Friends: Old and New
Chapter 39: Furinkan Reruns
Disclaimer: Characters and setting are the property of Rumiko Takahashi and Yoshihiro Togashi, I'm just borrowing them for a little non-profit fun.
Yomi smiled secretively. "You're back sooner than anticipated," he remarked to Kurama. "How are your promised warriors coming along?"
"Adequately," Kurama stated blandly.
"One should hope so," Yomi replied. "You haven't run into any difficulties, have you?"
The solicitous question irritated Kurama. He wondered to what extent Yomi was aware of the intrigues within his borders and to what extent he controlled them.
"I believe you are aware of the incident this morning, although I would hardly classify it as a difficulty."
"Ahh, yes." Yomi smiled. "I'm missing a general aren't I? Would you mind filling the opening?"
"I suppose it would be traditional," Kurama replied. "I really should have killed your advisor. The position suits me better."
"Kaneda is too careful to attack you directly," Yomi said. "While he does harbor doubts about your worth he has sufficient respect for my judgement to be wary."
"So he will look for the chance to stab me in the back," Kurama remarked bluntly.
Yomi laughed. "Your reckless little brother has rubbed off on you a bit. How is the boy?"
"Are your spies failing you?" Kurama asked blandly.
"Me? I was simply making conversation," Yomi replied. "This is how it's done among humans, is it not?"
"Do you sense anything human here?" Kurama said.
"My apologies. I thought their manners are what you had become accustom to."
"Actually this country you've established isn't so different from human society," Kurama said. "Bland civility to hide the knife. I find myself feeling quite at home."
"Naturally. Nothing ever disconcerts you, does it?" Yomi said. "In all the years we ran together, I never once saw your calm facade fracture."
"And yet you still think it a facade."
"Perhaps you are as detached as you seem," Yomi admitted. "We shall see."
Kurama walked away certain that Yomi knew something of Ranma but unable to probe too deeply without giving away just how valuable Ranma was to him.
"I'll be back later," Akane called as she stepped into her shoes.
"Have a good day," Kasumi called back.
It was the first time in a long time that Akane found herself walking to school alone. It felt like forever since Ranma had ran the fence line above and beside her, first because he came from the Minamino's which was in a different direction, and for the last few weeks because he was probably a hostage in the Demon World.
Since Ryoga had learned the route from Genkai's Temple to the Dojo well enough to make it on his own nine times out of ten, he'd made a practice of dropping by just as she left for school. But the night before they'd come across some sort of winged monstrosity, Ryoga had chased after it at a speed Akane couldn't match, disappearing into the distance in the blink of an eye. Apparently he'd eventually managed to bring it down, but by then he'd been away from any known landmarks and out of ki-sensing range. He'd wandered about until he'd found a police station and had gotten permission to use their phone to call Genkai for directions. By that point he'd been in Hokkaido. As more people paid attention to Ryoga's directional issue they'd come to realize that there was a truly unnatural aspect to it, when he got distracted he literally warped distances, traveling miles with every step and overshooting his target. Now he knew better than to walk while day dreaming, but when Ryoga did get lost it was almost inevitable that he'd get very, very lost. Genkai had wired him some money for a train ticket and asked the police to see that he got to the station. He'd been practicing with the public transportation system and they were hoping he'd be back in Tokyo by nightfall.
Even Nabiki had other plans that morning, she'd had their father walk her to school early to meet up with her friends to put the finishing touches on a group project. Akane suspected that the 'project' was one of Nabiki's typical extracurricular activities involving either running a betting ring or a blackmailing scheme, but she didn't have proof and without that Kasumi would dismiss her concerns.
Nabiki was also planning on giving their father a crash course in getting permission from a school to hang up fliers for the Dojo. Soun and Genma didn't quite have enough students to keep the family afloat with income from their martial arts classes, but they were getting there. Beyond that it just felt good for the girls to finally see their father getting excited about teaching his art again.
'Good for Father,' Akane thought. 'Uncle Saotome on the other hand..." Genma was quickly growing disillusioned with teaching, he complained frequently that none of their students had any aptitude, meaning none of them were Ranma. Even so, he still helped Soun demonstrating techniques and recently Kumon Ryu had surprised everyone by joining the class. Apparently, Kumon had hopes that if he hung around long enough Genma would simply give in and teach him the Umisenken. Akane thought his plan might even work. Genma had started teaching him some 'Anything Goes' signature techniques simply to escape teaching teenagers the basics that Ranma had mastered before he was four. Even Kumon didn't quite live up to Genma's standards, the first time Akane had seen the expression of frustration on Genma's face when he actually had to stop and put his point into words when Kumon couldn't just pick it up from observation Akane had ended up on the floor, laughing so hard it took her five minutes to stand. Watching them, seeing how Genma taught, it had occurred to Akane that Ranma really had taken her seriously that first day and more importantly it wasn't her fault that she couldn't learn Martial Arts the way he did. Even someone like Kumon Ryu needed actual instruction, words and explanations, not just demonstration. Ranma was a prodigy, she wasn't a moron for missing his points.
Akane's thoughts kept her occupied all the way to school. Absently she turned the corner and walked through the gates. Then she stopped. Her bookbag dropped out of her suddenly lax hand as she stared in disbelief.
A horde of boys in a wide variety of sports gear were clustered around the door. At the sight of her the mob charged, howling "Akane! Date me!"
'Is this a nightmare?' Akane wondered. 'Was everything else some sort of weird dream? Ranma, curse, fiancees, all of it, was it ever real?'
Akane turned on her heel and walked away.
Behind her the boy's shouts tapered off into confusion.
"That was unexpected," Nabiki said. She and her two lieutenants had been observing the school yard from their normal perch in the second-story window. "Akane has been studying the Art, really studying it for the first time since Ranma came. She could have set new time record for cleaning the floor with those bozos."
"It didn't hurt our take," one of the girls remarked. "No one bet on Akane walking away."
Akane, still swaddled in a sense of unreality, walked home. She went up to her room, closed the door behind her and curled up on her bed.
Kasumi came up a few minutes later. "Akane? Are you feeling ill?" she asked. She sat on the edge of Akane's bed and put a hand on her forehead.
Akane shook her head.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Another head shake.
"If you change your mind, I'll be downstairs," Kasumi said.
As Kasumi returned to the kitchen Atsuko glanced up from the cup of coffee she was nursing. "So, what's her issue?" she asked.
Kasumi sighed. "She didn't want to talk about it."
"The Horde's back," Nabiki called from the entryway where she'd paused to remove her shoes.
"Oh my, that really isn't very gentlemanly of those boys," Kasumi said. "I thought they'd given up that ill-mannered behavior."
"Only because they decided to recognize Ranma's claim on her after he trashed Kuno-chan a couple of times," Nabiki replied. "But Ranma's gone now. First he was out of school for that little body-soul disconnect issue he was having, then he came back for two weeks only to break off the engagement and now he's gone again. The Horde's decided that makes Akane fair game."
"This won't help Akane to be less angry," Kasumi worried.
"Maybe we could have Ryoga step in," Nabiki suggested. "He'd love being her knight in shining armor."
"Wait a sec," Atsuko said. "Catch me up here. The Horde?"
"The Henti Horde," Nabiki elaborated. "Back at the very beginning of the year Kuno-chan declared that whoever wanted to date my sister had to defeat her in combat. So for weeks every morning before school started Akane would have to trash this huge bunch of guys who took Kuno's challenge. The more she clobbered them the more guys got involved. I mean the old ones couldn't give up, they'd lose face. And new guys kept joining in, less because they were interested in Akane than because they wanted to prove that they could succeed where everyone else failed. It just kept growing." Nabiki grinned. "Then Ranma showed up. He demolished Kuno, more because Kuno-chan developed a thing for Ranma's girl-side than because of Akane. But the Horde still took it as a sign that it was time to pack it in."
"When you say Horde? Specifically how many?"
"At first under ten guys, but at it's height it was around forty guys screaming 'I want to date you, Tendo Akane!' charging her with everything from bare hands to baseball bats," Nabiki said. "Didn't matter though, Akane always trashed them. We'd bet on how long it would take from the moment she stepped through the gate to the last member of the Horde hitting the pavement."
"And you wonder that she hates boys?" Atsuko shook her head. "Guys attacking her like a pack of animals and no one gives a damn. Worse yet they only stop when another guy steps in, proving that they're the only ones with any say. Hell, I wouldn't blame her for hating Ranma. Now you want yet another boy to step in and prove, again, that boys are the only ones who matter? Are you nuts?"
"Look, it worked," Nabiki argued. "Like I said, Akane trashed them every day for weeks and it just got hem more fired up. Ranma comes along, beats Kuno up twice and that was that."
"You know, for a smart girl, you really can act dumb," Atsuko said. "I wasn't even there, but I can see Ranma didn't solve anything. All he did was win their disgusting little game."
"But why did Akane come home from school so early?" Kasumi asked. "Even with the Horde at it's height it never took her more than 3 minutes to fight her way past them."
Nabiki shrugged. "I don't know, she didn't fight them. She just took off."
"Good for her," Atsuko said. She raised her voice. "Hey! Akane, I'll walk you to class tomorrow. If the bastards didn't get your message today, I'll see if I can put it in 'Moron' for them."
A few minutes later Akane's door creaked open. She crept down the stairs. "Really? You think they're wrong?" she asked.
"Physically attacking a girl to get a 'date' with her? Repulsive," Atsuko stated.
Akane smiled. "It is, isn't it? They're awful."
"I've got one more question," Atsuko said. "Why the hell are you in school anyway? Isn't it break?"
Akane and Nabiki rolled their eyes. "Make-up days," they said in unison.
"Principal Kuno decides we need school hair cuts, the school gets totaled in the ensuing free for all, we get a week off," Nabiki explained.
"Principal Kuno holds our test scores for ransom, everyone goes crazy trying to get them back, the school gets wrecked, we get a week off," Akane continued.
"Principal Kuno has a thought and the next thing you know the school's rioting," Nabiki generalized. "Damage ensues, followed by time off for repairs. Then come the actual, scheduled breaks we've had too many unscheduled days out of class. So we spend the break making them up."
"Sounds like fun," Atsuko said sarcastically.
"Oh yeah," Nabiki groused. "Especially if you're a senior, busily having a nervous breakdown, worrying about finishing the end of your senior year before the college year starts. Such joys we have to look forward to."
The next morning, as promised, Atsuko dragged herself out of bed in time to join Akane on her trek to Furinkan High.
When Akane stepped through the school gates the Horde made it's traditional charge. Atsuko stepped in front of Akane, placed two fingers in her mouth and whistled sharply.
Confused the Horde stumbled to a halt.
Atsuko surveyed the assembly of weapons-baring boys critically. "Am I supposed to believe that you're all brain-damaged?" she asked condescendingly.
The boys turned to each other uncertainly. None were willing to be the first to single themselves out for adult censure.
"I mean really? You think a girl's going to want to date you if you beat her to a pulp?" Atsuko wrenched a hockey stick out of one boy's hands and twirled it lightly. "Hit a girl with one of these, she's sure to fall in love with you, right?"
The sarcasm dripping from her voice made the boys cringe. There was a general stir through the Horde as embarrassed boys tried to hide whatever weapons they were holding behind their backs.
"You beat her up and she'll want to date you?" Atsuko shook her head. "Or is 'date' the polite way to say 'rape' these days?"
The boys on the outskirts of the Horde tried to blend back into the crowd but after Atsuko's blunt statement the uninvolved parties glared at them with righteous indignation.
"Madam, who are you to mock and demean that which I, Kuno Tatewaki, the Blue Thunder of Furinkan High, captain of the Kendo Club, have declared to be so?" Kuno demanded. "I have decreed that only those who defeat Tendo Akane-"
"Wow, I thought I knew pompous blowhards, but you take the cake," Atsuko interrupted. She looked Kuno up and down. "You don't impress me," she stated. "I know self-deluded rich brats with an over-blown sense of entitlement, none of you are worth the air you pollute."
"Woman, do you realize whom you speak to?" Kuno demanded.
"Yeah, yeah. I already heard it. Kuno something or other, blah, blah, blah. I missed the part where you have ANY say over who Tendo Akane dates. YOU have no claim on her. At the absolute MOST you have the right of refusal if she actually wanted to date you, only she doesn't want to date you in the first place. All this," Atsuko gestured to the Horde, "It's not going to make Akane like you. Only an idiot would think it would."
"You, you're wrong," Kuno protested. "Tendo Akane and the pig-tail girl adore me."
"No we don't," Akane exclaimed. "And I'm never going to date you! I didn't want to date you before you made my life miserable. And I like you a lot less now."
Kuno stared at Akane in disbelief. "You don't like me?"
"No," Akane said.
"I DON'T LIKE YOU!!!"
"Happo Five Yen Attack!" Several boys in the crowd withered and dropped as Ms. Hinako made her entrance and shift to adult form.
"Delinquents! Why aren't you in class?" Hinako demanded. She glared at Atsuko. "And what are you doing corrupting my students you, you strumpet!"
"At least I'm not falling out of my clothes," Atsuko muttered under her breath. "I'm here because you apparently can't do your job. Or does Furinkan approve of roving gangs of boys attacking female students?"
Hinako glared at the cowed remains of the Henti Horde. "We certainly do not." Hinako scowled at Atsuko. "That still doesn't explain why you're here."
Atsuko sneered at her rival for Soun's affections. "Akane is practically my step-daughter. Where else would I be?"
Hinako's mouth dropped open. "You liar."
Despite her reservations about marriage Atsuko couldn't resist the temptation to one-up Hinako. "Think what you want, Soun proposed to me."
Hinako's chin trembled. "I don't believe you."
"I don't give a damn what you believe," Atsuko said. "Just do your job and keep this bunch of lunatics under control. I mean really! My kid might be a junior perv, but even he's got more respect than, what is this? Half your student body?"
Hinako drew herself up. "Thank you for bringing this situation to my attention. Please leave now."
"The school's your turf," Atsuko agreed. "I'm not looking to butt in unless I have to. Akane, you'll be okay now?"
"You really told them off," Akane said happily.
"It was my pleasure," Atsuko replied.
Nabiki was waiting outside of the gates. "It won't last," she said as Atsuko walked by. "Give him a few days and Kuno-chan will rationalize it away. Although, to be fair, no one has come out and told Kuno his attentions aren't appreciated before. Still, one would think a boot to the face implies it strongly." Nabiki shrugged. "Anyway, Kuno'll go back to his old shtick as soon as the rationalization bunny fixes this little set back for him. The teachers will ignore him because of his father and the family fortune. The other boys'll follow Kuno's lead unless Akane is 'won' by someone dominant enough to scare them off."
"This is why lawyers exist," Atsuko replied. "My family's will be paying Furinkan a visit to make it clear that the Kuno family isn't the only one with weight to throw around."
"I thought you didn't like using those connections," Nabiki remarked.
"It's all in how it's worded," Atsuko explained. "I pointed out that if this mess ever hits the headlines the fact I'm shacking up with your dad will also come out. Which isn't something my family would want talked about. So their lawyers will encourage and empower your teachers to keep that Kuno brat in check. Without him leading the pack the rest of them should stay shamed."
"Well, thanks, I suppose," Nabiki said grudgingly.
"It's pretty simple. I like Soun, so I don't want to be at war with you girls. For Akane that means getting her over her hang-ups about sex. And that isn't going to happen while that bunch of morons are justifying her fears and everyone else is acting like it's all normal."
Yomi tipped his head to one side, attentively listening to the sounds of battle.
"Remarkable isn't he?" Kaneda asked. "I've brought in fighters from across Demon World. He absorbs techniques like a sponge. He has confided in me that, in the past, he has frequently been required to abide b the rules of his enemies' styles. Until now he hasn't had the chance to integrate all that he's learned. Even with his new sensei he had focused on correcting and developing his ki-techniques, situational awareness and control," Kaneda shook his head and chuckled. "She wanted him to be a better person, not simply a better fighter."
"My only goal for him is his fighting and his progress has been nothing short of phenomenal. Expose him to hundreds of effective fighting styles and he fuses them into something new and better. He possesses an intrinsic understanding of what works and what does not. I didn't even have to manipulate him into assuming his demon-form. He, himself recognized that he'd reached his maximum potential as a human, but that his potential as a demon is limitless. Trusting boy, all that he asked was if we could restrain him if he lost control."
"But he hasn't yet," Yomi observed disapprovingly. "None of them are dead. I hear no bones breaking, no blood splatter. He still defeats, he doesn't kill."
"Give him time, my Lord." Kaneda said. "Ahh, this is something new, pay close attention."
As they observed Ranma's feline ears swivelled forward, a mischievous smile emerged and his tail curled happily behind him. He charged forward, in mid-step he shifted from male to female. His resultant increase in speed threw off his opponent and he landed a clean kick. If he'd extended his claws he would have gutted the other demon.
"The disparity in his two forms' speed is increasing," Yomi commented.
"Yes, yes. The same is true for his strength," Kaneda reported. "He shifts between them seamlessly. He does not merely take advantage of his female-form's greater speed and his male-form's greater strength. I've seen him shift in mid-blow to alter the angle of his attack."
"He is a most adept fighter. Under your tutelage he is gaining rapidly in both skill and power," Yomi said. "However, I am concerned by his lack of homicidal intentions."
Kaneda shrugged helplessly. "He does believe that all the demons he's fought are friendly. That they merely wish to help him train."
"None of them have tried to kill him yet?" Yomi's eyebrow rose in disbelief.
"Apparently he has been trained under -interesting- conditions before this," Kaneda reported. "He has difficulty telling the difference between training and a full-scale attempt on his life."
"And he resists killing?" Yomi asked.
"To the best of my knowledge, with one exception, Ranma only kills when there is an immediate threat to another's life," Kaneda said. "In the one exception, he also had no realistic option but to kill. However, that time, there was no immediate danger, only the knowledge that the marauding demons he'd tracked would kill in the future if he didn't stop them there. In that case he was overcome by his cat-madness, probably to escape consciously acknowledging that achieving his objectives required him to kill in cold blood."
"That may prove troublesome," Yomi remarked.
"I've rounded up a number of cat-demons," Kaneda replied. "Along with a pit they should remove any problems when the time comes. I presume it would be sufficient to send him out as a berserker?"
"As long as Kurama can't defeat him without killing him, I will be satisfied," Yomi allowed. "The boy isn't so different from what I was. Kurama should have regretted attempting to have me murdered."