A Duet of Fists
Chapter 1: The ties which bind
Bone snapped on flesh as two martial artists clashed, exchanging blows and bouncing around the Tendou dojo with a manic energy not shared by the rest of the household, still shaking off the sleep in the dawn light. Ranma grinned as he slipped his head past his father's fist, sliding a foot in between his father's legs and lashing out with a vicious shoulder ram to the elder Saotome's solar plexus. The blow stunned him long enough for Ranma to sweep the older man onto his back, not releasing his grip on the man's dogi and rolling over him to send his father into the koi pond.
"Breakfast!" A light voice called from the kitchen as Kasumi walked into the dining room. A tray of lightly cooked fish and seven bowls of rice pulled the father and son from their melee into the house with all the haste their battered bodies could produce. Ranma ignored the panda thrashing it's way out of a tattered white training outfit, opting to quickly sit next to his uncute fiancée.
Quiet bickering slowly transformed into loud arguing as Ranma defended his decision to eat before a morning bath with sharp retorts. Only the desire to pause and savor the honey and lemon glaze blunted his quips and prevented the argument from escalating.
All in all, it was a rather normal morning for the Tendou household and it's two permanent house guests. Akane and Ranma were verbally clashing, the pigtailed boy falling into the comforting familiarity of the routine to avoid the topic of the aborted wedding. Nabiki quietly jotted down notes in her small black notebook. Genma and Soun chatted quietly, the latter reading the small wooden signs the former used to communicate. Kasumi hummed quietly to herself, serenely occasionally refilling rice bowls between bites with practiced ease.
Only the diminutive pervert sitting on the dojo rooftop faced the day with change in mind. Happosai stared grimly at the happy family as he seethed, furious with the young pig-tailed man. The little upstart. The brat had gotten a lot more uppity after coming back from Jusendo. So what if he'd beaten up that little fire bird? That would have been child's play! He had no right to show such constant disrespect!
He'd refused Happosai's training last week. Refused it!
Happosai muttered darkly in an ancient tongue as he toyed with Yuki-onna's Braids. A pair of chains comprised of tiny oval links, one gold and the other platinum, they were designed to control any creature with a simple spell. Upon the completion of the spell, the two chains would hurl from their place on Happosai's lap to fly towards Ranma, each wrapping around one of his arms and binding the pigtailed martial artist to Happosai's will.
Then he could make the boy a proper heir, starting with teaching the young upstart a proper respect for the silky darlings all around him. Ranma had more than enough speed and skill to pilfer them from the weak girls that surrounded him; he even had the chi control to harness all of that lovely female energy almost as well as Happosai himself!
It was just criminal for the heir to the Anything Goes school not to take advantage of his skills!
Happosai's attention was only briefly divided as he noted the pigtail boy's rival landing on the shingled top of the compound's wall. The ancient lecher turned his attention back to the spell. The appearance of the boy would only serve to make capturing Ranma easier.
"Ranma! Come out here and fight me like a man!" Ryouga called, tossing his pack inside as he cracked his fists. Ranma immediately got up from his position at the table, striding out from the dining room to stand on the edge of the porch, casually taking another mouthful of rice as his eyes measured his foe. The fanged brawler didn't appear any different, though painful experience had taught the blue-eyed youth that appearances meant little.
"You're sounding pretty confident, P-chan," Ranma noted with a grin, setting down the bowl on the edge of the porch as he stepped off the porch. He cocked his head to the side. "Let me guess, did you pick up a new technique while you were trying to find the bathroom?"
"Shut up, Ranma! I don't need a new technique to deal with you!" With a wordless battle cry, the Lost Boy launched himself from the wall and leveled a devastating kick at his foe, already slipping around the attack and positioning himself to counter. He danced over Ranma's retaliatory sweep, throwing a punch which Ranma barely managed to intercept with his left hand.
Ranma bounced back, once again evaluating his foe. That punch had been far quicker than anything he'd ever seen from the brown-eyed boy. It actually approached the speed he'd gained when he'd first trained to use the Amaguriken.
"Your speed's gotten a lot better, pork breath," Ranma noted, wincing as he tried not to rub the palm of his left hand with his right. Not only was Ryouga fast, he'd retained all of his freakish strength, too. The combination didn't seem fair to the long-haired youth. "Let me guess, you happened to have a bag of chestnuts with you one day when you were camping in the Arctic."
"! I figured if an idiot like you could benefit from the technique, I could too!" Ryouga spat as he confidently advanced on his rival. Ranma decided to take the fight to his foe, throwing himself into a forward roll which allowed him to vault skyward over the Lost Boy. Briefly confused by the sudden change in his foe's altitude, Ranma planted his feet on the young man's face as he paused, climbing higher into the air as he knocked his rival off-balance.
"Moko Takabisha!" With a grin, Ranma used his own chi to simultaneously blast Ryouga and gain enough altitude to reach the top of the house, where he casually turned to watch the stocky young man furrow a trench in the ground. Ryouga struck the solid wall of the dojo before he shook the dirt from his clothes and leaped up after Ranma.
Happosai completed his spell just as Ryouga got into grappling range with his pigtailed opponent. Speed he'd previously lacked combined with his foe's unadjusted perception of his fighting style allowed him grab a fistful of red shirt before the blue-eyed boy could maintain his distance. Ranma gripped the bandanna-clad boy's arm, cocking back an arm to throw a throw a hook aimed squarely for jaw as he flinched. The Anything Goes fighter knew who would win a blow-for-blow slugging match.
The two chains rose from the pervert's lap with a hint of chilled air, speeding directly towards Ranma's wrists in a blur of flashing gold and grey. The platinum chain struck true, wrapping itself snugly around Ranma's cocked-back right forearm with the abrupt speed of a boa constrictor. The gold chain flew towards Ranma's left arm but found itself intercepted by Ryouga's right arm. The links writhed with fury as if the offending limb had chosen to block the spell, then suddenly wrapped itself around the fanged boy's forearm as if fed up with trying to bypass the obstacle.
Both boys became as still as a photo, staring blankly at the new decorations on their arms. After a moment of confused silence, they became aware of the close contact they shared and broke apart with a mutually violent thrash. Ryouga's feet scattered roofing tiles as he fought momentum's determination to pitch him onto his back, finally sliding to a stop a short distance away. Ranma opted to allow momentum to do his work, briefly planting his hands and flexing his abdominal muscles to handspring to his feet.
The two boys kept their attention focused on one another, cautious habit overriding idle curiosity. The chains didn't hurt and seemed to have no effect, making them a distant second on the list of their priorities. The wary silence stretched as they slowly reigned in their animosity.
"What the hell is this, Ranma?" Ryouga finally growled, roiling eyes flickering only briefly to take in the chain on his arm before snapping back to his enemy, as if the split second of inattention had given the arrogant youth the chance to attack.
Which could have been true, given their mastery of hand-to-hand combat. Few martial artists in the world could have acknowledged the twitch of the teen's eyes as an opportunity. Of those few capable of seeing it, only a very small fraction possessed the speed and skill to take advantage of the opening. Both boys were well aware that the minuscule disparity in their prowess had seen their fights ended by such a lapse.
"Like I know anything about what goes on around here before it bites me in the ass..." Ranma grumbled, finally dropping his guard as he turned his attention to the strange chains binding his arm. Pulling at the metal links in an attempt to remove them, his apprehension grew by the second as the resolute object refused to be dislodged. While he could slide the coiled chains all the way down to his wrist or all the way up to his elbow, an invisible force prevented them from moving beyond. Ranma twisted, falling on his back and placing his feet on the bunched coils as he tried to force it off. Though he felt no counterforce on his hand, the chains simply wouldn't move.
Likewise, Ryouga found with a perplexed rage that the ends of the chain could only lift an inch or so from his skin before totally resisting all attempts to rise further. He strained his powerful arms, wrenching the chains this way and that in an attempt to simply snap them off of his arm. Force that would have torn steel like diaphanous silk proved useless against the coiled mass.
He paused in his struggles, reaching for his inner harmony as he forced himself to abandon his rage. The receding heat brought clarity to his thought. He became one with the world, intimately aware of the hidden flaws in the same way he knew his own weaknesses. His eyes snapped open, thousands of pinpricks of light overlaying his vision.
Here, the spot in which the slightest pressure would shatter the rocks surrounding the koi pond and rain pebbles on the grass. There, a web of light which showed where he could turn the ground into a series of deep craters, the lightest flick of his finger displacing hundreds of pounds of dirt. Even Ranma's clothes shone with lights which would disintegrate them where they lay on Ranma's body. The fanged boy filed the idea in the back of his mind for another time.
His eyes fell to the chain on his right arm. Nothing. Every single link in the multitude of chains was flawless, granting them immunity to it's potent effect. The chain wrapped around Ranma's right arm likewise showed no pinpricks of light which would render it defenseless. The technique wasn't a way to remove the bonds.
"Oh, stop struggling, boy!" Happosai called, voice tinged with glee matched only by the deep creases in his face. He landed beside the pair and paused to examine the heir to his school, ignoring the slowly growing anger in the pair's every twitch. His plans hadn't quite worked out, but the impudent whelp had been caught by one of the Braids, at least. He even had a second pawn to control. Endless possibilities overwhelmed him and he randomly plucked one to confirm the magic worked. "Do me a favor and go steal Kasumi's panties for me, would you?"
For a horrible moment, both Ranma and Ryouga were gripped with an irresistible need to do precisely that. Both boys felt their traitorous legs move a step towards the edge of the roof when they mastered the unnatural urge, fighting off the magically induced control through a torrent of righteous anger. They stopped as one, the heel of their other foot barely rising from the roof before they turned to glare at the source of the order.
While neither boy could be described as intelligent, both could figure out the source of the chains if they were actually compelled to listen to the old pervert standing next to them. A rage which had nothing to do with one another finally overwhelmed their self control.
This bastard had nearly caused them to commit the unforgivable act of laying hands on the gentle soul who had always spoken almost nothing but gentle words. This freak had tried to steal their free will through otherworldly magic. Finally, in the most evil of crimes, the irredeemable scum had instilled a desire which could have resulted in them being barred from Kasumi's cooking.
Nothing but violence would satisfy their wrath.
In a bizarre display of synchronized martial arts mayhem, both boys lashed out with their feet, mirror images stomping the ancient lecher into the ground and grinding his face into the tiles until the old man was gagging on chunks of clay. Ryouga bent down before the ancient master could recover, holding him at arm's length with one hand, steely fingers wrapped around weathered neck. Ranma grinned at Ryouga in a rare display of camaraderie.
"You can do the honors, Ryouga," Ranma said, accepting the stunned old man and holding him lightly by the scruff of his shirt. Ryouga bent low, left leg balancing while his right leg swept back, then lashed out at the stunned old man. The kick struck with a thud which echoed across the skyline, sending the old pervert up to kiss the clouds before he disappeared into the distance.
Ranma raised his forearm, rattling the chains. "Now we've gotta figure out what the heck these things are."
Without a further word, the pigtailed young man then jumped off the roof, intent on the Cat Café. Halfway through Ranma's first leap, the Lost Boy was tugged sharply from his position by the chains on his right arm. He stumbled for two paces before getting his foot down, planting himself firmly and refusing to allow the invisible pull to move him another inch.
At the same time Ranma's arm was caught in an unseen first, right snapping out behind him then stubbornly halting his lateral momentum, his body swinging parallel to the ground before gravity reasserted her inexorable claim, pulling the wide-eyed fighter to the ground. A grunt and a loud thud punctuated the abrupt end which left the dazed young man staring up at the sky.
"Damn it, what the hell was that?" Ryouga demanded, leaping to the ground next to his sprawled rival, kneeling to grab the pigtailed boy by his braided locks and haul him to his feet. He gestured wildly, trying to indicate that invisible push in vain before giving up in frustration. Brown eyes bored stonily into slightly-concussed blue. "Why was I yanked all of a sudden!?"
"You're pretty thick if you think I've got anything more about this than you!" Ranma retorted, slapping Ryouga's wrist and breaking the grip on his shirt. With a disgruntled huff he tugged the wrinkles out of the red silk, examining the chains around his forearm only after the indignity to his clothes had been reversed. He didn't blink as he rattled the links, thinking. Clearly whatever had happened had something to do with the chains. He gestured to his left. "Okay, you stay here. I'm going to walk over that way."
As Ranma walked he noted a slight resistance, but it was nothing he would have noticed unless he was focusing on his right arm. When he got thirty feet away from Ryouga, the resistance increased to the point where the only way he could continue was by dragging his unintentional partner along with him, straining against the air as if he were actually shoving Ryouga from behind. He stopped, holding his arm out and leaning slightly, rotating the limb this way and that as he tried to feel for any weakness or difference. Thirty feet behind, Ryouga's arm mimicked the moves in a rough, jerky manner.
It then occurred to the yellow-clad boy that if Ranma could force his arm to move, the reverse was also true. He firmly planted his feet and leaned back just a bit, Ranma unconsciously leaning forward to compensate. Tension hummed in the pull of the magic joining them. Ryouga grinned, then yanked his arm back with all of his impressive strength. His arm quickly snapped back.
Thirty feet away, Ranma punch himself in the face with strength he knew he could never muster himself, stars flashing in his eyes as he wondered what the hell had happened. The chuckling of the fanged boy behind him told him all he needed to know.
"What'd you do that for!?" Ranma demanded, spinning in place to toss a glare across the distance, getting only an evil grin in response. The pigtailed boy scowled, frustration prodding him to hurl himself at the cause of his throbbing nose, getting in a good kick which tossed the unprepared Lost Boy in the air.
"What are you two fighting about now?" Akane spat from the porch, her presence completely unnoticed to the duo until that moment.
Time seemed to slow for Ryouga as he realized he was headed for the koi pond, as Akane's eyes tracing his graceless arc through the air. Ranma seemed to realize the problem as well as Ryouga's body briefly rose up, showing the pool of water which lay beyond. He tried to race forward to help, but knew he was moving too slowly.
Ryouga tried to twist out of the way, to redirect his flight, but he lacked the mastery of mid-air combat which was the Saotome specialty. He landed in the water as time froze, shutting his eyes and cringing as he prepared for death in the form of a mallet. Ryouga dreaded the coming fury more than he'd ever feared Saffron or Lime.
He waited, holding his breath. Death never came.
"Honestly Ranma, now Ryouga's wet! It's a good thing he doesn't have a Jusenkyou curse!" Akane declared, shooting her fiancé a dirty look.
"I don't have a Jusenkyou curse?" Ryouga muttered to himself, finally daring to spread his eyelids, watching Akane spin and walk away as a soul cleansing wave of relief washed away the last traces of mortal terror, quickly igniting a fierce joy in his heart. He grinned to himself, reveling in the alien sensation of cold water soaking his human body as he jumped to his feet, throwing his arms wide. "I don't have a Jusenkyou curse!"
"We're cured!?" Ranma exclaimed, running and jumping into the koi pond, ignoring the dirty look the fish gave their unwelcome, oft-visiting house guest. These days he almost always remembered to scoop any of the residents back into their home before their flops and gasps turned feeble. Ranma likewise reveled in the sensation of cold water, as it washed over him completely, running down in rivulets over the curve of her breasts. Ranma glared down at her bustline, as if the hate in the look could squish the soft mounds flat. "Ah, man! Why only pork breath!?"
"Shut up, Ranma!" Ryouga yelled, slugging the diminutive red-head out of the pond before stepping out himself. He grinned as he peered down at his cold, human body. No more random transformations. No more being a potential meal ticket for hungry animals or people. No more defenseless piglet haunting the clouds and puddles and myriad other sources of cold liquids! He stood in frank disbelief, wondering why fortune finally smiled his way.
"Alright, let's go see the old ghoul," Ranma finally grumbled, having retrieved the brass tea kettle Kasumi always kept warm from the it's place in the kitchen. She poured the heated water over her head, smiling as she felt the change return her to her male form and regained the ability to look her rival levelly in the eyes.
No doubt the old woman would be able to help out with the problem.
Cologne only spent a few minutes humming and muttering soft Mandarin to herself after Ranma and Ryouga arrived at her restaurant, her eyes suddenly doubling in size before she pogo-bounced up the stairs clasping the head of her cane. She returned with an open book, which she dropped on an unoccupied table with a thud as she faced the blue-eyed youth.
"Son-in-law, it would appear you are indeed in some trouble this time," Cologne concluded, warily glancing at the chains on Ranma and Ryouga's arms. She tapped it with the narrow point of her staff, as if touching the magical restraints with her bare hands would soil her. "Those two chains are meant to work in tandem against one foe, putting the victim totally under the spell caster's control."
"I noticed that we started to do something Happosai wanted us to do after the chains wrapped around our arms," Ryouga noted, subdued. So far, Cologne had only confirmed their suspicions, not granted them any new information. Ryouga gestured to the chain on his right arm. "I've got a question, Granny. How come when Ranma gets splashed he changes, but I get to stay as a human?"
"A good question, but simply answered," She gestured to Ranma and flung a glass of cold water in the boy's face, examining him as he lost about six inches of his height and gained significant mass on her chest, her black hair shimmering into a familiar vibrant red. Ranma sputtered as she glared at the old woman. "As you can see, Son-in-law here doesn't change his form, just his gender. The spell on these chains probably allows it because he still has the arm in that form. With you..."
"He's got no arms, so the chains wouldn't have anywhere to go," Ranma finished, examining her own bonds. She shrugged, dropping her right arm. "So what do we gotta do to get these damned things off?"
"Again, it should be simple. Just get the one who cast the spell to use the appropriate counter-spell on the chains and they should drop right off your arms. Though where could that old fool have acquired Yuki-onna's Braids at all?" Cologne's gaze was curious as she examined the gold and platinum chains binding the two foes together. "I was given to understand she hasn't been seen in this world for over two hundred years."
"Probably stole it from her!" Ranma spat, glaring out the door. He shrugged, noting Cologne was nodding. "It's not really a surprise. He seem to steal a lot of magical junk."
"So, all we have to do is get Happosai to use the counter-spell and it will free us?" Ryouga asked, cracking his knuckles eagerly as he considered the thought. Pounding on the old bastard was going to be almost as fun as pounding on Ranma. "We should be able to beat it out of him no problem."
"Well, I wish you boys luck," Cologne finished, giving their arms one last look before beginning to pogo over to the kitchen. She paused on her second bounce, looking back over her shoulder to take in both boys with a measured look. "Keep in mind that if you don't get the counter-spell off Happosai, you two may very well be stuck that way."
"Stuck with bacon breath forever?" Ranma muttered, glaring at his rival with a scowl. He scratched his chin, considering. "I've been stuck with him for an hour and I'm annoyed."
"Like you're any better, Ranma!" Ryouga countered, poking a finger into the pigtailed boy's chest. He then smirked. "The only bright side to this is I get to make sure you can't take advantage of poor Akane's trust!"
"Shut up, P-chan!" Ranma growled. He moved as if to strike his rival before stopping, almost shuddering as he mastered the urge to start another fight. Finally he grinned. "Look, we're stuck like this and neither of us especially like it. Either we work together, or we get to stay together forever. I'll kick your ass when these chains are off!"
Ranma extended his unchained hand.
"Fine, Ranma," Ryouga admitted, taking Ranma's hand with his own unchained hand and squeezing. Hard. Ranma and Ryouga stayed locked that way for a moment, neither giving ground as they crushed the air between their fists. Ranma mastered the urge to wince as the grip continued until finally the clasp ended. Ryouga smirked. "Though I'm going to be the one to win when these chains are off!"
"Come on!" Ranma said, leading Ryouga out of the restaurant. They both jumped up to the rooftops, eyes scanning for the signs of Happosai's daily rampage among Nerima's young women.
They both had a pervert to beat.
For this one, I decided to pair up Ranma and Ryouga like this so that I could force them to work together. I blatantly stole the idea of using Yuki-onna from Krista Perry, but more so that I could do something a little different. Besides, I'm pretty sure the statute of limitations has run out on using Yuki-onna in Ranma fanfiction by now.
It's been ten years since Hearts of Ice debuted, after all. ;)
I dunno how long I'm gonna stretch this out, but I'm pretty sure it's going to be longer than Loss, Hope, and Redemption. I've already got about ten chapters outlined, and that doesn't even cover the full story by any stretch of the imagination.
Author's Notes (Revision)
This revision resulted in a jump from 2855 words to a meatier 4391. The change didn't really entail much new content, though many sequences were expanded and other portions which felt awkward were rewritten for clarity.