Ranma couldn't help but feeling that this was a mistake. It felt like he could see the trains in the distance approach each other, inexorably drawn to the inevitable conclusion. Of course, the fact that he had shifted the trains onto the same track just made things worse somehow.
Enaka faded into view. Unlike Akane's old and faded gi, hers was crisp and pristine. Also her hair was its normal almost black color, compared to the bluing color Akane strangely had. "What is going on here? Who are you and why the heck do you look like me? I bet Ranma and Happosai made you for some perverted game of theirs! Well, I know how to handle perverts!" She brought forth a large wooden mallet out of nowhere and advanced on Akane.
Akane was stunned, not by the attack, but by how she was acting. This was what had pretended to be her for so long? She knew it had to be, but seeing it made it worse somehow. She ducked and swerved out of the way of the clumsy mallet attack. It was hardly an elegant move by Ranma's standards, but then, she mused, neither was her dodge. She briefly tried to summon her own mallet, but the rage just wasn't there. Oh she was angry, but the blinding rage she remembered from before just wasn't there and the mallet didn't form. She ducked and went into a roll when it became necessary to avoid another swing.
"What is the matter? Did Happosai not teach his toy how to defend itself?" Enaka said with a sneer. "Well I'll fix that. First I'll send you back to whatever perverted hell you came from, and then I'll go after Happosai and his little pet servant Ranma."
Ranma was caught be surprise. Did this thing really think that?
"Perverted hell?" She ducked, swerve, and a managed to get a foot into Enaka's chest causing her to go down in a tumble holding her chest. "Yes," Akane mused, "I suppose I was in a perverted hell, and I'm just about to end it!" Akane's smile was ferocious, no gleeful in its intensity. She kicked her again, moving her a half dozen feet along the ground. She then reach over and picked up the mallet which oddly didn't disappear when Enaka let go of it.
Ranma didn't like this. Akane should not be gleeful about killing. What the heck was he thinking when he offered this? The mallet descended towards Enaka who swerved to the side and kicked out, tossing Akane on her back and causing her to lose the mallet. Enaka picked it up and advanced on her prey. "Time to die, pervert toy." She began her swing, but a katana suddenly cleeved the mallet in two at the handle causing the biggest piece to glance off Akane's head stunning her.
"Defending your pet?" asked Enaka in a harsh voice as she stared from the katana to Ranma who was holding it. It was a simple steel katana with a square plate as a cross guard. Ranma's hands covered what appeared to be a two handed ivory handle.
Ranma sighed. Nothing was ever easy. He embraced the soul of ice to shut his emotions away. As he did, he spared one final glance to the blue haired girl before turning back to Enaka. He would not let her kill, at least not this way. The blade of the katana took on a silver white glow as he advanced on Enaka who stepped back warily. Akane's head moved and she turned to face the scene as Ranma brought the katana down through Enaka's head and out the side of her body. The body exploded into shards of light that pushed Ranma back about twenty feet causing him to lose his footing and slide into Akane. The two of them together slid several more feet. Akane's yell of pain caused Ranma to roll to his side and to remove his weight from her.
It was then the soul of ice broke and he realized that his half formed plan of erasing her memories was not going to work. She saw him kill her, and that kind of memory left too vivid an impression to erase easily, without far reaching consequences. Akane sat up and turned to him. "You said you would let me finish it!"
"I'm sorry." and he truly did sound sorry, but then he was less certain if he really regretted his actions or perhaps that events had ever conspired to bring them to this point. "You didn't need that burden. Don't worry. It is over." He looked over at her accusing eyes and wilted. "I'll go now. This is like a dream to you now, but now, at least, you will wake from the dream, when your body is ready."
Ranma faded from view leaving Akane alone in darkness, yet, she realized, it wasn't dark anymore. There was a dawn on the horizon that was beginning to cast shadows at the foot of the trees. The light first touched the foot of the tree near the stream where she had slept so often. Was it her imagination or was the stream fuller and running faster? Still, sleep called to her and she half walked, and half crawled over to her little spot by her favorite now sun warmed tree and was soon fast asleep.
Ranma awoke and felt terrible. Not only was there the chance that Akane might hate her, or worse, never trust her now, but she felt like she had been in a battle with Ryoga and Happosai as opponents that she had lost, plus she had ran a sword through someone she cared a great deal apart. Well maybe it wasn't really her, but it still hurt. She knew she would add that image to her nightmares and somehow it seemed just. She took notice of the sweat that soaked her clothing, particularly the parts that almost seem to burn with heat from Akane's body.
Nabiki saw the movement and said the first thing that came to mind, "What the heck? My sister doesn't have blue hair!"
Ranma glanced down and saw that it did indeed change to match the Akane she had last seen in hew own mental landscape. A quick pass of her weakened senses seemed to indicate that everything else was normal. She pulled herself out from behind Akane. That was perhaps a bit too comfortable for her own good, sweat and all. "She is okay."
Ranma's words seemed tired to Nabiki. Ranma glanced down to the floor to near where she was and saw the pizza and started to drool faintly. Suddenly revived by the thought of food, she jumped the short distance and dug in with the usual Saotome gusto.
"Hey, save some for Akane!" She looked down only to see that she had consumed an entire pizza by herself. Fortunately there was still a few pieces left from the other. "Sorry, I was hungry."
Nabiki rolled her eyes, but they sharpened almost right away. "What happened in there? Why the heck is my sister's hair blue? I mean sure it had slight blue highlights before, but its Sailor Mercury blue now." She seemed puzzled and, if he was interpreting her tone correctly, a little envious.
Ranma looked up at her and couldn't quite figure out any reason for her to be jealous. Still the blue hair was a bit exotic. "As to the hair, I really don't know. She thought of herself with blue hair in there. Perhaps she wanted to be like that anime character. Who can say? I don't even know for sure if it will last." Ranma got up and began to fill one of the little hotel paper cups with water to wash down her pizza. A glance in the mirror revealed her gender. She winced. She didn't mind her curse as much as she used to, but to forget which body she was wearing was unsettling. She drank down the water and refilled the cup with hot splashing herself to restore her birth gender.
Nabiki waited impatiently for Ranma to do his little routine. In truth, she always seemed fascinated by the change and usually didn't miss an opportunity to watch it. He turned back and Nabiki took that as her cue. "Oh no you don't. You forgot to answer the first question. I stuck my neck out for you and sis, and now I may have Shampoo after me, so your going to tell me what happened and don't leave out any details!"
Ranma had almost forgotten about the Shampoo incident. For lack of a better plan, and because, well, she was right, he told her. She took it well, right up until the end, betraying nothing of what she thought of it all, when out of the blue he was caught surprised by a full armed slap that threatened to dislodge some teeth. "What did you do that for?"
"You know what I did that for. Good grief. You knew what you had to do. Mother told you what you had to do. Heck even your grandmother told you, and even then you made Akane face what she shouldn't of had to, and for what, so you could avoid your responsibility? Grow a spine. You don't always have to wait for do or die situations to act. Akane almost died at that Saffron mess from what you told me, and why was that? It was because you held back until your hand was forced. You held back training Akane. You held back going after the people that took her and even now you held back until you were forced to act. Just stop it. Sometimes you have to act, and if you keep waiting till the last moment, you may find yourself too dang late the next time." Each of the last words were punctuated with a finger into his chest. Somehow they hurt more than any of Akane or his Father's insults.
"There is one thing I don't understand Saotome."
"The way you described this fake Akane actions didn't sound really like how she has been. Sure she was irrational, and how she avoided figuring out P-chan was nothing short of astounding, but it seemed..." She reached for words, only to be interrupted.
Ranma dimly noted that she neglected to mention her own failure to figure it out, but then he was hardly doing stellar in the observation department either. "Worse? I have been thinking of that. There never really was another spirit in her body, well at least not a complete one, although towards the end it was close. I think Akane's true spirit shown through a little normally."
"You think? You mean you aren't sure. You don't seem sure about a great many things Saotome." The last was said in a biting tone, yet there was an uncertainty to it that softened the words.
"No, I'm not." Ranma's words seemed to fall off as he considered the future. Things were little better really. Well, some things were a little better, but then there was the issue now with Shampoo and Nabiki possibly, not to mention that now that he understood the scope, some of the scope anyway, of the chaos in his life it almost seemed impossible to ever straighten out. Heck, he rather suspected that his and Akane's relationship had not even taken a step forward, perhaps sideways, but certainly not forward. Then again, perhaps he could get to know the real her again. The her that he was beginning to like before all that mess with the Chinese mind control magic and the parade of fiancees that finally tracked him down. Nabiki was an interesting puzzle though. He didn't understand her at all, but then, he realized, he didn't understand any woman.
Akane yawned weakly, trying to crawl through the haze that separates sleep from wakefulness. Something was different now, something... I'm freee! She forced her eyes open and flipped much faster than her body was willing to move causing her to flop back down again. She fought off a bought of dizziness and got up again before turning to Ranma and Nabiki who were sitting around what was left of a pizza.. "Ranma? Neesan?"
"Welcome back sis. Nice hair."
Akane reached up and pulled a strand of hair in front of her face. Blue hair, like in there. Am I still there? Panic began to form in her facial expressions as she pulled another bunch of hair in front of her with her other hand.
Ranma panicked slightly at seeing Akane's reaction before he realized the reason. "You are free Akane. The hair is just a bonus." He tried to say the last part as if she had won the lottery but it sounded less than certain to the two women.
"Like Saotome said, your fine now. Come on, you know me, would I lie?" Nabiki smiled and did her best I'm innocent face. Seeing that wasn't working, she continued with, "Besides the hair looks good on you."
Akane blew a breath out into her hair. She then got up and walked over to the large mirror and combed her fingers through her hair. A smile brightened her features as she posed, temporarily forgetting Ranma and her sister.
Ranma smiled. Nabiki turned to glance at the pigtailed wonder, and then back at her sister, "I'm sure Ranma-kun will love seeing you in that Sailor Mercury costume in your closet."
Akane's face immediately went scarlet. Her strategy of not turning around, so no one would see it, was a little less than successful due to the fact that she was standing in front of a mirror. Nabiki glanced at Ranma to see a mirth filled smile. Well, she hadn't really expected him to look disgusted at the prospect, but at least he wasn't salivating.
"Nabiki! There is no way I'm wearing that. It is five years old. It wouldn't fit anymore."
Ranma's eyes bugged slightly at the mental image. Nabiki snickered. "Oh, but I'm sure Ranma-kun would like it. Don't you think so Ranma-kun?"
Ranma began to stare at the pizza as if it was the most important, or perhaps safest location in the room.
"Bakas!" Akane grabbed the pillow from where she was sleeping and proceeded to whack them both upside the head. This, had the unfortunate side effect of triggering Ranma's competitive instincts and he grabbed the other pillow, with Nabiki having to grab one from the other bed. The only casualties were all four pillows although the remaining pizza did get severely endangered once.
Fortunately, Ranma's food preservation instincts caused him to protect it with his body which allowed both sisters to get in solid hits. Akane's second hit cleared him from the area of protection. Since this also destroyed the last pillow, she decided to sit down and grab a piece.
"Well now that everything is back to normal, how the heck are we going to explain this mess?" quipped the brown haired Tendo.
"Why tell them anything? I went cat and didn't recover till this morning and made my way home. Akane..." He starred at Akane and tried to figure out how to continue.
"I used a magical hair brush at that old store Kuno found the phoenix egg in and my hair turned blue. I dropped it though and the brush broke afterward."
Nabiki quired an eyebrow at her little sister.
"You don't have to look at me like that. I had a lot of time to think in there..." She got quiet then for a moment before continuing. "Is it so strange that I might think of an excuse to explain my hair if I were ever..." She trailed off. The others wondered what other plans she had made in that place.
Nabiki silently vowed to try to help her, well as long as doing so didn't affect her own goals too much anyway. Now she just had to figure out what those goals were. She glanced over at Ranma again. He was not looking at either of them, and seemed to himself be lost in thought. Somehow that irritated her. "Well little sis, tonight Ranma gets to give us our first real martial arts lessons since dad became a crybaby." The last was said in a somewhat bitter tone, as Ranma and Akane's head swung to her.
Ranma opened his mouth, and then immediately closed it, and then opened it and said "Huh?"
"But of course Ranma-kun. Even if I can diffuse this Shampoo mess, just being associated with you is dangerous, and your not going to let Akane face all your crap defenseless are you?"
"Hey! I'll have you know that-"
Akane was cut off as Nabiki said in a sarcastic voice, "Your skills are more or less what they were when Ranma arrived and now everyone else can punch through concrete."
Ranma appeared to be trying to trying to blend into the scenery. Akane swallowed and banged the side of her fist into the floor, although fortunately it wasn't hard enough to damage it. She said, "Fine, tonight he teaches, and if he says any of his father's crap about women and the art..." Her features took on a sinister tone.. "I'll cook us dinner..."
Ranma went white as a ghost. "Um, teach, sure, whatever you want, I'll be glad to..." He looked forlornly at where Akane put down the crust from the last piece of pizza as Nabiki's silvery laughter filled the room. When it cleared she said, "I thought the bad cooking was mostly your evil twin."
Akane smiled. "Cooking is like the art. I'm sure my body will remember." And with that, Ranma lost the battle with consciousness and Akane's smile widened.
"You really shouldn't tease your fiancé."
"Why ever not?"
"About this fiancéthing..."
"Relax, Ranma doesn't know what he wants either, although I'm pretty sure it is not Ukyo or the Amazon."
A knock came at the door to which Nabiki opened, although she failed to hide the mess from the pillows. The manager pushed past her and looked around. "I've had complaints. The pillows will add another 15000 yen to your bill. Go pay it and get out."
Nabiki sighed. It seemed it was time to go.
In another place sat around a pair of of attractive women staring at the holographic image of the scene just unfolding. "It seems it worked out after all Kimiko."
"Yes, it did, but the story is not over yet. Your grandchild yet retains what I taught and the powers that be may yet look for an excuse to purge him of it. He has as many suitors as ever. He may even have one more if the looks my middle daughter gave him are any indication and it looks like the Amazon may be losing patience."
"Yes, things are back to normal aren't they?"
Kimiko chuckled and nodded.
The room was pink. It had no windows and the only door was locked. They were mocking him. He was sure of that. He just knew, all of the dolls were jeering and laughing at the pink ribboned pig as he searched in vain for a way out of this nightmare.
A lovely green and blue parakeet tracked the pigs motion from her large cage. "He's over there!"
P'chan jumped and ran underneath the desk, while the parakeet could be heard softly laughing. The Parakeet thought that finally her time as "Charlotte" was over, and she could relax, eat good food, and torment the new Charlotte, while trying very hard not to attack Asuza's attention again.
"Ranma, this is all your fault!" thought the little pig as he squeaked out his rage.
Author's Notes: I've had this last chapter for quite some time, but just hadn't gotten around to editing it. I've thought about it a bit, and I think this is the end of this story for the foreseeable future. A corner has been turned. One problem is solved, yet many more remain, and even a new one or two, but isn't that the way Ranma 1/2 goes? Sorry for those looking for a matchup. I just didn't feel the story evolved to that point. Let me know what you think.