The ultimate cause ------------------

I have to end this sometime.

My first thought was Rain.

After that it was just flurry and fury.

With droplets beginning to patter around us in the park, I ran full-on into Dr. Strangelouvre, and winged my bread through the air with my left hand. He put his up and guarded his head with a quick block. He re-set to jab me straight on with his loaf, but I twisted my momentum off my first swing, and went for a reverse roundhouse kick to his face. He backs off, and goes back into a defensive pose.

My plan was to have him knocked out by now. He's better than I had thought.

"Veree spry, Mon amis. Howevar, Zee chance of raen has altaered my plans. Now, try teau keep up."

He turns and starts to run toward the entrance of the park. The rain drops are now coming on in a light shower. A few driplets here and there won't change me, but sooner or later the curse will hit it's limit. I run after Strangelouvre.

Come back here, fight fair! There's not much time, I have to end this now, before My terrible secret is revealed.

He jinks left out of the park, and I follow. From behind me I hear her.

"Ranma-darling! Where are you going!?"

Now Kodachi is after me. I'm keeping pace with the good doctor, who's sprinting out with his face arched forward, and his aerodynamic French cheekbones cutting through the moist air. From behind me is the bounding Black Rose. She hops gymnastic on top of signs and post-boxes, with her dark streamer a missile's exhaust trailing and following her movement perfectly.

He breaks right.
I break right.
Kodachi breaks right.

Up ahead, with his umbrella already up, and with his psychologist at his side, Ryoga looks our way.

"Comeeng Sreau!"

Hibiki jinks to one side as Stragelouvre, Me then Kodachi rifle through as almost one simultaneous gust.

"Ranma! Get back here!"

Oh, shit. I just realized where this is going. He's heading to Furinkan.

He breaks left, and the parade of us follow suit like a string of pearls.

School's out for summer, and what better arena to weild the bread of wrath than the wide fields of Furinkan? He's just getting personal now. I feel the whip of Kodachi's ribbon try to latch on to my heel. It comes across my shoe dog's tongue wide with a loud FWAP sound.

"Wait for me dearest!"

And I'm saying-NO!

Ryoga whips out his umbrella, and takes a risk in the rain to chuck it at me.

"Fight me like a man, Ranma! Get back here"

I turn and smack the canopy back at him with an upward kick and I'm saying-NO! Quick as I can, I'm turned again, and sprinting back for the vanishing Frenchman. He turns down a path that arches semicircle through the neighborhood. I have to lose the three behind me, so I short-cut with a left-side jump over a stone wall, into a yard. I hear scuffling stutter-steps behind me, and know that they couldn't all turn at the same time. I change course to shortcut through alleys and yards and I'm running all out leaping over rock gardens and fences. Ducking under trees and porch coverings. The rain pitter-patters little random snare drums from all directions on leaves and roof-tops, and I know I have to meet Strangelouvre at the pass up ahead. I have to meet him and beat him before the rain comes down in big drop pellet-shot that will soak everything.

The ground. The trees. The bread. Me.

As I'm running my feet kick up less dirt. My soles lose a bit more and more of their grip. I hop over a pointed-tip metal fence that doesn't skewer me, or tear off corners of my clothing. I zip past a car that doesn't back up and crush my head. Hugging tight to the side of buildings with trickles of dangerous water on front of me, I strafed my way through an alley. I'm charging through someone's back yard, and my foot catches a stone and I'm fumbling for a goldfish pond. My steps stuttering and skewed sideways, I take my chance on leaping over it, only to crash and tumble on the other side rolling corkscrew and landing my back on the cut wooden edge of a porch. I come to my feet wincing and bow curved backward to the pain, and still I'm running. Up over one, two, three fences and I come out on the other side, where my shoes hit concrete, and I'm under a tree that grows curb-side. I can hear the jogging footsteps coming around the bend and I duck behind the tree. Looking down this avenue I can see the walls of Furinkan, past the layers upon layers of now sheeting rain. Then I hear him.

"Un-deux-un-deux-un-deux-un-duex."

His voice reaches its closest and I swipe out from behind the tree, wide and strong. Stranglouvre takes the blow just to the high side of his right kidney, as he tries to jump back to avoid it. He leans over, wincing and he's wide open. I swipe high-low directly onto his crown, and he brings his bread up for a block. The impact is damp on his bread with a kind of soft critical weakness to it.

Think wet noodles. Think soggy cereal. Think his number is up.

While I was running sheltered under trees and porches he was drenching his bread through the rainy streets, and now it's over. I hit his wrist, and Strangelouve's bread impacts against the wall with a long splatter-mark, and drops wet and dead on the sidewalk. He, in the meantime, slips and lands butt down on the concrete. The sun is hidden, so the outlook is dark enough that his lenses are clear and I can see the weak, fading light of defeat dawn in his eyes. This is it. This is the final blow. Fight mechanism and all its glory. The pumping adrenaline, pounding heart, tense muscles, feeling totally charged. I rise my bread up, and I'm about to swing down and drive one right across his jaw, when my bread snags. Over the fence, hanging tree sloth from the tree limb, Kodachi has just wrapped her ribbon around my bread, and she stops me.

Sonnovabitch-she stops me.

"Wait my dear, I want to be with you when you best him!"

What the hell is she doing?

Strangelouvre swipes up his foot at my wrist and my baguette grounds out, unravels from the ribbon and tumbles end over end into the open street. Turning over and over through more and more sheets of rain. In the road, it rolls into a puddle at the opening of a storm-drain.

And I'm saying-No!

"Zat, she waus closue!"

I bundle my fist, crouch down and get ready to pound his glasses into his eye sockets, and with just a finger, not even waving it at all just the one extended finger, he stops me.

"ah-ah-ah, Mon amis." poking my nose. "You must uuse zee bread, remembair? Yeast foar bread, yeast foar battle."

I look him square in the glasses. Yeast infection!

He smirks. "EEf you weesh teu insult moi by drageeing my carreer into zis, zen I have onlee one zing to say. Een my professional opinion, yeau are a fucking pussy."

To his right he grabs his bread, extends his battle aura, and back-hands me with the long brunt of it. It felt much firmer than a moment ago. Two-by-four firmer. I slap face-down on the pavement, and pop back up onto my hands and knees. Strangelouvre is up to his feet.

He spits on the ground in front of me, then turns and sprints full-out for Furinkan.

"Wait!" Kodachi says and "Wait for me darling." across the street my bread leers to one side as the storm drain starts to flow heavy. The rain is pattering down full-force. and even under this tree droplets are falling through. Dampening and pattering all around me. Trickles of streams start flowing past my feet on the concrete.

Even staying under this tree won't stop this cause of rain. Nothing I can do can stop the effect that's going to overtake me. Behind me Kodachi slips and comes tumbling down into the yard behind the fence. She's probably lying face up when she calls to me.

"Loving you is such blissful agony my dear."

Talking like maybe, just maybe, we are the only two in the neighborhood who can hear this.

"I would have you have me once more before you bring this to an end. Please come to me darling!"

I step out from under the tree. Mercilessly the droplets pelt at my head and face. I can feel my chest go heavy when my breasts appear. The sturdy inverted-triangular sensation of abdominal muscles widening from the base to support my chest, these supports relax, bend to the sides, and form curves on either side of my supple belly.

"Please take me again, my dearest sweet beloved Ranma! Entice me. Fill me. Ravage me."

My hair flashes over soft and red, and my legs revert from massive and muscular to slender and smooth.

I am become woman. Hear my thunderous roar.

And I'm saying-NO!

"Ranma?"

No!

I run for my bread, and fish it out of the drain. I'm turned, and headed toward Furinkan with the sound of wind gusting by my ears, and the pelting of raindrops on my face, breast-curved shirt and short-striding legs. Try to imagine what feels like 10 gallons a minute gushing down on you face first, soaking your disgusting, soggy bread. Your clothes start sticking to every damp part of you, and they flap leaden heavy and dripping against your arms and knees.

This is a cloud burst. Think of it like cutting out the bottom of a gigantic cloud with a huge bowie knife, and dumping every drop in about five minutes. I'm running in this and I can feel the damp weakness of my bread that reminds me of a bunched up swimsuit, or soaking wet towel. I get to Furinkan, and I'm hopped up on the wall of the school. I look down the path and Strangelouve is a dark silhouette in the brutal downpour that just started to get real heavy a few moments ago. He's standing at the door. In the alcove of the school entrance. Directly under the cube-looking clock-tower. And hugging his back against the door to get out of the rain.

His bread is soaked.

My bread is soaked.

But he's a guy, and I am not.

Envious?

You bet I am.

I'm standing there in the rain waiting for him to make his move.

He he does nothing, blurred and dark by the constant downward dumping of water. He won't dare take his bread out into the rain, that just got a little bit lighter. Dimmer-style the rain starts to soften. Cloudbursts happen this fast. The streams of rain become weaker and weaker around me. Stranglouvre's form brightens but he's still not moving. From what seems like out of nowhere the clouds peel back, and the sun blasts brilliant and dominating through. The gray way of the world is replaced by overpowering white. His eyes hidden behind the blacked lenses. He steps forward, with the midday sun pure and dominant, and he is laughing.

His hair beams out golden, and he laughs at me.

I have to fight him with this tits and ass body of mine, now.

He tosses away his bread, and the bread lands, breaks into three messy pieces with little soaking croutons spraying off to either side.

Now's my chance. Wait. Oh, no.

With a smooth motion he reaches behind and un-zips his long backpack. He stalking towards me now. Reaching inside he takes out the loaf of bread. The one he said he was going to give me. Now he plans to give it to me. The hard way, of course. Nothing I can do about it from here. It's in his hands.

Happily laughing his ass off.

"So, ziz is yaur treu form, Ranma!"

Shut up and fight me you-wait a second.

Hold on.

What is that supposed to mean?

"Ziz maust be zee female form I heve hear-ed so mouch of!"

He knew? What? No! How long has he? Dammit! It's a Bluff! How could he have known? Where? Wait. Woah. Give me a second here.

He knew?

"Auf coase I knew! I've knowen zee whoel time."

Wait-

but-

when-

no, I mean-.

Wait. I get it. Akane!

Akane. Akane. Akane.

Holy fucking shit.

"Oui, mon amis, az wiz most women, yeau openz zee one end, zee ozer weel open as well."

Thats disgusting.

Then I remember. The Friday night. The almost-sex. The confession. The slab of tissue, and the extension surgery.

Yeah, that's disgusting. It's also true.

So Akane's sitting there in the good doctors room, and He starts his exam and he's all like.

'Howw Doo youu feeel?'

And she tells him about her fiancé that she hates. Her fiancé who she has to live with, and deal with day in and day out. Strangelouvre looks inside on his Mona Lisa, His Eiffel tower and he says-

'Taalk aabout thaat.'

She'd be Talking fast, like it will make the exam go by quicker, or make him stop the interrogation. Tell him what he wants to hear, and maybe he'd pull the stainless steel clamps out of your vagina. And she's gotta be like; he's a pervert. He's a cheater. He fights dirty. He's a jerk. He changes sex with cold water.

And Strangelouvre is poking her clit saying.

'Howw diid thaat maake yoou feeel?'

And she tells him and he knows. Now he knows everything.

He's known all along. And he laughs.

Ranma darling?
Ranma darling?

"Whan she find yeau, eet iz all over! She weel leave you and become ritefulee what ees myne!"

He seems intent on finishing what he started, so he holds his bread in the middle with his right hand, and extends his arm out forward to hold it level in a striking position.

Dr. Strangelouvre calls to me, he says "Aer yeeu Ready, Monseur?"

My bread drips, soaking from the rain and the street and the gutter. A sponge would be preferable.

Cause and effect.

I look back at him.

"I got to start this sometime."

I twist a bit on my heel on the damp concrete of the Furinkan path. I put my bread out sideways, samurai sword, and with a grit in my teeth, then a sudden, girly scream, I charge Dr. Strangelouvre.

My pace is fast full out sprint at first, with a rumble of stomps going straight for him. Then I hear a voice behind me.

"Ranma dar-What!?"

My pace slows, to about jogging.

"The Pig-tailed girl!"

Now it's a rushed walk.

"What are you doing here? Where is he?"

Now I'm just regular walking, and I come to a total stop in front of Strangelouvre. I look over my shoulder at her. She's wearing her gymnast outfit which is darkened from it's usual light green to a damper maple-leaf shade. Her wet, gumdrop nipples try to point outward through her workout suit like a spider's fangs.

"Answer me!" she says

With a smirk, I turn back to Dr. Strangelouvre.

"I fucked her."

"Yeau WHAAT!?"

I say, "I had sex with Koda-"

And I stop suddenly to look at my bread. I know. I know it's sick and it's unhealthy, and you probably don't want to hear it, but please. No breakfast. No dinner. No lunch. I've not eaten for a whole day, and I'm totally starving.

I sit flat on my ass and I shove the first heaping mouthful of soggy, mushy french bread into my face. Strangelouve steps backward, disgusted.

"Yeau aer Lyeeng!"

The soaking bread dribbles rainwater down my chin, as the first soggy mouthful makes it's way down my gullet, and I'm already taking my next big bite. Even week-long stale, it's soft and compressible and It sprays damp in my face like a fresh cut watermelon. I swallow again.

"We lost our virginity together night before last. Five rounds. She's fuckin' amazing."

Too bad she's crazy.

"Kodachi, est-il vrai vous a-t-il eu le sexe avec Ranma!?"

I'm almost halfway down the loaf at this point. I'm too hungry to be nauseous. Too hungry to care that Kodachi is coming my way now as well. If eating out of streetwater and storm-drains can't get to me, what can?

"Oui, it's rectifient, docteur. But I did not intend for this bitch to be the one to inform you."

Up and over and beyond her, I hear Ryoga's voice.

"There you are! I found him, Dr. Noitaru!"

Now I've got three out of four feet of this bread eaten, and I'm not stopping until I get the last bit. I look at the ground around me, and on all 4 sides are feet and shadows. Kodachi's gymnast slippers behind me. Dr. Noitaru's Black-top Nike's and Ryogas weather-beaten wandering shoes to my right and left, and Dr. Stranglouve's tan-rubber soled oxfords still ahead of me. With my hands soaking wet, I press the last inch of the mush into my mouth, and I keel backward and lay on the ground looking up at the noon-day sun that flashes bright blue in my eyes. I swallow hard.

The dark silloutes of Ryoga tossing a stone up and down, of Kodachi's trailing ribbon that lay by my face, Dr. Noitaru's pen and post-it pad, and Dr. Strangelouvre with his long loaf of French bread hang over me like forest trees, with the sun beaming down and through cutting every blackened edge.

"Do your worst, then, guys. If this is how it ends, fine."

No martial arts.
No fianc's.
No forgiveness.

Dr. Strangelouvre puts the shadow of his bread over my eyes so I can see, and he looks at me with the shadow of his glasses over his eyes. I see something flipping through the sky, arching high. It gets behind Strangelouvre's bread. Then I can see it coming down faster and faster at me.

"Adieu."

Impossible.

I raise my hand up, just as Stragelouvre cocks his whole arm upward with his battle aura rising in the bread. Bigger and bigger, this flipping object falls at me. The 4 people around me realize that I'm seeing something, and they look up just in time to watch the spinning blur right past them, and land in my hand, ala lady of the lake.

French bread.

I smile.

With a fast, powerful counter-clockwise spin, and my battle-aura blasting out I roundhouse the entire group, and they are fanned out, and skid to their backs in the fresh Furinkan mud. I'm up to my feet, and I look over at where the bread came flipping over from.

This is impossible.

The Flashing blue sun still in my eyes. Seeing what can't be there. Seeing who can't be here.

Cause and Effect.

Nothing can happen for no reason. It's impossible.

Everything that I have done is the exact opposite of what I did to deserve this.

Sneaking around, calling names, betrayal, hitting, cheating, cuck-holding. This can't be real. This can't be happening.

Her form beams out from the flashing blue of the sun that I was staring at.

Cause and effect. It's the way the world works.

"What are you doing here?" I scream.

She doesn't say a word, standing there on the turf of the school, in the corner her umbrella laid down. She looks over to my left. I look over to my left. Dr. Stranglouvre comes out at me overhand with a mighty bread-stroke. Too fast for me to get my bread up.

What I've gotten the ugliest bread I've ever seen. What isn't burned to a crisp is uneven. the normal French bread look of two perfectly rounded edges are not present here. One end is snubbed square, like a flat-head screwdriver, the other comes to a dulled point. The trademark parallel slits on the top of the bread which open during baking, to give French bread it's beautiful presentation, the first two on this bread are sealed tight in, and bloated on either side. The third, toward the pointed side of the bread is a bulged open eyeball, charred black on the outside, and light brown on the inside. The fourth is angled in the middle pointing at the dull-dagger tip, like a little smiley face against the bread's side.

Stranglouve makes contact across my shoulder. I get slammed down, almost to my knees, but I spring up, and slap the breads flat side across his cheek. His face goes back a little blackened from the charred bottom of the bread, that no doubt, had to be scraped off the pan, just before the pan had to be tossed. He makes a second lunge, but before he could contact, I pulled off a quick reverse summersault, and landed only to hop forward, and downward swipe from the air. He blocks and the two bread loaves collide with a deep, gut-thumping thud.

Something latches onto my heel. It's Kodachi's ribbon. Her now dark ,damp and muddy leotard looks like camouflage and it's vacuum-packed tight on her body. with a quick whipping motion she latches onto my wrist. We're head to head, ear to ear. Now she starts that threatening whisper

"One side, Bitch! I'll not have you fighting my darling's fight for him!" She yells.

Strangelouve takes another swipe at me so i twirl in. He keeps coming and I wrap myself in Kodachi's ribbon until I'm right next to her. Stragelouve takes another swing, and I block with the ribbon, before wrapping it around his bread one. two. Three times.

"What makes you think he's yours to fight for?" I ask her. I'm close enough to smell her conditioner.

"Since we made love, of course! Do you really think he can take that back?"

With the slack of the ribbon she wraps around the front of my neck, and applies pressure. My windpipe clamps up. Strangelouve in the meantime, points his bread tip at my face, and I grab on to the ribbon wrapped about his bread and push the loaf hard away from anywhere near my face. Strangelouvre pulls back, and I grab the leashing of the ribbon tight. He lunges again, and I whip the ribbon to my right side and the whole of his swing misses me. Kodachi tightens the ribbon on my throat. I think of it like one long cloth connecting and wrapped around bunch of problems. A metaphor for something.

"Tell me where he is. Where is Ranma?"

Strangelouve unravels the ribbon from his bread. Kodachi loosens the ribbon around my throat enough for me to tell her.

I say, "I'm sick of telling you where Ranma is. If you don't know now, I never want you to know."

Strangelouvre cocks the bread straight on for another lunge, and flies forward, just as Kodachi ranks on the ribbon so hard that it rope burns across my neck, seals up my windpipe and jerks my head to the side. Just enough to the side. Strangelouvre's bread zings by me and, wham, hits Kodachi straight on. We both tumble backwards in the turf and mud, and the ribbon comes undone as I take a few more rolls.

"Non! Maddame Kodachi!" He rushes to her side, and props her up on his left knee.

"Ranma!" from across the school yard Ryoga comes running. He's got those stones in his hand, and wants to breaking-point-blank my face again. I steady my bread to him.

"I aem so Sorrey, mi amor, I deed not mean foar yeau to be haert! Forgeeve me!"

Weakly, and with a big red-blotch smack dab on her forehead she speaks up.

"Will you stop speaking with that God-dammed accent already?"

Strangelouve snaps his head back fast. "What? But I thought you thought it was sexy!"

For a second, I completely forget about Ryoga's rite of passage murder Ranma thing.

"Well, you thought I thought wrong." Kodachi says, "You're not impressing anybody."
Ryoga tosses one of the stones up, and I bat it away with my skanky bread before he can blast it. He lunges a high-kick, and I lean back, his heel halting mere millimeters far from my face.

"Come on." I hear Dr. Strangelouve say "The accent suits me doesn't it?"

"Of course not." I head Kodachi reply weakly "You're not even French."

What!?

I scream "What!?"

Ryoga launches left and right jabs at me, and I'm fending them back with my bread. Now I see Dr. Noitaru is also coming my way.

"You knew?" Dr. Strangelouvre asks.

"I've known all along."

Dr. Noitaru jinks to one side, and jabs his pen into the back base of my skull, for his seratonin point attack. For a moment, everything feels so nice.

"But I do speak French fluently, after all."

"So does most everyone in Quebec."

Ryoga comes at me. Noitaru backs off and starts to write on his post-it.

Head butt. High-kick.

Breaking-point. Bread-fuu-block.

Elbow-lunge. Headlock.

He back-hands my cheek, then tosses me over his hips. I'm on my feet, turned back at him. Beaten and bruised in more than one place, but feeling superb.

With the neuronal happy-sauce now flowing in my veins, I hardly feel a thing. If my expression moved any more, it could be called a smile.

This can't be real. This can't be going on. This can't be happening.

If something happens that can't be explained by cause and effect, wouldn't that mean that anything is possible?

I can hear Dr. Noitatu charging at me from behind.

I don't know, but from what I have just seen. Not from anything else, just this one moment, right here right now, there may be something bigger than just cause and effect in this world. If there is, then what could we even call a boundary anymore? Beyond cause and effect there are worlds of possibilities.

"Diagnosis strike!"

I'm not looking at her when I use the bread she gave me to push away Ryoga's extended finger, pushing a jagged rock. I'm not looking at her when the shove pushes the rock-finger breaking-point right into Noitaru's unsuspecting hand.

Just before the rock blows up. before it shreds Noitaru's little 'diagnosis.' I have just moment of a second to see what he was going to brand me.

Second-rate.

Yeah, right. Bite me.

The rock shatters, and blows the post it pad into Noitaru's palm and his fingers become a blast-back opeining dandelion shrouded in exploding dust and debirs. Boom. Struck him with such force that he overturned and collapsed.

"OOOW! Mutherfucker! My Fucking hand!"

That smell. I can't put my finger on it, but I'm not too pleased with it. It's the same smell from two days ago. This bread stinks. A stale, odd aroma that you can't distinguish, nor can you forget it, like smelling a box of crayons or play-dough.

"Dr. Noitaru! Are you alright?" Ryoga rushes to his side.

"No, idiot! How am I supposed to get back into grad school with a busted writing hand!?"

The hell?

"Grad school?" I say "Are you saying you haven't even graduated from psych-school yet?"

He cringes in, trying to make it look like he was just nursing his wounded hand.

"It's not my fault. That dirty bitch, Dr. Paula Nicholson caught me cheating. Once. Just once."

Ryoga's eyes go wide with shock.

"Dr. Noitaru, you aren't even a doctor!?"

I look at Ryoga.

Gomez Noitaru is not a doctor. Dr. Strangelouvre isn't French. I know I don't know either of these clowns.

I say, "How does that make you feel?"

Ryoga looks at his feet, still trying to cope with what just happened.

"OK, look the truth is, I'm a gifted ahead-of-my-time former freshman from a prestigious school for psychological sciences." Gomez Noitaru, med-school dropout says "I wanted to enhance my martial-arts ability to impress the dean of admissions enough to forgive me. That's where you fit in, Ryoga."

Ryoga looks up in what could be confused astonishment, or unfathomable rage.

"You were using me?"

"No! No that was not my intent. I only wanted to help you, Ryoga. I gave you the best advice I had regarding your numerous emotional problems and I-hrrrk."

Ryoga has him by the throat with his left hand, and doesn't even cock his fist back but goes straight in one motion with his right, low-high uppercut that lofts Gomez airborne to land backside-down on the wall of the school, where he flops over, with his legs flung above him, and disappearing landing with a thud that is barely audible from this side of the fence. Ryoga drops his hands down, hanging, swaying, drained. Behind me Strangelouvre is still talking to Kodachi, who sounds really out of it.

"Madame Kodachi, please understand, that my hopes have centered around you since I came here. Please say that you understand. Please."

"So it was all a lie to begin with." Ryoga mutters.

The rite of passage. The fear-complex. How bright the landscape, how dark the outlook. I smile. Ok, half smile.

"I have never felt more humiliated in my entire life. Everything I fight for turns into a lie. Every fight I choose is just another defeat waiting for me to submit to. God, I hate this." I can see a white aura generating around him. Shit.

Before I can even think to do anything, he's turned to face me. His white aura flushes into the palm of his open right hand and blasts fourth, with him screaming 'Shishi-Hokodan!'

The blast of his aura closing in, I react in French-bread-fuu mode, and swing at the blast with my bread. The blast hits my bread with such force that the whole loaf recoils and whacks on top of my forehead. The fireball returns to sender, square in the face and Ryoga is sent skyward. Tumbling, hurtling out of the arena, as I'm skidded to my back in the mud. Looking up, under two trees. Under Two bird-feeders. Two carved hearts that both read A.F. X J.J. forever. Seeing double.

"Docteur Stranglouvre," Kodachi says "Je ne vous aimerai jamais."

I blink a few times until everything looks like one thing blurred next to itself.

"RANMA!"

No time. Dr. Strangelouvre is coming for me. I get to my feet just in time to get smacked across the face. The next blow of bread hits my jaw which bashes up against my top teeth so fast I feel the impact at the crown of my skull. I taste blood. I feel the bread hit hard into my chest, and my breathing halts, winded. Desperate, I guess at his next swing, and block it with my bread. I swing at his belly. He backs off long enough for me to start gasping again.

"AI HATE YEAU! AI HATE YEAU! I HATE YOU!"

Quivvering at the knees. I say to him "Hate me? But you don't even know me!"

"Shut up!" He swings, rights lefts into me, and I've got just enough left in me to fend these blows, side to side like a windshield wiper, cutting every blow off before it can smack into me. Even though this is bending my elbows in every time.

"You don't know Akane either!"

"The hell I don't!"

I lunge forward and break through his attack with my shoulder against his chest. Tumbling to his back he throws me to one side, and I roll to my feet and knees, looking back at him.

"If you really knew Akane, you'd know, she is the worst cook in the whole damn world!" I get to my feet. "You'd know that if she EVER tried to cook french bread, it would be ugly, smelly, burned and inedible," and I hold up my bread "And as hard as fucking iron!"

He charges his last, and in a moment so blissful and fast, I could only compare it to nailing the black rose, I swept into him. His store-bought, soft, delicious bread met the face of the horrible, reeking, ugly charred monster that Akane had spawned from her unholy cookery and was torn completely asunder. Right through the loaf Akane's bread baseball-batted Dr. Strangelouvre, and drove him back, skidding on his oxfords. Clenching his gut. He looks up fast enough to see it coming, and I slam him across his cheek and shoulder, and he fell. And he rolled. His blacked glasses broken, and sent somewhere into the yard. And when he looked up, he saw Akane towering high above her dress.

"Holy fuckeeng Sheet!"

He erks his head up to see me, in the same pose, panting and tingling from smashing him through his own bread and aura. Then he rests his head back down again, looking up.

Hello, Miss Akane."

"Good afternoon, Dr. Strangelouvre."

Gasping, I take a seat where I am in the turf and mud.

"He's a bit tougher than you let on."

Akane shakes her head.

"I'll underestimate him, every now and then."

"Oh, well." He sighs. "I am afraid that this may be goodbye. Before then, just one favor."

"Hmmm?"

"Are you wearing panties?"

"WHAT!" I scream, I jerk up. And a headrush combined with possible concussions leers me off balance.

My biological level saying easy on the accelerator. Stay down for this one. Give it time.

Hell no.

"No, I'm not." Akane says.

I can see Strangelouvre smile.

"Lucky me."

"Strangelouvre, you bastard!" I'm screaming. "Get the hell out of here. You lost!"

"Stay out of this, Ranma." Akane says as I'm staggering.

"But-"

"Shut up!"

Dr. Strangelouvre looks up from the ground. He reaches for the hem of Akane's skirt.

"My masterpiece. The finest ever done, just one more look."

His hand is at the linen hem.

"Stop him Akane!"

"One more look at my greatest achievement...Please."

His thumb caresses the material of the inside of her skirt. He won't tug. He won't lift. The skirt hasn't moved. And he lays there, in broad daylight, on a Sunday. Anybody could walk by the gate, and see this. Not to mention that the good doctor is executing this little debauchery in front of her fiancé. Not that it's really my business, but, dammit. She can't let him do that.

"Go ahead, Dr. Strangelouvre. One more time."

He smiles and pulls back the hem. My eyes are closed, and I turn away.

"There it is," Dr. Stranglouvre says. "You never said thank you Akane, but then that is perhaps too much to ask. Your blight is my blessing. I hope that someday you can understand the wonderful gift you have with you know. Someday you will understand me."

"I already do." Akane says. Then I hear a deep guttural grunt come from Strangelouvre. I look over and Akane is with her right foot stomping, stomping, stomping on Dr. S.' chest again and again. Little reverse "Adidas" insignias pounded on his shirt.

"God-dammed. Fucking! PERVERT!"

With one final slam Dr. Strangelouvre's hand goes limp, flaps out from under Akane's dress, plops down on the sidewalk. Akane walks over to me. I look away, again.

"Dammit! Where did you come from? I never asked for this you know."

"If I hadn't been here, you'd have lost."

"So what?" I say. "That's not the point! That's not what I meant! How could you come here, after all that. All the shit that's happened, and you came here. Dammit! Dammit!"

"Don't be angry because you needed me."

I look her in her blank cold eyes, And I say "Shut up! Just shut up and- and-"

Go away. stay. Find someone else. Don't leave me. Work it out. Break this off. Don't bug me. Don't pity me. Freak of nature. Built like a stone. Angry. Stupid. Uncute bitch. Innocent demonic holy whore. You're the plague and the remedy. But not the death or the cure. And you're here again.

"-and how were you here?"

"I've been here all night."

"What?"

"I spent the whole day yesterday wandering around the countryside, then I came back to the town, but didn't want to go home. Didn't want to pay for a hotel, I set up camp right here."

She points to a pup-tent with her outdoor cooking gear still burning underneath the rainproof tarp.

"This doesn't make any sense." I say

"No it doesn't. So what the hell are you doing here?"

I shake my head. "Look. It's just a coincidence." I say. "Dr. Strangelouvre brought the fight to the school, I was just following him." I put my hand on her shoulder. Then I pull her in close to me.

"Come here for a second."

BAM. She nails me right in the gut. Right where Ryoga was beating on me yesterday. Right around where Strangelouvre left me winded. All the blood seems to top off at the base of my brain like a carnival mallet bell ringing out pain, then the sensation drops just as fast to the bottom of me, and I'm collapsed on my knees. Reaching up for the dangly tassels of her sock. I don't even dare look up here skirt.

"Fucking mutant bitch. Are you happy now?"

"Not yet."

And I feel a tug on the whole back of my head, as it's lifted from the top of my pony-tail, and then just as suddenly dropped back to the ground with my hair fanned out and shoulder-length long on both sides.

I hear her knife slip back into its sheath. My hair from my severed ponytail drapes my face from both sides, and I bunch myself up inside this darkness and hope it all ends soon. The little rubber-banded stub of my hair plops to the ground in front of me, as I hear Akane walking back to her campsite.

I looked so good in a pony-tail, dammit. Guy-form, girl-form, didn't matter. I had one, ONE thing that didn't have to change, and now it's gone. Before I know it, Akane is back in front of me again, and a hot tin of water is dumped on my head. My breasts disappear. Tummy goes from supple to firm. My hands are stronger.

Now, I'm a guy on my knees in the dirt.

"Get up, Ranma."

"Fuck you." I say. "you cut my hair. Go away! I never want to see you again!"

She turns.

"Wait. You didn't let me finish!" I get to my feet, and I ask her "How do I look?" She turns back, and My hair is dripping warm and wet on my shoulders, my clothes are spotted and caked with mud, and my bruised up face, little trickle of blood seeping out of one corner of my mouth.

"You look fine. Help me pack this stuff up. Will you?"

We walk back to her campsite, and in a few minutes we've taken down everything and packed it in her bag. With a towel over my long strands of hair and on my shoulders I ask if we can go to the park and pick up my stuff. She says sure. We should be home before one she says. I tell her I'm not going home.

We leave Funrinkan just about as Kodachi and Dr. Strangelouvre are coming around. By the time they're leaning up, looking for us we're gone.

We're on our way to the park and Akane looks at me.

"Kodachi is not like me you know. She's a normal girl. She can get pregnant."

We keep walking. The street is warm in the afternoon sun and parts of the concrete are already dry.

"She might be pregnant right now, even."

Maybe, I say. I shake my head and my dry hair flaps out in waves in the sun, as I hand her towel back.

We get to the park, and I toss Akane's bread into the nearest waste basket. The basket makes a gong sound as the bread impacts the bottom.

"You didn't have to do that."

I asked her if she'd want to eat it. She says nothing and we walk to the bench where my pack is. Heavy and cumbersome I hoist it up on my back.

I say that women with Testicular Feminization are at a higher risk of cancer. She could get cancer from it.

She says nothing, standing there looking at me.

She could have cancer right now, even.

"Maybe." she says. "I'll have to go home soon."

Or she could come with me.

This is beyond cause and effect. Our separate curses, our meddling parents, everybody who thinks they can come between us. Causes and effects from all sides. None of that matters. From right here, our causes can be our own. We can effect whatever we choose.

It's so hard for me to say I love her, but I do.

"I love you too." She says.

She comes close to me. Her arms reaching around to my back, I let my pack slide to the ground. Her head tucked in next to my chin. I reach to her back and I hold her for as long as I possibly can.

A 14 Rivers