"Megami no Ooi (Is in the Eye of the Beholder)"

Chapter 2

Ukyo took a moment to size up the person she had once called her fiancé. Or would fiancée be the right word now? It was hard to believe the statuesque redhead in front of her had ever been a boy. For that matter, it was hard to believe that this Director had once been a petite, rough-and-tumble teenaged girl. Ranma had apparently hit a growth spurt over the last year, because she was now half a head taller than Ukyo, and her legs were impossibly long. Her breasts were now more in proportion to her size, and from what Ukyo could see, properly supported as well. Apparently Ranma's protests about wearing girl's underwear had given way to practicality a long time ago.

Ranma gave her an awkward grin, but even in that, Ukyo could see that this was not the same brash young man she had known before. She carried herself differently, and she had more poise and grace. When they had spoken last, Ranma had mentioned that she had let the Institute's senshi continue their mind altering techniques, if only for convenience and under Ranma's watchful eye. She had the bearing of a leader, and appeared to be taking her responsibilities more seriously now.

Ukyo knew better than that, though. "How could you, Ranma? How could you just rip out Akane's tenki like that, leave her weak and without her memories, and just dump her on her family like she was last week's trash! I thought you CARED about her!"

Ranma's eyes narrowed at her accusations. "Hey, I did the best I could! She had the T09-3 construct! I had no choice!"

"T09... what? What are you talking about, Ranma?"

"T09-3. Akane's tenki was manipulated to implant a second personality, along with her magical girl powers. As Akane used her tenki, the secondary personality would have grown stronger and more dominant until it integrated fully into her spiritual matrix." Ranma uttered the words as if repeating them by rote. Ukyo just raised an eyebrow.

"It's the way they brainwashed her!" Ranma clenched her fists for a moment, looking frustrated, but she couldn't stop herself from yelling at her former friend and ally. "The first girl that they did this to, Emiko, she is compelled to obey any order, no matter how unspeakable! She could be ordered to kill somebody... or even kill herself, and she wouldn't be able to say no!"

Ukyo took a deep breath. "All right, Ranchan, but why take away her tenki? Don't you know how much that meant to her? She may have fought against us, but you of all people know what she must have gone through. Is she really responsible for any of that?"

"I didn't have any choice!" Ranma snapped, a little too loudly. "The personality was embedded in her tenki! I HAD to remove it, to get rid of the programming. If I hadn't, her hatred of me would have grown, until she started to see Artemis as some sort of martyr, that she had to obey, even after death. She would have become something terrible... just like Artemis!

"I know Akane felt that she was being given a family, someone who cared about her, but really, they were just using her. You didn't see, Ucchan, you don't know the kinds of things the girls of the Institute were asked to do. And Akane would have done that, gladly, if the Director had asked her to. And Artemis WOULD have made her do it, in order to get to me.

"The only way to free Akane from that would be repeated 'adjustment'." Ranma shuddered, and although Ukyo had not gone through that process, just the Institute's normal training and the torture of the tiara was more than enough for her. "Anything would be better than that. I'd rather be hated for the rest of my life than put her through that..." Her voice dropped to a whisper.

"Even worse, in her anger, and pain, Akane might decide that I had 'destroyed' the Institute, and that she had to 'fix' it. She could hurt innocent people, injure them, kill them, even torture them, the way she had been tortured, in order to 'help' them. She really would become a monster. I know that Akane... the Akane I used to know... the Akane she still is now... would rather die than see that happen."

She paused a moment, her seething turning inward. "And the worst part is, Artemis was just using her to get to me, to hurt me. She didn't have to do that, Akane was happy to become a magical girl. But Artemis just had to turn her into her willing slave... and make sure that I could never get her back."

Ranma looked up into Ukyo's eyes. "Well, maybe I couldn't get her back, and maybe the Akane I knew would have hated me for what I did. But all I wanted to do was get the two of you OUT of that mess, and that's what I did..." She then grimaced sheepishly. "... for the most part."

"Yeah... I'm still a magical girl, after all," Ukyo said, with a bit of a chuckle. "Although I guess I'm glad you didn't drag me back to the Institute."

"Don't think the others didn't want me to," Ranma countered, darkly. "The only reason the Ministry of Justice allows you to wander around free is that I swore on my position as Director that you would NEVER skip out of the country. And I think a number of Cabinet members were hoping you would."

Ukyo returned the redhead's gaze. "Okay, you had no choice. So why didn't you tell HER that? Why turn her over to her family, and expect THEM to deal with it?"

Ranma sighed and turned away. The sudden movement made a handful of ribbons twirl around her skirt. "I had planned to talk to her, after the operation was over. But she couldn't stay at the Institute. The Institute is for magical girls, and Akane and all the other T09's, those that were still new enough to go through the operation, they wouldn't be magical girls any more. We couldn't really justify holding them, or using government resources to house them. The other senshi and I agreed that the best thing would be for them to return home where their families could care for them.

"Only... then I found out Akane had lost all her memories of me." She glanced back at Ukyo, who could see the hurt in her face. She then cast her eyes down, ashamed. "I actually... I didn't find out about this until a couple of weeks after Akane returned home. I was so swamped with paperwork, and trying to get settled into my new responsibilities that I just..."

Ranma shook her head, her pony tails swaying. "Anyway, when I learned that Akane had lost all her memories since meeting me, Michiko told me that in her opinion, the amnesia caused by the procedure should not have been that complete. Akane had only been a Chevalier for a few weeks at the most, there had not been time for her tenki to crystallize to that extent. While she would have had partial amnesia over a period of one to two years, she should have remembered SOMETHING. Her memories would be spotty, but there."

"Like they are for her memories before starting High School," Ukyo suggested.

"Exactly." Ranma paused for a moment, and then continued, her voice shaky. "Kamiko suggested that the most likely explanation was a form of traumatic amnesia, where she had locked away all memory of the time she had known me because that memory was just too painful. If that was the case, then ANYTHING might trigger those suppressed memories; seeing my face, hearing my voice, even hearing my name might trigger memories. Since those memories were probably too painful for her to withstand, there was no way of telling how she would react to suddenly recovering them."

Ranma sighed again. "She could range from the temper tantrum to end all temper tantrums to... a complete break with reality. Too sudden and too extreme a recovery of her memories could drive her insane. And who knows what lasting effects the T09-3 construct would have on top of that."

"About that time, I met with my parents, and tried to explain to them what had happened to me." Ranma scowled. "It did not... go well. I felt that the best thing for Akane was to make a clean break with her. Since... my parents and the Tendos had already decided not to mention my name around her, I figured that was for the best. I did assign some girls to keep an eye on Akane - over Kamiko's objections, she said we couldn't spare the manpower - but we all decided it was best if they didn't let their presence be known."

Ukyo said nothing. She could hear the pain in her friend's voice, but wasn't sure that she could forgive him... her any more than the Tendos could. Maybe with time, that would change. For now, though, just Ranma's mentioning of the name Kamiko had brought up memories of her own torture at the hands of the merciless instructor. She didn't question the woman's professional opinion, but she would probably always question her motives.

"Anyway, I was sure I did the right thing. I hated having to do it, but Akane's strong - she always has been, and I was sure she could handle it." Ranma had turned her back again, and put a hand to her face. "And then I found out about what... Kuno did. And the rest of the boys."

Ranma struggled with herself for a moment, while Ukyo watched in silence. Finally, she continued. "I never meant for that to happen. When my senshi told me about it, I blew up at them, I asked why, if they had a magical girl there on the spot to report back to them, she didn't step in to stop the attack." Ranma's mouth twisted into a scowl. "They said that the girl had been ordered to observe, but not to interfere.

"Right then and there I said that a watch would be placed on Akane 24 hours a day, and if ANYONE EVER threatened her again, they would step in immediately. Kamiko and a few of the others objected, of course, but I wouldn't take no for an answer. As for Kuno, I had the senshi round him up and bring him in." Ranma grimaced again. "Kodachi had... Kodachi had died during the fight with Artemis, and I felt he and his father had a right to know.

"Naturally, Kuno recognized me right away as his 'pigtailed girl', and swore his undying loyalty to me since I had obtained the 'position of royalty' he always felt I deserved. The jackass still thinks I'm going to fall in love with him and make him the 'Director's consort' or some other such nonsense. I've been sending him off on stupid errands to keep him out of my hair and away from Akane for the last year.

"As for Principal Kuno, he tried to cut my hair, and then Michiko and the rest all attacked him. He uttered some nonsense and bounded away. I don't think he even cared about properly laying his daughter to rest."

"Wow," Ukyo commented. "I always thought he was a nutcase, but that's REALLY a nutcase."

Ranma turned back to her with a wry grin. "To make matters worse, a couple of months after that, Happosai showed up. I don't know how he found out about me, but I'm sure he heard about it on the news. Anyway, he shows up once a week or so to make my life miserable. He raids the Institute, grabs some panties, and escapes before any of the senshi can corner him. From what I've heard, he's raided the Institute in the past, but he hasn't been seen in a couple of decades. Apparently, the Director was able to run him off for good, but now that I'm in charge he's obviously testing my leadership."

"Well, I guess that answers the question of what you've been up to." Ukyo smirked for a moment, then looked her Director up and down. "So let me ask the obvious question. What the heck have they been feeding you?"

"Like it?" Ranma gave a feminine twirl, VERY unlike the Ranma that Ukyo used to know. Her face then fell. "It's a side effect of the Director position, I think. Since I swore to Artemis to take her crown and her obligations, I've begun to physically resemble her more and more. I think it has something to do with the Moon Kingdom, and its royal family." She touched the tiara on her forehead, which bore the crescent moon symbol. "I understand Usagi Tsukino will also grow up to look like this."

Ukyo regarded her suspiciously. "Aren't you worried that the crazy moon lady is effecting your mind, as well?"

Ranma frowned. "A little, but I don't think so. I don't feel like pulling the wings off of Terran flies, or anything like that, if that's what you mean."

Ukyo chuckled a bit at the attempt at humor. "Maybe, but admit it, Ranchan. You are talking properly, you're being diplomatic, and you haven't insulted me or Akane once. You've GOT to be brainwashed."

"That's Kamiko's fault," Ranma said, tapping the silver rings holding her hairstyle in place. "I have to admit, I miss the old Ranma too, but I was getting tired of putting my foot in my mouth all the time. Then again, now I can CHOOSE to be polite, or just to be me, whenever I wish. It's a real timesaver."

The conversation fell silent, and for a moment, it seemed like old times. Just two friends, joking around together. Only, there was nothing really to laugh about. Ukyo's tone turned somber. "Ranchan... level with me. If you hadn't saved me from the Institute when you did, would I have turned out like Akane?"

Ranma looked pained. "Yeah," she said, nodding. She didn't hesitate. "They had already given the order. You were going to be 'adjusted' right along with Akane."

"And if I had, would you have done the same thing? Would you have ripped out my tenki, left me a shell of my former self, and dumped me in Ucchan's Okonomiyaki without so much as a goodbye?"

"Well..." Ranma's voice trembled, and she looked away. "I couldn't exactly leave you alone in your restaurant like that. Maybe Konatsu... or maybe I would have left you with the Tendos instead. I'm sure they would take good care of you," she said, her voice soft.

Then her expression hardened, and again, Ranma showed no hesitation. "But yeah. If I had it to do it all over again, I would have done it exactly the same."

"All right then, Ranma," Ukyo began, and her eyes narrowed. "Since you're being diplomatic with me, I'm going to be diplomatic with you. You say that you didn't have a choice. But there's ALWAYS a choice. It may not be a choice you like... but you made a choice. And since you've told me everything that's happened, I'm going to tell you what you DIDN'T say."

"But..." Ranma began, but Ukyo glared at her. Ranma closed her mouth. Her new position as Director often required her to sit and listen as others chewed her out. And unlike all those others, Ukyo was her friend. She owed her the chance to rant.

"It's not that you robbed Akane of her senshi powers, Ranma, or even that you dumped her on her family instead of taking care of her yourself. You've got a good explanation for that, Ranma, and I can buy it. You even nicely explained why you never spoke with Akane yourself, or tried to clear things up with her. But here is what I'm not hearing, Ranma. This is what you left out of your story.

"You delegated your responsibility for Akane to somebody else. Rather than deal with her yourself, you left it to Kamiko and Michiko. Rather than heal her yourself, you returned her to her family. Rather than talk to her yourself, you left it to your mother and father. Rather than protect her yourself, you left it to some senshi."

"I had work to do!" Ranma protested. "I was busy!" Ukyo glared at her again, and Ranma snapped her mouth shut.

"You abandoned Akane, Ranma," Ukyo continued, as if she hadn't been interrupted. "This is what you always do, this is what you and your father have done since you were a child. You say you've got a responsibility now, that you've got to take care of the Institute, but I think that's just an excuse. The Ranma that I know, the Ranma that I grew up with, and the one I came to know again as a teenager, he would NEVER have taken responsibility for somebody else's troubles. He might help somebody who was in need, but once the fight was over, you'd move on.

"That's what you've always done, Ranma. It's what your father does, it's even what your mother did." Ranma's jaw tightened at that, and Ukyo realized she had hit a nerve. "You want to think you're better than that, but deep down, you're still that little boy who doesn't want to take responsibility for anything. Instead, you blame it all on your father, or Akane, or the Amazons, or me. I pursued you for a year and a half, because you didn't have the guts to say what you should have said the first day I showed up in Nerima.

"You're running away. You ran away from me when you were six, you ran away from Shampoo after you defeated her in China, and now you're running away from Akane. You don't want to face her, so you're running to hide in the Institute. It's a convenient place where you can hide in duty and paperwork, and you won't have to face the consequences of what you've done. Because deep down you're afraid that Akane can't forgive you. Because you can't forgive yourself."

Ukyo paused a moment, watching Ranma's reaction. She looked angry, but flinched, as a look of anguish came over her face. Ukyo tilted Ranma's face up to look at her. "Ranchan... I don't think you have enough faith in Akane. Don't you think she can find it in herself to forgive you?"

Ranma's stricken look waged with her obvious desire to snap back with a vicious comeback. Finally, she slumped. "Damn operant conditioning," she said. "It was so much easier when I thought being macho and arrogant could solve all my problems."

"Operant... what?"

"Never mind," Ranma waved a hand. "You're right, of course. I let myself get too caught up in things, and by the time I realized Akane was truly gone, it was too late." She looked up. "Even you had gone, and in a way, I envied you. At least I found the strength to finally tell you the truth... I just wish the price hadn't been so high.

"But there's nothing I can do about that now." Ranma took a deep breath, and then shook her head. "Look, I came here because there were things you needed to know about Akane, and I wanted you to know them. You should be able to help Dr. Tofu treat Akane, and help her get her strength back. I'll try to keep in touch, and if you have any questions or run into any problems, you just come to the Institute. Even though I've made sure you have the freedom to go wherever you want to go, you're still welcome there. I swear it."

Ranma paused again, and then looked up at Ukyo, her eyes pleading. "I know I'm asking a lot, especially after what you just said, but... could you look after Akane for me? The others are still asking me to stop but... with you, I know she'll be safe."

Ukyo couldn't hold back a scowl of disappointment. "I was going to do that anyway, Ranchan."

Ranma looked away. At that moment, a noise from the other side of the bushes told them that Akane was returning. Ranma squatted behind the bushes, preparing to leap away, but Ukyo had one more thing to say. She put a hand on the flustered girl's shoulder. "U-Ucchan?" She questioned, as she looked back at Ukyo.

Ukyo looked into her friend's blue eyes. She could see the panic there, the fear of being caught, and remorse and guilt as well. But she could also see what it was doing to her, holding herself back from just running to Akane and seeing her one last time. Ranma really was in love with Akane, Ukyo reminded herself, and Akane had been in love with him as well, despite their denials. She never had a chance.

"Ranma," she began, intentionally avoiding her nickname for her old flame. "Don't forget, you gave up Akane, you gave up me, you even gave up your manhood, all to take on the responsibility of this Institute. Don't abandon them, like you did me. It was hard enough to let you go; I want to be able to say it was for the right reasons."

Ranma's eyes flashed at the accusation, but she nodded her head. "I won't, Ukyo." She said. Ukyo didn't miss that she hadn't used her nickname either. "The original conditioning tried to make me loyal to the Institute, but even it if hadn't, I wouldn't have changed my mind." She lowered her eyes. "I lost a lot of things in there, but one thing I gained is that sense of responsibility you were talking about. I can't walk away from this. I... I care too much."

"Good." Ukyo glanced back at Akane, then waved her hand. "Go, just go. I'll take care of her."

The girl leapt away, vanishing into the trees in a swirl of ribbons.

Ukyo came from behind the bush, and Akane looked up. "There you are. What were you doing back there? Were you just talking to someone?"

"I thought I saw something," Ukyo lied, "But there was no one there. Must have been my imagination."

"It might have been one of Nabiki's friends," Akane said, turning back to pick up the leftovers from their picnic. "She has them keep an eye on me sometimes. I catch a glimpse of them now and then, when they think I'm not looking."

"Oh." Ukyo mulled that over. Was Akane seeing Ranma's senshi keeping an eye on her, or was Nabiki really sending her friends to watch over her as well? Probably, it was both. It sounded like something Nabiki would do. She wondered if one of her spies had seen her meeting with Ranma just now. Oh, well, she'd cross that bridge when she came to it.

Ukyo helped Akane gather up the picnic cloth, and the two of them headed back to the Tendo's.

As they crossed the gate into the Tendo compound, Ukyo got another surprise. There, in the front yard, was a small black pig. As it spotted Akane, it looked up and squealed, and the black-haired girl's eyes lit up.

"Ryoga! There you are! It's been so long since I've seen you!" Akane scooped the pig up in her arms, while Ukyo stood there, confused.

Why was Akane calling P-chan Ryoga? That had always been Ranma's thing, calling Ryoga P-chan, as an insult to his rival. But Akane wasn't supposed to remember Ranma. Wouldn't she also have forgotten Ryoga? Had she discovered the pig again, and for some reason she named him Ryoga? Why would she remember the name, when she didn't remember the person?

Ukyo followed as Akane walked through the front door, calling out a greeting as she did so. "Kasumi! We're home!" Akane ruffled the fur on the pig's head, and then called out again. "Oh, and Ryoga's home as well. Would you bring his spare clothes to the furo, and call Akari and tell her where he is?"

"Come on, Ukyo, this won't take a minute," Akane said, and she led Ukyo around the family room and back to the furoba. Suddenly, an idea started to form in Ukyo's head, and she started to try to deny it. But it all made a horrifying kind of sense. She had never really seen that much of Akane's pet, but she knew that Ranma harbored a deep jealousy of it, and that he was known to constantly pick on it. She glanced at the pig, which was eyeing her suspiciously, and noticed his little orange bandanna. Just like the bandanna Ryoga wore. It couldn't be... could it?

Akane continued to talk cheerfully to her pet, telling him how much she had missed him. As she stepped into the furoba, and opened up the divider into the bathing room proper, Kasumi came in behind them. She had a bundle of clothes in her arm. "Here you go, Akane," Kasumi said sweetly. She then turned to the pig. "Hello, Ryoga," she said, and her voice became marginally harder. "Will you be staying long this time?"

The pig looked up at her with his round eyes, and then sheepishly looked away. He then shrugged his tiny shoulders. Ukyo's mouth fell open. Any doubts she may have had were banished. The intelligence in the little animal's gaze was unmistakable, and he had clearly responded to Kasumi's question.

Akane set him down in the bathing room, and then took the pile of clothes and set then down next to him. "We'll be waiting outside, while you change. Don't take too long." With that, she stepped back outside and slid the divider closed.

There was a splash from inside the room, and then silence for a few moments. This was followed by the sound of someone getting out of the furo, someone larger than a simple pig, Ukyo noted, and then more silence. Finally, the divider slid open, and Ryoga stood there. He looked just the same as usual, in his brown pants and yellowish shirt, with the bandanna around his head.

"Thank you, Akane," he said. Ukyo just stared at him, her eyes bugging.

"Ukyo, I'd like you to meet my friend Ryoga," Akane said, introducing them. "Ryoga, this is Ukyo. I just met her yesterday."

"We... um... we already know each other." Ryoga put a hand behind his head, laughing self-consciously.

Ukyo finally found her voice. "RYOGA IS P-CHAN?"

"Oh! P-chan! That's so cute!" Akane clapped her hands, and for a moment, Ukyo was taken aback by her former rival's burst of girlishness. "That's a perfect name for him!"

"Um... that's what Ukyo called me," Ryoga said. He had started to blush a little, and touched his fingertips together. "She didn't know my secret."

Akane's eyes widened. "Oh... I'm sorry. I didn't know you were keeping your curse a secret." Akane shot a glance at Ukyo, and had a decidedly apologetic look on her face.

"No, that's okay. I don't mind her knowing." Ryoga managed a sheepish grin, while Ukyo glared at him.

"So how long have you know this guy?" Ukyo asked Akane. She couldn't keep from growling, but apparently Akane didn't notice.

"Well, I first met Ryoga about six months ago. Of course, I had known him before, but as with you, I didn't remember that. Ryoga said that we had been really good friends, though, and he was worried about me. When he found out what happened to me, he got really, really angry."

"Oh, yeah?" Ukyo glared at Ryoga again. "Let me guess. This guy fed you some line about how the two of you had been boyfriend and girlfriend, didn't he? And then declared his undying love for you? Am I right?" It would be just like Ryoga to take advantage of the situation the moment Ranchan was out of the picture, she thought. From the blush that spread over his face, she figured that confirmed it.

Akane shook her head, though. "Ryoga told me that he had once had feelings for me, but then he found Akari, and he made a commitment to her. He didn't want to ruin that. He said that I had always treated him as a friend, and that he'd never been able to tell me the truth." Akane studied Ukyo's surprised expression for a moment. "Was there more to it than that?"

"No, not really." Ukyo gestured at Ryoga. "I'm just surprised this pig could tell you, is all. He was always too shy to come out and say it, before. I tried to fix you two up on a date, once, but the moron wouldn't make his move."

"Oh, really? Ryoga didn't tell me that." Akane looked at him, and Ryoga laughed nervously. She looked back at Ukyo. "You're right, though. He was very shy around me at first. I actually had to ask him what was wrong before he would admit it to me."

"Honestly, I wouldn't have been able to say anything at all if I didn't have Akari," Ryoga added, reluctantly. "Eventually I just... I just decided that Akane needed to know the truth."

Ukyo eyed him suspiciously. "And that's when you told her about the curse?"

"No, he told me about that right away. Apparently, his curse had come between us in some way." She pursed her lips. "He didn't want that to happen again, so he went and jumped into the koi pond, so I could see the curse for myself." Akane glanced at Ukyo. "Of course, I had seen Uncle Saotome's curse, so I already knew about Jusenkyo." She looked thoughtful. "You don't have a curse, do you?"

"No, no. I've never been to China." Ukyo regarded Ryoga with a thoughtful expression herself. "Tell you what, Akane, why don't you go on back to the family room and wait for us. I want to have a private chat with Ryoga here. Just to catch up on old times." She practically hissed the last two words, and Ryoga gulped.

"Sure, Ukyo. I'm sure you two have a lot of catching up to do." Akane wandered back down the engawa and turned the corner to head back around the side of the house.

Ukyo waited until Akane was well out of sight, and then pushed Ryoga back into the furo. "All right, 'Pig Boy', did Akane know about this before? And don't you DARE lie to me!"

Ryoga blushed deeply and looked at the ground. "No..."

"Did she take you into her room when she was changing clothes?"

"Yes... but I never looked, I swear!"

Ukyo gritted her teeth. "Did you sleep with her?"

"... Yes."

Ukyo slapped him. "And Ranchan knew about this?"

"It's all Ranma's fault!" Ryoga protested. "He's the one who cursed me!"

Ukyo slapped him again. "Did Ranchan know about this?" she repeated. "Did he LET you sleep with Akane?"

"No! Or... well, not really. He was always trying to get me out of there." Ryoga looked stricken. "Look, at first it was just to punish Ranma, you know? But then I really started to fall for Akane. I knew what I was doing was wrong. But I didn't know how to get out of it! If I told her, she would HATE me! I couldn't think of any way to get out of it without ruining everything..."

Ukyo grabbed him by his collar. "You still should have told her," she growled.

"I did! The moment I saw that Akane had lost her memories, I realized, this was my chance!" His eyes lit up, excitedly. "I was being given a second chance, and I could start over, and do it RIGHT this time! I told her right away, so she wouldn't see me, and take me in as her pet again! She could get to know me as me, and not as 'P-chan'." He lowered his eyes again.

"And are you going to make your move on her, now that you have a 'second chance'?" Ukyo growled. "It might work out this time. Ranchan's not around any more. Akane might appreciate a man who's strong and can take care of her, in her condition."

Ryoga looked up into her eyes, and Ukyo realized he had thought about it. She could see the conflict, as he fought against himself. But then he looked down again. "No, I'm not the kind of guy who would abandon Akari. Like..." his voice trailed off.

"Like Ranma did to Akane." Ukyo finished.

"I meant what I said." Ryoga met her eyes again. "I want to be with Akari now, and if she'll have me, I'd like to be with her for the rest of my life." His expression turned serious. "But Akane needs me. And even if it's just as a friend, I'm going to be there for her." He looked down again. "Whenever I can find the place, anyway."

"Does Akari know about this?"

Ryoga nodded. "She didn't speak to me for a month after I told her. And the beating she gave me was worse than any Akane ever gave Ranma." He smirked, although his eyes still remained locked on the floor. "That girl picks up sumo pigs with her bare hands, you know."

"Good. That means I don't have to beat you for it." She tilted his head up. "I'm going to be watching you, 'P-chan'..."

"I think if I ever mess up again, Kasumi and Nabiki will officially kick me out of the house. So I better make sure not to mess up again."

"You better not." Somewhat reassured, Ukyo led Ryoga out of the furoba.

As they turned the corner in the hall, a thought struck Ukyo. "You know, you're probably lucky you decided to tell Akane when you did. Ran... The Director's been sending her girls to keep an eye on Akane. If you had tried to pose as Akane's pet again, they probably had orders to "out" you on the spot."

Ryoga shuddered. "I hadn't thought of that. I really don't know why Ranma never told Akane about me, although I'm sure it had something to do with honor and the martial artists' code. But now that he's... well, now that Akane's lost her memory, I'm sure he wouldn't want it to happen again."

He looked at Ukyo. "Have you kept in touch with... the Director?"

"Not as much as I should have, apparently. This all caught me by surprise. But I talked to the Director. She explained why she did what she did to Akane."

"Really!" Ryoga's eyes brightened again. "What did he say? Can Akane be cured?"

"She, Ryoga." Ukyo reminded him. "We shouldn't even be talking about Ranma where Akane might hear us. And the Director is 100% woman, now. I don't even know if she can change back, her tenki has changed her so much." She paused a moment. "It's happening to Konatsu, too."

"Oh..." Ryoga looked uncomfortable. "Well, what did she say?"

"There's no 'cure'. The operation isn't reversible. Akane was brainwashed, and a second personality loyal to the former Director was planted in her tenki. So it had to be removed."


"What enables me to do this..." With that, Ukyo transformed into her magical girl guise. A second later, she changed back.

Ryoga's eyes looked like they were going to pop out of his head. "You're a... you're a..."

"A magical girl, yes. Ranchan helped me achieve tenki so I could help in the fight. I couldn't save Akane." She clenched her fist in frustration. "But at least with my help, Ran... the Director was able to overthrow her predecessor and try and make the Institute a force for good."

Ukyo then laughed. "Damn, that sounds cheesy. I sure hope that's what we did."

That evening at dinner, the Tendo family room was pretty crowded, with all the guests sitting around the table. Ukyo noted that Nodoka sat next to Akane, in Ranma's former place. Ukyo had taken a seat to Akane's right, with Ryoga next to her.

Although Ukyo hadn't visited the Tendo home very often, she had stayed with them when Ranma and Akane had pretended to be married. She had tried Kasumi's cooking, and had been suitably impressed with the elder Tendo daughter's skill. Nodoka's help in the kitchen had only made the food even better, and Ukyo found the meal quite enjoyable. She had kept her own skills sharp by working as an okonomiyaki vendor from time to time, but she really didn't have the heart to return to work in her restaurant. For now, Akane needed her for friendship and support.

As the family was finishing their meal, Ukyo cleared her throat. "I've been thinking, and I want to discuss something with you, Akane, and the rest of your family, too." She glanced over at Soun, to see him watching her curiously. "I'd like to return to Furinkan, and I'd like Akane to come with me. Do you think she's ready to go back to school?"

Soun immediately broke down into a sobbing, quivering mess. "Waaaaaaa! My baby can't go back to school! She's still too sick!"

"Daddy!" Akane looked ashamed of her father's blubbering. "I've gotten a lot stronger lately! I don't get sick nearly as much as I used to. My last really bad bout with the flu was over a month ago!"

"I think Akane is physically fine," Ukyo agreed, "I'm more worried about her education level. Akane told me you and Kasumi have been teaching her. Do you think she's ready to attend Senior classes?"

"I don't know, Ukyo," Kasumi said gently. "But haven't you been out of school for over a year yourself?"

"That's what I was thinking," Ukyo told her. "I've tried to keep up with schoolwork as much as I could, when I was on the road. But I'll have to work pretty hard to catch up. I was thinking that if Akane and I do it together, we can help each other."

"That sounds like fun," Akane said, with a bashful smile. "And I'd love to see my old friends again. Oh, can I go? Please, daddy?"

Soun looked like he might be about to give in, but Genma threw in his two cents' worth. "What about those boys who attacked Akane, and the Kuno boy as well? I don't think she's ready to face that sort of a fight yet."

"I was thinking we would start back tomorrow, without any warning. That should keep them from re-organizing the morning attacks. Plus, I believe Kuno hasn't been seen around lately. Shouldn't he have graduated by now?"

"Yes," Nabiki put in. "He and I both graduated at the beginning of the semester. I put in my application to college, but haven't accepted it yet until... things around here straighten out." She glanced at Akane as she said this.

"And if Kuno hasn't been able to see Akane at school, surely he would have come around here by now." Ukyo paused a moment. "I have it on good authority that Kuno is being kept busy. Which is why he hasn't had time to show up here and cause trouble."

Nabiki's eyes narrowed. "I suppose you found out all that during your 'rendezvous' in the park today," she said casually. Ukyo glanced at her, catching her meaning. She HAD been watching.

"Let's just say that while I may not trust the source, I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of her report."

The others glanced at her, but didn't question her further. Ukyo sighed. "I think it will do Akane good to be back around friends that she knows and cares about. All this has been hard on her, and she just needs to lead a normal life again. Believe me, I know."

Genma looked unconvinced, until Ukyo added, "And of course, I'll be there to protect her. I'm NOT going to let that nonsense start again, even if I have to fight those boys myself."

Akane started to protest, but cut herself off. Nabiki got a calculating gleam in her eyes, and her sister's expression made Akane look even MORE uncomfortable. To reassure both of them, Ukyo put a hand on Akane's shoulder.

"Akane, I know it's a bit early to think about this, but would you OBJECT to a date, if a boy asked you nicely?"

"I... I suppose not." Akane looked thoughtful. "No one has ever asked me on a date before." She then scowled. "I'm NEVER going out with one of those boys who attacked me, though."

"No one expects you to," Ukyo told her. Akane's reaction was just as she expected, though. This wasn't the Akane who had gone to high school and fought with Kuno and Happosai every day, this was the Akane of junior high, who was just starting to think of boys. If Ukyo could get her off on the right foot, she might still be able to repair the damage done by that one, isolated attack.

"Ryoga," Ukyo said, turning to him. "Why don't you ask Akane out on a date?"

"Me!" Ryoga's eyes went wild, and he almost bolted from the table. "Why me?"

At the same time, Akane added, "Ryoga already has a girlfriend, Ukyo. He has Akari."

"I know that," Ukyo said calmly, grabbing Ryoga by the shoulder and forcing him to sit back down. "Which is why you'll know he won't try anything. You can just go on the date and enjoy it, and it'll be like going out with a friend. In the meantime, you can tell the other boys at school you're already dating, and they can wait their turn."

"That's pretty clever, Ukyo," Nabiki commented. "That just might work."

"But what about... um... Akari?" Ryoga asked. He was blushing and stammering, and his nose was starting to bleed. Ukyo wiped up the blood with a napkin, which only seemed to fluster him more.

"Do you think she would mind, Ryoga? If you explained it to her?"

"Um... ah..."

"Better yet, I'll explain it to her." Ukyo grinned. "I can see you're as bad as these kinds of things as... well, my old boyfriend." She glanced at Akane. "But I'm sure she won't mind. It's just to help Akane, right?"

"Well, okay," Ryoga agreed, although he still looked on the verge of passing out.

"Don't worry about it, you two. After all, I fixed you up on a date before. I'm sure it'll go better than that!"

Ukyo and Akane made their way through the school gates, with Nabiki's watchful eyes on them the whole time. "Good luck, you guys," she said. "Let me know if everything goes well."

"Oh, really?" Akane regarded her sister with a smirk. "You expect us to believe that you won't find out about everything the second after it happens?"

Nabiki shook her head, with her usual all-knowing grin. "All right, you got me. I might have a FEW girls left 'on the inside'." Her expression turned more serious. "Just remember, I won't be there myself."

"Don't worry," Ukyo said. "If everything goes according to plan, Akane should be fine. And if it doesn't, I'll be right there at her side." She reached back and patted her battle spatula.

Reassured, Nabiki walked out of the gate. As she left, Sayuri and Yuka came running up. "Akane! Akane! Is that really you!"

The girls enthusiastically hugged their old friend, while Akane looked embarrassed. "Come on, guys," Akane said. "Don't make such a big deal."

"When we saw you attack that demon, back at the ice cream shop, we thought we would never see you again!" Yuka almost looked as if she was about to burst into tears. "And then when we didn't hear from you... we feared the worst."

"I'm sorry I worried you," Akane said sheepishly. "I should have given you a call."

Yuka turned to Ukyo. "Who is this? Is it...?" She blinked, then stared closer. "Ukyo? Ukyo, is that YOU?"

"Don't recognize me in the girl's uniform, do you?" Ukyo said with a grin. Although she had registered as a boy before, to continue her father's quest to reclaim her womanhood and take Ranma's name as his wife, as a magical girl of the Pretty Princess Institute her identity was now permanently and legally that of a girl. And the fight for Ranma was over, she added, with a note of melancholy.

She had borrowed one of Nabiki's old uniforms until she could buy one of her own. She had slung her spatula over her back, as she really felt naked without it, but there was no other sign of her former profession. She looked for the most part like any other girl going to Furinkan. Which she supposed was the point.

"This is Ukyo, my friend from before I lost my memory," Akane said, introducing her. "I gather you already know her, though." She leaned in close to her two friends. "She's a magical girl from the Pretty Princess Institute!" She said excitedly. "She told you I could tell you that, but you've got to keep it secret from the rest of the school. She doesn't want anyone else to know."

As Ukyo expected, the girls' eyes narrowed. "Yeah, I had heard you got captured as well. How come you didn't lose your powers like Akane did?" The challenge in Sayuri's voice was unmistakable.

"I assure you," Ukyo said, glancing around to make sure they weren't being overheard. "I've got no more love for the Pretty Princess Institute than you do. But it wasn't them that helped me become a magical girl. It was... the Director." She watched the girls for their reaction, and they both understood. From their scowls, their opinion of Ranma hadn't changed from before.

"Because of that, I'm officially a part of the Institute, but I'm free to go wherever I want. I just got back to Nerima, to find Akane like this." Ukyo gestured at her friend, and Akane looked a little insulted. "I want to help her get better, and I want to help her reunite with her friends, too. I'm sure she misses you a lot."

Now Akane looked embarrassed. "Aw, come on, Ukyo... of COURSE I miss my friends."

"Well, we missed you too, Akane. When you dropped out, it was all the school could talk about. We all teamed up to beat up Kuno for you, you would have been proud of us!"

"Yeah," Sayuri added, "He stopped asking about you after that. I guess we got it through his thick skull. Although he did often ask Nabiki for updates on your physical condition."

It was probably Ranchan that got through to him, Ukyo thought to herself, although she didn't say anything out loud. Probably fed him some story about Akane being "enchanted". Maybe without "Ranma" around, she was able to convince him that Akane needed time to heal. She would have to watch out for him, who knows when the obsessed kendoist might try to make a reappearance.

Ukyo followed as the three girls headed inside, catching up on old news and gossip. Akane looked happy, and even with her gaunt figure and the dark circles under her eyes, she already looked better. Ukyo hoped her recovery would continue just as rapidly.

As Yuka and Akane continued on ahead, Sayuri edged back to whisper to Ukyo. "Are we still supposed to not mention... You-Know-Who around Akane?"

Ukyo nodded. "At least until Akane shows signs of recovering her memories on her own, I think that would be best. I hate lying to her, but..." She glanced at her friend, chatting happily with Yuka. "She knows that 'The Director' saved both of us, and that there was a big fight, but I think it's best if she doesn't know any more than that. There are some things I'D rather not remember about my time at the Institute..."

Sayuri looked at her oddly, but said nothing. The two of them quickly caught up with their friends, and hurried into the school before the bell rang.

As they entered Akane's home room, Ukyo was glad that Miss Hinako wasn't there. The last thing Akane needed in her condition was to have her chi drained, and the child-like teacher was just too unpredictable to be trusted. The teacher that was in the classroom was obviously a Senior class teacher, and she had seen him in Nabiki and Kuno's home room, but not often enough to know his name. She pulled him aside to apologize for showing up so unexpectedly with Akane, and asked him for the chance to speak to the class.

Akane addressed the class first. "Some of you may know me from before, but for those who don't, I'm Akane Tendo. I'm very happy to be back at Furinkan, and I'll do my best. I hope to get to know all my old friends again." With that, the teacher assigned to her to a seat next to Sayuri and Yuka, and she sat down.

Ukyo then spoke up next. "Okay, I'm Ukyo Kuonji, and some of you may know me, and some of you may not. But I want to make one thing perfectly clear. I asked Akane to come back to school with me, and I'm going to be looking out for her. Which means, no matter what you may think about Akane being 'available' now, and whether you can 'challenge' her for a date, as far as I'm concerned, that whole thing is null and void, as of this minute."

A number of boys in the room were beginning to grumble among themselves. Ukyo spoke up quickly, before they could say anything. "Right now, Akane is dating Ryoga Hibiki. She needs a little time to herself, so I don't want anyone asking her for a date until SHE decides she's ready. After that, if you want to come up to her, and ask NICELY, you may, as long as you understand if she says she's not ready yet.

"And one other thing. No one who has EVER attacked Akane can ask her out. No exceptions." The boys began to grumble again, and Ukyo raised her voice to speak over them. "NO EXCEPTIONS! That includes those who were in the first attacks but didn't attack that last time. I don't care if Akane remembers you or not, if I see any of you perverts bothering her, you'll answer to me... and that goes for the rest of Akane's friends as well." When the grumbling continued, she added, "Right, Sayuri, Yuka?"

"Right!" they both added, without hesitation. Akane was blushing and hiding her face in her hands, but Ukyo felt it was worth the embarrassment to get this over with.

One boy raised his hand. "But what about Ranma... ?"

Ukyo was in his face before he could blink. "NEVER mention that name to me again! The only people you need to worry about are me, Akane, and Ryoga Hibiki! You'd best just forget that name."

"Uh... uh... yeah." The boy stammered. Out of the corner of her eye, Ukyo noticed the blonde haired boy, one of Ranma's friends, look stricken. But there was nothing she could do about that now.

Akane leaned a little closer to Yuka. "She really did love him, didn't she?" she whispered, although it was just loud enough for her to pick it up. Ukyo forced herself not to react. Yuka just stared at her friend for a moment, and then shrugged.

Ukyo pulled herself together. "I've said all I intend to say. May I be seated?" She glanced back at the teacher, who gestured at a chair near Sayuri and Yuka. Ukyo took it.

The rest of the day passed quietly. Ukyo found that she had to concentrate hard to keep up with the lessons, but Akane was obviously struggling, too, and Sayuri and Yuka did their best to help out the both of them. Akane seemed to be pleased with the progress she had made, and was all smiles when she got an answer right. With the years that Ukyo had spent on the road, and the chaos of her life, she had never really been bothered that she couldn't keep up with her work. She had her okonomiyaki shop, and that was good enough for her. For Akane, though, Ukyo guessed that falling behind in school had been terribly disappointing to her.

Eventually, lunch time rolled around, and Akane's friends gathered around to ask Ukyo questions. "So where have you been this last year?" Sayuri asked, opening with the obvious question. The one that didn't involve Ranma, anyway, and Ukyo appreciated that she wasn't going to ask it.

"Well, with everything that happened, you know, I had to get away. I hope you realize I escaped what happened to Akane by the barest margin." She smiled at Akane, who looked uncomfortable at being the center of attention. "So I can certainly understand what she's going through.

"Basically, I just wandered around Japan. I went home to Osaka, to visit my father." A wistful expression appeared on her face, but she shook it off. "I had some things to clear up, but once I did, he was happy to see me, as always. I couldn't stay, though. I guess it's like they say... you can't go home again."

"Did you... get into any adventures?" Since Akane's friends were around, Sayuri didn't want to talk about Ukyo being a magical girl. But it was obvious that's what she meant.

"A couple of times. That's how I met Akane again, in fact." She hesitated, realizing that some of Akane's other friends might have been in that group. "I came along just as she was attacking that demon. Fortunately, a couple of magical girls happened to show up and fought it. I dragged Akane back out of the line of fire. I may be a martial artist, but even I know not to fight a demon bare-handed."

"Oh, so THAT'S what happened," Sayuri said, with a knowing wink. "Well, it's a good thing you came along when you did."

Ukyo had just started into a story about how she had started working from an okonomiyaki cart up and down the coast, when another girl approached the little group. She was very timid, and wouldn't speak up until Akane asked her, "Do you have a question?"

The girl lowered her eyes shyly. "Excuse me, but are you Akane Tendo?"

"Yes," Akane said kindly. "I am Akane Tendo."

"Um..." She glanced around. "My name is Yumiko. I'm sure you don't remember me, but I transferred here to Furinkan about a year ago. It was... it was about the time all those boys attacked you." She wrapped her arms around herself, glancing at Ukyo as she did. It was obvious that Ukyo's speech this morning had intimidated her.

Ukyo smiled to reassure her. "Go on," she said. "What did you want to ask?"

"That was really frightening!" Yumiko said. "I was thinking... what kind of school is this? But then I asked around, and I found out who you were. I found out you had fought them before, and kept them away.

Akane took the girl's hand. "That was really frightening for me, too," she said. "But I'm a martial artist. I often have to deal with danger. I've learned to put it behind me."

"That's what I heard," Yumiko said, her head bowed. "But then I found out what had happened to you. That you had been returned to your family with amnesia, and you had no idea what happened to you. And... and that you were sick, and really weak, and that was why you couldn't defend yourself. You were caught by surprise, and not as strong as you used to be."

"And?" Akane asked gently, still holding the girl's hand. Ukyo marvelled that Akane could take all that and show no sign of insult. Although clearly this girl posed no threat to her. Yumiko was incredibly skinny, and her face was pale and drawn. Ukyo's eyes narrowed as she studied the girl a little more closely. She did look as if she had been sick, which suggested something Ukyo didn't want to think about.

"Well, the same thing happened to me!" she said, confirming Ukyo's suspicions. "That's why my parents moved here, from the Shinjuku district. I woke up one morning, and I had been returned to my family, and was sick with a terrible fever. And I had no knowledge of what had happened over the last six months or so. Plus I... I felt there was something missing from my life. Something... something that was important."

Ukyo's expression had become intense. "Have you ever joined the Pretty Princess Institute? Or had you heard of them, or been thinking of joining them?"

The girl blushed deeply. She looked around the room, and then sat down next to Ukyo. "My parents told me never to mention that I had been a Pretty Princess," she whispered. "They're afraid they might take me away again."

"It's all right," Ukyo said. "You're among friends here. Why do your parents think the Institute would take you away?"

"I had been a Pretty Princess for about two years before I was returned to my parents in Shinjuku. I remember that clearly, although there are gaps in my memory. But I loved being a Pretty Princess. My parents always said I was too young, I should finish High School first, but I insisted. Then, about a month before I reappeared, they lost touch with me.

"When I was returned to them, the Institute left a pamphlet saying that I had been critically injured in an Institute operation and had lost my magical girl powers. They also suggested I return to the Institute periodically for psychological and medical examination. My parents don't trust the Institute though, and they threw those pamphlets away. Now I'm worried about what could happen if I DON'T get medical treatment. Could I get even sicker?"

Ukyo was stunned for a moment at this revelation. Now THAT was a shock. The Institute WAS showing concern for these girls. But that didn't change the fact that they had done this in the first place - and Akane was not the only victim. She now recalled something Ranma had said; "The Institute is for magical girls, and Akane and all the other T09's, those that were still new enough to go through the operation, they wouldn't be magical girls any more. We couldn't really justify holding them, or using government resources to house them."

Ranma knew! She knew the whole time, and hadn't even bothered to mention it! Ukyo tried to control a burst of rage. Obviously, Ranma had never expected her to run across any more of these "T09-3s" as she called them, and never expected their families to reject the Institute either. Or maybe she did expect it, but figured she couldn't do anything about it. Ukyo clenched her fist. Well, the Director might not be able to do anything, but she sure could!

The girl had continued talking while Ukyo was distracted. "I'm really scared! What if the Institute decides my parents aren't taking proper care of me and take me back? I don't want to leave my family, but I still trust the Pretty Princess Institute! I know what people have said about Director Silvervine leading a coup against the government, but I can't believe that happened! Or at least... I once believed." Her face fell. "I can't even remember what happened."

Ukyo took Yumiko's hand again. "Don't worry. We can take care of you. We have a doctor, who has dealt with this kind of problem before. He's treating Akane now, and he's really good. I'm sure he will be able to tell if your condition gets worse." I'll have to talk to Ranma about the potential complications, Ukyo said to herself. I'll need to know what to look for.

For a moment, she wondered if the Tendos had been given the pamphlets as well, and just threw them away, like this girl's parents did. It would make sense, given how they felt about 'The Director'. Nabiki would know, and might have kept them. She doubted they went into any detail, but they might have some useful information.

Meanwhile, Akane was comforting Yumiko. "It sounds like you really enjoyed being a senshi. I'm sorry that you can't become one again."

"Oh, you can't call me a Senshi!" She said, blushing. "That title is for defenders of royalty, or high-ranking officials only. I was just a magical girl, that's all."

"Oh? I didn't know." Akane glanced at Ukyo, but she shrugged. She hadn't been there long enough to pick up the social niceties, and didn't care to find out. "I didn't mean to offend."

"That's okay, I'm not offended, although I suppose some of our instructors might be." Yumiko grinned amiably. "Even though I'm no Knight of the Crown, if I impressed the Director, I might be granted a title, like Chevalier."

Akane flinched. Ukyo noticed the reaction. That was the title Artemis had given Akane. Did the dark-haired girl remember that, or had the word just triggered a random memory? Akane was looking very disturbed, but she didn't seem to be panicking or losing control. Ukyo watched her carefully, but Akane stayed calm.

Yumiko had not noticed their discomfort, and was still talking. "I guess it's accepted for the common people to call any magical girl a senshi. Sailor Moon's Senshi are so famous, after all." She giggled. "I always wanted to be like them."

Akane looked a little embarrassed. "I always liked Sailor Jupiter a bit, myself. I would love to spar with her some time, just to see how I measure up as a martial artist." She lowered her eyes. "I'm sure she'd win... especially now." Her face fell.

"Cheer up, Akane," Ukyo told her. "We'll get you back in fighting shape in no time." She turned to Yumiko. "And we can help you, as well. While I'm sure you're not interested in being a martial artist, our training can help your strength, and healing, and help you fight off illness, as well. It'll help repair the damage that was done by... the fight that you got caught up in."

"Do you really think you can help me?" Yumiko asked. There was no mistaking the desperation in her voice.

"Of course," Ukyo answered. "Meet us after school, and we'll take you to the Tendo dojo. You can call your folks from there, and let them know you're safe. Then we'll go over to Dr. Tofu's and have him take a look at you, and we'll verify that your case is the same as Akane's."

"And in the meantime," Akane put in, with a bright smile, "we can run over to the ice cream shop! I can think of no better way to welcome a new friend!"

Author's Notes:

I should mention that from what I have discussed with Xylix, he had a very different vision of the aftermath of "Haigeki". However, when I read the last chapter, something jumped out at me, and Ukyo mentions it here. Rather than dealing with Akane directly and talking to her about submitting to the operation, Ranma left that to others. Of course, Ranma was incredibly busy, and had demands on her time from people she wasn't yet ready to deal with. While things didn't have to happen the way they did here, I saw this as a pattern, which if allowed to continue, could become a sign of a more serious problem.

I think I should also mention that the term "operant conditioning" refers to the act of using punishment or reward to modify behavior. It is similar to but taken a step further than classical conditioning, which you may know as the famous Pavlov's Dog experiment. Michiko used that term in one chapter of "Haigeki", and Ranma repeats it here, referring to the "training" that has so drastically modified her personality.

To Sunshine Temple, and others I may have "faked out" with my cliffhanger from the last chapter, I hope that this chapter answers some of your questions. This story really didn't get started until the very last scene above, which introduced Yumiko. With her, this story goes from being a continuation of what happened in "Haigeki" to a whole new storyline. Ukyo and Akane's problems are really just part of a much bigger picture, and they're just now starting to see that.

This is not to say that Ukyo and Akane's problems aren't important, and we'll see them continue to confront them. But Ukyo has already realized that she got off lucky, and while Yumiko's memory loss seems to be less than Akane's, she doesn't have Akane's strength to fall back on. She needs a lot of help right now, and we'll see if her new friends can give it.

Added Note: (After the chapter was posted)

Balthanon's review pointed out a definite error in wording, as "junior high" was what I meant to say and not "grade school" when Akane was talking about her last memories. I certainly knew Japanese schools had junior high from ages 12 to 15, so that was the age range I was thinking about. I'll blame a faulty thought process for my using the wrong term. I have gone back and corrected the error both in the first chapter and this one.

I'd also like to say that Balthanon's review was dead on when it comes to Ukyo's thinking. Ukyo is kind of walking a razor's edge here. The truth is, she is an outsider to the Institute, she was never officially a part of Artemis's Institute, and she has nothing but hatred for what they did to her. She is set apart from the magical girls that have lived there for years. On the other hand, she is "programmed" to trust the Institute, and she trusts Ranma, although she is a little worried that, as she says, "the crazy moon lady is affecting his mind". But she knows that Ranma made the right choice. There are consequences to that choice, and she's going to help Ranma deal with them, in her own way. But she recognizes that things could have been much worse.

So what she says to both the Tendos and Ranma isn't exactly what she truly feels. She's not going to lie to them, she's too honest for that, but she will say what she thinks NEEDS to be said, whether that is to win the Tendos' trust, or to ensure that Ranma takes her new role as Director seriously. And note Ranma as much as hands the information on the T09-3's to Ukyo on a plate, as if she unconsciously wants Ukyo to take care of them as well.

Normally I would post this in the next chapter, but it looks like it will be a while before I get around to writing that, if at all. I originally intended to write this to take a break from "The Saotome Sisters" and ended up not writing anything for a year, so I'm not going to do that again. But this story is top of the list to continue once that is done.