Another Rainy Day in Nerima

Disclaimer: I do not own Ranma ½ or any related characters in any way, shape or form.

Author's Notes: well, here it is. I want to make this long, eloquent speech to explain just how amazed I am at where this has gone from such humble beginnings (it began as merely a diversion, after all) and how truly humbled I am that it's received such welcome, but the words won't come. I thank you all.

Chapter 20: An Ending, A Beginning

Mousse's beak dropped; how could this fool of a tomboy be willing to just let the dried up monkey and that fiend Saotome get away with this plan to snatch away his beloved Shampoo? Well, if she couldn't sort out her emotions, then he would do it for her! Thrusting his beak into one of the subspace pockets in which he carried his belongings, he pulled out the Reversal Jewel he had stolen from Cologne- the disgusting piece of mackerel jerky had forgotten to retrieve it from him, an error for which she would now pay. With a muffled quack of triumph, he thrust himself forward with all the strength he could, leaping to the startled Japanese girl and hooking the jewel into her clothes before she could protest. At this, she fell silent, then began to quiver and quake. Mousse smiled as wide and as evil a smile as a duck could make as Akane strained her limbs and snapped her bindings; now she would rush to proclaim her own love for Ranma and ruin Cologne's evil schemes! Triumph gave way to fear as a distinct aura of rage began to form around her, the blazing Tendo turning eyes that burned with cold towards him.


"So... what does this have to do with what I asked for?" Ranma-Prime mused to himself. Then his eyes widened in revelation. "Ah, I get it; Mousse must have slipped up and put the brooch on her by mistake, and as she was distracted by her magic-induced urge to beat the tar out of Mousse, she didn't show up in time to interrupt... I'm not going to like what's going to happen, am I?" He muttered, already seeing the patterns forming.

The view shifted to the Nekohanten and inside the restaurant, Ranma Saotome was wrestling with his greatest challenge yet, one that he was unaware would create a monumental change in his life.

Internally there was a war going on, alarms were screaming inside Ranma's head telling him that this was all another trap for him, while pride busily chipped away at the walls formed by years of suspicion and nerves. Longtime fears of rejection & loneliness pushed him forward, as well as a newcomer to the emotional mess; fear of the Contract his father had made with his mother.

Finally, the walls came down and the words came out.

Ranma stuttered for a while as he tried to say the words, but in the end he finally managed to say, "I love you" to Shampoo loud enough for everyone to hear and clear enough for them to understand just what he had said. Internally, his mind was wondering what the hell had happened; he should have been more than able to turn on the charm in this situation. Hell, he knew he had charm; just look at all those other times, like that incident with the hypnotic mushroom, or when he was engaged to Nabiki. The rest of him was too busy twisting itself in knots over the anticipated reaction to provide an answer.

Though a part of her subconscious couldn't resist a snarky "about time", Shampoo's eyes widened in shocked delight as Ranma finally managed to say the words she had been longing to hear for so long- she had even begun to consider if this might be a hoax, despite the fact Ranma had shown up in a tuxedo (which made him look so dashing) and with flowers (beautiful and more than welcome). She wasn't entirely sure what was going on- her great-grandmother had just told her that Ranma was coming to the Nekohanten to proclaim his love for her (and why did she feel like there was a gap between her saying that and Shampoo's own excitement?) and they had to prepare. Nevertheless, she was more then willing to go along with it, and it had paid off spectacularly, even if the wait had been horrible and mood sapping. True, he had stuttered and stumbled trying to get the words out, and yes, he wasn't as enthusiastic as she might have hoped, but this was the clearest sign of affection he had ever given her- she would seize it and never let it go! She opened her mouth to respond... then froze, partially because her voice failed her, partially because she couldn't for the life of her figure out what to say! She was so overwhelmed by her emotions she had forgotten her matriarch's instructions.

Beneath the tables, the students of Furinkan fidgeted and muttered to each other, bored out of their wits and thoroughly irritated as they waited for Shampoo to profess her own love for Ranma so they could get out from under these tables. A few were surprised that a playboy like Ranma would finally say something that could be taken as committal, but that feeling was blunted by him taking so long to do so. Cologne repressed the urge to curse; what was that foolish great-granddaughter of hers doing? Mooning over her husband was all well and good, but now was not the time to do so!

As Shampoo finally realized that this truly was real, a dark shadow slipped into the doors of the Cat Cafe.

"Oh, is that so, Ranma?" Came a voice, like ice on steel in its tone, cool and leveled, yet fierce enough to freeze the blood in veins and send icy sweat beading over Ranma's face.

All eyes turned to the entrance and there was Akane in all her frightening glory, her aura crackling in the visible spectrum, but her expression hooded and ice-cold. Even her eyes, instead of burning like coals, were hard and cold as frozen stones. The Furinkan students quickly decided that remaining under the tables was for the best and that staying silent would be even better.

Ranma for his part was wincing at the palpable anger rolling off Akane while Shampoo grimaced slightly; it figured that the Tendo girl would show up about now. From her position however, Cologne's eyes narrowed in suspicion at the girl at the entrance.

Ignoring them, still speaking in that icy voice, a tone she had never used before, taking no physical actions, Akane continued, "I'd like to say that I'm horrified to find you betraying me like this, that I'm disgusted that you could stoop so low... but that would be lying. You are truly the lowest of the low. There's nothing too wretched for you to do, is there? Especially for your own bloated ego."

The students all winced in sympathy for Ranma at the harsh words as the person in question flinched as if struck while Shampoo's eyes widened. From her position, Cologne winced while she tried to figure out just what made the usually fiery Tendo girl become this cold.

"Akane, how could you say that!?" Ranma protested.

"Say what? You'll do anything to get what you want, no matter who you have to hurt, or how badly you have to hurt them. What's the matter? Truth hurt? It should. You're just like your father- no, if anything, you might be worse then he is. Your father is a bastard to sate his own wants; you just get a kick out of it." Akane said, leaning back slightly with crossed arms and a disdainful expression. "I can't believe I was ever foolish enough to give you a chance."

"Getting worse?" Shampoo stepped forward at Akane's words, "How Ranma get worse in your eyes?"

"Let's see, how about the fact he deliberately strings along girls, just because it makes him feel like a man? Not that you ever needed the encouragement, you ignorant savage. Ukyo, you, me, even Kodachi; he treats us like dirt and expects us to worship the ground at our feet. And kami forbid one of us should try and wise up, oh no, he's got to move heaven and earth to make sure that things stay the way we are. He likes us fighting over him, he loves the way it gives him a free excuse to look at us naked- the damn pervert gets off on it, feels that it makes him a man, makes him important." Akane stated, cold and emotionless as though she was simply repeating basic facts.

Shampoo quirked an eyebrow, "When Ranma get off on naked girl when he run first chance he get? Even idiots see he too-too shy about that."

It was impossible to tell whether Ranma heard Shampoo's statement or not; he was still visibly frozen in mingled shock and pain from Akane's statements, and made no visible reaction to Shampoo's claims about him being shy.

"That's just what he wants you to think, so you don't get mad and punish him for being a pervert. He can't fool me." Akane declared matter-of-factly. "It's all part of his act; he plays the innocent, and it just encourages you to up the ante, so he can enjoy more and more perverted things from you. But, when his body is so sick and twisted, it's no surprise his mind should be just as warped."

At her words the students under the tables glanced at each other with looks of shock... Akane had always been someone that the others at Furinkan had looked up to. She was one of them, a skilled martial artist, a kind, understanding, generous person. Ranma could be a jerk and a pest at times, but he was generally a decent enough guy, and while nobody was clear on just what the deal was with that curse of his, they did know it wasn't his choice. To hear her berate and slander him for something that he honestly couldn't help having... left a bad taste.

Ranma recovered from his initial shock to form a retort, "And just how the hell am I 'sick and twisted' to you? I don't peep on girls, I don't steal underwear like the Old Freak does, so how the hell did I get so twisted?" The comments were hurtful, but good old pride was coloring Ranma's words at this point. Making matters worse was the fact this was something of an old wound as far as Ranma was concerned. No matter how often he protested, no matter how often she was proven wrong, Akane would never give him the benefit of the doubt- always leaping to the conclusion that proclaimed him a pervert.

"How are you not?" Akane instantly replied. "Bad enough that you're a freak, but you take full perverted advantage of your condition! I can't even begin to count all the times you've flirted with guys just for a lousy extra scoop of ice cream or a free takoyaki. And then there's things like letting that old pervert grope you, or chasing after Kuno, or using it to sneak around with girls who don't know you. To say nothing of how you use it to cheat in fights... not that you ever fight fair, anyway."

"What do you mean, never fight fair?" Both of the other teens protested, outrage in both their voices, very real hurt in Ranma's.

"Don't give me the innocent act, Ranma; it's not going to fool me." Akane mocked icily. "You've never won a fight on your own skill- it's always cheap tricks and treachery that wins the fights for you. You toy with your opponents' heads, dodging around like a bug and tricking them into losing. You play at being a girl to mess with Kuno's head so he won't attack you, and you do the same thing with Ryoga so you can get a cheap shot in... not that the idiot doesn't leave himself wide open." Akane admitted. "But the truth is that you're not a martial artist at all- if you weren't so good at cheating, you wouldn't even be able to beat Ryoga. Kuno is more of a martial artist then you are- he might be a perverted idiot, but at least he fights fairly!"

"Now just wait a minute!" Ranma suddenly snarled at the girl, "What the hell do you know about what a fair fight is? What do you even think it is? You, being able to beat me? Only if I stood still and let you hit me, which isn't a fight, that's just you thinking I'm a practice dummy! Anything Goes means that you use any tactics available to you and that means avoiding getting hit. just punch a bunch of untrained morons and call that a fight? If Kuno wasn't so hung up on you he'd bury you like Shampoo or Ukyo would, and even then he's more likely to be nice about it."

Shampoo nodded and took a step forward. "Shampoo take great pleasure in showing Angry Girl just what real fight is." Her face split in an obvious smirk, barely needing the emphasis of her cracking knuckles to make her point clear.

Akane's aura roiled at their retort. "How dare you...!" She began, only to be cut off by the teens she was arguing with.

"Just who do you think you are, lecturing me about martial arts?" Ranma asked in an outraged tone. "Martial arts are my life. You have a family, regular meals, a warm bed, nice clothes, a stable home- I sacrificed all of these things to hone my skills! Until my old man brought me here, I endured hardships that would break a spoiled suburbanite like you, and I took them in stride. All for the sake of becoming a great martial artist. You slot martial arts into the empty moments of your life- you will never become one of us unless you start taking it seriously." Ranma barked, driven to an especially unusual level of anger by Akane's attitude, an attitude that had always rankled him since his arrival in Nerima, like a recurring itch in a spot he just couldn't reach. At his side, Shampoo nodded fiercely in her agreement; sweat and blood and toil were what it took to become strong, not rage and ego and entitlement.

"At least it means I have a life! I have friends, I do well enough in school, and I've got nobody after my head!" Akane spat back, though it was anyone's guess what the final comment was a reference to; Ranma's habit of insulting others, the fact her father was more responsible than Genma Saotome, or even a simple barb to emphasize how much better at making friends she was. Undaunted, she continued. "What did spending all your childhood roaming the wild and learning how to break rocks with your head do for you, huh? Everyone thinks you're some kind of freak! You don't have a single friend, because nobody wants anything to do with a stupid jock who's only good for breaking things!" Akane answered. She didn't roar in rage, didn't thunder; just calmly spoke as if reading facts, yet her words were sharp as any dagger.

If Ranma's previous anger had been a flame, then Shampoo watched as it guttered out as if doused with icy water and she knew that Akane had pretty much cut right to the heart of the matter in one strike. She wanted to say something, to add her own strength to Ranma's side of the battle, but the sheer flurry of verbal barbs thrown had her somewhat off balance, and she knew her own spoken Japanese was best labeled "functional". She kept silent as she tried to figure out what, precisely, to say and how to convey it.

Akane's aura receded somewhat, making her smug, self-satisfied smile all the more apparent. "See? Even these barbaric savages, the only people stupid enough to almost approach your obsession with martial arts, think you're a loser for wasting all your time learning how to fight."

"What make you think we say that?!" Shampoo fumed; how dare this brat call them barbarians! She probably wouldn't even last a day in the village considering how soft she was. To say that Shampoo was livid was an understatement, she was just about ready to tear the girl to pieces, damn the consequences!

"I don't see you stepping up to his defense." Akane mocked.

At that declaration, Cologne could stand no more and slipped out of hiding. While she had entertained thoughts that some of this might be beneficial to her great-granddaughter's cause, this had gone far beyond anything she might have expected. She respected Ranma as a person and as a martial artist, and hearing this novice with an over inflated ego mocking her unofficial student... well, there were limits to everyone's tolerance. But Cologne was unable to fully shake her surprise; what had caused this strange display? While the sheer vehemence of her claims was surprising, even to those who had become used to her explosions of violent rage, of more concern was her behavior. Akane was a fiery person; bellowing, screaming, lashing out wildly with fist and tongue at the subject of her wrath. An icy, almost clinical, verbal vivisection was unheard of- Cologne would even say that retaining such control while angered was beyond the youngest Tendo.

Slipping around behind her, unnoticed by any of the arguing trio, revealed the answer; the Reversal Jewel, stuck to the back of Akane's collar, and positioned in the "Hate" rotation. She had forgotten to retrieve that from Mousse, she realized- the stupid fool must have tried to use it to get Akane to get over herself and come and interfere, only to pin it on the wrong way up by accident. Up to the top of her staff Cologne slid, reaching out and gently plucking the Jewel off even as Shampoo managed to figure out her own barb to throw at Akane.

"What for you hate Ranma? He strong, loyal friend, he never do anything to you!" Shampoo asked emphatically, trying to understand why Akane was speaking such virulent disdain. She knew that she would never dismiss Ranma out of hand like that.

Whatever Cologne had been expecting Akane to say, now that she had removed the Jewel, she had not expected this...

"Hate him? Of course I hate him!" Akane screamed, startling all of the listeners as the familiar fire broke through the ice. Caught up in her emotions, perhaps unaware of what she was actually saying, she continued to spit vitriol. "I've always hated him! I'm trapped in an engagement to my worst nightmare! He's ruined my life, he constantly destroys my home, he's a unbearable embarrassment! Everything would be fine if he had never showed up! I wish he'd just go away and never come back! Maybe then things could go back to the way they're supposed to be!" Akane screamed.

Silence, utter dead silence filled the Nekohanten for a moment before Ranma simply dashed out the door, without a word but Shampoo sensed more than saw Ranma's heart all but shattering at the spite-filled words that Akane had spouted as Cologne shook her head.

Akane's eyes widened as Ranma vanished, but before she could do anything else, Shampoo stepped forward and back-handed Akane's face, everyone wincing as they saw Akane tumble back seemingly in slow motion before momentum caught up and the girl rocketed out the door and smashed into the wall of a building across the road as the teen strode out with all the angry majesty of a tiger as Cologne turned to the people remaining inside the restaurant.

"You can all come out now, and you may as well go home." She sighed softly, looking over the Jewel in her hand and deep in thought about what this could mean. The other Nerima natives did as they were told, though those that left the restaurant didn't go too far, instead hanging around to watch Shampoo, now standing over the obviously unconscious Akane, apparently either unknowing or uncaring of both facts, her own aura visibly rippling and shimmering like the air over a hot pavement.

"You disgust Shampoo. You had wonderful man, devoted man, Ranma never even glance at Shampoo unless want free food but follow you like lost puppy, and you kick him into mud every time. No more, Ranma not yours anymore, Ranma my Airen and you never get him again." Shampoo spat on the ground to show her contempt before stalking away to find Ranma.

"Enough. I can't take any more." Ranma-prime said tiredly, the Eye swallowing the scene back in the mists of time. "Just show me the how the others started forging their new paths after the status quo got broken." He instructed.

The mood around the Tendo dojo was somber, if you ignored the blatant attempt by Kasumi to be cheerful in the face of catastrophe. The two fathers were arguing in the living room, Genma all but chewing out Soun for Akane's outburst, and the results were predictable.

"Waaah! It's not my fault! My little girl was under a lot of stress, that's all!"

Upstairs, Nabiki simply turned another page in her manga and kept reading. Next-door in Akane's room, however, it was a different story…

Sitting at her desk, holding P-chan in her arms, Akane looked like the sky had fallen on her. And she felt a lot like it as well. Even beyond the intense throbbing pain in her swollen cheek, her heart was filled with such a turmoil of emotions it felt like a lump of hot lead in her chest. Staring blankly out the window, she murmured to herself.

"...Did I really do that? Did I really say such horrible things to Ranma? I can't remember… No, no, I wouldn't do such things! But... why does everyone say I did? There's no way in the world I'd do something so terrible. I'm not a bad person... I'm not."

Yet again she wracked her brains, trying to recall what had happened. As before, all she got was a memory of a rage so intense and focused it burned cold, hate enough to make her shiver in fear, and flashes of faces- Ranma's reflecting pain deeper then any wound he'd received in battle, and Shampoo's quivering with barely repressed rage.

Yet again she forced herself away from the vague memories, hurt and horror and guilt and angry denial her shield against them. Unthinkingly she caressed P-chan, the piglet a welcome distraction from her troubling memories. Forcing herself to try and think of something else, she looked blankly at the clock.

"It's getting pretty late." She murmured to herself. "Ranma still hasn't come home... He's been out late before, and he always comes back. ...But what if he doesn't? What if he's run away, or he's lost, or hurt? Maybe I should go and look for him..." Akane started to rise from her seat. As she did so, however, she couldn't help but recall other times she had gone after Ranma in worry, only to find herself either betrayed or receiving ingratitude for doing so. She scowled darkly and sat herself down forcibly, giving P-chan a rather unpleasant jolt in doing so.

"What do I care if he's out late? It's not like I care or anything- and it's not like he'd ever care either. He'll come back when he gets over himself, like he always does." Akane mumbled resentfully. "Besides, he's got those hussies after him- I'll bet he's probably shacked up with one of them, the stupid jerk! Besides, it's not like I owe the idiot anything... and this whole mess is his fault to begin with. But... maybe, I mean, maybe I should..."

Uncomfortable both with the way Akane's train of thought was heading, and because she was squeezing him too tightly, P-chan let out a sharp squeal. Jolted Akane out of her thoughts for the moment and the girl mumbled an apology to her pet and repositioned him so that he was more comfortable.

She got out of her seat again, then slapped herself on her unbruised cheek. "Stupid, what are you thinking? If you go and look for him, the idiot will think you're saying you're actually guilty! And you're not! You didn't do anything- he's the one to blame for all of this mess. No, I'm staying right here and waiting for this to all blow over, just like it always does."

That said, she flung herself down on her bed and tried her hardest to push away everything- all remaining worries, all nagging guilt, all haunting memories- so she could go to sleep.

The Happy Ronin did not really match its name well. It was an almost stereotypical hole-in-the-wall; a gloomy, barely-getting-on drinking pit in the seedier part of Nerima. Normally, it would still be open to a few last dedicated drinkers, the kind of people who never spoke and concentrated on drinking alcohol as though their misery could be washed away with that one last cup, but now it was closed. The reason for this was currently snoring loudly on the counter. The barkeep and his hard-bitten staff mopping up bloodstains, sweeping up shattered bottles and smashed chairs, pulling more pointed objects then they had seen in months from the walls... Yes, Mousse had made quite a mess when he had forced his way here and outright bullied the barkeep to serve him a drink, despite the age thing. He had, at least, paid for his purchases, so the barkeep wasn't as upset as he might have been.

"Damn country yokel." Crumbled one cleaner. "Bad enough he beat up on some paying customers, he scared the others off with that blubbering over that girl of his."

"You expect a knucklehead like this to be able to hold his booze, or be able to resist throwing his weight around? Besides, I think they actually cleared out when he started singing." The barkeep commented, shuddering. "Worse then a mule trying to take a leak with its whatsit tied in a knot."

"...How, exactly, do you know what that sounds like?" Another cleaner finally asked the question they had all been wondering, but dreading to ask.

"Don't you nevermind." The barkeep replied firmly. "Let's just get this place cleaned up."

Ukyo sat in front of her mirror, mechanically brushing her hair as she made ready to go to bed for the evening, and sighed. She had been elsewhere in Nerima at the time of the incident at the Nekohanten, caught up in a mixture of anger and embarrassment and love and hate due to her prior confrontation with Ranma at school, so she had only heard about what had happened second-hand. She had always known that Ranma and Akane didn't love each other, but she never would have thought Akane would say such horrible things.

She had spent all day looking for Ranma, but hadn't managed to find a trace of him. Though a few embers of anger at Ranma being stupid enough to actually try and proclaim love for Shampoo remained, it had been extinguished by concern for him, and a few traces of guilty joy. There was no way in the world that Ranma would consider marrying Akane now, which left the way clear for her. But first she would have to find him... and, of course, she mustn't come off as too overbearing, oh no, that would just make her look as bad as Akane, if not worse...

"Ranma asleep now, great-grandmother." Shampoo called softly as she finished descending the stairs. By the time she had found Ranma, the pigtailed boy had retreated into a state of semi-catatonia, rather like what had happened after that incident with the Instant Love Pill where Ranma had momentarily fallen head over heels for Cologne. Shampoo had carried Ranma back to the Nekohanten and put him to bed in a spare futon in their upper rooms. Mousse, meanwhile, had been sent packing when he'd finally dragged his bedraggled carcass back, given all of his junk and told never to darken her doorsteps again. Shampoo didn't believe in the slightest that he would listen to her, but it should make him back off for at least a day or two, and that was all she really cared about at the moment.

Cologne nodded, "Good. A moment please Xian Pu?" The elder hopped into the kitchen and waited for her great-granddaughter to follow.

Shampoo obediently did as she was asked, following Cologne into the kitchen and seating herself at one of the chairs they kept there. "So, what is matter great-grandmother?" She asked.

The old woman placed herself on the table and cleared her throat, "I have given this situation some thought and I believe that for the sake of the boy, it would probably be best if you toned down your usual enthusiasm, until he has recovered enough from this ordeal."

A part of her had anticipated something like this, but Shampoo still couldn't resist a tired sigh, then crossed her arms and adopted a resigned expression. "Honorable great-grandmother..." She began, "Is Shampoo infant? Is Shampoo stupid? Then why point out what so obvious to Shampoo? Wicked girl finally give Ranma to Shampoo, but she hurt Ranma too-too much. Shampoo must think about helping him heal first. Then he will come to Shampoo's arms."

Cologne blinked for a moment, and then nodded, internally pleased at her heir's quick and easy assumption of the role she needed to take, "My mistake, but it had to be said regardless. However, there is the matter of the Kuonji girl as well, she will not let you take him so easily I'd wager."

Shampoo shrugged nonchalantly. "Shampoo deal with her when it comes."

Cologne nodded, "Very well, I leave this in your hands for now. But do not hesitate to come to me for aid should you need it."

"Shampoo do. Actually..." Shampoo began, suddenly looking unusually shy and demure, eyes cast downwards. "Shampoo want ask something..."

Cologne nodded with a smile, "What is it you need of me?"

"Shampoo was thinking, when Ranma feeling more like old self, Shampoo take Ranma out to mountains. Do some training there- it get Ranma's mind of Nerima, help him get over things better." Shampoo stated, practically tripping over her words in her hurry to get them out.

"And you would like me to help turn the suspicions of the others elsewhere?" Cologne raised a curious eyebrow.

"That too. Shampoo mostly worried about how you react to Shampoo going off to wilderness for couple of weeks." The lavender-haired girl answered. "Is really best thing to do; mean stupid old men can't find us and try and force Ranma back to Akane. Mean Shampoo can get some real training done at last, stop looking like weakling in front of husband." She looked grim as the memory of how easily Ranma had beaten her when, still under the effects of the Reversal Jewel, they had fought seriously. He had only been trying to pin her, and she had been fighting full out (admittedly without her preferred weapons), and he had still handled her effortlessly! She admired his strength and skill, but finding out just how badly he outclassed her was just embarrassing- no wonder he never paid her any attention!

Cologne nodded her head. "Very wise, my child. You have clearly begun to put some thought into this. Let us continue; we have in our hands an opportunity unlike any we have ever received before and which we may never receive again. Should we succeed, your husband will be yours at last. Should we fail, then I fear he will be lost to you forever."

Shampoo nodded with a serious expression, then switched to Chinese for ease of expression. "I won't fail, great-grandmother, but I will need your help. I have some ideas as to what to accomplish on the training trip but I don't have a set training schedule planned. Also, I'm unsure as to what my goals should be once I return."

Cologne nodded. "I understand. Well then child, here is my idea on what your training should consist of."

And so the pair began to speak at length into the night; first of what sort of training Shampoo would need to be strong in Ranma's eyes, and then the girl's goals upon returning to Nerima in order to snare Ranma's heart once and for all.

At that, Ranma-Prime chose to pull out of the Eye. He had seen enough to satisfy his remaining curiosity and, sensing his will, the Eye went dark again. Pushing himself to his feet, he cracked stiff joints, then turned and walked in the direction of the door. "Thank you." He called back to Abe.

"Don't mention it. Just don't go trying to use that Eye to make your future for you, alright? Seeing what might have been is all well and good, but in the end, the future is your decision." The sorcerer replied casually.

"I see…" Ranma said, but Abe noted a strange tone in his voice.

"What's the matter?" He asked.

"I was just wondering what might have happened if I hadn't come here, y'know?" The teenaged martial artist shrugged.

"Well, you can see that if you want to- I mean, it's only what might have been, not what will be." Abe pointed out.

Ranma blinked, then turned to the Eye, which enveloped his mind without him even needing to speak.

He found himself in a kind of limbo, surrounded by something that couldn't be called "darkness" because that would imply the presence of the color black. From the murk, figures materialized; Kodachi, Shampoo, and Ukyo, each bearing a present and a hopeful expression as a copy of himself did likewise, bearing a single gift in its wrapping. Eagerly they pushed forward, holding out their offerings, but not once did his doppelganger pay them notice, walking past them without even looking at them. Expressions of hope changed to despair and desperation as they wordlessly pleaded with him to turn back, to accept their gift, sorrow giving way to anger as they promptly began lashing out at each other. Paying no heed to this, the other Ranma simply smiled at Akane and swapped presents with her.

The figures vanished into mist and then things began to reform and now Ranma was watching Akane and himself in his girl form, both of them cooking at a stovetop and both of them being watched carefully by his mother and then suddenly he heard Akane's voice in his head.

"I can't believe it, he actually looks like he's doing better than me." Ranma blinked as he didn't see Akane's lips move before the girl glanced sideways at his counterpart who was already working on a second dish, "He's better than me; even though he's not a real girl he's actually a better cook." Akane then started working more furiously, "No way! I refuse to be beaten at this, I refuse to have some...some boy show off that he's a better cook than me!"

The murk shifted again and Ranma was now looking at himself seemingly begging at the feet of a rather beautiful woman, who promptly displayed the reason for his counterpart's attitude by draining the Ki from a nearby student before blasting someone he couldn't make out properly due to the angle but it looked familiar. Then there was a flash showing a pressure point chart followed by the other Ranma now getting his feet with an angry look and ready to fight as the darkness moved to swallow the scene again.

The gloom then reformed into two girls that Ranma recognized, though he hadn't actually met them yet.

"Natsume. Kurumi." He whispered to himself. "So you are coming to Nerima..."

The two girls, standing side by side in battle-garb, their expressions happy, their body language exuding confidence, didn't react in the slightest, even as the murk enveloped them and shifted into a new display.

"Here I am, you ugly lizard! Come and get me!"

Ranma's female form appeared now, leaping and bounding and dodging as a septet of dragons came lunging and diving at her... no, not dragons, merely the heads of dragons. Heads that sprouted like tentacles from a detached dragon's head the size of a mountain. As Ranma's counterpart diverted their attention, however, another figure clambered desperately up the huge main head- it took the real Ranma a moment to realise that it was Akane with her breasts bound and wearing a male uniform, a broom clutched in one hand. Lying almost motionless on the ground away from the danger, his breath making that faint, wheeze-like sound that announced his life was slipping away, was a boy that Ranma didn't recognize... was he somehow responsible for this?

And then the scene changed again and Ranma found himself looking in horrified amusement as his female-form counterpart tried to escape from Kuno and his 'romantic' affections if the look on his face was anything to go by, though what the heck was with the murderous-looking bird on the idiot's head?

Again the image changed; Kasumi, with small horns poking through her hair, calmly going about her daily chores. Around her, however, all of the Saotomes and Tendos stared at her in horror. A whisper drifted through the gloom, though Ranma would be hard-pressed to say if one of the phantoms had spoken, or if all of them had, or even if they had taken turns.

"We've got to get that oni out of her, somehow."

"But how? The only way to do it is to hit her- and who could hit Kasumi?"

"If we don't set her free, though, it'll drain her life and she'll die!"

Ranma frowned as the scene faded, "That could be trouble." Even as he said that, the murk shifted to show a doll sitting on a shelf, and then his father and Ranma fighting near the doll and Ranma breaking it. Ranma was about to comment on that when the scene then shifted to the doll possessing Akane and trying to kill him, first directly and then through seduction as Ranma winced. "Okay, beware the evil doll."

The next scene showed Akane screaming in protest, being held in the arms of an arrogant-looking Chinese man standing astride... a flying boat? A number of other weirdoes were at his side; a tall, fierce-looking armored man with a flowing beard and a trident, two identical twin boys who could be distinguished only by the color of the circle -black or white- on their grey shirts, a big-eared dwarf with a fishing pole, a moronic-looking giant with the build of a sumo wrestler, and some scantily-clad woman plucking on a mandolin. Below, on the ground, the other denizens of Nerima clamored and protested at this abduction, giving chase alongside a strange woman on an elephant as the boat flew off into the distance.

Then Ranma was standing on an island, a giant peach tree dominating the landscape as he watched another set of shadowy figures carrying off Akane… in fact, in the arms of the other shadows, he could also see Shampoo, Ukyo, and... Kasumi and Nabiki? Moments later he was joined by Kuno and Mousse as they made plans to rescue the girls.

With that, Ranma pulled his mind out of the Eye. "Enough, I've seen enough." He said, shaking his head as he tried to digest such scattered mental particles. Curiosity sated, he stuffed the Eye of Zygyg back into his pocket, politely thanked the sorcerer, and then walked out the door. As he headed in the direction of the dojo, he came to a halt barely ten paces later and turned back to the store. Or, rather, to where the store had been; there was nothing there now but a blank, empty, long-abandoned storefront, as though no one had been there for over a decade. He gave a wan smile, bowed in respect to the mysterious sorcerer, then headed for the Tendo Dojo, preoccupied with the things he had seen and thoughts for the future.

And here we are at last. It's been somewhat lonely, writing what feels like the only Ranma/Non-Akane story on FFN these days, but that loneliness has more than been assuaged by the warm welcome and receptiveness of you readers. Another great project has been laid to rest… so, it's time to decide the next project. I would consider putting up a poll on my profile, as Majin Hentai X suggested, but I don't know how, so this will be the final voting chapter- once I stop getting reviews for this chapter, I'll consider the poll "finished" and set to work on the next project. Here are the choices, and the votes they've received so far.
Chasing The Rainbow (sequel to Another Rainy Day In Nerima): 58
Dark Whispers (a Ranma/Kodachi coupling, and a Ranma/Full Metal Panic crossover): 17
The Journey (a Ranma/Shampoo Alternate Universe set outside of Nerima): 10
Legends of Aeron (a Ranma/DND crossover involving Ranma, Ukyo and Shampoo): 24
Ranma's Rewind (a Ranma/Shampoo AU spin-off of Another Rainy Day): 24