Chapter 2 I Hate Men!

Ranma looked up from his reading at the sound of someone rapping lightly on his open door. There he spotted Kasumi standing in the doorway.

"Are you all settled in, Ranma?" Kasumi asked brightly, ignoring his current gender.

"Yes, everything is put away in the dresser, or the closet," Ranma replied, "Though I definitely need to do a little shopping once I have some money, because all I seem to have are boy's clothing. But since I was on the road a lot, at least according to your father, that actually makes some sense. Walking around in a skirt in the woods wouldn't be the most practical thing in the world, would it?"

"You are a guest in our home, and indeed, Daddy told us to consider you family, so when we find some time this week, Akane and I will take you," Kasumi said, as she entered the room. Hesitating for a second, she considered his demeanour for a moment, and then asked, "How are you doing? After all, this has been a pretty tumultuous day for you."

"Well, if I actually knew what tumultuous meant, I would probably agree with you," Ranma quipped.

"I just meant that it has to be shock to you, everything that happened to you today. What with the amnesia, misplacing your father, meeting us, and finding out that if you had been a boy you would be betrothed, and then finding out about your ability to change gender," Kasumi replied, gently, "So, I was just wondering, if you needed to talk to someone about it, well, I'm available."

"Well, I won't lie to you and tell you I'm fine," Ranma said, not really meeting her eyes, "But, I am handling things reasonably well, at least I think I am." He looked pensive for a moment and added, "But, then, would I really know. However, I do know that you have been wonderful to me, and Akane has been even better. I hope she and I can become close friends. I know I want that, and I think she does too. Because of this amnesia, I don't remember if I've ever had a friend before, and I'm really looking forward to having one."

"I hope you consider me a friend also, Ranma," Kasumi said, sternly, though the twinkle in her eye belied her tone.

"Of course, Kasumi," Ranma said, glancing up, and giving her a bright smile, that didn't quite reach his eyes.

Kasumi sighed and then to Ranma's surprise, pulled him out of the chair he was sitting in, and hugged him. "You aren't really fooling me, you know?" she whispered, "I can tell that you are hurting."

That simple act of kindness was enough to burst the dam. With a loud sob, Ranma leaned into the hug, tears rolling down his eyes. "I'm so scared, Kasumi," he blubbered, "What's happened to me? Who am I?"

"I don't know for sure, Ranma," Kasumi said, gently rubbing his back, "But, I'm here for you, and Akane is as well. And I am looking forward to learning all about you as we discover who you are. But one thing I already know is that you are a good friend. Doing what you are doing for Akane tells me that."

"No one should have to go through what she is going through," Ranma said, his eyes narrowing in anger, "And if me pretending to be her fiancé helps stop that, then I don't really have a choice. After all, I am a martial artist and we are supposed to help others. Doing anything less would not be honourable."

"That doesn't make it any less an extremely kind thing that you are doing," Kasumi retorted, "Now, on a different subject, what were you reading?"

"One of the textbooks for class tomorrow," Ranma replied, "Though it seems that some of my fears about my schooling were a bit overblown. Akane spent some time with me after dinner, and quite a bit of it did turn out to be familiar to me after all. So apparently, my mind is just full of holes about who I am, and where I've been. My scholastic knowledge and my skills seem to be intact."

"Well, that is good news. Just remember, I am here to help you if you do get in over your head at school. Not to brag or anything, but I did do quite well," Kasumi said.

"I'll likely be taking you up on that," Ranma admitted, "While it wasn't as bad as I first thought, I can definitely tell that there are things that I don't have as good a handle on as I would like."

"Don't stay up too late tonight, especially if you are going to join Akane in her morning workout," Kasumi suggested.

"I know, she told me about her morning jog," Ranma said, "Though we are going to spar instead. She'll get her jog in going to school and back."

"Good night, then," Kasumi said, rising to her feet.

Ranma glanced over at the clock on the desk beside him and nodded his head. "Yeah, it's time for me to get changed, and then get ready for bed," he said, as he reached for the glass of water, "I'll see you in the morning, Kasumi. Until then, sleep well."

Kasumi flashed a smile at him as she left the room, closing the door behind her.

Ranma slowly unbuttoned his shirt, and pulled off his undershirt, before pouring the water on his head, triggering the change. "That feels better," she said, as she returned to her true form. She put her undershirt back on, and slid out of her slacks, leaving her in just her boxers and undershirt, turned the desk light off, and sprawled out on her futon, pulling the light blanket over herself.

Ranma smirked at Akane as the two girls stripped off their sweat-dampened clothing. "That's the kind of workout you need to have every morning," she said.

Akane pushed her dampened curls off of her forehead, and sighed. "I really thought I was in good shape, Ranma," she said, pouting slightly, as she opened the door to the inner bath.

"You are in good shape, Akane, just not where you need to be though," Ranma said, following her into the chamber. Akane sat on the stool, while Ranma poured warm water over her head using a wooden bucket.

"Scrub my back down good, Ranma," Akane said, as her friend picked up the scrub brush, and obeyed. Akane leaned back into the strokes, grimacing occasionally as they found a tender spot.

Ranma sighed heavily and said, "Looks like there'll be some bruising back here. Sorry about that."

"Hey, it's not the bruises back there that bother me, it's the one on my breast that's going to be hard to explain," Akane said, chuckling.

"Yeah, really, really sorry about that, you didn't move quite the way I thought you were going to," Ranma said.

Akane half-turned her head and said, sternly, "I'm supposed to be a martial artist, Ranma, I can take a hit. I'm more annoyed by the fact that I didn't lay a finger on you, and that you were still holding back on me."

"You over-commit with your blows, Akane," Ranma said. She added, with a feral smile, "We'll break you of that habit quickly, don't worry. And then, once you get faster, I'll have to work harder to avoid getting hit."

"Hand me the shampoo, please, I need to do my hair," Akane said.

"Nah, I've got it, you just close your eyes," Ranma said, pouring a dollop of shampoo in her hands, and then started massaging it into the other girl's long hair. After a few minutes, she rinsed the shampoo out, and Akane finished washing her front.

Akane hopped off the stool and said, "Your turn."

"Okay, just be careful with the water temperature," Ranma said, a little nervously.

Akane giggled, and replied, "I'll be careful. I don't really need to get another eyeful."

Ranma reddened, as she sat down on the stool, the blush extending down nearly to her chest. "No more than lukewarm," she reminded, as Akane adjusted the temperature.

Akane made short work of washing Ranma's back with the scrub brush, while Ranma took care of the rest. Carefully rinsing off, Ranma stood up, and wrung the water out of her hair.

"We don't have time to soak any," Akane said, "So I'll dry off and leave you to change. There's a yukata hanging on the hook to put on."

"Okay, save me some breakfast," Ranma said, as she waited for her to leave before pouring a bucket of hot water over her head, triggering her change. He glanced down at his unfamiliar body, blushed at the sight. Sighing, he quickly towelled off, and then grabbed the robe Akane had pointed out. Donning it, he strode through the changing room, and headed to his room, where he could get dressed. He passed Nabiki in the hall, and said, "Good morning, Nabiki. The furo is open."

Nabiki gazed sleepily at him for a moment, and then said, "Morning, Ranma. And I'm sorry for the way I was acting last night."

"Don't worry, Nabiki, this is going to take some time for all of us," Ranma replied, and then very aware that he was not dressed under the robe, quickly took his leave, not seeing the pensive look on the girl as he disappeared up the stairs.

Shaking her head, Nabiki grimaced. "This is going to be so annoying," she muttered as she made her way to the furoba, "And it's a real damned shame he looks like that when he's a boy."

As soon as Ranma and Akane had left the family compound, Ranma surprised Akane by leaping up onto the chain-link fence running down the street.

"What are you doing?" Akane asked, loudly.

"Balance training," Ranma replied, "This is something that Pop had me do from the very beginning. And you'll be up here soon enough."

"Um, are you kidding me?" Akane exclaimed.

Ranma grinned down at her and said, "No, not in the slightest. I'll be a bit easier on you than he was on me, though. We'll start out in the dojo on some planks set over those cinder blocks you are so fond of breaking. I won't put you up on something like this for a while either. Though you'll want to do something about your clothing before we do this for real anyway. Let's not flash any perverts."

Akane blushed at that but rallied, "You really think I can do that?"

"Sure, all it takes is developing a good sense of balance," Ranma replied, "And then I can teach you roof-hopping. Can't wear a skirt doing that either. Now, we need to pick up the pace, or we'll be late to class." He started jogging down the fence, slowly leaving Akane behind.

With a delighted laugh, Akane raced after her erstwhile fiancée, who didn't seem to care what kind of fence was under his feet. Finally, he ran out of fence, and sprang to the sidewalk, just in time to meet a deluge of water coming from a pail held by a kindly looking old woman who was cleaning her portion of the sidewalk outside her modest cottage. Of course, this triggered the change, and Akane giggled at the sight of her wet red-haired girlfriend.

"Well this kind of ruins our plans," Ranma said, glancing down at her damp shirt, "Unless I go back home and take a bath."

"You'll be late," Akane retorted.

"But I can't start school out as a girl, and then be your fiancé, now can I?" Ranma asked.

"But if we just pour hot water on you, you'll change back, right?" Akane asked.

"Yeah, I guess that would work," Ranma replied.

"Then follow me," Akane said.

Ranma shrugged her shoulders and raced after her girlfriend, until they reached a doctor's office, at least according to the signs reading 'Ono Clinic' outside the building. Akane spoke briefly to the old woman at the front desk, while Ranma shivered outside the building.

"Hoooo boy, what a way to start the day," the red-haired girl said, as she waited. Suddenly, a skeletal hand landed on her shoulder. Ranma turned her head, and spotted a human skull, and promptly climbed the wall to get away from it.

"Oh pardon me," a tall, be-spectacled, dark-haired man, wearing a black gi, and carrying a skeleton said. He added, in a pleasant voice, "Nothing to worry about, dear! This is just Betty, my skeleton."

Ranma slowly slid down the stone column, and put her shoes back on, just as Akane came around the corner carrying a large kettle.

"Ranma, here's the hot w," Akane began, only to freeze when she spotted the man next to Ranma.

"Well, Akane!" the man exclaimed.

"Oh! Doctor!" Akane exclaimed in return, promptly setting the kettle on the nearest flat surface, which apparently was the top of Ranma's head, and then bowed, adding, "Good morning," as a blush slowly crept across her face.

"Good morning to you," the doctor returned, as he and the skeleton bowed in reply.

Ranma merely looked befuddled from beneath the teakettle.

The doctor smiled, and asked, "You haven't been by lately. No new injuries?"

"No, sir," Akane stammered, "I mean, I haven't been doing anything that would that.."

Ranma stepped away while the two conversed, and poured the contents of the kettle over her head, transforming back into her cursed form. "Interesting," the now male murmured, as the other two broke off their conversation, and the doctor entered the clinic.

Ranma raced after Akane and asked, "Who was that guy?"

"Doctor Tofu, the chiropractor," Akane replied, as Ranma leapt onto the fence running beside her.

"Martial Arts master, isn't he?" Ranma asked. He thought, 'Sneaking up on me like that, he erased all sense of his presence.'

"True, he's very good," Akane replied, "But he doesn't look like he'd be, does he?" She sighed heavily, and added, "Ever since I was little, he's taken care of my injuries."

Ranma jumped down and ran next to her, and asked, "So, isn't he a man?"

"Yeah, so?" Akane asked, as they neared the school.

"I thought you said, you hate men," Ranma said.

Akane looked at him and then smiled grimly. "I guess you're right! I hate boys!" she exclaimed as they slowed to a stop. She took a few deep breaths to collect herself.

"We'd better hurry up, we're almost late," Ranma reminded.

Akane glanced over and nodded. "Let's go!" she exclaimed, and took off running again. Sooner than she was ready or expected, Akane reached the gates to Furinkan High School, with Ranma close behind. She gathered herself up, muttering, "I hate boys," under her breath. Then she reached out with her right hand, an odd glint in her eyes, and grabbed her fiancé's hand.

"You ready for this?" Ranma asked, quietly.

Akane smiled grimly at him, and nodded. "Let's do it," she said, firmly. Slowly, yet proudly, the young 'couple' entered the compound, where they spotted Akane's usual horde of ardent admirers awaiting, as well as what seemed like the population of a small city. Ranma spotted Nabiki looking out of one of the windows on an upper floor, surrounded by a pair of girls. He saluted her briefly, causing her to roll her eyes. The horde of boys, some armed with sport equipment, surged forward only to stop in shock.

Suddenly, loud gasps rose from the crowd. "Look, it's Akane Tendo, and she's holding hands with a boy," was heard from more than one person, and the attackers traded looks with each other as if they could not believe what they were seeing, as if seeing one of the signs of the apocalypse.

A young man, dressed in kendo attire, and carrying a wooden sword, stepped out from behind the tree, where he had been hiding to observe his minions attack his fair maiden. Oddly, he was carrying a red rose in one hand.

Akane spotted the newcomer, and her eyes narrowed, as she spat, "Kuno."

"You there, you are being quite familiar with Akane," the young man, apparently named 'Kuno,' spat, pointing his sword at Ranma.

"Why don't you tell him, Akane?" Ranma asked.

"Who are you, boor?" Kuno demanded, only to pause, "Ah! But of course, it is the custom to give one's own name first. Fine, then! Mine, I shall give!"

Ranma rolled his eyes, and smirked. "Who is this guy?" he asked, sotto voce. Raising his voice, he said, coolly, "If you wish."

Posing dramatically, against the darkening sky, the young man prated, "My name is upperclassman Tatewaki Kuno, Junior, Group E, Captain of the Kendo Club, undefeated new star of the high school fencing world. But my peers call me the Blue Thunder of Furinkan High!"

One of the girls next to Nabiki started in surprise and asked, "Blue Thunder?"

"Have you heard that?" the second asked.

Nabiki shook her head and replied, "News to me."

Ranma snorted in disgust and said, "So you are the cause of this disgrace, this dishonourable display. Akane told me all about this 'contest' that you set up, that only someone who defeated Akane could date her, a contest that you had no authority to establish. Well, it ends here and it ends now."

A gasp of amazement rose from the crowd at the audacity of the newcomer to challenge the undisputed head of the school.

"Who are you to be so brash?" Kuno asked, the point of his bokuto aimed unwaveringly at Ranma's chest.

"I am heir to the Saotome School of Anything Goes Martial Arts, Ranma Saotome," Ranma replied, handing Akane his bag, with a wink, "One of the best martial artists of my age, sensei of Akane Tendo, and more importantly, as a result of the promise made between her father and mine, before we were yet even born, I have the honour to be her betrothed."

"No, that cannot be!" Kuno snarled, "She is mine."

"She is no one's thing, as she is not a possession," Ranma growled, "And I accept your challenge." With an icy sneer worthy of Nabiki, he added, "Fool!"

"Hey, someone's taking on Kuno," one bystander said.

"This is going to be short and brutal," another said, "The poor sod doesn't stand a chance."

The anonymous bystander was indeed quite prophetic. The fight was very short and extremely brutal, as Kuno charged Ranma, his bokuto swinging for a killing blow. One that Ranma dodged easily enough, though the blow caused major damage to the wall that surrounded the school. Before the enraged kendoist could recover, Ranma laid him out with several hard blows to the delusional boy's body, before slamming an uppercut into his chin. Kuno stood stunned for a moment, before collapsing to the ground like a marionette with its strings cut. The audience gasped as Ranma walked back to Akane, bowed slightly and said, "Shall we, my lady?" holding out his hand for his backpack, which he then slung over his shoulder, and entered the school, hand-in-hand with his fiancée, the sound of thunder echoing in the distance.

"Now that's how to make an entrance," Nabiki said, impressed in spite of herself. Then she smiled, knowing that none of the bets for the morning had considered this scenario, and that once again, the house ruled all.

The classroom stilled as a middle-aged man entered the classroom and stood behind the large desk at the front of the room. "Good morning, class," the man said.

The students rose as one and bowed, chanting, "Good morning, sensei," before returning to their chairs.

"We have a transfer student joining us, today," the teacher said, "Would you tell us something about yourself?" The man sat down in his chair, and motioned to the door.

Ranma hesitantly entered the room, closing the door behind him, before striding across to the teacher's desk. Taking a deep breath, he said, "Yes, sensei. My name is Ranma Saotome, heir to the Saotome branch of the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts. For the last ten years, I have been an itinerant student of the art, wandering with my father from dojo to dojo and perfecting my understanding of the art. Most recently, I have been in China, but returned last week to Nerima. Somewhere along the way, I misplaced my father, but in accordance with his wishes, I joined the Tendo household, and became betrothed to the heir of the Tendo branch of the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts, Akane Tendo, fulfilling the ancient pledge made by our fathers to join the two branches through marriage of the heirs."

The students swivelled as one and gazed in astonishment at Akane, who blushed furiously, before returning to gaze at Ranma.

The teacher stared at him for a moment, and then said, "Since you already know Miss Tendo, Mister Saotome, you may take the desk next to her, however, I expect your full attention on the lesson."

"Yes, sensei," Ranma said, "You shall have it." He moved gracefully to the empty desk next to Akane, and sat down, swinging his book bag up to the top of the desk before taking out the textbooks, paper, and pens, that he would need for the morning lessons, before placing the bag on the floor next to him.

"Also, while I understand you didn't have time to get a uniform, I expect to see you in one by the end of the week," the teacher added.

"Of course, sensei," Ranma said politely.

The teacher stared at him for a moment, before he stood up, and started his lesson, ignoring the piles of notes that quickly showed up on the two desks, though he was impressed by the fact that neither of the affected students made any attempt to read said notes, though he noted idly that there appeared to be a constant blush on the face of Akane Tendo, while Saotome sat rigidly in the chair, his pen flashing across the page as he took down the lecture.

Meanwhile, in another part of Japan, a young man, carrying a huge backpack on his back, an umbrella strapped to the top of the pack, with a bandana tying is hair back, burst through the underbrush, and entered a busy thoroughfare. He stopped an elderly gentleman, pulling a cart behind him, and asked, "Grandfather, which way is it to Nerima?"

The old man stared at the boy who accosted him, and replied, "Eh?"

"Can you show me the way to Nerima?" the boy asked, showing a pair of slightly enlarged canine teeth, almost giving him the look of someone with a pair of fangs.

"Nerima, you say, don't know that I've ever heard of it," the old man replied, finally, "But I've never left Kyushu, in fact I'm on my way to visit my son in Fukuoka."

"Nerima is near Tokyo," the boy persisted.

"Well, that explains it," the old man said, "Tokyo is on the island of Honshu, over a thousand kilometres north of here."

"North you say," the boy repeated. He glanced up into the sky, noted the position of the sun, and added, "Thank you, Grandfather." He turned and ran down the road at a quick pace.

"That's southwest," the old man said, but the boy had gotten out of earshot before the old man could get that out.

Ranma sighed happily as he sat down under one of the towering trees shading the ground, and opened the large bento that Kasumi had pressed into his hands before leaving for school that morning. Twirling his chopsticks, he slowly began to eat, savouring each morsel, mindful of the chastisement that he had received the day before, when he had wolfed his meal down as his father had taught him.

"Hey, it's Saotome, right?" a voice asked, interrupting his meal.

Hiding his irritation, Ranma looked up to see two of the boys from his homeroom. "Yes, it is," he said, politely.

"May we join you?" the second boy asked.

Ranma glanced over at the gaggle of girls surrounding Akane, and sighed. "Sure, it's not like I own the grass," he replied.

"I'm Daisuke," one of the boys said, as he sat down, "And he's Hiroshi."

"Well, sit down man, you're making the place look untidy," Ranma said, as the second boy hesitated.

Hiroshi sat down quickly.

"Are you really engaged to Akane Tendo?" Daisuke asked.

"We are honouring the pledge that our fathers made," Ranma replied, "And she is wearing the engagement ring that I gave her."

"Man, that's cool. She's got to be the prettiest girl in school," Hiroshi said.

Ranma glanced over and smiled. "She is cute, especially when she smiles, I'll grant you that," he said, as she turned and smiled in his direction.

"Lucky dog," Daisuke added, "Half the school has been trying to get a date with her, and you waltz in and take her away from all of them."

"Well, I'm not really an expert on the subject, but even as clueless as I am, I'm pretty sure flowers and candy would have worked better than attempting to beat her up as a method to get her to date them," Ranma replied drily, "Sure she's a martial artist, but she's also all woman."

"And what a woman," Hiroshi breathed. He gulped suddenly and added, hastily, "It was just a comment, that's all. No insult intended."

Ranma relaxed then, not even fully aware that he had tensed up before, and waved a hand. "No problem man, but you might pick your words a bit more carefully, that's all," he said.

"So what's it like, being engaged to Akane Tendo?" Daisuke asked.

"Bit early to tell, actually, as we've only known each other for a couple of days now," Ranma said

"But are you really going to marry a girl you just barely met? That sounds so medieval," Daisuke persisted.

"Well, boys can't get married, not even with parental permission, until, what, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, something like that anyway, so we've got a few years to get to know each other before we can make a decision either way," Ranma said, with a shrug, "So who knows where we'll be when we get there. Maybe we'll fall in love with each other, maybe we won't, or maybe the horse will learn to sing. For now though, I'm her fiancé. And I am definitely looking forward to getting to stay in one place for an extended length of time."

"That's right, you mentioned during the introduction this morning that you had been on an extended training trip, and were more or less an itinerant martial arts student," Daisuke mused, "What was that like? It sounds pretty cool to me."

Ranma snorted in amusement, and replied, "It had its good points and its bad points, I suppose. Learning at the various dojos and from the different masters that I met was cool. Not knowing exactly where my next meal was coming from, or where I was going to sleep, not so cool. And then my Pop is a bit of an idiot. An excellent martial artist, don't get me wrong, but most of his training methods were bizarre. But for the most part, I guess I shouldn't complain, he did turn me into the best."

"I'm not going to argue with you about that, you did make Kuno look like a fool this morning, and he's got a reputation as a kendo expert, at least considering all of the tournaments that he has won," Hiroshi said.

"You took him down hard this morning," Daisuke added, "Pretty cold as a matter of fact."

Ranma grimaced and said, "I was always taught that a martial artist was supposed to be a protector of those weaker than himself. When Akane and her sister Kasumi told me about what she was facing each morning, it disgusted me greatly."

"I don't understand," Daisuke admitted.

Ranma's eyes grew cold once more, and he said, the temperature plunging as he spoke, "Think about it from Akane's viewpoint. She is being attacked every morning by dozens of guys, all of them bigger than she is. What if one of them had managed to knock her down? Or worse, knock her out? What do you think he would do to her then? And do you think anyone could have stopped him? Unless you are a woman, you can't imagine how helpless that makes you feel. That was her fear, and it was slowly driving her to hate all men. And that arse, who fancies himself a fighter, was the worst of the bunch. Perverts like that deserve to put down like the mad dogs they are, since as far as I'm concerned, he's just one step from being a rapist. And I really detest rapists. Plus since he does have some skill, I couldn't really play around with him." Then he shrugged, and added, "On top of that I really, really, hate someone as arrogant as he is."

"Well, I guess you get to speak to him some more," Hiroshi said, with a sigh, as he nodded across the commons, to where Kuno was stalking toward them.

"What ho, varlet, nay, fell sorcerer," Kuno spat, swishing his bokuto from side to side dangerously, ignoring how close it was coming to the other students, who were backing away from him as fast as possible.

Ranma casually rose to his feet, dusting himself off, and protested, mildly, "Sorcerer? I'm afraid you've got me a bit confused."

"A warrior as puissant as I could not be taken down so easily by a mere warrior," Kuno spat, "Therefore you must have bespelled me somehow, but I am now not unaware of your treacherous and arcane arts, and have obtained divine protection against them. I shall defeat you in glorious battle, which will free the beauteous Akane Tendo from your witchery and then I shall be blessed above all mortals when she becomes mine."

"What defeated you was skill, not sorcery, for I am no magician, only an expert in martial arts," Ranma said, smoothly, "And Akane wouldn't pour water on you if you were on fire, since she hates you with a passion that I shudder to contemplate."

"YOU LIE!" Kuno roared, lunging forward, a move that Ranma easily slapped aside.

"I never lie," Ranma snarled, "And for insulting me, you will pay." He moved toward the delusional kendoist, dodging each swing of the wooden sword, while Hiroshi and Daisuke rapidly scrambled away from the danger zone.

Kuno fought mightily, the power of his strikes destroying whatever they smote, but in spite of his best efforts, the sorcerer managed to avoid each blow, though the area quickly began to resemble a war zone after an airstrike from a flight of A-7s from one of the American aircraft carriers.

Akane blanched as she watched her friend dodge blows, realising that her erstwhile suitor had indeed been holding back on her, and now knowing that at any time he would have been much more of a challenge for her if he had desired, a prospect that near terrified her. Though as she watched the battle, she thought she might still have a small edge in skill even so. She closed her eyes for a moment, as the kendoist moved in for what he thought was the kill, only to once more fall defeated by the more skilled opponent.

Ranma scowled down at Kuno, laying prone on the ground, a large lump growing from the back of the no longer immaculately coiffed upper classman's head, his bokuto broken in twain. An evil grin appeared on his face as he moved forward.

The streets of the small seaside town bustled, with the students who had just finished a long day of class heading home, talking about the events of the day, while the women of the town browsed through the various shops, the bright sun warming the afternoon nicely, though a slight breeze off the Sea of Japan kept the temperature comfortable. Then, without warning, an enormous pig rumbled down the street, ignoring all of the women, but scattering the men hither and yon, each of them with a bruise the shape of a cloven hoof on some part of the their body. A young woman followed along, only to stop in shock as a boy of about her age, stepped out from between two buildings onto the street, and almost negligently, used a blow from a furled umbrella to send her beloved pig skyward.

"Oh, Katsunishiki!" the girl cried, as the pig crashed onto the street and lay stunned. The boy turned to walk away, only to stop at the sound of a stammered, "Ex-excuse me!"

The boy turned and froze at the sight of an attractive dark-haired girl, demurely dressed in a plaid skirt, frilly top, knee-high dark stockings, carrying a dainty fan. "Yes, Miss, how may I help you?" the boy managed to stammer out past the lump in his throat.

The girl's heartbeat was sounding loud enough for the boy to hear as she stuttered out her reply, "Y-you are the winner." She blushed furiously, and then handed him a note, adding, "Please read this."

The boy took the note, and watched in befuddlement as the girl sprang to the back of her pig, crying, "See you again." Then she cried, "Hai-yoooo," though to her surprise the pig was still unconscious.

The boy opened the note and read, 'Do you believe in love at first sight? Please go out with me, Akari Unryu.' He raced to the girl and cried, "What does this mean? I don't understand."

The girl slid down from the pig, blushing furiously, and replied, "It's as I wrote." She blushed even harder, and then leaned forward and kissed the stunned boy.

The boy stared at her for a moment, and then his eyes rolled back into his head. He stood there for a moment, and then collapsed to the ground.

With a pleased smile on her face, Akari tossed the boy onto the back of her pig, backpack and all, though to her surprise she needed to use both hands, and barely managed the feat. "Good thing Father made me train the pigs, that backpack was heavy," she said, as she returned to the back of her now conscious pig. "Come, Katsunishiki, let's head home and take care of my new fiancé," she cried, gaily.

Daisuke grimaced as he walked by the supine figure, sprawled fortunately face down on the lawn. "I've always thought that Kuno had a bit of a stick up his arse," he said.

"Yeah," Hiroshi said, with a shudder, "but I could have lived without the graphic."

"At least Ranma broke off the bokuto first, so it wasn't full length," Daisuke added.

"It still had to have hurt," Hiroshi said, "Having a bokuto go where no bokuto has gone before."

Daisuke shrugged his shoulders, and said, "Kuno was unconscious already, I doubt he felt a thing. Won't be sitting down soon, though, I reckon."

"I'm still surprised that he's still here," Hiroshi remarked, "After all, this happened during lunch."

"The only one who would have taken him to the nurse would have been Nabiki Tendo, and that's only because she could charge him for the service," Daisuke replied, "And Akane had a few words with her."

"Surprised she turned down some profit, even so," Hiroshi said.

Akari giggled to herself as she watched the young man slowly rouse himself, and look blearily around the room, before he finally focused on her where she was kneeling at the table.

"What happened?" the man asked, as he pulled himself up to sit opposite her, noticing a formal tea set with steam rising from the cups already poured.

"You fainted when I kissed you," Akari replied.

"I didn't faint, guys don't faint," the young man said, indignantly.

Akari tittered, and then said, "Fine, you passed out."

"That's better," the young man said.

"Shall we introduce ourselves?" Akari asked.

"Um, of course, I'm Ryoga Hibiki," the now named young man said.

"And, I'm Akari Unryu," Akari said, "As you may have surmised from my note."

"Why me?" Ryoga asked.

"Excuse me?" Akari replied.

"Why did you kiss me? Why did you say I won?" Ryoga clarified.

"Ah I understand why you may be confused. For generations, my family has raised champion sumo wrestling pigs," Akari replied, "The pig you defeated was Katsunishiki, the fourteenth Yokozuna of Pigdom. Before he died, my father said, 'Akari, find yourself a strong man. I will not allow you to consider any man until he has defeated the Yokozuna, Katsunishiki.' Those were his dying words to me. But, I never found even a single man who could hold his own against Katsunishiki. That is until you." She blushed, and added, "Please, I am being a poor hostess. We should drink our tea, and then I am sure you would wish to bathe and recover from your long journey. I can see that you have been on the road for several days. Then, we may break our fast."

Ryoga had started blushing as she spoke, so he contented himself with sipping gingerly from the delicate cup, allowing the brief moment to let him recover, as this was the first time that he could remember a beautiful girl wanting to be with him. Finally, he set his cup down, and asked, "What does beating your pig actually mean?"

Akari blushed once more and bowed her head shyly. After a few moments, she said, glancing up at him through her eyelashes, "Um, that I am your fiancée."

"Fiancée!" Ryoga exclaimed, before collapsing once more to the floor in a dead faint.

Akari sighed, and said, "Well, that went well. I suppose I should start on dinner, and make sure the furo is warm." She rose gracefully to her feet, padded over to her fiancé and made him comfortable on the floor, placing a pillow under his head, and tucking a blanket around him, before leaving the room.

"We're home!" Akane called as she and Ranma entered the house, before slipping out of their shoes, and placing them in the cubbies next to the door.

Ranma blinked back tears, as he spotted the cubby with his name neatly printed above it.

"That's Kasumi for you," Akane said, briefly hugging the somewhat emotional teen, until he regained his composure.

"So schoolwork first, or do I wear you out in the dojo?" Ranma asked, squeezing her briefly and then backing away.

"Schoolwork, I think, at least some of it. That's what I usually do at first, since Kasumi likes to talk about how things went while she putters around in the kitchen," Akane said, "and there are almost always cookies."

"Cookies? Then let's go find Kasumi," Ranma said, pulling Akane around the corner and down the hall towards the kitchen.

Kasumi stepped into the hall, a large plate of cookies, as well as three glasses of milk, sitting on a tray. "It's such a pretty day, I thought we would sit on the engawa, and we could talk," she said, leading them through the family room, and then slid the shoji doors apart, exposing the outer veranda, which had already had the shoji doors slid apart, allowing them to see down to the koi pond.

The three of them sat down next to the steps leading down to the lawn, and dangled their legs over the porch. Ranma had looked conflicted for a moment, before he sat down with Akane between him and Kasumi, since he was eying the cookies rather anxiously.

After allowing the two youngsters to eat a few cookies to ease their hunger, Kasumi asked, "So how did it go?"

"Well, I think it went pretty good," Akane replied, after trading looks with Ranma.

"Everyone but that Kuno idiot seemed to get the message that Akane was off-limits now," Ranma added, "I had to take him out twice already, but I doubt that it soaked in yet. In fact, for some reason, he seems to think that I'm some sort of sorcerer because I manage to defeat him."

"That family has never been sane ever since their mother died, and their father disappeared," Kasumi said, sadly, "Such a shame really, because Tatewaki was such a pleasant boy in primary school, and his sister Kodachi was a delight as well." She sighed then, and after a few moments asked, "What are your plans for the afternoon? Remember we do need to take Ranma out shopping."

Ranma replied, "There's a ton of homework, and we need to do some training. Just because Father isn't here, I can't slack off on that, and I promised to work with Akane, so we need to do that for several hours."

"Well, maybe we should get the shopping out of the way first, and then do homework until dinner, then we could train until close to bedtime," Akane suggested, "Not all of the homework has to be done today, since some of it is due at the end of the week."

"That sounds like the makings of a plan," Ranma said, looking askance at Kasumi who had snagged up the last cookie.

"In that case, young lady, you need to go change," Kasumi said, with a grin.

"Actually, I need to get the school uniform, according to my teacher," Ranma replied, glancing down at his current male form.

"We can still do both. Get you some appropriate clothing for your true form, as well as some for your male form," Kasumi said.

Akari returned to the family room and giggled as the same scene repeated itself as Ryoga slowly roused and glanced around the room before spotting her.

"Don't tell me I fainted again," Ryoga said, as he sat up.

"No, you just passed out," Akari replied, with a grin. She blushed and said, "I took the liberty of looking in your backpack, and well, all of your clothes are in the washer, since they all looked like they had been worn several times. Also, I saw that they were in need of some mending."

"It's a bit hard to do laundry when you wander the wilderness like I do," Ryoga said, "So thank you for your kindness."

"I'm your fiancée, I should take care of you," Akari said.

"About that, do you really want me like that?" Ryoga asked.

Akari replied, "Of course I do. You're kind and considerate, strong, good-looking, what's not to like."

Ryoga reddened, and said, bashfully, "Really?"

"Really," Akari replied, as her grandfather tottered in carrying a glass.

The elderly gentleman tripped over a joint between two of the wood planks in the floor, and spilled water everywhere, including over Ryoga, who promptly disappeared.

A small pig ran toward an open doorway, hoping to disappear.

Akari glanced around and then moved to the closet, turning on the light, and spotted a small pig wearing a familiar bandana. "Ryoga?" she breathed, reaching for the cowering piglet.

The small pig moved quickly, only to be snagged by the inquisitive young woman. "Ryoga, is this really you?" she asked, gazing at the pig she was holding in her hand.

Ryoga nodded his head.

"Are you really a pig that turns into a man? Akari asked.

The pig shook his head violently.

"Then what triggers the change?" Akari asked, "Wait, water triggered it. No, not just water, cold water. Then.." She moved quickly through a couple of doors and entered the bathing chamber, where she started to toss the pig she was carrying against her breast into the furo, only to stop. "No, that would not be appropriate, I'd have to drain the tub and draw a new bath if I dumped him in before he rinsed off," she said, "Mother would have been mortified by my lack of judgement." Quickly setting the pig down on the floor, but not noticing the faint trickle of blood coming from its snout, she filled a pail with water from the tub and poured it over the comatose pig, which quickly transformed into the now naked form of her fiancé.

Ryoga came to with the splash of water, and sat up, only to redden quickly as he realised that he was now nude, and in the presence of a girl. Quickly he covered his groin with his hands and exclaimed, "Akari, I'm naked here. This isn't right."

"You poor man!" Akari cried, ignoring him, "But at least you change into that most noblest of animals. Honestly, you are the first perfect man that I have met. Get on the stool, and you can start getting rid of that road dust."

Ryoga stared at her in shock.

With a happy squeal, she left the room, while Ryoga quickly scrambled to his feet, grabbing a towel to cover himself with, only for her to return, though now she was dressed only in a robe, that hinted at her charms.

Unfortunately for Ryoga, that was enough to cause his nose to once more drip blood.

"I know this will sound odd, but since I have spent my entire life here on the farm, I can only compare you to the creatures I admire most. Obviously, since you defeated my champion, you are as strong as a pig," Akari said, as she pushed him onto the stool.

Ryoga sat there in shock, as she poured warm water over his body, and started scrubbing his back with a brush, and regaled him with a litany of praise, "You are as robust as a pig, kind as a pig, smart as a pig, exciting as a pig, and as handsome as a pig. Oh, I never dreamed that I would meet a man so much like a pig. You are perfect for me!"

The dazed young man roused himself slightly as she began to wash his hair, and closed his eyes as she rinsed him off.

"You can finish the rest," Akari said, "While I go work on dinner, you can soak in the tub, and relax any of those tired, road-worn muscles, and then when you are ready, there's another yukata in the changing area that you can put on for dinner. I'll come get you when I get a chance." She once again shocked herself with her boldness by placing a chaste kiss on his lips, before skipping out of the chamber.

Ryoga sat stunned on the stool, only rousing as the air slowly chilled around him. Remembering what she said, he stepped over to the furo, and slowly slid into the hot water.

Ranma gazed at the frozen concoction sitting in front of him, nearly in awe at the splendid sight. Visibly restraining himself, he grumbled slightly, "This won't taste as good when I'm in my cursed form. I still don't understand why you wanted me to change back after we were done clothes shopping." He glanced over at the several sacks, containing his school uniforms, and a set of cute skirts and tops, and sport bras that he had selected while female.

Kasumi sighed and answered, "Because this is who everyone needs to think of you, that is if this whole thing is going to work out."

"If I suddenly start hanging around with another girl, my other friends will find out, and wonder who you are," Akane added, "This way, they just think I'm on an outing with my sister, and my new fiancé."

Ranma sighed, and took a bite of his chocolate sundae. "I guess I can understand that, but I am so changing back when we get to your house," he said, "This just feels so wrong being in this body."

"It's your home now, also, Ranma," Kasumi said, her face suddenly serious.

Ranma swallowed heavily, and replied, "You don't know how that sounds." He ducked his head down for a moment to regain his emotional control. "Well, I don't want to sound ungrateful. Seriously, I need to thank you for taking me shopping, big sister Kasumi, but I pray that I am not a burden for your family," he said, before swallowing a second spoonful of his sundae.

Kasumi grinned at her, and said, "I am honoured that you consider me your big sister, and I, no we, enjoyed it, right Akane?"

Akane smirked, and replied, "Absolutely. It was fun playing dress-up with both of you."

"And as far as you being a burden, well, while we are far from rich, Father does get a decent stipend being a town councilman, and with the investment income, we do okay," Kasumi added.

"Not to mention, most of the merchants give us a discount because they like Kasumi," Akane said, with a grin at her sister.

"Of course they do," Ranma teased, "What's not to like about her."

Kasumi reddened, and then said, "Hush you."

"I insist on helping around the house," Ranma said.

"You already are helping," Kasumi noted, "What with your actions to help Akane. But, certainly, I wouldn't object to someone else doing some of the housekeeping."

"I can help with the cooking, also," Ranma added, "I do know my way around a kitchen. While I can't do anything fancy, I did do all of the cooking for Pop and I while we were on the road." He chuckled grimly, and added, "It was either do that or starve. I swear Pop could burn water."

Akane snarled, "Game face, Ranma. Incoming girlfriends at two o'clock."

Ranma glanced over and spotted the two girls that Akane had eaten lunch with flirting with the clerk at the ice cream counter, and sighed. "'They're your friends, Akane, maybe we should tell them the truth," he suggested.

Akane sighed in return and said, sadly, "I wish we could, but Yuka can't keep a secret to save her life. If she finds out, the entire school will know in seconds."

Kasumi grinned and added, "The only two things to travel faster than light. Starships and gossip."

Akane groaned and said, "Quoting from Mission to Space now." At the blank look on Ranma's face, she explained, "An American television show called Star Trek from the 1960's that for some reason Kasumi fell in love with when it aired here."

"I'm was a Trekker, get over it. Besides, George Takei was something," Kasumi said, blushing slightly, "And I was very young."

By that time, the two girls had finally noticed Akane waving at them, and rushed over.

"You are so lucky Akane," Yuka squealed, "Landing such a hot fiancé."

"Down girl," Akane snapped, "Or Ranma will think you're nothing but a fan girl."

Sayuri chirped, "Okay, who are you and what happened to the Akane that hated boys?"

Kasumi giggled, and said, "She does have a point there, little sister."

Akane reddened, and turned to Ranma. "Ranma, these giggling fools were my best friends, Yuka Amiya, and Sayuri Sato. Yuka, Sayuri, this is my fiancé Ranma Saotome," she said flatly.

"I would have thought they got all of that out of their system while they were badgering you at lunch," Ranma said, easily, "But it is a pleasure to meet the two of you, at least so long as you stop annoying Akane." He grinned to take the sting out of his words, and added, "This relationship is very new to both of us, so I imagine we'll be a little touchy about remarks like that for a while."

"So are the two of you really going to get married?" Sayuri asked, slipping into one of the empty chairs next to Akane.

Ranma glanced over at Akane and then shrugged. "We agreed to at least accept the engagement that our fathers established before we were born," he said, finally, "But we just barely know each other, so who's to tell when the time comes. I'm sure I'm speaking for Akane when I say that we both wish to love the one we marry."

"Then why get engaged then?" Yuka asked, clearly puzzled.

The engaged couple exchanged looks for a moment, and then Ranma replied, "Well, first of all, what our fathers agreed to was for a Saotome to marry a Tendo, so in theory, I could have been engaged to any of the three girls. Kasumi is three years older than I, which wouldn't have necessarily bothered me."

"But I think younger men are so boring," Kasumi interrupted, straight-faced.

"On the other hand, they are still teachable," Ranma retorted, grinning, "You could have trained me up right."

Yuka and Sayuri glanced back and forth at the two of them, before Kasumi giggled.

Ranma snickered and continued, "Nabiki quite frankly wasn't interested in me. I'm so not her type."

At that statement, Akane and Kasumi nearly lost it.

"Right, you're just a poor martial artist," Akane interjected.

"Exactly," Ranma replied, grinning, "And then that leaves Akane. We actually have several things in common, since we are the respective heirs to our branch of the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts. We like a lot of the same things, and I do like her, so that's a plus."

"And I like Ranma, so that helps me accept this as well," Akane added.

"And then there's the whole situation with Kuno and his entourage," Ranma finished, his eyes flashing, "That tipped it as far as I was concerned. If our engagement gets that fixed, then I'm good with it."

"You don't honestly think that you two getting engaged will stop the morning battle, do you?" Sayuri asked.

"It should scare off most of them, I would think," Akane said.

"Especially with how I took care of the chief prick," Ranma growled.

Yuka and Sayuri exchanged looks, and then Yuka asked, "Don't you think you might have gone too far with him?"

"Look at the situation; he's attempting to force Akane to 'date' him. I think what he is doing is just short of sexual assault, girls, and that's frankly disgusting," Ranma said, his eyes cold, "And I will never allow that to happen when I can stop it."

"Stop it? What do you mean by that, Ranma?" Kasumi asked.

"Well, apparently the school authorities won't do anything about him, right?" Ranma asked in return.

"Father has complained to the principal, but he said there was nothing that he could do. Boys will be boys after all, is the response we got," Kasumi said, flatly.

"And do either of you think that Akane enjoys the morning battle?" Ranma asked.

Yuka and Sayuri shook their heads quickly. Sayuri added, "No, she hates it, we all know that."

"No woman should ever have to experience what Akane has been put through. So, it ends now," Ranma said, in a voice that would freeze hydrogen.

"But what can you do?" Yuka asked.

"I can continue with what I started," Ranma replied. He sneered, "And since pretty boy Kuno is the source of the problem. Well, if he doesn't back off, he starts losing body parts, end of story. And I will ensure that he has no use for women ever again."

An uncomfortable silence fell among the five of them for a moment, until Yuka asked, "So what did you buy?"

Ranma glanced over at the several bags sitting on the floor next to him, and replied, "Well, we went shopping for my school uniforms. The teacher was kind enough to let it slide for today, but I didn't want to keep relying on his kindness. And it's not like I could borrow one of Akane's." He chuckled and added, "Just don't have the legs for it, after all."

"And I found a few things to update my wardrobe," Akane added, "A couple of tops, a skirt or two, and Ranma pointed out that I needed some sport bras for training."

"There are a handful of things for me, also, since life on the road is not kind," Ranma added with an easy chuckle.

"Sport bras?" Yuka asked.

"Akane was a little distracting the last time we sparred," Ranma replied evenly, "I clipped her just a bit harder than I intended because she wasn't properly restrained."

Akane snorted. 'You are so going to suffer for that comment,' she thought.

Kasumi smiled to herself, "She plays the game well."

Author's Note: A Merry Christmas to all my readers. I hope all of you have a wonderful season. And for those who wonder, this will be one of the few times Ryoga shows up in this story,