A Ranma 1/2 fan fiction story
by Ukyou Kuonji
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video.
Chapter 2: Kuonji for the Defense
"MRS. SAOTOME!! PLEASE!! NOOOOO!!!"
Startled by the intrusion, Nodoka Saotome almost dropped her katana on the sobbing girl that knelt — indeed, practically lay — on the ground in front of her. Had any other type of ceremony been so interrupted — a wedding, say, or even tea — she would have been furious, and her righteous wrath was widely known to be terrible to behold. As it was, Ranma and Genma, who remained on their knees behind Ukyou, were about to taste the fullest measure of that wrath. Only Ukyou stood — well, that wasn't precisely the word — between them and seppuku now.
It was because of this that Nodoka was not angry. She had no real desire to see either of them dead. But honor demanded the deaths of her husband and son, in order to fulfill a promise made to her many years ago:
"I hereby swear! I will bring Ranma up to be an exemplary man, a man's man. If I fail, despite the odds… Father and son will graciously commit seppuku!" Those were the words her darling husband had used as he and Ranma left her to train in the Anything-Goes Martial Arts. He could not have made a more noble promise to her. But he could hardly have failed more spectacularly, nor more miserably. And now she was forced to hold him to the other part of the bargain.
The interruption was a welcome relief. It may only stave off the inevitable, she thought, but it does stave it off, nonetheless. She sheathed the katana, and lowered herself to her knees, in order to console Ukyou.
"Ukyou, dear. I wish you hadn't come here," she said, as tenderly as possible. Well, that's not entirely true, but she really shouldn't be here. This will only hurt her more if she's present. She raised the girl's chin to face hers. "I don't want to do this any more than I imagine you want me to. But honor demands that my husband's promise be kept." All at once, she saw something snap in Ukyou's eyes. Fire replaced water as the girl spoke.
"Promise? Who made this promise, anyway, mother Saotome?"
Nodoka twitched slightly. Ukyou's claim on her son's affections was noticeable, and the engagement had some legal basis to it, but for the Anything-Goes school to be carried on, there must be a union between Ranma and one of the Tendo daughters. Specifically, Akane. Not that it mattered now: there would be no marriage to anyone. Bad enough Ukyou should call her 'mother' when her place as fiancée was subservient to Akane; for her to address her as such when it was this clear that nobody would ever call her that again verged on insult. That had been deliberate. What was Ukyou intending to accomplish with that remark? Nodoka stood up stiffly, barely managing to contain herself sufficiently to reply.
"I wish you wouldn't call me that. See for yourself." She unsheathed her katana, and produced the worn paper that she carried around with her in the sheath. "We will commit seppuku — Genma Saotome, Ranma Saotome." It was written in Mr. Saotome's hand, and Ukyou could feel him shudder behind her as she gazed at the page. His thumbprint sat beneath his name, making it doubly official. As for Ranma, the page was covered with the handprints of a little child, as if he'd been…
"Finger-painting! You'd think he was finger-painting, Mrs. Saotome! Ran-chan couldn't possibly have any idea how serious this thing was! I'll bet he couldn't have even read it! How old was he when his dad wrote this? Three? Four?"
"Very nearly four, Ukyou. But if a child is to be trained, it must be started early. I knew this, even then. But I couldn't bear to part with either of my two men until then." Neither can I, Mrs. Saotome, Ukyou thought to herself. Nodoka continued:
"Dearest had actually intended to take him away from me sooner. And he spoke truly, that I was interfering with Ranma's destiny. A mother's love can spoil a child; make him soft, he said. Only when he made this promise would I release them to their training."
"But you're gonna hold Ran-chan accountable for a promise he didn't know he was making? He couldn't possibly have…"
"…Understood it?" Cut off, Ukyou nodded silently. "No, you're right. He couldn't have. I knew that even then. But I trusted my husband to raise him properly; I assumed he would explain the promise to Ranma when he was old enough to comprehend it."
"Yeah?! Well, he didn't! So does that mean Ranma still dies for Genma's mistakes?"
Nodoka's voice started to freeze over. "Ranma is the reason my husband is dying. Is it any more reasonable that Genma dies alone for Ranma's failure?" The suggestion that Ranma was a failure sent Ukyou into a paroxysm of rage. She stood up and shook her fist in Nodoka's face."Ranma, a failure?! Just because he lands in a cursed spring and turns into a woman, you say he's a failure? If your husband can be a man's man even though he changes into a panda, why is your son not a man's man simply because what he changes into is a girl? It's still your son inside that frame you knew as Ranko!
"You remember? You never could get Ranko to be sufficiently ladylike, no matter how hard you tried! Don'tcha get it? It's because that was no lady, that was your boy! Your man! Your man among men!"
"My man among men." she added quietly.
During Ukyou's tirade, Nodoka's eyes went wide for a moment, and then a small, sad smile began to play across her lips. Realization was beginning to dawn. She thinks this is because of Jusenkyo! She shook her head.
"You're quite right, Ukyou. It is what is inside a person that counts. And I suppose I should not have forced 'Ranko' to be the lady she wasn't, after all."
Ukyou begin to look relieved, but then developed a look of puzzled consternation. But we're still here, after all. There's something else?
Nodoka continued "The Jusenkyo curse has nothing to do with whether Ranma had become a man's man. Once he was cursed, however, his reaction to it was shameful and unmanly."
"How he… reacted to it?" Ukyou tried to understand that one. He didn't like being a girl — but what's so unmanly about that? I'm not sure I'd be too thrilled about landing in one of those things and having to actually be a boy half the time, either. I mean, it just wouldn't be natural. So where's the problem? "It's not whether he enjoyed being cursed or not, is it?"
"No, although it is said that to be truly masculine, one must be feminine as well. And vice versa, I would imagine. No, what was unmanly about his reaction… was his cowardice."
Ukyou was poleaxed. Cowardice? She spun around and dropped to her knees to face Ranma. Could it be? Ranma barely looked up from his knife into Ukyou's face.
"You see? Even now, he hardly dares to look you in the eye, lest his eyes meet mine. Do you understand now? He is afraid. Of his own MOTHER!!" Nodoka's voice rose to a shriek. The sound of it startled Ukyou into action. She sprang to her feet and whirled to face Nodoka.
"Well, of COURSE he's afraid. The one person who could offer him love, even…" Ukyou shot a dirty look at Genma, "…even TOO much love (ha!), and all he sees is that goddamn katana! It might as well snow hot ash, for all the sense that makes! His mother, who he hasn't seen for — what? Thirteen years? — shows up, for the sole purpose of literally taking his head off? Something is terribly wrong here! Why WOULDN'T he be afraid?
"This son of yours has battled bullies, gangsters, monsters, and dealt with all manner of trials and tribulations, even in the short span of time I've come to reacquaint myself with him. Through all of that, he has acquitted himself honorably. He has never shown fear throughout any of this; indeed, he's usually fearless to the point of foolhardiness. He rushes in and fights, without giving a thought to the danger, until it's too late. But he can't fight you… you're his mother. He loves you, and wishes that you loved him back. That's all.
"But here you stand…" she reached over and fingered the blade of Nodoka's now-upraised katana, "with this in the air. You can't embrace your son when you're holding that thing." Ukyou winced briefly, and brought her hand down. A thin trickle of blood fell from her thumb. "And don't try tellin' me that a manly man wouldn't fear this! He's been cursed by the Nyaniichuan. He's a girl half the time, f'cryin' out loud. He figures he's facing certain death if he comes to you with that hanging over him. How's he supposed to know you'd be understanding about his curse? All he knows of you is…" She slowly drew her thumb across her throat, and the blood from her scratch traced a slash mark across her neck, as if to further underline her point.
Slowly, the katana was lowered. Mrs. Saotome knelt on the stones, gesturing to her side. "Ukyou, dear, sit down here, would you please?"
Ukyou sat down as instructed, and stared into Mrs. Saotome's eyes. It looked as though she would be able to save her Ran-chan's life. The very least Mrs. Saotome owed her was a reasonable explanation, one that she could not refute, before denying her the role of rescuer.
And an explanation was what she got.
"Ukyou, dear, you must understand. I can see that you love my Ranma very much, and you don't wish to see him die. And you're only a fiancée of his." She acknowledged me as his fiancée! Ukyou exulted inwardly. "So I'm sure you have some understanding of how I feel about my husband, Genma."
Frankly, no. I have no clue what you ever saw in that jackass.
"This is my family, here, Ukyou. I don't want to do this at all." Then don't. Jeez. Ukyou couldn't help but feel her eyes trying to roll at the obvious answer that Nodoka was, for whatever reason, ignoring.
"On top of this, the Saotome school of Anything-Goes martial arts will be wiped out utterly by nightfall. Do you think I want to be responsible for that?"
"Well, no… Of course not."
"No. But dishonor is a terrible thing, especially for a martial artist. Dearest may have forgotten that for a while, but it is a fate worse than death. Sensei will come and go, but if a dojo suffers dishonor, it will take generations before the stain is wiped away. If ever. And to fail to raise a child up as a man among men… Why, if he cannot do so for his own son, how can he be expected to do so for a mere student? It would be better if the Saotome School were to be crushed by a dojo yaburi. Destruction from without, particularly after putting up a good fight, is far preferable to rot from within. This would ruin our school's reputation beyond repair."
"Fine. So that's Genma's problem." Ukyou put a slight edge in her voice. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see him face down on the ground, quaking. She smiled with grim satisfaction.
"Not only his, dear. If my Ranma is this afraid of me, he is no son of mine. He is no more qualified to carry on the Saotome school than Dearest is. If the master fears, his student cannot help but be afraid. How can he teach Anything-Goes martial arts like this?"
"So, that leaves… What? You're going to carry on the Saotome school?"
"No, my dear." Nodoka's eyes were overflowing now. "I shall have killed my husband and my only son. My life is forfeit, too. But…" She stood up, "I shall accomplish this last task, and fulfill my husband's and my son's promise to me. Then I shall join them." She stared at the katana blade meaningfully.
"I see. So there is nothing I can say to make you change your mind?" Nodoka shook her head somberly. "Fine, then!." Ukyou drew herself up, took a deep breath, and stood facing her opponent. "I had hoped it wouldn't come to this. But it is time for actions to speak instead. SEPPUKU PREVENTION FINAL ATTACK!"
Nodoka raised her katana, bracing for whatever Ukyou might throw at her.
Ukyou threw her scroll at her.
Fearing the possibility of some sort of magic spell, Nodoka rushed to catch the scroll before it hit the ground, katana clattering to the stones behind her as she did so. She unrolled it, and read the calligraphed kanji, written in the shaky hand of one who fears that the words she writes may be her last. Ukyou's hand.
She looked up from the paper to see Ukyou kneeling before her, next to her son. She watched, transfixed, as the girl unwrapped the craft paper to reveal a ceremonial dagger.
Ukyou picked up the dagger and opened her yukata. She slashed at her chest, and the bindings she wore out of habit fell to the ground. She looked up at Nodoka, a feeble smile on her face.
"I've never done this before, but I'm told you're supposed to write a few lines of poetry as you prepare yourself for death, ne?"
To be continued.
Author's notes: The word 'kaishaku' has been translated roughly to mean 'assistant'. Essentially, the task of the kaishaku is to lop off the head of the person committing seppuku, once the prescribed three-stroke cut to the belly had been made with a ceremonial dagger or short sword — an agonizing thing to do. Once the cut was made, the second cut off his head so he did not have die an excruciatingly slow and painful death by disembowelment. Or if he was unable to complete the cut, or worse, lost his nerve, the second would save him from disgrace by killing him instantly.
I owe a great debt to Ian Sinclair and Chih-Ping Kuo, the translators of "Otoko no Chikai" (The Oath of Men), Chapter 3 of Volume 22, where Nodoka Saotome makes her first appearance at the Tendo training hall, and Genma's bargain with his wife is explained. Genma's vow, both verbal and written, is taken more or less directly from that translation.
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