A Ranma ½ fan fiction story
Disclaimer: Ranma 1/2 characters property of Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video.
Book I: The Mantis Saga
Chapter 6: Mending Wounds…
The day was dark. Clouds shrouded the sun from view, making the sky a dull grey and bringing a melancholy gloom inside of the usually vibrant restaurant. Shampoo sighed wistfully, the only sound in the room besides the faint squeaking of the glasses as she polished them.
She was bored. Very bored. She wanted something to happen… anything. Having lived in Nerima for a year now, she had grown accustomed to the craziness that had become the status quo in these parts, and without such weird events everything became tedious and plain. But with Ranma out of commission, the insanity he attracted died down.
Her browed furrowed at the though of the pigtailed martial artist. Stubborn fool! she thought angrily. Even in the depression that his defeat had brought him, the man simply would not admit he needed help. Why his mother was worried about his manliness was a mystery to Shampoo. Only a man could be so pigheaded. Women had more wits, and that is why they were chosen to lead.
She sighed again, remembering that his pride and stubbornness were why she was so drawn to him. Life was ironic, that what she loved most about him was also what irritated her the most. Stupid Ranma, she thought again, cursing him for making her think this way. Like a milk-hearted outsider, and not the Amazon champion she was.
The door opened, ringing the small bell that hung over the top of the entrance. Shampoo looked up ready to smile warmly and welcome the customer like a good customer. But it was only Mousse, who stuck his head in through the door and looked around, squinting through his thick, jam-jar glasses. When his eyes fell on her, his faced broke into an elated smile. Whipping his glasses off and concealing them within his expansive sleeves, he strode into the restaurant and let the door swing closed behind him.
"Shampoo, my love," he called, leaping towards her and falling flat on his face with a loud crash.
The purple-haired girl giggled joyously. Seeing that had brightened up her dreary day.
Mousse pulled out his spectacles and peered through them, searching for the reason behind his comedic fall. His answer came from his robes, the tail of which had become trapped in the door as it closed. Yanking on the white material, he freed himself and gathered himself to his feet, brushing himself off in an attempt to preserve his little remaining dignity.
Keeping on his glasses so that he could weave in between the tables and chairs, he approached the counter and sat down across from Shampoo, who had resumed polishing glasses.
"Why so quiet?" he asked in the hope of starting a polite conversation with his paramour.
Shampoo shrugged. "Is Monday," she responded. That was the rule in the restaurant business. The shifts got busier as the week progressed, so on Mondays the place was dead, and by Friday and Saturday nights the place was so crowded that there was no room to swing a dead cat. Shampoo shuddered at that thought.
"Where's the old mummy?" he asked, making Shampoo grimace slightly. Withered or not, the old Amazon was still her relative.
"Great-grandmother go to town, see herbalist."
"Oh," Mousse responded intelligently before the room once again fell into an uncomfortable silence.
The two of them both looked up at the ceiling that was the source of the sound. Mousse's eyebrows rose in curiosity while Shampoo cursed under her breath in muttered Mandarin. The only words he caught were <Idiot> and <Man>.
"Saotome is up, then," he remarked bitterly. She said something in response, but it sounded mostly like an annoyed growl.
"Has he done something to you, my love?" Mousse said in a soft, concerned tone. "If he has, I'll…"
Shampoo stemmed the blind boy's rant by whipping her dishcloth into his cheek.
Mousse sullenly rubbed his stinging face with a muted, "Ow."
"Stupid Mousse, Ranma not do anything. He just stubborn fool. Not let Shampoo help dress. Seem like he fall on ass," she explained bitterly.
"THAT BASTARD!" Mousse roared. "HOW DARE HE? I'LL TEAR HIM TO…" He trailed off, blinking rapidly. "Wait a minute, isn't that a good thing?"
Shampoo hit him with her cloth once again and sent him to clean the oven, hoping that it would shut him up. The myopic martial artist stomped off towards the kitchen, pouting beneath his glasses.
"At least he'll be gone by tonight," he murmured.
His comment made Shampoo freeze. It was true. Ranma had stayed with them all of the three days since his battle, and now thanks to Cologne's Amazon salve, his leg was strong enough to support some weight and he had begun to walk with the aid of a crutch. Today was the day he returned to the Tendo dojo, and that very thought made her day darker than any cloud could have tried.
Though his black mood and stubborn, childish behaviour made her hackles rise, she found great comfort and joy in his very presence. Simply knowing that she could see him, talk with him (If it could be called talking, and not just single syllable grunts that sounded vaguely like words). She even watched him sleeping, smoothing the bangs from his eyes as he snored in a loud but endearing way. She even smelt him, breathing in the musky, masculine scent of him as it filled her room. Once again she sighed, this time longingly.
"What ya sighing at, Shampoo?" asked the object of her thoughts, in a polite but downtrodden tone.
Shampoo started at the sudden sound of his voice, but covered it by spinning and turning to him, smiling widely.
"Good morning, Ranma," she chimed.
The boy reciprocated with a hollow grunt, which may have been the word "morning". He hobbled his way through the kitchen into the restaurant, staring glumly at his crutches as he swung them before him to take his weight on each step. Slowly he made his way to the stool Mousse had recently vacated, and bracing one hand upon the counter, swung himself into a comfortable seating position. Folding his arms, he leant upon the table and stared at Shampoo with heavy-lidded eyes.
"You think you could explain why Mousse was giving death glares to a sink when I said hello?" His voice was light, in a half-hearted attempt at humour, which completely missed its mark. Shampoo smiled nonetheless.
"So what were you sighing at?" Ranma asked again.
"Just bored, Shampoo guess."
A long, almost touchable silence hung over them. Ranma became absorbed by his surroundings, staring across the Chinese watercolour paintings and the tapestries lining the walls. Shampoo focussed absently on the glass in her hand, as she polished imaginary smudges and grime away.
"I'd better go," Ranma said finally, gathering his crutches to help him stand. "I don't want to keep them waiting and give Akane another reason to be pissed at me."
"You no want Shampoo cook breakfast?" she asked, praying silently he would stay. She watched his eyes light up, gaining some of their former glow at the prospect of food. But it was only as spark, as the darkness once again clouded his azure irises.
"No, thank you. You've done enough."
"Then Shampoo walk with you," she suggested, clinging desperately for any chance to stay with him.
At this suggestion his eyes darkened like a storm, his brows furrowing as his hackles rose.
"I can walk by myself," he muttered in a dangerously soft tone.
"But…" she began.
"No!" he snapped, then more gently. "No, Shampoo. It would just make Akane mad. I don't need that right now."
He turned, an awkward, laboured motion, and began limping towards the door. He had to clamp a crutch under his armpit and put his weight on the other so that he would have a hand free to open the door, but he managed with a minimum of swaying.
"See ya around, Shampoo. And thanks. Tell the old bag the same," he said, and then left, never looking back once.
Shampoo watched him leave, the glass and cloth hanging forgotten in her hands.
"<Damn you, Ranma Saotome.>"
With the focus her kiai brought to her fist, Akane smashed through the thick concrete slabs, a cloud of dust rising up around her for a moment before she absently waved it away with her other hand. Rising back onto her haunches, she shook away the crumbs of concrete as she withdrew her fist. As part of ingrained ceremony and respect, she bowed to her inanimate opponent, then looked down at her handiwork.
Ranma, you jerk, she thought, the mental words so familiar they came by pure reflex. She remembered his words, his scathing comments as he mocked the art she had worked hard all her life to master. But, said another mental voice, you haven't worked all your life. Her angry grimace dropped into a sad frown at the truth of it. Her father had not taught her the depth of the Tendo style until she was ten; before then, martial arts had been a mysterious and funny thing that left her in awe as she practised simple kata. Ranma had been trained since he could walk, training in the wild in the world before she knew how to close her fist properly. Before she had learnt to kick, he had been thrown into pits of hungry cats. She trained about two hours a day, and then only if she wasn't ill, tired, or too lazy to try. She had watched Ranma train, for twelve hours at a time, and the intensity of his training terrified her. She punched bricks while he thrust his hands into flames. She fought straw men, while he fought boulders and giants. She had not sparred with her father for years, while he regularly fought Genma -- a fighter far beyond Soun's capacity -- with ease.
And it was not just Ranma. Ryoga lived his life almost completely alone, seeking perfection of the art. Who knew what fierce training methods Shampoo had to face to be worthy of being Cologne's heir, and what Mousse had put his self through to be worthy of her. She called herself a martial artist, but now she knew that to them it was just playfighting.
"My son makes you doubt yourself," a soft voice said, startling Akane. Ranma's mother stood in the entrance of the dojo, one hand braced against the shoji doors, the other holding her ever-present katana, freed from its wrapping.
"You should not read too much into Ranma's words. They were ill-spoken and ill-chosen."
"They were still true," Akane said softly.
"No. Ranma is just narrow-minded. He sees very little of worth outside the martial arts that he loves, and has made so many sacrifices for. You should be glad that you have not made those sacrifices. You see the world as it is, while Ranma is blinded by his own ignorance. He has wandered from the warrior's path… if he had ever set foot on it to begin with." Nodoka sighed. "But don't worry. I'll take care of it," she said with a distracted smile, and left, sword in hand.
Mrs. Saotome's words echoed in Akane's mind. How would she take care of it? Nodoka was the personification of prim and proper Japanese ideals. Akane knew that respect was counted very highly on the woman's list of the qualities expected of a 'man amongst men'. For Ranma to insult the school as he had must seem an unforgivable sin, but could she contemplate forcing Ranma to uphold the bargain, to make her only son commit seppuku?
These were the thoughts that clouded Akane's brain as she made her way to the bathroom. Her concern for Ranma's life warred constantly with the anger she felt at being insulted as a martial artist. Her heart was battling her mind, love against passion. Overlaying it all was the question; would Nodoka ask it of her son? That thought was a bitter one, which left a painful hollow in her chest.
Entering the bathroom, she was stunned at what she saw. Ranma. He was here already. He sat on the stool, the steam from the furo condensing on his shirtless chest, as he bent awkwardly, attempting to remove his black pants. He winced frequently as his uncoordinated efforts pulled at his injured leg. A pair of steel crutches leant on the open window, where a broken pitcher indicated his hobbled entry. His forearm was thinly bandaged, the binds ragged and stained a faint green by the herbal salve Cologne had applied to facilitate healing. His eyes snapped up as she entered, darkness clouding his irises.
"Ranma?" she said intelligently after watching him watch her.
"Do you mind?" he grunted. "I'm trying to change."
His adversarial tone and rude words jolted her from her shocked reverie; instinctively she dropped into the familiar pattern of verbal sparring they had endured for so long.
"Well, if you'd just have come through the door like a normal person, you jerk!" she yelled.
"Well, excuse me for wanting a bath first," he retorted. "Unlike some tomboys I know, I don't like being sweaty and smelly."
"Ranma!" she shouted as she advanced, fist raised. Then she stopped mid-swing as she watched Ranma grimace in pain as he pushed himself back on his stool, putting agonising pressure on his injured leg. He barely registered her hesitation as he returned to the painful task of shedding his trousers.
"Do…" she tilted her head. " Do you need some help, Ranma?" she offered.
"I DON'T NEED ANY HELP," he spat, his face growing red and livid.
Akane gasped, shocked by his violent reaction to what seemed like a friendly gesture. Never one to be cowed, she prepared a volley of shouts, but was intercepted by Ranma fixing her with a stern glare.
"Just go, Akane. Get out!" he hissed. "I'm not such an invalid that I can't bathe myself."
Akane turned and left as he had asked, still gaping at the change in Ranma, letting the door close softly behind her, wishing that she could close off the hollow in her heart.
With her hand buried to the wrists in warm water and soap suds, Nodoka Saotome watched the girl chosen as her future daughter-in-law walk past the kitchen door, pain and sadness etched on her face.
"It looks like Ranma's taking a bath," Kasumi observed. Her usual cheer sounded forced as she continued dicing vegetables. The knife moved faster, the blades slicing the carrots with more force.
Nodoka sighed and returned to scrubbing the pots. It seemed as if her son had said something to offend his fiancée again. For the infinite time, she cursed Genma for taking Ranma from her. But that was not his fault. In many ways, Genma had done his job and had made their son a man amongst men. But in other ways, the boy was a hideous disappointment. It was a paradox how Ranma could be everything she wanted her son to be, and everything she had hoped he would never be.
The curse did not matter to Nodoka anymore; the true qualities of a man went deeper than anatomical changes. But the flaws in Ranma's bearing, speech and personality could not be excused so easily. But she would take care of it, as she had told Akane. There was no one else to clean the mess that was Ranma Saotome.
"A child is a blend of his parents. Greater than the sum of his parts, yet wholly dependent on them." Cologne's words, spoken in a voice rasped by age, yet strengthened by wisdom.
It had been after their visit to the Nekohanten, when she had descended the stairs from Shampoo's room, her knuckles white on the sheath of her sword as she walked, not looking back, not wanting to face the shame that she called her son. Genma had walked in front of her, red-faced with anger as he muttered under his breath about "ungrateful brats", and "respect for his teacher". Not as hypocritical a statement as it sounded, as although Genma hated much of what Happosai had put him through, he still respected the old pervert's superior knowledge and the training methods that made him a formidable martial artist.
Akane had stormed off ahead, now invisible but for the red glow of her battle aura on the horizon.
Then she had felt a light touch on her shoulder. She turned to stare into the ancient and withered face of the Amazon matriarch as she perched on her staff.
"Mrs. Saotome, might I speak with you for a moment?" Cologne asked politely.
"Ah yes, Elder Cologne. Please allow me to apologise for burdening you and your restaurant with my son, especially in his current state."
"No need. The boy is headstrong, but nothing I can't handle."
The ancient warrioress pogoed over to one of the restaurant's booths and hopped in, sitting cross-legged on the cushion, with an open hand she gestured for Nodoka to join her. The Saotome woman remained standing, watching Cologne apprehensively.
"I hope this is not about my son and his 'engagement' to your granddaughter," she said politely but firmly.
Cologne smiled, making the flesh on her cheeks appear even more creased and wrinkled. "If I had thought that would work, I would have approached you long ago." The old woman's smile vanished and she fixed Nodoka with a suspicious glare. "No, rather this is about your relationship with your son."
Nodoka recoiled, almost standing from shock. She had not expected this line of inquiry.
"What do you mean?" she asked tersely.
"Your disappointment in him is unfounded."
"He has acted like a spoilt child, and the way he spoke to his father and to his fiancée are justification enough for my shame."
"Then perhaps you should blame yourself."
Nodoka gawped before anger replaced her surprise. "How dare you? Ranma's failings are not my fault! I didn't raise him."
"And by that admission you confess your guilt," Cologne snapped.
Nodoka stood indignantly, staring daggers at the old woman. "I will not sit here and be criticised by a woman who threw her own granddaughter into a cursed spring."
She turned to leave, head held high… Only to have the way barred by Cologne's staff.
"Rich words coming from a woman who carries a katana, ready for the day her own son falls upon his sword." Her words were soft and dangerous. "Now sit… or be sat."
Pride falling before fear, Nodoka did as she was bidden, taking her seat across from the matriarch.
"Thank you," Cologne said in a more normal tone. "You see the flaws, yet grow angry when he finally realises that which may help him change for the better."
"Like all things in life, the raising of a child is a matter of balance. The child is a blend of his parents, greater than the sum of his parts, yet wholly dependent upon them. From Genma, Ranma learnt martial arts, and Genma did his job well." Cologne snorted. "As much as I despise the bald tub of lard, he did train his son to be a truly magnificent fighter. The boy has more skill and more potential than I have ever seen, greater even than Happi's in his youth. But such training must be balanced."
Cologne fixed Nodoka with a sharp, reproachful glare. "That was your job," she said curtly. "As his mother, you had as important a part to play in the upbringing of your child as his father, maybe moreso. When Genma trained his son to be a superb martial artist, from whom was he supposed to learn love or compassion, bravery or temperance? In all of those respects, your husband is a dismal failure. You wished for your son to possess the qualities of a true man, and you expected that fat oaf to teach him? You say your son has no sense of honour? I disagree. He has a very strong and honourable soul. It is his definition of honour that is wrong, tainted by arrogance and selfishness learnt from his father."
Nodoka listened to this and knew she was beaten. Checkmate, her brain conceded. But she refused to go down without a fight. "That may be true, but as you said, my husband taught Ranma to be a great fighter. He should at least be man enough to show respect for his school. But does he? No, he insulted it."
"That is true, and to tell you the truth, I cannot think of a better thing for him to do," Cologne said with a smile.
"You think his disrespect is a good thing?" Nodoka asked dryly, wondering if the woman had gone mad.
"I think it shows that there is still hope. As with addicts, the first step to change is seeing the problem. The previous masters of the school, Genma and Happosai, are both martial geniuses, but both are men with weak spirits and ethics. When Happi founded the school, he was an honourable and powerful martial artist, and his art was respected and feared. But as he aged, he grew more twisted, and through his later influence and that of your husband's, the Anything-Goes School became tainted. They began to slip in sneaky and despicable tricks. That Ranma has finally realised this, that he can see the 'worm in the apple', speaks well for him. It shows that the effects of Genma's teachings have not been total and that the boy can still be shown the true path. It may be too late, but there is still a sliver of hope."
"Hope," Nodoka repeated, now knowing that Cologne had beaten her. That Ranma's failings were her own.
"Yes, if you choose to see it," Cologne said. "Perhaps Ranma could still be your man amongst men."
The word 'man', stirred something in Nodoka and some of her fire returned, as did her suspicion.
"Why do you care if Ranma is a 'man amongst men'?" she asked angrily. "As an Amazon, do you not see men as weak and inferior?"
"Don't be stupid, girl," Cologne snapped. Nodoka frowned at being referred to as 'girl'. "I am offended by the accusation, and by your attitude towards my tribe. I have not lived three hundred years by ignoring the potential of men."
"But I thought…"
"I know exactly what you thought," Cologne broke in. "And you are wrong. Once it was as you said, but I am not as blind as the matriarchs of past, and the warriors who cannot see past petty prejudice. The reason that women have more say in our clan is that of logic, as two thousand years of Amazon history has proven. Men often lack control of their emotions; they are too quick to anger, too blinded by pride. It has taken the touch of a woman — wisdom, compassion and restraint — to ensure our clan's survival, especially during the dark times when the Musk, the Phoenix, and the Joketsuzoku waged war. The qualities that make a good man are the same that make a good woman in our tribe. It is just that men exhibit such qualities rarely. Your son is one of those in whom I see such potential, amongst others. But in the eyes of heaven, both men and women are equal, so I would re-evaluate some of your stereotypes." The ancient matriarch drew herself up proudly, sniffing indignantly.
Nodoka blushed; embarrassed at her own ignorance and the berating she had received from Cologne.
"But what about the way you treat Mousse?" she asked in a meeker tone. "The boy is brave, strong and loyal. Does he not possess the qualities of a man worthy of respect?"
"Indeed he does, and he has my respect." The old woman's mouth tightened and her eyes narrowed in extreme vexation. "But it is extremely difficult to show such respect when he makes such a fool of himself in the way he constantly moons after my granddaughter. It's embarrassing." Cologne blew out a hiss of air in annoyance. "Be that as it may, Mousse is the most impressive male our tribe had produced in three generations. As you have said, his loyalty and determination are worthy of admiration."
She leant forward over the table, smiling proudly. "Did you know the style he uses, the Art of the Hidden Weapon? He invented it himself."
"Really? But he's so young," Nodoka replied, amazed that a teenager could have discovered and entirely new method of martial arts.
"Surprising, is it not? That is the result of Mousse's loyalty to Shampoo. In our tribe, males are taught the unarmed martial arts, as they are forbidden to carry weapons." Nodoka opened her mouth to comment, but Cologne beat her to it. "An old tradition, too old and too deeply ingrained to be changed. However, I have made it so that truly talented males may learn the staff and the sword. However, such a reward is rare. Mousse, although talented, was always held back by his poor eyesight, and so never progressed enough to earn the full training. Or so it was until he got his new triple-strength prescription spectacles and happened past Shampoo one day while she bathed in a nearby spring."
She sighed again. "Do you believe in love at first sight, Mrs. Saotome? I never did until that day. And as much as I hate the idea that the fool's feelings are genuine, the truth is that no one could be so stupid and so embarrassing if he was not truly besotted."
"Since that day, Mousse has become driven by his desire to make Shampoo love him. He knew that she would not even look in his direction unless he was skilled enough to defeat her, and so he threw himself into his training, practising morning, noon and night at the expense of all else. His strength and skill grew, but no one knew of his real talents until I found him late one night. I had been restless that night, unable to sleep due to a powerful aura near the village. I traced it to its source, and there found Mousse, effortlessly moving through a kata with a staff, the weapon moving so fluidly it seemed part of him. Although I was truly impressed by the boy's improvement, it was still forbidden for him to touch a weapon. I may not be fond of the law, but I was still the matriarch and it was my duty to make an example of him. I felt that a small beating would suffice, but then recoiled in shock as he made the staff disappear. It simply was there, and then it was gone, vanishing in the folds of his robe. And without a pause in the flow, he pulled a large sword from his sleeve and began practising with that. To this day I still do not know how he does it, and nor will he share the secret with anyone. I believe it has something to do with creating an envelope in the dimensions of space using his ki, yet I just can't figure out how. The robes are just a cover, a plug over the hole. But I digress. I left Mousse to his own devices, to see how the technique would progress. But the fool revealed himself during one of the male tournaments. Shampoo had been in the audience. In an attempt to impress her, he knocked his opponent unconscious with a Disney character that he had somehow hidden. He just pulled out a black-eared mouse and cracked the boy around the head with it. It took a lot of string-pulling to not have the council exile him, but he was disqualified from the tournament."
"Such a change for the woman he loved. How romantic," Nodoka said absently, wondering when the last time Genma had done anything romantic was. Hmm. When was it? 1972?
"You could say that, but mostly I would say it speaks of his loyalty. To Shampoo and to his tribe, both are unquestioned."
"If his method of gaining Shampoo's affections troubles you, could you not make him change them?" Nodoka asked curiously, wondering how Ranma could be made to change his own ways.
To this, Cologne's reply was laughter. A cackling sound, like the caw of a crow.
"Girl," she breathed out between guffaws. "You misunderstand. You cannot make someone change. You can only show them the path; it is up to them to take the first step… If they desire to."
Nodoka watched her son pick and scowl at his food. She stared at him, and then at the blade of her sword, ignoring Genma's blubbering and cold sweating. It is a mother's duty to raise her son right, she thought. And it is also her duty to resolve the mistake when she fails.
To be continued.
Author's notes: Sorry I don't update more, and I hope none of you have forgotten this story or me. Unfortunately, it's only going to get slower. You see, this September I started university, I am a physics student at Loughborough University (one of the best science schools in England), and you would not believe how much work is involved. So it makes it hard to find time to write, not to mention finding inspiration when surrounded by equations all the time. Nevertheless, I shall endeavour to continue this saga and start on others. As long as I read enough good Ranma fics, and practise my martial arts to keep interested, this story should flow. But still I am sorry I don't write faster, and hope you will continue reading.
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