Akane rolled her eyes as Kasumi heaped food on her brand new fiancé’s plate. Her eldest sister had been rather cold with Ranma after Nabiki spilled the beans earlier before he arrived, but after he stated he was holding to that stupid promise, her too proper sister changed her tune.
Receiving her own plate, Akane waited for her father to start off the meal before they began eating. She considered ruefully how it wasn’t really a stupid promise, after all if he had been sleeping with any one of his other fiancées, she probably wouldn’t have ever gotten so close to him. As her eyes glanced at his profile, watching his lips move as he thanked Kasumi, she sighed in frustration.
With a few prods, Soun finally called “itadakimasu”, and the meal began, Ranma ate slowly as his mother glared, and Akane was tempted to giggle at his holding back. Fortunately, Genma was so inebriated that his efforts to eat faster were too erratic to make a difference other than to Soun’s plate, the nearest in reach. Not that that stopped his wife from jabbing him sharply in the upper chest occasionally with her free hand. The patriarch of the family didn’t notice, forgetting to eat with a happy smile as he sipped more of the high grade sake the Saotome’s had brought as an engagement gift. At least he had stopped crying.
With a hiccup, the elder widower reached for the sake bottle to refill, only to push it over with fumbling fingers, the contents pouring quickly across the table. In almost synchronized movements, Ranma dove back from his seat, while Genma leaned enough to put his cup where the liquid poured off the table.
Nabiki looked mildly impressed at the old drunk’s skill, Nodoka less so, as she automatically moved to help Kasumi clean up. Ranma, red faced as he realized he dodged a hot liquid unlikely to trigger his curse, quickly returned to his seat, poking his tongue out at Akane childishly when she sighed in amusement at his antics.
“Enough with the sighs and goo goo eyes, it’s embarrassing,” Nabiki hissed in Akane’s ear, snapping the girl to sit up, blushing red. Nodding quickly to her sister, Akane tried to hide further embarrassment by quickly eating and finishing her plate as the wall clock chimed six o’clock, the first chime coinciding with a knock at the door. Akane, eager to escape the table and Nabiki’s infuriating grin, jumped up.
”I’ll get it,” she stated, excusing herself quickly. Going down the hall and opening the door, Akane's heart sank as she realized that the day’s embarrassments weren’t over yet.
At the door, two very different women broke from glaring at each other to smile at her. “Congratulations!” they cried at the same time, both moving to give her a hug, stopping just short of jamming each other in the doorway.
”Thank you, Ms Hinako, Mrs Miyakoji. Please, come in?” Akane said reluctantly, aware of the cool winter night outside in the open doorway. “We were just finishing dinner.”
Quickly removing their shoes, the women, apparently in mutual truce, moved to follow Akane back into the house.
Bowing respectfully at the two families who were just clearing the table after dinner, Shika Miyakoji affected on an air of slight embarrassment. “I was just passing by and wanted to congratulate Akane for her new engagement. Soun-chan has been so looking forward to this day.”
Nodoka eyed the trim woman, still holding much of the beauty that made her a pageant winner in her youth. A couple years her elder, Shika didn’t look it, and with her use of such a familiar name towards the Tendo patriarch, in front of her rival, Nodoka's eyes narrowed showing her irritation as had so regularly from the childish pursuers of her son. At least Shika was wearing a beautiful, quality kimono of floral print, with her brown hair carefully bound on her head, the much younger Hinako Ninyomia instantly earned Nodoka’s dislike by being far from traditionally sedate as she knelt at the table.
On her tall and curvy frame, the educator’s little black dress would have been tasteful a size bigger without so much lace exposed around the edges, her efforts blatant as she bowed as well, showing her generous cleavage as her dark hair fell like a shimmering curtain from her shoulder.
Automatically jabbing her fingers again at Genma’s chest, jarring his eyes back from leering, Nodoka’s eyes looked over the items both women held, especially the strange glass fishbowl atop Hinako’s palm.
The statuesque young woman smiled demurely, tipping her eyes to the still seated Tendo patriarch. “I too dropped by to congratulate Akane on her engagement. I didn't think this would be too inconvenient as it would help with this busy transition, as I can help her new fiancé get ready for school tomorrow.”
Kasumi gave her sister Nabiki an inquisitive glare, wondering how much the middle daughter had taken in cash from Hinako to help set that excuse up, not that it was relevant as the inebriated Soun quickly invited the women to join them.
”Please,” Shika asked, “allow me to make a tea to celebrate this occasion?”
Before anyone could agree, or in Genma’s case disagree to any change in the alcohol content of his beverages, Hinako brought forth a glass bottle, the cork wrapped in gold foil. “Tea would be nice, but I rather thought champagne was more fitting for such a happy occasion.”
Ignoring the glare off between the older women, Nabiki let out a low, “Woh-ho, bubbly!” and dashed for the good glassware in the kitchen, followed more sedately by Kasumi.
Since Soun wasn’t up to introductions, Nodoka tore her eyes from the pair of long colorful fish tussling in the bowl beside the educator to her face, “Hello, I’m Nodoka Saotome, mother of Akane’s new fiancé, and old family friend to Soun and his daughters. You’re Akane’s teacher at school?”
Straightening up at the older woman and her obvious influence over Soun, Hinako smiled brightly, “A pleasure to meet you, I’m Hinako Ninomiya. I’m head of discipline at Furinkan High School, and Akane-chan’s homeroom teacher. She’s an excellent student, and I’m so glad to have her back after she was staying with you.”
Squirming at the praise, Akane watched the by-play between the women, suddenly worried that Nodoka might get drawn into conflict with the pair. A sudden flash of memory passed her eyes, of Aunty fumbling her family blade when drawing it once, years ago when she visited the Tendo girls. She’d have to be ready to stand in for Aunty should the pair start another fight, as both of her father’s pursuers were skilled opponents.
Returning with five long stemmed glasses, Nabiki put them out and began working on the cover and cork on the champagne bottle, releasing it with a pop. Behind her, Kasumi arrived, putting another heated sake bottle out for the fathers to top up each other’s cups, while she placed two more glasses out before Akane and Ranma.
Frowning, Akane looked at the glass of apple juice. “Kasumi, why can’t we have any champagne? It’s not like Nabiki is old enough to drink legally either.”
Filling the five long stem glasses, Nabiki smirked at her younger sister. “That’s true Sis, but if I get drunk, I won’t get forgetful,” she stressed the last word, adding in a naughty grin.
Flushing red, Akane looked down at her apple juice, not willing to face up in case Ms. Hinako or Mrs. Miyakoji could read the previous indiscretion on her face.
Whatever Shika divined from Nabiki’s words, she smiled gently and moved to help lighten the mood. “Akane-chan, I took the liberty of getting you a little something to celebrate the occasion.”
Accepting the small parcel, embarrassment continuing at being the focus of attention, Akane quickly opened the tape and unwrapped it. Inside was a set of plastic containers.
”It’s a moisturizing make up formula I’ve been using since before I was your age. It helped bring out my natural features that made me Miss Tea Ceremony, five years consecutively. It’s lightweight and oil free, moisturizing for a smooth radiant finish that I had made perfectly for your skin tones. I use it every day.”
”Uh, thank you Mrs Miyakoji.”
”It’s my pleasure dear. Its just a little something to you feel confident and in control as you deal with this new portion of your life.”
Glancing at Ranma, Akane smiled gently and nodded.
Finally passing around the glasses, Genma nudged Soun into a toast for the group.
“To the uniting of the schools!”
With a cheer, those assembled around the group toasted the red-faced couple.
Smiling indulgently for Soun as Genma refilled the Tendo father’s cup, Hinako put the last item she had brought before Akane. ”Here Akane-chan. This is a little gift for you. Well, for both of you.”
Taking the flat box, Akane lifted the lid, her eyes boggling at the racy black lace slip folded within.
“Of course you should save it for when you’re ready to wear it for him,” Hinako added, tracing the black lace around her neckline while trying to make eye contact with Soun.
The abundant blood in Akane’s face seemed to have decided to stay permanently as she tried to slam the box shut again, only to find her hands empty as Kasumi left the room with the present.
”Careful getting her out of those lacy things Boy,” Genma slurred, his eyes firmly on Hinako. “Don’t want to rip ‘em when you do her.”
For an instant Ranma was terrified his Pop knew what had happened the weekend before, but as he watched Nodoka strike him hard in the chest again, he realized his old man would have been having been dancing around the room if he had.
At the end of the table, watching his youngest trying to hide her face under the table, a dazed Soun cried slow tears, smiling peacefully. “My babys' becoming a woman,” he slurred before his eyes rolled back and he leaned over to hit the floor unconscious.
Both Hinako and Shika moved to help the fallen man, reaching hands soon interfering with each other’s efforts. One hand slapped another aside, leading to three more slaps, a gripped wrist, and finally over glaring eyes, Soun was forgotten.
”Ladies,” Nodoka stated confidently, “You will control yourself. Your behavior is embarrassing enough as it is.”
Shika released Hinako’s hand, sniffing distastefully. “Little Hinako here with her case of hot pants has no self control.”
“Me? Just because your body is…”
”Enough Ladies,” Nodoka said firmly. “I have enough of the seventeen year olds who pursue my son bickering like this.”
The flat glare of the women didn’t faze Ranma’s mother in the slightest. “Now if you’d rather continue to slap each other like children, I’m sure that Soun wouldn’t mind you using the dojo. Otherwise, it would be best if you…”
Picking up her tea set, Shika still managed to lead the way out of the froom in front of Hinako, picking up her fishbowl, both on their way to the dojo.
Akane let her face fall in her hand as Nodoka was left blinking in surprise.
“Aunty, they're both powerful martial artists," Akane hissed as quietly as possible as the women and Ranma all moved to the dojo.
"That's nice dear," her future mother in law replied lightly, unconcerned.
Entering the dojo, Ranma tilted his head curiously as the older women prepared, Shika Miyakoji, kneeling on the floor, gracefully but quickly laying out a tea ceremony set, while Hinako put down her plastic fishbowl, placing it behind where she would begin this battle.
Slightly annoyed with his mother’s attitude, Ranma leaned over to Akane. “That woman does that Martial Arts Tea Ceremony, huh? With the kneeling running?”
”Yeah,” Akane nodded. “Her son-in-law kidnapped me, training me in their family style to make me fight his fiancée so I could marry him. I learned the moves but planned to throw the fight.”
Nodding, clearly uncomfortable with a surge of jealousy at what nearly happened to her, and part of his mind disappointed she’d throw a fight. He understood it was the smart move, but it still felt wrong.
”Anyway it turned out his fiancée was embarrassed to meet him, so was sending her monkey in her place.”
”That’s less embarrassing?”
”Hey that’s what I asked her.”
“Anyway once she came out, he saw how attractive she was and wanted to hold to the engagement. Like her mother, she was a Miss Tea Ceremony winner, and he was a typical perverted boy.”
Shrugging, Ranma was still frowning, he never understood why people did those pageant things. Curious, he turned from the preparing battlers to his brand new fiancée. “Did you ever try out for that Miss Tea Ceremony thing?”
Flushing red, Akane’s eyes were wide and wet, her emotions already overtaxed by the long week and longer day, the compliment was like a blow. For an instant she was about to hug him to the floor and kiss him till her lips fell off, when like a barrier the promise reverberated in her ears.
With a growl, Akane punched the floor, hard enough to make everyone look over at her, Ranma the most confused.
The two women standing apart in the dojo held each other’s gaze, eyes warily looking in the soul of the other for a preemptive strike. The schoolteacher and the widow had fought before, and knew how the dance would begin, each prepared to vary their routine to gain an edge.
Nodoka Saotome held up her hand to get the Shika and Hinako’s attention, before dropping it for them to begin.
Ranma and Nodoka both looked surprised at the quickly uttered attack leading to a massive blast of ki from Hinako at Shika, unsure what ‘Happi’s Fish Blast Revenge Wish Cannon’ was other than powerful.
Shika was less impressed, predicting the first strike, bringing forth a large black tea cauldron, the circular opening to the incoming attack, catching it with a cry of “Hitoshirezu Naiou Ajiwai!”
Ranma’s eyes narrowed on Shika as her ‘Hidden depths of flavor” caught the blast, her kneeling stance helping her hold from being knocked back, her arms straining to hold the pot against the onslaught.
A gasp from his mother made Ranma look away from Shika to the other combatant, now appearing like a little girl, her dress hanging from her undeveloped frame. Already in action, Hinako held one hand out behind her towards her fishbowl, the other at her opponent, a five-yen piece in her hand, “Happö Go-en Satsu!”
”She turns into a little girl?” Ranma asked in a low voice to Akane, earning him an exasperated glare. He didn’t notice it as he watched the little girl growing back into her clothes.
”I told you my teacher did that before,” Akane said, referring to an earlier talk the pair had about martial artists they knew. “I thought Daddy was bad when he didn’t realize you being cursed to turn into a girl would make you look like a girl sometimes.”
”Yeah but Pop’s was here with his curse. I don’t know anyone who changes age like this, though really Happosai turning little girls into big-chested women shouldn’t be a surprise.”
”You would be looking at those, pervert!” Akane hissed angrily before Nabiki jarred her with an elbow.
”Bicker later you two.”
Reined in, Akane spoke lower as they watched the pair fight on. “She was a child when Grandfather found her in hospital and helped her with the weakness that made her sick. She drains ki to be stronger, those fighting fish in her fishbowl give off an unlimited battle aura she can feed off. She’s trying to drain it off Mrs Miyakoji too, but that never works.”
Still kneeling, Shika held her battle aura in against the draining attack. The legendary discretion of Martial Arts Tea ceremony was earned on the back of appearing sedate and calm, like good tea, a trait that held her in good standing against the teacher's attacks. Gracefully moving against the attack from the voluptuous woman, one hand still held the cauldron like teapot, the other casually began laying out an array of teaspoons and bagged teas.
Predictably, Hinako brought her hand back, grabbing out the larger fifty-yen piece, her battle cry changing for the different tactic, “Happö Goju-en Satsu!”
As the coins changed, Shika struck, lobbing three bags of powdered tea up in long arcs at the teacher. With casual grace, she finished putting the pot again in front of her, pointing its circular opening at the beginning attack from the teacher.
”She has to drain energy through circular objects,” Akane whispered to Ranma, almost gleeful at being more in the know than him about these two styles. “So the hole in the coins, the rim of the fishbowl…”
”And the opening of the tea pot.” Ranma finished, nodding as the ki energy drain locked onto this second ring in its path, narrowing down, unable to reach the woman behind the pot.
Akane sighed, wondering how he could be so smart sometimes but so pathetic in school.
”So is this the woman that that you had to feel up to stop her draining?”
Wincing, Akane nodded red faced. “I didn’t feel her up, pervert. The pressure points are…”
As she began to demonstrate on herself, Akane realized she didn’t want her fiancé to know them and give him any excuses. “Well they just look bad where they are. And how is it you can remember a story like that but not basic English words?”
Ignoring her snappish tone, Ranma watched the fight, “Cause it embarrasses you so its funny. She’s too limited in her style, she’s about to lose.”
“Don’t count on it, idiot.”
Shika watched as her slow projectiles arced on her opponent, setting one hand behind the pot to hold it in counter, her other scooped a row of tea ceremony spoons, and flung them like darts across the distance. The spread of missiles was perfect, the bulk at her opponent while three diverted towards the arcing tea bags.
Hinako ducked down, forgoing her ineffective assault to duck the deadly utensils, hearing them hit and drive into the hardwood walls of Soun-chan’s dojo.
Across the room, Shika cried out, “Raining tea mist!”
”Martial Arts High School Teaching! Meteorology primer, Weather Patterns and you!”
With a graceful, leggy, spin, Hinako whipped out a high school textbook, flapping it at the descending mist of paralyzing tea powders, dispersing them back towards Shika.
”Martial Arts High School Teaching?”
”Yeah, weird huh?” Akane nodded at Ranma’s question. “It’s pretty soft and defensive but hard to counter. When Grandfather was getting me to seal her draining power, it has to be done every day for a month for it to hold cause it's part of metabolism.”
At Ranma's hint of a grin, Akane almost wanted him to give her a perverted look so she could hit him for being a letch. “Anyway I wasn’t going to do it at first before she started trying to seduce Daddy. The first time she drained me to stay adult to go to him! So I managed to get her every day for a week when she stopped coming to school. We all thought she was just avoiding me so I couldn’t seal her powers then she came back, able to use the ki she drains to do these new moves.”
”So now you can’t beat her huh?”
Narrowing her eyes on her jerk fiancé, Akane whacked his shoulder. “Of course I can, she’s just tricky.”
Listening idly, Nodoka smiled quietly, her eyes on the women before her.
Shika tossed the black pot up, her hands grabbing furoshiki napkins with swift grace to flick up and about, dispersing the returning mist.
Hinako smiled darkly as she saw Shika glance to the pots position and movement, not for the first time tossing it up to act and catch it once more, but this time the school disciplinarian had done her homework.
”Martial arts Teacher-fu! Chalk Darts!”
Four inches long, the dozen chalk sticks, normally used on a school blackboard, raced towards the kneeling target, distracting her as several more followed at a higher angle.
With a series of clangs, the black cauldron pot was knocked back away from the woman, Hinako sneering as Shika frowned, both reacting to the change in situation.
”Happö Tsurisen Gaeshi!”
Hinako’s form again wavered and began to regress as she shot her stolen ki towards Shika, the kneeling target falling backwards till her back was against the hardwood floor to let the attack pass harmlessly over her.
With an impressive display of abdominal strength from the middle aged woman, Shika came upright again, hands snapping off teaspoon darts to buy time as she ran on her toes, demurely hidden under her kneeling position, to close the distance with the disciplinarian educator. As Hinako’s hair whipped around her in response to diving her childlike body clear of the counter attack, her focus keeping one hand towards the ring opening of the fishbowl, Shika rushed in.
Flicking a cloth napkin, the middle aged woman tried to hook over the teacher’s arm to lock and hopefully flip her over, but grimaced as the educator pulled back enough that the hold slipped away.
For her part, Hinako stepped back, focusing her mind on her ki as she pulled free another school textbook. “Teacher-Fu, Biology one-oh-one, Anatomy!” she cried before slamming the hardcover into the side of Shika’s head.
Even dazed, Shika managed to just dodge a follow-up slap from her opponent, Hinako’s hand getting caught on her hair, the tight pinned up length spilling out and free behind her.
With a feminine shriek, all decorum and skill was discarded for choking, scratching, slapping, and hair pulling as the pair collapsed into an uncouth pile of rage.
Frowning as the two now both adult women grappled, Nodoka finally got to her feet, quickly pulling at the light Kimono she wore, revealing a second ornate outfit underneath.
Behind her, Akane leaned towards her new fiancé. “Why is Aunty wearing a dogi under her kimono? I didn’t think she did martial arts?”
Grimacing in distaste, Ranma shook his head. Leaning over, he whispered into Akane’s ear, the girl’s eyes rolling up but she managed to not shiver in pleasure and focus on his words. “She doesn’t, it’s a magic fighting uniform. It brings out all the potential you have for the art. Pop’s tracked it down to show me how much more potential I still had but the perverted thing only lets women wear it. Real women, not my cursed form.”
Akane watched as the woman in the ornate dogi let her kimono drop to the floor at her feet, stepping clear and out of her indoor slippers, eyes still on the tussling combatants.
Ranma briefly considered telling Akane of the ornate yin-yang symbol buckle on the belt of the dogi being its weakness, but since whoever would be aiming for it would be aiming for his mother he didn’t do so. His thoughts briefly wondered if the changes Nodoka had made to the rest of the suit, such as the lower shoulder pads, would weaken its power. The tone of his voice showed how little he thought of the suit. “Mom said she fixed it up cause of Happi staying here, but really she likes it. Gets overconfident in it.”
Nabiki gave a whistle as she watched the older women tussling, Akane’s hand automatically covering Ranma’s eyes as Hinako’s dress proved it wasn’t made for such rolling around, moving towards her center, exposing more lace. They didn’t have a chance to see how much further things might have gone when Nodoka stepped in.
Wrenching Shika off the younger teacher by her beautiful hair, Nodoka wasted no time in using the opening to kick Hinako back across the dojo floor.
Suddenly aware of this new threat, Shika struck up to break the woman’s grip on her hair, lashing out with her feet to kick Nodoka. The woman in the mystical dogi casually twisted her body around the blows, dark smile turning nasty as she released the former beauty queen, timing her spin kick to catch the woman in the stomach just as she dropped to the floor to resume her classic kneeling position, sending her sprawling across the floor.
Turning back to Hinako, Nodoka saw she had taken too long, the exposed woman ignoring her state to bring up her five-yen coin.
“Happö Go-en Satsu”
A powerful surge of energy drew off Nodoka towards the hole in the coin between the fingers of Hinako’s lithe hand, the teacher grinning in triumph. Her smile fell as Nodoka stayed on her feet, her outfit looking limp as she closed on the teacher still training her power.
Realizing the speed at which Nodoka closed on her, Hinako changed tactic, dropping the coin to bring her finger and thumb from each hand together in a circle for the Ki blast of her stolen energy.
The moment that Hinako’s draining attack ended, the limp fabric of the dogi lifted, Nodoka’s movements surging ahead, closing far faster, a hand chop breaking the circle of the teacher’s digits. What other defenses Hinako tried were battered open, a straight palm catching her in the eye, knocking her to the floor.
“Ladies, as you can see things have changed around here. I may only be a guest here but as Akane and her sisters are the most important part of Soun’s life, he will see my point about not letting you behave as bad examples of proper behavior to them.”
Looking over Hinako then back at Shika, Nodoka shook her head coolly. “I’ve had my fill of selfish teenager girls around my son for the last year, and should you insist on behaving as badly as them, this can be repeated, as often as necessary.”
Tilting her head, Nodoka gave each woman a final look. “Like Soun, my priority is for his girls and the role models around them. Think of them first and I will even help you in your plans.”
Turning on her heels, Nodoka strode away, pausing briefly only to collect her discarded kimono, before leaving the dojo. Immediately once gone, Nabiki glanced to the watching Akane with a teasing smirk. “So you learned your morals in Homeroom?”
Not removing her hand from over Ranma’s eyes, Akane just glared back at her sister, waiting for her half dressed homeroom teacher to get up and straighten her outfit.
Coming up the stairs, Ranma saw Akane talking towards the open door the guest room, presumably with his mother. His eyes slid to the closer door, to the duck shaped nameplate with his new fiancées name on it. For an instant he was curious what might be inside, imagination visualizing pink dolls and plush animals hanging from the arms of a sparring pole.
Looking up, Akane spotted him, cutting off her talk with Nodoka early as he approached.
The door to the guest room slid closed, Nodoka apparently wanting to give the pair the appearance of privacy. Both teens knew it was only an illusion, as the older woman wouldn’t even have to put her ear against the paper panels of the door to hear.
”Pop’s in bed?”
”Yeah, Aunty kicked him up the stairs. That suits impressive.”
”Like I said, she gets cocky when she has it on.” This he said towards the door.
”You’re one to talk,” Akane countered, her grin matching his smirk.
A moment of silence passed, and with a huff she put her hands on her hips.
”So I’m guessing a good night kiss is against the promise?”
Frowning, slightly stung by this barrier, Ranma shrugged. “Not unless you want Shampoo and the others demanding a goodnight kiss from their fiancé?”
Growling, her heart clenching in rejection and at the same time warm with adoration of holding to the promise, Akane shook her head.
“I’d suffer through them to kiss you, if you want?”
Ignoring Akane’s exclamation with a shrug, he continued. “Then again they probably would do without if they knew I wanted to kiss you.”
Lurching emotions keeping her embarrassed, Akane struck fast, her high punch into his block, a feint to open him up to the jab to the stomach, which knocked him down.
Letting him gulp breaths, she stood over him for a long moment. “If you ever think about ‘suffering’ through kissing them, I’ll show you suffering.” Turning away, she walked for her door.
“You gonna cook for me?” he gasped out.
Turning around slowly, Akane was desperately trying to find the right insult to reply to him, muscles tightening for a less verbal response. Neither came about as the door to the guest room whisked open, Nodoka’s hand appearing and grabbing her son by the ear, dragged him into the room, the door slamming shut.
For a long moment heated whispers were all Akane heard before the door opened once more, and Ranma was deposited into the hall, his face red, and his hand scratching awkwardly at the back of his head.
”Ah, I’m supposed to say sorry for insulting your cooking and wish you a good nights sleep, and admit that I’ll be thinking of you when I go to sleep.”
Frowning at having him cowed into this, Akane looked at him.
”And just what will you be thinking?”
”Ah, hopefully nothing.”
Part of Akane almost wanted him to admit some perverted thought so she could hit him again, this hurt more though.
”I mean this stupid promise was heaps easier to keep when you weren’t a fiancée. If I go thinking about you in that black lacy thing your teacher got ya, it ain’t so easy.”
A flush of emotions through Akane left her off balance. Finally her brain latched on one thought. "Yeah, well I don't think I'm going to feel very sexy wearing lingerie my school teacher got me."
"Fair enough,” he shrugged. “Lace isn't really your tomboy style anyway."
Her glare failed to affect the teasing smirk he had.
Both suddenly faced away embarrassed as their bodies shivered in reaction to those two words used so many times the weekend before.
In turning around, Akane found Nabiki at her door, standing with a bowl of popcorn, a note pad, and a glossy anatomy book.
”As per our deal, you owe me one detailed recounting Sis.”
”But you tricked me?” Akane defended.
Nabiki smirked. ”There was no trickery in our bargain Akane, just you overvalued my effort to supply to your demand. Are you not going to honor our agreement?”
Stepping up, Ranma grunted. “What deals this?”
Blushing red, Akane pushed her sister into her bedroom, “Just some homework, sleep well.”
When the door shut, the duck shaped name plate rattled against the wood, leaving Ranma alone in the hall. He wasn’t sure what to think.
“Shampoo no understand. Shampoo too too stay hidden when want.”
Sighing, Cologne didn’t turn from her cooking.
”Firstly, no matter how good you are, your Airen’s father is very good at spotting those looking for him. And Ranma is even better than him. Any hint of you, and Nodoka would have used that against you come the marriage meeting.”
Using a large ladle she spooned hot ramen into bowels, garnishing with meats and an egg. “If your groom even sees a cat tonight she will be asking if it was you. Being caught in a lie will be worse for you.”
Snapping, Cologne cut her off. “Even if you had followed them, you could hardly have acted against the enemy. Were this an opponent you could fight, then spying on her skills would be appropriate. However, this is a woman you must fight for his heart. You must appear confident and dominant, not hiding behind a bush.”
Seeing her purple haired heiress straighten and push her chest out, Cologne hoped she got through to her. “Now take these to the customers before they cool.”
“What do you mean you failed to find them?” Sakura hissed.
“I’m sorry Ma’am. We got attacked while we were discretely following them.”
Goro Orokashitei, fifth of the Delivery Boys, Sakura’s personally hand picked enforcers, winced as he offered up the shuriken that had punctured his bike tire and stopped him pursuing Genma Saotome and his wife. Why did he have to be the one always delivering bad news?
Panting with anger, Sakura, heiress to the Shishimi family restaurant chain, threatened her subordinate with a pair of chopsticks, before twisting suddenly to fling her chosen weapon. The pair of wooden missles imbedding deeply in the hardwood wall, puncturing the cheek of the picture of Nodoka Saotome against the wall. Much like other wooden utensils had to the pictures of Shampoo, Ukyo, and most recently Akane. All targeted good vital spots, eyes, throat, neck, nose and temple, were covered in previously thrown chopsticks.
“I’m afraid I got caught up with some of Ms Shishimi’s henchmen, Ukyo-sama. I couldn’t find Ranma's afterwards.”
Ukyo shrugged, kind of relieved that Konatsu hadn’t come back with some description of a new girl, probably some traditional shrew, and how a story of how Nodoka doted on her. “Don’t worry about it, Sugar. Sorry for making you run around all day because I was curious.”
Part way through cleaning after the dinner rush, Ukyo picked up the full garbage bag to take out to the bins out the back of the building.
The moment the door shut, Konatsu sighed, but a voice from behind him startled him. “You liar.”
Jumping, Konatsu looked sheepishly at Junko, as the younger girl mopped the floor. Smirking at catching her friend fibbing, she held his gaze with hers. “So what did you see?”
”Ranma-sama is engaged to Akane Tendo.”
”Get out!” Junko hissed in shock, then grabbed Konatsu as he tried to leave. “Not like that, silly.”
Confused, Konatsu moved past his confusion of her reaction to the more worrying problem. “Should I have told Ukyo?”
”Kami no, that’d just give her an ulcer,” Junko said, shaking her dark hair. “A month or more without Ranma will really let her see she doesn’t love him, or if he loves her he’ll come to her. After that she may see some other guy in her life.”
Giving the boy an encouraging wink, Junko went back to mopping, letting him get to cleaning behind the grill, before their boss came back.
With a growl of triumph, the traveler finally got his fire started, putting the teapot over it to heat water. He glanced to the moon lit winter sea that stretched from the shore of his native country to the island nation of the Japanese. Idly he toyed with the prize he had seized after a long battle, opening the case to see the ink, shining brightly with its many colors in the dark of the evening.
Gently putting it aside, he stepped clear of his gear to pour the heated water on his body, stretching his arms and back as he returned to being human. He lamenting not keeping some of those magnets that shrew Rogue had claimed were her power source, he’d been flying all day and boy were his arms tired.
His thoughts moved on, to another long flight to reach Japan ahead of him tomorrow, to another shrew women he knew, part of him getting warm, part of him getting angry, and part of him still a little scared.
Turning, Ranma examined his profile in the bathroom mirror again.
”If you keep preening Ranma, we’re going to be late.”
Turning to do the same pose for Akane, Ranma smirked, “You don’t want your new fiancé to look good at your school?”
Her eyes betrayed her, tracing over him and liking what she saw, certainly an improvement in the blue uniform of Furinkan over the brown of his old school. Expecting the cocky grin when she returned to his face, she was at lease happy to catch him looking at her, her lips falling as she visualized herself in the girl’s winter uniform and tights to keep her legs warm.
”Come on, comb down your hair and let’s go.”
”What’s wrong with my hair?”
Amused at the vanity he showed, looking back to the mirror, Akane shook her head, reaching for a brush as she stepped up behind him. “The back of your head is all over the place.”
”Oh, I was trying to see if I could bind it, not long enough yet.”
Akane frowned, recalling him with the pigtail Kuno had cut off him over a month before when they were shopping in Ginza. Though at least she had gotten it and the one the swordsman had from cutting off her long hair so long ago, after the first fight Ranma had with her stalker.
Combing his hair, she tried to imagine which she preferred him with, short or the pigtail. As the pros and cons flicked through her mind, he stiffened, and she noticed her fingers running up the side of his head through the black length. Dropping her hand, her fingers raked lightly down his back.
Jumping forward, his breathing hard, Ranma’s blue eyes flashed, electrifying Akane for an instant, before seeing him hold back. For a long moment she thought he was going to say something, before she nodded.
”Let’s get to school.”
Approaching the school, Ranma and Akane were in step, running on the fencing, each on opposite sides of the road. Finally seeing the gate ahead, the pair dropped to the street, coming side by side, Akane glancing at his face as Ranma looked past the archway into the grounds of his new school.
Like most Japanese public schools, it was built on the one set of core layout and plans, with the central clock, open but fenced roof, and brick walls. What wasn’t common was the modern dome structure off to the side, with bright purple neon signage.
Wincing, Akane shook her head. “Ah, it’s the school arena. Kuno made it so he could show off, Nabiki turned into a dating agency. Don’t worry about it, we’re engaged so you can’t be challenged.”
Kuno’s cry reverberated around the grounds, cutting the cool winter air to draw attention of milling students and some in the windows of classrooms to Akane and the new student beside her.
”Never! I proclaim never!” Tatewaki Kuno was red faced enraged as he rushed towards the gateway of his school. “I shall never allow such cowardly trash into my school! Take off that uniform, it shames those like I, who wear it with honor!”
Raising her eyebrow, Akane wondered when was the last time she saw Kuno in his school uniform and not the samurai hakima and pants, but was distracted by the idea of Ranma in school sans uniform. The thought of the other girls in class drooling spoiled the idea for her.
”Upperclassman Kuno, Ranma is my fiancé now. Please don’t interfere in a matter of honor.”
”Honor? Like a thief in the night he steals into the way of our love. Honor demands I strike him down for this heinous crime.”
Raising his blade, he pointed the tip at Ranma. “Prepare thyself!”
Ranma raised his hands in defense when a new voice intruded.
”Tatewaki Kuno! The school rules are very clear. No fighting outside of the school arena.”
Looking up surprised, the three students looked at Hinako Ninomiya approaching, in a tight winter dress, hands ready to punish those who broke school rules. Ranma winced at the obvious black eye his mother had given the educator last night in the Tendo dojo.
”Then I challenge thee! I shall drive you from this school and Akane’s side!”
Ranma frowned, the challenge was like a battle cry that had to be answered, only he still hadn’t developed a tactic to face the Kendo master. Worse his experience with arenas was that it would be a confining ring, where Kuno’s blade would be near impossible to keep back from. He doubted that even if his fiancées hadn’t interrupted last weeks training trip, that he would have been too focused on ways to defeat the Kuno master. His eyes turned to Akane again.
Tuning back into the moment, he heard Akane arguing over the challenge and Kuno’s right to interfere. ”Just shut up Kuno, you don’t get any say in this,” she screeched.
Ranma’s head came up, a grin coming to his lips as he put his hand on Akane’s shoulder.
”No problem. I got it Akane. Kuno can’t beat me when it comes to you.”
Akane was shocked at Ranma’s choice of words, Hinako slightly annoyed at the cocky boy who suddenly reminded her of his mother. Kuno sputtered with rage for a minute, before regaining control. “To Blue Thunder Dome!”
Turning, he strode towards his arena, stopping to glare at the building still proclaiming, ‘Love Dome’.
”I SAID, BLUE THUNDER DOME!”
At his cry, the purple neon flickered off, replaced by a bright blue lightning bolt.
Ignoring Kuno’s glare, Ranma looked around the arena, nodding at the facilities. Akane’s heart was sinking at how carefree her fiancé appeared as he again prepared to face the biggest annoyance in her life.
“This the arena?” Ranma asked, somewhat rhetorically, Kuno already standing in the fighting circle for nearly a minute while the dark haired new student took his time. Akane could see Nabiki wasn’t complaining as she moved around taking bets from the growing crowd of onlookers. Some small smug part of the Tendo heir was rather gratified at the glaring of some of the male students, and drooling of some of the girls.
”Hey Kuno,” Ranma said as he finally stepped up to the podium. “You really want me to defeat you here?”
”As if that were possible, knave!” Kuno spat back, pointing his wooden blade at the insolent wretch before him at the edge of the ring area. “Not only have I bested you twice since our first encounter, not only does this arena deny your rat like scurrying from facing me as a true warrior, no true challenger has ever defeated me in my arena!”
Akane sputtered as she moved up, “You liar, I’ve defeated you here myself plenty of times!”
”Alas those tussles were not true challenges my love, I…”
”Do you love her Kuno?”
Ranma’s interrupting question, loud and confronting, silenced everyone in the arena. Even Akane, who Ranma had seen was almost ready to provoke a fight to get to beat on the kendoist herself, froze mid step, her face red as she looked at her fiancé.
”She is my future bride, my fierce tigress, my beloved. I am her true love and destined lover.”
Akane was still locked up as Kuno made that declaration, her state not helped by the cocky grin and quick glance to her Ranma gave, her panic rising as she imagined him telling all what they had done the week before and striking Kuno before he could recover.
Instead, Ranma shook his head. “I don’t think you do.” Still smirking, the dark haired boy entered the circle marking the edge of the fighting area. Taking a position evenly inside, Ranma went down on one knee.
Kuno was startled by the move of his opponent, his face turning further red at the implication. ”Ney, on your feet, I’ll never accept the surrender of a deceiver such as you.”
”I’m not surrendering Kuno. This is for my fiancé, Akane.”
Glaring imperiously down his weapon at Ranma, Kuno shook his head. ”Never, I will never allow such a travesty, to force such a pure…”
”Kuno, you gonna attack me or keep yapping?”
Watching from nearby, one of the senior girls in a black and white umpire’s shirt had the good sense to drop her hand and cry out “Begin”, only to be drowned out as Tatewaki Kuno cried and shot forward a step, blade stabbing with the power of his rush at his lower opponent
”Muteki Kurohyou Me-To!”
Red pink energy coalesced between Ranma’s hands as he cried, pushing forward his attack, leaving an after imagine of a raging panther in its path running into his opponent.
In barely a blink, the arena’s founder was flung from its ring and down to the ground.
For an instant Ranma’s attack cry of ”Unyielding Panther Mate” reverberated around arena as the victor stood up from his knee. Inside he felt rather giddy at the victory and power of the attack, feeling its energy swirling around his body, knowing it was less effective than the ‘moko takabisha’ but felt way better.
Dusting the knee of his blue slacks, Ranma smirked down at the figure outside the ring. He had been right, the move did work on the obsessed young man where his confidence based ki attack normally failed utterly. “Now I know you don’t really love Akane, Kuno. Cause if you did that move wouldn’t have touched you. The only way to beat that move, is if you love her more than I do.”
Ears popping at the sudden drop in pressure from the simultaneous surprised inhale of the great many Furinkan High student spectators caught Ranma off guard. In confusion, Ranma looked to his fiancée, a smirk coming to his lips as she rushed towards him, only to turn into a grimace knowing he couldn’t let them even hug, not with the promise.
Emotionally extended already, Akane rushed to hug the stuffing out of Ranma, and was almost to him when he held out his hand.
Punching fast enough to crack the air, empowered with frustration and frazzled nerves, Akane’s strike folded Ranma in half around her fist in his stomach.
Every female eye but Nabiki’s instantly turned hard as one thought reigned in the onlookers. ‘That bitch!’
To be continued…