Ranma stared at the ceiling of his room, trying to let himself fall asleep. The muffled snores of his father and Mr. Tendo drifted in from the next room, where they lay passed out drunk over their gameboard. Other than that, all he could hear was the sound of the cold March breeze outside, and the voice in his own head telling him things he didn’t want to hear.
He rolled over and pulled his pillow over his head, as if that would silence it.
He shivered as a draft from outside touched him. He wasn’t a pervert. He knew what a pervert was. The old man Happosai, the Kuno siblings, Ryoga for the way he acted in his pig-form, those were perverts. He was just a…
The voice was different this time, but no less recognizable. He cringed, and prayed for death.
A third voice echoed, and soon more joined in.
Their words bounced around inside his head, and all over his body he felt the dull phantom ache of the blows that had accompanied them earlier that day. Anger welled up inside him, as it so often did when he remembered past humiliations, and he felt as if he needed to lash out at something or he would explode. He tensed his arms and kicked his leg out against his blankets, as if that would satisfy him, and then felt even more ridiculous for it.
It was stupid. It was all so stupid, and always the same. He’d been in Nerima almost a year now, and not a week had gone by without a day like today. Somebody would come after him wanting something he couldn’t give, and before he knew it it was a fight. And nobody was ever in his corner. Oh sure, maybe Akane would cheer for him at first, but only until she remember what she really thought of him. Pervert.
They all thought he actually wanted this, for things to be this way. He scoffed. What was wrong with these people? He was Ranma Saotome, man among men! He didn’t have to take this abuse day in and day out!
Throwing his covers aside, he leapt to his feet. A midnight run would help him clear his head of all this garbage. From now on, he told himself, things would be different. Starting tomorrow, he was done putting up with this shit. Forcing a grin, he leapt out the window and into the night.
Akane awoke suddenly to a soft, pitiful sound drifting down to her room from the rooftop. Her face fell as she realized what it was. Quietly, she got out of bed and crept over to her window, and slowly pulled herself up and out.
“Ra-” She started, but by the time her head peaked out from the side of the roof, the source of the sobbing had vanished. She dropped back through her window into a sitting position against the wall, and rested her face in her hands, berating herself for once again breaking her vow to be nicer to him. They had never mentioned it during the day, but this was the third time she’d caught him crying this month.
Things needed to change. She needed to change. She just didn’t know how.
Ranma’s eyelids drooped and a bit of drool at the side of his mouth threatened to spill out onto his desk. Math was so boooooring. Behind him, Daisuke and Hiroshi snickered as Daisuke carefully reached out and hung a post-it note on Ranma’s ponytail, adding to the many that already plastered the back of his shirt.
Daisuke shot his friend a smug look. That was worth fifty points. Hiroshi swallowed. He would need to match that to make a comeback. Slowly, ever so slowly, he pulled another note from his stack, and reached a shaky hand across the gap towards the dozing boy. He was less than a centimeter away when their teacher’s voice rang out,
“ MIS- ter Saotome!”
At the sound of the old woman’s shrill voice, Ranma stood bolt-upright at attention, sending a flurry of post-it notes down his back. It was the best the rest of the class could do to keep from bursting into laughter.
“Would you be so kind as to come up to the board and solve for y?” She held out a piece of chalk.
“Oh lord,” Akane muttered, rubbing the bridge of her nose. Dimly, still only partially awake, Ranma stumbled up to the board, leaving a trail of little yellow squares behind him. This was too much for the students, and several of them broke out laughing, Daisuke and Hiroshi among them.
“What-” Their teacher started before noticing the notes herself. “Oh, very funny Mister Saotome!” She hissed, snatching her hand away before he could take the chalk, “I must admit, I don’t quite understand the joke myself, but whatever it is, you have once again succeeded in disrupting my classroom! Go stand in the hall, and come see me after class!”
Ranma scratched his head dumbly, not bothering to try and understand what was going on, and did as he was told. In the back, Hiroshi whispered to Daisuke,
“That’s just Ranma’s luck, isn’t it?”
His friend snickered in agreement.
“And don’t think I don’t believe you two had a hand in this!” The old woman said, turning on them, “Out with you! Take your buckets with you!”
The two boys groaned and followed Ranma out of the classroom. Akane rested her cheek on her fist and tried to focus on her work.
“Hey, sorry about that Ranma,” Daisuke said outside, “we didn’t think she’d call you up like that.”
Ranma just yawned and nodded. If he cared at all about being ejected from the classroom, it was only because out here he didn’t have to listen to his teacher drone on about sines and cosines. He held his buckets of water out with straight arms as if they were weightless, and fell asleep on the spot. His friends shook their heads in disbelief and started talking about baseball.
When the bell rung, Ranma automatically started moving for the exit, but the sound of his teacher clearing her throat behind him stopped him in his tracks. While she tore into him for sleeping in class, Ranma tried to mentally calculate the route home that would give him the least chance of running into Kuno or Shampoo. They’d both be looking for him after yesterday. Ryoga too, but he was harder to predict. Best just to try to lose him if it came to it. Taking to the other side of the canal was always an easy option, as Kuno would never show his face in that part of town, but crossing the water twice meant an accident was almost certain. Then again, as far as Ranma could tell, there wasn’t a place in this city where cold water couldn’t find him, so maybe it didn’t matter anyway. If he stuck to rooftops, he found that Happosai and Shampoo encounters went way up, so he’d have to avoid that, too. He thought, as he had many times before, that if he were to just invest in some kind of hang-glider then-
“Are you even listening to me?” His teacher snapped, drawing him back to the real world, “I asked you, what do you plan to do with your life??”
“My life…?” He asked, looking taken aback. After a moment, his face settled into a smirk and he replied coolly, “Well, I’m going to be a great martial artist.”
“Oh?” She replied, not missing a beat, “And how do you plan to live off that?”
“Well, uh, I’ll…” He trailed off, thinking about his supposed ‘inheritance’ and his sham engagement. The old woman pursed her lips.
“No plan. just as I thought. Listen, young man, I’ve seen your type before. You have talent, and you’re dedicated. Maybe not to your schoolwork, but to something, and that’s commendable. But what good is ambition without forethought? You children get so caught up in your daily problems that they become your whole life, and then you’re never able to make the big changes necessary to banish them completely! So I’ll ask you again, what do you plan to do with your life, so that you’re not coming into my class every day half asleep and getting into brawls on the front lawn every afternoon?” She looked at him expectantly.
Ranma opened his mouth to respond, but no words came. After several seconds, the confusion on his face turned to annoyance. What does this old hag know about my problems?
“You wouldn’t understand,” he muttered, shoving his hands in his pockets. The old teacher sighed as he turned to go, but only called out after him,
“Read pages 127 and 128 for tomorrow, and do problems 3-10!”
Stupid old lady. Ranma shook his head as he stepped out the door, only to jump in surprise at finding Akane waiting for him in the hallway.
“Oh, uh, hey ‘Kane.” He said, scratching the back of his head. They hadn’t spoken since yesterday, and was worried about what she’d say. She must have heard what he was doing on the roof last night. Crybaby , he heard her say in his mind, and then shook his head at how juvenile the insult sounded from her. That’s not how she’d say it.
“Do you, um… wanna walk home?” She asked, embarrassed that she had so clearly been waiting for him. He nodded, silently relieved, and they started off down the hall.
They walked together in silence most of the way. Akane understood their need to avoid certain routes as well as Ranma did, and they followed each other without having to communicate. When they were most of the way home, Akane asked,
“So what did Ms. Maegawa say to you in there?”
“Ah, just the normal stuff,” Ranma said, putting his arms behind his head, “ Don’t do this, don’t do that, plan your future, wash behind your ears, blah blah blah…”
Akane snorted at his impression. Ranma smirked.
“She’s really not so bad, you know. I’m pretty sure she wrote the letter of recommendation that got Kasumi into college.”
“Ok, if I ever want to get into college, I’ll let her know.” He said it like it was the most ridiculous idea in the world, and Akane didn’t speak up to disagree. On her family’s budget, it might make sense to send Nabiki to college, but not her, and she couldn’t imagine Genma ever coughing up that much money for Ranma, even if he did like school.
Ranma yawned loudly. He still wasn’t totally awake, and he planned on collapsing into bed the moment they got home. Thankfully, they were almost there, and it seemed as if they weren’t going to be-
“Stop right there, scoundrel!”
Both teens groaned at the sound of the voice. Kuno. He must have been waiting near the house. Ranma sighed. He knew this would happen, either today or tomorrow. Well, Kuno was in for a surprise, because today, Ranma wasn’t holding back.
Without hesitation, Ranma whipped around and shot off down the street toward the older boy. Shit , Akane thought as she watched him go. She so didn’t need this again today.
“Ah, eager, are we?” Kuno said, sidestepping Ranma’s first blow, “After a thrashing like you had yesterday, is it not customary for one such as yourself to take some time to lick your wou- OOF” Kuno’s monologue was cut short by a hard punch to the gut. The boy’s already bruised face turned to bewilderment as Ranma reeled a leg back, and then sent it rocketing up into his opponent’s jaw. It was over faster than any fight between them before, as Kuno went flying over the nearest buildings and into the distance, landing long seconds later with a distant crash.
Ranma wiped his hands of the fight as he walked back toward a shellshocked Akane.
“Wow Ranma, you don’t think you hit him too hard, do you?”
“Nah, Kuno can take more of a beating than he can dish out. He’ll be fine, but I won’t be going easy on him from now on.” Ranma frowned. It didn’t feel good beating a guy like that, but it was Kuno, so he couldn’t feel too bad. Akane shrugged, and they turned to continue back to the house, when out of nowhere, a small but powerful hand shot out and slapped Ranma to the ground.
“That is for yesterday, Ranma!” Shampoo said, indignantly.
“ You attacked him yesterday!” Akane said, jumping between them.
“You were not there at the start!” She replied, looking for a way past, “You didn’t hear what he was saying! The… perverted things he was doing with sword-boy and pig-boy!”
“ What?!” Ranma cried, holding his puffy cheek, “I didn’t do nuffin’!”
Akane growled under her breath, and her face twitched. She knew Shampoo was lying. Yes, she had reacted badly yesterday too, but Ranma wasn’t like that. He couldn’t be.
“Look Shampoo,” Ranma said, getting to his feet and falling into a fighting stance, “If it’s a fight you want, you’ve got it, but just know I’m not gonna go easy on ya this time.”
“Oh, is that so Ranma?” a voice said from above, “Attacking women now, you rat?” They all looked up to see Ryoga standing atop a building, silhouetted against the falling, late-winter sun. Ranma felt like screaming.
The boy dropped from his rooftop perch, landing in front of them, and pointed his umbrella reproachfully.
“Ranma Saotome, today is the day you fall at my-!”
“ God, Shut up Ryoga! ” Again, without giving his opponents time to react, Ranma grabbed the umbrella and used it to pull the other boy down and forward into a punch to the face. Then, using the surprise to his advantage, he wrenched the weapon from his grasp, and swung it around like the world’s heaviest baseball bat into Shampoo’s gut, knocking her back several meters. Next he aimed a kick at Ryoga, but he managed to roll out of the way in time and hopped back to his feet.
“Just when I thought you couldn’t get any more dishonorable, Ranma!” Ryoga said, spitting at his feet, “A real man waits for the fight to start before attacking!”
“Pig-boy is right!” Shampoo chimed in, throwing the umbrella to the side and trying to regain her breath.
That’s rich coming from you, Ranma thought, growling.
“I’ll fight with you, Ranma.” Akane said, facing Ryoga and assuming a stance of her own.
“Oh, like I need your help!” Ranma said sarcastically, doing a jumping kick at Shampoo’s head, which she deflected, “As if I’ve forgotten who’s side you took yesterday!”
Akane’s face turned beet-red, and she growled back at him,
“I didn’t understand the situation then!”
“Yeah, funny how that always seems to be the case when I’m in trouble!” Ranma said, grunting as he blocked punches, “It’s ALMOST like you never understand anything! Like you’re some kind of idiot or something!” He didn’t mean it, but he also kind of did. He knew how this story went.
Akane shook with anger. How could he be so infuriating?!
“Forget it then! If you don’t need my help, you won’t get it!”
“How dare you insult Akane like that Ranma! You’ll pay for this!” Ryoga launched himself at Ranma, but halfway there Akane’s fist caught him in the face, and he went face-first into the dirt. Ranma and Shampoo paused in surprise at that. It was easy to forget how strong Akane really was.
“I’m going home,” she said, wiping her hands on her pants, “come back when you’re done. Or don’t.” With that, she turned and left. Ranma watched her go with a mix of emotions, none of them positive. He almost called out to her, but just then Shampoo took the opportunity for an upper-cut, and the fighting resumed.
Ranma stumbled up to the Tendo house at around 10, more bruised and battered than he had been in a while. It would have been earlier if Mousse hadn’t shown up. In the end, they all lost to exhaustion. Shampoo and Mousse made up some excuse about being needed back at the restaurant, and Ryoga just said some over-dramatic nonsense and wandered off to god knows where. And somehow, after all that fighting, Ranma was the only one who’d gotten transformed. It was humiliating. These assholes ganged up on him, called him names, made him fight, turned him into… this , then kept on fighting him and would never admit that he had won. Sighing, he opened the door to the house and stepped inside.
“Alright, what the hell did you say to my sister this time, ya little creep?” Nabiki pressed her hand down above his shoulder the second the door was closed and glared at him expectantly.
“What?” Ranma asked, recoiling from her gaze, “I didn’t… she’s upset?”
Nabiki sat back on her heels and stared at him in disbelief, arms crossed.
“...You know, if I didn’t know better, I’d think this level of emotional stuntedness could only be an act.” She pursed her lips at him. “She’s been in her room since she got home. She looked pissed when she came in, and she didn’t come down for dinner. Clearly you screwed up.” She looked him up and down, appraising his wounds, then twitched her head in the direction of the stairs. The meaning was clear.
Ranma exhaled at length and started up towards Akane’s room. He and Akane had issues that didn’t often mesh well, and a lot of the time he genuinely didn’t understand why he upset her. This wasn’t one of those times. He’d been an jerk, and he needed to apologize.
But… she’d seen him crying last night, he knew she had. And now, showing up looking like he did and apologizing ? What would she think of him? Even as he thought it, he knew it was stupid, he knew that insecurity made him weaker than anything else, but still…
He looked back down at Nabiki, and she urged him onward. He sighed and forced himself the rest of the way to her door. He was actually having a bit of trouble walking on one of his legs, so it really was difficult. He knocked.
No one answered.
“‘K...kane?” He called weakly through the door. After a second, he heard some rustling, and finally the door swung open to reveal Akane in a t-shirt and pajama pants. If she had been crying, it hadn’t been for a while. Still, she looked angry.
“Yeah?” She asked.
“I, uh…” he was suddenly hyper-conscious of his female form, and the fact that it was a few inches shorter than Akane. He looked around, trying to avoid eye-contact. “I uh… umm…” She was looking right at him, he knew it. Even without looking at her face, he could feel her disdain for him. His cheeks flushed red hot. He felt so weak. “I… won... the fight?” Finally, he looked up and met her gaze. She rubbed her forehead and looked away.
“Is that seriously what you wanted to say?” she asked, defeat in her voice. He didn’t respond at first. He bit his lip, and she thought he was going to cry. She wished he would. Then he swallowed, and grimaced.
She shut the door in his face. After a moment, he limped back downstairs. Nabiki gave him a look as he passed that he tried not to interpret. He didn’t want to talk to anyone at the moment. He just wanted to collapse onto his bedroll and pass out. Unfortunately, there was one more person between him and there.
“Heeyy, boy!” Genma slurred, sloshing a glass of sake in Ranma’s direction, “What’re, whatthe hell’re you doin’ walkin’ around like that?” Ranma looked down at himself.
“Like what ?” he asked tiredly.
“Like a… like a fuckin’...” he looked around for help, but Soun had already blacked out on the table. This seemed to be becoming more and more common. “Like a you-know-what?”
Ranma was too tired for this. He just shook his head and shrugged. As he walked past, he heard Genma mutter,
“Fuckin’ little queer…”
Ranma fell onto his blankets with no regard for the pain throughout his body, and though he had no trouble falling asleep, his dreams were haunted by a thousand little voices, telling him things he didn’t want to hear.