Author's Notes: Guess I'm on a roll here. This was originally meant to be part of Chapter 6, but as was commented, that chapter ends pretty good as is. Therefore, after roughly six years, the beginning of the final chapter of Choices!
Kuno didn't interrupt his practice at Ranma's approach. The pigtailed girl watched from a comfortable distance to the side as the kendoist worked through an elaborate sequence. Ranma wasn't sure if he'd ever watched his unwanted paramour practice before—usually, Kuno would launch himself into an embrace at first sight; or, Ranma grudgingly admitted, I assume the worse and have a go at him myself.
He's pretty damn good, Ranma thought. It wasn't a kendo form he was familiar with, though as watched he could decipher various sword combat techniques concealed within the smooth, fluid motions. Given an hour or two he was pretty sure he could learn the sequence, although he doubted he could achieve Kuno's mastery, the little touches and flourishes that made the form his own.
Ranma felt a brief tranquility settle over him. He felt content, watching Kuno practice. And he's not trying to show off, Ranma recognize, again with grudging respect. He hasn't altered his rhythm or effort just because I showed up. In the soft setting light the park was bathed in gentle red and golden hues that drifted in dappled patterns across the green grass. He took a seat on the soft earth. His fingers twisted unconsciously amidst the grass as he watched Kuno. Will I ever do that again? he wondered. Even if I drink this potion, will I ever return to the martial arts? Despite Cologne's insistence and stories of battleside birthing, he felt keenly aware of something missing within himself—a lost cockiness and confidence.
He knew he could learn the moves easily enough. That would never go away. But would he ever again do like Kuno was doing right now—not mimic the movements but possess them and make them his own? Not practice an exercise routine, but rather master an Art?
Kuno smoothly shifted from one sequence to the next, working through patterns of increasing complexity and physical demand. He practiced for nearly thirty minutes, as the sun slowly set behind him. Ranma very contently sat there and watched the whole time. The only sound was that of Kuno's blade slicing the wind.
When the kendoist finished he walked over and sat, cross-legged, across from Ranma. His face was flushed with exertion and shone with sweat. A cool breeze danced among the leaves.
Don't ruin it, Ranma thought. Please, don't.
And much to Ranma's surprise, Kuno remained silent. He sat there, his breathing slowly returning to normal, and stared off to the side and watched the sun settle behind the tress. Slowly, the sounds of the city beyond those trees filtered back, faint honks and rumbles of large trucks passing. The kendoist carefully laid his bokken across his lap. Ranma didn't hate his occasional rival, of course; in fact, he usually got quite a kick out of the guy, at least when he wasn't pawing at his girl body. And away from the school, he was occasionally capable of lucid moments and coherent conversation—and he had, over the last year or two, thrown a couple of good get-togethers at his place or trips on his yacht. Such gatherings almost always ended in chaos—as did any large gathering of Nerima martial artists—but still . . . good times, good times in the past.
Kuno finally broke the comfortable silence. "Pigtailed Girl?" His voice was surprisingly sombre.
"Yeah," Ranma answered. He swallowed down an instinct to insult the man. It's what he would normally do. "I didn't know you practiced out here." Truth was, he didn't even know where he was at the moment, but felt fairly certain he was a fair distance away from the Kuno estate.
"Only when I need to escape from home, Pigtailed-Girl." He continued to stare into the distance, and sighed deeply. "My sister and father's arguments were unusually . . . vigorous, this afternoon." He offered up a wan smile. "Sometimes the simplest of parks can offer a tranquility that the grandest of dojos can not." Then the kendoist shook his head, as if dispelling unpleasant thoughts, and his lips curved into a smile that looked only a little forced. "But my apologies!" he exclaimed, turning to him. "'Tis not proper to burden a fair maiden such as you with . . . ."
"With what?" Ranma asked dryly, as the kendoist got his first good look at the battered and bruised girl.
The man stared at him in shock. His eyes danced from bruise to scratch, and traced the black and blue pattern of injuries wherever they were exposed. For some reason, Ranma made no effort to hide them.
"What foul . . . ," Kuno began. He swallowed. "What happened?" he asked.
And for no reason that he could fathom, Ranma answered with the truth. "I was raped." The words just seemed to slip out.
Kuno didn't answer. Ranma continued to watch him, his lips slowly curling into a bitter smirk. Inside he wondered why he told Kuno. He couldn't think of anyone less likely he would have sought out for advice. Yet here they were, sitting together, and he had just admitted the worst thing imaginable to him. Maybe I trust him because he's such a fruitcake, he thought. No one would believe him, anyway. Or maybe, he thought, I saw a genuine glimpse of that honour he keep going on about, right then in that quiet moment. Maybe he'll understand. Maybe I can trust him. Maybe he can help me.
Kuno finally found his voice. "You were. . . ."
"Yeah, I was."
"I'm so sorry—"
Ranma's smirk hardened. "Why? Was it your fault? No. So don't be."
"At that party a few weeks back. At Kiyoshi's, remember?"
"Remember how people were going about the next day, saying all that nasty shit about me, about me being naked and drunk and sleeping around? Yeah, you remember. Well, it was half-true. I was drunk. And half-naked. And somebody thought that was reason enough to make a truth of the last bit, too."
Kuno's eyes widened. "What do you mean?"
"I passed out. And while I was unconscious, somebody . . . ." He felt his bottom lip tremble. He took a deep breath. No fucking way. Not in front of Kuno. With a steady voice, he finished. "Somebody had their way with me, Kuno."
"Who?" Kuno's voice remained calm, but his hand was suddenly on his sword. His hand around the grip trembled and whitened. "Who?"
"I don't know. Believe me, I don't know. I don't remember any of it."
"Then how do you—" Kuno's voice shook with suppressed emotion.
"Because I'm pregnant, Kuno," and Ranma's smirk reached a bitter, brittle peak.
"You are with child?"
Ranma released a sharp bark of laughter. "I'm not fucking 'with child', Kuno! I've got something inside of me, yeah. I didn't put it there, and I damn well don't want it there. But it's pretty good proof that I was raped, don't ya think?"
He couldn't believe he was having this conversation. In a darkening park sitting across from Kuno, telling the boy about being pregnant; it was too surreal. For a moment Ranma felt a moment of disequilibrium, of utter loss. His vision swam and he took several forceful, deep breaths. Everything is going to be okay, he thought. I've got the cure right here. His hand dropped to his pocket and patted the small lump there.
"How are you . . . doing?" Kuno hesitatingly asked, and then immediately rushed on. "No. Please, do not answer that. It was a stupid question. I apologize."
Ranma shrugged. "Nah, not at all."
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
Despite himself, Ranma actually felt touched. He'd always thought of Kuno as more of a friend than a rival—the man simply hadn't been strong enough a martial artist to challenge him in a fight, and as a romantic rival he was simply too insane—belonging to the same gang as Mousse and Ryoga. That made him a very strange kind of friend indeed. And although the help was being extended to the 'Pigtailed Girl', not to his male half, he still felt impressed by the kendoist's immediate desire to help.
"I don't know, Kuno. I don't know what I'm going to do. I really don't."
Kuno took his hand. It was the kind of gesture that normally would have warranted a punch, but there was nothing romantic in the act. His concern seemed genuine. "Pigtailed Girl," he said. "I . . . listen. Whatever you do. The vast weal. . . No. The full power of . . . No!" He gave his head another shake and tried again. "If my money can help, it's yours. Anything the child needs, is yours. Truthfully."
And that, right there, was the real issue, Ranma thought. In a very level voice, he said, "Who says I'm going to have the child?"
The reaction was immediate and far stronger than expected. Kuno leapt to his feet, barely managing to catch his blade before it hit the ground. He stared down at her, aghast. A moment later he stormed away. He stood several meters away, visibly shaking, before stalking back to Ranma. His face was flushed red and the tendons stood out tautly along his neck.
"You would . . . you are considering . . . you plan to kill the child?"
Ranma found himself almost unable to answer. "I don't know, dammit!" he almost shouted back. A note of pleading crept into his voice. "Kuno, I don't know what to do!"
Kuno stared back at him. "I cannot believe you would even consider such a thing, Pigtailed Girl!"
"What choice do I have?" Ranma demanded.
"Keep it! Raise it! Love it!"
And then Ranma suddenly found himself standing, stalking towards the other youth. "It's not mine! I don't want it! I hate it!" He was screaming in the kendoist's face. "My life's already ruined! It's ruined! And this thing, this damn thing," he insisted, clutching violently at his stomach, "this thing is just going to make it worse!"
Kuno grabbed Ranma's by the wrist. "Pigtailed Girl!"
Ranma stopped and glared at the taller boy. "Let me go. Now." He felt a swelling of emotion within: overwhelming fear, at a man grabbing him; intense rage, a chance for revenge.
"Only if you calm down."
"I could hurt you. I could rip you apart."
"I know." Kuno eyed him coolly. There was no fear there, only a strange calmness in his restraint, almost as if he had done this before.
Ranma stared at him for a moment longer, and then forcefully relaxed. Kuno released his arms. The moment he did so he turned and began to walk away.
"Where are you going?" Ranma called after him.
Kuno stopped. "Away, Pigtailed Girl."
"You think I should keep this . . . thing, inside me."
"I think," Kuno answered. "That it is not my decision to make." He spared a glance back at her. "I also think that if you do this thing, that you will regret it. That it will destroy you even further. If you do this thing, I think you are not the woman I believed you to be."
"I was never the woman you thought I was, Kuno."
The kendoist sighed. "Perhaps you are right. But answer me this last question, Ranma."
"How could Saotome allow this to happen?"
To which he could only think of one answer. "I don't know, Kuno. I really don't know."
It was only several minutes later, standing alone in the park, that Ranma realized that Kuno had finally called him by his real name.
Next: Back to Akane. What advice will she give her former fiancé? And who else did he see and ask for help, during the previous night's wandering?