did arch an eyebrow in the redhead's direction.
"Thank Kami, finally someone doesn't just flat-out refuse it," Ranma muttered, looking up at the ceiling. "Sorry, I've just had to deal with a lot of people with no belief in it over the years, and it's gotten kind of old. But, to make a long story short, I stumbled across a training ground in China a few years back-"
"And by stumbled he means he was drug there by his father," Kasumi interrupted, grinning.
"Eh, I didn't listen to the guide either Ka-chan, so I can't really let all of the blame fall on him. Besides, I think he made his amends for most of his mistakes. But anyway, the training grounds are essentially a series of pools, with a bunch of bamboo poles situated amongst them. Sounds fairly excusable, if a bit old-fashioned, pools are there to break your fall if you drop, or so one would think. Bad side to all of it, and what Pops and I fell prey to, is that the pools are all cursed. You fall in one, you take on the physical form of whatever drowned there last. Some are a bit more specific than others, some aren't very damned specific at all. If you drown there, the pool takes on your attributes instead. Well, long story short, Pops and I jumped up on the poles right away, didn't listen to the guide one bit, stubborn as Pops was, and me being no better at listening at the time. So we fight back and forth, I finally tag Pops a good one and he goes crashing down into the pools. I'm up there gloating, and next thing I know, a giant panda comes roaring back up out of the water, and takes up my father's stance on the poles. So, I'm freaked out, standing there asking the guide what the hell is going on, and then the panda knocks me into a pool. I came back up out of the water looking like you see now. Well...a few years younger actually back then, but not much has changed." Ranma smirked slightly.
"That's not true, Ranma," Kasumi replied. "You've got a nice set of legs now to go with your bust, and the rest of you finally grew a little taller too."
"Gee, thanks, Kasumi, I love when you flatter my girl side," Ranma responded, rolling her eyes, but grinning all the while. She looked Makoto in the eyes and sat her chin on her clasped hands. "The form I was in when I got you out of that place is my true form. This is my cursed form. Any questions?"
"How do you change back and forth?" Makoto asked, her eyes slightly wide.
"I'll go ahead and show you, since you don't look nearly as wild-eyed as many of my audiences. I had to judge how well you'd take it before I showed you, since Kasumi would kill me I think if I caused your child any harm by stressing you out." Ranma picked up one of the glasses next to her as Kasumi giggled, before splashing herself. "Hot water guy, cold water girl."
Makoto's eyes went a bit wider as the girl in front of her shifted into the form of the young man who had rescued her. Then she blinked and cocked her head to the side. "You weren't kidding at all, were you? And how are your clothes still fitting on you?"
Ranma shook his head, dripping water a little bit as he did so. He grinned, "Nope, not kidding one bit. As to the clothes, that's all Kasumi and an old friend. On my female form, it's long enough to just look like any other Chinese dress, but she managed to thread it long enough so that it stretches out with my male form's size and it just ends up looking like a more formal Chinese shirt with long tails. The pants are just spandex, though it took me forever to find the size that actually shrunk down to fit my girl form like they do without constricting my blood flow as a guy." Ranma reached over and casually threw the other glass of water on his head and then toweled herself off quickly, handing the two glasses back to Kasumi who walked out and back down the stairs.
"Now, I know you're probably wondering why I got ya out of there, how I even knew you were there, and why you weren't brought out sooner." Ranma started.
"Well...yes, that would be a good place to start I guess," Makoto answered, blinking again as Ranma's forwardness caught her off-guard.
"Sorry, just trying to be thorough. Most of the girls I've rescued from those kinds of places I just take back to their families, and explain what happened to them. You didn't have any family, and the place you were in was a lot tighter on security than any of the others I've ransacked. The place you were in is what I've taken to calling a breeding ground. Kind of disgusting, but it's the best way I could think of to describe the place. Basically, they gather up a bunch of girls, based on what criteria I haven't figured out, and then aim to get them all pregnant. Ever since the impact I've seen it all over the country. Mostly seems to be older folks who think the impact is some sort of catastrophy sent from the gods and that if we want Japan's blood to remain pure we have to have as many more kids as fast as possible. I think it's some sort of cult honestly, I think that's what the news said too, but I can't tell for sure. Most of'em are just family ancestral homes that've been locked down a bit and pretty much put a girl to a room. Those I'm able to break down all their security and get all the girls out inside the space of a single night."
"Wait...by yourself?" Makoto asked.
"Yeah, I'm somewhat of a martial arts prodigy, or at least everyone else says so. I'm the best, that's all I know." Ranma smirked.
"And only slightly arrogant about it," Makoto responded without thinking, immediately clamping her hands over her mouth and blushing. "Sorry Saotome-san, that was rude of me." Ranma merely waved her hand, smiling and chuckling.
"Don't worry 'bout the formalities, or the comment. I'm the king of putting my foot in my mouth, and I've been called arrogant many many times. I was also always told that it's only arrogance if you can't back it up. Since I tend to back it up, I prefer to think of it as confidence." Ranma waved a hand in front of her and produced a ball of light on top of it. "Not too many martial artists can do this with their ki. We seem to be a fairly small circle of people, even if many more can actually use their ki, they can't seem to project it as pure energy."
Makoto stared at the small ball of light. "By Kami what a youma could do with the energy you have," she said in awe.
"Youma? As in the type of monster Sailor Moon and her friends fight?" Ranma asked, allowing the ball to dissipate harmlessly.
"You know of them?"
"I've been helping them out at every turn I can, and in exchange they've been helping me. They've got one girl who's really good with computers, has been able to pinpoint each of the breeding grounds soon after they get started. They've been down a member lately though I've noticed, at least compared to the reports of them fighting before the impact. There weren't any youma attacks for a while after it, then when they started showing back up, the Senshi were down a person. They've never really explained it to me." Ranma explained as Kasumi walked back in with another tray for Ranma and some tea for both of them. "Thank you, Kasumi. I'll keep her company for a bit if you need to go take care of some stuff. Tofu said something about a late afternoon compared to usual down at the clinic I think?"
"Thank you, Ranma. Tofu did say he'd be late, so I was going to run him over some lunch." Kasumi smiled brightly at her as she walked back out the door. As Ranma began eating her meal, she seemed to cock her head to one side, then set her bowl down.
"Ahh, good, she's off the grounds now." Ranma almost primly folded her hands in her lap. "Now, Miss Jupiter, time to really explain what's going on."
Mako gasped, dropping her chopsticks. "How?"
"I took a good guess, mostly. I did see the pictures and videos of you girls from before the impact, although I never really had much to do with you at the time, since for some reason the youma were all centered on Juuban. I had no reason to get involved, and I had my own issues to deal with at the time honestly. On top of that, after the impact, the youma attacks finally came back in full force after you disappeared. They were everywhere, sometimes two or three times inside a week. Nerima, Juuban, every ward seemed to end up with'em. We don't know who or what's behind'em, Mercury hasn't been able to pin'em down, and even Pluto wasn't able to give us any more information than we had. Said something about the timestream being clouded. So the girls changed their focus. They wanted to find you instead. I'm the only one who knows you're Sailor Jupiter, other than your friends. And like I said, I was guessing mostly."
"Then do you know how to get ahold of the others?"
"If you mean directly? No, not without raising suspicions. But, we have another girl here in the house, well, she's out and about town right now, but she lives here, her name is Nabiki. She's very good at tracking down information. I brought you back, within a few hours, she had tracked down your address, family, and friends. She's supposed to be getting ahold of them this afternoon. Four girls, who I'm guessing, happen to be the other main four Senshi. Tsukino Usagi, I'm guessing is Sailor Moon. Apparently well known for being a bit of a klutz, which would fit with what I've seen of her during fights as well. Mizuno Ami, which would be Mercury, she's just too damned smart to be anyone else. Hino Rei, a fire-maiden at a local shrine which managed to miraculously survive the impact, and I'm guessing Sailor Mars. And Aino Minako, which would only be Sailor Venus."
"But, how did you figure it all out?" Makoto asked again as she managed to get back to eating her meal.
"Couple reasons, first being I'm not nearly as dumb as people like to think I am. But mostly because there's a few key things I learned to watch for. Personality being one of them. You and your friends tend to somewhat wear your hearts on your sleeves, as the saying goes. Not that I'm any better at times, but I can bluff when I need to. Also, not a one of you changes your hair or skin tones, even if that spell or whatever does make me unable to completely focus on your faces. So instead I learned to check for matching hairstyles and colorations. Usagi-san really is easy to pick out cuz of those twin ponytails she wears." Ranma went back to eating as she continued. "Anyway, since I wasn't able to figure out a way to get ahold of them without raising either their suspicions, or without clueing someone else in on who they are, and you are, I decided I'm just going to have to let Nabiki's information be used. I'm sure they'll recognize me as is when they show up, but I don't think they've realized I know them all in either form. I have no intentions of letting anyone else know who you ladies are, since I pretty much agree with everything you fight for. In any case, Nabiki said she'd get ahold of your friends once you woke up and were feeling up to it. I know that's gonna be kind of emotional for you, and again, Kasumi would kill me if you or the kid were put under undue stress."
"Thank you very much," Makoto said, bowing slightly, then giggling as she realized she really couldn't bow any further without trying to roll over her belly. She absent-mindedly poked it and sighed. "Sooooo in the way!"
Ranma laughed whole heartedly. "I'm just glad you seem to be taking that in stride. Some of the girls I've rescued were...well, they were a bit distraught to say the least. I somehow got blamed for it by around a quarter of them, though I think that was just the parents being in shock and not really knowing who or what to blame for anything. Fortunately they all seemed to back off after I pointed out that I brought their daughters back to them. That'd be the last thing I need is another fiancee situation. Been there, done that, was part of the t-shirt. Bleh!"
"Wait, fiancee situation?" Makoto asked. "Why do I get the feeling your training grounds aren't the only interesting story in your life?"
Ranma started laughing again. "Tell you what, since it'll take your friends a while to get here anyway, why don't I go ahead and fill ya in, if nothing else, my life is worth a few hours entertainment. If it's not, then I'm tellin the story wrong."
Makoto could hardly believe half the tales she'd heard as Ranma related pieces of her life.
"So, you end up with two women engaged to you from your idiot of a father, one engaged to you through your own mistakes, and a fourth engaged to you by her own dementia. And I thought my life had been a rollercoaster ride." She remarked, causing Ranma to chuckle again.
"I told you it was worth a few hours of entertainment," the redhead replied from her spot on the floor. She quickly rolled back before flipping up to her feet, wobbling for a moment as she landed before unceremoniously ending up back on her rear. "Gah, traitorous legs, didn't wake up with the rest of me."
Makoto giggled from her spot on the bed, one hand to her face, Ranma shaking her fist in mock anger as she walked out the door and went down the stairs. Kasumi walked in past her.
"Check-up time," Kasumi said cheerily. She brought out a thermometer which Mako scowled at momentarily before opening her mouth and letting Kasumi put it under her tongue. "Not feeling light-headed or sick to your stomach or anything?"
"No, ma'am." Makoto replied.
"Good, let us know if you end up with any problems. Ranma rescued you from that place, but as far as he's concerned, you're still under his care. That means you let me or him know if there are any problems." Kasumi took the thermometer back and shook it lightly before wiping it off.
"It's alright, you all don't need to go to that length for me. I can just go back to my apartment. I'll be all right." Makoto replied.
"Actually, Miss Kino, that won't be possible," another girl answered, walking through the door, every inch the businesswoman. Though the length was longer, Nabiki's page-boy haircut still remained. Her black suit was of perhaps not quite the best quality, but then her clients today hadn't been worth that kind of money either.
"Oh, Nabiki, I didn't realize you'd come home already. How was your day?" Kasumi asked.
"Honestly? I think I had more fun back at Furinkan yankin Kuno's chain. At least he was entertaining and profitable. These people these days are just no fun at all. Plenty of profit though. And sorry for my interruption, Miss Kino, I'm Tendo Nabiki. I'm Ranma and Kasumi's sister."
"That's not completely true, Ranma's not our brother," Kasumi interjected, seeming almost uncertain.
"Oh don't even try that, Kasumi. He's as much our brother if not more-so than he would've been if he and Akane had actually gotten married before she went on that expedition. As I was saying though, your apartment got kinda demolished while you were gone. A youma attack in that area left it's foundations torn apart. The Sailor Senshi did everything they could to avoid the damage, I know that for a fact, Ranma was with them for that fight. Damage ended up being more severe as the construction workers looked harder at it, turns out the building would've had to be torn down within a few years anyway. With the way the government has been pushing to rebuild everything in Tokyo, it's no surprise it got tore down. A new apartment complex has been going up in it's place, they're demolishing the old wards names, all sorts of new skyscrapers are going in, all sorts of fall-out bunkers. It's like they're preparing Tokyo for the next World War or something perhaps even worse. Which reminds me, Sis, you and Ranma might need to go back to City Council and point out to them exactly why our bills are paid for by the government. Had a few of them were trying to put pressure on me again today, trying to leverage some sort of extra tax out of us because they write off our utilities. Nevermind that we still use less resources than most of their newer apartments. Apparently Daddy's name is becoming less well-known now that the Council seats are starting to change hands. It's must be time to remind them just who's name is on that contract."
"I see. Well, we'll just have to deal with that, won't we?" Kasumi's voice held an unusual edge to it.
"So...my apartment is gone then?" Makoto queried, before the girls could devolve into further discussion.
"Yeah, afraid so. Your friends from over in the Juuban ward managed to salvage your stuff though. I was fortunate enough to get the contractors to hold off on demolishing the place long enough to let people get their stuff out. I'm known for being somewhat ruthless, but these guys for some reason really wanted to tear that place down. It's almost as if they were getting pressured to bring it down as soon as possible. Only thing I can think of is for some reason government officials wanted it brought down. Other than that your friends managed to get your stuff, I don't have any more information on it unfortunately. When you're ready, let me know and I can give them a call, let them know you're here. I imagine they've been worried sick about you." Makoto nodded her gratitude, tears forming in her eyes as Nabiki walked out of the room, Kasumi patting her on the shoulder before walking out as well.
"All right, Kasumi, spill, what's the deal with this one?" Nabiki asked as soon as they were around the corner of the hall. "Ranma rescuing girls from the breeding grounds, even pregnant ones, is nothing new. Ranma bringing one back here to the house for more than just a small exam and some minor medical care, that is another story entirely. What's making this one so different?"
"I'm...not entirely sure, Nabiki. There is something different about her though, I'm sure of it. She's the first one I'm aware of who didn't come back out screaming in terror. When Ranma stopped by with the few of the girls he's rescued before, all of them that I've checked have had that lost and broken look to them. She's the first one I've seen who was nowhere near broken. Scared, yes, but not broken one bit." Kasumi brought one hand up to her chin. "Perhaps he sees some of Akane's spirit in her. I'm honestly not sure. She seems to be a very respectful girl, and also mostly cheerful, if somewhat subdued at the moment due to circumstances, and perhaps due to hormones as well."
"Do you think it's due to her living arrangements? She used to live by herself. Considering what he just brought her back out of, and Ranma's own admission that this place seemed to be a higher scale operation than what he normally sees, perhaps he's just keeping her here to guard her?" Nabiki replied, one hand on her hip, the other on her head, scratching lightly in confusion. "I hate to say it, but I wish Akane were here. She could read people like an open book there those last couple years, even better than I could. Made making money off of her a lot harder, but so much more fun. She'd know in an instant what Ranma was doing. You don't think perhaps he's trying to move on finally, do you?"
"No...I don't think Ranma would specifically try to move on. He's not one to be like that I don't think. I think, perhaps, his grief could be looked at as a waterfall in the course of a river. He'll stand in it for as long as he needs to, and then, when he has decided to move to the next piece of the river, then he'll merely step forward out of it." Kasumi replied as she moved around the kitchen.
"Shame, that." Nabiki replied, fixing herself a small cup of tea. "He could use some more happiness in his life. All those years of abuse from his father on the road, then the hell that his life was after he came here. When he and Akane finally opened up there, I don't think I've ever seen anyone happier than he was." Kasumi reached over and quickly wiped an errant tear from the younger sister's face.
"Allergies seem to be acting up a bit there, Na-chan." Kasumi grinned lightly at her, as Nabiki sniffed lightly.
"Yeah, damned things. Always make my make-up look horrible too." Nabiki replied, smirking slightly.
"She may be good for him in the long run though, regardless of the end result. I actually heard him laugh earlier, and not just that faked short bark of a laugh he's been using either," Kasumi said smoothly while stirring the soup she had set for dinner, reaching out quickly and catching the teacup as Nabiki's hands suddenly dropped it. She lifted it back to eye level as a stunned Nabiki turned towards her. The cup was gently pressed back into Nabiki's hands. "You dropped this."
"He...was actually laughing? He hasn't laughed since the news of the impact came back!" Nabiki started to slump slightly as Kasumi quickly wrapped an arm around her.
"Come on, little sis. Get your act together." Kasumi admonished her lightly as she held the girl up. "I'm sincerely hoping you don't shock this easily on the job."
"Why, you!" Nabiki sputtered as she finally snapped out of it, glaring daggers at her sister who innocently went back to cooking. "Ugh, I wish I could hate you for that, but that was just the wake-up call I needed for a moment there, thanks. So we just let things continue on then?"
"It seems for the best. After all, you know how well Ranma reponded to our fathers meddling in his life. Besides, we both know that we don't know how to handle Ranma all the time. Especially since we lost Akane. He's been so pensive, so bottled up compared to how he used to be. But today, he actually laughed, and told someone his story a little bit. He left out the worse parts, but I haven't heard him explain things about his life to anyone else he's brought out of those places. If he is moving on, then it's best we let him. Akane I'm sure is watching over him. She wouldn't wish for him to suffer overly long because of her absence." Kasumi explained as she went about setting the table. "If you could let them know that dinner's ready, Ranma can help Miss Kino down here. She seemed well enough to be up and moving, and will probably be grateful to do so."
"Your sisters seem to be very caring individuals," Makoto said as Ranma walked back in after the other two girls had gone downstairs.
"Well, Nabiki doesn't show it as well as Kasumi does. But she's got the same heart of gold that Kasumi's known for, she's just a bit more selective who she let's into it. Kasumi on the other hand, is a freakin' saint. I don't think I've ever seen her say even a harsh word to anyone who wasn't an absolute ass to her or the family. Well, except for that one guy, but he made the mistake of insulting the entire family in one shot. Never knew Kasumi for a knife thrower till that day. Was the first time I got clued in that she was still as good as Akane in the Art, possibly better. Hid it very well though. Still can't tell to this day, but there's just no way she accidentally pinned the guy to the wall with twenty different knives and managed to make sure three of them ended up just below his crotch with the blade side up." Ranma rubbed the side of her head as she recounted the incident. Makoto on the other hand was giggling madly. "I'm not kidding! I can't remember what he said, I think something along the lines of trying to make mistresses of the whole house, which included me cuz I happened to be in girl form that night, and next thing I know, Kasumi's arm is straight out, and that guy was pinned to the wall, three knives holding up each sleeve, two on each side of his ribs, three on each leg, one just above his skull, and three of them ready to un-man him if he so much as twitched wrong."
"Oh, you're talking about that one sleazeball from the City Council that night, when he came over to talk to Daddy about something. Ichigoya, I think?" Nabiki supplied as she rounded the door, giggling herself. Makoto was laughing and holding her sides by this point, Ranma starting to giggle as well. "Idiot made the mistake of suggesting that our father had taken on four lovely young ladies as his mistresses. Apparently it never occurred to him that perhaps Daddy had daughters. Kasumi did a number on him. When he left, he was walking pretty gingerly, and I'm sure all but those specific three knives had left at least a small cut. I've never seen her so mad. Ranma and Akane were just registering the insult and both were starting to light up with their battle auras, I'd only been paying enough attention to catch what was said and was still filing it as an insult myself, and then Kasumi just let's all the knives fly. Took him I think all of around ten seconds before he started crying, and another thirty before he was apologizing very loudly. Ranma finally pulled the knives out enough so that he dropped without any more injury, and he was face-down on the floor faster than even Mr. Saotome could have managed. And believe me, Ranma can tell you too, Panda Pops could hit the ground and beg for his life in record time."
"Yup, spine of an earthworm, that's my Pops. Speaking of which, been any new word from him lately, Nabiki?" Ranma asked, as Makoto sat back up, then put both hands to her stomach, her face wincing slightly. "You alright?"
"Yeah," Makoto replied, giggling again. "I think I just got told not to laugh so hard is all."
"No word from the panda yet, Ranma, knowing him he's running from his latest idiocy, with Auntie Nodoka hot on his trail. Oh, and the real reason I came up here, Kasumi told me to let you know dinner is ready, and you're to join us Miss Kino."
"Please, just Makoto. No need for formalities with me," Makoto replied, swinging her legs out from under the blankets and stepping gingerly down. Her face took on a note of irritation. "Now to see if I still remember how to walk properly after being in that damned place."
"At least Kasumi went for the only person in the house who's clothes would still you fit you in your condition. Although the sweater caught me off-guard. She must have changed the hem on it, I don't remember having one that long in the house before." Nabiki remarked.
"Well, I know she said the green silk pants were Ranma's from back before he got his current setup, but he never wore them." Makoto replied, steadying herself as she moved the rest of the blankets back onto the bed. Ranma suddenly appeared beside her, helping steady her.
"Of course I didn't. Green doesn't go well with my male form's hair color. At least not for the pants." Ranma replied, rolling her eyes a little, smirking once again, causing a light laugh from Nabiki as she went around the door and down the hall. Ranma sighed exaggeratedly. "Why does everyone laugh when I say that?"
"Because you're a guy turned girl who shouldn't give a crap whether his pants match his hair?" Makoto supplied helpfully as she leaned further on Ranma. "Sorry, legs are feeling a bit more wobbly than I care to admit."
"It's alright, I figured your muscles might be a little weakened from the time spent in that damned place. They're not exactly known for their exercise routines." Ranma replied. "Besides, I have to make sure you don't over-exert yourself for a few days."
"Got plenty of exercise, just none of it the right kind," Makoto muttered under her breath acidly. Ranma gently patted her back as Makoto began mumbling an apology.
"Believe me, you got plenty of reason to be mad about it, and I don't blame ya for that one bit. You're already ahead if most of the girls I've brought out by having enough of a sense of humor to make even that kind of sarcastic response. If you feel the need to talk to someone, Kasumi tends to be an excellent shoulder to lean on. Nabiki can be too, but only after she's gotten used to you enough, otherwise she tends to put up that iron business wall she uses when she's working." Ranma replied evenly as she helped Makoto to the top of the stairs. She reached down and deftly swept up the taller girl in one motion, eliciting a slight yelp from the brunette. "Up ya go, we'll let ya try the stairs after your legs have got a bit of strength back in'em, I'll carry ya up and down'em in the meantime."
"You didn't mention yourself as someone to talk to. Why is that?" Makoto asked as Ranma effortlessly trudged down the stairs.
"Couple reasons. Most people tend to question my motives, no matter which gender they are, since I can be either one. Another being that I guess most people think since I'm an obscenely overpowered martial artist, I have no idea how to help with matters of the mind or heart. Nevermind that that used to be the case. I grew up a bit over the last few years, but that still tends to color their opinions. I've had time to think over my life, and in retrospect, if I'd done so sooner, perhaps things wouldn't have been quite so hard to handle. But that's a different conversation altogether. Doc, that is Tofu, is also a good listener if ya need someone too. A good number of people don't really mind confiding in him, being a doctor and all." Ranma let Makoto's feet swing back to the floor gently as she reached the bottom of the stairs, still staying near in case the taller girl swayed. Makoto felt almost proud to reach the table on her own, though her legs finally did give out on her as she tried to sit down, Ranma being close enough to catch her again. "Told ya not to over do it, silly."
Ranma chuckled as Makoto maturely stuck her tongue out at her. As the dinner was passed out, the front door could be heard opening, Tofu appearing around the corner shortly after and taking his seat next to Kasumi. He sat down kinda hard, groaning lightly. Kasumi immediately leaned over and kissed him.
"You look like a small piece of hell warmed over, Doc," Ranma remarked around bites of food. "I know you were pulling a late afternoon, but I didn't think you were actually gonna be working harder."
"Nor did I, but unfortunately there was another youma attack near the clinic. I had a lot of patients to look after suddenly. On a good note, none were hurt any more severely than some bumps and bruises. The Senshi got there even faster than usual. Thanks to that no one was hurt, other than by some random debris scattering from attacks and such. I think I managed to deflect most of that from innocents." Tofu sighed wearily.
"Good job, Doc," Ranma replied, her eyes hardening slightly. "Good thing the Senshi were nearby then, but I'm a bit irritated with myself that I didn't sense it. I don't usually miss them."
"Something was different about this one. I almost didn't sense it myself, and it was right outside the clinic almost. They seem to be changing slightly over the course of the last few attacks. I've always been able to detect them, but they were always too far away for me to truly do anything about till recently. But now they're changing. I'd say whatever force is behind them now is adapting them, trying to conceal their presence." Tofu supplied Ranma with the information he knew he'd get asked for anyway, as the food quickly began to restore some of his ki.
"Great," Ranma said, running her hand through her hair lightly. "That's not good news. On the other hand, that latest breeding ground, it's a whole lotta different from the ones before."
"Oh?" Tofu responded, glancing up over the edge of his glasses. "I'm assuming the young lady with us is another rescue?"
"Yeah, I got her out last night, but I had to get out with her before I was spotted. This one, the security was loads different. Men armed with rifles, a few cameras here and there, even an attempt at actually hiding entrances, barbed wire in strategic spots, the girls' names on the doors. Umi-Ken-Sen is the only thing allowing me in there as easily as I managed. They had patrols through the halls, two men in each patrol. Was almost military precision." Ranma rambled on, folding her hands under her chin. "That's what I don't like about this one. It felt like it had some sort of official backing to it. Either that or crime syndicate, but the men all appeared to be too well trained for that. I don't think they'll bother trying to search for Makoto, she's listed as missing currently, so to openly search for her would just raise suspicions even more as to why government and/or military personnel would just now be looking for her, and on top of that they know better than to try anything near this home if they value the lives of their men in any way, shape, or fashion."
"I'm fairly sure all the governments nearby know better than to try anything with this house. Especially after Mount Horai. You blew the top off of a mountain, most of their technology is still trying to produce those kinds of results," Tofu replied. "So you're intending for her to stay here?"
"No real option to it, Doc, I got her out of there, and I'll see that through to the end. She's got nowhere else to go, and I honestly wouldn't feel right letting her go just yet anyway, not till I manage to demolish that breeding ground completely, and make sure they have no records to follow her with." Ranma answered, the table near her starting to frost over.
"Ranma, you're freezing the table again," Kasumi politely commented, giggling as Ranma looked down and sheepishly hung her head again.
"Sorry!" Ranma yelped out, clapping her hands together over her head. Makoto merely stared at the table as the frost dissipated quickly. "Uhhh...you okay, Makoto?"
"How'd you do that? That was cool!" Nabiki and Tofu both face-faulted, Kasumi content to merely giggle at the girl's unintentional pun, while Ranma's face perked up immediately.
"It's a technique I learned from the Chinese Amazons, it allows me to focus my battle aura instead into one that keeps my own emotions under control, and once it's mastered, it allows one to cause the air around themselves to chill, effectively slowing the opponent if they're not good enough to ward off the cold with their own ki. Cologne did mention I was one of the few she's seen learn the technique to where it became an actual part of my emotions though. And apparently I'm the first to cause frost to appear near me." Ranma's brows furrowed in concentration. "I'm not sure if I'm allowed to teach it to non-Amazons or not, I'll have to send her a letter and find out. Hopefully she's still alive and kicking. Who am I kidding? She'll be alive longer than me probably, freakin old mummy."
"That's amazing," Makoto finally responded, going back to eating her dinner as Ranma did.
"If you'd like, I can work on teaching you some of what I know, but I'd have to find out just how good you really are, and we won't be able to check that for sure till after you've had the kid. Till then though, I can probably teach you some of the more basic Tai Chi katas. They're not meant to be the high-impact types anyway." Ranma commented between bites. Nabiki arched an eyebrow at the scene for just a moment before receiving a small glare from Kasumi.
Kasumi had retired to the kitchen to clean up the dishes while Nabiki had moved to in front of the TV to watch the evening news. Tofu was out in the yard doing his own exercises for the evening, Ranma joining him. Makoto had taken up residence on the porch, watching the two of them, her eyes trying to memorize the patterns, fuming mentally against her body's current lack of energy.
"Here," she heard from behind her, turning to find Kasumi holding out a small cushion. "Lie down for a bit, you're looking far too tense for just sitting there." Makoto started to protest but ran into what Ranma had once nicknamed the Kasumi Effect.
"Okay, you win." Makoto said, pouting slightly as she turned and laid out to her side, still watching Ranma and Tofu, only to find the two now having a stand-off. Kasumi threw a blanket over her lightly before going back to her dishes.
"Oh, come on, Doc, you would've wiped the floor with me back when I was in school, what happened?" Ranma said, an almost feral grin on her face.
"Four or five years and a whole lot of training is what happened. Hope I'm not too much of a disappointment to you," Tofu answered before the two dashed in on the attack. Kasumi gasped, watching as Tofu flowed around Ranma's attacks. Makoto blinked as suddenly Ranma hit the ground hard, breath whooshing from her lungs as she impacted. She got up slowly, panting hard.
"Disappointment my left foot, ow, I haven't been hit like that since Mount Horai," she commented, holding her sides a moment, the grin still there on her face. "Feels soooo good to find someone besides Pops on my level. Plus all my easy-win tricks I use on him won't work on you."
"You mean insulting him with the same insults he always used on you?" Tofu asked easily, settling back into an defensive stance. "Yeah, definitely won't work on me, I know too many girls who can kick my ass."
Ranma grinned then leapt back into the attack only for Tofu to deftly block the mid-air kick, flowing through the block and sending Ranma crashing into the ground again.
"Come on, Ranma. You're not paying attention, or you're trying to take me too lightly. You're letting me make you look like an amateur." Tofu commented, no smile in sight.
"Yeah, you're right, I keep forgetting just how good you actually are with your Tai Chi. Too many of my opponents have been the kind to come at me full force, no deflections, no patience." Ranma picked herself back up again, wobbling slightly. "Good grief my defense sucks now, I need bacon-breath to show back up again."
Ranma set herself again, dashing in once more on the attack, Tofu resolutely blocking attacks before snaking a foot out to trip Ranma, only to have Ranma leap just over him and kick out from behind his head. An arm brought around sent the kick spinning harmlessly to the side giving Ranma the momentum to shoot out the other foot as she landed, sweeping Tofu off his feet. As she set herself to attack again, Tofu was already back up, moving forward past one of Ranma's punches and pulling the fist with it, yanking Ranma into his shoulder and quickly rolling her over the same shoulder, slamming her to the ground.
"Awww, shit," Ranma muttered as she stood back up. "For someone who didn't want to disappoint, you're sure doing awful well."
Tofu grinned at the compliment and suddenly dashed back in on the attack, almost catching Ranma flat-footed as she bent under the kick, flipping backwards over the sweep that followed. As she spun around an elbow strike she realized what she'd been doing wrong. As she punched straight out at Tofu she watched as he sidestepped the attack, slapping Ranma's hand away and moving with the same motion to attack. Ranma bent backwards, avoiding the strike and spinning slightly so as to bring her other hand around to attack. The strike caught Tofu in the ribs, bending him over slightly as he jumped away.
"Ow, my turn I guess," Tofu winced, holding the offended side. "I knew I'd only get those first few strikes in before you started adapting."
"Called Anything Goes for a reason," Ranma grinned. "Never fought anyone as good at diverting my momentum as you are though. It's refreshing. I'd say probably ninety percent of my opponents just flat-out stop my attacks, so I got used to just pouring in more power than they can handle. Getting hit with my own strength hurts."
"They're both really good, aren't they?" Makoto asked Kasumi as they sat watching.
"Tofu's a master of Tai Chi, possibly the best I've ever seen. But Ranma, his family's school is called Anything Goes. They excel at adapting to what's thrown at them, and then incorporating it in their own style. Tofu's excellent, but Ranma takes mastering the Art to a whole new level." Kasumi replied as she set a cup of tea down in front of Makoto. "Here, drink up, it's a nice blend I've found, works well for helping with recovery."
"Thank you again," Makoto answered as she sat back up. "You don't really need to mother me quite so much. You've all done so much already just getting me out of that damned place."
Kasumi reached over and pulled Makoto's chin around to look her in the eyes. "I don't think we've done enough yet. People don't deserve to be treated like that, especially young women like yourself. And I can still see in your eyes, you're scared of ending up there again."
"Wouldn't you be? Months of being forced by those men, it's not something I can just get over. I'm scared out of my mind because of that place.I didn't know where I was, why I was there, what I had done to deserve that. Only to finally be rescued out of nowhere, by someone I don't know, and brought into a home where everyone's a saint. I'm scared the dream is going to end and I'm going to wake back up in my cell, chained to the wall again." Makoto broke down and finally began to cry, Kasumi quickly wrapping the girl in a hug.
"There you go, cry it all out." Kasumi said comfortingly as she rubbed Makoto's back soothingly.
Ranma dodged under another spinning elbow, finding herself with very little room to actually maneuver into another hit. As she dodged backwards to disengage from Tofu, she heard Makoto's initial sobs. Turning her head just a moment she was blindsided by an open-palm strike from Tofu.
"You okay, Ranma?" Tofu asked as he pulled her back to her feet.
"Yeah, just got distracted is all," Ranma replied, looking over towards the porch. As she turned to walk that way she felt a sudden grip on her arm.
"Don't," Tofu stated, his grip leaving no questions. "You know that's Kasumi's territory. She'll get her straightened out. You look like perhaps you could use someone to talk to yourself."
"Nah, I'm okay, Doc," Ranma stated, her eyes never leaving the porch. "It's just...something about her makes me want to talk to her. Just like it did with Akane. I'm...not sure how to feel about that."
"Do you want an honest opinion, or should I lie to you?" Tofu asked.
"Never believed in Pops' way of things, so I'd say honesty's the best policy," Ranma replied, turning back and grinning at Tofu.
"No one around here is going to blame you for moving past Akane. And you know she wouldn't want you spending too much time mourning her loss. I think if you feel something is there, then feel free to pursue that. It's okay to move past something, so long as you don't forget it. If anything, I'd say Kasumi and Nabiki would encourage you to try to live for someone again. I've overheard them more than once talking to each other about how much more lively you used to be back before Akane was taken from us. Then Soun had that heart attack that no one saw coming, and you've been having to head up the household since. There's nothing wrong with trying to find another love." Tofu stood resolutely, staring at the koi pond.
"So basically, you're telling me that there's nothing wrong with feeling again, eh?" Ranma asked, blowing out a breath as Tofu nodded. "It's just...I screwed up the first few years with Akane so badly, then finally figured it out towards the end. How do I avoid wasting that kind of time again?"
"Perhaps, by using what you learned in your relationship with Akane. Cologne I'm sure would tell you to just look at it as another type of technique. Or to look at relationships as sort of like a fight. When you find something that works against an opponent, you make sure to exploit it. If you find something that makes your girl happy, you make sure to try to do it again every so often. If something blows up in your face, make sure not to do it again. The only difference is you fight with your heart, not with your fists." Tofu said, glancing towards Kasumi. "I realized after a while that losing my sanity didn't work. Guess what I had to figure out how not to do?"
"Yeah, all that got ya was turning me into a pretzel at random occasions. Then ya just had to untwist me later." Ranma replied, grinning again. Both of them laughed. "I think I see what you're sayin though. Don't go in with the name-callin, the random insults, the sheer refusal to talk about anything. I really was a baka."
"We all have to learn somehow. This may be your second chance." Tofu said slowly.
"Thanks, Doc." Ranma said as she turned and walked slowly towards the porch.
Nabiki watched as her sister handled the emotional rollercoaster, then quirked her eyes outside just in time to see Ranma get floored by Tofu.
"Ouch, wonder what got her so distracted as to let that one hit home," she murmured as she turned her attention back to the news, just in time to hear the doorbell chime. "Let's see...Sis is playing comfort role, and both guys are out by the pond chatting. Guess that means it's my turn."
Nabiki deftly rolled up to her feet, trying to think who would be at their door, then remembered she had called Miss Kino's friends earlier. She wasn't disappointed as she opened the front gate to find four girls standing there.
"Hello, we're Makoto's friends, we were told she was here," the girl with the short blue hair said quickly, bowing politely.
"Ahh, yep, I'm Tendo Nabiki, I called you earlier," Nabiki said as she waved the four of them in. "Come on, she's out on the porch around back at the moment."
"Is...is she all right?" The blonde with the twin pigtails asked. Nabiki just waved her hand again.
"She's alright now, although she's probably still a bit rocky emotionally, if I had to place a bet on things." Nabiki responded, only to be thoroughly dusted as the girl took off full sprint after rounding the back corner of the house. She muttered,"Good grief, it's like Azusa taking off after something cute."
"Sorry about that, Usagi's always been a bit energetic when it comes to her friends," the blue-haired girl apologized as the other two continued after Usagi. "I'm Mizuno Ami, by the way, pleased to meet you."
"Pleased to meet you as well," Nabiki replied, turning just in time to watch Usagi trip in her haste to get to Makoto. She saw the red blur move even faster from the side of her vision."Oh, shit."
"MAKO!" Usagi screamed as she tripped, Rei and Minako right behind her trying to get to her in time to keep her from hurting herself. Rei saw the red blur move in from near the pond, grabbing Usagi from mid-air and holding her there.
"No human moves that fast!" she thought as she reached into her robes. She pulled out a ward only to watch it fall in half before she even had a chance to put energy into it. She dropped the other half, feeling like her fingers had just been dipped into an ice bin.
"I'm going to suggest you not even think of trying to do anything," the red-haired girl said coldly, the air around her swirling slightly, her long braid swinging gently in the currents of her battle aura.
"Wait, Ranma! It's okay, they're friends of Miss Kino's!" Nabiki shouted as she got closer to the scene.
"I know, Na-chan," Ranma replied evenly, the air around her slowly warming back up. "That's why Miss Tsukino is hanging in mid-air right now. If she'd actually intended to hurt Makoto, she'd have ended up in the pond, then halfway back across Tokyo."
Rei and Minako both looked at each other, neither one willing to back down just yet.
"It's alright, Ranma," Makoto said from the porch where she was sitting with the blankets wrapped around her. "Rei, Minako, it's okay, honest, Ranma's just being protective. She won't do anything to hurt anyone."
Usagi yelped as she was suddenly turned upright and placed on her feet. She felt Ranma's hand on her shoulder squeezing lightly.
"I know you'd never do anything intentional to harm her, she's just in a bit of a fragile condition at the moment. I actually caught you partially to save yourself from any harm, and to make sure nothing happened to her. Just be a little more careful from now on, please?" Ranma quietly asked, before turning to walk back towards the pond. She turned and looked back over her shoulder. "Oh, Makoto, Kasumi moved you into one of the downstairs rooms so you don't have to deal with the stairs for now. Should be first room on the left in the downstairs hall. I'll be out here if ya need me."
"Thanks, Ranma," Makoto replied from her spot on the porch, smiling brightly. She watched intently as Ranma walked back out to the koi pond and sat down on one of the larger rocks, apparently meditating.
"Earth to Mako?" Usagi said irritably, waving her hands in front of Mako's face for a moment.
"Oh, sorry Usagi, I'm still kinda out of it." Makoto replied, putting one hand to her forehead.
"It's okay," the klutzy blonde replied, before suddenly breaking into tears, wailing and wrapping her arms around Makoto. "I was so scared, we couldn't find you, and then the youma started showing back up, and you were still gone!"
"Oh, come on meatball-head, that girl just warned you to be careful, you're gonna crush her if you squeeze too hard on her with your crying," Rei said exasperatedly, though she herself was hard pressed not to sniffle as well.
"It's alright, Rei," Makoto responded softly. "I don't mind a little squeezing after what I've been through. I'm just glad to see everyone again."
"What happened to you, Mako?" Minako asked from where she was standing, wiping at her eyes. Makoto looked down for a moment, then sighed.
"Remember how there was some talk on the news from some of the more extreme groups claiming that if Japan was going to survive the next catastrophy, then we had to start increasing the birth rates and such?" All four girls nodded. "That's where I've been...held against my will in what Ranma calls a 'breeding ground'."
"Wait...a breeding ground?" Rei asked, her eyes hardening. "That isn't intended to mean what I think, is it?"
"I'm afraid it is. Someone drugged something at the awards ceremony at that last tournament I was at I think. I was on my way home, and I blacked out. Next thing I know, I'm waking up in a cell," Makoto explained, stopping as Kasumi came by and poured some tea for everyone before she continued out towards the pond. "I haven't been out of that cell until today. Most of that time I spent chained to the wall after they realized half the men they'd sent in had walked back out with a few broken bones. The other half hadn't been able to walk. Once the chains were put on me, there wasn't much I could do."
Ami glanced around them, making sure no one was within hearing range and lowering her voice. "Couldn't you have just transformed to get out?"
Mako shook her head. "There was a camera outside the door the whole time. If I'd transformed and fought my way out, it would have taken an extraordinary idiot not to realize who had transformed into Sailor Jupiter. I didn't want to risk someone putting that together, then connecting me to everyone else."
"Perhaps we should discuss this more privately?" Rei suggested, only for Makoto to shake her head again.
"I'm alright out here. The air feels good, and I'm still not moving too well yet. I didn't get to do much moving while I was in there, so my body's still weak. Ranma's been helping me make it from point A to point B all day." Makoto replied, wrapping the blanket a few layers deeper around herself.
"What's going on there anyway, Mako-chan?" Minako asked, winking at her.
"Nothing like that, Mina, at least not to my knowledge," Makoto replied, staring at her lap and blushing.
"Uh huh, the only thing missing right now is your usual cries of her being just like your old boyfriend, though that would probably be a bit difficult since she's a girl," Minako teased, ruffling Makoto's hair a bit. "Oh, did you want any of your stuff? We managed to get it out of your apartment before they demolished the building. We were lucky to do so, actually. Now that I think about it, it was Nabiki who kept the construction crews held back so families could get in there."
"She mentioned it. I could use some of my clothes. I'm afraid I'm wearing a pair of Ranma's old pants and a sweater Kasumi managed to sew a bit longer." Makoto replied, causing Rei to glance at Ranma then at Makoto.
"How the hell did her pants manage to fit you?" She asked incredulously. "She's got a slim build, but she's not near as tall as you are."
"That's um..." Makoto tried searching the floorboards for an answer.
"So, what do you think of Miss Kino, Ranma?" Kasumi said gently as she walked next to the koi pond, setting her tray down gently. Ranma slowly opened her eyes and turned to face her.
"She's a good girl. Far too good to have been stuck in that damned place." Kasumi eyed the redhead speculatively. "What?"
"You've grown up. You helped her down the stairs earlier, and I didn't see any sign of your old embarassment from being within a meter of a girl. You were actually looking kind of comfortable almost." Kasumi grinned.
"Ahh, my plot to have my boobs being rubbed on by another girl's chest has been been discovered. There goes my source of perverse energy for the day. Happosai would've been proud too." Ranma replied, rolling her eyes, shivering slightly as the wind blew around them. Kasumi's eyes didn't miss it though.
"You look like you're not feeling too well, little brother,"
"I'm...just tired, I think," Ranma replied, placing one hand to her forehead.
"And you're more of a baka than my sister claimed if you think that's gonna satisfy me for an answer," Kasumi gently shot back, locking eyes with Ranma. "Now, are you going to tell me, or am I going to have to make you eat cold dinners for a week before you decide to talk?"
"Hard choice that one is," Ranma chuckled for a moment before sighing noisily. "I'm just feeling kinda lost is all, sis. I...haven't really let myself feel close to anyone other than you and Nabiki since Akane died. And yet I can't seem to stop myself from feeling drawn to her."
"It's not just your protective side kicking in a little harder than usual, is it?" Kasumi asked gently. Ranma shook her head quickly.
"No, if anything, I feel pushed to be more protective because of what I'm feeling. I ended up talking to Doc for a few minutes earlier too. He says that I should try to live again. But Akane and I barely got started. How am I supposed to live again when I feel like I barely even got started before?"
"Perhaps, but what if this is what you want, and you just don't know it yet? Then you'll be kicking yourself for years to come if you don't do something."
"How do I know it's something that I should follow though? I mean, come on, I just got her out of that place last night, she's only been here today."
"And yet, you were telling her pieces of your life earlier, you've laughed more today than I've heard you do since Akane left us. Something is making you feel alive again, Ranma. Is that such a bad thing in the end?"
"No, I can't say that it's bad. But what kind of man am I Kasumi? I spend half or more of my time as a girl myself, and she's got a kid on the way as well. How am I supposed to handle that? I don't know anything about being a father, or a mother as the case is some days." Ranma grinned ruefully.
"Well," Kasumi answered, giggling herself. "You at least know who you don't want to be like. Panda Pops is a nickname I'm thinking Mister Saotome earned even before he started sprouting fur with cold water. All there is to being a father, Ranma, is caring for your family, protecting them, and raising them through example. Something your father somehow managed do without bothering to be an example. I'm thinking he thought of it as raising you by example of what not to do...actually, on second thought, your father's not the brightest person on earth, so I doubt he thought about it at all. Perhaps he's just best used as an example of how not to be."
"And you tell me not to worry," Ranma replied, shaking her head again. "Yeah, don't be a panda, excellent words of parental advice. And also don't go around waving a sword screaming about manliness. It tends to scare the children."
Kasumi giggled and started to stand, Ranma moving to stand beside her, when suddenly Ranma's eyes closed and she tilted forward. Kasumi screamed for Tofu as she caught the redhead, checking her vital signs quickly.