A refreshing breeze blew through the window of the shrine office, causing a set of chimes to toll lightly in the late spring morning air. The serene beauty of Jurai had never held Yosho's fascination like the Earth had.
He wasn't sure whether it was because of his heritage, or because of the rustic romanticism that the planet held. The technology was quaint and primitive, but the daily struggles of life seemed to make every sacrifice worthwhile. Lifespans were measured in decades, not millennia, making them all the more potent and precious.
Looking out the office window, Yosho allowed his eyes to roam the small valley that his home rested in. The maples were a lush green, and a tangy pine scent floated to him on another errant breeze. The lake was the purest blue, reflecting the beautiful sky that graced this almost perfect morning.
He sighed, bringing his attention back to the guest seated before him. Beautiful hardly described her. Her poise and presence had undermined nations. Her quiet, enigmatic smile had soothed thousands of conflicts. And yet for all its power, that smile could no longer bring him peace.
Whatever the case might have been, he had long ago given up any desire to return to the planet of his birth. Unfortunately, for him at least, the woman sitting quietly across the table had other plans. His now-young face wore a troubled expression. He knew what was coming. They had had this conversation a thousand times before.
"You will return to Jurai with us, Yosho." Her voice brooked no arguments. Unfortunately, that was what had been going on for the last two-and-a-half hours: polite, but firm, arguing.
Yosho was at odds with himself. He had never before confronted his parents on any issue. The closest that he had come had been running after Ryoko in spite of his father's wishes. At least there had been lives at stake then, and the unquestioned passion of vengeance to consider. No one could question those.
He didn't have such crutches to rely on now. No, now he was faced with a no-win situation: disobey and face the consequences, or go back to Jurai and face the political bigotry of the Court that he hated so much. He couldn’t even hide behind his tree any longer, not since Washu had revealed that it was possible to uproot a Space Tree without any ill effects.
He detested being bullied, and in the end that was exactly what this was boiling down to.
"Or what, Mother?" He cringed inwardly at the bitterness that his voice held. This conversation had gone on too long, and he was losing his composure. He needed for them to understand his position. He could care less if they accepted it or not, so long as they understood. "Will I be disowned? Banished? Or perhaps become a branded traitor?" The callous mockery that laced his voice caused his mother to bristle slightly.
Funaho looked at him coldly, and he knew that his words had stung her. She would never condone such actions, nor would his father dare insinuate such things. Not if he knew what was good for him.
Yosho calmly set his teacup down before him. He hadn't meant the harshness to enter his voice, but this conflict between father and son was old and worn. It was a battle that had lasted nearly a millennium, and Yosho had grown tired of it long ago. The fact that Azusa had sent Funaho to fight his losing battle boiled Yosho's blood.
He sighed in exasperation. "Forgive me, Mother. I do not mean disrespect." At least, he hadn't meant it toward her. She shouldn't have been the one to make this demand. But the man that he called "Father" had refused to approach him. He was the Emperor of billions of sentient life forms, and yet the man sent his wife to bully him into becoming the heir apparent.
Yosho had explained his reasons for abdicating the throne to Azusa before he set out to face Ryoko. And when the man refused to listen, Yosho had turned to Funaho and the High Chancellor. He had yearned for their understanding, but had received only badgering and frustration from all sides. They left him no choice in the matter, and so he made a choice of his own.
Funaho looked at her only child coolly, but the iciness of her gaze melted under the agony that hid behind her son's eyes. She had spent almost one thousand years reading people, unlocking their secrets one at a time by watching their faces, the way they sat, and the way they moved. She knew her baby was fighting her tooth and nail, and from the way her heart was breaking she knew that he was winning.
His arguments were sound. She knew that if the crown were forced on him, both he and Ayeka would suffer needlessly. A loveless marriage was the seed of civil unrest, and Jurai had enough problems at the moment without a wedge forcing its ruling body apart. That was something that she hoped to avoid at all costs.
She refused to let her emotions show; there was no need to let him know that he had won his battle. Instead, she attacked him from a new position.
"Tell me then Yosho, if not you ." Her voice took on a dangerous softness that caused the hair on the back of Yosho's neck to stand on end. " then who?"
Yosho looked at his mother calculatingly before answering. "Tenchi, of course."
"And if he refuses, or is found unworthy?" the Lady Funaho asked quietly.
"He is worthy, Mother. I have trained Tenchi since his mother died. He has accepted his heritage and will accept his place as heir to the throne." The pride in his voice was evident.
Funaho hoped that Tenchi was all that her son promised, and more. It was going to take a miracle for her to be able to convince Azusa to accept the boy in Yosho's stead. It would take something even more miraculous to get the bigots in the Guild Congress and Parliament to look past the boy’s heritage.
"So all your hopes rest in this one boy ." She paused to sip her tea. "That seems very unlike you, son. It is a politically unsound strategy." The mother eyed her son over the rim of her teacup. "I thought that I had taught you better than that." Her frown caused Yosho discomfort.
This was an entirely new tactic for her; usually his father was the one that questioned Yosho's every move. Her tactics were to lead you to the conclusion that she felt was best, and make it look as if it had been your choice all along. To have her challenge him like this, when she had once been his staunchest ally, was a cutting betrayal. The insult inflamed him, but the flames only blazed in his eyes.
She saw them and smiled.
When he responded, his voice was neutral, and emotionless. "Only a fool would place his hope so fully in one arena."
Funaho's eyebrow rose slightly, feigning surprise. Yosho was indeed out of practice if he was willing to give away so much so soon. Or perhaps he has another agenda altogether? The First Queen of Jurai lowered her eyes slightly to take a moment to regroup. It was always best to follow her first instinct in these things. "So there is another avenue that could be pursued if necessary?"
Too late he realized that she had maneuvered him into giving away information. He did his best to recover. "Perhaps," he said casually. "If the need arose." He knew that she would pump him for information — and eventually get all that she desired.
Funaho looked at her Yosho knowingly. Out of practice. You've grown rusty, son.
She hoped that Yosho understood that she loved him. But, when that love was balanced against the wellbeing of the countless citizens that made their homes within the Empire, she couldn't let it blind her to what needed to be done.
"That is very reassuring. I would like to meet with this hidden trump of yours." Her eyes stared at him intently, gauging every subtle move of his body, watching his eyes for the slightest message.
Yosho's brow shot up in alarm.
You're an open book, Yosho, she thought disappointedly. It was a problem for another occasion, though. Now was the time to press him for more information. "Is there a problem with that?"
"No, Mother," he hedged. How could he tell her that his trump card had been missing for the last ten years? There was no use for it. He would have to use drastic measures to find Nodoka's boy. "I will make the necessary arrangements for the meeting as soon as possible."
"That will be splendid. Your father and I cannot wait to meet another of our grandchildren." Yosho swallowed the rest of his warm tea in one gulp and prayed that Ranma was every bit the man that Nodoka’s letters had claimed him to be. Somehow, the thought of any child with Genma Saotome as a father was less than inspiring.
Ranma sneezed loudly as he and Akane walked home from school. A dread chill ran down his spine that caused him to look around anxiously. Seeing nothing amiss, he shrugged his shoulders and continued home.
A Ranma ½ / Tenchi Muyo! crossover story
by Jeffrey Vasquez
Disclaimer: "Ranma ½" was created by Takahashi Rumiko, and is licensed to Shogakukan Inc., Kitty, Fuji TV, and Viz Communications Inc. "Tenchi Muyo" was created by Kajishima Masaki, and is licensed to AIC/VAP, NTV, and Viz Communications Inc. All original characters belong to me.
Chapter One: To Find a Prince
Nodoka Saotome hadn't heard from her father in years, not since Achika had passed away. The deep rift that had opened between them began with her marriage to Genma, and had only grown steadily since then. She had thought that they would never speak again and resigned herself to living her life with her wayward husband and son. When Genma had taken Ranma away, Nodoka felt as if her world had shattered, but she bore it with the stoicism that was legendary among Japanese women.
Ranma had returned, both better and worse than she had hoped, but her life was whole again and that meant a great deal. To receive a telephone call from her father though that was a miracle that she had never hoped to see. It warmed her heart almost as much as finding Ranma again.
Perhaps the years had buried their differences, and Katsuhito Misaki would once again be an active part of her life. She had tried to keep him abreast of all that was going on in her family's life through monthly letters, but it was not the same when he never wrote back. She missed her father greatly.
Now he was coming to visit, to "make amends" for his long absence. All she had to do was whip her husband into shape and make Ranma presentable for his first real visit from his grandfather. A monumental task to be sure, but one that Nodoka was sure could be attained. She wondered at the fact that he was bringing guests with him . "Old family" he had said.
Perhaps they were cousins from mother's side — she knew that father had been an only child. A migraine began to slowly ebb behind her eyes as she pondered all that she had to do before her father arrived next week. She offered up a silent prayer that the heavens would be merciful.
Ranma watched as his father desperately packed all of their meager belongings. His mad dash about the room they shared in the Tendo home made Ranma smirk, not a hard task considering the fact that his father was currently an obese panda with wide bulging eyes.
Nodoka, from her position next to her son, could only shake her head in disgust. It was on occasions such as these that she really wondered if all of her sacrifices had truly been worth it. She had left her father and her sister for a fat and cowardly man. She shook her head as Genma "growfed" and barked at Ranma to hurry, and made a slight adjustment to her observation. Genma was a fat and cowardly panda. Oh, the shame!
One look at her son, though, justified her every loss. He might not have been as refined as she had hoped for, but there was no doubt in her mind that Ranma was a man among men, in spite of his "affliction".
No thanks to his father.
Nodoka glared at the back of her transformed husband with open disappointment. The panda in question whirled on his son abruptly, and began scribbling on a large wooden sign.
[Why aren't you helping me?]
"Because I ain't goin' with ya, ya old fart!" Ranma smiled smugly. "I ain't never met Grandpa, and I ain't gonna miss out on this chance because you're too much of a coward to face him!" Nodoka smiled up at her son approvingly.
[Traitorous child! To think, that after all that we've been through together, you would abandon your own father!] The panda began to weep and moan pitifully.
"So says the man who dumped his kid into a pit of starving cats," Ranma deadpanned. "Shoulda done it a long time ago and saved myself some grief," Ranma mumbled.
Nodoka smiled to herself as Genma began his crazed packing anew. Despite the example of her husband, her son had learned the value of family and family honor. It made her pride swell. Now, if she could only do something about his manners and speech before her father arrived, all would be well.
Yosho turned to his mother after hanging up the receiver. Funaho was unable to hide her eagerness, despite the cool demeanor that she had painted on her face. "They are expecting us in a week."
"You could not arrange for something sooner?" Funaho asked.
"No, Mother. My daughter deserves time to prepare herself for our arrival." He turned away from her, looking out the window of his office. "We did not part on good terms, and I have never revealed the truth of her heritage to Nodoka. I need the time to prepare myself."
"May I ask why?" Funaho asked in a miffed tone.
She thought that he was ashamed of whom and what he was? It was enough to cause Yosho to whirl on his mother angrily. "What should I have said, Mother? 'No-chan, you and your sister are actually half-breed aliens that will be despised by my people and feared by your mother's.' Our lives were hard enough as it was after their mother died. I refused to burden them needlessly by alienating them from their peers."
He turned away from her and let his voice drop. "This planet no longer has ties to the Empire, Mother. They are not as enlightened as the people of Jurai." The angry cynicism dripped heavily from his lips.
Funaho stared at him seemingly unruffled, but Yosho knew better. She had never seen him like this, and he meant to capitalize on it. He snapped his fingers dramatically causing her to jump.
"One slip and my family would have been hunted and caged, instead of simply being ostracized." His face melted and morphed back to the distinguished face of his alter ego. Yosho's young eyes stared at his mother from the wizened face of Katsuhito Masaki. "I gave them peace. Their ancestry was a small price to pay for their happiness."
Funaho smiled at her son, despite the anger and regret that she felt. It was a motherly gesture, devoid of queenly authority, that again took Yosho by surprise. He had protected his daughters like a true father. That one fact warmed the smile immensely.
"I thank you for that, my son." She wiped a tear from her eye, and soon found her son's arms around her. She looked up; his face was once again young and regal. A handsome young man that made her proud. "You did for them what I could never do for you." And then the tears began to fall in earnest. The centuries of guilt poured from her heart, and Yosho held her in the embrace of forgiveness.
He supported her for some time, cursing his station and the people that had shattered his happiness so long ago. He shook his head in shame. He hoped that Tenchi and Ranma would forgive him for what he was doing to them; and he prayed that Nodoka would understand as well. The last thing that he needed was another wedge between them.
Tsunami, the Ship of Jurai
She had waited patiently for this day — waited and dreaded it. Tsunami loved all of her children dearly, but few had experienced the harshness of life that Ranma had seen. She could not directly interfere with his life either, at the risk of disrupting the fragile balance of things as they had been. But soon that would be behind her. Ranma would stand before her to have his birthright awakened, just as Tenchi had.
She prayed silently that those blessings would be enough to face the trials and challenges that lay before both young men. The goddess of Jurai looked down on the sleeping boy as he dreamt, and smiled lovingly at his handsome face.
For Nodoka, the week had passed in one of those "eternal moments". It took too long to assuage her impatience, and passed far too quickly to accomplish all of her goals. She wanted everything perfect for this meeting, and since Genma and Soun had left for their "training trip", there was at least a small chance that all would go well.
Ranma had fought her coaching at first, but then seemed to catch the importance of what was happening. It was enough to gain his full attention and he caught onto the lessons quickly. He had understood when she asked him to return home, and had done so without alerting any of the other "fiancées". Thank the heavens for small favors! In order to lessen the risk of discovery, she had asked Kasumi and her sisters to help prepare the house for her father's arrival.
Thankfully, they had accepted, for her father had called two days before he was to arrive, saying that he was bringing a few "extra-special guests" with him on top of those that he had already commented on. She suspected that his companions would be her sister's husband and son, but Father hadn't been forthcoming with any useful information. When she pressed him about numbers, he simply laughed and said not to worry, that everything was taken care of.
That in and of itself worried her. What would her guests think of their hostess if she were unprepared? The worry gradually faded in the flurry of activity that followed his call. She and Kasumi set about preparing a feast fit for a king, and Ranma and Akane set about preparing the guest rooms for occupation. Nabiki grumpily swept the house, weeded the garden, and finished any odd jobs and running that needed to be accomplished before their guests arrived.
The time passed by in the blink of an eye, and the Day of Arrival was soon upon a very nervous Nodoka Saotome.
Akane smiled at Ranma.
It was a rare and beautiful thing for the young martial artist to see, and for once he had decided to keep his mouth shut and enjoy it for as long as he possibly could.
"This is so exciting, Ranma!" He nodded silently as they prepared the last room for Grandpa and his mysterious guests. "I never got to know my grandparents before they died. I had a great-aunt that was kind of like a grandma, I suppose. But it just wasn't the same as the real thing."
"Yeah," he said lightly, folding a freshly cleaned futon and storing it in the closet.
"'Yeah'? That's all you can say?" She asked incredulously.
He looked at his fiancée quizzically. "What should I say?" he demanded.
Akane's posture shifted from excited to extremely annoyed in the blink of an eye. "Well, you could at least show some more enthusiasm! You can be so insensitive sometimes!"
"Awww, what do you know!" Ranma said in confused frustration. His brain struggled for a witty comeback, but drew a blank. His body made up for the blunder by launching a pillow at Akane, followed quickly by an intelligent, "Uncute tomboy!"
Akane caught the pillow, and threw it back rapidly with her own rejoinder. "Baka!"
Ranma plucked the projectile from the air. "Flat-chested, sexless girl-wannabe." The pillow flew across the room only to be caught again.
Akane was growing irked, and the pillow whizzed back at her fiancée. "Thick-headed, muscle-brained, sex-changing pervert!" The pillow was soon flying back and forth between the two in a complex game of catch, amidst a verbal assault that would have destroyed lesser beings. The barrage went on for a good ten minutes, escalating in volume and fervor.
Nodoka could hear her son and soon to be daughter-in-law declare war on each other. She sighed as she finished putting her hair up in its bun.
She knew it had been inevitable, but she had wished that they had chosen to feud earlier in the week. To do so on the day that her guests were coming was just asking for trouble. She smoothed out the fine green silk kimono that had been her mother's, and mentally prepared herself to confront the bickering teens.
She left her room and quickly navigated the hall to the room that the pair was supposedly preparing for the guests. The door made a poor barrier to the sounds of the vocal skirmish that the couple had unleashed against each other. Nodoka shook her head and wondered if the two would ever set aside their differences long enough to settle down.
She reached out her hand and opened the door. She took one step into the room before her eyes bulged and something exploded in her face.
Ranma was having the time of his life. A bright, playful smile was spread across his face, one that was mirrored intimately by his fiancée. The insults flew with abandon, even as the pillow careened between them. They had never had an encounter like this before, where they just played. It was both liberating and fun.
The moment swallowed both combatants, helping them to throw caution to the wind. Akane launched the pillow at her fiancée with the force a wrecking ball, only to have it speedily returned to her. She knew that she couldn't catch or deflect it, so she did the only thing that presented itself. She dodged, and started to close the distance between them; intent on making this conflict a little more personal.
The pillow whizzed by her head just as the door behind her opened.
Ranma called out in horror as the pillow impacted and exploded in his mother's face. He was subsequently tackled by Akane and buried beneath a mound of toppled bedrolls. Nodoka toppled with a squawk as the eruption of white downy feathers cascaded over her, coating both the kimono and her meticulously-styled hair in fluff.
Akane looked up at her mother-in-law-to-be apoplectically.
"Are you all right, Auntie?" Akane asked in a strained whisper, unaware that she was straddling Ranma's chest. Ranma had frozen the moment Akane had begun her inquiry, and looked for the world like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car.
Shock and embarrassment danced plainly on her face and in her body language as she rushed to help the woman to her feet. Blankets were thrown off in a rush, and a couple of hasty steps drove the air out of Ranma's lungs. Not that he was really conscious of the blows; he had turned white and was tentatively edging his way further back into the room.
Nodoka looked at the fear in her son's eyes, and the worried look in Akane's eyes, and sighed. It was going to be one of those days, wasn't it? Well, at least the girl was taking more initiative with her son. She began to reply when there came a knocking at the door.
She looked at Ranma sternly from her position on the floor. She crooked her finger in a significant, no nonsense manner, motioning for the boy to approach her. Despite the dread that he felt, he rushed to help lift his mother to her feet. He instantly began searching her head for injuries.
It did wonders for her hair, causing Nodoka to mentally curse her luck. Two hours of tedious work, destroyed by a runaway pillow and an overprotective son.
Another knock floated up from the door, eliciting a growl from Nodoka.
Ranma quickly determined that she was fine and then set about repairing the damage that he had done to his mother's beautiful appearance. His hands blurred for a moment, gathering the floating down. When that was accomplished, he set about repairing her hair. He thanked whatever gods had exposed him to martial arts hairstyling; without it Ranma knew that his life would have been in serious jeopardy.
Akane watched her fiancée, pole-axed. He never ceased to amaze her. Every time she thought she had seen it all, he would go and do something new.
When Ranma was finished, Nodoka quickly scanned herself as best she could, then shot Ranma and Akane meaningful looks that promised retribution later on. Both teens smiled sheepishly back at her.
Below, the knock repeated itself.
When she was settled nicely, she made her way down the stairs to answer the door. Akane smacked Ranma on the back of his head and then quickly returned to the room to clean up the mess. Ranma grumbled darkly before pitching in.
Kasumi broke from preparing the tea tray to answer the door. Auntie would have answered it by now if she had been able, but more than likely she was still getting herself ready. As she opened the door, her bright smile took in a nervous, elderly gentleman in a very nice brown suit, followed by two beautiful women in stunning kimonos. Behind them stood a handsome, bearded man in a set of flowing robes. His regal face was stern and commanding, and Kasumi suddenly wanted to kneel before him.
She brightened her smile more, radiating peace and welcome in a way that was purely Kasumi. It caused the gruff looking man to smile awkwardly and the nervous gentleman to calm a bit. Both women exchanged glances and smiled happily back at Kasumi.
"Good afternoon," she greeted warmly. She bowed deeply, without knowing exactly why. She could only accept the fact that it felt right. The group before her reciprocated the gesture, some more respectfully than others. Funaho and Misaki elbowed Azusa sharply in his ribs, earning a barbed glance for their trouble.
"Good afternoon, young lady." The elderly gentleman responded politely. "My name is Katsuhito Masaki. I'm looking for the Saotome residence. Could you please direct me to it?"
Kasumi began to respond, until she felt a familiar presence behind her and stepped aside demurely. Katsuhito gasped as he saw his eldest daughter enter his vision. Tears of deep loss and love filled his eyes at the sight of Nodoka.
She resembled Katsuhito's late wife in almost every detail, from the way she had fixed her hair to the noble presence that she commanded. In his eyes, she was every bit the princess her ancestry claimed her to be. With a grace that would have done both queens proud, Nodoka bowed to her father and then to her father's guests.
"Be welcome in my home." It was said with such love and tenderness that Misaki and Funaho immediately fought the urge to reach out and hug their granddaughter.
Then again, it was more like Funaho and Azusa restraining Misaki.
Katsuhito fought for control of his emotions as his daughter returned her attention back to him. The message was meant for his ears only. All was forgiven, and would be buried with the rest of the past, if he so chose. "Be a part of my life again," she silently asked. And he could no longer hide himself away from her; he could not deny her any longer. With a tender smile, he reached out and gathered his baby girl into his arms.
A deep sigh washed out of her.
"Welcome home, Daddy," she whispered into his ear. Misaki was bawling, clutching at a teary-eyed Funaho. Kasumi's bright smile radiated love on a solar scale, and Azusa shifted from foot to foot, agitated. All this mushy stuff was putting him on edge.
Katsuhito sensed this and broke the embrace gently, but he refused to let go of her hand. Nodoka pulled him into the house followed by the other guests. All was right with the world.
Both queens fell in love with their granddaughter instantly. Azusa looked extremely uncomfortable and highly bored, despite the fact that his second wife was dragging him into the house.
Somewhere in the distance, thunder rolled through a clear sky.
Tenchi had gathered the girls together for a serious talk, one that Ryoko just knew was going to cramp her style. She yawned as everyone took their seats and looked up at Tenchi expectantly. All except Washu, of course. The most brilliant scientific mind in the universe didn't seem to need a lecture on social behavior. Ryoko's face twisted in disgust.
Why did they even have to go visit this cousin of Tenchi's? He was just another one of Yosho's brood, and more than likely as uptight as Ayeka. She smirked at the thought. She could have had a field day with this Ranma, but she knew what Tenchi was going to say, and it was going to be a major wet towel on Ryoko's fun.
"Okay, guys. While we're at my cousin's, could we please just control ourselves?" Everyone looked at Ryoko, and in Ayeka's case the look became a glare.
The Space Pirate puffed up insulted. "What!" Tenchi smiled at her in a way that made her knees go weak. Her head bobbed numbly.
"I've never met Ranma, so I want to make a good impression." Tenchi looked a bit nervous, but excited at the same time.
"You can count on us, Tenchi!" Sasami and Mihoshi cheered. Ryo-Ohki "meowed" and the rivals nodded their solemn agreement.
A dubious look formed on Tenchi's face, but the emotion was short-lived as Washu exited her lab. A small object rested in her hand that reminded Tenchi of a cross between a calculator and a portable CD player.
"Are we all ready?" Washu-chan cried out enthusiastically.
"YES!" They all cheered (and meowed).
"Then gather around me and hold onto whatever's not nailed down!"
Tenchi's face paled dramatically. The reaction did not go unnoticed by Washu.
"Come on, Tenchi! Have a little faith! After all, I am the greatest scientific genius in the Universe!"
Tenchi's face went from a light gray-green color, to a pasty shade of gray. An audible gulp could be heard coming from his throat by all. Washu smirked and re-calibrated her teleporter a bit. With a mad laugh, she hit a green button, opening a large black hole beneath everyone.
A feeling of weightlessness gripped Tenchi, followed by a great sucking of air below them. Everyone screamed loudly, with the exception of Washu, who was laughing so hard her ribs hurt.
Ranma felt like a bug in a jar. Everyone was just staring at him. Grandpa and the other man, Azusa, were weighing him pound for pound like some kind of horse or something. Heh. Horse. Thatís a good one, Saotome!
The dark-haired woman that reminded Ranma of his mother seemed to distill him with her eyes alone. Every move he made was being catalogued for future reference and study. To what end, he had no idea. But, he could tell that Funaho was a woman of high expectations, and for some reason he did not want to disappoint her.
The blue-haired woman, Misaki, reminded Ranma of that Shiratori chick. He just knew that she was going to sweep him up at any moment into a hug and name him Pierre or Jean-Paul or something. Out of the entire lot, she scared him the most. Well, not scared, exactly. More like put him on edge. Yeah, that was it.
The attention that he was receiving from his mother and the Tendo sisters ranged from barely restrained pride to open amusement. Akane was smiling, and had this really goofy look in her eyes that gave the young martial artist the willies. It was with great relief that Nodoka asked Kasumi to begin serving the tea. Ranma was out from beneath the microscope for the moment, and he quietly heaved a grateful sigh.
Grandpa looked at him with a twinkle in his eye that drove whatever comfort Ranma felt to the four winds. It was the same look that Genma had right before he initiated some hell-bent, life-threatening training regime. The glance didn't last long as the old man directed his attention back to his daughter, who was helping Kasumi to pour for the women next to her.
Katsuhito allowed the silence to blanket the room for a short time, reveling in the peace that he knew was about to be driven from the room. He felt his father's weighty gaze at his back, and heard Funaho clear her throat meaningfully. He took one last sip of the wonderful tea before setting the cup down on the table.
For a week he had agonized over how to approach his daughter and grandson. He had hoped that he could do it on his own terms, and in a delicate manner. But his parents took that option from him. They had said that if he didn't have the courage to tell them the truth, then they would.
Poor Nodoka and Ranma wouldn't stand a chance against the combined might of the royal family. Their old lives would be swept under the carpet, and they would be taken back to Jurai in the blink of an eye.
He silently cursed Azusa for his rejection of Tenchi. The boy was relieved, and a little disappointed; not to mention how Ayeka had reacted. She had forced "Daddy" to reserve his judgment of Tenchi until after they had met Ranma. Misaki and Funaho agreed, and Azusa caved in beneath a three-pronged assault.
The pompous old stuffed shirt didn't like the boy because of the love his baby girls showered on Tenchi. He never could share with anyone, or so one of the Emperor's cousin’s had said. And so, now the burden fell to Ranma to impress the egomaniac. He looked deep into Nodoka's eyes and tried to convey all of the remorse that he felt. Her beautiful hands clasped his calloused ones lovingly, breaking his heart.
The illusion that he wore would soon fall away and he would see his betrayal mirrored in her lovely eyes. He wished that a mountain would drop on him.
Misaki laid her long-fingered hand on his shoulder and favored her sister's son with a warm, encouraging smile. He nodded and turned his full attention back to his daughter. "No-chan, there is something that we must discuss." He looked up at the Tendo sisters meaningfully before continuing. "It is a family matter."
Kasumi smiled sweetly and stood from where she knelt near Nodoka and gestured for her sisters to follow her as she made her way to the kitchen. Nabiki tried unsuccessfully to bury her curiosity, and left the room with the intent of eavesdropping at the first opportunity. Funaho smirked knowingly and tapped one of her bracelets before returning her attention to the conversation. Nabiki was in for a rude surprise, to be sure.
Akane looked at Ranma worriedly. Whenever someone said "family matter", it normally involved a new engagement for Ranma. She saw Ranma look to his mother and so shifted her gaze to Nodoka as well.
"Father, Akane is Ranma's fiancée." This caused a few eyebrows to shoot up, accompanied by a large grin from Katsuhito. "Since she is soon to be family, may she remain?"
Funaho again cleared her throat, drawing the attention of those in the room. The question of Akane's continued engagement could be addressed later, after the grandmothers had been given the chance to gauge her worthiness. For now, she was intent on ensuring that the girl could keep her mouth shut.
Funaho's serious eyes bore into Akane's soul, chilling her. "On your honor, Akane-chan, you must promise not to reveal what you are about to learn to anyone at least, not until permission is given." The look intensified, causing Akane to swallow audibly.
"The consequences for wagging tongues are unpleasant." Funaho allowed Akane to fill in her own blanks. The power of the imagination was a more effective deterrent than any real threat.
Akane gulped again and stared wide-eyed at Funaho. Her brain was already busy at work creating tortures for her wagging tongue. Misaki stifled a giggle. Ranma didn't like the open-ended threat one bit, and his body language showed it. He unconsciously moved closer to Akane, while glaring at his mother's guests.
Funaho noted the gesture and made a point to question Nodoka about the state of the pair's relationship at a later time. For the moment, she felt satisfied that she had Akane eating from the palm of her hand, and signaled for her son to continue. Katsuhito shook his head again, and returned to his task.
"No-chan, it is past time that you and your son learn the truth of your ancestry." His voice was calm, but his heart raced nervously. He and his daughter had been apart for so long, that he had no idea how she would take this news. Nodoka, for her part, looked calm and unflappable. Ranma's face wore an anxious look of certain dread. The boy could tell a bomb was going to be dropped.
The grandfather watched his grandson intently, and easily read the "Why me?" that passed Ranma's lips. The response piqued Kastuhito's interest, but circumstance prevented him from pursuing his curiosity.
Nodoka waited for her father to continue before prodding him to continue. "What truth is that, Father?" The look that he gave her was apologetic, and her heart fluttered. What was he going to say? Her mind ran through the possibilities, each more far-fetched and distressing than the last. She did her best to contain the worry, but she knew by the concern on Ranma's face that something had leaked out.
Ranma reached out his hand to comfort his mother. Despite his own worries, he tried to give her his support. She squeezed his hand reassuringly.
To his surprise he felt Akane wrap her hand around his in the exact same gesture. Katsuhito smiled at the combined front that he was facing. A strong family could weather any storm.
"Perhaps it is best if I show you."
Nodoka looked from her father to the people behind him, and then at Ranma and Akane. When she turned her gaze back to her father, her breath caught in her throat. A mark, consisting of two distinct slashes that angled toward the bridge of his nose, lit up with a light of its own. He stood straight and tall, and a set of tiger stripes slashed upward from his refined jaw. His clothes changed from the handsome brown suit that he wore to a set of white and blue robes that seemed to flutter in a non-existent wind.
The moment Grandpa's face began to change, Ranma was moving. The change had taken but an instant, shocking both Akane and Nodoka. He pulled them to their feet and lashed out with a kick to the table that sent it flying into the royal family. Their startled yells drew the attention of their Guardians, and two giant, floating logs with weird Kanji materialized in the middle of the room. This seemed to be enough to snap Akane out of her stupor.
Ranma and Akane's ki flared, mingling in a beautiful dance of blue and gold. The floating logs began to move forward, intent on neutralizing the threat to their masters. But Ranma wasn't about to let whoever or whatever it was get away with impersonating his grandpa like that and began to move forward himself. He motioned for Akane to get his mother free of the room, and she nodded.
The tension in the room elevated greatly, as the "guests" extracted themselves angrily from beneath the table. Misaki shook tea from her blue hair and glowered at the young man. She was impressed at what she saw before her; the boy had a great deal of potential, to be sure. But right now she wanted to spank him. Hard.
Funaho calmly brushed some crumbs from her kimono; the only sign of her distress was the stiffness in her posture. Azusa tried to restrain himself from throttling the boy as he wiped the chocolate cake from his face and beard.
Yosho had a beaming smile across his face at Ranma's demonstration. He hadn't even sensed the boy move, and by the look of his ki, the crown prince knew that he was dealing with a master of the Art. He wanted to test the boy, but now was not the time. Best to calm the fires that he knew before he tried to control the raging inferno that was Ranma.
"Azaka! Kamidake! Stand down." Both Guardians stopped, and Azaka turned to his master.
Yosho gave him no chance to finish. "I SAID STAND DOWN!" The command in his voice cut through the room like a wet blanket. Akane's ki guttered involuntarily and she sat down on the floor with a loud thump. Nodoka flinched and her body followed Akane's by some long buried reflex.
Misaki and Funaho looked up at their shared son and their jaws dropped at the man's powerful display. He could run from what he was, but they knew that he could never truly escape. Azusa radiated a father's pride, now more determined than ever to put his son's behind firmly on the throne — regardless of whether he wanted it or not. Fathers knew best, at any rate.
The only one untouched by Yosho's display was Ranma. He stood loose and ready to move, his ki flaring brighter than before. Yosho looked into the boy's eyes and saw a fire that was eternal. Nothing could douse the flames that danced in Ranma's soul, he wagered, not even death.
Nodoka had named him well. "Wild Horse" fit the boy perfectly, and he knew in that moment that Azusa would have a more difficult time bending Ranma to his will than he would Tenchi. He had to diffuse the boy's apprehension before Ranma got himself hurt. If he fought, he would give a good account of himself, but he would still fall.
"Ranma." Yosho held out his hands in a gesture of peace. "I mean your family no harm." He bowed low to Ranma, yielding himself to the boy. "Please forgive my carelessness in handling this matter." Ranma lowered his ki, slightly, but remained in his loose ready stance.
Trust was never easily gained, and Yosho knew that he would have to work in order to prove that he was worthy of Ranma's. He nodded once in Ranma's direction before looking down at his daughter. Nodoka's eyes were wide, but not fearful. "Forgive me, No-chan, I didn't know how else to tell you."
Nodoka looked up at the marked face that had been her gentle father's just a moment ago. She studied it intently, seeing a cold iron buried there that she had only witnessed once — the day she had told him that she was marrying Genma.
Her gaze passed over each feature, but finally rested on the man's eyes. Something indefinable reached out through those handsome eyes and touched Nodoka.
"Daddy?" She reached out cautiously. Ranma started forward, but checked himself at the last minute. Yosho took his daughter's hand and held it gently as he knelt down next to her.
"Yes, Snow Pea." If there had been any doubt in Nodoka, it was driven away. No one had known his secret name for her. She threw herself from the floor and into his arms. Ranma waited a moment, before relaxing his stance, but his eyes roamed the room watching and waiting.
Akane was stunned, Misaki and Funaho looked pleased, and Azusa reminded Ranma of a lion ready to pounce. The way that he was eyeing Ranma every now and then sent a chill down Ranma's spine.
It was just then that the air opened up above Ranma's head and a mass of flailing appendages engulfed the martial artist.
All was silent for a moment, and then voices rose in surprise and anger. The tirade went on for some time, accompanied by some squirming — and of all things, giggling. Soon the noise died down as the group realized where they were.
Silence fell again as everyone smiled up at the staring group of people around them. A cute meow came from somewhere deep within the pile, followed immediately by a guttural scream of primal terror.
To be continued.
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