I do not own anything written by Rumiko Takahashi.
Ranma frowned in confusion as she descended with her burden toward the yard by the koi pond. She had gotten a lot of practice with her empathic sense over the past several weeks, had striven to sort out the various 'tastes' and figure out what they meant. In truth, she had done a fairly decent job, considering the short time and her limited social experience — the long talks she'd had with her fiancée had helped a great deal. But like every empath before her, she was rapidly learning that knowing how someone felt was not the same as knowing what someone thought, and the emotional mix she'd been picking up from her father made no sense to her — shock at learning her sex when she changed, she understood, but despair? Panic? To be replaced by determination, with love mixed throughout? (And it was love, even if it was thankfully without the sexual overtones that Ranma had come to enjoy picking up from Nabiki.) The busty red-winged succubus was now regretting how much she'd been avoiding her father while in her cursed form — she was beginning to think that she didn't understand him at all.
Remembering her earlier collision with her father, she slowed as the ground approached, and Genma landed with a soft grunt, his knees flexing slightly to absorb the impact. Nabiki and Akane stepped out from the family room to meet them. Akane was glaring at Genma, but Nabiki's gaze was fixed on her fiancé, eyes widening. "Wings, now?" she asked. "When did that happen?"
"Just now, when I really needed 'em," Ranma replied with a shrug. At the sound of her voice, Akane glanced toward the girl she couldn't see then back to Genma. "C'mon, Pop, time ta pay the piper," Ranma continued.
Genma nodded, took a deep breath, and walked back into the room he'd left so abruptly, only to freeze at the tableau before him. Nodoka was kneeling behind the low table, the formerly bundled-up Saotome honor blade lying unsheathed on the tabletop before her, her expression stiff and cold. Kasumi was kneeling to the side, calmly sipping from a cup of tea, while Soun was behind her kneeling by the wall, tears running down his face. Akane stepped past Genma and walked over to stand by her father, while Nabiki walked around Genma's other side to kneel across the table from her sister.
Ranma, floating just out of arm's reach behind and above her father, looked over the room and grinned. Mom an' Nabs sure know how ta stage a show, she thought even as she did her best to ignore the cold anger radiating from her mother and the two older Tendo sisters, so overwhelming it was actually washing out the emotions of the other three people in the room. "Don't keep everyone waiting, Pop," she ordered.
Genma started, then slowly walked forward to kneel a little away from the table. For several endless minutes, Nodoka simply gazed coldly at her former husband. Finally, she said in a voice like liquid nitrogen, "So, we finally meet again, nine years later than your promised return. What pitiful excuse do you have for the way you have betrayed your son, and me?"
Instantly, Genma was bent over, hands on the floor and bowing repeatedly. "No-chan I didn't know Jusenkyo was so dangerous we are seeking a cure I just wished to let Ranma know of his fiancées we will leave on a quest for a cure immediately..."
Everyone in the room stared at the spectacle in stunned amazement, even Soun breaking off his crying in shock. Finally, Nodoka asked, "What on earth are you babbling about?"
Genma broke off his stream of excuses and plans to look up. "You ... you aren't angry about Jusenkyo — Ranma's cursed form, No-chan? I thought — the contract —"
"Don't call me that!" Nodoka snarled. "And I don't care about the contract! I tore it up after the endless stream of fathers looking for their daughters' fiancé began showing up on my doorstep, along with police investigators wondering if I had any knowledge of your whereabouts."
Genma paled. "You ... you know ..." he stammered.
"Yes, I know all about those poor girls you defrauded, and so many others — I had to go to work to help make restitution for your crimes all these years. Why, Genma?" she asked, her voice filled with pain. "You hated your master, why did you return to his ways? Why did you stop drawing from our bank account? Why did you deprive me of my son's company all these years? And whatever possessed you to throw our son into a pit full of starving cats?"
"Yeah, I'd like ta know the answer ta that one, myself," Ranma growled, then floated down behind her mother, wrapping her arms around the grieving woman and resting her chin on her shoulder. Nodoka reached up a hand to gently stroke her daughter's cheek in thanks as she drew in a shuddering breath and forced herself to relax.
"I ... I ... You tore up ... But I ..." Genma stuttered, then sighed and sat up straight. Taking a deep breath and closing his eyes, he softly said, "Nodoka, I had such dreams for Ranma, for us, training him in the Arts, to see the day that he would surpass even me, of how proud you would be seeing him growing in strength and skill year after year. And then I found the old manual describing the Cat Fist. It was extreme, it hurt so much to go through with it, but the promise to make Ranma an unstoppable warrior overcame my doubts and fears. Only after he came out of the pit acting like a cat and nearly killed me with the ki claws the technique gave him, did I reread the manual and find that the last two pages were stuck together, learn once I read the final pages that the Cat Fist drove the children subjected to it insane, how lucky Ranma is that he only occasionally thinks he's a cat instead of permanently.
"After that, how could we come home? At first, Ranma was covered with scars from the cats. I could have explained those scars away, along with his fear of housecats, but you would have thought — what kind of man is afraid of kittens? You would have despised him! I thought, if I could make him manly sexually once he matured, that would make up the difference and we could be reunited. But he refused to have anything to do with the girls I tried to set him up with, there was no way you would have considered him manly, and with the contract — Ranma didn't fail me in his sense of honor, I'm so proud of him, but when you handed him a tanto he would have used it and I would have nothing left, all gone, alone again..."
Genma's voice trailed off, tears running down his cheeks, and the room was silent as Ranma, Nodoka and the Tendos stared at the balding martial artist. The anger radiating from Nodoka, Kasumi and Nabiki had dimmed, and it was all Ranma could do not to shudder from the remorse and loathing coming from his father, loathing that seemed to be directed inward rather than at any outside target — and the same remorse and self-loathing was pouring from her mother. "Mother, what's wrong?" she whispered in Nodoka's ear.
"Ranma, I —" Nodoka started, then broke off. "Let go, dearest," she said, and stood when her confused daughter obeyed. "Nabiki, Ranma, come with me, please," she said, and looked down at her former husband. "Genma, if you wish to have anything to do with your son in the future, you will be here when we return." Genma nodded without a word, and Nodoka swept from the room, followed by her daughter and her fiancée.
Nodoka lead the two girls, human and nature spirit, into the kitchen. Turning as soon as they entered, she pulled her currently daughter into a hug, one arm across Ranma's back beneath the wings and her other hand pulling Ranma's head against her shoulder. "Oh Ranma, I'm so sorry, if I hadn't been such a romantic fool," she sobbed. "I should have never agreed to that stupid contract, can you ever forgive me?"
"Contract? I ... sure Mom, whatever ya did I'm sure ya meant well," a confused Ranma managed to get out through the fear and pain hammering at her, doing her best to ignore the feeling of the soft skin of her mother's breasts pressed against her own through the light blouse and bra her mother wore.
"Of course, you don't know," Nodoka said with a sigh. Releasing Ranma she stepped back and took a deep breath. "Ranma, when your father first announced his plans for the training trip ..."
When Nodoka finished her story a few minutes later, she stood with her head down, staring at the floor. "If neither of you want anything to do with me —" she said, only to gasp when Ranma's arms circled her again.
"A' course we still want ya around. So ya did somethin' stupid, who hasn't?" Ranma said, looking at her fiancée. "Right, Nabs?"
" 'Nabs'?" Nabiki asked, rolling her eyes, then with a sigh walked over and joined the hug. "Ranma's right, Nodoka — Mother," she said. "Whatever mistakes you made, you've done your best to make up for them."
Nodoka nodded wordlessly, freeing an arm from around Ranma to circle Nabiki as tears of gratitude flowed, and the three stood/floated in the mutual embrace for a few luxurious minutes, until suddenly Nabiki giggled and stepped back. When the other two broke apart to look at her curiously, she said, "Ranma, the new wings are neat, but they make group hugs a little awkward. Why don't you get rid of them?"
"Uh, how?" the redhead asked.
Nabiki shrugged. "How would I know? Maybe if you just think about how you were, just try to force them away?"
Ranma closed her eyes and concentrated. For a minute nothing happened, then suddenly the wings seemed to shiver, then shrink into the nature spirit's shoulder blades. "Wow, did that feel weird," she said, opening her eyes with a shiver and reaching around to make sure they were gone. She closed her eyes again, and the wings sprang back out, then once again shrank away to nothing. "Okay, I think I got that one down," she said with a happy grin.
Nabiki was also smiling broadly. "Great! While you're at it, try changing into your male form again."
Ranma nodded eagerly. She again closed her eyes, but long minutes passed without a hint a change, and finally the disappointed girl opened her eyes as her shoulders slumped. "Nothin'!" she growled.
Nabiki stepped over and laid a hand on her shoulder. "It was worth a try. Don't worry about it, it'll come."
Her fiancé's head came up at that, surprised by the concern shading into fear coming from the middle Tendo. "Nabs, what's wrong?" she asked.
" 'Nabs'," Nabiki repeated. "I'm not sure how I feel about that pet name, but I suppose something of the sort's inevitable." Ignoring Ranma's continued worried gaze, she said, "Later, what do we do about Genma?"
Heads turned as Nodoka walked back into the family room, followed by Nabiki and the unseen by most Ranma (though Kasumi's eyebrows rose at the sight of the once again wingless succubus). As the former Saotome matriarch resumed her place at the table, she looked around at an apparently calm Kasumi; an Akane almost bouncing from curiosity; and a tearful, frantic Soun almost wringing his hands; before expressionlessly facing her former husband. To her surprise, Genma was calm, sitting erect, hands on his thighs, awaiting her verdict.
"Genma, when your victims and the police began arriving on my doorstep, I sought and acquired a divorce and sole parental rights to my son on grounds of abandonment," she informed him in an icy tone. "When I came here today, I was prepared to finally give up the name of a man I had come to loath, take back my long-lost son into my life as more than an occasional visitor, break the Saotome honor blade, and order you to never darken our doorway again." Genma's shoulders slumped and tears began to run down his cheeks, but she continued, "However, having heard why you tortured your son and abandoned me, why you returned to your master's ways, I find that some small part of the fault is mine. So, a slight change of plans.
"First, while you may continue training my son; that training will take place here at the Tendo dojo, and only here unless I give my express permission. Second, I will have the final say in any training techniques you wish to teach. Third, training is the only part of my son's life over which you will have any say — everything else is for me, Ranma, and his fiancée to decide. Fourth, you and Ranma will no longer share a room — Ranma will share Nabiki's room and bed from now on. Fifth, you will find a job as soon as possible, to contribute to the costs of maintaining this household and pay the continuing restitution for your crimes. Finally," turning to Kasumi, Nodoka asked, "Kasumi, would you mind if I moved in to keep an eye on my former husband?"
Kasumi shook her head, a smile lighting up her face. "Of course not! We would be honored to have you here — Mother."
Nodoka's expression softened and two fresh tears rolled down her cheeks. "No, Kasumi you honor me more than a stupid old woman deserves. I am grateful for your generosity."
Turning back to Genma even as the eldest Tendo sister vehemently denied her self-characterization, Nodoka's expression again hardened. "Well, Genma, do you accept my terms?"
Genma nodded hurriedly. "Of course, No — Nodoka-san. You are more than generous, thank you. I will start looking for work immediately."
"Don't thank me, it was Ranma that wanted you to stay," Nodoka ground out, then glanced over at her now-shivering daughter floating to the side between her parents. With a sigh, she closed her eyes and forced the anger away before reopening her eyes and smiling reassuringly at the redhead. When Ranma's shivering eased and she smiled back, Nodoka looked over at Kasumi. "So, Kasumi, where will I be sleeping?"
The chapter title comes from the song, "The High Cost of Living" by Jamey Johnson.