A woman walked alone down the street. She sighed, glancing around her briefly. Short, squat buildings, light out because of the hour, lined the streets.
A light drifting of snow flittered down, most of it melting when it touched the ground. Looking up at the sky, she smiled slightly. Osaka was her home now. Nights like this, seeming almost frozen and magical, helped distance herself from the past.
Frowning at the remembrance of the way things had been, she fingered a shortened strand of hair. The past was gone, and dead. Dredging it up only brought back the bad memories.
Shaking her head, she hurried towards the end of the street, where a lone cafe provided an island of noise and light in the darkness.
A face stopped her cold, and she swallowed nervously. There she was. After all this time… the woman shuddered, and screwed her eyes shut. Not again… not now. She couldn't handle this.
She winced, then opened her eyes and returned levelly, "Tendo-san."
The girl from her past, the one that Ukyou had hoped never to see again, frowned. "It's Saotome, now."
Ukyou nodded, digesting this information. "Oh."
"Would you like to join me for some tea?"
Hesitantly, Ukyou nodded. Running from her past wouldn't solve anything. Strengthening her resolve, she replied, "Of course… Saotome-san."
"Please, Kuonji-san. Just Ranma."
Again We Meet
A Ranma ½ story
by Brian Randall
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ is property of Rumiko Takahashi and Viz video.
Ukyou shifted uneasily. "Ah… It would probably be best if I just kept it to 'Saotome-san.'"
Ranma frowned, then shrugged. "As you wish, Kuonji-san. How have you been? I almost didn't recognize you."
Ukyou glanced down at herself then nodded. "I'm no longer legally a man." She raised her eyes to examine Ranma. "You haven't changed at all."
Ranma glanced down at herself, unconsciously mirroring Ukyou's previous gesture. She eyed her faded jeans and cotton T-shirt, then spoke softly. "It's been… oh, gods, eight years, since I've seen you, Kuonji-san. I have changed. A lot." Ukyou flinched at the pain that carried in her voice,
One hand shaking, Ukyou drew a seat for herself. She sat down, not wanting to reveal how close she was to losing control. "Oh? What happened? I haven't seen you since…" She trailed off then, staring at the table in front of her.
Coughing slightly, Ranma sipped at her tea. "Ah. The announcement for the second wedding, right?"
Ukyou managed a slight nod, eyes remaining planted firmly on the table.
Ranma sighed. "It was stupid, plain and simple."
Ukyou looked up, and quirked an eyebrow. Stupid, how? Had all of Ukyou's angry warnings come true? Had Akane tried to poison Ranma with her cooking? Had everything gone as she had claimed it would? Trembling slightly, she asked, "What happened?"
Shifting uncomfortably, the redhead set her teacup down. "Well," she remarked dryly, "I did bring it up." She furrowed her brow, then nodded. "Right. Well. After the wedding, things more or less calmed down. Kind of. We still fought, but less often. The problem was, she was…" She pursed her lips thoughtfully, then started again, "Well, there was no physical violence, at that point, but… she started hitting below the belt. Verbally." After a hesitant pause, Ranma hung her head. "And I wasn't exactly helping, either. I always used to put my foot in my mouth…"
Ukyou relaxed slightly, finding the conversation easier than she had expected. "I see… then what?"
Ranma grimaced, looking away. "It… went downhill from there. We lasted a few years, and that was because she was at college, while I was dealing with… oh, stuff. You probably heard about it."
The woman couldn't help but smile at that. "'Oh, stuff?' That's just like you. What was it? Another thing like Saffron again?"
Ranma snorted and shook her head, pausing while a waitress brought Ukyou some tea. Once Ukyou had taken a sip, Ranma sighed, began again. "No… things calmed down… a little. There were still the odd training trips, the occasional monster, things like that." Her face darkened. "But between… the two of us, things were falling apart. I… no one was happy with the way things were going, so… I mean, if she wasn't accusing me of something, I was picking on her for something else…"
Biting her lip, Ranma slumped back into her seat, demonstrating none of the cocky teenager that Ukyou had known. After a moment, she sat up and began speaking again, "Anyway. I ended up in China… The, ah, Amazons aren't too keen on me, so I had to go into Jusenkyou the long way."
Ukyou raised an eyebrow. "I've never been there, Saotome-san. You're going to have to explain that."
Ranma frowned, explaining, "Ran into the Musk again. Herb splashed me with that ladle, so I got stuck in girl-form."
The brown haired girl blinked at that, then raised an eyebrow. So that's what had destroyed the relationship? Ranma trapped in girl-form… it would explain a bit.
Ranma shook her head, managing a wry smile. "I know what you're thinking. I asked him to. It's unlocked, now, it's just… it seemed the most… honorable way out of the relationship. I was going to Jusenkyou for a cure, but…"
Ukyou cocked her head to one side. "That… doesn't make much sense."
Ranma waved a hand dismissively. "Bah. The thing is, _I_ don't care about the curse. I'm used to it, really. I was going to try and get the cure because of an argument that Akane and I had, about me not being man enough because of the curse."
Finding herself drawn in, Ukyou sipped her tea, then prompted, "And?"
"Well, I got to thinking about the entire… wedding vow thing… one of the main parts was 'accepting' your partner. And she didn't. So I started really thinking… I spent a while training with Herb… er… with the Musk, then came back." She frowned irritably. "That was about… a year and a half ago. Since you can't legally have two women married, we err… got it negated. Akane was… thrilled. Heh. Got out with honor intact, and could deny it ever happened. I think she probably would have asked for a divorce sooner or later… I came close a few times."
Ukyou sighed, shaking her head. "Things happen, I guess… what about your mom?"
Ranma shrugged, looking away again. "Saw right through me. It seemed like an obvious way out, and she could tell it was just an excuse… Probably Nabiki and Kasumi guessed, too, but they never mentioned it. At that point… Mom approved. Hell, nearly seven years and no kids? She was really looking forward to being a grandmother…"
Ukyou rested one hand on her chin, and took a moment to study Ranma. "Maybe you have changed. You just don't look very different."
The redhead grinned again. "Thanks. I had to grow up a lot… I moved down here to get away from it all. Go some place without memories." She frowned then, as though realizing something. "Maybe I should have paid more attention to what I was saying… So, how about you?"
Ukyou frowned, then shrugged, admitting, "After… our last conversation… I came here, to confront my family."
Ranma bit her lip, then sighed. "Right… about that, Uk… ah, Kuonji-san. Sorry. About that, though… I think I owe you an apology."
Ukyou set her teacup down carefully, feeling tense again. "It… doesn't really matter now. And… It's not Kuonji, anymore."
Ranma smiled slightly, seeming to cheer. "Good for you! Who's the lucky guy?"
Ukyou's teacup crumbled into fragments in her hands. "When I told my father that I wasn't going to live my life as a boy anymore, he disowned me. I've been kicked out of the clan."
For a long moment, Ranma simply stared at the fragments of ceramic, while Ukyou pushed them into a small pile. "Ah. I really do owe you an apology, then."
The brown-haired girl nodded once. "I accept your apology." Grimacing, she turned away. "I'm going to leave now. Farewell, Saotome-san."
Ranma's expression was worried and disappointed. "Ah… ah… right. I'm very sorry… Kuonji-"
"Please, it's Mayoigo Ukyou now." She looked at Ranma, and then turned away, unable to continue, "Goodbye."
Ranma stared at her retreating figure, then shook her head, her voice carrying on the wind, "'Lost child?' Your name is…" She sighed, then stood, leaving some money for the tea and the teacup. "Damn. Screwed up again."
"And then, Mayoigo-san?"
Ukyou remained silent for a long moment, then released a sigh. "It was… hard, Tanaka-sensei. It was very hard for me to restrain myself."
The psychologist was silent for a long moment, only the ticking of a clock indicating the passage of time. After Ukyou counted thirty-four ticks, he spoke, his voice rasping slightly, "But you controlled yourself, right?"
Ukyou nodded, keeping her eyes closed.
"Well, let's take a moment to explore, then. How do you feel now?"
"I… after so long deluding myself of how I felt… I felt hurt. I wanted to hit him, to scream, to…"
"But aside from all of that?"
"I felt tired. Like it just wasn't worth it anymore."
The doctor made a 'hmmm' noise, then there was the sound of a pencil scribbling on a notepad. "Well, that's an improvement, Mayoigo-san. I'm afraid our time is up for the day. I'll see you next week?"
"Of course, Tanaka-sensei."
Tired from the late night session -- the only one she could afford on her meager income -- Ukyou stumbled into her home. She closed the door, then locked and latched it. Sighing slightly, she crossed the single room apartment, and sat in front of her mirror.
It was one of the exercises that she had been taught before.
'What do you see?' the doctor would ask.
Ukyou studied her reflection for a moment, then asked, "What do I see?"
Her reflection stared back at her, unblinking. She had changed from her high school days. From the makeup that she had applied that morning, her pierced ears, her short, styled hair, and the simple green dress that she wore. She frowned, turning to look away. "I see a tired woman. That's all."
In the past, she had seen a young man, forced to be something that he hadn't wanted. But 'he' was gone, and 'she' was still there. It had been a hard path to travel, made harder by the rejection from her father, and the ghosts of her past. But that was gone now, through effort and work she hadn't thought possible.
Letting her eyes drift shut, she collapsed onto her futon, still unrolled from the previous night. How long had it been since she left? Eight years. It had been eight years of trials, growth, and suffering. An employer had suggested the psychologist when he noted her bouts of depression, eight years ago. That was when the healing process had begun… But before that, two years trying to convince… Ranma… and before that, ten years seeking vengeance.
"It's not fair," she whimpered. Grinding the heels of her palms into her closed eyes, she obliterated the tears she could feel forming. "Why now? Why do I have to run into you again, now? I just wanted to get away…"
"Hello! Welcome to… ah… I…"
Ranma blinked at the waitress, then frowned, realizing whom he was confronting. "My apologies, Mayoigo-san. I'll be on my way, then."
Ukyou bit her tongue, and then shook her head. "It's… fine, Saotome-san. I was just about to take a break."
"Ah." Ranma frowned slightly, and avoided looking towards Ukyou. "Thank you, then… Mayoigo-san."
Nodding stiffly, Ukyou turned, and walked away.
"I ran into him again, when I was at work yesterday."
The doctor made one of his characteristic pauses, and then nodded. "I see. And… how did this make you feel?"
Ukyou shrugged helplessly, then sat up and opened her eyes. "You know… I… Nervous. And a little angry. It was like he was following me. I think I handled it pretty well, actually."
"Do you think he's stalking you?"
The woman snorted, shaking her head. "No… Of course not. I'm pretty sure it was a coincidence. But it unnerved me anyway."
Nodding, the doctor continued scribbling his notes. "Ah. Well, I think you've matured a lot over the time I've known you… Ukyou-san."
Ukyou's eyes hardened. "Mayoigo."
"Of course, my apologies… Mayoigo-san. But have you considered, that maybe you need to sever that tie to your past, too?"
Ukyou was silent for a long moment, staring at the clock. After a full minute, she sighed. "No. I haven't found myself yet."
"Oh…" Ukyou blinked, eyeing the figure in front of her that had appeared seemingly from nowhere.
"Ah, sorry Mayoigo-san. I didn't see you there."
"Um. I suppose that might have distracted you." Ukyou scratched her head, noting the slight red stain on the sleeve of Ranma's gray T-shirt. Looking past his arm, she saw a prone form lying on the ground, while a number of police officers warily approached with handcuffs.
Ukyou tore her attention away from the scene, and regarded Ranma, who watched the policemen intently. "What happened here?"
Ranma looked towards Ukyou, seemingly surprised, then shrugged. "He was a drug dealer. This is my job." He sounded almost apologetic. After a moment he added, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bother you, I didn't know you worked at that restaurant…"
Ukyou ignored that for the moment. "You're a police officer?"
Ranma scowled, shaking his head. "Not… well, I suppose. Not really, though. I just help out when they're worried… It's a kind of informal arrangement."
Ukyou nodded, seeing the red stain spread, and darken slightly. "How did he get you?"
The man sighed, running a hand through his close-cropped hair. "He was totally untrained. A novice is more dangerous than a master, on occasion. I read him wrong. He kind of tripped, and I expected him to do something else… it happens sometimes. I'd better get home. Rumi-chan is probably waiting for me."
The woman blinked, hearing a note of fear in Ranma's voice when he mentioned that name. "Oh? Who's 'Rumi-chan'?"
Ranma grimaced, then shuddered violently. After a moment, he settled down, and faced Ukyou in frank seriousness. "My cat."
Ukyou stared at Ranma for a long moment, with the tableau of the drug-dealer being pulled away in front of the backdrop of the police cars in the background, while a full-grown man trembled in fear of his cat before. Unable to restrain herself, she giggled, then laughed, finally ending in a full-blown guffaw.
Irritably rubbing at his arm, Ranma looked away. In a cold tone he announced, "It's not funny."
This sent Ukyou into another paroxysm of laughter. Ranma sighed, and turned away. Seizing control of herself, Ukyou stifled her remaining laughter. "Wait… please, Saotome-san."
Sighing again, Ranma turned towards her. "Yes, Mayoigo-san?"
Ukyou fought down another giggle. "I was on my way home from work. Would you like to join me for some tea, and talk about old times?"
Both of them stared at each other, each wondering why the offer had been made. Ukyou fought back the sudden wave of confusion. Why had she asked him to tea when she had spent so much time getting over wounds he had inflicted? Why indeed?
Ranma hesitated, and then nodded. "Er… yes. I would like to have tea with you… I feel I still owe you an apology…"
Ukyou smiled slightly. She could use a friend right now. "Then you can pay for me."
Ranma made a face, and then nodded. "Just let me give a quick report to the lieutenant."
Sobering quickly, Ukyou glanced back towards the red stain on Ranma's shirt, as a faint trickle of blood slipped below the edge of the cuff.
Ukyou spent a long ten minutes, wondering if she should just run away and avoid the problem, but at the same time… Unable to reconcile herself, she wondered where her anger at Ranma had gone, why she no longer wanted to run from him.
It was as if his presence was…
She cut off her train of thought at Ranma reappeared, the white edge of a bandage peeking below his shirtsleeve. Ukyou smiled slightly, then walked with Ranma towards a teahouse. They maintained a careful distance between each other, speaking of inconsequential things.
When they were seated, and had their tea, Ranma frowned thoughtfully. "Rumi-chan can wait a bit… Ah… Mayoigo-san… I had wanted to apologize."
Ukyou nodded slightly, a slight edge creeping into her voice, "About what?"
Ranma continued staring into his teacup. "Mayoigo-san… I… I feel I have ruined your life. I feel that much of your life would have been improved if not for my, ah… actions."
Ukyou pursed her lips, and then nodded to herself. "So that's why you help the police. You're trying to make amends."
The man nodded, eyes still fixed on his tea. "That's what my, ah… yes. It has been suggested to me before."
Ukyou couldn't help but consider that. From the sound of things, Ranma had visited a psychologist as well. Which might explain why he had a cat. "So 'Rumi-chan'…"
Smirking wryly, Ranma nodded. "Right. To win against that fear…"
There was a moment of silence then. Both suddenly realizing the changes in the other. No longer were they 'Ranchan' and 'Ucchan', they were Saotome Ranma, and Mayoigo Ukyou. It shifted a few gears in Ukyou's thinking. She liked Ranma, and she enjoyed his presence. He was not the boy she had been infatuated with. Nor the child she had sworn vengeance against.
He was an entirely different person, not entirely deserving her wrath. She nodded to herself, thinking that her outlook of Ranma had changed because she recognized that on a level she hadn't realized before. "I… forgive you, Ranma."
Ranma looked up at Ukyou then, and smiled softly. "Thank you, Mayoigo-san."
Ukyou realized her slip, and winced. "Er… that is-"
Waving a hand to dismiss the apology, Ranma admonished, "Mistakes happen, Mayoigo-san. I'm not offended."
The former okonomiyaki chef smirked. "That's… thank you. You've… changed a lot more than I gave you credit for."
Ranma winced, looking away again. "That day was… the anniversary."
No further explanation was needed. Ukyou remembered her involvement with the first wedding attempt, though she had left before the second. And if the first time she had met him in Osaka was the anniversary of his wedding… "Ah."
"Regardless, people change. We were young, when… all of that happened."
Ukyou opened her mouth to respond, but paused, seeing a waitress approach Ranma from behind. Ranma was obviously more skilled than he had been when she had seen him last, but he was oblivious to the woman's presence. Normally he twitched when people approached, so slightly that Ukyou would never have noticed it without her own training in the past.
This time, however… Ukyou frowned, and waited for the waitress to trip. It didn't take long, and the results were predictable. "Maybe things haven't changed too much."
Ukyou smirked as Ranma's clothes loosened. Ranma seemed oblivious, until her bandage slipped down. Glancing at the bloodied gauze, the redhead sighed, "Should have gotten the stretchy stuff."
Shaking her head, and fighting back another giggle, Ukyou sipped at her tea. Once Ranma had re-secured the bandage, the brown haired girl asked, "Do you even notice anymore?"
Ranma shrugged. "Not usually. It's something I've gotten used to, really. It's a curse I deserve."
Ukyou frowned slightly at that, shaking her head. "I wouldn't go that far. I think some others might, but…"
Ranma smiled slightly at that. "Thank you, Mayoigo-san… I have to go now. Rumi-chan really does need her food, and it takes me a while to get the nerve up…"
Ukyou fought back another giggle, her frown forgotten. "Of course. Thank you for the tea, Saotome-san."
They both stood, and Ranma hesitated for a long moment before sighing. "Ah… Mayoigo-san, if I'm not being too forward, I'd like to meet with you again at some point."
Ukyou's mental defenses finally caught up with her, and she balked. While it was true that she didn't feel threatened, was this a step she was willing to take?
She wished desperately she could ask Dr. Tanaka for his advice, but knew that some decisions had to be made on her own. After a moment, she managed, "I… think it's… rather forward of you. But… I would like to have tea with you again at some point."
Ranma smiled, pleased, and then offered a bow. "Thank you, Mayoigo-san."
"I wonder if he likes me."
"Well, Mayoigo-san, I can't really say I would advise this course of action. Isn't this the same man that caused most of your problems in the first place?"
Ukyou had to think about that for a long time before she could answer. "I don't know…" Was he? Wasn't his father, more than him? And then… to a certain extent… herself?
"Ah, Saotome-san!" Ukyou frowned, observing the odd note of pleasure in her voice, then shook it off. "I trust you've been well?"
Ranma nodded absently, staring out the view. "I'm sorry, Mayoigo-san. I'm just a little out of it today. Have you been well yourself?"
Ukyou smiled. "Yes, Saotome-san. How has your job been?"
The man winced, then sighed, looking away. "One of my coworkers was injured last night."
That killed her slowly cultivating festive mood, and Ukyou swallowed nervously. "Is… is he going to be alright?"
Ranma nodded again, then turned to face Ukyou. "He should be fine, Mayoigo-san. It just reminded me of something a long time ago." He sighed, and rubbed at his face for a moment. "Maybe we should meet some other time."
Ukyou nodded slowly. "Ah… I'm sorry… Ranma."
Ranma blinked, only staring for a long moment before he smiled at her. "Thank you… Mayoigo… Ukyou. Thank you."
The woman shifted her feet, and then smiled back. "It's good to see you smile again. Should we meet again… next week?"
"I think I'm falling in love with him again."
"Now, Mayoigo-san, that's exactly the reason I warned against getting involved with him in the first place. Can you trust yourself? Is it truly 'love' or is it just a return of your infatuation? Obsession is not love."
Ukyou didn't have an answer to that. But was it truly obsession? Certainly, it hadn't been healthy, but…
"Hello, Uky… ah. Mayoigo-san. Sorry."
"No, Ranma… it's fine. But… I…" she trailed off, turning away. "I don't think we should see each other anymore."
Ranma frowned at that, and then nodded stiffly. "The past is hard to put behind us. I understand."
Ukyou grimaced, facing Ranma again. "Can you? Do you really?"
The man heaved a sigh, shifting his feet uncomfortably. "Maybe. Maybe not. I like to think that I can. Will you tell me?"
The woman hesitated, and then nodded. "You deserve to know that… I think I'm… developing feelings for you."
Ranma nodded slowly, frowning. "Ah."
Shaking her head, Ukyou continued, "I might not be, though. I'm not sure I trust myself. You see… I… when we were… in Nerima… I didn't understand it then, but I… I don't know if loved you, or if it was just the… obsession… I carried around with me, because… you remember." She sighed brokenly, looking away, and wiping at the tears forming in her eyes.
Ranma nodded solemnly. "I do."
"And… I think that this may be the resurgence of that… obsession… not a real feeling. And more importantly, I don't know that you can care for me back, even if it is real."
Staring at his feet, Ranma nodded once more. "I see. I… do care for you, Ukyou. You're a dear friend to me."
Ukyou remained silent for a time, then asked, "And is that all?"
Ranma stared directly into Ukyou's eyes, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth. "That's up to you."
"I've made my choice, Tanaka-sensei."
"Well, I'm sorry to hear that. I don't think that you should be doing this… but it is your choice."
"True. And it's not the same relationship. He's not the same person, not at all. He's changed, and so have I. Neither of us planned on this, but… I have to put that all behind me."
"Of course. I wish you luck then, Mayoigo-san."
"Thank you… but it's not 'Mayoigo' any more."
"It's 'Kentou,' now."
Author's notes: 05/14/01 -- revision
This was my attempt at a Ranma/Ukyou story; only I was aiming for something a tad more mature than my norm. I hope I succeeded.
Special thanks to Ginrai for his C&C on this fic!
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