A metafiction by Brian Randall
Disclaimer: Original source is Ranma 1/2, which is the property and creation of Rumiko Takahashi. Her paints, my easel, and the brush is borrowed without permission (hence this disclaimer) from Kenko and Chris Jones, as this metafic is inspired by 'Fair Warning' and 'The Tomboy Solution'.
Note: Fans of the above fics will probably not enjoy the effects of this one. Consider yourselves warned. Divergence. You'll know it when you see it.
She stared at the paper in her hands suspiciously. It was true, she had to admit, that she won the little contests the shopkeepers in the Furinkan district held. That was how she'd gotten to the hot springs race, miserable experience that it ultimately was.
Now the raffle prize was a 'free consultation' from a 'Dr. Chrono'. The name was unfamiliar, and spelled out in English characters. A handy katakana pronunciation guide was written on the margin of the paper, along with a time and directions to appear for her appointment. To her, it seemed somewhat suspicious, especially since it was a prize drawn at random from a box full of papers, yet ... it had her name on it.
Still, nothing for it, she thought. Oh, it could be some kidnapping ploy, or a trick from a rival to try...
Well, she couldn't imagine what, really. Ranma was on a training trip with his father. And her father. So with him gone, she reasoned that her rivals would find other things to do. Until he came back, at least.
So without anything better to do, she found herself standing before the shabby storefront of 'Dr. Chrono's Consultorium'. The shingle below his nameplate read, 'dreams and destinies divined, hopes half off'. Pursing her lips doubtfully, she reached out a hand and twisted the doorknob, revealing an interior every bit as dim and dust-covered as she had expected.
The room was furnished, barely. There was a large desk opposite the door, a heavy piece of wood and stone that she expected required the demolition and reconstruction of at least one wall. The chair behind the desk was a massive and plush leather affair, though it was empty at the moment. A laptop computer sat haphazardly on one corner of the table, near an empty white ceramic mug, and a trashcan sat on the floor.
Above the chair, on the wall, hung a single certificate. She started to step closer to examine it and find out what this doctor was a doctor of, when she heard a cough behind her. Spinning, she watched a tall and pale man with long black hair in a tightly braided queue step through the door. His lips twitched into a haughty smile as he reached into a pocket and produced a notebook.
"Tendo Akane," he intoned, one green eye and one blue eye glittering. "So will it be read in the books of days that on this, the fourteenth of April, you did come into my demesne with invitation to see what lies beyond." He snapped the book shut and pocketed it.
She blinked, as the man glided smoothly around her, hanging his long black coat on a hook she hadn't seen before on the wall near the door. Beneath, his suit was immaculate black, save a white shirt worn beneath his business jacket. He adjusted a black silk tie and took a seat at the desk, gesturing behind her. "Please," he said. "Make yourself comfortable.
Turning again, she spotted a chair she'd somehow missed on her previous inspections of the room. "No thank you," she said politely, turning back. 'Dr. Chrono' was a rather creepy person, she'd decided, and while she would listen -- everyone deserved a chance -- she would be wary around him. "I'm fine, actually." She paused, as the doctor looked at his laptop and tapped a few keys in sequence. "Um. If I can ask, what are you a doctor of?"
"Time," he said absently, before his eyes shifted from the screen to lock on her. "In this place. But it is not me we are here to discuss, Tendo Akane. I bear you a warning."
She blinked. Was the man insane, perhaps? "What about?"
He shook his head and produced a pencil from a desk drawer, then extended a hand expectantly. "Your ticket," he said.
Frowning, Akane handed the paper over. He scanned it expectantly, then offered a terse nod, making a mark next to her name. "Some force will enter your life soon," he said in clipped tones, tossing the paper into the rubbish bin. "It will grant you the power of your dreams. It is potential, and much will be wasted."
"Oh?" she asked skeptically.
"Indeed. For proof, I offer you that you will see also a bookmark. A chair which spins in place. Then a suit of power which you may take," he said by way of explanation. "Yet. I will warn you that you will use this power poorly."
She blinked, adopting a wary expression and nodding. "Of course," she said mildly. "And then?"
"That is up to you, as always," he said with a shrug. "Regardless. Your initial impulse, I will tell you, is the incorrect one. It is not Ranma you should use your power against. If you wish to achieve your desired result, a direct attack will not aid you. Think, Tendo Akane, and when you receive your boon-"
He cut off as a shrill ringing began to sound, quickly replaced with loudly blasting music. Akane thought she recognized some of the English lyrics. "Bow down before the one you serve," the doctor's cell-phone belted out as he searched for the 'answer' button. "You're going to get what you deserve!"
"This is Dr. Chrono," he said tersely, once the ringing had cut off. "Ah. Yes. Good to hear from you again, Mara-sama. I'm with a client at the moment; might I call you back in a few minutes?"
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence while Akane stared at the desk and waited for the call to end. The doctor drummed his fingertips on the desktop.
"I'll keep that in mind," the man said dryly, ending the pause. "We'll speak later." With that, he hung up.
"My apologies," he said, turning his gaze to Akane again. "Where were we?"
"Supposedly I'm getting a boon?" she said doubtfully.
He nodded, producing a pair of wire-frame glasses and donning them to peer at his laptop again. "Yes," he said after a moment of scrutiny, pocketing the spectacles. "And when you receive it, you will misuse it."
"I think I should probably leave now," she decided, turning around. "Um, thank you for the free ... consultation."
"You're welcome," the man said cheerfully. "Oh, and a bit of personal advice, since you seem uninterested in what the system has to offer?"
She paused at the doorway and looked over her shoulder skeptically. "Yes?"
"Enjoy your remaining time with your fiance. Events will conspire to tear him away from you, I assure you that." He chuckled then, and she narrowed her eyes in reply. Shaking her head, she marched out of his office into the bright street, and headed back home.
Alone in her room, and with time to consider, Akane looked over the dougi. It was made of some soft, sturdy material that looked like silk, but seemed far stronger. It fit her perfectly, too, though she thought it made her look like some anime character.
Not that she could complain! Ranma had been thoroughly smashed in their sparring match, but when he'd demanded a second round, she refused and ran to her room to think.
Dr. Chrono had told her this would happen, and he'd been right. There had been a fairly nice bookmark, Kasumi seemed to delight in the swiveling chair, and of course ... she'd gotten the battle dougi. But if that were true, might his advice that something was coming to tear Ranma and her apart be true also? Not, of course, that she liked the jerk, or anything...
But if she did ... what was it the man had said? She would misuse her boon. Well, if that were true, then she shouldn't use the dougi to fight Ranma, as much as he might want to fight her. But then, what would she do with it? It seemed a shame to finally have the power to put Ranma's raging ego in check, and then not use it.
Well, it was a boon, which must mean it was meant to be used. But if it wasn't for fighting Ranma, then what was it for?
A humiliating defeat at the hands of Akane didn't sit well with Ranma. Especially since he was positive it was a fluke. Likewise, the three times he'd goaded her into fighting him again were also flukes. But then she adamantly refused to go another round, and the dougi didn't fit him. Even in cursed form.
Out of ideas and not particularly feeling up to idling at the Tendo home or training where Akane could see it, he wandered aimlessly. His feet took a cue from his stomach, and when he looked up he was standing outside of the Neko-Hanten. As he was pondering going inside to scrounge up a bowl of ramen, Shampoo returned from a delivery, just passing over his head before her bike landed and she braked hard, skidding sideways.
After she parked the bike, she jumped off and launched herself at Ranma. He didn't quite have enough time to move out of the way before she knocked him down, tangling herself in an embrace with him before they crashed to the street. "Hello!" she cheered, beaming a bright smile down at him once they'd tumbled to a halt. "Airen come to date with Shampoo?"
"Gah," he managed, trying to ignore the soft and comfortable warmth of her weight across her body. "Um, n...no, I didn't come here to date with ya!"
"Oh," she said, pouting. Then her smile widened. "You is come for something else then? Shampoo made too, too delicious ramen for Airen!"
"Y...yeah, that'd be good," he allowed, as she released him and bounced to her feet, but only after she nuzzled him affectionately, coming just short of actually trying to claim another kiss. That was good -- after the Reversal Jewel incident, and again after the damnable ghost cat had returned, Shampoo had become increasingly ... affectionate. That tended to cause problems with Akane.
The Chinese girl dragged him inside and seated him at a table before her form swayed through the tables and into the kitchen. He could barely hear the sound of her and Cologne's voices, though he couldn't make out what they were saying. His straining ears picked out the sound of a blade through the air, and then he turned his attention to Mousse and the delayed battle cry of, "Saotome, you enemy of women! Stay away from my Shampoo!"
After that, there was a brief if annoying melee against Mousse before Cologne kicked the both of them out into the street for knocking over a table full of customers. That opportunity for lunch lost, Ranma wandered again, giving his bruises a bit of time to recover from the fight.
He'd fought against Shampoo a bit in China. The first time was a simple win; Shampoo was expecting someone weak and arrogant. After that, a few unpleasant encounters involving the Chinese girl and bladed weapons across the country until Japan, and his second critical battle against her -- the one where she decided she would marry him.
Still, the effort she put into all those fights paled to the resistance she put up while wearing the Reversal Jewel, and he'd beaten her then. Didn't even have to hurt her to do it.
He shook his head and looked around. This time his feet had carried him to Ukyou's little restaurant, which doing a fair bit of business. He glanced inside and she seemed to notice, looking up from the grill where she was working on her okonomiyaki and meeting his eyes with a sunny smile.
"Sorry," she called to an approaching customer, "that seat's taken. Ranchan! Hurry up!"
Ranma shrugged and took the seat, glancing at the businessman he'd stolen the place of. The man was tall and looked foreign. He was wearing wire-rim frames and a black trench coat. His face was pale, and his hair was jet black. A feeling of uncanny familiarity rose within Ranma, and he wondered where he knew the stranger from.
"I shall find another," the man murmured, glancing at a gleaming gold wristwatch. "Ah. My domain recedes. I can arrange this within the time remaining." With that he turned around on his heel and marched away.
"What a weirdo," Ranma opined, watching the man leave.
"Yeah," Ukyou agreed, frowning at the man's figure as he walked down the street. "Anyway, let me make you a deluxe and fight off the crowd, Ranchan."
He nodded. It took the girl very little time to serve everyone in her restaurant and then turn her attention to him. Pulling up a small stool opposite him at the grill, she flashed another smile and asked, "You look kind of scruffy around the edges. Get in a fight today?"
"Just against Mousse," he said dismissively. And Akane and Cologne, both of whom had beaten him handily. "Thanks for the 'yaki."
"Any time, Ranchan," she said. "You've been spending so much time elsewhere lately, I was startin' to think you'd forgotten about me."
"Ah, that'd never happen," he replied, shaking his head. "You're my best friend, Ucchan. How could I forget about you?"
Her smile faded slightly and she nodded. "Right. Friend," she muttered, before brightening. "Hey, Ranchan, what do you think about going out on a training trip? Work's been keeping me so busy, I'm worried my fighting skills are fading."
He considered briefly. "Well, I just got back from a training trip yesterday," he replied, shaking his head. "Maybe in a month or two."
"Eh, well..." Why not? It wouldn't have to be just the two of them, after all. Surely Akane couldn't complain about that too much. "Sure. I promise. Next month sometime we can go out on a training trip." If he took one to deal with Akane, it would likely have to be too intense for Ukyou to keep up with anyway. She looked up and frowned slightly, as nearly half of her customers left, and another wave arrived.
He was moodily considering what to do next when she served him another okonomiyaki and a glass of tea, then winked and moved to attend her other customers. Ukyou's skill at making okonomiyaki was probably unparalleled by anyone outside of her family. It was also linked to her martial art, and he wondered briefly how she could lack for training when she was so busy with her restaurant.
Once she was looking away, he slipped outside and vaulted to the roof of her shop, settling down to think things over. Maybe the issue with fighting Akane was just that he wasn't -- really -- able to commit everything to fighting girls. Sure, Kodachi had gotten him angry enough to fight once, but... He filed that thought away for later.
When Ukyou'd first arrived, he'd fought her, too. She was the one he'd attacked most fiercely, but it had been shortly after he'd finished fighting Ryouga and his Bakusai Tenketsu. Likely, he thought, she could have beaten him back then if he hadn't already gotten that Kashuu Tenshin Amaguriken training. Ukyou was versatile, and while she used a weapon, she wasn't completely reliant on it like Kuno.
Still, that didn't bring him closer to winning a fight against Akane, and given the youngest Tendo's refusal to fight him anymore, he'd need to make sure he would win before he challenged her again. He knew he could fight harder if he stopped holding back, but it was hard to wrap his mind around the concept of using his all against Akane. Her skill had gone up so quickly that he was trying to spar against where she was, not where she'd gotten to.
Then again, he wasn't able to continue the fight against Ukyou once he found out that his closest childhood friend was a girl. Even beyond the honor issues and the fact that he owed her ... she was a girl, and he just couldn't bring himself to fight her again. He felt bad enough about the one power-kick he'd landed on her before she needed to retreat with her smokescreen. Could he hit Akane that hard?
He shook his head, doubting it. Damn, he thought to himself. How was he supposed to keep Akane out of trouble if she could beat him?
His contemplation was interrupted by a sultry chuckle, and Ranma felt his hackles rise, that previously dismissed thought returning with a vengeance. "Er," he managed, rising to his feet easily and turning to look at Kodachi. "Hiya."
"Why, Ranma-sama," she said, smirking. "I thought you would be here when I saw..." She trailed off and shook her head. "No matter. You and I meet. The day is fair. Shall we date?"
"How 'bout I get back to you on that one?" he asked uneasily. The girl was dressed in a cloak that showed only that her knees and lower legs were uncovered.
Pouting, she shook her head, adjusting her hands from her sides to her hips. This threw open her cloak and revealed her typical leotard beneath. "You seem reluctant, Ranma-sama my love," she said, narrowing her eyes. "After our last date, I thought you would be eager for another."
"What, did Asuka come back?" he asked, scratching the back of his head. Kodachi kind of made him nervous, and he really hadn't appreciated her attitude through their last date. "You know, why not pick up Mikado to challenge her? I'd love to see him get blown up by a bunch of lilies."
"And leave my person in the hands of that ... cretin?" she asked, disgust sounding in her voice as her expression shifted from hopeful to angered. "I thought you cared for me, Ranma-sama. I see now you only wish to throw me to dogs and men of ... low reputation."
"No, no," he said quickly, shaking his head. Kodachi was right; even she deserved better than Mikado. "I was just..."
She brightened. "You wish to test my resolve? I will survive a date with such a ruffian unscathed, I assure you. My virtue belongs only to you, my love, and I would not dream of allowing that scum to take it."
"Er... No," he said, shaking his head quickly. "I don't want you to date him."
"So you will date with me then," she exalted. "I am pleased. We shall meet three days hence. I will wait for you before 'Chez Palmer'. A suit and directions will be sent to you, care of the Tendo family."
"Now, hold on just a-"
"Oh, you really must restrain your eagerness," Kodachi chided, slipping towards him with a smile that began to make Ranma more than just slightly nervous. "Plenty of time for that later, my Ranma-sama... Do take care!" Then she leapt away in a cloud of black rose petals, and he decided it would be wisest not to follow to correct her.
But at the same time, a change of scene was required. Someone would have noticed, and Ukyou wasn't so blind as to be oblivious to every martial artist on her roof. It wasn't Kodachi's fault she thought she was as quiet as he was. He hopped down to the alley behind the building shop and strolled down the street. Now Kodachi thought she had him agreeing to a date. Funny how things like that seemed to happen a lot. At least Akane wasn't around to yell at him for it.
He frowned at that thought, chewing his lower lip pensively. It would not do for Akane to continually misunderstand him and be able to throw him through the floor. He got in enough trouble with her slipping a power blow through when wasn't paying attention before she put on the damned battle dougi.
He turned his mind to the fight against Kodachi, looking for more insight to fighting girls.
That match was harder to gauge. He hadn't been at his best because at the time he wasn't at all adjusted to his cursed form. Additionally, he had to fight using Kodachi's rule set, and against a rather daunting level of less than scrupulous behavior from the girl. Ranma won, ultimately, and that time he'd managed to avoid even needing to directly strike the girl. His preferred method of victory, once it came down to it.
But how could he beat Akane without hurting her? A grapple just wasn't the answer -- with the dougi, she was stronger than him, even if her speed seemed only matched to his. He supposed as a girl he could be faster than Akane, but how could he disable her? Holding her in any kind of pin just wouldn't work.
He frowned, glancing at the skies. Clouds had gathered, rumbling ominously and threatening rain. Warned by his senses, he had enough time to seek shelter before it began. The nearest place to hide was Tofu's clinic, so he slipped inside as an elderly couple stepped out.
The doctor was humming to himself and going over some notes. He looked up and blinked. "Ranma!" he said, breaking into a grin. "Good to see you again. How are you doing?"
"Okay, I guess," he said with a shrug. "I kind of thought it'd be nice to drop by and visit." A peal of distant thunder rang out, rattling the windows before a torrential downpour soaked the streets. "Er. And I was lookin' for someplace dry."
Tofu chuckled, and shook his head. "I'll make some tea," he decided, moving into the clinic's small kitchenette. "What have you been up to? That bruise doesn't look like Akane's handiwork."
"What bruise?" he asked, wondering if he had a mark on his face. Shampoo, Ukyou, and Kodachi hadn't seen fit to comment on it. "Maybe it's from Mousse. I fought him earlier today."
"Ah," Tofu said, nodding. "And I think it looks a bit like ... Cologne, yes?"
Ranma smirked. "You're good," he allowed. "Yeah. The ol' ghoul wasn't too thrilled about me and Mousse tearing up the restaurant, so she tossed us out."
"Ah," the doctor hummed, moving away from the kitchenette bearing a kettle of hot water. He poured a cup of tea for each of them and set it down. "You seem troubled, though."
Ranma sighed, running his hands through his hair. "Yeah," he allowed. "Yeah. A little. Look... So, Akane's got this magical outfit that makes her just as good as me."
"Oh?" Tofu asked, raising his eyebrows and sipping his tea. "Well, good for her."
"I guess," Ranma said doubtfully, tasting his own tea and looking through the open doorway at the falling rain. "Thanks, by the way."
"Oh, think nothing of it. Now, do you have issues with Akane's newfound ... equality to you?"
"It ain't quite that," he said slowly. "I can't really fight her, Sensei. I mean ... it's just... I guess I'm reading her, and then the suit moves, or something. I dunno. But she keeps floorin' me every time I try and challenge her. I don't know how long it'll take her luck to wear out, but I think I gotta take a look at how I fight girls or somethin'."
"A possibility," Tofu said after a moment, frowning. "But ... do you need to fight Akane, Ranma? Aren't there other ways of dealing with conflict?"
"I guess," he sighed. "Maybe Akane doesn't need me to protect her after all.
Tofu's frown deepened. "Somehow, that doesn't seem quite like the answer either," he said. "Ranma ... do you think that because Akane's stronger, she won't care about you anymore?"
Snorting, the boy rolled his eyes. "I don't care about that uncute macho tomboy," he said. "Or what she thinks about me." Shaking his head, he muttered, "I dunno. I guess it's not important. Eh, if I don't have to worry about her, maybe I'll have more time to practice or somethin'."
"Very well then," Tofu said with a shrug. He glanced to his bookshelf and nodded to himself. Turning back, he asked, "Ranma, how would you like to learn a few shiatsu points?"
The boy brightened immediately. Shiatsu wouldn't hurt Akane at all. Maybe that was the answer.
Akane emerged from behind Tofu's clinic, her emotions in turmoil. She'd seen the Umi-sen-ken before, but didn't really understand how it worked. Despite that, the battle dougi had enhanced her minimal stealth skills to the point where she'd managed to follow Ranma undetected.
That turned out to be a much better use of the dougi than just beating up Ranma. Though ... after watching him cuddle in the streets with Shan-Pu, she was wondering if it wouldn't hurt to use the dougi in that capacity. And moreso after he'd gone to flirt with Ukyou, and then (of all things) asked Kodachi out on a date.
She blinked, shaking her head as she poured on the speed, unmindful of the gouges her feet tore in the pavement until she leapt, and flew the final meters over the street, the neighbor's house, and then lit on the peak of her own home. But ... Dr. Chrono had given her a warning. Ranma was going to be lost to her.
She mulled that over. She didn't have a reason not to believe him. Everything else he'd spoken of had come true, after all. Beating up Ranma wasn't the answer ... but then, maybe there was a clear solution anyway.
Before Ranma had come to Nerima, she was considered to be among the best martial artists in the entire Furinkan district. Oh, the ward had better martial artists, and she knew that most people simply forgot about her father, but she'd had her own renown. Then he'd come and started upping the ante until she couldn't hope to match it, and had been left behind.
Now, however, she was back where she belonged; she had the power to compete fairly. And that meant that she could actually tell the other girls to leave Ranma alone. She'd always wanted to, and just lacked the power to actually do it. Admittedly, she got on better with Ukyou than Shampoo or Kodachi ... but Ukyou was still trying to get Ranma.
Akane frowned, thinking of what battling Ranma's other suitors would signify. Was that a message she wanted to send the pigtailed boy? Maybe it would get him to stop sulking about the fact that she was better.
"I'm home!" Ranma called out from downstairs. Akane crept to the edge of the roof and listened until she could hear Kasumi handing him a list of groceries to collect.
Perfect, she thought to herself. The market area was across the district from the Neko-Hanten, and not that close to Okonomiyaki Ucchan's, either. Mind made up, she headed to meet Shampoo.
The girl was just returning from another delivery when Akane leapt off her rooftop and landed heavily before her. The impact and the dougi caused a crater to form beneath her, which she hoped would help cow Shampoo without any direct violence.
The Chinese girl sprang into a defensive stance, narrowing her eyes and watching Akane warily. "What you want, Tendo girl?" she asked doubtfully.
"I... I want to challenge you," Akane said, trying to force more confidence into her voice. "For Ranma, once and for all."
Shampoo stared wordlessly for a long moment, then smirked, setting down the take-out box she had been carrying and producing a pair of bonbori from the sash of her pantsuit. "You be careful what you ask for," she warned. "I fight you, Tendo girl, but if you think I give up on Airen, you is wrong."
"That's what this fight is about!" Akane protested. "I want to make sure you stop chasing after Ranma if I win."
"And if I win, Akane breaks engagement with Airen permanently?" Shampoo asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Y...yeah," she said. Why shouldn't she agree to a promise like that? She would win, after all. "Are you ready?"
"Fight right now? Is time before dinner."
With that, and no more warning, Shampoo sprang forward like a shot, leading with a single spinning mace to plow through Akane's defenses. Or ... that would have happened, if she hadn't had the dougi. Instead, her hands rose and grabbed the spinning metal sphere, wrenching it from Shampoo's grip and flinging it full-force towards the second bonbori to disarm her.
Shampoo jumped backwards, taking up a defensive stance and narrowing her eyes.
Akane tried to keep her hands from shaking, and asked, "You give up now, right? I don't want to hurt you."
The other girl's violet eyes flashed with anger. "Shampoo stop fighting for Airen when Shampoo dead," she snapped out, switching to an offensive stance and lunging at Akane again. This time, she was faster, and the dougi drew Akane into the defensive, bracers deflecting a pair of powerful knife-hands. While backing away, Akane threw herself to the ground, her feet reflexively lashing out and knocking the other girl down as well.
The dougi allowed her to bounce back to her feet in the same motion, while Shampoo took a moment to recover. "How about now?" Akane asked with a tight smile. Good, she was winning, Shampoo was disarmed, and she'd only really needed to push the other girl around. Not that Shampoo wouldn't deserve more, considering what she'd tried to do to Akane in the past. She wondered if the dougi would let her use the memory erasing technique that had been used on her, but quickly dismissed that thought. Doubtless it would not be required against Shampoo.
Staring at her in confusion, the Chinese girl looked momentarily lost before she flew at Akane a third time. With this attack, Shampoo left herself open for a snap-kick, landing an axe-kick of her own on Akane's shoulder in exchange. The dougi absorbed the impact for Akane, while Shampoo was flung backwards from the force of her counter.
Akane winced as Shampoo landed and rolled until she crashed until the far wall of the field behind the Neko-Hanten. "Stay down!" she yelled at her rival. "I don't want to hurt you, Shampoo."
"You kill me before I stop," Shampoo growled, reclaiming her feet.
Then the fight escalated, and Akane wasn't entirely certain what happened. There was a sensation of incredible grace and power, and a confidence that she was winning, but everything seemed to melt into a warm indistinct red blur. When it faded, she was gasping for breath, standing over Shampoo's fallen form.
The once lovely Chinese girl sported a collection of bruises across her face, and her outfit had been torn in places from the blows they had exchanged. Her eyes were closed and her breathing was shallow. Akane wiped the blood from her hand absently, noting that the dougi didn't stain. She tried not to think about what she'd done and staggered away, quickly taking to the rooftops.
That hadn't gone as she had hoped. But Shampoo wasn't that badly hurt and now Ranma would have to thank her for getting rid of a single complication in his life. That thought in mind, she walked to the edge of the rooftop she had stopped on, leaned over the side, and retched.
"I had to do it," she mumbled quietly, after recovering her bearing. "Otherwise I'll lose..."
She swallowed. Ukyou would be next. She knew she couldn't make herself fight Ukyou if there was a chance it would end up as ugly as the fight against Shampoo. But...
"For Ranma," she said with determination.
Then she tried to smooth her hair back into place and assure she looked ready for another duel, and ran to Ukyou's restaurant. The girl was chatting with a courier, looking through a box of freshly delivered ingredients. Akane took a seat at the grill unobtrusively, and waited until the transaction had been completed before saying, "Hello, Ukyou."
"Heya, Akane. What's up?" Ukyou asked, turning around to stow the box in her pantry. "You want a 'yaki? I'll give you half off."
She suppressed a grimace. Ranma got his for free. "No, actually... I..." She swallowed and stared at the grill for a long moment.
"Hey ... you okay? Looks like you got blood on your hands."
"It's not mine," Akane said, rubbing her hands on the dougi to try and brush the last few drops of crimson away. Raising her eyes to meet Ukyou's questioning gaze, she added, "I fought Shampoo today."
Ukyou squinted, looking Akane up and down. "You look pretty good for coming out of a fight with her," she allowed after a moment. "How'd you do?"
"Well, that's nice. What were you fighting her for?"
Akane closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "I fought Shampoo for Ranma. The deal was that if I won, Shampoo would give up."
"I see," Ukyou replied, now with an edge of steel in her voice.
"So ... I came here to challenge you for Ranma," she concluded looking at Ukyou directly and trying to ignore the handful of customers.
"I refuse," Ukyou said with a shrug. "Ranchan's not negotiable, Akane. I won't give up on him for anything."
"But if you can beat me, I'll give up on him," Akane pleaded. "This way it'll... It'll be over fast, and no one will have to be hurt."
"I doubt that," came the dry reply. "If you're trying to keep from hurting people, you probably shouldn't challenge them to fights." She served another okonomiyaki to a customer and added, "Aside from which, I love Ranchan. Why would I give him up to you? I can tell you aren't able to make him happy."
"I..." Akane swallowed. She couldn't make herself say it. Akane shifted her shoulders, annoyed. She hadn't wanted to fight Ukyou, but if the other girl was already convinced that Akane had no chance, she'd need to be persuaded to give up through force. "Well, you're wrong. I can make him happy, and I'll do it by clearing up his engagement problems. So, are you ready to fight?"
"Come on, Akane," Ukyou said wearily. "If you really think you can make him happy, can you admit a little feeling for him?"
"That's none of your business! I want to do something nice for the jerk!"
"And picking a fight with me is nice for him?" she asked doubtfully.
"You're only his friend, Ukyou," Akane said, shaking her head. "Ranma doesn't love you back."
That got the reaction she was looking for. Ukyou slammed a spatula into the grill and gritted her teeth together. "Ten minutes," she growled. "I'll beat you the same place I creamed Genma. I just hope Ranchan doesn't get mad at me for this."
"Hah," Akane retorted, forcing a grin she didn't feel. "We'll see. Loser gives up on Ranma."
"I'll never give up on Ranchan!"
"Then you'll give up on the formal engagement," Akane pressed. If she could do even that much, Ranma wouldn't be under any obligation to marry anyone except from herself. And that should neatly use Dr. Chrono's warning to make sure she didn't lose the boy she couldn't admit her feelings for.
Ukyou seemed hesitant, and began to shake her head. Before she could reply, Akane accused, "Coward."
Lips compressing into a tight frown, Ukyou nodded slightly. "I don't know what's gotten into you, Akane, but fine. If you think a new attitude, some nice clothes, and a lucky win against Shampoo are making you ready for this, you're wrong. Now get the hell out of my restaurant."
Flinching away, Akane rose, nodding back. "I'll see you at the lot," she promised, before she marched away, ignoring the fuming from Ukyou behind her.
Her heart hammered in her chest the second she was out of sight of the restaurant, and her knees wavered unsteadily. "Oh ... Mom ... please give me the strength to get through with this," Akane groaned. She pressed the aftermath of the fight against Shampoo from her mind. The Chinese girl had demanded that kind of punishment by not giving up.
Ukyou would be more reasonable, she hoped. She sat down on a large stone at the edge of the lot and waited.
Time crawled, and ten minutes seemed to take an hour. She had no wristwatch, but there was a nearby clock shop. She frowned, thinking she recognized the location... But there was no sign of Dr. Chrono's office anymore. She shivered, turning around as Ukyou arrived.
The girl had taken time to properly arm herself with her combat spatula and a bandoleer of much smaller throwing spatulas. "Okay," she said, heaving an unsteady sigh. "You're gonna insist on us fighting this out, huh, Tendo?"
Akane frowned at the lessened familiarity, then forced another smile. "I'm going to insist on beating you until you leave Ranma alone, Kuonji," she replied.
"I kind of figured it might come to this," Ukyou said quietly, unslinging her spatula from her back and inspecting it closely, turning it from time to time to study the wrapping around the handle that provided a firm grip. "Of course, I thought that would be a few months down the line. And I didn't think you would be the one to start it." Looking up, she asked, "How did you beat Shampoo? Her curse?"
"No, I'm just a better martial artist," Akane replied, frowning. "More power, more skill, more speed. That's all there is to it."
Ukyou looked doubtful. "Whatever you say, Akane. I just want you to know... You're not going to win."
"That's where you're wrong," Akane countered. "Ready?"
When the battle began, Ukyou offered a much fiercer fight than Shampoo from the start. She didn't try to feel out Akane's defenses, she seemed to simply assume that Akane would be at least as good as her.
Akane felt a moment of relief that she'd never tried to fight Ukyou before she got the dougi; when she'd blocked an overhand strike with the oversized weapon, the chef had used the recoil of the defense to bring about the other end of the spatula and drive it into Akane's stomach. The dougi made her roll away, unscathed, but it had gotten through her defenses anyway.
She bounced to her feet just before Ukyou reached her again with a charge and side-kicked the other girl's hip reflexively. If Ukyou wouldn't hold back, why should she?
Ukyou cried out in alarm as her frame seemed to fold beneath the force of Akane's kick, throwing her to the ground and spinning her over. The okonomiyaki chef whimpered, using her spatula as a support to regain her feet. Her right leg simply didn't seem to want to work anymore.
Akane fought down a feeling of revulsion, a red tinge beginning to consume the edges of her vision.
"Akane," Ukyou panted, holding up a hand and shaking her head. "Ranchan says I'm cute. Even if you beat me, that's not going to change. That's why you can't win."
The youngest Tendo girl had time to realize that the edges of her vision were blurring crimson, as she mused that Ranma had never said anything so nice to her. Everything went red again.
When the color faded from her vision, she was standing on a rooftop with her arms held out at her sides, heaving for breath and feeling overheated. One hand came in from her side and rubbed at her cheek, coming away with a red smear. Her blood, this time.
How ironic, she thought absently. Ranma couldn't lay a finger on her when they sparred, but Ukyou had managed to cut her. Hadn't she? Akane couldn't remember the details of the fight after she had knocked Ukyou down, and shivered at the comfort provided by the lack of memory. "This better be worth it," she sighed, rubbing at her eyes.
"I somehow doubt that it is," a voice from behind her said.
She spun to see Kodachi there, twirling a ribbon between them and watching her suspiciously. "What do you want?" Akane asked. "Oh. You don't even have a claim on Ranma. I don't... I don't want to fight anymore."
"I don't think you do," Kodachi agreed. "Yet, logically we should fight now if I wish to win. And seeing your performance against Kuonji-san ... well. I'm impressed. I do wonder what would have happened if I had battled you instead of your substitute." She smiled suddenly. "I think now is the time to find out."
Akane narrowed her eyes. "I'm not in the mood, Kodachi," she warned. "If you don't leave me alone, I might hurt you, okay? Just go home."
"No," Kodachi said, shaking her head. "I believe I know why you attacked Kuonji-san and that gaijin. You wish to eliminate the competition for Ranma-sama's hand, yes?"
"Which doesn't include you," Akane said, shaking her head. "My father engaged me to Ranma before you ever met him. You don't have a claim."
"Against you, I doubt I need one," Kodachi replied dryly. "Oh, you may have needed to press Kuonji-san into fighting you, but you won't face any challenges in me beyond my own skill. Prepare to defend yourself, Tendo Akane!"
And then once more, everything turned red.
After shopping for groceries, Ranma dropped them off in the kitchen with Kasumi's change, eyed the forming dinner appreciatively, and then got out of the way by going to the roof. According to Nabiki, Akane had left to deal with something, and now Ranma had some time to himself to relax.
He had just settled into his favorite spot -- the one over Kasumi's room, since the shape of the house provided a natural windbreak there -- when he heard an all-too-familiar cry, filled with unfamiliar panicked rage: "Saotome, you enemy of women! Prepare to die!"
A twist had him rolling out of the way as Mousse's collection of thrown knives, swords, chains, weights, and assorted other weaponry crashed into the roof. He was on his feet in a second, as Mousse landed, glowering at him. "Any last words before I slay you for your crime?" Mousse sneered.
"Yeah, actually," Ranma said, drawing himself into a mobile stance that offered reasonable defense. "What'd I do this time?"
Mousse shuddered, and Ranma was discomfited by the tears he could see in the other boy's eyes. "You sent Tendo Akane to cripple her!" Without any further warning, the myopic boy charged.
Ranma was stunned by the accusation, but still remembered to use his mobility to weave through Mousse's attacks, duck underneath a roundhouse, and then slam a spinning back-fist into his nose. There was a loud 'crunch' as the plastic frame of Mousse's spectacles gave way and the lenses tumbled off the edge of the roof, Mousse himself launching straight into the koi pond.
Not giving his foe time to recover, especially given Mousse's skill with thrown weapons in his cursed form, he leapt after. With a splash, she landed and wrapped a hand around his neck, holding him aloft and giving a firm shake. "Alright," she growled, shaking the duck again, this time sending a shower of throwing weapons to the pond as they fell free. "I'm gonna need an explanation for this, 'cause there's a lot of stuff I'd never do, and tellin' Akane to go attack Shampoo is pretty close to the top of that list." She'd sooner tell her to date Kuno.
Mousse struggled for a moment before giving a defeated sigh. Seeing that the fight was over for the moment, she trudged into the house after collecting Mousse's pants. His robe full of hidden weapons she left on the bottom of the koi pond.
"Hello," Kasumi greeted cheerfully from the kitchen. "Dinner won't be ready for at least... Oh." She nodded decisively and handed Ranma a kettle. "Here you are."
"Thanks," Ranma said, taking kettle, pants, and duck into the dojo. Once there was some privacy, she poured water over the duck, and flung Mousse's pants at him. The boy hurriedly dressed while Ranma poured the remainder of the water over her head. Not enough to change back, she realized wryly. "Now what's this 'bout Akane fightin' Shampoo?"
"Shampoo has been badly beaten," Mousse said quietly. He glowered at Ranma. "What do you have to say for yourself?"
"She looked fine when I saw her earlier today," Ranma said uneasily, scratching beneath her pigtail and shifting her shoulders. "Now, let's think about this. Who'd do it? Tarou, maybe?"
Mousse considered. "Maybe," he allowed. "I came back from a delivery to find her behind the Neko-Hanten. Cologne woke her up and asked who was responsible. Shampoo said it was Akane."
"Maybe we should go there and see how she's doin'," Ranma said with a frown. "Is she okay?"
"She's not at the Neko-Hanten," Mousse sighed, shooting a sharp look a few paces to Ranma's left. "Cologne took her to the hospital."
Ranma nodded slowly. "That makes sense," she admitted. "Okay. So who would want to make it look like Akane beat up Shampoo?"
"Don't you care that she's been hurt?" Mousse yelled. "Why are you so set on proving Akane's innocence when Shampoo's been put in the hospital?"
"Of course I care!" Ranma yelled back, ignoring the thump of something hitting the floor behind her. "Shampoo's my friend, too! I'm going to find out who really beat her up and then I'm gonna smash 'em into paste!"
Mousse crossed his arms over his chest, now glaring at a point just past Ranma's shoulder. "I'd rather do more," he grumbled. "But very well. As long as we are in agreement that what was done to her was wrong. If I even suspected for a second that you were behind this, I would kill you."
Ranma thought that was an idle threat. Mousse had already tried it earlier, and it hadn't ended favorably. "Sure thing," she said. "Now let's get to thinkin' about who's responsible." She turned slowly, pacing towards the dojo's door to close it before she stopped in her tracks.
Akane was sitting just inside the entrance, staring fixedly at the floor before her. She was still wearing the damnable battle dougi, though it was dirty and had blood... Ranma felt a tremor begin somewhere in the pit of her stomach, something that worked its way up into a shudder before she closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
She didn't want to think about it. But the dougi... "Akane," she said very quietly, opening her eyes. "How did you get hurt?"
"U...Ukyou got a lucky hit through, I guess," the girl replied distantly, her voice barely above a whisper. "Or maybe it was Kodachi."
"What was that, Ranma?" Mousse asked, peering around and blinking.
The redhead loudly said, "I said I think you should go keep an eye on Shampoo. Ask her if she knows anything else about her attacker. 'Sides, you can't help me until you get another pair of glasses."
He grunted. "I'll protect Shampoo. You find whoever's responsible and then we'll both take him down," Mousse said. "And ... good luck, Ranma." With that, he shuffled to the door and left.
Ranma took a deep breath and pressed her fingertips to her temples. "What did you do, Akane?" she asked.
"I..." Akane stood up, recovering her bearing, and flashed him a determined look. "I took care of your problems, Ranma. I finally got rid of all the other girls -- they all agreed if I won, they'd leave you alone and it'd... It'd just be us."
"Oh, great," Ranma snarled, feeling anger rising within her. "So not only do you think that your suit lets you throw me around, you also think that you get to make choices for me?"
"What are you talking about?" Akane asked, flinching slightly. "I'm better than you now!"
"And what, just cause you're strong enough to do it means you get to?"
"W...well..." Akane trailed off and shook her head. "That's not it. That's not why I did this! I did it for you, and if you can't respect that, then maybe I wasted my time!"
"For me? Why do you think I want to marry some uncute gorilla like you, anyway?" the redhead asked, rolling her eyes.
Akane growled and stalked towards her, one fist raised menacingly.
Ranma slipped into a defensive stance. "Oh," she said. "I get it. Don't like how I'm actin', so now you're gonna send me to the hospital? Like after the Reversal Jewel?"
Freezing in place, Akane protested, "You're just twisting around everything I say to make it sound worse!"
"Akane, there's no good way to tell me you think that I'm worthless," Ranma growled. "I'm a martial artist. You have a magic shirt. Maybe you're not a normal girl, like Nabiki, but..." She trailed off, shaking her head. She needed to keep her cool, and screaming at Akane was just going to provoke a fight she knew she didn't want anymore. And like most fights she didn't want, she would need to make sure she could win before starting it.
"But?" Akane pressed, frowning, her hands dropping to her sides.
"But I think you should get cleaned up," Ranma offered instead. "Your dad'll flip if he sees blood on you." With that, she turned away, her mind awhirl. At least things couldn't get worse, she thought to herself distantly.