Disclaimer: I don't own Ranma ½, a whole bunch of people do. The most important is Rumiko Takahashi, since she created the whole thing. Don't forget to buy the manga and support anime in your area.

Author tries to save his ass: So yeah, this thing. After 20 hit, a whole bunch of crap went down and 21 got off the ground, but I got a new computer and that hard drive was festered to the gills with viruses (long story, don't ask. It's the monkey's fault anyways.), so that version never got done. And since I lost a third of the way done chapter, my creative process crapped itself and died. I had just started to think really good and hard when my Windows BsoD'd. So now on Linux, this version of the 21st chapter is finally under way. And who knows, maybe I'll be done with this thing before the world ends.

First I Giveth

Chapter 21 It's Not Fair When You Don't Try

by Marik Kurakashi

"So, this is what dying feels like," Ukyo muttered, face down in an alleyway not far from where she left Ranma to scream in his helplessness as she slowly got away. She'd have been satisfied and scolding herself for being so melodramatic about things, but she hurt too much to care about that right now. All she wanted to do was lie down and let everything go.

"There you are," an intruding, unwanted but sorely missed voice intruded into Ukyo's attempt to fade away from this plane. The injured chef decided to ignore her, in the hopes she'd go away. Pity that then, when her tormentor refused to let her go to her final bliss. "Can't you see what your revenge has done to you? Is this how it's supposed to end? You lying in a broken heap as those Saotome bastards coast back to their lives of lies and thievery?"

"Just let me die already, I failed." Ukyo whimpered, eyes beginning to well with tears as she found herself unable to raise her head to look the other girl in the face and stare her down. "I took him head on and it didn't even matter. I barely hurt him and here I am, broken and battered. I can't go like this... Please, just let me go."

"Don't," Kaede started, and had to stop herself as her voice nearly shattered at the despair in the voice of the girl she felt so strongly for. "Don't you dare talk like that! You're still alive, you're still here, and you can come back from this. You'll be even stronger than before, and you'll crush him next time."

"Next time huh?" Ukyo laughed, tears making their way down her face despite her commands for them to stop. "You honestly think that next time will be different? That I won't end up like this again?"

"What I think doesn't matter." Kaede said, closing the distance between them and coming over to crouch by the fallen girl's head. "Because I believe in you, the real you, the one that doesn't believe in all the bullshit you put up with to make it through the day without dissolving into tears as soon as you realize you're still alive."

"How?" Ukyo asked, confused as to what she could possibly have done to garner that level of faith in someone else, someone she'd just as soon throw away than admit to knowing.

"Because I love you." Kaede said, not caring about the way Ukyo jolted at being reminded of that. Nor did she care that her voice was thick with a sick degree of despair. "I can, nor will, never have you, but I'll love you until the day I die. So I'll believe in you and hope you'll find the day you'll be able to smile for real and say, 'I'm happy'. Then I'll be able to say my beloved is happy and I can move on. So until that day comes, I will stand here and support you if you should fall. I'll pick you up when you get knocked down, and I'll do it all over and over no matter what, because I love you." She finally wound down and stopped, thankful for the ground holding Ukyo's head down, so that the Kuonji girl could not see the tears in her eyes.

"I.." Ukyo started lamely, unable to think of what else to say, somewhat vulnerable after the fight, the draining revelations of said battle, and her current injuries. "I'm sorry. I don't have the right to say that to you. To give up when you'd give me the very heart from your chest to keep me alive." She was there, waiting for the day she could move on. Waiting for the day she could allow her heart to heal and forget about this unrequited love that refused to let her go.

"N-no, it's okay." Kaede said, cheeks pink with embarrassed joy. "After everything you've been through, I can't be too mad you'd want to give up." Deciding that they'd dallied enough and didn't want that Saotome clod finding Ukyo, she scooped the battered girl up into her arms with surprising ease.

"Whoa, you don't look it but you're deceptively strong." Ukyo commented, more to ignore the sudden rush of agony that threatened to knock her out cold.

"You could say I am fairly strong," Kaede joked back, trying to ignore an inconvenient feeling of unwarranted giddiness. Making sure she had a firm grip, she made her way back to Ucchan's, with first aid in relative safety on her mind.

'You may not believe me,' Ukyo thought as she drifted away from the waking world, 'but I really am sorry. The me of today doesn't deserve love, yours or anyone else's...'

"Ranma, are you alright!" Nabiki yelled, as the paramedics escorted him down from the roof, thankfully not on a stretcher.

"I'm fine," he mumbled, anger coursing through his body

"Nabiki, did they- RANMA!" Akane yelled, coming over to inspect the pigtailed boy.

"Don't worry Ranma, I'll find out all I can on this Ukyo guy." Nabiki said, nodding her head.

"Guy?" Ranma asked, before he remembered. "Uh, actually, Ukyo's not a guy... Ukyo's a girl."

"A... girl?" both sisters chorused, realizing that the great Saotome Ranma just got taken to the limit by a girl.

"It's a bit complicated," Ranma said, in a tone that said not here, not now. "Can I go now? I don't need to go to the hospital, I'm strangely doing okay even after the explosion."

"Well, we'd insist, but since you're a patient of Doc Tofu regularly, he can check you out and file the paperwork." the lead paramedic said as they all turned and left. He didn't seem hurt and they hated paperwork.

"Nice guy, used to dealing with crazy martial arts death matches apparently." Ranma said, solely to get the talking back under way with the two sisters. "Lucky for me, I've had years of getting the crap beat out of me by Pops to fall back on. I probably won't even feel this tomorrow."

"That's... nice." Akane said, in a tone that said she was being polite to respond in a civil manner and not flip out with a distressed mama hen on him.

"Well, you can walk and everything else works, so we're good." Nabiki said, in a tone of voice that said she didn't feel like chewing him out about it, but was willing to let him have it if he asked for it.

"Uh, let's just go home for now, we can talk there." Ranma said, in a tone of voice that said he was being polite not to just run the hell away and avoid this topic forever.

Kaede made her way into the Ucchan's, thankful she had found a spare key somewhere, and laid the owner of said establishment out on the counter. Any lewd thoughts she could have about Ukyo laying there asleep in a tattered top were pushed aside as she went in search of a first aid kit. Swiftly locating it, the young nurse made her way back to her patient, not really looking forward to what was to come.

It seems a little bit of luck was with the battered girl, as most of the injuries sustained were superficial and would be gone in a few days. She had not suffered any burns, as Kaede made note of as she stripped off the ragged clothing that had barely preserved the other girl's modesty. Not stopping to stare at the now nude girl, as she was too busy gagging at the bruise forming in the center of Ukyo's chest.

Said bruise formed itself in a very unappealing manner, the discoloration marring an otherwise perfect complexion.

"That idiot," Kaede swore softly, cataloging the possible injuries such a bruise could be a portent of. "He could have killed her with that careless punch." Well, maybe not but she wasn't in the mood to think clearly about this.

Ukyo somehow managed not to stir during this, a testament to her exhaustion and piled up injuries. She probably wouldn't be fighting again anytime soon, it would be even more luck if she didn't have a cracked rib or two. It seemed revenge would have to wait, though whether that was good or bad was up for debate.

Deciding that her patient could bathe later, Kaede gathered up the nude girl and took her to her bedroom. Pausing to briefly fight down the inevitable pangs of longing, she somehow managed to decently dress the injured girl without jostling any of her injuries enough to awaken her. Quickly depositing the girl on the bed and covering her, Kaede then made tracks out of there before she did something she'd regret.

Feeling a little hungry and needing to get out of here for a little bit to clear her head, the young nurse exited out into the ward at large, in search of something.

Har Karu was in hell. There was no getting around the fact that she'd been thoroughly miserable since Elder Cologne had decided to make her live a waking nightmare. To say nothing of having to swallow her pride and work with that lazy airhead Shampoo.

It was enough to drive you mad, or at least that's what she thought about the subject anyways. Getting humiliated at every turn, battered and even burned, there wasn't any real reason for her not to think this. The latest indignation of being forced to dress like Shampoo, her own clothing mysteriously vanishing into the ether only served as a reminder that she was forced to serve under a harsh mistress.

Was it any wonder she had betrayed Cologne for another elder, one who didn't treat her existence as a motive for derision?

But that was small in comparison to being paraded around like a whore to bilk these weak willed outsiders out of their worthless money. Sure, it did have the benefit of allowing her to avoid being lectured by the old crone, but that was it. It was all downhill from there, and here comes the boulder to crush you now.

"Oh, it stupid Har." Shampoo said as she brushed past her fellow Amazon with open disgust. Having to share clothes with her because the klutz had somehow lost hers seemed to put her off.

"Oh, it stupid Shampoo." Har bit back, wanting to smash one of the ramen bowls over the other girl's head.

There was an audible pause as the air stiffened as the two glared at each other. The sound of Cologne's walking stick hitting the floor by the jarred them from their brief staredown, and they scrambled to get back to work. The old woman sighed, though not from any true exasperation, it just felt right.

Meanwhile, Kaede made her way into the restaurant, finding that it was just close enough to the Ucchan's to allow her to relax while she ate. It had a lively atmosphere, filled with people of all ages, though young high school males seemed to dominate the scene. Not that she cared, but she was being cautious not to run into that Ranma character or those sisters.

Even if the younger one was a cutie.

"Nihao!" a perky voice greeted her almost the instant she sat down. "Welcome to Nekohaten!"

"Ah, thanks." Kaede said, trying not to stare at the girl's lavender hair. China was a lot freakier than she initially thought, which didn't seem to be a bad thing. She had great legs too, probably why her dress did its best to cover up the really naughty bits but left her legs so exposed. "Uh, menu?" She must not stare at the foreigner, she must not stare at the foreigner...

"Sure, be back for order." Shampoo said, handing off a menu to the other girl, bouncing away in more ways than one.

"Whew, if she isn't gorgeous." Kaede said, fanning herself with the menu briefly in jest. Then hunger demanded she open the thing and get to finding something to eat. Something edible, she clarified.

"Feh," Har muttered to herself as she cleaned a table. "What a way for a warrior to spend her formative years, cleaning tables and offering herself up like a whore." The comment seemed to be directed at both herself and Shampoo, whom wasn't here to be offended at both being called a whore and being lumped in together with her hated foe.

'Sounds like this isn't the big ball of fun it seems from the outside,' Kaede thought, using the menu to covertly study the waitress cleaning the table next to her. There was something to it, but nothing quite sprang to mind.

"You ready order?" Shampoo asked, stopping by to check on Kaede as was expected of her.

"Pork ramen with extra spring onions," Kaede said, more because it was the first thing that sprang to mind. And also because the other waitress looked ready to murder the one serving her.

"Food be ready shortly," Shampoo assured her, having taken down the order.

"Just what is her deal?" Kaede asked, eyes flickering towards Har briefly.

"Stupid Har jealous of Shampoo," Shampoo said, poking a finger into her ample chest region at Shampoo. "Har thinks Shampoo lazy, but it Har who really lazy. Outside that, don't know, don't care."

"Uh, sorry I asked." Kaede said, sinking into her chair. 'Looks like they had a falling out over something.' The burning gaze that bore after the back of Shampoo from Har spoke volumes about something, but she could tell that something wasn't anything of the romantic sense. 'Maybe that's the problem.'

"There she goes again, using other people to say what she doesn't have the guts to say to me face to face." Har grumbled, not caring she was taking an awfully long time to clean that table. It was slow, and Shampoo could handle herself.

Kaede continued to observe the other girl, trying to figure out the reason for all this bad blood. Not like she had that much to do at the moment, and it seemed to be amusing, to her anyways. These poor kids, sitting around like these mere scratches were the deepest cuts imaginable.

Back with Ranma and the sisters Tendo, they were still trying to broach the subject of the sudden appearance of Ukyo Kuonji and the reasons for the fight that just took place. He wasn't saying anything because he didn't want to hear about how a girl 'kicked' his ass. They weren't saying anything because they were having trouble coming up with something that didn't go back to the fight.

So they trundled onward, and everything was cool for a while. Maybe there wasn't anything to be said in the immediate aftermath, who knows? If something was truly important, someone would have stepped to the plate and said it, right?


Ah, the old uncomfortable silence, how annoying it was, nearly driving the three to distraction. Sure, they didn't want to talk, but it was better than staring at the eight hundred pound gorilla sitting at the dinner table eating your food. Like it or not, someone was going to speak, if for no other reason than to get rid of this annoying tension.

. . .

Oh come on!

. . .

You're kidding me here.

. . .

Okay, you're not funny anymore.

. . .

Knock it off...

. . .

Damn it, stop being lazy and write the dialog already!

"So," Ranma said as a way to break the tension. "How was your day?" This was at Nabiki, since he was with Akane in class most of the day, so he had no reason to ask her. Obviously.

"Fine, all things considering." Nabiki answered at length, studying Ranma out of the corner of her eye for a long second before continuing. "How was yours?"

"You know, the usual boring lectures by self-important assholes who like the sound of their own voice too much." Ranma said, shaking his head. "I get so bored I almost start missing Pops' lectures. At least when I start to get bored with them, I can hit him without fear of punishment."

"If you tried more, you'd find that they're not that bad." Akane said, a bit rankled at the idea that staying awake in class was wrong.

"And yet I'm passing all my classes enough to avoid being held after for special study sessions." Ranma retorted, rolling his eyes. "I even did better than you on the last three math quizzes and I got a better score on that English essay last Friday. And I'm terrible with English."

"Hmph." Akane had no good reply that wouldn't just be a childish excuse, so she conceded this fight for now.

"I don't suppose we need to ask Ms. Future Class President how she's fairing with her scores." Ranma jokingly said, knowing that Nabiki hated the idea of being involved in that hive of stupidity that was student politics.

"Of course not," Nabiki said in a preening tone, knowing it always got under Akane's skin that she couldn't compete with her older sister in academics. She let the class prez quip go by, he deserved a bone or two if he was going to open up to them about things after all. "I'll have the top score in school before the end of term."

"For all that's good for," Ranma remarked, his tone a teasing one of mock disapproval. "I bet that'd make great conversation fodder." He added a roll of the eyes for effect.

"Aren't you cheeky today?" Nabiki asked, raising an eyebrow at his joking attitude.

"I've never been one to sulk long if I could help it," Ranma said, shrugging his shoulders. "I'm still mad about everything with Pops because he never gives me a chance to get over it."

"So we've seen." Akane said, before noticing they were almost home. "Let's save the talk about you know what for later okay? I don't feel like arguing about stuff today."

"Ditto." Nabiki said, ducking into the house before the other two.

Ranma said nothing but gave Akane an appreciative glance before entering the house. It wasn't much, and really was a far cry from what Akane felt she deserved, but it was... nice.

And sometimes, nice was good.

Returning to the Nekohaten, Kaede was just now settling down to her noodles. Broth smelled good, though not as good as the brewing catfight in front of her. Food was always good, but everyday people acting out everyday drama had a very cathartic feel to it.

The pair glared death at each other as they worked the floor, Kaede tucking into the provided sustenance with practiced manners. Mm, not too salty, but not too unseasoned. She decided she like this place, even if it was direct competition to Ukyo.

Which was a major strike, very cute waitresses aside.

Very cute but troubled waitresses that is, as the duo were still looking to throw down at the slightest provocation. Hnn, their boss must be really awesome to keep them in line and not murdering the crap out of each other. Tea was required to wash a particularly under chewed piece of pork, which solved a potential problem without much fuss.

Slowing down to avoid choking to death, Kaede began to formulate something in her head. Two girls like these should be enjoying life, not looking to end it with such naked rage. It was a testament that she kept her mind clean at the word naked, but one that was rather short.

Not that she was particularly perverted, just easily distracted at idle times.

"Man, today sure sucks." Har muttered to herself, stopping close to Kaede's table to pop her back. Days like these were hell on her spine, not to mention her limited patience.

"How sad," Kaede said, just loud enough for Har to hear her and understand that the customer was speaking to her.

"What'd you just say?" Har snapped, not wanting any lip from any of these damn outsiders.

"Just commenting on how sad it is that someone as beautiful as you would be so unhappy with her lot in life." Kaede said, cleanly, clearly, precisely. As she had done since she first formed sentences, as she would do for time immemorial.

"And just what's it to you?" Har said, eye twitching at the beautiful comment. The nerve of this bitch, honestly.

"Nothing, nothing at all. I'm just someone who hates seeing people who don't deserve to be unhappy upset is all." Kaede spoke in a reserved manner, as if addressing someone of a higher station than her. "How sad indeed that you can't even take a compliment without open hostility."

"...Who are you to say that to me?" Har sputtered out after a long pause. This wasn't how this goes! Outsiders were cruel and stupid, they hated the Amazons for their superiority! What the hell was happening here!

"No one. No one important at all," Kaede said, gliding up from her seat as if she was an angel in flight. Har's heart failed to not catch in her throat as the other girl come over to stand in front of her. "I know a girl just like you, heart all on her sleeve and unable to accept that she too deserves kindness. Deserves happiness and love, praise and peace all the same. Look at you, so starved for acceptance that you can't even take someone not speaking down to you as if you don't deserve to even exists."

"I-I-I...." Words failed Har, as did her warrior's training as she started to cry for some reason that escaped her. She stepped back, failing to present a threatening postures as she looked ready to bolt.

"Believe me," Kaede said, a gentle smile coming to her lips with a bewitching twitch. "I know what it feels like, to be so desperate for acknowledgment, to crave that acceptance with every fiber of my being. To look at everyone you want to look at you with respect, with admiration and more. I know what it's like to be ignored, used and stepped on by those who mean so much to you. I know."

Unable to formulate a response, Har turned and fled from this stranger who could read her so easily. Away from this unbelievable feeling that threatened to crumple her to her knees. That dared to bring tears to this fierce and deadly warrior's eyes.

"W-what you say to her?" Shampoo asked, eyes wide as her hated foe fled in tears.

"The truth, as she saw it anyways." Kaede said absently, raising a hand to her chin. "The worst thing you can say to someone who thinks that no one feels the same as they do, is to tell them that they're not alone. It's not something they usually leave defenses up for." She sounded oddly please with herself.

"If say so." Shampoo said, not sure if she liked Har running off and leaving her to work alone.

And thus, time marched on, the further events of this day not important enough to document down. Now the morrow, class was in session at the Tendo dojo and today was an inauspicious day, as Nabiki and Akane were helping out at their father's behest. Akane did her best not to shoot dirty looks at her sister for being in close proximity to Ranma while she warmed up with him for a spar.

The middle Tendo was to fight, in the loosest sense of the word, the top student of the new class to ascertain his upward growth. While she wasn't highly skilled or even that strong of a striker, she was good at exposing mental weakness in her opponents. She couldn't hit as hard as Akane and she didn't possess whatever freakish gifts Kasumi had been granted, but she could think relatively quickly on her feet when it called for it.

Well, as long as money wasn't involved, but then we're hitting below the belt there.

"Fighters to your positions," Soun commanded, voice rolling of the walls with rich inflection. He loved that vocal trick he picked up from that carny a few years back, it never failed to make people sit up straighter.

"My, my, it has been a while for me." Nabiki said, taking an orthodox horse stance and smiling at her opponent. "Go easy on me, Take-kun."

"Yeah, sure." Take said, meaning absolutely none of that. She was Sensei's daughter after all, so she had to have some high level tricks he could copy from her. His gi was loose on his lanky frame, the color faded either from time or just a lack of care.

"Ready? BEGIN!" Soun said, waving his hand in the traditional 'get to fighting you idiots' motion.

Nabiki came forward easily, gliding along with cat like ease, while Take decided to allow her to make the first move. Her left hand snapped out in a lazy, and rather sloppy to be frank, jab, which was summarily dodged with minimal effort. Another came, swifter but just as sloppy and it failed to make contact.

Take would be worried about taking the pace or worrying about the girl getting a rhythm going, but this wasn't boxing and she didn't have a good punch anyways. Point of fact, he thought her jabs sucked as he lazily bobbed and weaved around the amateurish and inept looking onslaught. He was getting bored, as his movements slowed down considerably in an effort to piss her off.

He failed spectacularly, which made him a bit huffy under the collar.

When a cross snaked out of the blue, he nearly squealed like a frightened piggy, but he had been fighting for a good number of years. One lucky punch while he wasn't paying attention wasn't enough to rattle him. Deciding he'd had enough, he threw a hook, exaggerated and slow in an effort to further mock the girl in front of him.

Failure greeted him again, in a familiar and an easy manner, as though it was trying to tell him to be used to it. He didn't let it get to him, he had purposely made that punch suck so she'd dodge it and feel a fleeting thrill before he brought the hammer down. He caught her cocking back her left and lazily slid away, as he had down to this point of the spar.

He was completely floored when he felt her knuckles gently kissing his lips, the hook he had dismissed offhand stopping just shy of knocking him on his ass.

"I'm sorry, Take-kun." Nabiki said, pulling her hand back as she smirked at him in the most condescending matter. "I had thought you were advanced enough to look past the fight as your eyes see it and use your brain instead. I had thought you capable to see the load of bullshit I fed you from the beginning of the match, but I overestimated you. I apologize, being your sempai in this school should mean I take better care of you, so you don't run out and get your face stamped on by some yankee punk."

"Um, that's okay," Take said, sagging as he realized the spar was pretty much over.

"Now, being the kind thoughtful sempai that I am," she continued, steamrolling over his attempt to be spared the impending lecture. "I will now tell you exactly what you did wrong so you can grow as a better martial artist. You never thought to actually take the initiative, which isn't bad but you didn't look to counter. Nor did you look to exploit the openings presented to you, and instead decided to throw a pathetic hook in an attempt to show off for the class and maybe win yourself a couple dates. You dismissed my left since you thought that I couldn't even throw the most basic of punches with any skill, and what did that get you? A punch you can't see coming is the one you'll always be beat by. I may not have the best hit power in my punches, but imagine someone who does doing that to you. And not stopping."

The crowd watching the scene would later swear they saw the characters for "total defeat" crush Take through the floor.

"Hey Nabiki, nice left." Ranma said as greeting as she came off the mats for a quick break. "I'd have punched his lights out if it was me in there."

"Ah, but then he might not have learned the why behind his defeat. If he just chalked it up to superior skill on his opponent's part, he wouldn't have learned anything." Nabiki replied, using an old response from Kasumi back when they spared together. Those were horrible times, at least in Nabiki's opinion.

"You say so," Ranma answered, leaning against the wall, ignoring the feeling of EYES on him. He would be mad about it, but he was making it up to her by agreeing to a "date" that evening. Not that he understood why spending time with anyone not Akane was suddenly a giant crime.

For once, Akane wasn't glaring death at Ranma for spending time with Nabiki. This time was a pure accident, as he happened to be blocking Akane's path to stare HATE at her sister, infernal interfering merc that she was. There was something about that left hook that woke up a well of bad feelings that threatened to ruin her day.

It was stupid, completely and utterly balls out stupid of her to get this mad over everything Nabiki did. But today, today felt like it was an old feeling of anger and rage, barely suppressed and held in check by her waning good mod. That very black and hateful side of her whispered very nasty things about that left, as if she really really hated that punch.

The time worn image of a young girl on her backside, staring up at her slightly older sister in shock flashed unpleasantly in her mind.

"So yeah," Ranma said, sitting with Akane, Nabiki, and a few of the students who stayed after for his grappling class. "Grappling is more than throwing and joint locks guys. For starters, good grapplers can control the fight with their superior ability to move your ass where they want to kick it next." He demonstrated this on his father, who despite being superior in grappling experience was a failure at the technique of it all. "Beyond judo and jui-jitsu, there's wrestling of all stripes, be it sumo or greco-roman. Take them down, keep them down, and then beat them down." He took Genma down with a quick double leg shoot takedown, ending up in the guard position. Powering through his father's faked attempt to keep him from posturing up, Ranma thew a couple of light punches to demonstrate the link between grappling and striking.

"Grappling is just another thought process in kicking ass, namely someone else's." Nabiki added helpfully, using a line Ranma came up with, which sounded kinda silly. But the class bought it for whatever it was worth and Nabiki didn't dwell on it.

"Now it actual grappling tournaments, what I did is against the rules." Ranma said, keeping posture as he lectured them all. "But this class, and all these classes, are about applying the art to situations where there are no rules. Where there are no holds barred, thus why it's "indiscriminate grappling". My father and I, as well as the Tendos, believe in protecting yourself through any means necessary, checked only by yourself. Cheap shots should be kept to fighting for your life or someone else, but don't hesitate to pull that trigger if you need to save a life."

"Just make sure to learn them, or else you'll be caught by them all the time." Genma slipped in, deciding to help Ranma for once.

"Quite right." Ranma agreed, before clapping his hands once. "Now let's talk combat theory. That is, how you fight and why. What you do and focus on doing in every fight. The Tendo branch of martial arts adhere to the principle of "The World", that is, embodying the elements you see around you in a central system of harmony. Under this philosophy, I am "the Wind". I blow where I please, and when I truly wish it, am unhittable. I don't shy from submissions or strikes should you wish to engage me, but I warn you, I have been becoming "the Wind" for my entire life. You will not, and may never, reach my level of harmony in this arena. But we all have our elements and schools of thought. Finding your own is a part of these classes and the point of these lectures."

"Well said, son." Genma said, voice thick with pride, "now, let's talk choke holds..."

"Man, was that a pain." Ranma said, stretching his shoulders idly.

"I don't know, you seemed to be enjoying stretching your dad like that." Nabiki said, innocently scratching her chin in a faux showing of deep thinking.

"Tell me about it," Akane added in, ramming her way into the conversation before the two could go off by themselves. "I didn't even know what a Peruvian Necktie was, but you liked applying it."

"Bah, that was flash to send them home happy," Ranma said, not quite preening over their comments. "Besides, Pops won't let me D'Arce choke him anymore."

"D'what now?" Nabiki asked, clearly confused by her lack of know what the hell that was.

"Just another choke I know." Ranma said, failing to explain what a D'Arce choke was beyond its function.

"We got some time, did you want to talk about anything?" Akane cut it, not caring to see an argument blossom over some stupid hold.

"I'm sure you two are wondering about the fight with Ukyo right?" Ranma queried, figuring that'd be the only thing they'd really be interested in discussing.

"Now that you mention it, yes." Nabiki said, very serious all of a sudden. Ranma didn't have the heart to mention that furrowing her brow like that would lead to early wrinkles. Ah, the wonders of Jusenkyo curses...

"If you're willing to talk about it, that is." Akane added, frowning at Nabiki for no real reason other than to be confrontational.

"I wouldn't bring it up if I wasn't," Ranma said, trying to cut off any impending fight that might break out at any moment.

"So what happened to "The Wind" ?" Akane asked, trying to keep the sarcasm out of her voice.

"If I was going to get anything out of her, I had to be willing to fight down at her level and allow her a few hits." Ranma said, a canned answer coming easily to his lips. "I can take a good hit, so a few blows aren't anything to make me worry."

"But the skating match..." Akane retorted, deciding she didn't like his bragging attitude.

"I was back to normal within a couple hours." Ranma said, shrugging. "And really, how many people use the "Goodbye Whirl" on dry land? If that's the measure of what it takes to knock me out, I guess anyone else is screwed."

"Getting back to Ukyo," Nabiki said, elbowing Akane in the ribs to tell her to knock that shit off. "I want to know why she wanted to fight you in the first place."

"It was both mine, and my father's, fault." Ranma said, head casting downward. "When we were kids, we used to spar all the time under the pretext of me stealing an okonomiyaki from their cart and her trying to stop me. Unbeknown to me, she had apparently decided she liked me enough that she wanted to marry me."

"...you're shitting me." Nabiki said, just beating Akane to the exclamation.

"We were six, so who knows what went through her mind then. Her pop had talked to mine, and bribed him with their cart to accept a betrothal between her and me. Under the pretext of letting me choose, the old man asked me if I liked okonomiyaki or Ukyo better." Ranma paused, steeling himself for revealing a particularly bad move on his part. "Thinking Ukyo a boy, since I hadn't seen any girls but my mom before, I chose the food. Pop responded by taking the cart and leaving her behind. I didn't help by waving goodbye from atop the cart, though in my defense, I was only six."

"I can see why she'd hate you, at least if you were still kids and the wound fresh." Nabiki mused, turning over this new morsel on Ranma's past in her head. "But after ten years, the torch should have dimmed a bit."

"Knowing her pops, he probably hasn't let her forget it since we left." Ranma said, shrugging a bit. He didn't care anymore, Ukyo was probably lying cold and broken in a gutter somewhere, his capacity to care for his childhood friend blown away in the explosion she escaped in.

"It's possible," Akane said, getting up and stretching. "I need to get ready for our date." And like that, she was gone.

"The big date huh?" Nabiki asked, her tone neutral and not at all worried. "To think, it was only a few days ago that it was made."

"It's nothing too big. I mean, I might as well be nice to her for a change right?" Ranma said, being facetious as he tried not to think of how much of a dick he had been.

"Garbage in, garbage out." Nabiki wasn't trying to sabotage Akane, but the conversation didn't need to head in to self depreciation. "She gave you flak, you gave it back. All things else being equal, one of you should break that particular cycle."

"Yeah, I know. But still, it'd be nice if we can act like normal people for once?" Ranma muttered, shaking his head. "It's hard trying to keep my stride, and not hold a grudge against the people who've stepped on me along the way."

"Relax Ranma-kun, if you held grudges, you would have buried your father in a shallow grave somewhere a long time ago." Nabiki said, patting his shoulder. "Or worse, become like Ryoga."

"Gah, don't threaten me like that!" Ranma gasped in mock exasperation. "Last thing I need is to get lost all the time and blame someone for my problems." He stood and helped Nabiki to her feet.

"Sorry," she whispered, before wrapping her arms around him. "Regardless of what happens, we'll still be friends right?"

"Sure." He agreed, returning the hug gently. For a long moment, they held onto one another, before it passed and he was gone. Nabiki looked down at her arms and sighed, the type of sigh someone looking to be just friends shouldn't have been sighing.

Once more, time past, and Nabiki found herself reading at the dinner table alone. By now, Ranma and Akane were at the movies, enjoying themselves no doubt. It was this thought that drove her out of the solitude of her room and into the dining room to get some air.

Heh, she shouldn't worry too much about it anyways. With both of them totally lacking any social grace, they'd be ready to kill each other in the figurative sense by night's end. Although, you could have said that about their engagement so far as well, couldn't you?

Boy, she sure was depressing herself now eh?

Lucky for her, okay considering what was coming, not really... but anyways, a small man chose that moment to kick in the front door. Nabiki, to her credit, was on her feet and into the living room before she even realized why she moved. Coming to a stop before the diminutive interloper, she sized him up for a brief second, feeling no danger from him.

"Who the hell are you?" she said, tone completely dismissive as she glared down the length of her nose at him.

"You don't remember me Nabiki-chan? Grandpa Happosai is crushed!" The old man wailed, before lunging towards her, only to be intercepted by Kasumi of all people, her eyes alight as she appeared from seemingly nowhere.

"Oneechan?" Nabiki murmured, looking at her elder sibling who held the old man calling himself Happosai in the palm of her hand.

"Happosai." Kasumi spat the name as a venomous epithet as she shoved him back at the door.

"K-Kasumi-chan!" Happosai cried, eyes filling with fake tears.

"Just get out." Kasumi said, slipping into serious mode as she glowered at the man.

"I don't see Akane-chan anywhere anyways." he grumbled, kicking a broken piece of wood before turning on heel and running away. "Wait for me my Akane-chan!"

"Tell me that didn't happen and I fell asleep at the table." Nabiki said, tone faint as Kasumi turned towards her with conviction in her eyes.

"Nabiki-chan, that man is a dangerous pervert. If he touches you inappropriately, tell me and I'll kill him." Kasumi said, taking her sister's hands and grasping them tightly. "Excuse me, I must pray to Mother for guidance." The eldest sister took her leave, the middle sister staring at the mess that the door was in.

"Oh man, don't tell me I have to clean this up."

As movies went, Ranma allowed there could be worse, being the magnanimous fellow he was. However, that didn't stop it from being mercilessly boring or cruelly exploitive of its cast of characters, the girls of which must have had to share a wardrobe. Not to mention their horrible use of martial arts as a catch all excuse for one side shit kicking the other.

In every sense, it had managed to offend Ranma in some way. Maybe it was the wire fu, maybe it was the way it had a snail's pace and a non-existent plot that solved nothing. Not even the climax was satisfying and the denouement of the film was spent on a ridiculous sequel hook.

Oh and Akane wouldn't stop touching him, which crept him out a whole bunch.

"Girls and boys do things like that doing movies," she had the gall to chastise him in the lobby. "Honestly, what kind of boy are you?"

"And you say I lack feminine modesty." he muttered under his breath as she turned on her heel and spun. He wanted to dump his cola on him and let her get caught snuggling up to a buxom red-head, but he was trying to be nice, damn it all.

Which brought us to this silly faux-French restaurant that served "French" food, signifying that it was really French ideology to Japanese cuisine. Their waiters were dressed in a manner that would offend the first true Frenchmen who gazed upon them. To say nothing of the maids, dressed like they were in a softcore porno.

Ranma gagged at the sight of the place and suddenly didn't feel hungry anymore. It smelled like hemorrhoids wrapped in bacon, and the sight looked like it had gotten lost on its way to Akihabara and grew roots. It had terrible stamped all over it, and yet here they were, heading right for it.

He whimpered, more for effect than anything, as Akane marched in like she was going to kill everything in it.

"I heard good things about this place," Akane said without a sense of irony in her voice, only thinking about how French food was the food of love or some romanticist bullshit like that.

"From who, the owner?" Ranma retorted, recalling Hiroshi and Daisuke briefly trashing the place in a passing conversation three days ago. Hiroshi's date had crashed and burned hardcore, and when the date starved girls of Furinkan high hated the place enough to break up on the first date with a guy, it was seriously messed up yo.

"No, just some friends at school." she said, refusing to name names so he or Nabiki couldn't interrogate them later. No one at school had recommended this place, she just felt like being different.

Their waiter came up and said something in French, which neither one understood. A long second passed before he repeated himself, in French. Before Ranma could get violent, a surly Japanese man replaced him.

"Yeah yeah, what's your order?" the waiter said, looking like death warmed over.

Neither could read the French menus, and lack of translation, they were forced to simply point at the items they wanted. The man grunted and shuffled away, looking almost hunched over.

"I hate this place." Ranma said quietly, feeling miserable. French speaking waiters in Japan? Menus written in French with no translation? What the hell man?

"At least wait for the food." Akane admonished, her heart having a meeting with her gut as her spirits sank like a leaky boat.

The food didn't help, it was a fancy version of stuff they could get at a food cart for three times the prize and half the excess crap. It didn't smell that great and it was failed to be dissatisfying to the eye. The taste, however, was surprisingly decent, but that was sort of like discovering a hidden fetish for being pooped on, you might like it, but someone still shit on you.

"This is the worst." Ranma had his head against the table, waiting to wake up screaming in bed, having dreamed of the entire thing.

"Don't say that," Akane said, pouting. "Why can't you be nice about it?"

"Horrible food, horrendous atmosphere, and service in another language. I can't think of anything nice and I'm not going to be quiet about it." Ranma snapped back, wishing she'd stop trying to defend her poor choices in movie and meal. He was trying not to lash out at her for it.

"I'm trying here, but I thought a restaurant like this would have been better than sitting at a noodle cart somewhere surrounded by drunks." Akane thundered on, worsening Ranma's mood even more.

"Just stop already," he pleaded, trying not to imagine what possessed them to order dessert and not run screaming into the night.

"Why don't you try anymore Ranma? What happened to us, to that spark we had that day we met?" she begged, sounding desperate.

Before he could lodge his entire leg in his mouth, a loud crash resounded around the place as Happosai barged in to Ranma's peaceful world. The old pervert looked Ranma in the eye for a long second, before the boy shot to his feet, hands in the air.

"Screw this shit, I'm out of here." And like the wind he claimed to be, Ranma blew out of Akane's life for the time being. She got up and looked around for even a hint of where he had gone, but he had vanished as if he never were there. Woodenly, with a great deal of fury, she turned to the intruder who ruined everything.

"A-Akane-chan?" he squeaked, before she surged for his throat, tears in her eyes.

"You! YOU RUINED EVERYTHING! IT'S ALL YOUR FAULT!" she shrieked, unfairly blaming him for the evening's failure to enchant her wayward fiancé.

The sounds of destruction and sorrow mingled well into the unforgiving night...

End Chapter 21

Teaser for Chapter 22 "A Day Without Ranma"

A ten year old girl, dressed in a yellow gi, her growing hair done in a ponytail, stood opposite her eleven year old sister. Said sister was decked out in a white gi, hair cropped short into a weird helmet shape as she took a confident stance. Over the years they stood like this, opposing one another in a no grappling sparring match.

For Akane, the memories weren't very happy. With her unnatural strength, she wasn't allowed to use it to smother her weaker sister, so as to encourage her to continue advancing in the art. That allowed her more shifty and shiftless sibling to get away with all sorts of dishonest fighting, which to her young mind was what she called Nabiki's use of feints and fakes instead of headlong assaults.

Despite her strength and aptitude for the art, Akane was entirely too honest to be robbed of her greatest weapon against Nabiki.

So there they stood, as they had for four years running, under the watchful eyes of their father and sister. Akane had been born with blessings of the Fire and the Earth, giving her incredible tenacity and amazing strength that belied her size. Nabiki had been gifted in Wood and Water, showing in her shifty style and scheming personality.

However, woe for the sister, that the eldest Kasumi had been the most blessed of all. She was born at the peek of the Tendo school's ideology, she was the World. Swift as the wind, silent as the forest, strong as the river, deadly as the fire and as indomitable as a mountain, she was a genius.

Sadly, such genius made her a chore to spar with, since neither could reach her lofty standards.

That isn't to say, that neither tried, it's just that they were over matched by Kasumi's natural skill. Akane couldn't grappled her, Nabiki couldn't bullshit her, and so Kasumi walked over the both of them. This sparring match was to determine who was second best behind Kasumi, as it had been since they had started, running forever to touch the specter for a fleeting moment.

Before long, the signal was given, and they came forward once more.

Author note: It... it's alive! I don't believe it. See you next chapter, currently scheduled for 2012. Sorry.