"A new beginning?'
Akane Saotome walked into the Dojo behind the Saotome home. Actually it was the Tendo home but since her marriage to Ranma Saotome most people referred to it as the Saotome home. Akane didn't mind. She grew up here. What people called was of little importance. She called it home.
She was a thin woman in her late twenties. She had been very athletic as a teenager but time and the stress of a loveless marriage had done its' best to turn her into a washed out, pale shadow of her former self. Still time hadn't been totally cruel. Her short blue black hair was still as shiny as ever. She smiled. "Even Ranma thinks I have a cute smile." She thought.
Thinking of Ranma had Akane thinking of their life together. As mentioned, it had been a loveless marriage. They had married out of duty. Her father and her father's best friend, both martial artists, had made a pact to join their two families while not so incidentally saving a lot in inheritance taxes. Still both had done their best to make their years together...tolerable. For the most part they had succeeded but both yearned for something more.
A smile came to Akane's lips as she saw two people sparring together. One was the powerfully built Ranma Saotome, her husband, and the other was a woman her own age with long brown hair. That woman was Ukyo Kuonji. The woman who had, had an illegitimate child with her husband, although it had happened before she and Ranma had married. For over ten years, Akane had forbidden Ranma from having anything to do with either Ukyo or their child, Hayaima. Akane was sure Ranma had been sending money to Ukyo whenever he could which had added to the strains of their marriage.
Akane's smile shrank as she remembered why Ukyo had come back into her life. Akane shivered in memory then with an effort threw off the dark mood. 'Besides," She thought. 'For the first time in a long time...I'm having fun.' Akane rubbed her nose for a moment. "Okay, Akane old girl, you've prcrastinated enough." She said aloud. She walked to the other side of the dojo and started her warmup.
Fifteen minutes later Akane was covered in sweat and gasping for air. She wasn't the only one. Ukyo had collapsed five minutes after Akane had started her warmup and was leaning against the wall trying to catch her breath. Ranma was running through some katas but even he was beginning to tire.
"Damn." Gasped Akane. "I'm more out of shape than I thought." She panted as she continued her exercises. "It used to take me at least an hour before I was this exhausted. " Akane stopped her exercise and began doing some slow stretches. Ukyo levered herself off the floor and began stretching along with Akane.
Ranma finished the kata and walked over and joined Akane and Ukyo. "I'm gonna be sore in the morning." Ranma complained in cheerful tones. "Those were some nice kicks, Uk-chan." He said. "Still gotta work on your punches though."
Ukyo shook her hands. "I need to toughen them up first." Ukyo replied.
"Start with something softer." Akane advised. "Like rocks." She looked over to a grinning Ranma. "Jerk."
"Tomboy." Ranma replied.
"You bet." Akane laughed in reply. "I can prove it too." She said. "Right, Uk-chan?" She said. "I can prove it again now if you want."
Ukyo Kuonji blushed. "Didn't you get enough last night?" She mock complained. "Hitting Ranma isn't the only reason my hands hurt." She said. Ukyo rubbed her jaw. "And I'm sore in places Ran-chan didn't hit." She stopped her stretches to shake a finger at Akane. "Now behave or I'll have Ranma sleep in the middle tonight."
Akane pouted. "Meanie." She said. Akane laughed. "You know I think I'm starting to get my second wind." she said.
"Try doing the Tendo Long FIst form, Tomboy." Ranma suggested.
"I don't know." Akane said doubtfully. "I feel good but I don't know if I'm up to that one."
"Go as far as you can." Ranma said in encouragement. "Tell you what, if you can make it through the entire form, correctly of course, I'll..."
"Hello." Called a voice from the dojo entrance interrupting Ranma. Into the Dojo walked a handsome woman in her mid forties or so. She wore an old fashioned and somewhat faded floral patterned kimono. Her dark reddish brown hair was tied in a tight knot. "I was in the neighborhood and I thought...what is she doing here?"
"Ukyo's here because I asked her to be here." Akane said firmly. "Hello Mother."
"Akane." The woman replied in cool tones. "Ranma, my son, what is the meaning of this?" She demanded.
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you, Mom." Ranma replied. "Just accept the fact that Akane and Uk-chan have come to an...understanding." Ranma pulled at his pigtail. "Look Mom." Ranma continued. "You really wouldn't believe me if I told you why Ukyo is here or...or anything." He said. "sometimes I don't believe it." He added. "Right now we're just trying to...work it out."
"Work it out?" Ranma's mother echoed slowly.
"Work it out." Ranma averred. "Ukyo's got the guest room. "
"She's living...here?" Ranma's mother said in scandalous disbelief.
"It wouldn't be fair to Haya." Akane said firmly. "Despite what you think of Ukyo...or me...I think we're both pretty good mothers." She said proudly. "And we've both raised some fine young sons."
"You tell her sister." Ukyo cheered quietly.
Akane nodded. "And another thing." Akane said. "It was my decision to send Ukyo and Haya away so it's my decision to bring them back."
"But she..." Began Ranma's mother.
"I know who she is and what she did." Akane growled. "I'm still pissed at her about that."
"Akane...language." Scolded Ranma's mother.
"Never mind about my language." Akane snapped. "I'm a grown woman Mother." She said. "And besides the point. " She said. "As I was saying, I'm still...mad at Ukyo for that, just as I'm still... mad at your son." She added. Akane raised a finger. "But...we're trying to put it behind us." She said. "Besides, I like Ukyo."
"What will the neighbors think?" Ranma's mother asked.
"They'll think that Ran-chan will kick their butts if they say or do anything we don't like." Ukyo said. "Wont you Ran-chan?"
"Got that right." Ranma affirmed. "I'm a good enough martial artist to do that." The last said in tones of self disgust.
Ukyo shivered as she remembered the source of Ranma''s doubts. She shook off the memory and returned her attention to Ranma's mother. "Look Mrs. Saotome." Ukyo said in more reasonable tones. "What's done is done." She said. "As Akane said, we're trying to put it behind us." She looked down. "I regret having caused Akane and you pain..." Ukyo raised her head. " but I do not regret Haya." She said defiantly.
"Well no..." Stammered Nodoka Saotome. "Of course not." She hesitated. "It's just that...Oh I don't know." She said helplessly. Nodoka swallowed. "It's just a shock." She said. " I had hoped that one day..." She stopped. "I didn't expect." Nodoka stopped again. Her face reflected her internal struggle and then it stilled. "Well, if you and Ukyo have...reconciled." Nodoka said to Akane. "I must, of course, respect your decision."
"Thank you, Mother." Akane said.
"Look on the bright side Mom." Ranma chimed in. "Now you have two grand childen to spoil." He said. "You don't have to mail Haya anonymous presents anymore." He pointed out. "You can give them to him yourself." Ranma smiled. "He's bunking with Akama."
"He is?" Nodoka said in excitement. She forced down her emotions. "Well if you put it that way." Nodoka said with false calm. "Maybe I should introduce myself."
"Maybe you should." Ukyo said softly.
"I think you'll like what you see." Akane added. Akane put a hand on Ukyo's shoulder. "And maybe you'd like to stay for dinner." She said. "If you haven't forgotten, Ukyo is a chef." She said. "A pretty good one."
"Well, if you're sure I'm not imposing." Nodoka said hopefully. "I suppose I could tell Genma to fend for himself tonight." Nodoka paused. "Does Soun...?"
"Daddy is...getting used to the idea." Akane said. "We were planning on having everyone over this weekend to introduce Haya but since you're here..." Akane waved the back of her hand at Nodoka. "Go say hello to your grandsons." She said. "Go on."
Nodoka sketched a quick bow and hurried out of the dojo.
"When did we decide to have a party for Haya?" Ukyo asked.
"When Mother walked in the door." Akane replied sheepishly. "Might as well." She added. "We can't pretend he and you aren't living here." She said. "And...well I think Haya should meet the rest of his family."
"Thank you Akane." Ukyo said quietly. She wiped a tear that appeared in the corner of her eye. Ukyo looked at the door of the dojo and seeing that it was closed leaned over and gave Akane a quick peck on the cheek. She blushed. "Still feels odd doing that." She said. "Not bad." She said quickly. "Just odd." Akane chuckled in response. "Now, weren't you supposed to be doing a Kata?" Ukyo said.
"Ranma still hasn't told me what I get for doing it right." Akane replied. She patted Ukyo on her butt. "Any suggestions?"
"You are insatiable, did you know that?" Ukyo mock complained.
"Just making up for lost time." Akane replied with a slight leer.
Ukyo pushed Akane's hand, which still lingered on her butt, away. "I knew you were going to be a handful." Ukyo scolded. "Do your Kata." Ukyo ordered. "I'll leave it up to Ranma as to what your reward should be." Ukyo laughed. "Perverts, the both of you."
"Oh, you love it." Akane replied.
"I didn't say I didn't." Ukyo replied primly. "Kata." She ordered. "And do it right."
Akane grinned. "Yes, Uk-chan."
Dinner that night was, to nearly everyone present, one of the happiest in a long time. For Hayaima especially, who had grown up without a father, not only now had a father, but a brother and now a grandmother. But what made Hayaima to happiest was that his mother seemed to laugh and smile more than he could ever remember.
It wasn't that his mother had been sad but even the adolescent could tell that something had been lacking in his mother's life. And now, it seemed, that lack had been filled. He looked over to where his mother and his 'Momma A' sat next to each other with their heads close together and talked.
Nodoka too noticed the closeness between Akane and Ukyo. She looked over to her son. 'Ranma does seem happier though.' She realized. 'More content then I've seen him in a long time.' Still the closeness exhibited between Akane and Ukyo bothered her on some visceral level.
"Are you okay, grandma?" A childish voice piped up. Nodoka turned to see Hayaima looking at her with some concern. Nodoka couldn't help but smile. 'Grandma.' she thought happily. "Oh, I'm fine sweetheart." Nodoka replied. "It's just that so much has happened today." she said. "And I'm a little...overwhelmed." She said. "Do you like living here?' She asked.
"Oh it's great, grandma." Hayaima chirped. He grinned. "Even if Akama does snore."
"Do not." Akama said in outrage.
"Do too." Hayaima replied.
"Boys...boys." Laughed Nodoka. She shook her head. "No fighting at the table."
"Yes, grandma." Hayaima and Akama chorused. "Do not." Muttered Akama.
Nodoka laughed again. "So alike." She said to no one in particular. Nodoka looked over to her son. 'Just like he was at the same ages.' She sighed. 'If Genma hadn't taken Ranma away I might have had another son.' She thought regretfully. 'or a daughter.' She sighed again. 'I would have liked a daughter.'
After dinner Nodoka and the two boys cleared the table. To her surprise neither Hayaima nor Akama needed much prodding to rinse the dishes and put them into the dishwasher. Hayaima especially seemed to make an extra effort to be helpful. 'I suppose he's still afraid of being...sent away.' Nodoka realized. Nodoka chuckled as she also realized that Akama was doing his best to not be outshone by Hayaima. 'So alike.' She thought. "Goodness." Nodoka exclaimed. "We're already done." She said. Nodoka looked at the wall clock. "It's getting late." She said. "Why don't you two washup and then I'll come upstairs and tuck you in."
"Okay, grandma." Hayaima said. "Come on Kama."
The two boys laughed and giggled their way out of the kitchen. Nodoka shook her head and left the kitchen. She walked into the main room. Nodoka frowned when she saw her son sitting on the couch with Akane and Ukyo. Ukyo had one hand on Ranma's shoulder. while the other was held by Akane.
The two women looked up, saw Nodoka, and immediately released hands. Ukyo also removed her hand from Ranma's shoulder. "Hey Mom." Ranma called. "We were...um...just talking...and..."
"The boys are washing up." Nodoka said. she walked over and sat in the chair opposite the couch. "I promised to tuck them in but I think we have enough time to...talk." Nodoka took a breath. "Ranma, what is going on?" She asked in concern. "The three of you are...being unusually close."
"I told you Mom, you wouldn't believe me if I told you." Ranma replied.
"Try me." Nodoka demanded.
Ranma looked first at Akane then Ukyo. Akane just shrugged while Ukyo became a little pale. "Okay Mom." Ranma said. "Have you ever heard of something called a Nanban Mirror?"
Nodoka raised an eyebrow. "That silly story." She said. "Honestly my son aren't you a little old to believe in fairy tales."
"You mean you have heard of it?" Ranma said in disbelief.
"Well of course." Nodoka replied. "Master Happosai did live his last few years here with Soun." She said. "He used to go on and on about magic and Ki." She stopped at the looks on Ranma, Akane and Ukyo's faces. They all had the same look.
"It's no fairy tale, Mom." Ranma said. He shivered. "I wish it...no I don't wish it was a fairy tale but..." Ranma leaned forward. "What did Master Happosai tell you about the mirror?' he asked.
"Oh silly nonsense." Nodoka replied. "That you could use it to see other worlds." She said. "He once tried to show me but..." Nodoka laughed. "It didn't work, of course." She said. "He later claimed that the reason it didn't work was because magic had left the world." Nodoka frowned. "He died soon after wards, the poor thing."
"Magic had left the world?' Ukyo said quietly. "Did he say why?'
Nodoka frowned. "No...I don't think he ever explained." She said. "He did say he needed to go to China and see someone." Nodoka tapped her lips with a finger. "What was her name...silly name...sounded like..."
"Kho Lon?' Akane asked.
Nodoka started. "Why yes, I believe that was the name." Ranma, Akane and Ukyo looked at each other and all three shivered. "Ranma, whatever is the matter?" She demanded. "And what does all this have to do with... the three of you?"
Ranma looked down. "Mom...did you ever feel as if you made the wrong turn somewhere?" He asked. "That if you only had gone left instead of right everything would be different...better?"
"I think everyone feels that way sometimes, my son." Nodoka replied.
"Mom." Ranma looked at Akane then Ukyo. He looked down at the ground again. "I turned right." He said. "What's worse is that I know what I'd be like if I had turned left." He said sadly. To Nodoka's surprise both Akane and Ukyo nodded in agreement to Ranma's words.
"You're...you're not making sense." Nodoka protested. "No one can know what never happened."
"Gods, I wish that were true, Mom." Ranma raised his head. Nodoka was shocked by the look of self disgust on Ranma's face. "I know Mom." Ranma said sadly. "I know." Akane and Ukyo both nodded again. "Akane also knows." Ranma said. "So does Uk-chan."
"We could have been..." Akane sighed. "But we're not." She said regretfully. "The only thing we can be now is what we are." She said. "But at least we can be what we are...together." Akane shrugged helplessly. "There's a little comfort in that." She shook her head. "No, I take that back." She said. "There's a lot of comfort in that."
"That there is, Sugar." Ukyo said quietly.
"Mom." Ranma said. "A couple weeks ago..." Ranma paused. "Something happened." He looked at his mother earnestly. "The Nanban Mirror.." Ranma shivered again. "It's real, Mom." He said. "It's real."
"We met...us." Ukyo said. "As we might have been." Akane reached over and took Ukyo's hand. "And we...fell short."
"None of you are making any sense." Nodoka said, Fear colored her voice. "Magic isn't real." She stated almost defiantly.
"Not here. Not anymore." Ranma replied. "Master Happosai was right, the magic is gone." Suddenly Ranma straightened. "But maybe..." Ranma paused. "Never mind." He said. 'Talk to the girls first.' He thought. "The magic is gone here." Ranma repeated. "But not...everywhere." Ranma nodded. "As Uk-chan said, we met us." He snorted. "Twice."
"Twice?" Nodoka replied fascinated despite her fear for the sanity of her son.
"Two versions." Ranma smiled sourly. "One version of us was...the only word I can use is...godlike." He shivered. "Scariest man I ever met."
"The other two were just as scary, Ranma." Akane said. "The other version." Akane's expression became...confused."The other version is a little hard to describe." She said. "Those three weren't scary...try to imagine three people who don't give a damn...don't say anything Mother..don't give a damn about what people think about them." She said. "And what they do with...themselves or with whoever they want."
"And then do their best to rub everyone's noses in it." Ukyo added. "Now try to imagine them also being beautiful and sexy." Ukyo smiled slightly. "I have to admit that particular shade of makeup looked good on Ran-chan."
"Ranma, you're wearing make up now?" Nodoka exclaimed. "That's not very manly."
Ranma waved his arms in denial. "No. No. No." He exclaimed. "I'm not wearing makeup." He said. "Not...this me...anyway." He waved his hands again. "Forget about the makeup." He said. "Now imagine that these three oversexed, egotistical, arrogant people are also fantastic martial artists."
"We didn't actually see them do anything special, Ran-chan." Ukyo protested. But even Ukyo could hear how false her protest was. "Never mind." She said.
"It's okay, Uk-chan." Ranma said. "But we didn't have to, did we?" He said. "All we had to do was see how...they treated them."
"Equals." Akane stated.
"Yeah." Agreed Ranma. "Mom, I know you think we're crazy...but we're not." He said. "Look the only proof I have I can't show you." He said. "But I can tell you this." He said. "Because of what happened...Uk-chan and Hayaima are back in our lives." Ranma smiled slightly. "And me and Tomboy are...getting along better."
"A lot better." Akane said. "But you're still a jerk." She said.
"I know." agreed Ranma.
"At least you admit it now." Akane replied with a smile.
"I've been working on it, Tomboy." Ranma replied.
"I know." Agreed Akane. Ranma and Akane smiled at each other then both turned their attention to Ukyo. If anything, their smiles widened. Ukyo blushed slightly but smiled back.
"Ahem." Nodoko cleared her throat. She fanned herself with a hand for a moment.
"Sorry Mom." Ranma said contritely. "Anyway bottom line. Haya and Akama will be raised as brothers." He said. "And that means Uk-chan stays here too." He said. "If anyone asks where she sleeps...well it's none of their business." He said. "Nosy people...upset me."
Akane gave Ranma an approving smile before she returned her attention to Nodoka. "As for the rest." Akane said. "We'll make it up as we go."
end chapter 1
Author's Note: Well since the response to In Dreams was so good I decided to see if I could expand the concept. let's just say I've written more than I expected to write. I know the first chapter is short but only because this is the setup. Hope you like it.