Ranma 1/2: Catalyst
Part Five: Leavetakings
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!
Mousse moodily rubbed at the tables in the Nekohanten, cleaning up before the lunch rush. After Cologne's rather stinging remarks Shampoo had taken herself off to the public baths to, "Make beautiful for airen!" She'd stopped back in briefly to pick up some food "for airen!", knocked him down going out and and hadn't come home yet. He'd considered going along too, but was stopped short with demands by Cologne that he "do something to justify his freeloading butt, unless you want to BE dinner instead of serving it."
He stared unseeingly at the table as he scrubbed. This was not a new phenomenon, Mousse frequently didn't see things. But this time, it brought him up short.
*Am I really that bad?* he wondered. *I mean, is my sight really such a handicap? Alright, so I sometimes spend my time talking to statues, and attacking the wrong people, but is it really that bad? At least I don't lead girls on like Ranma does, or am terminally stupid like Kuno, and although my vision may not be perfect I can still find my way around places faster than _Ryoga_. And it doesn't really affect my normal life... does it?* Mousse stopped his scrubbing and squinted at the table.
*I've been scrubbing this table for the past ten minutes, it should be clean by now. But I can't tell.*
A small shiver ran down his back.
*It really _is_ that bad.*
And then another thought, worse than the previous one.
*I'm just as bad as all the others.*
Mousse stared at the table for a long time.
Akane walked back to the Tendo house feeling supremely happy. After her talk with Konatsu, she'd been amazed at how easy everything seemed. They'd yacked over ice cream about all sorts of rubbish, clothes, make-up, studies, plans for the future.
*It's incredible!* She thought. *I can't believe I never thought of talking to someone like Konatsu before! Who knew that he was so bright!* Jauntily she walked in the front door, kicked her shoes off and put them aside before putting her slippers on. "I'm home!" she called.
"Welcome home!" came an unfamiliar reply.
"Huh?" Akane stuck her head around the living room doorway and was surprised to find Tatewaki Kuno seated at the table.
"Upperclassman Kuno! Wha... what are you doing here?"
"Greetings Akane Tendo." Kuno inclined his head towards her. "Your esteemed older sister invited me to visit your gentle home."
"Kasumi invited you over?" Akane was baffled.
"Nope, I did." Nabiki walked in, wearing a t-shirt and jeans. "Kuno-baby did me a favour this morning, so I figured the least I could do was invite him over for lunch. We didn't have anything else to do anyway, so I thought I'd volunteer our services for Tenjou-sitting while you're at college."
"Oh... okay." said Akane. "Didn't you have a class this morning that you should be finishing right about now?"
"I vaguely recall something about that," Nabiki replied, with quirk of her mouth.
"Aha, gotcha." Akane grinned back at her sister, slightly surprised by Nabiki's good humour.
Just then Tenjou wandered in, rubbing his eyes and yawning.
"Ah this must be young master Hibiki, greetings child."
Tenjou stared at Kuno, who knelt and patted his head.
"How sad it is to lose one's mother so young, I know the heartache well. Rest assured young one that should you ever require aid, the strong arm of the Blue Thunder of Furinkan College is ever at your calling." Kuno stood up and nobly strode off. Tenjou stared after him, a confused expression on his normally solemn face.
"Where's he going?" Akane asked. "I thought he was going to help?"
"I think he wanted to make a dramatic exit." said Nabiki. "Too bad he walked into the broom closet."
"Uh huh," said Akane. "Well, shall we set the table?"
Konatsu lay back on his futon and stared at the ceiling. That Akane, what a silly! How could she miss what was, quite literally, staring her in the face everytime she looked in the mirror? He smiled in remembrance of her offer as she left the cafe.
"Konatsu," he remembered her saying. "I want to thank you so much for everything you've done for me this morning, and if there's anything, ANYTHING, you want or need from me, just call. I swear I'll come running. I'll even bring chocolate - how's that for a deal?"
Konatsu's smile widened as he remembered the rest of the conversation. "Sounds great," he'd replied. "So no more nonsense about this 'being a real girl' thing then?"
"None." Akane had said firmly. "From now on I'm going to believe in myself, and trust myself."
"And like yourself," he'd added. "That's important too."
Akane had nodded, and then placed her hand over his. "And you believe in yourself, trust and like yourself too." she'd said. "Because I like you very much, and think you're deserving of happiness - whatever that may be for you...
And then she'd left.
*Happiness?* Konatsu wondered. *But I am happy! I have a job, a home... someone I love very much. I'm happy, right?* He got up and looked at himself in the mirror. A very cute girl stared back at him.
*I'm happy.* he thought. *I know I am. I'm happy.*
*But who is 'I'?*
*I am... am...*
"Can you show me how to be a real girl?" Akane asked him in the park.
"Konatsu... chan." Akane's face, so serious.
"You'll make a fantastic mother someday!" the woman had complimented her.
Konatsu frowned. He didn't usually think like this. He was usually so sure.
Tenjou had smiled up at him trustingly.
"I am..." Konatsu stopped. He stared at his face - or her face, he often had difficulty working out whose it was. His, or hers.
"Who _are_ you anyway?" he asked.
*Who are you that asks?* his own voice echoed in his mind.
He tried again. "I am..."
"A real girl?"
"A fantastic mother someday!"
Konatsu stared into the mirror as the words ran around and around in his head.
Ranma moved into a stretching routine and kept an eye on Kuno, Nabiki and Tenjou, still sitting at the table. He'd been surprised and a little put out to find that Kuno was joining them for lunch, but was in a good enough mood to agree to a temporary truce over the meal. It had been delicious too, so he was glad nothing had messed it up.
Then Akane had headed off for her afternoon classes and Nabiki and Kuno announced that they were looking after Tenjou until Ryoga woke up. The poor guy was still fast asleep. Ranma wondered how much rest he'd had lately. Paranoia seemed to be wearing him out.
Meanwhile, Ranma himself was doing some stretches preliminary to a work out, since he had nothing else to do.
"Hup... hup... hup..." he bounced gently in a stretch, kicked out his feet to loosen up his legs a bit and assumed the first position of the first kata.
Nabiki shook her head as she watched Ranma practice. "Practice, practice, practice... I don't know how he does it. You'd think it would get boring after a while."
"Brrrrrrmmm... brrrrmmm..." replied Kuno. Nabiki looked over in amazement as Kuno pretended the matchbox he held was a car. "Ready Speed Racer?"
Tenjou had a small wooden ornament box in his hand. He nodded.
"And we're off!" Kuno took off on his hands and knees, scuttling around the room, pushing the matchbox along, making car noises and occasionally singing snatches of the Speed Racer theme. Tenjou followed him in close pursuit as they 'drove' around the room, over the table, over Nabiki, who was too stunned to react, into the kitchen, out of the kitchen, once around the koi pond and back into the living room.
Ranma stared at this odd show as he moved into the fifth kata. He'd never thought he'd see the day... What was it about this kid that turned grown human beings into complete mush brains? Then his eyes threatened to cross as Nabiki snatched up her pencilcase and joined in, yelling that she would show them all what it meant to be a real racer!
Stunned, Ranma missed his footing and plunged into the pond.
"What's wrong with HIM?" Kuno asked.
Nabiki shrugged. "Maybe he wasn't paying attention." Something nagged at her mind.
Kuno sniffed. "When _I_ train, I focus my mind only on the task at hand. You will never see Tatewaki Kuno distracted by... THE PIGTAILED GIRL!!!"
*Oh yeah,* thought Nabiki. *That was it.*
"Yeep!" eeped Ranma. "Get away from me!"
"My darling! How I have longed for this day!"
Nabiki looked at Tenjou, who was watching the scene with a puzzled expression.
"What's all the noise?" Ryoga asked, yawning as he walked into the living room. "Ah, should have guessed. Kuno's visiting, is he?" He put a hand over his eyes. "When will that idiot catch a clue?"
"Today... I hope." said Nabiki in a voice the temperature of glaciers. "Can you look after your son for a while?"
Ryoga grinned at her unexpectedly. "I'd love to get a turn," he wisecracked. "C'mon Tenjou."
"Don't let him wander off Tenjou!" Nabiki called as the boy guided his father out to the front garden. She stuck her head into the kitchen. "Kasumi, can I borrow a bucket of cold water and a kettle of hot water please?"
"Of course Nabiki," said Kasumi, who was staring in concern at a package on the bench. She absently began to collect the required items. "Actually, I was wondering if you could run this over to the college. Akane left her dinner behind, and if she stays late studying again she'll starve to death."
"Sorry," said Nabiki. "But I have other plans. I can look after the house though if you want to take it there."
Kasumi brightened. "We do need more soy sauce, I could pick it up on the way back."
"Good plan," said Nabiki. "See you later!" She picked up the now full kettle and bucket and went out to the pond.
"Okay you two, we're going to sort this out once and for all even if it KILLS the both of you!"
Ukyou yawned, bored. The lunch rush was over, and there weren't likely to be many more customers till late this evening. And with Konatsu taking the day off, there was noone to talk to. *I'm SO bored.*
"Kon... atsu?" Ukyou said in surprise. "What are you doing here? You took the day off, remember?"
"Yeah," said Konatsu. "I needed to talk to you about something? Uh... there isn't really any easy way to say this so I just... better spit it out." He proffered an envelope to her.
"Oh no..." Ukyou groaned. "I can't deal with this right now." She eyed the love letter. *Not AGAIN!*
"I... I... quit."
"I'm handing in my resignation." Konatsu said, offering her the envelope. Ukyou accepted it numbly. *I don't believe this.*
"But... why?" she asked. "If you wanted a pay rise you could have just asked."
"I'm going to go away and find myself." Konatsu said with a grin.
"I'm going to find out who Konatsu is," said Konatsu. "Find out who she... or he... is." He grinned at her, tears glistening unshed in his eyes. "The last few years have been the best in my life. I cannot express my gratitude enough, and I'm sorry to have to repay you by leaving you in the lurch as it were, but a... ninja has to do, what a ninja has to do."
He took her hand in his. "Goodbye for now Ukyou-sama. I hope one day to return. Perhaps at last to be your husband, or not. Whatever happens, please remember that I am now and always your friend. Please take care of yourself my dear, dear Ucchan." He leant forward and kissed her cheek.
"Sayonara," Ukyou choked out. She watched him walk away, feeling numb inside. Konatsu... leaving...
The ninja walked down the street, turned the corner, and was lost to sight.
As the rest of her history class filed out of the room, Akane scooped the rest of her textbooks into her school bag and checked to make sure she'd packed her pencil case, preparatory to heading off to her next class.
"Kasumi-chan!" Akane looked up in surprise to see her oldest sister waving at her from the back of the class. "What's up?"
"You forgot your dinner," Kasumi explained as she handed her sister a package.
"Argh! I did too! Thanks Kasumi, I'm sorry to have put you out by making you come all this way."
"Oh it was no trouble," Kasumi smiled and looked around. "So, this is your classroom is it?"
"Just for my biology classes," Akane said, carefully packing her lunch away. "Now I have to go attend a literature lecture."
"How nice! Well, I'm heading back now. Don't stay too late studying!"
Akane nodded and then glanced at her sister. Konatsu's words echoed through her mind. *"The sun is always shining and people are always happy on Planet Kasumi. I predict ulcers by thirty and a heart attack by forty."*
"Kasumi," she said hesitantly.
"Yes?" Her sister smiled at her.
"Why didn't you ever go to college?"
Kasumi blinked. "Oh my. Well, I thought about it. But really, we need someone home to take care of things, and father really appreciates my help, so it didn't seem important enough for me to come."
Akane was shocked. "But... did you WANT to go to college?"
Kasumi looked confused. "Want? I... was needed at home."
"But what about what YOU wanted." Akane persisted.
Kasumi was silent.
"Kasumi, if you could have ANYTHING in the world, what would it be?"
Kasumi brightened. "Oh, that's easy..."
"It has to be just for you," Akane added quickly.
"Oh," Kasumi's face fell. "That's not so easy. Ummm... a new kimono would be nice."
"Anything," Akane prompted. "Anything at all."
Kasumi pondered. "... I don't know. I guess I must have everything I want."
"Well, you must get really tired doing all that work!" Akane tried a new tack. "Wouldn't you like to do something else for a change?"
"Oh no, I like the work," Kasumi demurred.
"Doesn't it get boring?"
"No, not at all. In fact I find it very fulfilling." Kasumi smiled her limpid smile again.
Argh. Wrong angle. Akane tried again. "You shouldn't have to do all of it though. I'm sure some of the rest of us could pitch in with it. Then you'd have some free time for yourself!"
"Time for myself?"
"Yes, to, you know... do stuff in."
"Well," Akane thought desperately. "You know, take up a hobby."
"Or take a break, relax for a minute..."
Kasumi stared at her incomprehendingly. Akane sweatdropped. What can I do? She thought frantically. I want to do something but I don't know what. Aaaahhhh!!! "You know... just hang out, have some fun, maybe have a cup of te... Ah! Kasumi... um..."
"Would you... would you... would you like to go out with me?"
Kasumi blinked at her. "Pardon?"
"For tea," Akane clarified. Then she realised how that must sound. "You know, a sister thing?"
Kasumi smiled. "That would be nice. We can have tea together when you get home."
Akane sweatdropped again. "No, not when I get home. Right now. In a tea shop. It's my treat."
Kasumi frowned. "Didn't you have a literature class right now?"
"Yeah but I can skip..." Akane bit off her sentence. "Oh of course, how could I forget that? Can you wait for me?"
"Wait?" Kasumi was surprised.
"Here, on the campus. Oh no, wait, that won't do." Akane thought quickly. "I know, why don't you sit in on the class with me! Then we can get tea afterwards!"
"Sit in..." Kasumi was shocked. "I couldn't do that! I'm not a student here!"
"It's okay," Akane said. "They won't know. If they ask, I'll just say you're sitting in from the other lit class."
"But... the housework..."
"It can wait," Akane tried to be persuasive. "I promise I'll help this evening! I can at least do the dishes, right?"
"I don't know..." Kasumi was already forming the words to turn her sister down.
"Please Kasumi. It would mean so much to me. We hardly ever spend quality time anymore. Pleeeeassseeeee..." Akane turned on all her charm. Kasumi wilted.
"Well, if you're sure it will be alright."
"GREAT! It'll be fine!" Akane promised. "And I meant it when I said I'd help out at home."
"It's alright," Kasumi smiled. "I'll manage. Hadn't we better hurry?"
"Sure, it's this way!"
"Alright, let's try this again."
"Why did you hit me with a broom Nabiki Tendo?"
"Did you look at the chart?"
"Did you read the signs?"
"And you still glomped the pig-tailed girl."
Ryoga shook his head as he played with his son. "I wonder if she's offering odds on this?"
Nabiki glared at him. "Nope, because since I'm doing this it's a sure bet. But if you _want_ to lose your money... Now Kuno, pay attention."
"Ranma Saotome! What have you done with my pigtailed girl?!"
"So, what did you think of the class?" Akane probed gently as she sipped her tea.
Kasumi regarded her cup of tea closely. "It was... very interesting." She said slowly. "I hadn't realised how much more work is involved at college level."
Akane laughed. "That's for sure! But the courses are so much more interesting as well!"
"That's... true..." Kasumi looked away.
"You haven't had any of your tea," Akane said anxiously. "Don't you like it?"
"No, no, it's fine." Kasumi blew on her tea and then sipped some. "It's just fine." The expression on her face was abstracted.
Akane toyed with her tea. "You know, there's an ancient literature class in fifteen minutes," she commented idly. "It's an open class, all welcome. I hadn't really been planning on going, but I was just thinking it might be fun to go together."
"Oh, I couldn't. I have to cook dinner!" Kasumi said in real dismay.
"Oh, that's too bad," Akane said idly. "How long will it take?"
"At least an hour," Kasumi said.
"Oh well.. the class only goes till 5.30. That should leave you plenty of time!" Akane said.
"But... I was going to dust as well."
"I'm sure it wouldn't hurt..." Akane said persuasively. "Just this _once_."
"Well..." Kasumi faltered and Akane stared at her, trying to hypnotise her.
"Maybe... just this once..."
"So you get it now?" Nabiki asked.
"Ye-es..." Kuno said hesitantly. "Ranma Saotome... and the pigtailed girl are..."
Nabiki, Ranma and Ryoga waited with bated breath. Tenjou watched the entire proceedings with a slightly puzzled expression.
"... actually one and the same person." Kuno finished. "Is that right?"
"YES!" Nabiki threw up her hands in triumph. "You did it! You're absolutely correct!"
"I am?" Kuno looked surprised. "I got the answer right?"
"For possibly the first time in your entire life, yes," Nabiki said. "Congratulations."
Kuno beamed. Ranma and Ryoga sighed in relief. Tenjou blinked and turned back to the picture he was drawing. It was of a small black pig.
"So does this mean you won't be chasing me anymore?" Ranma asked hopefully.
"Only one way to find out!" Nabiki dumped a bucket of cold water on Ranma. Female Ranma blinked. Kuno stared at her.
The silence extended.
"Hello," Kuno finally said. "R... Ranma?"
Nabiki, Ranma and Ryoga relaxed.
"Finally!" Ranma said. "Now we just have to explain it to Kodachi!"
"Oh, she probably already knows," Kuno said casually.
"Well, she's a genius you know," Kuno looked from one to the other. "IQ through the roof. It's just that... well... father..."
"Say no more," said Ryoga. "Isn't there anything that can be done? I mean, what's her exact problem?"
"She's uh... a little emotionally unstable." Kuno admitted.
"For which read: complete freaking nutcase." Ranma added.
"Not helpful, Ranma," Ryoga snapped.
"It's not really her fault," Kuno protested. "It's been hard for her. First our mother's death, then our father and his weird experiments, hang-ups and training. He... after she... well..." He looked uncomfortable. "I'd really prefer not to say some of the things she was put through. And it was particularly hard since she had to manage pretty much alone. I... was never really able to keep up with her mentally." He blushed. "Sasuke does his best to prevent her getting into too much trouble, and we've tried to get her therapy... but all they ever did was give her drugs and after she figured out all the chemical combinations... Well, we've tried giving her the right pills but she WILL self-medicate and..." He rambled to an end. "To be honest, I've no idea _what_ she's ingesting these days."
"Oh dear..." Nabiki chewed on a fingernail. "I'd no idea things were that bad."
"We try to keep it quiet," Kuno admitted. "What would people say?"
"YOU IDIOT!!!" Ranma exploded. "Call yourself an older brother? Who CARES what people say - your sister needs help and she needs it NOW! Did it occur to you that maybe you should ask for help?"
Ryoga nodded in angry agreement.
Kuno shrugged. "We... we really didn't know where to go for help."
Ranma groaned and fell over backwards. "Moron."
"Name-calling won't help," Nabiki said, standing up suddenly. "Okay, so he's left it a bit late but better late than never. Now we know, we can help."
"Help?" Kuno repeated.
"Help? We? Why do _we_ have to help?" Ranma objected.
Nabiki shot him a withering look. "Because he's come to _us_ for help, idiot. Weren't you just saying that he should ask for it? And now you're complaining because YOU don't want to go to the effort. That's REALLY going to help the situation Ranma. Now that we know, we have to help, or the situation will never be resolved. Hmmm... So who can we go to for expert advice..."
"Expert advice on what?" Kasumi walked into the room. "I'm home!"
"Welcome home," Nabiki replied. "Expert psychological and medical advice."
"Well, you could try the college library," Kasumi said, practically glowing. "It's got HUNDREDS of books!"
Ranma stared at her whilst Kuno and Nabiki mulled it over.
"We need a more immediate and practical answer I think," Nabiki said. "A shrink maybe?"
"We tried that!" Kuno objected. "They'll just give her more pills!"
"How about Dr Tofu?" Akane suggested, walking in behind Kasumi. "He knows a lot, and he's interested in lots of alternate forms of medicine."
"Dr Tofu! That's a great idea!" Nabiki enthused. "Perfect! He's smart, sensible... and not too fond of drugging his patients. He should still be open, let's go Kuno-baby!"
"Do you really think he can help?" Kuno stood up.
"If he can't, I'm sure he can recommend someone who can." Nabiki replied. "Best of all, he's trustworthy. Sorry Kasumi, can you save me some dinner?"
"Of course!" Kasumi bubbled.
Nabiki paused and looked at her. "You okay?"
"Fine, fine!" Kasumi smiled. "You run along now."
Nabiki nodded, grabbed Kuno and dragged him out the door.
"And now I simply MUST get dinner going!" Kasumi rushed into the kitchen.
"Need any help?" Ryoga followed her.
Ranma looked at Akane. "I thought Kasumi went to _take_ you your dinner?"
Akane shrugged. "I decided to come home for it after all. I don't really feel like another late night in the library."
"Fair enough, at least you missed Kuno. I don't think Nabiki's 'tutoring' would have worked if you'd been around as well." Ranma said. "Ah well, at least I got one good thing out of this."
"What's that?" Akane asked.
"Kuno finally understands that I'm female-Ranma."
Akane paused. "He understands, or he knows?"
Ranma blinked at her. "What are you talking about?"
"The difference between knowing a fact and understanding a concept."
Akane sighed. "Does he _know_ that you're female-Ranma, as a factual statement. Or does he _understand_ what that actually _means_ on a more personal level?"
Ranma was still confused. "Ummm.... well he knows. I don't know if he understands..."
From the direction of the street came a long, high-pitched, anguished scream, torn from the very bowels of hell. They all listened as it went on and on and on.
"Okay," said Akane. "Well, I think he understands _now_."
Go on to Part Six
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