You've all been waiting patiently enough so I won't put much up here. I'll likely have an extended post chapter AN bit where I reply so some of the many comments left during this fics downtime. So without further a due, here you go :)
Ranma and Ranko strolled down the road home side by side in silence. Ranko was once again in her school uniform passing curious glances to her male half. Ranma had his hands in his pockets baring an expression somewhere between unsure and annoyance, his right cheek was a dull red.
"Look, I'm sure she didn't mean it that way."
"No I think she made her point pretty clearly."
"We can straighten this out, tomorrow in class-"
"No. This will work out just fine." He closed his eyes. "I'll play the bad guy here and then you can still intermingle without raising any suspicious. I'm sure Eva will agree with me on this one."
"I guess so." they both fell silent again. "We're both talkin' funny again aren't we?"
"Yeah I noticed, we've been separated a long while today what with that party and then getting 'inducted' into the anti-vamp squad."
"Ironic right?" They both shared a small chuckle.
"I should probably dismiss you here."
"Probably, but we're already this far, it's not much further to get home. With all the memories you'll likely need to lie down pretty quickly." The male Saotome nodded at the logic.
"If anything it has been eventful."
"You have NO idea." Ranko muttered some pink tingeing her cheeks. Ranma raised an eyebrow at that but didn't immediately respond. He moved his walking path over and casually bopped his female half on the back of the head.
"OW! What did you do that for jerk?"
"I told you not to do anything embarrassing."
"I didn't! It was that stupid weasel thing."
"Riiight." he received an elbow to the side.
"Jerk. I take it back, you deserved that slap." she stuck out her tongue to which he returned.
"Brat." The pair continued along in slightly better spirits. A little fight could go a long way sometimes. As Ranma turned his eyes up to the sky, his mind continued to echo.
"No, I'm not gonna to let you get yourself pactioed. You should leave the fights to the fighters!"
"But Negi-kun needs my help! If he doesn't get a partner, something awful might happen to him!"
"Just like it could to you!"
A harsh crack from an unexpected source disoriented him for a short moment, his cheek stinging. He turned sharply to Asuna, who wielded a burning glare.
"We're not your property Ranma, You can't tell us what to do. I don't need you protecting me."
Those words brought an unfamiliar rise and a scowl to his face. He'd never let himself get angry with a friend, but there was a first time for anything.
"That's how you see it huh? Keh. Fine, Get up Ranko, we're leaving."
"Ranma, please cal-"
"No, I'm obviously not wanted here. Come on."
"Hey don't take the girl, she's a good fighter. She'd make a great pactio partner for Aniki!" the ermine spoke up, getting a burning glare in return.
"You'd better not get within ten feet of my cousin. Got it, vermin?' he hadn't realized at the time, the concerned and scared expressions of those in the room. He had just left, pulling Ranko behind him as he slammed the door.
The pigtailed boy gave a frustrated sigh as the apartment building came into sight. If things hadn't been complicated before, by throwing his little tantrum he'd made it ten times worse. "I'm such an idiot." he scaled the steps to the building a step behind Ranko.
"Oi, don't agree to that so readily." he grumbled ignoring the smug grin on the girls face as she trotted up the stairs. On the second floor Ranko had stopped, looking to the door of Mana and Sayo's apartment.
"Should we stop by?"
"Nah, I'm beat. I'd think you would be too, considering." Ranma puts his hands behind his head. "Besides we're already over…"
"I rested in the room," Ranko leaned forward on the railing. "If we're already over then its okay if I go say hi, right? I know you'd go if you weren't tired." she clasped her hands. "Just a minute, okay?" Ranma held the red head's gaze for a moment before rolling his eyes.
"Fine, I'm going to dismiss you in twenty minutes; I don't care where you are when I do it." Ranma yawned a little and continued on up listening to Ranko knock on the apartment door. He shook his head as he unlocked his own door to the house. He didn't put too much thought into his actions moving through the darkened apartment in a daze going through his pre-bed ritual. The whole place was quiet, save for his own soft footsteps. He slipped into his futon and stared up to the ceiling. In the shadows he could see Asuna's burning gaze, Negi's shamed expression, and Konoka's flinch of fear.
"Why of all people…" he didn't finish his thought, it was a pointless question since the obstacles to his cure had been set. He just needed to surpass them. But the real question was, could he?
Ranma glanced to the clock by the bed, noting the time. "That's twenty…" he grasped his pendent and focused. For a moment he tasted something sweet. "Hm… someone made cookies." was the last coherent thought before he was flooded with flashing images, a cacophony of sound and a feeling of his head being ripped in half. He screamed and all went mercifully black.
The room had darkened with the coming of night; Konoka still lay awake in her bed. Above slept Asuna, though annoyed with Ranma's attitude, had managed to find sleep easy enough. Even Negi had managed to fall asleep on the couch... though his whimpers and sleep talk were a testament he was having less then stellar dreams. But no sleep seemed to come from the fledgling mage as the words of her friend echoed in her mind.
"I'm sorry Oujo-sama, but I fall into the same camp as Saotome on this issue. As your bodyguard I refuse to let you throw yourself into a dangerous situation such as this. I am sure sensei can find a more capable partner."
"Secchan." Konoka hugged her spare pillow tightly. Everyone was trying to protect her... it was always that way for the longest time. But this wasn't about her. She turned over to the young mage twisting on the Couch.
"No... stay away...stop it..." he murmured lightly. No doubt if she watched long enough she could probably catch him sleep walk over and climb up to Asuna's bed. She turned her gaze back to the bed above.
"A more capable partner..." The blankets shifted and light footsteps crossed the length of the room. Another shifting of blankets and Negi's whimpering lessened, the boy fell into a deeper sleep clinging on to the warm body. An arm curled around his smaller frame... it was only in his sleep he'd allow himself to be a child.
"That's right..." Konoka hugged the boy closely as she shifted to a more comfortable position on the couch. "Onee-chan is here." she whispered softly. "I'll do the protecting this time." She closed her eyes focusing on his rhythmic breathing, lulling herself into a deeper sleep. Perched on the railing of the loft storage, Chamo looked down to the couch and smiled widely at the sight... it was better then he could ever have hoped...
The next day came and emotions cooled from the night previous. Asuna was feeling a little guilty of her rather knee jerk reaction to Ranma's demands. As much as she disagreed, she had no right to strike him. Negi awoke to a totally different bedtime companion and to a promise he had not expected...
Konoka wanted to partner with him; fully knowing of the issue he was about to face. She had no form of combat training and minimal magic experience extending to self-taught cantrips. Though Chamo said there were aspects to the pactio that could swing things in her favor, the boy mage still felt uneasy about picking her. Besides, running full tilt alongside hundreds of girls probably wasn't the best time to talk about magic issues. The usual waiting spot was already occupied by Mana and Sayo, adding a further reason to end all partner talk as the pair began to match pace.
"Good morning Sensei."
"Morning Konoka-chan! Asuna-san"
"Good morning girls... Where is Ranko-san?"
"Ranko is not feeling well, it seems her headaches were acting up more than usual. She's laid up in bed for the day." Sayo said with a clearly concerned tone, Asuna shook her head.
"I keep telling her to get that looked at."
"Headaches?" Negi seemed a little out of the loop. That little detail had not shown up on her records.
"Ranko has chronic headaches, usually a little bit everyday. Some days more than others." Konoka explained as she glided in tune with her more athletic classmates. "Sometimes after a particularly hard day she has to stay home. We should stop by there after class to cheer her up."
"Yeah!" Sayo cheered. "I know Ranko would appreciate that, I haven't visited as often as I would have liked to, so it must be getting lonely in that apartment."
"Her cousin is away again?" Negi frowned. "Even at a time like this?" the former spirit jumped a little.
"What? Ah No! Ranma came back as soon as he heard." her tone was a little rushed but Mana smoothed things over.
"But he does have to work to pay for most of the apartment since Ranko is a student. He can't always be home when he would like," she explained in a much more rational tone.
"Oh," the young teacher blinked, things made a little more sense in that route. "Don't her parents offer any support?"
"She doesn't have any." Negi turned his eyes to Asuna who had her eyes steadfastly ahead.
"She's an orphan. Technically Ranma is her guardian, but even he's too young to fill the role officially. I'm not sure who sponsors her but the both of them decided to work things out on their own instead of asking for help."
"I...I had no idea..."
"Hey!" He jumped as Asuna grabbed his collar roughly, locking eyes with him. "Don't you start to pity her, if she sees you act like that you're just going to get her mad at you. They may only be cousins but they're very close and they both work hard. You got that?"
"Y-yeah." he felt the pressure release and Asuna picked up the pace a little more pulling ahead. Konoka kept even pace with her sensei leaning down and coasting a bit on her skates.
"Asuna can get a little protective sometimes," she whispered cheerfully. "And Ranko-chan is a somewhat of a special case."
"Mm hm." Konoka offered a simple smile. "Because she reminds Asuna of herself." Negi turned his eyes to his other roommate's back as she kept a steady pace just in front of them. Seemingly no different then usual but a close eye revealed her fists clenched a little tighter and her shoulders tense. All in concern of her friend...
You better be okay
Ranko lay in bed, unfortunately conscious as her head pounded like a jackhammer. The memories were taking their sweet time unraveling. It was going to be one of those days.
"It hurts to think." she muttered in annoyance, rolling over and trying to go back to sleep. At least then she would be able to ignore the pain as her mind processed the information overload. A light rumble brought a groan of annoyance to her mouth. This just wasn't her day. She grabbed her pendent and after a moment a naked Ranma appeared crouched at her side. The oppressive headache seemed to lessen a little, at least enough to think more clearly. The boy groaned as he rubbed his head.
"Thanks for sharing."
"Shut up." The girl grumbled, "It's just for a minute or two so I can get something to eat." The pigtailed girl sat up, hair mussed and sticking up at odd angles. She got to her feet, a little wobbly but steadying after a few steps. Leaving her other half, she shuffled her way into the kitchen and set to making a light breakfast to settle her stomach enough to get some sleep.
"Don't take too long, Eva may ask us to split at the meeting tonight."
"Yeah yeah, I've gotten that much of last night straightened out... though all of you.. The memories from the pool are getting distracting."
"What? its not like I couldn't look... besides they're all cute girls." Ranma argued from the doorway gaining a light flush and an absent nod from his 'cousin'. The details were still fuzzy but the clearer that night became the more uncomfortable it was making her feel. It wasn't that she hadn't noticed how attractive her classmates were, but after being with so many of them for years and following her strict codes to avoid looking at them in compromising conditions she could easily keep it from her mind. Though the bathing suits gave little to the imagination and though it was still fuzzy she knew that it was still going to be worse.
"Oh man..." she banged her head lightly on the counter. "How am I going to be able to look at them again? Maybe I should call in sick tomorrow too?" she muttered sitting back up and rubbing her head. "Ow... Also, hitting my head when I already have a headache is not one of my better ideas." The ringing phone caught her attention, glad for a distraction.
"I got it." Ranma's voice called up from the other room. Finishing up her meal she sat down to eat hearing the muffled conversation in the other room. A click was followed by a light curse as Ranma peeked out of the bedroom.
"What now? I don't like that look..."
"Well that was Mana, it seems that we're going to be having some visitors tonight."
"Hm? Well that ain't so bad."
"Two being Asuna and Negi-sensei."
It took a moment for that to process in her muddled mind. "Damn it..." If those two were coming by then that would complicate things. "Eva'll be pissed if I don't show up in person."
"Well we don't have much of a choice in the matter. It's not like I can have another extended split after last night." That much was for sure, the headache was already hard enough to deal with as is. "I'm sure she'll understand." Both Saotome's were silent for a moment before simultaneously slouching over in defeat.
The day passed on and classes went by easy enough. There was a bit of surprise amongst 3-A that Ranko had called out. It wasn't often the hearty girl was absent and for some people any news related to the quirky Saotome family was noteworthy.
"We'll meet you at the apartment okay?"
"Uh huh. See you later Konoka-chan!" Sayo waved before starting their trek back. Konoka moved to head back with the others on route to the dorm, just a quick stop to drop off their things. "You think we should pick up something for her?"
"If it's just her headaches, she should be fine; she's never down for too long."
"True enough, but I think I'll bring over something sweet,"
"Well I won't complain... after all it's a friend's duty to help eat sweets when given the chance." Asuna smiled a little as Konoka chuckled. On coming up to the dorms Setsuna gave a small bow.
"I will not be able to come right away Oujo-sama, Asuna-san. I have practice with Kuzunoha-sensei, I'm sure she will let me leave earlier considering the circumstance."
"No problem Setsuna, we'll pass the message on to Ranko."
"Secchan" Konoka huffed a little. "I told you not to call me that!" she stamped her foot but the swordswoman had already made good her escape, a little faster when Konoka had shouted after. "Geez," she passed a small glance to Asuna who was chuckling a little to herself.
"Give her a little time, I know she's your friend but she obviously is still getting used to things."
"I guess." The trek led up to the dorm room. A few things were dropped off and picked up. Konoka seemed to pause looking to the young boy until he noticed the attention.
"Um, yes Konoka-san?"
"Negi-kun... do you think we could pactio?"
"Heh heh." Chamo peeked over from Negi's shoulder. "I knew I could count on you Konoka-nee." the ermine did little to hide his pleased tone.
"But Konoka-san... Saotome-san and Setsuna-san-"
"Are not me." Konoka took a deep breath. "This is my decision."
"But..." Negi looked supremely uncomfortable. Though he was starting to rationalize that a student would need to be his partner Konoka was not someone he wanted to put in danger. The weight on his shoulder disappeared as Chamo hopped down to the floor.
"Aniki, we went over this before. You're too young to make a final pactio, so you don't need to worry about this being a final choice you know." Asuna rolled her eyes as the rodent began fast-talking. Her eyes caught an odd crumple in a bucket by the door.
"Hm... A letter?"
"But Chamo-kun I reall-"
"Come on Aniki, you're not going to make any progress with that vampire if you don't start getting some help. You ready Nee-chan?"
"Yup." Chamo went down on all fours and with a rush of energy a magic circle came into life around the pair. The room became shaded in light pink energy. Negi swallowed as he could feel his heart rate begin to go up, watching a slight flush come to the face of the headmaster's granddaughter. "Wow... this feels kinda nice." she muttered. Asuna cracked open the seal on the letter and pulled it free.
"Now all you need to do to form the bond is a kiss"
"K-Kiss?" Negi's face burned turning his shocked gaze to the ermine.
"Well, you need to show sincerity for the bond. Hey this is better than the open veins and swap blood routine." the little animal shook his head at that. "Messy. Besides, it's just a kiss on the lips."
"Lips! I-I but."
"All I have to do is kiss Negi-kun?" Konoka giggled a little. "That's not so bad," she said smiling down to the boy who had totally frozen up, face red and eyes wide as Konoka leaned closer to him. Asuna's eyebrows rose as she took in the contents of the letter and glared to the rodent cheering the two on. Konoka took Negi's face in her hands, both of their eyes closed. They were about to make contact when the circle backfired separating the two and sending them falling back on their rear. Chamo was all but imbedded in the floor with Asuna's foot on top of him.
"You lying little vermin."
"Hey what's the big deal?" Chamo managed to scramble out from under the foot but was silenced by a crumpled paper being held in his face.
"The deal? The deal is Negi's sister didn't send you at all!" she crossed her arms. "This letter is warning Negi that you're a criminal on the run from crimes back in England! How dare you deceive a child like this?"
"Chamo-kun?" Negi looked to the ermine, which was now breaking out in a nervous sweat.
"It's j-just a misunderstanding..."
"It says right here 'over two thousand counts of underwear theft'. That is hardly a misunderstanding. What is wrong with you?"
"Two thousand?" Konoka was clearly surprised at the high number passing a dubious look to the ermine.
"I was falsely accused!" now panicked, Chamo just wanted to get out of this with at least minimal issues.
"Well... you see I have this sister." he started improvising as best he could. "She gets sick really easily and there's not much I can do except try to keep her warm during the harsh welsh winters. So I borrowed some underwear, you know... women's underwear is very good at retaining heat. It was for a good cause!" he held his breath as the three humans judged the response.
"Sounds like you're just a major panty thief to me." Asuna replied, clearly unconvinced. A similar nod from Konoka all but shot down his chances. But he had to stick with it for now.
"Obviously it could only ever be a temporary solution... I figured I could get some income coming over to Japan, I knew I could rely on Aniki if I needed to and nothing I could do myself seemed to be working."
"But all this way? Why?" Asuna pressed.
"Look... I figured if I could help Aniki out, he might hire me as his familiar." he scuffed the floor with his paws looking downward. "You know, no one ever messes with a familiar of a magister magi in training... and then no one could lay a finger on me." He partially admitted his guilt bringing a slight twitch to Asuna's eye.
"How do you sleep at night?"
"Look issues aside I'm still looking out for Aniki's best interests right?" he ventured before sighing. "Look it was wrong for me to deceive you all like that. I can understand if you mad and if you want me gone I'll leave give myself up without a fuss..." he threw himself on the mercy of his companions with little hope. Negi had been silent up till now and he was a smart kid he could only hope that he could put the bogus story aside, and help him out like he had in the past.
"W-wait..." a light sniff followed catching everyone's attention. Negi looked up with honest tears in his eyes. "I had no idea you had it so hard Chamo." he sniffed again leaving Asuna to only boggle at the absurdity... Hadn't he been listening at all?
"Aniki?" and so the two 'brothers' embraced once more, it would really have been a much more touching scene if the circumstances had been a bit different. Chamo was officially adopted as Negi's familiar, with pay for his sick little sister, and the two students could only watch on, unsure what the worse thing was about this. Negi's gullibility or Chamo's guiltless manipulation of it... nonetheless the pact was made and the ermine was here to stay.
It was afternoon at the Saotome residence and laughter could be heard. After some rest Ranko was able to think much clearer and had most of the memories straight. She was dressed in a nightshirt and shorts and hair still mussed to sell that she had stayed in bed all day, while Ranma on the other hand was dressed in his usual Chinese outfit. He shared the table with Sayo and Mana, the former of which spoke excitedly, making wide hand motions as she spoke of her recent adventures in the library research club.
"The books kept falling, it was like an avalanche! Some of them smarted pretty good too."
"My my, I never thought a library could be so perilous." Mana teased good naturedly earning a light flush from her roommate.
"How was I suppose to know it was a load bearing book?"
"You're such a klutz Sa-chan." Ranma stated with a small smile furthering the girl in question's flush, though in the end they all shared a light chuckle.
"I hope this visit is not going to impose, it sprung up rather suddenly." Mana spoke up after a moment.
"Really, I am feeling much better," Ranko spoke up for both of them on that front.
"Mm, it's kinda nice to have some people come by." Ranma chuckled a little bit. "I'm sure it will be an interesting night. Shame we can't both stick around."
"Ah, but I suppose being in two places at once is quite convenient in these situations. Did someone make that for you?" the mercenary said with a small note of envy, though her uses would likely be much less mundane. Ranma could barely halt the images of a pair of Manas getting into some manner of marksmanship contest, headlines reading 'casualties rating in the thousands!'
"Headmaster got it for me, not sure where. Said it was a special case."
"Ah I see." Damn
"I'm... I'm sorry I haven't visited." the undead girl had he head turned downward. "I got so wrapped up in things..."
"Really It's not that big a de-"
"It isa big deal!" She looked up; face suddenly intense, making both Saotomes jump. "I'll start coming by everyday, just like I used to."
"Sa-chan... You used to hover over my bed at night and hang by me 24/7 since you couldn't sleep." Ranko pointed out in a dry tone making her friend sweat a little.
"Right... well not exactly like I used to then. But I'll visit everyday if I can!"
"Look Sa-chan, you really don't have to. We've both got things going on now so rea-"
"Ranma," Mana calmly took control of the odd argument. "If you insist on an attitude like that we may just need to find new ways to spend time then." she smirked slightly in a way that made the 'cousins' a little nervous. "Like taking Ranko-chan to the baths to relax after class." she recited smoothly getting the desired effect. Slowly both Ranma and Ranko reddened and turned away, Mana had made no attempt to hide herself, as had any of the other girls and the images were still quite fresh.
"That won't be necessary." Ranko muttered
"Good then I want no more complaining at the two of us visiting more."
"Eh? Two?" Sayo looked to her roommate whose smirk morphed into a small smile.
"I thought it was a given considering the circumstances. Right?" Ranko puzzled a bit as Sayo's eyes widened a little before gaining an almost challenging look that was matched by the mercenary. She looked to her double though he merely shrugged not having anymore insight than herself. She looked to the girls who seemed to have ended their impromptu staring match, both bringing a pleasant feeling to her mind on seeing them by more often. She gained a small smile.
"Glad to!" Sayo smiled brightly
"Hm, That's what I wanted to hear." Mana said with a sassy wink. A knocking at the door caught the attention of the tablemates as they looked to the source.
"Looks like they're here, guess it's time for me to get to work." Ranma stood before passing a wink Ranko's way, "Remember, you're sick." the clone smirked getting into 'older cousin mode' as headed to the door.
"I know, I know." she snorted "It was my plan smartass..."
Flipping the locks he opened it up. "Now what do we have here?"
"Good afternoon Saotome-san." Negi gave a small bow of greeting; ermine familiar perched on his shoulder.
"We come bearing snacks." Konoka smiled and held up a small bag.
"Ranma? I thought your shift would have started already." Asuna blinked a looking a little surprised.
"I need to head out in just a little bit but I figured I could at least hang around until the changing of the guard." The martial artist held her gaze calmly for a moment before motioning to the others. "Well you all can come in except for the rodent."
"Oi! I'm Negi's familiar." Chamo protested puffing out his chest pridefully but the pigtailed boy was less then impressed.
"Don't care, I don't want you in my house. I don't want any magic madness going down while I'm out." He gave the ermine no quarter. The battle of wills was short and brutal, the familiar swallowed a little and hopped off Negi's shoulder.
"Hmph, well I know when I'm not wanted. Pardon an ermine for wanting to visit a sick girl." Chamo tried to brush it off like it was his decision. "I'll head back to the dorm. Don't stay up too late with all the pretty nee-chans okay?" he loosed a sly snicker as he slipped off out of sight. Ranma shook his head in annoyance; that ermine was going to cause him a lot of trouble. That much he was sure. Slightly blushing, Negi entered followed by Konoka happily greeting those inside. Asuna did not move at all, keeping focused on the boy.
"What?" he replied curtly though the girl seemed unphased.
"I want to talk to you"
"Hmph, I don't think there's much to talk about."
"Well I do." they held gazes for a moment before he gave a small sigh.
"Fine." he stepped out into the hall and closed the door. "Let's go to the roof, it's nice enough out." The boy turned and headed up not even looking to see if she followed. Asuna took a deep breath and fell into step behind him. If he picked the roof it seemed he was expecting this had a chance to turn ugly. It was hardly the first time both had butted heads, they were opinionated, stubborn teenagers and it had been that way since their first meeting all those years ago. That lost, angry boy had become a part of her pseudo-family here at Mahora… and no matter how many times she wanted to strangle the pushy jerk that wouldn't change.
Ranma wasn't particularly thrilled with this turn of events, even though he knew it was coming. He was still mad at the heated argument, and with his headache, he really wasn't in the mood to talk about it. The key was keeping Asuna and Konoka from getting involved in this mess… it was for their own safety.
And Ranma's own conscience.
Ranko allowed a small curious glance to the door closing before turning her full attention to her newest guests. After all she would no doubt be informed shortly enough. "Hey guys."
"Good afternoon Ranko-san." Negi smiled a little. "I hope you're feeling better."
"Yeah, got a good bit of rest so it ain't nearly as bad. I'll be up and about tomorrow. No biggie."
"Well that's a relief."
"Yo, Ko-chan," she smirked. "So what did you bring?" The red head did not bother hiding her excitement.
"My my, it's obvious what part of the body you think with." The fledgling mage placed the bag at her side and reached in. "Well before you eat the table I might as well bring these out first." She pulled out some plastic containers with about a dozen or so cupcakes. "I even brought a few games so we can play a bit without tiring you out."
"Always so thoughtful," Ranko gave a dramatic sniff, though was ruined by the fact she had already opened and consumed one of the cupcakes. She reached for another only to have it swatted away "Hey, a sick girl needs her strength."
"At least wait for Asuna to get back before you pig out."
"Fine fine..." the redhead pouted a little bit. "So I hope I didn't miss too much in class?" she said more for conversation than really caring about missing it.
"Don't worry Ranko-chan I hold after school study groups on the weekdays, you can come by and catch up as soon as you're better." Negi replied cheerfully reminding the girl that her sensei was among those in attendance.
"Right," she bore a slight sweat drop. "I'll be sure to drop by."
"Negi-kun has been looking for a way to repay you." Konoka said with a little giggle causing the boy to flush.
"Well... you have done a lot to help me out and I still haven't been able to return the favor," he explained keeping his eyes downward. He may have said something more extensive but repressed it due to less familiar company.
"Hey, a martial artist is supposed to help people. I'm not looking to build up favors." Ranko replied easily. The boy looked up eyes determined looking right into own.
"But when things happen to you, there should be hands reaching to help you as well." He said firmly, the brat could look real mature when he wanted to.
"Come on it's just a headache sensei, really nothing to make a big deal out of." She repressed the urge to squirm a little under his gaze especially when she realized what he was doing. He's reading my eyes again? It took her a moment to put her guard back up. She noted a slight frown and his gaze returned to being less intense; he seemed to have gotten the message.
The change in his posture was immediate as he saw the walls go back up again. Fortunately he'd gotten a pretty good look before he'd been shut out. Her feelings were genuine about helping out but something was weighing heavy on her mind, nothing he'd be able to find with simply reading emotions. But anything more invasive and she would not likely forgive me he allowed himself a slight sigh. Why did she always try to hold up the burdens by herself?He blinked and shook his head, someone had called his name.
"I said do you know any card games sensei?" Mana said with her usual easy smirk as she opened a brand new deck of cards that Konoka brought.
"Um games? Not really."
"Well then we'll start simple with a little old maid."
"Hm, simple stuff." Ranko smirked.
"Um Ranko, are you sure you want to play?" Sayo ventured with a slight sweat drop.
"If she wants to play she can," the mercenary said shuffling with a bit of a flourish. "Besides we'll move on to something a bit more interesting once sensei gets used to the flow of the game."
"That's not why I'm conc-"
"Bring it on Mana." The redhead cut of her well-intentioned friend. She'd been cooped up in bed, a little competition would do her wonders... besides she was feeling lucky today. Sayo sighed a little and Konoka gave a mischievous giggle having kept silent in the debate. This was going to be fun...
Ranma stood across from Asuna, face neutral and pigtail dancing in the wind behind him. The girl had her hands clasped tightly, hair ornaments jingling. The silence was brief but felt like an eternity as their minds moved a mile a minute.
"Well?" Ranma broke the silence first the tension of the moment grating on his frayed nerves. Asuna took a breath to collect herself and began.
"Fine... First off I would like to apologize for last night." A small note of surprise appeared briefly on the boy's face but was quickly snuffed. "I had no right to hit you like that, we've known each other far too long for that to be excusable." her gazed hardened, "But I still don't agree with you."
"This is my life, and with Negi always getting in over his head he needs someone to pull him out before he hurts himself. I'm not going to let a kid get himself hurt, mage or otherwise."
"Hm? I thought you didn't like kids."
"You're right I don't, but things happen." she gave her non-answer with a note of firmness.
"Look... that's all well and good but this isn't stopping a kid from some debunked love potion, this is about fighting a powerful supernatural baddy. Now helpin' is all well and good, but you need to learn that some things are out of your league."
"I'll be the judge of that."
"No, you won't." his eyes narrowed. "You don't have the skills to take on a real vampire. Don't fool yourself to a good showing when the bag of bones wasn't even close to full power. You're just setting yourself up to be hurt."
"Just because I'm not some martial arts prodigy doesn't mean I'm not able to help."
"Damn it Asuna, I'm not going to let you fight. This is for your own good." the neutral face was long gone, replaced with annoyance and frustration.
"Oh since when have I been your jurisdiction?"
"Since you've proven you're too stupid to think this out."
"I'm stupid now." she glared at the insult.
"Don't change this around..." he groaned having let his mouth get away from him.
"Change around? I'm just using your own words." she snorted. "You're always doing this, trying to be the big strong man protecting the ladies in distress. Drop the knight act, Sir Clueless. Girls can be knights too."
"You stupid tomboy, I'm tryin' to protect you!" he growled.
"I'm doing the right thing. I won't let the brat get hurt again." she said firmly getting right in his face. "So drop it all ready! I'm going!"
"No, I won't let you!"
"You stubborn jerk!"
"You're too important to me!" he shouted fists clenched tightly at his sides. Asuna blinked as the echoing words started to sink in.
"What?" she had lost a bit of heat in her voice unsure if she'd heard that correctly. Ranma for his own part had clamed up and backed off.
"...Never mind..." he muttered withdrawing rather quickly. Going to the roof edge he paused only briefly before jumping the gap to the next roof.
"Ranma wait." He didn't stop and kept going until he dropped between two buildings, vanishing from sight. She was left puzzled with an even mixture of frustration left from the fight and a somewhat uncomfortable feeling from the words. "How can he just shout crap like that and walk away? Jerk..." she muttered a light pinkish tinge to her face. "J-Just because you say something like that doesn't mean you win the fight!" She shouted out childishly if only to settle her flustered stomach.
Asuna slowly took a seat on the roof, as her frustration drained away it was replaced by a warm if somewhat uneasy feeling. The boy's, apparently unintentional, admission bounced freely about her mind. "Important..." her hands clasp tightly in her lap as she kept her eyes to the horizon. It was not like she had ever believed that the boy didn't consider her a friend it was just a matter of closeness in comparison. That casual affection he would show here and there, compliments, outings... she wanted just a bit to prove there was something that set her above girls like Ku Fei and Mana. That knowing him all these years meant something in the scheme of the boy's attention.
You're too important to me!
"Important could mean a lot of things..." The heat increased slowly as she fiddled with her skirt. He had just blurted it out and ran, like it was unintentional... like it was a secret. For a girl only looking for a nickname or a smile such an event seemed unreal. When compared his casual affection seemed diluted, this was more raw. Unrehearsed and unexpected by both parties. It filled her with a different feeling than she expected.
She rolled her head back to look at the darkening sky, she thought it would calm her anxiety. Knowing that she wasn't just some throwaway friend who happened to be Konoka's roommate would grant her a bit of peace. Instead the words had struck like an earthquake shattering the foundation she stood on shifting wildly leaving her unsure of what remained behind in the aftermath. Her stomach twittered nervously... while hardly unpopular, she had gone to only girl schools all her life, the only men in her life were Takahata-sensei, Ranma, and now Negi. She never liked kids and men like Takahata made her melt, but Ranma... well he'd never shown any indication of this. Always snide, poking fun, infuriatingly prideful but somehow in a nice way...
You're too important to me!
His graying blue eyes were intense and totally genuine. Her heart thumped in a way it rarely did, her breath had caught. The raw powerful emotion in his voice. "I'm Important..." it was hard not to say that without a twitch of a smile but that brought up a wholly unexpected issue. If she was important to Ranma... what was Ranma to her?
That… well… Ranma was Ranma… Frustrating but kind, dependable but always vanishing, friendly yet antagonistic. He was a walking contradiction. They hung out together, rarely just the two of them but it was always more fun with Ranko or Konoka around as well. If he were to fit into her 'family' he'd likely be that frustrating older brother but over all "I guess he's my boyfriend…" she muttered softly before she choked, "I mean BOY - FRIEND. Two words! Clearly two words!" She flushed realizing she was arguing with air.
You're too important to me!
Asuna covered her face and groaned, the scene just kept going over and over. She banged her head lightly on the stone behind her hoping to jar it free. Why did he have to make it so much like a confession? She realized that was a forbidden word for the moment as her face heated up once again and her heart thumped.
"Damn Ranma you tainted my brain! I'm supposed to be mad at you!" She didn't care how crazy she sounded as she shouted and pulled her knees up and rested her head on them. She groaned lightly and closed her eyes, trying to wish some peace into her mind.
Soo, how long have you been crushing on Ranma?
Sitting around the participants looked to the pile of cards in the center, all accounted for but one. The joker, which was staring right at the pigtailed girl from her hands. Ranko's eye twitched in annoyance... the card was taunting her. She slammed the card face down, that would teach it, and looked at the smiling dealer. "One more time, for real this time."
Konoka seemed unphased as she gathered up the cards.
"I was under the impression the last two were for real." Mana said getting a tick from the girl's shoulders. The mercenary had heard a rumor or two but she'd never expected it to be this bad... she'd never thought a fluid and erratic martial artist could be so... predictable.
"I-I was just getting into my groove."
"Maybe we should play something else..." Sayo suggested with a guilty sweat drop. Card games were not particularly her strong suit but the worst she could fall in the end was second to last as long as Ranko was in the game.
"Yes it doesn't seem... fair." Setsuna said carefully. She had arrived shortly after the seventh game and had played the last two.
"Fair enough, I think we've had enough practice runs then right?' Konoka smiled innocently as she shuffled looking to Negi. "You're starting to get the hang of things right Negi-kun?"
"Um yes." The boy teacher had nearly lost the first few as Mana and Konoka had quite potent poker faces... but Ranko. He glanced over to the girl who, despite her constant failures looked even more determined. It was somewhat admirable it a way... futile but admirable.
"Good." The headmaster's granddaughter scanned over the faces of her classmates and teachers. "Then we'll move on to a little poker... with some raised stakes." she smiled brightly. "We'll make it a penalty game. The winner can make the loser do one task. Anything..." the innocent smiled was countered by a mischievous gaze that put the twins and Paparazzi to shame. "So who's in?"
"You can't scare me off." Ranko smirked, "There ain't no way I'm going to lose." The red head's tone held total confidence and the plan suddenly became clear. The winner of this game would be able to get Ranko to do anything. Eyes went from Ranko back to Konoka's innocent smile.
"Anybody else?" Mana and Sayo locked eyes for a moment and in unison raised their hands.
"I'm in!" Konoka turned her gaze to her old friend and smiled.
"Yes." The swordswoman looked to Ranko and shook her head, obviously the other girls had something dastardly in mind. Perhaps if she could succeed then the boy/girl's humiliation could be lessened.
"Great!" she giggled, "What about you Negi-kun?"
Sometimes you can be a truly devious woman Oujo-sama... she scooted closer to the table as the 'chips' where passed out. Everyone started with the same amount though Ranko probably deserved some manner of handicap bonus.
"Um I really don't know poker..." he tried to weasel out of it, it seemed rather unfair after all.
"Nonsense, it's fun. We'll play a couple of mock hands so you can get the rules straight." she said passing him some chips. Konoka smiled as she dealt it all out and began to work through her mock hand explaining the rules and what card combinations he would be looking for. It was simple enough to grasp and despite his moral misgivings for the outcome of this game it sounds like it would be fun. "All right, lets get this started." Konoka cut the deck and fanned the cards together. "I'll deal."
The cards were just starting to come out when a small pulse of warmth came from the pendant around her neck. It had taken longer then she expected but it seemed her clone was finally done with whatever business Asuna had with him, The memories would be coming shortly after. She preempted the rush by rubbing her temples a little. "Gimme a sec, I'm gonna take a few aspirin..." She muttered as she started to stand.
"Headache again?" Negi frowned a little. "Let me get them for-"
"Nah I got it, it's a small one. I'll only be a second." she absentmindedly waved off the offer as the rush hit her. It was a small jumble and would sort itself out quickly enough, heading to the kitchen and filling a glass on the counter. Emotion hit before the context, waves of frustration and annoyance "Great... another fight." she sighed trying not to let to memories ruin her current good mood. "Stubborn Tomboy." she muttered taking a sip of water as the dialog begun to play out filling in the blanks.
You're too important to me!
Water sprayed against the wall followed by a fit of coughing as she tried to clear the water from her lungs.
"Ahh Ranko? You okay?" Sayo peeked around the corner but Ranko managed to wave her off.
"J-Just went down the wrong tube." she sputtered not daring to look up. Her cheeks burned as Asuna's own blushing face was etched firmly into her mind. Clearly just as stunned as she was at what had transpired. Somehow a very standard argument had taken a totally different turn. Now it was not that her clone had lied, Asuna was important to her. All her friends were, she didn't have much else in the world but well... with the private setting under the stars after such a heated exchange it came out with a completely different feel... she'd been exposed to enough sappy romance movies from Konoka to see that much and her old friend's flustered expression made it all too clear she noticed that.
Though the beating of her own heart from the heated exchange wasn't helping things. The red head went back to the sink splashing some water on her face to cool down. It was insane, This was Asuna she was thinking about. The same stubborn tomboy she'd been butting heads with for years... well that was hardly fair, she was a nice enough girl. High energy, loyal to a fault, and she had this infectious smile that was s- "Gah!" she shook her head free of that dangerous line of thought and rested her head on the counter. "What the hell am I thinking?" she groaned, doing her best to calm herself. The ghost emotions had already past but she had to settle her heart all over again. "I'm overthinking this, she's likely just as confused... I'll just have to straighten all this later."
"Yeah, I'm comin'!" she called back taking a deep breath. What was said was said, nothing could be done about that. She'd just put it aside for later, focus on the night at hand. Nice safe denial... "All right, deal me in."
Eva frowned as he eyes twitched toward the clock, "He's sure taking his sweet time," she muttered calmly before glancing back to the window. The night was young but she and Saotome should have been well into the session by now. The date was approaching and there wouldn't be many more opportunities. "He's never been this late before..."
"Heh, Well ain't you the mother hen all of a sudden." Chachazero's demented snicker carried across the room from her placement amongst several non animated dolls.
"Quiet you." the vampire grumbled. Her eyes were about to shift back to the clock when she heard the door open. "It's about time yo-...oh." she immediately lost her bluster as she saw Chachamaru alone. "So any word on our beloved Sensei?" she gained a slight smirk, curious as to how the son of the thousand master was handling things. It would make a good distraction at the very least.
"Negi-sensei seems to have gathered a few dedicated supporters, both Asuna Kagurazaka and Konoka Konoe seem to be fully in his confidence. I did not venture close enough to be sure but I believe Setsuna Sakurazaki is also fully involved." Chachamaru reported calmly.
"Hm, I expected Kagurazaka. The headmaster's daughter is a bit troubling... even if the old fart isn't fully aware of what's going on he'd probably know if she got too involved. The sword girl should make things more interesting but nothing we can't handle. Maybe the kid might make some sport of this after all." she smirked. "So I take it they're all back at the dorm plotting?"
"Not... Exactly." the android hesitated slightly, immediately catching her master's fully attention. "The last place I saw them heading into was Saotome-san's apartment building."
"Yes, they seemed to be in good spirits. I believe they brought snacks."
"Heh heh, so Ranma's fraternizing with the enemy eh? That's got to be worth a few stabs right?" Chachazero said with a hint of hopefulness.
"No, Ranma and I have an agreement. He won't toss that aside casually." Eva said with finality. Though shortly after she clenched a fist tightly. "That doesn't mean he's getting off lightly for skipping out on training to have a house party." Eva took a moment to collect herself before making her way to the stairs. "I'll be up in my room, don't disturb me unless it's important."
"I say she's just sulking since Saotome stood her up." Chachazero spoke up slyly. The puppet gave a dramatic sigh as her eyes twitched in Chachamaru's direction unable to move any other part of her body without the proper ambient magic. "Really though I can't believe the 'Dark Evangel' has fallen so far, playing games with the thousand master's son and getting all mopey over the gender bender. It's a dam- eh?" she paused as she could feel a tug on her arm, a near invisible string tracing all the way back to the top of the stairs where Evangeline stood, just outside the door to her room. "Aw crap. Um, just kidding?...Ahhh!" the little puppet was flung across the room landing in an upside down heap on the other side of the room, limbs tangled chaotically. As the upstairs door slammed the little puppets eyes searched the room. "Um little help here... anyone?"
Asuna slowly trekked her way downstairs, head a little sore from further attempted of head bashing, but at least the memory repeat seemed to have stopped. The pleasant yet uncomfortable feelings continued to bubble away in her stomach. It had been a long time since she felt like this... and if someone had told her a week ago that these feelings would be coming from Ranma she would likely have laughed.
"Well... maybe not." she muttered, it was like he wasn't handsome or anything but he was always well... Ranma. She'd never seriously considered things along these lines. Though that likely too was not the truth of the matter. Even if the depth had never been explored she did seek to have more of his attention.
No one was more surprised by these revelations than herself.
"So. What now?" she paused in the hallway, there seemed to be something between them. But what that something was exactly was too vague and unclear. "I should talk to someone." she brought her hand to the doorknob biting her lip. But who? It all felt like some great and powerful secret. She shook her head, this was all getting out of hand. "I'm over thinking this. Ranma couldn't really be interested in me." She continued to talk to herself, if only to calm her nerves. Opening the door it was surprisingly quiet. She headed further in to see the group all seated around the table. It seemed Konoka had broken out the card games.
Ranko looked a little put out. Chips empty in front of her though that was hardly a shock. Card games rarely fell in the pigtailed girl's favor... Ranma wasn't much better. The most surprising factor was her hair was down, a look she never allowed claiming it was 'too girly' for her.
"Hey everyone, what are you playing?"
"um, Poker..." Ranko muttered her eyes turning away with a bit of a flush. Asuna was surprised, she couldn't remember the last time her friend has looked so flustered.
"Penalty Poker." Konoka said with a more cheerful note. It all made sense now. "We're on the third round. Ranko-chan lost the first two."
"Yeah yeah." the red head muttered in a distracted tone. From the looks of things it was down to two players. Setsuna and Mana, a rather intense stand off.
"Ahh, so who's in danger then?"
"Me," Konoka replied easily. "I hit a rough spot of luck earlier on," she admitted with a light chuckle. "Mana is really good."
"Heh. Well you never asked if I had played before," the Mercenary said with a smirk. "But can maiden warrior save her mistress?" she teased as she looked over her cards. "Or will she be at my mercy?"
"Just bet Mana..." the swordswoman said coolly revealing nothing of her hand. She refused to let herself rise to the bait. With a girl like Mana you could never be sure on to what she could come up with for a penalty... though obviously aiming for Ranma she seemed nearly as eager to win no matter who lost. The tension was somewhat lost on Asuna as she took a seat next to Ranko offering her a slightly bemused look.
"Er, yeah" the red head did her best to collect herself but still had a noticeable tinge of pink on her cheeks. "I just had a bit of trouble getting started was all." she muttered with a little more firmness. Asuna giggled lightly batting the length of free flowing red that stretched down her friend's back.
"That explains this then."
"Yeah. Sa-chan won the second round, said she was always curious how I'd look. Gotta keep it this way the rest of the night."
"Ah sounds like her." The pair of red heads watched chips pass back and forth between Setsuna and Mana, one whittling the other and then having the tables turned. "You can't stand that it makes you look cute. Huh?" Asuna gain a small smirk as her friend turned away again, she rarely left herself this open. It was making a nice mental distraction from her issues with the other Saotome.
"Cute?" she choked a bit, trying to settle the swirling mess of emotions that had reared it's head since Asuna stepped into the room. "Fighter's aren't suppose to be cute." she fell back on an older statement.
"Oh come on you have to let yourself be a girl sometimes."
"Like hell." Ranko muttered with a lot more firmness, "It just ain't right when I do it. You can pull the cute thing off much easier." Ranko blinked and then reddened once more looking away as Asuna turned a surprised look her way. The unexpected compliment dulling the self-conscious feeling she had brewing.
"Well thanks." the two friends exchanged honest smiles before a thought came up and Asuna began to reach to undo her bells.
"Well you said I look more 'girly' if I let it down right? So if I let it down then you won't feel so awkward by yourself. Right? We came to cheer you up after all, not piss you off." The twin tails merged into one flowing sheet down her back, Takahata's bell decorations placed carefully on the table. Those were very important gifts after all; she never took them off casually. Ranko was silently looking up from the discard hair ornaments to her friends easy smile.
Damn it, why did you have to choose tonight of all nights to be so cute...
"Thanks Monkey girl," she muttered softly lowering her head.
"No problem Shorty."
Negi watched on the pair with a smile of his own. They really were good friends and well… they both looked quite pretty, though this was hardly the right time to say anything about it. He glanced over to see his newest student Sayo baring an expression not unlike his own. Such a tight knit group this was.
"Well, looks like I'm out." Setsuna said lowering her head in defeat, the flush in front of her trumped by Mana's full house. "Wild queen caught me in the end I see. Good game." she said with a small amount of reluctance
"You're a worthy opponent Sakurazaki." The occasional partners shook hands across the table and the mercenary turned a smirk to Konoka, who was awaiting the judgment.
"Well you tried your best Secchan, I'm thinking Mana has played a lot more than any of us." The headmaster's granddaughter patted her friend's arm in consolation. "So Ms. Card Shark what did you have in mind?"
"Well now that you mention it I have had an interesting one waiting in reserve." The mercenary allowed a dramatic pause. "Konoe-san… Your penalty is to serve Setsuna as YOUR Oujo-sama for the rest of the night."
"Eh?" the swordswoman looked far more shocked and upset than the victim was.
"Hee hee, that sounds kind of fun."
"What? It's a penalty game. The key is to make it interesting, otherwise why play the game at all." She held an easy smirk. "Enjoy it."
"B-But this isn't right."
"Am I not to your liking Oujo-sama?" Konoka asked cutely, though holding back a few giggles. Setsuna choked unable to find a proper response, settling for glaring a hole in through Mana. The mercenary picked up the cards.
"Very well. One last match then, just the two of us. If you win then you can cancel the penalty and you can see fit to give me one of my own. But If I win..." she smirked in a way that gave her face an almost demonic look. "You both suffer a penalty." Setsuna steeled herself and took a deep breath; it was a risk she would need to take… to save her sanity at the very least.
"Fine, I accept your terms."
"You can do it Oujo-sama!" Konoka cheered, the samurai girl twitching lightly at the title.
The heads up match was quick and brutal. Setsuna, though determined to win, had much higher stakes in losing leaving her susceptible to Mana's cool unflappable demeanor. The mercenary pressed without care with bluffs and solid hands, the swordswoman rarely getting workable cards as the chips slowly worked they're way across that table until the final blow had been struck. Bested a second time, Setsuna sighed looking to the aces that had betrayed her.
"Well, if seems I have won Setsuna." Mana was clearly pleased at this choice of activity and the entertainment it was bringing. "It seems it's time for me to pass judgment once again. Setsuna Sakurazaki... Konoka Konoe. Since I already switched roles, this time I want you to switch looks."
"Looks?" the headmaster's granddaughter giggled, this was turning into a goofy night.
"Yes, looks. Clothes accessories everything... at least for the rest of the night." the mercenary chuckled on catching the look on her opponents face. "You better go get changed."
"You're unbelievable..." The warrior muttered as she reluctantly stood, glancing to her fellow victim. Konoka seemed almost as amused at this as Mana was. With a blinding smile she grabbed the hanyou's hand and pulled her along to the bathroom.
"Come on. Ooh this is so much fun, it's just like cosplay." Her excitement was usually contagious but the warrior still felt uncomfortable all things considered. This situation was getting too odd. Konoka headed over to the door opening it with a bow. "After you Oujo-sama." she said with a light giggle, red bleeding into Setsuna's cheeks.
"Please Oujo-sama thi-"
"Ah ah, we're switching. Call me Ko-chan, it'll get confusing if we both are using the same title." Somehow Konoka managed to squeak in a small amount of logic into this twisted penalty, but that didn't make things any better. Groaning Setsuna walked into the bathroom followed immediately by her friend/"retainer".
"That was very creative of you Mana-san." Negi spoke up after the show had taken its costume break. "This penalty game is a bit scary," the teacher admitted.
"Only when you have someone like Mana playing..." Ranko said with a light amount of annoyance, glad to have a topic to distract herself with, before she dropped it snickering. "But I have to give you high marks on this one."
"I do what I can." The mercenary said with a light smirk before looking to the bathroom door. "I should have brought a camera, this is going to be priceless." As much fun as it was to tease her fellow exorcist it was rare she could truly get her this off kilter.
"Hm Ranko?" Asuna turned a thoughtful look. "You said you still had photo's left from the new years festival right?"
"Oh... yeah I think I know which one you're talkin' about." The martial artist got up to her feet and moved over to a set of drawers and began to rummage through them.
In the bathroom was an odd experience. Now Setsuna wasn't unfamiliar with casual dress, though admittedly the skirt and blouse were not often seen in her wardrobe. It was more assisting her charge into her hakama that was proving to be the challenge. Konoka was familiar with traditional dress but it still went easier with help, and the breast bindings were something different all together. There had originally been a bit of a debate over the topic of undergarments but Konoka's dark bra showed through the training outfit and well. She couldn't let her Oujo-sama go out looking like that.
She felt somewhat uncomfortable dressing someone else up in her clothes. Her own outfit still warm from body heat, scented fresh and somewhat flowery from the girl's body soap. But at the same time it was kind of nice, compared to crouching in an alley watching Konoka from afar as she dragged Ranma into clothing stores.
"This is actually quite comfy compared to the yukatas grandfather makes me wear for my Omiai..." she coughed a little. "Though these bindings are pretty tight."
"You get used to them."
"I'll take your word for it... but it's much easier to move around in."
"Well they're made to fight in after all." Setsuna patiently tied up the last bits before stepping back to make sure it was all done properly. Granted it wasn't like she would be doing any fighting but at the very least it had to look proper. Konoka spun around.
"So do I look like a real samurai Oujo-sama?" she asked brightly with a wink. Setsuna was starting to get used to the title, at least when she didn't think about it too much.
"Not really." the warrior allowed a slight chuckle at the pout that followed.
"Ah, what if I put on a more serious face?" The mis-dressed mage gathered herself to form a tough warrior look, trying to talk in a deeper octave. "Oujo-sama, I will protect you with my life. I will not let the shogun's men catch you here." She tried to remember some lines from the old samurai dramas on television. Setsuna covered her mouth giving a muffled snort before a fit of laughter caught hold of her. The overdramatic acting coupled, a cute serious pout were too much. "Ah come on I'm trying here." the whining only made her laugh harder though Konoka soon smiled a little at the rare break in resolve. How long had it been since she heard her childhood friend laugh like that? Too long... so why let it stop? Konoka smirked and approached the warrior who was beginning to regain her composure. "Laughing huh?" she slipped around behind. "Well fine laugh all you want, En garde!" she began wiggling her fingers across Setsuna's back. A place, if she recalled, the warrior was quite ticklish. Her efforts were rewarded with an undignified squeak of surprise and thus she didn't let up.
Setsuna found herself somewhere between embarrassed and helpless laughter as Konoka assaulted the base of her hidden wings. It had always been a sensitive area for her. Something must have sparked a memory in her friend because she seemed to know just where she was aiming. Fortunately her friend stepped away satisfied before the tickling sensation had grown into… other sensations. She pulled a halfhearted glare at her grinning friend but couldn't hold it for long.
"You should laugh more Secchan, you have a nice laugh," she whispered. Taken a momentarily break from the penalty rule in their moment of privacy. The warrior's face was already flushed scarlet so it hid her further embarrassment at the compliment. "Come on, we better head back out everyone's probably wondering what's going on in here." Konoka winked. "Ne Oujo-sama?"
"Right." The samurai dressed mage put out her hand in a more formal manner, as if it was a proper escort. After a small shake of her head Setsuna accepted. Even if it was all in good fun she was not used to such treatment. The door swung open and the pair stepped out, Konoka leading the warrior as a proper escort right into the flashes of a camera. Someone was going to die…
"Aww, they look so cute!" Sayo gushed.
"Hm… It's not quite right yet." Mana said placing the camera down.
"What's with the camera?" Setsuna asked coolly crossing her arms.
"What? Just getting a few memories immortalized. No harm no foul." Ranko said with a sly grin.
"Hair." Mana nodded confusing both penalty victims.
"You didn't change the styles."
"Oh don't nitpick."
"My penalty was quite clear. Everything. Now switch."
"It's no big deal, just for the night." with an annoyed sigh she reached up and began undoing her hair tie.
"You did switch underwear right?" the casual statement brought blushes all around, Ranko lowering her head muttering some manner of prayer to banish the images placed in her mind.
"Well I asked but Oujo-sama wasn-"
"Ko-chan, you don't have to answer that one. She is just trying to get a rise out of us." Setsuna managed to keep her tone calm even if her face was red.
"Yes Oujo-sama." Konoka replied obediently, seeming to enjoy teasing her too much with this. The room quieted for a moment as she handed over her hair tie, Mana slowly smirked.
"One of you isn't wearing any..." The penalty victims flushed but admitted nothing.
"Mana, shut up!" Negi and Sayo both turned red as cherries covering their mouths Ranko had moved to a step beyond prayers proceeding to bang her head into the table.
"…Should we be letting her do that?"
"It's surprisingly effective." Asuna quipped casually.
Things had calmed down after the card games ended, the group settling into idle conversation and snack consumption. Though as it got later in the evening Konoka made her cheerful declaration, "Let's make this a sleepover!"
"Ooh that would be great!" Sayo clapped her hands together excitedly, looking to Ranko with hopeful eyes. "Would that be okay?"
"Er, I guess so..." Ranko was a little taken aback as varying degrees of smiles shown on her friends faces, it was hard not to return a small one of her own. Though as her eyes fell on Asuna and Negi she felt the usual issue fall into place. "I should probably run it by Ranma-niichan though." She said hopping up to her feet, "I'll just give him a call." she said making her way to her bedroom. She leaned against the other side of the door as her mind wandered.
To clone or not to clone...
At this late in the night a small bout of pendent use wouldn't put her out of commission and would do well to hold her identity in front of Negi, and to a lesser extent Asuna. Though on that same line of thought it wasn't THAT necessary, there's plenty of excuses to use for her male half's absence and with most of the people in the know they'd back her up. She allowed herself a bit of a sigh, ever since Negi had started sticking his nose into things he'd had to up his pendent use to nearly double. It was tiring.
But well... maybe this could be a good time to just get it out there?
It was a surprising thought, but she'd opened up to both Mana and Setsuna recently and it had gone much better then expected. If Asuna and Negi knew she could be much more relaxed about-
Your too important to me!
Well... Maybe tonight wouldn't be the best time for a reveal. Ranko fingered the pendent unconsciously as she fought down the still vivid memory and her own reddened cheeks. Soon though, after all this gets sorted. A flash of Negi's face brought a more sobering mood. Well, if anyone will still want to talk to me at all...
Out in the living room Mana and Sayo had retreated to their apartment to grab extra pillows and blankets, leaving Asuna with time to reflect on the events to come. She wasn't sure she was ready to confront Ranma again, but she wasn't sure if letting it dwell with her mind free to wander was good for her sanity. The more the memories settled the more unsure she was on what she would say, or even could say. Even as she worked herself up to Takamichi-level anxiety, she wasn't even sure how she felt. Scenarios came and went but with so many variables it just ended up giving her a headache. The opening of a door brought her back to reality, Ranko was back..
"Hm, where's Sa-chan and Mana?"
"They went to get some pillows." Setsuna replied calmly.
"So what did Ranma-san say?" Negi asked causing Asuna to sit up straighter. She could feel the tension building.
"Oh he was fine with it, but decided to bow out and spend the night at a co-workers. Said that it would be a bit too much estrogen in one house." She said with a chuckle. "Er, no offense to you Sensei.
Thunk! Asuna ignored the looks she got from her companions as she allowed her head to fall on the table with a groan. This was going to drive her crazy if she had to keep this to herself.
"Er, you okay Asuna?" She slowly turned her head to her confused hostess and after a moment of silence made her decision. She brought herself upright with a defeated sigh.
"Can I borrow you and Konoka for a minute?" her request got some puzzled looks but the pigtailed girl nodded.
"Of course Asuna." Konoka said with a smile. Asuna stood and made her way to the kitchen, followed shortly by Ranko. Konoka got to her feet shortly after and paused before giving a formal bow to Setsuna. "Excuse me for a moment Oujo-sama," she said before passing her friend a grin and making her way into the kitchen as the swordswoman shook her head and sighed.
Asuna had taken position leaning against the wall, fidgeting with her hair a bit clearly missing her usual style. Ranko for her part was perching sitting on the counter top looking somewhat hesitant herself. As Konoka joined them with a supportive smile Asuna took a breath to settle her nerves and begin. "I think Ranma is staying away tonight because of me." She muttered looking down.
"What? What makes you think that?" Konoka passed a glance to the martial artist who was examining her choice of wall paper quite intensely. "Did you have another fight?"
"Well yes, and that's probably part of it. But it's more then that. I had brought him to the roof to talk about last night..." reluctantly she began to run down the events of the rooftop encounter. Never looking up, not trusting herself at the moment. Though she did manage to recount the whole mess, only then did she look back up a slight flush on her face. Konoka for her part was stuck speechless for a moment, a rare event for the levelheaded girl. Ranko was quiet as well seemingly trying to process it all.
"Ranma confessed to you?" she spoke slowly trying to place the words but it still seemed off.
"I… well no... I don't know!" she threw her arms up in frustration. "We were both a step away from getting into a fist fight, it was hardly romantic timing. But it was still kinda... Nice." she covered her face and groaned. "I can't stop thinking about it, and he just ran off so I don't know what he meant!"
"That does kind of sound like something he would do." Konoka turned her gaze back to Ranko, who was still keeping silent. "Well, had you heard anything about this Ranko?" she asked casually but eyed the girl carefully noting how she tensed. The martial artist tried to collect herself but flinched a bit as Asuna was looking her way too.
"Well, not really." she began evasively, "I mean things were still pretty heated from last night. He's really worried... about both of you. With the Vampire stuff." She muttered carefully choosing her words. "Neither of us have really dated anyone, so really I'm just as surprised." Konoka nodded a bit taking the words as they were. Both of her friends were passionate and stubborn. It was all the easier to see the scene play out... though for Asuna it wasn't enough.
"Um, what do you think though?" she asked hopefully. "Does Ranma..." she couldn't finish the sentence much less the thought. She wasn't even sure which she'd be more relieved to hear. Yes or no. Ranko scratched her reddening cheeks.
"Ah, I don't know... I mean." Ranko trailed off awkwardly he eyes straying from Asuna's trying to find something else to look at though she choked as they landed on the door. Puzzled Asuna and Konoka followed the gaze to see an impassive Mana with some rolled up blankets under each arm and Sayo hugging a pair of pillows tightly to her chest.
"Don't mind us. Please... Go on." Mana said evenly.
In the end nothing really got resolved, neither Ranko or Asuna were able to breech the topic again. But at the same time the release had helped somewhat, even if the results were still up in the air. Fortunately Konoka had managed to refocus the even back to original goal of the evening, keeping Ranko company. As the bedrolls got spread out the fledgling mage prepared the final activity for the evening.
"Now I don't want you girls staying up too late tonight," Negi said cautioningly. "There is class tomorrow."
"Yes sensei," The girls chorused as Konoka began to dig through her bag. There were disadvantages of course for having your homeroom teacher at your sleepover. Ranko raised an eyebrow.
"You're staying as well Sensei?"
"Er," the boy looked distinctly uncomfortable as he glanced outside. "It's rather late to be out at this point." He didn't bring it to words but clearly a blond vampire was on his mind. "If it's not a problem..."
"Don't worry about it kid," she said ruffling his hair. "I was just curious, I'm sure Niichan will be glad you're chaperoning." she said with a bit of a smirk. Even if that was his intention it was still hard to picture the boy as the responsible party amongst the teenagers.
"Here they are, I brought two options. First off." she pulled a DVD free from the bag and held it up with a clearly mischievous grin. "Flowers in Winter." The red head groaned, she'd never heard of the movie but it was clear by that picture on the front and the flowery border that it was some majorly shoujo movie... not her style. Setsuna joined her with a slight grimace while Negi put on a polite face despite it not being anything close to what the boy was interested in. It seemed that she'd picked this out clearly to tease her friend.
"Oh!" Not all reactions were negative, as Sayo seemed to light up at the sight of it. "I've seen that one."
"Really?" the mis-dressed mage offered a pleasantly surprised smile.
"Mm, I got to watch it a few days ago. It was really sweet."
"I know. So you a fan then?"
"Yeah, but I got it from M-OW!"
"The library." Mana finished calmly as a pouting Sayo rubbed her shin. The mercenary passed a level glance around the table daring anyone to comment but they seemed to let it drop easily enough... The other two warriors though did bare slight repressed smirks of amusement.
Who would have thought?
"Well um," Konoka tried to steer the topic back on track. "I figured that wouldn't go over so well so I brought something a little more palatable for the hostess." she said pulling out the second DVD. This one brought up a smile, as it was one of Ranko's favorites. "Age of the Warrior 2: Burning Souls in Tokyo. Light hearted, full of action with good quality fighting. Better?"
"Much," the red head said with a smile before brushing stray hairs from her eyes. She had her reasons for keeping her hair tied and this was one of them. She wasn't sure how most girls got through the day.
"This good for everyone else?" No one disputed the choice and so people went about preparing the room. After some insistence Ranko was allowed to get the movie set up on her aged DVD player while the others did more physical tasks. The table was moved aside to give an unobstructed view. The seating pillows wear moved back toward the wall for a good view and to allow them to have something to lean against. Popcorn was made and the lights were dimmed.
Ranko took a seat against the wall expecting everyone to settle in but soon found them all converging on her spot. Mana had surprised everyone right off the bat. After taking a seat next to her she pulled the small girl into her lap and wrapped her arms lightly about her midsection. "Mana what the-?"
"Just relax," was all she said in reply with one of her mysterious smiles.
"Easy for you to say... " The gentle affection was at odds with what she was used to from the mercenary, unexpected but nice. At the very least it was much more comfortable then the floor pillow... at least after she managed to ignore the 'cushion' behind her head. Sayo took her spot to her roommate's right, grabbing one of Ranko's hands and giving it a squeeze. This was something the red head was more used to, Sayo had always been clingy and that hadn't changed with gaining a body. Asuna took a seat on her other side seemingly bemused by the impromptu cuddle party. Fortunately for Ranko's sanity her friend was content to remain in a more standard sitting position. Though that may have had more to due with Asuna's lack of familiarity with Mana than anything else.
Konoka settled down on Asuna's other side intent on a cuddling of her own as she snatched up the boy teacher and pulled him close, leaving the boy flustered. She waved Setsuna over as well who took a seat a respectable distance to side. That didn't mean Setsuna was surprised when she felt a head lean on her shoulder as Konoka had scooted closer. Judging by the small smile both shared it was a wonder why the swordswoman even sat away in the first place.
As the movie began to roll Ranko couldn't help but smile a little, this was the most fun she'd had just hanging around in ages. Though her little circle had grown it still felt close and personal. As she allowed herself to really relax in Mana's arms she let her mind wander. Maybe there was some way they could do something like this again...
to be continued...
AN Okay This rewrite was really cathartic for me. It really helped me smooth out a lot of the issues that were holding me up in writing. Though it will still likely be a bit before the next chapter comes It WILL be coming, I plan to cover the rest of the Eva Arc all the way through to the end of the fight. So it should be fun... anyway lets get to answering some of the comments from long back (I likely will skip ones that relate to things no longer in the fic). To all the comments I don't mention specifically, thank you for much for reading through and writing up your thoughts. They really motivate me.
Ryault - We all judge fics based off opinions we got from other fics. I'm guilty of that myself, and have ended up not reading stories that were entertaining because of it (until a friend would point out to me that it was actually good).
I'm glad the pendent has worked out as well as it has theres no bases for it of any kind in either canon. It's mostly inspired by the Harry Potter Time Turner and Naruto's Shadow clones. I enjoy writing love polygon fics as an old fan of Ranma fiction, pluss it lets me flesh out some of the lesser characters of Negima.
As for the fan servicey bits... yeahs it a hazard of crossing over with negima but since it's from Ranma's perspective much of the time you don't need to worry TOO much.
Ryuus2 - Thanks I really enjoy fleshing out lesser used characters, Mana, Zazie, and Sayo being my favorites of the Negima Bunch. Shame I had to cut out a bit of Zazie's interactions in doing this rewrite but I'll have more chances later.
The relationship of Ranma and Eva is not that shallow, not that Ranma would let Eva KILL Negi. If it came to that, yeah he'd stop her but the agreement is just to let Eva drink enough blood to break her curse. The Ranma and Eva really care about eachother, though they'd never admit it. You'll see a lot more of that as the chapter progresses and some of the drama gets ironed out (Eva already said in the fic she has decided to go easy on the kid, she just hasn't told Ranma yet so he's getting all angsty about it). Try to think of they as a pair of antagonistic siblings... out a Rough-around-the-edges aunt with an smart mouthed nephew... thats kind of what I'm going for.
The Knife throwing amazon (but I can understand why you thought it was a blowgun) was... detained by Zazie and hasn't shown up since. I have meant to cover he fate but I haven't gotten around to a point where I can transition into it... But as it stands the spear user, the breaking point amazon and the original infiltrator that Mana and Setsuna took out were released. Sayo is in the body of the shamen and the other soulless body was spirited away but still on campus... But the amazons will be regaining focus come Kyoto. The named ones you've as far as well some some of the more familiar names from Canon... Though Shampoo is FAR different from canon at this point.
Ryoga IS coming, actually his arrival will be right after the Eva fight arc, so you were close :) It's a bit different then canon but I'll reveal that in time. Ukyo vs the ChaoBaZi is hardly far from what could come but I'm still debating exactly when UCChan should show her face. The Tendos... well things are a bit unorthodox with them. I've been working out backstory bits with Windfalcon and lets say that has deviated far from canon. I'll admit you may not have seen the last of Genma, or at least his facade but that's still in the theory stages. Happy will be fun when he finally shows up but thats LONG down the line.
X-ile - Yeah I find a lot of Crossovers between harem romance comedies one show lead tends to dominate so I try my best to balance things out. I don't aim for Harem ENDINGS but multigirl hyjinx throughout the fic are fair game.
Finalfan9999 - Yes that characterization of Zazie is something I worked out for my personal head cannon along side Windfalcon. And yes I will be continuing Quiet ones, I'm just wrapped up in some many things at once I tend to loose focus. But I will get back to that fic. I promise.