Disclaimer

Ranma 1/2 was created by Takahashi Rumiko, and anyone who doesn't already know this won't understand this story anyway. Bleach was created by Tite Kubo; you don't really need to have seen Bleach to understand this fic, but just so you know, anything not Ranma related in here was created by him.

- - -

"We stopped fightin' about two months ago. She stopped hittin' me, that is, and I stopped provokin' it. That's 'cause we kinda found out how we felt about each other. At a little place called Phoenix Mountain."

- - -

"Quite frankly, you're still stuck on bein' Ranma, and you haven't yet figured out that you're not him anymore!" The other girl reached forward and grabbed Ranko's breast. "This more than anythin' ought to prove it!"

- - -

Ranko stepped right through the dojo door. It was still closed, and she didn't leave a hole in it.

Ranma blinked. "I hope you realize, Ranko, that that was really disturbin'."

- - -

Ranko swung the glaive, and neatly bisected Soun's coffee cup. Hot coffee splashed into the Tendo patriarch's lap, causing him to yelp. Ranko brought the glaive around again, until its blade was just by Genma's ear, its song filling his entire world.

- - -

Masami tried to stand, but doubled over, one hand across her chest. She coughed, and a dribble of blood ran from her mouth.

- - -


Tail Kinker Presents

Pale Horse

Chapter 11: The Bitter End


Nabiki crossed her arms and stared at her little sister.

"I'm still more than a little upset with you, Akane."

"I'm sorry, Nabiki." Akane hung her head. "I never intended for you to eat that pork bun. I'm sorry I even made it."

Nabiki sighed, and muttered, "I wasn't so sorry. Not at the time."

"I know."

Nabiki threw her hands in the air. "Look, just stop apologizing, all right? Cope with the fact that I'm not pleased, and move on!"

Akane looked up at her sister. "What do you--"

"Two days ago, you would've broken my arms for coming down on you! Even a week ago, I would've gotten yelled at for my troubles!" Nabiki turned away from her sister and crossed her arms. "You managed to stop us before we did anything I'd really regret, and you're sorry. All right, fine. Now please..."

"Nabiki, did I do--"

"No." She turned back again, and glowered. "I don't understand you recently, Akane. You turned hyper-angry, but everyone around here is used to that. But now you..." She stopped, at a loss for words. "You're acting more like Kasumi than Akane. I don't know if I can take two of you in the same house." She grinned. "Two of you trying to make me feel guilty would be more than I can handle."

- - - - -

"Nabiki's right." Ranma sat cross-legged in his room; Masami was seated across from him. "The Tomboy is actin' a lot different. Could that trick of Isane's be affectin' her?"

"It is possible." Masami's expression was calm. "If so, it would be most likely temporary."

Ranma shrugged. "Well, I'd say that we should just kick back and enjoy it while it lasts, but...I dunno. The Tomboy bein' nice is like one of the four Horsemen showin' up for tea."

"Why do you always call her that?"

"Hm?" Ranma blinked. "How can ya not? That girl's less feminine than your average brick."

"It is hardly charitable to refer to your fiancee in such a derogatory manner."

Ranma nodded. "That's right, you still don't have the whole story, do you?"

"Enlighten me."

"Akane and I were engaged before we met. In fact, I think we were engaged before I was even born. Neither of us were really happy with this, but couldn't take it out on the people who arranged it - our fathers. So we took it out on each other.

"By now, it's just habit. I call her Tomboy, she calls me Pervert. We're both just used to it now. You ever see her hit me for it?"

Masami shook her head.

"We stopped about two months ago. She stopped hittin' me, that is, and I stopped provokin' it. That's 'cause we kinda found out how we felt about each other. At a little place called Phoenix Mountain."

Masami looked up. "What happened at Phoenix Mountain?"

"She gave her life to save mine." Ranma stood up. "What can we do to bring back the Tomboy? I kinda miss her."

- - - - -

Ranko blinked, and glanced around the Dojo. Sleeping in one corner was the white kitten, but other than that, the dojo was empty.

"Same old place. Where's scarface?"

"Looking for me?"

Ranko turned, to see...Ranko. Pigtail. No scar. No glaive.

"What the heck? Where's Shaolan?"

Her double was dressed in a tight-fitting halter top and very short shorts. "You keep pushing her away, remember?" The cocky grin turned sultry. "Just as well. Guys are better anyway, right?"

"Ah..." Ranko stared at her double. "Not sure how I should take that."

"Well, you've fought for so long to stay Ranma." Her double smirked. "You won't even give up that name. 'Ranko.'" Her voice was mocking.

"Just 'cause I don't have anything better."

"No, I think it's because you don't want to give up being male."

Ranko scowled. "It's what I know!"

"Really?" Her double cupped her breasts, and lifted them. "You've used these to considerable advantage, gettin' free snacks outta any guy you want." She pursed her lips. "Such a tease."

Ranko ground her teeth.

Her double smirked again. "Hittin' a little close to home?"

"You wish."

The redhead took a step forward. "You know, I really do wish. I wish you would give up on bein' a guy, because you're no damn good at it."

Ranko clenched a fist. "Be careful."

"Quite frankly, you're still stuck on bein' Ranma, and you haven't yet figured out that you're not him anymore!" The redhead reached forward and grabbed Ranko's breast. "This more than anythin' ought to prove it!"

Ranko slapped the other girl's hand away. The redhead grinned. "Hit a nerve?"

"I know what you're tryin' to do." Ranko scowled. "You're tryin' to make me into her."

"Might as well." The redhead sniffed. "After all, you can't be me anymore."

Ranko's scowl deepend, and she lunged forward.

And was promptly knocked sprawling.

"Poor little girl." The redhead smirked again. "Can't hold a candle to a real man in a fight. Even when the real man is really a girl."

Ranko snapped to her feet, and cupped her hands together. "Mouko Takabisha!"

The redhead dodged the attack. "Stupid. What can you do to me?" She stepped inside Ranko's range, and her fist slammed into her side hundreds of times in under a second.

Ranko staggered back, her side on fire. She coughed, and tasted blood.

"Bitch."

"Proud of it." The redhead leaped into the air, and descended, one foot forward. Ranko grabbed the foot and tossed her in another direction.

She landed, lithe as a cat, and turned to face her opponent.

"Better. But we both know that you're not up to your usual standards."

She started to run around Ranko. Ranko fired off another Mouko Takabisha, then realized what was happening, and cooled her battle aura.

The redhead stopped running. "Interesting. Without the clash of temperature, the Hiryuu Shoutan Ha cannot form."

"Of course." Ranko smirked. "I may not be as powerful as I was, but this technique doesn't require power."

"The best you'll ever do is fight me to a standstill." The redhead crossed her arms. "And that's just as good as a win, to me."

"Is it?" Ranko shook her head. "I don't think you're tellin' me the whole truth."

"Really?" Her double grinned. "If you fall, I take over this body, and I'm free. You're nothing but a memory of a long-dead girl."

"You could be right." Ranko turned, and picked up the kitten. The tiny cat stretched, and nuzzled into her arm.

The redhead blinked. "What are you doing?"

"If I'm not really you, but you are..." Ranko turned, and walked towards her double. "Then I'm not ailurophobic. As you can see."

The redhead took a step back. "C...Cat..."

"But trust me, I know how far I can push you before you go Neko-Ken." Ranko smirked. "I'll keep you just this side of sanity for as long as this takes."

The redhead screamed, and vanished.

Ranko smiled down at the white kitten.

"Why was I ever afraid of you?"

- - - - -

"Meditatin', eh?" Ranma paused, and let his hand fall from the dojo door. "I dunno if we should disturb her. She's probably talkin' to Shaolan."

Masami nodded. "I agree, but we do need to talk to her as soon as possible. It will be night shortly, and we cannot afford to give Happousai another night to run."

"I agree."

Ranko stepped right through the dojo door. It was still closed, and she didn't leave a hole in it.

Ranma blinked. "I hope you realize, Ranko, that that was really disturbin'."

Ranko grinned wolfishly, and reached behind her to ready Koneko. "We need to find Happousai. I think I know how."

- - - - -

Genma was still rather unhappy about losing the panda. At the moment, he was staring at his food morosely.

Considering that Genma normally inhaled his food at a rate equalled only by his son, this was unusual.

Soun set down his magazine, and picked up his coffee. "Perhaps after dinner, you and I should play a game of shogi. The board has grown cold these last few days."

Genma merely grunted.

"Come now, old friend. Haven't you been searching for a cure for the last year?"

Genma looked up. "Yes. But never terribly hard. I felt certain, based on what we already knew, that the Cursed Springs were permanent."

"'Already knew.'" Ranko's voice was flat and lifeless. Genma turned, with some surprise, to see Ranko and Ranma standing at the door of the family room.

Ranko crossed the room, and kicked the table, sending it through the shoji and into the pond. Dishes clattered to the floor, scattering food around the family room. She brought her glaive around, bringing the edge to just under Genma's chin.

"Spill it."

"What are you doing, boy?"

"Not 'boy'. As you well know." Ranko spat the words. "Tell me where you learned of Jushenkyou."

"What are you talking about--"

"Koneko--purr!" The glaive sprang to life, doubling in size and humming.

"Over a thousand vibrations a second, Pops. Might wanna start talkin'."

"I still have no idea what--"

Ranko swung the glaive, and neatly bisected Soun's coffee cup. Hot coffee splashed into the Tendo patriarch's lap, causing him to yelp. Ranko brought the glaive around again, until its blade was just by Genma's ear, its song filling his entire world.

"Try again."

"The Master!"

"I thought so. Where would he be now?"

- - - - -

"Of course he's hidin' out in a bathhouse," groaned Ranko. "Why didn't I think of that?"

She was dressed in the black kimono and hakama that she had worn since her first separation; Her hair was unbound and her scar gleamed in the moonlight. Koneko was held lightly in her left hand.

Masami was also in full Shinigami uniform, her gigai left beside Ranko's in the dojo. Her zampakto was belted to her waist, and her pager was in her hand. At the moment, it showed one glowing dot on its screen: directly ahead.

Akane had switched to her fighting gi, and again, Ranma noticed that she seemed small and lost in it. He was worried; Akane had lost much of her fighting spirit when the Taint was removed.

Ranko stepped through the locked doors, then unlocked them from the inside and slid the doors open. "Looks clear in this room; I think we'll find him in the woman's section."

Ranma shook his head. "No women there. Why would he be there in preference to anywhere else?"

"Because it'd feel better to him." Ranko tapped her head. "Creature of instinct, remember?"

Akane stepped around the counter, glanced into the staff room. "Clear in here."

Masami consulted her pager. "Definitely the women's section." She pointed to the door. "Through there."

"Got it." Ranma stepped forward, only to be grabbed by Akane.

"Hold on. If there's anyone else in there, they'd probably appreciate seeing me first."

Ranma scowled. "If there's any women in there with him, they'll have other things on their minds."

"Just wait. Please." Akane turned, and opened the door.

"Dog-leg here...I'm going to the next door."

The other three followed her into the dog-leg. Akane pushed the second door open, and took a step forward.

The roar of an explosion filled the room, and Akane was catapulted forward, landing in one of the deep pools.

Happousai cackled. "A perfect shot!"

The other three rushed in, Ranma hopping over the crater in the floor. Happousai stood at the far end of the low pool, but Ranma's attention was on Akane. The deep pool only reached two meters, but that was more than enough water for Akane to founder in. He dived in after her.

"Ranma, don't split our forces!"

Ranko shook her head. "Akane swims like a hammer. We'll take care of him until Ranma can come help."

Masami nodded, and ducked back into the shadows. Ranko stepped out onto the water of the low pool, walking across the surface towards her opponent.

Happousai chuckled evilly. "Why, it's little Ranko, come to play."

The redhead held her nagimaki out at arm's reach, and it grew suddenly to its full length. The song of the vibro-blade filled the room. Her eyes flared dangerously.

"I am not Ranko. And you know this."

"Ah." Happousai nodded. "Finally, you realize."

"Oh, yes." Her face twisted to an ugly glare. "I am going to finish now what I started fifteen hundred years ago."

"Big words, little girl, but you'll need another fifteen hundred years to catch up with me!"

He tossed a lit bomb towards her, and she casually cut it in half. The two pieces fell, spraying gunpowder, into the water. She ran towards him, naginata held blade low, and swung upwards as she reached him.

He caught the blade of the vibro-glaive with his pipe, and pushed it casually out of the way, then leaped into the air and brought the pipe down on top of her head. Surprised, she sunk into the water to her knees. He whirled, catching the side of her face with the back of the pipe, and she staggered back, one hand falling from her zampakto. Her knees gave way as her vision doubled, and she fell to a seated position, releasing her glaive entirely. He sneered, and snagged the back of her head with his off hand.

"I remember this scar." He grinned. "Best one I ever gave. Who would have suspected that an old man's pipe contained a blade?"

He gave the pipe a flick, and it changed. The bowl merged together, forming a sickle-like blade. He brought the kama towards her left eye.

"Shall I give you a matching one on this side?"

Fifteen feet above him, Masami emerged from the shadows, plunging towards him with her zampakto on high. He snarled, whirled towards her, and waved a hand.

A bolt of crimson energy flared, catching Masami across the torso, and slammed her back into a support pillar. She fell three feet, landing on hands and knees.

"Nice try, girl, but I can smell your kind coming from miles away!" He laughed. "Even further when you're female!"

Masami tried to stand, but doubled over, one hand across her chest. She coughed, and a dribble of blood ran from her mouth.

Ranma laid the unconscious Akane face-down on the tiles, and scowled across the room. "All three girls down, and I'm here playin' lifeguard!" He cupped his hands together, and yelled, "Mouko Takabisha!"

The energy wave roared across the room, lighting Happousai up like a roman candle. When the glare subsided, he was standing, his gi somewhat charred, looking a bit surprised.

"I always thought you were smarter than that, Ranma. Don't you know you can't hurt a Hollow?"

"Sure gonna try." Ranma leaped clear across the pool.

Ranko climbed out onto dry land, the hot water of the pool leaving her soaked, but still female. Happousai now stood directly between the two Saotomes. He laughed again.

"You two don't have a prayer. I am the oldest surviving Hollow, last of the Espada. You're a second-rate Shinigami at best, and you," He gestured to Ranma. "Only mortal."

"I guess the Espada are about to become extinct."

Ranma stepped forward, snapping down an axe-kick. Happousai side-stepped the attack, and slashed at his ankle with the kama, only to turn aside at the last moment to parry Ranko's zampakto. Ranko moved clockwise around him, slashing again; Ranma did the same, to give her room. He suddenly realized her intent, felt the cold ki washing from her, and allowed his hot ki to fuel the effect.

Happousai's eyes narrowed. "Hiryuu Shouten Ha, is it? Not in here!"

"Ranma! He's right!" Ranko scowled. "Too much hot air from the baths!"

"Crap." Ranma snapped through a sweep kick, and Happousai jumped into the air to dodge. Ranma's other foot slammed into him, knocking him across the room.

A blow that would have killed any mortal man. But Happousai stepped out of his crater, and dusted off his clothing.

"I told you, boy..."

He threw the kama. Ranma tried to dodge, but the spinning blade tracked him, and slammed into his arm as he tried to parry.

"Only mortal."

Ranma screamed, as the blade seemed to sear his flesh. He carried the screams into the darkness with him.

- - - - -

Akane, unconscious on the tiles across the room.

Masami, with at least one broken rib, curled up in fetal position by a wall.

Ranma, his skin showing greenish veins as some hellish poison coursed through his system.

The redhead adjusted her grip on her weapon.

"Just me left, Happousai."

He nodded. "I've been saving the best for last...Shaolan." He pulled the kama from Ranma's arm, and turned to face her. "Come to your death."

She lunged towards him, forcing him back. Five times, she stabbed at him with Koneko, and he parried as many times. She swung the zampakto around in a grand arc, and had it blocked and trapped. The zampakto shrunk back to its contained form, then expanded again as she released it. Again he parried, and again was forced back.

"You're runnin' out of room, old man."

"Not really." He feinted to the left, then moved inside her guard, slashing at her leg with the kama. She parried it barehanded, slapping the blade away from her, and turned to face him again.

"That's the problem with such a huge weapon." Happousai smirked. "It has a massive dead zone."

He moved in again, parrying her weapon and moving inside, this time aiming for her heart. She countered with a push-kick, forcing him away, then broadsided him with the blunt end. He shook his head to clear it, then dodged another swing.

"We can dance all night, little girl. I only need to get inside your guard once more."

"It won't happen." The redhead smirked. "You Arrancar always think that the mere possession of a zampakto makes you the equal of a Shinigami. But our link to the blade gives us one advantage."

"An advantage you never had, and certainly haven't had time to learn." Happousai feinted again, but did not press home. "And I've been learning to use my zampakto for three thousand years." He paused, and sighed along the kama. "So the dance ends now."

He snapped the kama up as he dashed forward, forcing the blade of the naginata into the air, and swung for her head.

And was parried.

He stared in shock. The naginata had reformed again, sliding back to encase her arm to the elbow. A long spur off the elbow formed a guard, that had parried his own zampakto. And the blade had segmented into four long, slender claws.

"Final release..." Blood drained from his face.

Shaolan slapped him backhanded with the claws, and the cyclone force knocked him back into the wall. He struggled to pull himself free, but Ranko was suddenly before him. She grabbed him, tossed him out onto the floor.

"Bankai!" She swung the backhand again, and even from three meters away, the cyclone force of the Hiryuu Shouten Ha slammed into him. A second time, he flew across the room and into the wall.

Shaolan leisurely picked up his kama, tossed it into the air, and slashed. It fell into five pieces. She strode across the room, to where he lay.

"Fifteen hundred years of nothing but training. Training with Koneko, not merely learning to use her. I don't remember the training, but Koneko does." She raised the claws to strike. Her face was expressionless.

"Ranko, please..."

"I told you. I am not Ranko."

She drove the claws forward, into his head.

- - - - -

Isane looked up from Ranma's unconscious form.

"I managed to divert the toxins, and drain them from his body. That, plus a purification ritual to be handled tomorrow, will eliminate the chance of him becoming Impureza."

Shaolan nodded.

"And you patched up Masami. She will be on the sick roll for some time, but you most likely saved her life. She had a punctured lung, and most likely some other internal damage."

"I couldn't let her die." Shaolan shrugged. "I don't know how I did what I did, but...it seemed right. Like the time I healed Shampoo."

"So that leaves us with you." Isane stood. "You need to decide."

"I've considered it a long time, and I have decided." Shaolan reached behind, and pulled the glaive from her back. "I believe this belongs to a warrior of your Division, who died fifteen hundred years ago."

Isane's eyes widened in shock.

"Please." Shaolan held the nagimaki out to her. "I can't go back to Soul Society. I'd have to start all over again from the beginning." She smirked. "I'm too used to being the best."

Isane wordlessly took the weapon.

"For what it's worth, Kotetsu...I think you're doin' a great job. I'm glad you're fillin' her shoes." The redhead sighed. "But I gotta find my own destiny."

"Where will you go?"

Shaolan shrugged. "There's a little place in China where I got some unfinished business. Now that Happousai's defeated, maybe I can break the curse." She glanced around. "I'm gonna miss this place."

"You have the gigai. You could stay here."

"Oh, no." She shook her head and grinned. "You know what a chaos magnet I am. They'd be safer if I left."

"I suppose you're right."

Shaolan shrugged. "I don't know if I am or not. But if I am wrong...I can always come back." She turned, and walked to the door.

"Aren't you going to wait for them to wake up?" Isane frowned. "You should at least say goodbye."

"I hate goodbyes." She stepped out the door and turned the corner.

Isane followed her outside, but when she reached the door, Shaolan was gone.

- Epilogue -

Kira handed the scroll to Aizen.

"The complete, unedited report of Lieutenant Kotetsu. You will, of course, be receiving the edited version from the General later on."

Aizen unrolled the scroll, and glanced through it. Then back up. "Espada? Is this true?"

"Yes, Captain."

"So they still exist..."

"That was apparently the last one."

"But if one can survive..." He rolled the scroll again. "There must be a way to...encourage their development.

- - - - -

Shaolan glanced around the alleyway. From the notes her father had kept, she'd expected to find a dojo, bave for a little girl sweeping the walkway, the alley was deserted.

The girl glanced up as she approached. And blinked.

"Lieutenant?"

"Not anymore." The redhead grinned. "I retired. I'm looking for Urahara."

"The owner?"

"Yeah. Tell him he has a new student, if he wants her."

- END -