C&A Productions Presents A Work of GRIT Fanfiction New Beginnings By Chris McNeil It was a dark and stormy night. The kind Blade normally loved to brood by, which meant it was the sort of night that made you feel that the gods were drunk, and thus behaving in a rather overdramatised and cliched manner. If you believed in gods, anyway. After my last visit to the Ken ni Kaze, I preferring not to think about them if at all possible. I couldn't actually feel the rain, of course, but my various auditory sensors could hear the patter as innumerable drops smashed into the sleek chrome that made up my body, then sliding away from the water- proofed, uncorrodable surface to coagulate on my lower half and drop off, continuing on their long journey to the earth below. It was almost funny, from a certain point of view. I had used to despise flying in the rain. It was treacherous and difficult to navigate, and the damp would mat my fur and make it snarl and knot, not to mention leaving a distinctive odor that would linger even after I turned back, making sheltering for the night, all in all, a rather unpleasant experience. Yet now I felt a sharp ache of longing for doing just that. It was not simply one of my frequent longings for my old body, free of this cybernetic monstrosity now irrevocably joined to me. It was that, but yet it was more as well...a longing for the simpler times when I still had that body. A time that seemed centuries rather than years ago, when I was young, hopeful, dreaming of a better future. And now what? My dreams shattered and broken years past, and my very purpose, the meaning that had driven me for so long shown to be empty, meaningless. Love deserted me long ago, and now even my hate has been stolen. I am adrift, and if I have been provided a log to cling to, I still see no land in sight. Not to mention I'm obviously going insane, because I sound more and more like Blade at every moment. No doubt I'll break out into a wail over my lost love any minute now. Banking sharply, I circled my destination once before slowly settling towards the ground. Having muted my engines to a dull thrum miles back, I knew I had gone undetected. Even the loud thump of my landing and the subsequent hiss of my steam generators was hidden by the crash of thunder of the howling of the wind. For a moment I stood, shrouded in my cloak. For all of its annoying lack of true life, my new form had certain advantages. Besides an endless supply of hot water-or a reasonable substitute-I had long since discovered the method by which I could emerge from the steam fully clothed. Useful indeed, especially on a night such as this. Walking forward, I stood before the door. The cottage was fairly small, and certainly old, but had been well-built and kept. The windows would be sealed to keep out the wind, the roof tight enough to shunt off the water. I knew this, knew it without even having to look, as much as I could close my eyes and picture any section inside. I knew the flickering light I could see was the lamp in the dining room, which meant she was still up, as I suspected. I knew every inch of it, and every time I pictured it, I could feel a flood of memories, years when this was my sanctuary, my refuge. Yet now, standing before it in truth, it was not those memories that returned to me. Rather, it was the memory of the last time I had been here, a time over four years ago. And another place, shortly before that... "Let me help you." I had barely even glanced at her. How stupid had she thought I was? "Don't bother sucking up to me. I won't let you escape." But she hadn't been. She wouldn't let go, wouldn't leave me alone, until I had acquiesced and let her help. I never had figured out why I had let her. Was it who she looked so like? Was it because somehow I could sense her sincerity? No matter the reason, those few minutes, engraved on my brain, had changed me forever. Upon my return to China, I had dismissed Happousai's refusal with little concern. Did it truly matter anymore? I had far grander plans, then. I could return. I could eliminate Ranma from the picture easily...he had other would-be wives, and a little manipulation would ensure one would catch him. She deserved better, after all. And I was far, far more powerful than any of them... the finest heir her father could want. It would be so easy, and so perfect. At last, the happiness I wanted had been in my grasp...and my name had turned out to have nothing to do with it. But I was stalling, I realized. I was shying away from the confrontation ahead of me. And that smacked of cowardice, a vice I would never allow myself the luxury of. Steeling myself, I raised my hand and rapped on the door. There was a pause, as I knew there would be. First to wonder who it could possibly be, then to wonder if it could be someone with ill intentions. Then footsteps, as she realized there was plenty of help within shouting distance, even in this weather. The footsteps quickening, as the thought occurred to her it could be some traveller caught out in the storm... The door opened, and she stood there. She was as I remembered, attractive if not stunningly so, with the warm brown eyes, so different from my own...if the years had started to have an effect, and there were a few more careworn lines around her eyes, they were only minor details. She was still beautiful to me, more so than anyone had ever been, would ever be... Seeing this mysterious stranger, face and form hidden in a nightblue cloak, she had involuntarily taken a step back, which allowed me to take one forward, into the doorway. No longer feeling the drops of rain, I reached up and slid back my hood. As she took in my eyes, my face, my hair, her eyes widened and she stepped back again. Feeling awkward, I opened my mouth, forcing words out past the painful lump in my throat, bracing myself for the inevitable. "Mother...I..." But before I could go any further, she gave a low cry and dashed forward, throwing her arms around me. For a moment I was too stunned to move. Then, slowly, hesitantly, I returned the embrace. She did not draw back, she did not loosen her grip. In fact, it tightened. It was unbelievable, incomprehensible...and everything I had barely dared to hope for, these last few hours. There was a burning in my eyes and throat, and before I realized it I had drawn her fully to me, our heads resting on each other's shoulders. There was a hot wetness trickling down my face, and yet somehow I didn't care. After what seemed an eternity, she drew back. Smiling, she looked me up and down. Smiling. I still could not truly believe it. Self- consciously, I wiped my face. "Well," she began, but her voice cracked from emotion. Wordlessly, she dragged me fully into the house and shut the door, dulling the howling wind and thunder. In its place, and given the situation, the silence was almost deafening. "Well," she began again, "you have certainly grown a bit since I last saw you." She whisked my cloak away and hung it on a hook near the door, then motioned me to sit in a nearby chair. She obviously wasn't going to sit until I did, so I eased myself down, and she took her place in another one opposite. There was an uncomfortable silence, which I finally broke by answering her earlier statement. "In fourteen years, nearly any child would." "Yes," she replied, then after a moment added, "but you are hardly a child any longer, are you? And not just your age. Your eyes..." My mother had always said that eyes were mirrors of the soul...a belief the Japanese shared, ironically enough. But I didn't want her looking into my soul. Not yet. "I'm surprised you recognized me so quickly." "If it had been fifty years, I would still recognize you." She looked me over again, and frowned slightly. "Your name...it hasn't been..." "You mean this?" After picking up the pantyhose I wore as a sash for confirmation, I flipped it to the side. "No, my name was changed... some time ago. But I've gotten used to wearing this, I suppose." After an expectant pause, I added, "It's now Tom Tarou." She smiled with genuine pleasure. "That's wonderful...Tom." She didn't know English, so I suppose the obscure humour most seemed to find in my new name didn't occur to her. "So have you come back for good, now?" Before I could reply, she frowned slightly, and then said, "No... you haven't, have you?" Perhaps eyes are truly the mirrors of the soul. No matter my feelings for her, this was not my home any longer, and in that instant, I think we both realized it. I had far outgrown a simple Chinese herbalist's village, in more than one way. Luckily, she did not want an explanation for either my coming or my not staying, for I would have been hard-pressed to explain the events of the last few years...or even the last few days, for that matter. Suddenly, I felt uncomfortable. After so long, this seemed almost too... normal to be real. "It is late..." I began, starting to rise. To her credit, she did not try to stop me. Despite our long separation, sometimes it seemed she knew me better than I did myself. "Before you leave, do you want to look in on...on him?" she said. I stopped, a sudden surge of memories overwhelming me. Fourteen years, almost, since I had first noticed her expanding waistline...a sudden, hot surge of betrayal, that I hadn't been good enough, that perhaps she was hoping for someone better this time, someone without a humiliating name who didn't turn into a monster...a view reinforced by the snickering comments of my sniveling, brainless peers. The fight, and then my leaving into another stormy night, flying, stretching the muscles of my other body to the limit and beyond, flying until, wings burning, I plummeted to the ground and lay, exhausted, until morning...yet I had never even thought about the inevitable results of this. I started to refuse cooly, not wanting to meet this person who had shattered yet another of my dreams so many years ago...but even as I opened my mouth, the curiosity overwhelmed me. Yes, she knew me very well. "I...suppose that would be alright. He, you say?" She nodded quickly, and then led me to a bedroom that I remembered clearly. Even in the darkness, I could note that the decor had not changed appreciably. Interesting. Then, walking forward, I waited a moment for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, and looked down...at myself. Or almost. The sleeping child was, naturally, smaller than me, and his face lacked the hard inflexibility and coldness that I had both consciously and unconsciously appended to my own over the years. And there were subtle differences, such as the fact his lashes were even longer than mine, and the cheekbones seemed more delicate. But the general appearance was the same, as well as the outfit slung over a nearby chair being nearly a carbon copy of my old one, dark green vest and baggy pants, although I noticed he at least used a real sash instead of pantyhose. And the hair was almost identical, even down to the two twisted locks hanging from behind his ears. I was struck by an unfamiliar feeling of guilt. I hadn't suspected she would take her grief over my disappearance -this- far... "Poor kid," I murmured, almost involuntarily reaching down to brush some hair off his forehead...when my wrist was caught in an iron grip. His eyes snapped open-they at least were a dark blue instead of ice grey-and his lips curled into a malicious smile at right around the same time a foot lashed up and caught me in the chest. Normally I could have shrugged off a blow like that, though the kid had struck both fast and hard. Living in the wilderness for fourteen years has made me a lot tougher than most would suspect. But my ribs, cracked and smashed in multiple places in my near-fatal battle several days ago, were hardly up to par. I staggered away with a gasp of pain and fell to my knees, somewhat dizzied. Not to be caught off-guard twice, though, I heard his approach and quickly deflected his kick. Standing up with a bit of effort, I glared down at him. "Are you in the habit of attacking guests?" He was fast, I'd grant him that. Not just the first kick, but I noted he had quickly donned his outfit as well. Probably a good thing for me, if sloppy, since without the extra seconds I might not have recovered enough to counter the second strike. "Guest, yeah, right!" he spat back. "I ain't never seen you before in..." and then he stopped, his widening. When he continued, his voice was far different. It was rather familiar, in a way. "You're... you're...you're YOU!" "You know who I am?" I asked, somewhat astonished. In response, he rushed forward and threw his arms around me. I quickly pushed him away...impassioned reunions were all very well, but this was getting ridiculous. The kid didn't seem very discouraged, however. "Of course I know who you are! I always knew you'd come back!" His eyes almost sparkled, and suddenly I realised why that tone of voice seemed so familiar. It was the exact same tone Akemi talked about Blade in. May all the gods help me. My mother stepped into the room, obviously trying to hold back her amusement, yet there was something else I couldn't place in her voice. "He's...heard a lot about you, from the other villagers." "And I knew you'd come back!" he said. "To take me with you!" Scratch that. Divine help wasn't going to get me out of this one. But I had to make an effort regardless. "Uh...listen, kid, I'm sure you really want to, but you can't just leave your mother alone like this." Oh, great excuse. Like I was one to talk. I -was- getting almost as bad as Blade. "Anyways, you're too young." That was better. "No I'm not," he shot back. Awfully cheeky to his idol, but I guess that was to be expected. "I'm thirteen, and by village law that means I'm an adult! I can leave if I want!" I could have refused to take him. I -should- have refused to take him. But instead, for some insane reason, I looked at our mother. She shrugged, indicating that it was my decision... and I, of course had just trapped myself. I had the distinct feeling she was enjoying this. And that she had been anticipating it for a long time. She had also manipulated me into it at least as subtly as I had ever manipulated anyone myself; well, I suppose that at least showed where I got it from. I sighed. I guess it was too much to ask that I would be the only insane one in the family anyway. "Okay, fine. But let's set two ground rules. One: you do exactly what I tell you. Two: you do it exactly when I tell you to. Got it?" He nodded enthusiastically. Well, so much for last hopes. "Fine. Go pack your things, if you insist." He actually managed to look scornful. "Things? I don't need any ‘things'." Hoo boy. "That's very convenient, kid, but if you're going to be living with me, I expect at least a few changes of clothes." He blushed, and I felt a surge of satisfaction, then immediately felt like an idiot. Imagine getting cocky over having one-upped a kid. He ran back into his room, and I turned to her. "Light sleeper?" "Very. He wouldn't have been able to hear the conversation clearly, though, I guess." "As my ribs can attest. You wanted this, didn't you, mother? I would have thought you wouldn't wish to lose your other child as well." She sighed, and smiled a bit wistfully. "Perhaps, but I have plenty of friends here...who have already been making bets on how long it would take before...he would go off searching for you, anyways." She then looked up, a dangerous glint in her eyes. "Besides, you'll now be coming over to visit slightly more often, right?" I felt a flush starting to rise, and incredulously smashed it back down again. She had an extremely nasty effect on me, it appeared. I guess it's hard to properly intimidate and awe a person who remembers changing your diapers. "Naturally," I said, with what I thought was a fairly composed expression under the circumstances. "Good. He really is an excellent martial artist, you know. Even those who don't do it can tell he has potential. It's a pity there were never the proper teachers around here, but still, a lot of people mentioned he's almost as good as you were when you left, and he practices often." And this was without the same ‘motivation' to be a good fighter. "I'm not surprised, actually. I think martial arts runs in our family." Before she could do much more than blink in surprise-now I was fighting the urge to smirk over getting one up on my -mother-, for pity's sake-he ran back into the room, carrying a small bag. "I'm all ready, bro...do you mind if I call you that?" "As long as it doesn't have to do with underwear, you can call me anything, kid. Which reminds me...my name, now, is Tom Tarou. I haven't got yours yet." "Lo Shin." Even the name was over-feminine. I suppose he bugged our mother to change it. "Okay, Lo, we'd better go. No time like the present and all that." I walked to the door then stopped and turned. "I suppose I should warn both of you that my other body is a little different now." I then proceeded to emphasize my point by opening the door and quickly walking a few steps outside. Turning, I peered down at them, and again fought the perverse satisfaction I received at seeing Lo Shin's eyes bug out. My mother, disappointingly, didn't seem too scared. Disappointingly indeed. I was becoming truly pathetic. Shaking my head, I extended several tentacles to make a steady platform. Without hesitation, Lo ran out and climbed onto them. Carefully, I lifted him and placed him at the base of my neck. "Be careful, both of you!" she admonished. "Don't worry, Mom!" Lo Shin said, obviously delighted. "It's actually soft here somehow...and hey, I'm dry!" I resisted the urge to chuckle. Just a tweaking of the same systems I had used with U-chan a few weeks back... "That's not what I meant," she muttered, though not loudly enough for Lo to hear. A moment later my engines roared to life and we lifted smoothly off the ground. Turning, I hovered for a moment. She had a smile on her face, and gave a small wave. An hour ago, she hadn't seen me in fifteen years. Perhaps I wasn't quite as tough as I supposed. Lo Shin waved enthusiastically, and after a moment I did too, again feeling like a complete idiot. Maybe not having a family hadn't been so horrible after all. Again swivelling, I increased engine power and we roared upwards. Lo Shin shrieked in delight rather than fear, which I found irritating, then got disgusted with myself again. Well, at least his voice obviously hadn't cracked yet. Late bloomer. After a moment, he leaned over and shouted, "Hey, we're not going to Japan, are we?" Did the kid know -everything-? "How'd you know I'm staying there?" "Mom got a letter from some wizard guy once. It started off about you, and then he sort of rambled off onto other stuff for some reason, but it did mention you had been in Japan a lot lately." I'm going to kill that old twit. "You didn't answer my question!" "How do you know we're not going to Japan? Don't tell me you know the route!" "Nah, but that mountain we're heading for is definitely the wrong direction." I wondered if it was too late to knock him out and drop him back at the cottage. Maybe he'd think this was all a dream or something. "Hey, isn't that..." he began, and then said excitedly, "We're going to Jyusenkyou, aren't we?" I guess I was stuck with it. "Yes. If you're to be my student, kid, you're going to acquire another body. Not only is it very useful, you gain a new perspective." "Great! I want to have the same one you did!" "No way. The only reason I'm alive is because I got it when I was still a baby. You'd break your legs in so many places trying to get used to it you'd never walk again, and it'd be years before you could build up your muscles enough to fly." That wasn't exaggeration, at least. I had had to literally hurl Blade into the mecha spring myself, because he couldn't even climb out of Niuhoomanmaorennichuan. Luckily, internal stabilizers come included with the mecha package, and that kept him from killing himself until he could start to get the hang of it. At least -that- took him so long he didn't dare change the balance again by getting the tentacles, too. Lo Shin didn't seem daunted by this. "That's so great! I've wanted to go to Jyusenkyou, but it's been banned, and I'd have to leave completely first...I wonder what form I'll get?" "Jump in at random. That way you'll learn to adapt to whatever you get. My spring is so far back there's no chance of you getting there, at least." He finally shut up, no doubt excitedly thinking about what curse he would receive. As we flew through the night, my mind returned to yet another stormy night, nearly five years ago. After I had dropped Happousai, realizing this quest for a new name had been useless. At the time I had been almost euphoric, but there were lingering doubts, doubts that would end up changing my life forever. Yes, I had been sure I could win Akane Tendo's love, and the approval of her family, with time. Yes, disposing of Ranma would be simplicity itself. Yet something had nagged at me nonetheless. So instead of turning around, I went on, and I had come back home. I told myself I was being paranoid. I told myself it was impossible. Yet that resemblance, that uncanny resemblance to my mother, I couldn't shake. So I came, intending to rid myself of these annoying misgivings once and for all. I had not bothered to make my presence noted. Before dawn, I had soundlessly made my entry and searched for the records, which were, as I knew they would be, in the same place they had been when I left. At first, it looked like my fears were unfounded, for no one of her family was tied to mine. But a chance passage caught my eye, a passage about the "miraculous" birth to a couple all had thought barren...and nearly a year before, a mention of a journeying martial artist, an old friend to the man of the couple...a martial artist who claimed to represent the Tendo- ryuu. I could have dismissed it as coincidence. I could have ignored it, for no one could possibly ever reveal it or even realize it even if it -was- true. But I knew. In my soul, I knew. And even as I forced myself to admit it, my feelings withered into dust, blowing away in the wind. My dreams had died that day, yet once more I had returned to Japan, having thought to resume my earlier quest. But it failed too, doomed from the start by no fault of my own but by the clerical error of a fool of an old man. I could have returned again. I could have triumphed, eventually. But what point did it serve? Instead I wandered, occasionally picking up information for Blade, never planning on returning...until one day I had been forced by a most unpleasant encounter with a certain psychopath to seek help... I felt the old, burning hatred rise within me, but ruthlessly squelched it. Many of the cretins back in Nerima no doubt thought I had somehow lost my loathing for Ranma in the aftermath of our battle, but they were wrong, as usual. What I had done is learn that the hatred had been controlling me, preventing me from moving on and achieving more important goals. I thought of my now-silent sibling for a moment. While I had feverishly tried to weigh every possibility and decide my reactions before revisiting my mother, this had not even occurred to me as one. Yet perhaps it was, in the end, a good thing. Now I had responsibility, not to mention something of a family. Perhaps they could help me recover, help fill the void that my -cousin- so unwittingly punched in me all those years ago. Perhaps. As we landed, Lo Shin sprang off, slid down one of my tentacles, and landed fairly professionally, though he seemed to hurt his ankle a little. He looked at the hundreds of springs in wonder for a moment, then took a deep breath and ran towards them, limping slightly. I watched in bemusement for a moment, and then a memory returned to me, a faint recollection of a particular spring that I had located out of idle curiosity...the exact spring he was mindlessly running for, by some freak whim of fate. This day was obviously more cursed than any one of those pools. With a roar I started forward, reaching out my tentacles in a futile attempt to grab him. Then Lo Shin, startled, looked back and started to stop...and thus missing a broken piece of bamboo which he promptly tripped over, tumbling into the spring. As a head emerged from the water, sputtering, I seriously considered the merits of seppuku. No matter what I had done, my fate in the afterlife could not possibly be any worse than going back to Nerima with a student/sibling who had the same curse as... "Phooey! It was a dud! I didn't even know there -were- duds, bro!" I looked up in amazement as Lo climbed out of the spring. His voice sounded the same, he looked the same, his chest was flat...and then, suddenly, I knew. Knew just like I had known about Akane, five years ago. Stalking forward, I lashed out before Lo could react...ripping away the wooden fasteners holding the vest together and yanking it open. As I suspected, this revealed a row of tightly wound bandages around Lo Shin's chest. She grinned weakly, looking up at me. "Surprise." I really -was- an idiot. The hesitation before calling Lo Shin a he, the voice, the features, similar to mine but even more feminine, wasting time in a fight to get dressed, the amount of time she had taken to pack a small bag of clothes...and incidentally putting on those bandages, no doubt... "You lied to me." "You wouldn't have taken me if I hadn't!" Still cheeky. "Who says I will? You're NOT considered a legal adult until you're fifteen!" She smiled. If my smile looked anything like that, no wonder it could unnerve people so easily. "Ah, but you claimed responsibility for me. Thus, there's no barriers against you taking me for training!" "I most certainly did not!" "By implication you did, bro." She had me. Ranma couldn't do it. The whole Heavensrun clan couldn't do it. Nabiki Tendo couldn't do it. But this kid, my -sister-, had boxed me into a corner as neatly as her mother had. And I hadn't even realised it until now. Seppuku was looking good again... Not even close to the end. Author's notes: Well, there you go, folks. As always, by the way, I appreciate/crave -any- comments, good or bad.