Adamantine Mist
By M. Zephyr

Disclaimer: Ranma 1/2 is a trademark of Rumiko Takahashi and VIZ Communications, and its characters have been borrowed without permission. This story was written for non-commercial purposes only.

Akane and Ranma call off the engagement, and Kasumi decides it's time to take matters into her own hands.

You are warned, from the start, that this story is filled with angst and sadness. If you manage to struggle through to the end of the final chapter, I hope you will feel that the journey has moved you strongly. If this warning hasn't stopped you, then buckle your seat belt and prepare yourself for the ride.

Chapter 1. Announcement

Kasumi Tendo, eldest of the three daughters of Soun Tendo, was alone in her own bedroom, and no one even noticed. She lay on her bed, propped up by several pillows, a book open on her lap. The lamp above her right shoulder illuminated the page, for all the good it did. The only thing visible to her at the moment was in her own mind, her thoughts far away and a couple of hours in the past.

Two hours. Two hours in which the embers of her fury had shown no sign of dimming.

No one in either family living under the Tendo roof had perceived her state of mind. Her eyes, her voice, her entire demeanor had been as calm as it ever was, while she cleaned up the wreckage. None of the players in the little household drama had yet guessed that they had thrown the final straw.

As such things always did, the catastrophe had centered around the engagement between Kasumi's youngest sister Akane, and Akane's fiancé Ranma Saotome. The two stubborn, proud, immature eighteen year olds had been fighting over their engagement ever since it had been forced on them two years previously. There were times when they seemed to accept the arrangement, but heaven forbid anyone say so openly. Shouted denials were the tamest of the likely results.

And thus today. Like some form of self-inflicted torture, Kasumi's thoughts replayed for the hundredth time the events from earlier that afternoon, as lunch ended ...

"Ranma! Akane! We have something for you!"

All eyes turned toward the two men standing there, grinning. Ranma's father, Genma Saotome, and Akane's father, Soun Tendo, bosom companions whose combined I.Q. was somehow less than the sum of its parts. Perhaps even less than either individually. The two teenagers groaned in unison at the realization that yet another scheme to get them together was about to be thrust upon them.

"Pop, whatever it is, forget it. I mean it." Ranma uttered this in already defeated tones, knowing it would be useless.

"Nonsense boy," Genma said stoutly. "Believe me, you'll both thank us for this." He held a piece of paper in his hands.

"What is that?" asked Akane, in tones which strongly suggested she'd rather not know.

"Reservations for both of you," Soun told them cheerfully. "At a hotel. A chance to, ah, enjoy yourselves."

Nabiki had stealthily approached from behind, and now peered over Genma's shoulder. "One room," she announced, amused. Then her eyebrows lifted, recognizing the name from having walked past a few times. "The Hotel Eros? A love hotel?! For these two?! You've got to be kidding!"

Akane and Ranma both jumped to their feet, faces blazing. They instantly reacted to their mutual embarrassment in the manner dictated by long habit.

"Are you crazy!" Akane shouted. "You think I'd let that perverted freak touch me?!"

"Like I would!" Ranma yelled in return. "Why the hell would I want to go someplace like that with a sexless tomboy like you?!"

"I suppose you'd rather go with that bimbo Shampoo!" Akane responded heatedly.

"Yeah?" Ranma searched for an answering insult. "Well, you'd probably go with your little pig P-chan!"

"You ...! You ...!" Unable to think of any insult cutting enough, Akane resorted to expressing herself through action. She grabbed the teapot off the table and heaved it at Ranma, who dodged and stuck out his tongue. A bowl followed, shattering on the wall as Ranma ducked underneath, laughing. Several other dishes suffered a similar fate.

Then Akane lifted the entire table and threw it at her aggravating fiancé. He darted to the side in time for it to miss. Their fathers weren't so lucky. The two men managed to catch the table, but they staggered under its weight, falling backward, smashing through the wall behind them.

"Nyah, nyah," Ranma taunted. "Little Miss Tomboy. Can't hit the side of Mount Fuji."

Akane grabbed the katana from beside Ranma's startled mother, Nodoka. Not truly thinking of mutilation, she left it in its sheath, wielding it like a club. The chase went around the room a couple of times, with one of the shoji to the outside being torn down and a hole knocked in another wall. Ranma slipped through the doorway into the hall.

Kasumi watched it all in familiar dismay, already making plans for the people she would need to call to effect repairs. She followed after the pair slowly, hoping she could find soft words which might bring them to their senses.

As she reached the doorway, her concern magnified into outright worry to see that the chase had gone into the kitchen. Her kitchen. Akane swung and Ranma danced aside, with a taunt about over-muscled and clumsy girls. Snarling in rage, Akane swung again. Her target dodged again, but for once the ever graceful Ranma was anything but. His foot slipped out from under him. Falling, grabbing wildly, his flailing arm caught the drain rack on the counter. Kasumi could do nothing but watch in horror as several dishes therein were shattered by the collision.

Several China dishes. That shattered along with her heart.

China dishes which Kasumi's deceased mother had received, many years ago, as a wedding gift.

China dishes which Kasumi had used to serve refreshments to some visiting friends, earlier that morning.

Then, as if to compound felony upon felony, both Akane and the still unbalanced Ranma grabbed for the drain rack at the same time, trying to prevent it from falling to the floor. In doing so, they only succeeded in knocking it into a book on the counter, which promptly slid into the sink, a sink full of water.

Her mother's cookbook.


In ink which no one was ever going to read again.

Kasumi found herself unable to utter a sound. Not that any sound would have sufficed. Shouted curses, cries of grief, screams of pain - none of it could possibly be enough. As Akane finally succeeded in knocking Ranma head over heels with her improvised club, Kasumi walked over in silence and fished the book out of the water. She carefully peeled the pages apart, only to confirm that no more than one word in three was still legible.

Behind her the shouting reached a crescendo, as Ranma staggered to his feet holding a hand to the lump forming on his head. Like some inverted simultaneous climax, both Akane and Ranma shouted that their engagement was over. They stormed off in opposite directions, ignoring the mess they left behind. No further sound was heard from either.

Moving mechanically, Kasumi swept up the shards of pottery and threw them in the trash. She contemplated the book for several interminable minutes, before dropping it in with the discarded shards. Then she walked up to her room, still in utter silence, closed the door behind herself, sat down on her bed, and tried to think of something, anything, else.

She hadn't succeeded.

Her fury had not been eased by the contemplation of where to assign blame. There was all too much blame to go around.

Akane and Ranma might be eighteen and seniors in high school, but they still acted like children. They had indulged themselves in this dance of engagement for two years now, refusing to advance, ignoring attempts to pull them apart, causing chaos all around.

Their fathers Soun and Genma were like children themselves. Always scheming, always causing trouble between the couple. Ranma's mother, Genma's wife, Nodoka had at first blithely helped the two men in their troublemaking, although she had lately become more reticent, at least to judge from her constantly pursed lips.

Akane's and Kasumi's other sister, Nabiki, liked to cause trouble for trouble's sake. Not to mention the money she could make therefrom.

There were other people in Nerima who contributed. Indeed, it was hardly a short list. Shampoo, Ukyo, Kodachi, Tatewaki, Mousse, Ryoga, Cologne, Happosai, and others.

Doctor Tofu. Well, no, he wasn't to blame for any problems in Akane's and Ranma's relationship. But he was certainly to blame for not, well, ... he was just to blame.

Nor did Kasumi spare herself. She reflected bitterly that she could have tried mediating matters long ago, if it weren't that she felt it her duty to defer to her father's wishes. Now look what that had brought her.

No. Blaming people was useless. What was done was done, and no wishes or prayers would undo it. But no more. It was time to end this, once and for all! It would be painful. It wouldn't be the way she had wanted things to happen. But it was clear there was no longer any choice. Kasumi Tendo had a duty to her family, and she would see that duty through.

Supper drew to a close, and most members of the Tendo and Saotome families sighed contentedly, taking a few final sips of tea. Akane and Ranma, on the other hand, looked anything but content, both of them sitting stiffly, careful to avoid contact and pointedly ignoring each other. Neither of them had any intention of being the first to reinstate the engagement.

Kasumi cleared her throat delicately. "I have some announcements to make," she said quietly into the expectant silence.

Everyone's eyes turned to the eldest of the trio of sisters, wondering what to expect. Was the hot water broken again, perhaps? Or had some representatives of the community made an appointment to come by and speak to the martial artists in the room? Or maybe laundry day was to be changed?

"As we all know," Kasumi began, "an agreement was made to unite the Tendo and Saotome families through marriage, to ensure the legacy of the Tendo dojo."

Akane and Ranma both winced, lowering their eyes. The beginnings of smiles appeared on Soun's and Genma's faces. Was Kasumi going to add her own voice to the call for Akane and Ranma to marry soon?

"Unfortunately," Kasumi continued, "Akane and Ranma-kun appear to be irrevocably opposed to this arrangement. They have resisted it from the beginning, and both announced today that they refuse to adhere to it."

Soun's and Genma's faces fell. Nabiki looked curious. Nodoka faintly worried. Akane and Ranma lifted their eyes back up to face Kasumi, their expressions confused, not comprehending her words.

"Nonetheless," Kasumi went on remorselessly, "the agreement between the families still exists. The honor of the Tendo family demands that we fulfill our obligation. Since Akane is unable to do so, it is clearly my duty as the oldest daughter to take her place. Tomorrow, Ranma and I will announce our engagement publicly. We will get married on the earliest feasible date, which I have determined will be one month from now, on Sunday the twentieth, two days after the end of the school term."

She fell silent. Nobody else filled the void left in the wake of her words. Even Nabiki was too shocked to give voice to her surprise over this circumstance.

Kasumi's hand under the table was tightly gripped around a single shard of porcelain, its sharp edges pressing painfully against her flesh as she squeezed. It was a remnant of the shattered china dishes, pulled out of the bin when she came downstairs to prepare dinner, retrieving it to serve as a reminder of why she would do what she had chosen to do. Kasumi had taken it in her hand when she began her announcement, and had held it firmly throughout, to hold her to her course like a talisman.

As brains slowly began to function again, the fathers found themselves wondering if this might indeed work out better after all. Nodoka was looking back and forth between Kasumi and her son in worry, thinking of what she had observed of each of their hearts. Nabiki caught her breath, glad beyond description that the burden had not been dumped on her, as she had learned her lesson the one time she had pretended to accept the engagement.

The biggest reactions were within the two youngest, kneeling side by side and, somehow, closer together. Both felt as if an abyss had just opened at their feet, and they were falling, dizzy, unsure.

Ranma thought to himself, ‹But ... but ... Akane's my fiancée. Kasumi's my ... she's like my big sister. I can't marry her. That's just wrong.›

Akane couldn't find words in her mind to express her thoughts. She was just conscious of a deep sense of loss, and wailing over a sisterly betrayal. Her mouth opened. "But ..." Nothing else came out. She didn't know what word should come next.

Kasumi looked at Akane sharply. "Do you wish to object? Do you wish to tell us that you will marry Ranma?"

Ranma's head swiveled quickly to look straight at Akane, eyebrows lifted. He couldn't, wouldn't, tell her what words he wanted to hear her speak, but perhaps he could hope.

Akane saw Ranma staring at her, self assured, acting like he knew what she would say. Her lips firmed into a hard line. "No. If you want this jerk, you can have him."

Ranma's own jaw set and his eyes flashed. "Fine!" he ground out. "At least this way I'll be able to eat what my wife cooks!"

Akane's teeth clenched and red spots of anger appeared on her cheeks. With a huff she tossed down her napkin, stood, and stormed out of the room, stomping up the stairs. Ranma spun to his feet a moment later, marching out of the room into the hall. Seconds later the people left in the room heard the back door slam, and guessed correctly that he was headed out to the dojo.

"Are you sure about this, oneechan?" Nabiki asked quietly.

"Yes," Kasumi replied firmly, with no sign of doubt in her voice. "The madness must be stopped. If this is the only way, then so be it."

The elder sister might have no doubt in her voice, but Nabiki had plenty of doubts in her eyes as she climbed to her feet and left the table. Kasumi pretended not to notice.

The next morning Nabiki took off bright and early, so she could swing by Furinkan high school before heading off to the university. This new development wouldn't be secret for long, so she had to strike while the iron was hot if she wanted to turn the biggest profit possible. She was already calculating how much to charge and which people to approach first, even as she cursed herself for being too stunned to start last night.

Out of long habit, Akane and Ranma left the house together. They walked to school in total silence. Walked, not ran. Both of them were dragging their feet, as if in a dream. Ranma even walked on the sidewalk, not up on the fence, despite the fact that their last words to each other the previous evening had been spoken in anger.

From time to time their eyes would slide over to observe the other peripherally. By chance, they never caught the other at it. Their thoughts were similar, wondering how they had gotten into this situation. Wondering how long the other person was going to wait before fixing it.

Nabiki primed several of her unofficial aides with the facts to be sold to any interested parties, before she finally spotted her primary target. As nonchalantly as she could manage, which was very nonchalant indeed, the ex-high school student approached Ukyo Kuonji as the latter walked along the hallway toward her homeroom. The okonomiyaki chef, Ranma's so-called "cute" fiancée, looked up with pursed lips at the approach of Akane's older sister.

"Let's cut to the chase," Ukyo said sharply. "How much is your information going to cost me?"

Nabiki placed a hand over her heart. "You wound me. Can't I have just wanted to visit old friends?"

Ukyo frowned unhappily. "You got up early enough - and this is you we're talking about, remember - to make a special trip here before catching the subway to your university classes. Something big must be up."

Nabiki sighed. "That's the trouble with the world today. Nobody takes the time for courtesy in business dealings anymore. Very well. Three thousand yen, please." She held out a hand.

The young chef raised an eyebrow. "It must be big. This had better be worth it." She fished out her money and peeled off three bills.

The mercenary Tendo took the money and pocketed it, saying, "Have I ever overcharged you? Don't answer that." Ukyo's mouth, half open to answer the first question, closed again with a smirk.

Crossing her arms in front of her chest, Nabiki cocked her head slightly and began. "It started with another fight between Akane and Ranma. A big one, the sort that involved structural damage. They both ended up calling off the engagement."

Nabiki paused, but Ukyo just continued watching her, bored. She'd heard nothing new so far.

Her mouth twisting wryly, Nabiki went on. "For some reason, Kasumi decided to take it seriously. Very seriously. To be blunt, Ranma and Akane really are no longer engaged. Ranma is now engaged to Kasumi. It's to be announced today, and the wedding is to take place right after the school term ends."

Ukyo no longer looked bored. Her jaw was hanging, and her eyes were open very wide. Then she snapped her mouth shut and narrowed her eyes. "This is just another trick, right? I remember your engagement to Ranchan."

Nabiki shrugged. "I suppose it depends on whether you believe Kasumi would be involved in such a trick. She told me she was serious. I believe her words were, 'If this is the only way to stop the madness, then so be it.' If she sends out wedding invitations, I'll be convinced."

The cross-dressing high school student turned away to hide her worried expression, not that it did any good. She quietly got out, "Thanks for the information," then stood there chewing on her lip while listening to the footsteps recede. The problem was that it was very difficult to imagine Kasumi Tendo playing a practical joke on anyone, and if she was serious ...

Ranchan would never hurt Kasumi. No one would ever hurt Kasumi. She could go and plead with him to marry her instead, but if Kasumi insisted, would he, could he, turn the eldest Tendo sister away? Ukyo looked down at herself, at the uniform she wore. What chance, honestly, would she have in a contest for Ranma's heart against a woman who was practically the living archetype of the Japanese feminine ideal? One thing was certain - the word "uncute" would never fall from Ranma's lips in reference to Kasumi Tendo.

She would have to speak with Ranchan, as soon as possible. Find out what he was thinking, whether this was serious. And pray, pray that it wasn't. Because she was suddenly much more worried than she had ever been while Ranma was engaged to Akane.

Nabiki made one more stop before boarding the subway. The Kuno home. Ever since graduation, Tatewaki Kuno spent most of the hours of his days in his private gymnasium, practicing his kendo. Every other day or so he would emerge at either the beginning or end of the school day to challenge Ranma Saotome. Later, he would pick himself up off the ground and trudge back home, to tend to his injuries and practice some more. This particular morning found him still at home.

"Kuno-chan!" Nabiki caroled, as soon as a servant opened the door to admit her. "I've got some information for you!"

Tatewaki entered the room a minute later, dabbing genteelly at his forehead with a folded towel. "What brings you here this day, mercenary?" the young man inquired of her wearily.

The girl hid her scowl behind a bright smile. "News about Akane's engagement to Ranma. News that you will definitely want to hear. Which I'll tell you for the quite reasonable price of seven thousand yen."

Kuno sighed heavily, but dug into his pocket and emerged with a wallet. He handed over the requested amount wordlessly, and watched with disdain as Nabiki counted the money and then pocketed it.

Nabiki's smile was now broader, though not for the sake of the young man in front of her. It was solely for being seven thousand yen richer. Briefly she explained, "Akane and Ranma are no longer engaged. Ranma is now engaged to our older sister Kasumi. Akane is not engaged to anyone, now. Ranma and Kasumi are to be married in a month, which makes it sound pretty serious."

Tatewaki just stood there, staring off into space. Nabiki watched curiously, and finally observed the corners of his mouth slowly, very slowly, starting to turn upward. Growing impatient, she turned and saw herself out of the house. Just as the front door closed behind her, the young woman heard a piercing shout of "Banzai!" from within. She smirked and continued on her way. Glancing at her wristwatch, she hurried her steps in order to reach the subway in time.

Kasumi paused outside the glass door to take a deep breath. Crowds of pedestrians flowed past her just beyond on the sidewalk, their reflections visible in the glass before her. She examined her own face, the look of determination present upon it, and noted the wrinkle on her forehead with a frown. With an effort she forced herself to relax, allowing the wrinkle to disappear.

Stepping forward, the door swished open to admit her, then closed soundlessly behind. On the door, printed in large letters, were the words "The Asahi Shimbun." In smaller print underneath was the further statement, "Japan's Leading National Newspaper."

After briefly examining a directory, Kasumi made her way down a hallway and through a door marked "Lifestyle." She gave a small smile upon seeing the woman she had hoped to see, sitting behind one of the desks in the room. The woman had been a classmate of hers at Furinkan a few years ago. Kasumi strolled over smoothly, stood in front of the desk with both hands in front of her holding her purse, and quietly said, "Hello, Aoi-san."

The woman looked up, her face lighting with recognition. "Kasumi-san! What a nice surprise! Please, sit. What brings you here?"

Kasumi sat demurely in the chair on her side of the desk, then opened her purse and reached inside. "Something more of a surprise than you were expecting, I daresay," she told her old classmate in serious tones. "I'm going to be married soon." She handed over a slip of paper with printing on it, which the startled newspaper employee took without thinking. "Could you please see that this announcement appears in tomorrow morning's paper?"

Aoi looked down and read over the statement quickly. "Ranma Saotome? How come I haven't heard of this before? How long have you ... wait. Hang on. Ranma Saotome? Isn't he your sister's fiancé? I thought he was supposed to marry Akane-san."

Kasumi's smile became fixed. "I'm afraid there has been a change of plans. I will be the one to marry Ranma-kun. Just as it says there."

"But, are you ..." The woman paused, stopping herself short of rudely inquiring into affairs which were none of her business. She admitted to herself that she had always expected Kasumi Tendo to walk in here one day with an announcement of her engagement to a certain young doctor, but she could hardly ask about that either. Curiosity was eating her alive, but Kasumi's closed expression made it clear that answers would be politely non-forthcoming.

"The morning edition, you said?" she finally inquired, weakly.

"Yes, please," Kasumi nodded firmly. "Thank you very much. I'd like to stay and chat, but I'm afraid there's a great deal to do, and not very much time in which to do it. It's been very nice seeing you again."

Aoi stood and bowed, still feeling off balance. "It's been nice seeing you also, Kasumi-san. Please stop by again when you have time. I would very much enjoy talking with you again."

Kasumi's smile this time was more natural. "I would like that also. Until then." She serenely stood up from the chair, then turned and left the room.

Aoi stared blankly after her departing back for several long seconds before slowly sinking into her own chair. She quickly entered the information she'd been given into the computer. After a further pause to think things over, she lifted her telephone receiver and dialed. She felt the need to speak immediately with several old friends.

Ukyo had been watching Ranma in class all morning, and it had been clear to her that he was greatly distracted. He paid even less attention than usual to the teachers, and his eyes kept sliding over toward Akane. Moreover, Akane kept finding reasons to twist around in her seat, whereupon her eyes would seek out Ranma, although he was careful not to be looking in her direction at such times. It was a dance even more irritating to the watcher than their usual behavior.

When lunchtime arrived, Ukyo was out of her seat in an instant, standing beside her fiancé's desk. "Ranchan, could I, uh, speak to you?"

Ranma looked up at the serious expression on his friend's face, and paused in the act of grabbing his lunch, not bounding straight outside as usual. "Uh, sure. What's up?"

She noticed that the usual cheerful note was missing from his voice. "Not here," Ukyo said quietly, looking around nervously. "Could we go up to the roof?"

Ranma looked puzzled, but gamely replied, "Sure, I guess so."

He stood up, and they left the room together. Biting her lip, Akane's eyes trailed after as she picked up her own lunch. Making up her mind, she quickly slipped off after them.

A few minutes later up on the roof, Ranma opened his bento and began to eat while Ukyo paced back and forth. Coming to a determined stop in front of him, Ukyo turned to face Ranma and said, "Is it true?"

Ranma swallowed the rice in his mouth, looked up and asked, "Is what true?"

Through gritted teeth Ukyo asked, "Are you engaged to Kasumi now?"

The boy winced. How had she heard already? The answer came immediately, Nabiki. He looked around the roof for inspiration, catching a glimpse of a shoe around the corner of the stairway. He frowned, guessing immediately who had followed Ukyo and himself up to the roof.

"Yeah, I guess I am," he answered at last, still frowning. "It's not like I'm ever given a choice about these things."

"So then, you don't want to be engaged to her, right? I mean, you're supposed to marry me, you know." She was chewing on her lip as she said this.

Ranma looked up in worry, hearing the plaintive note in his friend's speech. He looked over to where Akane was hiding, wondering again how this had happened, and why Akane was being so stubborn about asking Kasumi to switch the engagement back. His gaze returned to the girl in front of him. "I ... it's not that easy, Ucchan. Kasumi ... well, she said we're gonna get married. It's ... it's not like I got any real choice. Nobody ever asks what I want. Not even you - you ain't ever asked what I want. I just do what I'm told."

Ukyo snorted. "Like hell you do what you're told." She chewed on her lip some more, then said, "Okay, I'm asking. What do you want?"

Ranma's eyes flicked over to the stairway again, causing a stabbing pain in Ukyo's heart. His answer held a measure of bitterness. "Don't bother asking. It don't matter, anyway." He looked down, then up again. "Hey, don't worry. I'm sure this'll all blow over soon. Things'll go back to normal." He raised his voice. "Just as soon as a stubborn tomboy admits she wants the engagement switched back."

This was too blatant to overlook. Akane stepped out of hiding, her eyes flashing. "So. I guess that means you want to be engaged to me again. Huh?"

"In your dreams, tomboy!" Ranma replied, voice still raised. "I'm perfectly happy the way things are. You're the one who can't live without me."

Akane put her fists on her hips. "You are so full of yourself, jerk! I'm glad we're not engaged anymore! I'm sure you and Kasumi will be very happy together."

Ranma put his hands behind his head, looking up. "Yep, I'm sure we will. Of course, we'll let you stay in our house until you graduate. Unless of course you change your mind about this."

"Ha!" Akane said forcefully. "That's just what you want! Well, if you want our engagement back, then you can be the one to tell Kasumi! 'Cause I'm not going to."

Their argument continued until the bell rang which signaled the end of lunch period. Neither of the two arguing teens noticed that Ukyo had slipped away much earlier, dabbing at the water trying to slide out of the corners of her eyes.

Tatewaki considered going to meet his true love as she emerged from her school that afternoon, but in the end decided he wished additional time to prepare. There was also the small problem that he had decided to partake of a fine wine to celebrate the changed circumstances, and was now feeling under the weather as a result of imbibing too large a quantity of alcohol. He was thus at home when his sister Kodachi returned from her own school.

When the door slammed, he called out weakly from his position of repose, "My demonic sister, must you treat our house with such violence?"

She spun on her heel with a glare. "The first year additions to the gymnastics club insisted on proving their incompetence today. I was forced to penalize them severely. And unless you wish for the same, you may keep your opinions to yourself."

Her brother waved his hand in the air lazily. "What you do with your minions is your own concern. However, if you will tread more peacefully, I have news which I believe will concern you greatly."

Kodachi frowned, eyeing her brother with little favor. Her welfare was not his concern, and the smile on his face did not by any means betoken any good thing for herself. "Go on," she said stonily, waiting.

His smile broadened. "It would seem that Ranma Saotome is no longer engaged to Akane Tendo," he told her, his voice caressing the words ecstatically.

Kodachi's heart leapt within her, but she forced it to settle again. Experience told her that there was more to come. "And?"

Tatewaki coughed. "Ah, yes, well. Although Akane-kun is now free to indulge her love for my wonderful self, it would seem that Saotome is now engaged to Kasumi Tendo, the eldest sister of my beloved."

His sister's eyes narrowed, trying to remember what she could of the Tendo daughter in question. "Kasumi Tendo is no fighter. She will scarce be able to defend her alleged claim to my Ranma-sama."

Tatewaki snorted. "That is your affair, although I believe Saotome may have something to say should you attack her openly. Just steer your schemes clear of my fierce tigress. If we do not cross paths, we will have no cause to interfere with each other's aims."

Kodachi chortled madly. "The pleasure I take in your pain is reason enough to trip you up. However, securing the love of my Ranma-sama is my first concern. I must go and ... take stock." She rubbed her palms together. "Yes, preparations are in order. Plans must be made. Ta ta, dear brother." She skipped out of the room.

Meanwhile word had spread among the students at Furinkan High School thanks to Nabiki's early morning activities, and those students were now dispersing. Many of them gathered in cafés, ice cream parlors and other after school hangouts to discuss the matter. Several betting pools were started for how long it would be before the engagement between Akane and Ranma was reinstated, with the majority selecting times in the next two or three days.

Ukyo did her best to ignore the conversations of this sort taking place at Ucchan's, her restaurant. Mostly she stayed back behind the grill and forced her waitress Konatsu to deal with the customers, while stoically pretending to hear nothing. She was, however, unable to prevent herself from shooting an evil glare in Konatsu's direction when he placed a wager on Akane and Ranma getting back together the day after tomorrow.

Over in the ramen restaurant known as the Nekohanten, the two Chinese Amazons serving the customers heard the same conversations. Mousse, a rival of Ranma, was unsure what to think of this development. It seemed to change very little from his point of view, since his beloved Shampoo still claimed Ranma as her husband. Beyond that, it made no difference to him which daughter of the Tendo household was engaged to the fiend Saotome.

That selfsame Shampoo, on the other hand, hurried back into the kitchen to tell her great-grandmother Cologne everything she had just overheard. Shampoo was at first inclined to be happy, for she knew that Kasumi Tendo was no fighter, and she had long had suspicions regarding her airen's feelings for Akane. Cologne was quick to throw ice water on this inclination, pointing out that the arranged marriage was a matter of duty, and Kasumi was cast far more in the traditional Japanese mold than was her sister Akane. The old woman forced her heir to return to the dining area while she pondered the possibilities and made some telephone calls to people she knew.

What the Amazon elder learned did not comfort her. The matriarch of the Tendo family was already moving to consolidate her position. An announcement of the engagement and upcoming wedding would appear in tomorrow's newspaper. Purchases and deals were already being entered into concerning the ceremony, which it appeared was scheduled to take place in only a month. She smoked a pipe contemplatively while she cooked, striving to deal with her severe puzzlement. These moves spoke of serious intent, yet she would have sworn that Shampoo's groom was in love with Akane Tendo, and vice versa. She could feel herself being pressured into a position where it would be necessary to take action soon, and yet action taken in the absence of understanding might prove disastrous.

In the end Cologne decided that she would pay a friendly call to the Tendo home tomorrow while the youngest members were in school. A relaxed conversation over tea might allow her to gain the answers to several of her questions. She could only hope that her great-granddaughter would do nothing foolish in the meantime.

Akane and Ranma had walked home from school together, pointedly ignoring each other, their shoulders almost touching. They stepped into the genkan, and Akane called out, "We're home!" while they traded their shoes for slippers.

Kasumi walked up to them carrying what proved to be a bridal magazine, open to a page showing various dress styles. "Oh, there you are," she said with a smile. "I'm trying to decide on the dress I want. Please tell me what you think, Ranma-kun." She forced the magazine into his resisting hands. "The announcement will appear in tomorrow's paper, and I made arrangements with the florist today. He was very sweet and offered us a substantial discount."

Akane and Ranma were both staring at Kasumi, bewildered.

Kasumi continued blithely. "Now Ranma-kun, I've made an appointment for you with the tailor tomorrow afternoon at four. To be fitted for your tuxedo. Make sure that you're there on time. Akane, you and Nabiki will be going with me the day after to select the bridesmaids' dresses. I want both of you as bridesmaids of course."

The elder sister smiled sunnily at both of them, then frowned ever so slightly. She tapped her finger on the page in Ranma's hands. "The dresses Ranma-kun. I asked for your opinion."

The boy looked down at the page in his hands, trying to see the dresses. His mind was whirling so hard it was difficult to see, or think, anything. He wasn't really getting married to Kasumi, was he? This was just until he and Akane made up. As soon as Akane stopped being stubborn, they'd be engaged again.

Akane was trying to swallow, but found her throat too dry to do so. Could Kasumi truly be serious? Was this for real? Did her sister truly plan to marry Ranma? Why wasn't the big jerk saying something? All he had to do was tell everyone he was supposed to be engaged to her, not Kasumi.

Ranma looked over at Akane. He raised an eyebrow.

Akane looked away.

Ranma looked back down at the magazine, lips thinning into a line. He tried to picture the dresses on Kasumi. They kept appearing in his mind's eye on Akane instead. Finally he pointed to one and said, "This one seems nice. I like it." He didn't mention that what he liked was the image of it on Akane. He figured if it looked good on her, it would probably look good on her sister as well.

"Thank you, Ranma-kun," Kasumi said in pleasure. "I believe that one will be lovely." She took the magazine back from his unresisting fingers.

Akane slowly turned and stared. Her mind tried to comprehend the fact that Ranma had just selected a wedding gown for Kasumi to wear when he married her. After a moment she stumbled away, finding the stairs blindly. Somehow she ended up in her room. Her schoolbag dropped unnoticed to the floor while Akane stared out the window, unseeing.

When Kasumi vanished back down the hall, Ranma climbed the steps slowly. This was some kind of dream, he thought to himself, something from which he'd awaken shortly. After all, it couldn't be happening, there was no way he was really marrying Kasumi. He walked into the guest room, ignoring his father and mother, then began to change his clothes. His mother quickly averted her eyes, while his father slapped him across the back of the head. The blow had no effect. Ranma continued to ignore them, completing the change of clothing and walking back out without ever saying a word.

Ranma entered the dojo with a feeling of relief. This was the one place where he was always sure of himself, where he always knew what to expect. No matter how much his life might be turned upside-down elsewhere, it wouldn't touch him here. He could be at peace in this, his final refuge.

The door at the end of the room slid open, interrupting his kata. Ranma slowly turned around to see who it was, half expecting Akane to be there demanding that he spar with her. Instead, he was shocked to the core of his spirit to see Kasumi, her hair tied back in a braid, wearing a gi.

"Ranma-kun?" Her words shattered the silence. "I believe that it's time to discuss my training."

Author's note:

The entirety of this story is already complete in first draft form. It will contain seven chapters once it is fully posted.

Related sites on the web: Please visit my profile page for information on upcoming chapters or stories, by clicking on my name at the top of this chapter. My profile also has links to my web site, LiveJournal site and forum. The web site contains the official versions of my stories. The LiveJournal site provides updates on what I am working upon at any given time. The forum is a place to discuss my stories or Ranma 1/2 in general.