No crooked leg, no bleared eye,
 No part deformed out of kind.
Nor yet so ugly half can be
 As the inward suspicious mind.
 - Queen Elizabeth I, written in her French Psalter.

Ranma 1/2: Catalyst
Part Four: Epiphanies
by Jaelle.


The characters in this story were not created by me and do not belong to me in any way, shape or form. They are the creations of the one and only Rumiko Takahashi. All hail!


Ranma lay on his back on the roof of the dojo and shaded his eyes.

Akane and Tenjou had finally returned, much to his relief. After Ryoga's revelations, Ranma had sat by him for a while, then gotten him to take a relaxing bath, after which Ryoga had been calm again.

Then he'd realised that Tenjou's "hour long trip" had turned into two and a half hours.

Ryoga had been on the verge of a complete mental breakdown, and only his newfound hard-won control over his depression powers had prevented the pair returning to a large smoking crater. His sobbing over Tenjou had been quite a sight to see - he'd outdone Soun Tendo at his worst. Akane had apologised profusely for the delay, citing traffic problems, a queue at the Doctors and a hungry child - all of which was more or less true.

Ryoga had waved all her apologies away and, exhausted from all the emotion, had gone to take a nap whilst Konatsu, newly emerged from the kitchen and bubbling over with enthusiasm, played with Tenjou. They'd all been a bit nervous about this, but Konatsu had sworn a solemn vow that "dress-up" would not be included in the games, and Akane decided to stick around and monitor them.

However, just before she'd accompanied Konatsu and Tenjou to the park, Akane had told Ranma the full story.

Ranma was pissed.

Damn that stupid Mousse, and Shampoo too! What was she thinking? At least Mousse had the excuse of being as blind as a bat and twice as stupid, but how could she justify hassling Akane like that? It really worried and annoyed him when the "fiancees" all went after each other. He wasn't a pet pig to be fought over. It was all so stupid.

"You're the only one that can stop this madness you know." Ryoga's words echoed in his ears. "Instead you lie around doing nothing and proclaiming innocence. All you're doing is prolonging the pain. These problems and fiancees aren't going to go away by themselves."

Ranma thought over Ryoga's words and had to concede that to a degree they were true. He wasn't solving the situations, just trying to avoid them. Sticking his head in the sand, or "turning panda" as he privately called that practice - he was acting just like his father.

Ugh, what a horrible thought.

Ranma hoped Kasumi would call him in for food soon, he needed something to take his mind off this. But lunch was still two hours away. However, from the smells he could scent, it was going to be a feast fit for a king! Ramen and pork buns... Mmmmmm...

*Funny, I thought I saw Kasumi working on smoked fish.*

"Nihao!"

Ranma groaned and sat up.

"Aiya!" Shampoo bounced into his lap. "Airen want too-too delicious ramen and pork buns? For free! Is good, you eat, yes?"

Ranma twisted, trying to loosen her grip around his neck. Shampoo squealed into his ear. Ranma growled.

"Shampoo, what are you doing here?" he demanded.

"Come to give husband good meal, like good wife." said Shampoo. She released one hand, grabbed behind her, and held out a pork bun to him. "Say aaaaahhh!"

More of Ryoga's words echoed back at him. "You freeload off Shampoo and Ukyou when you want to eat, it's no wonder they read it the wrong way."

"I don't want it!" said Ranma, pushing the bun away.

Shampoo was surprised. She hadn't slipped anything into Ranma's meals lately, so this refusal to eat had her mystified. She narrowed her eyes and bent forward, giving him a better look at her beauty. She'd spent an hour getting all the make-up just right. She was fresh, gorgeous and dressed to kill. She'd already caused three traffic accidents on the way over (although the second one had been caused by her cutting in front of a car on her bicycle) so why wasn't he reacting? He wasn't even blushing or stammering.

"Airen eat, yes!" she said, once more proffering the bun.

Ranma's stomach growled. Then he remembered what Akane had said Shampoo had done.

"I said I don't want any!" Ranma stood up, but Shampoo refused to let go of him.

"Let go of me Shampoo!" he said. "I really mean it."

Shampoo frowned, this was not going as she planned. Usually Ranma was a stuttering stammering fool by this time. Either that or he was eating like he'd been starved for a week.

"But wife make special food just for husband," she perservered. "Is good, is no spiced. Is just way you like it." She pouted.

Ranma reached up, grabbed her hands, dragged them apart, stepped back and pushed Shampoo away from him. "Stop it Shampoo. No means no. I don't want your food." He felt his temper grow. Why wouldn't any of them ever listen to him? He already felt bitter from his conversations with Ryoga and now he could feel a headache coming on.

"I don't want it." he said. "Thanks, but no thanks."

"But..." Shampoo was stubborn too. "Is too-too delicious..."

"Dammit Shampoo," Ranma exploded. "When are you going to let it rest. I said no, I don't want any of your 'too-too delicious meal'. And can't you say it plainly? It's always 'Ranma eat too-too delicious hot ramen, special cook!' or 'Ranma go to date with Shampoo?' You've lived here six years! Couldn't you at least TRY to speak Japanese properly?" He was being unfair, he knew it, but it was all just so frustrating.

Shampoo was utterly bewildered. This was unprecedented.

Ranma turned away from her. "I think you'd better go Shampoo, I don't feel like talking to you right now." He hopped off the roof, leaving an extremely confused, and now frightened, Amazon woman behind.

Shampoo stared at the point on the roof where Ranma had been. She could still feel his hands like iron bands around her wrists. He'd never just shaken her loose like that. Never!

Something was badly wrong.

"What go wrong?" she wondered aloud. "Why Ranma..."

"Why... _did_ Ranma say that?"

***

"Kasumi, do we have any aspirin?" Ranma demanded, walking into the kitchen. "My head is splitting!"

"There's some in the cupboard by the fridge," Kasumi answered. "Was that Shampoo I heard just before?"

Ranma grunted as he poked around in the cupboard. "She wanted me to eat her food and couldn't understand me when I said I didn't want it. Am I really that much of a glutton?" He found the aspirin, shook two out of the packet and dry-swallowed them. Then he took in the silence.

"Kasumi?"

"Well you know Ranma," said Kasumi. "You do tend to be somewhat indiscriminate when food is the subject." She calmly continued to prepare lunch. "And you're always so hungry. I suppose it's because you work out all the time. Still, it wouldn't hurt to slow down your eating a little bit. It's a pity your mother never got to teach you proper table manners. *Sigh*. If only your father would set a better example."

Ranma was flabberghasted. Those were the most condemning words he'd ever heard come from Kasumi's mouth. And yet again he'd been compared to his father.

"Argh!" he yelled, and stomped off.

Kasumi paid no attention and continued to prepare the vegetables. This was normal Ranma behaviour, nothing to worry about. So she was somewhat surprised when a few minutes later, Ranma stuck his head back in the kitchen door.

"Uh, Kasumi...?"

"Yes?" she asked.

"Er... thanks. You know, for the aspirin and... for the aspirin."

"That's alright!" Kasumi smiled at him in genuine pleasure, and Ranma found himself smiling back. He left again and walked down the corridor to his room. *Wow, that's good aspirin. My headache's gone already.*

He whistled jauntily as he went.

***

"Do you want to go higher?" Konatsu asked.

Tenjou grinned widely at him.

"Okay then... heave!"

Akane watched in amazement as Konatsu fussed over Tenjou, pushing him higher and higher on the swings, cheering him on on the climbing bars, pushing him on the roundabout, and generally running around after him. Tenjou was absolutely thrilled, but he didn't look half as radiant as Konatsu did.

Konatsu looked... beautiful.

*This is the weirdest thing I've ever seen,* she thought. *And that is really saying something!*

Akane wasn't the only one watching Konatsu. A young mother with two small toddlers came up and smiled at the ninja.

"Your oldest?" she asked.

"Oh, he's not mine," said Konatsu. "I'm just spending some time with him while his parent takes a break!"

"You're so kind!" the woman said. "It's a pity her husband isn't as nice as you. It's so hard looking after a child by yourself." she bowed to Konatsu. "Well, having watched you I'm sure you'll make a _fantastic_ mother yourself someday!"

"Oh thank you!" Konatsu waved goodbye to the woman.

*THUD*

Konatsu turned in surprise to see Akane collapsed on the ground. "Akane-san, are you alright?"

Akane twitched. *That _woman_. How dare she! Poor Ryoga exhausts himself trying to care for his son and she automatically assumes he's no help at all. And _Konatsu_ a mother... That really WOULD be fantastic!*

"Uh, I'm fine..." she said, sitting up. "So, are you two going to let me play too?"

Tenjou giggled briefly and grabbed her hand.

"OOooh! I know!" said Konatsu. "Let's go on the see-saw. Akane, you take Tenjou and sit on one end, and I'll sit on the other."

"Okay!" Akane scooped Tenjou up and sat on the end of the see-saw. Once they were settled, Konatsu agiley hopped onto the other end. The see-saw trembled... and and didn't move - leaving Konatsu dangling in the air and Akane and Tenjou firmly planted on the ground.

"..." said Akane.

"Ummm..." said Konatsu. "Tenjou's weight is probably too much for me...." He ran out of words and groped for a way to get out of this situation.

Akane wished the ground would open up below her and swallow her forever. First the earlier compliments to Konatsu, and now _this_.

"Heh..." she managed weakly. "It's all the wonderful recipes you've been giving Kasumi." She swallowed hard. Tears began to form in her eyes. *I really AM uncute - even Konatsu's more feminine than I am...* *Sniff*

Akane's arms trembled, and then stilled as she felt a strange sensation. Looking down, she saw Tenjou nestle himself comfortably into her, and go to sleep.

"Ah!"

"What? What?" Konatsu jumped off the see-saw and ran over. "Oh, all the playing must have tired him out." He couldn't help but feel disappointed, they'd only been playing for an hour. But of course, an hour was a lot when you were only four.

"You should probably take him back to the dojo for a nap." Konatsu said.

"Yeah, you're right." Akane sniffed strongly and stood up. Konatsu blinked as he saw a tear roll down her cheek. He tried again to find the words, to try and be useful.

"Ummm... Akane-san, is there anything I can do?" he asked.

Akane looked at him, preparing to politely reject his aid, then stopped. *Why not?* She thought wildly. *He's more feminine than most of the girls I know, _and_ he's a guy. I couldn't ask anyone else to help with this - Shampoo and Ukyou consider me rivals, I hate Kodachi, and Kasumi and Nabiki would laugh... and Ranma would laugh the hardest! So why not?*

"Ummmm..." she said. *I can't believe I'm doing this.* "Actually, there is something you could do to help me." Her cheeks blushed crimson.

"Really?" Konatsu was amazed. "What?"

"Could you teach me... how to be a real girl?"

*THUD*

"Konatsu? Are you alright?"

***

After releasing Tenjou into Kasumi's care and promising to return for lunch, Akane followed Konatsu back to his "place".

"This is where you live?" Akane asked.

"Yeah," said Konatsu. "It's not the greatest, but the health department complained about me living in Ucchans, and there was no other room. But it's cheap, and the public baths are right around the corner!"

Akane looked around the small flat. There were only two rooms. The main room and a tiny bathroom out the back. Akane regarded the small "kitchen sink" in the main room, the rolled up futon, and the remains of several noodle containers by the rubbish bin.

"Ummm..." she said. "You know, if you were in real straits you could have come to us."

Konatsu grinned. "Oh don't worry, it's not _that_ bad," he said. "In fact, compared to my early life - it's luxurious! The best part is that I can cover the rent and utilities out of my pay from Ucchans, so I save everything else."

"Huh?"

"I have a couple of part-time jobs," Konatsu said, tugging the futon away from the wall closet. "Though don't tell Ukyou-sama please. I could afford a bigger place if I _really_ wanted to."

"Then... why don't you?" Akane asked.

"I don't really need one," Konatsu shrugged. "Although I am starting to think of shifting into a slightly bigger place - if only to have somewhere to put all my clothes." He gestured to the large wall closet. Akane approached the double doors and slid the left one open.

"Gak!" was all she could manage. Glittering, shining, and glimmering, the light refracted back at her.

"Do you have a permit for all this stuff?" She demanded. Konatsu looked a bit sheepish as she began to count his weapon collection.

"... four katanas, three Western style blades, more throwing stars in different shapes and sizes than I could possibly ever count... Konatsu - are you planning to declare war on somewhere anytime soon?"

"Eh heh, the way of the ninja - always be prepared." Konatsu said, trying to shut the door.

"Is that gun REAL???!!!" [1]

"Aha!" Konatsu slammed the left door and opened the right. "Here we go!"

Akane gasped as she beheld the collection of clothes in front of her. Stacks of traditional kimonos were folded neatly into the side shelves of the closet, silken dresses hung from the hangers, and the floor was littered with shoes. Akane picked up one stiletto with six inch solid metal heels. "Wha?"

"Oops," said Konatsu, grabbing it. "That should be on the other side. Eh heh... well, I do love clothes."

Akane began to feel faint. A soft perfume tickled her nose as she bent forward to examine the embroidery on one of the dresses. *Roses? And some... jasmine too. Konatsu's special scent.*

"Wow," she said. "You really... really..." tears filled her eyes again. "Oh Konatsu - what a stupid world we live in! You should have been a real girl... and I... I..." Akane sunk to the floor and sobbed.

"I'm uncute," she howled. "I'm ugly, fat, unfeminine, a tomboy... uncute uncute UNCUTE!!!"

Konatsu sat down beside Akane and nervously put an arm around her. She buried her face in his chest and wept.

"You're not uncute Akane!" Konatsu said. "Whoever said you were was a... a... dimwit!"

"B-but I..."

"_I_ think you're _very_ cute," said Konatsu. "In a totally non-interested flattering admiring way of course."

Akane burst into laughter. "Wha... what the heck was that?" she demanded, between a mixture of sobs and giggles.

"Well," Konatsu blushed. "I didn't want you getting the wrong idea or anything... I mean I _like_ you and everything..."

Akane held up her hands. "I got it, I got it." She sighed and rested her head against Konatsu's chest. "And I appreciate your friendship and companionship - in a totally platonic and caring way."

Konatsu giggled, then sobered. "So, do you want to tell me why you just went into hysterics at the sight of my clothing collection? I know, I know... it's that terrible orange dress isn't it? I swear, I'll get rid of it immediately. I don't know WHAT came over me to buy it but..."

"No no, it's not that." said Akane. "It's, uh, just that... I haven't been feeling very feminine lately. Not like a real girl."

"And you think I have?" Konatsu asked in surprise. "You think _you're_ unfeminine, you should see the sorts of things _I_ have to do..." He rubbed his chin. "I have to make sure there isn't the faintest hint of a shadow so I take care of my face twice a day..."

"Well, you do..."

"And the wax REALLY hurts..." Konatsu continued. "And stockings! I go through stockings like there's no tomorrow! One little run and they're history..."

"Umm... Konatsu..."

"And getting your own scents mixed is so expensive these days, and my new herbal shampoo is making my hair all greasy, not to mention the fact that finding a cleanser that isn't harsh on my skin is like finding the holy grail and..."

"KONATSU!!!" Akane yelled.

"And... What?" Konatsu stopped.

"Ummm... I don't think you're supposed to use it on your face." Akane mumbled.

"The cleanser?" Konatsu looked surprised and shook his head. "No, because soap is too rough and..."

"Not the cleanser, the... never mind." Akane's mind shuddered back. "Just... never mind. I guess I'm just down in the dumps today - and after the embarrassment at the park I thought some female... er, or closest possible alternative, company might help."

"So this all comes back to the fact that you think you're unfeminine. Silly Akane - you're very feminine! You're just not very confident in it. You're trapped between what society expects you to be like and what _you_ want." Konatsu said wisely. "Believe me, I know whereof I speak." he added wryly.

"You want to be feminine, and female of females... but you don't want to be a cariacature like your sisters - especially Kasumi - now _there_ is a woman who seriously needs a hobby!"

Konatsu leaned back and Akane snuggled in closer to him. For some odd reason, she felt perfectly safe with him. "But Kasumi is perfect!" she protested.

"Yes," said Konatsu. "Perfectly repressed. I spend a lot of time with her and all I know about her is that she cooks some of the best food I've ever tasted, that she can wash a mixed load of clothes without any of them bleeding and that you could eat off floors she's cleaned. She's so dutiful and good my teeth ache around her, I always have to fight down this overwhelming urge to swear like a sailor when she's in the room. Not that it would do much good I imagine. The sun is always shining and people are always happy on Planet Kasumi. I predict ulcers by thirty and a heart attack by forty."

Akane looked up at him in horror. "K-Kasumi?"

"Mmmmm... but forget her for now, we're talking about you." Konatsu said. "And about your happiness."

"I'm not sure this is right." Akane said. "I try to be like Mom and Kasumi and make the people I love happy - but I'm just no good at it."

"Because you MAKE yourself fail," Konatsu said. "Take your cooking... please."

"Hey!"

"No, seriously. You're not really a bad cook at all, are you?"

"I... uh... well... I..."

"You've had successes haven't you, on your own?" Konatsu pressed.

"Ummm... a few..." Akane mumbled.

"But cooking is supposed to be a mothers job - and there isn't ROOM in your household for TWO cooks, so you spoil your meals on purpose - don't you?"

Akane went bright red. "How did you know?"

Konatsu grinned at her. "Because I am wise and all-knowing. Now listen carefully my poor deluded child." Akane was about to interrupt again. Konatsu held up a finger. "Listen Akane, if you really want advice about identity and sexuality crises you've come to the right person so just be quiet and listen."

"You want to be feminine and please yourself, your sisters and society. But you in particular were also interested in moving beyond that - being independent and fearless, a real modern woman, that's you Akane. Added to which you had holes in your family life which all three of you Tendo girls have tried to fill. However, with Kasumi filling the role of mother up so that there's no room for other women, you wound up trying to fit into the role of protector - kind of a father role."

"But I have a dad!" Akane protested. Konatsu glared at her.

"Akane, I've MET your father," he reminded her. "There's plenty of room in that role for you, trust me here. Also, you picked up that your father always wanted an heir, so to please him, you tried to take over that role as well. What with Kasumi holding down the position of devoted wife and mother, and you trying your best to be a son, rather than a daughter, it's no wonder you're a bit muddled up."

"What about Nabiki?"

"Nabiki opted out of this battle a LONG time ago," Konatsu replied. "She saw she couldn't get in on Kasumi's turf, and she didn't want to try and be her fathers son, so she withdrew a little. In a way, she's probably smarter, but not as happy I would imagine. It must be hard for her." Konatsu sighed. "And then Ranma showed up. Talk about your warped values. I'd dearly LOVE to choke his father one day but anyhow... Ranma should have been the real man that you could compare yourself to, and sort yourself out from. Humanity always defines themselves by what they are _not_, not by what they are. You say, 'I am not like him, therefore I am different from him. I do not have his height, his strength, or his physical appearance. If he is a man, and I am not these things, then I must be a woman.' But Ranma..." Konatsu sighed.

"Ranma Ranma Ranma... Ranma had to go fall in the cursed spring of drowned girl, and promptly screw up all your definitions." Konatsu continued. "The problem is he's not very good at being a good male, and useless at being a good female. He's afraid of losing his 'masculinity' - whatever the heck he thinks THAT is, so he's tried to define himself by what HE thinks girls are - insipid, tittering, cutesy, useless stereotypes - and then he runs into someone like you, who is both a very obviously attractive and cute girl and COMPLETELY unlike his mental picture of girls - in fact, you're almost exactly like him!"

"Now wait a minute..." Akane began. Konatsu held up a finger again.

"He finds himself surprised, shocked, intrigued, and then confused. If you are someone he likes and respects AND a martial artist AND a girl - then who and what is he? And you have pretty much the same problem - a built up image of what ALL guys are, and then you meet one you actually like, don't deny it, and he's a bit like you, and you don't know what this means to you. So, as a result, you both overcompensate, trying to emphasise your differences, rather than your similarities. Ranma goes into macho overdrive, trying to be butch and tough and not caring about anything - and you wind up reacting almost the same way!"

"Ummm..." said Akane. "Confused... help!"

Konatsu sighed. "The point is you can't win by trying to compete and out-tough each other. The whole point of yin and yang is for the two sides to _complement_ each other, not fight all the time!"

"But he..."

"Provokes you... I know... but he's only doing it to try and prove to himself that he's more male than you are. He's not a modern man Akane, and he's nervous about his role. That isn't an excuse, merely a situation. The question is, are you going to keep battling him for dominance in your relationship? You both have this, 'I must be in charge' attitude, which is good - healthy even, but if you keep fighting each other ALL the time, you're going to lose by default."

"So, what should I do then?" Akane asked meekly. She was amazed, and a little disturbed, by what Konatsu had said so far... and yet it all seemed so _right_.

"That's the beauty of it, you don't have to DO anything." Konatsu exclaimed. "Your problem Akane, is that _you_ don't think you're feminine - obviously the rest of the world does, else why would half the school be in love with you? And note that I said love, not lust. They want you for the whole you - your face, your personality, your body, your kindness..."

"But..."

"No buts!" Konatsu would not be stopped. "I will not be denied! Foreign Princes have kidnapped you and asked you to be their wives - strange and handsome men have declared their love to you - powerful martial artists have fought over you... Do you really think that this is all some massive coincidence? NO! Face it Akane, you're wonderful, so stop trying to be superwoman and be confident in yourself! Don't listen to what anyone else says about you! Remember the most important thing - that you have lots and lots of friends and admirers, and they like you just for you... Not your clothes or martial arts prowess. If you really want to be happy - just be yourself!" Konatsu stopped, chest heaving as he sucked in breath.

Akane stared at him. Then she gently disentangled herself from him.

"Ah... Akane?" Konatsu was suddenly struck, ironically enough, by self-doubt. Maybe he'd been too much.

Akane moved away from Konatsu, shuffled into kneeling position, then bent forward at the waist and formally bowed to Konatsu.

"Konatsu-sama," she said. "I am eternally grateful to you for sharing your wisdom with me. I will take it to heart and try to live well because of it. Is there anything I can do to thank you for such a gift?"

Konatsu was flabberghasted. "I... ah... ahh... Er, no thanks. I'm just peachy right now."

Akane straightened up and grinned at him. "In that case why don't we grab that revolting orange dress and drop it off at a second hand place on the way to the mall for some disgustingly sweet and fattening ice cream sundaes - my treat!"

Konatsu found himself answering Akane's grin with one of his own. "Sister," he said. "You've got a deal!"

***

End of Part Four

[1] It is virtually impossible to own a real gun in Japan. The gun-owning section of the population is something like 2% out of the entire country. However, there are a lot of _replica_ guns. Whether or not Konatsu has a real one is up in the air. :-)


Go on to Part Five

Go BACK to the Ranma 1/2 Fanfiction Index