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Meeting Later – Chapter 13
Ranma woke at the sound of chopping wood.
Breathing in, he could smell Akane on him, and as he recalled what had happened last night, his eyes flickered around the tent, noticing his sleeping bags zippered into a double with hers, his boxers tossed near the tent opening, her sports bra sticking out from under his pillow.
The sound of another strike outside brought him out of his memory, his brow furrowing as he wondered what this meant for him and her, and how she felt about it considering she seemed to be busying herself.
With a sigh he sat up and began to climb out of the bag and dress. He knew he wasn’t good at guessing how others think, so he was going to have to face her. While he pulled on his spare white training gi, some dark part of his mind whispered that he had ruined another friendship, while another thought wondered what she was wearing outside.
Opening the flap, he walked over to where Akane was chopping up wood branches with hand strikes on a wide old stone.
“Hey Akane,” he said cautiously, watching her reaction.
Akane blinked in surprise, looked at Ranma for a long moment, then smiled sunily. “Morning sleepy head, I’m just getting some wood for a fire for breakfast.”
He swallowed slowly, “You okay, I mean…”
She frowned as Ranma gestured behind her at the pile of wood she had already prepared, the six-foot pile should cover breakfast fires for about a year. She realized pretty quickly that he knew she’d been distracted when she began preparing firewood.
“About last night…”
“Wait Ranma,” she cried, jumping to her feet and placing her hand in front of, but not touching, his mouth. She continued awkwardly, “I just, let’s discus this later?”
The pair looked down at their feet.
Ranma swallowed, “Was it… wrong?”
“No!” Akane said, squirming where she stood, a smile tugging at her lips. “It was... it was wonderful, I, I just needed... Let’s talk about it later, please?”
“Okay”, nodding to appear understanding, Ranma’s eyes showed only confusion and concern.
Akane grinned suddenly and tossed the branch in her hand at him like a spear. “Let’s spar!”
Catching it between his hands, he had just enough time to use it to block a kick as training began.
Akane was red faced as she tried to regain her breath, noticing with some satisfaction that Ranma was at least sweating from the sparring. Both were off their game as they kept on thinking of last night, his own gaze slipping often from her eyes. Both avoided grappling attacks and moves, and even kicks were less common this morning.
The sun was high and they still hadn’t had breakfast when they stopped, they had fought there way down the hill, springing off trees and rocks as they let the fight direct them where it would.
It was finally a grumble from Ranma’s stomach that called them to a halt, “You’re doing better. Want to call it for lunch?”
Akane nodded, saving her breath, and looked out away from the hillside, a frown coming to her lips as she saw Ranma’s expression change from a smile to concern.
“What is it?”
He held up his hand as he listened. Then they both heard the voice in the distance.
“Spatula girl sure this where Airen come?”
Akane looked to Ranma, “Ukyo and Shampoo?”
Ranma nodded, his face paling as his minds eye suddenly swept up the hillside, entering their sparse camp. The camp with only one tent assembled…
“Distract them! I’ll put your tent up!” he hissed before charging up the hill.
Akane blushed deeply and looked down at her self, straightening her clothes before moving towards the voices.
“Konatsu overheard one of Sakura’s lackeys calling her, Ranchan is up here training with someone who beat that Kuno guy so he can have a rematch.”
“Samurai must be strong to beat Airen, but Airen will win.”
“I don’t suppose there is some kind of Amazon law that makes you marry this Kuno guy if he doesn’t?”
“Only if Samurai kill Airen, but Airen too good. Shampoo and Airen be too too good when together.”
“Hey Bimbo, we’re only here to stop Sakura interfering with Ranchan’s training. Keep your hands off him!”
Akane swallowed at the hostility in Ukyo’s voice, knowing that when these two found out she was the mystery trainer for Ranma that anger was going to come at her. Stepping out, she looked at the pair. She opened her mouth but the other pair beat her to it.
“What are you doing here?!” “What pervert girl doing here?!”
Akane blushed. Possibly the singularly worst thing she could do.
The pair burst past her heading up the hill for answers.
Ranma sped through his actions, dashing into camp, digging out Akane’s tent, and kicking clear the ground it would cover while his nimble fingers worked the ties on its bag. Tipping out the contents, his arms jabbed the stakes into the ground without need for a hammer, the matting laid out and hooked, the ropes in position. He threaded the outer poles through the sleeves, lifting it and climbing inside as he set the inner poles.
His danger sense gave him just enough time to dive flat on the base, arms tight against his body as the roaring engine of an all terrain vehicle passed inches over his head, the tent going under the eight tires as easily as the trees before it had.
Sakura jumped down from the passenger seat of her Daddy's camping vehicle as it came to a stop in the camp. “Ranma-darling, I’m here,” she called out looking around the desolate little camp. Her lips frowned as Ukyo and Shampoo burst into the camp, the pair looking in horror at her tank like ride, her own anger growing as Akane followed them.
“Where’s Ranma?” “Where Airen?” “Where’s Ranchan?”
“A little help?”
All eyes turned to under the vehicle, and in short order the remains of the tent were dragged out and the sole occupant was freed from where the wheels had tightened the material like a cocoon around him.
“What are you doing here?” Ranma asked.
“Us? You’re supposed to be training to fight this Kuno guy! What is she doing here?” Ukyo demanded pointing at Akane.
“Akane is my teacher, she’s beaten him before lots of times and knows his moves.”
Ukyo narrowed her eyes on Ranma, then glared at Akane but seemed satisfied with the answer. She pointed at Sakura, “We found out that she was coming up and so came to stop her from distracting you.”
Ranma glanced at Sakura who was locked in a glaring battle with Shampoo, then looked at her truck. “Bit late for that, huh?”
Sakura saw his attention and turned from Shampoo, “Ranma dear, might I enquire why it is you see fit to invite these hussies on this trip but decline to even enquire to see if I was available.”
He shook his head, “This was a training trip, the only one meant to be here is Akane, to give me some tips on beating Kuno”
Shampoo glared first and Sakura then at Akane, “We here stop easy girl from bother Airen. Now stop pervert girl steal husband.”
“Shampoo, enough!” Ranma yelled, drawing attention to him, which was good for Akane as the dark haired girl blushed. “All of you, go home.”
Shampoo shook her head, and Ranma could see in that instant that she wasn’t going to leave while Akane was here, and Ukyo and Sakura weren’t either as long as she stayed.
“Fine, you can stay, but this is about training, one argument or fight, and I’m leaving. Got it?”
Three heads nodded.
Nodoka looked up from her sewing as she heard the front door opening over the evening news. Coming to the door she found her son in his cursed form dragging his pack inside.
“Ranma, you’re back early. How was your trip?” she asked as she took his coat. Judging by the sour look on his feminine forms face, either he was going to be upset about Akane being the instructor, or something else had gone wrong, hopefully the latter.
“A big waste for training. That new tent Sakura gave us, she could track where it goes, so she showed up in some truck caravan thing and destroyed Akane’s tent. Ucchan and Shampoo showed up to stop her and then got upset with Akane being there. When we finally sorted it out, they all hung around. Akane tried to show me some of Kuno’s main technique against the girls so I could try to work out a way to beat it, but they spent more time arguing among themselves than training. Then we found out Shampoo hadn’t brought a tent cause she expected to use mine, and Ukyo and Sakura had a big argument with her, eventually splashing her, so she chased me as a cat round the woods, and Akane packed her stuff and mine and grabbed me and we came home.”
Leaving his pack at the entrance, she ushered him into the living room, handing him a towel and stepping lightly to the kitchen to get him some hot water and some tea. Stepping out at least let her hide her smile that the trouble between Ranma and Akane was resolved. “So you got nothing out of it?” she asked back through the doorway.
“Maybe not nothing…” the red head said with a bad blush, but as her blue eyes looked at the clothes his mother had been sewing repairs to, recognizing the yin yang symbol in its belt, she paled. “Hey Mom, what are you sewing that thing back together again for?”
Entering the main room she handed two mugs to her son. “Next week I will be attending Akane’s engagement meeting before we go to your own. Your father’s teacher has been staying with the Tendo’s, and though I have hopefully given him reason not to cause embarrassment, it would be best to have the option of a reminder of my tolerance of him should he need one.”
“Well well,” Nabiki stated with a grin as she stood in Akane’s bedroom doorway watching her sister unpacking.
Akane froze in putting her camping gear in her closet, reluctant to face her sister. If anyone could guess what she did with a glance it would be Nabiki. “Hi Nabiki, busy day?” she asked without turning around.
“Massive. Lots of collecting. No one expected you to head out on a date and stay out nearly twenty four hours.”
Blushing badly, Akane spun around, “I didn’t even go on the date. I forgot about it!”
Nabiki grinned, “Oh I know, but it sounds better my way.”
“Is that what you’ve been telling everyone?”
“No, unfortunately I couldn’t. After all, you might be family but too many people know you didn’t show, I can’t protect my baby sister just because she broke the rules.”
Frowning, Akane glared at her sister. “What rule of Love Dome did you forget to tell me of now?”
“You should have known Sis, there had to be a rule about not turning up for your date. Don’t be too worried, first offence, is pretty light.”
Groaning, Akane turned away as she lifted her sleeping bag, her hand brushing over it, her face red as she recalled last night again.
“Fine, what is it?”
Nabiki’s eyes narrowed on her sister, feeling something odd in her tone. “Simple, you just can’t register dates or relationships for a month. Or until you go through with the date.”
Controlling her face, Akane turned from kicking her sleeping bag into her closet, tossing the roll onto her bed. “So I don’t have to tell everyone about my social life? What’s the bad side here?”
“You remember when you surrendered to that guy in the bandana, no one else could challenge you again? That was because your date was registered.”
“So, anyone who didn’t get to challenge you because of this registered date…” Nabiki let it trail off as her sister sighed.
“They can all challenge me over the next month.”
“Bingo.” Nabiki said with a grin, ‘And then some Sis.’
Suppressing a smile, Nodoka handed the phone to her son. Talking to Akane over the telephone hadn’t been very enlightening, but the young woman she had hoped would be her daughter in law was still focused on her son. The same could be said of her only child as he eagerly took over talking to her himself.
Stepping into the kitchen, she busied herself to give them privacy.
”Hey Tomboy, how’s things? Sorry again that the girls showed up to training.”
Akane squirmed a little, thoughts jumping to alternate meanings, hindered as her ear seemed to want to savor his voice.
“I’ll live. How're things at school?”
”Boring. Several guys have been asking where you went. Toko and his idiot friends tried to start a rumor that you had been arrested. Idiots.”
“Arrested? Why that?”
”Who knows. But some of the other girls apparently locked Toko into a bathroom stall during lunch. They found him after school, then he got detention for skipping class.”
”Serves him right,” Akane huffed, “If he came to this school I’d give him a reason to shut his mouth.”
”Heh, you got me to shut up.”
Both fell silent with red faces at the words.
“Ah, Hibiki or Tendo?”
The waiter at the ‘Khan of Khans’ Mongolian BBQ restaurant looked distastefully over the young man in the worn travel clothes, holding a dead, wilted bouquet of flowers.
“Sir, we have no reservations tonight. Sir we do have a reservation made for last Friday night, for which on a busy evening that table was left unused.”
Swallowing nervously, Ryoga scratched the back of his head, near the knot of the tiger print bandana he wore. “Um, today is?”
“Tuesday night sir.”
“Ah, do you know the way to Furinkan High?”
Soun Tendo held up his hand as his daughters began to gather the dishes after dinner. “Daughters, this Sunday we will be having an engagement meeting regarding a promise to another family before any of you were born. Akane, despite my desire to see you accept this responsibility for our family, Nodoka has argued well that you will all be given the choice on Sunday. I would only ask that you are all open minded about the opportunity, and the honor of the family, before you reject this out of hand.”
Akane glanced at her father, but she could feel the trap closing on her, and with a guilty drop in her stomach knew she wouldn’t resist.
“This is rather sudden, Mr Saotome?”
Ranma nodded as he watched the school office clerk going over the paperwork his mother had him submit. “Yeah, I only found out last week, but it might only be till New Year then I’ll be back.”
She nodded, “I think many of the students will miss you Mr Saotome, though I dare say the maintenance man will be wanting to know what school you’re attending next so he can warn them,” she said with a rueful smile.
The black haired boy frowned. “Actually, I don’t know, Mom didn’t say. I suppose the same one as this new fiancée since our family is gonna stay with hers for the next few weeks to months so I can get to know her.”
“Another fiancée? You’re a real heart breaker, Mr Saotome. Just make sure you treat them right. Just because you don’t love them the way they want doesn’t mean you can just use them or abuse their hearts.”
“Trust me Ms Tanaka, hurting them is the last thing I want. If this one hates me, I'll be considering myself lucky,” he said in reply to her friendly advice.
She smiled and shook her head, handing him documents. "Here is your school records and history, pass these along to your new school when you enroll, and do try to look like we taught you something in your time here.”
Ranma blushed bashfully and nodded before leaving the office.
“So yeah, apparently in packing up, I got your sleeping bag and you got mine?”
Akane blushed heavily, glad Ranma was only asking this over the phone, knowing of the switch up already. In fact she had been using it as a second blanket against the winter cold, the smell of it reminding her of him, driving off bad dreams.
“Yeah, I have it here. We’ll have to exchange them again.”
Hearing him sigh into the receiver at the same moment she recalled how they exchanged them in the first place made her grin.
”I guess it’ll have to be after this weekend.”
The heavy word he ended on reminded her of what was happening in just a few days like a bucket of cold water.
Later when she hung up the phone, Akane held back tears. She had known it was just one night, but every time she spoke to him, she wanted him to say it was more. Did he not speak because he’d be dishonoring not just themselves, their families, and the girls after him, but the man she was to marry?
Ranma smiled and waved to a few students as he headed home. Glancing back, he looked on Bokuto high school, his mind flitting through scraps of memories, wondering what school he would be attending next and what problems he’d face there.
Jumping to a fence as he walked home, he idly considered if he should be open about his curse or not at this new school. Living with it for a year, he no longer hated it, but that was different to accepting it, or wanting other to think he had accepted being half girl.
As it began to rain, and his body shrank and shifted, he knew it wasn’t going to be easy to hide the curse again, even for only a couple months.
"Akane, are you okay?"
Kasumi's voice through the bathroom door shocked the girl from her thoughts, her hand automatically wiping her tears from her face. "Yeah, I'm fine."
"Okay, dinner is ready."
Nodding, Akane quickly redressed, using a clean pair of underwear and menstrual pad, shaking her head, trying to shake the image of her and Ranma together, a baby in her arms. There was no way she wanted to be a teenage pregnancy, but it was a sweet image growing since that night.
With a last glance at the mirror to wipe her red eyes, Akane left the bathroom, and the image in the past.
Ranma waved with a half-hearted smile to Sena Ono as he entered the clinic on the gray Sunday morning.
Looking up, the brunette smiled at Ranma crossing the waiting room of the small clinic. “That’s a long face for a man who could be meeting the love of his life later today,” she smiled to imply teasing, but she was going to have to ask Kasumi later as to how he reacted when he found out who his new fiancée was.
He gave her a cocky grin that didn’t reach his eyes, “Somehow I don’t think it’s a winning tactic to keep attracting fiancées till I find one I want to marry.” His grin struggled as he thought of the girl who he had already found but couldn’t pick.
Coming up behind the desk to her, he held up the dry cleaning bag in one hand, the two wooden geta in his off hand. “Mom said you’d help me do this all up after work so I can be dressed for this meeting.”
Looking at the heavy outfit and wooden shoes, Sena nodded. “Oh yes. It’ll be a good practice for Tofu’s turn, that isn’t far off.”
“Doc and Kasumi going that well huh? Well she did seem pretty eager,” he recalled with a blush. The blush increased as he recalled Akane’s forwardness in the mountains and wondering it was a family thing.
“Oh? Do tell?”
He backed off quickly, seeing the demand for gossip in Sena’s eyes. “Er, if I’m going at lunch, I better get started soon.”
“You’re no fun,” she teased with a pout. Taking the bag from him, she gave him a series of notes indicating a massage patient name, appointment time, needs, and problems. “So you’re going to the Tendo’s before meeting this new girl.”
“Yeah, Mom’s there to help with Akane’s engagement before mine,”
Sena smiled as he saw his knuckles tightening before he sighed and got to work.
Ohata growled as he looked from his study guide at his mobile phone ringing on its charger. Snatching it up, he saw the caller identity, his frown turning up.
“Nabiki-chan, whatever did I do to deserve this delight?”
A voice murmured into his ear as he turned in his chair towards the window. “Oh really? I do love surprises, what is this?” As he listened on his demeanor darkened, the smile still on his lips.
“You do know what I like don’t you? I am indebted to you. Dinner next week?”
He smiled again as details were shared and the call was ended and she hung up.
”Thank you Miss Tendo,” he said, still smiling. Turning in the chair, his thumb deftly touched buttons on the phone pad.
“Toko, it’s me, you still got pig boy there?” He nodded at as he heard the affirmative answer, explaining to Toko what he needed to do. Even as he spoke, his free hand took out an address book and glancing though it for details he had recorded, the number for a ‘personal assistant’ by the name of Sasuke.
One problem with any formal kimono was they needed to be neat. It had taken his mother months to explain to him the nature of creases in disheveled clothes and what it said about you to others in the world, and he still wasn’t a fan of ironing, but formal clothes were so much more specific. His mind couldn’t keep straight how the folds of the sleeves of a kimono could detail marital status, and that was just the sleeves, with the rest the mind boggled. All he really knew was that once it was on, you couldn’t dishevel them.
As a self-conscious Ranma stood on the rushing train, being watched by other passengers of Japan Rail, he wished he could loosen the sash of his kimono but in truth he was too scared of mussing the fabric he hadn’t even taken a seat.
It was a moment of joy to get away from those watching him as the Furinkan stop came up in on the Nerima Ward line, and he disembarked.
He was almost out of the station when a new voice stopped him.
“Halt villain! Thou have been broken on the alter of my righteousness, thou has no business in my domain.”
The dark haired boy cursed under his breath as he turned to face Kuno, hardening his resolve. “Hello Kuno,” he said simply as he shifted his stance. “You beat me last time Kuno, but we will have a rematch, just not today. Today I got family business.”
Kuno stood with his hands behind his back, his hips thrust forward as he looked down his nose at Ranma. “I already know of your debaucherous plans to force Akane Tendo into submission to you, but such will not happen within my domain!”
Nervous as to what Kuno knew of him and Akane, his blue eyes narrowed on Ohata stepped out behind Kuno, “I’ve already told Kuno what you’re up to Saotome, it’s over.”
“Kuno, I don’t know what Ohata told you, but he’s full of it. I ain’t fighting today.” He turned to leave, only to face Ryoga.
“I promised I’d take your happiness Ranma,” the boy in the spotted bandana boy said simply as he raised his umbrella. “You’re not going no where today.”
“Yen for your thoughts?”
The dark haired girl on the chair looked up at her open door at her older sister’s voice. “Oh, nothing… well, not nothing. My futures all planned out and waiting for me this afternoon and I know nothing of it.”
Nabiki suppressed her smile and sat on her sister’s bed, eyes on Akane still looking out her window.
“So you’re just going to accept this engagement. No fight left in you at all?”
The younger sister looked down at her lap. “A family promise still holds a lot of honor. It isn’t common any more, but it could be worse.”
“You mean you could have Kuno, Mikado, and others fighting over you and know you have to marry one except you like someone else completely?”
Akane swung around on her chair to face her sister. “What do you know about it?”
Nabiki’s eyes hardened. “I know my baby sister is playing martyr because she wants a boy who’s taken.”
Akane flinched and looked away.
“Shame you didn’t decide this weeks ago, after all, if I had time it wouldn’t have been that hard at all to convince Daddy to go off on some weird unite the schools bit and you could have been yet another fiancé after him.” Nabiki’s eyes watched her for any sign. “And with the hots he has for you, you probably would have snagged him from under his other girls too.”
Akane’s shoulders shook once in a suppressed sob, and Nabiki pounced. “Mind you, I wouldn’t say that would be impossible till the meeting, later today.”
Nabiki shifted back as Akane’s head came up nearly fast enough to get whiplash. Her voice was barely audible. “Do you think Daddy would do it?”
The older Tendo daughter had to physically resist her eyes rolling as Akane failed to see the obvious in front of her. Taking advantage of her baby sister was not something she would normally do, but sometimes tough-love was needed to teach one a life lesson, like why one shouldn’t be too busy sulking about your fate to put together the facts. Slowly the older girl turned to her sister. “Do you want him, sis? Do you want to be Mrs Saotome?”
The girl was wide eyed as she nodded, a sliver of hope growing behind her eyes.
Standing and paced away from Akane to mask her smirk, Nabiki moved like she was thinking through a plan. “It won’t be easy, but Aunty likes you and we can probably flash it by Daddy and Uncle Saotome if we play it right. What we need to do is make is it seem like they thought of it,” she said with an air of consideration.
She turned back, “You know, if you had just jumped Ranma’s bones while you had the chance this would be a snap.” She gave Akane a naughty grin, waiting for her baby sister to blush and protest being scandalized like that.
The blush was there but she looked down. Down wasn't defence. It was guilt.
Akane could hear her sister’s blinking eyes before the door slammed shut and Nabiki was by her side taking up her hands, staring at her face. “You didn’t!? Oh my god! You DID!”
The girl was too embarrassed to speak or struggle, letting Nabiki pull on her hands to drag her chair and all to beside the bed so they could face each other eye to eye. “What happened? When? Tell me?”
“On the camping trip, we were fighting over a pickle and then we were kissing, and I, I…” Her eyes became horrified. “You can’t tell!”
“Ha! Daddy would have a heart attack.” She giggled to herself for several moments before consequences started playing out in her mind. “You know you’re going to have to tell Aunty though.”
Nabiki’s eyes narrowed at a broader consequence. “Did you use protection?”
The blush said it more than the words, “It wasn’t like I went up there to do that. It was, just the moment.”
“Dumb sis, real dumb. Romantic, but dumb.” Nabiki’s brown eyes hid a quick calculation. “You were in sync with Kasumi and me. Is your cycle next week?”
Grumpily, Akane shook her head. “It wasn’t smart, but I’m not pregnant. I’m early, started yesterday.”
Nabiki nodded, knowing that it wasn’t absolutely impossible, but lengthen the odds of her being a nineteen-year-old Aunty by a lot. Mentally noting to get a pregnancy test to confirm later, she prioritized on the important fact. “Anyway, what was it like?”
Akane pulled back. “What about today? Can you convince Daddy to change?”
“How about this, if by tonight you're engaged to Ranma Saotome, you swear to tell me everything, *everything*, about what happened? We won’t tell Daddy, or Uncle, about your little indiscretion but Aunty will need to know for you to be in the lead for Ranma after you are engaged. Do you want him that bad?”
The younger girl nodded eagerly.
“Wow, he must have been gooood!”
Akane grabbed her pillow and started hitting the giggling Nabiki, blushing the whole time.
Ranma cursed his lack of slippers as his wooden geta came down awkwardly on the fence edge making it impossible to spring up to the rooftops. Altering direction, he managed to dive into the backyard garden. Landing feet first on edging stones, he turned just as Ryoga tore through the fence in pursuit.
With a grimace he dove back in, holding out his arm as Ryoga ploughed blindly through his own debris, the arm hooking the lost boy under the chin, the coat hanger move leaving Ryoga to slam onto the ground behind Ranma as the kimono clad fighter darted back into the street, turning right to avoid Kuno who came rushing in behind him.
“You can always run, dog, but your insipid show of insolence in defiling my domain shows your need to learn this lesson again! Kazekage Oite Kijuukiumuo”
With a cry of his attack, ‘Crane Feathers on the Dark Wind!’, Kuno attacked the air, shard like waves coming off his blade, impacting around Ranma as the young martial artist jump clear, the wall behind him breaking in sections under the onslaught of power.
“Come on Saotome, are you going to keep running like a coward?”
Ohata’s cry annoyed the heir of the Saotome School of Anything Goes far more than being attacked. When Ohata, sick of being challenged and beaten by Ranma, had renounced the art and gotten a restraining order against him, Ranma had seen it as an act of cowardice, but no matter how he tried to ignore such insults by Jiro, he still burned when called the coward. Ducking Hibiki’s umbrella, Ranma caught sight of it flying past him, smashing into a a series of trash cans, fortunately stopping it from returning to Ryoga. A grin came to Ranma's lips at the collateral damage.
Rolling to the side, Ranma collected all the power and skill of a true martial artist, like himself. “Moko Takabisha!”
Like a cannon shot, the golden ball of ki, manifested with his light but powerful self confidence, shot down the path. His aim perfect, it lanced into Kuno’s chest.
Kuno sneered at the impotent light show, ignorant that his own towering self confidence in his power matched Ranma’s, leaving nothing for the emotional ki to strike in him, just as the first time he had tried that attack in the park months before.
Ranma barely frowned, not surprised that Kuno again proved immune to that strike, he flipped back from Kuno to land on a fence, his eyes followed the path of his ki attack as it went beyond the kendo master.
Full of constant self-doubt and anger, Ryoga failed to see the attack till it passed through Kuno, knocking him aside, back through the hole in the fence he had made and emerged from. Further behind them, Jiro Ohata just dodged aside of the main strike making him ‘accidental’ collateral, wincing as he landed on his hip, his mobile phone shattering in his pocket.
Seeing Saotome smirking over his head, Kuno didn’t waste his opponent’s distraction, lunging forth, a swirling blade of wind extending his reach at Ranma’s head. Barely dodging aside, Ranma felt the whipping air grazing his cheek, making him stumble falling from the fence, landing hard on his behind, on the ground once more.
Ohata laughed as he watched, whistling as he saw Ryoga standing again but ready to charge the wrong direction. “Hibiki, this way!”
Ryoga turned, watching with a snarl as the arrogant swordsman sent his hated rival to the ground in a way he had rarely done. Summoning all the defeats and embarrassing problems he had ever had, he called forth a ball of energy between his hands, chi forced dripping with dark thoughts of failure that he aimed at the source of his problems. “Shi shi hokodan!”
Still dodging the wind strikes of Kuno’s sword, Ranma didn’t have time to change direction when Ryoga struck, the chi ball of heavy emotion slammed into him, carrying him down the street, through the link fence. Ohata cheered as he saw the splash of water rise from the canal the hermaphrodite had been tossed into. He hurried to catch up to Kuno, who was nearing the canal, Ryoga charging up as well.
Ranma managed to get her body standing in the canal, horrified at the sodden and damaged mess she now wore. Hearing a voice, she looked up at the road above, seeing Kuno, looking down in utter surprise at her.
Charging down the street, eye on the hole in the fence, Ryoga came to the edge of the canal, another chi ball forming in his hands and looked down at the water logged red haired girl and smiled. Ignoring the swordsman at his side, he sneered at his rival. “Die Ranma!”
Kuno’s wooden blade smacked under Ryoga’s hands, his ball of dark chi firing into the distant sky.
The fang toothed boy turned in sheer anger on the swordsman, only to find a furious face staring back at him. “You would attack a woman! You would attack my own red haired goddess!”
Akane smiled to Kasumi as her sister helped her finish putting on her Kimono. She could hear the laughter of Daddy and Uncle Saotome down stairs, Aunty apparently here to help with the engagement before taking Uncle and Ranma to another engagement meeting from a family promise.
“I guess they will be here soon, do you know if Nabiki has spoken to Aunty yet?”
“I think so Akane, is there a problem?”
“No, just, she was going to make a suggestion to Aunty.”
Their father’s voice came up the stairs from below, “Akane, Kasumi, please come down.”
With a nervous smile to Kasumi, Akane double checked her clothes and then followed her elder sister out the door and down the stairs. Nabiki was at the bottom of the stairs, she looked pleased with herself. “No guarantee but if you don’t blow it, you might get lucky.” With a wink she turned and led them into the main room so Akane couldn’t react more than blush and bare it, while Kasumi’s brow furrowed at her sister’s choice in words.
Soun’s voice was thick with emotion as his daughters entered the room for a formal engagement decades in the making. “My daughters, Kasumi, aged twenty, Nabiki, eighteen, and Akane, seventeen.”
Akane’s brow furrowed as she saw Aunty Nodoka was not beside her father, but on the opposite side of the table from where the girls would kneel, beside her sat her husband, both in formal kimono.
“I don’t think we need to be so formal here today Soun. I have known your daughters a long time, in many ways I love them as were they my own.” Nodoka smiled gently and looked to Akane. “I owe you an apology Akane, I have lied to you and had your own family lie to you.”
Akane blinked nervously as the elder woman continued. “I cannot say that I am unhappy with the outcome of the lies, but I wish they had not been necessary. Had Ranma not, attracted, the unwanted attention of others in his travels this would have been easier but the last thing he would have wanted was another fiancée. He needed to meet you, and your sisters, without knowing that there was a promise to unite our families.”
Akane kept blinking, comprehension locked in a circle as impossible facts came around and around. Finally it clicked. “Wait, the engagement is to Ranma?” she asked incredulously. “And you all knew but me?”
Nodoka rolled her eyes as Nabiki piped up, “You didn’t think it was odd that Daddy sprung this on us when Ranma’s Dad turned up?”
Akane settled, feeling foolish, then angry, but deep down she suddenly felt flaring hope over the former dread.
Nodoka smiled. “All three of you have met my son, but I will not force you to accept him. Between his curse and his other engagements there is no arguing that any engagements would have difficulties.” Her eyes hardened on Soun as he seemed to rise to object and he back down and looked hopefully at his daughters. “Ranma will arrive in an hour, and if none of you accept him I will tell him the other family pulled out and no friendships need be strained between you.”
Ranma’s mother looked to the eldest daughter. “Kasumi, do you want my son for a husband?”
Kasumi bowed to Nodoka and shook her head. “I’m afraid I must decline Aunty. There is another I am courting.”
Nodoka smiled and nodded knowing the Doctor behind Kasumi’s heart. “Good luck with your courting.”
Nodoka turned to the middle daughter. “Nabiki, do you want my son for a husband?”
The tips of Nabiki’s mouth raised, “What happens if both I and Akane accept?”
Nodoka frowned, wondering were the middle daughter was going with this. “Ranma will have to choose between you when he arrives.”
Genma grunted, “Why not let both engagements stand? Two more isn’t that much more than one, and more chances of a Tendo engagement.”
Nodoka shook her head as Soun started to nod his agreement. “No, there is no need to confuse the issue any more than has been done.”
“May I consider it until Ranma arrives?” Nabiki was still smiling.
Akane was frowning further at her sister, jealousy rising behind her eyes.
“If you wish,” Nodoka smiled at her. “Though I fear Ranma is quite taken with Akane if she does agree as well.”
Nabiki smiled. “Maybe, but it’d be a waste to say no if she doesn’t want him. Besides, he is rather hunky, maybe a stud like him is worth trying for.” Nabiki turned her smile on Akane.
Akane was sputtering and red faced, and Kasumi seemed almost as shocked. Nodoka and the fathers seemed happy, all for different reasons. Nodoka decided not to let it get out of control though. “Akane, will you take my son for a husband?”
Akane seemed shocked at the question even knowing it was coming, but finally something deep down kicked her into action. “Yes. I want him, er, to be engaged to him.”
Nodoka smiled as Genma and Soun tipped back celebratory drinks the bald Saotome had hidden under the table. “Thank you for accepting him Akane, daughter.”
Akane didn’t need to answer as Nodoka turned on the fathers, herding them outside with a bottle of pricey Japanese whisky, one of several engagement gifts they had brought, and their shogi board. Kasumi returned from the kitchen with tea as Nodoka shut the doors on the men and kneeled in her place.
Akane took her tea quietly, looking away from Nodoka knowing now the older woman had almost planned this moment out for her and watched her do exactly what she wanted to. What fury and rebellion she had fizzled ineffectually against the thought of being engaged to the Ranma, parts of her screaming for joy at this turn in her life.
She barely heard the words of her sister’s question. “You seem pretty happy about this engagement now Sis? Especially since when you heard of it originally you ran away from home.”
Akane nodded at Nabiki despite her sister’s voice was thick with self-amusement.
Nabiki turned to Aunty. “I’ve decided I won’t battle my sister for your son, Aunty.”
Nodoka nodded as Akane smiled wider.
“After all, if I was going to marry some guy for honor, he’d have to be a virgin.”
Akane coughed on her tea as Kasumi looked at her sister, scandalized.
Nodoka shook her head as she looked at Nabiki, “I assure you Nabiki, despite many women throwing themselves at my son, he is pure. He has promised to resist such temptation out of honor for those whose engagements he will inevitably have to break.”
Nabiki shrugged and sipped her tea, her dark eyes looking back at Nodoka with smugness. Confused, Nodoka glanced to Kasumi trying to understand Nabiki’s attitude, her eyes turning next to the heavily blushing lump on Nabiki’s other side. Nabiki had to suppress laughter as Nodoka blinked repeatedly while watching Akane.
“Akane-chan,” the elder woman asked in a slow measured voice. “Did something happen between you and my son?”
The blushing Akane didn’t look up, “It was, it wasn’t, it just happened…”
“Akane, you didn’t!” Kasumi couldn’t have been more red faced.
The words Akane mumbled out in explanation made no sense to her let alone the others.
Nodoka shook her head and held up a hand that halted the girls. “I will have words to my son regarding the breaking of his promise but Akane, I must ask you one question.”
Akane looked up, Nodoka’s formal tone igniting a fear of rejection in her.
The older woman leaned towards her, her voice dropping, “Is he manly?”
Nabiki grinned and sipped her tea, watching Kasumi and Akane both reddening further, the younger girl nodding to her fiancés mother.
Ranma-chan looked at the gate of the Tendo residence, a sign beside the gate declaring it the Tendo Dojo, and for those wishing to face the owner in vicious combat, to use the rear gate.
She looked down at the remains of the oversized and water logged kimono she was wearing, knowing showing up here as a girl in the ruined outfit was not going to impress his mother. At the very least he needed to get some hot water, and maybe his mother and Kasumi could do something to fix the outfit before his new fiancée and her family showed up. Though the idea of going in there to find hot water and being met by Akane’s dad, or worse Akane’s new fiancé, like this was far from appealing. His shoulders slumped slightly as a spark of pain went through his female body.
Laughter attracted the red head's attention from beyond the gate, his feminine blue eye peaking through to see Genmaher and some tall thin old guy with a moustache, drinking and playing shogi on the veranda, both in formal kimono.
“Must be her old man,” Ranma muttered to himself before setting off around the walled yard. Around the back, she jumped to the top of the yard wall, her eyes looking over the yard. Her gaze moved over the dojo hall, part of her mind idly recalling the crystal clock from the shopping trip to Ginza with Akane and her sisters, how it did vaguely resemblance the building.
With a leap and dash she crossed the yard, passing a koi pond, and stood beside the wall near the veranda, her ears sharp for the sounds of anyone reacting or moving in the house. Creeping steps let her move to the door, hearing the voices of his mother and the Tendo daughters within. Suppressing an urge to crack the door ajar and see Akane, the red head moved around near the kitchen, cracking the door there and slipping silently inside, he heard his father’s laughter booming from the front of the house, halting for a moment before continuing to seek the bathroom.
Somehow he didn’t hear Mr Tendo coming around the corner over his father’s laughter.
Soun Tendo brought up his guard at the intruder in his house, his eyes widening as he saw Nodoka’s blue eyes in the face of the fellow before him. “Ranma Saotome?”
Ranma cringed at being caught, “Er, yeah, sorry bout this.” She added a bow in hopes of salvaging some respect from the situation. But when she came up, she was engulfed in the older man’s arms.
“At last you’ve come. My daughter is quite taken with you.” There was a hint of disappointment in his voice, he had really expected the boy to be taller. Then again, to be a potent martial artist with small statue indicated great skill. Releasing his future son in law from the hug, he held his shoulders and took a good look at him.
Which was when the kimono’s ruined threads gave out, the outfit falling away leaving Soun holding a short busty red haired young girl in only a pair of boxer shorts.
Ranma’s face was red, unsure if it would appear weak to cover himself, the eyes of the man in front of him rolling back in his skull as he fell backwards with a thump.
“Ranma, what happened?”
The sight of his mother followed by Akane and her sisters into the hallway just made him blush worse. “This ain’t what it looks like!”
“He’s a girl!”
“What did you think I meant when I said he had a curse like mine but turned into a girl?”
“Daddy, it’s a curse, he is a boy!”
Nabiki chuckled to herself as she watched Uncle Saotome and Akane argue with her father who was still lying down in the main room after his fall. Her sharp eyes looked to the boy in question who was freshly bathed and dressed and seemed like he wished he were anywhere else.
Nodoka and Kasumi returned to the room after hanging the remains of Ranma’s kimono to dry before they could start repairs. “Soun, I can remember when I first learned of the curse, I fainted myself. It is rather startling.” Whatever Soun might have said in reply as he sat, up was cut off by the elder woman.
“So Ranma, can I ask what happened between Doctor Tofu’s clinic and here? I assume it was more than an accident.”
“Yeah, Ohata told Kuno and Ryoga I was coming here for an engagement.” His eyes gave a slightly haunted look to Akane, neither noticing Nabiki's eyes hardened.
“They jumped me when I got off the train. Kuno was playing it up like I couldn’t take him, and Ryoga was distractin' me, when pig boy knocked me into a canal. Kuno still doesn’t seem to get my curse, he wanted to defend me and I let him run off Ryoga and Ohata.”
Desperate to change the subject he looked around the walls for a clock, “How soon do we have before we go see this other family Pop’s engaged me to?”
Several in the room blinked before realizing he was still in the dark over the engagement. Nabiki got in first but addressed Akane, “Well at least the two of you are equally dumb, Sis.”
Akane blushed, “He was lied to as much as me Nabiki!”
Nodoka held up her hand, “Ranma, I am sorry for misleading you my son, but the new fiancée you were to meet today was part of a promise to unite the two halves of the Anything Goes martial arts schools. Out of Soun’s daughters, Akane has volunteered to be your future wife on behalf of her family.”
Ranma frowned at being lied to, then looked at Akane and back at his mother.
“The engagement is to Akane?”
“Yes my son. I am sorry we lied but I thought you would reject…”
“Cool,” he said with a shrug, interrupting her explanation, then looked at Akane, “Are you happy with this?”
Nodoka’s eyes narrowed, almost seeing her son hiding his caution, like he was waiting for something bad to happen if he showed excitement. Akane’s reaction was more obvious.
“That’s it? A shrug! You’re not excited? You’re not mad that they lied to you?”
He shrugged again, obviously confused as to what she was mad about. “Its not like you’re the first fiancée I got, what matters is the final decision.”
Akane got to her feet with incredulous anger, “So I’m just another one of your ‘women’!”
Ranma got up in her face, “No, but just cause you’re a fiancée don’t mean I get to marry ya, even if I wanted to marry ya tomorrow I couldn’t just grab a priest with the other engagements not resolved, could I?”
Soun looked towards Genma, “I thought you said you had this fixed so my baby girl would be the only fiancée for your son.”
“It is old friend, the families will be joined. The other engagements are just misunderstandings anyway.” Genma said backing away from his old friend as Ranma looked at him with a look that said how little he believed the old man.
Nodoka looked at the men, “Genma, why don’t you take Soun out for a drink to celebrate and tell him how the engagements are going to be resolved.” Her tone said as much as Ranma’s look, but it got the men out of the house.
Shutting the door behind them, Nodoka turned on Akane and Ranma. “Akane, Ranma, why don’t you go change into your training gi and go out to the dojo, have some privacy to talk about your feelings.”
Akane gave a huff and stormed out of the room while Ranma watched her go, wondering what was wrong with her. Nodoka looked at her son, “This is an important day in her life Ranma, make it one she can look back on with a smile.”
Ranma’s look before he left said he had no idea of how to do that.
Ranma swallowed when he walked into the dojo, his brand new fiancée giving a cry before slamming her fist through several concrete blocks. He bowed quickly to the signs at the end of the dojo and walked towards her. “Hey Akane,” he ventured cautiously.
“Hey yourself!” she spat back at him, turning towards him and stepping out over the floor towards him. “So, how do you feel about being engaged to me Ranma Saotome, or is it just another day for you.”
Holding up his hands he stared her down. “I’m happier about it than you seem ta be,” he accused.
“Me? At least I smiled when I found out. For a moment there I actually wanted you.”
“Who says I don’t want you?”
“You did! You show more enthusiasm for dinner than you did out there!” With a growl, she charged forward and kicked at him.
Blocking the blow, he stepped back, before moving inside her personal space and keeping her off balance. Akane favored large power hits which needed space to wind up, this close to her she was easy to block. “It ain’t like that. I do like it!” he shouted.
“Really?” She didn’t sound too convinced as she tried to swing around backwards to strike him with an elbow.
Grabbing her elbow he flipped her around him, taking her to ground, using his legs to trap hers as his hands pinned hers over her head, leaving him laying on his side, beside her on her back.
“I love you!”
Tears welled up in Akane’s eyes.
Ranma wondered what the hell made him yell that. In his imagination it echoed around the dojo ominously.
Her arms snapped free of his and grabbed him up in a crushing hug, forcing him to sit up with her.
She looked up at him with a smile despite the tears running down her face, “I love you too,” she said simply and moved her face closer, her eyes closing, her lips pursing.
Akane’s eyes cracked open when her lips failed to reach his, closing them and tilting forward again as she saw his lips another inch ahead.
Her eye cracked open again, his lips again out of reach, his neck stretched right back. She fought down a wave of confusion and pain as she saw something similar in his eyes. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m so sorry, but we, er, can’t.”
“Can’t what?” she demanded.
“Can’t kiss.” His flushing cheeks didn’t overcast the apologetic wince on his face.
“Why the hell not?”
“Well, when Sakura became my fiancée, she and Shampoo started trying to make me choose them physically which riled Ukyo and caused a lot of problems. To solve it, Mom made me promise I wouldn’t be intimate, you know do kissing and stuff, with my fiancées, till the engagements were resolved.”
Akane blinked, “But that doesn’t apply to me? I mean, the mountains…” she blushed as she recalled what had happened.
“Well, you weren’t a fiancée then…”
Akane blinked again and grabbed his arm, dragging him behind her as she stood and went towards the door. She found Nodoka talking to Nabiki on the back porch. The women looked at the approaching couples curiously as Akane dragged her new fiancé to them.
“Aunty…” that was as far as Akane got before she realized that she had no idea how to ask the elder woman of this.
“Did the two of you discus the engagement?”
Ranma shrugged behind her as Akane smiled widely recalling what he had said in her dojo. She turned the smile on him, her eyes looking at his lips again before she recalled this was exactly what she needed to discus with her fiancés mother. Turning back she glanced to make sure the fathers weren’t around. “Yeah, we did, but there is a problem. This promise about…”
Nodoka seized on her faltering words to look at her son. “Ah yes, the broken promise.”
Ranma paled looking at Akane and wondering how his Mom had found out about that. Looking back, he met his mothers gaze uneasily, “It wasn’t broken really, it was a promise not to be, intimate, with fiancées till it’s resolved. Akane, back then, wasn’t a fiancée.”
Nodoka nodded but didn’t say anything for a long moment. “I can see your view my son. In a way I have been pushing you both a little hard on the issue. I am sure you didn’t do it to hurt the other girls, but it would be best if they didn’t find out it happened at all if it can be helped.”
The pair blushed and nodded, but the little bit of the father in the son opened the mouth, “Pushing is right, what with that bit about making Akane my mistress.”
Now it was Nodoka’s turn to blush as the potential mistress in question turned on the big-mouthed boy. “Mistress!” she screeched, “I am no one's mistress!”
“Hey, don’t blame me, it was Mom’s idea.”
“My son, that was a jest.” Nodoka said in her defense, regretting not making that clear at the time. He certainly had her husband’s sense of humor.
“A jest? Now I’m a joke?!” Akane yelled, wondering when she had become an ‘other woman’. She didn’t have to think far. “What about the racy underwear? Why didn’t you just wrap me in a bow for him?”
“That’s hardly fair Akane, you did the unwrapping.”
Without thought, a red-faced Akane hefted the table up and over, crashing into Ranma’s head.
Nodoka frowned at the spectacle. “He somewhat deserved that. His fathers influence.”