Disclaimer: Do I look Japanese? Seriously. No.

By the time the police stormed the apartment in the Palasade complex, it was empty. Natalie and her men were nowhere to be found. Jordan Upton was also missing. There was, however, a large quantity of chemical equipment strewn about the corners of the apartment. Testing of this equipment proved it was used to create a derivative of opium—the remnants were everywhere.

Akane Tendo, lying in her hospital bed, didn't hear that news from any one of the policemen who seemed to be constantly underfoot and in the way of the doctors—every gunshot wound was treated like an active part in an opium-ring case, and the manpower required for such an effort was quite taxing the resources of the small college town.

She saw it in full color, blazed across a television screen.

Ten AM came and went, with no sign of Ranma. Due to her injury, Kasumi had suggested "that nice strong young man" come pick her up after the English class they were supposed to share. Akane had turned the news on to alleviate her boredom, all the while mumbling that she could damn well walk home if that idiot didn't show up to carry her. When she saw the story in the news, she nearly broke the TV set by throwing the remote at it.

10:30.

11:00.

She was about to give up and hobble home under her own power when Ranma finally did show up. He looked pretty pissed himself, and he was carrying a few shopping bags.

"Where in hell have you been?" she spat, wishing she hadn't thrown the remote-she was out of projectiles. He glowered at her, stalking over to her bed and nearly throwing the bags down.

"Whole town is a waste of space, I've no idea why y' live here," he grumbled, gesturing toward the bags. "Open it, I haven'a got all day."

She ripped the plastic sacks open to reveal. . .

"Where did you get these?" she asked, her anger slipping away in the face of amazement. She touched the leather lovingly, slipping her fingers around the smooth metal clasps and sliding them down each sharp blade. Her hand came away bloody, but what did a few more cuts matter?

"Don' do that, ye bloody idiot! Haven' you seen throwing knives before?" he snapped, jerking the set away from her. For throwing knives they were—the real thing, not just some counterbalanced shortdaggers, these were small, light strips of sharp metal on a strip of leather like a bandolier. Impatient, Ranma began to fasten the knives around her midsection, completely uncaring when his hands brushed her breasts by mistake—or so it seemed. When she raised her eyes from his hands to his face she caught not only a rather grim frown, but a distinct blush across his cheeks.

"Of course I have," she replied. "I just didn't know you could find them in this town."

"I couldn't, in a shop. Some questions led me around to some private dealers. Damned expensive, those are," he paused fastening the last buckle, to give her a wide grin. "Consider the cost part of my room and board, aye? Yer father wilna take rent."

"If you have money for rent, why stay with us in the first place?" she asked, the words slipping out of her mouth before she could pause them. Ranma turned scarlet from his neck to the roots of his hair.

"Pops insisted," he said, in clipped tones. The blush didn't fade, though. Akane cast about in her mind for something else to say, and a disturbing idea came to her.

"Wait a minute. This whole hospital is crawling with cops. How'd you get throwing knives past them all?" she asked, suddenly suspicious. "I know the cops are lax here, but honestly. . ."

"They're not that easy to get past, an' if they were I'd never have left ye alone here," he said firmly. Akane felt her blood warming at his words, despite herself. "I've a bit of a trick to me, is all."

"What sort of trick?" she asked, as he finally moved away. He flashed her that grin again, that self-important, impulsive grin.

Then he disappeared.

Akane stared blankly at the spot where he had been for a few seconds, then slowly reached a hand out to the spot where he was. A hand settled against the back of her neck, and she stifled a scream.

"How did you DO that?" she hissed, turning around to face Ranma. . . who was now on the other side of the bed. He shrugged, as if such things happened all the time.

"Three thousand years of Amazon history, we ought to have picked up a trick or two." What he didn't say, though he badly wanted to, was that he was the fastest learner in his tribe. In fact, several of the elders had offered to take him on as a private student—provided he married Ryouga.

It's a lot to give up for a sexuality preference, no doubt about that.

"That was amazing," she admitted, the first unabashed praise she'd ever bestowed upon him. He felt a small glow radiate from his chest, and cleared his throat to try and dispel the feeling.

"Yes, well, if you were a daughter of my tribe you might know it too—you're certainly stubborn enough to keep at it," he remarked, intending it to be a compliment. He was surprised to see her face grow dark and her eyes narrow. "What?"

"Just take me home," she snapped.

(the camera shot pans out from the hospital bed, out the window and across town to where Natalie and her two boy toys are "interrogating" Jordan. (Hey, I'm just trying to make it more interesting.))

"Traitor!" Natalie hissed, staring down at Jordan. He glared up at her, out of the eye that still opened properly. The other was swelled up.

"Traitor, is it?" he sneered out of cracked and bleeding lips. "I never agreed to help you hurt the people I care about!"

"No?" Natalie leaned in real close to him, so their faces were almost touching. He shrank back from her, curling further in on himself. "YOU were supposed to be my connection in this town. YOU were supposed to distribute my opium to the students. And you know damn well what opium does to people. Did it ever occur to you that some of the people you were dealing to would be the people you love? Your precious little slanty-eyed whore? I would have had her on it in a hot minute.

"No," she said, after a pause. "You wouldn't have thought of that. You're a coward, Jordan, and a fool," she was whispering now, and drawing away from him. She drew the gun from its hiding place. "And I am done with you."

Snap.

The butt of the gun met his skull with a sickening crunch, and he crumpled.

"When he wakes up, follow him. Meet up with us in Albany, if you can make it there without being followed. You know the procedure," Natalie told the goon on her left. He was a large man, scarred and thoroughly battered by the life he'd found himself in.

"Why follow him?" he asked, as she was turning to leave. She scoffed.

"Loose ends, idiot. He'll lead us right to the Akane girl, and then you can take care of them both. I don't want this story to get plastered across the news as an international drug ring case—after all, the deaths of young lovers are just so dramatic. See to it."

(Back across town, where OUR young lovers. . . I mean, heros are arriving at home. . .)

"You're amazing!" Akane admitted, finally shamed into open praise. It's hard to stay mad at someone who's treating you to the ride of your life. After sneaking out of the hospital – Akane had convinced Ranma to take her out the way he came in, taking her with him into the shapeless, formless world of BETWEEN, where time meant nothing and light and sound bent oddly around her body—they had come straight home.

Literally, straight home. As the crow flies. He'd picked her up gingerly, despite her protests that she was too heavy to carry—which he'd laughed at—and leapt up onto the nearest roof. From there it was a running, leaping journey that came closer to flying than anything she'd ever experienced. And he was winded, surely, but not too badly. He wasn't even sweating that hard.

She knew a lot of crazy martial artists, but only Kodachi could hop roofs, and she wasn't all that good at it. This Ranma was in a league of his own.

A slow blush crept into his face at her words, and he cleared his throat loudly to dispel the sensation. Formless praise is one thing, but something like that, when truly meant, is another entirely. Not that he had any doubts of his own superiority—he just hadn't expected her to see it.

"Aye, well, have to be, I guess," he said, lamely. "Listen, the knives weren't my only errand this morning. I had to track down an old friend, too. If it's all right with ye, it would be best if he could stay at the dojo as well."

"Our home is always open to weary travelers, as a dojo ought to be," she replied, and there was a formality to the words that led him to believe she'd said them many times before. "Who's your friend?"

"The fellow who took ye home after that incident in the woods? He'll be watchin' you, while I look for . . ."

"WATCHING me?" she squealed—a little over-indignant for someone being carried like a child into her own home. "I don't need a babysitter! I'm a little injured, not completely helpless!"

"Ye're a good sight more helpless than I feel safe leaving you alone, an' that's not up for negotiation," Ranma said, firmly. Akane began to struggle in his arms, and he made as if he were going to drop her. That caused her to yelp and throw her good arm around his neck for stability. "Don' struggle, or I'll let you fall!" he warned.

"I don't need your damned protection, or your pity! And just what makes you think you have the obligation to watch after me, huh? I don't even KNOW you! Just get lost, and take your whole confusing freak show with you!" she shouted. They were beginning to draw an audience now. Kasumi, Soun, and the panda had peeked their heads around the corner. Ryouga had paused halfway down the stairs, where he'd been coming to re-introduce himself. Of the spectators, he was the only one without shock written on his face.

At her words, Ranma had stilled, the muscles in his jaw working as though her were trying very hard not to say something. She began to struggle again, but this time he pulled her nearer instead of pushing her away.

"Like it or not, yer bound by my laws—you're my wife, and damn if I'll let you die of pride!" he snapped. He kissed her hard, not an expression of love or lust, more of a calculated attack—and as she drew back her good arm to slap him he touched a spot on her neck, and her whole body fell limp.

"Hellcat," he muttered, looking up at Ryouga. They exchanged a wry grin as Ranma handed Akane to his ally, careful not to displace her bandages. "She'll wake up in less than an hour, aye? Make sure she's out of reach of those knives by then."

"Och, aye," Ryouga said, easily. "And let me congratulate y' on yer choice o' bride—she's a rare bit o' hellfire, ain't she?"

"Ever'thing an Amazon's wife should be—believe it or not," Ranma replied with a rueful grin. "Hate t'admit it, but Mother's gonna love her."

"Weel, then, ye'd best be off makin' sure you keep the lass alive til yer mother meets her, aye?" Ryouga pointed out, raising a sardonic eyebrow.

"And ye'd best be makin' sure ye don't sit too near when she wakes, or they'll be cleanin' y'out of the carpet fer months," Ranma advised. With that, completely ignoring the presence of his father, Kasumi and Soun, he walked right back out the door.

His plan might have worked—he was going to find Jordan, find Natalie, beat some sense into the lot of them and hand them over to the police. Simple, violent, and in keeping with his vigilante tendencies. However, at that very moment, Natalie and most of her gang were on a train headed for Albany, and Jordan. . . Jordan was just waking up, with some very nasty bruises and lumps.

Akane woke up to the sight of her ceiling—her bland, plain white ceiling, and a wet cloth placed over her head for the form of it. The first thing she remembered was that kiss, and both her lips and her blood burned at the thought of it.

"That bastard," she muttered. "Idiotic, conniving, scheming, manipulative, cocky, impudent. . . ." and on down the list. She was going through insulting names in Japanese when a soft chuckle off to her right made her aware of another presence in the room. Slowly, she turned her head, glowering intently at whomever might be so foolish as to be in her room when she was in such a black mood.

It was that strange Scottish boy, sitting some distance from her bed in her desk chair. When she turned her glare on him, he gulped and shrank back a little.

"What. Are. You. Doing. Here?" she asked between clenched teeth. He laughed nervously and scratched the back of his head.

"Well, y'see, I'm set t'guard ye. . ."

"I KNOW that. Why? What's in it for you?"

"A warrior could never abandon an injured woman, be she scary or no," he said, firmly. She thought about that for a moment, and had to admit he had a point.

(Thank you for your patience. I'm sorry I'm such a ditz. . . NEXT chapter will have an explanation of Ryouga's Scottish-ness. Promise. Not that I'm good at keeping promises, as you may have noticed. But NEXT chapter. . . I'd like to thank all of you who have reviewed, they're very sweet and rather helpful. Thank you so much. Especially those of you who point out where my brain malfunctions. . . )