In my Arms, In my Heart

Chapter 4

All is well

A moment later
Saotome Cottage

"Pleased to meet you, Akane. Sorry about the state of the house…" Ranma excused herself and dropped off her bag in the bedroom.

Returning to the living room, she just noticed that Nabiki was sitting at the table with her father, Soun, who was watching Ranma curiously.

"So, you must be Saotome, the owner of this home?"

Ranma bowed politely, "Yes, I am." Smiling she nodded at Nabiki, "I'm sorry, I had to work today, so I couldn't welcome you in…"

"No, no, please don't mind us." Soun got up and smiled good-naturedly, calming Ranma slightly, "It's funny, but I live with my old friend by the same name of Saotome. I'm just surprised my daughter managed to find this place."

Ranma laughed to herself, "Well, I saw Nabiki at work; she was looking at some listings for renting apartments. I served her a drink…"

"Long story short, I asked Ranko here if she knew of any cheap places to stay. She got on her lunch break, sat with me and told me about her home here." Nabiki leaned back in her chair, "And here I am, rent free."

"Well, you were always one for the bargains, daughter." Soun chuckled to himself.

Akane was watching Ranma carefully, her arms were folded.

"So, why are you living all alone out here? What about your parents?"

Ranma's pained look wasn't entirely faked, the shock of being suddenly asked that caused her to shake a little, "I… My parents…" She bit her lip and looked away, "They're gone. I'm an orphan…"

"Akane! How could you ask that so rudely?" Soun stormed upwards and marched to her, "Nabiki already told me everything about Ranko's background."

Akane turned her head down, and her brow began to redden.

"Apologise immediately, Akane." Soun ordered her. Ranma could have sworn that a miniature version of his ghostly aura manifesting in reality.

"S-Sorry, Ranko… I'm just not used to this yet… My sister leaving…"

"So what?" Nabiki stood up, "I'm older than you, I can make my own decisions on what I want to do in my life, Akane." Nabiki put an arm on Ranma's shoulder. "Imagine the life Ranko had before now, and to get this far."

Ranma acknowledged her warmth through the contact, "It's okay, Akane, I forgive you. It just hurt a little the way you said it…" Biting her lip again, Ranma sighed, "I'm going outside for a break, I'll be back soon, Nabiki."

Leaving through the back door, Ranma jogged to the forest, leaving the three in the house.

"Now you've done it, Akane…" Nabiki rubbed her head, "I just don't understand you sometimes. I know I've been away for a while, but what has gotten into you?"

Soun was shaking his head, "You've disappointed me, Akane. Nabiki is moving on with her life, despite my misgivings. As reluctant as I am, I have to accept this. So should you."

Akane tightened her lips, "I suppose you're right dad, Nabiki…" She looked out the window to the trees, "Things have been going strange back home, Kuno and I have been going out a little. I just don't know what is normal any more…"

Nabiki thought back to all the instructions implanted in their minds when Ranma left.

"Whatever it is, aren't things better than before?" Avoiding certain key phrases and names was hard. I'm not even sure I should mention Mount Phoenix, that itself may trigger a bad reaction.

"Yes, but you're gone…" Akane looked back at Nabiki, "Without you…"

"'Without me', what? You're doing fine, Kasumi is there also. Stop worrying and start living."

Akane turned sharply, "You're right, I…", She was about to say something else before stopping herself, "I'm going to find Ranko and bring her back here."

Dashing out before Nabiki could stop her, Soun smiled, "Looks like Akane's growing up finally."

"Yeah, that's right, Daddy."

"Now, let's have a look at the deeds while Akane brings back Ranko…"

Glancing out the window, Nabiki frowned.

A minute later

"Ranko!"

Akane yelled once she breached the trees. The dark was spreading faster as the sun was now just beyond the horizon, and the shade from the trees only made it worse.

A loud shout came from ahead, which brought her to her senses, leaping forwards, she was met with a rush of wind and scattered leaves.

"What the hell?" Bracing herself into the soft earth with her feet, she ran in further until she was met with a small clearing.

In the centre was a short redhead, huffing loud enough for Akane to hear.

"Ranko? Are you okay? I thought I heard you scream?"

Taking a few moments to turn around, she spoke, "Yeah, sorry, thought I saw a bear, but then I realised it's kind of rare to see them in these parts." She laughed to herself, putting her hand behind her head.

Akane took in the surroundings; a few trees were felled here, mostly stumps remaining. However the actual trees were still here, not having been taken away by loggers. The smell of slightly burning wood was in the air, as well as a large amount of sawdust.

"Ranko, this may sound like a stupid question, but did you knock down these trees yourself?"

Ranma swallowed carefully, "Umm, what are you talking about? How could anyone just punch a tree over? No one is that strong!" Shifting her foot carefully, she used her legs to hide an unmistakable fist impression in the bark of the tree lying on the ground behind her.

Feeling her heart beat harder, Ranma breathed out slowly once Akane nodded happily, "That's right, this isn't Nerima..." She walked up to the girl, "Ranko, I'm really sorry about back there."

Ranma was surprised at her genuine statement, "It's okay Akane, you don't know me and I don't know you. It's okay to ask questions like that if you don't know everything already."

"I know... But I said it wrong, and you got hurt because of that and everything related to it." She bowed her head, "I'm sorry."

Patting her short hair, Ranma smiled, "Akane, it's fine. I forgive you, for everything."

Tears began to well up, and Ranma didn't even notice until they fell across her cheeks.

"Huh... Why?" Wiping her eyes, Ranma didn't notice Akane come up and hug her.

"Sorry, Ranko... Nabiki is a good listener, I've been talking to her for many years... I'm sure she will be a good friend to you." Pulling back Akane gave her heart-warming smile, the one which always dazzled Ranma the scarce few times he saw it, "I've been depending on others to help me, but I think I need to do something for myself in future."

Holding Ranma's hand, she pulled her slightly, "Shall we go back to the house?"

"Y-Yeah..."

Allowing Akane to take the lead, they both walked and half-jogged back to the cottage.

Nabiki and her father were waiting outside, breathing the cool air.

"Ah, there they are."

Nabiki saw the contact between the two of them and smiled. So, I guess Ranma finally got closure of some sort...

Akane was shivering a little as they all went inside. Ranma saw this and returned from the bedroom to pull out a warm fleece to cover her with, which she was thankful for.

Afterwards, the conversation flowed naturally, Nabiki leading mainly about her new life, and Ranma describing her job too.

"You know, if those boys cause trouble, I'd be happy to teach you a few techniques to stop them from pestering you." Soun offered.

"I can help too, Shampoo is a waitress and does get some weird customers sometimes." Akane flexed her muscle in her arm.

"Akane, my dear sister, we want the customers to come back, not to leave with broken arms." Nabiki chided her jokily, which Soun chuckled at. Akane sat there and sulked for a moment.

"It's okay really." Ranma waved off their offers, "I have my own methods which are working well. Mostly just scaring them into not doing anything more." She started to grumble again.

"What's wrong, Ranko?" Akane asked.

"It seems that the same people are coming back though, it looks like what I do is attracting more guys to try things, just to get a reaction from me..." She grit her teeth, "I'm trying to not punch their faces in..."

Akane nodded, "Guys are strange, but you're only seeing the worst of them. If you can put up with them, then I'm sure that anything else will seem easy."

"True..." Ranma thought out loud.

Soun checked his watch, "Akane, it's time we were off to the hotel. We can't keep these two up late."

Ranma agreed sheepishly, "Yeah, I have the early morning shift. As it's Sunday I'm not working a full day."

Soun spoke, "Akane and I are going to the local council office to finalise some technical documents about this land. We don't need to see each other again, since I'm sure you're tired."

Nabiki was surprised, "Are you sure, I can accompany you if you want?" She looked at Akane, who shook her head.

"It's okay sis, take care of yourself and Ranko, you too." She waved as they left the house, "Keep in contact okay?"

"Will do, Kasumi knows how to get a hold of me." Nabiki waved back.

They walked to the nearest tiny road where a taxi was waiting for them, presumably Soun had prearranged a rendezvous. Ranma and Nabiki watched them drive off.

"Well, that was relatively painless." The latter spoke first.

"Yeah, relatively..." Ranma looked down before going to the kettle and pouring a small amount of warm water over her head.

"Still upset at what she said?" Nabiki came close behind him and rubbed his shoulders.

"No, not really..." He turned to face her, "She's doing much better now, and she's stronger without me there to drag her down. I'm happy for her."

"Idiot..." Nabiki poked him in the chest, "As the famous line doesn't go, it's not you, it's her. She followed your rules and wanted to become better, everything else happened naturally."

Ranma scratched his head, "I suppose... She really has changed though."

Nabiki pulled back slightly, "So you're thinking of getting back with her again?"

He shook his head immediately, "No, I know that she would get worse slowly. Perhaps because I was better than her at martial arts, or just because I had all the other girls around me."

Nabiki gave him a peck on the cheek, "Good boy. You're learning fast. One day you could be better than me!"

"Heh..." Ranma smirked to cover up his blush, "Well, there's plenty of time for that, it'll take a while."

"True..." She looked out the window, "Do you want to do a little more of that training? Learning the art again would help me as well."

"If you're up to it, no problem. We'll start with the easy things and work up." Ranma cracked his knuckles.

"No sparring yet, mister." She chided him, "Let me get back into the moves first before you start laying into me."

"Yes ma'am..." Ranma joked in reply as he opened the door to the chill, "Shall we?"

"We shall." Nabiki strode outside and sneezed the moment the wind hit her.

Monday

So, daddy was true to his word, he didn't visit us again on Sunday. He and Akane went to the council alone and presumably sorted out their business there.

Sighing, she twiddled her pen in the class. Given that it was maths, she wasn't struggling at all and had already completed the exercises given to them.

Work is closed today, end of the financial month apparently and they were doing an audit, so they didn't need the lesser employees around, just the bigwigs from the head office to tally up the figures.

The final bell went and the class got to their feet, happy to be rid of the first day of the week. Getting up also, Nabiki went to the front at her own pace to where Ranma was chatting to Yuko who had begun to hang around the two of them.

I'm not surprised by this fact, most girls in our class were interested in this newcomer, Yuko seemed to either be the most interested, or the one who inadvertently stopped others from placing their claim.

Nabiki saw girls from other classes whisper to themselves and glancing at Ranma.

Looks like the rumours are spreading already about an attractive transfer student, perhaps there'll be more queries in the future.

"Hey Nabiki!" Ranma half-shouted, waving broadly, Yuko giving a polite wave of the hand at the same time.

"So, what are you two chatting about?" Nabiki asked, feigning interest.

"Nothing, just about this silly TV show, Ranma hasn't heard of it. What about you, Nabiki?" Yuko was excited for some reason.

"I don't pay much attention to TV, sorry." Nabiki left it at that.

I don't want to go into details about how I don't even own one, and especially to avoid Yuko linking the two of us as sharing the lack of TV. She may think it odd and may eventually find out that we live together.

As they all left the school together, Nabiki continued thinking. This can't be good, the school knows my original home address in Nerima and they have Ranma's 'former orphanage' too. What if they start to query our current residences? We'll have to confess at that time... I need to find out a way of either giving rational explanation as to why two unrelated teenagers are sleeping together in the same house. Or I'll have to find a fake apartment where I can stay, but then I'll need enough to afford rent -

"Nabiki, are you okay, you look like you have a fever..." Yuko was staring at her face, noting the reddened forehead and sweat build-up from concentrating too much.

Nabiki calmed down, feeling her heart rate slow, and wiped away the sweat, "Yeah, maybe I am catching a cold..."

Ranma was staring at her, "Maybe you should sit down, you must be tired."

His concern was true, since they both trained for over thirty minutes the evening before, and Ranma knew it was cold even though his body was shielded from the elements.

She shrugged off their worries, "I'll be okay, let's go."

Yuko and Ranma spoke about the work at school, the latter not knowing most of what they talked about. Nabiki also chimed in with the answers if needed.

Yuko nodded and said goodbye as they reached a junction, turning left Nabiki and Ranma walked onwards.

As the skies darkened, they went to an area with fewer lampposts.

"You feeling okay, Nabiki?" Ranma asked, placing the back of his hand against her forehead.

"I'm fine, really, just worrying too much about senseless things for now."

"Then, don't worry about them until you need to, no point in thinking about them if there's no need to."

Nabiki looked at him, "Nice words of wisdom. I'll think about it."

Laughing quietly, Ranma got her joke and looked up at the nearby rooftop. "We'll do a few roof-hops from here. You don't mind hanging around the shops until my shift ends do you?"

"Not at all." Having no work means I can't go home, not to that distance since a taxi would be a dent in our accounts.

"Okay, I'll catch you later." Ranma jogged off to his secret spot where he could change.

"So, let's have a look around then."

Taking her time, she started to look at the shops in the nearby streets, noting down the prices and was happy to see that though there were somewhat less variety of items, the prices were lower than those in Nerima. Jotting down some of the better value stores, she took a break on a bench.

Not too bad, somehow there's a lot of decent places around selling local produce cheaper than home, and though the clothes are a little old fashioned, I found a few places that stock some of the newer trends. Two shadows above her notepad made her pause. Great, what now?

"Hey there, girl." One man spoke up, "Interested in some karaoke? My friend and I are just hitting the local for a few quick songs."

"Sorry, no time for that." Nabiki got up quickly, only for the other man to touch her shoulder, but hard enough to remind her that he was strong.

"Hey now, my friend asked ya nicely, the least ya could do is be polite n' join us. We're not going to hurt ya."

Yes, because saying you're not going to hurt me automatically qualifies you as someone who has done this before.

She looked him in the eyes, "Let go of me, now."

"Or what?" Another hand, belonging to the original man, draped over her other shoulder, clamping down harder.

"Don't worry, I'm not going to hurt you..." Nabiki repeated his words back at them.

Crouching sharply out of their clutches, their fingers unable to grip her uniform properly, she crossed her hands over her chest and slammed her fists backwards.

The two pained shouts were music to her ears, as she stood up and dusted her hands off.

"I didn't hit them too hard, but you should avoid thinking with your groin first, otherwise worse things will happen than bruising."

Walking off with her bag, she left the two men holding their precious jewels where they half-stood.

I'd better not hang around here for now. I have to go to where Ranma is to wait until his shift ends, it's the safest plan.

Knowing where he worked, she went there directly and walked in the entrance.

"Welcome to -AAH!" Ranma was welcoming people into the café, and was startled at seeing her.

"Hello there, table for one please." Giving an evil smirk at the same time, "Make sure I get a good view of the café with all the delicious products on offer. Thank you."

Paling, Ranma smiled nervously, "C-Certainly madam, this way."

Walking to her seat, she pulled the menu closer to her, "Wh-What are you doing here, Nabiki?"

"Excuse me waitress, I'm still thinking of what to have. Please be patient."

"Ah, r-right!" Standing to attention, Ranma began to sweat slightly.

"I'll have a cup of black coffee, no sugar please." Nabiki gave her order, and Ranma nodded, writing it down on her pad before retreating to the area behind the counter.

"Is that customer giving you trouble?" The boss came out after seeing Ranma act uncharacteristically anxious, "We do get the odd woman in here, and they can be more subtle than the male clientele."

"No... She's just a schoolgirl. It's just surprising to see someone her age here."

"I suppose that's right." Seeing the order on the pad, the order was prepared and a tray provided. "Here you go., Ranma."

"Thanks." Walking carefully to Nabiki's table, she lowered her tray, "Your coffee, madam. Is there anything else I can help you with?"

Nabiki reached out to the saucer and then briefly touched Ranma's hand, which was still resting on the table edge, "No, I'm fine. Just wanted to see a friendly face." She smiled at her, "Is it okay if I wait until your shift ends?"

Ranma's eyes widened, "Of course, it's not busy, if there's any problem, like a sudden rush, I'll let you know."

"Thanks, Ranma." Sipping her coffee, she smiled, "Mmm, it's warm."

Returning to her usual routine, Ranma began to escort the odd customer in and patrol the difficult tables, though no customers required her special attention. Nabiki watched the proceedings and how the few times he served at Shampoo restaurant helped with the way in which he served customers. There were naturally no problems with balancing the food on the tray.

Nabiki spotted how the customers generally leered at the other waitresses and even Ranma, though behind her back. Some were even cast in her own direction. Just goes to show that I haven't lost it yet. None of them were daring enough to accidentally brush against the thigh or hand of one of the girls.

After serving one last table, the boss nodded at Ranma, who sighed and then winked at Nabiki. Taking this to be the sign that her shift was over, Nabiki paid up, left a tip and walked out of the café.

Two minutes went by and she was joined by Ranma, still wearing the same outfit at school.

""You know," Nabiki cast an eye over her appearance, "we may need to get you a third set of clothes once you get the uniform, it would look very bad if someone noticed what you were wearing, then to see you weren't actually a student there."

"Huh, but I am." Ranma frowned.

"Yes, but not as a girl." Nabiki smiled as the light hit his eyes.

"Ah, now I get it." The redhead moved them away from the lights of the main streets, "We can start jumping now, you ready?"

"As I'll ever be."

Picking her up gently, Ranma launched upwards and tapped the roof tiles, before speeding forwards, leaping between the buildings and the tops of lampposts. People below couldn't see above the lights and could only hear the creaking of metal as Ranma used them to propel him forwards.

"So, what happened, you got bored of the shops?" Ranma asked to pass the time.

"Sort of..." Nabiki folded her arms and stared at Ranma's chin, "I stopped looking at the shops when two guys tried to chat me up."

She felt the arms holding her become tighter, "I ignored them, then they basically didn't want to take no as an answer, so I had no option but to advise them forcefully to back off."

"How forcefully?" Ranma spoke calmly.

"A punch to the groin. They got the message." Nabiki frowned, "Problem is, if they were even a little bit pushier, I would have gotten into more trouble."

"You escaped from the Yakuza a few times, no?"

"Yeah, I know, but I was constantly on the move. Now I'm more or less settled down here. I don't want them to catch up with me, so starting trouble here is not the best plan." She bit her lip.

"You'll just have to become stronger than them. That's the best solution." Ranma smirked, "You're good at throwing, and I'll bet your reactions and dodging is fast too. If we focus on those, then you should be up to speed in no time."

Chuckling at his unwitting pun, Nabiki smiled back, "I suppose I'll be getting more lessons then from the Master?"

"Not the Master, but me." Ranma had reached the trees and was now moving even quicker, leaping branches and using more power since no humans were around them.

Within minutes they were back at home. They had reached a routine. Nabiki would go to the oven and put new logs inside and pour water into the kettle on top of the cold metal hob. Ranma would pull out the Kinjakan from its hiding place and begin to use it to heat up the home within seconds almost and then directing some of that heat into the furnace for the logs to ignite.

As long as his ki was within reach of it, he didn't need to keep holding it for the wheel to burn up and produce heat. Sticking it upside down into the notch in the floorboards made it act as a hot fan of sorts. Without it the house would be permanently cold.

Nabiki was now more than happy to serve them tea as the kettle boiled. A simple meal again cooked on the hob satisfied the both of them. Ranma began tapping his foot to a beat which Nabiki recognised but couldn't quite place. It's not a musical beat... Guessing since it was familiar to her, she spoke.

"Practising your kata again?"

Pausing suddenly, Ranma coughed, "Y-Yeah, just playing out the moves in my head again, Pops always said that it did follow a rhythm. Punch followed by parry countered with knee then kick. It all depends on how your body chooses to move."

"It sounds like you're not even in control of yourself." Nabiki scoffed.

"If it's a normal spar, that's right, even with Ryoga fighting it felt like that. Everything was instinct and natural to me." Ranma thought about it more, "When I fight seriously, I force my body to move a different way. If they have a new move or technique, I need to learn its strength by taking it, then seeing where the weakness was when they did the move." He smiled, "Dodging and parrying isn't the only way to avoid attacks."

"Getting the first punch in helps too." Nabiki thrust out her fist, only to hear a massive boom.

The two of them froze.

"Ranma... I didn't just break the sound barrier, did I?"

"No, someone else did..." Ranma got up and walked to the front door, only to be faced with a huge animal. Nabiki was right behind him.

"A... A dragon?" Swallowing, she put up her fists, knowing it was useless for her, "Ranma, surely you can't beat this th-"

"What the hell are you doing?" Ranma started punching the stomach, though the dragon simply pushed away his fists with its wings, "Don't make a scene!"

Roaring it calmed down and shrunk in size to that of a Great Dane, walking by Ranma and brushing against Nabiki.

"What is this now, are you a trainer? A hunter?" Seeing the dragon lie on its back right in front of the Kinjakan, she could only look on agape, "Well, explain yourself...?"

Ranma let out a long breath and returned inside, "Fine..." Closing the door to the outside, he sat on the chair, "This is my Messenger. The same one one from Herb too, yeah?"

Pointing at it, Nabiki was incensed. "Yes, I did, but it never turned into anything like that size. I thought they were supposed to be subtle? Arriving past Mach 1 will get a lot of unwanted eyes pointed here."

"I do apologise, but Ranma did insist that I get here as fast as possible with his reports."

The succinct male voice cut through the both of them.

"Unless you're really good at ventriloquism, that dragon just spoke…" Nabiki whispered.

Groaning loudly, Ranma flapped his arms in the air, "Fine, fine. You want to know what happened?" He put his head in his hands before speaking again, "I tried something. Herb said it reads your ki to learn all the places you've been to, right?" Nabiki nodded, "Well I tried pushing my ki into it forcefully several weeks ago. It pushed back, but I pushed harder. Now it turned into that."

"Excuse me; it's not my fault you chose to break the rule." The dragon huffed, a lick of flame bursting from its nostrils.

"I know…" Ranma grumbled, "Now I'm left with you."

"So, wait a second, you're telling me that you knew this would happen?" Nabiki poked Ranma's arm, "I don't understand, what's wrong about it?"

"Nothing is wrong, Nabiki dear." The dragon sat up and walked over to her, "True, our original purpose was for messages to one another, but a second purpose, to spy and collect data, was easy to create."

"'Dear'?" She glared at the dragon, "Where did you learn to call me that? I don't recall giving you permission."

"Oh, I merely learned from Ranma himself."

"Don't put words into my mouth!" He stood up thumping his hands on the table, "He learned all my friends and also got a mind of its own now." He glanced at Nabiki, "He's much older than both of us."

"One of the lesser dragons from the Musk Dynasty, reduced to this level." The dragon bowed his head.

"So, what's your name then? Or do I keep calling you Dragon?"

"Human tongues cannot pronounce it, however you may call me Kiln." He looked at Ranma, "Do you want the report?"

"Yes, any news?" Ranma was interested now.

"Weather conditions normal, nothing strange happening like the previous occasion. Situation normal with the residents. Soun and Akane returned fine. No reversion of memories, aside from Kasumi, though she did not speak a word to anybody." Glancing at Nabiki, Kiln continued to speak, "She accepted a pigeon Messenger recently. I assume that is Ranko?"

"Yes, I send letters to and from my sister that way."

"I will now begin scanning Mount Phoenix like we discussed." Walking to the door, Nabiki spoke up.

"Hold on, why Mount Phoenix?" She looked at Ranma, "What's wrong there?"

"Nothing, I still have the Kinjakan, I don't want them beginning to build up forces to come and take it back for that guy again." He nodded at Kiln, "That's fine, keep out of reach though, they like to fly a lot there, so be subtle."

"Naturally," Kiln widened his jaw, yawning, "I will also pay a visit to Herb to advise him of the status here too."

As Nabiki opened the door for him, she spotted him flapping the wings flying higher into the sky, before streaked fast in the sky, a slight red trail behind him.

"Sometimes, I think I will never get used to this…" Shaking her head, she returned indoors.

"Sorry, Nabiki, I didn't let you know about him."

"It's okay, I'm just surprised as usual." She patted him on the shoulder, "It's just funny how you still attract the strange things in life, even now."

"Sorry, I guess…" He shrugged, "Stuff like that follows me about."

"So, enough about that, shall we train?" Nabiki opened the back door, "If I'm going to learn martial arts again, I need to learn every day, without fail." She bowed her head lightly, "Is that okay, sensei?"

Ranma smiled broadly, "Yeah, of course. We'll practise until you start to feel the strain in your muscles. That way you won't be pushed too much."

"You're the boss, Ranma." Nabiki strolled outside with Ranma in tow.

He stretched his arms behind him, "Let's begin warming up first, then follow my instructions."

Smirking in return, Nabiki nodded.

Author's Notes

A lot more interaction between Nabiki and Ranma this time. Surprisingly the Jusenkyo curse didn't force itself to the surface when Akane and Soun were there.

Till the next update!

J