Lessons of Mastery

"This is for real, old man. You've ruined my life for the last time," Ranma yelled out his frustration.

"If you really believe that! I have done everything I can for you and this is the respect that you show me?" The senior Saotome yelled back.

"Everything for me? You got me cursed. You got me engaged to at least two different girls and now I find out that you expect me to treat your pick above all of the others," Ranma yelled out, preparing to leap to the attack. Falling into an aggressive stance, he balanced easily, ready to attack and defend at a moments notice. Ranma wasn't wearing his sleeveless Chinese shirt and loose pants. As every morning, he was wearing his gi, just like his father. "Don't I have any choice?"

"This is for family honor. You must marry Akane to continue the traditions of the Anything Goes School of martial arts," Saotome finished quietly. They stared down at each other across the pool in the Tendo's yard. "It is time, for there is little that I can teach you."

Ranma paused, and thought for a second. His father hadn't been able to show him anything new in weeks. He had even relented and taught the second set of his forbidden techniques. The noisy thief. It was becoming increasingly easy to beat the older man. "So I'm a master of the art?" Ranma gulped nervously.

"Of course not. You have to defeat me in a perilous duel, until one of us in no longer able to continue the fight. That has not happened. It is a tradition of the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts." Genma's ability to put any past action into a favorable light shined through, of course. After all, that's what he and Soun had done to Happosai, right?

Ranma stared at his father for a moment. Then he straightened up, and bowed to his father. "I do herby do formally challenge you then." Ranma wasn't sure why he made the challenge. But it felt right.

Genma Saotome jerked as if shot. He had been dreading this day for months. "I accept. The challenge starts now." He shot forward, taking the initiative. He had hoped to surprise his son. His hope was shattered as his attack was easily dodged.

Ranma flowed like the wind. This wasn't like their morning practices. This was a duel of honor between two men who had a hard time with honor. He and his father traded flurries of blows and kicks, fading from devastating attacks. Only grunts punctuated the silence.

Akane wandered out about a half an hour later, looking out over the koi pond. Ranma and his father were in rare form. She watched for a moment, and then was struck by something odd. They weren't yelling at each other. The blows didn't look like they were pulled. She jumped, when Ranma shattered one of the boulders near the edge of the pond. She stepped back, and made a small 'eeping' sound. She noted the destruction of the yard as they continued their fight.

"Father, what is going on?" Akane said as she rushed up to him. Soun Tendo knelt quietly watching the battle.

"Ranma has challenged Saotome-san to become a master." Soun waited patiently. He was playing an important part in the proceedings. A duel without a master watching meant nothing. He was an important witness, if Ranma won. After all, Genma and himself only became masters after defeating Happosai, and locking him in a cave for ten years. Thus they had created the tradition of defeating the previous master to become masters in their own right.

"Oh, my," Kasumi said from behind. "It isn't dangerous, is it?"

"Of course not, Kasumi. They fight every morning," Nabiki said over her tea. She had her normal smug smile on.

"You are wrong for once, Nabiki. Only one man may leave the area of challenge. The other must be dragged off the field to have his wounds tended." Soun sat watching. The elder Saotome seemed to be holding his own. But Ranma was as hard to hit as the wind, striking as hard as a sledgehammer. If anything, he seemed to be getting better during the fight.

"Ranma?" Akane whispered to herself. She wouldn't admit to anyone, even to herself that she had some sort of feelings for Ranma. They confused her, and scared her, these feelings. Idly she adjusted the bandages on her hands.

Soun was watching intently and still almost missed the tiny mistake that his friend made. Perhaps it was just fatigue, perhaps it was a misjudgment. Ranma reached and grabbed the hand that was just a bit too far out. A fast pivot flung his father into the largest of the remaining boulders around the koi pond.

Ranma didn't let up on his stunned father. Genma desperately tried to defend, blocking as many blows as possible. Dodging the first couple of blows, he tried to stand to get some distance and to balance himself better.

Akane watched as the boulder shattered from the missed blows. Small rocks pelted Saotome-san, stunning him further. Ranma finally punctured his father's defense, raining blows down in a blur. Blows that could pulverize rocks hit his father. The last blow landed to the older mans face. Genma flew across the yard to land up against the outer wall.

Ranma sat breathing hard. He felt as if he'd been fighting Ryoga for ten rounds. Very carefully, he stood up straighter and bowed to his defeated father. Turning back to the house, he started to walk towards the house.

Genma cracked his eyes open, and smiled slightly. His son still didn't have the killer instinct to always check to see if his foe was truly down. It would cost him again this day. Genma leaped to his feet shakily and then with much more confidence did a leap kick across the yard, directly at the back of Ranma's head.

It wasn't there. Eye's widening, Genma realized he'd been played for a fool. Ranma swept his body forward and started to spin his leg around in a kick. Genma was out of place to defend himself, and blocked weakly with his leg. Genma felt a sharp stab of pain in his leg. He attempted to land, and his new injury screamed in pain. He felt as if it had been broken.

This left him wide open. Blows landed furiously all over his body. Genma couldn't do anything but block the most crippling of attacks. Blackness swam in front of him, and finally claimed him.

Ranma stood, and carefully watched his father for five minutes. The only sound that could be heard was ragged breathing.

Kasumi finally called for Ranma and Genma to come in for breakfast. Ranma finally stood up, and bowed to his defeated father. Walking very carefully over to Soun Tendo, he bowed deeply.

"Congratulations, Saotome-sensei. You have honored my family and your father." Soun beamed at his future son in law. "Kasumi and I will take your father over to the hospital when he wakes up. It appears that he will need some medical attention, though it doesn't appear to be too serious."

"Thank you, Sensei," Ranma said as he bowed deeply. "I'm sorry about the mess. I'll see what I can do about it after school."

"Do not even think about it. It was our honor as your host," Soun said simply.

"And who is going to pay for it, daddy dearest?" Nabiki asked with an almost stunned expression.

"We are, Nabiki," Soun said. Nabiki just looked at her father as if he had grown two heads, which was different than his demon head attack of course.

Akane just looked back and forth, and then got a serious look on her face. "You better hurry up, Ranma. We're going to be late if you don't."

Ranma snapped out of his trance. "Oh, yeah. Sure. Be right back." He bounded up to the bathroom to clean up.

Akane and Ranma trotted towards Nerima High School. Ranma was dressed in his red sleeveless Chinese shirt, while Akane was wearing her school dress uniform. The only thing out of place was some wrapping around her hands. She thought it very unfair that Ranma had never had to wear a uniform.

Showing how unusual the day was, Ranma wasn't trotting on the top of the fence on the side of the road as normal. He also seemed to be walking a bit stiffly.

"What's wrong, Ranma?" Akane asked.

"Hmm? What?" Ranma asked back.

"You're always on the fence. What's up, you pervert?" Akane said with a scowl.

Ranma opened his mouth to shout his normal retort out about what would an uncute girl care. Something stopped him. He couldn't be sure what. Finally he said, "I'm sore today."

Ranma blinked and then tried to think why he answered truthfully.

Akane just stared at Ranma as if he had become a demon from the darkest netherworlds.

They were just ending up in the gates of the high school, when a pleasant sounding voice called out his typical challenge to Ranma. "Saotome, you blemish the honor of the fair lady Tendo and the pig tailed girl. Stand your ground, and prepare to be defeated, foul sorcerer!" Tatewaki Kuno stood proudly in their way, in his formal kimono and hakima. As always, he had his bokken at the ready. Light played across his handsome features, and brown hair.

Ranma stared at Kuno with anger in his eyes. "Not today, Kuno. Unless you're going to attack me when I won't fight back?" Ranma said with a steady voice. Sometimes he got so tired of pounding on the idiots in his life.

"Huh?" Kuno said as he slowed his charge. "You aren't going to fight me?" He looked confused. He slowed to a stop. Ranma and Akane continued walking past him.

"No, I'm not going to fight you today. Maybe tomorrow. All right?" Ranma said over his shoulder as he and Akane walked into school. Akane's eyes were wide in shock herself, mirroring Tatewaki's eyes.

From the second story window, Nabiki watched the exchange with interest. "Now that was unusual." She flipped her notebook up, and looked to see if anyone had bet on that particular outcome. Not one person had. "How odd. What are you up to Ranma?" Nabiki said to herself. She looked down at poor Kuno, who seemed to be in shock.

Kuno stared at Ranma's back with undisguised confusion. His pseudo-honor wouldn't allow him to attack even this foe when his back was turned. He was still standing there when the first bell rang for class to start.

Ranma sat in class wondering what was up with himself. Everything was totally normal this morning until he challenged his father. So no potions or strange magic from Cologne or Shampoo as far as he could tell. Could it have to do with the fight with his father? Ranma's eyes widened. Or maybe it was the outcome of the fight?

It was all right to be reckless when he wasn't a master. But that was a thing of the past. Ranma lived for martial arts. More than anyone he knew. Now he had to be responsible. Ranma gulped. He wasn't sure that he was ready for that. Oh, well. He'd deal with it later.

Ranma's first class teacher was moderately surprised when she threw a question out to Ranma, and he managed to actually answer on the topic. He didn't answer it correctly, but he was on topic.

Akane sneaked glances at him from the side. What was that idiot up to? She would just bet that he had to be up to something. The more she thought about it, the more she was sure. Well she wasn't going to be sucked into another silly harebrained scheme of his. The longer she thought about it, the angrier she got. And an angry Akane is not a good thing. She continued to sneak glares at him throughout the entire class.

Lunch was another spectacle. Kuno again tried to pick a fight with Ranma. Ranma on the other hand really wasn't in the mood to fight.

"Kuno, can't you wait until tomorrow?" Ranma said as he evaded all of the blows that rained down from the bokken wielding kendoist.

"No, love waits for no time. I shall defeat thee, and prove to all your shame in enslaving the pig-tailed girl. And to crush you for being engaged to the fair maiden Akane!" Kuno yelled.

"I haven't enslaved the pig tailed girl!" Ranma yelled, starting to get upset.

"Do you think that Nabiki Tendo lied to the great Tatewaki Kuno?" Kuno yelled as he destroyed part of the courtyard wall. "What were her words? Ah, 'One heart, one soul, as one body!' That was it!" Kuno screamed his outrage out loud.

"No, she didn't lie. But she sure didn't tell you the whole truth about your pig tailed girl. Why don't you really find out?" Ranma said loudly while dodging wildly.

"All I need to do is cleave your lying head, Saotome!" Kuno yelled.

Ranma tried to think, as he avoided all of the attacks. It was more of a strain to think than to avoid the hits. "Ah ha! Kuno, I challenge you. If you can defeat me, I'll see to it that the pig tailed girl goes on a date with you." Ranma shuddered for just a moment, and continued dodging the furious blows. "But if I win, you have to get all the information about who the pig tailed girl really is from Nabiki." Ranma landed gracefully on top of one of the walls.

Kuno stopped and stared at Ranma suspiciously. This was one his best chances at dating the pig-tailed girl in months. "I accept!" Kuno stated grandly, as if he were doing Ranma a favor.

Ranma smiled, and then attacked. Kuno blinked, and then started to parry as fast as he could. Blow after blow rained down on his arms. They started to feel like leaden weights. Finally, Kuno was no longer able to even to carry his own bokken. A swift kick to the stomach, and then an amazing foot sweep and Kuno landed on his rump.

"Yield?" Ranma asked.

"Never!" Kuno yelled back. Ranma kicked him lightly in the stomach as Kuno staggered to his feet. He fell back down.

"Yield?" Ranma asked again.

"Your sorcerous ways have again defeated me, Saotome. Finish the fight," Kuno said through clenched teeth.

"Can I take that as a yes? I really don't want to hit you anymore," Ranma asked quietly.

Kuno looked surprised. "You don't? Then why haven't you knocked me out?"

"Because, you have to remember what the fight was about. If I knock you out, you won't remember. Got it?" Ranma said.

"Oh." Kuno was confused. "So why are you doing this?"

Ranma put an absolutely innocent smile on his face, and replied. "Well, I thought you'd want to call your pig tailed goddess by name."

"Why are you being so nice?" Kuno said suspiciously. "And besides, I know you have forced her to use your name with sorcery."

"Like I said earlier, I'm sick and tired of fighting you every day," Ranma said, as if that would explain everything.

"Oh." Kuno was still confused. This time it really wasn't really his fault.

"Nabiki, I need to talk to you," Ranma said.

"I'm busy. Can't it wait until we're home?" Nabiki said from the group of girls sat in the lunchroom.

"No," Ranma said. He had a fairly determined look on his face.

"Be right back, girls!" Nabiki said over her shoulder, as she walked over to where Ranma stood. "What is it Ranma?"

"Did you hear what the Kuno has to do, since I beat him today?" Ranma asked.

"He's not going to give up on Akane or his pigtailed girl," Nabiki said lightly.

"I know that. I made him promise to find out everything about his pig tailed goddess," Ranma said. "From you. So you'll be able to make money off of him, and get him off my back."

"I can't do that. I make way too much money off his obsessions," Nabiki said with a smile.

"Come on Nabiki. Please!" Ranma pleaded.

"Nope, and your not changing my mind," Nabiki said, starting to turn back to her friends.

"Well, then I'll have to pick my Tendo fiancée then, won't I," Ranma said grimly.

Nabiki turned back with a small look of confusion. "Ranma, you've already picked your fiancée from the Tendo family. Are you sure Kuno didn't hit you in the head?"

"Sure. But I didn't pick which of you girls I was going to marry. You just put Akane up front, and assumed I'd pick her," Ranma said quietly. He leaned forward, and continued at an even lower voice, "But what would happen if I told our fathers that I picked you? And then pushed it on them?"

Just a hint of panic managed to reach Nabiki's voice. "You wouldn't!"

"If you don't give Kuno the whole truth about his pigtailed goddess, I will. You've made my life miserable, and that would be just desserts, wouldn't it?" Ranma said with more than a hint of determination. "And it wouldn't be Akane changing the engagement this time. And I won't change my mind until you do tell him. Not like that last time. And I won't let you rent me out."

"You just might, out of spite wouldn't you? Ok, I'll do it. I'll tell Tatewaki Kuno the whole truth about you." Nabiki smiled to herself. "In return you promise to never pick me as your fiancée." Nabiki finished quietly. Inwardly she was smiling. He hadn't put any qualifications on the deal.

"Fine." Ranma paused for one moment. "On two conditions. You have to really try and convince him. Got it?" Nabiki nodded her head in frustration. "Two, you have to tell him the truth about the curse and who the 'pigtailed goddess' really is." Nabiki nodded again. Ranma sighed.

"When did you get so good at this type of stuff, Ranma?" Nabiki asked.

Ranma smiled as he walked away. "Why, from you. Who else?" Ranma replied with a chuckle.

Unseen by both of them, Akane had heard most of the conversation. "Pick Nabiki? I'm . . . I'm going to hurt that perverted jerk. I'm going to ground him into hamburger, and make him wish that Ryoga was around to finish him off." She fumed and went on her way.

Nabiki wandered over to the pay phone, and put some change in, and called a number. "Hello? Just the person I'm looking for. Would you be willing to work off some of your debt to me?" A pause. "How much? Well, how about ten thousand yen? Sure. I'll be by about seven o'clock tonight." Nabiki smiled to herself. Now, how much to extort from Kuno, Nabiki wondered to herself.

Ranma and Akane were walking home. Ranma felt pretty good, and mostly oblivious to Akane's anger. Feeling better than this morning, he was back up on the fence. Akane was trying to figure out what Ranma was up to, and hadn't come up with anything other than confronting him head on.

"Ranma, what where you talking to Nabiki about?" Akane asked with as controlled a voice as possible.

"Hopefully taking care of Kuno, so he doesn't try to date his pigtailed goddess. Uck." Ranma made a really sick face, and almost fell off of the fence.

"So how did you convince Nabiki to go along with you plan? She's not going to give up her cash cow, you dumb pervert," Akane replied loudly. She wanted him to admit that he had threatened to switch the engagement. How dare he?

"I convinced her, you stupid tomboy. Hopefully by tonight, he'll be out of my hair forever." Ranma put a smug smile on his face. He crouched down on the top of the fence.

"I'm not a tomboy, you pervert," Akane yelled, her little control escaping her quickly.

"Nyah, you uncute tomboy . . . urk." Ranma's retort was cut short as Akane hit him before he was ready. She usually took a little longer to start pounding him.

After about five minutes, Akane stopped. "Now look what you made me do, you dumb jerk. Now I have to drag you to Dr. Tofu's," Akane said, mostly for her benefit. Sighing, she reached down, and picked up the oddly twisted body that vaguely resembled Ranma.

A short while later, Akane dragged Ranma's carcass into the clinic. She deposited him on a table and went to find Dr. Tofu. He walked out, and took a look at Ranma. "Akane, I thought you weren't going to do this anymore? You could really hurt someone," Dr. Tofu scolded gently.

"I'm sorry, Dr. Tofu. He just makes me so mad. I'm really trying," Akane said with a really small voice.

"You really need to learn to control your temper, young lady. I want you try and not hit anyone, just because they upset you. Even Ranma. Though why he let's you hit him is beyond me." Dr. Tofu continued to lecture Akane.

Akane sat there very quiet, remembering her promise to Kasumi so long ago. "Yes, sir. I promise."

"And you should be more careful Ranma. What If I got sick, and wasn't around to fix you up?" He started to bend Ranma back into shape, carefully popping him back into position. Cries of agony and pain filled the room.

"Ranma, can I talk to you in private?" Dr. Tofu asked. He continued to twist and pop different areas of Ranma's body back into shape.

"Sure!" Ranma managed to get out in between grunts of pain.

"Akane, if you can wait outside? Thanks." Dr. Tofu waited until she was gone, and then looked over at Ranma. "I had to go to the hospital to help the doctors there with your father. Is there a reason that you hurt him so badly?"

"Um, I, uh, had to challenge him to become a master of the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts. It was a really tough fight, and we didn't hold back at all. Uh, how bad is Pop?" Ranma asked finally, trying to put an air of indifference into his voice.

"A few cracked ribs, a broken leg, and a cracked pelvis. A huge amount of bruises. He's not going to be able to fight for weeks." Dr. Tofu blinked as he finished up with Ranma's neck. "So your now a master of your family's school, hmm?"

Ranma stretched a bit. "Yeah." Ranma looked around carefully, and then leaned in to Dr. Tofu. "Can I ask you for some advice, Doc?" Ranma asked quietly.

Dr. Tofu nodded, with a surprised expression. "Of course," Dr. Tofu replied cheerfully.

"How does a master act? I mean, I know there supposed to be responsible and stuff. But how do you train yourself to train students? And not screw up," Ranma asked.

"Well, just asking for advice is a good sign. It means your acting more maturely. Your schooling will help too," Dr. Tofu said. "Caring about your students is a good thing. I've sometimes thought about getting a student or two, just to pass on my knowledge of pressure points, and healing. There just aren't many people who have the drive to actually master all of the boring parts of pressure points. And it is boring mostly."

"So try to be mature? Schooling? How's schooling going to help?" Ranma asked. "Don't need schooling for martial arts." He ended up with a scowl on his face.

Dr. Tofu just looked at Ranma for a minute, and then started to chuckle. "It all boils down to martial arts for you doesn't it? How about this? I bet you I can come up with a reason for just about any class to be useful for martial arts."

Ranma smiled. "Sure, you're on!"

Dr. Tofu chuckled. Ranma was always so competitive.

"Math!" Ranma crowed. This was the class that he was positive couldn't have anything to do with being a martial artist.

"That's easy, Ranma. You need good math basics to help with the finances to run a dojo. Or are you going to hire Nabiki to do that? And not have any money at all?" Dr. Tofu replied calmly.

A look of consternation passed Ranma's face. "Uh, literature!" Ranma was smiling again.

"Aren't there some really good stories about martial art fights, and how those battles were won?" Dr. Tofu smiled again.

"History?" Ranma asked with a little less confidence.

"Almost the exact same reason as literature. And I'm sure you saw that too," Dr. Tofu gently scolded.

"Um, biology! Got you there!" Ranma crowed happily.

"Biology leads to anatomy, which leads to medicine, which leads to understanding things like pressure points and how to train your body. I should know." Dr. Tofu smiled again.

"English!" Ranma said with a touch of his old confidence.

"Shouldn't you know what your enemies are saying, so you can defend yourself?" Dr. Tofu asked.

"So you're saying that just about any class has info for teaching me about martial arts," Ranma asked. He had a rather queasy look on his face. This was not good.

"And not just martial arts. Learning is always a good thing. Did I win our bet?" Dr. Tofu asked.

"Yeah. Now I have to study hard. Yuck," Ranma said. "I'm going to be the best martial artist ever though!"

Akane stuck her head back in. "Ranma, we need to get home."

"Oh, sure. Be right there. See you Dr. Tofu," Ranma said as he jumped up.

Akane and Ranma just about ran home. Both of them ran upstairs, and immediately started to study. Akane looked over to where Ranma was studying. She leaned over, and blinked in surprise.

She looked again.

And one final time.

Ranma was studying. And harder than she'd ever seen before. You could almost see the smoke coming from his head.

A little black pig with a yellow and black bandanna wandered in and hopped up on Akane's bed.

"Ranma, are you all right? I thought you hated studying?" Akane asked. P-chan looked over in surprise, and squealed in rage and agreement.

"I do. But I can't be the best martial artist without schooling. Dang." Ranma scrunched his face up in concentration. "Oh, hiya, Ryoga!" P-chan squealed in indignation.

"Ranma, quit picking on P-chan. And quit calling him Ryoga." Akane started to steam and get upset. She was still upset at Ranma. "I can't believe you are jealous of a pig. Any excuse to sneak into my room, I bet."

"I am not a pervert. I was not sneaking into your room to, um, you know, be a pervert." Ranma looked up and shot right back. He looked back at his problem. This math problem was harder than it had looked at first.

"Ha, you expect me to believe you? You are such a macho jerk, thinking you can get away with anything." Akane started to yell at him.

"I do not!" Ranma cut off his retort and went back to his studying. He still couldn't figure out this math problem. He didn't even realize that not answering Akane's insults with insults had gotten him further in this conversation than he ever had before.

"That'll be the day. Ok, prove it, Mr. Pervert. On your honor, prove that you aren't a pervert. I bet you can't." Akane scowled at him, and then smiled a devilish grin.

She had him now.

Ranma looked up and blinked. This was bad. With a capitol 'B'. Akane had just asked him to prove he wasn't a pervert on his honor. He started to think about how to prove that he wasn't a pervert and still not break his word of honor about Ryoga's curse. Akane's big hang-up with Ranma being a pervert had always been Ranma sneaking into her room. Well, and turning into a girl. And that first time in the furo.

"Well, Ranma?" Akane said in challenge. She had a grin that would make Nabiki proud.

"I'm thinking. I have to prove it, remember?" Ranma replied. P-chan jumped on Ranma's arm, and started to bite him. Probably the worst timing he had ever had. Ranma lost what little sympathy he had for Ryoga's plight for just a moment. Ranma noted idly that Ryoga was a bit muddy. "Quit that. I'm trying to think. You're such a pest. I wish I could just clean your..." A little light bulb went on over Ranma's head.

"Oh, P-chan. You look like you need a bath. A nice hot long bath, with Akane to scrub you ears." Ranma had an evil chuckle in his voice, and thunder sounded in the background. This was perfect. He wasn't telling Akane Ryoga's curse, he was just putting P-chan in a position that his curse couldn't be concealed. A slight distinction. And Ranma was very, very tired about Ryoga taking advantage of Akane's ignorance.

P-chan stopped biting so viciously, and his eyes rolled over to look Ranma. Sweat drops appeared on his forehead. "Ranma how is that going to prove that you aren't a pervert?" Akane asked. Her face clouded over. She really felt that Ranma was up to something again.

"Why don't you try it and find out? Or don't you want me prove that I'm not a pervert?" Ranma asked sticking his tongue out at Akane.

"I'll show you, you jerk. Come on P-chan, let's go take a bath." Akane reached over and grabbed P-chan before he could run. P-chan started to squeal and struggle.

"Oh, and Akane, don't let him run off. He really doesn't like hot baths," Ranma said with a smirk.

P-chan kept struggling, squealing desperately trying to get free of this trap. "I can handle giving P-chan a bath, thank you. He's my pet!" Akane said angrily as she stomped out.

"Not for long. Now why hadn't I thought of that before. I'm such a dummy," Ranma said to himself. Ranma conveniently ignored the fact that it was Akane that had forced this confrontation.

In front of the Cat Cafe Nabiki met up with Kuno. "Prithee, why do I have to deal with thee, Nabiki? And why in such a strange locale?" Kuno started up in his best archaic speech.

"Kuno baby, you lost that challenge today, and now you have to learn everything about the pigtailed girl. It's a bit complicated, and I have to show you some things. The only good thing is that you have to pay me to do this. I'd rather you didn't know, actually," Nabiki said firmly.

"And whither be that, Nabiki Tendo? I dost think that you and Ranma share no friendship," Kuno intoned grandly, gesturing widely.

"I'm going to lose money either way, Kuno. And Ranma is making me tell the truth about the 'pigtailed one'. Damn Ranma," Nabiki muttered to herself. Well, there would be other ways of making money. This wasn't the end of the world. Besides, Kuno ended up causing quite a bit of damage at the dojo every once in a while. At least this wouldn't upset his obsession with Akane.

Just a few moments later and Mousse walked out, carrying a small backpack. "This is unusual, Nabiki. Are you sure we are going to need these?" Mousse said, lifting the pack.

"Yup. Definitely. Come on you two," Nabiki said, as she led them to a small park near the Cat Cafe'.

"What does this foreigner have to do with the pigtailed one, Nabiki?" Kuno asked suspiciously.

"Nothing really. He's going to be an example. He's costing quite a bit of yen to be here. Ok then, this should be the place." Nabiki pointed towards the edge of a pond, where a bench sat on a pretty rock platform.

"What's so special about here?" Mousse asked.

"Nothing, except for the fact that it's away from Cologne's place," Nabiki said.

"Why is that important?" Mousse asked.

"I don't want her interfering. This isn't going to help with Shampoo's chances with Ranma," Nabiki said carefully, saying just the right things to get Mousse to help her out. She carefully omitted the fact that it really wasn't going to hinder Shampoo's chances either.

"Oh. That's all right then," Mousse said, a silly smile creasing his face. He started muttering of his undying devotion to Shampoo.

"Later, Mousse. Get the water boiling for some tea. You're on my time now. Kuno baby, let's start with something simple. Are you aware that your pigtailed girl is under a curse?" Nabiki asked.

"Of course she must. For she hath the same name as the accursed Saotome," Kuno said as if it was a simple as that. "Though I hath not learned how she is cursed. Most assuredly it must be the cur, Ranma Saotome. I must free her! For she must yearn to be free of his enslavement!" He jumped up, as if to run off and rescue his pigtailed girl right now.

"Kuno, stop. Do you know the nature of the curse? After all, how are you going to help her, if you don't know what sort of problems she has?" Nabiki barked out, stopping his urge to go off on a rescue.

"Oh, sure! What a wonderful idea!" Kuno sat back down. A wide grin was plastered to his face.

Mousse watched this with interest. He played with his glasses as he pulled out a small grill and put a pot of water on it.

"All right Kuno, now listen carefully. The pigtailed girl is under a curse that forces her to assume a form she doesn't like. Kind of like those American stories of witches turning people into toads," Nabiki said slowly. "Ranma didn't cause this curse. The pigtailed girl was cursed by someone else."

"How vile. Is there no cure? And who cursed her?" Kuno was totally enrapt, listening to every little detail.

"None so far, but not for lack of trying. And if you want, you can purchase the information about who cursed her later, ok?" Nabiki said. "Now Mousse also has the same type of curse. Right Mousse?"

Mousse blinked. "Yes." He wasn't sure that he likes where this was leading.

Kuno blinked, and turned to the raven haired Chinese. "Poor fellow." He sniffed.

"Please show him, Mousse," Nabiki said.

"Do I have to?" Mousse asked in a small voice.

"Yes," Nabiki said directly.

As Kuno watched, Mousse picked up a large cup of water and dumped it on his head. Instant duck.

Kuno just stared in amazement. "Amazing. And so he doth truly be a duck?"

Nabiki shook her head. "No, Kuno. He's a man cursed to turn into a duck when he's splashed with cold water. Luckily the curse isn't that bad. You can reverse it with hot water." Nabiki reached over, and checked the pot on the grill. "Right, Mousse? You're not a duck, you're a man in the shape of a duck. That's very important." The duck nodded his head vigorously. Kuno watched in amazement. Real magic. And not caused by Saotome. He truly should try to watch what was happening around him a bit more. Kuno vaguely remembered seeing this duck with a cat and a pig before.

"Now mentally, Mousse is still a man, even when he's in the shape of a duck. That's also very important. Mousse, would you please scratch in the dirt a simple math problem and your name?" Nabiki asked the transformed duck. Mouse spent several minutes attempting to scratch some problems into the dirt by the pond. He then wrote his name in Chinese. Kuno watched in amazement as Nabiki corrected him on several of the math problems. Mousse quacked furiously, but did fix the mistakes. That proved to Kuno that the duck in front of him was in truth a man in a ducks form. Especially after he corrected Nabiki on one problem.

"Truly, not as bad as I thought. I shall always have hot water handy. And I do understand. I am not a fool," Kuno pronounced very incorrectly.

"You wouldn't believe how happy that would make your pigtailed girl. Now Kuno, the hot water is the important thing. It reverts the cursed back to their real form," Mousse quacked loudly. Nabiki smiled, and then poured some hot water on the duck. Instant human. Mousse started to scramble for his clothes.

"Astounding. And what caused these curses?" Kuno asked.

"A place of cursed springs in China. Each pool has a different curse. It's called Jusenkyo," Nabiki responded, mentally tabulating the cost for Kuno.

"May I see this a few more times. It is truly amazing," Kuno said with wonderment.

"Nabiki, do I have to?" Mousse asked.

"Don't worry, Mousse. I'll deduct one thousand yen from your tab for each time you have to turn into a duck," Nabiki said quietly. Mousse acquiesced.

After about fifteen minutes later, and several changes later, Kuno finally replied. "Enough, I believe you Nabiki. So what is the curse that the pigtailed girl is under? What poor creature is she forced to become? My heart weeps for her." Kuno loudly intoned his devotion his poor pigtailed girl.

"So you really believe and understand how the curse works, right?" Kuno nodded. "This is the hard part Kuno baby. Really listen closely," Nabiki said with determination.

Kuno nodded. "Please, tell me, doth not keep me in suspense any more." Kuno almost seemed to be ready to weep. He was totally focused on Nabiki's words.

"The pigtailed girl's curse isn't to turn into anything else. That is the cursed form." Nabiki waited a moment to speak. Kuno seemed to have trouble digesting this. "Someone is cursed to turn into your pigtailed girl. I'm not losing you, am I?"

Kuno shook his head.

Kuno then paled, and then asked in a very weak voice. "Who turns into the pigtailed girl?" Not a hint of his standard speech this time.

Nabiki sighed. "Ranma Saotome, of course. Who else wears the same clothing as her?"

Kuno's eyes started to roll back and he started to faint. Nabiki was prepared for this. She reached out and grabbed his kimono's neck. With a quick snap, she broke some smelling salts under his nose. His eyes started to water. "Kuno baby, you can't faint right now. If you faint, you're going to become delirious, and forget all this important information. And I'll have to charge you double for doing this again," Nabiki said quite firmly.

"I am recovered. This is the truth? Ranma isn't forcing you to lie to me?" Kuno seemed to be ready to grasp for anything to stave off the impossible. Or at least the dishonor.

"Kuno, I don't lie. I might not tell you everything, but I won't lie. To tell you truthfully, it was a business transaction between the two of us. He had a deal I couldn't refuse, so I took the job," Nabiki said quietly. "Besides, its not like you couldn't have figured it out for yourself. You just needed to open your eyes." The tone of contempt was quite evident in her voice.

"You, Mousse, tell me it's not true. Tell that Ranma Saotome isn't my pigtailed girl!" Kuno was starting to become upset. Even more so than before.

"Let's see, she has red hair, a real attitude, and wears a lot of Chinese shirts and black pants right?" Kuno again nodded as Mousse described Ranma's female self. "That's him all right. Tough luck there." Mousse finished up with a smirk.

"I am ruined. My life is devastation," Kuno started to speak deliriously.

Nabiki sighed, and reached over and slapped Kuno. "Kuno, calm down. It isn't the end of the world."

"I must verify this for myself," Kuno said with sudden determination.

"So bring some water with you to school. Just remember to bring hot and cold water. That way you can test it," Nabiki said with a smile. This could work out better than she thought. Ranma publicly humiliated in front of the entire school. Perfect. "Oh, and Kuno, regular place after school tomorrow?"

"Ryoga, I'm going to kill you, you pervert! Stand still and die like a man," Akane yelled, as she chased Ryoga around the yard. She was dressed in a bathrobe and wielding a bokken. She wished that her father hadn't locked up the family weapons!

"Ranma, I'm going to kill you for destroying my happiness," Ryoga yelled as he ran frantically around, trying to avoid Akane. He was dressed in just his pants.

"Why? You brought this on yourself," Ranma said from the roof. Ryoga growled and jumped at Ranma. Ranma casually leaned to the side, and just as Ryoga was about to pass whispered to him. "You'll thank me for this later, Ryoga."

Ranma zipped a kick around to Ryoga's back and propelled him into the atmosphere. He easily cleared the nearby buildings. He noticed Akane actually jumping up to the roof, still after Ryoga. An odd thought occurred to Ranma about the fact that he'd never seen her jump that high.

'Slipping' a little bit, he slid into Akane. They both started to slide to the opposite edge of the house that was away from Ryoga. Ranma recovered and bounced toward to the ground catching Akane. Ranma's eyes bugged out, and then he closed them. Still holding on to Akane, he executed a perfect landing in the grass with his eyes closed. He stood there for just a moment, breathing a little hard.

"Um, Akane. Don't take this the wrong way, but could you cover yourself up?" Ranma said, with his eyes firmly closed. Akane looked at Ranma for just a moment, and then down at herself. She gasped, and closed her bathrobe. She struggled out of Ranma's grasp, and to her feet.

"Ranma, you idiot! Ryoga got away. How am I going to beat him up for what he did?" Akane started to yell in Ranma's face. "Look at me, you pervert."

"I'm not a pervert. That's why I'm not looking," Ranma yelled right back. "Uh, you dressed?" Ranma asked, sweat on his brow. He was blushing furiously.

"Yes," Akane said she started to blush just a bit. She was mildly surprised that Ranma still had his eyes closed.

Ranma sighed, and then peeked out with one eye. Seeing that it was safe, he finished opening his eyes. "You all right?" Ranma asked.

"Other than finding out that my pet piglet was actually a guy? I'm peachy fine," Akane yelled at him. "I'm going to finish my bath. Don't you even think about going near it," Akane finished in a much in a much quieter voice. She stomped off to the house. "We are going to have a very long discussion about why you didn't tell me about Ryoga's curse, Ranma."

Ranma winced as she walked off and then sighed. Well, that could have gone worse.

Ranma trotted back into the house, and grabbed Ryoga's backpack. He kept going through the house, and into the other yard. "I'll be right back. See you in a while!" Ranma said as he took a quick leap and bounded over the wall in the direction that he booted Ryoga. He shouldn't be too hard to find. Kasumi stuck her head out of the kitchen. She just blinked a few times. Genma and Soun looked up from their game of shogi, and looked at each other in surprise.

Ranma spotted him just a few blocks away. "Ryoga, wait up!" Ranma yelled.

"Ranma Saotome, give me one good reason I shouldn't kill you!" Ryoga yelled his challenge at his arch-rival.

"I've got your stuff," Ranma said as he held up Ryoga's pack. "Hey, could we talk about this first? My treat."

"Why should I?" Ryoga said in a quiet, deadly voice.

"Because I'm trying to save your life," Ranma said smugly.

"Huh?" Ryoga replied inanely.

"Come on. My treat," Ranma said in the same smug voice as he walked into a small restaurant.

In just a few moments, they were seated at a table, and looking over menus. Somehow in just those same few short moments, Ryoga was again dressed.

"So Ranma, you've come to gloat over my rejection?" Ryoga almost snarled as he voiced his anger.

"I should. But nope, I've got better things to do. She was going to catch you sometime. Jusenkyo curses work that way, you know. And now I have a chance to work on her to get her to calm down," Ranma said, picking out an order of ramen.

"And get to be her prince on a white horse. Damn you, Ranma," Ryoga yelled. Amazingly enough the rest of the café didn't clear up immediately. They must be a bunch of visitors to Nerima.

"Well, yeah. I'm gonna prove to her that I'm not a pervert," Ranma said, a little sadly. "On my honor, as she challenged me."

"Everyone knows you are! What do you hope to prove?" Ryoga said with a snarl.

"Uh, um," Ranma mumbled incoherently. He said something with an even lower voice.

"Spit it out. What are you, a coward?" Ryoga sputtered in Ranma's face.

"Thatidon'tmindherandi'mnotapervert," Ranma muttered very fast. He was terribly embarrassed. He didn't even get upset at Ryoga over calling him a coward.

Ryoga struggled to understand what Ranma had just said. Ryoga's eyes widened in shock. "You, you, you! I'm going to take her away from you, and destroy your only chance at happiness. Mark my words, Saotome!" He blazed in fury as he walked out, leaving Ranma seated at the table.

"Ah man, that didn't work at all," Ranma said to himself. "Damn."

Akane fumed. Not that this was a new thing. The focus of her anger was different this time though. How could Ryoga? Pretending to be her pet pig. And Ranma knew and didn't do anything to stop it. Her battle aura sprang into existence, forming a red sheath around her. The water of her bath started to steam.

"Both of them are perverts. Just like Happosai," Akane yelled to herself.

"Well, not like Happosai. Ranma fights him so often. And the fastest way to make him mad is to call him a pervert. Which he is! Sneaking into my room in the middle of the night," Akane said to herself. She closed her eyes, and focused on images of Ranma sneaking into her room. Her eyes flashed open in surprise. He had always had a tea kettle with him. When he was male. He only needed hot water to change back from his cursed form. His female form.

He had the water for Ryoga. Realization crashed into her with a shock. Ranma had been trying to protect her from a pervert. And she had treated him horribly for it.

Something else clicked in her, as she had dropped her battle aura when she had been shocked. The water was really, really hot!

"AIIIIE!" Akane yelled as she jumped out of the water. Akane was red all over. "Oops. How did that happen?" Akane looked over at the bath. It was steaming and bubbling.

"Hmpf. Well, I need to get some practice in any ways," Akane fumed to herself. She quickly changed into her gi, and left for the dojo out back.

Ranma walked back into the house, and looked over at his father. "Hey pops. Are you all right? Dr. Tofu said you weren't going to be able to practice for a while?"

Genma looked at his son in surprise. "A few weeks. Nothing to worry about."

"Oh. Well who am I going to practice with? I'm going to lose my edge, and Ryoga's gone off to learn a new trick to defeat me. Like normal," Ranma said glumly. He brightened suddenly. "How about you, Mr. Tendo? You're pretty good, and it would be really good to practice with somebody else!"

"I would love to Ranma, but I've hurt my back a bit while helping Genma here to the hospital. Just turned it the wrong way at the wrong time. The doctors thought I was quite lucky not to have hurt it worse. Said that it was because of my martial arts training that I'm not in bed for the next month. As it is, they said no hurting it for at least a week." Soun grinned widely, until he twisted his back just a little bit. "Ouch." Soun grimaced.

"So who am I supposed to practice with?" Ranma said plaintively.

"I'm sure you'll think of something, Ranma. You have lots of friends," Soun said as Ranma walked off.

"How come I fell like I've been suckered?" Ranma murmured to himself as he walked out of the living room.

"Well, Tendo? Do you think it will work?" Genma said.

"It just might, Saotome. With just the right prodding, he might try to train with Akane. You know she needs it, and I don't dare train with her myself. I was never as strong in the arts as you. I just wish it didn't have to hurt so much," Soun said with a bit of a whimper.

"It was the only way. Hurting your back with a pressure point was the only way to convince Ranma that you couldn't practice. But why didn't we suggest that to him to go and ask Akane?" Genma asked.

"Because at even the hint of pushing them together, they fight back. This will work out much better. Just put them in positions where they need to work with each other. Such a cunning plan," Soun said proudly.

In the shadows, a short, bald, old figure crept through the house. "So that's what they are up to? Ah, well, it won't work any better than the last couple of things they've tried," Happosai said to himself. Besides, it was time to go on his nightly raids. And nothing got in his ways of that!

Ranma found Akane doing some katas in the dojo. He watched from the shadows for just a moment. He would never admit it to Akane, but he did like to watch her practice. She really wasn't that graceful, but she put such fierceness into each punch. Her moves where just a little faster, but they seemed to lack a bit of concentration. Or was it sloppiness?

Ranma thought to himself, nah. She practices too much, if anything. But then, he never saw her practice with anybody. At least not recently. Just off by herself. Her blocks were really weak he noted. Ranma started, and then wondered why he hadn't noticed before? Another change from this morning?

"Hey Akane! Do you need a sparring partner?" Ranma called as he walked into the main room of the dojo.

"Huh? Only if you're going to actually attack! If you won't then get lost," Akane said through her gritted teeth. She continued her kata.

Ranma considered it carefully. He sighed, "You know I don't hit girls. I really need a sparring partner. Both of our dads can't right now, and I don't want to lose my edge."

"Only if you promise to hit me sometimes." She stopped and pointed towards the door. "Otherwise, get lost," Akane said, breathing a bit hard.

"Ok, I, uh, promise I'll put some attacks into it. Let me go get into my gi, ok?" Ranma said, and then dashed out of the dojo. He was back in a few minutes.

They faced each other, and then started their practice. Ranma started out much as normal, just dodging everything that was being thrown at him. Akane started to get upset, and yelled, "You promised Ranma!"

Ranma gulped just a little bit as he dodged her next attack. He threw out a couple of weak attacks. One got through, and smacked Akane in the stomach. He tried to force her to fix a bit of her problems with her blocks. "That's better, right?" Ranma said as he blocked and dodged her retaliation.

"Only if you were going to hit air. I barely felt that, Ranma. I'm not a china doll, you know." Akane was still a bit upset. I might be a girl, but I'm still a martial artist. She tried an open hand attack to his shoulder, which Ranma promptly grabbed tightly. With a quick pivot, he threw her up against one of the walls. He almost didn't pull it out of habit of fighting with his father, and put more force into it than he intended.

Akane was suddenly flying though the air, and impacted hard. She crumpled, and lay up against the wall, gasping for air. She was desperately clutching the hand that Ranma had grabbed. Ranma ran over and tried to check her out. "Akane, are you all right? I tried not to throw you too hard."

"J-just knocked the wind out of me. I'll be fine." After a few moments, she had managed to get her breath back.

"I'm really sorry..." Ranma started to apologize.

"No, that's all right. If I never get hurt, I won't get tougher. And I want to be able to defend myself. I'm a martial artist too, you know," Akane said as she stood up. "You can't be around to protect me all the time Ranma." She turned to face Ranma, who had a dumb founded look on his face.

"But I'd have to hurt you to... to make you tougher," Ranma said lamely, staring widely at Akane.

"That's right, Ranma." Akane stopped, and really looked at Ranma for a second. He seemed pretty shocked for just a tumble up against the wall. "Look Ranma, I know you don't like to hit girls..." Akane trailed off for just a second. But Ranma would, if he had to, she thought to herself. But he never hit her. Ever. Even when she made him mad. He'd just start to yell back at her until she hit him. Even when she had the Battle Dogi on and she was winning, he wasn't really trying to hit her, just the release button.

Ranma felt Akane scrutinizing him. He started to sweat. "Ranma, why won't you hit me?" Akane asked him quietly.

"You know why, I don't hit girls. A guy isn't supposed to," Ranma replied glibly, falling back into his macho demeanor. He puffed out his chest for effect.

"Ranma, I've seen you hit girls before. So that isn't it," Akane said as she walked forward close to him, staring into his eyes with a very determined look.

Ranma was sweating profusely. "I, uh, I, er, don't, um..." He mumbled incoherently. He was always at a loss for words when Akane got close to him. He started to take a step back. Akane took a step forward, matching him.

This was quite uncomfortable, Ranma thought. He started to sweat.

"You don't want to hit me! Or... you don't want me to get hurt!" Akane yelled triumphantly. Then she got a shocked look on her face. "But you haven't wanted to hit me since the first day we met."

"Uh, yeah," Ranma said dumbly. Where were the smart remarks? The attacks to keep her away from his uncomfortable feelings. A memory of Akane asking him, 'Hi, I'm Akane. Do you want to be friends?' flashed through his mind.

They stared at each other for minutes. "Ranma, I apologize. You aren't a pervert. I can see that you were trying to protect me from Ryoga," Akane said ever so softly. A hint of anger escaped across her face at the mention of Ryoga.

"I, uh, promised that I wouldn't tell about his curse, on my honor. Ryoga's not really that bad. You were just the first girl to show him any kindness," Ranma said. "He's very lonely, and his curse is really tough."

"Are you saying I should forgive him?" Akane said much louder.

"No! But try to see it from his side, ok?" Ranma said carefully.

"Ranma, I really meant it when I said I want to be able to defend myself," Akane said sternly. She thought for a moment. "How can I defend myself, if you won't train me?"

"Well, Mr. Tendo trains you right?" Ranma asked. Akane shook her head as she tried to hide her embarrassment from Ranma. "Why not?"

Akane flushed. "I, uh, hit him too hard about the time you got here. I think he's been a bit afraid to train me since then." She ducked her head to the side. It was also the same time that Kasumi had asked her to not hit anyone in anger again. A promise that she had broken more times than she cared to count.

Ranma was coming to a hard decision. Akane was right, he couldn't defend her all the time. So she really needed to train as hard as possible. But it would hurt her a lot. "I'll train you as best as I can, all right? It's gonna hurt though. At least until you toughen up a lot."

Akane's eyes started to twinkle. "Thank you, Ranma. You don't know how much this means to me."

"All right then! Let's get back to practice. Ready!" Ranma cried out getting to a ready position.

"Yes! Let's go!" Akane backed up, and raised her hands to a quick ready position. She winced as her injured hand protested.

Ranma noticed and asked, "Are you all right?"

"Yeah, I just hurt my hand," Akane said through tight lips.

"Well, let's check it out. We've got a first aid kit right here. You really need to be more careful when you're cooking though. It's going to be hard training you without your hands for a couple of days," Ranma said, grabbing her by her arm and taking her over to the first aid kit. Akane struggled for just a moment, a look of terror on her face for just a second.

"It's all right. We need to practice," Akane said quickly.

"We'll practice right after we change you bandages," Ranma said, oblivious to Akane's distress. He started to unwrap her hand, and check her burns. He stopped, and turned her hand over. "These aren't cooking burns." He stopped and looked back at Akane.

Akane had an embarrassed look on her face. "Sure they are," she denied loudly.

"Akane, I've had oil burns. They don't cover both sides of your hands, and they don't look like they are made by a campfire," Ranma said seriously. He started to dab some ointment on the broken blisters.

Now it was Akane's turn to be at a loss for words. "A campfire? How silly. Why would I burn my hands in a campfire?" Akane chittered nervously.

"You wouldn't happen to be trying to learn the 'Chestnut roasting on a open fire' technique would you? That's pretty dangerous to do by yourself," Ranma said sternly.

Akane sagged. "But no one teaches me the special techniques. I'm not special enough, I guess," She said in a small voice. She looked so forlorn and sad.

Ranma looked at her closely. "How about this, once we get you toughened up, I'll teach you how to do that?"

Akane simpered again, and that look of joy in her face couldn't be beat. "Thanks, Ranma. I'll try really hard," Ranma had finished rewrapping her hands. They both took their positions.

Akane charged, and was promptly thrown into one of the solid walls. This continued for about a half an hour. Ranma almost quit several times, but each time Akane's fierce expression stopped him. The only thing he could think was that this was a lot harder than he thought it would be.

"Dinners almost ready you too! Kasumi sent me to get you guys cleaned up and ready," Nabiki said from the door. She looked quite upset for some reason.

"Akane, go take a quick bath. Ask pops for some special herbs to put in the bath to help toughen you up," Ranma said as he trotted over to Nabiki. Akane trotted carefully past them both smiling as she limped a little bit.

Nabiki glared daggers at Ranma. "I want to talk to you Ranma. Now."

Ranma stopped in mid step. "Sure. Is it about Kuno?"

"Partially," Nabiki said frostily.

"Did it work? Has he finally figured it out, or am I out of luck?" Ranma asked eagerly.

"Sadly enough, I finally broke through his delusion. So you don't have to worry about him hitting on you in girl form," Nabiki said with a hint of anger. "I want to talk to you about Akane. You hurt her today. You've never hit her before. If you ever hurt her again, I'll make you life a living hell. Do I make myself perfectly clear, Mr. Saotome." Nabiki was glaring openly at Ranma.

"She... this might sound weird, but she asked me to train her hard. She wants to be able to defend herself when I'm not around. No one else is willing to train her, Nabiki," Ranma said hesitantly. "She wants to be the best martial artist she can be."

Nabiki just blinked for a moment. "Oh. That's all right then." She looked a bit perplexed.

Ranma grinned as he replied. "I'm sure that Akane appreciates it too." He took off at a run to clean up.

Nabiki just blinked again. How had she lost that argument? To Ranma again? This was turning out to be an odd day, to say the least. And when had he started to be nice to Akane?

Dinner was an ordinary affair. Genma and Ranma were scarfing food at their breakneck pace. Kasumi smiled at everyone devouring her feast.

"Ranma, couldn't you eat like a normal person?" Akane asked with her usual rancor.

"Nope, I need to eat this much just to keep going. That reminds me! Akane, you need to eat more. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire!" Ranma yelled as he attacked the food on the table. Piles of food appeared in front of Akane.

"I'm trying to lose weight you dummy! How am I going to lose weight eating all of this food?" Akane yelled.

"That's easy Akane. You're going to exercise more," Ranma said as he continued to scarf food. He just happened to forget to mention that Akane was going to be gaining a bit more muscle weight.

"What do you mean exercise more?" Akane asked, a small look of horror on her face.

"Well, you go jogging every morning, right? Well now your going to run twice as far every morning. And then we are going to practice in the dojo until we've got to go to school," Ranma said as he continued to eat, defending his and Akane's plate from his father. "After school we're going to work on speed and toughening you up. So you're going to need the extra energy."

"Oh, my!" Was all anybody could say, verbalized by Kasumi. Everybody was staring at Ranma as if he'd grown two heads.

"And you're going to have to defend your own plate after a while," Ranma continued. "Will you stop that you old man. She needs that food."

"But I need food to heal, son." Genma pontificated wisely as he continued to attack Ranma and Akane's plates.

That next morning, Ranma and Akane left for school right on time. Ranma looked perfectly normal, Akane looked tired and beat. They had kept to the grueling practice that Ranma had laid out last night. Like Ranma had said at dinner last night, they ran twice as far as she used to jog, and then sparred for over an hour in the morning.

And Ranma wasn't done yet. As they started to walk towards school, Ranma pointed towards the fence. Akane just looked at Ranma and whimpered a bit.

"Come on, it's not that bad. It's good balance practice," Ranma said. "You were the one to say that you wanted to be able to defend yourself. I'm going to have to push yourself till you almost break." He tried to hide his worry. This was a lot tougher to push her than he thought it was going to be. Was training always going to be like this?

"Ok. Here goes." Akane jumped to the top of the fence, and started to make good progress towards school. She almost fell a couple of times, but the look of concentration was absolute. The day was bright and sunny, and looked to be quite pretty.

As they neared the gates to the school and hopped down off the fence, they saw a familiar figure in front of them Tatewaki Kuno, the blue thunder, and all around pain in the tush. He had seen better days. His hair was rumpled, and his eyes were shadowed.

"Halt, Saotome. I would have words with thee," Kuno said in his best voice.

"What is it, Kuno?" Ranma asked politely. Hope blossomed in Ranma. Pessimism waited around the corner with a baseball bat.

"I must test the information that the lady Nabiki told me yesterday. I canst not rest until I do so," Kuno said gravely. He held a bucket of water.

Ranma got a nervous look on his face. "Right now?" He cackled a bit nervously, looking over the grounds. There were a lot of students around.

"Yes, now!" Kuno yelled as he tossed the bucket at Ranma.

Ranma knew he could duck it. It wasn't going that fast really. But he really did want to get Kuno off of his back. So he steeled himself, and stood there and let it hit him. Fists at her suddenly female hips, Ranma-chan just stood there blinking the water out of her eyes in between strands of red hair.

"Satisfied Kuno?" Ranma said.

"Not quite, Saotome. I must test the hot water part of the curse first," Kuno said gravelly, fighting an inner struggle with his delusions. Sweat appeared on his forehead. Carefully he reached behind the tree for the other bucket. He threw it at Ranma-chan, instantly changing her into a him.

"I am ruined. How could I be so blind? Nay, a blind man could see better than I. Nay a blind and mute man could understand better. It was obvious, but I didn't want to see." Kuno started to blubber, falling to his knees.

"Kuno? Are you all right?" No response was received to Ranma's question. "Kuno, it's not the end of the world. Come on man snap out of it." Seeing his words have no effect, Ranma reached over and hauled him to his feet. Seeing him slip further into his panic, Ranma did the only thing that he knew could drag him out. Ranma lightly punched him. He used a punch, because it wouldn't be manly for either of them if he slapped him in public.

"That hurt, you know," Kuno said quietly. An anger was starting to seep into him.

"Sorry Kuno, that's the only way I know how to snap you out of those moods," Ranma said blandly.

"Ranma, we're going to be late. Come on and hurry up," Akane said loudly.

Kuno's eyes unfocused. "At least my true love is still here. Akane, white swan and mighty tigress, I would date with thee." He started to slip into another of his fantasies.

"Oh, come on Kuno. Open your eyes. Akane doesn't want to date with you. Anyone can see it," Ranma yelled at Kuno. "You're as bad as you ever were. No wonder everyone makes fun of you. It's right in front of you and you can't even see it."

That stopped Kuno for just a moment. Stopped him long enough to see the anger and disgust in Akane's eyes as she started to walk away. It worked, in one way. But Kuno noticed that she was limping slightly, and sent his fragile ego rushing down a different path. "She is hurt. You have hurt her Saotome. You have punished her for showing any affection to me, and now she is afraid to show her love to me. That is unforgivable," Kuno screamed as he pulled his bokken out. All of Kuno's worries disappeared, and he showed his full wrath on Ranma.

"What? She's training. She's just a bit sore," Ranma said quickly, not sure how this had happened. He put himself in a defensive posture.

"So you do not deny it was you! I truly did not know even you could stoop to hit a girl, much less you're own fiancée. I will rescue Akane from you, vile fiend!" Kuno roared leaping to the attack. The entire yard blinked, looking at Akane, and then to Kuno. It was pretty obvious that she was in some pain. Could Kuno actually be right? A murmur ran through the crowd.

Ranma dodged quite easily. Kuno was good, but Ranma knew his tricks, knew the counters. He was very upset though. And getting madder by the moment. Finding an opening, he bounded back away from Kuno, who was gasping a bit for breath.

Landing lightly, he stared down Kuno. "Kuno. I will never strike Akane in anger. Ever." Ranma's rage knew no bounds. The light seemed to dim in the area, except around Ranma. His battle aura blazed like a sun, an almost blinding red light.

Kuno stopped his advance, and truly saw his foe for just one second. Kuno was finally shown fear. He didn't think that he had ever seen Ranma get this angry with him before. He took a step back. Self-preservation pushed madness to the side for once.

The ground started to crack under Ranma's feet, spreading out to a circle ten feet away from Ranma. Some of the smaller rocks started to float straight up. Ranma cupped his hands, starting to prepare his chi blast.

"Ranma, stop! Kuno knows. He can see that you haven't hurt me," Akane yelled suddenly, in between Kuno and Ranma. A gasp went out among the crowd.

It was a tense moment, and then Ranma relaxed. He staggered after releasing his aura. He took a deep breath. "We had better get to class Akane," Ranma said quietly, giving a long glare at Kuno.

Brown eyes relaxed from where they had watched the unfolding scene from the second floor. Nabiki breathed a sigh of relief. She hadn't ever seen Ranma that angry with one of his normal sparring partners. Not even Ryoga at his worst. "That was... interesting, don't you think so girls?" she said to her cohorts.

"Interesting? How about terrifying? Ranma looked like he was about to kill Kuno," said the girl next to Nabiki.

"Your right. That was very odd," Nabiki said, more to herself as she headed to class.

"Ranma honey! How are you doing?" Ukyo yelled from across the field as she ran over to sit next to Ranma and Akane. She was wearing her normal clothes, which consisted of a boys uniform, and her bandoleer of throwing spatulas. To finish off her outfit, she had a huge spatula slung over her shoulder. "I've got some food for you."

Ranma looked up in surprise from his lunch. "Oh, hi Ukyo. I'm kind of upset. Nothing to worry about." To show he was alright, he dug in with gusto. Akane glowered at his side, starring daggers at Ukyo.

"Hello, Ukyo. What's up?" Akane asked as nicely as possible.

"I'm almost ready to go home for a while and visit my father. I'm hoping to solve some problems, and get things back on track," Ukyo said with a smile. And of course the number one thing on Ukyo's mind to get back on track was winning Ranma. She didn't understand why she hadn't yet, but she would. After all, she was the cute fiancée! She was far better than any of the others, and Ranma liked her. She ignored the tiny little voice that piped up, 'but he doesn't love you!'

"That pretty neat Ukyo. So when do you leave?" Ranma asked

"This evening. I'm catching the train. I'll be gone for a week or so. Are you gonna miss me honey?" Ukyo asked in her sweetest voice.

Ranma got a nervous expression. "Uh, sure. You're a good friend. Why wouldn't I miss you?" Ranma started to sweat bullets.

Akane started to get upset until Ranma said 'friend'. Then she tried to calm down. Ranma wasn't really leading Ukyo on. Ukyo just wouldn't give up, even though her and Ranma's engagement was the official one. Stupid girl. Akane blinked a couple of times. Why hadn't she pummeled Ranma? She always hit him first.

"Thanks, Ranma. I'll see you later, ok?" Ukyo said as she trotted off.

"Akane, we gotta get to class. We're gonna be late," Ranma said as he finished up his food. Akane nodded, and finished up too. They both ran to their class.

Akane and Ranma were walking home after class, with their new reversed positions. Akane was up on the fence, Ranma walking beside her. They were pretty quiet. They were both content to just be there for a moment. Of course it wasn't to last. Quiet moments are conspired against in Nerima.

With a ring of a bell, and a loud oomph, Shampoo's bicycle landed on her target. The wrong one, but she was so used to aiming for the one on the fence. "Nia ho, Ranma!" Shampoo said loudly. Akane gurgled just a bit as her face had an imprint of a tire on it. Amazingly enough, Shampoo balanced on top of Akane who was still on top of the fence. "What violent girl doing trying to pretend to be Ranma?"

"Akane!" Ranma yelled loudly, leap kicking the bicycle off of Akane. Shampoo was stunned and didn't even jump off of her bike. She and her bike landed in the yard with a crash.

"Ranma? Why violent pervert girl on fence?" Shampoo asked, a little dizzily looking up at.

"Akane? Come on Akane, wake up!" Ranma said urgently.

"What hit me?" Akane said dazedly. Her eyes were crossed.

"Shampoo. I think she was aiming to land on me. Are you going to be all right?" Ranma asked, concern evident on his face.

"I'm fine. How come there are two of you? Your curse didn't change, did it?" Akane asked, as her eyes started to uncross.

"Ranma no ignore Shampoo! Shampoo have ramen for Ranma." Shampoo was starting to get steamed. And after all the effort she had put into putting the new love potion in it for Ranma. And he was ignoring her.

"Sorry, Shampoo, gotta run," Ranma said as he picked up Akane. With a bound, he started to leap from roof to roof, running toward Dr. Tofu's office.

Shampoo just sat there stunned. This was not normal. Maybe she should follow, and find out why? A small wicked gleam appeared, and she bounded on her way after them.

A few moments later, they ended up back at Dr. Tofu's office.

After a few minutes of calming a slightly panicked Ranma, and dealing with Akane's small concussion, Dr. Tofu finally spoke asked, "What happened?"

"Ah, Shampoo just landed on her. I think she was aiming to land on me, as normal, but got Akane instead. Probably, 'cause she was on the fence. Happens to me all the time," Ranma replied.

"Ouch. She really does do it all the time," Akane said. "Sorry Ranma. I never knew how much that hurt. No wonder you can't stop her from latching on to you afterwards." Could that be why she does it?

"Well, you get used to it. It only knocks me silly for a few seconds now," Ranma said blandly. Hmm, there was an actual bit of sympathy in her comment. That was weird. "Hey, Doc, can I borrow some books on pressure points in martial arts? I've always wanted to learn more of them, but Pop don't know them, and don't trust Cologne."

"Sure Ranma, but you have to promise to learn some of the ones for healing too," Dr. Tofu said. Ranma probably wouldn't want to be a healer or even a chiropractor, but it wouldn't hurt him to know how to fix some wounds. After all, he wasn't the only one who got hurt at the Tendo house. He rifled through his books for some that he thought Ranma would be able to understand.

"No prob, Doc. See you later!" Ranma ran out, with Akane yelling at him to wait up.

Shampoo made a small sniffing sound of contempt, and continued to follow her husband back to his home. It wasn't really that hard to follow Ranma. And not trusting grandmother. Really! Deciding to play it on the safe side, she doused herself with cold water to be able to sneak around better.

Shampoo's vigilance didn't pay off. Akane and Ranma ran up and started to do home work right when they got home. After that they both got involved in a fight with Happosai. He had found a new item that prevented him from being punted into the air. After they took away his slippers of stickiness and punted him any ways, they got into an argument dealing with who was going to cook supper.

"Why can't I?" Akane yelled at Ranma. "Are you insinuating something about my cooking, Ranma?" Steam was starting to rise from Akane's ears.

"No. I'm saying it's usually lethal. And I don't wanna die," Ranma said blithely, unaware of his impending doom. "Your curry isn't too bad, but you can barely boil water. Urgk," Ranma flew through the ceiling from Akane's single massive blow.

"Serves you right for insulting me before even trying it. Hmpf," Akane said as she stomped back to the kitchen. They didn't have to be so mean. She was really trying. It wasn't her fault that her cooking was less than stellar.

Shampoo decided that at that time, it really was a waste of effort to stick around. She didn't see which direction he flew off in. Maybe Cologne would know why Ranma was acting strange around her. With that, the cute kitten took off for the Cat Café.

Nabiki waited patiently for Kuno to arrive. It was their typical meeting place. Just a small Italian restaurant that Nabiki liked. It never hurt that she could get Kuno to pay for a meal and treats. He was so easy to manipulate. Besides, it was Akane's turn to cook tonight, and 'business' was a very good excuse to get out of the house and avoid her cooking. Nabiki just couldn't believe her sister's stubbornness when it came to not giving up cooking. She hadn't really cared about it before, and now she tried all the time.

Tatewaki Kuno shuffled along to his rendezvous. He hadn't slept a wink last night. Images of Ranma changing into a man while Kuno was engaged in amorous pursuits kept him awake. Such nightmares, such horrors. How could he have pursued a relationship with a MAN? He wanted to be sick. And now he finally knew that his hopes for Akane were very slim. She might not like Ranma, but she despised him.

The great Tatewaki Kuno, bereft of both of his loves. The great fool Tatewaki Kuno. Everyone knew of Saotome's curse. He had asked members of the Kendo club why they hadn't told him. One of the more brave fellows had actually said it was common knowledge since about a month after Ranma had shown up.

Kuno winced at the memory that brought up. He was the undefeated Kendo champion of Furinkan High. Until today. He had been so upset at the remark that he'd attacked without provocation and he had lost to his second. He was sure that was something he wouldn't live down for a while. He stopped and looked in the window, taking in his unkempt appearance, his damaged clothes. He wasn't even sure why he was here. Nabiki really didn't have anything for him, but he had said he was going to show up, and he was going to.

And with that, he stepped into the small restaurant. Nabiki was seated already, sipping a cup of tea. "Hello, Nabiki," Kuno said, taking his normal seat. Nabiki ordered some pasta and drinks. Nabiki then started to talk about her latest acquisitions, and what she was selling them for.

"Earth to Kuno. Come in Kuno baby," Nabiki said a bit louder. She was looking at him curiously. She was snapping her fingers in front of his face.

"Hmm? Sorry. I'm not really interested in purchasing pictures right now. Do you have any useful information?" Kuno slumped further into his seat. Nabiki prattled on about some new gossip, and the fact that she would be more than willing to cover up the incident at the Kendo club this afternoon. For the right price. Kuno toyed with that notion for a moment, and then discarded it. Something was nagging him. Something Ranma had told him that morning.

Not seeing what was right in front of him. That was it.

Something was in front of him again, and he was missing it. Nabiki's toe brushed past Kuno's leg again. Kuno jerked upright slightly. Nabiki was playing footsy with him.

This was unprecedented, wasn't it?

Nabiki continued to eat her meal. She was watching Kuno closely.

"Are you all right, Kuno baby?" Nabiki asked again. She was starting to get worried. Not that she'd ever admit it to anyone, but Kuno was fairly important to her. He kept her family fed, and clothed. Well, at least kept Nabiki fed and clothed, she grinned to herself.

"I am... fine, Nabiki Tendo," Kuno said. Kuno's poor fragmented mind was whirling. He was remembering past meetings with Nabiki. She always things like that with him. As a matter of fact, these meetings were a lot closer to 'dates' than anything he had ever been on. How could he have missed such blatant signals?

"Good. I wouldn't want you passing out before paying for this," Nabiki said, giving her best predatory smile. She finished up her spaghetti.

"Of course," Kuno replied automatically. Dragging his shattered self esteem back together, he lurched into action with a hasty plan. "I have need of some advice, Nabiki. I have a new interest, but I'm not sure what to get her. Your knowledge and insight would be useful. Perhaps an hourly wage, while you help me shop for a few gifts."

Nabiki just stared at him in surprise. "A new interest? Anybody I know?" Nabiki stuttered slightly.

"Perhaps, but I wish it to be a surprise. But a feminine insight would be useful," Kuno said lightly.

"Uh, how about a thousand yen an hour?" Nabiki was flustered. Kuno had managed to surprise her. Well, at least he seemed to be doing better.

"Then let us be off," Kuno said grandly, stopping to pay for meal. Nabiki just followed him with a slightly dazed expression.

Ranma staggered back into the Tendo home. Nobody was home as far as he could see. He walked over to the dinner table, and sat down.

Ranma sat for a moment, waiting with dread for the inevitable to happen. A moment later, Kasumi and Akane came out from the kitchen, bearing bowls of food. Akane sat next to Ranma, waiting expectantly. Ranma looked around hopefully. "Where's pop and Mr. Tendo?" Ranma asked.

Akane scowled, and then replied, "Dad asked Mr. Saotome to help him at the council meeting. And before you ask, Nabiki is off at one of her meetings." Akane continued in a much lower voice. "They could at least have tried it first." Ranma almost didn't hear her say that.

Akane started serving Ranma, filling his plate with large servings. Ranma just stared at it for a moment. He looked up in panic. He didn't recognize anything in front of him.

"Not one word, Ranma. Not ONE word," Akane all but yelled at Ranma.

With trepidation, Ranma took a careful bite. Akane glared at him some more, and Ranma almost felt compelled to take a second bite. Everything started to waver, and then shake. Ranma collapsed, hitting his head on the edge of the table.

Akane just sat there for a moment. She didn't look at her fiancé. She just stood up, and slowly walked to the stairs. "When you're finished being melodramatic Ranma, we can go practice," Akane said in an icy tone. She took Ranma's gurgle for agreement.

Kasumi sighed as soon as Akane was out of hearing. "Oh, Ranma." She reached over and turned him over. She carefully dabbed the small cut, and then dragged him up to the bathroom. He was going to need to use it when he awoke. She started to administer some first aid to awaken him. Kasumi heard Akane walk past the door, heading for the dojo.

Kuno was sure of his plan now. He was loaded down with chocolates and flowers and other nice things. He had managed to convince Nabiki to let him walk her home before he went on his way back to the Kuno Mansion.

Nabiki was frustrated. Kuno wasn't telling her who his new girl friend was, and none of her girls knew anything either. They were almost to the gates of the Tendo dojo.

"May I come in for just a moment? I promise to be on my best behavior," Kuno asked politely. This had been great fun, pulling the wool over the great Nabiki's eyes. He was almost done with his trick. Or was it a treat?

"Um, sure. Uh, oh." Nabiki winced as she heard the sound of her sister breaking bricks in the back. She was definitely in a bad mood. Dinner must have been an unmitigated disaster. The sounds of breaking bricks stopped.

They wandered in, and Kuno carefully put his packages down. Nabiki turned around, smiling softly. Now to get paid.

"So do you think I got the right type of gifts, Nabiki Tendo?" Kuno asked with a straight face.

"You'll nock her socks off, Kuno baby," Nabiki smiled. She had made sure of that, by buying only the most expensive items. Kasumi walked in from the kitchen, and watched the proceedings.

"I would hope so. After all, how many girls get to pick their own presents?" Kuno said with a grin.

Nabiki stared at Kuno for a second. She let the words sink in.

Kuno had tricked her.

Actually, Kuno had just finished a date with her. Kuno had tricked her thoroughly. Nabiki, undisputed trickster and businessperson of Furinkan High. She did the only thing that sounded reasonable at the time. She fainted.

"Oh dear!" exclaimed Kasumi. Nabiki almost never fainted.

Ranma walked into the dojo, and watched Akane break some bricks. He just shook his head for a moment. It seemed to be a waste of time to him. "Hey, are you ready to spar?" Ranma asked loudly.

"Sure!" Akane said with a smile that sharks could envy. Just what she needed to work off her frustration. Pounding on Ranma always made her feel better.

Ten minutes later she hadn't even got one hit on Ranma. It was like he could read every single punch and kick. She was just getting more and more upset. Ranma was concerned. Akane was getting worse by the minute. She had been improving a lot even in just the last day. All of his lessons were gone, as if they had never existed.

With a final yell, Akane used the same punch that had rocketed Happosai and Ranma into the air before dinner. She missed horribly, but the wind pressure alone blew a small hole in the ceiling. Akane was panting horribly, pupils dilated with anger. All she could see was the condescending figure in front of her.

Ranma was surprised by the pure power of the blow, even though it missed him by a mile. "Stop!" Ranma said loudly. He was going to get to the bottom of this now.

Akane heard him just barely, but it didn't register. She lunged in a strong punch, horribly over extending herself. Ranma slipped past the blow, and swung a powerful slap to her jaw, carefully calculated to stun her without knocking her out. He had been in enough fights with people who fell into berserk rages to know that it was the only way to stop her.

"I said STOP!" Ranma yelled loudly. Akane just stared for a second, holding her jaw in pain. "When your sensei says stop, you stop."

Akane nodded mutely. Ranma had never really hit her before, not even in their practice. That had hurt.

"What happened? You forgot everything I've taught you," Ranma asked with concern.

"I don't know. I was doing everything you told me to," Akane said testily.

Ranma closed his eyes for a moment. This was going to be tough. "Akane, until you calm down, I'm not going to teach you any more advanced moves. It's pointless, and I would just be wasting my time," Ranma said with chilling finality.

"Ranma, you said you would teach me. You promised!" Akane yelled, anger starting to cloud her vision again.

"And I will. Once you calm down. Not before." Ranma turned and walked away. Akane screamed in rage and charged Ranma's back. She never saw him disappear. One moment, he was there, the next, gone. A trick from Genma's forbidden techniques, the quiet thief.

"I'm really sorry Akane. You really do need to calm down," Ranma said softly from the shadows up above. Now he had to figure out how to get her to control her anger. Maybe something would occur to him later.

She stood there for a moment, breathing hard and then went back to breaking bricks. Her frustration built up, until with a loud yell, she shattered the last of the bricks and the floor beneath her, leaving a wide gaping hole. She almost fell into the hole below. She started to sniffle, and then really started to cry.

She tried. She really did. Why did they all give up on her?

Ranma had never seen Akane like this before. But then again, he was usually flying by 'Akane Express' already. He hated to see Akane cry. He just wasn't sure what to do. He jumped lightly down, and then just stood there for a moment. Finally he decided to wait her out. He carefully kneeled down next to her, and waited for her to notice him.

Akane finished crying about ten minutes later. With a small sniff of disdain, she clenched her fists and stood up. She almost stepped on Ranma who was still sitting there. "Ranma?" Akane said with a quaver.

Ranma stared at her for a second. "Are you better?" Ranma asked quietly.

"I'm fine. You just surprised me. I thought you quit and left," Akane said with a bit of her earlier anger.

"Uh uh. I never quit! I just wanted to let you cool off a little bit," Ranma said as he shook his head. "Are you ready for your lessons?"

Akane stared in surprise. Ranma wasn't giving up on her. The ugly anger disappeared in a flash with a wide, silly smile that appeared on Akane's face. "Sure!

Ranma's heart melted. That smile always got him.

This was better, Ranma thought. She was back up to where they had been this morning, and improving again. The rest of the sparring went without incident. Then came the toughening conditioning. By the time that was over, Akane was again hurting all over. But she was still smiling. Ranma sent her off to take her bath with the special herbs that he had learned from his father.

Ranma wandered back into the main room of the house, and sat down for a few moments. His eyes traveled over the room, finally stopping on a huge pile of gifts. Ranma rolled his eyes. "Great. Kuno strikes again. Doesn't he ever give up?" Ranma muttered to himself.

Kasumi walked in and smiled brightly. "Hello, Ranma. Could you help me find someplace to put Nabiki's presents?"

Ranma's brain slipped a gear, and then threw out his transmission for good measure. "Nabiki?" Ranma said.

"That nice Tatewaki boy went out on a date with Nabiki tonight, and left all of these presents. I've never seen Nabiki swoon," Kasumi giggled. It was so good to see her other sister in love.

"Nabiki?" Ranma said again. He just couldn't see it. One of the foundations of his life just disappeared. Nabiki was in love? With Kuno? Miss Ice Queen?

"Ranma, I've got some leftovers in the fridge once we're done." Kasumi was still giggling a little. Kasumi finally noticed that Ranma hadn't even blinked at the word 'leftovers'. "Ranma?"

"Nabiki?" Ranma said yet again.

"Oh my! He's in shock," Kasumi said to herself. I didn't think he would take it like that, Kasumi thought to herself. Kasumi snapped her fingers. She trotted up to her room, and grabbed one of her stuffed toys. She trotted back, and then shoved the plush kitten in Ranma's face. Results were immediate.

"C - c - c - c - c - c - CAT!" Ranma howled. He jumped back twenty feet. Not even the walls of the Tendo's house stopped him. Ranma jumped over the walls and wouldn't quit running for five minutes.

Kasumi just smiled to her stuffed toy. "Isn't he just so silly sometimes, Whiskers?"

Akane came crashing down the stairs in her pajamas. "Kasumi! What happened?"

"Oh, Ranma went into shock when I said Nabiki was in love with Tatewaki Kuno. I had to snap him out of it," Kasumi said with a smile.

"Nabiki?" Akane said in an almost identical voice as Ranma. Her eyes were wide with shock herself.

"Oh my!" Kasumi said eloquently. Now how to snap Akane out of her shock?

Ryoga was unhappy. Not that this was a new thing. But now he didn't even have the tender embrace of his true love. Even if she only loved him because of his curse. His curse that was Ranma's fault. Everything bad that had happened to Ryoga could be traced back to him. The reader might note that Ryoga had some of his problems before Ranma even met him. But only when Ryoga wasn't around to hear this. Ryoga was also known to hold a grudge. He was also ignoring another girl, who didn't care about his curse.

He had wandered for hours, trying to lose himself. He needed to prove to Akane that Ranma was an honorless dog that needed to be put down.

But to do that, he needed to be able to defeat Ranma, once and for all. He needed a new technique, a new martial art move. One that Ranma wouldn't have a chance to counter.

Too bad he didn't have a single idea. So he walked, and got more depressed.

"Ranma, this is all your fault! You destroyed Akane's love for me!" Ryoga yelled into the air. His depression was becoming a visible aura around him. He let it build, and then released it upwards in a ball of glowing light. What went up, came back down. Windows cracked, and the pavement in the small ally shattered. Ryoga just stood there.

"Not worry, Grandmother. Just pig boy. We call Acme Windows in morning," Shampoo said from the back door of the Cat Café. She was wearing a bathrobe and carrying a sword. Ryoga didn't even bother to notice. He was almost beyond caring.

"Ryoga? What are you doing here?" The gravelly voice of Cologne closely followed by the small, wizened form of the amazon matriarch. She bounded outside on her staff, dressed in her usual robes. When she didn't get a response, she hit him on the forehead with quite a bit of force.

"Why'd you do that, you mummy?" Ryoga yelled, holding his head. Ryoga finally took in his surroundings.

"Again I ask, what are you doing here? And who are you calling a mummy?" Cologne asked. And then smacked him on the head for good measure.

"Ranma revealed my curse to Akane," Ryoga growled, getting upset again. He did have the sense not to call Cologne any more names.

"I'm surprised she figured it out, even when told," Cologne muttered darkly. "Shampoo, kick Mousse out for the evening. We have plans that need to be made. This is a disaster."

"Why this disaster?" Shampoo asked uneasily. She wanted Cologne to spell out what she feared. She already had a good idea.

"Shampoo, without Ryoga getting in between Ranma and Akane, they might start to talk. To get to know each other. To fall in love. This is a bad thing," Cologne said as if explaining things to a child. She had really hoped that Ryoga would be able to get Akane to fall in love with him. That would have been one less obstacle. Ukyo would have been easy to deal with then.

"Aieee! Kitchen destroyer and Ranma fall in love? Disaster!" Shampoo yelled as she ran, hunting for Mousse. She found him in the front area, sweeping up after evening crowd. "Mousse! You go out for evening. Now!" Shampoo said loudly. Her fists were on her hips.

"Never shall I be parted with you, my love. I shall always be with you." Mousse started to go into his full-blown devotion mode. He rushed Shampoo, preparing to glomp onto her for all he was worth. Shampoo didn't feel like dealing with it right now, and punted him into the air, through the front door.

"Stupid Mousse. Shampoo love Ranma, not silly duck boy!" Shampoo yelled into the darkening sky.

"Come, child. It is time to prepare anew to get your husband to come with us back to China," Cologne said.

Ryoga stood behind her, smiling broadly. With Cologne training him again, Ranma wouldn't know what hit him. Laughter wafted out of the Cat Café.

Ranma ran, and then ran some more. After about five minutes, he stopped to look over his shoulder to see if the hoard of cats was behind him. There had to be, he could hear them. And he could smell the fish sausages, and feel the scratches and biting. But he had to know how close they were.

But there was nothing there. Not even a single kitten. He slumped up against a wall, trying to remember what had caused his mad dash. Ranma started to chuckle, with a strained, taut sound to it. Just a toy. Kasumi had managed to scare him with a toy. How pathetic. The great Ranma Saotome, run off by a small, cute, toy.

"Ranma, I have come to free my love from her unwanted marriage." A pleasant sounding voice said from up above. Mousse sat at the top of the ally, wearing his typical white robes. "Prepare to die!" With that, he thrust out his arms, releasing a large amount of chains with blades at the end of each one.

Ranma of course wasn't there. He had already ducked and weaved his way to safety. "Hey Mousse! What did I do this time?" Ranma asked casually.

"Because of you, I've been kicked out of the Cat Café tonight. I can not be near my beloved!" Mousse yelled, leaping to the attack. They traded a furious amount of blows, but as normal, Mousse came off for the worse.

He leaped back up to the roof, expecting Ranma to follow. Ranma obliged, yelling at his supposedly fleeing opponent, "What's wrong Mousse? I thought you wanted to fight? Whoops!" Ranma had fallen into an impromptu trap of Mousse's. Some construction workers had been re-tarring the roof that he had leaped from. Ranma, in his infinite wisdom, had landed in a fairly large tub of hot tar.

"Ow! HOT!" Ranma yelled as he hopped out of the tub of tar.

Mousse chuckled in an evil, deep voice. "You have fallen into my trap! Feather Blizzard Attack! Bwahahahaha!" From within the sleeves of Mousse's robes, streams of feathers blasted Ranma, instantly covering him in feathers. "Now, no one could take you as a serious suitor. You are ruined!"

Ranma growled and looked at Mousse through the cloud of feathers. A smile sprouted on his face all of a sudden. "Hey, Mousse! Remember this trick?" Ranma suddenly pulled back his arm, and threw a punch right over the tar. Instantly, a wave in the shape of a shark appeared, blasting into Mousse. Mousse started to sputter, and tried to clean off his glasses. Ranma's aura then started to glitter a cold blue. There was just enough heat left in the tar to do this. He blasted a mini-tornado of feathers at Mousse. Favor returned, Mousse was also tarred and feathered.

"Ha, just like the old ghoul. Piece of cake. Now we both have to get cleaned up. Fair is fair. Now tell me why you attacked me." Ranma grumbled as he tried to wipe some of the mess off of him.

"Our fight isn't finished! I fight on!" Mousse yelled, charging the sound of Ranma's voice. Ranma casually stepped to the side, and tripped Mousse. "AAAAAAAH!" His scream was terminated by impacting into the cold, unforgiving ground of the ally they had leaped from.

"What a moron." Ranma sighed, and hopped down next to Mousse. "Ok, are you ready to talk now? I haven't even seen Shampoo for hours. So what did I do?"

Muffled sounds came from feathery mess on the ground. Ranma leaned over and pulled Mousse's face from the ground. "You had me banished from the Cat Cafe." Mousse's eyes were slightly crossed. His glasses were stuck to the ground in a tarry mess.

"So how did I get you banished? I ain't even been over there in days," Ranma said.

"I can't be certain, but I think it has to do with Ryoga. I thought I heard his voice. So it probably had to do with some fight you and he got into," Mousse said with a bit more clarity. He started to drag himself up. He shook his head in preparation for fight.

"Ah, man. Ryoga and Cologne. That is bad. I thought he would just wander off and learn something like his ki attack. With Cologne training him, I'm in big trouble. Which means your chances with Shampoo are in trouble," Ranma said finally looking Mousse in his eyes.

Mousse stopped himself from attacking Ranma for just a moment. Ranma just might be right. Contrary to popular opinion, Mousse could think when he wanted to. It was just easier to attack Ranma than face the fact that Shampoo really couldn't love him. And couldn't love him because of Amazonian law. "So what do we do?" Mousse asked dubiously.

"Well, I need to know what Cologne has planned. And what she's training Ryoga in. Otherwise, I'm toast," Ranma said with a deep sigh.

"All right then, a truce until the crisis is past," Mousse replied.

Thunder crashed again in the distance, and then rain started to fall. Ranma tried to pull a couple more feathers out of her hair. With a deep sigh, she started to walk back to the Tendo's.

Mousse quacked angrily, and then dragged his robes over to an alley way. He got set for a long and cold night in the rain. Luckily, it isn't too hard for a duck to survive out on a rainy night.

Kasumi had finally snapped Akane out of her shock, and was now getting her to finish up a cup of herbal tea. "I'm really sorry, Kasumi. But it's just weird that Nabiki is in love with Kuno," Akane said.

"Now, Akane, it's not that strange that Nabiki could have feelings for that nice Tatewaki boy. You should be ashamed of yourself," Kasumi chided softly.

"Well, he's been chasing Ranma and I for so long, and it's such a big change

Thunder cracked in the distance. All of a sudden the lights flickered and then went out. They came back on for a moment, and then went out finally. The hush of the rain continued for a moment, and then it was interrupted by an incredible flash of lightning, and a thunderous roar. The wind kicked up, and started to howl. Akane and Kasumi looked at each other in the darkness.

"I'm sure the power will come on in just a moment. There isn't a problem," Akane said.

Kasumi nodded her head nervously. "Of course not. After all, there're no such things as ghosts."

Lightning flashed, followed by a crash of thunder a moment later. "Just like there aren't Chinese curses? Or cat spirits?" Akane muttered. A crash from out in the yard occurred just as she finished muttering. Kasumi really did live in her own world sometimes.

"Oh, no Akane. What are we going to do? Do you think it's a burglar this time?" Kasumi asked.

"Um. Not really, Kasumi. It's probably one of Ranma's challengers or a g-g-ghost or something," Akane replied as she got up. "I'll just check on it." Akane crept to one of the windows, and looked out into the front yard.

Something was at the gate. In the dark it was hard to tell what it was, but it didn't look normal. The whole thing ruffled in the wind, and barely stood out against the white compound wall. It started to walk towards the house.

Akane stifled a scream. Kasumi looked over her shoulder, and gasped. "It's some sort of monster, Akane! What are we going to do?" Kasumi asked worriedly.

Akane frowned in concentration. Ranma was still gone, and his father was still out with her father. That left just her to defend their home. "Don't worry Kasumi, I'm a martial artist too. I'll take care of it," Akane said determinedly. Looking around, she spotted the bokken that she had left out when she was chasing Ryoga around. She hefted it, and put herself in position to the side of the door.

The front door slid open, and the figure stepped in, briefly highlighted by another flash of lightning. Akane waited until the thunder sounded to leap to the attack. "Hi-ya!" Akane screamed as she started to pound away. Four hits with the bokken occurred before she kicked it twice in its stomach. "Kiya!" With a resounding yell, Akane finished it off by breaking the bokken over its head.

Surprisingly, it collapsed.

Akane blinked twice. Then she smiled to herself. She had done it. She had defeated the menace that was going to attack her home. Just wait till Ranma came home. This would prove to him that she was a martial artist too.

Suddenly, the lights came back on, revealing the attacker. Kasumi and Akane both blinked again. It appeared to be some sort of goo monster. With lots of feathers stuck to it. Now that she could see it, it looked sort of female too. She leaned over, and inspected it closer.

"Oops. I'm sorry Ranma. I'll help fix you up, I promise!" Akane asked her newly revealed fiancée. "What happened to you?"

"Un-n-n-n-cute tomboy. Ugh," Ranma gurgled, and then lapsed back into unconsciousness.

"Jerk! I already said I was sorry. How can you call me such mean names?" Akane yelled at Ranma. She shook her fist at him, but he didn't respond.

Kasumi looked Ranma over, and then said to Akane, "I think he was delirious. Do you want to take him up to the bathroom? I'll get the old washing tub out, and something to clean that tar off of him."

"Uh, sure Kasumi. No problem," Akane replied. Gingerly taking a hold of Ranma, she carried the young women up to the bathroom. Kasumi entered a moment later with a large wash tub, a garbage bag, and a few bottles of cleaners.

Kasumi then checked Ranma's eyes for any dilation, and stood up. She smiled at Akane, "She's going to be out for a little while, maybe an hour or so. Make sure to clean her up and throw out those clothes she's wearing. It's such a good thing you already engaged. It wouldn't be proper otherwise." Kasumi blushed, and then closed the door behind her.

Akane looked at the door with a bemused expression, and then glanced down at Ranma. "Why was Kasumi blushing? Ranma's a girl right now," Akane muttered to herself. Comprehension finally dawned. Akane started to blush furiously. "Oh, right. Hot water. And I promised to help Ranma out."

Akane carefully removed Ranma's gi, putting them into the garbage bag. She then filled up the tub with hot water. Picking up the petite red head, she lowered her into the tub. Using a bucket, Akane dumped some hot water over Ranma's black hair. Taking a wash cloth that was a bit ratty, she started to wipe away the tar and feathers off of his face. Akane idly wondered what had happened to get him this messy.

Akane had gotten his hands and lower arms clean. She was starting on his hair when he started to come around. Ranma's eyes swam into focus, feeling something massaging his hair. He heard somebody humming in his ear. He groaned, and turned to look Akane eye to eye. He froze for just a second. Very carefully, he patted his hip under water to see if he was wearing his boxers. He relaxed a bit after he discovered he was.

"Uh, what happened?" Ranma asked. He was very confused and looked it.

Akane blushed an even deeper shade of red, and replied, "I thought you were some sort of monster and so I kind of attacked you when you walked in the house."

"So what are you doing right now?" Ranma asked confusedly.

"I'm cleaning you up, so we can put you to bed. We can't put you to bed until we get all of this tar out," Akane responded. She continued to blush and work on getting the tar out of his hair. She was almost done any ways. "What got you so messy?"

Ranma frowned, and struggled to remember. "I got in a fight with Mousse again. He tricked me into splashing into some tar. Then he did some silly attack and threw a lot of feathers at me. I returned the favor though."

Akane giggled. "That must have been funny looking. Was he as covered in feathers?"

"Akane, this isn't funny," Ranma said with a hurt look on his face. "Besides, he said that Ryoga is getting trained by the ghoul. They kicked him out of the Cat Cafe'."

"Cologne? Well, at least you have a little bit of an idea on how she's going to train him," Akane murmured.

"Yeah. He can't use the Heavenly Dragon Ascent Blast on me, 'cause I already know it," Ranma muttered to himself. "He already knows the Breaking Point, which makes him way too tough. The Splitting Cats Hair attack? Or Chestnuts Roasting Over An Open Fire? Or something new?"

Akane closed her eyes and focussed on the problem. "So how would you train Ryoga to beat yourself?"

Ranma thought a moment, and then replied, "I'd get his speed up if I could. Most other special attacks have some sort of weakness that you can exploit."

"All done Ranma. Your hair is going to be a bit messed up for a while, but at least you won't have to cut it off," Akane said with a smile that Ranma couldn't see.

Ranma jerked, and then patted his hair. "Um, Akane, I'd, uh, like to. . . ." Ranma stuttered.

Akane stood up, and then smiled shyly, totally throwing Ranma into a loop. "It's alright, Ranma." She closed the door behind her.

Ranma sank a little bit into the tub. She was so cute when she smiled. But he couldn't tell her. Not without his stupid father bursting into the room, bawling about how happy he was about the future of the school being secure. Akane's father was just as bad. Why couldn't they just butt out?

He sighed deeply, bemoaning the injustice of it. He toweled off, and then walked back to his room, and changed into some clean boxers and a tank top. He happened to notice the small pile of books that Dr. Tofu had let him borrow. He glanced over the clock, and decided to look at the first book. He continued to read for several hours, before turning in for bed.

He barely noticed when Genma came in a few hours later, wet and furry from the rain, but seeming to be quite happy.

The next week blurred by for Ranma as he trained himself and Akane harder than ever. Amazingly, their fathers seemed to be content to just sit in the house, and play shogi or go out. Akane was proving to be an apt pupil, but it was incredibly easy to get her upset, which affected her fighting quite a bit.

Ranma had been working on Akane's speed and defense almost non-stop, with only breaks for intense exercise to increase her resilience. She'd improved a lot, and was almost as fast as Ranma had been when he showed up at the Tendo's. She could now take hits much better than before. He smiled as he trotted into the yard through the gate. Ranma felt it was time to try and teach her real speed.

Akane was grinning herself. It had been a good week, all in all. She still got in a fight with Ranma every day, but it was almost good natured teasing. Well, except when it came to her cooking.

The both changed into their gi's and prepared to start their sparring. "Ok, Akane. Ready to try and learn how to be really fast?" Ranma said, standing at the ready. She nodded. "Alright, I've got a small tube here, with some of your baby photos. Now I don't know what's in it, yet. But Kasumi said they were very embarrassing. The only way you are going to get them back is if you can take them from me," Ranma said with a grin. Casually, he looped the string it was on around his neck.

"WHAT? How dare you? How could Kasumi?" Akane yelled, grabbing for the tube on Ranma's neck. Ranma blocked her attack easily.

"If you can't get it from me in one week, I'll open the tube and take a look at the pictures," Ranma said. "So you've got one week to improve your speed."

Akane attacked in a frenzy, hands blurring as fast as she could go. Ranma blocked and launched his own attacks, forcing Akane to defend herself as best as possible while still attacking as fast as possible. Back and forth they went, hands blurring for over ten minutes. Finally she slumped to her knees, gasping for breath. She could barely feel her arms.

Ranma stepped close, and prodded at her arms for a moment. "You should be recovered in just a few minutes. Not bad for your first time Akane!" Ranma grinned. She was doing really well. He was stealing Cologne's teaching technique, but it did seem to be working. With a few pressure points that he was learning from Dr. Tofu's books, he was releasing the ki paths in her arms. He wasn't sure if that was something Cologne had done, but he figured it couldn't hurt. Akane just panted, trying to recover her breath.

After resting a while, they continued on. Ranma threw Akane a few times, but she almost bounced back up, and charged back into the combat. She was definitely taking hits much better, even though Ranma wasn't hitting nearly as hard as he could. He almost lost the tube when he threw her up against the wall, and she curled up and kicked off the wall back to him, forcing him to go at his full speed for just a second.

"Finally. I thought you were never going to get the hang of that!" Ranma said jovially. "After all the Saotome style specializes in aerial combat."

"You've been throwing me up against walls so that I jump into the air better? Ranma, that's insane!" Akane huffed and puffed.

"Why? That's how I was trained," Ranma replied, starting to lose his breath a bit. She was really improving fast.

"Ranma, that's stupid. Your father also threw you into a pit with starving cats to teach you the Cat Fist," Akane said finally, stopping her attack. She was panting heavily.

"Well, that was one time. Most of the times his teaching method works," Ranma said flippantly. He poked and prodded Akane's arms again. He could almost feel the ki flowing through her arms.

"Sure, what ever Ranma. As long as you don't throw me into a pit, or take me to Jusenkyo, I'm fine," Akane said, starting to laugh fitfully.

"What? But . . . . oh you. I'm not going to make the same mistakes my old man made," Ranma fumed.

"No, you're going to make your own Ranma," Akane finally quit laughing when she ran out of her breath. She just laid there panting.

"Well, hang on for a sec. I'm going to go and get something for you to drink." Ranma stewed for a bit as he walked into the kitchen to get a glass of punch for himself and Akane. The nerve of that girl sometimes.

Ryoga was hating this training. Everyday, sparring with Cologne or Shampoo up in the mountains. Cologne had said something about Shampoo had been slacking off on her training lately. So Cologne had both with her and was pushing them unmercifully.

"So when are you going to teach me the technique that's going to let me beat Ranma, old woman?" Ryoga snarled, as he let more punches fly at his diminutive teacher.

"When I can tell that your ready, Ryoga," Cologne rasped. "You aren't even close right now. A mere special technique isn't enough. You must surpass Ranma in all matters of importance. Strength, form, toughness and speed must all be better, otherwise you are not going to win more than once. And that isn't enough. Not this time."

Shampoo grumbled to herself. Cologne was pushing her too. "Am too fast enough, Grandmother," she complained to herself.

All of a sudden, Cologne threw a small rock at Shampoo. Thwok! "Why Grandmother do that? Shampoo working very hard at getting better," Shampoo yelled at her elder. She rubbed her head where a lump was forming.

"You are sloppy, child. It was disgraceful how easy Ranma defeated you the first time. A single well placed kick knocked you from you high laurels. And then coming home in defeat after failing to kill Ranma," Cologne said, while continuing to dodge Ryoga.

"Ranma very good! That make Ranma good husband," Shampoo said dreamily.

"But you must prove your superiority. You are an Amazon. You must bridle Ranma, and bring him home. This has gone on long enough. You have grown soft, and lazy," Cologne stated coldly. "When you are ready, you shall learn the Breaking point. And then you shall bring your husband home."

"Grandmother? Breaking Point can make girl quite ugly sometimes. Shampoo like being prettiest and best fighter," Shampoo whined. Shampoo had visions of her distant cousin in her head. The girl barely qualified as female.

"I have half a mind to take you back to China right now, child. All we have done here is make a manstronger and better. A year of penance would do you good," Cologne snapped at her granddaughter. That child could drive anyone insane sometimes.

"What? Shampoo no want to end up as slave to tribe for a year. That one of most horrible punishments of tribe," Shampoo replied, shocked at her Grandmother.

"Do you two mind? I thought you were training me here?" Ryoga sighed.

"Shut up, pig-boy. Elder telling Shampoo important stuff," Shampoo growled.

"I guess your tribe is just lucky that most of Ranma's challengers don't care about getting their own wives. It wouldn't be that tough," Ryoga said snidely.

"Shampoo beat you any day of week, pig-boy."

Ryoga stared at her a second, and then fell over laughing. He continued laughing for about a minute and then finally quit. He climbed back to his feet. "I haven't had that good of a laugh for a long time. Thanks, Shampoo."

Shampoo was glowing a bright blue by this time. "Shampoo challenge you." Pausing dramatically, she continued. "I will beat you easy." Shampoo tried very hard to get her grammar just right. Cologne shook her head in the background.

"I accept."

They faced off with each other, circling slowly. Ryoga had an amused grin on his face. Shampoo's face was stern and controlled. As one they struck out. Shampoo flowed and struck, going for disabling strikes.

Ryoga's stance hardly moved at all, shifting the blows to his body in ways that really didn't hurt him, letting Shampoo waste her strength. He was having trouble landing any blows though. Shampoo was almost as hard to hit as Ranma. Slowly he started to build up his speed, starting to miss only by hair widths.

Shampoo's face contorted in rage. She danced back out of range, and then wheel kicked her hardest blow at Ryoga. She snarled as she put enough force to shatter boulders into it.

Ryoga's grin just widened. With speed born of his new training, he simply grabbed the kick. He held it for just a second, letting the shock grow in Shampoo's eye's. Then he snapped her around, and slammed her into the ground.

Shampoo struggled to her feet. Ryoga just shrugged, and then finished her off with a kick with just enough force to knock her out.

Cologne just started to laugh madly as Shampoo slowly crumpled to the ground.

"What's wrong?" Ryoga asked suspiciously.

"Well, at least Shampoo has a backup husband to fall back on, if she can't win Ranma," Cologne said finally. A hideous grin was plastered to her face.

"No way." Ryoga shook his head. That was stupid of him.

"You may not have a choice, Ryoga," Cologne said coolly.

"I'm sure that's what you said to Ranma too."

"Don't lose this next fight then. And then you won't have a problem."

Ranma walked back into the dojo, casually ducking a jump kick from Akane. Balancing the tray easily, he watched her land across the dojo. "Not bad. But you've got to be sneakier. Pull in your aura, and I won't sense you until you attack. I might not have had time to react."

"Ooh." Her shoulders finally slumped in defeat. She couldn't believe how tired she was. And how hungry too. Ranma was right about that. She was eating a lot more than she used to. And she was starting to be trimmer, harder looking. She smiled, and thought about cooking dinner later tonight. A very small and quiet voice told her that she should let Kasumi cook. A much louder voice yelled it down, demanding that she hadto cook for Ranma.

Carefully, they both stretched out for a few minutes, cooling down. Ranma racked his brain for a second, trying to come up with something that they could do, to finish stretching out and still work on balance and grace a bit more.

Ranma studied her for a moment. "You know Akane, you actually fight at your best when you're fierce, but not angry. Did you know that?" Ranma said suddenly.

"Oh, please. Don't start that up again. Quit blathering on about my anger," Akane said frowning. Why was everyone always getting on her about her anger?

"Nah, it's just that it makes you fight worse. Do you know why I call Ryoga names? It's because it upsets him, and makes him sooo sloppy. Ryoga is pretty good, if he could control his temper," Ranma said, and then sipped from his drink.

"So what do you mean by being fierce?" Akane asked quietly. She didn't really want to admit to anyone, much less Ranma, but even she knew she had a problem with her temper sometimes.

"It's, uh, determination and being aggressive without letting it rule you. Did that make sense?" Ranma said.

"I think so. So how do you do it?" Akane asked.

"Pop hit me every time I lost my temper for two years," Ranma said simply.

"Two years?" Akane blinked.

"Hey, I was only six! But you should be able to figure out your own way."

"Hmm. You really think I need to?" Akane asked, ducking her head low.

"Yup. Otherwise someone is going to call you a tomboy in the middle of some fight, and you're gonna get creamed. Simple as that," Ranma said simply.

"I would NOT!" She took a deep breath to calm herself. Ok, so maybe she would. "So now what?" Akane asked.

"Let's see. We've already done speed training, and you still hurting from the toughness training. Let's work on balance and grace," Ranma said finally.

"How are we going to do that, Ranma? More fences?" she asked.

"Nope. That's good for basic work, but it makes you to, uh, line, uh, linear! That's the word!" Ranma beamed proudly.

Akane thought about that for a second. "Oh, I get it. It trains you to move forward or backwards, but not side to side."

"Right!" Ranma smiled. She got it almost instantly.

"So what are we going to do?" Akane asked.

"Well, pop would just do a lot of sparring, but that's gonna be too slow. Nothing except for you to learn some really advanced Tai Chi," Ranma said finally.

And with that they took up position facing each other. Akane knew some Tai Chi, but Ranma was a merciless task master. She had to do it perfectly, each movement flowing perfectly into the next. So for the next few hours, she relearned how to balance.

Akane was breathing hard at the end of the last repetition, her legs now feeling as worn out as her arms. Ranma kept it up for one more round, speeding up, but not losing an iota of control. Watching him, she felt a pang of remembrance.

She clutched at the elusive memory, trying to remember. Finally she grasped the memory. It was the same dojo, and the same gliding motions. But it was an elegant lady, dressed in a gi, slipping through the motions. Several girls in the background tried to follow the slow elegant motions.

Akane started to shed silent tears. She hadn't remembered until then that her mother had taught a few classes for some of the girls in the neighborhood. Her heart broke a little more, but she was smiling at the memory.

"That was pretty go... are you all right?" Ranma asked suddenly, just as he finished up his kata.

"I'm fine, Ranma. This just brought back a memory of my mother, that's all."

"Oh, uh. Ok." There was an uncomfortable pause. "Well, we better go study. I'll go clean up first, all right?"

"Sure Ranma. I'll see you in a while." Akane sat while looking around the dojo. She hugged herself, thinking back to a happier time, when her mother was alive.

It was the third day of her training, and Akane was determined to get her pictures back. She had come close several times, but each time Ranma had speeded up again.

She stared at her implacable foe, and then charged with a loud yell. Soon they were trading blows, blocking attacks, and increasing her speed. Akane narrowed her eyes. She was studying Ranma as closely as she could. Her eyes widened in surprise, and a foot sweep landed her on her butt.

She bounced to her feet, and a tight, tiger like smile appeared. She couldn't believe it, but she was almost sure that she was correct. She started attacking like normal, and then changed her tactics. In moments she had struck Ranma twice, then three more times. The last strike rattled Ranma, as it was a stunning blow to the face. By the time he recovered Akane had her prize.

"YEAH! I got it!" Akane hollered. She jumped for joy, bouncing around the dojo.

Ranma rubbed his jaw. "Yup. I didn't think you were there yet. But I guess you were," he said sullenly.

Akane stopped hopping around. "Actually, you've got some serious holes in defense Ranma. I mean you're always moaning about not getting stuck in a pattern, but you've got some yourself."

Ranma stared at her in surprise. "No way. All of my training is to avoid that sort of thing."

"Bet you I could do it again." Akane hung the tube around her neck.

"You're on. If I get the pictures back, I get to look at them." Ranma grinned.

Akane gulped, and then set herself and charged.

It was an almost exact duplicate of the previous fight, except for Ranma landing on his rump at the end of it.

Ranma stared in shock at Akane as he laid down on the ground. "You aren't that fast. You're fast. Faster'an I was when I came to Nerima. But you aren't that fast," Ranma stuttered in shock.

Akane started to take umbrage, but then stopped when she realized that Ranma wasn't demeaning her or anything. He simply couldn't understand what was wrong. "Do you want to redo the entire fight slowly? That's what daddy did to show mistakes when I couldn't understand what I was doing wrong," Akane said finally.

Ranma nodded numbly. Slowly they worked through the last bit of the fight, up until the point when Ranma made his mistake. Except he didn't make it when he was going slow. "That isn't what you did Ranma. You moved to block here and here. You did it automatically," Akane said. She stared at Ranma in consternation.

Ranma stepped back, and started to do the last ten blows, again and again, building up his speed. When he got near his top speed, he discovered that he couldn't block that particular move. His body just wouldn't react correctly. He stared in fascination at his hands after he quit. "You... you're right. I've built in some sort of pattern, subconsciously."

And the counter could be a killing blow he realized with a shock. Instead of hitting him with a punch to the jaw like Akane did, it could be moved just a trifle up, and shatter his nose, sending bone fragments into his brain. A cold chill swept up his back as a suspicion grew in his mind.

"Actually, Ranma my boy, you didn't. Cologne did." Happosai said from the beams up above. He was smoking his pipe, blowing little rings of smoke.

"Huh? Whatcha talking about old man?" Ranma said angrily.

"Boy, do you know anything about the Amazon culture? And what caused it to form?" Happosai waited for Ranma. Eventually, Ranma shrugged, and shook his head. "The original Amazons left to go and form their own society when they couldn't stand being treated as virtual slaves by their men. So they left and made a promise. No man would hold dominion over them. They would rather die than go back to being the way they were."

"Excuse me, Happosai. What does that have to do with Ranma's problem?" Akane asked. She frowned in deep thought. That sounded right. She remembered that the Greek Amazons had hated men.

"It's really simple, deary. Do you think that any Amazon would teach a male to be able to beat them in a fair fight? And give them a chance to be in charge over them?" Happosai replied, blowing another ring into the air.

"You mean she taught me a cheap trick?" Ranma growled.

"You got it. It's a potent cheap trick, but anyone with real speed is more than capable of defeating you, given the opportunity." Happosai grinned a ghastly smile, looking up at the young martial artists. "I've been trying to subtly break Ranma of his bad habits for months."

"But I've beat her before! That's why I'm not stuck as a girl anymore," Ranma said suddenly.

"How did you beat her?"

"I used the . . . . Cat Fist. I didn't use her techniques to beat her." Realization dawned on him suddenly. "She was setting me up to lose! She was setting me up to lose for the entire time."

"Bingo." Happosai bounced to the ground. "Ain't it amazing that every single technique that she's taught you or Ryoga has some sort of fatal flaw? Even the Hiryo Shotan Ha."

"She . . . . she lied to me. She lied to me. She set me up and taught me some bogus techniques." Ranma's aura flared to life around him, guttering a red hue. Akane stepped back in surprise. "I'm gonna kill her. I'mgonnakillher." The wood under his bare feet started to smoke.

Akane stepped back again, and then stopped. He was going to burn the dojo down. Her dojo! "Ranma!" Ranma didn't respond, his anger spilling out in waves around her. In desperation, she charged forward, and kicked him as hard as she could, out of the dojo.

Ranma skidded across the ground in pained surprise. "Why'd you do that, you dumb chick?" he yelled at her.

Akane finished stamping out the small flames, and glared daggers at him. "You were about to start the dojo on fire, you idiot. I was just stopping you."

"Oh, sorry. I guess I was really upset," he replied lamely.

"Well, don't do it again."

"Um. Sure."

Akane opened the tube with the pictures that she had just won. In the tube was a scribbled had written note from Ranma. It read, 'Sorry, no pictures! Just motivetng motivating you!'

Akane stared at in surprise. "Oh! Um. Thanks Ranma. So now what?" Akane asked.

"I've gotta think. I can't trust what I've learned, Akane. I might have to retrain myself from scratch." Ranma sat on the ground and started to ponder.

"Are you ready to try and cook, Akane?" Kasumi asked with a moderately fearful tone.

"I'm not going to get better if I don't try, Kasumi. Please?" Akane asked, lips pouting.

"Very well. Which recipe do you want to try?" the older sister asked.

"Um, I was thinking about making something I'm pretty good at. So how about some curry?" the younger girl inquired.

"That's very good, Akane." Kasumi smiled to herself. Akane was starting to learn, albeit slowly.

"Can I... can I do it by myself?" Akane asked finally. She held her breath, waiting for the answer.

Kasumi considered it, and then nodded slowly. "Just take your time. Ranma and I will still be here, you know."

Akane nodded. Genma, Soun and Nabiki had already left. She started to get upset, but stopped herself with a conscious effort. That wouldn't solve anything. What was it that Ranma had said? Be fierce, but be in control.

She took a deep breath, and then tried to put that sort of feeling into her. For some reason, the image of Ranma dancing through the complicated Tai Chi kata came to mind. She reached for the first ingredient and a pot.

Kasumi peeked in a short time later, expecting to see a furiously busy Akane. Instead she saw Akane gliding gracefully around the kitchen, humming a tune while mixing ingredients.

Kasumi blinked and rubbed her eyes. That was Akane? Right?

Ranma stared at the ground of the yard. He hadn't moved from in between the dojo and the house. Someone he had trusted to teach him the Art had lied to him. They had abused his trust, and trained him to have flaws in his fighting techniques. He squelched the insane fury that started to bubble within him. He was the Art. The Art was everything to him.

And Cologne had tried to pervert that. All in the name of her laws. Her customs. To marry Shampoo and strengthen her tribe. He was almost certain that he wouldn't have been taught anything new if he had lost. Happosai was right about that. Look at Mousse. He didn't even fight with their tribal fighting techniques.

His fist slammed into the ground. Damn Cologne!

He was interrupted by a cold splash. "Give me a reward, sweeto! Come to papa!" Happosai cried gleefully. He launched himself at Ranma, expecting to have to fight to grope her bosom.

"Go away, old man," Ranma said tightly. Other than that, she ignored him entirely.

After a few minutes, Happosai quit fondling Ranma. It wasn't quite the same. She wasn't fighting back. That was most of the fun. This was serious!

Happosai bounced to his feet a few meters from Ranma. "Ranma?"

Ranma ignored him, thoughts focussed entirely on the problem in front of her.

Happosai got a sudden chill up his back. Ranma was seriously upset about what he had found out today. "Ranma! What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to get rid of the Amazons. Go 'way."

"You can't stop them! You don't have a real chance. Even the Cat Fist won't be enough to stop Cologne now!" Happosai said grimly.

"What do you mean, you dirty old lecher?" Ranma said suddenly. Happosai might be a lot of things, but he was a great martial artist.

"Because you go insane, she can use the Cat Fist against you. You're faster and stronger, but you can't think tactics and strategy, m'boy," Happosai said wisely.

"So I won't use the Cat Fist. I wasn't planning on it, any ways."

"What are you planning to do?" Happosai narrowed his eyes. The boy was good already. What would this intensity do to him?

"I'm going to train until I'm better than the old ghoul. And then I'm going to challenge her. And win," Ranma said simply.

Happosai again felt the chill up his back. This boy was going to get that good without any of the weaknesses of his students? Scary! "Well, luck to you!" He bounded away quickly.

Ranma stood suddenly and went into the dojo. He went and found were they kept the spare cinder blocks, and pulled the last dozen out.

Ranma stabbed at the block with his finger, his entire concentration on what he was doing.

"Dinner!" Kasumi called out.

Ranma trotted into the house and sat down. He was covered in small scratches and bruises. "Thanks Kasumi." He started to wolf down his food as fast as he could. He paused a second. It tasted just a little different. Shrugging, he went back to eating.

"So what do you think, Ranma?" Akane asked suddenly.

"Different. Did ya try a new recipe Kasumi?" Ranma asked.

Kasumi giggled, and shook her head. "Akane cooked that, Ranma."

Akane boggled. Ranma had thought her curry was Kasumi's? It was usually way too hot, or lumpy. Pretty good and edible, but still not that great. Akane started to grin madly. She even forgot to eat for a moment, until her stomach rumbled to remind her.

Ranma looked around at the rest of the dishes, most of them looked slightly different too. Akane had cooked the entire dinner? It wasn't bad, though. Not as good as Kasumi, but it wasn't really that bad.

"Wow!" Ranma said, before continuing to eat.

Nabiki walked in, shoulders stooped forward. She slammed the door behind her. She glared at Ranma for a full minute. She finally sighed when she realized he didn't even notice the glare. She tossed the package that Kuno had given her with a lot of force into a corner, and then stomped up the stairs. "Good night!" Nabiki called out behind her.

"Good night, Nabiki!" Kasumi looked at the package that she had tossed into a corner. Kasumi's eyebrow twitched for a second. Finally, her curiosity won her over and she retrieved it.

Akane watched as she shoveled her own food down. She hated to eat like Ranma, but he and his dad had started to 'train' at the table with her. So the only safe food was in her stomach.

"Oh my!" Kasumi said. "What a lovely ring!"

Akane snorted suddenly, almost breathing her food accidentally. Now she knew why Nabiki was so upset. She finished her bowl carefully, and then started to laugh. She fell on her side, clutching her stomach as she continued to laugh.

Ranma stared at her as he continued to eat. He finally finished his food, and patted his stomach. "What's so funny?"

"Kuno proposed to Nabiki!" Akane managed to say in between gales of laughter.

"No way? And what did she do?" Ranma asked.

"She looked quite upset. I'm going to go and talk to her. Could you please do the dishes?" Kasumi asked, looking at the two. They nodded, and started to pick up the dishes. Kasumi then walked up the stairs.

"Do you think it's safe, Tendo?" Genma said, looking over the wall into the dining room.

"Well, I don't hear the sound of bricks being smashed. So that's a good sign. The house is still there, and I don't smell anything," Soun replied. He looked around nervously.

"Well, let's go in!" Genma said finally.

They crept into house expecting to see their children fighting again. Instead they found them studying at the kitchen table, doing their homework. They looked at each other in bafflement. It was Akane's night to cook, right?

"Well, Ranma? How did your training go?" Genma said, stepping into the house.

"Training is going good. Are you up to helping me to train?" Ranma said suddenly.

"Of course son. You'll need someone to help you regain your edge of course." Genma smiled.

"No. I need you to retrain me. I'm going to challenge Cologne. She's pulled the wool over my eyes for the last time," Ranma said grimly.

"What do you mean, boy?" Genma said, confusion evident on his face.

"Cologne's been teaching me flawed techniques. I'm going to challenge her, and make her leave. Three thousand years of tradition or not, I'm never going to marry Shampoo."

The bells rang, signaling the end of another day. All of the students in Ranma and Akane's class stood up, and started to file out.

"Ranma Saotome, please come to front of the class!" the teacher called out.

Ranma blinked, turning away from Akane and her friends. "Sure, teach. What's up?"

"I have your scores for the last tests that you've taken. I'm afraid that there is some irregularity in the scores. You are going to have to re-take them all. Today, in detention."

"Huh? What sorta problems?" Ranma replied inanely.

"I would say that a student going from one of the worst to one of the best in just a few short weeks is one. You regularly scored C- with a C+ at best. Never any better and sometimes quite worse. And now you're lowest score is a B?" The teacher snorted loudly. "So, the other teachers and I have decided that you will retake all of these tests, while being observed by us."

"But I didn't cheat!"

"Really? Then you have nothing to fear then, do you? Get yourself to detention, right now, Mr. Saotome!"

"But I've gotta prepare for a challenge!"


Ranma groused as he walked home, late that night. He idly kicked a soda can out of his way, and turned down the street towards the Tendo's home.

"Ranma Saotome! I've been waiting for you for hours! Aren't you taking this fight with Ryoga seriously?" Mousse asked heatedly.

"Yeah, yeah. Don't get your robes in a bunch, ok? I'm working on it." Ranma looked at Mousse speculatively. "Hey, Mousse, how come you don't use the Amazon fighting techniques?"

"Those are for women. It is death for a man to try and learn them."

"Death? Why? I've been learning them?" Ranma asked.

"No, you've being trained in a specific style of fighting. I can't say any more," Mousse said, a hint of sadness in his voice.

"Say something like, 'it's a flawed training technique, and it's only taught to get men into the tribe'?" Ranma asked intently.

Mousse grinned suddenly. "I can't say that, as you've guessed."

"So where did your style come from?"

"It's not quite illegal for a man to fight and since we can't learn anything similar to what they use, we've had to create our own. It had been hidden for centuries as a form of 'magic'. The matriarchs weren't very happy it, and have been trying to dissuade any male from learning it. Pretty effectively, too. I'm one of about four men who know the style."

"How long would it take me to learn it?" Ranma asked.

"I... don't know. Your ability to learn techniques borders on the divine sometimes. And I don't want to give away my trump card when I need to fight you, you know."

"I don't need to fight you, Mousse. I'm gonna challenge Cologne, and force her to leave me alone."

"YOU'RE INSANE! She'll kill you, you idiot!" Mousse exclaimed. A cold sweat formed on his brow.

"I'm betting that your style is built to counter Cologne's style of fighting. Don't let her in close, don't let her hit any pressure points. Right?"

"Yes. But it's not good enough," Mousse admitted.

"But what if it was part of my style? I've got you, my old man, and Happosai to pull my tricks from. On top of everything that I've learned in all of my fights. That might be enough." Ranma gazed into the sky, seeing the occasional star in the sky.

"Probably not. But I'm not going to stop you."

"So you will teach me your tricks?" Ranma asked.

"Sure. Why not? Its not like I'm winning any fights against you right now, is it?"

"So what is the old ghoul training Ryoga in, anyways?" Ranma asked.

"Now you ask? She's getting him very fit, Ranma. She isn't just training him in a technique that you'll decipher in a few moments. She's making him a finely tuned machine of destruction. I don't know if you'll even be able to stop Ryoga, much less Cologne."

"Oh, don't worry about Ryoga. He's gonna have to be better than Cologne to fight me. And Cologne isn't going to make him that good. It's probably against some secret law they have."

"Oh, it's not that secret. But it is part of the women's law. Which is different than the men's and outsider's laws. But I didn't say that, did I?" Mousse winked at Ranma. He wondered if he should tell Ranma that he was now part of an age old subversive movement among the male amazons? Nah. Only when he loses to Cologne.

Ranma finally walked into the house. He was greeted at the door by everyone.

"Hey, Ranma! I heard you had to retake all of your tests?" Nabiki asked. She smiled to herself. She already knew that, she just wanted confirmation. Dragging Ranma's reputation through the mud sounded like a really good idea. After all, it was his fault that Kuno was after her now.

"Yup. Stupid teachers thought I was cheating."

"Thought? Don't they any more?" Nabiki asked. He wasn't going to be able to wiggle out it that easily.

Ranma snickered. "They will, once they finish grading all of my tests. I've never had an audience for test taking before. And they can't say that I cheated with all of the teachers and Principal Kuno watching for anything."

"So, how well did you do Ranma?" Akane asked. She handed him some food as he sat down at the table. He didn't even check to see if it was hers or Kasumi's! Akane had to work at not grinning madly in front of the fathers.

"Yes, boy! How are you doing?" Genma asked. Soun nodded sagely. This was important for the future of the school, after all.

"I think I did better this time. So hopefully all A's this time." Ranma started to wolf his food down.

"WHAT!" the group shouted at him. Nabiki looked sick. Akane looked stunned, as did the fathers. Kasumi just smiled. He had been studying so hard these last few weeks.

"What? I've been working real hard on my schooling. I just didn't care before. Well, except for when I was gonna flunk."

Akane and Nabiki were thinking the same thing. He's getting better grades than ME? How dare he!

"Boy! It isn't manly to get that good of grades. What would your mother think?" Genma yelled, paling greatly.

"Huh? Bull. Besides, I need this sort of learning to be the best martial artist. Being the best is manly, pop. So shut up. It's not like I'm joining any stupid extra clubs or something," Ranma shouted right back at his father.

"Well, maybe. But if it interferes with your training, I'm going to take you on a trip to regain your edge that'll last until you don't need to go to school!"

"Yeah, right!"

"Ranma!" Ukyo yelled from across the field. She waved to her fianc'ee.

"Heya, Ukyo! What's up?"

"Oh, I finally got back. So anything interesting happen?" she asked. She ignored Akane's presence.

"Nope, not really. Just training for a fight."

"Same old, same old, huh?"

Ranma was working out his anxiety later that day. He was well on his way back to his full speed, without the problems that Cologne's training had given him. Perhaps even a touch faster. He'd been working with his father and Happosai on ki techniques. He had a few ideas that were going to be very ugly surprises for the old bat when he got them ready.

His anger flashed through him in waves, a red haze covering his vision. He vented his anger at Cologne at the hapless training dummy. With a loud yell, he slashed out at the dummy, cutting it in half from shoulder to its hip, cross ways.

"Ranma! Are you all right!" Akane called out as she ran into the dojo.

"Um, sure. Why?" Ranma said finally.

"Well, it sounded like you had slipped into the Cat Fist. You know, you yowling and such. Are you sure?" Akane asked, tightening her gi's belt.

"Uh huh." Ranma looked at the training dummy closer. "Maybe," Ranma muttered to himself.

"Maybe what, Ranma?"

Ranma tried to get himself back in the frame of mind when he had cut the dummy. After a few long moments, with a screeching yowl he cut it across the waist.

"R-Ranma! T-that was an attack from your Cat Fist training! You didn't even touch it!" Akane stuttered out.

"Yeah. And I remembered how! I think my anger is triggering the Cat Fist, but I'm not going all the way into it!" Ranma said. "I might be able to master the Cat Fist! And not go insane!"


"Uh, Akane? I've been wanting to ask you about that one big punch that you do sometimes. How do you do that?" Ranma asked.

"Oh. That? That's something that I picked up while breaking bricks. I never really got to use it that much. It works with a kick too."

Ranma thought about it for a second. "It's a ki attack disguised as a punch, isn't it? It is! That's neat Akane."

"Ranma, you know I can't do a ki attack. That's just me hitting someone really hard."

"Um. No it isn't. There is no way that a simple punch can fling someone around like that. It really is a ki attack."

"B-but I can't use my ki!"

"Akane, all really good martial artist use their ki. Even if it is subconscious. I mean look at Kuno. He can cut trees and walls in half with a stick. You breaking a wall or tree is the same thing."

Akane sat there grinning. Ranma had just complimented her and said she was a really good martial artist!


"Oh, thank you Ranma!" Akane grabbed him in a bear hug, squeezing all of the air out of him.

"Agk. Letmego, youdumbasstomboy!" Ranma managed to get out.

"Ranma! You jerk!" Akane yelled, just before hitting him into the stratosphere.

Shampoo walked into the Cat Café, taking in the few customers with a glance. "Mousse. Where are you?" Shampoo called out.

"I'm here my love!" Mousse said, bounding out of the kitchen area towards her.

Shampoo slammed him into a wall, stunning him briefly. "Shampoo need know what Ranma been up to since Grandma and me went training. You tell Shampoo!"

"Uh! W-what do you want to know?"

"What Ranma learn? Who train Ranma? Is Ranma lots better?" Shampoo asked, putting a seductive lilt into her voice.

"He's been training with Akane and his father. Happosai too. And I think he's been improving, but he's nowhere near as good as he needs to be, I think," Mousse said, hiding his smile. That was the truth. Ranma wasn't good enough to fight Cologne yet. And Mousse hadn't started to train Ranma yet, so he wasn't lying about that either.

"What new technique Ranma learn?" Shampoo stepped closer to Mousse, letting her perfume waft up to him.

"J-just some ki techniques. He hasn't mastered anything yet. It really doesn't look that good for him." That wasn't a lie, either. Ranma was wasting a lot of time with Happosai and Genma. And sparring with Akane? Like that was training!

"Hmm. Mousse has been a good duck. Maybe Shampoo even reward Mousse. Shampoo see when get back from training. Bye!" Shampoo said, turning around, and walking out.

Mousse sighed. He'd almost blurted out everything several times. But Ranma was right. Cologne was the enemy. Not each other and not even Ryoga.

Cologne grimaced. The news wasn't very good. Ranma was training just as hard as Ryoga, with Genma and Happosai as his teachers. They might be contemptible, but they were both very strong in the Art. Even she was wary of Genma. He wasn't as good as her, of course, but he could get lucky. It was fortunate that he was a sniveling coward.

Happosai would be very dangerous if he didn't have such blatant weaknesses. She would have to step up Ryoga's training. It looked like everything was coming to a head.

"So, I defeat Ranma, and send him packing off to China with you and Shampoo. In exchange, you'll figure out a way to mend up my problems with Akane? But she thinks I'm some sort of pervert!" Ryoga said.

"Don't worry, Ryoga. She's a forgiving sort of girl, and once Ranma is forced to return with us to China by his honor, you'll have destroyed everything he holds dear!" Cologne cackled. "And you get what you deserve!"

"It all ends in a week then. Good! Ranma, your hours are numbered," Ryoga yelled out. His laughter drifted out, scaring all the wild animals in the area.

Ranma woke up the next morning with a shiver. He glanced around to see what had woken him up so early. Nothing, just the slumbering body of his father. "Huh. Oh well. Time to get up and train." He changed into his gi, and stretched. Ranma glared at his father. Why did he have to get drunk last night?

He walked over to Akane's door, and knocked on it to wake her up. In just a minute the door opened to show Akane in a rumpled gi. "I hate you," Akane said blearily.

"Morning. Let's get too it, Mousse thinks they might show up at any time," Ranma said moderately cheerfully.

"Yeah, sure."

In moments they were out by the dojo, trading punches and kicks. Soon Ranma took it to the next higher level, leaping out of the way and up to the roof of the dojo. Akane followed with a yell and soon they were leapfrogging around the yard in a frenzy of movement.

"Ranma. It is time for you to be truly challenged. I, Gemko Happosai, hereby challenge you for your title of Master of the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts. Do you accept?" Happosai said loudly, twirling his pipe.

"Akane, stand out of the way. You bet I accept, Happosai."

"Very well, if I win, you will be my student, just a Soun and Genma were. If you win, you may keep your title of master."

Ranma didn't say anything, his stance loose and ready. With a cry, Happosai charged, only to have his pipe blocked by a staff that appeared in Ranma's hands. The two traded blindingly fast blows with their weapons.

Soon they were flashing through the air, trying to get some sort of advantage. Their auras started to glow, signaling the begin of the next stage of their fight.

Nabiki was walking back to the house, humming a little song. She had managed to ditch Kuno for a few days, by mentioning that she hadn't seen him competing in any kendo tournaments. And so he had been off for a few days at the national tournaments.

A blinding light flashed in front of her. She instinctively brought her hand up to protect her eyes. As quickly as it appeared, it disappeared. She ran the rest of the way home, and opened the gates. Her horrified gaze drifted across the ruins of the yard.

It was an absolute mess. Even a couple of the trees had been uprooted. Ranma stood panting heavily in the center of the yard.

"Ranma! What the hell do you think you're doing?" Nabiki screamed out.

Ranma blinked at her for a second. "Uh, just fighting Happosai. We kinda went overboard though."

"Ranma! Help!" Akane managed to get out, from where she was tangled up in a tree.

"So where is the little letch, anyways?" Nabiki asked. Her mind was tabulating the costs, wincing as she went.

Ranma bounded up the tree Akane was in, freeing her to fall to the ground. Akane rolled with fall, and bounced to her feet. Ranma grinned over at Nabiki, and pointed at the edge of the koi pond. "He's right there. He'll be out for a while."

Nabiki shrugged and went into the house, where she spotted Kasumi on the phone. Kasumi smiled as Soun and Genma ran by.

"Ranma! What have you done to my home!" Soun blubbered. Genma looked around in surprise. Was that Master Happosai?

"I was just beating the tar out of the old pervert."

"You truly defeated the Master?" Soun stopped crying instantly. He became aware of Genma putting Happosai into a barrel and hammering it shut. Trust Genma to not miss an opportunity like this. Soun appeared next to Genma, hammering as fast as possible.

"You do your father proud, Ranma. Such a glorious day, don't you say, Tendo?"

"Quite so, Saotome!"

"Gee, thanks pop." Ranma rolled his eyes, and started to pick up the debris, making piles of it. Akane joined in. In just an hour, they had most of the mess cleaned up.

They had another hour of peace, and then... "Ranma Saotome, I have returned to challenge you!" Ryoga proclaimed loudly from the front gate. Cologne watched carefully from the tree she was hiding in. It was one of her favorite places.

Ranma looked up, taking in the Lost Boy, who was standing confidently. "You've only been gone a month this time, Ryoga. I hope you've gotten really damned good."

"Better than you can imagine, Ranma. Are you ready?"

"I was born ready, Ryoga. Anytime, anyplace."

"BUT not here!" Soun cried out, looking at the remains of his beautiful grounds.

Ryoga smirked. "That's all right, old man. We'll do it where I challenged Ranma the first time."

Ranma smiled. "Works for me, pork buns. Noon?"


"Oh, Ryoga? Don't be late. That's called forfeiting."


"I didn't stutter."

"Fine, Ranma. I'll be there, if it kills me."

Cologne swore, and took after the Lost Boy. Even if she had to drag him there by the scruff of his neck, he would be there.

"Ranma, did you see?" Akane asked carefully.

"Yup. He's actually gonna be there on time for once."

"Aren't you worried?"

"About Ryoga? Nope. He's not going to even see me coming."

"Ah, ok. You're not going to really hurt him, are you?"

"Heck no. Oh, and Akane? I think you shouldn't wear a dress. Things might get ugly. But don't wear your gi either."

"Right! You don't think Shampoo would do that, do you?"

"In a heartbeat."

A piece of paper tacked to a door fluttered in the breeze. On it was written in kanji, 'Ranma Saotome vs. Ryoga Hibiki – Challenge at Furinkan High School at noon.' In smaller writing, it read, 'Bets taken until the first punch is thrown.'

A shadow covered it for just a second. "My son!"

A huge crowd had gathered on the open field near Furinkan High School. The time on the tower showed just one minute to noon.

Cologne grinned from the sidelines. If everything worked out well, Shampoo should be distracting Ranma right about now, causing Ranma to forfeit his match with Ryoga. Ranma could be so simple sometimes.

"Grandmother? Shampoo didn't find Ranma."

"Then were is he? It isn't like him to be late." Cologne scanned the crowd, noting Akane and her family all sitting next to Ukyo. Genma was trying to weasel some food out of Ukyo. Ukyo was beating his brains in with her oversize spatula. But no sign of Ranma. She started to smile, thinking that this time, maybe Ranma was going to forfeit.

The bell started chiming the noon hour, when Ranma made his move. "Hey, Ryoga, you ready?" Ranma said from four feet in front of Ryoga.

Ryoga blinked, trying to figure out how Ranma had managed that trick. This could be ugly, if he had more nasty surprises like that. "You know it, Ranma," he said with false bravado.

Cologne squinted at Ranma. Something had changed in the young man in front of her. He had always been a fairly relaxed young man before, but now he was, well, intense would be the best way to describe him.

Nodoka stepped up to edge of the crowd, about to ask where her son was, when she spotted him. He was facing off with another young man, who was wearing a faded yellow and brown shirt. She stopped, her heart in chest aching with the joy she had at truly seeing her son for the first time in years.

Ryoga smiled, and then threw the first punch at nearly his full speed. He was shocked when Ranma blocked it easily. Ryoga started to throw a flurry of punches, and kicks. Ranma continued to block all of them for almost a minute.

The crowd gasped at the furious speed of Ryoga's attacks continued. Finally, one punch got through Ranma's defenses, sending him flying. The crowd winced, realizing why Nabiki had put such close odds on the fight.

Ranma skidded to a halt. He smiled, and rubbing his chin, responded, "Just like a baby's punch, eh Ryoga?"

Ryoga stopped in mid stride. Why did that sound so familiar? And then it dawned on him. "The Breaking Point!"

"Right in one, Ryoga."

Ryoga thought furiously. That put things on a far more even keel than he would have liked. He had been counting on that extra toughness to carry the fight. "It won't matter Ranma. I know that one too."

Ranma smiled, and then leaped to the offensive. He sent a wave of punches at Ryoga, watching as he blocked all but a few of the blows. An easily blocked kick touched the ground, exploding it with enough force to knock Ryoga off of his feet. While he was attempting to recover, he was hit another five times with stunning force.

Cologne watched from the side, her smile turning grim.

"Grandmother, when did Ranma get so good?" Shampoo asked.

"That is a very good question, Granddaughter." This could become even more intolerable. She had ridden this tightrope act, not teaching Ranma directly, but always being there for when he truly needed the aid of martial arts master. If he had become this good without her aid, then it said much for him. He must become part of the tribe. He must!

She could no longer afford to wait him out, and expect him to pick the prettier and better Amazon wife that he ignored for the weak and willful Japanese girl. Even if Ranma won this fight, she must take him home.

Ryoga grunted in pain. It really did appear to be an even match. He was still tougher than Ranma, he was sure of that. But Ranma was still faster. And so it was a stalemate. He hid a grin carefully, and started to spiral in a slow and easy circle. In moments, he let loose with the finishing move, shouting out, "Rising Dragon Ascension Blast!"

He was surprised when only a small wind buffeted him, not Ranma, barely moving his clothes. Ranma smirked, and then laughed loudly for a second. "That can't work on someone who has already mastered it, you know that."

"But, you didn't know that I was going to try and use that! You should have been caught off guard!"

"Nope. I'm expecting just about anything I've ever seen the old ghoul do. And then maybe something more."

Ryoga despaired. How was he going to beat Ranma? He had to stall! "Roaring Lion Bullet!" He cried out, unleashing his full ki blast at Ranma.

Ranma stood his ground, eyes suddenly alert. His aura glittered like ice crystals, and his right hand lashed out in a complex spiraling attack at the ki blast.

Ryoga stared in wonder as his blast was dissipated without even harming Ranma.

Ranma cracked his knuckles, and then said, "Ready for part two, Ryoga?"

Ryoga gulped, and then met Ranma's sudden charge. Blow flew from both in a symphony of rage and control. Ryoga's aura started to gutter a red, showing his true feelings. But the more furious that Ryoga became, the more calm and collected Ranma became. Even so, Ryoga was not letting himself be led into a spiral when Ranma tried that.

"Rising Dragon Ascension Blast, revised! Rising Dragon Punch!" Ranma cried out, his fist lashing out and making a tight spiral, dragging off the hot aura of Ryoga, and adding to it to his own to make an even stronger attack. Ranma's foot lashed out at the ground again, shattering the earth with an explosion of rock and dirt. Ryoga tried to dodge out of the way, and almost made it.

A horizontal funnel appeared, striking at Ryoga, and tearing a large furrow into the ground. It dragged in each piece of the explosion, making it a veritable maelstrom. Ryoga managed to put his hands up to block the stinging rocks from striking his eyes. It felt like hundreds of fist had struck him from all sides at once.

The attack faded, leaving the crowd gasping in awe. A sudden cheer rose up in the crowd.

Ryoga rose to his feet unsteadily. With shaking hands, he wiped the blood off of his forehead. "Is that your best?"

"No." And then Ranma charged full out. Moving at his full speed for the first time in the fight, he sent a rocketing attack at the unprepared boy. "Fist of Heaven!" Ranma cried out, channeling his inner rage into the attack. For some reason, righteous anger worked best with this attack.

Ryoga had just a moment to see the blur heading towards him before he saw nothing. He skidded across the ground painfully for over two hundred feet, landing in a heap.

The crowd cheered again, and started to walk up to Nabiki to start taking in their winnings. The few who had bet against Ranma scowled, but then responded to the jibes of their classmates for ever betting against Ranma.

Cologne pogoed up to Ranma, where he was standing over Ryoga. "Very good, Son-in-law. Good enough to be an Amazon."

Ranma picked up Ryoga, and then turned back to Cologne. "I am not your son in law. And I'll never marry Shampoo. Never."

"What? Foolish boy, you know that Shampoo can't go home until she brings you home with her."

"So? That's her problem, not mine."

Shampoo gasped. Ranma had never said these sort of things before. How could he? Didn't he see how much that she cared for him? How much she loved him?

"You dare? What sort of uncaring brute are you?"

"The path of a true martial artist is fraught with peril. The path of one who follows honor is even harder."

"So that is all you care about?" Cologne sniffed. It looked like she might have to challenge the boy today, after all.

"It's not like you care what I want. All you want to do is drag me off to China. Didn't you think about asking me what I wanted to do?" Ranma waved off her reply. "No, of course not. I'm only a stupid male. Right, Cologne?"

Cologne squinted at him suddenly. His whole attitude had changed towards her and Shampoo. "What is that supposed to mean?" she demanded.

"Exactly what I said. I'll never be a second class citizen, Cologne. I'd rather die than be taken back to the Joketzu."

"Don't speak such foolishness. You would be treated as an honored warrior and husband."

"Oh? Then I can become a member of your ruling council, right?"

"What? Of course n... Do you really think you can stand against three thousand years of Amazon history?" Cologne changed tack suddenly.

"You slipped up, old ghoul. I'll always be a second class citizen in your tribe, just because I'm male. Well, I don't bow to no one, no how."

"You have no choice."

"That's where your wrong, mummy. I do have a choice. You might not like it, but that's my decision."

"Mousse told you this, didn't he?" Cologne fumed. How dare he break the laws of the tribe.

"Mousse? Nope. I went to the library and did some research. I decided that I didn't like you or your tribe."

"Mousse warned you. That is the only truth here. Damn his impertinence."

"I already told you, Mousse didn't tell me nothing. I did ask him some things, but he wouldn't tell me. Something about that it would be breaking the law of his tribe."

"You are walking a dangerous path, Ranma. And not to just you."

"Are you threatening my family?"

"You're father? Of course not."

"Then who... Don't you even think about it, you old hag. You touch one hair on Akane's head, and I'll hunt you done the ends of the earth."

"That is entirely up to you, Ranma."

"No, actually, it isn't. You are threatening my son, and I will not tolerate that." Nodoka said suddenly, from behind Ranma. She had heard most of this conversation, and didn't like it one bit.

"And who are you?" Cologne shot right back.

"I am Nodoka Saotome."

"Ranma's mother!" Shampoo squealed in delight.

Ranma froze, unsure what to do. He spotted the Tendos off to the side, also not moving. Genma had disappeared, as usual. Akane looked terrified for some reason.

"Ah, then you would be the person to talk some sense into Ranma."

"It sounds that he is already talking sense. Ranma Saotome is engaged to marry a Tendo. This is the dictate of his family's honor. He has been engaged since before he was born."

"So you are holding him to that above and beyond all other relationships?"

"Of course. My son will not be marrying a foreign girl, and leaving with her. He has been gone for far too long."

"Very well. You have force this hand upon yourself. Ranma Saotome, I, Cologne, Elder of the Joketzu, challenge you to a duel of honor. If I win, you will come home with Shampoo and I and wed her."

"I, Ranma Saotome, Master of the..."

"Stop! Ranma that is not you title!" Happosai said suddenly. He bounced to the ground, near to Cologne.

Cologne smiled. Just one more volatile person to fight Ranma. Just what she needed to wear him down.

"You are no longer just a Master of the Arts. From this point forward, you are my heir and Grandmaster of the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts."

Soun fainted dead away, and a sign stuck itself out of a tree. It had scribbled on it, 'What!'

Cologne's eyes bugged out. "What?" Surely, Happosai was joking?

"That was the purpose of my challenge, boy. To see if you really are my true heir."

Ranma hadn't taken his eyes off of Cologne. "I, Ranma Saotome, Grandmaster of the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts, do accept your challenge. If I lose, I will give up all other claims to be married. If I win, you will leave Japan, and never set foot on it again."

Cologne looked at Ranma intently. "And what of Shampoo?"

"That is up to her. Not you, old ghoul."

"Agreed. Ha!" And with that she lunged at Ranma, striking out with her staff. Ranma blocked the blow expertly, and leaped away.

Cologne followed a little slower. She thought through her attacks carefully. Ranma had improved tremendously. She had yet to see a male that was as talented as him. She checked her pouch for her prepared package of catnip. He wouldn't win with the Cat Fist this time. Surreptitiously, she signaled Shampoo.

The rest of the crowd backed away hastily. Watching these fights was entertaining. Being in the middle of one is terrifying.

"Soun! It is so good to see you! And all of your daughters are here to support Ranma?"

"Ah, yes. Of course! My this is so surprising!" Soun babbled, putting on an air of happiness he really didn't feel.

"Have you seen my husband? I have some business that I must discuss with him. I would almost think that he was avoiding me. I know I just saw him a few minutes ago."

"I, ah, think he needed to leave. Something about a new training trip."

All three of the Tendo daughters winced at that horrible lie.

Nodoka looked at Soun thoughtfully for a second. "Is there something wrong, Soun?"

"Ah, nothing! Nothing at all, why do you ask?" Soun started to sweat profusely.

Nodoka looked over the three girls with a speculative look. Her gaze drifted over to Akane finally. "Akane, would you answer me truthfully? On your honor, is there a problem?"

Akane was stuck. "Yes, Auntie. There is. But I can't say." She bowed slightly, and scuffed the ground with her shoe.

Genma (as a panda of course) started to climb down the tree and to move away, sneaking as stealthily as possible. Unfortunately, Panda's aren't very sneaky. Nodoka glanced over at the transformed martial artist. He whipped out a sign that said, 'I'm just a cute panda!'

"Of course you are... aren't you?" Nodoka looked the animal over thoughtfully. The panda was acting just like... Genma used to! It couldn't be. Nodoka walked over to the animal. She started to inspect the animal closely. The panda started to sweat profusely.

It wasn't a suit, but the animal was wet. Strangely enough, whenever she ran into this particular panda, he was always wet. He dried off quickly enough, of course. Genma reached for a new sign, just as Nodoka spoke, "Genma?"

The panda froze, holding a sign up with his thoughts blatantly displayed, 'I'm dead!'

"How?" Nodoka froze. This was Ranko's panda. Ranko wasn't here, but her panda was.

Genma whipped the sign around so you could see what was written on the other side, 'Please don't kill me!'

There was only one thing that Genma would be that afraid of. "What happened to my son? Genma?" She snagged his fur before he could flee.

Soun took this moment to break into tears. "Now the families will never be joined! Oh the horror. The agony!"

"Dad!" Akane yelled at him. This was beyond bad. Nodoka had finally figured out Ranma and Genma's curse.

"Akane, what happened to Ranma?"

Akane took a deep breath. "Uh, it kind of started in China, I guess."

Cologne watched Ranma carefully. His movements were quite different. A litheness that had always been there had been magnified. His strikes were sure. They had been become ever faster and stronger too.

She built up to her full speed, leading him to the moves known only to the elders as 'Crushing the Male Spirit.' She had not gotten the chance to use this on Ranma in the past. Her desire for entertainment and sport had over ridden her good sense. That would not happen again.

Her fist was blocked by a flat palm, stopping her attack cold just before it would have struck Ranma's face. She was so surprised that she was struck by his return punch.

"What's wrong, old bat? Surprised? Don't be. I know the secret of your techniques. And I know the counters."

"How? It isn't possible!"

"Would you believe Akane showed that to me? Doing my own speed training for her and she beats me hands down. Because you taught me wrong so that you could drag me back to China. That'll happen over my dead body."

The two figures struck out at each other, blows blurring even faster. Cologne had to frown. Ranma was actually a fair amount faster. The only thing saving her was her technique. But she could literally see him making those techniques his own. She had to stop him, before he learned even more of the Amazons secrets.

She tapped into her center of power, bringing a whirlwind into existence with mere flick of her staff. It struck Ranma head on, flinging him into the air. "Ha, you're still two hundred years to young to take me on, boy!"

Ranma struggled to hold himself steady. Narrowing his eyes, he opened the cold within him, taking every last bit of the ki in the air. The basis of the 'Rising Dragon Ascension Blast' isn't really cold, it's the ability to absorb or redirect your foes aura, making it your own. Just as a cold object absorb the heat in the area, a martial artist with a cold battle aura absorbs his foes ki attacks. A hard lesson that he had learned from Herb.

Cologne smiled. The harder he struggled, the harder he would fall. It was inevitable. A bright light sparked within the vortex, and a shuddering cold swept the area.

Cologne gasped. What was he doing? She gasped because Ranma had become a blue-white star in the air. The whirlwind was absorbed into him, fueling his own power. The air stilled and Ranma landed on the ground with a small tip tap.

Cologne watched in surprise as she saw Ranma's few bruises heal almost instantly. "That is not an Amazon technique!"

"Nope. That's something I noticed about the perver... Happosai. He could bounce back from almost any situation. With enough ki, you can heal almost any wound instantly, negate any exertion. And become even faster and stronger. HA!"

Cologne was suddenly on the defensive. Ranma was correct! He was now even faster and stronger than before. She was only able to stop him for a moment, but she channeled even more power from her staff. It was a small known secret, that the Joketzu Elders could imbue their staffs with a pool of ki. It took years to get hers as powerful as it was right now.

She had a terrible feeling that she was going to need every trick in her bag to defeat Ranma this time.

"And, well, Ranma has three fiancées now," Akane finished.

"Me, the cute fiancée, Akane the uncute fiancée, and Shampoo by her tribal laws," Ukyo said helpfully. Just to keep matters clear on who was who. She scraped her grill clean, preparing another okonomiyaki.

"He seems manly enough. What were you worried about, Genma? Any man who has three girls chasing after him is truly manly. And they chase after him even while he's cursed to turn into a girl. My son makes me proud," Nodoka stated loudly. A huge smile was on her face. "You are just lucky that you didn't make the same promise, Genma. Otherwise, I'd have to punish you for what you've done. You hiding this problem from me was not very manly."

Akane opened her mouth to continue the conversation when she was interrupted by a "Hello! Shampoo very happy to meet mother in law."

"She isn't your mother in law, Shampoo!"

"Why? Akane-kitchen-destroyer want to marry Ranma? Akane always say she not want to marry 'pervert-boy.' Why Akane change mind?"

"Ranma isn't a pervert! He, he proved that when he showed me that Ryoga was the true pervert! I couldn't believe he snuck into my bath like that!"

Nabiki blinked in surprise. "Um, Akane, you took Ryoga into that bath, remember?"

Nodoka said quietly, "Um, excuse me."

"No, I didn't! He snuck in there!"

"Akane, you gave Ryoga a hot bath and figured out that he was P-chan."


"Akane, Ryoga is P-chan."

"No he isn't… He can't be…" Akane grasped her head trying to fight for her memories.

Nabiki sighed and pulled out a stage horn, put it up to Akane's ear and shouted, "Ryoga is P-chan! Remember!"

You could hear an audible snap, as the final thread of the subconscious command broke away. "I remember! Ryoga is P-Chan! I've known it for almost a year. B-but I couldn't ever make myself remember."

Shampoo decided it was time to leave. She wasn't helping matters here. She snapped to a halt at the angry cry of, "Shampoo! You did this!"

"Shampoo not know what Akane speak of."

"You're lying. You, you used that memory erasing technique on me, didn't you?"

"N-n-no! Shampoo... only watch."

"Cologne! She did this! To keep me and Ranma apart!" Akane yelled out.

"Like she needed to. You guys fight often enough anyways," Nabiki said dryly.

"Grr. Shampoo! You'll pay for that!" Akane swept a kick out a Shampoo's face.

"Shampoo accept challenge from Akane any time! I show Ranma what real wife is supposed to be like! And no Ranma to stop me this time!"

"I don't need Ranma to fight my battles!"

"Ha, weak pervert girl thinks she knows how to fight!"

Ukyo snickered in the background. She'd let those two beat each other up, and then clean up the loser.

This was the cue for all noncombatants to clear the area. Even Nodoka stepped quickly.

Akane lashed out at her full speed, catching the Amazon off guard. Akane hammered away as fast as she could go.

Shampoo finally got her guard back up, starting to block the almost invisible blows coming at her. She was shocked at the speeds of the punches. If she hadn't just finished the 'Breaking Point' training, she would have just lost to Akane!

They started a grueling match, trading strike for strike. Akane had really increased her speed and power of her punches. Each one stung, even know. Shampoo managed to send a set of complex kicks and punches into Akane, staggering her.

She was shocked when Akane mostly shrugged off the blows. What had Ranma done? Shampoo brought out her new technique to the fore, exploding the ground under Akane.

Akane managed to block most of it, but a few shards cut her. She hadn't trained specifically for this sort of thing. She ended up trading more blows with Shampoo, and then realized a shocking thing. She was going to lose because of Shampoo's new toughness. She started to leap and dodge, trying to figure out a new way to defeat Shampoo.

Shampoo smiled evilly. She had Akane now. And with that she leaped to the chase.

Akane almost tripped over something as she landed in the grass. She steadied herself, and blocked Shampoo's unrelenting attacks. Suddenly, she smiled back at Shampoo.

She knew how she could defeat Shampoo.

"You can not stand up to three thousand years of history, Ranma! Secrets so terrible that they overthrew empires, are ours! Secret techniques that only a handful of people in the entire history have known, are ours. Splitting the Cats Whiskers!" Cologne shouted out.

In moments Cologne and her images were circling Ranma faster and faster. She sent out her first attack, just as Ranma crouched to leap away. She was startled to realize that she didn't see where he had gone. She continued to use the Splitting the Cats Whiskers technique to confuse him. At least she hoped it confused him.

Ranma breathed a sigh of relief, and then continued to focus his mind in the complex nothingness of invisibility. He'd only have one chance at this. He sweat bullets, keeping to ki technique active while stabbing at the ground with a finger to use the Breaking Point again.

The ground at Cologne's feet inside the spinning circle suddenly exploded. She unconsciously blocked the debris that would have struck her eyes. She realized her error as Ranma appeared right in front of her, matching the spinning of the real Cologne.

His aura turned a hungry blue, absorbing the images as they continued their breakneck battle. He paid for his concentration in a second, when Cologne managed to strike three blows home with her finger. That should disable his left arm and leg, plus also slow him down at the same moment, Cologne noted absently as she continued to fight.

Ranma hissed in pain, as his entire arm became a flaming beacon. He swept a kick at Cologne and then leaped away. His free hand lashed out, sending a small blizzard of shurikan at Cologne. She pulled back for just a moment, barely avoiding the razor sharp implements. That had been an almost unpleasant surprise. Since when did Ranma use weapons?

In that precious moment, Ranma's hand hit three different shiatsu points, neutralizing the nerve pinch.

Cologne gritted her teeth. What had happened to the other pressure points? He should have been disabled, and waiting for the coup de grace. Something odd was happening here. A thought snapped to the fore. Hidden weapons! She must not have actually struck Ranma with those other two blows, merely some of his weapons. Mousse would pay!

Ranma narrowed his eyes. Cologne had an incredible amount of power at her disposal, but she should have been at least a bit tired out by his draining that much ki in one shot. His hands snapped out not at her (though it looked like it to begin with) but at her staff.

Cologne almost laughed at the easy swipes of his hands, simply blocked by her staff. He was leaving himself wide open for a counter attack. In seconds, her staff was kindling, shredded by the Cat Fist. Cologne gasped out, "How?"

Ranma didn't bother answering then, as a veritable storm of stored ki was released into the air. His aura glittered deeper, sucking in the years worth of ki in moments.

Cologne saw what was happening, and also pushed herself to pull in the ki. In moments they had drained the area, and she achieved a balance with Ranma.

"The Cat Fist can also be accessed by an intense, almost insane, anger. I was very angry after what I had learned you had tried to do. But I didn't black out and truly enter the Cat Fist. And so I finally learned how to harness some of the Cat Fist."

"So, you are finally maturing, young man. But, as the saying goes, age and treachery will defeat youth and enthusiasm." Cologne reached deep within her, and brought to the fore her total acumen of her art in a battle meditation. Over a hundred years of intensive training by some of the best masters her tribe had ever had to offer.

Ranma barely leaped away as the aged martial artist became a thunderstorm of motion. Ranma let himself be pushed away by the buffeting, using his greater reach and stamina to stay away from the Elder of Joketzu.

Cologne narrowed her eyes. Ranma had truly prepared for even this eventuality. Amazing.

Ranma sent more shurikan streaking towards the ancient martial artist. Cologne casually swatted the annoying implements away. She caught just hint of movement, and felt a burst of pain in her shoulder, where a hidden pressure point was seated deeply within the flesh. Normally the only way to use this pressure point was by digging in with your fingers, or... an acupuncture's needle.

She leaped to the defensive, granting her the time to pull out the needle, and swiftly strike the prerequisite shiatsu points to unparalyze her arm. Blood started to flow back into it. A worthy gesture, but he wouldn't get the chance to try that again.

"Is that your best, Ranma?" Cologne rasped.

"Pretty much."

"It isn't enough. You lose, Son-in-law."

And so the battle continued for the next few minutes. Ranma continued to keep away and tried to wear her out. Suddenly, Cologne felt a strange vertigo, and staggered.

Ranma was instantly in front of her, hands blurring to his utmost. Cologne tried to repel his assault as valiantly as she could, but her body was betraying her. First one, then a second blow struck home. Then a furious symphony of blows struck. In moments, one of the greatest warriors of the Joketzu tribe had been defeated. She collapsed, unconscious before she hit the ground.

Ranma kept his breathing steady and even. He kept his position for a minute and then bowed deeply to the fallen warrior. "Age and treachery will defeat youth and enthusiasm, but not youth and treachery, old hag."

Ranma turned around and had his heart seem to stop in his chest. Shampoo and Akane were battling intensely. Even from here, Ranma could tell that Akane was losing and would soon fall. He rushed towards her, hoping beyond hope that he would be in time.

Akane continued to lead Shampoo across the school yard. Actually it was closer to a strategic retreat. It was pretty damn near a rout. Finally she was in position. She stumbled and then leaped away, as if she was going to try and flee. Shampoo followed eagerly, scenting the kill and her victory.

Akane twisted, struggling to land in just the right way. This was going to hurt, she thought glumly. A shadow appeared above her, Shampoo ready to deal with this obstacle once and for all.

And then Akane lashed out the inset plastic cover that was in the grass, hiding the mechanized valve controls for the schools sprinkler system. With a mighty 'kia' she shattered not only the plastic covering, but also the metal pipes and valves. She twisted at the last minute, letting the full spray of water strike at the descending figure above her.

Shampoo had just a moment to gape at the sudden water spout that had sprouted under her. She felt her curse change her in awful clarity.

Shampoo yowled loudly as she landed on the ground with a thud. She started to climb out of her now oversized clothing. Suddenly a hand reached out and grabbed her outfit.

With a mighty heave, Akane put her whole hip and shoulder into swinging Shampoo with her unhurt hand. With a resounding crash that cracked concrete, Shampoo slammed into the sidewalk, and knew no more.

With shuddering sobs, Akane frantically checked the small form in front of her for signs of life. She relaxed as she realized that the cat was only unconscious. It seemed the Breaking Point was effective even in her cursed form, though weakened.

"Akane!" Ranma screamed out as he scooped her up. In his haste, he hadn't even realized that she had been holding a cat. Shampoo was dropped to the ground unceremoniously. The spraying water hissed in the background.

Akane smiled crookedly, and then said quietly, "See? I'm a martial artist too." And with that she collapsed into his waiting arms.

Cologne finally awoke to see a circle of faces watching her intently. She struggled for just a second, and then realized what had happened. "I have been. . . defeated. Intolerable as it is, I will hold to word of honor. I will leave Japan, never to set foot on it again."

Ranma nodded. "Shampoo can stay. You were the only one that I was worried about."

"You are condemning her to a life as an outsider, away from her people."

"No, your laws are. It's your stupid laws that are keeping her away from her people. Your laws that don't care about anyone else's laws. Your laws which are forcing me to marry against my will."

"How dare you! Our laws have kept us strong for thousands of years! We are one of the..."

"...most backwards, behind the times little tribes that hasn't even bothered to join the present. If you even slightly believed in equality for men and women, I might have thought about it. But you don't, and I won't be shackled into your society."

"Shackled? It is no more different than the way that you men treat your women. We are just defending ourselves and our way of life."

"Go tell it to someone else, Cologne." And with that Ranma gently scooped up Akane.

Cologne stared in sudden hatred at the impertinent young man. Slowly, she bent over and picked up the bedraggled form of Shampoo and left.

Nodoka looked over her son as he carefully cradled his fiancee and carried her to the Tendo's home. "I'm very proud of you, my son. Even after the horrors that Genma has inflicted on you, you are still very manly. Especially after being inflicted with such a horrible curse."

"Heh, heh. Um, curse?" Ranma looked around for someone to help bail him out of this situation.

Nabiki silently held up five fingers, and nodded to Ranma. In her other hand she held the unconscious Ryoga in his cursed form by his bandana.

Ranma nodded back imperceptibly. Nabiki smiled, and then spoke up, "You know, the curse that turns you into a girl. That curse." Ranma was so easy skim money off of. It really wasn't a challenge.

"Oh, yeah. That curse. How could I forget?" Ranma started to sweat as he looked back to his mother. Damn Nabiki.

"As long as it doesn't affect you, then the curse isn't that big of a deal. And you have such lovely girls chasing after you. Shampoo was quite pretty. Unacceptable of course, being a foreigner. That Ukyo is pretty cute. And Akane of course."

"Y-yeah, of course!"

Nodoka smiled and then whispered in his ear, "So which one is better in bed, Ranma? You must know, being so manly."

"Mother! Um, not here!" Ranma blurted out.

"Oh, of course." She looked at the girl that Ranma was holding so protectively. "She is a bit of a tomboy, isn't she? Not as bad as 'Ranko' of course." Nodoka giggled at that. No wonder 'Ranko' had tried so hard to avoid being 'girlish.'

A resounding slap rung out, as Akane's right hand connected to Ranma's face. Akane opened her eyes, eyes that were flashing with anger. "I am not!"

"You can be so uncute at times, you know that?" Ranma sighed in exasperation. How come he was always the target for her slaps?

The pain finally made it to Akane's mind. She grasped her broken hand, and started to sob in pain. Ranma started to panic. "What's wrong? Akane?"

"My hand. It hurts. It really hurts. Real bad." Her tears flowed freely as she cradled her hand.

"Oh, dear. It looks like Akane broke her hand. She should really go to the Emergency room... ?" Kasumi stopped, realizing that she was speaking to open air. She glanced around, trying to spot Ranma and Akane.

Nodoka blinked in surprise. "My son seems to be quite... athletic. And he really does seem to be smitten with Akane, doesn't he?"

Kasumi smiled. "Of course. They just won't admit it to themselves. But it's quite obvious."

Genma started to do the happy dance (even if he was a panda). Soun unfortunately couldn't decide whether to cry or dance in joy. He settled for sobbing as he was spun around by the panda.

Nabiki kneaded her forehead. "Oh, will you two quit it. Akane'll be fine. Jeeze, don't they ever learn?"

"We really should go with them, you know. It's only a mile or so," Kasumi said brightly.

"I'll see you at home Kasumi. Try to drag these two home too, ok?"

Akane swung her cast around that evening as she headed home from the hospital. "This is all your fault! You know that, don't you?" The others had left hours ago, as she had to wait to have a cast put on her, and then let it set up. Ranma had been the only one to stay the entire time.

"Why's it my fault?" Ranma demanded.

"I wouldn't have had to fight Shampoo if you would just tell her to leave you alone!"

"Ha, like she'd listen to me. Besides, there's no way that I'm gonna marry her and go back to China!"

Akane stopped just a second. "You told her that?"

"Well, yeah! The old bat wasn't very happy either!"

Her mind slowly turned that piece of information over in her mind. "You really have been thinking about this haven't you?"


"So, um, have you made a decision?"


Akane gritted her teeth. She was still feeling a bit woozy from the pain medication they had put her on. And her arm still hurt! "Getting married, stupid."

Ranma fell over. "What?"

"I guess not." She really wasn't that inclined to find out if Ranma had picked Ukyo over her.

Ranma relaxed. "I am not getting married," he responded automatically.

Akane rolled her eyes. "Never, huh?" Same old Ranma. She had really hoped that he would have picked her, but no, he had to waffle some more.

Ranma blinked, and then replied, "Well, not right now."

Akane sneaked a surprised glance at him. "So you have made a choice?" Her heart started to ache. He'd already asked Ukyo.

"Well, um, not really. Why are you so curious, anyways?"

Akane blinked, and then thought about that for a second. "Heh, heh. Silly me. I was, um, just asking."

They continued to walk back to the house. The silence was oppressive. Ranma spoke up suddenly as they turned onto the block that had the Tendo home on it. "Why do you, er, care?"

Akane blushed and stammered out, "Well, you could be deciding on me, right? Shouldn't I care about that?"

"Oh. Right."

They passed another couple of houses. "That's all?" Ranma asked.

"What do you mean?" Akane demanded.


"It had to be something, Ranma."

"Well, I, uh, wouldn't really, erm, mind, heh heh, staying here." Ranma vaguely nodded to the house in front of them.

Akane tried to decipher what Ranma had just said. She stopped right in front of the gate. "D-do you really mean that, Ranma?"

"Of course! Well, I think so. I'm not sure."

"Mm hmm. I r-really wouldn't mind either."


"Uh huh."

They drifted slowly closer. A mere hands breadth was in between them.

"Why hello, Akane! Are you feeling better?" Kasumi said brightly as she opened the gate.

"AHHHHHH!" they both screamed, jumping up onto the wall. They both looked around frantically, checking to see if someone had overheard what they had just said.

"You two are just so silly sometimes. Why don't you come in and have supper?"

"Sure Kasumi!"

They both hopped down nervously and walked into the yard. Ranma whispered to Akane, "You don't think she heard, do you?"

Akane shrugged her shoulder ruefully and replied, "I don't know, Ranma."

"Oh, boy. That could be bad."

"Why?" Akane hissed back in a whisper.

"Do you want to get married tonight?" Ranma said, opening the door.

"Tonight?" Akane squeaked out loudly.

"SHUSH! What are you trying to do... ?" Ranma stared in surprise at his mother. Nodoka smiled right back at him where she sat at the table. Genma and Nabiki also sat at the table.

"Come and sit next to me, Ranma."

Ranma sidled up to Nodoka, and made room for Akane. Ranma tried to stifle a surge of nervousness. Nodoka played with his hair a little bit, trying to straighten it up. "Imagine my surprise, coming to visit the Tendo's again after my trip to the beach, and finding out that Ranma was fighting a challenge at the local high school." She paused a second, looking closely at Ranma's features. "I knew you instantly when I saw you, you know that? You looked so handsome and brave. I even saw Genma, at least until I stepped up to talk to that horrid women who was going to try and take you away."

"Uh huh." Ranma glanced around quickly, noting Kasumi coming out of the kitchen.

Akane looked over at her middle sister and asked, "Where's Daddy?"

"He's lying down. Attack of nerves and all. Daddy is such a wimp."

"The Tendo's have graciously offered to let me stay the night. I'll be in guest room with Genma of course."

Ranma nodded weakly. He was still a bit nervous around his mother.

"Ranma will, of course, sleep with Akane, as he always does," Genma said with a nervous smile.

It took a few long moments for his words to seep into Ranma and Akane minds. Nodoka smiled widely, eyes closed as she dreamed of grandchildren for just a moment. So she missed the expression of shock on both of their faces. They opened their mouths to protest, but were cut off by Genma. "After all, he's been sharing the same bed for months now, right Nabiki?"

"Oh, of course. Months." Nabiki idly counted a billfold of yen in her hands. She smiled as she thought of all of the money that she had made today. And tomorrow would be even better!

"My manly son. You do your mother proud!"

"Right. Of course." Ranma looked sick.

Akane opened her mouth, and then snapped it closed. She saw the unhappy face of Kasumi out of the corner of her vision, nodding her head sadly.

The rest of the meal passed without notice. Ranma and Akane were too busy sneaking glances at each other.

Akane sat on her bed, all ready to go to sleep. The door opened, showing Ranma's back. "Good night, Mom. Sleep well." He stepped in, and closed the door.

Akane looked up as Ranma quickly divested himself of all of his extra weapons. Akane watched in amazement at the piles of weapons and odds 'n ends. She quirked her eyebrows upwards at seeing a pile of small needles "What were those for?" she asked curiously.

Ranma grinned, and then replied, "Those are what defeated Cologne, actually. An herbal remedy that relaxes the flow of ki within the body. Something I found out while studying the healing uses of shiatsu. She lost control of her ki for just a few moments. And I won."

"You cheated?"

"It ain't named 'Anything Goes' for no reason. Besides, your defeat of Shampoo was a low blow too. Using her curse against her. Really."

"That was different! I thought she was going to kill me!"

"And I knew Cologne was going to take me back to China. No difference. We both won. That was the important thing."

"Yeah, I guess so," Akane's voice trailed off as Ranma shucked his outer clothing.

She bit her lip nervously as Ranma slowly walked toward her. "Uh, heh, this really wasn't what I expected to happen today," Ranma said nervously. He played with his pigtail for a second.

Akane looked up at him, an angry retort on her lips. The only thing that saved him was the fact that he was blushing so much, and looked so self conscious. Akane whispered to him, "So are you going to sleep on the floor?"

"And what if my mom checks up on us at night?" Ranma whispered back.

"Oh. Right. Ditto for becoming a girl, I guess. If you touch me, I'll pound you so hard, you'll wake up next century."

"Heh, heh. Right." Ranma slid under the covers, trying to stay as far away from Akane as possible. They flicked off the light, and tried to settle in to sleep.

Ranma tried to slide just bit further away from Akane, and overbalanced at the edge of the bed. He slipped to the floor with a loud thump.

"What do you think you're doing, idiot?"

"Nothing! I just fell out of bed," Ranma whispered back.

"Well get back in bed, and quit moving around!"

Ranma slid back into bed, moving so that he wouldn't fall out. Akane shifted uncomfortably, feeling his knee touch her leg briefly. She moved back slowly, and fell in between the bed and the wall. She pulled the covers with her, leaving Ranma nothing.

"Hey!" He reached out and tried to pull the covers back, entangling her further.

"Will you quit that!"


Akane finally extracted herself from her covers, and got back into bed. With a little bit of help, the cover was put back over both occupants.

For a short while, nothing happened, and then Ranma turned over, trying to get more comfortable. He felt himself teeter on the edge, and grabbed at the blanket to balance himself. Akane growled as she felt the covers starting to pull away, and yanked them back. Ranma was pulled off balance, and slid back off the bed.

He rubbed his posterior for a second, glaring at Akane. Akane glared right back at him. "This isn't going to work."

"So? Got any bright ideas?"

"I-if you held me close, you wouldn't fall out." Ranma couldn't see it, but Akane was blushing a vibrant red.

"Ah." Silence reigned for a second. "Ifyoudon'tmind!" Ranma blurted out.

The things she did for him some times. Akane swallowed noisily. "Just don't try anything funny!"

Ranma slid back into bed and very carefully, hugged Akane closer. Both of them were very tense, barely breathing.

"Relax, Ranma. I'm not going to bite your head off."

"Um, sure." Slowly, carefully, he started to relax. Almost unconsciously, he actually started to enjoy just being able to hold her there. Akane duplicated Ranma, her breath coming back to her, tension draining out of her. She found that she really didn't mind him holding her either.

Moments drifted by and became minutes. Quietly, in case Akane had drifted off, Ranma said, "Good night."

She had been thinking about how nice Ranma had been recently. She shifted herself a bit so that she could look at Ranma. Very slowly she touched lips with him and then replied, "Good night."

Ukyo slid up to Akane's balcony, moving as stealthily as a mouse. A rented camera was removed from her backpack. She smiled in anticipation. It would be worth every yen for this tidbit of information from Nabiki. One of her 'shuriken spatulas' eased the window open a crack. Slow minutes of work edged the window the rest of the way open.

Her breath caught sharply. There wasn't a lump on the ground! Had Ranma fled? "Damn," she muttered quietly. Ah, well. A few snapshots of Akane sleeping alone in bed should be worth almost as much as Akane and Ranma sleeping separately in her room. She flicked the switch on the flash with a muted click, and prepared to take her 'incriminating' evidence.

Not that she'd ever really use it to blackmail Ranma. But she could definitely threaten him with these negatives. She'd have to thank Nabiki for the nice camera. It was high speed, and had a large flash, perfect for taking picture. Ukyo snapped her first picture at Akane's bed.

The flash illuminated two heads, snuggled up together, sharing one pillow. Ranma and Akane started and jumped, looking around in the predawn darkness of her room. Ukyo's finger froze on the button, snapping another picture when the flash was ready.

"Hey!" "What?" exclaimed the two blinded martial artists. They struggled to free themselves from the blankets, tripping up each other, and binding it tighter around them. After the fifth flash, Ukyo unfroze enough slip out into the morning and start running. That wasn't what she supposed to be seeing this morning.

Nabiki grinned while stepping into the room. She hadn't even had to wait very long for Ukyo to show up. The lights flicked on as she pointed the camera at her sister and Ranma all wrapped up in a bundle and snapped her first picture. She had taken three more before it occurred to ask them what they were doing. "My, Akane. I didn't know you were quite that forward. What would Kasumi think?"

Akane was blushing furiously. How did this always happen to her? Her hands were wrapped around Ranma quite tightly, and she couldn't even free them. Her right arm started to let her know that it was hurting. "Nabiki! Get out of mmmy room." Akane was interrupted by an odd sensation.

"Of course! I wouldn't want to interrupt my little sister's morning exercises." With that, Nabiki slipped out of the room, closing the door behind her.


Ranma was twisting and shifting, trying to get his arms free from Akane's constricting hug. Both of his arms were trapped in between him and Akane. "Dang, can't get loose."

"Ranma, stop th-that."

Ranma froze instantly, as he realized where his hands were. Both were tangled up in Akane's shirt and pants, and Ranma could feel Akane's hand on his lower back. His blood started to boil, his eyes only inches away from Akane. An Akane that he was sure was going to pummel him into next year any moment.

Akane wouldn't want to admit it, but she really didn't mind staring into his eyes. Ranma had frozen like a deer in a spotlight. This really was one of the worst compromising positions that she had ever been in. She should be terribly angry. Furious.

But everyone had left. Their fathers hadn't charged in, extolling their forward thinking to preserve the families and the dojo. Nabiki had already gotten their pictures. And it was doubtful that Kasumi would even show up. And Ranma looked so cute, frozen in fear like that.

So it was just the two of them. They drifted closer together, until their lips touched gently. Slowly they worked at freeing themselves, lips never parting. Eventually, they managed to slip the covers off of them. Finally they broke apart, breath heavy and hot.

Ranma couldn't help but stare at Akane. In their struggles Akane's top had become almost all the way unbuttoned, revealing a generous swell of flesh, while preserving her modesty, just barely.

Akane noted where his eyes were glued. Impishly, she clasped her hands together in front of her while shifting her shoulders a bit. It didn't reveal anything more, it merely emphasized what she had quite nicely. "Uncute, am I?"

Ranma shook his head feebly. "Not uncute." Slowly, tentatively, he reached up to cup her face bringing her closer to him. They were about to resume their kissing when the door opened with what seemed a deafening click.

Nodoka blinked, taking in the sight of two young adults that looked as if they had got their hands caught in the cookie jar. "Oh, never mind. You two look like you doing fine." She slid the door closed.

They blushed at each other for a few long moments. Ranma finally built up the courage and finally spoke up, "Maybe we should, uh, continue this later?" A hint of desire and longing laced his words.

Akane nodded frantically. She knew if she said anything, that it would just come out wrong. Maybe things would work out anyways?

The two families were seated for an early morning breakfast, seeing as most of the house had risen early from the sounds coming from Akane's room.

Kasumi sat herself after depositing the last bowls of breakfast in front of everyone.

"So, Ranma? When were you planning on the ceremony?" Nodoka asked with a large smile.

Ranma's chopsticks froze for just a second, letting Akane and Genma steal from his bowl. "I, uh, we hadn't talked about it recently, Mom."

Akane ground to a halt in her own meal. Soun and Genma looked on expectantly. Nodoka looked over at the young girl expectantly. "So what sort of ceremony were you looking at, Akane?"

"Heh, I really hadn't thought about it much." She took a deep breath, and looked over at Ranma. "I was thinking about a western ceremony. They're more, well, romantic."

Ranma's eyes bugged out a second, until he remembered their conversation at the gate. "That'd be really nice!" Ranma managed to blurt out.

Nabiki's head had been snapping from one talker to the next. She had to be dreaming.

Soun passed out, while Genma merely looked pole axed. Kasumi smiled brightly. They finally admitted it!

"Oh, how nice! We'll need to plan it just right! And we'll need to wait for Akane's arm to heal of course. Two months? I'd rather do it sooner, but it is better to wait until Akane is healed."

Akane stared at Ranma, who stared back at her. Their gazes broke as they ducked their heads low. Akane finally answered softly, "That would be nice, Auntie."

"Yeah, nice."

"Well, it's settled! Oh, I'll have to go out and buy some bridal magazines!"

Ranma and Akane stepped out of the front gate. With a gentle nod from Akane, they started to walk towards school. Akane slowed her walk just slightly before Ranma could take his normal spot on the fence. She held out her left hand.

Ranma licked his lips, and then slowly reached out and took it. They resumed walking, not believing their good luck. Soon they were trotting along towards school, smiles evident on their faces.

The End.