Ranma awoke, as was his want, before sunrise and lay in the small bed on the second floor of his clinic. His partner stirred a bit at his side, her fingers gripping his in her half-dream, half-waking state. The pigtailed doctor smiled and combed his fingers through her silken hair that had fanned across his chest during the night. Her lithe body lay tightly against his torso, their bodies connected by sweat from the heat their bodies generated during the night. Her angular face was pillowed on his bicep, her long lashes brushing his skin, and his arm was squashed between her slight breasts. He gently stroked the tacky skin around her navel, feeling his fingertips catch on the salty patches of dried perspiration and passion that had dripped off her stomach during the night, and traced the puckered edges of one of her many scars.
There was the barest twitch beneath the thin layer of her skin and Ranma knew she had awoken.
"Mmm?" He felt her lashes flutter against his arm and rolled over to cuddle against her backside, his other arm coming up to hug her tightly. "What time is it?"
"Early. We've still got an hour or so before we need to get up." He dropped his head into the tangled mane of her luscious hair and inhaled the musky, tangy scent of sweat from her scalp. Unbidden, his manhood twitched in the muscular cleft of her buttocks and he could practically feel her smirk.
"Getting up pretty early today, hmm?"
"I can't help ityour scent drives me mad." Ranma supposed that she reminded him of the Chinese Amazons and to a lesser extent Soi in that she didn't use perfumes or oils - she just had an arousing naturalistic smell. The coppery smell of her exertions seemed to be enough to fill his head with delightfully sinful thoughts and positions. The smell of her sweat tantalized him, it was in the nape of her neck, the hollow of her collarbone, the crease of her armpit, the folds of her crotch and thigh. His tongue traced the salty crease behind her ear.
"Not right now, okay?" Her slim legs kicked a bit and entwined themselves with his. "I'm still kinda sore from last night."
"After three hours worth of non-stop sex? I fully understand milady." Ranma simply wrapped his arms around her and squeezed her close. "Do you want the furo first?"
She shifted and held a tangle of hair before her nose. She sniffed and pulled her head back. "Sure." The girl, no woman, closed her eyes to seemingly enjoy one final moment of warmth and closeness and threw off the thick quilt covering them both. Nimbly avoiding the crumpled balls of tissue and tied and discarded condoms littering the floor, she gathered a clean robe from the dresser next to the television and stepped into the bathroom.
The 'apartment' above Ranma's clinic really amounted to little more than a one-room cell, with a kotatsu, small TV, bed adjacent kitchenette and a large bath off to the side. Compared to the minimalist tendency shown in the mini-fridge, TV, and especially the western style bed, the double-sized furo and shower room was something of an oddity. Still, she certainly wasn't complaining.
As soon as the bathroom door closed Ranma swung his legs off the bed and stretched naked in the gloom. The sun had yet to crest the horizon so the only illumination was a little nightlight plugged into the kitchen outlet. He switched on the news and shuffled into the kitchen to start breakfast. He never did have enough time with her even though she lived in the upstairs flat, it was nice to just relax with her and relish their brief time together. As he cracked the eggs against a heavy earthenware bowl, Ranma mused at the odd occurrences that combined to allow him this free time with his female guest. The Senshi were in the middle of a period of heavy Youma attack so they were keeping to themselves. Usagi and Setsuna had explained the importance of their mission on many occasions so Ranma understood their absence for the past few days. If the youma attack pattern was similar to before, he probably wouldn't see any of the Senshi for a few more weeks.
As for the castaways from the alternate dimension, they were off trying to adapt themselves to their new lives. Naoko, Ritsuko, Rosalind and Maya were on an overseas business trip trying to gather funding for a new MAGI system. After embarrassing Bill Gates and Microsoft, they were in Europe for another few months of meetings. Of course, since they were now affiliated with Daitokuji Enterprises / HD Heavy Industries they would probably gather _more_ than enough support to begin construction and basic programming of the MAGI-II. The Children were adapting to the pre-Second Impact education style with surprising ease. Even Asuka wasn't complaining that much about the 'pea-brained' assignments and 'retarded teaching assistants' at their high school. Yui and Kouzou were firmly entrenched at Toudai, working on the LCL samples they'd taken from the liquefied populace of their Earth.
Misato, Ulrika, Senta, Kazumi, Hyuga, and Shigeru; however, were floundering in their brave new world. Most were pursuing positions in the SDF, at least until the MAGI-II was operational, with the exception of Kaji and Sae - both of whom were hired by Daitokuji Enterprises for missions in industrial espionage and security. Misato and Ulrika had both been offered positions in the SDF as tactical operation analysts but both had turned them down citing the work as 'beneath their capabilities'. Ranma was sure it was just an excuse for them both to stay at his house and drink themselves into oblivion.
And with Biko, Eiko, and Shiko off on a school trip for the next month it effectively ruled out any interruptions of his nice, quiet week with his 'guest'. Humming to himself he put water up for soup and plugged in the electric airpot for tea.
The woman splashed a bucket of icy water over her body to rinse the final vestiges of soap from her skin and shivered. Rising, hands smoothed over her slight build and fluttered over her taut stomach and hips. Her legs were sleek and hard, extraordinarily muscular from years of training, but across her entire body was a pale lacework of pain. Lines crossed, turned, slashed and divided the slightly tanned skin of her torso and upper arms and legs. The only areas untouched by the patchwork were her forearms down to the fingertips and from her shins to the tips of her toes. The rest was covered in raised scars and a ragged, puckered mass of healed tissue jutting from the left of her navel. It was a sword wound.
Tenjou Utena sank down into the steaming water and sighed in contentment as another day began.
(1/2 Way to Absolution)
Being part of the '1/2 Saga'
Dr. Suekeiichi Kaiton
"What do you have planned for today?" Utena plunked herself down at the low table draped in a thin yukata. "Anything special?"
"Do I detect an agenda behind this question?" Ranma set out the plates and bowls along with two omelets and miso soup, before sauntering back to retrieve the rice cooker.
"NoI was just curious." She plastered an innocent look on her face and stretched her arms over her head, fingers laced together. Ranma reappeared from the kitchenette bearing the plain white rice cooker and set it down beside the table.
"I was going to take the day off." He filled their bowls and sat down opposite her. "I thought we might do something together."
"Aside from have horrendous amounts of wanton sex, right?" Utena plucked a fragment of egg from her plate and brought it to her mouth. An appreciative smile lit her face as the egg crumbled between her teeth, a slightly salty juice brushing the side of her tongue. If there was another area that Ranma excelled in it was cooking. "Why don't we stop by the gym?"
"Just what is so attractive about fencing?" Ranma took a bite of rice and washed it down with a sip of green tea. "Not that I mind fencing with you, I just don't like having my ass handed to me every other match."
"Hey, you've won ten matches!"
"Yeah, out of over thirty." Ranma gazed at her over their meal. "You _are_ a master swordsman."
"I know but you're the first person to give me a decent challenge since University." Utena finished the morsel of food in her mouth and swallowed. "There's just something so exciting about facing an opponent far stronger than you, you know?"
"Yeah, I suppose I do."
Looking her over with his experienced (forty-plus) eye, she certainly didn't look to be a twenty-five year old med student. In fact, with her knees lackadaisically akimbo and her slim fingers fumbling with the chopsticks, Ranma had a hard time believing she was eighteen. Her long pink hair shimmered with moisture from her shower and the neck of her robe was open wide enough for the barest shadow of her rosy nipple to peek out from the hem. Her face retained the gloss and chubby cheeks of youth, with large expressive blue eyes, a pert nose, and full lips. Ranma occasionally wondered at the pain buried deep behind those cerulean orbs, the scars criss-crossing her body themselves spoke volumes on the injuries and suffering she had doubtlessly experienced.
He was familiar with her history only through the bits and pieces he'd gathered from their talks and Chisato's medical records. She had apparently been assaulted after moving into a new neighborhood and suffered a fall from considerable height through a glass skylight. It was pure luck that as she landed on the bed of jagged, fallen glass the sharp spear impaled her intestine and not her heart. But, Ranma supposed, that it had struck her in the heart, at least on some level since she'd had trouble opening herself to others for the decade she was in school. Not to mention her amnesia. She had no memory of anything before waking up in the hospital after the accident.
According to her own admissions, Utena had not been the most social student in high school or university, nor the most motivated. The fact that she was currently a dropout for two semesters attested to her fickle interests. Ranma smiled a little wistfully at how artfully he'd been manipulated by her tale of financial woe and encroaching med school loans when he'd hired her. Not that she was a regular nurse, not by any means, rather she just helped Setsuna with the supply orders, routine tests and other banal quasi-nursing situations that came up from day to day. It wasn't that he resented her manipulation, in fact he was impressed by her performance if nothing else, he was really very cross at himself for being played so easily.
Moving back to her medical history, Ranma reminded himself that her acute amnesia was linked to the fencing and swordplay. Somehow she would say things or mutter under her breath as they fought, little things really that were seemingly dredged up from her deep unconscious. Once or twice she had seriously assaulted him, yelling out someone else's name. Slowly but surely she was beginning to break through the wall of opaque blankness in her mind. Curiously for her condition, she had moved into the neighborhood because of a school transfer but she had no recollection of the school she was transferring from - in fact she had no memory of anything before the tragedy.
"Ranma? Oh Ranmaaaaa!"
"Huh? I'm sorry, I zoned out for a moment."
"I said 'so you have no problem fencing today'." She tried to hide her amusement with the soup bowl, which Ranma found a wonderfully innocent attempt to deceive him, but broke down laughing after a few moments.
"We'll go as soon as the gym opens, okay?" Ranma smiled at her mirth and reached across the table to lower her bowl. He brushed her cheek with his forefinger and cupped her sharp chin. His thumb smoothed over the moist warmth of her lips as he grinned warmly.
Utena blushed in embarrassment and turned away. "O-okay."
Ranma simply continued to smile and placed his hand over hers.
Then the door buzzer rang.
Ranma began to stand up in his open robe, his manhood hanging flaccid between his legs, and Utena sprang up before him - eager to be rid of the uncomfortable situation. "I'll get it. Why don't you take your bath now?"
"Alright." Ranma smiled and closed his robe, clearing the table. "I'll go in after I wash the dishes, okay?"
"Okay." Utena galloped down the stairs and swung around the corners to the front door. She shoved her feet into a pair of house-slippers and ran a hand through her still-damp lock. It wasn't her fault that she couldn't remember the years from her parents' death until the accident, was it? It wasn't like there were harsh, painful memories she was repressing. She laughed at that, if it were true then Dr. Mori was right after all. Personally she thought the psychologist's theories were not only completely unfounded but ludicrous!
The buzzer rang in three short bursts, alerting her to the impatience of their unexpected guest.
"Are you going to get that or not?" Ranma's voice rang down the stairs in a huff.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm coming!" She gripped the deadbolt and looked through the frosted glass at the indistinct silhouette standing before the doors. The girl was shorter than her, at least it appeared to be a female if the long wavy hair was any indication, so Utena didn't perceive much of a threat. The pink-tressed woman slid the deadbolt aside and turned the key lock before pulling open the door just enough to see the mystery woman's face.
"The clinic isn't open right now, is it an emergency?" The woman on the other side looked prim and proper, dressed in a deep red turtle-neck sweater and tan slacks. Long wavy locks of purple hair cascaded down her back and a curious little creature perched on her shoulder. Her skin was a deep tan, a brown and red mixture resulting in an almost cinnamon complexion, and a small red beauty mark was stamped in the centre of her forehead. Was she Indian?
Utena frowned at the stranger. There was something uncanny about the woman, something which seemed to tug at her memory almost as if that beauty mark was a gaping hole for the entirety of her present existence. A pain developed behind her eyes, a pulsing energy leeching her sight through the optic nerve, and she turned away for a split second.
She should remember the stranger; there was a nagging remembrance at the back of her consciousness, as if something was trying to force its way to the vanguard of her mind. Her fingers dug into the thick mane of her hair in frustration and she whimpered slightly as things seemed to beinside her skull. Pain flared behind her eyes and she whimpered softly as sweat began to drip from her hairline.
As Utena staggered back into the clinic, tripping on the low step up from the foyer and falling to the floor in a convulsing heap, the stranger pushed between the doors and let her rolling luggage carriers clatter to the faux-stone tiles beside the shoe rack. Himemiya Anthy stood, her eyes brimming with tears, and watched the taller woman writhe and struggle.
"It has been ten years, Utena. It is time to remember what was lost." The dark-haired siren knelt by the woman and pressed her palm against the locks of shocking punk matted with sweat. The convulsing woman shied away from Anthy's touch and twisted on the slippery wood floor, her yukata opening as her struggles increased.
"wh-who are you?"
"You have forgotten much. He has sealed what you once were." Anthy gathered the fallen woman in her slim arms and pulled her up onto the cushion of her khaki slacks. Utena seemed to relax just a bit as the shorter woman stroked her hair and cooed reassuringly into her ear. As soon as the pink-tressed woman's heartbeat returned to normal Anthy felt it was time to begin undoing the damage the Devil had done. "Would you like to hear a story, Utena?"
"no story?" Tears leaked from the corners of her eyes as Anthy's hand brushed aside her bangs.
If Anthy heard the earnest plea she gave no sign.
"Once upon a time"
"There was a princess"
"Who believed she was strong enough to become a prince."
"But the Evil King of the land did not believe she had the strength to save another princess, his younger sister. And so the Princess went through many trials to prove herself in combat against the evil, old King's knights."
"don't make me remember this"
"Against the King's beliefs, the Princess bested the finest knights in the realm until there were none left to challenge her claim save the King himself." Anthy cradled Utena's head in her lap and brushed away the strands of hair that had fallen over her eyes. "Except the King had a secret, he was no king! He was merely a pretending prince; a fallen dark sorcerer who had once been something shining and bright. And since he had never taken a princess as his bride he could not be called a 'king'. The Dark Prince's sister was a witch you see, and she had placed a geis over the kingdom so that all of the subjects saw her as a queen."
Utena's struggles had ceased for a moment.
"But even his sister was under a spell. A charm which was impossible to break."
"" The pink-haired girl began to twitch again.
"It was perhaps the most simple of bondings - the binding called 'Blood'." Anthy closed her eyes, preparing herself for the climax of her tale, and teardrops spattered on Utena's cheeks. "The Princess and the Witch were friends and it was out of this relationship that the Princess tried to free her friend from the Dark Prince's clutches only to fall into his trap. In her haste, the Princess forgot that the Witch was also the Dark One's servant and when her back was turned the Witch was forced to betray her closest friend. The very same person that she considered her Love."
"Wounded and terribly alone, the Princess tried one final time to break the Witch's spell, appealing to the parts of the Witch's mind that detested what her brother had done. Fallen Prince laughed at the Princess' naivete and told her that what she was doing was futile, yet the Princess persisted."
"The Dark Prince grew tired of the Princess struggles and ripped out her noble heart, one of the keys to great power. With that The Arrogant King, The King of Lies, The Fallen Prince, The Dark Prince left her for dead. Seeing no need for his sister's continued presence, he imprisoned the Witch in a web of piercing swords. Impaled and bleeding for eternity upon eternity, the Witch cried out for freedom and vengeance."
Anthy pulled the larger woman up into her lap fully and cradled her body close, running her hands over Utena's flanks through the yukata, cooing soothing nothings into her ear again. The dark-skinned woman clasped the other's face in her hands and brought her lips close
"Even with her heart torn out, still the Princess fought to save the Witch. Perhaps it was out of pity for her plight, perhaps it was driven by the remains of her nobility; no matter the reason, the princess did not succeed in freeing the Witch from her prison." Anthy began to weep again, large tears bubbling from the corners of her eyes. "However, the Princess did not tear down the swords and chains, she only managed to pry open the door to the Witch's prison just a crackjust enough to let light touch what had been darkness."
"And so the Princess disappeared from the kingdom. The Dark Prince did not succeed in opening the Gates of Eternity because the manipulative nature of his scheme defiled the Princess' noble heart. When the Dark King returned to the throne of his deception he pulled his sister from the agony of her prison and expected her to simply continue propagating his lies. However, taking strength from the fleeting glance of light in her dank pit of sorrow and pain, the Witch drew the swords away from herself and turned her back on the Prince of Lies. She left the kingdom to search for the Princess because within the lost one's heart lay the nobility, the honorable nature, the resolve, and the power"
"To Revolutionize the World!"
Upstairs, Ranma jolted at the scream and dropped the dishes he'd been drying. He leapt from the top of the stairs and swung from a conspicuously placed pipe in to the clinic's waiting room. He landed in a crouch, one palm on the floor between his knees, the other across his face just in case the intruder was foolish enough to attack him. The sight that greeted him was nothing like what he was expecting.
His female guest was being embraced by a dark-skinned stranger and if his eyes weren't deceiving him they were kissing rather passionately. A bit abashed at watching such a spectacle, he stood up and crossed to where they lay crumpled on the Oriental rug spread out in front of the black leather couch. As he stopped just shy of Utena's fallen palm, the stranger broke their kiss and looked up with deep bittersweet eyes, tears dotting the creases of her lids.
Himemiya looked up from Utenaher love'ssleeping face and swept her eyes up the semi-nude form of the man. He was tall with an athletic build, broad-shouldered, a ragged mop of raven hair trailed down his back in a ponytail and blazing sapphire eyes looked out from the dark curtain of his bangs. He wore a thin silk robe emblazoned with the Dragon loosely over his shoulders. He was very nude underneath, she observed as he had forgotten to belt the robe and his body was proudly displayed between the black cloth. Anthy idly noted that he was _very_ generously endowed.
As she looked up at the towering man from her prone and defenseless position (although she was far from defenseless in reality), the exotic woman was assailed by a wave of revulsion brought about by the striking similarity between this unknown and the suave architect of her torment. If his skin had been darker and his hair lighter than the man could have easily passed for Akio, which didn't exactly enamour her to Utena's presumed lover. She simply hoped that her love hadn't simply fallen into the clutches of another manipulative pretender.
Ranma couldn't sense any animosity in the woman towards Utena, but there was the sense of lingering suspicion towards him. Smiling softly down at the odd girl, he fell to one knee and held out his hand. She stared at the offered hand warily, as if it would suddenly transform into a venomous snake or chittering spider.
Could she risk touching the doppelganger? Would she risk touching a being that could in fact be her brother in disguise? It could be the only way to know for sureif she made physical contact she would be able to probe him. Through their contact she could see the color of his soul and make sure there was no malignant darkness oozing in his heart. If there was darknessshe would kill him.
Ranma waited patiently for the woman to take his hand. As soon as they made skin-to-skin contact he could search and read her aura for any signs of animosity or violence. It was the only way to know whether she attacked Utena. If she had injured his partner / nurse / lover / friend, well then the course was clearhe would neutralize the threat. Ah! She was reaching out