In my Arms, In my Heart

Chapter 5

Ignition

The next day

Nabiki sighed out loud as she quickly scanned over the work in her class.

Man, this is so boring…

Quickly marking off the right answers and then reading on the next section, she wrote the answer down and extrapolated the necessary information before writing the conclusion.

She paused as her arm began to twitch and throb. Stopping her movements, she breathed in and out slowly, closing her eyes calmly.

Damn, it still stings a bit…

The slight tremble in her right arm reduced as she opened her hand up and then clenched the fingers tight into a ball.

Ranma really pushed me last night. Even though my muscles were burning, he kept me moving. It's surprising though…

Sensing that something was up, Ranma angled his head sideways to check on her, furrowing his brow.

Whoops, I forgot that he's sensitive to changes in ki; I guess I'm doing something strange from his perspective.

Relaxing her fingers, she gave a light wave to him and smiled kindly. Arching an eyebrow in response, Ranma watched her for a little bit longer before returning his attention to the teacher.

Nabiki looked down at her paper, before thinking back again.

I suppose it is my fault, I should have told him how I felt. Reminding herself of the two men who tried to chat her up that evening, she gripped the writing implement tighter. What if they come back? What if That Man finds me again? I'll have no chance; I have to become stronger, even if it means hurting myself…

The bell went for the end of the lesson and the beginning of lunch.

Well, there's no point in dwelling on it any longer, I'd better eat for now and try to massage my arms when I get the chance.

"Yo, Nabiki, got a moment?"

Frowning, she looked at Ranma, his face oddly serious, "Y-Yeah, I've got my lunch, you?"

"Same here." Walking out into the corridor together before nodding at the staircase, "The roof."

Understanding the message, they both walked silently there, avoiding the rush to people heading outside or to the cafeteria to grab some bread. Going against the flow was easier now, Nabiki naturally moved into spots vacated by people only a second earlier, and they both reached the stairs, walking up quietly.

Soon, they were leaning again the fence at the edge of the school roof, giving the people beneath them a simple view of their backs pressed against the chain-links.

Nabiki began to eat as did Ranma, before he stopped after a few bites.

"Something on your mind, Saotome?" Nabiki knew this wasn't a simple request to eat together.

"'Saotome'?" Ranma bristled, his tone a little grouchy, "What's with you, Nabiki? No need to be so formal."

"But I have to be." She deadpanned back, "You brought me here for a good reason, important enough for us to be alone. I'd like to hear it."

Ranma scoffed a bit more of his food before letting out a long breath, placing her borrowed Tupperware on the ground.

"Nabiki…" His eyes really blue when the sun was out, and his eyebrows were scrunched up, "why are you in so much pain?"

"Pain?" This was surprising to her, "I'm not in pain, Ranma."

He shook his head, "You are, or at least your body is."

He shot his hand out and lightly held her right wrist, displaying it to her. It was still trembling from earlier.

"What happened to you? I can tell you've been pushing yourself in training, but this is too much…" He lowered her hand but kept his palm over hers, "Training when you're injured doesn't help anyone."

Nabiki bit her lower lip now. What is he talking about? I can't feel any pain… Yes, my hand is shaking, but I can stop it…

"This is a sign that you're doing too much, too fast, at the moment." He glanced behind him to the school yard beneath them, "Back in class, your ki spiked. Usually this is a good thing, when your power is growing and you need to let out an attack of some sort." He closed his hand around hers, "This time though, your own body was attacking itself, to fight back this muscle strain."

Oh God…

"Perhaps you can't feel it, but your nerves must be firing up like crazy inside you..."

As his voice faded in and out, lost in her thoughts, Nabiki noticed something which had been bothering her the last few weeks.

"Then again, it could be some other pain I don't know about…"

Returning to Nerima, getting that one, ridiculous hint from Gosunkugi. Devoting her time to travelling north, all to find a single missing person who wanted to be forgotten. Scouring neighbourhoods, underground dens, shadowy alleys, all for a clue, one tiny trail to the figure known as Ranma.

Then that night came about, just before she heard of a great fighter in some tournament.

The same evening when she first came across the grinning Anji.

"-biki… Nabiki!"

Feeling her arm being shaken, she started quickly, "Wh-What? What is it, Ranma?"

"You okay? You kinda spaced out a bit there…" His concern was apparent on his face, even more so than before.

"I… I'm fine…" Pushing off his hold on her, she pulled away and ate more of her food.

After several bites, with total silence between them, she felt a drip on her chest, closely followed by another, and another.

"Hah… Hahaha…" Her unhinged chuckle made Ranma draw in closer, his eyes much wider now and his arms waving frantically, now truly fearful for her.

"N-Nabiki… You're crying?"

"Hah…" Turning her confused and tear-stained face at him, she spoke, "H-Help me, Ranma…"

He wasted no time.

Abandoning his lunch, he picked up Nabiki and ran downstairs to the nurse's office, ignoring all the stunned faces of the other pupils.

The nurse was in thankfully, and Ranma explained Nabiki needed medical attention.

Seeing the semi-delirious state Nabiki was in, the nurse nodded immediately and placed Nabiki on a bed. Ranma ran out to grab their bags and returned to the room, when the nurse did the same, along with her car keys. After first speaking to a teacher on the way out, she joined Ranma still carrying Nabiki in the parking lot of the school.

Within minutes, she had driven them to the local hospital, as she knew this wasn't just another case of anaemia or a cold.

She was rather shocked when Ranma told her she could leave them now.

"Are you sure?" She asked.

"Yeah, I'll stay with her; you can go back to the school. The others may need you there." Ranma answered as Nabiki was taken away on a stretcher, tracing the way the doctors were speaking to each other with words he didn't quite understand.

"Here…" She handed Ranma her card, which did show she was a qualified nurse also, "Let me know of her progress. If you need to stay home tomorrow as well, call me and I'll inform the teachers."

"I'll try…" Ranma remembered how the home didn't have a landline yet, as he accepted the card.

Looking at the room Nabiki went into, the nurse turned back to Ranma and gave a sad smile before leaving, giving him a polite bow.

Once she was gone, Ranma strode into the room Nabiki was in, her laughs still pitiful as she was hooked up to a heart monitor. He could see how hard they were working on her, trying to care for something which wasn't patently obvious on the outside.

"Are you a family member?" One of the doctors came to him.

"Not quite, I'm her roommate." He looked to Nabiki, crying without a care in the world, "What's wrong with her?"

"We're not certain…" He pulled me away from her to get in a corner to speak privately, "She appears to be having a mental breakdown of sorts, mumbling incoherently and being completely non-resistant to any stimuli. She's not answering any of our questions either. Do you know if she is under any medication at all?"

Ranma thought back and recalled one, "She says she gets migraines a lot and has been taking pills. She says it was for over a month."

"A month?" He scratched his head, "You only need to take these pills for three days at most. Do you know what they are?"

Ranma was still carrying both school bags and rummaged inside hers quickly. Forgetting the aspect of personal privacy given the situation, he found two packets of pills, one already empty and the other half used.

Showing the doctor, his eyes grew larger as he wrote it on a notepad. Shouting some requests for the others, an IV was brought in with fluids added to it.

"We may need to do some blood work, taking this much medication, especially for so long and without a prescription can lead to side-effects." He was writing a list do as the nurses withdrew blood from Nabiki's inner elbow.

"Can I stay with her?" Ranma asked, staring at her tearful face.

"Of course, she's not in any danger at present. It would help to have someone she knows nearby." Bringing a chair over, Ranma sat down next to her, "We're going to do some tests now, but in the meantime she needs plenty of rest. Tendo-san will need to stay here for one night just for us to be certain she is alright."

"Thanks, I'll make sure she sleeps for a bit."

The doctor nodded and left the room along with the nurses, leaving them to the rhythmic beat of Nabiki's EKG in the background.

Her little giggles came lighter now and barely audible. Reaching out, Ranma felt for her hand, which was now unresisting to any contact.

Her laughs stopped as her fingers moved gently against Ranma's palm.

"Oh, Ranma… What's wrong with me…?"

Staring at the ceiling, her tears continued to stream down the side of her face as she pulled up her other hand to cover her face.

"You must think I'm insane, crying for no reason at all."

"No, I don't." He was speaking quietly, "There are loads of reasons for you to cry. It's nothing to ashamed of."

"I… I remembered the first time caught wind of you. What I had to give away for more information about you." She swallowed hard, it looked difficult for her, "But I still went after you, even when he began to track me down."

The pigtailed teenager nodded sagely, "I think I get it now." He used his other hand to rest on his lap, "Let's compare for a moment, I escaped from Nerima; it's been a long time now for me. The funny thing is I've always been used to moving around, hiding and not staying in some place for too long. Pops took me training for so long…" He stopped and looked at her head, "But you were just a normal girl, you weren't travelling everywhere, training day in day out, you went to school every day, did your homework, and you lived in a real home."

He ridiculed her lightly, "Sorry to say this, Nabiki, but what you did and are doing now, not many people can do, all those months looking for me, going to China and back and now living here. Maybe all of that is finally catching up to you." Raising her arm up, she saw Ranma giving her a tight smile, with his eyes having lost some of that spark inside of them. She realised that he was giving his honest opinion, again.

"Ranma…" She let out a long breath and lowered her arm to the side, "You have no id-" She interrupted herself and shook her head, "No, you do have an idea, and you've been through it already…" Her eyes watered up as she flicked her gaze onto his, "How do you cope with it?"

He grinned happily this time, and her EKG beeped faster for a few seconds, "I finally accepted what I was doing, no matter how hard it was, and I believe that I am right." He nodded again, thumping his chest with his fist over his heart, "I can move on now. Yeah, I may get sad from time-to-time. You know, I do miss it a little, sparring with Ryoga, talking with Akane – when I'm not saying anything stupid mind – and just living around there." The grin fell a bit, "Then, I remember the reality, with all the problems back then, and then I feel better." He arched an eyebrow, "Maybe you're not sure if this was the right choice for you. You had a good life there. You also weren't engaged to random boys… were you?" His brow wrinkled again.

Nabiki chuckled, this time in response to Ranma, "No, daddy didn't spring that on me ever. The only person who was introduced as a fiancée was you." Holding his hand firmly, feeling the warmth from him, she nodded as some tears broke free and fell over her cheeks, "Perhaps, you're right… That incense possessed me to track you down. I left everything behind, everyone I knew, to find this shadow of you." Her pupils were trembling, "I'm scared, Ranma… I left it all behind… Why?"

He closed his eyes and his smile melted away, "Don't think about that right now. The doctor says you need to rest, just lay back and sleep, okay?" Ranma moved his chair closer so he was near her head, "I'm not going anywhere, so don't worry for the time being." He placed a hand over her damp forehead, her sweat being smoothed away by his skin.

"Ranma…" Nabiki started to breathe deeper, feeling her panic dissipate, "You promise?"

"On my honour."

He beamed again and felt for her ki through his palm, the small pulsating purple tinge was erratic in its movements, reflecting the emotional status of the user. Allowing it to mingle with his own, he let some of his own ki leak into the well of purple, not to overpower it, but to give it the opportunity to take what it needed.

Nabiki's eyelids fluttered open again, sensing something was going on and weakly gazed at Ranma. His smile hadn't left yet, which was then reflected in her visage.

He was glad to see now that the purple was pulling away his blue ki to be absorbed into the mass. Like diluting paint in a cup of already stained water, the colour barely changed, but what was happening inside it is what mattered.

It wasn't taking his strength, at least not at this level, but his confidence and pride, the emotions that made up the majority of his spirit. By dropping it in the miasma of uncertainty, confusion and pride of a different nature, Ranma was hoping that it would make a small difference to her.

Soon, Nabiki's vision flickered downwards, and her body was letting go of the built up tension built up.

He's helping me to rest now…

As the repetitive sound of her heart monitor beeped in the room, she began to drift off to a moment of complete calmness.

"Thank you, Ranma…"

A second later, she was asleep, her ki indicating this by slowing immediately and flowing over her like a tiny stream. Keeping his hand on her forehead, Ranma watched as the confusion disappeared into deeper levels of her ki, further into her subconscious which even he couldn't reach, and let go of her head.

"You're welcome, Nabiki."

He watched her body carefully, the miniscule layer of ki around her was a thin oily film now, totally unmoving. Only masters in the art could detect it, people like his father, Happosai, the old ghoul too, and possibly even Ryoga.

Biting his lower lip, Ranma shook his head before speaking to himself, "I knew this would happen somehow… Why would you suddenly want to live with me? It made no sense to a clever girl like you." His smirk was contrasted with his downward faraway look in his eyes, "You could have just found me, and then gone home, satisfied…" He snorted, "Looks like the effect of incense spell truly wore off. Now you can go home and be happy back with your family."

Leaning back in his chair, Ranma looked up at the ceiling and closed his eyes, "So, I'm going to be alone again." His sardonic twist of his lips curled downwards into mild disgust. "It figures really, my life is nature's plaything, there to be messed with forever."

With his eyes closed, he missed the subtle change in the ki pattern around Nabiki, so slight that unless he was looking at her he wouldn't have noticed it. A small ripple starting from one droplet pulsed through her well and pushed through to the deeper level.

Unbeknownst to Ranma, Nabiki shed a tear in the midst of her sleep.

Next morning

Nabiki was unmoving, happy to simply look at nothing in particular as Ranma sat next to her, tapping his foot impatiently. The blanket he was using to keep himself warm as he slept was folded neatly on a nearby counter.

"Where's the doctor?" He almost spat out.

"Tests take time, give him some." Nabiki replied smoothly. "You know why they kept me overnight, just as a precaution."

I'm not sure if they're putting some drugs in this IV, but I'm feeling really mellow today… The dripping of the bag above her was an odd sight to see. Of course, they kept me for observation purposes. There may even have been talk of a possible suicide risk. I can understand why of course. I was a wreck yesterday.

The loud rattle of the door knob startled Ranma, but not Nabiki. The doctor entered and was holding a series of pages, reading through them carefully.

"Tendo-san" He addressed her directly, "I'd like to have a word with you in private, if possible." He glanced at Ranma and he got the hint, standing up quickly.

Nabiki winked at him and smiled, giving Ranma a semblance of hope through a little smile as he left the room, closing the door behind him.

Once he was gone, the doctor sat next to her.

"Tendo-san, I need you to be honest with me. How long have you been taking these?" He showed her a packet of pills, the same as in her bag.

Damn… Unable to hide the grimace from her face, she sniffed loudly, "I can't say exactly, but at least for three months."

"Three months…" He groaned, "Do you realise how much danger you have putting herself in?" She neglected to reply, "This is a powerful painkiller, but has some unfortunately side-effects which are now manifesting inside you." He turned a page, "Have you been under some stress lately?"

Nabiki just stared at him, her face more neutral than Switzerland.

"You could say that…" She stated succinctly, "I've been under the most intense stress in my life for over the last four months ever since I decided to leave home for no reason, travelling the woods and mountains of China, the seas between there and Japan, more traipsing through the wilderness of this country itself, nearly getting myself killed and scarred for life a few times, pissing off a Yakuza group, and then finally ending up here of all places far from my family and the life I knew."

Having dispassionately stated her previous sentence without taking a single moment to take in air, the doctor could do nothing but look at her, his jaw a little looser than before. Collecting himself, he adjusted his glasses on the bridge of his nose.

"I see. That is a lot for a high school girl to be going through." He scribbled something on the paper, "We have been giving a dose of a certain anti-inflammatory drug, as you have been developing a stomach ulcer, which can cause crippling pain, not to mention further complications, if left untreated." He pulled off a prescription slip, "You will need to take it for the next two weeks to calm the inner lining to not let it spread and get any worse." He also pulled out a card and handed it to her, "Also, please call my colleague, he will be able to help you further."

"What, more drugs?" Nabiki tutted, despite holding back her displeasure.

"No, he is a good friend of mine. I believe he will help you get through these moments you are experiencing, and to talk about what happened these last few months."

After glancing at the card, Nabiki narrowed her eyes. A psychologist? Really, is that what you think I need right now?

Almost letting go of it, she was scathing in her response, "I'm not mad, doctor. Sure I know my story sounds fantastic, but it's all true."

He smiled good-naturedly at her, "I don't think you're mad Tendo-san. Mad people generally don't maintain a cohesive front and are rational in their speech." His face changed to a stern image, "However, I do feel that there are a lot of problems you are holding back from yourself, and this will affect you negatively if you do not deal with them sooner rather than later."

Pocketing the card, Nabiki thinned her lips, "I'll think about it."

The doctor smiled again, "That's good to hear." He stood up and opened the door, beckoning someone in, upon which Ranma entered, "After you fill out a few forms, you can leave for today. I'll issue a note which you can pass to your school."

"Thank you, doctor." Well, I guess I am grateful, truthfully.

"Aside from that prescription, I recommend plenty of rest for you." He nodded at her as he left them to their own devices.

Ranma walked over to Nabiki as she sat up. Helping her maintain her balance, he brought her shoes closer to her feet.

"Need any help?" He asked, eager to provide some form of assistance.

"Sure, my body's a bit lethargic; could you just slip them on for me, Ranma?"

Doing so in seconds, it felt weird after a day of not being on her feet, and pins and needles sprung up her legs.

"Oww…" She winced.

"Here…" Ranma massaged her ankles in circular motions, helping get rid of the pain by encouraging the blood flow, with a little help from his ki too. Her expression ironed itself out, "Better?"

"Much." Nabiki smiled and put a hand on his shoulder, "Thanks."

Standing up unsteadily at first, she stood on her tiptoes and stretched, making Ranma chuckle.

"Well, you look like you slept for a week." He grinned.

The Tendo girl agreed, "Yeah, I've been having problems sleeping. Being here has given me more rest than I've had in a long time." Cracking her knuckles, she felt more awake, "I'm more awake than ever. I feel I can do anything now."

Ranma shrugged, "Give it some time, the doctor said you still need rest, so no training for you until you get better fully, okay?"

"Fine, sensei…" Sulking, Nabiki pulled out her lower lip much further in a pout, eliciting a smirk from her roommate.

"That's not gonna work on me any more." He held out his hand, "Shall we?"

Taking his hand as she walked a few steps, she let go once she had a good pace going, her body now functioning normally.

"Let's get out of here." She nodded hungrily.

Striding out first, she went straight to the nurses office to fill out the forms as requested, whilst Ranma waited outside, his eyebrows tense, drumming his fingers on his folded arm. As he grit his teeth, crushing them together and feeling the pressure in his skull, he heard Nabiki's cheerful voice filter out from the doorway. Closing his eyes to focus and reach a tranquil state, he plastered a smile on his face as she exited.

"Time for us to depart, Ranma."

Nodding, he followed her outside to the main arrival area. Walking side-by-side, they knew where they were headed. Once they had reached a suitably quiet and secluded alley, Ranma checked the rooftops to see if they were good enough for starters.

"May I?" He lightly bowed jokily at Nabiki, who in turn held out her hand to him like a princess would.

"You may indeed." She giggled like a – albeit younger – schoolgirl, "Take me home."

Clutching her hand, he could feel her cold fingers from the hospital, the smell of the chemicals ingrained in the skin.

Accidentally letting his breath run over her fingers, Nabiki's spine quivered as tendrils of chills passed up and outwards. Umm, wow, didn't expect that reaction... I must be more sensitive now. Maybe those pills really did numb my body somehow...

Scooping her up in his arms, Ranma bounced off the walls until he was on top of the roof now, staring into the distance. Gauging the distance, he held her closer before leaping across the road at a high speed, then simply hopping onto each nearby flat, house or business to their home.

His steps were measured and silent, since no one was used to overpowered individuals here. He also made sure to keep Nabiki comfortable, keeping most of the impact from each landing into his feet and legs.

Nabiki always kept her eyes open when viewing the scenery fly by. Glancing up at his face, she winced.

Why does he look so... upset?

It was as she said; his face while mildly concentrating on his daily task of super human leaps, which were second nature to him, there was a hint of anger in his eyes from their narrowed state, and a slightly bared mouth, showing his grinding teeth.

Nabiki could only ponder this further as they neared their home, and had no idea on how to speak to him about whatever made him this way.

Depositing her at the front door, Ranma pointed at the bedroom, "The doctor wants you to rest, so I think you should lie down, for your own sake."

"What are you going to do?" She put her arms on her hips, her mild frustration evident. What gives him the right to just order me that way?

He merely shrugged, "I'm not tired now, so I'll just practise a few kata here, and maybe in the woods for the ki based ones too."

"Well, how about I watch you practise then?" She folded her arms and tapped her foot impatiently on the grass, "Am I allowed to do that at least?"

Ranma half-glared at her, "If you want, but I doubt you'd be able to keep up with the movement. I'm going to work at full speed."

Nabiki stepped back, flinching from the fury in his stare. Wh-what's with him? He's angry at me?

"F-Fine, I'm going to see how much you've improved." She ran her hand through her bangs and chortled, "Nothing you can do to stop me anyway." She smirked back at him victoriously. Go on, beat that Saotome!

Ranma's mood and leaking ki vanished as he grimaced back at her, lacking any of the witty retorts he had learnt from previous exchanges, or even his classic insults.

"Yeah..." He walked around the home slowly, his gait methodical but barely lifting his feet off the ground, "Nothing I can do..."

Nabiki stood there stunned.

Why is he acting this way? I haven't seen him like this before!

Too shocked to call after him, she merely copied him by going to the back as well. Going inside for a moment, she brought out a chair and sat there, as Ranma began his kata.

He wasn't kidding. I can't see how many punches he made then. Wait, did he also do a kick? That's impressive! Lots of strength too, he's leaving his footprints in the grass, and a trail too when doing the forward lunges and slides.

Though his attacks were fast, his face and torso were mostly in the same region, so she could see his expressions.

It hasn't changed. He still preoccupied with something else, eating away at him. He seems mad, at me probably?

Thinking back, Nabiki was trying to puzzle over everything that happened in the past two days.

No use... All I get is a blank... It's fuzzy since that time on the school roof. Holding her head, wincing again from trying to concentrate too hard, her skull began to throb. Okay, that's enough of that.

Ranma had thrown a punch and saw Nabiki massaging her temple. Feeling the sweat run off his forehead, he walked over to her.

"Are you okay? Do you want some water?"

"Yeah..." She stood up, "I think I need to drink something..."

"Here, let me help..." Ranma supported her as they went inside together. Leading her to the chair, he poured a glass from the tap and placed it in front of her.

"You seem to be all worked up, you know..." She said after a few swigs, "I guess you need some real opponents like Ryoga to keep you on your toes."

"Maybe, but I also need to focus on improving myself by pretending I'm fighting at full power." The sarcastic grin returned, "Given that I'm here, this is probably the only way to know if my skills are getting rusty."

Good, it looks like he talking to me again.

Nabiki leaned on table while talking, "What did the school say when you called them?"

"Nothing much, just for you to come to school only if you feel up to it. They let me have the day off too..." He frowned, "We may need to explain a few things to the guys in our class. Some people saw me rushing down with you."

She hardened her features, "There are ways to stop the gossip. The simplest method is usually the best, no need to get all elaborate."

He raised his eyebrow, "Go on, let me know what to say."

"Nothing special, just the facts about what happened. You saw me crying upstairs and I wouldn't stop. You got worried and took me to the nurse, who then took us to the hospital. You stayed with me because we're friends." Nabiki picked up her glass and rank some more, "That's it; the nurse would easily back us up if any teachers asked questions, or if any pupils overheard her."

"Friends, huh?" Ranma looked down at his fidgeting hands.

"Yes, friends." Nabiki paused, "We are friends, aren't we?"

Ranma smiled, though nervously, "If you want to be, yeah."

Nabiki frowned, "Look, I don't know what's up with you Ranma, but just so you know, we will always be friends, no matter what, okay?"

He coughed slightly, "Y-Yeah, I get it..." He shivered and looked to the bedroom, "I'm going to bring out the Kinjakan, seeing as it's getting colder now."

Watching him leave, Nabiki was trying to understand what just happened.

Ranma, why won't you tell me what's going on? What have I done to upset you so much?

Returning with the Phoenix weapon, the ring glowed red as the room was bathed in a refreshing warm breeze, making the home cosy for two teenagers.

I'll ask him later. I need to catch up on some homework. Or perhaps make some dinner.

Next day
Maid café
6:55pm

Ranma handed another tray over to some new clients, who were young boys, and were blushing bright red when she leant over to lower the tray.

Smiling to herself in the knowledge that she can still get that response, she was glad that they were some of those polite customers, who simply wanted to see the waitresses, but was too embarrassed when any of them got near to them.

Most of them ogled the girls as they walked by, their leers downright creepy. Regardless, as the old saying goes, 'look, but don't touch'.

Thankfully, there hadn't been any touching that day. Ranma was not in a good mood.

Explaining his desperate running in the corridors of the school with a wrecked Nabiki to several people, even to the homeroom teacher privately, did take a bit out of him. Thankfully, everyone was understanding, and most were asking Nabiki if she was okay.

He however suddenly had a few more admiring looks directed his way from the female half of the school, and more glares from the male side, both of them unwarranted and unwanted. The implications were obvious, more girls hanging off him, and more men trying to pummel his face in, not that they'd stand a chance of it in a lifetime. Nevertheless, not something he'd like to deal with on a daily basis from either gender.

Yes, he was not happy.

"Thanks, Ranma, you can finish up for tonight now." Sakata spoke to her as she went behind the counter.

"No worries, I'll see you again tomorrow." Happy to be free of work, she went into the changing rooms to leave her uniform and left via the emergency exit at the back, reserved for the staff so they didn't need to walk through the café itself.

As the exit was at the side of the building, it was only twenty metres to the main road which the café faced, a relatively safe distance to walk.

Though not tonight.

"Finally, you're out..." A boy appeared from the side with three others behind him.

"You..." Ranma though back and recalled the incident, the first time she was touched in the café. She smirked, "What do you want now, a repeat performance with that can? I can replace the can with your face though if you wish…"

The boy didn't take the bait, laughing instead, "How's about I introduce you to my father's colleague instead?"

A large brutish hand clamped itself down onto Ranma's shoulder. It wasn't holding her tightly, but the sheer weight of the hand had the threat implied.

"So, you're too afraid of a little girl that you have to sic your daddy's friends to do it for you?" Oh yes, she was going to enjoy this, her dangerous grin revealing her lack of fear.

"Y-You just need to be taught a lesson!" The boy was nervous now, taking a single step back before looking above Ranma's head, "Don't hurt her face, just focus on the body, she still needs to work there don't forget."

The hand now dug its fingers in Ranma's skin further, supposedly pinching a nerve, but she was used to such attacks anyway, so it didn't affect her as much.

"Sorry lady, it's nothing personal, just doing the boss's bidding." He did have a tone of regret in his voice, which made Ranma wonder out loud.

"So, you're the bodyguard for this guy here? Is it fun beating up on little girls who don't play with him?" Her taunts didn't get the result she expected.

"No, he called me here today for this reason. His father is my boss. Anyway..." Another hand grabbed the left shoulder hard, "That's enough talking, and I'm sorry." He sighed tiredly.

"Don't be, I hope you have good insurance though..." She raised her right arm and looped her fingers into his right palm, "This may hurt you a little."

Twisting her wrist upwards, she peeled off the meaty hand from her small shoulder like ripping the skin off an orange. Feeling the resistance behind her joints, she grinned.

"Wow, good strength there, you must've been a bodybuilder at one point."

Blurring to the right, allowing his other hand to simply fall to the ground after grasping at air, Ranma finally took a good look at the burly man.

Taller than Ranma by at least three heads and larger overall in muscle mass, wearing a dark suit and even sunglasses despite the encroaching night. The bald head gave the impression that it was her father, had he taken a year's worth of steroids. His eyebrows were high up, as his hand quivered and juddered involuntarily.

"Okay, that's strange." He cracked his knuckles and took a boxing stance, "You're not just a normal girl are you?"

Ranma folded her arms, her arrogant grin in full blast now, "Hell no, I'm an expert in martial arts." Dropping into an offensive stance, she beckoned him, "Care for a spar?"

"If you don't mind getting hurt…" He waited for her response.

"Right back at ya." She nodded and he lunged forwards.

His right hook was easily dodged, though Ranma noted how it ploughed straight through a drainpipe and then crashed through the wall of an abandoned shop without any discernible cry of pain from the man.

Still crouched, she pushed up and kicked at his chest ten times, before throwing three punches into his chin, trying to stun him quickly.

Taking one step back, he shook his head violently from side to side, trying to clear the stars around his head.

"Wow, you're pretty tough, most people would just fall over flat after taking that." Jumping back to give him room, Ranma nodded in respect to him.

"Yeah, you're a tough hitter for someone as short as you." He grinned, and Ranma noted that two teeth were missing, presumably from a previous encounter, "Ladies first."

"Don't mind if I do!"

Taking the invitation, Ranma sped in and began pounding on the bodyguard, striking his arms and legs at the joints and also focusing on the muscles themselves to make them sore.

He was no slouch though, and did attempt to block the movements she made and to try to hit her, despite missing each time due to last minute escapes by veering and weaving her body away from his fists and feet.

Realising both of them were smiling at the fight, they began to have at each other, testing the defences and offensive measures. Ranma quickly figured out that his opponent was trained in various forms, but not to her level, and definitely not a real threat, even despite his obvious power.

She decided to end it here, leaping backwards and charging up her ki just a little bit. The man stopped as well and then took on a different pose, one which she recognised to be a form of kenpo.

Charging in at each other, the taller of the two started with a double punch and kick combo, only to see that once again Ranma had parried each of the blows before skipping to one side of the alley. Rebounding off the wall to the opposite side, she found the perfect surface and launched herself directly at him, before diving to ground to avoid his haymaker, then skidding on the ground to move straight into sending a horizontal ki-filled punch directed at his stomach.

The guard flew backwards and crashed against a wall of dustbins and rubbish bags, the sound of squelching and rustling another signal he landed there, though not entirely comfortably. Groaning loudly, he tried to get his footing only to slip on the mess, half lying with his back to the bins.

"Sorry about that, it was burnable rubbish, so it shouldn't hurt so much…" Walking up to him, she grinned and held out a hand, "Here, sorry about your suit."

Bemused, his eyes now visible as his sunglasses was askew, he accepted her hand, only to find himself righted immediately from her pull.

"Aah…" Ranma turned around and arched her arms over and behind and her head stretching fully, "That was a great spar, I'm satisfied now."

Growling to himself, the guard clenched his fist and aimed straight for her head, not holding back his power.

Yet, the punch stopped moving forwards two centimetres from Ranma, without any intervention from her. Chuckling to herself, she spun around to face him.

"Why didn't you dodge or block it?" He asked falteringly, his arm still extended.

Ranma stood with a hand to her chin, resting on the folded arm beneath it, a looking up at the sky, "It was obvious really. There was no malice or intent in your punch, you were testing me."

Removing her hand from her face, she brought it closer to his fist, pushing a tiny bit of ki in it, and flicked her index finger at him, striking the middle finger of his own hand.

The arm flew up and back, only saved from being dislocated by the man grabbing his arm with his other. A bruise began to grow on that finger.

"Ahh…" Ranma grinned sheepishly, "Sorry, it may be broken, you'll need to have it looked at." Glancing at the sky and gauging the time, she began to panic, "Ah crap! I'm late…" She looked to him and then at the terrified boys behind her, "Is it okay if we spar another time?"

"… Yeah…" Holding his hand gingerly, the bodyguard nodded, "I've done as much as I can today. Go on, I'll let the boss know what happened today. No one's going to bother you again." He glanced at the boys and snarled louder, making them shift backwards.

"Thanks!" Ranma waved at him and dashed towards the exit, smirked widely at the group as she sped through them, before disappearing around the corner.

"What the hell?" The pale boy strode up to the bodyguard, "You didn't even get a hand on her. Weakling!"

Leaning over to peer at his eyes, the tall man was not amused, "If I fought her seriously, I'd be dead. She could kill you in a second too." Standing up again, he walked out to the main road, "I don't report to you, remember that, this was only a one-time favour." He glanced back, "I'm going to have a word with your father about this incident."

Walking away, he didn't catch the boy's whimpers.

Pulling out a mobile phone, and dialling a memorised number, he spoke, "Hi boss, sorry to bother you. Just to let you know that job is over, but this girl was interesting. I couldn't hit her once." He paused as a deep voice spoke on the other end before he continued, "That's right, and no I didn't." More speaking from the other caller, "Okay. Yes, I understand. Have a good evening, boss."

Closing the phone away and returning it to his jacket, he walked off, only glancing back to where Ranma ran off to and smiling.

Author's Notes

Poor Nabiki, I'm surprised no readers have questioned why she chose to stay there despite everything.

Still, this chapter should clarify a few things, and shift others about as Ranma begins to question everything from the beginning.

Till the next chapter.

J