Air Ranma (Part #4)
A cheerful Sunday morning, and Nodoka found herself one step closer to understanding the person that her son had become.
Sipping her morning tea she smiled in memory of the rather unusual sight that come home yesterday afternoon. Seeing her son standing in the entrance way, in his cursed form, and managing to look utterly waterlogged, extremely content, and even mildly pathetic all at the same time had indeed been quite the sight.
The over two-meter hair trim that had followed due to a loose tying of Ranma's special braid, however, had served as yet another stark reminder of the strangeness that also made up his life. Oh, she would never say that she didn't enjoy having him around, for she truly did, but she also found herself occasionally biting her own tongue while out and about as she listened to other mothers complain about the oddities of their children.
They had no clue.
But that wasn't now. Right now, she was peering out the kitchen window, towards the open dojo, as Ranma did his morning katas and practice.
She still found his diligence towards the art just short of amazing. Seeing some of the things that he could so casually do, things that even her late husband himself couldn't, filled her with an almost awe. Yes, Genma had definitely kept his end of the bargain; he had turned Ranma into a supreme martial artist, and more... but there had been costs.
Some of them, she had already decided, had not been worth it.
What had her worried this morning didn't revolve around her son, however... or so she hoped. When her husband's long time friend, Tendo Soun, had called her yesterday she had been surprised. That surprise had quickly turned to concern when the man, after receiving the news of Genma's passing, had absolutely insisted in speaking with her as soon as possible, stating that family honor was at stake.
And so she had agreed to visit him today at his residence, to hear what he had to say.
She hoped that, for once, it wasn't a drastic a matter as the man had claimed it to be....
While definitely not a morning person, Nabiki still found herself waking up earlier then usual that Sunday morning, much to the surprise of her family. It was only 10am when she stepped out the door, directions in hand, and started the near hour walk over to Ranma's house. Arriving a couple of minutes before 11, she spent a moment looking at the residence in general before approaching the front gate.
The place was rather small, at least in comparison to her own, though the ownership of a house at all spoke of at least moderate financial means. The surrounding walls and gate were all aged, but not to the point of breaking down yet, and seemed to match the condition of the house it contained. The house itself was only a single story affair, with only two or three bedrooms in all probability.
She found the term 'weathered' perfectly described it.
Then stepping past the gate she approached the front door and knocked. Waiting only a few seconds Nabiki found the door being answered by a woman bearing a strong resemblance to Ranma.
Putting on her best 'impress the parents' smile she asked, "Hello, is Ranma home?"
"Oh. Yes, yes he is. Are you a friend from school?"
Deliberately wanting to keep her family name unmentioned Nabiki replied with, "Sort of. My name is Nabiki. I was coming over to help him with his homework today."
"Well, that would explain why he wasn't moaning and groaning all of last night for once. Please, come in. Ranma is in the back practicing right now, but he should be finished soon."
Leaving her shoes at the entrance Nabiki followed the older woman into the house, and as she did so she upgraded the general condition of things from weathered to something between spartan and traditional. There was almost nothing to the place besides sheer essentials, and what little there was looked like bona fide antiques.
Stepping into the living room the woman slid open an entrance to the back patio, where a small garden and moderate sized dojo lay.
Dressed in nothing but a pair of loose black Chinese pants and his own sweat, she watched as his arms and legs weaved their way through a martial kata, creating an almost hypnotizing effect. Some parts she immediately recognized as part of her own family style of Anything Goes, having watched both her father and Akane, her youngest sister, practice them over the years. Other parts, however, were completely unfamiliar to her.
Then he jumped, and she found momentary voyeurism kicked to the wayside by slack jawed astonishment as he seemed to hover midair a moment, body twisting in some aerial form, before falling the three meters back to the ground.
"Close your mouth, dear. You look like a fish."
Glancing sideways a moment she was greeted with an amused expression before the both of them turned to look outside once again. After a moment of silence, the older woman softly said, "It IS a little amazing, isn't it?" Nodding, Nabiki watched as Ranma launched himself into the air once again.
Ten minutes passed before he finally finished.
Jogging the whole five or six steps to the patio, she watched as Ranma suddenly stopped upon seeing her. Blinking a couple of times he then said, "Oh, ya, homework." Then scratching at the back of his head a moment he added, "Er... sorry Mom, I forgot to tell you."
"It's okay, Ranma. You have a tendency to get 'busy' suddenly. It happens."
He smiled a moment before turning back to Nabiki and adding, "I, ah, still need to take a shower."
"That's okay. I'll wait."
Nodding he then brushed his entirely-too-masculine body past hers and wandered back into the yet explored portions of the house.
But Nabiki didn't see that part, as she was too busy telling her suddenly weak knees to behave....
It was almost 4 o'clock when Ranma, pausing long enough to lock the front door behind him, followed Nabiki out and in the general direction of the shopping districts.
After all, ice cream HAD been promised.
But it was also money well spent, in his mind. After his mother had left saying that she had shopping and errands to run, Ranma had dragged out the mountain of catch-up homework that he still had, and the two of them had dived into it.
The first hour had been horrid. Every time Nabiki tried to explain something to him, he just... didn't get it. It had been enormously frustrating, and even going over something a second, or even third time, hadn't helped. Just shy of wanting to scream in irritation, Nabiki had suddenly stopped and said, "Let's skip Matrices and move onto Geometry for a moment." He had found himself eagerly nodding in agreement.
Geometry, however, also came with its own unique issues. Once Nabiki had explained what the problem was asking for, he found that he could puzzle out the answers easily enough... it was proving HOW he got the answers that he now stumbled over.
"Let me check that one, Ranma... okay, it looks good. Now, how did you do it?"
"What do you mean? Just look at the picture. This angle is obviously the same as that one over there, so you just kind of cut out the extra stuff and there it is."
She had glared at him a bit before he caught her muttered, "...and now I know why Suzuki-sensei hates you."
In the end he had managed to plow through most of the assignments without making too many mistakes, and then they had moved onto Japanese History. While knowing very little of the material, he had found it interesting to read, and in the end that subject was covered rather quickly.
It was then that Nabiki decided payment was due, and so out they went.
She found herself rather enjoying walking alongside Ranma as they travelled towards the shopping mall. Being the center of attention, even if it was just due to proximity to the tall boy, was rather fun.
"Ranma, why did you bring your backpack along?"
In truth, she had watched as he'd quickly removed a couple of school books from it before throwing it over his shoulder, but still.
"Oh, um, well... just in case, ya know?"
Stopping at the display window for a jewelry store Nabiki spent a moment looking for something that might actually be affordable when she heard a splash behind her. Turning around she caught a blur of motion out of the corner of her eye before noticing that instead of Ranma standing behind her, it was an elderly man with a shocked expression and a now empty wash bucket.
Looking both left, then right, she finally asked, "Okay, which way did he go?" The elderly man blinked at her a couple times before pointing back towards the direction they'd come, then hurried away.
Wandering in the indicated direction she promptly found him in the last alley that they'd passed, holding a thermos over his head as water splashed on the ground around him.
"Ranma, what are you doing?"
Literally spinning in the blink of an eye, Ranma stared at her with a horrified look before slowly patting the front of his shirt a couple times and saying, "Ah... hehehe. Hey Nabiki."
Stuffing the thermos back into his pack he nervously continued, "I was just... washing the... dirty water, off of my shirt. Ya."
Nabiki knew he was covering something up. In her, admittedly limited, experience with Ranma, he only acted like this when she caught him at something.
The big question was... what?
Grabbing her hand as he stepped out of the alley Ranma quickly asked, "So, what kind of ice cream were you wanting to get? I, uh, normally get strawberry, I guess, and-"
Giving the alleyway one last glance Nabiki allowed herself to be dragged away, her body moving automatically, even as her mind added this latest puzzle to the growing list. The top of that list, however, was still reserved for one particular question that she had been wondering about for a couple days now. She had planned on using a little of the time spent over at the Saotome household quietly digging for an answer, but opportunity hadn't given her much of a chance.
However, one particular fact had caught her attention.
Not once had Ranma, or his mother, mentioned his sister. And there was nothing, absolutely zip, when there should have been something, a photo, an object, ANYTHING, there to indicate her presence in the house.
So... where was Ranma's sister hiding?
Or, she suddenly speculated, where were Ranma and his mother hiding her?
"...and thus, if your son were to marry one of my daughters, then the schools would still be united." Holding up one clenched fist as tears began to stream down his face Soun then added, "Oh Genma, my friend, how I wish you were here to see this day finally come."
When Saotome Nodoka had first arrived Soun had felt an initial trepidation upon discovering that she was unaware of the oath that her husband and he had made, so many years ago. However, now he knew he had to convince her to uphold the agreement. Both for family honor, and to fulfill his old friend's last parting wish.
Wiping the tears from his eyes he looked upon the woman who held his family's, and his school's, future. Finding her looking rather pale he asked, "Are you feeling well?"
Looking at him a little wide-eyed Nodoka finally stammered, "An... arranged marriage?"
He nodded purposefully. Finally, the woman understood.
"I'm... not sure what to think, Tendo-san. My husband never mentioned this to me, and - and my son is still adjusting to the... numerous changes within his life."
She paused to take a sip of the tea that his eldest daughter had served earlier before continuing. "Please, could you give me a little time to think about this? I need time to... think, and to... talk, with my son."
Again nodding Soun smiled as he replied, "Of course. Though with being raised by Genma, I know your son will see the honor of the situation and understand that - are you SURE you're feeling well, Nodoka?"
Watching as the woman actually managed to pale even more then she'd already had, Soun found it amazing that, with her obviously frail health, she had managed to survive so long without Genma by her side.