The only thing more bleak than the past for Kuonji Ukyo is the future. Where once she was the heir to a successful street vendor's business, she now only has the hope that one day she might avenge herself, but when it comes... can she do it?
My Love's Flame
A Ranma 1/2 & Sailor Moon Fanfiction
by Ryan Erik
Every night, for the past week, the nightmare had been the same. Tonight's was no different. She recalled it vividly as she showered that morning.
A girl in a blue dress walks into an empty barber shop and sits in one of the chairs. Her chestnut-colored hair reaches down to her waist. It's a symbol of her pride and her womanhood. She sees it as a reflection of herself; it grows long, and she tends it, and it is beautiful. Yet she walks into a barbershop filled with broken glass, sits down and watches it pool in her lap. A barber enters, but she does not look up, so she cannot see his face as he walks up behind her. The barber doesn't speak any words to her, and she only looks up when he pushes a long, bloody shard from the broken mirror in front of her before her eyes. She wants to scream, but she has no control over her movements. He wraps an apron around her neck and ties it in place.
"Just a little bit off the top." Her voice, her mouth is speaking, but against her volition. She tries to stand, but her hair is tying her to the chair now, as if it coiled around the handles on its own.
She pants unsteadily in fear, staring at the silent barber through the broken glass mirror, unable to see his face. He places the reflective side of the glass shard against her cheek. It's warm and wet, and as he pulls it back, it leaves blood streaks against her pale skin. He then takes her hair in his free hand and pulls it back, unwrapping it from the chair. Her head is yanked back to chair's headrest. She watches him in the mirror as he takes the glass shard and puts it near her long, chestnut hair. She only knows that it's finally over when her head head is released.
Suddenly free of the trap, she looks back to see herself, wearing a barber's tunic and holding her own locks of severed hair.
"Now we're free."
She stepped out of the shower onto the cold tiles of her bathroom that she shared with her father. Wiping the steamy mirror with her towel, she examined her blurry reflection. She ran a hand through her short, wet hair, and then sighed in remembrance of the day her father took his electric razor to the back of her head, hacking off every hair that dropped below her ears. She had salvaged as much of it as she could from her father's mutilation of it last year, but it was so short after that, there was little she could do about it then.
"Boys don't have long, pretty hair!" The words still burned her. It was the first time in a long time that the man had expressed much interest in holding her to the vow she had made as a child to cast away her womanhood until she avenged herself. Five years ago, he had taken to drinking, and changed from the gruff, but accommodating man he had once been. The last five years, he had only seemed interested in drinking and collecting unemployment checks, and only took occasional jobs in order to renew it when it expired.
Alone, she had to keep teaching herself, how to cook, how to fight and how to survive without his help. Practicing her own style of martial arts, combining cooking and fighting had taken years to perfect, costing most of her childhood. Working at any restaurant that would employ a child illegally, she had spent the last two and a half years putting away as much as she could. The only reason she had let her hair grow stay long was that it didn't symbolize the girl she had been, or the boy she was now, but the woman she wanted to become. Her old man had reminded her, whether intentionally or not, that she had to sacrifice everything for revenge.
Now that her chestnut-colored hair had grown out again, she wondered about what she should do now. She had styled it messy, less of a boy cut and longer. She fingered a lock of damp hair. Despite her father's attempt to control, her hair only continued to grow, to repair what he had taken. In another few years, it would be long again if she let it continue.
She stared at her hair in the mirror. It looked like she had stuck it in the dryer after towel drying it, causing it to stick up every which way. Her bangs were now just long enough that they fell into her eyes when she didn't brush them back.
"Boy, breakfast!" Her father's voice from the living room sounded through the thin walls.
"Just a minute, papa!" Her reply echoed in their bathroom as she brushed her hair down. Ukyo needed to hurry, as she had slept through her alarm this morning after working until late at the restaurant, pulling a double shift to help her father pay the rent in the upcoming week. She had refused to touch her savings to pay for his neglect.
Ukyo stifled a yawn, and then ran through a quick version of getting ready for school. She was done in just under three minutes. After she put on her shirt and slacks, the girl ventured into the living room, where her father was waiting for her.
"There you are," her father said, drunk this early, or still drunk from the night before. "Thought you'd run off, or died or something."
If only I had run, she thought coolly, forcing a smile, when she noticed a bottle of saké with only a quarter of its contents remaining. "Morning, papa."
"Morning, boy," he told her, if not warmly, at least with some manner of affection. "Get to breakfast now."
"Yes, sir," she told him with a smile. There was no way he could get under her skin on Monday.
Most kids her age would be loath to go to school, but for the girl who was masquerading as a boy, school was an escape. No one knew little Ucchan, the girl who had been abandoned by her fiancé and had her dowry stolen. They knew a boy named Kuonji Ukyo, who was the captain of the junior Kyudo archery club, and the second baseman of the junior SAAS Happapan team, her school's baseball club. They knew her as the hero of SAAS, the boy who ran out the upperclassman bullies.
In the kitchen, she made enough okonomiyaki for breakfast for the two of them, and another portion for lunch.
"Boy, you better not be late for school," her father told her as she walked into the living room to serve him breakfast. "If I have to get another call from that Principal of yours again, you are going to rue the day you were born."
"I won't be, papa," Ukyo assured him.
She ate breakfast quickly, finishing most of it before she ran out of time. Minutes later, after she grabbed her coat and book bag from her room, she was on her bicycle, riding to school.
The cool morning wind felt like heaven against her skin as she rode across Tokyo on her bike. The ride to school took her past Tokyo Tower, and into the Juuban suburbs. She had to go far out of her way to get there, but distancing herself from her home was necessary to avoid the stigma she had grown up with. The long ride to school gave her time to think clearly for the first time in a long time.
Ukyo had started at the St. Agnes of Assisi School for grades seven through twelve, affectionately called the SAAS, pronounced "sass." Even though she had to hide her gender to attend it, she truly felt welcome there. The boys in the school didn't question her place among them. She even was popular, as her training in her youth made her really athletic, giving her the chops to do well in not one but two sports clubs. In Juuban, she had truly found a place that loved her back.
Normally, she took the ride slowly, making it to school in about a half-hour. Today, she flew to school, taking every shortcut she could find. She didn't have baseball practice this morning, otherwise she would already be late, but every minute counted when you woke up twenty minutes late. Today, she made it to school in just above twenty minutes.
She hopped off her bike and walked it the last block, not wanting to run over any classmates.
The voice was unmistakable. Hino Rei, the vice-captain of the Kyudo archery team, waved at Ukyo on her way out of the all-boys school.
"Hino-san," Ukyo said with a smile. Rei had been a strong supporter of the first ever grade seven captain of the archery team, and was almost as naturally good at archery as Ukyo. The two had talked at length many nights after club practice, when Rei didn't have to work at her temple, and when Ukyo didn't have to work at the restaurant. Between their busy schedules and similar interests, the two had a lot in common. "Visiting your cousin?"
"Among other things," she told her as the stopped next to each other. "I'm really sorry, but I need to skip club today."
Ukyo blinked in surprise. Rei had not missed a single class for any reason before. "How come?"
"My grandfather invited a guest to stay with us for a while," Rei said, rolling her eyes. "So I'm in charge of showing him around for now."
"I see," Ukyo said with a nod. "It's fine today, but remember we have to practice for the tournament next month."
"Of course, Kuonji-taicho!" Rei bowed her head. "I'll be back on Wednesday, even if I have to bring him with me." She smiled at Ukyo, and then waved.
"Bye, Hino-san!" Ukyo said warmly.
The co-ed clubs before and after school were what really made SAAS and TAS, Thomas Aquinas School, really function. Despite being entirely separate schools, the two cooperated for all events and clubs, as both were small and would not be able to fill some of the more eclectic clubs.
Ukyo locked her bike at the front of the school, and then entered the gates. She had a few minutes to spare, so she took her time slipping into her inside shoes and then locating her class. She pulled the back door open to the class and entered. Professor Nakama was already writing on the board as she took her seat.
"Kuonji-san," Koji, the boy who sat behind her whispered. "Did you see him? The new kid?"
Ukyo turned to him and shook her head. "There's someone new joining the class?"
Koji pointed at the front of the class. Next to the professor stood a boy she hadn't seen before.
"They say he knows Hino-sama personally," Koji told him.
Hino-sama, Ukyo cringed at the name. After she made a name for herself at the Kyudo archery club, Rei had become a mini-idol for the seventh grade class, and even some of the eighth graders. Ukyo had tried to discourage it, but it was too grassroots to stop, and now she was all but untouchable for any of the boys at SAAS.
"I'm sure that's not true," Ukyo whispered back. "Rei doesn't hang out with anyone, except at the Archery club."
Koji shrugged. "I dunno, man. My buddy saw her holding his hand at the shoe lockers."
Ukyo blinked at that statement. Rei had never even shown the slightest bit of interest in any of the boys on the archery team, or anyone else for that matter. She examined the new kid intensely. He was fairly handsome and looked athletic, but she didn't see any reason why Rei would latch onto him. He did look oddly familiar to her, but she couldn't place his face.
"Alright, class, it's time to begin. Before Tatsuya-kun takes attendance, I would like to introduce you to the new boy joining our class. Introduce yourself, son."
The boy walk to the front of the class, and with the most self-assured looking face Ukyo had ever seen, said, "The name's Saotome Ranma. What's up?"
Some of the boys in the back of the class laughed at his ridiculous informal introduction. Others whispered between each other. Ukyo only stared in shock.
The words hit her like slap to the face. Saotome Ranma. She could never forget the name of the person responsible for her current exile from her home and the complete loss of her self-identity as a girl. With all the smugness she remembered from her childhood when he would beat her up and take okonomiyaki as his winnings, his face suddenly clicked in her mind. She now recognized him completed as the scene from seven years ago replayed itself in her mind.
"Ranma, wait for me!" a six-year-old Ukyo screams, as runs after her childhood playmate.
"Bye, Ucchan!" he yells back, oblivious of her plight. "Bye-bye!"
She runs until she's exhausted, too exhausted to even stand. She finds herself in a park, far away from her home. It's not until a police officer takes her home that evening that she returns home, an unwelcome sight in her own father's eyes.
Nausea filled the pit of her stomach with butterflies, even as she got light-headed. Only a few times in her life had she ever been as angry as she was now.
"OK, OK, quiet down now class," the teacher said mildly, patting Ranma on the shoulder. "Why don't you sit in the empty desk between Yoshida-kun and Kuonji-kun? Please raise your hands, boys."
The words didn't compute as Ukyo stared forward at the boy who had ruined her life. Ranma walked down the aisle to her right and sat in the spot directly next to her.
"Hey," Ranma said as he sat, dropping his bag on the desk. He stared back at Ukyo. "Hey, you Yoshida-san?"
"That's me," the boy on his other side said. "That's Kuonji-san."
"What's with him?" Ranma asked, turning around to face Yoshida Tobito.
"Don't know," he replied. "He's usually the nicest person here."
Ranma turned back to his desk to empty his book bag's contents into it. He looked up at Ukyo after a moment.
"Uh, something on my face?" Ranma asked, his tone confused. He rubbed his face for anything on there.
Ukyo tried to shake her head, but only got to curt motions out of the attempt. After that, Ranma ignored her for the rest of the class.
It wasn't until the teachers changed that Ukyo recovered enough to think about her situation. The boy whom she had hunted with her father for years suddenly landed in her lap, only after she had given up her quest for revenge. It felt as though Fate had slapped her in the face for going back on her word.
She excused herself to the next teacher with the excuse of feeling ill, and she must have looked it as well, because the teacher seemed to agree with the assessment. Making her way to the nurse's office, she found an empty bed and collapsed on it. The stress of everything caught up with her, causing her to fall asleep.
Hours, days or months later for all Ukyo knew, she woke when the nurse shook her. She looked up at the old Catholic brother who treated the kids of the school. Her eyes felt heavy and dry as she stared at the collar of his black habit.
"Kuonji-san, are you feeling well enough to go home? Class is over."
Shocked by the words, Ukyo shot up. "Yes, sir."
Walking as quickly as she could, Ukyo returned to the classroom, where she found it empty but for a couple of students lingering behind. She grabbed her bag and hustled to the front of the school, nearly forgetting her shoes on the way out. Pushing through the front doors, she scanned the courtyard for Ranma. It took her a moment, but she spotted him by the gate, standing with his back against the wall.
She breathed out a huge sigh, as if he she had held her breath since waking up. The thought of taking her eyes off Ranma for one second sickened her. For all she knew, he would not come back tomorrow morning, and she'd have to search for him all over again. Six years of searching ended with him walking into her classroom, and taking the seat next to her.
When I tell my father, he's going to flip, she thought, the likelihood of attaining her long-sought-after revenge suddenly more real than even the moment she and her father swore together to have it.
"There you are, Kuonji-taicho!" someone exclaimed from behind her, causing Ukyo to jump. "Oh, sorry, Captain."
Ukyo recognized Seyama Masao, a short eighth grader from the archery club. "What can I do for you, Seyama-sempai?"
Masao shook his head. "I heard you were sick, Captain, so I came to make sure you were okay."
Ukyo nodded. "Thanks. Can you tell the club that Hino-san is busy today, and I'm feeling ill so neither of us will make it?"
The smaller boy nodded, looking over at the gate where Ranma was standing. "Is that the new kid?"
Moments after Masao asked the question, Rei stepped into view, causing all the boys at the gate to turn and stare.
"Yes, it is," Ukyo replied, her voice low with anger.
"Rei-sama knows him?" Masao looked awed by the revelation. "New kid is already a star. You better hope he can't shoot a bow with luck like that. He could even take your spot, Kuonji-taicho!"
Over my dead body, she thought, clenching her fists.
"Yeah, Cap, I know the feeling. Every boy here's heart just disintegrated."
Masao obviously read her face wrong, because the only thing in her heart was a burning desire for revenge.
"Will you lead the team while I'm away, Seyama-sempai?"
"Sure thing, Captain!" Masao bounded off towards the all-girls school, where the archery club held session in their dedicated building on the field behind it.
It was not long after that Rei and Ranma left the school behind, going the opposite direction to Ukyo's apartment. That did not dissuade her, as she had hours to burn while she was scheduled to lead club practice. She almost forgot her bike, having to turn around once at the gate to go and grab it. It took her a minute, but she caught up to the pair, keeping a distance.
She watched them, keeping just out of sight on the trip. Ranma walked on every fence, wall, pole and anything else steady enough to support his weight. Despite the complete insanity of that, Rei seemed to ignore it, talking to him naturally the entire time. In fact, they seemed rather well acquainted, prompting Ukyo to wonder if they had some familial relation.
It wasn't until the pair both arrived at the Hikawa Shrine that Ukyo stopped following them. They walked through the gate, and into the courtyard towards the shrine in the center of the temple grounds. Ukyo hid at the gate, watching them until they disappeared behind it.
She considered investigating further, but it was obvious now that Ranma was staying at the temple with Rei and her grandfather. They were either family, or worse yet, engaged. The scheming Genma could have set up something for his son to inherit the temple to take it from Rei. Either way, Ukyo swore to meet with her friend tomorrow and sort it all out. Either way, she needed more information about the situation and the whereabouts of Ranma's father before she made any moves.
Saotome Ranma, enjoy the next few days. They will be your last!
The life of Kuonji Ukyo is not easy as she walks a dangerous line between truth and lies, but now that her past has come back to haunt her, she has to face it once and for all. Nothing, not even one of her archery club friends, can stand in the way of her revenge. Find out what happens in the next chapter of My Love's Flame.