A Ranma ½ story
by Brian Randall
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ is property of Rumiko Takahashi and Viz video, and Project A-ko was borrowed from Soeishinsha Co., Ltd. and U.S. Manga Corps.
Author's notes: Something of an alt for both, with changes becoming evident as appropriate. Assume that Ranma is as canon, with the exception of his memories, and keep in mind that the events in Project: A-ko part one have not yet happened (with the exception of Shiiko arriving, which happened about 16 years ago). And a little tweaking to move the Eiko timeline back about thirty years to be even with Ranma's. The intro was just the setup — the actual divergence for Ranma takes place in volume 11. So here it is!
Chapter One: Stones on the Precipice
"Okay, Megami-san, smile for the camera!"
Eiko blinked, then smiled brightly, looking at the photographer.
"Great!" he enthused, snapping a few quick shots of her and her parents. "I think we'll use the picture of you and your family for the article." He lowered the camera and began fiddling with it and nodding absently, while Eiko's parents traded a concerned glance.
Eiko shrugged it off, glancing around the grassy lawn surrounding the civic center. "Don't worry, Mom," she said. "If they don't use our picture, I'm not worried. There's lots of other families moving to Graviton City with us, right?" As she watched, another family group that had gathered on the lawn to listen to the press releases about the new city began to drift away, undoubtedly towards their home.
Her mother nodded, relaxing slightly and adjusting her spectacles. Of course, her parents had decided to move to Graviton City some time ago. They just hadn't gotten around to moving, yet. "That's true, dear… Oh, isn't that your friend, Shiiko?"
The redhead smiled slightly at that, looking over to where her friend was jumping up and down excitedly, generally making a nuisance of herself. Exasperated, the photographer snapped a few shots of the blonde girl, then ran away while Shiiko came skipping back towards Eiko. Shiiko had come from nearby Graviton City herself, originally, so it wasn't a big deal to be moving back.
Eiko turned to look at her father for a moment, whose glasses glinted in the sunlight. "Yeah, that's her. Hey, Dad?"
He blinked, turning to look at his daughter in surprise. "Yes, dear?" They had lived in Atsuga, which was something of a staging area for the construction of Graviton City, before they had moved to Sasebo for her father's work.
Eiko glanced back at the quickly approaching Shiiko. "Ah… It's nothing." It had been a long time since she had seriously thought about Ranma, and she was leaving Sasebo… and perhaps, the memories of Ranma behind… With Shiiko around, it was always easier to have fun and let herself relax. Maybe the old wounds were healing after all…
Ranma stood in the living room of the Tendo house, trying to restrain his anger. He had to defeat Happosai; the only cure for the weakness moxibustion was the chart that Happosai had stolen all those years ago.
The pigtailed martial artist took a deep breath, attempting to regain his self-control, as his eyes wildly searched for something to calm him. Happosai, sorting through his boxes of old possessions, and chatting with Kasumi idly. Kasumi, asking the old man if he had anything that he wanted to burn. And there, on the table, Mr. Tendo's discarded newspaper from earlier that morning.
Taking another breath, he focused on the paper, collecting himself, preparing to — Eiko.
He staggered forward a half step, stunned by the picture. <No! It's not Eiko, it's a picture of you, you fool!> he screamed to himself. <It must be you! Pay attention to the old man! Ignore that! Your strength is the most valuable thing you have, and you have to get it back!>
But he couldn't tear his eyes away from the black-and-white picture of the girl on the page of newsprint in front of him. And it wasn't his girl-side, it was her. It was Eiko, because Ranma knew that he had never posed with her parents in cursed form. He hadn't even been cursed when he knew her.
Happosai's voice shattered his trance. "Well, if I don't even remember…" the old man mumbled, folding a piece of paper into an airplane. "… I must not need it." So saying, the grizzled master of the Anything Goes School tossed the paper airplane towards the small fire that Kasumi was tending in the backyard.
Galvanized, Ranma leapt after it, his mind carefully recording what he had seen of the newspaper before he moved into action and storing it for later consideration. He bounced off the old man's head, eliciting a grumble, and snatched the folded chart out of the air, unable to hold in a cry of joy at his success. "Ha! I got it!"
Happosai blinked, then frowned, from his position across the fire. "Got what?"
Ranma unfolded the paper carefully, making doubly sure it was the moxibustion chart, then shook his head, turning away. "Nothing important, old man."
Not fooled by Ranma's attempt to cover up his find, the old man leapt, deftly flinging Ranma into a nearby tree with his pipe, and taking the chart. "Oh ho!" he exclaimed, looking it over again. "This is the chart…" he trailed off, eyeing the boy in front of him speculatively. "So… you want this, eh? Okay, boy. Fight me seriously this time. Let's go!"
Ranma seethed, furious at himself for making such a mistake, and growled, "I'll give you everything I got, you old lecher!" Taking an offensive stance, Ranma scowled in determination. He was going to give this fight his all.
Happosai narrowed his eyes, and gave a tight-lipped smiled. "So be it…"
Ukyou and Akane rushed onto the scene, fresh from the temple where they had learned of the chart in the first place. They had arrived in time to hear the last exchange. Trading a nervous glance while Kasumi stood behind them looking concerned, Akane exclaimed, "Poor, weak Ranma doesn't stand a chance!"
The okonomiyaki chef at her side grumbled, "Not much for fairness, is he?"
Then the fight was on.
Ranma led in with a quick jab towards Happosai's chest, following it with a trio of lightning fast punches towards the old man's face, and complimenting that with a quick side kick to the his legs. The kick wouldn't do much but throw the old man off balance, but it would give him time to prepare another attack if —
The old man stood there, unblinking, as all of Ranma's blows merely nudged him ineffectually. Then he grinned, and whacked Ranma over the head with a lazy overhand blow, knocking him to the ground with a single swing of the pipe.
The boy staggered to his knees, not willing to give up, and the old man knocked him down again, then began to rain blows of his own, which Ranma was powerless to block or deflect.
White-hot points of pain blossomed all over Ranma's body, as the perverted master continued to beat him, while Ranma's own defenses were easily shoved aside. Finally his body gave out, and he collapsed to the ground in a bruised heap.
The old man nonchalantly walked to stand next to the fire, while Ranma weakly pushed himself off the ground. "Not… gonna give up," he wheezed, his bruised ribs giving him aching pains.
The girls behind him took a half step back, stunned and frightened of his tenacity. "I ain't…" he gasped, rising to a kneeling position. Then he froze, staring at the old man.
What could he do? The old man had him beaten, plain and simple. There was no way Ranma could beat him like this, unless… Smiling grimly, he climbed to his feet laboriously, his metabolism already working on restoring his body, and retrieved a bucket of water. All he had to do was… was…
He froze, staring at the bucket in his hands, and suddenly remembering the newspaper he had seen on the table. His eyes tracked across the yard, seeing the paper still there, missed by Kasumi. The three girls in the backyard stared at him expectantly.
Could he do it? Could he splash himself, turn in to her and use her body to distract the old man? It was bad enough and disrespectful when he had thought that she was dead, but to do it when she was alive? What if someone got pictures of him in his girl form, and they somehow got back to her?
Happosai snorted, dangling the paper over the fire. "All you have to do is spend a night in my arms, my lovely little Ranma-chan!"
The quiet, hidden doubts that he had suppressed before attempting to grab the chart returned full force, and he dropped the bucket, staring at the ground and falling to his knees in dismay. In a hoarse voice he whispered, "I lost. I… lost…"
Happosai smiled bemusedly. "Nonsense, boy! I'll give it to you if you just splash yourself, and let me…" he trailed off, as Ranma shook his head.
"No…" the boy rasped. He couldn't. Not even for that. "I can't… Anything else, but…"
Ukyou fought back a smile. There was no way Akane would accept Ranma now, since he was too weak to inherit the dojo — she was sure to get him!
The youngest Tendo raised a hand to her mouth worriedly, unsure of what to do or say — and confused as to why Ranma had given up when it looked like he had had a plan.
Unnoticed by the two still capable martial artists, Happosai dropped the moxibustion chart into the fire. There was a sudden loud 'crack!' and a flash of bright red, followed by an intense wind, and the paper was gone. Ranma's face bore a shocked expression, as he reached a hand out towards the fire — but it was too late. Too late. "No…" he whispered hoarsely. "No…"
The girls snapped their heads around to look, all of them surprised as Happosai frowned at the fire, then shrugged and walked away. Ukyou spared a moment to look at Ranma, concern etched on her face. "Ranchan…" she breathed, pained to see him so distraught. She then regained her presence of mind, and drew her battle spatula, glaring at Happosai intently.
Akane snarled, saying nothing and rolling up her sleeves. Happosai had only enough time to blink in surprise before they reached him.
By the time Ukyou and Akane had regained the presence of mind to stop beating Happosai into a thin paste, Ranma was already gone.
Strolled the streets of Nerima pointlessly, too dejected to even walk on the fence. A casual observer would have noted that his head was bowed and that his pigtail drooped. His normally upright posture was replaced with a slumped and defeated demeanor. He was the very picture of dejection. He couldn't very well have tried to use his girl side's appearances. If it were his body, then he could have, but… it wasn't his body. It was Eiko's. And then… there was the other very obvious problem that he needed to see Eiko again.
He changed direction, wandering aimlessly.
Why did he need to see Eiko? He could just stay… somehow… There might be another way to remove the moxibustion, but… but… Frowning, he raised his hands, and stared at them, coming to a sudden halt on the side of the road. There had to be some kind of cure somewhere… and he'd find it. And Eiko.
His strength, he could feel it inside him, like his entire body was tensed, constantly ready to lash out with his full power. He could feel it, just below his reach, and he was unable to touch it. But… Shouting, he unleashed a 'kiyah!' and smashed his fist into a nearby wall as forcefully as he could.
The air cracked around his fist with the speed of his punch, the force and the power easily enough to shatter the stone wall — then stopped suddenly, as his body spontaneously worked against him. It softened his blow and blunted his ki so that his fist took the brunt of the blow.
He screwed his eyes shut, as pain shot through his fist; unwilling to look, or move his hand. The strike had hurt his hand, and his arms ached with the involuntary muscle force it had taken to fight against him. It hurt his shoulder, and more than that, the failure to break the stone wounded him deeply where it counted. His pride.
Ranma felt a hand on his shoulder, and looked up wearily, fighting back the moisture building at the corners of his eyes. "What?" he snapped, not recognizing the figure through the distortion of unshed tears.
He heard a soft sigh. "Ranma… are you alright?"
The pigtailed boy nodded, looking at his fist as it rested against the wall, the hand already throbbing with dull pain. Dropping his hand from the surface before him, he wiped at his eyes briefly with his free hand before reassessing his benefactor. Comprehension dawned on him suddenly. "Oh… Hey, Tofu-sensei. What's up?"
The doctor shrugged, unusually somber. "Not much," he said after a short, uncomfortable pause. "Why don't you come in and have some tea? You should probably have that hand looked at, anyway."
Blinking, Ranma looked at his hand, still trying to ignore the pain. The entire ridge of his knuckles were going to be one massive bruise, and he had managed to split open two of them in his futile attempt at using force.
Glancing at the wall revealed only a small splatter of blood, and no damage to the stone. Dropping his hands to his sides listlessly, he nodded. "Yeah… I guess… what are you doing here, anyway?"
Tofu shook his head, leading Ranma around the wall. "It's my clinic," he said with a slight shrug. "I heard you shout and came out to see what was going on… I guess this means that you weren't able to find the cure?"
The martial artist drooped visibly, seeming even more depressed. "Yeah… that too," he whispered.
Remaining quiet until Ranma entered the clinic and was seated, holding a cup of tea in his left hand, the doctor asked, "What do you mean, 'that too'?" While waiting for an answer, he retrieved some disinfectant and a bandage, deftly cleaning the small gouges of torn skin, then quickly wrapping the boy's knuckles in gauze.
Sighing, Ranma glanced around the clinic, noting an assortment of mostly empty cardboard boxes scattered about. "You… I dunno… maybe you can help me." The doctor looked up questioningly, then took a seat across from Ranma, dropping the bandaged hand. The boy rubbed the bandage a few times, then managed a wan smile. "Thanks, Tofu-sensei… um… I got this problem…" he trailed off, unsure of how to continue.
Tofu shrugged, asking, "So… what's the problem?"
Ranma stared moodily at one of the cardboard boxes, then took a sip from his teacup. "Um… I knew this girl…"
Tofu smirked, relaxing slightly. "Ah. Girl trouble."
The martial artist scowled, then shook his head. "No, it's not like that. You see… I knew this girl before I met Akane…" he trailed off again, struggling to explain what he hadn't talked to anyone about, anyone at all, in more than a year. He took a slow breath, then sipped at his tea to calm himself. "I knew this girl before I met Akane… and we… I guess… we were kind of dating."
Adjusting his glasses, Tofu nodded, assuming a more somber expression. "Ah… you didn't part on good terms?"
The boy scowled, trembling with barely restrained anger. "Pops told me she died," he spat. He did not notice that he would have crushed his teacup had it not been for the strength sapping moxibustion. "But she didn't… and she… I have to find her…"
Tofu blinked at Ranma's admission, stunned. What kind of parent could do that to their child? He swallowed suddenly, feeling something in his stomach churn unpleasantly at just how much Ranma had already suffered under Genma's 'care.' Perhaps simply firing him after finding out about the neko-ken training wasn't enough. "Oh…" he said softly, wondering what he really could to help Ranma, that wouldn't offend the young man's pride. "That's… that's horrible. I'm sorry."
Ranma nodded absently, digging into his shirt for the folded newspaper article he had stowed there earlier. "This paper says… says that she's moving to Graviton City, and… I think I gotta go find her. Because if Pops told me that she's dead, then she probably thinks I ran out on her, and… and…" He sighed, tracing a finger across the picture of her and her parents. Eiko's parents seemed to look at the camera nervously, while she was smiling at the camera radiantly. Even in black and white, it wasn't hard to imagine her moving to greet him, the smile she had just for him, even more sweet than the one recorded on paper before him…
He smiled back forlornly, tracing his finger lower, to the actual body of the article. "I might have thought it was just someone who looked like her," he said. "But then I saw… I mean, she's got the same name in the article, and I think her father's name was 'Clark', so that matches." He looked up at Tofu, fierce determination burning in his eyes. "I'm gonna find her again, and figure out what's going on… I don't… I don't know what to do about my strength, though."
Tofu stared at Ranma for a long moment, then sighed, drooping slightly, and matching Ranma's earlier demeanor. "I don't know, Ranma… But what are you going to do about… well… Akane?"
Ranma worked his jaw, his mouth opening and closing a few times, but no words emerging, before he groaned, "I… I don't know. I… I want to see Eiko… and if she… well, she's smiling in her picture, so she's probably over me. I guess… I just want to see her to apologize, and maybe say goodbye. I'll… I can't inherit the dojo until I get my strength back, so Akane doesn't matter right now anyway."
The doctor said nothing for a long moment, simply staring at the floor. He doubted Ranma truly wanted this other girl to be over him, but then, who was he to judge? Ranma squinted, but Tofu's eyes were concealed by glare from the light against his glasses, making his expression unreadable. "Well," the doctor said thoughtfully. "I… I'm going to be leaving Nerima… you probably noticed the boxes."
Ranma nodded, glancing at them again.
Sighing, the doctor grimaced, and rubbed at his temples. "Truth of the matter is that I don't make a lot of money here… And rent is a lot cheaper in newer cities than Tokyo."
Frowning, Ranma looked at the doctor, who had not yet raised his head. "So… you can't afford to keep the clinic?" he asked, confusion evident in his voice.
"Well, I can afford it for another month or so, but… I don't get a lot of business, really…" He sighed. "And even though I do get business, I can't… I can't find it in my heart to charge as much as I'd need to in order to make ends meet for much longer."
Ranma set his empty teacup down, his frown deepening.
Tofu continued, unperturbed, "And then there's… there are other factors, too." Ranma winced, thinking of Kasumi. "So I'm packing up my things and moving them into storage for a few months, and… well, I figured I'd just wander around until I found a nice place to settle down that could use a chiropractor."
Ranma snorted, "Don't sell yourself short, Tofu-sensei. You're a pretty damn good doctor."
Tofu raised his head at that, and returned Ranma's own weak smile. "You think so?" he asked.
Rolling his eyes, Ranma nodded. "Of course. Well…" he trailed off, deciding Kasumi was a topic best not mentioned at the present. "Yeah, I really think so."
Tofu smiled, removing his glasses and cleaning them on the sleeves of his gi. "I guess… That's very kind of you, Ranma."
There was a moment of companionable silence between the two for a long moment before reality began to seep back in. "Anyway," Ranma said, shaking his head. "I guess… thanks, Tofu-sensei. It's good to talk with you. I… I should go back to the Tendos to get my stuff, and then be going…"
Tofu coughed, frowning slightly again. "If you wish, Ranma… but…" Ranma raised an eyebrow inquisitively, as Tofu hedged uncertainly. The doctor sighed, "Ah, well. What I was thinking was… rent in Graviton City is probably fairly cheap, since it's a very new city, and… I was thinking of going there."
Ranma blinked a few times, not sure he had heard that correctly. Collecting himself, he asked, "Huh?"
Tofu grinned, and scratched the back of his head. "I was thinking about it a little before, not very seriously… but walking is the cheapest way to travel, and traveling with a friend is always the best way to move around… maybe Graviton City won't be the place for me, but… I'd like to travel with you if that's where you're going." He shrugged, then admitted, "And all things considered, you shouldn't be traveling alone."
The pigtailed martial artist stared, a slow grin forming on his face despite the admonishment that he would need protection. "That… that would be great, I don't think I even want to look at my pop right now, and… Hell, I can get rid of this moxibustion faster with you along… so that sounds great, Tofu-sensei!"
Extending his hand for a western style handshake, the older martial artist resisted the urge to laugh like he hadn't since his college days. "Okay then. Partners?"
Ranma shook Tofu's hand heartily. As heartily as he could, given his body's refusal to use any real strength. Grinning idiotically, he nodded, saying, "Partners, Tofu-sensei. When do you want to leave?"
The doctor considered briefly, then glanced around. "Well," he began thoughtfully. "If you help me pack everything into boxes… I can leave tomorrow morning. But it's 'Tofu,' not 'Tofu-sensei.'"
The boy nodded, grinning again. "Okay… Tofu. I'll help you as much as I can… there's the problem of dealing with things if they happen to be heavy…" he trailed off, expression darkening.
Clicking his tongue, Tofu said, "It shouldn't be a problem. Most of what I haven't packed is papers, and if they're heavy then you can move small amounts of them really quickly, can't you?"
Ranma nodded quickly, and set to work under the doctor's instruction.
"Okay, Ranma. I think we're done. I'm going to call the storage people, and tell them they can let themselves in tomorrow morning. I expect you want to be gone before it gets to be too early?" The doctor looked at Ranma expectantly.
Ranma nodded quickly. "Yeah… I'll go to the Tendo's and… grab my stuff. You mind if I stay here tonight?"
The doctor shrugged, glancing around. "That would work for me, actually. Yeah, why don't you go ahead and do that? You'll be back soon, right?"
Ranma turned away, and stepped out of the door, slowing uncertainly after a moment. He drew to a halt, then winced, turning around. "Um… I don't know if I can carry all my stuff…"
Tofu frowned to consider that. "Oh… that's a good point. I'll make the call and join you, then." The two blinked at each other, then the doctor flushed. "Right. Bad idea. I guess you'll just have to take a few trips to move all your stuff…" He scratched the back of his head nervously.
Ranma frowned, considering that, and nodded. "Um… I guess I'll only take what I can carry, then."
The doctor shook his head. "No, bring everything. What we don't take with us can be put into storage. I have an empty box or two."
The boy brightened at that. "Good idea, Tofu. I'll be back in a few minutes… a couple of times, I guess."
Smirking, Tofu closed the door and moved to the phone. "I haven't felt this good in a long time," he commented to himself. "A training trip is just the thing…" Trapping the phone between his shoulder and his ear awkwardly, he shuffled through the box of items he had chosen to take with him, his eyes lingering briefly on an old shiatsu manual. He dropped the phone in surprise, and picked up the book, considering. "Well now… That might work…"
Smiling to himself, he added the book to the stack of things he had decided to take with him, then picked up the phone again.
Genma considered his options briefly, then came to one conclusion. Ranma would have to be cured, somehow.
Maybe a harsh training regimen, or a journey to China for an ancient moxibustion expert, or even another wishing sword like the one that Kuno had found. There had to be some answer, and he was… he was… he was going to wonder why his son's possessions were all missing.
The man stared for a moment unhappily, wondering where the boy had gone. He had to have gone somewhere… but where? He crossed his arms over his chest to contemplate.
Grimacing, he gathered his own possessions together, then slipped out. There were only a few places that Ranma could go. He was confident that he'd find Ranma quickly enough.
"Father! Come quick! Ranma and Saotome-san, they're—"
On his feet in an instant, Soun dashed upstairs, throwing open the door to the guest bedroom as though he had some hope that Kasumi was somehow wrong, already knowing what she was going to say. His eyes widened, seeing the empty room. "Gone!" he exclaimed, shocked.
Kasumi nervously drew in on herself, then sighed, "They must have packed up and slipped out last night."
Nabiki nodded, frowning. "It was probably too awkward for them to stay…"
The eldest Tendo sister returned Nabiki's nod solemnly. "Yes, with Ranma being too weak to take over the dojo and all…"
Soun wept unashamedly, sobbing, "All my dreams!" Nabiki said nothing, simply closing her eyes and tightening her grip on her drink container. Trust her father to not take Akane's feelings into account. She frowned at that, wondering how Akane would react. Nabiki peered at Akane out of the corners of her eyes, curious.
The youngest sister trembled with barely restrained emotion, then shook her head in defiance of the situation. "No…" she whispered. With more force in her voice, she added, "He wouldn't do that! He…" She cut off suddenly, remembering Ranma's expression as he stared at the fire where the chart had disappeared. Would he?
Two travelers wandered down a largely deserted road along a rice-paddy, nodding at the occasional farmer as they passed.
Tofu wore a good-natured smile, despite the fact that he was carrying all of his own equipment, and most of Ranma's. "It's good to be on the road again, isn't it?"
Ranma nodded, his eyes focused on a slim wooden pole he was carrying, practicing spinning it around in one hand, and catching it in the other. Grumbling, he slung the pole over one shoulder, annoyed that he could carry so little. "Yeah, actually… it is good. Thanks, Tofu. I just know that things are going to get better from here… which way you wanna go to get there?"
The doctor pursed his lips thoughtfully. "Hmm… well, Graviton City is in Hokkaido… we can either take the coast, or a more inland route… which would you prefer?"
Ranma hedged uncertainly for a moment, then nodded. "Inland. Coast would probably be faster, but the sights are more interesting inland. Yeah…"
Tofu halted briefly, dropping his pack and removing a well-worn travel map from it. "Okay," he said, pretending not to notice as he dropped his shiatsu manual. "I'd have thought you'd be in a hurry, though. Let's look at our choices for routes."
Ranma wordlessly picked up the book, his eyes skimming across the title before turning to look at the map. Juggling the shiatsu manual in one hand absently, he replied, "Yeah… it would be faster, but there's more training grounds inland, and I'm more familiar with the area." He raised a finger to stab at the map, then paused and looked down to the book he was idly tossing. Tofu watched a smile blossom on Ranma's face, as realization dawned on the boy. "Hey…" he said. "Do you think I could learn some of this?"
Tofu nodded approval. "Oh, yeah, that's simple stuff. You can learn that easily. I guess this means you aren't giving up the Anything Goes style?"
The pigtailed boy slumped. "Well… I'll take what I can get, Tofu… it's not like I can do much." He shook his head abruptly. "I've never really given up. I just need to find a way to get my strength back, or something else I can do…" Shrugging, he added, "Besides, the school specializes in adapting. Just gonna have to do a lot more of that…"
Folding up the map for the moment, Tofu pointed to a nearby tree, easily ten meters away and twenty meters tall. "Do you think you can jump up onto that tree?"
Ranma blinked, and shook his head sadly, staring at the knotted pine tree. "Maybe before I got hit with the ultimate weakness-"
Tofu cut him off, shouting, "CAT!"
When Ranma came to his senses, the doctor was on the road, nineteen meters below him, collapsed to his knees on the road with laughter. "Hey!" Ranma yelled. "What did you do that for!?"
Collecting himself slightly, Tofu explained, "Look! You just jumped up there, didn't you? The moxibustion doesn't make you weak — it just affects how you use your strength. You can't carry a lot of weight, but you can move yourself easily, can't you?"
Ranma scowled, then hopped down from the tree, blinking in surprise. "You're right!" he said, realization sinking in. "And I'm still tough — I could stand to be hit just as much as I used to…" He trailed off, frowning. "But I can't block as well as I used to…"
Tofu waved a hand dismissively. "Details, Ranma. Details. I'm sure you can learn how to fight. But rather than simply search for a cure for the moxibustion, shouldn't you be looking for a way to cope?"
Ranma bowed his head, considering the man's words. After a moment, he nodded. "You're right. Until I can cure it, I should be looking for a way to work around it. And I'm guessing by the way you tossed this shiatsu book out for me, you've got a few ideas, don't you?"
Laughing slightly, Tofu nodded, moving over to lean against the tree, and setting his pack down. "You caught me; I do. Let's stop her for a quick lunch. We've got a few things we can talk about, and we still need to pick out the route we're going to use."
Akane picked at her bento halfheartedly, trying to ignore the part of her mind that was worried about Ranma. Someone stood before her, blocking the sunlight and casting a shadow across her. She looked up, frowning slightly. "Ukyou?"
The okonomiyaki chef nodded, looking around slowly. Crouching to bring herself closer to a level with the seated Akane, she said, "Hey, Akane. What's up with Ranchan? I haven't seen him around today."
Grumbling, Akane set her bento on the ground near her, tossing her chopsticks after it and crossing her arms over her chest. Finding her eyes suddenly moist, she raised her chin slightly. "He…" she began, before a sudden thickness in her voice cut off her explanations.
Ukyou blinked at that, confused. "What?" she asked, worry evident in her voice.
Akane glanced at the taller girl sharply, and snapped out, "I don't know! He's gone!"
The okonomiyaki chef was so stunned that her feet shot out from beneath her, depositing her from her crouching position to a sudden halt on her backside. "Ow…" she murmured, eyes glazing. "I… see… Well… See you around, Akane…" Shaking her head, Ukyou climbed to her feet again, and wandered away, frowning intently.
Akane sighed deeply, torn between worry and anger. Where was Ranma? Was he okay? And what did he think he was doing, leaving without saying goodbye, anyway?
She regained her feet wearily, trudging back to her class. "I know," she mumbled. "I'll visit with Tofu-sensei after class… He's always got good advice."
Cologne paced impatiently. Shampoo would be back in two weeks, but in the meantime, there was a worrisome claim from Mousse that the nearly blind hidden-weapons master had actually defeated Ranma in combat.
This worried her greatly, as she did not want Ranma to be anything less than a desirable mate for her great-granddaughter. She knew better than to expect Ranma to actually come to her for help if there was a problem; she had given him no reason to trust her.
But at the same time… It wouldn't hurt to encourage a little seed of trust. If he was in trouble, she could teach him a new technique, or help him some other way. Something to foster the boy's attention, and maybe to a small degree, respect. She nodded decisively, <Right. I'll find out where the boy's gone off to, and then find out what's going on.>
She glanced out to the dining area, where Mousse was sullenly wiping down an empty table. "Mr. Part-Time!" she snapped.
His head whipped around quickly, and he glared at a nearby light fixture with undisguised malice. "What?" he responded, managing to soften his tone just enough to avoid the elder's cane.
Cologne rolled her eyes. "I'm closing the restaurant for a few days," she explained. "Keep the shop closed, and do whatever you feel like with your time." She waved a finger at him in warning. "I expect you to behave yourself, though."
With that, she pogoed up the stairs to gather a few things, leaving Mousse to boggle at the same light fixture in confusion.
Ukyou shadowed Akane carefully. She had thought that Ranma would realize that his best choice was to go to her, but there was no sign of him at the restaurant, and she was afraid that he might have done something… reckless.
So she shadowed the youngest Tendo, suspecting that Akane might have somehow hidden Ranma somewhere. <Okay,> she reasoned to herself. <That's not too likely. But she might know more about what's really going on.>
Akane perked up slightly after school let out, taking a slight detour from the route to the Tendo home, to visit a nearby clinic. Ukyou frowned at that. Was Ranma in trouble?
She hopped into the branches of a nearby tree to observe, noting a large truck and a pair of men moving boxes out of the clinic. She frowned, seeing Akane gape at the men, and lean against a nearby utility pole for support.
After a few minutes, one of the men took a last crate out of the building, and shut the door behind him. He said something in a quiet voice that Ukyou couldn't quite make out, to Akane, then smiled as she murmured a response.
The two men finished packing the truck and it lurched to a start jerkily, the engine stalling once before the embarrassed driver went easier on the clutch. Akane watched it roll slowly out of sight, navigating the narrow and seldom used streets of the district before turning her attention back to the clinic.
Hesitantly, she stepped forward, her hand brushing aside the 'This building for rent! Call Bosabosa Kyoutaku for details!' sign, and testing the door. The movers had left it unlatched, and she opened it, stepping inside gingerly.
Heaving an agitated sigh, Ukyou dropped any pretences of being sneaky, and hopped down from the tree, trotting quickly across the once again quiet street to the clinic's entrance. She wasn't sure what was going on here, but it looked like Akane was just as much in the dark as she was.
The Tendo girl was staring around the empty interior of the building, seeming slightly dazed. Ukyou cleared her throat, and Akane's slack and confused expression shifted to annoyance as she spun to face the other girl, coming to rest in a defensive posture. "What are you doing here?" she demanded of the okonomiyaki chef.
Ukyou took a half-step back, raising her hand in a warding gesture. "Whoa," she said. "Calm down there, Akane. I was just going to ask you if you had found anything out about Ranchan yet."
The girl wilted visibly, dropping to a more relaxed stance and shrugging helplessly. "Nope… I don't know anything at all, and Tofu-sensei… apparently he left today. No forwarding address, or anything…" she trailed off miserably, staring at the floor.
Ukyou looked around, seeing that the clinic had been largely stripped bare. "I don't know… do you think his leaving had anything to do with Ranma?"
Akane lost some of her depression, devoting her attention to thinking about things clearly. "Well…" she said slowly. "Mr. Saotome lost his job with Tofu-sensei after the cat-fist training, but… I know that Tofu-sensei thinks highly of Ranma, but… Wait… you think he left with Ranma?"
Ukyou paled suddenly, and pointed to a discarded newspaper. "He might have…" she murmured.
Akane picked it up, her eyes widening in surprise. "It's Ranma!" she exclaimed, quickly scanning through the article. "Tofu must really have left with Ranma! The article doesn't say anything about him, though… just some girl and her family moving to Graviton… City…" She slumped, letting the paper drift to the floor. "It's even circled in red ink… Oh… how the heck am I going to get to Hokkaido, anyway?"
Ukyou blinked at that, then frowned thoughtfully. "Hm… looks like I'm going to have to be moving, then… Sorry, Akane. I have to get back to my shop and close up."
Akane did not mistake the finality of Ukyou's meaning of 'close.' She called out as Ukyou turned towards the door, "Wait!"
The okonomiyaki chef turned around for a minute, surprised. "Yeah?"
Licking her lips, Akane asked, "Are you going to chase after him?"
Ukyou gave a dazzling smile, one that she had been saving for Ranma, and responded, "You betcha!" Winking at Akane, the girl spun around again and disappeared out the door.
Akane frowned, then studied the paper again. "Daddy's not going to like this… but if she's going, then I'm certainly following him… someone has to keep him out of trouble…" She marched towards the doorway after collecting the scrap of newspaper, pausing as a sudden thought struck her. "Did Tofu-sensei follow him to keep him out of trouble?"
She shrugged to herself, then began jogging home, not noticing as a few black rose petals drifted across the seemingly deserted road behind her.
Scratching his scalp in irritation, Rounoutou Sohai pushed back his straw hat, allowing a little more light to spill across the photographs before him. He shook his head, then blinked, brushing an unruly clump of brown hair out of his eyes. "Yeah. Seen that girl there, the redhead. She was with some guy, and they were talking about training or something. They looked a little roughed up. I heard there's some hooligans 'round the way back you and they all come up from, so they must have tangled together. Why? They relations of yours?"
Genma shook his head, taking back the pictures. "What did the man look like?" he asked, ignoring the farmer's question.
The farmer shook his head again, shrugging widely and scratching a tattered corner of his work clothes. "Don't remember. About so tall, dark hair. Had a pair of glasses too, I think. 'Bout all I can remember." After a moment, he added, "Dressed like us, not like the China girl, there."
Heaving a sigh of relief, Genma sketched a quick bow to the farmer, and trotted off down the road. Sohai grumbled as the man stomped his way down the road. "Not so much as a 'thank you.' Oh well." He turned back to walking the perimeter of the rice paddy, largely dismissing the incident.
Akane explained the situation to her father. "Ranma's gone to Hokkaido; I'm going after him."
Soun frowned, trying to maintain a level head. Crying wouldn't do anything, since it seemed to have a lot more impact on Ranma than it ever had on his daughters. "I see… how are you going to get there?"
Shrugging offhandedly, Akane sank to a seat across from her father, where he was idly fingering the shogi board. "I have some money saved up… I'll take the train. But… I'm going to find him. And find out what's going on. I'm sure I'll get this figured out, somehow."
The Tendo patriarch frowned unhappily, displeased with the prospect of his youngest daughter traveling so far away on her own. He objected quickly, "Akane! I can't let you go off on your own like that, it's too risky!"
Akane scowled, then shook her head. "Daddy, I'm going after him. He's going to some place called Graviton City… And I'm going to find out why he left."
Soun grimaced, knowing that his daughter was not in a mood to be argued with. "Akane…" he pleaded. "Who's going to take care of you when you're out traveling? What if something happens?"
A new voice made itself known. "I'll take care of her, Tendo-san."
Blinking, Soun turned to face the newcomer, leaning against the doorjamb. His eyes took in Ryouga's clothing, and the dirt of several days of hard travel. "Er…" he managed uneasily, remembering Ryouga's curse.
Akane took advantage of the opportunity that had presented itself. "Look, Daddy, Ryouga will come with me and help me find Ranma. What could possibly go wrong?"
Soun bit his tongue, then nodded. "Very well, then…"
Cologne had devious ways of collecting information, and was not afraid to employ them.
Looking furtively down the street to check for anyone who might have observed her coming, she smiled slowly. Seeing no one to be wary of, she strolled forwards, checking the 'wa' of the house as she approached.
Everything was in balance. <Good,> she thought to herself. <This should be easy.> She paused for a moment, making sure that the bowls of ramen she was carrying were still intact, then knocked on the door.
Kasumi answered a moment later, seeming completely unfazed by Amazon matriarch's arrival. "Hello! Can I help you?"
Cologne smiled pleasantly — a mean feat, all things considered — and nodded. "Certainly," she said in her most soothing and tranquil tone. <Amazon information gathering technique!> "I just thought it would be nice to stop by and have another chat with you. It's been so long since we've talked about all the children."
Never mind the fact that comparable to Cologne, Kasumi was still a child herself — Cologne was setting her above them and asking to speak to her on the level. That had to count for a lot. Kasumi smiled brightly, gesturing the older woman inside. "Please, come and have a seat, then. I'll make up some of that tea you left for us last time!"
Cologne nodded again and paced inside, setting the bowls of soup on the table while Kasumi padded noiselessly into the kitchen. <Homemakers gossip technique!> Kasumi thought to herself while carefully preparing the tea service. "It's been a long while since you've come by to chat. How is your great-granddaughter doing?"
The old woman, already lulled into thinking she had won, scrambled to the defensive, realizing that her opponent was more skilled than she had thought.
It was going to be a long and vicious battle.
Winded, tired, and victorious, Cologne gathered up the ramen bowls, bowed politely to Kasumi, and then bolted for her restaurant. The most unnerving thing about the situation was the nagging feeling that Kasumi had let her win the information she had recovered.
<Regardless,> she thought to herself. <Son-in-law has been affected by the ultimate weakness moxibustion.> She scowled at that, taking to the rooftops without conscious thought. <I'd better find him before he gives into despair or manages to get hurt… Hokkaido, hmm?>
She lit upon the street before the Nekohanten, flowing inside and hopping up to an empty table as she paused to consider. Mousse was already gone, doubtless on some fool's errand or another, but… <I should probably get to Graviton City… Now, to alert Shampoo while leaving Mousse in the dark.>
Nodding decisively, she hopped off the table and behind to restaurant to her room, where she swiftly began to pack. <I'll find you, Son-in-law. Heavens know that you're going to need help staying out of trouble as is.>
Happosai was a problem to be dealt with later. Cologne was not pleased that the chart containing the cure for the moxibustion point was destroyed, but it just made finding and taking care of Ranma that much more urgent.
After two weeks of preparation, the young okonomiyaki chef was finally on her way, ready to be united with her fiancé.
Ukyou frowned, eyeing her fellow passengers dubiously. The fact that one of them was a girl of about her own age, wearing a slightly too large 'Fairy Princess Minky Momo' T-shirt, holding a small pig wearing an interesting tiger-striped yellow bandanna as a collar, and muttering dire imprecations about a certain pigtailed martial artist was enough to irk her somewhat. Clearing her throat noisily, Ukyou managed to get Akane's attention. "So," she began. "Chasing after Ranchan?"
Akane blushed at that, and her face colored angrily. "Ukyou! I- I'm not looking after that… jerk," she said, her voice not carrying half the conviction she was searching for. "I'm just… Just want to make sure he's okay. That's all."
Ukyou shook her head slowly, eyeing the suspiciously happy piglet with distaste. She was firmly of the opinion that pork belonged on okonomiyaki, not laps. "So… coincidence that we end up on the same train, right?"
Akane nodded, then sighed. "I wish Ryouga hadn't gotten lost before we left, though."
The okonomiyaki chef raised an eyebrow. "Oh?" She had stayed up too late the previous night mothballing the Ucchan's, on the off chance that she would be returning instead of moving to Graviton City. The end result was that she was too tired to capitalize on the situation and ask if Akane were dating Ryouga.
The youngest Tendo girl nodded, then sighed. "What do you suppose Ranma's doing right now?"
Ukyou shrugged, confessing, "No clue. Hopefully thinking of me…" <Then again… why didn't he try and talk to me before he disappeared?>
She closed her eyes and settled back into her seat, not noticing as Akane frowned at her.
Tofu lay back against his bedroll, staring up at the dazzling array of stars as they glittered above him. The fire was banked, and he could sense Ranma lying on the opposite side of its ebbing glow. "Hey, Ranma?" he asked.
After a moment, Ranma responded, his voice tired, "Yeah, Tofu?"
"Just wondering… what are you going to do once you find this girl?"
"Eiko." Ranma's voice was more alert, though Tofu could sense that the boy hadn't moved. "I… I'm going to apologize for making her think that I left her. I don't know… I'll… I'll see after that."
Tofu sighed, closing his eyes and relaxing in the cool night air. "Okay. What are you going to do in Graviton City?"
"What do you mean?" Ranma's sounded confused.
"Well…" Tofu began hesitantly, still staring upwards. "What are you going to do for a place to live once you get there? What are you going to do for food and money?"
After a hesitant moment, Ranma responded. "I… can get a job as a waiter somewhere, I'm sure. I've done it before. Rent should be cheaper there than in Tokyo, and if it's not… I can camp somewhere until I've got enough money saved up."
As he noted that the boy had not included the doctor in his plans, Tofu's respect for Ranma increased a notch. <He's really planning on doing something, regardless of whether or not anyone's going to help him… but I can't just abandon him. Even if he is fairly mature, he's just a boy.>
He mulled that over for a long moment, considering. <But should I take care of him on my own? It's a lot of responsibility for someone who can barely survive in Tokyo as it is, and I'm not even sure I want to settle in Graviton City…> He thought about that, as a realization struck him. <And does he really want my help?>
Frowning, he pondered for a long while before finally lapsing into restfulness.
Genma leaned against the railing on the upper deck of the ferry as it passed towards Hokkaido. <The boy has to be near,> he thought. <I know I'm getting closer.>
On the deck immediately beneath him, concealed by a hanging life raft, Akane drummed her fingers against another railing, looking towards Hokkaido in the distance, as it ever so slowly drew nearer. <Ranma… I'll find you…>
Behind her, leaning against the wall of the passenger compartments unconcernedly, Ukyou plotted. <First things first. Since Akane's coming, too… I have to claim Ranchan as soon as I see him.> She nodded to herself, smiling slightly and firming her resolve. <Soon as I see him, I'll let him know who really loves him.>
Further down the deck, unbeknownst to either of them, Ryouga watched Akane raptly, noting the way the sea breeze ruffled her hair, and the sunlight reflecting off of the sea gave her an almost unearthly beauty. He stepped forward hesitantly, then bolstered his courage. <I'm going to tell her. Ranma doesn't have a chance now that he's abandoned her, and he's too weak to inherit the dojo anyway. I'm going to say it.> He took another step towards the girls, then opened his mouth, and for once, the words came without any trouble, "Bweee!"
The two girls turned to look, while P-chan could only look stupefied. Akane rolled her eyes, and picked up Ryouga's sea-soaked clothing, then grabbed up the piglet himself. "Honestly," she grumbled. "You'd think that P-chan would know better than to drag Ryouga's clothes out here all the time."
Ukyou frowned at that, then shrugged. "Maybe. You seem to like the guy, right?"
While the two girls talked, another observed the approaching landmass from the opposite side of the ship, contemplating her own future. <My dearest Ranma-sama will have to realize that only I am loyal enough to follow him this far. Then he will take me away to live in wedded bliss…>
And below all of them, in the ballast compartment, an older man snickered to his young friend, "You were right Ranma, this is kind of fun."
The boy crouching near him in the darkness snorted, "Just 'cause we can swim to China doesn't mean that we have to do it again. It's not as fast this way, but it's really tiring."
Tofu blinked at that. "Not as fast? We?"
"Sure!" Ranma chirped. "Me and Pops got from Jusenkyou to Nerima in only two weeks."
The doctor reeled, stunned. He had known that Ranma was capable of some impressive things before, but… "Wow…"
And at the very top of the ship, seated comfortably just below the radar, an old woman frowned. <I sense that something very odd is happening here…>
Ranma carefully modulated his ki and his focus, mimicking the doctor's 'you don't need to notice me' trick. Tofu would have nodded in approval, had he not been so busy not being important. The two stood near each other in the press of passengers waiting to disembark, too wrapped up in their own unimportance to notice the trio of teenagers that were likewise not noticing them.
There was no practical reason to be using the trick beyond the fact that they didn't have tickets, but that was as good a reason as any.
Cologne slipped out above them, bounding off a mooring line and off to the docks without being seen. At the same time, she was vaguely aware that someone was behind her, and hiding. Still, she didn't have time to worry about that, as she needed to take the train from Tomokomai towards Atsuga, and there, Graviton City.
Once clear of the stream of passengers, Ranma dropped the trick, sensing a headache forming. Tofu had shadowed him, and the older man smirked. "Good job, Ranma… Didn't think you'd be able to pick it up that fast."
Ranma grinned cockily, boasting, "I can learn darn near anything I set my mind to, Tofu. Tell ya what, though. As much as I'd like to hurry, let's find some place to pick up something to eat 'fore we go. It's probably gonna be cheaper than getting food on the train."
Tofu nodded, pulling a schedule out of his pocket, then examining it. "Right, then… we've got about an hour and twenty minutes before the train we're going to want to take, since the next one leaves in… ten minutes, and it'll probably take us longer to find something decent."
Frowning slightly, Ranma nodded, already sniffing the air for something to pique his interest.
Ukyou grumbled, then finally gave up. "Look, much as I'd like to help you two out, I've got to take the next train. I'll see you later, but the next train's not for more than another hour, so you'd better hurry."
Akane grumbled, hiding her glower towards Ryouga. "We'd be at the train station much faster if you didn't keep getting lost."
Flushing and realizing that this, at least, was not something he could blame Ranma for, Ryouga bowed his head. "I'm sorry," he mumbled.
Akane shook her head and turned away, trotting after the retreating form of Ukyou as she moved towards the train station, passing a small yattai where a pair of traveling martial artists on their way to Graviton City patiently waited for their meals.
Forty minutes later, after Ranma had generously dipped into his own meager savings to pay for the both of them, "The least I can do after all you've done for me," the younger martial artist had insisted, Tofu patted his stomach contentedly.
Turning towards Ranma as he leisurely strolled in the direction of the train station, Tofu asked, "So… you still have enough for the train?"
Ranma waved a hand dismissively, explaining, "I do… barely. But that's not a big deal. See… Pops would steal or sneak from pretty much anyone. I don't like to do that at all, but if I gotta do it, I'll make sure it hurts as few people as possible."
Tofu nodded, a glimmering of understanding forming. "So… you're not hurting anyone by sneaking onto a ferry like the one we used, but you might hurt someone by stealing from their personal yattai?"
Ranma fidgeted for a moment, his cocky demeanor failing him. "Well…" he began. "It's… it's a karma thing, you know? And when we were on a ship, normally I try and find a way to help out… it's harder now that I don't have my strength, but…" he trailed off, frowning.
The doctor smirked. "I think I understand, though. It's wrong, but if you have to do wrong, make it the smallest wrong that you can?"
Ranma deflated at that, muttering, "Yeah… but it's still wrong."
Tofu patted Ranma on the shoulder companionably. "I left some money in the suggestion box on board the ship anyway."
Coloring brightly, Ranma scratched at the back of his head. "Oh," he said in a small voice.
Waving a hand dismissively, Tofu turned towards the train. "I think of it as training. And it's kind of fun. So, where's the ballast compartment on the train?"
Ranma regained some of his excitement. "Well, it's more dangerous than the ship, but it's pretty fun, if you're brave."
"How's that work?" Tofu asked, a small knot of worry forming in his gut.
Ranma's cocky grin resurfaced, giving the doctor cause to worry about the odds of keeping his lunch down. "We jump on the roof as it's leaving."
Tofu swallowed nervously. "Oh," he said, adopting the small voice Ranma had used earlier. "I thought that might be it."
Eiko groaned, settling into another hot shower. A bath would have been nice, but for whatever reason, her parents thought that showers were better.
Grumbling to herself, she reflected on the latest indignity of her life — something called the 'spinner machine.' The stupid machine had transformed, but then the poor girl who was piloting it couldn’t reach any of the controls! It was ridiculous, and Eiko let her feelings show by disabling it with a single sweep-kick, knocking the contraption down and still managing to show up to class late.
Why couldn't Biiko just leave her alone?
It was annoying enough when Biiko finally noticed that someone had managed to teach her skill to compliment her strength, but that was just opening old wounds, and hadn't put her anymore in the mood to deal with the nasty-tempered girl.
She sighed, trying to lose herself in a moment of warmth and happiness; to forget. Again.
Her hands tightened into fists, and she schooled herself to calmness. <Don't overreact, Eiko. You don't have your bracers on. Calm. Be calm. It's okay…>
Once more she thought about trying to talk about it with her mother, but again, she pushed the thought away. Her mother had some odd ideas about relationships.
Turning off the shower with exaggerated care, she stepped out and began toweling herself off. <I have a bad feeling that something even worse is going to happen tomorrow. I just know it.>
To be continued.
Pre-reader draft completed 03/20/01
Thanks to Corwin for pre-reading for me, and we'll see where we go from here…
Skip-able details: Unimportant stuff that provides some extra info. The majority of the stuff is actually folded into the fic, but if you're curious, I've placed Graviton City on Hokkaido, a few miles west roughly west of Atsuga. Actually that would be in the sea… northwest, then. For those of you who aren't familiar with Japanese geography, Tokyo's on the south side of the middle of the main island, and Hokkaido's the next really big island to the northeast. Sasebo's a middling to large city on the southwest side of Honshu. Honshu being the big island. They never explored it in the manga, but that seemed like a good place for Ranma and Genma to swim to China from. This is only important because Eiko happens to live in Sasebo, and Shiiko lives… well… wherever Eiko is, if she can help it.
Enough nattering. I'd just like to take a moment to curse whatever gods saw fit to drive me to strive for accuracy in a crossover between a parody and a comedy. Okay. That's enough out of me.
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