Ranma 1/2: Catalyst
Part Seven: Change
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!

Key:

Flashbacks and thoughts

/Chinese/


Breakfast at the Tendo's the next morning was fairly uneventful. This was so unusual that all inhabitants of the house marked it on their calendars as a day to remember. There were no fights at all.

It was probably due to everyone being fully occupied with other matters.

Nabiki kept answering the phone and reassuring Kuno that no, he hadn't screwed up completely just because he forgot one step. Kasumi had run out of things to do until breakfast was over and there would be some dishes, and so was quietly eating her breakfast and feeling oddly guilty about it. Ranma was using his very best table manners, which required his full concentration, and Akane was thinking about her family life, and also worrying slightly about a biology test in the afternoon.

And ALL of them were occupied in making sure that Tenjou had everything he needed, and that Ryoga didn't even have a chance to suggest that perhaps he ought to be moving on sometime soon.

"Really, I appreciate everything you've..."

"More pickles Ryoga?"

"Um, thanks. As I was saying, we should be..."

"Do you think Tenjou would like some of this orange juice? It's freshly squeezed."

"Why thank you Kasumi. And about Tenjou..."

"Nabiki, are you coming straight home from college today?"

"No, I'm helping Kuno with the group therapy thing. I'll be late again I'm afraid."

"Okay. Then shall I pick Tenjou up from kindergarten?"

"Kindergarten?"

"I can do that Kasumi. It's at three, right?"

"That's right. Will you be able to get from there to here and back to college before your five o'clock lecture Akane?"

"Oh sure, it's not too far if I run back."

"Kindergarten?"

"Hey Akane, do you still have your notes from first level Chinese history? I can't find mine."

"Excuse me..."

"I think they're on the top shelf in my closet."

"Can I borrow them?"

"Sure, go ahead."

"Thanks."

"I just wanted to ask about the kindergarten..."

"Ack!" Akane looked at the clock. "Gonna be late! Stupid English class." She stood up and cleared away her plates. "Thanks for the food Kasumi! I'll see you a little after three!"

Nabiki also cleared her dishes. "Meeting Kuno. Can't talk. Bye!"

Ranma was about to bolt from the table, but paused and quickly cleared his dishes as well. "Going to class, back for lunch! Ryoga – sparring session from twelve-thirty till two, okay? Ciao!"

Ryoga sat at the deserted table and looked at Kasumi. "Kindergarten?" He asked feebly.

Kasumi smiled at him. "Oh yes! We organised for Tenjou to go to a local kindergarten while he's here. After all, he needs to start getting ready to start school next year! Doesn't he look cute in his outfit?"

"I was wondering where he'd gotten the smock from," Ryoga admitted. "But really Kasumi, we should be getting..."

"Heavens! Look at the time! We must dash if we're going to have enough time to visit Dr Tofu on the way there. We don't want to be late do we Tenjou?" Kasumi said, blithely ignoring Ryoga. "Do you have your hat?"

Tenjou produced a standard kindergarten hat from behind him.

"Then let's go! Ryoga, come on now, hurry up!" Kasumi chided him.

"But..."

Kasumi turned to face him. Her face was a picture of innocence.

"Argh," Ryoga put his head in his hands. "I suppose one more day couldn't make that big a difference."

Kasumi smiled. Sweetly.

--

Cologne cleaned the tables grouchily as the morning traffic died down. Shampoo was off running errands and that useless idiot Mousse hadn't been seen since yesterday, so she was having to do the cooking and cleaning all by herself, and it was not putting her in a good mood. She just wasn't as young as she used to be. Oh sure, she could still whip all the youngsters around here in battle with one hand tied behind her back, but these long, work-filled days were starting to make her bones ache.

She sighed and thought wistfully about the visit of Ryoga's son yesterday. Now that had been enjoyable. Really, she should be surrounded by little ones by now, all ready to absorb her vast store of wisdom. She'd been matriach of the Amazon village back in China, and she missed the company of small children, and the satisfaction involved in teaching them. Teenagers, or rather, young adults, just weren't the same. Impatient, all of them, convinced they knew best.

"Granny."

Never listening to a word you said. Each and every one of them sure that they were smarter and better than their elders.

"Granny!"

No matter how often you showed them they still had plenty to learn, they all just HAD to go off and try things their own way and make their own mistakes, which they could have just avoided if they'd listened to you in the first place.

"Hey, old lady!"

Cologne turned around instantly and thumped Mousse over the head. "And where have YOU been, Mr Part-Time?" She demanded angrily.

Mouse rubbed his head. "Owww. I've been at... out."

Cologne huffed. "Oh, I see, out. A good place, out, is it? Perhaps I should throw you there more often!"

Mousse tried to focus on the most likely Cologne-shape. "You don't have to do that," he said, cringing slightly in anticipation of another blow. "I'm going there of my own free will!"

Cologne huffed in disbelief at the idea that Mousse had a will of his own, much less a free one. "Oh really. Had enough, have you? Can't take the heat anymore?"

"Um... yes?" Mouse said hesitantly. He proferred a piece of paper towards her. "I'm resigning. Right now. I just wanted to let you know."

Cologne accepted the piece of paper and read it quickly. "Oh well, fine, I'm surprised that you stuck it out this long," she said waspishly. "Well, you'd better be on your way I suppose. Go on then, be off with you."

Mousse scuttled backwards, bumping into a couple of tables as he went. He paused at the entryway and looked back at Cologne, who he could just make out moving around the café. "Um..."

"What is it, boy?"

"I uh, just wanted to say..." Mousse swallowed. Cologne had never treated him very well, but respect for his elders, especially his female elders, had been beaten into him at a very young age. Besides, from the tone of her voice Cologne was clearly not having a good day, and while she may have been a terrible old biddy, she was, well, kinda old. And she had let him live there all this time. He straightened to his full height, and bowed, clasping his hands towards her respectfully. "Thank you for everything."

He heard a dismissive sniff, and knew that was probably the best he was ever going to get. Turning to leave he paused, again and said quietly, "Bye, Granny."

Halfway down the street he paused. He needed to go left to get back to Ukyou's place, he knew. He might not be able to see, but at least he had a duck's homing instinct. (Or, at least a duck's migrating instinct. It helped that Ucchan's was south from the Nekohanten.) He needed to be back there by one at the latest, in order to make it to his assessment on time. Ukyou had managed to organise a preliminary examination at the local hospital eye-unit for him at two today, a task he'd thought would take days, if not weeks. But it seemed that Ukyou felt that sooner was better when it came to doing things, and she'd called in a lot of favours from regular customers to ensure that Mousse shot straight to the top of the surgical list. He was rather in awe of the way she'd bullied and nagged and ordered until she got her way. If Ukyou ever managed to get in charge of her own Amazon village, he figured she'd be a matriach to rival them all. So to fully show his appreciation for her efforts, he figured he needed to get back there as soon as possible so as not to keep her waiting. On the other hand... there was still one thing he needed to do.

He set his jaw, and went looking for Shampoo.

--

Lunchtime at the Tendo's was quieter than usual. At least it was for Ranma, who was trying hard to absorb the lessons he'd sat through that morning on Chinese history, and make them match up with the Akane's notes and the half-chapter of his textbook that he'd read before class. He thought there might actually be an idea for his end of term essay in there somewhere. Thoughts churning, he slurped his miso soup down loudly and quickly. Suddenly he paused, and reminded himself, for the fifth time that meal, to slow down. He cast a quick look at Kasumi to see if she'd noticed, then relaxed slightly when he caught her saying something to Nabiki.

The very brief exchange of words he'd had with her the day before had left him uneasy. Ryoga's description of the way he treated Shampoo and Ukyou before that had been stinging enough, but in some ways it was easier to push aside, because it was Ryoga after all, and who really expected him to listen to the Lost Boy?

But Kasumi was a different matter. She'd always been nice to him. Hell, she was always nice to EVERYONE, and her very brief comment that he tended to be "indiscriminate" in regards to food had really hurt. Ranma stared at his meal.

All his life he remembered being told by his father that he should eat fast and often, because you never knew where the next meal was coming from. And he never had back then. He remembered long weeks of getting by on water and whatever happened to be growing nearby, if his father didn't get there first. There'd never really been a time in his life when there'd been regular meals, until he came to the Tendos. Oh, at his junior high school there'd been lunch, and when he'd first met Ucchan he'd gotten to eat more frequently, but never the full three square meals a day. Even here at the Tendos he had to defend his food from Happosai or his father. While he realised that his father only took his food to train him to be faster, that didn't leave him any less hungry. And as for Happosai...

Akane poked him in the side. "Hey, are you awake?"

"What?" Ranma blinked and looked at her.

"You just zoned out there," she told him. "You're not even eating. Are you feeling okay?"

"I'm feeling fine! There's nothing wrong with me!"

Akane raised an eyebrow at the defensive tone in his voice, but decided not to make any comments. Ranma looked confused and slightly upset, but rather than push him, she backed off.

Ranma breathed an internal sigh as Akane returned to her meal, and turned his own attention back to his, half-expecting it to be gone. But it was all still there, and he slowly scooped up some rice, put it in his mouth and began to carefully chew. He glanced over at Ryoga and Tenjou. Tenjou had finished all of his fish and vegetables, but still had some rice left. The boy darted a quick look around the table and then deflated slightly when he saw there was none left.

Them's the breaks kid, Ranma thought to himself, half-sympathetically, half-cynically.

Ryoga looked over at his son. "Oh, you want a bit more fish Tenjou?" He leaned over and nudged some off of his rice and into his sons' bowl. "There you go." As he straightened up, he caught the expression on Ranma's face just before the other man wiped it off and pretended to be engrossed in eating.

He'd looked devastated.

--

In the end, it was the sound of Shampoo's bicycle bell ringing that led Mousse to her.

"Shampoo?" He landed in front of her bike. "Shampoo I... that is you, isn't it?"

She made a rude comment in Chinese.

"Oh good." Mousse took a deep breath. "I have something to say, and I'd like you to hear me out. Afterwards, you can beat me up or insult me or never speak to me again, but just let me say this first."

"Shampoo too busy to listen to you," Shampoo growled angrily. Why was this idiot bothering her again? It was all too aggravating. You'd think he'd have learned by now.

"You've lived here six years! Couldn't you at least TRY to speak Japanese properly?"

She swallowed past the lump in her throat, feeling something heavy shift in her chest. It wasn't a feeling she was familiar with. It wasn't just being insulted, she'd had worse things said to her before. It wasn't just anger, she knew that sensation all too well. It was something else.

Pain. Hurt. Resentment.

And now here was her own personal idiot come to interrupt her in the middle of trying to work things out to talk to her about something which was almost certainly unimportant. Shampoo narrowed her eyes at Mousse, who had just said something about talking to her grandmother.

"/What on earth are you babbling about/" She demanded. "/I'm in a hurry/"

Mousse stopped, stumbled over his words, and came to a halt. He looked at her nervously, twisting his robe between his hands. "I just wanted to say," he paused, and switched to Chinese. "/Xian Pu, I love you./"

"/You came here bothering me over THAT/" Shampoo was unimpressed. "/I have a lot of work to do! Why are you wasting my time like this/"

"/Shampoo, I am telling you that I love you./" Mousse forced himself to meet her gaze. Despite his relative blindness, he'd always been able to do that at least. Her eyes are so beautiful. He made himself go on. "/I always have. I probably always will. I know that I'm not worthy of you, but I just wondered... would you... could you ever accept my love/"

Shampoo sniffed and swapped back to Japanese, "Stupid Mousse. You no can... cannot even defeat ME, much less Ranma. How can you win my love?"

Mousse looked at her, and she noticed with surprise the unusually serious tilt of his mouth.

"Shampoo, I've lived in Nerima for six years, and during that time I've noticed an interesting thing. All the other women I've met - Akane, Ukyou, Nabiki, Kasumi... even Kodachi - they don't need to be defeated to give love to others. In fact, they have a name around here for men who have to prove their masculinity by hitting women. What exactly would my defeating you in combat prove anyway? That I'm strong enough to hurt you? I don't want to hurt you Shampoo, I love you too much. I could never hurt you. I know it's tradition but... I don't WANT to beat you. I just want to be able to give my love to you. Can you at least let me do that?" He stretched out a hand. "I know it's nothing, but it's all I have."

Shampoo glared at him, and didn't reply.

The silence stretched on for a few minutes, until Mousse final lowered his arm.

"I see," he said, feeling tears pricking at his eyes. "Very well then, I understand. I apologise for trying to force my feelings upon you. I hope you... I hope you're happy, Shampoo." He turned away and began to walk falteringly away from her. Shampoo watched him go, until she could no longer see him or hear his footsteps anymore. Then she slumped down to the ground, feeling once again that something important had happened, but not being able to work out what exactly it was.

"Stupid STUPID Mousse." she whispered. "What nonsense you talking?" she swallowed, hard. "Are you talking?"

There was no answer.

--

Ranma had retreated to the roof after lunch, barely paying attention to the almost-struggle over the dishes between Akane and Kasumi and forgetting entirely about the sparring session he'd planned with Ryoga. His head was swirling, his thoughts running round and round so quickly he thought he might get motion sickness. He kept thinking about his father.

"Now remember boy, a martial artist must eat as often, as fast and as much as he can. Take your food whenever you get the chance."

He remembered what it felt like to be hungry. The agonising pains in his stomach, the fatigue, the way he'd drooled at the smell of food. Trying to eat grass like an animal. Chewing a stick of gum to try and fool his stomach into thinking it was being fed. Stealing food, stuffing it down his throat so fast that he puked, and then going back for more because it was the first food he'd had in a week.

Another memory, a cold autumn day, he'd stumbled across an apple tree, with a few wizened apples remaining. But he'd been too short to reach them, so he'd fetched his father.

His father who had climbed up, and then eaten them all.

"Let this be a lesson boy, you have to stand on your own two feet. You have to get what you want yourself. Because nobody will give you anything."

"You want a little bit more fish Tenjou? There you go."

"Ranma? Ranma? Hey, Ranma!"

Ranma started and looked over at Ryoga, who looked back at him quizzically.

"You don't look so good," Ryoga said calmly. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine."

"Feeling sick?"

"I said I was fine!"

"Something you ate?"

Ranma turned, snarling, and threw a fist at Ryoga's head. Ryoga calmly swayed away from the blow, then hooked a foot around Ranma's ankle and pulled, sending Ranma's rear end to a painful meeting with the tatami.

"Want to talk about it?" He continued in the same calm tone of voice.

Ranma glared up at Ryoga.

"I hate you!"

That was what he'd been meaning to say. But what came out instead was:

"I hate him!"

Ryoga just looked at him. "Him who?"

Ranma was aghast, and clamped his mouth shut.

Ryoga cocked his head and thought about it. "Can't be any of our lot. You might dislike or get exasperated with Mousse and Kuno, but you don't hate them. Same with all the others. It's certainly not Tenjou, and I don't think you feel that strongly about Mr Tendo. Happosai?" He considered this for a while. "Possibly. But he's mostly just annoying. Make that EXTREMELY annoying. Besides, we all know how you feel about him. Hell! We all feel the same way, so there's no reason for you to be upset about it." He paused. "That just leaves..."

"My father," Ranma said, his voice nearly cracking. "Genma Saotome." His face burned with shame, and to his horror he felt tears prickle at the back of his eyes. Throwing his head back he yelled out at the top of his lungs.

"I HATE MY FATHER!"

There was a long silence.

"Feel better?" Ryoga asked quietly.

"No," Ranma snuffled, wiping the back of his hand across his face. "Maybe. A little."

Ryoga put his hands in his pockets. "Let's go for a walk."

Ranma quietly got to his feet and the two men headed out.

--

"So," said Ryoga as they strolled through a park, "do you feel like elaborating?"

"Do I have to?" Ranma asked. "It won't make any difference."

"Not if you don't want to," Ryoga said. "We can just walk."

Silence fell.

"It's not that I hate him, hate him," Ranma said abruptly. "I mean, he is my father. But, I just..." He scrambled for words.

"Hate everything that he says and does and is?" Ryoga suggested.

"YES!" Ranma covered his mouth with both hands, his eyes wide.

Ryoga stifled a chuckle at the sight. It was important he be serious. Ranma had been there for him, so he would be there for Ranma.

"Lots of sons and daughters don't approve of everything their parents do," he pointed out after a minute or so. "Akane gets embarrassed by her father being emotional, Kuno gets embarrassed because his father's a nutcase, and I'm sure that Tenjou will one day find me an embarrassment because I can't find my way out of a closet. Parents just are embarrassing. I think it's a rule."

"It's not like that," Ranma kicked a stone. "He's taught me to be a great martial artist you know."

"Mmmm," Ryoga said non-commitally. In his opinion, Genma had taught Ranma to be a "pretty good" martial artist, possibly by accident and mostly by luck. Ranma had taught himself to be a "great" martial artist, with the aid of a lot of teachers, a willingness to learn even the most ridiculous forms of martial arts, and an ego the size of Mount Fuji which simply did not allow him to give up.

"And I know he, you know, cares and stuff. In his own way. It's just that..." Ranma looked appealingly at Ryoga. "Aw come on man, don't make me say it."

"Yeah, I know," Ryoga said. And he did. It wasn't that Genma was deliberately malicious. It was that he just didn't think. Ever. About anything.

"He should have called it the Saotome School of Don't Look Before You Leap Martial Arts," Ryoga said aloud, earning a snort of amusement from Ranma.

"Yeah, it's just... it's like..." Ranma scowled. "I dunno. Why did you have to bring this up? I was happy before we started this."

"Sure you were," Ryoga snorted. "You nearly brought down the ultimate form of the shi-shi-hokodan at lunchtime."

Ranma crimsoned. "I was worried about a test in class this afternoon!"

"Of course you were."

Ranma kicked at the ground again. "Okay, so I wasn't happy." He hesitated, not wanting to be seen as a whiner.

"But you've looked around and you've decided that you don't necessarily want to continue on the way you were before," Ryoga filled in. "That you want to change things."

"Yeah," Ranma said with relief. "I hate it. All the arguing, all the pointless fights, the running around in a panic..."

"You like the fights and the running around!"

"Well, yeah," Ranma said with a grin. Then he sobered. "But, I don't know if I'm happy with how I am. Kasumi said something to me yesterday, and it sounded like she thought I was like my Dad. But I'm not like that."

"No."

Ranma frowned. "I can't believe I'm getting into such a fuss over food and eating." He growled. "Akane always gives me a hard time about the way I just inhale food too. She says I eat like a..." he just managed to avoid saying 'pig', "wild animal."

"Well, you do."

"Hey!"

"You do. You KNOW you do," Ryoga retorted. "You eat like you've been locked up in a rock for five hundred years!"

Ranma turned bright red. "M'not THAT bad."

"Well you're not as bad as..." Ryoga just managed to avoid saying 'your father', "some people, but you do tend to vacuum up the food pretty rapidly." He considered this. "But you were actually pretty good this morning and at lunch. Your table manners were much better than usual," he looked over at Ranma. "You feeling okay?"

"I'm fine," Ranma said defensively. "Why does everyone keep asking me that? So I wanted to take my time for once. So sue me. And maybe I feel like it's time to practice my table manners. I have got some you know, I just don't use 'em very often. But that doesn't mean that I can't. You know, if I really wanted to."

Ryoga made a non-commital sound. "I guess it helps that you weren't having to fight..." your father... "Happosai for every mouthful."

"It is less stressful when he's not here." Ranma agreed, to both spoken and unspoken statement. He hesitated. "You know, I guess I am like my father. At least a little bit."

"Yes." Ryoga responded calmly.

"But only a little right?"

"Yes."

Ranma scowled. "I don't like it. I don't want to BE like that. I don't want to steal food out of the mouths of children. And I hate all this arranged marriage crap. Why did he do that? I never asked for it, and it's screwing everything up. And why the hell can't he just once read the damn instructions before starting some new martial art thing? Cursed springs? Cat Fist! I mean, for crying out loud, how stupid do you have to be to make those kind of mistakes? And I want to see my mother! I haven't seen her for ages, and that's not even mentioning the whole disastrous Ranko-thing! I hate that! That's the one thing I can't really forgive my father for. He took me away from my mother and made that STUPID promise and now I don't get to really TALK to her. I miss her."

"I thought she knew and was okay with it," Ryoga said in confusion. "Weren't you going to live with her? Why don't you go visit?"

"Three words: Shampoo, Kodachi, Ukyou."

"Oh," Ryoga shuddered. "Ouch."

"Yeah," Ranma said moodily. "Which brings us back round to my Dad and his fiancee-fetish."

Ryoga decided not to point out that Kodachi and some of Shampoo's interests were mostly Ranma's own fault.

By this point, the two men had circled back around to the Tendo's house. Ranma stopped and turned to face Ryoga.

"So, what do you think I should do?"

Ryoga looked at him. "You should do what you want to do Ranma. I can't give you any better advice than that." And with that, he walked into the house.

Ranma watched him. "Do what I want to do? What kind of advice is THAT!"

--

As the bell for the end of kindergarten rang three times, a crowd of small children burst exuberantly through the doors and headed for the various parents who'd come to pick them up, or carefully off to walk home in groups.

One small child looked around carefully.

"Tenjou!" Akane waved from her position by the gate. Tenjou waved upon seeing her and she walked over to him. "Did you enjoy kindergarten?"

"I think he did," the teacher by the door said with a smile. "But I can tell you for certain that we all enjoyed having him here!"

"Bye Tenjou!" A little girl called as her mother led her away. "See you tomorrow!"

"Bye Tenjou!" Another girl called.

Akane giggled. "I see you're a hit with the girls," she teased him gently.

Tenjou wrinkled his nose at her.

"Come on, let's get you home to your dad," Akane took his hand in hers. "Thank you very much for looking after him," she said to the teacher.

"Not at all," the teacher replied. "We look forward to seeing him tomorrow."

Akane led him down the pathway. "Was it really okay? No-one... bothered you?"

Tenjou looked confused, then shrugged and smiled at Akane reassuringly. Akane sighed. The Tendo sisters had all been a bit worried that he might get picked on because of his silent ways, but apparently his sweet nature had prevented it. What a relief. I shudder to think of Ryoga's reaction if anything had happened to him.

Eventually they reached the Tendo Training Hall.

"We're back!" Akane yelled as they arrived.

"Tenjou!" Ryoga and Kasumi cried as they raced out to the front doorstep.

Ryoga blinked as Kasumi zoomed past him and scooped his son out of Akane's grip.

"Ummm..."

"Let's put you down for a nice nap!" Kasumi said to Tenjou and walked off. "And then you can have some more shaved ice!" She walked off, chattering away happily to the little boy.

Ryoga watched them go with a stupefied expression on his face.

"Errr..."

He had a bad feeling about all this.

Behind him Akane was trying desperately not to laugh.

"Ryoga, when Kasumi comes back could you tell her I've gone to my class, and that I'll be back for dinner?" Akane asked.

"Sure..." Ryoga said. "Ummm... do you think she'll let me see my son?"

"I wouldn't put any money on it," Akane said cheerfully. "Later Ryoga-kun. Oh, and Ryoga? He's a wonderful boy."

Ryoga looked at her in confusion and then smiled. "Thank you."

Akane walked back out and Ryoga sat down.

After a while he smiled. "They're right. He is a wonderful boy."

"I just wish I could get to spend some TIME with him today."



Author's Notes: Yes, an update. No, you're not dreaming. IT LIVES!

It's been a couple of years, but recently I hauled out the files and notes on this story and went over them, trying to think of a way to fix the rather large plot hole that had developed in it. I have some ideas now and I am determined to finish this story! I'd like to apologise to, and thank profusely, everyone who's been waiting for so long. I wish I could guarantee a next chapter very soon, but at the very least I can promise it will be sooner than it took for this one!

I have also gone back over the other sections of the story currently on ffnet and removed the poems that used to precede each one, in keeping with the revised Terms of Service. Along the way I tidied some of the formatting up, so hopefully nothing is too badly mangled.

Thanks for all your patience,

Jaelle



To be continued...

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