The characters this story portrays belong to Rumiko Takahashi, and I do not claim any property at all. She created them, gave them life and finally gave me the chance to enjoy her work throughout the series.
This story is the second part from "Life lessons: Sins of a mother" but I will try to make it with some introductory background, that way no reader needs to go back and read the first story to understand the plot if he/she doesn't feel like it.
Once upon a future. . .
Six long and ominous years had passed after the Saotome family missed one of their most precious members by the hands of a group in search for forbidden knowledge. . .Or at least that's what Ryoga Hibiki wanted them to believe, but as time separated the new girl from Akane and Ranma, a dream to live on her own became the drive she acquired to stay away from family and friends.
It wasn't really that she had called it quits after the possible chance to have a three sided marriage with Akane Tendo in the mix. The real reason became increasingly apparent when she gave birth to two beautiful children, giving her the chance to experiment what Ranma went through long ago as a mother, and teaching a side she wasn't ready to accept just yet.
Thus, the fanged mother managed to contact Ranma one last time through his mother and by relaying her situation back at the lab, Ryoga Hibiki hoped to end a chapter she didn't know how to deal with on her own. "They were meant to be together, and no one needs a third wheel after all." Wrote the young woman in her old journal, right before going to sleep. . .Miles away from a city known as Nerima.
Of course Ranma and Akane never gave up hope in finding their third spouse, searching far and wide for a way to claim the person who belonged at home, but things didn't go so well the next few years for the family. Luck seemed to have ran out from them, and by the end of the search, the great Ranma Saotome had confronted Saffron a second time and even lost his credibility as a martial artist and a man before he could become the master he is today.
But this story falls ahead of its time. Before this family was shaken from its roots, Ranma and Akane had already tried to marry once before. . .After an innumerable amount of setbacks by friends and supposedly fiancées forced them to stall such incredible occasion indeterminately.
Oh yeah. . .This unfortunate couple tried to wed once upon a time, but by deciding to leave so many loose ends unattended before going through with the ceremony, it was only normal that they were stopped by those unresolved situations taking matters in their own hands, and postponing their union indefinitely.
Incidentally though, he was the only one who made peace with his love back then. Still, life had been the one who made Ryoga Hibiki brake through a wall that same day, interrupting an already ruined nuptial ceremony in progress, and watching poor Akane stare in misery at what could have been the happiest day of her life. The poor boy felt so terrible by his damn bad luck giving nothing but misery over his friends that he decided to leave his once platonic love for good. In that second, the lost boy walked towards the door resolute to end all ties until a phrase made him turn around and question his actions all over again. "A cask with the water of drown man!?" Screamed someone from the crowd, forcing the fanged teen to weight his choices.
"Go for it, or leave and let poor Akane-san live her life without a pest like me. . ." Both thoughts tried to tear him to pieces, wondering if curing himself would be worth the joy taken from the girl of his dreams. With baring fangs and disappointment the boy despised himself, regretting his weak mind in the last second, and making for the flying barrel filled with the only cure for his deplorable transformation, hoping to leave all this chaos behind as a new man. Too late he watched as the old master confused such powerful elixir with wine, drinking it in one swoop and breaking the dreams from all the presents affected by such ailment.
"That's it!. . .I'm leaving now, and hopefully I will never return. . ." Promised the fanged teen, walking into the horizon with aims to at least find Akari Unryu, his next best girl. That was the last of him. . .Until three months later when destiny's machinations brought the boy down to his knees as he tried to save a village from destruction and his constant direction-less handicap forced him to blame everything on life.
Afterwards, the boy met a very disgruntled Ranma whose implication over a fishing rod of love pushed him into confronting Ryoga during a relaxing time in the furo. Certain situations became out of control and by the end of the day, a very angry, yet naked redhead had pinned the poor nude boy into submission. . .Too bad the settings she used to exact her revenge marked the turning point in that precise fight when either boy never realized what had transpired.
The most unlikely of accidents turned a distressed Ranma into a pregnant mother after that fight, and as she willed a life with the lost boy out of need for the baby, the redhead consequently ended up giving birth to a little girl prematurely. This complicated arrangement left a traumatized Ranma Saotome running for his life later on, prompting the fanged teen to choose over his manhood and the life of a little girl by the hands of evil men.
When he decided to become a girl instead of a piglet, many new challenges arose for the Tendos, the Saotomes and a new mother ready to defend her daughter against anyone. In the end, her remarkable prowess as a mother and a strong human being caused her to be taken captive by the same men who transformed him into a girl with nefarious objectives in mind.
Today, Ranma and Akane had finally realized what they set out long ago, marrying each other and living a life filled with happiness and a few regrets, but content nevertheless. It had been some time after this decision came to be, and by that same time Shampoo had chosen Mousse as her next best runner-up.
Ukyo had a pretty nice thing going on with Hiro at first, but as challenges made the relationship unbearable, Konatsu took his place at his mistress side. Again, after years of trying it out, what a girl really wants are the strong arms of a man swooping her off her feet and a very feminine guy wasn't much of a male figure to a tomboyish teen who really wanted a man. Two years later both Ukyo and Konatsu called it off, leaving each other as friends mostly and turning an Okonomiyaki cook single again.
At this time, Ranma Saotome reached the ripe age of twenty three when he was appointed the next man in charge of a district known as Nerima by receiving full responsibility from a Dojo even though it began to wear out after years of serious punishment.
He is blessed with three children, one he managed to bring to life at the age of sixteen thanks to an accident the then boy turned girl had with yet another boy. The other two little ones were the pride and joy his union with Akane Tendo brought forward into the family.
After the several incidents leading this family to become part of a dubious past, a very female cursed Ryoga ended up in captivity, the Saotome's began to forge a new destiny by the hands of a new generation of children taking the place of their parents and slowly creating new allies and enemies along the way. As for the rest of the family members is concerned, each one took their own path which will affect Ranma and his wife as time keeps moving on.
Nodoka, his mother, lived the rest of the time at their side as part of the family and a great ally against the two little devils turning the house into a war zone. Soun Tendo's health slowly deteriorated, forcing Kasumi Tendo to take him with her into Tofu's clinic where his husband worked.
Now, as the tale continued, neither Ranma or his mother heard anything from Genma Saotome. He had been the main cause in Ryoga's illness, and with his help that group interested in Jusenkyo pools and its effects on others managed to capture the fanged girl, but after she vanished from the Saotome's, so did the bald master.
Ranma and Akane became the guide from which many situations in Nerima were resolved. Monsters and enemies alike visited the town through the years ready to take on the greatest fighter, but after some time dealing with those pests, the pigtailed father was able to build a destruction free zone, that is until the new generations were getting ready to take the stand.
And then there were the Saotome's children. The eldest of the three siblings is a little seven year old girl with a bothersome pair of giant glasses obstructing her beauty, but very much needed for her myopic disability ever since she was younger. . .Her other handicap, a small metal can she kept at all times around her neck as part of her daily dose of compressed medicine, letting the girl breath comfortably when air would not reach her lungs. Her name is Sachiko Saotome, a girl who did not believe in violence or fights, but one smart little redhead who took the books instead. . .Just like her mother did long ago.
The second in command was Ranma Jr. . .A little five year old whose prowess as a Tasmanian devil became epic around the busy streets of a now bigger Nerima. Last but not least is little Ryoga, age three. He was just as rambunctious as his older brother, but he seems to be in more control than Ranma Jr. Perhaps because he is the youngest, but who really knows. . .Time can only tell.
These three siblings are very close to each other, that's for sure, and although Sachiko manages to keep them from getting in trouble half the time, the Saotome boys were apples that fell far behind from where the tree was rooted, in this case their father, Ranma Saotome.
"I keep tellin' you 'kane. . .I don' get it, Sachi refuses to learn anythin' related to the art. . .And Jr. is like a lost bullet ready ta take on anyone in a reckless manner. . .Hell! Even I didn' went half-cocked into a fight like he does." Expressed rather angry the Saotome patriarch.
He tried over the years to inculcate his children into his own style created from the Anything goes teachings, but his take aimed into a fair fight instead of cheating moves taking advantage of an opponent's less than favorable weaknesses. His problem though were his sons who seemed out of balance and showing no improvement as the years went by.
"Ranma!" Yelled the blue haired woman with a disciplinary tone widely known around the house. "What did we talk about cursing words in the family!?" Her pressing looks and the way she always kept the peace around most situations did screw with the pigtailed father's authority, but he had to admit she was in more control at home than what he could ever be.
"S-Sorry 'kane!. . .All I'm sayin' is that they better learn fast, otherwise this place is goin' ta end up in shambles. . ." When he talked about the ruin they lived in, both parents saw a house still very much in one piece, but beyond the repairs Ranma was barely able to do on a daily basis, the Dojo began to lose its glory against the test of time, slowly falling apart and unable to be repaired with no constant income replenishing their way of life.
Their situation had worsened over the years after Master Happosai was finally taken into custody, not without a fight mind you, and Soun had to step down from the city's council after the last fiasco the Saotome's had with Saffron's visit in town. It would have been a total disaster years ago, specially when the city deemed the Anything goes school a copy from many other techniques, and was regarded as a travesty of a style.
"Ever since those guys condemned what the old lecher taught pops an' your dad, There have been no chance for me ta make a livin'." The very much strong and agile fighter could do nothing much but to see his dreams of a Dojo turn into sand and be spread carelessly into the wind. "All my life it's been nothin' more than practice an' masterin' every technique I came across with, an' now when I finally made that old pervert pass the lead, I became nothin' more than a failure. . ."
The great Ranma Saotome had fallen by the circumstances and the several debts an unused Dojo accumulated during the years. They realized too late how important was for a style and a place to teach constantly in order to be nourished over time, and now. . .Nearly thirteen years later when they could use the help, the space where students would learn his techniques was nothing more than a site about to be demolished by orders of the city.
"Ranma, you know my job at the nursery home has me occupied every morning. It is a good thing they let me take Sachi, Jr. and Ryoga with me, but there isn't much else I can do to come up with money for the repairs. Dad has moved over to the clinic after his nervous attacks and Kasumi Nee-chan is able to help us every now and then with some allowance. . .Beyond that, Nabiki can't be easy to reach now that she lives in Tokyo. . .Although, I could call her and. . ."
"No!. . ." Said Ranma firmly. "There ain't no way I'm callin' them after how they treated you. . ." The young man's best bet to bury the past without making a fuss was to tighten his fist and close his eyes in anger, leaving behind the bitter memory of his close family stabbing him on the back. Three years ago, The Tatewaki Kuno discovered the miserable legacy Soun Tendo and Ranma's father left the poor boy with after he marrying Nabiki's younger sister. She offered herself to help with the expenses at some point, but as the family began to live closer to each other, certain problems arose during their daily living.
Kuno and Nabiki had managed to tie the knot, and thanks to the wealth of one, coupled with the blackmail and extortions from the other, the Kuno-Tendo corporative couple became increasingly rich but unable to share with others those exploits. . .Unless those in need would let them do as they pleased.
The Kuno's brought forth part of the new legacy when they conceived Makoto and Mei, both good looking and very vindictive children thanks to the way they were raised, Ranma supposed. The point was that Akane and her husband needed to put up with every pulling of hair, childish demands and spoiled tantrums these two threw every single day mostly against their children thus, the alliance between the two families quickly reached an end.
Akane just shrugged her shoulders, finding no other person willing to help their cause when most friends or relatives had their own lives, not to mention a proud Ranma unable to "beg" Ukyo or Shampoo for aid. "Then there's nothing more we can do Ranma. . .Unless. . ." That part was another reason why the pigtailed fighter dreaded his wife's ideas, specially when her eyes would turn maliciously devious towards his less than appealing transformation. "We can always send you to work as a waitress in Ucchan's or the Nekohanten. . ."
Her sly smile forced the pigtailed man to reconsider his punitive wishes to start this argument a big mistake. In the past, the young man had tried to survive as Cologne's help or serving in Ucchan's, which were rather nice places to work. The problem though became when her childhood friend tried to become more than just a friend, forcing Ranma to quit on the spot.
Same went for a Chinese girl who never feared to flaunt her naked body, and what amazed Ranma the most was the myopic state Mousse had achieved over the years, rendering him almost blind. "N-No. . .You know I can' do that, unless you want me ta date Ucchan all over again, or end up in bed with Shampoo. . ." As he said this, a very calm Akane showed no signs of anger or jealousy towards the other two. In fact, ever since Ryoga vanished from her life, the now Tendo matriarch found her lack of trust over her husband non-existent.
As the years looking for Ryoga passed with no way to find her, the raven haired mother began to mellow down, understanding her other love may not be found any time soon, but keeping the green-eyed girl very much in her heart anyway she knew that part in her life was bound to become whole sooner or later. "Than there's no other way but to keep up and see if something else comes our way." Finished Akane at the same time she dismissed his attempts to goad her into a fight.
That was the same reason why Ranma started to pace from one side of the living room to the next, never leaving his eyes off from the sternly woman and finally encasing her with one of those hugs they always save for these occasions. "You miss her too, eh?" Asked the young fighter to a woman sighing by the memory. "I miss her a lot Ranma. . .Sometimes I wonder if this crazy idea of living together as a trio could have really worked. . ."
Ranma kissed her head softly, staying in the same spot while memories began to flood freely now. "Yeah. . .I'd like ta think Ryoga would have made the difference on this situations. Who knows, maybe she would come out of nowhere talkin' about her restaurant or encouragin' us to never give up." The couple suddenly was inconveniently interrupted from their special time when a knock on the door told them his mother was back.
Nodoka was always well received from her business travels in Itabashi City where she led the Saotome tea ceremony school. The place had brimmed with all manner of young ladies willing to learn the art, making the elder a rather occupied woman. She too pushed into the idea to help the Tendo Dojo to become a real school, but after Ranma accidentally sworn his loyalty to another tea ceremony style, the young man and anything related to his heritage was forbidden from acquiring any of Nodoka's financial assets.
"Honey!. . .You are not going to believe what just happened to me. . ." Said the elder just as the two devils and the seven year old prodigy began to wake up from their nap. "Grandma!. . ." Screamed almost in unison all three kids while jumping at the elder, tip-toeing in wait of their gifts. "My darlings!. . .I hope you behaved for as long as I was away. . ." Replied the grandmother as she handed shiny boxes tied with nice looking bows on top.
Sachiko was the most serious of the three, walking a few feet away and letting her kid brothers have the spotlight. "Yes! grandma, I was the nice. . .I was the nicest of kids!" Cheered Jr. with extreme joy remarking every word. Just like other times, little Ryoga would repeat the exact same answer in his own slow wording, but he would jump as jovial as his brother during the reunion.
"Very good my babies. . .And how about you Sachi. How well did you behave this past week?" The redhead usually would jump like her brothers, but as of late she began to find that demeanor too childish despite her age. "I am fine grandma. . ." Was pretty much her whole answer. It was a bit short and monotonous for Nodoka's taste, but she knew the little girl had lost connection with that young woman raising her from birth and the one who gave her life despite her original gender.
"That is just great dear!. . ." Ranma and Akane found cute yet lacking the way their daughter acted lately as well, but both her parents knew someone special had been missing for some time now, severing the connection they once had and erasing all her memories thanks to time passing so fast. "Ok guys. . .Time to help me clean the house while mom rests. . ." Advised the pigtailed father as he took little Ryoga on his back.
Nodoka could clearly see that missing gap in the family even when the little ones never realized it. She too would stare into the window when traveling to and from Itabashi and think where her daughter would be in that precise moment. That's when reality brought her back into the family, alerted by a cup of hot tea Akane held in front of her.
"Oh!. . .I'm sorry Akane-chan. It seems I've been too distracted lately. . ." The youngest Tendo understood who did she refer to, nodding happily as her reminiscing memories became too painful to remember and the feelings she had for the fanged teen would cause her heart to ache. "We all miss her mom, but it's so hard to keep her present when there are so many problems on this house. . ."
As she said this, Sachiko couldn't help but to peek into the room, tilting her head every time they talked about a certain girl missing in this family. The little girl felt mature enough for these kind of discussions, and even when her father would ask her to care for her brothers while the adults talked, Sachiko could feel a strange connection trying to jumpstart deep within her heart.
"Ok honey. . .Please go and check on your brothers while we talk about adult stuff." Asked Nodoka to a little girl glancing doubtfully at her request. "O-Ok grandma. . .I'll be upstairs with Jr. and Ryo. . ." Ranma, Akane and Nodoka waited until the tiny steps were soundly heard across the fly of stairs. When they stopped on the second floor, the elder Saotome pulled a heavy package from within her Kimono and slowly opened it before the couple.
"Son. . .I was able to contact Ryoga six months ago on the phone. She explained to me everything was fine and that I should not be alarmed about her situation." The woman pulled one photo from the enveloped sack inside the package, showing it to the couple. When Ranma and Akane stared at the picture, a very young Ryoga sitting on a wheelchair waved at the camera with two children kissing her cheeks inside the frame.
Akane brought her hand to her lips, letting her eyes grow in size while her husband began to tear up from past memories. "Ahem!. . ." Cleared his throat loudly Ranma when he blinked several times hoping to clear those tears away and ask about those two kids. "W-Who are they mom?" Asked again once his cleared throat let him speak without breaking his voice.
Akane waited for the response too, wondering why they looked so familiar to the girl. Nodoka on the other hand felt the rigorous weight from the promise she made almost six years ago. Ryoga forced her mother to stay quiet lest Ranma could go crazy and look for her, endangering little Sachiko's life in the process. "S-Son. . .Six years ago when we last saw Ryoga, she made me swear not to tell you this."
"When you became intimate with her, the union impregnated Ryoga, giving her two beautiful children after she was taken into custody. . ." Ranma kept listening to his mother detail after detail, understanding why she never said anything and what repercussions would have been in case she had done so. "I-I see. . .So, I got other two children besides Sachi, Jr. and Ryo?" Nodoka tugged a smile his way, watching how his tears never left his face, but instead of sadness, joy was the feeling behind his emotions.
"A-Akane. . .I-I am a dad. . .Again!" Cheered the Saotome heir to his wife who found the news just as great. "Yes Ranma. . .I knew something like this would happen. Don't tell me how, but I knew Ryoga had to stay away from us until the right time could come. . ." That last part made both parents turn around and look at the Elder in a Kimono, enthralled with the reason why would she tell them now.
"Ranma. It's very hard for us to keep searching for my daughter, but apparently Ryoga is able to look after us." Reported Nodoka rather perched in an invisible stand, showing to her son the pride to have Ryoga as her own flesh now. "She told me its been years since the different employees working in the lab bring her newspapers and tidbits about how the Saotome's are doing and she is vastly impressed by all the good you have done for this world. When we talked on the phone after so long, she considered it was about time for you to at least meet your other children this way."
It was a very nice surprise to hear that, and by knowing his love and close friend was still trying hard to keep up, Ranma couldn't be happier. "Thanks mom. . .You have no idea how good this has been for this family. . .We all miss her, specially when we decided ta seal the past from Sachi." That was a terrible burden and a hell of a secret to keep from the little girl, but as the years passed by, the only girl with protruding fangs in the family became unaware of a past that might have destroyed her life.
"Mom?. . .Is there a time when we'll be able ta see her?" Asked Ranma with trepidation this time. "Son. . ." That was a piece of news she didn't know how to break to the couple, but her downcast looks towards the floor told Ranma they weren't going to see Ryoga any time soon. "My daughter is trapped against her will in a facility far from here. She is safe and they respect her according to her letters, but she won't be able to leave that lab until another five years from now. . .Then and only then she will be released voluntarily."
Akane grabbed Ranma's arms tensely, finding five more grueling years too long to wait after the six she already had endured. "The good news is that she manages to come by with means to save money since she is a willing participant on that research. That's why when I told her about how the family is suffering she sent me via mail a package I am delivering you now."
Again, the couple looked at each other concerned, wondering what could it be, but waiting no longer for the result Ranma stretched his hands out, tearing the paper covering a second bulk apart, and as he did so, several rolls of euros in several denominations spread all over the table, turning their eyes into big giant saucers. "I-It's money!?" Finished the young man with furrowed eyes.
"Yes son. . .Ryoga told me they have everything they need to survive, and there are several "business" she is able to direct without leaving the premises, giving her enough to help you get on track." Ranma tried to figure out how much was in the stack, but a smarter Akane was the one guessing the conversion between euros and yen.
"One hundred and twenty yen are about one Euro Ranma, and there are thousands here. This should be more than enough to fix the house and the Dojo, not to mention leave the rest of the money for our children's studies." Ranma tried to silently thank his friend and lover, but a tear was pretty much what described his pain, unable to express himself in any other way afterwards.
"T-Thank you Ryoga. . .W-We really miss you buddy. . ." Was all he could mutter right before his wife embraced him into a hug filled with painful memories and good wishes. "Well son. . .I'm not done just yet. . ." Nodoka pulled yet another picture Ryoga managed to hide deep into the stash of money. When Ranma and Akane looked into the second photo, those two kids had their hands extended around a standing fanged girl, leaving the wheelchair behind and balancing like if she was about to fall.
"I believe the scientists have no idea she can barely move on her own. She has done so as a way to keep them off track, but there is an inscription on the back you may find cheerful." The couple immediately turned the picture around, reading what their third spouse prepared for them only.
"Ranma. . .Akane. I have worked hard to become stronger over the years. When I'm back home, I am challenging you!, Ranma Saotome into a good 'ole fistfight like the one I'm sure you deserve." When Ranma stopped reading, the young man turned the card around, watching a gleaming girl smiling defiantly at him particularly. "You know 'kane. . .I think she really mean it. . ." His wife forced a chuckle out, admitting how dearly she needed those good times back in her life.
"She does Ranma. . .I keep telling you. I can't explain how I know, but she will be back one of these days and this house will be whole." The master of the Anything goes couldn't agree more, reversing the card once again and reading the last paragraph from the bottom of the picture. "Ranma. . .I have learned from my mistakes, and I didn't commit the same blunder twice. Kenta-kun and Kemi-chan know you are their father and they're very excited to meet you once I'm able to get out of here."
"I have taught them the Anything goes style from what I can recall and Kenta can use the Bakusai-Tenketsu technique already on rocks. . .You should see him boast to the world he is the son of the great Ranma Saotome. . .Hope this can cheer you up in a rainy day, with love. . .Ryoga Saotome."
Akane and Nodoka were able to see the incompressible pride in Ranma's face. He was bright red while his bangs obstructed his eyes from view. A giant smile capable to show those enormous clenched teeth were the stamp of a man overrun by honor and his stance. . .That stance screaming to the winds he was a real master of the art unlike his father could ever achieve. Lastly, Ranma Saotome stayed glued in place, shooting his mind into his private world of martial arts and believing himself the epitome of manliness and arrogance.
This could have been a pose easily taken down by his wife, but the relentless depression this family was affected with and the lack of money provoked over the years told the youngest Tendo, her husband needed this type of praise today. "Let's go mom. . .Let Ranma enjoy this moment alone." Nodoka understood her insinuation, walking into the garden with her daughter-in-law while the young man stayed behind flexing his muscles arrogantly.
This interruption between father and mother gave the right amount of time for a little girl to peek through the corner between the first step and the second floor. Sachiko noticed her father acting like a prideful man cheering over the living room alone. That's when she was called back into the bedroom upstairs.
When she walked in, a rambunctious Ranma had half his body out from that secret tunnel they found long ago. It was a passage someone as strong as a wrestling fighter could have carved through easily, but the size of it was made for a tiny animal. . .Perhaps a big rat, or maybe a tiny pig?
"Jr.!. . .Get out of there!" Ordered firmly the girl with glasses. "Wait Nessan. . .I almost got it this time!" Excused the little boy busily after trying to reach that strange looking piece of cloth stuck between floors. Little Ryoga kept his tiny hands firmly grasped on his legs though, giving the girl some reassurance her little brother wouldn't fall or something.
When both Sachiko and Ryo pulled the boy after he said "Got it!" Jr. plopped from the hole, flying through the air and landing on the bed. "I knew I could do it." Said triumphantly the kid. The cloth incidentally fell on the girl's face, but what made her blink in puzzlement was the weird vibe it had within its fibers. "What is it sis?" Asked Ryoga after watching his sister hypnotized by the handkerchief.
It was yellow with black spots across the clothing. Sachiko stared at it for some time, looking away only when Jr. pulled her head towards his. "Do you know what's that Neesan?".
"I. . .I-I don't know Jr. . .I-It reminds me of someone, but I can't remember who?" They kept looking for any close sign about the piece, but as soon as the girl automatically wrapped it around her head, they realized it was a bandanna of some sort. "Wow. . .You look weird!" Yelled Jr. while trying to pick a fight with her sibling.
Sachiko ignored his antics for now, enthralled by the look reflected from the mirror and the yellow bandanna firmly set around her forehead. A strong gust of wind coming out of nowhere was all the alert she needed to snap out of her trance and watch her younger brother jump from the window. "Where are you going now?. . .Jr.!?"
"Nissan!. . .Those are the boys making fun of mom. . .I got them now!" Screamed the little kid after skillfully jumping from the roof to the bushes and then towards the main door without being noticed. Sachiko knew she was going to get in trouble anyway so, off she went, carefully carrying her youngest brother and following Jr. across the streets.
Unaware of the danger his children were in thanks to his full attention on that photo, Ranma studied the image for several minutes, realizing something he hadn't seen before. The young man could see those beautiful green eyes looking straight at him, letting the man feel that warm sunbathed skin he adored the most, and wondering how marvelous it was for the pools in Jusenkyo to give certain special qualities to each cursed transformation.
Once the spell broke though, the same pretty face gave him back his speech, and as the fighter walked into the garden outside, Ranma called for his wife and mother to help him with the riddle. "Mom. . .There's something wrong with this picture. . ."
Akane was the first in sprinting away, taking the shiny piece of special paper from his hands while Nodoka paced more slowly towards the couple. "Oh son, I really hoped you wouldn't caught that up, but I guess it can't be helped now." The pigtailed man squinted his eyes this time, noticing his mother had the right answer for his question. "Then. . .You know why she is like this?"
His wife kept looking for some type of ailment, maybe a bruise or a deformity from years paralyzed, but what made so much sense once staring at the green-eyed girl barely able to hold herself was her much younger face. "S-She. . .She looks so young. . ." Said Akane astonished by the jovial looks from the girl.
"Son. . .Ryoga told me there was a weird reaction from all the attacks your father did on her back. Scientists have a special interest in her because thanks to that mixing acupuncture points Genma did randomly, her Chi is retro-feeding into her body." The elder decided to take it slow, walking at the edge of the house and sitting on its wooden floor when even for her, such description had little meaning.
"It's hard for me to explain, but whatever your father did, it's slowing Ryoga's age a lot." It didn't make much sense for Ranma and Akane to see much of a difference at first, but after checking the picture with more precision, the couple saw an eighteen year old girl instead of a twenty three one like she should've been. "She's just like I remember her back then. . ." Said Akane next.
"Yes dear. . .Ryoga-chan is about nineteen right now, and according to her captors, this age anomaly will stay that way until she can unlock that attack." It was a big surprise for the Saotomes who decided to know more about Ryoga's conditions after all this time missing her. "Tell me mom. . .Have you seen pops as of late? In all this time he hasn't been around here an' I'm afraid he might still be looking for Ryoga."
Nodoka knew a lot more than she let on from all the calls Ryoga managed to sneak past the scientists, and Genma's whereabouts was part of her enslaving problem as well. "Yes dear, I know where he is, but there's no way he can ever get close to my daughter. You could say they are captive in the same facility because my husband threaded with people he shouldn't have and now those men have him imprisoned as well."
That was the reason why he never was around, Ranma thought. If those scientists were trying to replicate or at least understand what his father did, the best bet was to capture both Ryoga and him as well. "I see. . .Those guys must be tryin' ta find out how Ryoga can stop aging an' I'm sure they took Pops as a hostage for that same purpose." All three agreed on that conclusion, stopping from talking more about that when Ranma and his wife silently stared at each other.
"What is it son. . .?" Asked Nodoka concerned by the look on their faces. "Mom. . .Have you ever heard this peace and quiet tranquility on this house before?" It was obvious now what he meant, leading the older matriarch to believe her grandchildren were not in their room. "Can you sense them son?" Asked the elder to her son.
"They aren't around the house mom. . .I sense 'em close. . .In that direction. . ." Replied Ranma while pointing far to the west. "Oh no. . .Is he after the kids by the market?" Asked Akane next, running right behind Ranma who was already on the lead. "What do you mean daughter. . .What do my grandchildren have to do with those kids."
"M-Mom." Replied rather nervously Akane. "Last Friday after we came from the nursery home, I decided to pass by the market and buy some dessert for dinner. We had fun walking back home until four of those young teenagers started to make fun of Sachi's glasses. She of course ignores them easily, but Jr. apparently has his father's bravado and prideful ego because as soon as I gathered them around he jumped away from my hand and managed to kick one of the kids."
Akane explained her mother-in-law how her five year old did some damage after the misguided teachings his father pressed on the boy made a crazed fighter despite his age or size. "I saw the kid fall to the floor in pain by the kick on his shin, that's when I moved the other two back and I went off to take Jr. away from them. . .Long story short, I disarmed one of the kids just when the local police arrived. They swore to harm me if I ever see them again and decided to call me certain names Jr. found irritating."
Nodoka understood how her children reacted by the situation, but Akane was right. It didn't matter how much of a brave soul you were, a five year old boy was no match for kids ten years older than him. "And now he is going after them. . .Alone!?" Asked the elder while trying to keep the pace.
"I sense Sachiko with him. . .Most likely tryin' ta stop him. I just hope we can be in time before those idiots try anythin'. . ." Ranma had been able to hear the story as well, for the first time though and as he clenched his teeth in anger, the young fighter knew his most obvious response was what his wife feared the most.
"Ranma!. . .Stay out of this you hear!?" Demanded the young mother a few steps behind. "B-But 'kane!. . .I won' let anyone mess with my children. You know better than that!" Her marching steps suddenly turned into a heavy sprint, reaching her husband in a matter of seconds and firmly calling his attention at her. "Listen to me Ranma. Those boys are the manager's sons and are protected by a pledge dad made before getting sick, if we get in trouble with them the city may press to demolish the Dojo. . .Let me treat this differently."
A loud snarl of impotence was everything Ranma could react by the news. What the hell was his authority as a father and a Saotome for if even a bunch of kids could trample with the fighter. Defeated by the fear to loose his Dojo, the pigtailed master slacked off his run, letting his wife take control of the situation and taking second place in the problem.
When they arrived to the market the scene was much more unnerving than what Ranma could have foreseen. On the sidewalk a few feet away from the market's entrance Sachiko held in her arms little Ryoga clearly passed out and with his nose busted while the girl rushed the medicinal can into her gasping mouth, clearly agitated by the exertion to protect her younger siblings.
The sight alone turned the pigtailed man into a raging machine powering up unconsciously but still unable to do a thing after his wife hugged him back. She too was beyond furious, but Akane knew her children are stronger than whatever those kids could throw at them. "Calm down Ranma. . .Ryo has bled from his nose since he was one year old. Remember how Jr. gave him a heavy beating and he still would get up." That comforted the father to an extent, but if that was the same now, than why was the little boy unconscious.
Near the entrance though, Ranma Jr. stayed in guard mode during most of the fight against four kids almost thirteen pushing him from one to the next like toying with him. Jr. tried to react at the pushing and shoving, but his father could see the lack of discipline the boy grew into by ignoring his art altogether. The five year old boy's face was red in anger, blinding any thought on how to counter those simple shoves and forcing his tears to form as his weakness was clearly seen by his father.
"Ranma!. . .S-Stop!" kept pressing his wife despite her desire to go herself there and beat them to death. Nodoka was the next adult ready to go and put an end to that madness, fortunately someone else intervened and stopped those boys on the spot at the same time he let Ranma free from any accusation.
"You should be ashamed!" Said the tall man as the back of his hand hit one boy after the next. Carl, the loader's manager and a just man managed to pull all four misfits from poor Jr. in time. The young Saotome's head twirled by the severity from the fight, falling on the floor dizzy and unable to move.
"Oh no. . .No you won't" Demanded the redheaded loader as his hand reached the last of the four running towards the market hoping to alert his father.
"You are going to apologize first, and then. . .If Mr. Saotome deems fair, you will accept his punishment." Being said that, the man easily handled all four boys together, shoving them himself against their knees and forcing them to look up at the angry man. That was the moment when the manager from the market and other three strong looking men followed him behind, grasping bats and pipes and closing in towards the kneeling boys.
Ranma lowered his Chi empowered charge to a minimum, smiling when old friends tend to show up in the bleakest of moments and, bobbing his head in appreciation, the pigtailed fighter knew Carl was one of his best pals. "T-Thanks man. . .You saved me from takin' this whole place apart. . ."
"Don't mention it Ranma. . .But we aren't out of trouble just yet." Akane, Nodoka and Miko who arrived moments later with her husband's lunch stared a few feet away, leaving the fight to the men while the girls took the two little boys in their arms. "Here. . ." Said Miko while taking several blankets from the basket and wiping the blood stains from the boys. "I have some alcohol and unguent. . .You know. . .For when my distracted husband tends to scrap himself. . ." Offered the young woman at a smiling Akane.
"Carl!. . .I told you not to get in our business. . .Those brats love to show off in town, claiming their old man is an unstoppable hero, but he ain't nothing more than a "has been". . ." Finished the man with a deafening chortle followed by the other strong men having their fun at the pigtailed fighter. "I'm sorry Takeda, but Ranma "is" a hero and if it wasn't for him, I would have never met a really good friend of mine."
Instinctively enough Ranma knew he was talking about Ryoga and the incident a few years ago when he got to kiss her by accident. "Well. . .I can believe you still remember her, I mean. . .Having wife and all." Goaded jokingly the Anything goes master.
"Hey. . .Miko might be angry after the way she dressed last time, but she knows I'm faithful and a good kiss like the one she gave me is hard to forget." This time Ranma looked to the side, taking the comment rather personally and porting a pink line across his nose, clearly annoyed by that memory.
"C'mon man!. . .Don't tell me you're jealous of that kiss. It was a long time ago and you weren't even present. Anyway, let's finish this 'cuse lunchtime is almost here. . ." The pigtailed fighter ignored his embarrassing feeling for now, standing besides the corpulent older man and readying for a good old street fight. "Have it your way guys. . .I may take on only one this time so you can see who Ranma Saotome really is. . ."
The other cared nothing for show offs, jumping into the fray like every weekend outside their favorite bar. Carl could have gone for all four, and win by an inch but he was right. Ranma made his part so easy even when these were heavy duty loaders accustomed to hard labor and even harder fights. Still, the young martial artist gracefully contorted in movements so well timed, every punch they would throw at him were answered with a hit of his own.
They were unable to see how bad this situation turned for the group, but Carl. . .Although not a martial arts fighter, was able to see the different dozen punches Ranma applied against their joints before they could even un-flex the muscles and deliver the full impact from their fists.
Not three minutes passed when all three were down for the count. The fourth one fighting Carl seemed a lot more tired and weak than his opponent, so Carl simply kicked him straight against his stomach and the strong man flew back until crashing against a cart of vegetables.
"Saotome!. . .You are under arrest!" Came the shout from three uniformed cops arriving to the fight. Akane was the most terrified, thinking how badly this was going to look and more importantly, how bad the Dojo was going to suffer. When the cop in charge walked closer to the pigtailed man, a shove pushed Ranma towards his family at the same time Carl interposed between the cops and the family man.
"You got it wrong man. . .I was the one kicking their sorry butt." Carl turned around, winked at his wife and smiled slyly for all the Saotome's to see. "What is he doing Miko-chan?" Asked Akane with furrowed brows. The slightly older girl shook her head negatively while rolling her eyes, knowing full well what her husband was capable to do without ever thinking about the consequences.
"The same thing he does when protecting his friends. . ." Not two seconds had passed after she said this when a bewildered Ranma and Akane saw the corpulent man veer his head full on against the cop in charge. His hat flew across the air by the sudden head-butt, forcing the other two to lung at him with their sticks and handcuffs.
Ranma tried to intervene during Carl's beating, but Miko held him back, telling him to "wait for it" and as he did so, a smiling Carl gave his back at the police while blowing a kiss back at his wife. "He loads nearly five hundred pounds on every run Ranma-san. . .Do you really think those guys can even harm him at all?" The Saotome's mouths did hang open some more just as the young wife waved at her husband and told him what was going to happen next.
"Ok honey. . .I'll see you at the commissary" Reassured the young wife. "Don't worry, I'll get the bail money on my way there and a bit more food for the detective." A few moments later Carl was taken into custody, leaving his wife behind, but talking with the cops like if this was a normal thing for him to do.
"Miko-chan. . .T-Thank you for the help. I don't know what would we have done if Ranma had been arrested." Said the young mother after watching his little boy wake up from the beating. The other four teens were well hidden into the market by then, but watching how their parents were easily humiliated by a rather scrawny man did an effect towards their new hatred for those boys.
The rest of the afternoon went incredibly great for the family. Both Akane and Miko went to the precinct, paid for Carl's release and the couple walked the Saotome mother back home. "I see you guys are still having trouble with the Dojo's maintenance." Asked the loader to a busy mother.
"Y-Yes. . .Time has taken a toll on it, and as you can tell, we have had some setbacks to try and fix it." As Akane confided in her old friends, a loud punching sound called Carl's attention towards the old wooden building besides the house. "Is Ranma practicing?" Asked the man.
"Yes. . .He always practice at this hour Carl-san. . ." The man excused himself from the cookies and tea, leaving more for the kids and a happy looking grandma. "He seems so un-phased by all this. Has he been in troubles with the law lately." When Akane asked Miko this way, Nodoka found the question a bit too personal, but Miko joyfully agreed to explain how great these last years proved for the both of them.
"After we met Ryoga and got married, he and I decided to postpone the tea ceremony teachings for later. He went into business with Mrs. Aika and became almost like a partner in the restaurant. I, of course stayed and helped as well, but as the years passed by, loaders from different countries began to make an appearance, specially at closing hours."
"Carl ended up kicking those who wouldn't pay for the food or the more drunken customers, and in no time the new police station became friends with his methods. . .Saving them the trouble to watch his area. Thing is. . .My husband created a bit of a reputation and when he told most of the loaders how close friends he was with Ranma and Ryoga Hibiki, many of those men gave him the utmost respect."
Akane was impressed by Carl's ability to protect his loved ones, admitting a lack of pride like the one her husband has was a big handicap during her own marriage. "I'm glad you guys have had a good life here in Nerima. Ranma did grow in the people's hearts in time, and even the whole city council loved him and respected his choices. . .We could have been a happier family if it wasn't for the new members called into the council."
"They overthrew him like a thing of the past when Ranma managed to out root all evil attacking this town, and since those men and their families knew Ranma as a wonder boy from local stories, they began to take him apart piece by piece. . .Specially after Saffron's incident." Akane recounted the sad history of a teenager who defeated a god in strange lands long ago, and who was turned into a circus clown for those who never saw him in action, humiliating him because of the curse and blaming the last mess on his behalf.
She explained the untold stories of a teen forced to live as a girl, but never waning away from every challenge coming his way. . .Well, until now that what he knew best became not only extinct, but persecuted like a bad disease. "Ranma has saved this town from evil demons, ghosts, snow monsters and the like. . .Tell me if the new council has ever showed any gratitude for his services?"
Miko did understand Akane and Ranma would never ask for monetary rewards, but she too understood heroes must find a way to survive. "I see your point Akane-chan. Listen. . .We are still trying to have a baby on the way, but living in the restaurant, plus my career in pediatrics is starting to get better, giving us at the same time a good way to live by and save up for later."
This time the girl acted rather meekly, flustering nervously at her friend and offering a good will gift in exchange from all those who shone the Saotomes away. "Would you let us help you with some of the expenses. . .Carl can even help Ranma-san with the repairs. . ." The raven haired mother tried to refuse, but tears beginning to stream freely were all the thanks Miko accepted from the younger mother. Both women hugged on the spot, joined at the same time by Nodoka who found Miko's altruistic feelings welcomed.
"Thanks Miko-chan. . .You have no idea how much this means to us. . ." Said sincerely the Saotome younger mother. "It has been rough these past years, and even though Ryoga managed to send us money a few days ago, a constant income is something we need to keep this place up." Afterwards, the girls kept planning on ways to work a better deal for the family while outside a man was clearly amazed by the sight inside the Dojo.
The punches were loud and clear, reflecting the power behind the fighter. That is until the those same attacks became faster but less pronounced. The loader peeked inside the giant hall, watching a redheaded girl snarling and screaming her lungs out. "Damn it!. . .What is wrong with me!" Yelled Ranma as she went for the bench and doused herself back into his male form.
The young man then restarted his combo made of several hundred punches every time he darted an arm towards a steel dummy. Then, out of nowhere his speed and concentration would fail, turning the master of the Anything goes style back into her cursed form without a lick of the precious cold liquid. "Damn it!"
"Wow. . .You really have a beautiful face Ranma-san. . ." Declared rather taken the loader as he walked into the Dojo. The compliment turned Ranma beet red, finding the man impressive to look at and turning instead towards the bucket of hot water sitting in the distance. "Do you always talk pretty ta another man. . .?" Asked the girl whose body had grown just like the male she was.
"Um, no. . .I would never talk this nice to another guy. But then again, you are a real girl when cursed, aren't you?" The question forced Ranma's brow up, wondering if he could tell how womanly she could get when transformed. "Still. . .You compliment me after knowin' I'm really a guy. . .That's. . .Weird. . ." Responded back the redhead, noticing the man was mere inches from her and innocently closing in.
It was a battle she wasn't ready to fight, Ranma thought. The girl could feel his breath closer by the second, his broad muscles surrounding her more petite form and his musk overpowering her more delicate aroma. "What's wrong Ranma-san. . .I may be a bit closer than before but I can feel your nervous trembling from over here. Tell me. . .Do you believe yourself to be a woman right now?"
When he asked this his face reached a lot closer to the girl, stopping mere inches from that red mane and smelling the red hair in a very intimate fashion. Ranma tried to stay calm, but the charged electrostatic field between the two made the girl let a very loose and wimpy moan she wasn't supposed to release. Carl immediately moved away, blushing by the reaction and apologizing to his friend.
"I-I'm sorry Ranma. . .I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable. . .I-I was just messing around." The man tried not to think in nothing more than a natural reaction a true woman could feel after his invading distance had become too personal. He did not think that through at first, and when the stupid joke turned into something so intimate, the man simply ran out of excuses, forcing himself to walk out of the Dojo just before Ranma stopped him from leaving.
"W-Wait Carl!. . ." The redhead composed herself in a second, running at his side and asking him one tiny favor. "Please. . .Don' tell Akane what I did. . .I. . ." She tried to apologize for the weak sound coming out like that, but the corpulent man tilted his head and stopped the girl from embarrassing herself further.
"Stop Ranma. . .I won't say anything, and for the record. I felt nothing by being close to you. . .Well, at least not about you. . ." His blue eyes clashed against her own, but all what Ranma saw was a forbidden feeling of affection the big loader had over another person.
"You miss Ryoga don' you?" After being found out, this time was Carl who closed the redhead's mouth, hushing the girl quietly from external ears and talking into her ear instead. "Now, don't you say a thing about "her" ok?. . .My wife would kill me if she finds out I still pin over Ryoga. . ."
Both blushed at each other this time, realizing how much they missed a girl who proved herself as a mother and a woman. After the man let Ranma go, the girl changed into his male self, taking Carl back into the house and letting him see their old love through those two pictures taken so long ago.
"T-That's impossible!" Reacted with surprise Miko. "How can she be younger than you?. . .Aren't you two the same age?" Ranma and his wife explained the situation Ryoga was in, showing them why those scientists found the fanged teen too valuable to let go. "They promised ta release her in five years from now, but with that kind of ability, I don' know if they'll keep their word."
Despite what their women thought about a slow aging Ryoga, both Ranma and Carl stared at each other with one thought in mind. "Wow. . .Amazing. As I get older Ryoga would almost stay young. . .What man wouldn't love a girl for a bride when he would be in his forties. . .And she in her twenties. . ." lollygagged both males away from the main conversation until Miko brought them back from dreamland.
"Anyway. Arl-kun, we offered to help the Saotomes to rebuild the Dojo. I think is time for the Saotomes to get the attention they deserve. . .Don't you think?" Carl agreed with his wife one hundred percent, accepting to work on the afternoons after his morning job at the market was done and the mid-day work at the restaurant would be over. From then on both Carl and Ranma hit it off like good friends, finding a good ally for each other and making the family a lot stronger.
Needless to say, the young children where the ones finding the big man alluring and in time the loader became "uncle Carl", the man who'd bring sweets every day and the one watching out for them. Children took after their parents during these years, and as Ranma and little Ryoga began to train more focused in their father's arts, one girl started to shy away from the flock, finding herself inadequate for such family.
Sachiko kept mostly to herself, shying away from the daily practice with Katas and techniques of old while holding close to her heart that strange bandanna she found a few days ago. There was something weird to take as a keepsake, but the residual Chi emanating from that piece of cloth brought tears to the girl for some strange reason.
Several weeks had passed and both Carl and Ranma's families were blessed with the best of news "Ranma-kun!. . .I'm pregnant!. . ." Announced almost breathless Miko. The pigtailed fighter felt so empowered by the news, specially after the many tries the Robinson's had tried over the years. "Congratulations Miko-Chan. . .I knew Carl had it in him. . " Joked the man goodheartedly.
"I'll let it slide this time Ranma, but you owe me big from the last fight and I still want my revenge. . ." Both guys had become close friends over the months repairing the Dojo. Both families worked hard and at the end of that year "the school of indiscriminate grappling" became the official center for most students on the area.
"It's amazing to think just by changing the name it would became this famous." Opined the taller redheaded man towards a proud master of the art. "Yeah. . ."The anything goes style" did sound like stolen moves and cheating attacks if you ask me, an' as soon as the publicity took off that same day, everyone wanted ta know 'bout the good old Ranma Saotome. . ."
Either man had thought to ever meet such wealthy enterprise after dedicating arduous hours on the repairs and making the Dojo presentable once more, but aside the fame and glory, Ranma and Akane were about to deal with a surprise of their own.
It was precisely the birthday from a certain little girl turning eight. The house filled with crowding students and close friends waited for the girl fixing herself upstairs. Sachiko Had asked her mother not to intervene for the dress and the way she wanted to wear her clothes this day, locking herself in one bedroom and staying there since morning.
"You think she's ok Ranma?" Asked Akane a bit tense by all the time Sachi spent alone in her room. "Don' sweat it 'kane. . .Sachi-chan is far more mature at her age than what I was at twelve. Give her some time to adjust an' I assure you, she'll get down here for the cake. . ."
Everyone enjoyed the food and the refreshments tasted just as good. When the candles started to lit at the end of the silly games for children, a song related to this special day told Sachiko this was her cue to go. Both Ranma and Akane saw with surprise the pretty girl dressed in that white skirt and blouse her mother bought her for special occasions such as these.
What both parents didn't expect was when the little girl walked down the fly of stairs, showing her pretty head into view, and her crimson hued hair loose, except for a yellow bandanna firmly tied around her forehead.
"Mom?. . .Who is P-Chan?. . ." Asked next the girl, winning the mutual gasps from her parents and a bewildered Nodoka realizing it was time to unveil the truth.