Sutra - A Ranma 1/2 Fanfic By Ashoka Roque
Book 3 of "Ashoro's Ranma Sutras"
Warnings and disclaimers - see Chapter One.
C & C appreciated email@example.com
Chapter Five: Midnight Conference
Kasumi outdid all expectations for dinner that evening. It was a feast of noodles, rice and perfectly prepared tilapia, bought special and fresh from the market that morning. Even better, a roast duck, served with delicately slivered almonds.
"I just knew you girls would win!" Kasumi beamed, as she watched the crew devour her cooking appreciatively.
Though a heart-felt celebration, everyone agreed to turn in early. Ti Xiu was the first to extend his apologies, leaving shortly after dinner on another mysterious errand. Before too long, most of the Tendo household was in bed, the majority of them sleeping after a day of good games and good food.
There were a few exceptions, of course. Ranma got out of bed as soon as he was sure his father was fast asleep, and made his way down to the kitchen.
I need to do something about Ryouga, he thought, as he moved silently down the stairs, and at this point, I can only think of one thing that might resolve this. Gliding towards Kasumi's cutting board, he picked up the large knife used to decapitate and carve the evening's duck. He then silently headed out the door, moving towards Ryouga's tent.
Oh, no! thought Akane. Returning from the washroom, she had felt more than heard Ranma's movements towards the kitchen. Thinking this would be the perfect time for a serious, private discussion, she had followed him down the stairs, only to see him pick up the knife and move to the door.
I have to stop him, but I need a plan, and fast! Rushing as quietly and as quickly as she could, Akane went to the one person who could help.
"Nabiki! Nabiki!" Akane whispered loudly in her sister's ear.
"Uh.. Akane.. what is it?" Nabiki rolled over, sleepily.
"Ranma's heading out to Ryouga-kun's tent with a knife. I overheard them arguing about me today. I think baka Ranma is going to kill Ryouga-kun!"
Nabii opened one eye, lazily. "Uh...Akane-chan. I think it is highly unlikely that Ranma-kun is going to kill Ryouga-kun."
"Then why is Ranma sneaking out to Ryouga-kun's tent in the middle of the night?"
Nabiki sat up, a look of resignation on her sleepy face. "You really aren't going to believe anything you don't see with your own eyes, are you? C'mon. Let's go down and sort this mess out."
Outside, Ranma quietly approached Ryouga's tent. The lost boy had lit a small fire in a ring of stones in front of his portable home, perhaps to dispel some of the night chill. Ranma slowly lifted the tent flap, and crouched down to crawl inside.
"Still awake, Ryouga-kun?"
"Of course," said Ryouga, his voice betraying him. He had obviously dozed off, only to awaken at Ranma's entry. "Just keeping the bedroll warm for you."
"Ryouga, I think we need to talk."
Ranma sat on the bedroll next to his friend. "I know that...our relationship...is a new experience, for both of us."
"Go on," said Ryouga, tilting his head slightly as he listened.
"And I know that you have not always had a good reason to trust me in the past, so maybe I deserved some of your comments today."
Ryouga sat silently.
"Anyway," continued Ranma, "I don't know how to convince you that you have no reason to be jealous - of Mu Suu, or Daisuke, or Akane, or anybody. I could only think of one way to show you." Ranma pulled out the large kitchen knife from his waistband.
"Ranma!" said Ryouga, sitting up straight, "What are you talking about?"
Turning the knife over handle first, and grabbing it by the blade, Ranma held it out towards his koibito. "Ryouga, I want you to cut off my pigtail with this knife."
Ryouga sat, stunned, then shook his head, "No way - you've been growing that for years. It's a sign of your dedication to your training. Besides, why would you want me to do that?"
"Because it's my fault we fought, and you had to get your hair cut off."
Ryouga ran his hand over his head self-consciously, taking in the bristly feeling. "What does that have to do with anything?"
"Because I need to be responsible for what I do. Ti-sensei made me realize that my training won't be complete until I've learned to consider how my actions affect other people. It's like a duty, but one that can offer freedom as well as responsibility. And because I can't think of any other way to prove to you that I want only you. It's just a symbol, but I really mean it."
Ryouga reluctantly took the knife as Ranma bowed his head. He placed the flat of the blade against the back of his friend's neck, the sharp edge resting just at the hairline. Ryouga felt Ranma's shoulders tense. I know this won't hurt, thought Ranma, So why do I feel so anxious? It's only hair, after all. It's nothing compared to the heart of someone special.
Ryouga prepared to cut, the muscles in his arms flexing slightly. "I can't do it."
Ranam raised his eyebrows, trying to look up at Ryouga without moving his neck. "Just do it! Ti-sensi would call it equaling our karmic debt."
"I don't care," said Ryouga, tossing the knife out the door of the tent, then bending to grasp Ranma in his arms. "I don't care about my hair, either. I just pretend I do because I know it bothers you. I'm no better than Xian Pu making cat noises to get to you. I just want to know you'll really be there for me - that you won't run off with someone else - that I won't be alone again."
Ranma looked his partner in the eyes, seeing the pain just barely visible in their depths. "Please, please believe me. I won't leave you alone, or lost, ever." Ranma gently pressed his lips against Ryouga's mouth, then pushed the other boy back down against the bedroll. Fumbling hands quickly loosened clothing, then the same hands began to explore the bare flesh underneath.
Outside the tent, two Tendo daughters were crouched in the bushes. They had heard every word through the thin nylon walls.
"See," said Nabiki, yawning. "I told you he wasn't going to stick that knife into Ryouga. Something else, perhaps..."
"Oh, just shut up, Nabiki!" hissed Akane, feeling relieved, embarrassed and puzzled all at the same time. And was that even a hint of jealousy gnawing at the edge of her mind? How could I have been so totally wrong? Why didn't I see this? What *else* have I been missing? And how could this happen - they have such strong feelings for each other! Akane blushed in the darkness. And that strikes just a little too close to home. I don't even know why I have the feelings I sometimes have. Akane remembered walking arm-in-arm with Ukyo that afternoon, and the little smudge of dirt on the very tip of her friend's nose. Why are these things happening to us? Why can't we just like each other, and satisfy our family duty?
Akane stared into the fire, burning gently in front of Ryouga's tent. I guess Ti Sensi was right, as usual. I can ask why that fire is burning, or I can just accept that it is. Do I really worry too much, and let my questions be a barrier, and an excuse to not do anything?
"Akane-chan," said Nabiki, placing her hand on her sister's shoulder. "Let's go inside." Her voice was uncharacteristically gentle. "I may have an idea, if you want to listen."
"Nabiki-chan, I think I would like that."
As they walked back to the house, neither girl mentioned money changing hands.
Quite a bit later, Ranma and Ryouga crept into the Tendo kitchen. The last couple of hours had been taxing enough to put a dent in Kasumi's giant supper, so a quick snack of leftover duck was sounding pretty good. As Ranma opened the refrigerator door, the icebox light raced across the dark kitchen to illuminate Akane and Nabiki, sitting side-by-side at the table.
"About time you showed up," said Akane, calmly sipped a cup of tea. "I thought we were going to be here all night."
Both boys froze in the beam of light, like two woodland animals who had foolishly chosen to cross the road in front of a speeding semi truck.
"Ranma-san, please, sit down," said Akane, gesturing with her hand. "The leftover duck is here, as well as some warm tea. Ryouga-san, I was hoping you would join us as well. Sit, please."
"Uh, gee, Akane," said Ranma, raising his right hand to scratch the back of his head, "We were just finishing some late night training, and I thought Ryouga-kun might like a snack before turning in."
"Yes!" agreed Ryouga, nodding his head emphatically, "This is indeed what we are doing, Akane-san."
"Ranma-san, Ryouga-san, it's late," said Akane, a little wearily. "Please sit down so we can talk and get to bed. My advisor needs her beauty sleep."
Nabiki opened her droopy eyes a little wider. "That wasn't called for, Akane-chan." Akane ignored her, as she lit a couple of candles. A soft glow spread over the table.
"Boy, Akane," said Ranma, sitting down reluctantly, sweat-drops forming on the back of his head, "Why the formality? You're so business-like..."
"Because, Ranma-sama," said Nabiki, more fully alert, "we are going to talk business. Acting in loco parentis in place of our dear, departed mother, I am revising this wedding agreement. Akane-chan felt this was better than involving our father, given the circumstances. As this arranged marriage is primarily economically motivated, it falls within my family duties."
Akane nodded quietly, sipping her tea.
"I am going to ask you some questions, Ranam-sama," continued Nabiki in a serious tone, "and I want some answers."
Ranma gulped. It was very rare for him to encounter a rational, respectable adult. Even if this was just Tendo Nabiki, she was actually a very real surrogate mother for Akane in this situation. In the face of this development, centuries of cultural conditioning gave him little choice.
"Ah...okay, Nabiki-san. I will answer if I can."
"Domo. First, you need to know that Akane and I are fully aware of the nature of your late-night 'training' with Ryouga-sama."
Both boys' faces turned red in the dim candlelight, and Ryouga opened his mouth in protest, only to be stopped by Nabiki's raised hand.
"AND...if I may continue...we are actually quite happy for both of you."
Ranma sat in shock. Of all the reactions, this was the last one he would have predicted.
"Akane in particular feels that you two jerks deserve each other," continued Nabiki, ignoring Ranma's frozen stare, "and I couldn't agree more. However, you do realize this complicates the original marriage plans? Do both of you feel you have the potential for a permanent relationship?"
Ranma was still speechless, so it was Ryouga who answered Nabiki. "I, Hibiki Ryouga, never intend to leave Ranma-kun's side." He reached under the table to covertly squeeze Ranma's hand.
"Noble," said Nabiki, nodding her head in agreement. "I am counting on your full cooperation, Ryouga-sama."
"Because," said Akane, setting her teacup gently on the table, "we will be getting married, Ranma-san." Nabiki had laid the whole plan out for her as they waited for Ranma to sneak back into the house. Though somewhat unorthodox, Nabiki's solution elegantly echoed some of Ti-sensei's advice from the Fire Sutra. Rather than worrying about why they were in the situation they were in, Akane saw Nabiki's plan as thoughtful and oddly compassionate. And it didn't hurt that it might help resolve some of the complications she foresaw in her own life.
"And it's a package deal, boys," continued Nabiki. "TWO talented martial artists tied to this dojo will ensure the Tendo family's security into the next generation, making me happy. You two stay together, making you happy. Ranma-sama and Akane-chan get married, satisfying the family honor and making our fathers happy. This has the added benefit of sheltering the two of you from any negative fallout from your relationship. Everyone is discrete, and business-like."
"But," protested Ranma, "What if Akane-chan falls in love someday? She would be tied to me..."
Nabiki turned to her sister with a knowing smile. "Akane-chan has assured me that this arrangement is entirely to her liking, fully realizing the public commitment the wedding will carry. She has stated that, even if she does fall in love, she will do nothing to shame the honor of this family or cause her spouse to lose face." Nabiki now turned her gaze to Ranma, setting steel in her voice. "I trust you will do the same, Ranma-sama."
"But does Ryouga-san agree?" asked Akane, as all eyes turned to Hibiki, bandana tied loosely around his centimeter-long crew cut.
"Ryo-chan," said Ranma, "Don't think of this as taking me away from you. It's actually a duty that frees us to be together."
The atmosphere around the table was tense for the next few moments. The golden glow of the candles flickered across the faces of the four young people, for once all equally intent and serious. "I don't suppose I have much of a choice," responded Ryouga, sullenly.
"Splendid," declared Nabiki, getting up from the table. "We can iron out the details over the next few days. Now, I do need my sleep. I was up late last night, too. Which reminds me..." Nabiki reached behind her back, then slid a plain manila envelope across the table. "Consider this an early wedding present."
"What is it?" asked Ranma, picking up the envelope and undoing the string that held it closed.
"Just pictures of last night's 'training' session. I've had an ultra-low-light telephoto lens for my Nikon since I was ten years old. I have some connections in Hong Kong who could have translated those snaps into quite a bundle, but since you're both joining the family, I guess I need to look for another way to pay for Christmas this year."
"I TOLD you we should have stayed inside the tent!" howled Ryouga, grabbing several pictures from Ranma's hand.
"But it was so cramped in there..." protested Ranma, indignantly.
"My, Ryouga-kun," commented Akane, peering over Ranma's shoulder at one of the incriminating photographs, "That's quite the tight little butt. All that walking around aimlessly sure has done wonders for your physique."
"Which reminds me," said Nabiki, yawning as she and her sister left the two blushing boys behind in the kitchen and made their way up to bed, "I really must start working out if I'm going to fit into that bridesmaid dress..."
As events were unfolding that night at the Tendo dojo, seated around a similar table and drinking similar cups of tea, Ti Xiu was concluding a long discussion with Xian Pu's great-grandmother, Kho Lohn, The two elders had a relaxed manner with each other - one that indicated life-long acquaintance and mutual respect.
"So, Ti, you say someone has been gathering chuang flower from the mountains?"
"Yes, Kho," said Ti Xiu, raising his cup to his lips for another sip of tea. "And in large numbers. One whole valley was almost stripped clean."
Kho Lohn shook her aged head in bewilderment. "Who in the world would be foolish enough to do such a thing?"
"Foolish is the key word, of course," replied Ti Xiu. "And the last report I received from Nepal indicates they are being shipped to Japan - we're just not sure where."
"Do these people know how dangerous those flowers are?" Kho Lohn stood up from the table and began to walk around the kitchen, agitated. "An incident could make the Aum Shinrikyo tragedy in Tokyo look like a walk in the park."
"That's why I need to do two things as soon as humanly possible," replied Ti Xiu. "I need to find where those flowers are going, and I need to identify the antidote. That's why I came to you."
"Well," said Kho Lohn, "There is an antidote. It's a plant extract, but the plant only grows on Mindanao."
"Then I'm off to Mindanao in the morning - I'll be able to get there faster than you could. The monastery's resources will help me secure the antidote, and get it here quickly. May I impose on you to review my notes. Perhaps you can figure out what anyone could possibly be planning to do with chuang flower."
"Certainly, Father Ti," said Kho Lohn. "We can exchange notes in the morning before you leave."
"May Buddha smile," replied Ti Xiu, thankfully. "And I probably should have a chat with you about the young people around here before I leave." The two elders walked out of the kitchen slowly, heads held together conspiratorially. "If there was ever a group that needed the sage advice and guidance of their elders..."
This Ranam Fanfic series will continues in "The Lotus Sutra"
C & C appreciated Ashoro@excite.com