Three women sat around an image that floated in the air between them. It is not precisely correct to say that they were sisters, for they had no mother or father. Nor were they 'born' of the same source. Nevertheless, they were sisters in a sense that went deeper than normal sibling relationships.
The image they watched was three-dimensional, and had no apparent means by which it was being projected. To another, the phenomenon might have been thought of as inexplicable; but to these three, it was trivial.
On it were displayed the images of many planets, some teeming with life, others cold and dead. Words on the screen indicated various statistics on the planets, and where applicable, the life which they contained. The sisters had watched planets start from the most primitive of ecologies and evolve into galaxy-wide civilizations, only to fall apart and devolve back into their primal state. They had watched this happen many times over. All were on the brink of something great; and all fell because of intrinsic weaknesses.
"This has grown tedious for me," the youngest sister suddenly declared as she brushed a blue lock of hair away from her pink eyes.
"What has?" the middle sister asked, glancing up at her taller sibling, though her spiky red hair nearly made up for the difference in height.
"All of this," she replied, gesturing towards the screen. "This watching, waiting, and hoping, only to have them turn on themselves in the end, over and over again. Indirect influence isn't enough. They are such children that we need to take them by the hand and guide them if they will ever achieve what we want of them."
"What are you planning to do?" the middle asked. She could tell that her younger sister had had a plan already in place, perhaps for quite a while in advance, and had waited for this moment to put it into effect. After their latest setback, this seemed as appropriate a time as any.
"I will descend down to the universe and attempt to guide one of these groups. This planet shall serve as my nexus," the youngest sister said, gesturing to one in the cluster.
"But you will have to limit yourself in order to do that," her older sister pointed out. As great as their powers were, it would be immensely diminished once in other dimensions. Possibly to the point where there was no difference between direct and indirect influences.
"Yes, but there is no choice if our goals are ever to be achieved."
The middle sister thought over this for some time before declaring, "All right, then I will descend as well. My methods are not similar to yours, so I will take another group and guide them as I believe they should be. I will choose this remote planet as my nexus. Perhaps one of us will be able to succeed."
Both turned to face the eldest sister, wanting to hear what she thought of their plans. Some moments passed before she spoke.
"In the end, our goals will be achieved whether we interfere or not. It is only a matter of when. As of now I am inclined to wait and see what will be before taking action. You are free to do as you wish. Though I feel it is not a wise decision, I am curious as to how your experiments will turn out."
The two younger sisters nodded and then vanished.
As she stared at the display, the eldest sister began to smile slightly.
"My Lady?" asked a figure which had just materialized by her side.
"It has begun," she told him, though her eyes never left the image before her.
"Yes, Lady Tokimi," D3 responded.
The images of two planets were now displayed before her. The first would soon be renamed Jurai by its inhabitants, while the other would eventually be known as Earth.
Chapter 1: No Need for Beginnings
A Ranma ½ / Tenchi Muyo! / Sailor Moon Alternate History
Authorized revision by Ginrai
As always, C&C, questions and comments are appreciated.
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ and its characters are property of Rumiko Takahashi. Tenchi Muyo! is the property of Kajishima Masaki. Sailor Moon and its characters are the property of Naoko Takeuchi.
On with the story:
For the second time in two years the Masaki family had been blessed with the birth of a child, a girl whom they named Achika. Katsuhito was more than a little worried, as he cradled little Nodoka, their firstborn, in his arms. His wife had always been strong in spirit, but unfortunately not in body. The doctors were saying how she had been lucky to survive this birth with such a frail constitution. They had even advised abortion, which Katsuhito had found unthinkable. Eventually though, as his wife's health continuously declined, he agreed with them. His faith was strong, but not as strong as the love for his wife.
But in the end, Itsuki Masaki wouldn't hear of it. "The child that grows within me begs for life," she said when hearing his request, "Would you deny her, because of the possibility that she might end mine?"
While she had survived giving birth, Itsuki had been weakened: so much so that for a year afterwards she was bedridden and unable to take care of her daughters. She tried to play with them each day, to be the mother that both deserved, but it exhausted what little strength she had. Katsuhito did his best to keep visits short and low-key so his wife could conserve her strength. Because of this, their mother would always be a distant figure on a bed to Achika and Nodoka.
It wasn't long before Mrs. Masaki was in and out of the hospital every week. Despite having some of the best medical care, her condition only worsened. She spent the final year of her life in the hospital, with Katsuhito making daily visits to be by her side. Her only regret was having her daughters grow up barely knowing their mother.
Only six years after the birth of Achika, Katsuhito became a widower, though he was far from being alone, as the priest had his daughters to keep him company. While around the children, he did his best to hide the pain in his heart from them, not wanting either to feel such a hurt, or worry over their father being distressed.
Nodoka, his oldest, was now eight, and despite being such a tender age, had taken up some of the duties of a mother around the house, such as cooking and cleaning. Achika, even at age six, wanted to help, but her father wouldn't allow it.
Katsuhito had forbidden Achika to work, mainly so he could have her happy and always by his side. Though part of it was because of her age, the main reason for this was that his youngest offspring was the child that more resembled his dead wife and brought him the most comfort to his grief. To see the girl under any sort of pain would be unbearable to him.
Nodoka, on the other hand, mostly resembled his mother. Possibly due to responsibilities left behind that he did not want to be reminded of, the former Jurai prince tended to ignore his elder daughter. As hard as he tried not to allow such a petty reason form a rift between him and his elder daughter, Katsuhito was still only human and thus gave more of his attention towards the younger of the siblings. This was something that he would regret for many years to come.
Little Nodoka did everything she could to get her father's approval, but nothing seemed to work. Nodoka loved Achika dearly, but she sometimes felt jealous of her sister, who got to play with father all the time while she was barely spoken to. After all, she was the one who had taken responsibility for the chores and kept the household working; but Achika, who didn't do any work, was the one father fussed over.
Though she didn't tell either her father or sister, it deeply hurt the young girl and made her feel like she wasn't part of the family.
All she wanted was her father to smile at her the same way he did for her younger sister; to be told by him that he was proud of his oldest daughter.
It was while watching her father in his morning practice one day that she came up with an idea.
"Daddy, can you teach me kendo?" Nodoka asked him right after he had finished his daily kata.
Katsuhito looked a bit startled by the question. "A little girl like yourself doesn't need to learn kendo. You should be practicing girl things instead," he replied, hoping to talk her out of the idea.
"I'm tired of girl stuff! I want to learn kendo!" Nodoka instantly answered back, raising her voice a bit. 'Besides,' she added to herself, 'All that girl stuff never got your attention. At least this way we'll be together for part of the day.'
Katsuhito tried to talk her out of it, but Nodoka was determined to whine until she had her way. The old priest eventually gave in, if just to stop her complaining.
"Our family's sword style is very special and also very secret. You mustn't ever teach this to anyone else without my approval. Is that clear, Nodoka?"
The little girl simply nodded. This was too important for any mistakes to be made; she finally had a chance to have her father's attention.
His voice became grave for what he had to say next. "Nodoka, this is serious. Do you swear on your word of honor _never_ to teach this to anyone else without my approval?"
The seriousness in his voice caused her to contemplate about it, eyes squeezed shut so as to concentrate better, for a few moments before replying, "I swear, Daddy."
Katsuhito nodded solemnly. "Very well. This is how we begin…"
During her first week of middle school, Achika couldn't help but notice that her sister always seemed to do everything alone. Things had changed between them ever since the elder Masaki sister had started school. At one time they were as close as siblings could be, doing everything together, except when Nodoka was doing her chores or practicing with their father. Lately, though, they had grown somewhat distant, rarely talking with each other or doing anything together anymore. Achika thought the reason for this was that Nodoka had made friends at school and that kept her busy. But from what she'd seen so far, that appeared to not be the case.
At lunch, Achika got up from the friends that she had just made and approached her sister, who was eating alone.
"Why don't you come eat with us?" Achika asked her.
"I don't want to," Nodoka replied, not bothering to look up and face her younger sister.
"Just go with your friends, sister," she mumbled in reply while chewing on some rice, signs of jealousy showing up due to the fact that her sister could so easily become friends with others.
Throughout the years Achika had grown to be sweet and gentle, in many ways the very image of their mother, while Nodoka had grown to be as stubborn as their father. That's not to say that Achika didn't have a determined streak in her, however.
She grabbed her sister's hand and said, "You're eating with us whether you like it or not!" With that she started to pull Nodoka towards where her friends were.
'Maybe I was being a bit too harsh towards Achika,' she thought as her sister was taking her further away from where she ate. It was when she was dragged halfway towards her sister's destination that Nodoka laughed and relented. She realized that it was silly of her to be mad at her sister for being so well liked. And she had been a fool for staying away from Achika for so long. 'At least there seems to be time to make up for that and be friends with her again.'
'How did it happen?' Nodoka wondered sadly as she watched Achika and her 'friend' chatting on the other side of the schoolyard. Her sister denied that she and Nobuyuki were anything more than friends, but it was obvious to anyone who was looking how close they really were, as if no one in the world existed but them.
There was no major event that had brought them together, at least as far as Nodoka had noticed, but little by little they had grown closer, spending more and more time together, until Nodoka hardly saw her sister anymore. She was envious, but was it of Nobuyuki for spending time with her sister, or of Achika for having found someone to love?
'Dammit, Nodoka,' she thought, staring at the ground, away from the two friends. 'You knew that sooner or later your sister, with the amount of friends she had, was going to find someone to love. I was just hoping that it would be later… She's moving on. Maybe it's time that you find someone and move on as well…' She sighed at the last thought, whispering in a tone filled with melancholy, "Yeah, easier said than done for someone who's spent more time practicing kendo than ever attempting to socialize."
"Nodoka!" a girl shouted as she ran up to the elder Masaki sister, distracting her from her thoughts.
"What is it?" she asked, glad to have her attention on something else.
"There's a pervert in the locker room! He's stealing our underwear and no one can stop him! Please, you've got to help us!"
Nodoka considered saying no. The girls had all but ignored her for close to three years of high school, but the moment they needed her help, they came running. However, along with kendo, Nodoka had chosen to follow the path of bushido, and so was honor-bound to help those who could not defend themselves. She didn't like the idea of a hentai getting away with anything either, _especially_ one who might be going through her locker. Grabbing a broom as a makeshift weapon, she followed after the girl.
Having reached the locker room, Nodoka didn't expect to see a little old man jumping around like a jackrabbit, a bag filled with bras and panties slung over his shoulder.
With her broom held out in front of her like a bokken, Nodoka shouted, "Stop! What kind of sick old man steals women's underwear?"
Stopping his current activities, he took one look at her and shouted, "Sweeto!" Right away the little pervert hopped off the top of one locker and made a dive for her chest.
Momentarily shocked at his course of action, Nodoka brought up the broom in defense. The old man, to her surprise, easily evaded it and continued on towards his main destination.
The miniature-sized hentai was stopped from his goal at the last moment, when a large fist impacted against his head, sending him flying across the room, knocking into a wall.
Surprised at the turn of events, Nodoka looked ahead and saw a young man standing in front of her. He was about her own age, perhaps a bit older, dressed in a white training gi and with his black hair tied in a loose ponytail. Nodoka noticed that with his glasses he looked like a somewhat older and muscular version of Nobuyuki.
Turning his head around to see if she was okay, he offered Nodoka a somewhat awkward smile, before his expression hardened as his gaze fell upon the old man. "Master, this time you go too far! I… I can't stand idly by and let you molest this girl!"
Getting up onto his tiny feet, the pervert had equally, if not greater, serious look to him. "After all this time, you actually think you're good enough to stand up to me? I'll soon show you the error of your ways!"
The old man cackled as he and his student began to fight in earnest in the middle of the girl's locker room. The other girls started to flee the area of combat, most having first recovered their articles of clothing from the bag, until Nodoka was the only other person who remained, broom still held ready, watching the fight, interested in its outcome.
The ponytailed boy at first tried to take everything slowly, knowing that his master was much faster than him and thus opted to conserve his energy for the attacks. A problem with said logic immediately became apparent as the old man evaded anything within the radius of the boy's attacks while sneaking in a few quick hits of his own, laughing all the while. Frustrated over the ineffectiveness of his tactic, he let go of his initial plan and ran up to his opponent to give a strong kick to the head.
Right before the leg would have struck against his forehead, the old pervert quickly brought up his hand to grab hold of it. Showing strength that belied his age and height, he spun his student around and flung him into the lockers, giving off a loud clanging noise upon contact, temporarily stunning the youth.
The boy, legs sprawled along the floor, tried to get up but to no avail as he found his head hurting when trying to move it. Through his temporally blurry eyes, he was able to see his master basically on top of him, about to deliver what would have been a very painful blow. All of a sudden, the pervert shot out through the window like a rocket.
Shaking his head so as to ease the pain, he looked up in surprise to see Nodoka standing over him, the now broken broom held high and a very satisfied expression on her face. He couldn't help but notice the way the light from an open window danced through her long brown hair.
Nodoka finally took notice of the boy sprawled on the ground in front of her and offered a hand to help him up. He took it and she pulled him up, expecting to be praised and even thanked for having helped him out in his fight. 'And then he can ask me out on a date since I know how to fight. I mean, since he's also a fighter, he'd be a perfect matc… slooowwww down, Nodoka!' Cutting off her thoughts for the time being, she peered back at the boy, waiting for any sort of response.
"You know," the boy finally said, "I really didn't need the help."
Nodoka's jaw dropped slightly. Whatever type of response she expected, _that_ was not it. Feeling a slow burning in her hand that held what remained of the broom, she decided on giving him a minute to explain himself.
Running a hand through his hair, the boy nervously said, not making any sort of eye contact with Nodoka, "But thanks, it made things a whole lot easier." When he heard no response, he gulped and added, hoping that he didn't do anything wrong to make her hate him, "By the way, I'm Genma Saotome. Nice to meet you."
Nodoka, feeling a certain calm return to her, replied with a small smile, "I'm Nodoka Masaki." The smile became mischievous as she asked, "Tell me Saotome-san, do you always hang around women's locker rooms?"
Genma suddenly became very embarrassed, turning slightly so as to not see Nodoka. "Well… no. At least, not all the time." Realizing what he said, the ponytailed boy quickly added in, "But my master has some peculiar habits."
Moving in front of Genma, smile still intact, she pulled him by his hair so as to make eye contact with him. "Why do you call a man like that 'master'? And do you actually enjoy what you do?"
He raised his hands and started to shake his head frantically. "Nonononono! I only do this because he makes me, so that I could learn from him the other times. You might not believe it, but he's one of the greatest martial artists in the world and it's an honor to be able to learn under him. I hope to surpass him someday."
Nodoka's smile became wide as she saw Genma's eyes shine with determination.
Nodoka usually didn't ask her father's permission for anything. Having practically lived without his guidance for her whole life, she didn't think he had the right to tell her what to do, not that he tried very often. Bringing a boy over for dinner without his consent, however, wasn't something she could just do without having it start a huge argument in front of her guest, which was the last thing the brown-haired girl wanted to happen.
"Daddy?" Nodoka asked him in the sweetest voice she could manage. It was the way Achika asked for things, and while it had the highest chances of success, it also made Nodoka feel sick to her stomach.
Katsuhito studied his elder daughter for a moment. She was almost never polite to him, which meant that she was about to ask him for something, most likely something he wouldn't be happy about. 'Okay,' he thought, 'She's being nice. This means she wants something from you. Let's see what it is. Then we'll reject it.' He nodded his head so as to allow her to continue.
"Is it all right if I have a guest over?" Nodoka looked back at him with eyes wide, in as cute a manner as possible. 'So as long as I don't have to see myself in the mirror…'
"Who is this guest?" Katsuhito asked suspiciously.
"Oh, just a boy that I met at school," Nodoka replied nonchalantly, trying to sound casual. She wasn't going to mention that this particular boy had dropped out of high school to follow some old perverted martial arts master around or that he was currently waiting in the bushes outside the house.
The old priest nearly laughed out loud in relief. While he had been upset at first to learn that his daughters were starting to take an interest in the opposite sex (even more so that the opposite sex was taking an interest in them), after a time he came to accept that his daughters would eventually have to find husbands and start to have their own families. It helped that, when it came to Achika, he and Nobuyuki got along so well. Also from what he'd seen, it would be good for Nodoka to have found someone.
"Does this boy have a name?"
"Of course he does. It's Genma Saotome," Nodoka told him, starting to feel the strain of the sweet girl act.
"Genma… Saotome?" Katsuhito said slowly, surprise evident in his voice. He should have known that his eldest daughter would choose to bring over the absolute worst boy possible.
He had heard of Genma Saotome, probably every priest in Japan had heard of him by now. The boy was a pupil of the legendary martial arts master, Happosai, who was more known for acts of thievery, lechery, and just plain indecency more than his skill at martial arts. Even though he'd only been the evil old man's pupil for a few short years, Genma had already made a name for himself in such areas as well. There was the possibility that the mere association with such a lecherous old man had blown Genma's reputation all out of proportion, but when his daughters were concerned, Katsuhito erred on the side of caution. He had even heard that Happosai had taken another student in order to spread his horrible ways.
"There is no way I'm going to let Genma Saotome or anyone associated with him in this house!"
"No, my word is final. If it were just about anyone else, I would be able to permit it, but that boy is just plain bad. Nodoka, I don't want you to see this Genma ever again, is that clear?"
"What?!" Nodoka asked, very much surprised. It was the first time that she could think of her father actually giving her an order.
"Trust your father's judgment on this. You would be better off never having heard the name 'Genma Saotome'."
Nodoka nodded, acting properly submissive, while on the inside was wondering what made Genma so special that he could make her father suddenly interested in her welfare.
Genma stood beside one of many trees around him, arms crossed, anxious on seeing Nodoka again. She told him to wait in the woods while she talked with her father about possibly having dinner with the family for the night.
That was over two hours ago.
'What's keeping her?' Genma thought, worried that something might have happened to cause her to stay away. The idea of Nodoka playing a joke on him was out of the question; she didn't seem that way from their earlier meeting. That of Mr. Masaki forcing his daughter from seeing him wasn't.
From what little she told him about her father, Genma was able to come up with a few conclusions. One was that he knew how to fight. Second, he was one of high morals. Last, but certainly to Genma not least, was that Nodoka _really_ didn't like her father, something that the older man probably knew.
The last two facts gave the ponytailed boy the idea that Nodoka's request would be outright refused.
'Will she try to do anything if that were the case? If so, what'll it be…'
Thinking over the possible outcome, Genma never noticed the sound of someone walking up to him from behind.
"Genma," he heard someone say, the tip of a bokken pressed against his back.
"AHHH!" the boy screamed, leaping up onto a branch above. He looked below to see who his assailant was.
"Hi!" Nodoka smiled cheerfully, waving back at him. "Sorry I was late. Had a few problems I had to fix. But look," she said, bringing up a bag she held in one hand, "I cooked us something to eat."
The combination of the other person being Nodoka and that he was very hungry caused Genma to become a blur, instantly appearing in front of the girl. Just as he was about to catch his prize, she pulled the bag away from him.
"First," she said, playfully tapping him on the head, "Why don't we have a little sparring match?"
"Wha?" Genma responded, mouth agape and eyes bulging.
Nodoka giggled at the comical sight. It was almost as if he never sparred with a girl before.
"Well, I told you before that I've been training in kendo for a long time and you've been studying under your master for a while. The kendo club at school doesn't allow female members and my father refuses to fight with me anymore, so I want someone to test my skills against." That and she wanted to test out just how good this infamous martial artist was.
"I don't know if I should fight a girl," Genma admitted, sounding embarrassed.
"My master would kill me if he finds out, since he's always saying that women shouldn't be learning martial arts. He firmly believes that a woman's place is being a housewife."
"It also makes it easier for the letch when he tries to grope them," Nodoka said in a serious voice.
"Well," Genma replied, scratching his head, "I never did think of it that way. Though fair play isn't one of the master's best traits." Wondering for a moment, he added, "And that never explain as to why he wanted to give some jumping lessons to some high school cheerleading squad."
"See," she jumped in, "It's perfectly fine to spar with a girl. Unless there's some other reason not to spar."
"I also don't think it's okay to fight girls," Genma mumbled, looking down at his feet.
All of a sudden the gap between him and Nodoka closed. Right away she grabbed the front of the gi and pulled him up. "What did you say?" she grated out, in total disbelief over hearing something so chauvinistic. Not giving the other person a chance to respond, she started shaking him hard, crying out, "I can't believe that you'd think of something so stupid as girls being weak."
Dropping him to the ground, on the verge of tears, she said, "And I thought you were different! How could you be so… so…"
"I was just kidding!" Genma said, raising his arms in defense, hoping that would be enough to calm her down. Nodoka was the first girl to actually pay attention to him, and he didn't want anything that was, in a way, silly to come between them. "Of course I'll be glad to spar with you." Internally he added the part about not giving it his best, so as to not hurt her.
"Really?" Nodoka asked, her recent hurt instantly gone. Seeing him nod, she giddily jumped up and down, practically purring out, "That's sweet of you, Genma," causing the aforementioned martial artist to blush beet red. Turning around to go and pick her bokken up from the ground, she added, "And you better not go light on me," not noticing the boy wiping a sweat drop from the back of his head.
"Light? Of course not!" Genma laughed out nervously. While trying to act casual about it, he didn't notice the girl running towards him, her weapon held up high. It was only the sharp, whizzing sound of the bokken falling upon him that alerted Genma of the attack. Immediately sidestepping it, he leapt back away from the area, getting into a defensive stance.
"Glad to hear that," Nodoka replied, lowering her weapon down to her side, a thin smile forming on her otherwise serious face. "Because I certainly won't." Her eyes seemed to shine for a moment. Once again she initiated the attack, though much slower than before, seeing that Genma was prepared for it that time.
Genma, paying more attention, easily saw the attack intended to strike his chest, and jumped up and over Nodoka. The fact that the attack seemed to be done on purpose alarmed him, almost as if she wanted him to do what he did. Eyes growing wide, he twisted to the side on his descent, still getting clipped at the left foot, causing him to tumble onto the ground.
Catching his breath for a moment, he got up quickly in defense of another attack. Instead he saw his opponent standing still and patient. 'Okay, that's enough of this!' he thought, charging at her. At the last possible moment he feinted to her right and, sensing the bokken there to defend against the apparent attack, he lightly struck Nodoka with the palm of his hand at her left shoulder, though with enough force to push her back a bit, before moving away from the area.
Nodoka looked stunned. Then, eyebrows furrowing deeply, she set herself straight and charged.
Grinning in determination, Genma got ready to counter with his own attack.
The fight carried on. Fists tempered to smash through steel with ease versus a style passed through the ages, one that could slay a demon if necessary. No words were spoken, both fighters being relentless; punches blocked by wood and strikes completely evaded by speed, each too stubborn, and filled with too much pride, to give in to the other.
It was when Genma slowed down, being winded from all the earlier dodging, that the match seemed to be going Nodoka's way. Staying as far as possible from her, he tried to make it look as if nothing much has changed from the beginning. Taking a deep breath and giving out a sigh, he knew what to do in order to not lose the fight. A technique he only recently came up with — not even the master knew it — and part of what he hoped to be a new school of art. Standing perfectly still, he allowed himself to slowly shift…
Nodoka looked on in awe as she saw Genma disappear from her view. "How… that's impossible!" she shouted out. Trying to defend herself, she turned around in an attempt to find her opponent. "Where…" That was when she felt a presence behind her and tried to spin around.
Upon reappearing, Genma held Nodoka's arms to her sides so as she wouldn't be able to turn and strike him. When she tried to twist, though, her legs got tangled with his, causing him to loosen his grip as she was able to turn around in time to see him fall forward on top of her. Seeing that she wasn't trying to fight back anymore, he smirked and said, "I win," when, suddenly, he realized just how close he was to his opponent. That and how close her lips were to his.
Jumping off of her, Genma quickly said, "I've never seen anyone use kendo like that before." He didn't expect Nodoka to be _that_ skilled and was quite impressed by the style. In his attempt to cover his own embarrassment, he failed to notice Nodoka being in a similar situation.
Trying to get over her sudden case of butterflies, Nodoka replied, "It's my family's style. I think my father and I are the only living practitioners."
Genma nodded thoughtfully to that. "That might be useful in beating the old freak… I mean training with my master. Do you think you could teach it to me?"
"I wish I could, but before my father would teach me I swore an oath that I wouldn't teach it to any other without his permission. I seriously doubt he'll let me teach you." Nodoka looked regretful when answering his request.
"Yeah, but you hate his guts anyway. Why should you keep your word with him, _especially_ when he refuses to spar with you anymore?"
"That's because he doesn't want to hurt his daughter… At least, I hope that's it. Anyway, I gave him my word and I will not go back on it for any reason. As a martial artist yourself, you also must respect the way of bushido."
Realizing that this was something that Nodoka felt was important for herself, Genma relented. "Okay, I guess I can understand that." Remembering one of the reasons for her being here, and the growling noise coming from his stomach, he asked, "Can we eat now?"
The pleading look in his eyes caused Nodoka to laugh as she nodded her head in assent, following him towards where she had left the food.
That day started a pattern where Nodoka would secretly meet with Genma after school in the woods that surrounded her father's shrine. She'd been meeting with the martial artist several times a week since her father had forbidden her to see him. Doing something against her father right under his nose added to the excitement of their relationship for Nodoka.
Usually they would spar for a bit; Genma doing so for the opportunity to practice with someone other than Happosai or Soun and because it was the one thing they had in common, while Nodoka's reasons were that it gave her joy to know that her years of practicing kendo would help her become friends with a boy. Afterwards they would sit down and eat whatever Nodoka cooked for the day, discussing whatever was of interest to them. Most of the time it would be on how their lives went; one interested on how it was to live on the road and the other on how it was to live in a stable home with a family.
While neither would admit it, both found in the other something that they were longing for; a person, other than friend or sibling, whom they could talk with and understand. They were content to call it a friendship for the time being.
By daring to meet Genma by her father's shrine, Nodoka had made it almost inevitable that the two would meet. She had planned it that way, hoping that his fear of the area would lessen so that one day he and her father could meet. With some luck, the old priest would finally be able to see that Genma wasn't as bad as people made him out to be.
Genma was waiting as close to the shrine as he dared. There was something ominous about the place. It could have been the bad experiences he had had with the master in similar temples. He told himself that he had nothing to worry about since Nodoka had said her father was away at some conference and wouldn't be home until the next day.
The ponytailed boy thought on how lucky he was that Happosai had decided to take Soun off alone to bring him up to speed before they all set out on training, giving him time to be with Nodoka. Still, it was inevitable that that master would return and he would be forced to say good-bye. Genma knew he was good, but he still was light-years away from the master's skill. And no one escaped the master for very long.
He looked up to see if Nodoka had arrived. She wanted to practice with him, but had forgotten her bokken. His offer to train her in kempo was refused, reason being that it felt wrong for her and it dropped her skill level considerably, causing any chance of sparring to be nearly impossible.
Nodoka had told him to wait right there, and while reluctant to be so close to the shrine, he hadn't moved from the spot. She had said that she would only be a minute, but to Genma, waiting tensely, it seemed that a half an hour had passed already.
Katsuhito grumbled as he made his way to the Masaki shrine. He was in a bad mood. Not only was the Shinto conference that he'd been looking forward to for months canceled, but no one had seemed fit to tell him _until_ he arrived there. All that pointless traveling meant nearly a whole day wasted.
As he turned from the path, he noticed a boy waiting at the foot of the shrine steps, who hadn't seen the priest because he was looking up at the shrine in the distance. Katsuhito was a little bit puzzled at what the boy was doing there. This was a remote shrine and thus got few visitors, even so he had put up a sign saying that he'd be away for two days. 'And why is the boy waiting at the foot of the steps rather than at the shrine itself?'
Katsuhito took a minute to study the boy. He looked to be about eighteen with dark hair tied up in a loose ponytail. A white gi hid a rather bulky frame, one that was almost entirely composed of muscle.
With a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach, Katsuhito realized just who it was. 'So Genma Saotome dares to show his face around here? He must be casing out the Masaki temple in order to rob it. No wonder he wanted to get close to my daughter!' Without bothering to announce himself, Katsuhito drew his bokken and attacked.
Only his battle-hardened reflexes saved Genma from what could have been a serious injury had the blow connected. He was surprised to find an old man looking at him with murder in his eyes, holding a bokken in a way similar to that of one who has mastered kendo. The white robes, those of a priest, that his attacker was wearing confirmed Genma's worst suspicions. He had finally met Nodoka's father and it was obvious that the old man didn't like him very much.
Genma didn't want to fight Katsuhito, but the relentless attacks of the priest weren't giving him any other choice. He had to start fighting back just to avoid getting maimed. The old guy was good with that bokken, too good; he might even have been a match for the master. Even when he was fighting back, it was obvious that Katsuhito was winning. He had to think a way out of this and fast.
"Saotome School of Martial Arts Final Attack!" Genma declared, hoping for some sort of opening.
Katsuhito paused and adopted a defensive posture, readying himself for anything.
"Run away!" Genma shouted and did just that.
The old priest was too stunned to follow, seeing the boy run off into the distance while he felt himself slowly burning. By the time Nodoka had come down the stairs, he was in a rage.
"Daddy, what are you doing here?" she asked, startled, as she subtly looked around for signs of Genma.
"_What_ am _I_ doing here?" Katsuhito asked in disbelief. "I'm the caretaker of this shrine! What was that lout Genma doing here? I thought he was going to rob the temple."
Nodoka laughed a little at that. People sometimes called Genma a thief, but she had never seen him actually steal anything from anyone, and besides he had been too frightened of her father to go near the temple even when he wasn't there. Looking at the expression her father had, she guessed that Genma's fears weren't entirely unjustified.
"Oh, we were just going to have a little martial arts practice. He's been helping me with my training."
"I thought I told you to never have anything to do with that man."
Nodoka laughed again. "Oh daddy, don't tell me you were serious about that?"
"I was dead serious and I still am. Nodoka, you don't know the evils that some men are capable of. That one is just completely untrustworthy. You must never see him again."
Nodoka didn't think this was so funny anymore. She had gotten used to seeing Genma every day; by now he was a part of her life. "What gives you the right to say what I can and can not do?"
"I'm your father!" he replied, feeling that was enough justification.
"Then why didn't you act like it? You've done nothing but ignore me since Mom died and now you want a say in what goes on in my life?" Her anger reaching the same level as her father's, she shouted, "Forget it, I'll do what I think is right!"
"Nodoka," Katsuhito said in a very stern voice, one that a parent gives to their child when they're in trouble, "as long as you live under _my_ roof, you have to follow _my_ rules. I forbid you to have anything more to do with Genma Saotome. That man will only ruin your life."
Her body shaking in uncontrollable rage, Nodoka had the urge to lash out at her father. 'How could you?!' she thought. The man who never treated her like a daughter, only the other girl in the house, was now trying to force her into letting go of the one person that brought joy into her life. 'Never once caring for me and now suddenly acting like you do. You think that makes my choice easy, don't you?' Nodoka smiled internally. 'Maybe it is an easy choice.' Reaching a decision, she looked straight into her father's eyes. "Well, then I'm leaving home!"
Katsuhito was shocked as he saw his daughter turn and walk away. He never expected this sort of reaction from her. "What? Why?"
"Because I love him!" Nodoka declared while marching away from her stunned father. Just before she was out of his sight, she turned around and added, "And I don't love you."
It was a very small wedding ceremony; there were only four guests, all of whom happened to have been married recently, each in ceremonies much larger than this. Achika and Nobuyuki, and Soun and his new wife all knew that the size of the wedding didn't matter to the two people standing at the altar. Katsuhito had forbidden this marriage, even after his daughter ran away, but he couldn't stop the love between Nodoka and Genma.
Soon after the wedding, the newlyweds bought a home in Juuban. Both deemed it as a good place to live as it was reasonably close to Nerima, where the Tendous lived, and far away from Okayama.
Genma inched through the house, large backpack slung over his shoulder and a sleeping Ranma in his arms. Why couldn't his wife see that he couldn't possibly train the boy here, with all the distractions? They needed to be on the road, living hard off the land, and traveling to exotic training grounds. Not even a seppuku pledge had been enough for that woman. He had no choice but to sneak off in the night, using the skills that his master had taught him. Nodoka would come to understand that this was what was best for the boy.
As Genma crept over the threshold, he nearly had his head severed by the katana that suddenly appeared at his throat, gleaming with the reflected moonlight.
"Going somewhere, Husband?" Nodoka asked him in a deceptively calm voice.
"Just going out for a stroll," Genma replied, failing miserably to sound casual.
"With our son?"
"Thought the boy could use some fresh air."
"And a backpack full of supplies?"
"Well, that's just in case either of us wanted a quick snack."
Nodoka sighed, "Go back to bed, Husband."
Genma took one look at the steely determination in his wife's eyes, not to mention her steely katana, and replied, "Yes, Dear."
"Don't even _think_ about trying this again."
As both father and son arrived home from a day of practice, Nodoka came up to greet them. "And how was your day of practice?" she asked Ranma, who had a look of pure joy on his face.
"Was fun, Mom! Pops showed off lots of neat moves and even taught me a few things. Like how t' kick!" For emphasis, Ranma brought up one of his legs in a similar motion that his father showed. It didn't end up the way the young boy wanted it to be as he slipped and fell down on his behind.
Smiling endearingly at her son's eagerness to show what he learned, Nodoka patted Ranma on the head and, seeing that he was on the verge of tears, picked him up with both hands. "There, there," she said soothingly, bringing him up to her eye level. "You don't become good in one day. It takes a lot hard work and practice to be the best. Please don't cry, son."
Sniffles turned into a full-out bawl as Ranma said through his tears, "Bu… But what if I never get better?"
"I'm sure you'll become good. Especially with your father teaching."
"Really?" Seeing his mother nod, Ranma asked, "So one day I can fight other people and beat them up like in the TV shows?"
Nodoka was at a loss at what to say. Turning to Genma for help, she only saw a blank expression in response. "Well… yes. Though you shouldn't fight unless it's necessary. When learning, people usually spar with others."
"It's sort of like practice fighting." Nodoka's expression became stern. "Though you should never spar or fight with another girl."
"Because you might pick up bad habits and end up like the man who taught your father." When Ranma gave her a quizzical look, she added, "I'll tell you more about him when you're older. Just know that he's a _very_ bad man." She gave a sigh of relief when the youngster seemed content with that answer.
Genma, who had to that point been quiet, asked his wife, "Why do you think that, dear? I mean, we sparred quite a bit when young and nothing wrong hap— OUCH!" He suddenly gave out a sharp cry of pain as Nodoka's nails dug into his ear while she pulled on him towards another room.
Giving her son another smile, she said, "We'll be back in a few minutes. Just sit there and when I come back I'll get you some ice cream."
"Yay! Ice cream!"
Genma stood in the midst of a whirlwind as his wife got the house ready for a visit from her sister Achika and her family. The plan had originally included the Tendous as well, but they had to cancel at the last moment. He didn't think that Nodoka needed to be this frantic, the house had looked spotless before she started, but he knew that it was a wasted effort to try to convince her of it. Nodoka would not be satisfied until the house was perfect. It was, after all, the first time Achika would visit the new Saotome home.
"I'll just go out back and train the boy," Genma said a bit nervously as he inched towards the door before his wife could find yet another way he could help in her quest to eradicate all signs of dust and dirt. Ranma had been smart enough to hide in his room.
"I don't think that's a very good idea, Husband," Nodoka told him without looking up from her cleaning. "Why don't you and Ranma take a nice bath so you'll be ready for when everyone gets here?"
"But they're not going to arrive for another hour and a half at least," Genma said, trying to reason with his wife. "We still have enough time to get some training in and have a bath."
"Husband," Nodoka said with a slight edge to her voice.
Genma bowed to the inevitable. "Yes, dear," he said and went off to find the boy so they could have their bath.
Unknown to Genma, one of the reasons that Nodoka was being so determined in her cleaning was that her sister had recently taken ill and she didn't want anything to be around to aggravate her condition. She had tried to talk Achika out of coming, since they could just have it next week when she was feeling better, but her sister wouldn't hear of it. Her younger sister wanted to see how Nodoka was doing and Tenchi was eager to meet his cousin. It was an odd coincidence that Soun's wife had taken ill a little before and was now unfit to travel, which was why the Tendous had to cancel.
"Who's coming over, Pops?" six year old Ranma asked his father as they both sat in the furo. Genma was currently planning to stay right where he was until just before the guests arrived. He made sure not to run the bath too hot for just that reason.
"Weren't you paying attention to what your mother was telling you yesterday over dinner?" Genma asked.
"Course not, gotta keep you from stealing my food!" Ranma accused his father before laughing. "What did she say?"
Genma laughed a little too. It had been a stroke of brilliance for him to disguise martial arts training as games. He knew that chopstick duels over meals were one of Ranma's favorites. Though he made sure not to steal too much of his son's food, least he earn his wife's ire.
"Do you remember your Aunt Achika and Uncle Nobuyuki?"
Ranma shook his head.
Genma realized then that Ranma had only been a baby when they had visited the Masaki house. Even though they lived near one another, the Saotome and Masaki families were rarely able to get together. This was only partially due to a certain father-in-law.
"Well, they're going to be paying us a visit. They're also bringing their son Tenchi, who is about your age."
Ranma thought about it. It would be cool to have someone around who was his own age. He loved his parents, but he always dreamed of having a brother or sister. 'A cousin is almost a brother,' he reasoned, interested in meeting with the other boy.
Despite how well Genma and Ranma had made sure to clean up and dress, Nodoka was unsatisfied. It was ten minutes of washing noses, behind ears, and adjusting clothes before she would declare them presentable. The doorbell rang only a few minutes later.
Ranma immediately raced down to open the door, followed by his parents. When he did so, he saw two adults along with a boy around his age standing outside.
"Hi, I'm your cousin, Ranma," said the pigtailed boy.
The shy boy smiled a little and replied, "I'm Tenchi."
Ranma grabbed his cousin's hand and said, "Come on, let's go play!"
Before he could utter a word of protest, Tenchi was dragged out into the backyard. The adults all laughed as they watched Ranma show off his martial arts training while keeping up an excited monologue for his befuddled cousin.
"I have a feeling that the two of them are going to be friends for a long, long time," Achika commented cheerfully, her sickness an afterthought at the moment.
Genma had a grim look to him. The tone of his best friend's voice right away told him that something had happened. 'And things seemed to be going so well with them and their daughters. Dammit, after all those years with the Master, Tendou deserved better than that.' He sighed and went back to putting on his suit and getting ready to go see his friend.
"Hey, Pops!" Ranma called as he ran in, all dressed up. "What are we in these clothes for?"
Picking up his son and giving him a tight hug, Genma said, "Because we're going to a friend's house."
"Remember the friend I was talking about who has a dojo?"
"But how can we practice in these clothes? It would be hard and Mom would get real angry if they got dirty."
Genma chuckled softly at the naïveté of children, before answering, "Not today, son. We'll be there for a while, so you can practice later. But for today there are more important things."
He saw his son nod in consent. "Okay, Pops."
A small smile appeared as he watched the child leave, glad that he realized this was more serious than the Art.
After the funeral was over, the Saotome family stayed with the Tendous through their time of grief. Genma spent time with his old friend Soun, trying to bring some joy to a man who had just lost his wife. Nodoka went to comfort the three Tendou sisters, who were now without a mother, something that Mrs. Saotome was all too familiar with.
When light shone in his room to signal a new day, Ranma jumped up, fully awake, and quickly changed. Being six, everything new was exciting to him. This included the Tendou dojo, which he ran towards as fast as he could. Once in the boy looked around himself in awe. It was the first time he'd ever been in such a place, but his father talked about them sometimes while they were out training in a park near their home.
Then he noticed a girl about his own age there, with short, blue-black hair and a pale-yellow gi with flower designs on it.
She turned from looking up at the family altar to face the pigtailed boy, having heard him come in. "Who are you?" the girl asked.
"I'm Ranma Saotome and I'm gonna practice here." At least, that was what his father had told him at times.
"You can't! This dojo belongs to me, Akane Tendou. Mamma gave it to me!" she practically screamed.
"I can practice here if I want to!" Ranma answered, who didn't like anyone telling him what he could and couldn't do.
"No you can't!"
"Yes, I can."
"Oh yeah? Well, you can't stop me!"
"Can too! I'm gonna beat you up!"
And then the two six-year olds began to fight with skill that would have been surprising in kids twice their age. When the dust cleared, Ranma won, pinning Akane to the ground by sitting on her. He sat, smugly surveying the dojo, until Akane began to cry.
"What are you doing?" Ranma told her. "Be a man!" It was what his father always told him whenever he cried over losing.
"I'm a girl, you idiot!" Akane screamed at him through her tears, kicking her legs in the air in a futile attempt at escape.
Ranma practically leapt off of Akane. 'Oh no, Mom is going to punish me good about this! She's always telling me to never, ever use what I learned on a girl 'cause she doesn't want me ending up like the guy who taught my pop.'
"Are you sure you're a girl?" Ranma asked.
"Of course I'm sure, baka!" Akane shouted back. She had stopped crying and sat up. She wanted to beat the boy up some more, but she was still a little too sore from their earlier fight.
"How was I supposed to know that? You look just like a boy!" It was all this stupid girl's fault for not dressing like a girl. Now he was going to get punished for it.
"What did you say?" Akane asked in a much calmer and colder tone of voice.
Ranma failed to notice her tone. "I just said that you look just like a boy."
Unknown to Ranma, Akane had recently started elementary school and the one thing that got her really mad was the way everyone, even the teacher, mistook her for a boy because of her short hair.
"Die, Ranma!" she shouted and leapt for him. Soon they were fighting in earnest again.
The two kids were unaware of their respective fathers watching from the doorway. Genma had been trying in vain to find some way to snap his old friend, who seemed intent on either wailing or sobbing, out of his depression. Tendou had been a bit emotional before and Genma could understand the depth of his loss, but this was a tad ridiculous. He had gone out in search of his son to show Soun what he'd been teaching the boy, and so walked in on the middle of Ranma and Akane's second brawl.
"See how well they get along, Tendou? And they only just met! The Tendou and Saotome families are sure to be joined."
"My little Akane is going to be a bride! Waaaah!"
Genma shook his head. Was there anything that could stop his friend from crying?
Kasumi had been looking for Ranma, since Mrs. Saotome had asked her to, when she heard a boy's voice come from the dojo. She went there to find Ranma nursing a bump on his head, and absently noted a few other bruises and scrapes as well.
"Ranma," she called out to him.
He looked up in surprise. "Kasumi, right?" They had been introduced when Ranma had arrived a few days before, but he didn't really remember it that clearly.
Kasumi nodded. "What happened to you, Ranma?"
Ranma laughed a bit nervously and said, "Just sparring with my pop."
"But I was sure that I saw your father go with my father to celebrate something. That was some time ago. Have they come back already?"
Ranma decided to just tell the truth. He was no good at lying anyway. "Okay, I was kinda fighting with Akane."
"Oh, that's wonderful!"
"It is?" Ranma asked with some surprise.
"Oh, yes. Akane has been needing someone to spar with, especially one her own age. She hasn't been practicing much since… well, you know. Father won't spar with her anymore, so it's good for Akane to have someone she can work off her frustration with."
"I don't know about that," Ranma said sheepishly. Akane always seemed angrier after their fights than before; definitely not someone who looked satisfied with the sparring.
"I'll go get your mother so she can tend your injuries. She sent me to find you anyway."
"No, don't!" Ranma called out to her as she began to walk away.
Kasumi stopped and turned back around. "Why not?"
"Cause my mom will punish me if she finds out that I've been fighting girls. You can't let her find out," he pleaded to her.
Kasumi thought about this for a few moments, being more thoughtful than most nine year olds. She hated the idea of lying to anyone, especially a person as nice as Mrs. Saotome, but Ranma seemed convinced that she would be against their sparring. Akane had been acting better lately, and now Kasumi knew why. Fighting with Ranma seemed to be her little sister's way of coping with their loss. In short, Akane needed to fight Ranma and there was a good chance that Mrs. Saotome would put a stop to it if she ever found out.
"All right, I won't tell her. I want you to lie down on one of the mats over there."
Kasumi opened up the first aid kit that her father had put in the dojo and took out some things that she was going to need. She wasn't entirely sure of what she was doing, but she had seen a doctor take care of her family's martial arts related injuries several times. Someone needed to take care of Ranma if they were going to keep this a secret from Mrs. Saotome.
"Thank you," Ranma said with a small bow after she had finished taking care of his injuries.
Kasumi smiled a little. "You're welcome."
Ranma had been staying at the Tendou Dojo for a week, and every day Akane would challenge him to a fight to prove that he didn't have the right to practice in the dojo. Ranma didn't want to fight a girl, but Akane gave him no choice. It never occurred to either of them that both got all the practicing they needed with the daily challenges.
Nodoka was currently unaware of her son's sudden rivalry since she was much too busy with the older Tendou girls, Kasumi and Nabiki. Kasumi was very interested in cooking as well as medicine. Nodoka had been helping Kasumi prepare all of the meals and showing her what she knew about first aid. Little did Mrs. Saotome know that Kasumi had been using her teachings on the latter to tend to Akane and Ranma.
Nabiki, however, had no interest in that 'girlie' stuff, as she saw it, but was very intrigued by the fact that it was the woman's traditional role to manage the finances of the house. The middle Tendou sister had always enjoyed using her brain and it seemed to her that trying to earn money was a game that was both fun and challenging.
Nodoka sat in the living room with Kasumi and Nabiki. She was showing the former how to mend clothes, while instructing the latter on the finer points of managing one's finances. Personally, she thought that both daughters were a bit too young to be worrying about such things, but they seemed genuinely interested and it kept their minds from their grief for at least a little while.
She was distracted from her thoughts by the sound of a loud splash coming from the koi pond.
A little before this, Ranma and Akane had been brawling in the dojo. Nodoka wasn't concerned for either of them because she didn't know about their fighting, thinking that they were only being taught, and her husband had assured her that he'd watch out for both of them. While Genma had been unreliable at times in the past, he had shown to be serious about helping out Soun and his family. Genma had been watching their matches, if just to gage the boy's skills against a somewhat lesser opponent. This time, however, he had decided that they would be fine left alone and took Soun to get a little drink.
The 'sparring' matches between Ranma and Akane were normally confined to the dojo, but due to one of them forgetting to shut the door, the fight soon spilled over to the lawn. Both were too focused on 'sparring' to notice their change in surroundings, until they ended up in the koi pond.
Nodoka rushed outside and was shocked to see Ranma and Akane bruised, dirty, and dripping wet. Despite all this, they were still fighting. There was also no sign of Genma or Soun anywhere.
"Just what is going on here?" Nodoka shouted.
That stopped their conflict immediately. Ranma, feeling bad for doing something his mom had told him not to, tried to hide behind Akane. He ended up slipping back into the pond instead.
"Ranma, what did I tell you about fighting girls?"
"But, Mom, Akane started it."
"I don't care who started it! This is going to stop right here and now! Am I clear?"
Both children had their heads bowed and answered at the same time. "Yes."
"Good. Akane, why don't you go in and take a bath? I need to talk to my son privately for a few moments." Nodoka failed to realize that her hand was resting on the hilt of her katana. The children noticed though. Ranma gulped and Akane fled into the house.
"Now what were you doing fighting with a girl when I told you not to?" Nodoka asked her son as soon as Akane had left.
"Jeez, Mom, I was just sparring with Akane, sort of like I do with Pop." Though Ranma had been resistant the entire time due to his mother's disapproval, he actually had found himself looking forward to his and Akane's daily matches. They were fun, and him and Akane kind of had a good friendship going, in their own way. It was like what he had with his cousin Tenchi, only different at the same time.
"First of all, what you and your father do is closer to real fighting than sparring and Akane is still a girl regardless."
"Mom, it's not like Akane is a real girl."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Well, she isn't like Kasumi. Akane acts and dresses like a boy all the time."
"That may be so, but that doesn't change the fact that she is a girl. Now I don't want you fighting with her again, is that clear?"
"Yes, Mom," Ranma answered reluctantly.
"Now, why don't you go inside and take a bath once Akane is done with hers."
Ranma nodded and ran inside. Nodoka's fingers idly tapped on the hilt of her katana as she planned to have some words with her husband.
After coming home from their extended stay at the Tendous, Genma had convinced his wife that he should take a short training trip alone with the boy. She eventually agreed and he might have extended it to ten years if it wasn't for Nodoka's promise to send her father after them if they were late. Genma shivered; only the master could equal the level of fear that Katsuhito inspired in him. It was a wonder that he'd had the courage to go against him and marry Nodoka in the first place. It was even more of a wonder that he did so and lived.
A few days later, and away from the diet that Nodoka had been imposing on him, Genma was starting to feel that he hadn't brought nearly enough food to last him and the boy for a month. Luck was with him when he spotted an okonomiyaki cart. He didn't have enough yen for the both of them, but he did have a plan.
"Ranma, my boy, would you like to play a game?"
"Wow, a game!" little Ranma enthused. His dad always came up with the best games.
"Do you see that okonomiyaki cart over there?"
The boy nodded.
"Well, if you manage to take one of the okonomiyaki without anyone catching you, then it's free! Doesn't that sound like fun?"
Ranma nodded again and was off in a flash to begin the game.
Akira Kuonji smiled as his daughter assisted him in tending to the eager customers of his cart. Things just couldn't be better. Their cart was doing great, Ukyou was picking up on the family business much quicker than expected, and best of all, he had almost enough money saved to open his own restaurant.
Ukyou smiled along with her father. Working as a chef was so much fun that it didn't matter that no one at school could understand why she did it. She dreamed of a day when she'd have her own cart to tour around Japan with, selling warm okonomiyaki to the eager customers. She was so caught up in this dream that it was a few moments before she realized that the okonomiyaki she had been working on was missing.
"What?" Ukyou said as she looked all around, her eyes finally resting on a boy in a dirty gi, half eaten okonomiyaki in his mouth.
"You!" Ukyou yelled and ran after him, waving her spatulas in the air like weapons.
Ranma, being mindful of not getting caught, executed the Saotome Final Attack as he father had shown him. In other words, he ran.
Ukyou had finally managed to catch him, leaping over the boy to get in his way. Ranma was a fast runner, but the aspiring chef knew the area much better than he did.
"Wait," Ranma said just before they started fighting.
After his experience with Akane, he had learned not to always judge a book by its cover. "Are you a girl or a boy?"
Momentarily stunned by the question, she retorted, "I'm a girl, you jackass!"
"You are? Then I can't fight you." Ranma's tone conveyed his disappointment. He really wanted to fight; it would be fun. It didn't matter to him if he fought a boy or a girl, but it did matter to his mom; even if she was far away. She had been really upset when she had caught Ranma and Akane in the middle of their brawl.
"Well, my mama says I ain't supposed to fight girls, only bad people do that."
Ukyou thought about this for a moment. While she was initially angry about the stolen food, the chase after Ranma was one of the best times she had had in a while. Putting the skills her father had been teaching her to the test would make it even better. If she got to do this every day, then it would be worth the price of a meal.
"Okay, why don't we just pretend fight instead?"
"Yeah, me and my father do it all the time." It was at least the excuse that she heard her father use on her mother, who thought martial arts training would be bad for their daughter.
"I don't know…"
"I'll give you another okonomiyaki if you win."
"Deal!" Ranma reasoned that his mom couldn't get angry over that, since it would all be just pretend. It might be fun trying out this pretend fighting stuff on Akane and his cousin Tenchi.
From that day on, the two kids settled into a familiar pattern. Ukyou would cook okonomiyaki and try to defend it from Ranma, who would do his best to steal her food. Contests between them usually ended up as duels, with Ranma always the victor. Ukyou didn't get mad the way Akane always did when she lost; instead swearing that she would win the next day.
Genma watched, happy that Ranma had someone at his own level to spar with, while Akira was glad that his daughter had a playmate.
"Here I come, Ucchan!" Ranma shouted as he ran in for the attack.
"You won't beat me this time, Ranchan!" Ukyou declared as she readied her small combat spatulas.
There was a small smile on her lips as she thought of the nicknames that they had come up with for each other. Ranma had just started calling her 'Ucchan' one day, so naturally he became 'Ranchan.' It made Ukyou feel special that Ranma had come up with a name just for her.
Several minutes later, both kids were sitting on a rock, each happily munching on their okonomiyaki.
Ukyou was the happiest she had ever been in her life. Her cooking skills were getting better each day, she got to practice her martial arts often, and she had found someone who made her smile and laugh all the time. Ukyou also loved to rub it in the face of the neighborhood girls that she had a boyfriend. She hoped that the days like this would last forever.
Lying down on the soft grass and staring at the clear blue sky, exhausted from the day's workout, Ukyou asked the person next to her, "Where do you live, Ranchan?" During all their time they spent together, Ranma never told her anything about his home. She just assumed he recently moved to an area nearby.
"I'm from Juuban," Ranma responded, his attention on the tree shaped cloud floating above.
"You mean you're not from around here?" Ukyou asked in surprise.
"Nope, Pops wanted to take me pretty far away from home since we had a whole month to train."
"A month?" Ukyou said as she started to count on her fingers how many days she had known Ranma. The girl was surprised to find that it had been three whole weeks already. "When are you going back home?"
"In a few days, I think."
Ranma suddenly found himself caught up in a fierce hug. "No, you can't go!"
"I don't want you to. It won't be fun anymore. You're my best friend, Ranchan."
"You're my best friend, too, Ucchan. I want to stay and keep playing with you, but Pop says we got to go in a few days. Besides, my mom is waiting for me."
"Okay, but you got to promise me that we'll be best friends forever."
"Of course we will."
Ranma nodded. They both locked pinkies and said, "We'll be best friends forever!"
Ukyou hugged him again. "I'll miss you, Ranchan."
"Me too, Ucchan."
Genma was flipping through an old training manual that he had found among the master's things while he watched Ranma play with a stray kitten that had wandered in the yard. Normally Nodoka would be watching the boy, but she had gone on a trip with Achika to help boost her sister's declining health.
She had warned him, on the pain of his father-in-law and her katana, to not take the boy away from school on some training trip. Genma had grumbled, but agreed, not that he had any choice in the matter.
Now, Genma reasoned, if he couldn't take the boy off to training to improve his skills, what he needed was some kind of super training technique that could be done right in his own home. Something that would equal, or even surpass, what his son would have learned in the training.
The kitten that Ranma was playing with kept distracting his thoughts though. Pity he couldn't give the boy claws or the agility of a cat. Not to mention the enhanced senses and absolute fearlessness. If only there was a technique like that…
Nodoka made her way up to the Saotome home. The trip had done Achika so much good that they had decided to cut it short so her younger sister could spend some of that time with Nobuyuki. Nodoka smiled at that thought. If everything went well, Tenchi might have a little brother or sister on the way.
Nodoka was shocked out of her thoughts when something running on four legs knocked her over. She looked down in horror to see her own son curled up in her lap, purring like a cat. Thinking on just what could have possibly happened, she came up with her conclusion.
Her aforementioned husband staggered towards the front of the house, gi in tatters along with scratches all over his body. He took one look at the scene and was immediately grateful that his wife didn't have her katana at the moment.
Genma was pacing about nervously in the backyard. After having told Nodoka about what was involved in the Neko-ken training she gave him a flat stare and told him to wait outside.
It had been an hour since and there was no sign of his wife. His mind was in a frenzy. Just what sort of punishment was in store for him? Torture? Seppuku? Or, Genma gulped at the thought, coming face-to-face with Katsuhito?
The sound of the back door slamming caused Genma's heart to practically leap through his mouth. Slowly turning to face his fate, he saw… Nodoka, with a casual smile on her face, nothing sharp in her hands, and, more importantly, no sign of a certain father-in-law.
"So… wh… what did—"
"My decision?" Seeing her husband nod as his body shook in fear, she replied, smile never wavering, "Don't worry, husband, it's nothing anywhere near as bad as you think. In fact, I'm of the opinion that you're getting off rather easy, considering that you pulled off one of the most idiotic, brain-dead things I've ever seen anyone do."
Genma was surprised as to how serene her face looked, considering the amount of venom in her voice. Surprise turned to confusion when she walked to the middle of the yard and placed a doghouse on it. "Nochan? Your decision is get a dog so that no cat will come near our son?"
"Dog?" Nodoka asked in a singsong tone. "Wherever did you get that idea?" Pointing to the doghouse, she said, "This is where you will be living for the next week."
"What?!" Genma asked in surprise. "B… But this is the middle of the rainy season!"
"Hmm…" She contemplated over the issue for a few minutes. "You're right; let's make it two weeks." Walking back into the house, she added, "And don't you worry, dear. I'll make sure you get enough water to drink and some rice to eat everyday. Though you might have to get a second job if you want anything else to eat, especially since I'm the one who has control of the money."
Before his wife could go inside, Genma sputtered out, "What about Ranma? What'll he be doing during this time?"
He looked up to see his son waving at him through the window.
"Mom said that you're gonna be camping out in the backyard and that I can watch TV or doing anything else while you're away. Have fun!"
The Kuonjis were at a loss over what to do about their daughter Ukyou. Ever since that Ranma boy had returned home, she'd been listless and uninterested in learning how to be a chef. Akira Kuonji had tried to get Ranma to stay by offering to engage the two of them, but his father had turned it down, even after being offered the yatai as a dowry. The man had looked tempted, but at the same time afraid of something.
About the only good recent thing for the Kuonjis was that they finally had enough money to start their own restaurant. The problem now was picking a location. Then suddenly, Akira had an idea.
"Yeah, dad?" She was just sitting in her room, not doing anything, which was normal for her lately.
"Well, we've finally saved up enough to start our own restaurant. Now where do you think we should have it?"
To Ukyou, there was only one place she wanted to be, the place Ranma said he was from. "Juuban!" she replied immediately.
Akira smiled at seeing Ukyou's happy face once again. If he finally had his daughter back, moving to Juuban was a small price to pay.
Ranma was about to walk into the elementary school when he was unexpectedly tackled from behind. He prepared to strike back, only to see who it was. "Ucchan?"
"Ranchan!" Ukyou shouted, glomping onto him again. She was happy that he had remembered her, being that it had been over six months since they had parted. To her it seemed like forever.
"What are you doing here?" Ranma asked her. "You and your pops still traveling with that cart?"
Ukyou shook her head. "I'm going to school here. Today is my first day. We sold the cart and are opening a restaurant right here in Juuban. Isn't that great? We can play all the time like we used to!"
Each smiled and laughed, happy to have their friend back again.
Returning from a day of work at a nearby dojo, Genma was stunned at the sight before him when entering his home.
Items were strewn all over the living room, some having been slashed into pieces. Slowly walking in, afraid of something having happened to his wife or child, he tried not to make any noise in case it was some burglar or worse.
Hearing a soft sound coming from the bedroom, he made his way up. As he got closer, Genma was able to realize that someone was crying.
The sight before him as he walked in was one that made even someone like Genma sad. Lying on the floor was his wife, clothing all crumpled and in a disarray, appearing as though she had been weeping for hours.
Sensing a nearby presence, Nodoka looked up and, through her tear-hazed eyes, was able to see an outline of the person she desired the most to be with at the moment. Instantly she got up and ran towards her husband, feeling his strong arms envelop her in a hug as she cried on his shoulder.
"Gone… She's gone…" was all that she could say through the tears.
Genma didn't say anything, only holding onto her in hopes that she'll feel better. It didn't take much thinking for him to know what had happened.
A little more than a year and a half after Soun's wife had passed away, Achika Masaki had succumbed to her long illness.
Genma did his best to run the house on his own, since for days all his wife would do was cry. He tried to comfort her, but wasn't surprised at her level of grief. He'd only met Achika a few times, but she had been a kind and gentle soul. Even he could feel the loss in her passing.
The phone ringing snapped him out of his thoughts. He picked it up and automatically said, "Hello, Saotome residence."
There was a moment of silence before Genma heard a voice he'd honestly thought that he'd never hear again. "Hello… Genma."
It was Nodoka's father, Katsuhito, who had forbidden his daughter to have anything to do with him, ever, or she would be disowned. Even after they had married, he never did carry out his threat. The old priest still gave Genma the willies though.
"Hello, Mr. Masaki. We've already heard about Achika. I'm sorry about your loss."
In the silence that followed, Genma berated himself over saying something so stupid. He was even more surprised by the old priest's response.
"Thank you. While it has not been easy on me, there are others in more need of comforting. I assume that my other daughter was also hit hard by this tragedy?"
"Yes, sir. She hasn't been feeling well for the past few days. Would you like me to get her?"
"No, no. That's likely to do more harm than good. Genma, no matter how much it pains me to do so, I must ask a favor from you."
"A favor? From me?" Genma thought over what he just heard. 'The old guy must really be desperate.'
"Yes. As you may be able to understand, Nobuyuki has been devastated by Achika's passing."
Genma nodded absently to the phone. He had been ready before to take the boy on a ten-year training trip away from Nodoka, but for her to be… Genma didn't even want to think about it now.
Katsuhito continued. "The man has gone into shock. He refuses to leave the house and has stopped eating and sleeping. He has also stopped taking care of his son. I've taken in Tenchi, but I'm worried about Nobuyuki. I've tried everything I could think of and I can't snap him out of it, and now his health is starting to go.
"I've heard that you have a friend who has recently suffered a similar loss. I was wondering… I was wondering if you and Nodoka could come to the Masaki home and somehow get him to the point where he would at least be able to take care of himself. I don't know how well you know Nobuyuki, but from what I hear, he and Nodoka are good friends. This might benefit her as well."
Genma thought about this for a while. It would take time away from training the boy, but his first priority was getting his wife out of her depression. Having to comfort another might just do it. Still, this was a unique opportunity that shouldn't be wasted. He had the man whom he had feared for about a decade over a barrel.
"All right, I'll do it. It shouldn't be hard to convince Nodoka. However, my wife and I will have our hands full during this. Since you're already watching Tenchi, I was wondering if you could also watch our Ranma as well."
There was only a slight hesitation. "I don't see that as being a problem. Tenchi would probably enjoy spending time with his cousin."
"Good, and while he's there, why don't you teach him that sword style of yours."
Genma was still impressed by his wife's ability at kendo, and continually frustrated by her refusal to teach it, not even to her own son. He also knew that getting the old priest to teach his son would be something the old man would hate to do. For some reason the old guy would only teach it to Tenchi.
"You've already started to teach Tenchi, so it shouldn't be too hard to teach Ranma as well. My son picks up things pretty quickly and—"
"I don't think I would be able to do that."
"Well, then I don't know if we'll be able to come. You see, I'd like to help you out, but I just can't neglect the boy's training."
"But I'm teaching a sword style, while you're teaching him hand to hand. I don't see what I'm—"
"Anything Goes Martial Arts means that _anything_ goes. Armed skills are part of the art; I've just been concentrating more on the unarmed portion. Anything you can teach him can be added in with ease."
There was a long silence before Katsuhito said, "Fine, I'll do it. Drop the boy off on your way to the Masaki house."
Genma agreed and they chatted about probable dates and times of arrival. After he had hung up the phone, Genma chuckled softly. He had finally managed a little pay back against that old coot!
Tenchi was carefully sweeping up the leaves; the soft crackle it made temporarily helping him forget the recent tragedy. The shout of a visitor caused him to stop.
"Hiya, Tenchi!" eight-year old Ranma greeted his only slightly younger cousin.
"Ranma!" Tenchi shouted with glee as he immediately dropped the broom and ran over to greet his cousin. Grandpa had mentioned earlier about a surprise, but he hadn't been expecting this. "Why are you here?"
"I'm going to be staying here a while. My mom and pop are gonna be staying with your pop. They said he's real sad and they're gonna try and cheer him up!"
"He's sad 'cause my mom died," Tenchi replied as he dejectedly looked at the ground.
Ranma placed an arm around his cousin. "It's okay, Tenchi. My friend Akane, her mom died too. She was sad for a little while, but after some time she didn't get sad no more."
"You cheered her up?"
"Well, actually she gets mad all the time now, but I guess that's better than being sad. I tried asking her what makes her so mad, but then she just gets even madder. She's such a tomboy."
"Tomboy? What's that?"
"My pop told me when a girl acts like a boy it's 'cause she's a tomboy."
Tenchi nodded sagely and filed away the information for later use. Fathers always knew useful stuff like that.
"So what are you doing today, Tenchi?"
"I got to clean up around the shrine."
"Aw, that sounds boring. Let's go play around that big old tree!"
"Ranma, you know grandpa doesn't want you going there."
Ranma nodded, his grandpa could be a real stick in the mud sometimes, always forbidding them from doing one thing or another. Not that he ever listened to the old man. Ranma and his parents rarely visited the shrine, usually only on holidays, but grandfather had already warned him several times to stay away from the holy tree of the shrine. It could have been his habit of tearing off the strips of paper he found there and throwing them into the water.
"Okay, how about we go play by that cave again?"
Ranma could see that that piqued his cousin's interest. For some reason, Tenchi seemed to like that cave, even though Grandpa was always telling him to keep away from there. And Tenchi, unlike Ranma, usually did what his grandfather told him. Ranma didn't really see what was so neat about some moldy old cave, but he didn't feel like doing chores or playing alone at the moment.
"Talking with my parents."
"Okay, let's leave now."
As the two boys mock-fought under the shadow of the cave, neither one noticed the ghostly figure which watched them both with interest.
It was a week after getting back from comforting Nobuyuki, and Genma was up late at night doing something that he had really never done before: thinking. Specifically about the future. Oh, he had some vague plans. Training the boy in the art so he could marry one of the Tendous and take over the dojo. Some specific plans on how to train the boy, not much more than that.
All of these deaths around him had caused Genma come to realize that he'd made no plans for the possibility that he might die one day. It was a chilling thought, but after the passing of both Achika and Soun's wife, it was one he had to face. Nodoka would go on without him. He knew she was a kind and gentle woman, but with a will of iron underneath. It was one of the reasons that he had married her. The boy might miss him, but he was a strong one as well.
His biggest problem was who would train the boy when he was gone. Both Nodoka and the boy's grandfather could teach him that sword style of theirs, but Ranma would never reach his full potential if there was no one who could keep up his training in Anything Goes. Genma could free the master, since he doubted that they had really used enough TNT to do the old freak in, but that would probably only makes things worse.
No, there was only one choice: his old buddy Soun. He had started training Akane in the Art, only to stop when his wife had died. Tendou had even stopped practicing himself, but maybe Genma could convince him to do this, just in case it was needed. He'd give his old friend a copy of all of his training plans and make him swear an oath. Despite being the master's pupil, Genma knew that Soun still had a strong sense of honor.
Katsuhito had never liked Genma, not from the moment he had first met him. It was obvious that he was a gluttonous, self-centered lout trained by one of the most despicable martial arts masters the world had ever known. Genma had been completely unworthy of his daughter…
And now that man was dead. Yet the old priest felt no sense of satisfaction or justice. It could have been that in the end, Genma had chosen to save his family rather than himself, showing that underneath everything, his heart had always been in the right place. Katsuhito hated to think that he could be wrong, but perhaps he had misjudged Genma, and now it was too late.
He sighed and reached for the phone, not feeling any humor in the irony of a call he had made in a similar situation. Instead there was only bitterness over his past mistakes. Maybe, though, he could make it better somehow.
"Nobuyuki, I need you to do me a little favor…"
Soun Tendou put down the paper with a loud sigh. Not a single tear fell in a situation where he would normally be bawling his eyes out. His best friend in the world was now dead. Instead, his face was marked by a look of determination that none of his daughters had ever seen before.
It was a shock to all of them, when after breakfast, he stood up and said, "I have to go to Juuban on a matter of honor and I might not be back until late. Kasumi, please look after your sisters until I return."
Even though she was only fourteen, Kasumi took her responsibilities very seriously. "Yes, Father."
Soun found the door of the Saotome home answered by a man who was only vaguely familiar. "My name is Soun Tendou. I was a good friend of Genma's and I am looking for his wife, Nodoka."
Shaking Soun's hand, the other man said, "Nice to meet you again, though I'm sorry it had to be under this circumstance. I'm Nobuyuki Masaki. I believe we met during Nodoka and Genma's wedding."
Soun followed Nobuyuki into the living room, where Nodoka was poring over the papers before her. She was still in the process of selling her house and moving into the Masaki home in Okayama.
Nodoka finally looked up and noticed him. "Oh, Soun, I'm so sorry for not calling you. Its just that after Genma… well, it hasn't been easy."
"I understand," Soun said as he took a seat. "Are you all right about talking about it?"
Nodoka nodded. "It's only been a week, but I think that somehow Genma knew something like this was going to happen. He did a lot to prepare for this just in case. He made it very easy for Ranma and I to say good-bye."
"If you don't mind, can you tell me how it happened?"
"It was something so simple really. It was while walking home after eating out to celebrate Ranma winning a martial arts tournament. We were crossing the street when a truck turned the corner and didn't stop. Genma managed to push Ranma and I out of the way, but he couldn't save himself. The doctors said that he should have died instantly from the crash, but Genma was always so strong.
"He told me that I shouldn't be sad, that he had died in a way that he hoped would redeem the mistakes that he had made in life. He wanted me to go on without him, for my son's sake if not my own. He made me promise him to raise Ranma to be the greatest martial artist in the world. After I agreed, he smiled, closed his eyes, and then faded away."
Nodoka started to break down in tears at the end. Nobuyuki was immediately at her side to comfort her, while throwing Soun a disapproving look.
"I'm sorry for bringing up such a painful subject."
"It's all right," Nodoka replied as she wiped away her tears. "I think it hurts less the more I talk about it."
"Genma also spoke to me about the possibility of his death. It was his wish that I take up Ranma's training. It might be best for Ranma if you both would move to the Tendou dojo so I could begin his instruction in earnest."
"I don't think that would be a very good idea. Ranma has been spending a lot of time here with his cousin Tenchi and that's helping both of them getting over the loss of a parent. It also would take him away from school, where Ranma has several friends. Besides, I've already begun to teach Ranma the Masaki family sword style, building on the somewhat sporadic lessons my father gave him. I don't know if Ranma needs to learn more of Anything Goes."
Soun needed to do this though, not only for Genma and Ranma, but mostly for himself. It was his way of regaining part of what he had lost when his wife died.
"Perhaps if I were to train Ranma on the weekends? He can come to the Tendou dojo at the end of each school week and return home Sunday evening. That way he stays with his cousin and the same school, and you can still train him on the weekdays."
Nodoka thought it over. In the end, she couldn't ignore the pleading in Soun's voice or her husband's last wishes to make Ranma the greatest martial artist possible. "All right, he can stay over the Tendou dojo during some of the school breaks as well. You had better not try anything like the Neko-ken though, that alone has caused enough problems."
Soun nodded and left. He had much to plan for.
Trying to close her eyes and fall asleep, Nodoka absentmindedly placed her hand on the space next to her, expecting to feel the body of whom she had been used to for many years.
The incident was too recent in memory for her to _not_ think about. Every time she went over those few seconds that changed her life, something always felt off.
'Why, Genma?' she thought. 'Why couldn't you just push us faster and make it to safety? I know you were quicker than that."
Turning on a different side in hope of sleep, the thoughts kept on flowing through her mind.
'Were you afraid of not being able to grab onto one of us? That we might get hurt or be dead because of it? Or… was it that and you were afraid of what father would say and do to you?"
With that final thought, she finally fell asleep.
Ranma stared at the cave in front of him. Nothing of it seemed special to him; there was nothing that stood out and grabbed his attention.
"I always wondered what Tenchi sees in this." Sighing, he continued, not knowing why he had the sudden urge to talk to the inanimate object, "Well, eleven years old and I'm suddenly the man of the house. Actually, Mr. Masaki is since me and Mom will be living there now. You know… I miss Pops a lot. He knew so many neat things and was so happy to teach them. It feels strange now that he's not around."
Ranma sighed again and wiped his dry eyes, telling himself that he was now a man and men shouldn't cry; that's what his Pops always said. He looked down as he felt a few drops flow down his cheeks and onto the ground.
A sudden feeling of warmth was upon Ranma. Standing still, he allowed it to gently caress his face, as if the air around him was trying to ease his pain.
The moment ended when he heard someone shout out, "Ranma!"
Turning, Ranma saw his cousin running up to him.
Stopping to catch his breath as he finally found who he was looking for, Tenchi said, "Everyone was looking for you. Are you feeling okay?"
"Yeah… at least, I'm feeling better than before."
Staring back at his cousin, who did indeed seem well, Tenchi asked, "So… you want to come back home and play? You mother's going to be cooking soon."
"Sure, let's go!"
Both boys raced back down towards the Masaki home.
Akane flicked the sweat that was dripping from her hair as she went into the same kata for about the twentieth time. She, being a very determined eleven year old, refused to stop until she had it perfect. Finally, she would have the rematch that she had been training five years for.
Akane had always been interested in martial arts. She had tried to imitate her father practicing as soon as she could walk. And it was something that she could do well, better than anyone she knew. Her family and friends were all impressed to see such skill in a little girl. It wasn't something that she was serious about, but it was something that she liked doing and being good at.
That was until she met Ranma, who despite being her age, had beaten her ten times in a row. No matter what she had tried, Ranma had always won. And then his mother had caught them and forbidden him to fight her, like Akane was too frail. She decided right there that she wouldn't rest until she had beaten him at least once. And with her father's announcement of Ranma coming over on the weekends to train, she finally had her chance.
Ranma smiled as he gathered up his bath things and headed to the Tendou furo. It had been so good to fight with Akane again. And it was funny how flustered she got when she lost.
After her first loss, Akane had challenged him to an immediate rematch and lost even more quickly than the first time. She even challenged him to a match over who got to use the furo first. He didn't know what sort of training Mr. Tendou had planned, but it looked like it would mostly consist of Akane trying to beat him up.
Thinking of this, Ranma failed to notice that the furo was already occupied until he opened the door just as Nabiki was getting out of the bath.
Barely looking at her, Ranma said, "Oh, I didn't know you were in here, Nabiki. Just tell me when you're done."
With that, he left.
Nabiki had gone from instant embarrassment to anger. Having recently hit puberty, her body was developing accordingly. She had noticed that the boys have been paying a lot more attention to her lately, even going so far as to buy her things. Always looking for a way to make some easy money, Nabiki had done her best to take advantage of this.
She was queen of middle school until her little sister Akane had come there and then suddenly all the boys had started to ignore Nabiki in favor of her 'cuter' sister. She hated how she was almost forgotten now. Why did Akane have to come and ruin everything?
'How dare he pretend he didn't notice that I was naked!' she thought. 'He should have been struck blind by seeing a cute girl like me and started showering me with presents. I'll get Ranma for this!'
Immediately, she thought of her first step. Finding her sister, she told Akane that she could have her bath now. Waiting a few minutes, she went and told Ranma the same thing, acting like nothing was wrong.
"Ranma no Baka!" Akane shouted loud enough for the neighbors to hear and then punted a half naked Ranma into the koi pond.
When Ranma glared at her accusingly, Nabiki only smiled.
Ranma cautiously approached his mother as she prepared dinner, having just come back from his weekly training at the Tendou Dojo. He was surprised to realize that it had been four years since he had started his training with Tendou-sensei.
His mother had always been protective of him, but ever more so after his father had died. Mr. Tendou had tried many times to persuade her to allow Ranma to go on a extended training trip, but Nodoka refused to have her son out of her sight for more than a week.
Ranma knew his father had planned many trips, but the one that he had always talked about was to China. Due to the good business of the reopened Tendou dojo, Tendou-sensei had finally saved more than enough to pay for the trip, but was afraid that Nodoka would say no without even hearing him out. That's why he had persuaded Ranma to ask instead.
Ranma had agreed since he really wanted to go on this trip, but that didn't make asking his mom any easier. Nodoka was normally very sweet and loving, but when Ranma stepped out of line she could become very stern. Ever since his pop died, any time Ranma did something wrong she'd call for a training session in kendo, which would last until he fell down in exhaustion. It was good training, but it wasn't something Ranma looked forward to.
"Oh, Ranma, welcome home. Dinner will be ready in a few minutes."
"That's great, but there's something I've got to ask you…"
"Tenchi is upstairs in your room." Nodoka thought it was odd that the boys had insisted on sharing a room despite the fact that in the large Masaki house they could each have their own.
"That wasn't it. You see, the Tendou dojo has been doing really well and there's vacation from school coming up. Tendou-sensei was thinking that…"
"Ranma, please sit down and tell me what you want."
The pigtailed boy did as he was told. "Tendou-sensei wants to take me on a month-long training trip to China."
The only sign that Nodoka's calm had wavered was the fact that she had nearly dropped the knife she was holding. "Ranma, you know that even though I'm only working part-time, my job as a kendo instructor is very important to me, so I can't just take a month off right now. I also don't like the idea of you being away from me for so long, especially to China. That's not the friendliest place for someone Japanese to go."
"Please, Mom. Pops always wanted to go to China, and Tendou-sensei has been talking about all the things we can see there. It will only be for a month and I doubt there's much that me and Tendou-sensei won't be able to handle. I really, really want to go."
Nodoka considered her son for a while in silence. He had grown up so fast. It seemed only yesterday that Genma was trying to sneak off with the boy on a training trip. He had proven to be able to take care of himself. Maybe it was time that she let him go off without her, at least for a little while.
"All right, you can go, _but_ I don't want you missing any more school days then are needed and you'll still be responsible for any homework you have over this trip."
"Okay, sure thing," Ranma answered readily, having just about ignored everything she had said past the part about allowing him to go.
Cautiously looking around to see if anyone was nearby, Soun and Ranma slowly walked along, trying to sneak out of the Tendou home. Their progress was halted as they were confronted by a very angry ponytailed teenage girl wearing a gi and carrying a backpack.
"Going somewhere?" she asked in a voice that was just barely holding back from shouting.
"Just taking Ranma on a little training trip," Soun told his youngest daughter.
"Like who?" Ranma asked, not catching on.
"Like me, you baka!" Akane shouted right in his face.
Even though he was used to it, somewhat, anyway, Ranma took a step back. He could understand her being upset, though. He wouldn't have been pleased if he were the one that was being left behind. Ranma had actually been surprised that Akane wasn't going with them.
"Well, I didn't think that you would want to go on an extended training trip, being away from you friends and missing some school," Soun told her.
"Besides, going all the way to China on a training journey is too rough for girls, even tomboys like you," Ranma added, putting his foot in his mouth. Akane showed her appreciation of his figurative contortion by applying her elbow to his stomach.
That was just how they got along; neither of them really meant anything by it. Ranma didn't actually think that women were weak, especially Akane; and in turn, Akane really didn't think that every boy was a pervert. Nor did she ever hit him hard when they weren't training. It would have been hard spending every weekend and about half of the holidays with someone who you truly hated.
Soun took a step back. Even he was frightened of his little girl when she got really mad and she looked ready to explode at any moment.
"I am going with you." Akane said it as a flat statement of fact, making it very obvious that it wasn't open to negotiation. "Or else I'll persuade Kasumi to let me cook for the both of you when you get back. For a month. No… make that two months!" She didn't very much like admitting that her cooking needed some help, as others around her did, but considering the situation…
Soun and Ranma exchanged defeated looks. Both knew that they wouldn't be able to survive a week of nothing but Akane's cooking, much less two months. Trying to get food elsewhere would be no good; the Tendou girl would force-feed them if she had to.
"All right, you can come," Soun said as if it were the last thing he wanted to happen.
"Yatta!" Akane shouted, dancing around Ranma while having a gleeful look on her face.
Only when both Ranma and Akane's backs were to him did Soun allow himself to smile.
To be continued.
Author's notes: Well… what else to say other than 'it's back'?
To those who've asked from time to time about the series being continued, I hope this can be as interesting as the original was.
Thanks to those who pre-read the original:
Thanks to those who pre-read this revised chapter:
And thanks to Ammadeau for allowing me to revise and continue his series.
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