'Mirthless"

"School?" Ranma enquired, incredulously.

"Yes," Genma responded, nodding firmly, "We are going to be staying for a while." Truth be told, Genma didn't like the idea one bit. In fact, he hated it, but he knew he couldn't get away with staying in one place without Ranma being in classes. Ranma's curse was sure to bring issues to bear, as was the reason he had asked Kasumi to pick up some black hair dye when she went out. Of course, that would only go so far, and fail closer inspection. And the confusion left in cold water's wake would then alert the boy to too many issues.

"But what about my blackouts, old man? Did you even think about that?" Ranma argued, looking for any excuse not to go. He was certain the issue wouldn't be too grand a problem, presuming that schools would know on hand how to deal with such situations, but it still seemed like an opportunistic way out.

Genma sighed, and hoped his next plan worked, "Ranma, I have to tell you the truth, regarding your blackouts."

Ranma's eyes narrowed, as his father began to confirm suspicions he had about his father covering something up, "What about them?"

Genma pushed his glasses further up his nose, "Just as me, you are too afflicted with a curse from that horrible place."

Ranma's eyes widened in shock, "I... I am?" Ranma grabbed his father by the lapels of his gi, "WHY DIDN'T YOU SAY THIS IN THE FIRST PLACE?!?"

"As I fell into the spring of Drowned Panda, you too fell into a spring, though fortunately one that hadn't the curse of an animal."

Ranma let go of his father, "S-so, that shouldn't be a problem right?" He hoped that was the case. If he fell into an uncursed spring, then he shouldn't suffer any ill effects. Seemed perfectly logical to him, though that wouldn't explain the blackout spells.

"Listen to me, Ranma," Genma demanded solemnly, "The spring you fell into still contained the powerful Jusenkyo magic. Because of it, when you are in contact with cold water, you are placed in what seems like a 'stasis' of sorts, until you are capable of awakening."

Ranma sat back, taking it all in. That would explain why he tended to wake up often, soaked in warm to hot water. "Then I would just wake up when someone splashes me with hot water, like how you change back, right?"

Genma blinked, realizing a flaw with his story, "Er... I guess."

Ranma nodded, before attempting to use his foot to plant his father's head through the floor, "THEN WHY IS IT I DON'T END UP WAKING UP SOMETIMES FOR DAYS?!?"

"It's... not that...easy, boy," Genma managed to state with a mouthful of waxed floor, "If it were, I would have made sure..." There was enough truth in this lie to make it work.

Ranma sighed, knowing it was the truth. He doubted his lazy bum of a father would want to lug Ranma around China and half of Japan while he was unconscious, "Ah, I guess."

Genma thanked the heavens that his son didn't ask 'why' it was an issue, but knew he should consider a story to cover it in the future. He straightened himself out, and pretended as if he was going to overlook Ranma's impudence with a withering glare, "As I was about to say, boy, it's paramount that you try your best to stay out of the vicinity of cold water, lest you activate your curse."

Ranma snorted, "Hmph, that can't be too tough."

Nabiki walked past the guest room at that moment, wearing a devious smirk, "You'll be going to the same school as me and Akane." She chuckled, causing Ranma to blink, wondering what she found so funny, "See you there, Ranma... chan."

"I wonder what that was all about," Ranma wondered aloud.

Nabiki couldn't help but feel giddy at the new avenue of entertainment that had just opened up for her. It would be interesting to see how agile and alert the pigtailed freeloader would be. As she was slipping on her shoes to leave, Akane silently came up beside her, and started to do the same. The youngest paused, when she noticed the hooded gaze her sister was favoring her with.

"You aren't about to let your fiancé try to find his way to school himself, are you?"

Akane did a double-take, "Huh, 'my' fiancé?"

Nabiki tossed her head, "What's done is done, we'll just have to dwell on that detail later. As for now, I'm going to be late if I don't hurry, ta ta, mopey!" With that, Nabiki walked out the door, leaving Akane dumbfounded. She didn't snap out of her trance, until she heard someone clear their throat behind her. She turned, finding Ranma standing there nervously, holding a book satchel in hand.

Holding his gaze for only a moment, Akane finished putting her shoes on, and headed out the door, barely giving Ranma any time to react.


She hadn't said a word to him the whole time, as she quietly walked on her way upon the sidewalk. The pigtailed boy finally calmed down after a near-hit by a spray of water from some old woman, and continued to observe Akane from his path on the fence. Her gait, while dignified, was meek and soft. Her balance was centered like a martial artist's, so he could guess she practiced the art, but she had no confidence in her stride. He wondered exactly how good she was, finding at least some common ground to approach her on.

Finally summing up enough courage, Ranma hopped down from the fence, landing a few paces behind the girl, "So, you practice martial arts?"

The girl paused, and turned to look at Ranma. Her expression was subdued, though it had a hint of surprise and curiosity. After a few moments, she turned back away, and continued walking, "I... yes."

"Well, that's cool," Ranma responded, wishing he could have gotten more out of her. "I guess you practice your family style, right? It's also Anything Goes?"

Ranma frowned, when no answer came, "Hey, I'm trying to be conversational here."

"I'm not a very conversational person, Ranma," Akane said quietly, not breaking her stride.

Ranma huffed, deciding to broach the overhanging subject, "What do you think about this engagement thing? My pops seems pretty serious about it, but I give him maybe a couple of weeks at best before he gets bored of the idea."

"We're not getting married," Akane replied, almost tersely,"

"You're telling me?" Ranma questioned, "Look, it's not like you aren't cute and all, but-" Ranma paused, as Akane stopped for a brief moment. Without a word, she continued. The pigtailed boy blinked, and shrugged to himself, "I ain't interested in marrying anyone, I have my own problems to fix before I get involved in anything else."

"You don't have to explain, Ranma."

Ranma nodded, satisfied, and grateful that the girl was nice enough, and understood where he was coming from. He looked around, before his eyes fell upon her back again. The more he watched her, the more he couldn't help but think of how sad she seemed, how resigned... no, that wasn't quite the word, 'broken' seemed to fit more.

"Why were you crying last night?" Ranma enquired, before considering it wasn't any of his business.

At that question, Akane's pace quickened, leaving the boy to think he had broached on a very touchy subject, "Hey, I was only, I mean I wasn't trying to be nosy or anything."

"Just, leave me alone, alright?" Akane spoke, "Just... don't bother me about it."

"Look, I'm sorry about all this, it ain't like I wanted to impose upon you guys, but my Pops is being stubborn about it." Ranma moved to walking next to Akane, "I'm sorry you lost your mom, you guys must have... have loved her a lot."

Akane closed her eyes, squeezing them shut, "Please, don't say anymore."

Ranma opened his mouth to retort, before closing it, and frowning. He decided to obey the girl's wish, realizing that he was simply toying with a painful wound.

The rest of the walk was spent in silence, save for the ambient sounds of daily life in Nerima. Ranma then noticed Akane slightly beginning to lead ahead of him, speeding up, but never breaking from walk. "Huh?"

The pigtailed boy looked up, seeing a clock tower up ahead, and then the building it was built into, "I guess that must be the school. Hey, Akane... Akane?"

The girl didn't seem to hear him, as she continued her brisk pace, holding her satchel at her side with the belt in a tight fisted grip. Her stride never slowed, as they approached the walls of Furinkan High School. It was then that Ranma noticed a small army of boys in sporting gear, while sporting evidence of injury, waiting for someone apparently. At the way their eyes lit up at their arrival, Ranma guessed they were waiting for Akane.

He then realized, it was ever so slight, but Akane was trembling. He stopped, shocked and concerned about her. "A-Akane?"

She never slowed her pace, as her fist clutched the bondage of her satchel tightly, wringing it in her grip. Her eyes were cast downwards, yet they shifted so that she could at least partially see those ahead of her. Soon, the shouts came, as they began to rush at her, causing the girl to squelch her eyes tightly shut, and tense her whole body. The reaction was only for an instant, before she looked up, to find the first boy upon her.

Ranma flinched, as he heard the first boy to get within arm's reach cry out in a great deal of instant pain, and collapse to the ground. Ranma noticed the boxing gloves, and also the way the boy's leg sat at an awkward angle from the knee. If he planned on a sports career, it was now over.

A gurgling sound drew Ranma's attention back to Akane, as he saw her retract her hand from slamming the junction between her index and thumb into a hockey-player's throat. The pigtailed boy's eyes widened even further, as he saw the girl almost coolly sidestep a swing from a baseball bat, and slammed her elbow into the guy's sternum. Ranma baulked, noticing Akane's follow-through. She didn't pull the blow.

Not sure of what was going on, Ranma rushed to the downed baseball player, who was showing severe problems breathing. As carefully but as quick as he could, Ranma lifted his shirt, looking under it to check the damage. He gulped, and then looked up back to the battle taking place.

Akane's face was neutral, as she almost danced through the platoon of male students. Whenever one got within range, it was guaranteed he would collapse screaming in pain from a broken limb, a crushing blow, unless she left them soundless with whatever punishment she dished upon them.

She made a beeline for the entrance of the school, not allowing herself to be impeded, and most assuredly never allowing herself to be touched. She ducked under a kick from a karate student, almost gently guiding his leg around then back to the ground and forcing him to be turned away, before she kicked him away in the small of his back, making him jerk painfully at the spine, and sending him to the ground. She didn't even seem to notice the approaching rugby player, back fisting him to the side of the jaw, possibly dislocating it. She was paying attention to the soccer player, delivering an open palm slap to his ear that carried enough force in it for the thunderclap to be heard all over the schoolyard. When Ranma saw the guy collapse to his knees in a soundless scream, unable to hold the dripping blood from his busted eardrum, that was all Ranma could take.

"Someone call the nurse or doctor or something!" Ranma commanded, pointing to a random girl standing around and fearfully observing the battle. He then rushed towards Akane, aiming to put an end to the whole ordeal, "AKANE, STOP THIS!"

She wasn't paying him any attention, as several of the boys that were still standing began to back away, unwilling to suffer like their comrades had. That gave Ranma enough space, even with the few that were determined to still subdue her, to hopefully get her to calm down. "Akane!"

Even he was almost caught off-guard by the kick to the thigh she snapped back at him, barely managing to twist to the side in time. When she realized her attack missed, Akane quickly followed up with a chop to her target's neck. Ranma weaved effortlessly from it, now on guard.

The pigtailed boy then ducked a roundhouse kick to the head, caught Akane's bicep of her next punch, arresting the swing, and then jerked the hand out of Akane's sudden grip on it where she had intended a wrist lock. With every failed attack, Akane became faster, forcing Ranma to dodge and counter faster.

"Who... who's that?" One girl asked; awed at the young man who was going toe to toe with Akane.

"I... I don't know."

"He's... good!"

"He better get away while the getting's good."

Ranma was easily adjusting to Akane's timing; apparently she wasn't used to fighting someone she didn't take out on the first attack. As he continued, he made several attempts to get through to her without having to hurt her, but she wasn't listening. In fact, he was beginning to notice her attacks were getting sloppier, and even more, her neutral expression was melting into one of... of someone absolutely frightened for their life.

That galvanized him into action. "AKANE, STOP THIS NOW!" With his final command, he caught Akane's punch by her wrist, pulled her into him, and held her with the other arm at the small of her back, while jamming his leg between hers, arresting as much of her leverage as possible.

Akane began to scream and thrash, trying her best to break free. Ranma knew dozens of techniques she could have used, and was pretty sure she knew at least a few them, but all form was stripped away and replaced with panicked thrashing. His concern quadrupled, "Akane, get a hold of yourself! Calm down!!!"

Her tantrum continued, unabated, forcing Ranma to hug her tighter, and hope she would soon wear out. Unfortunately, he wasn't given the opportunity, as he suddenly sensed the urgency to evade something from his blindside. Pushing Akane away and to the ground, Ranma somersaulted backwards, just in time to see the cement he had been standing upon furrowed by a powerful downward slash.

The pigtailed martial artist remained in stance, as the dust cleared, revealing a boy in hakama and gi, still in his recovery stance from the strike he attempted to deliver.