In the mountains outside of Tokyo, far enough away that the light of the city itself could not be seen when the sun had set, lay a sprawling, if dilapidated inn. The building was run down, paint having peeled from the wooden paneling, and small weeds were growing between the shingles of the moss-covered roof. Shutters rattled in even the slightest breeze, and only a single guest was present.

The manager, a man of middling years with a dour opinion on maintenance left his single guest undisturbed, with only the warning that the inn would likely be gone within the week.

In his room, moth-eaten futon and blankets left in the closet, a male figure sat at the writing table, a flickering electric light providing illumination.

"Ugh," he muttered, setting a mechanical pencil to the sheet before him. "What a ride."

In the room behind him, leaning against a wall to be protected from the elements, a ten-speed bicycle stood, finish gleaming despite the strangely evident age of the device. A pack sat on the floor a short distance away, and a bedroll and sleeping bag had been set out in what little space was left.

The man sighed audibly, pulling his pencil away from the paper and shaking his head. His hair was black, kept in a pigtail to about the middle of his back, and tightly braided. A bandana - red satin, to appearances - kept the dark shock of his bangs out of his blue-gray eyes. Clad only in a white T-shirt and jeans, unaffected by the chill of the room, the man twisted his face into a grimace, and threw his arms into the air in despair, falling backwards to lay on the floor, staring upwards.

Lacing his fingers together behind his head, he gazed up at the ceiling, attention distant. His shirt betrayed the bulges of a fair number of fairly refined muscles - not quite muscular, but more than wiry. "How long has it been," he mused aloud. "Three ... four years?"

He sighed, closing his eyes, and shook his head. "Too damn long."

The wind broke the silence, a rustling noise filling the room as leaves brushed across the roof. "Not long enough. That's it," he decided, sitting up completely, and seizing the dropped pencil.

"Yo, Aniki," he began, reading aloud as he scribed on the paper.

He chewed his lower lip for a moment, then shrugged and resumed writing. "I haven't seen you in a couple of months, so thought I'd mail this to your house.

"Life on the road is different from when I was a kid, and I've learned a lot, but I think it's time for me to go to school. I have a few months left before classes begin, anyway."

Sighing, he frowned at what he'd written. "I hate writing letters," he mumbled to himself, before he resumed his cautious scrawl.

"So I'm going to try and get into the same college you did. I think I can do it because you helped me study. Wish me luck, Aniki. I'll mail you my address once I find someplace to live near school."

Studying the letter uncertainly, he sighed, then gave a judicious nod. "Good enough," he announced to no one in particular, signing the letter.

"Your little brother, Oe Ranma."

Folding the letter, he leaned over his pack, and, producing an envelope, quickly scribbled an address on it, folded the letter up, and tucked it carefully inside before sealing it. Reaching back into the drawer of the desk, he pulled out a worn, beaten, and much-abused looking pamphlet.

"Ugh," he grumped, frowning. "This thing is old ... but let's see..." The pamphlet was carefully smoothed against the table, and the man's ready eyes scanned across it. "Dorms ... dorms ... dorms..."

Finding what he looked for, he smiled brightly. "Hinata-Sou, eh? Now all I gotta do is write one more letter, and we'll be set..."

Diamonds in the Rough - Prologue

Disclaimer: Paints in this story are from Takahashi, Viz (Ranma 1/2), TV Tokyo and Ken Akamatsu (Love Hina), and Tatsuya Egawa (Goldenboy). The easel is mine. That's all.

Notes: Divergences should become apparent as relevant.

Sliding the curtains open revealed a dim and overcast sky outside the window, the weak sunlight filtering through heavy clouds, and thin fog. The woman in the housedress who had opened the curtains clicked her tongue, sighing at the weather before allowing herself a small smile.

"Kasumi, dear?" a voice called out to her from the back of the small apartment she occupied.

Blinking, the woman turned about, favoring one leg as she did so, and turned large innocent eyes towards the speaker. That speaker was male, with short, neatly trimmed black hair and wire-frame spectacles. "Good morning, Tofu! I'm sorry - I'll get started on breakfast right away-"

"That's not necessary," he assured her, smiling as he stepped closer. "But I know that the bad weather makes you ache. Are you alright?"

Biting her lip, Kasumi stared at her leg for a moment before allowing her worried expression to melt into a pleased smile. "I'm glad you're concerned, Tofu, but it doesn't hurt badly. It... It simply reminds me of..." She trailed off, her smile failing as she struggled for words. Clasping her hands together, she faced the man worriedly, and finally blurted out, "Do you ever wonder what happened to him, Tofu? Where he went after-"

"Let's not worry about that right now," Tofu interrupted, shaking his head resolutely. "Your father brings it up often enough. For today... For today, why don't we just be happy with one another, and not worry about ... Ranma."

For a moment, the woman seemed about to protest, but finally, she nodded, and allowed the man a pleased smile. "You're right, Tofu. Of course."

Author's notes: And so it begins.