The usual disclaimer applies.

And let me just say a quick thanks to everyone who read and reviewed my last story, I was so happy I wrote another!


"Ranma, prepare to die!"

No, that didn't feel right.

How about "Ranma! I challenge you!"

That seemed better. It had more of a formal air to it, and formality was Ryoga's middle name. He hated disorder and chaos, even if most of his life was spent in one state or the other. But that was all going to change.

Smiling down at the ancient scroll in his hands, he pondered how to tell his long-time rival that their next fight would be the end. Ryoga was confidant this time would be his greatest victory ever.

At long last all would be repaid, and he would win.

Ranma watched disinterestedly as a plume of smoke wound it's way past the treetops nearby. He instantly put two and two together to realize Ryoga was back in town; no one else would be camping in the school's field. Maybe this would be fun; he was getting bored.

Nothing much had happened since the failed wedding fiasco, especially since Akane had finally had enough and told those who were involved what she really thought about them in less than polite ways. Since then there hadn't been many occurrences to keep Ranma busy as most of their old acquaintances were avoiding them, and his games with Akane were beginning to try her patience.

Hearing a twig snap below him brought a small grin to his face. 'Like a moth to a flame, my dear Akane' he thought, snapping his attention back to reality. Looking down, he readied his attack.

Nearly directly below Ranma, Akane crept silently through the yard. Stepping on a twig, she cursed under her breath at her clumsiness and tightened the grip on the handle of her water pistol. Moving like an assassin, she back flipped just in time to avoid a barrage of water balloons from above, courtesy of her fiancé.

Swiftly as possible, she leapt half up the wall of the Dojo, sprang off of a tree trunk nearby, and finally landed on the roof. Whipping her arms up she leveled her sites on Ranma, who was standing boldly on a tree limb, hands behind his head.

Narrowing her eyes, Akane asked, "Why didn't you move? You're quicker than this."

" 'Cause I didn't need to. Conservation of energy or whatever, y'know."

"You're not that smart, Baka."

"Smart enough…Look up."

"Wha-?" She managed before getting a water balloon over the head.

Ranma stood with a broad grin plastered on his face for a moment before landing lightly next to Akane on the roof.

"C'mon, Akane, let's play a different game. Wet's not my color…but it looks good on you!" he said, bursting his last balloon over her head. With that he dashed back a few steps, readying for her revenge.

"So, what Ranma! You like to get me wet or something!!" Akane yelled as she began to advance.

Below, Nabiki just stifled a laugh while Soun's eyes grew wide as he spun to face his now sweat-dropping old friend.

"N-now Tendo. That was taken completely out of context, I'm sure! The boy doesn't have it in him!"

"Are you saying our son's not manly?" came a voice from the kitchen, followed by a tired "Oh my."

Back outside, Akane was sure she was going to get him this time. Pushing herself to the limit, she sprinted as close as she could get while shooting continuous streams of water at her target.

'If only he messed up, even just sometimes' she thought, watching him avoid every shot despite the fact that they were from behind. Finally out of water, Akane simply threw the gun at him.

"Argh! Why won't you ever take me seriously!" she huffed, thoroughly annoyed.

"Maybe if you gave me somethin' serious to consider, I would" he replied smugly, already looking too relaxed.

"Your attitude is going to get you into trouble one day, you know," she scowled.

"But my good looks will save the day!" he said while flashing her his best grin.

She turned her head away, but not fast enough for him to miss that she was starting to smile herself. He could play her like a fiddle, at least when it wasn't important.

"So what do you wanna do now?" he asked, feeling it was safe to come in closer again.

"I think the only thing we haven't done is 'Truth or Dare', and that doesn't seem like your style. After all, you can't annoy your way through it!" she giggled as she walked to the koi pond and sat on a rock.

"What, you didn't like our little training exercise just 'cause ya lost?!"

"No! It's because you won't be serious with me! If you'd just take me serious, than we'd both…Well, I would be happier!"

Sitting down next to her he realized he wanted to do just that, make her happy.

"Hey, I do take you serious, Akane. We've had ta fight together a few times now, and ya always go all out. But that's what worries me; you don't stop an think of all your options. Ya go on your first impulse and nearly kill yourself! How'm I gonna train you not ta do that?"

She sat quietly for a moment before looking up at him. "I scared you this last time, didn't I?" She could see the fear flash over his face for a moment.

"You scare me all the time, Tomboy!" he chided, but she could see it was a lie.

"Honestly! When are you going to be truthful with me?" she said softly with a smile, nudging his shoulder with her own.

"Whaddaya mean? You're the only one who actually gets me, Akane. I'm always honest with you, just in my own special way." He smiled broadly again, the fear gone from his eyes.

They sat happily for a moment, just enjoying one another's company, when a voice from behind took them by surprise.

"Nihao, Ranma." Then a long pause before she acknowledged Akane with "Kitchen-destroyer. Great Grandmother send me to tell you urgent news. Is no good."

They both just stared at her. Akane's eyebrows went up, down, and now found themselves lost in between as she really had no idea what to make of the Chinese Amazon's presence. It looked like Shampoo but she was stiff, almost on edge.

"Well…?" Akane prodded, seeing Shampoo's reluctance to continue.

Rolling her eyes, she began once more.

"Great Grandmother hear from council elders that scroll is missing. Scroll with dangerous technique. She hear that boy with bandanna take it."

Now she looked more disgruntled than anything else.

"She want Kitch-" little cough, "She want Akane to help get back. She say Ryoga take scroll and only Akane can get back."

The three sat for a moment letting it all set in. Akane slowly turned her gaze to Ranma who was, to her surprise, already looking at her. Opening her mouth to respond, he quickly spoke ahead of her.

"No." He rose to his feet to emphasize that there was no argument.

"If there's one thing I've learned, Shampoo, it's not ta trust you. I ain't lettin' you put her in danger. And besides, I always beat Ryoga. I'll just do it again."

"But…" Akane started, Ranma cutting her off once more.

"I" he shot her a penetrating stare, "can do it, Akane."

Her mission finished, and not wanting to seem like a third wheel, Shampoo shrugged.

"I no care either way. I just delivery girl." And with that she walked, surprisingly, out through the front gate and was gone.

"Ranma!" Akane glared once Shampoo was out of earshot, "Why won't you let me? She said only I could do it!"

"What if it's like that 'Fishing Pole of Love' thing or some junk? It's obviously not a good thing for you, Akane. It's some sort-a trick! She's already tried ta kill you more than once. Just let me handle it, I can take Pig Boy alone."

"We don't need totake him, Ranma, just get the scroll before he uses it!" She paused, giving herself a moment to rein in her temper as best as she could. Breathing in and out once, she continued.

"Look. I know what you're doing, and I appreciate the concern, but I'm not some frail little weakling! If we both go, you can…help…if you need to. Then I can't really get hurt, not that I think Ryoga would try to hurt me."

Staring at her a moment, Ranma felt he needed time to think. He didn't want her there, he was certain it was a trap. He also knew she wouldn't care and would still try to get involved. 'Maybe this was Shampoo's real plan,' he thought dumbly, 'to get us to turn against each other without even getting around to Ryoga.'

Shaking his head, he tried to clear it of lame attempts to be insightful of Amazonian plans.

Looking back up, he realized he'd taken too long to come up with a retort.

"Fine. You can come too." He smirked. Losing without losing, a Saotome specialty.

She looked at him levelly, then a smile lit up her face.

"Oh thank you, Ranma!" she said too eagerly, putting him on edge.

Inching closer to his face with every word, she added, "It means a lot to me that you care so much. And trust," she was so close now that he could feel her breath on his lips. Not sure where to go, he began to lean backward.

"Trust is the most important. You trust me, right Ranma?" she said, making her lips a small pout.

He was right where she wanted him, and with a small tap, he splooshed into the water.

"I win" she smiled.