(C&C welcome. Not to mention needed)

By: Angela Jewell

An Alternate Reality Fanfic! Same beloved characters—whole new twists.

Standard Disclaimer: Ranma 1/2 is the property and creation of Rumiko Takahashi... and tons of other people/companies I don't have the time, patience, or desire to name. Just know that I am not one of them, and have no intention of pretending otherwise. At least not out loud.

Chapter 7
Fighting Windmills

For the briefest of moments, Kuno stood frozen, uncertainty marring his once cool and proud demeanor. From what he could ascertain, he was certainly not dreaming.

A girl really *was* kissing him. . .

Surreptitiously, he opened one eye, and then promptly closed it.

No, not just any girl—twas a beautiful girl, he noted. Though in truth, the identity of this fair maiden was a mystery to him.

Of course, bound by the samurai code as he was, Kuno had no choice but to allow the sweet creature to do with him as she saw fit. After all, a brave and gallant warrior could not in all fairness turn down the affections of a worthy admirer; doomed though her esteem may be. So against his better judgment, he remained right where he was standing, a victim of both duty and circumstance.

Though truth be told, it was not altogether an unpleasant sensation. Her lips were as soft as rose petals, and were endued with the sweet innocence of her carefree youth, and she smelled like the very heavens themselves. So it was, that when the lavender-haired beauty at last released him, Kuno could do naught, but sigh deeply . . . his heart overcome with pity.

How difficult it must have been for her to tear her lips away, yet here the brave creature stood still, smiling sweetly up at him, despite the pain.

The gods, it seemed, were of a mischievous sort. Why else would they see fit to drop a mighty tigress before his worthy eyes, and a kind, sweet, angel besides? Even now, his very soul ached at the adoring love he saw reflected in those violet orbs—and yet, Kuno Tatewaki (aged seventeen) no longer had that part of his heart to give.

"Wode Airen," she cooed; her arms around his neck, her heart on her sleeve.

Kuno did not speak angel, but instinctively knew she was declaring her pure, unadulterated love; and though custom may dictate a similar response, Kuno could not in all honesty deliver it thus. Not when images of his fierce and beautiful Akane Tendo marred what good intentions he'd be inclined to give.

If he were a stronger man, he would love them both.

So it was, that with a heavy heart, he extricated the lovely girl's arms from around his neck, and putting a comforting hand on her shoulder, attempted to console her. Though in truth, Tatewaki knew that her heart may never truly recover. "I fear your love has come too late, sweet maiden—for you see, I have long since given my heart to another. Allow then, the memory of this stolen kiss to warm the dark and dismal days to come."

Ignoring the disgusted groans coming from the crowd, Kuno bent low to retrieve his bokken, and then, sighing dramatically, turned once more to regard his ill-fated admirer. "Adieu," he whispered, holding her gaze for an extended length of time; then, satisfied, he waded back into the adoring crowd beyond.

The image of her energetically waving from behind went unseen, and the crowd, disappointed that the show was already over, quietly dispersed. . .

If they had stuck around for just a few minutes more, they would have seen the purple-haired foreigner cheerfully withdraw a map, and then proceed to knock through another hole in the wall as she gracefully made her exit.

Akane was at her wits end.

The entire way home she'd tried to understand the incident she'd witnessed back at school, but still couldn't make heads or tails of it. And after all of her careful deliberations and random guesses, she'd come to only one solid conclusion.

Amazons were stupid, and she'd never understand them.

Still . . . she knew she had to try. It was one of the most basic rules of combat: to defeat an enemy, know thy enemy. So again, Akane forced herself to go over what she knew of her reckless assassin.

First of all, the kiss Shampoo had given Kuno was very different from the kiss she received herself—that much was certain. When Akane earned her own mark of death, she had felt nothing remotely romantic or nonthreatening in the gesture. In her case, it had been a quick, cold peck right on the cheek—not the enthusiastic lip-lock Shampoo had sprung on Kuno in the hall.

Was the kiss different depending on gender then, or did the method of defeat play a part? Maybe the location. . .?

Akane sighed in frustration.

Not for the first time, she wished her father had brought a translator along on their trip to China—at least that way she wouldn't have to go on guessing. Ranma, for all his bluster and bragging, hadn't supplied her with a thing.

Even now, he remained silent as he continued to drag her along behind him at a brisk pace, seemingly unconcerned about the whole thing. And to her growing irritation, he showed no signs of planning to enlighten her anytime soon.

Akane considered herself a fairly patient person, but Ranma was wringing her patience for all it was worth. Honestly! Was it really so wrong to expect him to shed some light—a fraction, really—on the inner workings of the crazy girl trying to KILL her? Of course not! And if he kept on ignoring her, Akane was determined to start beating the answers out of him.

"Ranma," she ordered, this time intentionally making her voice louder, her tone commanding. "Slow down! Stop! QUIT MOVING!" To her extreme lack of surprise, he didn't seem to hear her.

Fed up, Akane tried another approach.

She hit him over the head with her school satchel. Hard.

Finally she got his attention. With a strangled curse, Ranma stopped walking, and began to nurse the throbbing bump suddenly forming on his head. "Dammit," he muttered as he turned to glare at her. "What'd you do that for you stupid violent tomboy?"

With considerable effort, Akane managed to ignore his groundless insult, choosing to answer with a question of her own instead. "Are you going to tell me what happened back there, or do I need to wait for Shampoo to show up so I can ask her myself?"

Recovering rather quickly, Ranma rolled his eyes. "Don't be stupid," he told her. "If you wanted to know all that, all you had to do was ask."

The desire to hit him again was overpowering, but Akane opted instead to clutch the handle on her bag very very tightly. If she hurt the dummy too badly, he'd be unconscious—then she'd have to carry him home and still wouldn't get her answers.

With difficulty, she managed to ground out, "I've been TRYING to, stupid. Why else do you think I'd hit you?"

"Violent chicks need a reason nowadays?"

Akane almost threw down her bag right then and there, determined to pound the jerk into the ground, despite the hassle. But before she could, he started to laugh, his hands thrown up in a placating gesture.

"Sorry, I'm sorry—I'll stop. Promise."

Akane eyed him distrustfully for a moment, but then sighed. "Fine. Tell me what you know, Ranma. Then I'll promise not to kill you."

"Fair enough," he replied lightly. "Honestly, I wasn't tryin' to hide it from you or anything, I've just been distracted is all." He gave a frustrated sigh, looking serious for a change, and Akane decided to cut him some slack.

"Distracted by what?" She asked him.

"Well for one, finding some way to get Shampoo permanently off our backs. She ain't gonna be easy to ditch, especially if she really did follow you all the way from China, so I guess it's the permanent part I'm having trouble with. Amazon's aren't exactly easy to handle, ya know?"

Akane's tone softened. But only a bit. "If you've got any ideas, I'd love to hear them, Ranma. Two heads are better than one after all. Maybe I can help."

Ranma pretended to think it over, though secretly, he was relieved. Defensive stratagems weren't exactly his strong suit—if anything, he worked best under pressure, when all you had to go on were instinct, skill, and a bit of luck. But Akane looked like the type who'd excel at all that thinking crap. Having her here to help brainstorm and bounce ideas off of didn't sound half bad.

"Well, I guess it couldn't hurt," he said at last. "Though first, I should probably explain what happened back there—with Kuno and that kiss. We can start talking strategy and all that stuff after you understand what we're really up against."

Akane didn't reply but nodded eagerly, relieved to be taken seriously for once. So finally, with her blessing, Ranma tried his best to explain the complex (and often nonsensical, Akane soon learned) inner workings of Amazonian law. At least, what he'd learned at the agency . . . which, as it turns out, wasn't much. When he was done, Akane looked at him seriously for a moment, and then asked in slow, strained tones, "So, what you're saying then, is that Shampoo gave Kuno the kiss of marriage? Is that right?"

Ranma nodded, and he watched as a small smile tugged at the corner of Akane's lips. "I see," she replied quietly. And then burst into unrestrained laughter. The sound was melodious and infectious, and Ranma couldn't help but smile at her reaction. At that moment, she never looked more like a girl; she was cute and ingenuous, with not a speck of tomboyishness about her.

He liked her like this—even more than when she was angry and pissed off. Though he had to admit, making her mad was fun too.

But Akane was too far into her good humor to notice Ranma's eyes on her—her thoughts were strictly on Kuno. Now that she knew her upperclassman's life wasn't truly in danger, she couldn't seem to get over the novelty of the idea. Maybe he'd finally stop chasing her—what with being an engaged man and all.

At that, the smile on her face seemed to double in size. She was almost tempted to track down Shampoo and thank her for the favor!

But then another thought occurred to her, and her smile and laughter disappeared as she turned to Ranma, a worried look in her eyes. "But wait a minute," she said, shaking her head slightly. "Kuno didn't really beat her though, right? What happens if she finds out it was you? Won't you have to marry her then?"

Ranma scoffed. "Like hell!" he told her, his voice firm with conviction. "There's no way I'm letting a crazy Amazon force ME to marry! Heh. I'd like to see her try!" For emphasis, he cracked his knuckles and gave a haughty laugh.

Akane rolled her eyes, immediately regretting she'd brought it up at all. He better hope Shampoo never learned the truth . . . if Nabiki couldn't convince the relentless Amazon to abandon her death-quest, she sincerely doubted Ranma stood a chance. Not with his brain.

"So, what is your battle plan anyway?" She asked him. On the bright side, maybe all that time he'd spent ignoring her had paid off. "They must have taught you something useful at that academy of yours."

"Sure did," Ranma snorted. "Don't mess with Amazons. You'll lose every time."

Akane frowned in disappointment. That . . . didn't sound promising. "Umm, really. Nothing else? No weaknesses? No special Amazon-conditioner?"

"Nope," Ranma replied, ignoring her lame joke. "Run. Run some more. But that ain't really an option here, what with your family and all. Besides, she'd catch up to us eventually, so sooner or later, we're gonna have to fight."

Akane nodded her head. That's what she'd been afraid of.

Despite her protests to the contrary, Akane realized she wasn't really a match for the Amazon warrior. Back at Shampoo's village, she hadn't stood a chance before she tripped and got "lucky", and now, thanks to that happy screw-up, she was forced to either flee like a coward, or fight to the death with some crazy girl with a loser-complex.

The real problem was, Akane liked living. If by some miracle, she managed to make it through this ordeal with her sanity intact, she planned to live a whole lot more. So for now, she had grudgingly decided to accept Ranma's help, no matter how distasteful and shameful the idea may seem.

After all, contrary to what she'd been saying . . . he was pretty good.

It was just a shame he already had Ranko. If he were free, she'd be tempted to hand him over to Shampoo herself—surely, finding her a strong male consort had to carry some clout. Maybe it would grant her a get-out-of-death-free-card or something. And sure, Shampoo may technically have Kuno now, but their laws were so ridiculous, who was to say they couldn't have more than one husband at a time anyway. . .?

Akane almost laughed at the visual images that evoked—she could just picture Shampoo grinning widely as she led Ranma and Kuno around by a leash.

Ha! It would certainly serve them right!

Still, Akane wasn't spiteful and she wasn't heartless. Even if those perverts Ranma and Kuno were actually willing, this was her mess, and it wasn't fair to leave it for others to clean up. Besides, she could never do that to Ranko. . .

In any case, everyone had a weak spot—even Shampoo. All Akane had to do was find it, and all her problems would be solved! It certainly seemed easy enough.

Feeling a bit better, she turned to see Ranma once again staring off into space, hopefully deep in thought. "So then," she asked at last, eager to hear his plan. "What should we do next?"

Ranma, coming out of his stupor, shrugged helplessly. "Hell if I know," he told her. "Get back to your place, barricade like crazy, and hope your sister sucks at directions."

Akane glowered; her hopes dashed. "You know, you're not very good at inciting confidence, Ranma."

"If you were cuter, maybe I'd be better inspired."

Akane's response, via her heavy book bag, was not altogether unexpected, and Ranma took his beating like the man he always boasted he was.

When they arrived at Akane's house, it turned out Ranma had some inkling of what to do . . . though his plan wasn't exactly awe-inspiring and as far from confidence-boosting as you could get. Still, Akane had to admit it was better than all the ideas she'd come up with; most of which had amounted to her hiding beneath her bed.

They had started in on his plan immediately: A large sign now hung securely on the front gate of the Tendo residence, the words CONDEMNED—STAY AWAY OR DIE displayed proudly in three different languages, one of which was Chinese.

Hopefully Shampoo could take a hint. . .

For added insurance, they had hung garlic and silver bullets above the doors and windows, though Akane doubted it would do much good—weren't those just silly old wives-tales or something? Still, she supposed they weren't exactly in a position to be choosy.

As for her loving family, they weren't exactly making her life any easier. Nabiki had disappeared quickly after school let out and Akane had no idea where she'd gone off to, and her father was in the dojo, praying to their ancestors to keep her safe. Kasumi was helping in her own special way—which consisted mostly of hanging up laundry, and pretending everything was fine. Which, truthfully, worked great for Akane, who still hadn't spoken to her sister since the Tofu-incident.

Which meant Ranma and Akane were left to do most of the work themselves.

Striking another nail into the wall, Ranma stepped back, impressed with a job well done. So far, every board he'd hung across their respective windows, formed perfect Xs, giving the rooms a suitable run-down, abandoned feel. Hopefully it would be enough to dissuade any wandering Amazons from trying to break in.

Feeling good about his plan, he looked over at Akane's handiwork and frowned. To say she wasn't doing so well, would be an understatement. The boards covering her windows were dangling half broken off their hinges—most likely due to repeated frustrated blows via her hammer. The boards that did manage to cross the width of the window were lopsided—looking more like confused V's than the standard X. He shook his head. He had no idea how the tomboy could screw up such a simple task, but somehow she managed.

"I give up," Akane told him, as she threw her hammer against the wall, and leaned back, arms crossed. "This is stupid, Ranma. You saw what she did back at school, and that was a WALL. Do you really think a couple boarded up windows is going to keep her out?"

Ranma gave her his patented hundred-watt smile; the one that said, don't-worry-I-got-this. And though many girls had fallen for its charms in the past, Akane obviously wasn't one of them.

"Is that supposed to make me feel comforted or something?" She snapped irritably.

Dropping the act, Ranma shrugged. "Give me a break Akane. This is uncharted territory for me too, you know. Most people stupid enough to go against Amazons never live to tell about it, so I'm having to learn as I go here."

Akane seethed. "And just who are you calling stupid?" she demanded.

Ranma didn't bother to answer; though his eyes said it all. "Jerk," she muttered, as she kicked the wall. "It's not like I asked for this to happen, you know! It's not MY fault they're such sore losers. Honestly! You-defeat-I-whine. It's a miracle they've survived for as long as they have."

"Well, nothing we can do about it now," Ranma replied as he nailed up the last board, and hopped back down to the ground. "Though I AM gonna kill Yamamoto once this whole thing's over. That lame-ass tricked me somehow, I just know it."

Akane didn't bother to ask him who Yamamoto was—she doubted she'd be alive long enough to meet him anyway. "So, what am I supposed to do if this doesn't work? Wave a white flag, and beg her to make it painless?"

"Jeez, Akane. Don't tell me you're throwing in the towel already. . ."

"Of course not," she replied defensively; for some reason bothered by the thought that Ranma was disappointed in her. More quietly, she clarified, "If I go down, I plan to go down fighting. But I'm not about to delude myself into thinking I can beat her forever. I'm nowhere near that lucky."

"Aw, you're not giving yourself enough credit," Ranma told her. "From what I've seen, you've gotta be one of the luckiest girls on the planet. If anyone should be scared, it's that Amazon, not you."

Akane blushed at the compliment. It was absurd, of course, but sweet just the same. After all, if anything, she was extremely unlucky. She had Kuno and Kodachi to deal with on a daily basis, boy troubles at school, a father who cried at the smallest provocation, an older sister who was romancing her crush, another who seemed determined to compound her troubles rather than relieve them, and now, to top it all off, she was being pursued by a girl who wanted to kill her.

Honestly! If there was anyone out there worse off than she was, they had her pity and her condolences. It did make her wonder though. What in the world could have given Ranma such a false impression? Surely he had to have more to go on than her victory over Shampoo. . .

"So, you think I'm lucky, do you?" she asked him, deciding to assuage her curiosity once and for all. "How so exactly?"

Ranma grinned, and a small laugh escaped his lips. "Well, think about it," he told her lightly. "You've got an entire school of jocks fighting over you, despite the fact that you're homely and have a bad personality, you managed to defeat an Amazon warrior with no real martial arts skills to speak of, you were born into a family with their own dojo but don't have the talent to appreciate it, and you got me, the best martial artist in Japan, as your own personal bodyguard. I mean, heck, Akane," he continued obliviously, unaware that the maligned girl's battle aura had been steadily increasing with every blow. "I bet if it does comes down to another one-on-one fight, you'll have some sorta klutz-attack, and end up taking her out by mistake all over again. And that kinda brainless luck takes skill!"

Immediately after his tirade was over, Kasumi heard a loud crash and looked up from her laundry, surprised to see a human-shaped spec suddenly soaring across the sky.

"Oh my," she exclaimed, pausing briefly from her task. "Wasn't that one of the windows Akane and Ranma were just boarding up?"

Before long, the spec had disappeared completely from sight, and with it, Kasumi's interest. Smiling sweetly, the eldest Tendo daughter quickly resumed her work, humming happily as she toiled.

Across town, someone else was toiling as well.

Frowning in consternation, Shampoo stared hard at the paper in her hand—trying to make sense of the nonsensical.

It wasn't much of a map.

There was a giant X marking what appeared to be Akane's home, yet failed to show how to actually get there. It could have been floating in the middle of a park, the sea, or a cloud, for all she knew. And there were no road names or familiar landmarks—just random little pictures scattered across the page; the kanji just simple enough that even Shampoo could make them out: "My favorite pork-bun store" "Delicious Udon Shop" "Tasty fruit stand."

Shampoo was starting to think Akane's older sister wasn't quite all there . . . but even so, ever the trooper, she had tried to follow the directions as best she could, and for her trouble, had somehow ended up in downtown Tokyo.

In the end, she'd been forced to admit that the map (if you could even call it that) was utterly useless.

Still, Shampoo was nothing if not persistent, and even that small setback failed to deter her. After all, thanks to Nabiki Tendo's business card, at least she knew that Akane was somewhere in Nerima, and in the very least, could be found at Furinkan High School. From here on out, the search should be as easy as taking flowers from Pink and Link. . .

Approaching a nearby phone booth, Shampoo hefted the large book into her hands and turned the page to the Te-section, an almost feral grin crossing her face as she found the name Tendo with ease. It was a fairly common Japanese name, comprised of almost three pages worth of listings, and Shampoo skimmed them quickly, checking to see if any of the numbers matched the one listed on Nabiki Tendo's business card.

None did, not that she was surprised. And since she had no idea what name Akane would be listed under, or the name of her father for that matter, she quickly proceeded to tear out all the necessary pages; eager to resume the hunt.

The first address on the list was for a Tendo Akira.

She'd start there . . . there was no time to waste, after all. The sooner she eliminated Akane, the sooner she could return to her village—with her honor intact, and a strong, handsome husband to boot.

Aiya! She couldn't wait!

Grinning, she leapt to a nearby roof; anticipation of the battle to come making her feet feel lighter and her heart, free. Never before had she been so grateful to be an Amazon.

End of Chapter 7

Authors Ramblings

I apologize for the extremely long wait. I can't promise the next chapter will be any faster since most of you already know how incredibly slow I write. All I can say is that it will come eventually, and that barring sudden death, this story WILL eventually be finished (though truthfully, there's still a long way to go.)

Anyway, I have no idea how phone books work in Japan, or if the surname Tendo really is that popular a name. So let's just pretend that little section made sense, k? ^_^

And if you're ever curious about the status of any of my stories, check out my profile page where I'm constantly updating their progress.