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Ranma Fanfiction: Meeting Later 3
Akane Tendo stormed into her home, dumping her bag against the bottom of the stairs, reaching for the phone.
“Akane?” Kasumi asked, coming to see who had marched into their home, was surprised to find her sister there. Said sister held up a hand, listening to the phone ringing after calling the Saotome home.
“Come on, come on,” she mumbled, hoping Ranma would pick up, despite the fact that the helicopter back with Kuno meant she was home much faster than she expected he would be. At least Aunty should be there so she could explain why she was back at the dojo.
Fortunately Nodoka was much closer, coming up behind Kasumi, equally surprised by the appearance of Akane, the younger woman’s face showing streaks of tears. “Akane, what happened? Why are you back early?”
Akane dropped the phone, turning to hug both women, emotions churning, unable to start explaining.
Finally calmed down with a cup of tea in her hand, Akane finished retelling how Ranma had fallen during the fight with Kuno. With her face wiped of tear streaks, she seemed much better, even thouse as her panic faded she sparked with more and more anger.
“Kuno was so arrogant, as usual, but he went to have them call for the helicopter to bring me back to Tokyo with him. Ranma woke up just as I got him back to his room. He started apologizing, he sounded awful. Then he started packing, saying he’d challenge Kuno again, and when I turned away for a second, he was gone.”
Nodoka seemed calmed, knowing there was nothing wrong with her son physically. She sipped at her tea, looking at Akane over the table. “I don’t think you need to worry Akane-chan. My son is strong, but he is a somewhat poor loser. If it is over something important to him, he tends to feel failure as the end of the world.”
Kasumi’s eyes turned to Akane’s, watching her baby sister’s reaction to Aunty’s choice of words.
With a faint chuckle, Akane agreed with Nodoka’s appraisal, imagining Ranma looking for some kind of training method as they spoke.
“For now, I think I will take my husband home. A sparring partner will help Ranma calm down and focus on challenging this Kuno boy again, rather than feeling he failed you.”
“He didn’t fail me,” Akane automatically defended.
“In his mind he did,” Nodoka said. “In one respect, the timing of this event may be a blessing in disguise. I’m afraid that the engagement meetings, for both you and that for my son, will be occurring in two weeks. For appearances sake, I couldn’t have you staying with Ranma and myself at that time, so this will allow you to settle back in here at home.”
“But I still get a choice? Right?”
“You will be given the choice, Akane. I will be in attendance to make sure you may back out if you so desire,” Nodoka said, letting the young woman calm before continuing. “I would ask, Akane, that you do not make that choice against your father’s promise, simply because you don’t like being forced into this.”
Akane seemed about to speak, then held her tongue, nodding for the older woman. Her head tilted as a new thought occurred. “What about Ranma’s other fiancée? Aren’t you going to meet her with him?”
“That will be after your meeting, later in the day.”
“Now I think I will have a word with your father, and take my husband back home.”
Akane sat up, “Maybe I should come too, just to pick up my stuff?”
Nodoka smiled gently, but shook her head. “Perhaps when I know Ranma will be there would be the best time to use such an excuse?” She chose not to add, ‘And absence makes the heart grow fonder.’
“The boy lost a fight with a stick fighter?” Genma scoffed, having finally convinced his wife to tell him what had changed. With Akane back at the Tendo Dojo, she was dragging her husband home. Even he was smart enough to know she didn’t think enough of him to not blow the engagement secret his wife was maintaining, Genma was just glad to be allowed back in the house again in winter.
“He lost a fight, yes, not for the first time. And not for the first time against an opponent who is more than human alone.” Nodoka eyed her husband over darkly. “Are you going to help him train for a rematch or simply mock him?”
“Can’t I do both?”
Slapping the back of her husband’s head, Nodoka faced ahead rather than the idiot she married. Fortunately for Genma, her eyes spotted the Saotome family home, concern growing over the large pile of logs out front.
Proceeding into her home, she removed her shoes for house slippers, and entered the main room, followed by Genma.
Open phonebooks were left on the table beside a half eaten beef-bowl and a telephone, Nodoka’s eyes swept over the markings, pen circles around the number for the chestnut supplier Ranma had bought in gross from during his Amaguriken speed move training attempts. More worryingly, the advert for a company that rented butane torches circled in the next book beside it brought disturbing images.
A ki shout and crack of shattering logs in the back yard, caused the older woman to proceed out to the veranda to look at her son, sweating and shirtless despite the cold, the yard a mess of wood chips and log ends.
Breathing heavily, Ranma turned to his parents as they entered the scene of his training. “Ah, hey Mom. Akane’s gone back to her…”
Nodoka held up her hand, cutting him off gently. “I heard what happened. Sunset comes early in winter dear, so train now and we can have a long talk over a big dinner.”
Ranma resisted the urge to hug or thank his mother with more than a nod. Looking at his Pop, he waved the old man out, “You better be up for some hard work old man?”
“Like a little girl who lost to a weapon user can do hard training?”
Ignoring Genma’s insulting words to return inside, Nodoka continued to ignore Genma calling for ‘Time out’ between cries of pain as Ranma vented.
Ranma’s mother eyed the table again, hoping that Genma would keep Ranma’s training reasonable, then wondered where she got that idea.
Looking around at the path she took to Furinkan high school, Akane frowned, feeling slightly surreal that it all felt different, yet was almost identical to what it was before she left, before staying with Ranma and Aunty. Squirming inelegantly in the blue school dress she wore, she scratched at another irritating itch, uncomfortable with the change despite having worn it regularly only months before. Still scratching, her eyes fell on the fences beside the road, calculating how she would walk on it, hearing his footsteps behind her.
Turning suddenly, she saw a young jogger passing lightly by, frowning at how the sound made her feel.
Again she walked down the lonely path, passing the shop that used to be Doctor Tofu’s clinic, feeling another pang for a friend, two in fact with his sister Sena, missing them because of Tatewaki Kuno.
Like a spark of fire against the chill winter morning, his name quickened Akane’s steps, building speed. Moving along the path beside the drainage canal, she broke into an outright run, cool wind whipping her short hair as she turned the last corner into sight of the school, and the collection of boys awaiting her.
The ‘Hentai Horde’, as it had become known, were a collection of the most stupid boys from Furinkan High, who had formed to attack her on her approach to school, for many mornings over the last year and a half. With a shiver, Akane recalled Tatewaki Kuno’s proclamation from so long ago, that only a man who could defeat her had the right to date her.
Now with her return, the horde had reformed, no doubt her sister Nabiki, in her final year of high school, had been busy this morning spreading that tidbit. Thinking of her sister reminded her of how Nabiki had told her the hentai horde had kept assembling after she left Furinkan over this engagement debacle. Now if she could just recall what she said...
“There she is!”
“Akane! It’s Akane Tendo!”
“Here she comes!”
Shouts from the boys started to merge into a mess of noise as they rushed the gate like a bottle neck, while the heir of the Tendo School of Anything Goes approached, her arm cocking back, Akane’s legs pounding the ground with familiar steps, her rage flaring as she just imagined Ranma berating her running stance being heavy, not light and ready to evade…
Suddenly the horde stopped still, and as one cried out:
“Akane Tendo, I challenge you!”
The change from just attacking her to challenging her put Akane on alert, pulling her up, wary for what this change meant, before the boys started fighting themselves while trying to run away from her.
Stopping completely, Akane looked confused as the boys rushed away towards the newest building of Furinkan high. Built only six months ago, the domed arena had been paid for from winnings from high-level televised Kendo battles Tatewaki Kuno had taken part in. Called, unoriginally enough, “Blue Thunder Dome” by its commissioner, it had been a challenge site for only three challenges who came seeking battle with the magically empowered fighter in the last year.
A large neon sign on the outside of the dome, in the shape of a blue lightning bolt, flicked off as a chant began from various parts of Akane’s old school.
“Love Dome! Love Dome! Love Dome!”
A purple neon sign lit up in its place, the same purple as from Love Hotel signage, proclaiming ‘Love Dome’ in tacky kanji.
A gleeful Nabiki was waving to Akane from one entrance of the dome, lit by a smaller purple neon sign, a heart shape with a plus like cross under it, a romantic take on the classic female gender symbol. The boys were lining up to another entrance under a second purple heart, with an arrow pointing up from its right side.
“Nabiki, what have you done?” Akane whispered to herself, and approached her sister scared of what this was going to be.
Nabiki was grinning ear to ear as she dragged her sister through the ‘women’s’ entrance, and straight for the center of the arena.
“Nabiki, what is all this?”
“I knew I had to see your face. Isn’t it brilliant?”
“Nabiki, what is going on?”
“Okay, I told you how after you left, some of the boys from the horde asked Chika Dainiito, of the girl’s karate club, if they beat her would she date them? Well for a joke, I wrote up some rules, and it just took off.”
“What took off?”
“Well at first I called it ‘Date Club’, like ‘Fight Club’, you know? Anyway a guy challenges a girl to fight or date them. Formal challenge, one on one, knockout, pin, or out of the ring. Very basic stuff, “ Nabiki said quickly, still moving her sister up to the ring area as several students piled into the bleacher like seating around the walls inside the domed structure. “If the girl likes the guy, she just surrenders. If she doesn’t, she can call in a champion, a big friend, or I have a few guys from the Karate and Kendo clubs available for a fee, to fight and win for them. It’s taken off like you wouldn’t believe!”
Akane didn’t believe. “You can’t tell me people are agreeing to this? It’s insane!”
“Think about it Sis, you know how most of the horde would rather be beaten up in a chance to date you, than actually man up and ask you out and risk being turned down? Turns out most schoolboys are like that! If the girl surrenders, they have one date that weekend. If not, they can at least try to win, and being beaten up for love is better than being turned down outright to these idiots.”
Akane swayed, trying to come to grips with the surreal changes to what was her understanding of her high school, then focused on one part of the issue. “Wait, I got to take on all those boys one at a time? That’ll take hours.”
Nabiki smiled, completely at ease. “Hence why right now, the boys that challenged you are putting their name on a register, which gets called out to fight as time becomes available. We can probably get two more this morning, a few at lunch, and some after school. Any more can wait till tomorrow. You better work fast, and be done by Saturday. Last Saturday, some of the girls from St Heberek showed up looking to get challenged, and some boys from Kolkhoz High, I was here from getting out at lunch till nearly three and I hear word is spreading even further!”
Giving a huff, Akane shook her head, trying to get through to her sister. “Sis, these guys were out there every day, I’ll never be done with them if I can’t finish them all in one day.”
“Sis, chill, you can only ever fail in a challenge against the same opponent twice a semester, and I doubt any but the most desperate will try a second time anyway.”
“Huh? Why not?”
Flicking a lazy finger towards the other side of the dome topped building, Nabiki caught the eye of a student standing beside a sheet-covered object, who helpfully uncovered it. A gleaming barbers chair, polished to a shine under a down light, was bolted to the floor, and more sinisterly, leather arm, neck, and leg straps sat open, ready for its next victim. On the back of the chair, was an emblem of a pineapple.
“How do you think I got the school to approve this? Firstly, Mrs. Hinako gets to crack down on all fighting on school grounds outside this arena as delinquents, and then, anyone who fails a second challenge, falls to the mercy of Principal Kuno.”
Akane found it strangely grounding, that this fiasco could occur under permission of her home room teacher, the erratic discipline enforcer of the school, and Principal Kuno, Tatewaki’s insane Hawaiian loving father who had a hair cutting fetish. She turned fully from the ring to look at her sister.
“So how did you get Kuno to let you use his arena?”
“Yeah, about that,” Nabiki said reluctantly. “He gets to queue jump.”
A shiver ran up Akane’s spine as a masculine voice intruded.
“Ah my beloved, we finally fight, once more for love.”
Turning herself slowly around, Akane eyed Tatewaki Kuno. The young man, in his traditional uniform of hakima pants and white kimono jacket, casually held a box in his off hand, his ever present practice sword in the other, his head twisted to the side, hair arranged neatly, he posed for her.
“Upperclassmen Kuno, you know I’m actually glad to see you,” Akane said lightly. Those students watching, far less oblivious than the Kendo master, took her body language, and cracking knuckles as her fists clenched, as signs that Akane wasn’t planning to surrender to Kuno.
“Long have I waited for this moment, my chosen. Here in my glorious arena of love. I shall prove how I am worthy of your love and you worthy of being at the side of one so skilled.”
“What’s that?” Akane asked, cutting off the brown haired young man before he could continue, pointing at the white box he held lightly on his palm.
Kuno blushed lightly, looking at Akane. “Tis but a trifle, for you see while I have no doubt of your purity, the tricks and cunning of the vile Saotome, though diminished with my victory, you can see that such a gift as this is for the best.”
Shaking her head at his enigmatic words, Akane stepped up and tried to take the box from his hands, only to be blocked by his wooden blade.
“Nay, but this is for opening only in private, you shall have this with your defeat, and wear it always as part of my victory, at least till our glorious date this Saturday?”
Tilting her head to the side, pouting cutely while looking in his eyes, Akane lay a gentle hand on his weapon. Forcing her ki down her arm to his weapon, she struck suddenly, fist around the wood lashing up into Kuno’s face.
Taking the box as he staggered back, Akane ripped it open. Grabbing part of the heavy material within, she let the box fall away, regretting it instantly. Like a pair of white leather panties, shining metal plates and cord threads gleamed under the downlights, even the most oblivious identifying the chastity belt.
Akane’s battle aura flared with her rage as she lashed out at the swordsman, Kuno blocking three kicks before slashing back to try and knock his opponent out of the ring.
Unfortunately his desire to beat her was blocked for an instant when Akane put his present in the path of his attack. That moment was all she needed, slipping the material down his blade and using it to disarm his weapon.
A leg sweep tumbled him onto his back disorientated, his broken weapon tossed out of the ring area. Focusing, he moved to stand, his body pulling up fast, too fast he realized as his eyes crossed, as Akane ‘helped’ him up. “My love?” he squeaked.
Turning him back to her, Akane locked the chastity belt on him, ignoring his high pitched cry as the item prepared for her waist and gender was put on his larger body. Grabbing the sides, Akane looked into his brown eyes.
“Ranma is my friend!” She stated, punctuating her statement by yanking it up to wedge it higher.
“We have not done anything dishonorable!” Another yank and another squeak.
“If we had, it would be none of your business!” With this yank he started to cry.
“You are a pervert and can keep your gift!”
This time she rolled back, pulling him up and over by the already wedged chastity belt, her foot coming up to push his stomach up and launch him over her and out of the ring.
A nervous student senior girl, wearing a black and white armband looked at Nabiki for a moment, who nodded amused. Banging a small desk gong, she called out, “Akane Tendo wins, no date.”
Akane glared at her sister, then turned her back on where Kuno landed to look at the zone where others from the horde had gathered to challenge her. It was crowded with pale boys backing up, legs together, hands over the front of their pants.
At Akane’s furious voice, the challengers fled, and even the male students just watching from the seating tried to look casual, legs crossed, avoiding eye contact.
Outside, the first of the boys to register their challenges rushed for classrooms, desperately hoping Akane would be calmer come recess. Or lunch. Or after school. Maybe it would be best to hold off on their challenge till tomorrow.
Nabiki helped the school nurse carry her fellow student and push him onto one of the beds in the nurse’s office. It took another few minutes to rummage through his pockets looking for the key, before finding it on a thin silver chain around his neck.
With a click, Kuno gave a long whimpering sigh, as the nurse helped get the apparel down his legs.
With an equally suffering sigh, the Nurse put the belt on a side table and gave Nabiki a firm look, “I’m afraid you’ll have to bill Tatewaki-kun later, I don’t expect such but I’ll need to give him an examination for major damage.”
“Of course Nurse, have fun.”
Ignoring the evil eye the nurse gave her, Nabiki grinned and left. The door clicked shut behind her before the nurse realized that the chastity belt and key were gone.
Face dripping with sweat, Ranma pushed off his back to flip back to his feet, hands starting to gather up training shuriken, Frisbees, and throwing spatulas.
“Again. That was good, but you gotta throw em harder.”
Junko wilted, breathing hard, her face dripping with sweat, her gi top soaked through. Konatsu passed her a plastic water bottle, most of the ninja’s makeup had sweated off, though in his traditional kunoichi garb, he still appeared feminine. Ukyo, sweating and breathing almost as hard as Junko, shook her head.
“No Ranchan honey. That is it today, its nearly four o’clock and we have to reopen before the dinner rush.”
Ranma shook his head, angry, not with his friends, but with himself. They couldn’t match Kuno’s style of attack and though it was good training, this wasn’t inspiring on how to beat the wannabe samurai.
“Go then, just leave me Konatsu for another round, he’s the only one pushing me anyway.”
“Aw, Ranchan!” Junko complained at his words, Ukyo’s angry glare showing she was hurt even more.
Ignoring their looks, and Koantsu’s cute blush at the offhand compliment, Ranma shook his head. “Hey it ain’t my fault this guy is out of your skill range.”
Before Ranma could dig himself deeper, a bicycle dropped nearby, a purple haired Amazon lunging for him. “Ranma back, Aiyah!”
Twisting more in perception of an attack than actual perception of Shampoo, Ranma moved to the side. Shampoo however was more than experienced in glomping her man, her lithe fingers latching onto his bare arms to draw herself to him. Unfortunately her man was rather too sweaty right now, her grip failing instantly.
“Oh, hey Shampoo,” Ranma said to the undignified heap of girl picking herself up out of the dirt, her winter delivery dress torn in at least two places.
Shampoo glared first at the giggling Junko and Ukyo watching this embarrassment, then at her future husband. The glare fell into a bright smile as she stood up, “Shampoo so happy Airen come home. Missed Airen over weekend.”
Her pretty head looked around the vacant lot they were using for training.
“Where pervert girl?”
Junko and Konatsu winced, seeing Ranma’s face fall at the reminder, not just of his missing friend but of the challenge he lost that had them all out training. Ukyo tried to frown but was too unhappy with Ranma to be sympathetic over her joy of Akane not being around her fiancé. That Shampoo upset him just by asking the question didn’t hurt her mood either.
“She had to go home, I challenged a jerk to leave her alone and he caught me off guard. Once I retrain I’ll get him back.”
Shampoo frowned, “Is to get back at fight, or get back Akane?”
Shaking his head, Ranma looked at the ground, “Akane would have been going back to her place this week anyway. She’s got her own engagement to deal with.”
Seeing Ukyo and Shampoo grin didn’t improve Ranma’s mood, but Shampoo seized on his bad mood as an opportunity to make him happy. “Ranma cheer up, take Shampoo to date?”
Ukyo was beginning to growl, but it was actually Junko who lashed out first. “What about Gendo, Shampoo? I thought you were dating him?”
“What silly girl talk of? Shampoo only date Ranma. Shampoo let stupid boy think he have chance, to show little girl body get no mens better than Shampoo can get.”
Konatsu frowned cutely, recalling Junko’s negative mood yesterday after having to dump yet another boyfriend. Once again the exotic Amazon beauty had turned their eyes from Junko just for the hint of a date with the older, bustier, girl. At least Gendo wasn’t a big loss, he was rather rude and obnoxious. Konatsu rather thought Junko should try and find a nice, loyal boyfriend, cute but not super attractive, like the boys in the manga he read…
To the side, Ukyo smirked darkly, glad to have been bored by Junko’s last breakup story was now of value. “Really Shampoo, Ranma’s mother will be so happy to know how you like to hit on other guys. Such a good trait in a wife.”
With a casual shrug, Shampoo shook her head, unconcerned, “Shampoo no play with little boys, Shampoo body waiting only for husband. Mother know this. Mother know Shampoo best wife for son, ‘Angel in kitchen, bore in bedroom’.”
Shampoo had the sudden feeling she didn’t say that quote right as her rival and the annoying Japanese girl both fell over laughing loudly, while even Ranma turned away to hide his laughter.
“Why laugh at Shampoo?!”
“Only instead of whore, Shampoo said bore,” Ranma stated between bites of dinner.
Nodoka laughed lightly at Shampoo’s blunder, genuinely glad to see her son picked up after two days of moping and all out training. Not that she would have been too impressed with Shampoo using it properly anyway. She was about to comment when the ringing phone interrupted dinner. Moving with quiet grace, she picked up the receiver. “Moshi moshi. Oh Akane-chan, it’s great to hear from you. Yes, my son is right here…”
Turning around, Nodoka saw her son’s place at the table was empty, her husband trying to gobble up his abandoned dinner. With a sigh, she spoke back into the phone. “I’m sorry Akane-chan, my son has his father’s bad habits on choosing when to train. He does miss you.”
Nodding her head, disappointed at being avoided by her moronic friend again, Akane said her goodbyes and hung up.
“He avoided you again?”
Nodding slowly at her older sister’s question, Akane turned to Kasumi. “It’s just so stupid.”
Kasumi smiled lightly, “Yes, it is. And it nearly cost me Tofu, it would have if you hadn’t run off to Aunty and Ranma, and met Sena through them. Men are very silly when they feel like they failed us or ruined how we see them.”
“But he didn’t fail me, Kuno is just really strong.”
“He did in his eyes. Give him time to calm down and then you can go and show him you are glad he tried.”
Giving her baby sister a hug, Kasumi patted her back, “Maybe you can go and visit him this weekend and clear things up, after all it would be best for both of you to be friends again before the weekend after.”
The reminder of the upcoming engagement to some stranger stiffened Akane, but she slowly nodded. “Maybe.”
“Hey again Hibiki. Long time no see.”
The umbrella holding figure, walking alone along the road on a rainy Wednesday morning, looked up at the pair of teens, also under umbrellas in the rain. The shorter, Toko, was as small and rat faced as he recalled, but the taller Jiro beside him made him frown.
“What do you want Ohata?” he growled, still not happy with how this manipulative weakling who left him embarrassed as the loser on national TV chased off by one of Ranma’s women and the love of his life. “You got a reason I shouldn’t beat the hell out of you?”
Frowning at the anger of the volatile martial artist, wondering if this was not going to be worth the effort. Jiro considered his options, and decided things were so unbalanced that he’d find some use to this ignorant powder keg. “I gave you the opportunity to win, if you were as good as you claimed, Ranma wouldn’t have won that tournament.”
Toko leaned out in the rain away from Jiro, ready to run if his harsh words started the other boy to charge in. Fortunately the brown haired upperclassman wasn’t done yet.
“What?” Ryoga growled.
“Saotome has asked for his school transcripts. He is moving to some other school for an indeterminate time, but at least a month, week after next,” Jiro said cryptically. “Now I don’t care about Ukyo Kuonji, but I do care that out of the three girls Saotome is engaged to, he dislikes the other two way more than her.”
“Get to the point.”
Jiro grinned at the eternally lost boy, “Out of thanks for trying to win the tournament, and out of a desire to make Ranma suffer, I’ll put you up in Toko’s garage again, and when Ranma is out of Bokuto, I’ll help you to win Kuonji’s heart from that freak.”
Ryoga Hibiki sneered a smile and slowly nodded.
Already suppressing annoyance at Jiro making this guy his responsibility, again, Toko wondered how much of his time and effort this would take to keep him again, “Hey, what about the other one?”
“I haven’t seen him since the tournament,” Ryoga snapped, glaring at the other boy reminding him of his other curse.
Jiro shrugged, “If we find him, we’ll reunite him, if not, we only need the one of you for Ukyo to fall in love with.”
Looking up at the clearing rain of the Wednesday morning, Ryoga Hibiki scratched an itch through the dusty yellow shirt he wore. It was a cool morning, but he had suffered worse. Hopefully he would find his home soon and he could get some winter clothes.
A sudden shiver down his spine had nothing to do with the cold, and everything to do with the voice behind him.
“Hotcha. What good fortune to run into my favorite student.”
Turning, Ryoga faced onto the diminutive form of Happosai, lounging on a fence, puffing his pipe. “Maybe for you, you old pervert. You taught me a few tricks but you aren’t my Master.”
“That was always your problem Hibiki, you focus on minor details at the cost of the truth. Hence why you’ll always be about twelfth of my students.”
Despite not wanting to be his student, Ryoga growled at being rated so lowly.
“You want to prove me wrong? My best student, who's even beaten Ranma, is king of the local arena. If you want to prove your worth...”
“Great, just tell them you’re there to challenge Tendo.”
Rather than give directions, it was much easier for the decrepit old man to bound down on the fanged boy, hooked him with his smoking pipe, and launched him over the wall and into Furinkan high.
Huffing, Akane waited for the next freshman boy, two years her junior, to walk into the ‘love dome’ ring, another who had brought the chosen weapon of a bouquet of roses and heart shaped box of chocolates in the hopes she would surrender and date him.
“Next challenge,” the bored student doing announcements for the ring began as her next challenger stepped over the ring circle edge. “Souta Niiroshatsu against…”
Akane pushed her opponents chest, making him stumble back out the ring.
“Winner Akane Tendo, no date.”
Where most of the challenges had been equally resigned to defeat, some occasionally putting up a fight, the next opponent nearly darted out of the shadows.
“Me, I’m next,” the thin figure wheezed.
“Hikaru?” Akane asked, recognizing the small boy, Hikaru Gosunkugi, from her class, with the black rings under his eyes. “She spoke to me!” he cried, turning away and for a second at her words. He had been doing this for as long as she knew him. With a shift, he suddenly turned back, still not yet in the ring, holding out a cardboard photo collage. “Ah, this is for you Akane.”
Akane looked at the home made present, not the first she had been offered, but under the title of ‘Memorable Moments of Akane Tendo’ it documented some of the biggest moments of the last year and a half.
In the top left was a picture of her in her Juliet costume, reminding her of when they tried to do the balcony scene from the Shakespearean epic. Only after Kuno took out the rival Romeos, Akane had to drop her desired outfit and role of the beautiful Juliet to take the role of Romeo herself. Hikaru, not for the first time cross-dressing, put on her discarded dress, and chloroformed the understudy Juliet to take her place. The kiss with Romeo and Juliet won the drama club the prize to meet Chinese actor China Lii, the foreigner guest judge impressed that Kuno had kissed Hikaru, attributed to authenticity since Shakespeare plays originally had boys in the female roles…
Shaking off that memory, Akane smiled slightly at a picture of her victorious after winning the ice skating match against Azusa and Mikado in that frilly leotard. And another of her high kicking a boy from the hentai horde beside one of an identical kick to Kuno’s head. Further down the page, she was photographed in her cheerleading outfit kicking the ditzy Mariko. Then some of her in her swimsuit, when she tried to learn under Principal Kuno, then later again under the equally inept Hinako Ninomiya, or the King Jellyfish suit, the suit she wore at Watermelon Island, and the bikini from when the class got Hawaiian Honeymoon Fever. He even had a photo in that ridiculous bikini from the Oni incident and one of her in the iron corset while learning the La Bell France school of martial arts dining.
Jubilant at the smile on her face at the beginning, Hikaru’s horror grew as her lips fell, down past neutral, her face turning red and displeased.
“Hikaru-san, is this how you think of me?”
“Please Akane-san, you have to surrender to me…”
“Stop,” called the delegated referee from her judge’s desk and gong. “Hikaru, Miss Kaori Kumayama, St Hebereke freshmen, has registered you as her boyfriend. And here is your signature. You can’t challenge others without her permission.”
Whimpering, Hikaru looked pleadingly at Akane, “Please, you have to challenge me? I give you permission. She’s much bigger than me! She forces me to meet her after school, and made me meet her parents!”
“And you thought photos of me half dressed would make me want to date you myself?” His falling face said he got the point, but she hammered it home by tearing his gift in half, knowing she’d have to burn the photos later. Watching the weedy boy run off, Akane noticed the remainder of the boys today step back as she vented on the perverted gift, making her smile darkly, hoping they would get the point and she wouldn’t have to fight anymore. She suddenly realized something Gosunkugi had said. “Why did Hikaru give me permission to challenge him? I didn’t give these idiots permission?”
Looking awkward, the senior girl with the referee’s armband uncomfortably winced. “As per the rules of Love Dome, anyone who has a date arranged or are part of a registered couple, must give permission to be challenged again for a date that weekend.”
“What? Why wasn’t I told this?” The moment Akane made the demand, she knew the answer. “Thanks Sis,” she mumbled.
As she turned to the boys remaining, she realized that it wasn’t that big an issue really, not one of the boys who challenged her would she want to date, let alone surrender to. For an instant she imagined Ranma walk into the door, but shook it off quickly. “Who’s next?” she demanded angrily at the assembled challengers who apparently had other things to do right now.
The thunderous voice startled everyone, including Akane with its intensity. She calmed herself as a dusty figure strode directly into the arena building and the circle ring.
“I’m here to fight Tendo, the champion of this ring?” he stated, ignoring Akane, looking around for this Tendo guy as he dumped his pack on the ground, hefting his umbrella.
Behind the judge’s desk, the referee regained her composure enough to call out. “Ah, who are you?”
“His name is Ryoga Hibiki,” Akane stated first, eyeing the big young man, dirty and rough from his constant travels.
Suddenly nervous, Ryoga looked at Akane more carefully, sensing some vaguely familiar about her. “Ah, do I know you Miss?”
Less impressed, Akane took a strong stance. “Remember that Juban tournament, I won the women’s division?”
“Oh, you beat Ukyo-chan?” he asked, his eyes dropping to her chest, recalling how that fight went, hormones catching up as he turned red, quickly facing away.
Frowning, Akane resisted using the remains of Gosunkugi collage to cover her chest. “Yes I did, and Shampoo, and Sakura Shishimi. My name is Akane Tendo.”
“Ooh, he was the boy in final fight, the one who became two, the one with the muscles.” The whispers started from a couple of the girls, quickly coming closer to the ring, and they weren’t the only ones. Akane recognized most of them, these girls were not her friends, they were the more boy crazy girls of the school. Girls who had hated her because the horde chased her. Akane suddenly imagined them as a pack of drooling dogs eyeing up a fresh piece of meat.
Ryoga, red faced at the whispered reminder of that embarrassing moment, he at least knew whose fault this was. “So you’re another of Ranma’s girls.”
“Excuse me? I am not Ranma’s anything. I belong to me and no one else.” Akane snapped back, “You on the other hand are a perverted pig.”
Growling in humiliation, Ryoga began to see red. “Ranma told…”
“Actually, Aunty Nodoka had a story, Ukyo had a story, and even Sakura has a story to tell about you. Ranma is the only one to actually defend you as not being a pervert.”
“Really?” he asked cautiously, wondering what kind of trick Ranma was up to doing that.
“Then again,” Akane pointed out taking a ready stance, tossing the garbage from her hands at his feet, not seeing one photo flick free and onto his pack. “You are here wanting to beat me up so I’ll date you?”
“Wha? No! Huh? I mean, you’re nice? But me and Ukyo… I mean, that is, I don’t fight girls, or force dates, or …” The jumble of words from the red faced boy came off rather cute to the assembled girls. Becoming aware that there were a lot of girls around the ring, Ryoga composed himself as best as possible, trying to stammer out an explanation.
“See, Ha, er, my master,” he began with a wince. But it was better than admitting to even knowing Happosai. That tended to get you hit below the belt. “He said that some undefeated guy was in here, so I just wanted to see if I was better? Not attack girls and not to force girls on dates.”
Ignoring his rather cute awkwardness, the only thing disarming her anger at his past and her mood, her anger began to spill to the girls around them. Behind Ryoga, at the edge of the fighting area, more girls waited with eyes on this new young man, tension building till it finally broke.
“Hi Ryoga-kun,” a pretty young woman with hungry eyes said to him. “My name is Toki Teikuhamu, I challenge you!”
Immediately things irrupted, as the girls began fighting far more viciously than the boys did, crying challenges, reasons why other couldn’t challenge, shouting offers for the boy to hold out for this girl or that, and all desperate to get into official order of who would get to challenge this hunk first.
Ryoga Hibiki did the only thing he could at such a situation of strange girls fighting and yelling things he didn’t understand. “Help?”
Shaking her head in amusement, Akane pointed a finger into his face, “Fine, but you owe me. I surrender.”
If looks could kill, Akane would have been vaporized, as all the girls froze to glare at her. Taking a step back from the epicenter of such focused hate, Ryoga swallowed nervously, “What does that mean?”
“It means that you have to take me on a date on Friday,” she said concentrating on not blushing suddenly, “and till next week, your don’t have to accept challenges from all these girls.”
Whatever his reply to this, Ryoga was drowned out.
The thunderous cry made Nabiki Tendo yank the headphones from her head with a wince, regretting not expecting that as she watched the proceedings in the AV department recording studio. It was hooked up to the arena cameras Kuno had installed when the dome was constructed.
With an amused smirk, she turned from the view screens to the diminutive little man smoking the pipe in the chair beside her. “You were right Grandfather, thanks for the tip. Akane Tendo surrenders to mysterious stranger after four days of fighting. So who is he?”
The aged master shrugged, not looking from a screen showing some of the gymnastics club working out in the gym. “No one important. Think of him as a backup boyfriend for Akane when she realizes that her secret fiancé is gay.”
“From what I hear, gay fiancé and this guy have history. You aren’t rocking my sister’s boat are you? I thought Aunty cut a deal with you to butt out?”
Turning in the chair, his big eyes looked into hers with innocence and caring. “This is just to let Akane know there are more than three men in the world. I’d hate for her to settle into a doomed marriage because she didn’t open her eyes. It’s for her own good.”
“A last fling of single life before she’s engaged to a punk kid with bigger funbags than her?”
“Come on, you can tell me. Communication is key to a good business relationship Grandfather.”
His attention waved back to a girl on the screen on the trampoline, going up and down, up and down.
“Fine,” he said distracted, “When Ranma finds out about them dating, he’ll pass a brick. Let Akane see him when he isn’t her gay best friend but another jealous punk. If she still loves him after that, then this marriage has half a chance.”
“Better,” Nabiki said, knowing it wasn’t all of the old mans plan, but fishing for more would risk some fun ideas of her own. Her musings were interrupted by the old mans sleazy voice again.
“Nabiki-chan, are there cameras in the girls change rooms?”
With her pen, Nabiki tapped the sign above the camera selection switches.
’There are no cameras mounted in the girls change rooms or showers. Please stop asking.’
By lunch on Wednesday, the sun was shining bright over the Furinkan high grounds, most of the students out in it enjoying lunch. Only a few were indoors, most in the Love Dome which was still catching up on fights.
Inside her classroom, Akane worked at her English project, using Yuka’s notes to complete the assignment to catch up to the class. It wasn’t that she was that far behind the curriculum with her time at Bokuto high, but Mrs Onshioban was being firm about missed assignments. “I forbid it!”
Wincing at the voice, Akane closed her folder and stood with a resigned sigh, straightening her skirt before the door burst in.
Kuno would have liked to stride in, but it was more the swagger of a cowboy after a week in the saddle, his bow legged movement sideways through the door into the room. Much more elegantly, Akane’s brown haired sister Nabiki sashayed in behind him.
“Tell her,” Kuno commanded at Akane, gesturing her at Nabiki.”
“Tell her what?” Akane replied with equal rudeness.
“That you wish for me to defeat this upstart whom entrapped you.”
The confused look that Akane gave her made Nabiki roll her eyes. “Pursuant to the rules of Love Dome, should a date be arranged, the losing party may give permission for a single third party to challenge the result by fighting the victor. The victor of that match will date the original loser.”
Digesting that, Akane frowned, “So I can ask Kuno to fight Ryoga and if he wins I have to go out with Kuno instead?”
“There,” the brown haired Kendoist stated, “She has stated such, bring forth…”
“Wait Kuno-Baby,” Nabiki said with a smirk, “I think my baby sister was just clarifying her option here.”
“That’s right, I do not give permission for anyone to interfere with that challenge. I am going on that date Friday.”
“Nay, I forbid it.”
Akane opened her mouth to tell Kuno where to stick his forbiddance, but something stopped her. “Nabiki, I forgot to ask. Can I borrow your cherry lip gloss for the date?”
Nabiki didn’t get the chance to say one way or another before her little sister turned to glare at the senior boy.
“Ryoga loves the taste of cherry.”
A flabbergasted Kuno made several sounds, none of which articulating into words, before storming off out of the room. Nabiki just looked at her sister, wondering how much that loud-mouthed son of Aunty had influenced her.
“Ranma, be a dear and get that for me will you?”
Nodoka kept her hands busy washing the dishes after dinner, frowning as the phone kept ringing. With a sigh, she dried her hands and reached for the handset.
“Aunty, its Akane. Is he there?”
“I’m sorry dear. If nothing else, he is fast. He probably got out of the house with the first ring. We’ll get him to talk to you yet.”
With a blush, Ryoga Hibiki looked around the area, ashamed at having walked into the metal telephone pole, crumpling the picture in his hand to hide it as a few people looked warily at the dusty wanderer. Ignoring the dented pole, he moved on quickly down the road before again opening his hand, using his other palm to smooth the photo out again, swallowing as he looked at the girl in the tiger print bikini he found in his pack.
“No, I won’t betray Ukyo,” the boy in the spotted bandana mumbled to himself, crumpling the photo yet again, reaching to put in a trash bin, only for his hand not to release it.
“It was a date made in an honorable challenge,” the fanged boy mumbled to himself, unrolling its crumpled image as he walked on.
As the sky darkened with the coming night, Ryoga looked up, realizing he’d have to find a clear space to make camp. He found himself no longer on the sidewalk but in a backyard he recognized, that of the ramen restaurant fronted home of the Chinese Amazons in Japan, the Cat Café.
A sudden shiver down his spine had nothing to do with the cold, and everything to do with the voice behind him.
“Well well, Ryoga Hibiki, you look troubled?”
Turning around to the wrinkled old crone, Cologne, who sat perched on her staff looking at him with her big eyes.
“Ah, hey,” he stuttered quickly, only to realize she was looking at the photo in his hand, quickly hiding it behind his back.
“Winter is setting in,” the white haired old woman said cryptically, still looking at him. Finally with a sneer, she gestured to the door inside she had come out from. “I make it policy not to let my students wander hungry in winter. Inside with you,” she ordered, like it was a burden to take care of him.
Having closed the door on the last of the departing customers, Cologne hopped past the still eating Ryoga, back into the kitchen. There she eyed the pair of young adults cleaning up after the dinner rush. “Mousse, prepare a futon in your room. Ryoga will be staying the night.”
“Why does he have to stay in my room?” Mousse complained. “Just let him turn into a pig and stay in the cage if you want him kept, you old mummy.”
Cracking the insolent boy on the head with her staff, Cologne waited for him to look up with his glasses on to lock his gaze with hers. “Because the only cage we have is a bird cage. Will anybody be staying in it tonight?”
Grumbling, the dark haired Chinese teen stepped around the old woman and went upstairs. “Great Grandmother, why we keep piggy boy anyway? Why you talks with him?”
“Great granddaughter, which of us will be punished should you fail to bring your airen back to the village next year?”
Swallowing nervously, Shampoo looked at her feet, “That not happen. I won’t give him up. Mother Nodoka hate Ukyo and Sakura more than bossy over us.”
“That could well happen. Your airen’s mother may smile for us, but the same empty smile shines on your rivals. In that boy out there, I feel an opportunity to aid your chances.”
Letting the young woman look up pleased, she waited to see if her descendant might surprise her, but the shining eyes before her were as vacant of thought as ever.
“This plan would require a subtle hand. Do you think you are ready to use subtlety?”
“Of course, Great Grandmother. Shampoo can do anything to win.”
Internally groaning, Cologne tried to hold hope that intelligence hadn’t skipped a generation. “Do you remember when I told you to encourage Ryoga in his pursuit of the Kuonji girl? Do you recall why?”
Nodding happily, Shampoo stood straight, “Because irritate spatula girl.”
Wincing, Cologne just kept looking at her great grand daughter, “And?”
“Oh,” Shampoo added, “Something about… Mother Nodoka?”
Sighing, Cologne kept her temper in check. “Because Nodoka-san hates the boy, so we can use the Xi Fa Xiang Goa and Formula 411 shampoo to offer to make the boy forget the Kuonji and the Saotomes’. In doing so, we shall earn further consideration and appeal in the final decision.”
“Aiyah, Shampoo remember now.”
“It appears, that that Ryoga out there has been tricked by Happosai somehow into a date with Akane Tendo.”
“Pervert girl?” Shampoo asked, before her eyes snapped wide. “Aiyah, Airen say Pervert Girl go home for engagement! Old pervert engage to pig!”
Cologne frowned, quickly reviewing Ryoga’s words. “Possible but that isn’t the impression I got,” she stated slowly, before shrugging as she considered Happosai and Nodoka’s conflicts in the past, smiling as a recollection of the Saotome matriarch beating the old man up some months before.
Suppressing the distracting recollection, Cologne returned to the moment, focusing on Shampoo. “Regardless, that boy out there is torn between his obsession with Kuonji and taking this date with a pretty girl.”
Peering directly into her great granddaughters eyes, cologne spoke slowly, “Do you see any opportunity in this?”
“Yes Great Grandmother, is perfect. Piggy get pervert girl pregnant, his man balls drop to make move on Ukyo. Leave Airen to Shampoo!”
With deliberate actions, Cologne hopped on the counter, slowly taking grip on her staff before hitting her descendant on the head. “Idiot girl, think before you talk.”
“Sorry doesn’t land you your husband. Try again.”
“Ryoga fall love Pervert girl?”
“Yes. Go on,” the old woman encouraged.
“More importantly, how will Nodoka-san and Kuonji react?”
“Mother Nodoka hate, Spatula girl love.”
“Very good Great granddaughter. If Akane and Ryoga fall in love, Nodoka will hate it, and if Ukyo is told at the right time, and not before,” she stressed those last words to show their importance. “Kuonji can further weaken her chances by cheering the boy she considers a pervert on the girl Nodoka helped raise.”
Shampoo almost squealed with glee. “Shampoo go make passion spice for pig boy.” Almost immediately her way was blocked by her ancestors walking stick.
“No passion spice Shampoo,” Cologne stated firmly. “If Nodoka-san thinks we were involved in this in any way, we hurt only our… your chances.”
“Then what Shampoo do?”
“This is where a gentle, subtle hand is needed. Use those involved naturally, not hit them with a blunt weapon.”
The vacant expression on her bimbo descendant wasn’t promising to Cologne. “Shampoo, Ryoga is a lonely boy, and attracted to this student of Happosai. The only thing holding him from falling in love with her is his memory of Kuonji.”
Empty eyes blinked at her.
Her old shoulders drooped as the old woman gave up on inspiring the bimbo, reverting to instructions. “Tomorrow morning, as Ryoga leaves, use the formula 411 to erase the memory of Kuonji from him. As long as he isn’t strongly reminded of her or reunited with his spring twin before nature takes its course between him and Tendo, this can only work in our favor. Tell no one and don’t talk to Ryoga of this date or relationship. Ignorance will be our protection from this backfiring on you.”
Looking at the nodding girl before her, Cologne sighed hoping ignorance would help them for once in this endeavor.
Toko look bleary eyed at his mother, still in her nighty, cooking and fussing for their guest. Ryoga Hibiki, forced again to be taken into his home by his ‘friend’ upperclassman Jiro Ohata.
Fortunately it was only one of the Ryoga twins, unlike just before the Juban martial arts tournament when both had been staying here, the regularly angry young man broke a rare smile of his fanged teeth at Toko’s mother, thanking her for the breakfast, ignorant of the older single mother’s occasional flirting.
Eating quickly himself, Toko was painfully aware of the embarrassing flirting, desperately wishing, not for the first time, that his father hadn’t run off with a merchant mariner. Finishing he quickly excused himself to get out of the house and get to school, away from his mother and the boy in the spotted bandana.
Ryoga looked around the glorious Thursday morning sunlit streets feeling refreshed and invigorated. His hand passed through his clean loose hair feeling upbeat and carefree. Not sure what he had been doing just a moment before, Ryoga looked down at his pack on the ground, beside his bandana and a photo.
Scooping up the fallen items, he looked at the picture of Akane Tendo in the tiger striped bikini for a long moment , perking up happily that he had a date with her tomorrow night. A real date with a real girl, not Ranma, and what’s more a girl who surrendered onto this date despite his curse. Life was picking up.
He looked again at the picture, then at his spotted bandana, before opening his pack and rummaging to near the bottom. Down there, he found another bandana, this one printed like tiger stripes. If his date liked that pattern, she should prefer that.
Picking up his pack, he looked at the name of the restaurant and the time, six o’clock Friday, that he would meet Akane for this date. He smiled as he recalled her smile when she had suggested the cook your own Mongolian restaurant since he had no idea of what restaurants were in Nerima. Determined and ready, he set off on his new life.
Watching from the shadows of an ally, Shampoo smiled, slinking off with her bottle of formula 411.
Akane sat straight at the table in the Saotome family home, ready to confront her idiot friend who had been avoiding her for over half a week. Having put off visiting to collect the last of her belongings, a frustrated Nodoka asked the youngest Tendo girl to join them for dinner to finally confront her elusive son.
“Ranma, dinner time?”
Like a blur before the call from Nodoka stopped, the white gi wearing patriarch of the family took his seat at the head of the table, appearing suddenly and all but drooling as he eyed the kitchen doorway. With a start, his jaw shut, his head tilting as his glasses caught on the light above.
“Hello again,” Genma said gruffly. “You looking for the boy?”
Once calming at his sudden appearance, Akane nodded. “He’s been avoiding me because he lost a fight.”
It was more words than the two had shared, despite having seen him on three separate occasions. She didn’t mean to come off short with him, but part of Aunty blaming her husband for Ranma’s behavior was rubbing off on her. Her brow furrowed as she considered that the first time she ever saw him was the day her father started up with her engagement.
“The boys training,” he said gruffly. “The boy’s only taking it hard because of you. He…”
Akane started as Aunty shouted her husband’s name, walking in from the kitchen with plates of food. The older woman gave the now silent man a withering glare, not that he looked at her. For a moment Akane thought he was ogling at his wife’s figure, till she realized it was the plates of food she carried in.
Putting down the plates, Nodoka let Genma start to reach before slamming the plates down near Akane. “Where is our son?”
Shrugging, still eyeing the food, Genma was ignorant of how mad his wife was. “No-chan, the boy just up and said he had more training to do. He said I could eat his dinner.”
Knelling down, Nodoka glared at her husband before he could help himself, further showing her negative mood by serving Akane before her husband.
“I’m sorry Akane-chan. It seems Ranma has eluded us again.”
“It’s okay,”, Akane said, far more comfortable without the angry tension in the air. It was much more comfortable to not think about Ranma’s father at all.
“But you came all this way and he has avoided facing you again. Most unmanly.” Genma swallowed his food nervously at that proclamation, but didn’t raise his eyes lest he meet his wives.
“I had to come for the rest of my things for when you let me stay with you. Thank you again for letting me stay.”
Nodoka looked kindly at the girl. “Akane-chan, I would do anything I thought best for your happiness. You know that, don’t you?”
Blushing at the show of affection, Akane nodded.
Slurping from Genma eating interrupted the quiet moment, giving Akane an out of the focus on her.
“Aunty, can I ask you some more about Ryoga Hibiki?”
Akane expected the confused look with a hint of anger from the woman.
His mother’s voice started Ranma from sleep, her glare the same one she had had on him when he went to bed last night, after his impromptu night training session. He was right in guessing his mother cooking extra meant Akane was coming over. A dull ache in his heart missed her, but the brown eyes glaring at him in his imagination, he wanted to be ready to make up to them.
“I’m up, I’m up. Did I over sleep? Is Pop up and ready to train?”
Nodoka shook her head at her son’s rather predictable reaction. “No, you have just enough time to wash, get in your uniform, have some breakfast, and get to school.”
“Yes dear, I know you’ve been skipping classes to do extra training,” she said in a resigned voice, before taking hold of his shoulder and pulling him into a hug.
This is where Ranma expected her to say ‘What am I going to do with you?’, though he suddenly admitted to himself that she hadn’t done it before. Normally like this, she had a plan.
“What’s going to happen at school?”
“At school, you will study and get the assignments you have missed and the ones you will miss not attending the half day tomorrow.”
“Yes dear. When you get them, immediately after school, I will have your pack and camping gear ready for you to travel by train up to the mountains, where we all went camping and training. The one where Cologne taught Ryoga that breaking point move, promising to erase my memory of what he had done if he defeated you with it?”
“What, we all going training?” Ranma asked, hoping her anger with Ryoga wouldn’t spill out more.
“Not we, I’ve had enough of your moping around. I arranged for a martial artist who has defeated this Kuno boy before to spare some time to train you. I assume you are ready to train hard and be ready for a rematch sooner?”
“Oh he…ck… ah, yes mother.”
In a flash he was around her and out his door, only for his head to duck back into view. “Thanks mom.”
Shaking her head and smiling, she began to clean up his room.
Nabiki grinned to herself as she put down her bag against her desk, unlocking the drawer on her desk, and putting her earnings inside. It amused her, the last minute challenges on Friday afternoon after school, she had been back almost two hours taking bets and pimping her champions out to girls challenged by the dregs of the remaining male student body who felt they had a chance when they were the only person asking.
She idly considered if she shouldn’t have accepted and surrendered the two fools who challenged her for a date. But truthfully she preferred the feeling of power of ordering one of the boys from the kendo or karate clubs to shoo away such distractions from her, with prejudice.
The idle fantasy of facing Jiro Ohata in the ring, him sworn off fighting, the appeal of a battle of wits amusing her, feeling strange that she missed him since their date last month. She’d been so caught up in schoolwork and Love Dome she hadn’t arranged a second meeting and he had been oddly quiet.
More immediately, she had to look up her sister. Walking out her door, closing it behind her, she made for Akane’s, surprised at hearing how upbeat she was being about this date, especially after the rotten start to the week the returned student had had. The bets on how this date would go, the long odds on Kuno not interfering, and the secondary bets on if Akane would make the date keep going after putting the kendo master down were exceeding expectations.
Opening the door and walking in, Nabiki expected to find Akane selecting her outfit choices and panicking over makeup.
Instead the room was clean, made, and Akane free.
A hand on Nabiki’s shoulder, startled her.
“Oh Nabiki, are you looking for Akane? Didn’t she tell you, she…”
A hand landed on Ranma’s shoulder, startling him.
“Akane?!” Ranma asked, shocked at the appearance of his friend, then blushing and looking down, feeling ashamed.
Akane’s hand didn’t hesitate to grab his chin and pull it up to face her. “Hey, idiot. We haven’t got much light left to train in. Aunty said you knew a good campsite. After dark we can talk about what happened.”
Releasing him she began to stride, hoping he would man up and follow.
Akane froze at the dejected voice, turning to look at the young man, who had somehow become her best friend, knowing how much pain he felt.
“Ranma, when we make camp, I’m going to kick your ass.”
The way his head snapped up let Akane lock onto his blue eyes, momentarily freezing as she forgot how beautiful they were. “Not for what you tried to do for me. For that I owe you. But telling Kuno those things to anger him… The jackass bought me a chastity belt!”
Suddenly Akane shrugged and charged, this payback wasn’t going to wait. With the hint of a smile, Ranma fled for the campsite with her just behind him.
In a darkened room, Kenji Morisato sat, sipping tea poured from a thermos. Since the tournament, he had put on a few pounds, but Mistress Shishimi had him watching her fiancé from a distance still.
Finally, as the sun sent lengthening shadows in the window, the homing device marker on the screen of his computer stopped, its co-ordinates on a wilderness area in the mountains.
Reaching for the phone, he dialed a quick number.
“It’s Kenji, tell the Mistress, that Saotome is up on Yuukyou Mountain, co-ordinates…”
Reading off the exact location, Kenji wasn’t surprised when he was ordered to sit and monitor it for further movement.
A bored yawn emerged, forcing open his mouth widely, only to rein it in, sitting up with a frown. One of the shadows in the window had vanished.
Akane swept the two wooden swords she wielded at her opponent, leaping her legs over his kick, his dark gi clad body going nearly flat to the ground, spinning like a figure skater to extend a leg under her guard.
Tipping the wood blades into the ground, Akane vaulted herself up from his reach extending up on her palms on the handles to flip herself up and over in her off white gi.
Continuing to spin, Ranma tried to knife his foot though the currently held wood blades.
Grimacing with the effort, Akane raised weapon he targeted, sending its tip for his body, his arm blocking in time kept him twisting his thigh onto the dull end without sacrificing his kick to the other blade she balanced on.
With a crack the end of the boken broke off, sending Akane toppling, trying to come down in a leg drop, he rolled sideways, her small arm locking on a bare bicep to keep him from opening ground.
Seeing Akane land hard into kneeling, Ranma twisted around to break her grip, glad his gi top was sleeveless, denying her a cloth grip, the two working so hard despite the cool twilight. He did break free of her strong little fingers, only to be caught off guard as she raced at him, still kneeling, that as he dived back from her, she managed to grab his foot, stopping his planned roll to his feet. Her grip had to be released as he braced on his hands to kick back at her with the other foot.
Both came to their feet, breath quickened, eyes bright.
“That little kneeling run? What is that? You nearly got me twice with that.”
“Martial arts Tea Ceremony. Awkward, oddly brutal, but very polite style.”
“Heh, your tea always was lethal.”
“Ranma! You insult it before you try it!”
Charging at Ranma, Akane unfocused her eyes, a dangerous ploy but hid what she planned by making her seem to be out of control.
Ranma side stepped to hook her on the way past, disappointed at her falling back into old habits, his hands reaching for her leading arm when she lashed out. Her eyes suddenly focused gave him too short a warning as she grabbed his arm, locking both hands on it as she sprung right, yanking him with her. Off balance Ranma found himself hefted in an Olympic hammer throw as she spun around and launched him into a tree. She leapt on his dazed form.
Ranma was still trying to find out what the hell had happened. Pulling his face out of the grass, he twisted to look up at Akane's straining face. His shoulder was screaming for release from her grip. For all his strength advantage she had him pinned. He knew in a real fight he could use at least one advanced move to knock her off, but he wouldn't cheat like that in sparring. This is what he got for not respecting his opponent. He knew he'd have to give in soon if he couldn't break free, but looking up, he suddenly recalled the first time she grappled him.
Akane too had worked it out, this time holding the hold, prepared to keep him till he gave out.
“I’m guessing that you ain’t gonna fall for me calling you cute again?” he gasped out.
“Not this time, you’ve used your lines. I’ve got you this time.”
He gave a short laugh, in part defiance, but definitely amused. “Damn I missed you this week.”
Ranma had been planning to follow up with a real line about their grunting and Kuno, when Akane let him slip free an arm enough that he could swing at her unguarded head, forcing her to break the hold and roll free.
Both back to their feet, Akane eyed the strong young man. “I missed you too,” she said quietly. Whatever Ranma might have said was cut off by a flash of lightning and a crack of thunder, both spinning around and back to back, looking for Kuno or some other threat.
The first drop of rain hit Akane’s cheek before she realized a storm had crept up on the intensely training pair. “Rain? It’s a storm.”
In a flash, Ranma was by his pack grabbing out the tent. “Quick, clear that spot of rocks and grab your pack.”
Looking up at the ceiling of the four-man bubble tent, Akane closed her eyes to listen to the rain pour onto it. They had just gotten in and set up before the main rain started, Ranma even avoided going girl. “This is a nice tent,” Akane said, kind of surprised at his shiny new camping gear. Most of his older items were rougher and well used, and he often griped about his cheap father.
“Yeah. Mom packed them or I probably would have brought my ratty old two-man tent that Pop can’t fit in. Sakura had it delivered this week out of the blue for the one she destroyed nearly a year ago while trying to kill my girl form who she thought was sneaking into my tent. Getting it out of the blue has me worried, cause it ain’t black and gold or related somehow to her. Mom figures she is trying to buy into good will after Mom gave her crap for inviting Kuno up last weekend.”
His hand stopped on setting up the small gas grill he was setting up to heat water and cook some rice. “I’m sorry I couldn’t beat Kuno.”
Despite the rain, the heavy emotions in the tent made Akane feel like his whispered words were shouted over silence. “Ranma, thank you for trying. That meant more than anything else in this. Kuno, he considers me a prize. You challenged him for my freedom.”
He glanced at her before shaking his head, looking down. “I could a beat him, I just got too cocky. You tried to warn me.”
“Your right, I did. But I knew you were an idiot before you didn’t listen,” she quipped with a grin.
When he didn’t look up, she still caught the hint of a grin at the side of his lips, and so kept on. “And I knew you were an idiot before you sulked and avoided me for a week.”
“I don’t sulk.”
“Please, you’ve stopped cooking to have a sulk for losing a fight with a cheat who didn’t earn any of his skills. He won the Wishbringer by random lot, and he used it to get his skills. You have nothing to be ashamed about.” Letting his head come up, she held up a hand to stop him as she continued, “Now are you going to have a cry and let it out, or do I beat the sulk out of you.”
His moth opened for the predictable rebuke, before he went back to setting up the little cooker. “Thanks Tomboy.”
Lighting the cooker up, he opened the door flap to pull in a small pot from catching a little bit of rainwater, adding to it from a water bottle and setting it to boil for rice. He pushed a small-compartmentalized box over to Akane. “Mom packed some pickles and cold meat. You want ta get them out, and some sauces?”
Akane nodded quietly, letting him deal with his funk, feeling warmer for helping him deal with the pain he was putting on himself out of that indomitable pride. She frowned as she saw the compartments were specifically marked and prepared, Aunty’s light laughter in her ear as she realized there was no customization she could do with them to liven them up, something Aunty still felt she wasn’t ready for.
In a small plastic bag, she found a variety of satchel sauces. After meeting Genma, Akane kind of understood how Nodoka had become so spendthrift and efficient. “Do you think wasabi and tomato sauce would go well together?”
“Probably not. Hey, if I lose to Kuno on my next rematch, I’ll use it to put myself down.”
“Hey,” Akane cried. “No need to get mean.”
“You’re the one preparing my dinner while threatening chemical warfare.”
Her glare for Ranma faulted and fell at the amused smirk on his face as he cooked the rice. Her eyes dipped to the muscles of his still bare arms under the light of the electric lamp of the tent, looking at the casual power. “You are so lucky you’re good looking enough to get away with being a jerk.”
Smirking, he didn’t even try to deny it. “Yeah, but most chicks just take it personal. Especially hot ones.”
“Ranma,” Akane stated slowly, “You just called my cooking toxic.”
“Yeah, and you’re cool enough not to whine it out, you give it back hard as you take it.”
Smiling at his off hand compliment, Akane shrugged. “Thank Nabiki, she’s been giving me worse than you do my whole life.”
Glancing at Akane, he shrugged. “Maybe, but I’m still gonna miss it. I mean once you’re engaged next week, I don’t see your fiancé letting you come camping with a guy who gives you massages.”
Akane froze, her stomach dropping at the reminder, and the disappointment in his voice. She did have a choice to reject the engagement, but suddenly realized Ranma expected her to honor it… The more she thought about it, the more she realized of course he did, since he was engaged to three girls and would marry one, four after he got another next weekend himself apparently.
Rather than think about the image of Ranma beside a girl in a wedding dress, the gleeful look not changing as the faces did between Ukyo, Shampoo, or Sakura, she continued preparing dinner, packing up the unused back away.
Seeing Akane’s discomfort out of the corner of his eye, Ranma decided to change the subject.
“So what would you be doing if you were at home right now?”
Akane shrugged, “Probably more homework. The teachers piled it on since I left so suddenly. Then again…”
His companion suddenly sucked in air and going pale, then red faced.
“Oh my, I totally forgot I was meeting someone tonight.”
Ranma chuckled, stirring the rice to help it cook evenly. “Duh, good one.”
“Hey! I just forgot,” she defended, imagining Ryoga sitting alone in a restaurant, after having walked through the rain for the date. But there was no way she could call him now even if she wanted.
“Here Mr Customer, you try this, so succulent.”
Finally the tiger print bandanna wearing Ryoga couldn’t resist the pretty waitress anymore, trying the cooked meat that had been prepared Mongolian style on the hotplate. Enjoying the spicy taste, Ryoga smiled, the flowers in his hand shaking as he looked out the window again at the clear cool night.
“Oh Mr Customer, your date not come?”
Shrugging embarrassed, he looked at the slip of paper Akane had given him after she had surrendered in that stupid ring to him. “This is Khan of Khans Mongolian BBQ, right?”
“That is right Mr Customer.”
“On Hiroimono Street?”
“Hiroimono? No, Hirnoimono is the address of our Nerima restaurant, in Tokyo.”
“And this is?”
The red faced young man stood suddenly then sat back down, “Ah, I’m late.”
“So it seem Mr Customer,” the exotic waitress agreed. “Would you like some more pork?”
“Pork!” he cried turning green before rushing out the door.
“Well damn,” The waitress said dropping her accent, looking after the fleeing figure. “Why are the cute ones so messed up.”
His feet pounding as he charged down the street, Ryoga spat out the taste of the meat he had eaten, focused instead on the image of the beautiful Akane, in a tiger print dress, sighing and waiting for him to arrive.
The bright sign of ‘Khan of Khans Mongolian BBQ glowed in the night on Hiroimono Street, illuminating the figure standing in the pouring rain out front.
Holding his wooden blade at the ready, Tatewaki Kuno began to worry that he had been misled on where the vile stranger Hibiki was taking his proud Akane to dinner this night.
Laying out the two bowls of fluffy rice, one before Akane and the other himself, a plate of pickled veggies and cold meat between them, Ranma waited for her to pick up her chopsticks before grunting to get her attention.
“Hold up Akane. This training trip may be the last chance we get to see each other all alone without nobody else around.”
Suddenly self-conscious, Akane’s cheeks turned pink as she wondered where she was going, but let him continue.
“So right now, I want it now.”
That made her turn further red, firmly suppressing her imagination, trying to articulate to ask what he meant.
“You aren’t the dining champ right now. Kodachi and golden boy interrupted it last week. You aren’t escaping this time!”
Calming herself, Akane straightened up, cursing her embarrassing blush, her eyes locking onto his blues as she readied for battle.
“You consistently talk big Ranma, but this is low. Picking a fight when you know if I don’t let you win I’ll have to deal with you sulking more…”
“I, oh, eh, this ain’t…” he started, shame faced as he tried to defend himself of her words, only to see her grinning.
“Oh, you want to go out in the rain and turn girl before you have a whine, or you ready to fight for MY title?”
Having his words thrown in his face was the last straw, “Oh its on.”
Raising a napkin, Akane grinned, “For my title of champion of breakfast.”
She tossed the napkin up, both watching it hit the ground beside them before arms flashed as they devoured dinner.
Rice vanished from bowls, the meat going almost instantly and the vegetables following. Dancing chopsticks tried to block and counter to slow the opponent while still feeding their for once silent mouths.
Almost to the end, it came to a final pickle, Ranma just faster as he pinched a grip on it, Akane pinching around his chopsticks and flicking it up and free. Knowing Akane was going to bite it out of the air, Ranma lunged for it first, both biting into it, both freezing in place as their lips pushed together.
The pickle broke in half, but neither pulled back from pressing on the others lips.
Nodoka Saotome looked out into the early evening darkness and rain out the window. If all went well, they would be in that big tent Sakura had bought her son, and in the rain wouldn’t be able to not face each other and get back to being friends.
If they had negative feelings for each other next week when they are told of the engagement, this could all be for naught.
Lifting her teacup for another sip, it cracked in two. Half the cup shattered on the floor, making the older woman purse her lips in concern at the mess and remaining half, a bad omen.
Her eyes frozen on those beautiful blue orbs, just off angle but right in front of her, Akane managed to swallow the half a pickle in her mouth, her breath from her nose restarting as his swallowing moved his lips on hers.
Both managed to come back to kneeling, fortunately empty bowls brushed aside as Ranma’s fingers ran through her hair, holding the kiss, directing her slightly but not holding her to him, somehow locked together through their eyes.
She definitely was the first to moan into their kissing, but there was no denying his tongue crossed into her mouth first, a strange eddy of push and pull storming between them, skin hypersensitive on a thumping awareness of every point of contact, her fingers squeezing into his biceps as he still stroked through her hair.
For an instant feeling like she was falling, Akane found herself cradled down to the bedding mat, Ranma kissing down on her, their eyes warring with the same storm of hunger and tenderness that rocked their bodies back and forth.
Breaking the kiss with a sudden growl, Akane felt the almost hot and electric touch of her fingers up under the back of his gi between the belt that held his top shut and his pants.
Not missing a beat, Akane’s lips found his chin, the rough touch of stubble reminding this was definitely a man, his smell in her nostrils as his lips found hers again, eyes locking, all the points of contact between them overpowering anything she had experienced before.
Her arm going up Ranma’s back as they continued to kiss and suck at each others lips, her fingers trailing over and down his arm, feeling awkward and lost when she found it on the mat, Ranma using it for balance and control over her.
For a panicked moment Ranma thought he had gone too far, when Akane broke the connection to push him up, taking him over and onto his back. He ignored the chopstick under his back and the clang of kicked bowl, more concerned about Akane, finding her straddling his hips, her face returning down on his, his lips reaching up to meet her.
Pushing down on his lips, Akane let her weight push his head down on the mats, her arms grabbing his wrist, pulling his hands to her, awkwardly holding them to get them around her back before bracing herself to kiss without bruising lips.
Laying on his chest, his mouth and tongue finding her ear for a time, tiny shivers running up and down her spine, her body trembled and ached like she never knew before, not like this, Akane dragged herself down him, nipping at his neck. With sudden crystal clarity, Akane knew what her body wanted.
Ranma’s tongue was out of his mouth as Akane almost vanished, sitting back up suddenly, her wide eyes nervous as they locked onto his in the weak light. Her face was pale as the pair gasped down forgotten breaths, Akane turning suddenly red and shuffling backwards onto his thighs, eyes glancing down at him, then anywhere but till finally locking on his eyes once more, desperately trying to think. Suddenly she knew what those songs and stories were all about.
He wanted her, that was undeniable in Akane’s mind, but this wasn’t the slavering lust machines of the boys at school. This was him, the man who knew her body but had controlled himself every other time. She had no fear of him, despite how wrong this was, this would be a regret forever if she leant back down to him.
Controlling himself, Ranma closed his eyes from her beautiful brown orbs, surprised by the intensity of the emotions he had for the girl who, rather typically, life was happy to dangle like a carrot but not let him have. She was for someone else.
Sitting up enough onto his elbows, he looked at her pack. “I’ll set up the other tent.”
Akane knew what she’d regret.
The young woman on his legs grabbed him around the back of her neck, pulling him up to kiss with all the searing passion pouring through her body.
Releasing her hold as his arms encircled her, her hands reached for the knot on his gi belt, fumbling to get it off before finally just ripping the belt in half. In an instant her hands dragged up the hot skin of his abdomen.
Still trying to kiss her, Ranma mentally stumbled as his gi top was dragged off his back without care for damage to it or his arms. “Makarmay?” he mumbled into her lips, only to suddenly find himself pushed back down to the mat.
Ignoring her belt, Akane simply yanked her gi top up out of it, snapping the ties inside it as she pulled it off. She smiled as he looked at her sports bra, then up to her eyes again. Shivering, she crossed her arms over her head to pull the supporter up and off.
“Just shut up Ranma.”
To be continued….