* Fifteen years ago…
A large mansion in the Tudor style surrounded by a sprawling estate, the Pendleton manor was located only a few miles outside of London. Yet the trees and immaculately terraced grounds gave the house a feeling of isolation in spite of the hustle and bustle of civilization that lay just beyond the gates.
The house itself was an odd mix of the past and present, with new additions and changing technology each adding their own distinctive touches over the years . The estate had stood for more than a century and the narrow drive and old fashioned carriage house stood as reminders of a bygone era, the days of the estates original founding.
The later addition of a four car garage and power lines showed that the current occupants, though living in the trappings of the past, did not ignore the advantages of the present. The lights in the windows at this hour were the steady white of electric lamps, not the yellow flicker of gas lights.
The drive of colorful gravel stones was lined with light posts and the surrounding grounds were well lit by strategically placed flood lights. Still a darkness was encroaching on the house, causing several of the lights to fail as it approached unseen and uninvited.
Inside the manor was a tribute to the dignity and grander of the past, enhanced with touches of modern technology and convenience. The weight of the past combined with the energy of the new to create a surprisingly homey and comfortable atmosphere that was most evident in the master study. The room was quite large, maybe twenty by thirty feet and where the walls were not lined with built in bookshelves, they were home to paintings large and small, new and old. Images of past members of the Pendleton family hung along side picturesque scenes, several of which appeared to be Japanese in origin.
To one side of the great fireplace stood a full suit of polished armor, on the other hung an ancient sword. On the wall above the fireplace hung the Pendleton family coat of arms. On the mantel rested two silver candle holders framing … an empty space. The lack of something there, some decoration or portrait left a clear void in the otherwise well decorated room.
Also conspicuously absent from the room were any modern photographs or paintings of children. The closest was the photograph of a teenage Japanese girl with short black hair and wearing a traditional kimono.
Seated behind a great mahogany desk was Squire William Pendleton, current lord of the manor. Well into the later half of middle age, the retired Colonel had sandy blonde hair that was thinning and well peppered with gray. No paunch marred his trim and fit physique and his gray eyes and large hands were sure and steady. Right now both were focused on the ledgers and account records spread on the desk before him.
Across the desk from him, reclining on a dark leather couch was his wife Amelia. The lack of gray in her long brown hair and the still smooth skin of her face gave the appearance that she was at least ten years younger than her husband. She was wearing brown cotton slacks, thick wool socks and a yellow silk blouse embroidered with cherry blossoms. While he was nose deep in the mundane world of accounting, she was avidly reading a thick tome titled 'Xavier Bryman's Treatise on Mythical Creatures, Fact or Muggle Fiction'.
The only other occupants of the house were spread out on the rug between them, a large basset hound and a small scotch terrier. The only sounds the quiet crackle of the fire, the scratching of William's pen and the rustle of paper when ever Amelia turned a page.
The comfortable silence was shattered when perking up their ears, both dogs suddenly charged from the room yapping and barking a challenge to whomever or whatever had intruded upon their territory.
Listening to the dogs as they made their way down the long hall towards the front entrance, the Pendletons exchanged concerned glances when the canine cries suddenly and inexplicably fell silent.
Not wasting another moment William opened one of his desk drawers, producing a cherry wood case. Opening it he withdrew a forty five automatic which he quickly fed a full clip, chambering the first round.
While he was seeing to his mundane weapon his wife rushed to one of the bookshelves where she took up a slender wand made of Ash wood.
Standing on opposite sides of the room the two watched the entrance to the study with unflinching gazes. Even so they almost missed the long dark form that slithered into the entryway, a monstrously large snake. It came no further into the room, just watching them with its cold black eyes.
Amelia's eyes gapped wide, her face paling at the sight of the serpentine invader. Sensing a sigh of magic in the room behind her, she felt the cold hand of fear squeeze her heart as she whipped around to find a dark robed figure standing behind her, wand raised and pointed in her direction. The last thing she heard was a sibilant voice, speaking in hardly more than a whisper, speaking words that stole the warmth from her breast.
Keeping a steady watch on the entryway and the terrifying snake that occupied it, William caught his wife's desperate turn out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head towards her just in time to watch her fall silently to the floor, like a puppet with its strings cut.
Grief and rage pouring through his veins like ice water, reflexes conditioned by years of military service raised the pistol towards his wife's murderer and pulled the trigger no less then three times in rapid succession.
He watched in disbelief as the image of the dark robed figure distorted, like something seen through heat waves rising off of hot metal. The bullets exploded into the bindings of several books on the shelves behind his target, each several inches out of line with the barrel of the gun.
Wand pointing at William in a manner that was far too threatening for a simple stick of wood, the black cloaked fiend spoke one word in a voice filled with anger and contempt.
It was like an icy shadow fell over William, freezing his muscles and blunting his will.
With a cruel smile spread across his arrogant but darkly handsome face the man in the black cloak directed Lord Pendleton to place the barrel of his gun against his own temple. With a flash of light and crack of thunder, William Pendleton was reunited with his beloved wife.
Chuckling the cloaked murderer turned his back on the remains of his victims, his eyes coming to rest on the empty space on the mantel.
The cold silence of the manor was pierced by it's scream of thwarted rage.
In the morning Mrs. Edgewood, the Pendleton's house keeper arrived at her employer's home to find the front door gaping wide open. Just beyond the grim portal lay the still remains of a large basset hound, there was no sign of the small terrier.
Stepping past the dog, afraid to disturb the cold shroud of silence that enveloped the once warm home, she made her quiet way through the tomb like halls until she found the fallen lord and lady of the manor.
The terrier was never found, the basset hound had been felled by a snake's poisonous bite.
The coroner was never able to identify what caused the death of Lady Amelia Pendleton, while her husband's death appeared to be self inflicted.
The interior of the house had been torn apart in a violent search, yet none of the obvious valuables had been taken.
The case remains unsolved to this day.
Cornelius Fudge sat in the Minister of Magic's office in the big comfy chair by the fireplace and for the first time since his appointment as minister he was actually comfortable in that room, in that chair, for in truth it was no longer his office.
He had never realized how much the responsibilities and expectations that went with the title had eaten away at him. For the first time since the whole Potter situation began with the escape of Sirius Black, he was able to view the situation objectively. With the intelligence and compassion that had originally led to his rise to power, instead of the insecurities that had plagued him once he reached the top.
Looking back it was easy to see where he went wrong, his mistakes so glaring that it burned his mind's eye to look at them. Especially Delores Umbrage, what ever induced him to trust that woman.
While Cornelius was lost in contemplation of the past, the man who's office this now was sat behind the Minister's desk. His presence somehow transformed the conglomeration of mahogany and brass into a grim fortress. The steely glint in the eyes beneath his bushy eyebrows made it clear he would defend that stronghold against all the forces of Hell, much less one dark wizard and his knitting circle.
That was after all the reason why the hard faced gentleman, Rufus Scrimgeour, was sitting in that chair in this office.
After the dramatic exposure of Cornelius Fudge's failure to protect them from the return of Valdemort and his rabid followers, the frightened masses of the wizarding world demanded someone they knew would protect them.
The scarred former Auror may lack the charm and tact that once elevated Fudge, but he wouldn't hesitate to draw blood and that is what the sheep wanted. A vicious guard dog who would stop at nothing, pushing forward with relentless aggression until the big bad wolf lay broken and bloody at his feet.
Before the desk was the standing, both literally and figuratively, head of the Aurors, Kingsley Shackle Bolt. Shackle Bolt had the carriage and bearing of a warrior, but his ready smile and laughing eyes, along with the warm browns and yellows of his robes stood in stark contrast to the cold dark robes and gray streaked mane of Scrimgeour.
In Cornelius' opinion the tall and imposing black man would have been the better man for the crisis, but after Valdemort's spectacular return from the obscurity of the grave and in light of Fudge's failures no one was asking for his opinion, on anything.
Cornelius had only been paying the smallest amount of attention to the two Aurors as they discussed the horrible actions taken by the Death Eaters and how best to respond, but when he heard the thump of the paper hitting the floor he felt compelled to listen closer.
"Fear," intoned Scrimgeour in his deep gravely voice, "… is our enemies most potent weapon."
His features twisted with disgust, he had pushed the newspaper across his desk and onto the floor.
Looking down upon the scattered contents of the Daily Prophet Cornelius could see the headline printed in large bold letters, 'Muggles Watch As Death Eaters Kill Three In Cornwall'.
"As long as the people and the press are fixated on everything he does, real or imagined, we will be too busy herding sheep to hunt this beast and his followers down. We need a distraction, something else for them to write about."
Cornelius felt the need to throw his own two cents into the pot, whether they wanted it or not.
"I have to agree. When it comes to the public the perception of action is just as important as the actions themselves."
Shackle Bolt stared at Fudge, surprised to hear him speaking out in support of the man who replaced him. It was way out of character for the man he had worked under for the last two years.
Scrimgeour gave Fudge a grudging nod in recognition of his input before continuing were he left off.
"What we need is something to capture the attention of the press. Something exotic, something besides hounding Harry Potter or speculating about Valdemort."
"That is all well and good, but what could possibly be more exciting then murder in the street?" Shackle Bolt asked.
The minister settled back in his chair, his voice taking on the gentle tones of reminiscence.
"When I was a young man working as an Auror, long before Valdemort, I had occasion to be working in British held Hong Kong. While I was there I witnessed a battle between wizards of the Far East. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before. People in the orient approach magic in a way that is very different from our own. Their dominant traditions have in fact tied their use of magic to combat, it is their primary focus."
"Are you suggesting that we recruit them for Aurors?" Shackle Bolt asked with incredulity.
"Heavens no! The magi of the orient are extremely flamboyant. If we brought them in as Aurors we would be spending what little time the Death Eaters left us trying to hide their actions from the muggles. The last thing we need is a bunch of wild barbarians fighting it out in the streets. No, what I am proposing is that we take advantage of their exotic and flamboyant ways to distract the press and thus the populous. We will give them something else to look at, while bolstering their confidence that we are handling the situation with the Death Eaters by creating a supplementary class for the Defense Against the Dark Arts. What I want you to do Mr. Shackle Bolt, is to recruit a master of the eastern traditions to teach that class. Find me someone who will relate well with the students, but won't get in the way of their real classes or disrupt the authority structure. Find me someone to teach that class Mr. Shackle Bolt, someone who will garner a lot of attention. Do that for me so that we can get the frightened masses off of our backs, freeing us to deal with Valdemort once and for all."
Later that evening the Order of the Phoenix was gathered in the Black ancestral home. Everyone was there from Dumbledore down to Harry, Ron and Hermione. Shackle Bolt arrived late.
"My apologize for my tardiness. The acting minister gave me a last minute task and it took longer than I wished."
"Quite all right Mr. Shackle Bolt, the duties of an Auror are just has important as those of the order."
Dumbledore considered arguments a waste of valuable time and so he took the small steps necessary to ensure one didn't arise.
Arthur Weasley on the other hand was more than curious. He to worked for the ministry, in the department of muggle artifacts, and with the talk about changes, reorganizing and new departments going around he wondered what the last minute task could be. Given the events of the last few months it had to be something important. "What was this task Mr. Shackle Bolt, if your allowed to tell."
The Auror looked somewhat put out, but his unfocused gaze said it wasn't with Arthur's question.
"It was a waste of time and resources and now I have one of my more promising young Aurors lost on a fool's errand. All so Mr. Scrimgeour can read about something besides Valdemort in the papers."
Now everyone was interested.
Mei Lin Braithwaite was five feet four inches tall and weighed just under one hundred and ten pounds. Her features bore witness to her Chinese ancestry, while her slim yet generous figure, like her name told of her English Father. Her father, Horatio Braithwaite, had served at the colonial governors office in then British Hong Kong as a specialist on international commerce. Her mother, Chen Chi, was Chinese and a witch working for the Ministry of Magic in the same city. The two had met there and fallen in love, just as her father came to share Chen Chi's love of oriental history and culture.
As a direct consequence Mei Lin had spent no small part of her childhood in the orient, especially Hong Kong.
When she was eleven she returned to England and attended Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where she had excelled at magical history and the defense against the dark arts.
Now she was twenty six years of age and in her second year working as an Auror. She was dedicated, loyal and showed an exuberance for her work that brought a smile to the faces of her superiors. Up until now she had worked almost exclusively in the offices of the ministry in London. This was her first field assignment and though she wasn't pursuing Death Eaters, she was still very excited for the opportunity to leave the office and contribute something to the struggle in the real world.
Having spent her childhood in the East and with parents who were both history buffs, Mei Lin was well versed in Oriental history, both muggle and magical. She has studied the history of the Shaolin monks, the development of Bushido and Zen philosophy, and through them gained a rudimentary knowledge of the traditions of the east and their techniques.
She has a second Dan belt in Kung Fu and studies both the Chinese taijijian and English fencing. Though she has only studied the physical aspects of the art, not the mystical. Why would she when she grew up with a wand and is very proficient with its use. She is also literate in Chinese, Japanese and a smattering of Korean. All of this added together had convinced her superiors at the ministry that she was the most qualified to find and recruit a guest instructor for Hogwarts' new class.
She was very excited, why Kingsley Shackle Bolt himself had given her the Minister's instructions. Yes this was infinitely more exciting then sitting in an office reading other people's field reports.
Discussing the mission criteria with Master Shackle Bolt, they had agreed that the Minister's difficult requirements would be best met by a younger practitioner of the Art. Her superior clearly considered the task to be less then important when compared to their other duties, but Mei Lin took it as a personal challenge to prove him wrong. This was not only her chance to become more familiar with the world of her mother's ancestors, but to also introduce the students of her Alma Mater to a part of the magical world her own teachers had mostly ignored.
Normally she would have begun her search in Hong Kong, that being the city with which she was most familiar. Unfortunately with the cold war hostility that had characterized muggle relations between China and the West since the hand over of the city in 1987, and the unsolved murders of several ministry agents still working there, now was not a good time to be visiting Hong Kong with a British passport. That left South Korea and Japan.
Still, she had begun her search by calling an old friend of her mother's in Hong Kong and asking his advice. He had recommended she start in Tokyo Japan in the Nerima ward. He told her that there were reputed to be several highly skilled yet young practitioners of the Art residing there. So that was why she now found herself standing in debarking at the Tokyo International Airport.
Unfortunately with the limited relations between the magical societies of Japan and the Ministry, there were no regular port keys linking the two.
Given the lack of real contact between the Ministry in England and any equivalent organization in Japan, mostly because there wasn't one, Mei Lin had one other advantage over most of her fellows, she knew her way around the muggle world. Back in school, with most of the kids from pureblood families raining their derision down on her, she hadn't believed her muggle father when he told her that would be the case but he was right. She could live in both worlds comfortably, in contrast most in the magical world were effectively trapped and crippled.
With only her one carry on bag weighing her down, magic did have its advantages, she didn't need to waste time finding her luggage.
She breezed through customs with her English passport, being the daughter of a diplomatic attaché also had its advantages.
Wearing a dark blue pantsuit and with her wand glamoured to look like an innocuous fountain pen, the customs agent didn't give her so much as a second glance. She had a quiet chuckle at the thought of a pure blood trying to do the same.
True, most would have arrogantly apparated into the country and she expected she might do so herself several times before she finished her assignment. She also expected to spend a good deal of time in Japan finding and recruiting a new teacher and having arrived by plane would avoid all manner of difficulty with the muggle government.
Having already made reservations at a Marriott hotel in Nerima, she directed the cab driver as to where she wanted to go and then settled back into her seat.
As she did she again had to chuckle at the irony of human nature. If she had been a pure blood Chinese from the main land she would have been greeted with hostility and prejudice by the people of Japan, but because of her English citizenship and blood they showed her the polite respect for which they were so renown. They weren't so very different from the pure bloods who held them in such contempt for being muggles.
The transition from Shinjuku to Nerima passed unnoticed and soon she left the cab for a far more comfortable if modest room at the American based hotel. She ordered room service and took a quick shower before settling down for a long nap. One thing you had to say about muggle transportation, jet lag really sucked.
Monday morning came way too early and as if foreshadowing the unpleasantness to come it began with the annoying squall of the alarm clock. Akane reached out and hit the offending object without even raising her head from her pillow. She hit it a little too hard if the loud thwack it made when striking the far wall of her bedroom was any indication. She smirked into her pillow. At least that was one irritation that would cause her no more pain. It was childish and she knew she would pay for it latter, she would after all have to replace it, but right now she was grateful for any source of relief from her frustration. If only all of her problems could be dealt with so easily.
Swinging her feet over the edge and down to the floor so that she was sitting on the bed, Akane ran her fingers through the mess of black hair on her head. Her eyes were puffy and red and there were salt trails running down her cheeks. A pained moan escaped her at the thought of facing the day ahead.
Monday, her first day back to school after being abducted by Kima and the whole fiasco in China. If returning to Furinkan after missing so much school wasn't bad enough, it would also be the first time she had to face her cohorts after the debacle of the failed wedding on Saturday.
She shuddered, wrapping her arms around herself as if warding off the cold.
Her entire class had been there, along with all of her and Ranma's rivals, thanks to Nabiki.
She had chosen to sleep in that morning, too tired from her travels to go jogging. It certainly wasn't because she was too ashamed to face the neighborhood.
Closing her eyes she took several deep breaths, trying to calm her emotions and find her center before rising from her bed. That was when she heard a scratching sound coming from behind her. Nerves still strung tight from the events of the day before she sprung to her feet, turning in a defensive stance. It crossed her mind that Shampoo or Kodachi may have returned to remove an obstacle, namely her.
Looking past her bed she saw that the glass door was closed, the small balcony from which Kasumi would hang the laundry empty. No one was there.
"P-Chan" she called out in a hopeful voice. She hadn't seen her pet since before her unplanned trip to China and though she would never admit it to Ranma, after being abducted, turned into a doll and then having her wedding turned into a war zone she could really use a little comforting, even if it was only from a pig.
Getting down on her knees she looked under the bed, but P-Chan wasn't there. Remembering how often she found him lost in her closet she checked there next but he wasn't there either. Just the soiled and somewhat tattered western style white wedding dress she had worn the day before.
Holding her breath she ran her fingers down one of its sleeves, the silky smooth material sliding easily through her grasp. A small smile found its way onto her face as she remembered Ranma bursting into her room Saturday, just after Kasumi had left from helping her put it on. Whatever he had rushed in to say had been forgotten, his eyes and mouth opening wide at the sight of her. He said, or stammered really, that she was beautiful. Just the memory of it filled her with a warmth great enough to eclipse the anger and disappointment of what followed.
She released the sleeve and her held breath at the same time, turning around to face the morning. Gathering the things for her morning bath Akane slipped out the door and down the hall.
Spread out on the roof above Akane's room was a petite yet full figured red head named Ranma. She was wearing boy's boxers and a t-shirt, with a blanket bundled under her left arm. Both her hair and the blanket were slightly damp from the morning dew.
She held perfectly still, hardly daring to breath as she listened to Akane calling for that pig P-Chan. She let out a relieved sigh when she heard her fiancée leave the room. That had been too close for comfort, if Akane had caught her asleep on the balcony outside her room… She cursed herself for being so careless. If the sound of something crashing against the wall hadn't awoken her Akane would have seen her. She cringed at the thought of what would have happened if Akane had caught her asleep outside her window. She could practically hear Akane calling her a pervert and a peeping tom.
Looking down at the two breasts so prominently displayed on her chest, she couldn't help but feel it was true. With her curse she was either a guy who was supposed to be attracted to men, or a girl who is attracted to other girls. Certainly some of the dreams she had about Akane and rain showers would qualify.
She cursed herself some more. She hadn't intended to fall asleep outside her fiancée's room, she hadn't been able to sleep and had just gone to check on her. Now she had to sneak back into the house and get her hands on some hot water, all without anyone realizing that she hadn't slept in her own room. It's a good thing mom dragged pops home after the wedding.
Breakfast was a somewhat … tense affair.
Earlier that morning Akane had opened the door to the bathing room just before Ranma could. For once before accusing him of being a pervert she first looked to see if the occupied sign was still where she left it, it wasn't. Shaking her head at her father's persistence, she looked up only to discover that Ranma wouldn't look at her. She also noticed that he had braced himself, preparatory to her attack whether verbal or physical. A cold shadow fell over her heart when she recognized her fiancé's defensive posture. Not waiting for the uncomfortable silence to grow, she passed him and proceeded down the hall. Ranma never said a word, never even looked at her, but she noticed that he didn't enter the bathroom until she had rounded the corner and passed from sight either.
Now they were seated across the dinning room table from each other, not a word being said, pretending not to look at each other.
Soun was seated in his customary place at the head of the table, hidden behind his paper. Even so, his mind was not on the stock reports, but on the silent couple before him.
Nabiki wasn't there. Kasumi said she had gone to school early to speak to the school secretary about Akane's and Ranma's return to classes, clearing any difficulties created by their long absence.
Akane figured she was collecting on bets from the wedding.
Ranma figured she was selling the movie rights.
Kasumi finished setting the food on the table and everyone began eating.
Without his father present to steal his food Ranma wasn't exhibiting his usual voraciousness while eating. In fact he was mostly just pushing his food around his plate. He was still too worked up over China and the loss of his cure to have much of an appetite. Not that the water of drowned man would have cured him. Afterwards Happosai had warned him that instead of replacing the curse he already had, the two curses would have mixed into one. He shuddered when he thought of how close he had come to being cursed to be a real freak, neither a boy or a girl. Just thinking about it made him queasy, so no he wasn't hungry.
Kasumi didn't have much of an appetite either, she knew the real reason Nabiki wasn't there for breakfast. The Tendo and Saotome families had a serious problem that had to be dealt with now and while it fell under Nabiki's nominal area of responsibility, the sisters had decided that with recent events it would be better if Kasumi was the one to break the news to the others.
They were less likely to attack her.
Kasumi waited until everyone had eaten all that they were going to, which apparently wasn't very much, before broaching the rather painful subject.
"If I could have your attention please."
The others were somewhat distracted and it took a moment for them to realize that she was talking to them. When they did, she had their undivided attention. The rest of the family thought too highly of her to ignore her. Her hands clasped in her lap, Kasumi gathered her courage before releasing the proverbial tiger on her family.
Putting down the paper that he hadn't really been reading, Soun put on a serious expression intended to remind everyone at the table that he was the head of the household.
"What is it Kasumi dear?" He asked.
Ranma and Akane were also watching her and waiting, she was unaccustomed to all of the attention and it was making her a little flustered. She steeled her nerves, this needed to be dealt with and while normally Nabiki would have handled it, right now her presence would have only made things worse.
"I'm afraid that we have a serious problem."
The others were shocked to realize that for once Soun's eldest daughter was not wearing a pleasant smile. Not even the violence of the wedding had achieved that. Whatever was up, they now all knew that it was very serious if it could disturb the unflappable Kasumi.
"What's wrong Kasumi?" Akane asked in a worried voice. Ranma wished she hadn't, he realized he didn't really want to know.
Kasumi sat up even straighter, a small furrow appearing in her brow.
"I am afraid that with the damage done to the Saotome home, along with the more recent damage done to the dojo, we have overextended our resources."
Ranma knew he didn't want to know, those sounded like Nabiki words. Akane looked troubled while Soun looked like he was holding back tears.
"If we are to have enough money to repair the dojo, or even to keep eating through the rest of the month, we will need to supplement our income by no small amount."
Out of reflex Soun and Akane both looked at Ranma.
"Hey, why are you looking at me. I'm not the one who invited all of the local nutcases over to destroy mom's house looking for a non existent engagement ring and I certainly didn't invite them to destroy my wedding!"
He suddenly paled as he realized how that sounded.
"Not that I wanted to get married or nothing' … I mean, I'm still too young. Besides, who would want to marry a tom…" He had started to stick his foot in his mouth out of reflex, but looking at the pained flinch that crossed the tomboy in questions face, he just couldn't insult her.
Akane's face screwed up in anger. "Baka. Yesterday you said I was beautiful and now you claim you wouldn't want to marry me. While maybe I don't want to marry a pervert either!"
Now it was Ranma who lost his temper as her dagger struck home.
Shaking her head with a sigh, Kasumi interrupted the brewing storm.
"That wasn't a nice thing to say Ranma and Akane was very beautiful in her wedding dress."
Ranma was growing increasingly flustered and like always when he felt this way, his mouth proceeded to outrun his brain.
"Hey! I never said she wasn't, I happen to like tomboys!" His face grew even redder with embarrassment when his ears heard what his mouth was saying, out loud, for everyone to hear.
"I mean, I …" Ranma's voice choked off, he couldn't get anything more out around his foot.
A surprised smile grew on Akane's face. She was sure Ranma liked her, even if the baka was too scarred to admit it but it felt so nice to hear him say it.
Kasumi looked amused. She knew even better then Akane how the pig tailed boy felt about her baby sister and she couldn't hold back a giggle at the sight of his bright red face, not to mention that adorable pout.
Soun was crying silent hopeful tears. 'Oh Saotome, the schools will be joined' he thought to himself, 'all we have to do is deal with all of the other suitors and our children will marry'.
Kasumi stifled her amusement. As wonderful as this moment was, it was distracting them from the issue of their finances and that was something far too important to be ignored.
"Yes Ranma," she couldn't entirely hide the laughter in her voice, "we all know how much you like Akane, but we really need to deal with this little problem right now."
For just a moment Akane almost didn't like her older sister. She was really enjoying watching her fiancé squirm and didn't want the moment to end, but Kasumi was right, they needed to discuss how to handle their financial burden.
Hoping to put his slip of the tongue out of everyone's mind, Ranma withdrew his foot and attempted to keep the conversation on the topic of finances. Though it pained him to do so. He just knew this was going to hurt either his flesh or his pride, or more likely both.
"I guess it's too much to hope that Pops is getting a job? Maybe we could sell the old panda to the zoo."
Kasumi gave the pig tailed martial artist her sternest look, which was actually a look of long suffering patience tinged with disappointment. It wiped the angry look off of the boy's face as he wilted like a weed in Kodachi's green house.
"Now Ranma," she said "this is a serious matter and no time for jokes. Besides, given the amount of money we need your father couldn't be expected to earn enough in time to save your mother's home or the dojo."
Ranma cast his gaze towards the Tendo patriarch, his lips straightening into a hard line at the way the older man was looking at him. In Soun's mind it was clearly Ranma's responsibility. Knowing that their worthless fathers were again pushing the burden onto his young shoulders was enough to reignite the boy's temper and he was about to tell them it wasn't his problem, but before he could his eyes fell upon Akane's face. The worry he saw there caused a sharp pain to seize his chest. The dojo was her legacy, her dream. His look of anger changed to pained resignation. It was all too much for one person to bare, no matter how manly he was. Dropping his eyes so he didn't have to see the looks of disgust he knew would soon be on their faces, he asked in a voice barely above a whisper, "When does Nabiki want to do it?"
Kasumi looked confused, "Do what Ranma?"
He shrank even further into himself, did she have to make him say it?
"Take the pictures."
"Oh no Ranma, I'm afraid Nabiki's little hobby wouldn't provide near enough money."
Kasumi couldn't contain a twinge of disapproval at the thought of how her sister had made money off of Akane and Ranma Chan.
His pain and resignation washed away by a wave of revulsion, Ranma yelled "Ain't no way I'm dating Kuno again! Not for a cure and not for no building!"
Now it was Akane who flinched at the reminder of the wishing sword incident and Kuno's date with his pig tailed goddess. Ranma had agreed to date the Blue Blunder in a desperate attempt to cure his curse, only drawing the line when Kuno requested a kiss. All of his trouble and shame had been rewarded with the commemorative statue that the delusional kendoist wasted his last wish on. She kept it in her closet to tease him with whenever she thought he was about to embark on an idiot's quest.
"Calm down Ranma, no one is expecting you to." Kasumi couldn't suppress an amused smile, "Though you did look so cute in that sundress and hat."
Akane couldn't hold back her giggles anymore, seeing Ranma blush so brightly at Kasumi's remark.
Her mirth wasn't helping his temper any.
Deciding that it would be best to continue before the frustrated boy lost control of his rising ire, Kasumi unveiled Nabiki's plan to save their home. Withdrawing a folded flyer from one of the pockets of her apron, she spread it out on the table.
"Nabiki and I believe that our best chance of obtaining the necessary funds would be for Ranma to enter and win this martial arts tournament." That having been said, Kasumi waited for the inevitable arguments.
For Ranma the fact that Nabiki had signed off on this plan was enough reason to raise several red flags, even as it convinced him that it would most likely work, just not in a way he would like.
Akane and Soun joined Ranma in examining the suspicious article of paper, each with their own negative response to the proposal.
"Why should Ranma be the one to compete? I could win!" That was Akane.
"How are we going to come up with the entrance fee?!" A pale faced Soun.
"You have to be joking! That isn't a real martial arts tournament!" Ranma felt insulted just at the suggestion. Being asked to pose for Nabiki's camera would be more respectable.
Kasumi and Nabiki had already foreseen each of these arguments and she was prepared with well rehearsed responses for each. She started with her father for his was the easiest to answer.
"Father, it will drain our funds, but we can supply the entrance fee. We will be okay as long as Ranma wins."
Next came her baby sister and knowing how hard Akane would take it, Kasumi took firm hold of her sister's hand looking her deep in the eye.
"Akane, we only have enough money to pay for one entrance fee and though you are certainly good enough to win, you have to admit that Ranma is still better. We can't afford to take any unnecessary risks with what little money we have."
She could see how unhappy her answer made her baby sister, how it hurt her pride.
Akane, while proud, was not Ranma and she swallowed her disappointment for the good of the family.
That left Ranma, who had arrived at their home with no idea how to swallow his pride. It was the way he had been raised; that a man never bowed to pain, never relied on others, stifled his emotions and never ever relinquished his pride, for anything. She knew Ranma hadn't taken the entire lesson to heart and the two years he had lived with them had further eroded Genma's erroneous teachings. However Ranma still hid his pain and had difficulty accepting help or sharing his feelings, but he was willing to swallow his pride to help others especially family. It was just that he treated swallowing it the same way he treated Akane's cooking, with stubborn resistance and lots of belly aching. Before she could start her argument, the belly aching began.
"Kasumi, no serious artist will be competing in this tournament, only hobbyists and wannabes. I mean look at this, it takes place in Shinjuku and it's gonna be on TV. This is the kind of competition Kuno would attend. Even Ryouga would turn his piggish nose up at it."
Akane's temper was already simmering from being pushed aside in favor of Ranma and her patience quickly fell in the face of long held habits.
"Ranma! Quite picking on Ryouga! He isn't even here."
Kasumi could see the stubborn fires of anger in Ranma's eyes being fanned by her sister's defense of Ryouga. Unlike Akane, Kasumi knew the truth about P-Chan and knew how much it hurt Ranma when his fiancée placed greater trust and respect in the lost boy then in him. She didn't understand why Ranma didn't tell Akane about Ryouga's curse, but she was sure that somehow it went back to his father's twisted ideas about honor.
Twisted ideas that apparently her own father shared because he had forbidden her to tell anyone what she knew. Though Ryouga and his secret was clearly driving a wedge between the promised couple, she knew that somehow in her father's mind P-Chan's presence as her sister's pet was helping to bring them together. The joining of the schools through their marriage was too important to her father for him to accept it otherwise, and only the realization of that goal would be worth the stain on Akane's honor that the Habiki boy's deception was causing.
If Ranma's traditionally minded mother ever found out the truth about Akane's bed mate, Kasumi feared the engagement would be severed no matter what the fathers or even Ranma wanted.
P-Chan was a problem for another day, right now she needed to deal with Ranma's pride.
"Ranma, I know that the competitors in this tournament are not up to your standards, but that is exactly why your competing is such a wonderful idea. After all they are offering a respectable prize to the winner."
She found it strange the way pride kept Ranma and the other artists in her father's circle from competing in tournaments such as this one. After all, this competition was a significant step in making it to the nationals and then the Olympics. Yet for some reason her father had never given much respect to the Olympic competitors. While the rest of the world treated Olympians like the best of the best, her father had treated them like something between a joke and an insult to true artists. It was clear to her that they weren't performing the sort of feats that her father, much less Ranma were capable of, but why did that discourage them from not only joining but dominating the competition. Why didn't they seek the wealth and glory that could come from being recognized as champions, instead of practicing their art in quiet obscurity. It was almost like there was an unwritten rule stating that they mustn't draw too much attention to themselves or what the art was truly capable of. To most people the things they did were myth and movie magic.
Even though she knew her father's opinion on such competitions, Kasumi was still surprised when Soun spoke in support of Ranma's objections.
"Ranma is right Kasumi, tournaments like this one are beneath our hard won skills. Besides, once you take into account the entry fee, the prize really isn't all that big. Certainly not big enough to cover our financial short fall."
Kasumi was grateful for Nabiki's preparations for though she was surprised, her little sister had already provided her with a ready response to this very argument.
"We are aware of that father, but Nabiki assures me that she can use this tournament to obtain more than enough money for our needs." She looked a little ashamed as she went on to explain how, it wasn't entirely proper after all. "She informed me that most of the money to be had from the tournament will not come from the prize, but from the betting done on the side. She believed that you would understand this father."
Soun sat and mulled this over in his own mind and he had to admit that his daughters were right. With the winnings from side bets, especially on an unknown like Ranma, they could easily bring in more money than the dojo would in a year with full classes. Something that they had never and likely never would have. Still, he understood why Ranma was so reluctant to follow his daughter's plan. Entering such a tournament would make it that much harder for the boy to gain the respect of true artists. Oh, Soun didn't hold those who competed in such in complete contempt the way that Genma and Master Happosai did. He recognized the work and dedication that went into their art, but it didn't change the fact that what they practiced was not the true art of Samurai warriors, but that of common peasants.
Ranma had been thoroughly indoctrinated by his father and even if he didn't know all of the reasons for it, he did understand that competing against lesser artists was beneath him. He didn't want to do it, but he knew that whatever he may think of Nabiki as a person, she was never wrong when it came to money. If she felt this was their only chance to save the Tendo home and dojo then it was. He looked across the table to his fiancée. While he would inherit the dojo when they married, it was her dream, her legacy. Ranma didn't really care about teaching, his only ambition was to be the best. To him the dojo was just a place to practice out of the rain. To Akane the dojo was more than just a building, it was the blood of her ancestors and the future of her children. He knew how much she resented her father's intent to hand the dojo over to him instead of her. Ranma understood and in his mind the Tendo dojo was and would always be hers. He could see the fear of losing it in her chocolate brown eyes. He also saw the painful blow her pride had taken when her family chose to trust its future to him instead of her. Ranma may not know how to properly express his feelings, or how to keep from hurting hers with his clumsy words and thoughtless actions, but he did recognize when she was hurt and more than anything he wanted to see her smile.
"Okay Kasumi," he said in a small voice, "I'll do it."
Yes, Ranma was proud, but he would swallow it for the people he cared about.
The walk to school was a quiet return to normal for the two teenagers. They were both nervous about the reception they would receive from their peers so they had made the trip in silence. They had even remained quiet when they stopped at Dr. Tofu's clinic for hot water.
Ranma still couldn't figure out how that old woman was always able to surprise him while washing her sidewalk.
Yes, the walk to school had been a comforting return to routine, at least until they approached the school gates. If routine held, then waiting just beyond those gates was Kuno with a rose for Akane and a wooden bokken for Ranma. In perfect sync they both unconsciously shortened their stride, neither looking forward to a bout of the Blue Blunder's usual idiocy. They were approaching the school gates with a dark cloud of gloom hanging over them, when they were stopped by the rapidly approaching sound of shoes on cement and Nabiki's voice calling out franticly for her sister's attention. As one they turned to watch Nabiki running towards them.
Nabiki hated running, running was for people who weren't in control and she was always the one in control. She didn't even run in P.E. While she did make an effort to keep in shape for the sake of her figure, the closest she came to athletic activities was the betting pool. Right now she was running for all she was worth and wishing that she was a jogger like Akane.
She had been sitting in class, collecting on the pool for her baby sister's first wedding attempt and organizing bets on what would happen when the not so married couple arrived at school when she overheard a particularly ugly bit of rumor.
Tatewaki Kuno wasn't in the classroom waiting with the other students. Nabiki didn't expect he would be, that was one wager that nobody in the school would take. No, she like everyone else expected him to be waiting in the courtyard for the 'Fierce Tigress, Akane Tendo' and the 'Foul Sorcerer Saotome'. She had taken bets on who would hit him first. No, what had her so upset that she was running like a frantic teenager, which for the first time she was, was what she had overheard several members of the kendo club laughing about.
According to them, Kuno had a bed and other accouterments delivered that morning by truck to the kendo training hall, turning it into a honeymoon suite worthy of someone of his stature. It seemed that the noble scion wasn't intending to attend classes that morning. Instead he and his wives, yes plural, would be spending the morning performing the vital task of consummating their marriage.
Somehow Kuno had convinced himself that Saturdays wedding ceremony was his and that he had married both Akane and the pig tailed girl. Looking out her classroom window, Nabiki could see him waiting just inside the school gates and that wasn't a wooden bokken at his side. So running she had left the school through a side gate in an attempt to warn her little sister before anything happened. In spite of her best efforts, she had only barely caught them less than two dozen feet from the gates.
While Nabiki raced to warn her sister and Kuno waited to escort his bride to the clouds and the rain, fate, and a Jusenkyo curse had set their own forces into motion. Unknown to any potentially responsible adults, which couldn't be found at Furinkan High School anyway, the members of the science club had their own loftier plans for the morning.
Out back of the equipment shed, the club members had gathered to launch an experiment that would one day place their names in the annals of science. Using bamboo, aluminum foil, MacGyver tape, sheet metal, six nine volt batteries and a defunct cell phone ( it was more than six months old and belonged to Gosenkugi ), they had constructed a rocket that would be powered by water and reach an estimated twelve thousand feet. It was a three stage rocket carrying a full load of H2O liquid fuel.
The rocket, under the guidance of a stop watch and a second cell phone with a speed dial, would be powered by burning the hydrogen and oxygen separated from the water with the nine volt batteries. The ingeniously simple vehicle would travel to its maximum altitude where it would ignite and release its payload, three naval rescue flares that should be visible from the ground, announcing their brilliant achievement to everyone in the city below.
It had about as much chance of succeeding as Genma holding down a job.
The first stage set off perfectly, lifting the contraption from its earthly cradle and more than a hundred feet into the air.
That is when fate, or random chance take your pick, decided to intervene. It seems that Gosenkugi finally realized that his cell phone was missing, he hadn't realized it before because no one ever called him on it. His mother might have, but she often forgot she had a son, she certainly couldn't be expected to remember his cell phone number.
Gos was running late because it had taken him a while to find the card on which he had written down the number. It wasn't like anyone ever asked him for it, so he didn't remember it either.
It had proven difficult to find because he had used it as a bookmark in a tome on remote viewing. He had hoped to be able to use this fantastical skill to see into the girls showers at school and watch the beauteous Akane Tendo while he handled… I mean while he looked for clues on how to free her from the ham fisted grasp of that worthless jock, Ranma Saotome. ( I promise, his intentions were truly noble and not the least bit perverted.)
Now armed with his own cell number, he was calling it from his home phone in hopes that he could track down the sound of its ringing. This was vital if he had any hope of finding it since he honestly couldn't remember what it looked like, though an image of Card Captor Sakura seemed to figure prominently in his memory. His mother really didn't get the whole magic bit.
Unfortunately for the science club, Gos dialed his own cell phone early in the first stage, prematurely starting the rockets second stage. Since the first stage had yet to expend its load of fuel it hadn't yet broken free, clearing the way for the second stage. With its aperture blocked the second stage, instead of using its fuel to maintain a controlled burn, exploded.
If that wasn't bad enough Gos, failing to hear the sound of his phone ringing, double checked the number and tried dialing it again, setting off the third stage which also exploded.
The consequences of the unintentionally sabotaged launch were two fold.
The first was the release and ignition of the three flares. One flew straight and true into the sky. The second began a spiraling race to the ground were it struck the equipment shed, causing the gathered members of the science club to forget their experiment and their dignity and scatter like frightened chickens. The last and final flare was destined for a more glorious end. Launching like an uncontrolled cannonball, it barreled its way through the air sideways until it crashed through a window and into the science lab of all places. There it struck the handle of a table mounted gas feed for an unlit Brunson Burner, the smashed remains then flipped across the room to land in a paper filled wastepaper basket. Which ironically happened to be filled with the discarded plans for alternate designs of that very rocket, along with several tear soaked copies of the invitation to Akane and Ranma's wedding.
There the shattered flare started a merry little fire, which went unnoticed because anyone who might have been in the room to see it was instead racing away from the equipment shed like Happosai after a productive day of panty stealing. It took several minutes for the releasing gas to fill the large room enough to reach the trash can. When it did the resulting flash fire ensured that Monday would be a very short school day at Furinkan High.
The last and final consequence of the science club's failed shot for the history books was the sudden release of more than two and a half stages worth of unburned liquid fuel, aka; water. Which was drawn by supernatural forces to rain down upon the space in front of the school gates. Soaking the panting Nabiki, her little sister Akane, and one aquatransexual named Ranma.
The sound of the explosions had drawn the attention of every student currently in the courtyard, including that of the illustrious Blue Thunder, Tatewaki Kuno. The single flare that reached for the heavens caught his eye and like a cat watching ping pong his entire attention was arrested by the shinning star. He watched until it passed from sight. Which by some strange coincidence, left him staring directly at the three soaking wet girls standing outside the gate.
The sight of the three most significant women in his life ignited the fires of passion in his heart.
Also on a side note, it indelibly linked the Ice Queen Nabiki Tendo with the fierce Akane and the pig tailed goddess in the underutilized mind of the noble captain of the kendo team.
Nabiki would not be amused when she learned that Kuno was now planning yet another marriage, adding her to his beloved harem.
It goes without saying that Ranma Saotome did not wear a school uniform, instead dressing in Chinese silks. It is also a well known fact that silk, when introduced to water, molds itself tightly to whatever form lies beneath it like a second skin. It again goes without saying that Ranma still refused to wear a bra, especially since she had still been a he just a moment ago.
The end result of this fortuitous meeting of unrelated variables was the blatant display of Ranma-Chan's generous assets, followed by what little intellect Kuno could lay claim to falling from its place above his broad shoulders and into his pants.
Before Ranma, now Ranma-Chan, could recover from the shock of her sudden dousing, Kuno had wrapped himself about her like an amorous octopus. Giving the illusion that he had at least six arms and grasping hands, two of which were now holding and squeezing her aforementioned assets.
No one outside of her dreams was allowed to touch Ranma there, and even in her dreams only Akane was allowed. Something she would die before ever sharing with anyone, especially Akane. An enraged shriek, followed by a flurry of blows sent Kuno into slumber's sweet embrace and decided the winners of that mornings betting pool.
It was then that the gathered students noticed the thick clouds of black smoke rising from the upper floor of the school and with a resounding cheer, they left in a rush for home and whatever entertainments awaited them. As much as no one wanted to truly be Ranma Saotome, no matter how much they might wish to claim specific parts of his life, they were all truly grateful for his presence at their school.
When the three ladies of the Tendo household returned home shortly after school should have started Kasumi wasn't surprised, especially since it was two ladies and one man that left for school that morning. She was shocked to learn that it wasn't because of any action of their own.
Soun had already left for the Saotome home, he felt it necessary to start preparing his friend Genma for Ranma's entry into the tournament immediately. His plan involved a lot of time and even greater amounts of sake.
A soaking wet Akane went upstairs to her room to change and then begin on the mountain of school work Nabiki had collected for her while she was in China.
Ranma had promised to join her after changing herself. First though, Ranma had business with Nabiki to deal with and for that she felt it more appropriate to approach the older girl alone and in female form.
Once Akane was safely out of sight and in her room, Ranma made her way to Nabiki's bedroom door and quietly knocked.
Like her sister, Nabiki had retreated to her room to change out of her own wet uniform and was currently standing beside her bed in a bra and French cut panties. On the way home she had warned Akane and Ranma about Kuno's latest delusion, something that had excited them to no end if not in the way Kuno desired. So when she heard the gentle rapping at her door, she assumed that it was Akane and without checking first called out for her to enter.
Worried about being spotted, Ranma slipped quickly into the room closing the door carefully behind her. By the time she looked up it was to find the middle Tendo standing there, her own generous assets on display.
Nabiki, like her sisters and their mother before them, was a very beautiful girl with a wonderful figure. The difference was that unlike her sisters she knew it and had no qualms about showing it.
Akane was too concerned with perverted boys to ever enjoy the power that her looks held over them. Probably because Kuno's speech had stolen that power from her before she ever got a chance to wield it. Kasumi had taken over the role of mother and house keeper long before her own figure filled out and though she had a body that men would give anything to hold, it was hidden beneath her apron and house dresses before she too ever had an opportunity to taste that power. In fact the only man who had ever seen even a glimpse of Kasumi's beauty without the housewife disguise was Dr. Tofu, due to providing health care and superficial check ups for the girls. The end result of that was that he could no longer face the girl without being overwhelmed by the memory of having once seen her in only a bra and panties. An additional fallout from that event was that the Dr. was now careful to always knock before entering one of his own exam rooms.
Unlike her sisters, Nabiki knew she was desirable and the clothes she wore were chosen because of the way they presented her beauty. At least at home that often equated to painted on shorts and a tight t-shirt. Thus attired, Nabiki had teased their house guest more than once. She thought he was cute when he was flustered, the red of his blush brought out the blue in his eyes. While she had never given serious consideration to the idea of stealing her sister's fiancé, she did enjoy wielding the power of her body to make him squirm.
It seemed to be a trait of the Tendo girls.
Anyone watching could see the way Kasumi glowed with pleasure whenever the sight of her sent the good doctor into one of his fits.
The reason Soun had never once in ten years considered remarrying was because a not so innocent Kimiko still haunted his dreams like he was an adolescent school boy.
Due to the actions of Kuno and the morning assaults, Akane had taken to wearing only clothes that hid her feminine charms, but while she still cried wolf, she had come to trust her fiancé and with that trust out came her vanished shorts and summer dresses. While she was still very conservative compared to Nabiki, if not as bad as Kasumi, more than once the Tendo girl had been seen unconsciously teasing Ranma.
The memory of seeing her naked in the doorway of the furo on his first day in their home still plagued Ranma's dreams.
Now Ranma found herself staring at a nearly naked Nabiki, only she didn't respond the way Akane had. When a naked Ranma was confronted by a nude Akane, they had both been momentarily frozen by shock. Ranma had himself been too stunned to see it, but Akane's shock had been quickly supplanted by fear. It was only after covering herself and being surrounded by her family that she escaped panics cold claws and then she had been filled with the fires of indignant rage. Remnants of that anger still poisoned their relationship to this day.
Nabiki on the other hand, while surprised to discover Ranma-Chan and not Akane standing before her door, did not freeze up in shock and she certainly didn't feel any fear. Not for a second did she shrink into herself defensively. When she realized who had entered the room, her instinctive response was to instead arch her back, throwing her profile into a bold display. A playful smirk appeared upon her face as she took in the boy turned girl's wide open eyes. Then that smirk was reconfigured into a lustful leer when she saw what the wet silk shirt was making very clear and given the red flush that had spread up Ranma's neck and across her face, Nabiki knew it wasn't from the cold.
"So Saotome, see anything you like?"
Nabiki's mocking voice was enough to shake Ranma out of her fugue state and she spun about, hand on the door ready to flee.
No, she had come to the middle Tendo's room for a reason and it was too important to allow Nabiki's teasing to chase her off. Still facing the door, her back to the other girl, she firmed her resolve and spoke.
"N..Nabiki" Ranma squeaked out in spite of her best intentions.
The uncomfortable situation, the teasing lilt in Nabiki's voice, and the fact that Ranma was a typical sexually frustrated teenager, combined to replace part of her embarrassment with growing anger.
"Put some clothes on!"
The sound of Nabiki's laughter threatened to push the pig tailed girl over the edge and out of the room.
"Aw Ranma, your no fun. Kasumi and I were right you know. You and Akane are perfect for each other."
Ranma listened intently to the sound of rustling cloth as Nabiki dressed behind her. She was trying to think about the reason why she was here and not about the way the older girl looked wearing next to nothing.
"All right Ranma, it's safe to turn around."
After a quick glance to make sure the other girl wasn't lying, Ranma turned to face her. Bringing to mind the image of Akane's disappointed face at the breakfast table that morning, she grabbed her courage and broached the topic that brought her here.
"Kasumi told you that, that I agreed to enter that tournament?"
Nabiki frowned, Saotome better not be trying to back out now.
"Yes Ranma, she told me."
The redhead licked her lips nervously.
"Is there, could we enter Akane too?"
Nabiki sighed. "Ranma, I know Kasumi explained that we don't have enough money to enter both of you."
She hadn't actually gotten a chance to talk to Kasumi yet, only meeting long enough for her older sister to nod in response to her questioning look, but she had helped the happy homemaker prepare for the morning and they did cover Akane's likely responses, including this one.
Ranma was unconsciously wringing her hands.
"Couldn't you, you know, sell Kuno some pictures or something?"
For the second time in one day the impossible had happened, Nabiki was caught flat footed. First the strength of the Blue Blunder's delusions and now this. She turned to look the other girl in the eye before she continued, she didn't want any misunderstandings.
"I don't know Ranma. Kuno doesn't usually pay that much for photos."
The look on Ranma's face looked like she had just eaten Akane's cooking.
"What if, what if they were … special pictures?"
Nabiki was starting to get an idea of where this was going.
"What do you mean by 'special'?"
"Well, like the pictures you took for … well, for the old pervert."
The look of extreme discomfort made it clear Ranma was referring to the panty shot pictures she took during the moxibustion weakness point.
Now it was Nabiki who was licking her lips, and not from a case of nerves.
"Well, if the pictures were special enough, I think I could get the necessary money."
She didn't mention that even if Kuno alone was unwilling to pay enough, multiple copies sold to multiple people would easily make up the difference. A momentary twinge of conscience made her ask, "Are you sure you want to do this Ranma?"
Not trusting herself enough to speak, Ranma's only response was a nod.
The happy grin that only came when she was making money was now gracing Nabiki's lips.
"Okay Ranma. Let me look in my drawers and see if I can find something 'special' enough."
The red head gulped, then when she saw what the older girl pulled from the bottom of her drawer she squeaked. 'Momma isn't going to like this.' she thought to herself.
A short time later a blushing Ranma-Chan left Nabiki's room and after a quick, as in running all the way to the kitchen like the hounds of hell were on her tail, splash of hot water, a now male Ranma joined Akane in her room to work on his own mountain of homework.
A while after that a more sedate Nabiki left the house, a plain white envelope in hand and smiling like the proverbial cat that swallowed the canary. A quick call to Kuno was all it took to convince him to meet her for lunch. She tried to arrange to meet at her favorite restaurant, but Kuno insisted that they meet at one located in the mall. Normally she would have insisted on general principal, but the restaurant he picked was equally expensive and she was too anxious to start making money to waste time arguing.
She hadn't even needed to mention the pictures she was carrying, he actually seemed anxious to see her for herself. That made her a little nervous, it usually meant that he had dreamed up some ridicules plan that required her involvement.
When she arrived at the restaurant she was greeted by the matri'di, who led her to a private table in a secluded corner. Nabiki found herself to be uncomfortably underdressed when she saw Kuno. He was dressed for a formal dinner, not a business lunch. Then to her amazement, Kuno himself rose to pull out the chair for her.
Normally she would have to handle and maneuver him into buying her lunch, but before she could say a word he had already ordered the most expensive thing on the menu. Given the mornings events, she was starting to feel like she had woken up in the twilight zone. It only got worse when he unexpectedly reached across the table and took her hand in his, then just held it, his thumb caressing the soft skin between her first and second knuckle.
Disconcerted, she tried to distract him by placing the envelope on the table, but he only gave it a cursory glance before staring deep into her eyes. She would have pulled her hand away, but that would be a poor way to open negotiations.
"Kuno baby," she began.
"Yes Nabiki." he responded, still looking dreamily into her eyes.
His odd behavior was beginning to make her nervous, but she focused on the money instead.
"Kuno baby, I have for you a once in a life time opportunity."
She placed the hand he wasn't holding atop the envelope, drawing his attention to it, but again it failed to hold his interest away from her face.
"Dearest Nabiki, have I ever told thee how thy eyes doth sparkle when conducting our affairs?"
The way he said the word 'affairs' carried an obvious double meaning.
Nabiki just stared back at him, her mind frozen in shock. He was smiling at her in a way that said he knew how much she wanted him. She was saved from further embarrassment by the arrival of the waiter pushing their meal on a small cart.
Releasing her hand to make room for the food, Kuno waited for the waiter to leave before speaking again.
"Come my dear, let us delay the trivial concerns of barter until after we have enjoyed this pleasant repast."
The meal was one of the finest Nabiki had ever eaten, and she didn't taste any of it. All through the meal Kuno watched her, a mysterious little smile upon his lips.
She didn't even realize she was eating until she placed empty chopsticks in her mouth. Before she knew it the waiter was there to remove their plates, while another placed before her a chocolate mousse that was so rich and decedent that she felt guilty just looking at it. The taste of it melting on her tongue was too delicious to ignore and succeeded in bringing her mind back from La-la land. She tried to ignore her 'date' while she finished. All too soon the dessert was gone but fortunately it had given her the time she needed to get back in control.
Before Kuno could retake the initiative, she pulled one of the photos from the envelope, holding it face down.
"Kuno baby, I have here four pictures of the pig tailed girl, the likes of which you have never seen before. I can honestly say that I will probably never have pictures of this quality to offer again."
To her annoyance he had yet to look away from her face, but when she turned over the picture with all the showmanship she had acquired his eyes took a brief glance down then nearly popped from his head.
Lying there on the table between them was a picture of Ranma-Chan, standing posed before the window in Nabiki's bedroom, wearing a lacy red teddy straight from Victoria's Secret in America. Ranma had been embarrassed while posing for the picture and it showed in a noticeable blush that covered nearly every inch of her visible skin. It made her look both vulnerable and shy. It fired up Kuno's desires and his manly protective instincts in a one two combination that nearly floored him.
Nabiki was smiling again, she had him hook, line and sinker.
With overplayed deliberation she slowly removed the other three pictures from the envelope, placing them one at a time atop the first so that they didn't compete with each other for his attention.
The next two were similar to the first, with Ranma-Chan posing before the window, first in a sinful black teddy and then a virginal white. The last though, that one was the money shot and she played it up for all it was worth. Considering how hard it had been to get Ranma to pose for it, it had better be worth a lot.
The picture showed Ranma-Chan seated on Nabiki's bed, her clasped arms holding a clean white sheet over her breasts and draped across her lap to cover her torso. She was blushing even harder than she had in the previous pictures and it was obvious it spread from her head to her toes.
In truth the picture showed no more flesh than the others, but somehow knowing that she was deliciously naked behind that sheet raised its impact to inhuman levels.
Nabiki gave a start when the table suddenly jumped. Kuno was gripping its edges so tightly she could hear the tendons in his hands popping and he was breathing so hard that she worried he might have a heart attack before she could complete the deal.
Sliding the pictures off the table and back into the envelope, she then used it to fan her face in an enticing manner.
"I'm sure you will agree Kuno baby, these photos are head and shoulders above any I have provided you before and are worth far more as well."
Kuno had his eyes closed tight, a near pained look upon his face, his strain showing in the way the tendons were standing taught along his neck.
"Truly…" he whispered, "she is a goddess sent down among men as a reward for my own greatness. It pains me as much as it surely doth her that we have been forced by malevolent and dishonorable foes to delay the consummation of our holy bonds."
Nabiki nearly chocked when she heard that. Maybe this hadn't been such a great idea after all.
"Oh, how it doth delight me to know that the chains of Saotome's vile spells over her have weakened enough that she was able to obtain such delightful garments for my pleasure on our honeymoon."
Now Nabiki was not only nervous, she was for once grateful that she hadn't brought any pictures of Akane to sweeten the pot. No amount of money would be worth unleashing the lust she saw before her on her baby sister. She desperately reminded herself that this was all Ranma's idea.
"Yes Kuno baby, the … desire … she shows in these photos make them truly priceless. However, I am afraid that I am only a mortal woman and I must ask something for them in return. Surely you would agree that it is only a mere pittance that I ask for. Ten thousand yen and all four are yours."
It was more than three times what she had ever asked for before and she hoped he was too carried away to balk at the amount.
She grew a little nervous when she saw he was calming down and regaining control. Then her nervousness turned to fearful horror as he not only looked her steadily in the eyes, but made a dreadful counter offer of his own.
"I will gladly exchange a mere ten thousand yen, nay, twelve thousand yen, if you will but meet my small condition."
"What … what is that Kuno?" Now she was hoping Rod Sterling would appear, or even Allen Funt, anyone who could save her from this surreal reality that had consumed her own.
"My demand is but a little one Nabiki Tendo. Within this lowly establishment, this mall, there resides a business that deals in portrait photography. I will give you twelve thousand yen for those four pictures of my beautiful goddess, if you will accompany me to said studio and allow them to take one picture of your own magnificent self that I might place it beside those of my beloved wives. A trifling to help me continue until the day that we too might share the blessed bonds of matrimony."
Nabiki knew it was a mistake, knew that she would one day regret it, but the money was too good to pass up. So she accompanied the frighteningly lucid kendoist to the photographer's studio and with a pale face, she posed for the desired picture.
She scarfed down three whole boxes of chocolate poky on the way home and was just starting on her fourth when Kasumi snatched it from her hand.
"Really Nabiki dear, all that candy will spoil your appetite for dinner."
Smiling, the eldest Tendo left her little sister quivering in the hallway as she returned to the kitchen. She didn't notice as her pale faced sister fled up the stairs to her room where she hid under the covers until Akane came to collect her for dinner.
That evening they were joined for dinner by Ranma's mother, Nodoka. Soun and Genma were notably absent. Not that any of the Tendo girls were surprised. They knew that it would take their father many hours and an abundance of sake to convince Ranma's father that their plan was necessary.
Ranma had not so jokingly suggested that if the old panda refused to accept it, then his mom and Kasumi could just threaten not to feed him until he got a job and made the needed money himself. His suggestion would have been fine, even funny, if he hadn't gone on to add that if need be they could threaten to have Akane cook for him. It was a good thing Nodoka had decided to join them rather then spend the evening home alone. Without her there to ride herd over the engaged couple the evening probably would have been lost to arguing.
All through dinner, Ranma anxiously watched Nabiki. After coming home from her meeting with Kuno, she had locked herself in her room and refused to answer the door. He prayed to any kami that would listen that she had succeeded in getting the money for Akane's entry fee, cause if his mother ever saw any of those pictures he wouldn't have to worry anymore about food. The only thing he would be putting in his stomach was six inches of steel.
By the time Akane called her to dinner Nabiki had mostly recovered from her 'date' with Kuno. She shuddered when she realized that any meetings with him from this day forth would likely be couched in such terms. Ranma had knocked on her door several times after she returned, but she hadn't been ready to face anyone so she had ignored him. Then all through dinner he cast anxious looks her way, often enough that the other women at the table picked up on it.
Predictably it was Akane who demanded an explanation first.
"All right Ranma, what's going on?"
The look in her eyes made it clear she would not be brushed off, but Ranma couldn't help but try anyway.
"What? I'm just eating my dinner. Can't I even do that without you getting suspicious."
"Don't give me that you baka. You've been staring at Nabiki like your waiting for her to grow a second head. Now tell me what is going on."
"Yes Ranma." That was Nodoka. "Why don't you tell us why you are so anxious."
Ranma looked back and forth between the two dominant women in his life, his mouth opening and closing like a hooked fish. Normally he would use Akane's temper to distract her from any topic he was too uncomfortable to discuss, but he didn't dare do that with his mother. Even if she wouldn't ask him to fulfill his father's vow, he was still too afraid of her rejection to risk disappointing her in any way.
Nabiki watched him flounder for several minutes. It made her feel much better after her own experience that afternoon. Finally she decided to rescue the poor boy before he drowned in his own sweat.
"Ranma is just anxious to share the news with Akane." She threw out calmly.
Nodoka looked especially interested in this 'news'. Though it couldn't be the news she was most anxious to hear, after all that would be Akane sharing it with Ranma, even with her son's curse she was sure of that. She looked calm and proper on the surface, but deep inside she was dreaming about grandchildren and the patter of little feet filling her empty home.
"Then why don't you tell her now Ranma." That was Kasumi. She hoped it was good news.
Ranma just sat there and gaped, for once his mouth wasn't running any faster than his brain, which wasn't engaging at all. Growing bored with waiting, Nabiki shared their secret with the family.
"Ranma and I worked out a way to pay for Akane's entry fee to the tournament."
Akane sat frozen in shock. "My entry fee?"
"Yea Tomboy," Ranma finally found his tongue. "You'll get to represent your dojo."
Akane was so excited that she didn't even notice the almost insult. Ranma was so overwhelmed by the smile that appeared upon her face that he didn't even think to try to dodge her as she leaped across the table, tackling him to the floor in the patented Tendo Glomp, minus the tears.
Nabiki was quietly slipping out a small camera to capture the moment. It would be worth its weight in gold the next time she needed to handle her father.
Nodoka was feeling that warm fuzzy feeling in her breast. 'My son is so manly!'
While Kasumi was pleased to see Akane showing her happiness so openly, she was disturbed by the thought of how Ranma might have helped Nabiki obtain the money. She may act oblivious, but she knew how her sister used the pig tailed boy to make money and this would require a lot of it. She remembered Ranma's claim that he wouldn't date Kuno again and hoped he hadn't changed his mind. The samurai wannabe made her nervous.
As Ranma lay there buried under a jubilant Akane, he had a sudden epiphany. 'This is nice' he thought to himself. Like Akane he was so caught up in the moment that he forgot they had an audience.
When Akane didn't immediately jump up or slap him for letting her take such liberties with him, he started to feel a little courage bubbling up inside along with desire. Without really giving it any thought ( Ranma was like Hamlet that way. If he thought about doing something too much, he would think his way right out of doing it ), he gingerly raised his arms around his fiery fiancée and timidly held her.
'Oh yeah' he said to himself, 'This is very nice'.
Growing up he had suffered a severe deficit when it came to gestures of affection or intimacy. Because of the ten year training trip his own mother hadn't even held him since he was five years old. With his father everything was training. That meant their interpersonal relations had been limited to competition and pain. Pain is a wonderful teacher as his father was so fond of saying. Even his childhood friendship with Ucchan had been expressed mostly through sparing.
No, the only hugs he could remember receiving were sexually exploitative glomps that left him feeling funny and uncomfortable. In the case of Kuno, who's embraces were more about groping than holding, they left him feeling soiled.
Akane was so excited at getting a chance to represent her families dojo and prove herself, and knowing that Ranma had helped make it possible, that she held him pinned to the floor for nearly a minute before she realized what she had done or where she was.
For just a brief moment she was overwhelmed by the knowledge that it was Ranma she felt beneath her.
Then before she could become embarrassed or worry that he didn't want her there, she felt his strong arms wrap gently around her.
'I'm holding Ranma! Ranma is holding me!'
Without meaning to she snuggled tighter to him.
'Oh my' echoed through her mind, 'this is nice'.
The three older women around the table had been just as surprised as Ranma when Akane sprang across the table, pinning her fiancé to the floor. They watched with abated breath as Ranma wrapped his arms around Akane, then released a collective sigh when she responded by settling in closer. Even Nabiki experienced a warm feeling of contentment at the sight.
Who knows how long this touching moment may have gone on if not for the sudden banging of the front gate, followed by very loud and off key male voices drunkenly singing two very different songs.
Their fathers had returned and from the sound of it, Soun had worked very hard to convince Genma to agree to the tournament.
Nodoka, Kasumi and Nabiki turned back from the approaching noise to discover that somehow Ranma and Akane were now seated at the table side by side, their hands and their eyes in their laps.
"Damn." Everyone looked at Kasumi in shock.
The tension of the moment broken, the room filled with guffaws of laughter.
Tuesday morning Akane Tendo awoke feeling much better than she had the day before. Sure she had yet to face her peers at school after the fiasco of the wedding ( The science club rocket had saved her from that. ) and the various rivals were still out there waiting to raise their ugly heads. It was still possible that Shampoo or Kodachi might try to kill her. None of that was important right now. Right now she couldn't even see any problems from where she was sitting on cloud nine.
She was going to compete in the tournament with Ranma. She was going to represent the Tendo dojo in front of everyone, and Ranma helped make it all possible. Nabiki didn't say how, but she specifically said that she and Ranma had obtained the money for her entry fee.
A blush came to her face as she remembered tackling her fiancé in the excitement of the moment.
Her body responded in other ways as she remembered the feel of his arms about her, his tight body lying beneath her.
Akane shook her head to clear it. She isn't like the boys at school, she's not a pervert, but the feel of Ranma pressed against her made her wonder what she was missing.
Arms raised above her, the left pointing towards the ceiling, right crossing behind her head, her back arched as she stretched. She was going jogging, the neighbors be damned. Today she felt like she could face anything. After changing out of her pajamas and into her sweats, she headed out her door and down the steps to unexpectedly find Ranma waiting at the bottom.
He was wearing one of his Chinese outfits, but were she was bursting with energy he looked like he hadn't slept in a week. She bit her lip in concern. China hadn't been easy on any of them and Ranma had been the target of several explosive culinary devices after their return, but that was three days ago, he was always quick to recover. Nothing ever kept him down for long.
Smiling she realized that was one of the things she admired about him, no matter how irritating it could make him. Sure he was arrogant, and yes she did wish that just once he would ask for her help, but she knew that no matter what he faced he wouldn't quit. Run away ( The Saotome Final Technique ) sure, but he would always come back with a new way to defeat any challenge. She knew she was stubborn, but Ranma, he was indomitable. Prince Herb had proven that, even when trapped as a girl Ranma had refused to accept defeat. 'Ranma Saotome doesn't lose', as childish as it sounded it was the motto he lived by.
Well now it was going to be her motto too. 'Akane Tendo doesn't lose' and the world had just better learn to accept it.
Reaching the bottom of the stairs, she put on her running shoes with a smile.
"Gee Ranma, I know your mother said we should train together but I didn't expect you to go jogging with me." Well that wasn't exactly what aunt Nodoka had said. She had told him it would be manly of him to train with his fiancé in preparation for the tournament, but Akane didn't feel the need to rub his mother's fixation on manliness in his face on this wonderful morning.
Today nothing was going to disturb her good mood. She wouldn't allow it.
He gave her a tired wave, not having the energy to waste on starting an argument with her.
"What's wrong Ranma?" She asked in concern, putting one hand on his forehead to check for a fever. "Didn't you sleep well?"
While he hadn't been hot before, she could feel the heat build along with his blush when she touched him. She had to fight back a giggle, he looked just like he did last night when he lay beneath her. Thinking about that caused her to blush as well.
Ranma was just blushing because of her touch though. He wasn't sick, but he wasn't about to tell her that he hadn't been sleeping well because he kept waking up in fear that she was gone. Nor was he going to tell her that he had been spending most of his nights on the balcony outside her room watching her sleep. Instead he just gave a weary shrug.
"It's nothing Akane, I'm just used to having pops waking me up. I'll be just fine once we get going."
"If you say so." And with those words she was out the door, out of the compound and down the street, Ranma running to keep up.
A few minutes later Ranma-Chan was grumbling imprecations under her breath.
"Jeez, shouldn't that old lady still be in bed?"
She squeezed water out of her red pig tail.
"How many times a morning does she wash that sidewalk anyhow?"
Akane could only laugh at her wet fiancée.
Ahead was an apartment complex with a high stone wall around it.
The girl in question looked up at her now taller fiancée.
"Do you think I should run on the fences today? As training I mean."
Ranma followed her gaze to the rapidly approaching wall.
"Sure Akane, your balance needs some work if your going to spar with me."
Akane bit her tongue at the unintended insult. Ranma didn't even realize she had just put her foot in her mouth. Instead she just went on shoving it in there as far as she could.
"That wall would be a good start and its not like anyone could see your underpants dressed like that."
Ranma grew flustered as she suddenly realized she was headed into dangerous waters with that last comment.
"I mean, its not like anyone would want to see your blue panties … not that I think about your underpants or nothing!"
It was a struggle for Akane to keep from slapping her for that last remark. Uncharacteristically Ranma didn't even realize how close she was to being smacked, her mind being filled with the image of Akane's blue panties, the ones she had seen during that first fight with Kuno. Just one more image to haunt her dreams at night.
Akane held back her anger, she wouldn't let anything ruin today. Besides, she knew the baka pervert didn't mean anything by it. Ranma just couldn't help being stupid. Akane blushed as red as the baka pervert when a sudden image from one of her dreams last night, one involving Ranma and her panties together, flashed across her mind. It didn't make it any better that Ranma had been a girl for part of that dream.
Ignoring her companions stammering, Akane climbed atop the stone wall and started a tentative run down its length.
Ranma stopped chewing on her tongue long enough to realize that Akane was gone. For a moment panic seized her, then she saw the dark haired girl staggeringly running down the wall away from her. 'Clumsy tomboy' she thought to herself with a smile before jumping up on the wall and running after her.
The apartment building and its grounds took up an entire block with streets on all four sides. The stone wall was only broken by a few narrow gates for pedestrians and cars. Instead of continuing down the street the two just circled the complex until Akane was running atop the wall with steady confidence. She had only been forced to jump down a couple of times, she even crossed the gates several times, her feet running the narrow rails without falling. By the time they decided to head home, they were both running with happy smiles upon their faces. Each thought 'I could get used to this'.
Mei Lin wasn't having nearly as good a day as Ranma and Akane. She had been in Nerima for more than a week now, visiting dojos, looking for any signs of magic use. It no longer seemed like such a good thing that there were literally hundreds of small dojos littering the ward, it would take her months to find and visit them all. That morning she had sent off a letter to the ministry reporting her inability to find any prospects and the whole mission had her very frustrated. Sure, some of the dojos had magically empowered masters in them, but all were too old to serve the ministry's purposes.
With a resigned sigh, she put a helmet upon her head and climbed astride a rented scooter. The list of private dojos in her pocket seemed so unmanageably large this morning.
When Ranma and Akane exited the Tendo home with their book bags and uniforms, while Ranma's mother was staying with them she insisted that he wear his uniform to school curse or no curse, they were surprised to find Nabiki waiting for them. Without a word she joined them on their walk to school, not even leaving them when they stopped at Dr. Tofu's clinic for hot water.
'How many times does that old woman wash her walk in the morning?'
Nabiki remained silent the entire time so she clearly didn't join them to talk. It was beginning to weird them out.
When they passed through the school's gates no one was surprised to find Kuno waiting for them, a steel blade at his side.
"Ah, the beauteous Akane Kuno, like you how I have longed for this moment, and with the lovely Nabiki by your side. If only the spirited pig tailed girl was accompanying you instead of this vile cretin."
With his hand on the hilt of his sword, Kuno then turned his gaze towards Ranma and the two exchanged hard looks.
When the Blue Blunder spoke of Nabiki with such affection, Akane had turned to her sister only to find her pale, her eyes shifting around like those of a frightened horse.
Akane knew there was a story behind her sister's unusual behavior this morning and she intended to wring it out of her. One way or another.
Then it hit her, Tatewaki had named her a Kuno.
Nabiki had warned her that he thought Ranma's girl form and herself were now married to him, but she hadn't truly grasped what that meant until this moment. She swallowed hard. Things at school had just gotten worse.
Ranma was too focused on Kuno to notice Akane's growing discomfort. Eyes watching the older boy, he moved away from the Tendo sisters, ensuring that they wouldn't be in danger when the samurai wannabe attacked.
"Today Saotome, the wrath of heaven will at last remove you from our lives. Then I and my loving wife Akane shall retire to the sacred kendo training hall and at last she will be free to express her devotion to me." Kuno shuddered in ecstasy at the image of a naked Akane waiting in his bed.
Seeing the look of rapture that spread over the delusional fools face, Akane just knew what was going through the perverts mind and she felt herself fill with the anger that she had been denying a place all morning.
Hearing Kuno refer to his fiancé as the jerk's wife was nearly enough to break Ranma's control over his emotions. Only a lifetime of listening to Pop's insults allowing him to maintain discipline.
Unlike Akane, Ranma understood exactly what Nabiki meant when she warned them yesterday that Kuno now believed them to be married to him.
Ranma would never forget the way Kuno had grabbed his girl form during Saturday's wedding attempt. The way his hands had taken hold of her body, touching her in places she never intended to share with any man, ever. At the time he had declared his intention to marry her then and there and Ranma had no difficulty what so ever believing that the fool convinced himself that it had actually happened.
Normally Ranma wouldn't sweat a fight with Kuno, but the daft swordsman caused enough collateral damage with a wooden bokken, there was no telling what he would do now with steel in his hands. So he backed off letting Kuno believe he was being driven before his blade.
Like Ryouga, Kuno never accepts any responsibility for the innocent bystanders endangered or hurt during one of his attacks so he never gives any thought to the collateral damage that might result. Instead it was always up to Ranma to control the fight, limiting the harm the older boy might cause by putting himself at risk and he was tired of it.
The morning attacks on Akane had proven that no one in authority was going to do anything to reign in the arrogant braggart, but Ranma had little doubt they would act against him if he seriously injured the fool. How to stop someone who is too deluded to control himself without getting in trouble yourself, that's what he needed to figure out. If only he had some of the Amazon 411 shampoo, he could make Kuno forget Akane and the pig tailed girl ever existed. Then he would leave them alone.
While Ranma was contemplating how to win an unending battle, Akane was falling victim to the stoking fires of rage. When she first came to high school she had been so excited. She looked forward to making new friends, wearing a girls school uniform, to putting her primary school reputation of being a tomboy behind her and starting over. She even looked forward to dating boys.
Kuno had ruined everything. Thanks to the morning assaults, forcing her to fight where the whole school could see, he reinforced everyone's image of her as a tomboy in spite of the way she dressed. By inciting the other boys to attack her he destroyed any chance she had of trusting one enough to date him. Worst of all, the anger and frustration she felt kept her temper on a hair trigger. While her fear of what could happen if she ever lost lead her to grow increasingly violent. By singling her out for his attentions, Kuno had managed to isolate her from almost everyone. Even so much of the difficulty she had in her relationship with Ranma, she realized, could be laid at the kendoist's feet.
With unflinching clarity, she realized exactly how she felt about Tatewaki Kuno.
"Kuno!" She screamed, "I hate you!"
Her muscles driven by rage, she struck the shocked teenager over the head with her book bag, destroying the bag and leaving him face down in the dirt.
Thanks to Kuno, Ranma and Akane arrived late to class.
When they entered their homeroom everyone fell silent and just stared. Everyone except their teacher Ms. Hinako and Ranma's friend Daisuke that is.
Ms. Hinako was seated behind her desk reading a confiscated manga, one of Daisuke's. To his regret, Dai was a true teenage pervert and the manga was one of his Sailor Moon 'specials'. As she read it the child like teacher had a look of confusion on her face, but Dai knew that once she drained a delinquent student and reverted to her adult form, he was in serious trouble. His only hope was that something would distract her first and she would forget who she took it from.
As for Ranma and Akane, everyone else quietly watched them make their way to their seats. They all wanted to, but no one dared say anything about the wedding.
With the exception of the resident chaos magnet and those unfortunate enough to be caught up in his orbit, Nerima was a quiet ward, so the other students avidly watched the comings and goings at the Tendo home.
Ranma scowled as they made their way to their desks. Akane was so embarrassed that without meaning to, she was hiding behind her fiancé. Finally they claimed their seats and joined the other students in waiting for Ms. Hinako to start class.
Tired, Ranma had just laid his head down on his desk to catch a few winks when an administrative aid entered the room. A third year student, the girl had signed up to be an aid under the mistaken belief that it would be an easy way to earn credit and advance her academic career. She hadn't counted on the kooky headmaster returning, she like the rest of the students didn't even know he existed. Now she had a lei around her neck, really short hair and a glazed look in her eyes. On the plus side, all of the coconut milk was good for her complexion.
Approaching the distracted teacher's desk, the poor girl was so dazed she didn't realize how much danger she was in.
"Ms. Hinako, I…"
"Delinquent! Happo five yen jutsu!"
With Hinako's cry of delinquent the aid suddenly realized where she was and more importantly, what was about to happen to her. It would have been better for her if she had remained ignorant. With as out of it has she had been the technique probably wouldn't have worked on her, but the momentary spike of fear gave it something to latch onto. She fluttered listlessly to the floor, the papers she had been holding out for Ms. Hinako instead landing on her desk.
Now an adult, Ms. Hinako picked up and examined them.
"Akane Tendo, Ranma Saotome, you are being summoned to the headmaster's office. Miss Tendo, would you please wake up Mr. Saotome."
Looking down at the girl lying on the floor in front of her desk like she had just barely realized she was there, Ms. Hinako went on to add "Oh, and would you convey this poor girl to the nurses station on your way? I do wish Headmaster Kuno wouldn't work the children so hard."
Akane had just lead Ranma, who was carrying the aid, out of the classroom and Daisuke released a sigh of relief that he had been forgotten. He was a little premature.
"Mr. Daisuke, if you would come up to my desk, I would like you to explain this manga to me."
With a dark cloud of gloom hanging over his head, Dai made his way to the front of the room wondering how he was going to explain to the gorgeous Ms. Hinako, in her undersized skirt and tight blouse, why a hormonally driven teenage boy would be looking at a dirty comic about pretty sailor suited soldiers of love and justice before class. 'There is no way…' he thought to himself, 'that this could get any worse'.
This seemed to be Dai's day for premature… well, for coming to the wrong conclusion too soon.
The spike of fear that Hinako drained from the unfortunate office girl was much weaker than the auras of lust, anger or battle that she normally absorbed and didn't fuel her change for very long.
Dai was just beginning his explanation, when Ms. Hinako reverted to a child like state. There, in front of the entire class, Dai found himself explaining the birds and the bees to his curious teacher. All with the help of the comics very colorful visual aids.
'Please Kami, strike me down now!'
Ranma and Akane had delivered the aid to the caring arms of the school nurse and were now seated in the faux Hawaii that was Headmaster Kuno's office. If the ridiculous trappings weren't bad enough, the man's fake accent would try the patience of a saint. Let's not even discuss the tiny palm tree on his head.
"Well keikis, look like you bin on big aloha vacation durin de school year, yeah. Now der bein big trouble with you attendin record."
The keikis in question gave the headmaster confused looks.
"Sounds like you have bigger school problems than me pineapple head." Ranma said, "You talk even worse than I do."
"Now wittle brudda, der no need fo' bein so rude no."
Headmaster Kuno turned from giving malevolent looks at Ranma's pig tail, to give a big islands smile to Akane.
"`Ey little waihine, me hear you be maryin me wittle Tatchi. Dat so?"
It took Akane a moment to figure out he was asking her if she was going to marry Tatewaki Kuno, but once she did all of the anger and resentment from two years of putting up with Kuno insanity came roaring back.
"No! I will never date much less marry that pervert! Why I… I would rather marry Shampoo and she's a girl!"
"Dat so? Me ne'er be noin de waihine swing dat way. Maybe de waihine wan me wittle Datchi den?"
Akane was livid. This pervert was asking her if she wanted to marry his daughter Kodachi.
"Listen here you jerk! I will never marry a Kuno! Not your son! Not your daughter! Not you or your grandfather! If I never see another Kuno again it will be too soon!"
After this morning Akane wasn't holding anything back.
The principle wiped away fake tears.
"Why dat too bad. Me wittle Tatchi be so upset wen he hear keikis no be tendin Furinkan no more."
"What!" They both yelled at the same time.
The headmaster tried to look pious.
"Mesa sorry. De keikis miss way too many classes. No can pass de year with dat. Now if'n we bein in Havahi', kiekies be getting second chance, but no, we is in Japans. Here rules say, no attend, no pass, no continue in school."
Now he gave them a big, friendly, brain dead smile.
"Don be worryin' none kiekis, you still get jobs. Why wahine, me Tatchi can always use new maid. Me put in good word fo' you. No hard feelins', no?"
There were no hard feelings. In fact, by the time Ranma and Akane left the Headmaster's office, he wasn't feeling a thing and wouldn't for several hours. After that, nothing but pain.
After sharing their feelings with the headmaster, Ranma and Akane left for home. After all, if Kuno wasn't going to let them pass this grade, there was no reason to endure the rest of this miserable day.
After entering through the front gate of the Tendo compound, Ranma peeled off through the side gate by the door. The one that gave access to the side yard and the dojo.
"Ranma?" Akane inquired. Her voice was quiet, carrying a note of despair.
He turned his head, looking over his shoulder.
"I'm going to work out in the dojo. If were not going to be wasting any more time at school, I guess there won't be anymore distractions from the art."
There was a hard edge of anger to his voice and she knew that despite his words, he was upset too.
"If we're … if we're both going to compete in the tournament, you should get some practice too."
Akane gave him a tentative smile.
"Sure Ranma, I'll join you after I change."
Ranma responded with a half smirk, then disappeared beyond the fence.
Stepping through the door Akane paused in the ghenkan to exchange her shoes for a soft pair of house slippers, then headed up the stairs to her room.
Kasumi was outside hanging laundry when she saw Ranma make his way across the yard and into the dojo. For him to come home so early from school two days in a row was too much for her to take in stride. No, something bad must be going on at school and she was willing to bet it involved a certain delusional rich jerk. Also, if today was like yesterday then Ranma hadn't come home alone. She knew that Ranma used practicing his kata as a way of dealing with his emotions, especially when he was troubled or upset.
Nabiki dealt with hers by taking it out on someone else, or at least their money.
Her baby sister Akane though, she usually bottled hers up until someone had the misfortune of pushing her over the edge, causing her to blow up. Not the best way of dealing with her problems.
Picking up the still half full laundry basket, Kasumi entered the house and leaving the basket on the hallway table next to the phone, she proceeded upstairs to check on her sisters.
First she tried Nabiki's room, hoping her calmer sister could tell her what to expect, and it was on the way. When the room proved empty, apparently whatever happened didn't involve her, Kasumi moved down the hall to the last door, Akane's.
She could hear her baby sister moving about the room, her footsteps striking hard with anger.
Tentatively she knocked. "Akane"
There was a moment of silence from the other side.
Now she knew something was seriously wrong. Akane tried to keep her feelings out of her voice, but she was no better at hiding her emotions than Ranma.
"Can I come in?"
She intended to enter no matter what Akane might say, but she didn't want to force it if she didn't have to.
After a moment of silence, Akane answered in the affirmative.
Her eyes on the yellow duck with her sister's name on it, Kasumi pushed the door open until she could see Akane herself. She was standing next to the bed in only her bra and panties, her eyes puffy and red from the tears sliding down her cheeks. Kasumi noticed the school uniform bundled up into a ball and thrown in the corner, in a not so casual way.
Whatever had happened at school, Akane was very upset and so was her little sister's fiancé. Without saying a word, Kasumi crossed from the door and gathered her little sister into a comforting embrace.
"It's okay Akane, you can tell me what's wrong."
Patting her on the back and whispering comforting words, she waited until her sister was ready to speak.
When several minutes passed with Akane continuing to cling to her desperately, her tears soaking Kasumi's blouse, Kasumi gently guided her little sister until they were both seated together on the edge of her bed.
"What happened Akane? What is wrong?"
"Oh Kasumi, it was … it was headmaster Kuno. He … the headmaster asked me if I was going to … going to marry his son … and when I said no, he asked me if I was a …"
It took Akane a minute to reign in her sobs before she could continue. It was what the Hawaiian freak did next that had really upset her.
"When I said I would never marry that pervert, he asked me if I was a … if I was a lesbian!"
Kasumi held her sister close. Many would accuse the oldest Tendo girl of being out of touch, even oblivious to what went on around her, and though it was true that she had been forced to separate from the normal world of a woman her age to raise her sisters, she still remembered how cruel teenagers could be in school. She had feared that when people learned of Ranma's curse and with his being engaged to Akane, that some would begin to talk about her little sister's preferences. Given Akane's tomboyish ways and the Kuno boy's cruel announcement ensuring that she never had a boyfriend, such talk was bound to happen.
"That's not the worst of it sis."
'What!' Kasumi thought, 'How could it get even worse?'
"After that … after that he told us, that because we missed so many days of class while we were in China,"
Akane released her older sister and ducked her head in shame.
"he told Ranma and I that he wasn't going to let us pass this year. Oh Kasumi! That jerk threw us out of school! The pervert offered to get me a job as their maid!"
Akane's tears were washed away by a wave of anger. Letting go of Kasumi, she leapt to her feet and began to angrily tread back and forth from the bed to the door and back again.
Kasumi was speechless. She had promised her mother that she would take care of her sisters and now Akane wasn't going to finish high school. This couldn't be happening, not after all they had been through!
While Kasumi was struggling to process what her little sister had said, Akane pulled her worn yellow gi from the closet. Quickly pulling it on, she told Kasumi that she was going out to the dojo to work out with 'the baka', then left the room, her feet striking the floor in a staccato rhythm.
After Akane left Kasumi just sat there, frozen in disbelief followed by despair at her failure. Oh how she missed her mother. Missed having someone to turn to when she needed to be held, when she needed support or advice. She knew that in this area her father and only remaining parent was worse than useless. Daddy would only explode into tears, requiring her support instead of offering his own. Besides, what she needed was a mother. So Kasumi decided to grasp hold of the closest thing she had, leaving her sister's room, she went downstairs to the phone in the front hall and dialed.
"Hello, aunt Nodoka, I… we need you."
When Ranma entered what remained of the dojo, he left his shoes on the front step. Then he removed his hat and jacket, tossing them to the side were they passed through one of the many gapping holes in the walls to land on the lawn outside. Still not satisfied, he removed the rest of his school uniform leaving him in only his undershirt and boxers, then gave them the same treatment as the jacket.
Now rid of the hated uniform, not to mention nearly naked, he moved to the center of the dojo and began the first kata he had ever learned. Moving slowly about the floor, he let his mind and body go, embracing the flow of the motions while unconsciously avoiding the holes in the floor. He had nearly found his center, his emotions settling, when he stumbled while passing over one particular mar in the hard wood floor. It wasn't a hole, nor was it blackened by explosive food or fireworks, it was a straight gash, a slash cut into the floor by a steel sword.
"Augh, damn you Kuno!"
Why? Why couldn't the sword waving jerk be satisfied with ruining his wedding? Why did he have to continue to cause Akane pain?
Returning to the center of the floor Ranma began again. This time as he moved about the floor he pretended that it was Kuno who stood at the receiving end of every kick and punch. Instead of helping him to calm down, it was working him up higher and higher until he felt like he was burning up in a funnel of Saffron's flames.
He didn't care about school, what good was knowing the names of dead emperors to a martial artist. Pops had always called it a waste of time, a distraction from the art. So why was he so angry over being kicked out? Was it because he hadn't chosen to leave? No. He had never chosen to go in the first place, Pops had forced it on him since they were going to be staying here. No, Ranma didn't care about school. That wasn't what was bothering him. Akane was the one who cared, who worked hard to get good grades, who tried so hard, who wanted to graduate. Ranma realized the reason he was angry was because they had taken it from her. They had stolen the smile from her face, had stolen it from him!
He was so caught up in his anger that he didn't even realize he had stopped and was just standing there in the middle of the dojo. Didn't realize that Akane had entered the heavily air conditioned structure until she struck him hard in the chest, sending him stumbling.
Looking up in pain and surprise, he saw her there, tears running down her cheeks, her body shaking with pain and anger. She didn't give him a chance to look for long. With incredible speed she charged to the attack, throwing kicks and punches too fast for most to see.
"Fight me Ranma!" She yelled. "Fight me for real!"
Seeing the pain and tears in her brown eyes did what his katas could not, it extinguished the flame of his own anger.
At first he did try to dodge, but she was striking so hard, was so out of control in her anguish that he realized if he did she would likely tumble and possibly hurt herself. So instead he blocked, some blows he even took, absorbing the force and blocking out the pain. At the same time he did his best to maneuver her around the holes and weak spots that littered the floor. Soon, out of necessity, he led her out of the dojo and into the yard.
Akane continued her relentless attack, chasing him the entire length of the compound as they passed between the house and the rear wall. She had pushed herself past her limits, but was so worked up she couldn't stop. Since they were now on the other side of the house, eventually the inevitable happened. Akane threw everything she had into a punch aimed straight at Ranma's face. Her lead foot caught on the edge of one of the stepping stones leading away from the house. Seeing that she was going to fall face forward on the rocks surrounding the koi pond, Ranma lunged to catch her. Unfortunately, being pursued around the grounds by an out of control tomboy had left him battered and tired as well. He mistimed his move and though he did save her from landing on the rocks, they both fell headfirst into the pond.
The shock of the cold water flowing into her mouth and nose was enough to rattle Akane out of her desperate rage, restoring her self control. While in the case of her pig tailed fiancé, the results were predictable.
Akane felt arms around her, a hand patting her on the back, helping drive the water from her lungs. When sense returned to her she found that she was half lying, half sitting in the koi pond, her cheek resting against her fiancé's chest. For a moment she was content to remain that way, resting to regain her strength. She could hear Ranma's heartbeat, feel the wet cotton of his undershirt against her cheek. Then she felt something poking that cheek through the thin material, something small and hard. With a start she realized that it wasn't Ranma's chest she was laying against, but Ranma-Chan's. Her face was sandwiched within the red heads ample cleavage, the nipple of the left breast was what she felt poking her, while the nipple of the right was prominently displayed before her eyes. The wet fabric of the t-shirt left nothing to the imagination, not even the color. All sense of comfort fled her as she realized that she had been nuzzling her fiancé's, another girl's breasts. Wounds still fresh with shame from what the headmaster had asked, Akane shoved her fiancé away hard. She blindly scrambled out of the pond and fled into the house.
Ranma sat in the cold water of the pond, causing goose bumps to rise on her flesh. Watching her fiancée flee from her presence after being pushed away so violently filled her with a pain far worse than any of the bruises left by Akane's kicks and punches. For once Ranma was glad she was in the koi pond, with the water running down her face even she couldn't tell for sure if there were tears there as well.
When Nodoka arrived at the Tendo home, she found Kasumi waiting for her at the gate. The normally unflappable matriarch of the house was clearly agitated. The unmistakable relief on the young woman's face when she saw her both warmed Nodoka's heart and sent chills down her back. On the one hand it felt good to be needed. The way Kasumi was looking to her for advice and support made her feel like she was part of something, something she had lost ten years ago, a family.
The chills came because she knew how strong Kasumi was. The young woman was the rock upon which the Tendo family was built. With little support from the Tendo patriarch Kasumi had maintained her family through lose, despair, strife and events that would break most men. Even the arrival of Genma and Ranma and all of the chaos that followed hadn't been enough to shake her. Anything that upset the strong young women this much had to be bad, end of the world bad.
Without hesitation Nodoka took her in a comforting embrace, which Kasumi returned with desperate intensity.
"Oh aunty!" she cried, "I've failed! Mother trusted me to take care of them and I failed!"
The Saotome matriarch found herself holding a raggedly weeping girl at her strength's end. Keeping a firm reign on her own fears, she asked her in a firm, comforting voice
"Kasumi, is anyone hurt or in danger?"
She couldn't contain a shudder of relief when Kasumi shook her head no.
"Well then, what do you say we go into the kitchen and have a nice cup of tea. You can tell me what has happened and I'm sure that together we can make it right, okay?"
Not giving the younger woman a chance to respond, Nodoka guided her into the house.
Pausing for a moment in the ghenkan to exchange their shoes for slippers, the two women made their way to the kitchen, Kasumi still leaning on Nodoka for support.
When they passed the open entry to the dinning room, Nodoka could see Soun and Genma in their usual place, playing shoji without a care in the world. Knowing that Soun would respond to any problems in the family with an eruption of tears, she realized that Kasumi must not have told the fathers yet. While she was disappointed that the two men were doing nothing to help the family, she also took it as a good sign. If anything truly dreadful had happened then surely Kasumi wouldn't be keeping it from her father. It could only mean that whatever had happened, she still hoped Nodoka could fix it.
Soon the women were in the kitchen, door closed securely behind them, sitting down to a cup of tea.
It seemed to help as soon Kasumi stopped crying, her voice was steady if lacking its usually pleasant tone.
"Now then Kasumi dear, what is the problem?"
Kasumi took a moment to order her thoughts, sipping her tea to buy time.
"Aunty, this morning Akane and Ranma returned home soon after school started. They were both very upset."
She put down her cup, her hands had begun to shake again with the strength of her emotions. Seeing this, Nodoka reached out and took them in her own. With a gentle squeeze and a warm smile she shared her strength with the younger woman. Kasumi gave a small smile of her own in gratitude. If felt so wonderful to have someone she could turn to when it all just became too much to bare.
"I asked Akane what had happened. She told me that they had been summoned to the headmaster's office. She said that Headmaster Kuno asked her if she was going to marry his bastard of a son. When she told him no, she said he insulted her and then using the excuse of their recent absence to China, he threw them out of school."
Her voice quavered and broke as she finished.
"Aunty, I promised mother I would take care of my sisters, but if Akane doesn't finish high school she won't be able to attend a college. What do I do aunty? My little sister's future is being destroyed and I don't know what to do."
Nodoka now understood why Kasumi was so upset. Her promise to care for her sisters had become the focus of her entire being. If she failed in that promise, even in the smallest way, then it would invalidate her entire existence. She knew that Kasumi loved her family more than anything. She had put her own life on indefinite hold to care for them and anything that hurt them held twice the sting for her.
She gave Kasumi her most reassuring smile.
"Don't worry dear, being expelled from Furinkan, though troubling, is not the end of the world. In fact, given the way poor Akane has been treated there, it might even be a good thing."
"But aunty, if she is expelled from Furinkan then no other school will take her and without a high school diploma she will never get into college."
"Nonsense." Nodoka responded with a dismissive wave. "Another high school will accept her and Ranma, with the proper incentive."
Kasumi wasn't sure the older woman understood the situation.
"What incentive aunty? We don't have enough money to carry us through the month, much less enough to buy their way into a private school."
"Money isn't everything dear. In fact this tournament might just be the thing. Not only will it provide us with money as we planned, but it will bring Akane and Ranma to the attention of all the right people."
Nodoka held Kasumi's eyes with her own.
"Kasumi, I know that neither you nor your sister Nabiki place that much importance upon the art, and I agree that there are other things that are much more important, but don't underestimate how important it is to others. A tournament such as this will have the eye of people who can prove very helpful in getting our children into another school, one much better than Furinkan for them."
She gave her a warm smile, patting her hand, letting her know that everything was going to be fine.
"Why don't you go speak to Akane again and tell her what we've discussed. Let her know that she still has a chance to graduate from high school, all while escaping the madness of the Kunos."
Kasumi suddenly hugged her, a smile spreading across her face.
"Thank you aunty. I don't know how I could have faced this without your help."
That said, Kasumi rushed from the room to go comfort her little sister.
Left alone in the kitchen, Nodoka basked in the fading warmth of Kasumi's embrace. It warmed her to know that she could help the younger woman and her family.
Now, to find her son.
Nabiki came home from school in a definite hurry, but she didn't run. During lunch she had been approached by Akane's friends, Yuka and Sayuri. They wanted to know what happened to Akane or even Ranma.
Nabiki, to her annoyance, didn't know.
Until the girls asked she didn't even know that her little sister and her fiancé hadn't been in class all morning. The only thing Nabiki hated more than not knowing what was going on in her sphere of influence, was having to admit not knowing. So after the disappointed girls went their way, she made hers to the office of the headmaster's secretary.
The old woman claimed ignorance. All she would say was that Headmaster Kuno had summoned them to his office during first hour, they were in his office for only a few minutes and then left angry. She said she hadn't heard anything about it from the headmaster. She hadn't in fact heard anything from the headmaster since and she wasn't about to jinx it by seeking him out first.
Now Nabiki was heading home, anxious to get the news straight from the horses mouth, or preferably from Kasumi. Stopping in the Ghenkan to exchange her shoes, she called out "I'm home!". To hear Kasumi's reply of welcome from the kitchen, as normal. What wasn't normal was the strained cheerfulness in her sister's voice. If Kasumi was upset then something momentously bad must have happened.
Making her way into the kitchen Nabiki saw something that had her even more worried. Kasumi wasn't alone and it wasn't just aunt Nodoka that was helping her. Nabiki felt her stomach lurch at the sight of Akane helping prepare the evening meal. She almost didn't notice the signs that both of her sisters were upset, her mind being more occupied with finding an acceptable excuse for why she wasn't going to be home for dinner. Nothing was coming to mind and she really hated not knowing.
Aunt Nodoka stepped between her and Akane, neatly blocking her from view.
"Nabiki dear, dinner is almost ready. You should go change before we eat."
She then proceeded to gently push her out of the kitchen.
Seeing the anger still flickering in her baby sister's eyes, she decided to wait and ask Kasumi when they were alone. She did not want to be the target of Akane's wrath if the news was as bad as she was starting to suspect.
Deciding to bide her time, she went up to her room to change and seek information through alternate avenues of investigation. She was going to hack the school's computer.
Nabiki Tendo was extremely good at two things; coercing people into doing what she wanted and gathering information. Each led to the other, whether she was using the information she had gathered to induce someone's cooperation, or she was tricking them into giving her information.
In this case her dupe was one Jiro Arai, an assistant to old man Watanabe, the history teacher who from the look of him had lived through most of his subject.
Like so many older people Mr. Watanabe was extremely resistant to learning new things, kind of fitting for a teacher of history, and so he left all of his computer work to Jiro. Because of this, Jiro had the teacher's pass codes for the school's entire network. While this didn't allow enough access to make many changes to past records, though it would allow someone to change recent grades ( entering grades was Jiro's job after all ), it did allow access to all but the most confidential student files. Nabiki used her pass codes sparingly, they were worth too much to risk through excess or abuse.
The computer booted up while she dressed and now wearing white cotton shorts and a yellow t-shirt adorned with the words 'Shadow Rabbit', complete with the black figure of a rabbit, she started the process of hiding herself behind other nodes on the network.
Her first stop was Tatewaki Kuno's personal home computer. His system was top of the line, one could expect no less from a Kuno, but she held serious doubts that he knew how to use it.
She was in fact fairly confident that he didn't because of how he responded when she once offered to send him digital photos by E-mail. Kuno had given her a look that said 'I have no idea what your talking about but I'm too proud to show it' and then agreed. So she mailed him printed photos in the post and charged him extra on the grounds that they were digital. Instead of complaining about her perfidious dealings, he had simply requested that she return to delivering them in person and continued to pay her extra for their being digital. Enough extra that she was able to buy a digital camera.
The next step on the daisy chain was a public access computer at the local chapter of the Tokyo Metropolitan Library. From there she went straight to the school's computer. Normally she wouldn't trust the security of a chain only two links long, but a longer chain slowed down her access and she felt confident that no one would look any further than the Kuno's.
She knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that no one from the Kuno household would ever check. One of her side ventures in business was the creation of her very own internet porn site 'Happi Ladies'. The only images on the site were picturesque ocean scenes and a couple of beaches, but the site had only one member and he didn't even know it existed. Namely one Tatewaki Kuno, who's computer regularly visited thanks to a little Trojan she had downloaded onto it once while 'helping out' ( she had put on a screen saver that flashed through images of the pig tailed girl mixed with a few pictures of Akane that she deemed safe, probably the only use to which Kuno would ever put it. It also insured that the computer was never turned off. ). The Kuno Estate accountant knew Tatewaki was a first class pervert and paid the bill every month without question.
She had just entered the school's network when she heard a soft knocking at her door.
"Come in." She called after switching her computer over to a second window, hiding her current activity.
To her happy surprise Kasumi was the one to enter.
"Nabiki, we need to talk about what is happening to Akane."
She had Nabiki's undivided attention.
"Sure sis, what new tragedy has struck our baby sister?"
Kasumi sat down on the bed.
"Today Headmaster Kuno summoned Akane and Ranma to his office."
Nabiki was chewing her tongue in impatience, she already knew this part.
"Akane told me that when they arrived, he asked her if she was going to marry his son and when she said no, he insinuated that she was a …" Kasumi leaned in closer and whispered the next word "…lesbian."
"He said what?!" Nabiki wondered if Headmaster Kuno was still alive. If he really said that to her little sister, she doubted he walked away unscathed. The secretary's claim that she hadn't heard from him since the two left his office now seemed very credible.
Kasumi was wearing a pained expression and nodding.
"Then he told them that because of their recent absence, he was expelling them from Furinkan."
Then Nabiki was witness to one of the rarest sights of all time, anger was showing on her sister's face. She took such expressions from Akane for granted , but she couldn't recall ever seeing such on Kasumi.
Nabiki turned back to her computer and no longer caring if her prude of a sister saw what she was doing, she pulled up the school records for Akane.
The secretary had recorded her summons to the headmaster's office, but that was it. She then pulled up Ranma's, there after the record of his summons, was the paperwork for having him expelled. The school computer had recorded the time and date of filing and it wasn't for Tuesday or even Monday, it was Saturday afternoon. She felt a twinge of guilt when she saw the time stamp, it was filed within an hour of her telling Kuno baby about the wedding.
Kasumi was reading over her shoulder.
"What does this mean Nabiki? Has he expelled Ranma but not Akane?"
Nabiki gave a terse nod.
Kasumi couldn't keep the elation from her voice, maybe she hadn't failed after all.
"Then Akane can still attend school and graduate!"
Nabiki hated to burst her sister's bubble, also she was a little surprised that Kasumi seemed to have forgotten that Ranma had in fact been expelled.
"Akane hasn't been expelled, yet." Nabiki said in a tight voice, "But she can't go back to Furinkan."
Kasumi couldn't have heard that last part right.
"If she hasn't been expelled then why can't she graduate from Furinkan?"
Nabiki gave her sister a piercing stare. She knew her sister wasn't stupid but sometimes she could be almost as naïve as Ranma.
"Kasumi, Ranma has been expelled. Add that to what the loon said to Akane, he is getting rid of the competition."
The quizzical look Kasumi was giving her confirmed that she still didn't understand where she was going with this.
"Kasumi, Headmaster Kuno has decided that Akane is going to marry his son and he's willing to play hardball to see that she does. If she goes back… Kasumi, for the last two days Kuno has met Ranma at the school gates with a real, honest to kami sword. Not a wooden bokken, but a sharp steel blade."
Here she pulled several pictures out of an envelope in her desk drawer. They looked like scenes from a Thousand and One Arabian Nights the porno, complete with silk veils and throw pillows.
"He has had the kendo training hall converted into a bedroom where he intends to take our little sister."
She grabbed her sister's hand, hard.
"Kasumi, if we send Akane back to Furinkan without Ranma, Tatewaki Kuno will try to rape her and his loon of a father will make sure no one interferes. Kuno baby may be deluded enough to believe that they are already married, but his father isn't. Daddy does however know that if the Blue Blunder succeeds in taking her virtue, then honor will demand that she marry him. That is why she can't go back."
Mei Lin never thought she would feel this way, but she was sick of Japan. There wasn't anything wrong with the island nation, rather it was her task that had her so frustrated. She had been in Nerima for almost two weeks and had yet to successfully recruit a new teacher for the minister.
Her search hadn't been a total blowout, she had in fact found two adepts who fit the minister's requirements, but both had refused her proposal.
That jerk Kumon had even threatened to get physical.
'Hogwarts is a school of international renown,' she thought to herself, 'but these eastern adepts treat the idea of teaching there like an insult, like I am trying to steal from them.'
She was frustrated and quite sick of anything Japanese, which is why she was sitting in this American Sports Bar. True the only thing American about the place was the tacky decor, there wasn't a round eye or naturally blonde head in the place, but at least it wasn't Japanese.
Like any sports bar, this one had more monitors and television screens then chairs. All showing sporting events, many from America, advertising upcoming events or displaying gambling information.
She wasn't a big fan of muggle sports, they just couldn't compete with a rousing game of Quiditch.
One advertisement did catch her eye, there was going to be a martial arts tournament in Shinjuku in two days. It was the first in a series of events the JKA ( Japanese Karate Association ) was holding all over Japan. These tournaments would eventually determine the nation's Olympic team.
Even so, she knew she wouldn't find a true adept competing. The eastern masters are just has arrogant as their western counterparts when it came to muggles and didn't get involved in the art of the touki-rui, their term for muggles. Though both forms were rooted in the same art, they considered the non-magical versions to be pale shadows of the real thing. Right now that made this tournament all the more appealing. She desperately needed a break.
Having spent most of her childhood in Hong Kong, Mei Lin had grown up surrounded by the muggle arts. She herself had studied Kung Fu and fencing under muggle masters. To say she was a fan was something of an understatement. Yes, she would attend the tournament. Perhaps it would help remind her why she had been so excited to receive this assignment in the first place.
At least it would be a break from her frustrating search.
For Ranma and Akane the week following their expulsion from Furinkan seemed to go by painfully slow. Instead of going to school, they spent their days practicing for the tournament.
This meant that Akane trained to fill in the holes in her defenses, while Ranma worked to tone down his own flamboyant style. It wouldn't do to be seen leaping fifteen feet in the air, or throwing punches at superhuman speeds. They needed to win the money, but they didn't want to embarrass their art by drawing too much attention.
While they trained their fathers would watch, often joined by Nodoka and Kasumi in between chores. The fathers often offered surprisingly good advice, while the disapproving eye of Nodoka kept Ranma from treating Akane's training too lightly.
Akane had improved more in the last week then in the previous five years. She found it extremely exhilarating, while growing more annoyed then ever at how much time her father had wasted by not training her more strenuously.
She would have considered it one of the best weeks of her life if not for Ranma. Yes he trained with her seriously, not just dodging her attacks, but outside of sparing he seemed to be avoiding her. Even when they were together he wouldn't look her in the eye, always darting away when she tried to enforce eye contact. If she tried to initiate any conversation that didn't involve him instructing her, he would answer in single syllables and then leave at the first opportunity.
What was wrong with the baka? She didn't think the coming tournament was the cause, and she knew it wasn't getting kicked out of school. She figured Ranma was probably enjoying that part, he never thought much of school and with a father like Genma, who could blame him. No, something was bothering him and she couldn't for the life of her figure out what.
Maybe it was because of Shampoo or Ukyou.
The Chinese amazons, according to the sign on their café door, had returned to China but expected to return in a few weeks.
As for Ukyou, she hadn't left a note but Konatsu was still staying at Uchan's and the cross dresser told them that his mistress had gone home to speak to her father. He couldn't say how long she would be gone, but he made it clear she was very sorry for what she did at the wedding. He told Akane that when Ukyou found out about the wedding she had first sunk into despair and then exploded in a manic frenzy, desperate to stop it.
Akane wasn't sure how Ranma felt about his Chinese bride, she was pretty sure the pervert enjoyed the way the harlot threw herself at him.
Ukyou, she was Ranma's oldest friend and her absence had to be affecting him. Akane liked Ukyou, often thought they could be friends too if not for their conflicting engagements. If hearing about the Okinomiyaki chef's pain hurt her, she could only imagine what it was doing to Ranma.
Saturday morning found the extended Tendo/Saotome clan riding an early morning train from Nerima to Shinjuku. The tournament was being hosted by the Waseda University karate club at the university and sign in ended at ten in the morning.
Genma sat against the window, softly snoring.
Soun sat with an uncharacteristic stiffness to his posture, occasionally fidgeting. They hadn't even arrived at the tournament and he was already embarrassed to be involved.
Nabiki, in the simplest terms she could find, was explaining to Ranma what he needed to do to drive up the betting.
Of everyone there, only Nodoka, Kasumi and Akane were honestly excited to be going to the tournament.
Being a large university and one of the most prestigious in Japan, Waseda, sometimes called Sodai, was located near a major rail line expediting their arrival. While this tournament was only one of the early preliminaries leading up to the international contests, it was a JKA sanctioned event and thus had drawn quite a large crowd with competitors from all over Tokyo. The top contenders from this tournament would be invited to compete against artists from ever larger areas, until the best of the nation had been separated out. Being a first tier contest, this tournament was open to all comers so the line of those waiting to pay their entrance fee included untested newcomers. People who didn't really expect to win, but were here to get their feet wet and hopefully be noticed as an up and comer of the future.
Nabiki, Soun and Genma had left the others at the train station. A little research had clued the middle Tendo in that most of the serious betting would not be taking place at the university, but at a downtown bar. So after making sure Ranma understood what was required of him and assuring that Nodoka had a cell phone on which Nabiki could call in further instructions, she and the fathers boarded another train.
Soun and Genma were supposedly going along to protect her and the money she carried, especially important since it was all that they had. In truth, while their protection was welcomed as long as they stayed out of the way, they were really going to avoid being seen at the touki-rui tournament. Not to mention that they were always happy to spend quality time at a bar were the bartender didn't know them yet.
The rest of the women, including Ranma-Chan who had gotten wet when passing a drinking fountain that had suddenly blown its spout becoming a true fountain, made their way across campus to the school's sports facilities. They had brought several insulated thermoses filled with hot water just in case, but until Ranma's clothes managed to dry out any attempts to change him back would be futile.
Being impatient, Ranma grasped the hem of her shirt preparatory to wringing the garment out, but her mother stopped her before it cleared her belly button. Even so, she had already managed to attract the attention of several college students who were walking by.
"Ranma!" she said in exasperation, "It is never appropriate for a young lady to disrobe in public."
"But mom, I was just trying to wring out all this water. Its not like I can register as a girl ya' know."
Akane couldn't resist getting in a little dig at her fiancé's expense.
"Yea aunty, besides if Ranma attracts the attention of the more manly college students, they might invite her to one of those parties they talked so much about on the news. I'm sure some of these perverts would be more than happy to make a real woman out of her."
"Akane!" Nodoka said, her voice ringing with disapproval. "There are some things that a truly manly gentleman does not do, ever, and that includes waiting in line to impress a woman."
Akane face faulted when Nodoka followed that statement up with
"A truly manly young man seduces a young lady all on his own, and he never shares his triumph with his drunk and sweaty friends."
( Google Shinichirō Wada if you don't know what Akane is talking about. )
The Saotome matriarch's disapproving eyes had come to rest on Ranma-Chan, causing the red head to hyperventilate. Was her mother insinuating that she should be out seducing young women? Or worse, was she hinting that has a young woman, she should be the one being seduced?
Sometimes Ranma really worried about her mother's fixation on activities that might end in the birth of grandchildren. Ranma got nervous enough thinking about fathering a child. There was no way anyone would ever convince her to be the mother of one. She may be willing to flirt with a man for extra treats, but she would die before she would do that with a man.
By the time they reached the gymnasium the warm spring morning had dried Ranma's shirt sufficiently to allow him to change back. After which he removed his shirt to wring the excess water out. Several passing girls paused to admire his muscular chest and torso.
Ranma was too oblivious to notice.
Akane did notice and had to bite down tight on her jealousy and anger.
Nodoka was also aware of the attention her son was attracting and it filled her with a mother's pride.
'My son is so manly!'
Witnessing Akane's jealousy, she was reassured that she would not be an old woman before the two provided her with grandchildren.
After a brief wait in line, they were able to enroll with no difficulty. Both Ranma and Akane declared themselves to be black belts in Kempo Karate, Nabiki felt that would cause them less difficulty, while Soun and Genma insisted that their true school's name not be used.
The morning matches proved easy with the weakest and most inexperienced fighters being weeded out. Ranma was careful not to appear too good and even Akane found it unnecessary to show any sign of what she could really do.
At the bar the morning betting had been very light, most of the serious betters watching to gain a measure of the fighters. Nabiki was relieved that Ranma had managed to hide his skill without looking like he was holding back too much. After the morning's showing, she was hopeful of making money not only on Ranma, but also Akane in the women's division.
The fathers quickly grew bored with the less than stellar displays of skill and were now seated before a different screen, one showing a baseball game in Cuba. Nabiki had finally given in and given them some betting money of their own. She knew she would never see it again for whatever they didn't lose they would surely drink away, but it was worth it to get them off her back. She was sure that if they had continued to breath down her neck when the real betting started, Genma would make some stupid remark that would greatly reduce her ability to lay profitable wagers.
At noon Yasunori Ono, acting on behalf of the Karate Club, called break for lunch announcing that the tournament would resume at one thirty.
Finding a quiet corner, Kasumi produced several bento lunches. Akane couldn't contain the excitement she felt at competing. Even Ranma was in a good mood. At least he was until Nabiki called to remind him of the part he was to play in the second half.
When the competitors reconvened after lunch things became much more interesting. The morning had been spent winnowing out all but the strongest fighters who were now free to test their might against each other. For Ranma and Akane this meant they now faced opponents of skill and experience, if lacking in true power. For Nabiki, this meant she could now engage in some serious betting.
Mei Lin had spent the morning carousing with the contestants and spectators at the tournament. It felt good to be treated like a real martial artist again after two weeks of being looked down on by adepts. She regretted not signing up herself, she would have enjoyed the exercise.
She felt the excitement build as the afternoon wore on. With each passing hour more and more contestants fell out of the race, leaving only the best behind and with fewer and fewer opponents left to fight the number of simultaneous contests were reduced until now there was only one match going at a time. The women's and men's divisions taking turns on the center mat.
It was the women's division that currently held the floor. The contestants were a college student from nearby Bunkyo, and a high school student from Nerima of all places. Mei Lin didn't give the Nerima connection much thought. She had seen this girl fight once before, earlier that morning and while skilled nothing about the girl had really made her stand out. Now though the individual skill levels of the fighters were much higher, forcing them to push themselves harder to win. The speed of the black haired teenager seemed to jump, greatly improving over what Mei Lin had witnessed in the earlier match. A sneaky suspicion began to grow in the Auror's mind, but the match ended before she could confirm it. She vowed to pay more attention to the girl's next match.
For Ranma the morning had been wonderfully relaxing, but the afternoon was proving much better. As long as he kept his chi out of the equation, keeping the match one of only martial art skill, his opponents were now beginning to push him. Not using his chi left the matches less then satisfying, but not once having his opponent try to kill, marry or accuse him of cheating with black sorcery more than made up the difference. When the time came for his next match he spotted his mother on the phone. He watched until after she hung up and held up two fingers, signaling him to end the match in less than two minutes. At last the betting was getting fierce.
At the bar the gambling had finally gotten heated. The early betting had been profitable enough, but now that their opponents were getting better the amount of money exchanging hands had increased dramatically. Quite a bit of that money ended up in the hands of Nabiki Tendo. Now her marks were taking her seriously, the odds they gave against Ranma and even Akane had evened out a long time ago and were now swinging in the other direction. It was time to shift them back. So she called aunt Nodoka and told her that Ranma had to win the next match in under two minutes. The addition of that handicap raised the odds appreciably. When he finished the match with fifteen seconds to spare even that dried up.
The time came for Akane's last match and she found herself paired against a girl eight years her senior. She had watched the older woman's previous rounds and had seen signs of at least three different styles including Jujitsu, so she wasn't surprised when the other girl didn't rush her after the referee signaled the beginning of the match. Jujitsu is a defensive style designed to turn an opponents aggression and strength against them. It has been said that it would be impossible for two people to compete against each other with Jujitsu because neither would attack. In the past when Ranma had waited, refusing to attack first Akane had taken it has an insult to her ability as an artist, now in this woman she saw it as a compliment. The other girl's caution was a recognition of her own skill.
In the beginning her opponents strategy proved successful and the first point was against Akane. The Tendo girl refused to allow the match to drag out into an embarrassing stalemate where neither opponent moved to attack. Throughout the day she, like Ranma, had been limiting her use of chi, but for her last round she decided to call on it full force. Charged up, her aura almost visible, she moved against her opponent with blistering speed.
After the first point went against her sister, Nabiki suddenly found several men who were offering good odds against her younger sibling. Though tempted, Nabiki was going to refuse those bets. She wasn't too confident that Akane could win. To her surprise she suddenly found both her father and Genma flanking her, their eyes on the match.
It was Genma who announced they would take those bets, his voice grave and dignified.
Panicking, Nabiki looked to her father for support but was again surprised when with a nod he supported his friend's statement. So Nabiki took the bets and when her little sister suddenly became a blur of activity ending in victory over her opponent, Nabiki racked in the cash with a predatory grin.
When the teenager from Nerima took the mat for the last time, Mei Lin brought what appeared to be an antique compass out of her pocket. When she opened the lid it exposed a face with strange markings around the dial. At first the dial refused to respond, but just before Akane's final attack it jumped into activity, now pointing directly at the black haired teenager. Mei Lin couldn't contain an excited grin when she realized that here, among the touki-rui were she least expected it, she had found an adept. Perhaps the girls participation in the event signaled a greater willingness to listen to Mei Lin's proposal. She watched carefully when the winner left the mat, silently making her way through the crowd to come up behind her. She wasn't even paying attention to the last match in the men's division, she was so focused on her target. When she moved close enough she subtly drew forth her wand, which no longer resembled a pen, and whispered the words to a tracing spell, anchoring it to the long bundle carried by the older woman. Having done that, she turned her attention back to the last match only to discover it was already over.
Ranma's last match pushed him hard. His opponent was very skilled and managed to score a point in answer to the pig tailed boy's own, but Ranma still bested him. All without once calling upon the power of his chi.
The betting on Ranma's last match hadn't proved one tenth as profitable as Akane's. By this point, the men at the bar were wary of wagering against the short haired girl in their midst. A lesson they had learned too late.
After the awards ceremony everyone went their separate ways. Ranma and the other women ( sometime during the last matches it had started to rain ) returning to the train station to meet Nabiki and the fathers. Mei Lin called a cab, her hand firmly clenching the silver compass, its needle pointing straight to Nodoka Saotome and her bundle.
Sunday morning Akane awoke with a smile, the same smile that had graced her face since leaving Waseda the evening before. After nearly two frustrating years of living in the shadow of Ranma and those who followed him, her skill and hard work had finally received the recognition she craved. Even better, she could see for herself how much her art had improved after just one week of Ranma taking her workouts serious. Anxious and eager to embrace an exciting new day, she rose early without the aid of an alarm clock. Quickly dressing in her running clothes, she headed down the hall to the guest room.
Since Ranma's father was now staying at his mother's house, though Akane knew he wasn't sleeping in Nodoka's bed, he wasn't there for the boy to spar with in the morning. Instead Ranma had started his mornings by jogging with Akane, followed by a workout in the dojo.
Now that they were no longer attending school, breakfast was instead followed by a return to the dojo and more training until lunch. After they ate, Kasumi would make them pull out their school books and with her help they would spend three hours studying.
At least Akane would study while Ranma complained. Ranma couldn't see the point if they weren't going to graduate, but Kasumi still hoped that Nodoka was right and she didn't want them to have fallen behind when another school accepted them.
Ranma wouldn't bring it up for fear of encouraging his surrogate mother, but since he and Akane had started staying home to study he was actually learning something. Kasumi with Akane's help was proving to be far more effective at motivating him to learn. It also helped that unlike school there were few distractions and no Kunos.
Quietly entering the room she found her fiancé spread out across his futon in a tank top and boxer shorts. At some point he had kicked off the blankets and his top had ridden up, exposing his belly button. Akane paused to admire his washboard stomach. Ranma could be annoying and was often a jerk, but she could certainly understand why all the girls found him so attractive.
She spent several quiet minutes, content to just stand there and admire him, but the outside world intruded in the form of her older sister Kasumi.
The youngest Tendo jumped, she had been so engrossed she hadn't noticed her sister's arrival outside the still open door.
Kasumi didn't even try to hide her smile at the look of affection, and yes desire, that her sister had worn before she interrupted.
"Akane, would you be a dear and get some things from the market for me for breakfast. You can just pick them up on your way back."
"Sure Kasumi, just give me a moment to wake up the baka here."
Akane did her best to cover up her surprise and the blush that was spreading across her face, she was afraid Kasumi knew exactly what she had been feeling when she walked in.
"Thank you Akane." Instead of leaving, she held out a glass to her.
Confusion clear on her face, Akane accepted the glass. It was half full with cold water.
"Kasumi?" she asked.
Kasumi just smiled in amusement.
"That's to wake up Ranma. It has been raining off and on since yesterday evening and knowing Ranma he is certain to get wet at some point this morning. So he might has well start out as a girl, don't you think?"
While Akane could see the logic of that, she was certain Ranma wouldn't.
"Kasumi, I'm sure Ranma would still rather be a boy for as long as he can."
"I know Akane, but last night aunty Nodoka made me promise that Ranma would wear the appropriate garments when he was going to be spending time as a girl. It seems she was … uncomfortable with the attention he, or should I say she was attracting on campus yesterday. So it would probably be best if Ranma left as a girl, in the appropriate garments to begin with. It will certainly be easier than convincing him to were a bra as a boy, don't you think?"
With a smile that was too innocent to be real, Kasumi turned and left her little sister to break the bad news to her 'fiancée'.
Waiting till after she heard Kasumi's footsteps travel down the stairs, Akane knelt down beside her fiancé, glass held above his face preparatory to giving him a rather rude wake up call.
Suddenly seized by a mischievous urge, she pulled back the glass. Reaching out, she tentatively touched his exposed stomach with the tips of her fingers. Placing her palm against his skin, she could feel the hard muscle that lay beneath. Her hand on his flesh and her eyes intently watching, she slowly poured the water out on his shirt, soaking it and triggering the change.
She would never admit it out loud, but Akane found Ranma's curse fascinating. Until the day Ranma and his father came to their home, she had never seen actual magic before. When she found out that magic was real, it touched something inside, some forgotten part of childhood perhaps.
This was the first time she had really paid attention to the process of his change, the first time she was touching him when it happened. In spite of her focusing on the change she still missed it. In between two blinks of an eye, Ranma went from being a boy to a girl. Gone were the hard masculine planes, replaced by soft feminine curves. The skin and muscle under her hand, while still firm, was somehow smoother, less threatening.
Akane was amazed that Ranma was still asleep after she soaked his shirt, but then she remembered all of the pictures Nabiki had taken of the girl while she slept, on nights when Ranma had gone to bed as a boy.
Removing her hand from Ranma's belly, she drew a deep breath then leaned down by the sleeping girl's ear.
"WAKE UP BAKA!" She yelled in her ear.
Ranma-Chan leaped to her feet before her mind had even registered what had awakened her. With a wry smile on her face, Akane rose to her own feet and walked past her to the door.
"Come on Ranma," she said pausing in the exit. "it's time to get dressed. We don't want to let our training slip now, just because we've won one little tournament."
Ranma gave her a disgruntled look that turned squeamish when she realized her shirt was cold and wet, sticking to her skin in a very uncomfortable way. Looking down her puzzlement turned to fear when she saw the way the cotton material clung to her. She spun about, facing away from Akane before she could become angry or disgusted.
"Why am I a girl? I was a guy when I went to sleep, I know it."
"I'm sorry Ranma," Akane said in her sweetest voice, this wasn't going to be easy.
"but it is still raining and Kasumi thought that since your bound to get wet anyway, it would be best if you just started out as a girl."
Ranma pulled the wet material away from her skin. She would have just taken the uncomfortable shirt off if she wasn't so certain of how the tomboy would react.
"Fine" Ranma said in resignation, "I guess it doesn't really matter anyway."
She moved to her closet and started pulling out her clothes, wondering how long Akane was going to stand there and what she would do if she started to change in front of her.
This was the moment Akane hadn't been waiting for. She coughed to get Ranma's attention.
"Ranma, Kasumi said your mother wants you to 'dress appropriately' when your going to be a girl. That means the right undergarments and everything, so you better look in the other half of your wardrobe."
To Ranma's grief she did indeed have a second half to her clothing selection. Thanks to necessity and 'aunty Nodoka' attempting to make a proper young lady of little Ranko Tendo, Ranma had a fair sized collection of girls clothes. Some of it made her skin crawl just thinking about wearing it.
"Why would my mother want that, it wouldn't be very manly."
A cold shiver ran down her spine when she had a sudden image of her mother introducing her to a nice young man who would give her lots of grandchildren. For all of his macho behavior, Ranma wasn't very secure in his manhood. Not that anyone could blame him. What kind of a man was as familiar with what it was like to be a woman as she was? She didn't even like to think about all of the things she had been forced to become familiar with.
Akane knew how much Ranma feared disappointing his manliness obsessed mother and she couldn't help but feel sorry for him. As jealous as she was that Ranma still had her mother, she at least knew her mother had loved her unconditionally. Ranma was still afraid that Nodoka would turn her away.
"I'm sorry Ranma. I guess it is partly my fault for bringing up those perverts from the news, but after seeing the way the boys reacted to you at the university. I'm afraid she isn't comfortable with you being a girl without dressing like one. I, I'll wait for you down stairs."
With that she turned and fled the room and the uncomfortable silence that permeated it.
After her fiancée closed the door, Ranma-Chan took off her wet shirt with a disgusted sigh. She wasn't a girl and she didn't feel comfortable dressing like one. It felt like she was trying to be someone else, like she was ashamed to be Ranma Saotome. It didn't help that sometimes she was.
Reaching into the closet she pulled out the pink coveralls with the word 'China' on them. Akane had given these to her and they would probably work best for jogging. Holding them in her hands, Ranma looked with dread at the paper bag shoved unceremoniously in the back of the closet. If her mother wanted her to dress like a girl, then she would mean those to.
Fifteen minutes later Ranma-Chan came down the stairs wearing the coveralls and a light blue blouse. Figuring she could use the cold rain as an excuse, she was also wearing the green jacket and hat from her Maoist worker's uniform. They helped some, but she was still fidgeting. She just couldn't get used to wearing a bra and panties and she didn't want to. Though she had to admit, the bra did help support the awkward weight she had to carry around as a girl.
Akane was waiting for her in the ghenkan near the foot of the stairs. She already had her own jacket on, along with her shoes and was carrying an umbrella. Akane struggled to contain her mirth at the way Ranma was dressed. And he called her a tomboy. Without a word Ranma joined her at the door and slipping on her own shoes, they left the house.
Ranma was seriously annoyed. It had rained most of the night and the sky was still dark with heavy rain clouds. The streets were filled with puddles and everyone they passed was carrying a furrowed umbrella. The threat of so much cold water was the reason she was dressed like a girl, yet in spite of all this she was still bone dry. For once the old lady down the street hadn't even been out cleansing her sidewalk. 'I guess the old bat didn't see much point in splashing water onto puddles.'
Ranma felt cheated.
If she had know she wouldn't be getting wet she would have left home a guy, but if she had she just knew something would have happened to activate the curse. A car would have splashed her, rain would have surprised her, a passing goldfish salesman would have tripped on a hundred yen piece, something. Instead she was a girl and perfectly dry. Life wasn't fair.
She was being too optimistic.
Akane was walking next to her, a small bag of groceries in one arm her umbrella tucked under the other. The morning had gone wonderfully so far. Leaving the house the two girls had run the fences on the way to the market place. Akane had improved dramatically and could now run atop even narrow chain link with hardly a wobble.
At the market Akane was amazed to discover how many people had heard about or even watched the tournament on TV. Everyone they met had congratulated her on her victory and asked whether or not she was going to try for the Olympic team. She knew her father would never hear of it, but knowing that the people in her neighborhood thought she was good enough to do so was doing wonderful things to her self esteem. Even Ranma had let slip a few comments of praise when asked for her opinion.
Akane was feeling so good that she treated them both to a box of chocolate Poky. She giggled at the way Ranma-Chan's eyes lit up at the sight of the sweet confection. Sometimes the girl was just so cute and acted so feminine that it was easy to forget she was really a guy. Akane wondered if the pools had messed with Ranma's mind as well as her body. Or maybe it was just having a girl's hormones. She cringed as that thought reminded her of the fourth box of feminine products that had appeared under the bathroom sink after the Saotomes arrived. She was so very grateful that Kasumi felt that was one conversation that an engaged couple shouldn't have before marriage. That first time Ranma-Chan had pushed the stereotype for all it was worth.
The morning had been going so perfectly, she kind of wished a light rain would start falling so they could huddle beneath the umbrella she carried. Somehow it just felt like that would be the perfect way to end their morning.
Fate, it seemed, had something far less pleasant in mind.
They were nearly home, the street empty of cars and only one other pedestrian in sight ahead of them, when Kuno Tatewaki stepped out from behind the tree where he had been waiting. He seemed to like hiding behind trees. In defiance of the rain he was wearing his hakima, along with his families honor blade.
He rushed towards them, arms outstretched, when to Akane's mild surprise Ranma stepped in front of her separating her from Kuno.
"Oh my pig tailed goddess, my fierce tigress, my breast doth swell with joy that you may again bask in my glorious presence. My heart did threaten to leap from my chest when my man servant Sasuke informed me that you had both left home together without the presence of the cowardly sorcerer Saotome."
Ranma bristled with anger. How dare this pompous fool call her a coward.
"Come my loves," Kuno declared in his loudest stage voice. "too long have you waited to enjoy my passionate embrace. My chariot awaits, let us be off for I have prepared the bridal chamber that we might at long last be consumed by our love and celebrate our bonds of holy matrimony."
Ranma's stance radiated aggression and anger.
"Lay one hand on either of us you pervert and I'll feed you that sword!" she threatened.
The delusional kendoist released a disappointed sigh.
"My poor goddess. When the fair Nabiki did deliver the pictures you had sent for me, I dared to dream that the passion you showed me was proof that you had at long last escaped the bindings of Saotome's foul spells, but alas, I see that I was playing the fool. For is it not proper in such tales for the valiant hero to fight to free his lady loves from the forces of darkness that would prey upon such innocence, seeking to thwart the destiny of true love."
With that he drew his sword.
"Come my loves, let us do battle. Then when I have freed your minds from the evil glamour that binds you, we shall away that I might give you a proper welcome into the noble house of Kuno."
Kuno raised his sword high above his head, preparatory to striking.
Ranma tensed, ready to defend Akane with her life.
Akane dropped the bag of groceries Kasumi had sent her for, raising the umbrella, the only weapon she had to defend against Kuno's steel.
Everything was set to explode in a frenzy of violence, when one strange word brought it all to a halt.
It was rather anticlimactic really.
Mei Lin set out that morning with the first real excitement she had felt in over a week. Following the silver compass, she rode her rented scooter through the rain washed streets of Nerima. Hopefully the successful conclusion of her mission was awaiting her at the end of this journey. Surely any adept who wasn't too proud to enter a touki-rui tournament would at least consider her proposal.
Slowly making her way through the tight residential streets, she had seen the bundle carrying woman upon whom she had anchored her tracking spell walking along the way. The woman was accompanied by a heavy set man who wore glasses and a handkerchief wrapped around his head.
Not wishing to approach the woman without the tournament champion present, she parked her scooter and then followed discreetly on foot for several streets. Still keeping her distance, she watched the woman and her companion enter a private gate ahead. Pulling out a small pair of spy glasses, she read the sign on the wall by the gate.
'Tendo Dojo; School of Indiscriminate Grappling. Anyone wishing to challenge the master to savage combat, please use the rear entrance.'
That looked promising. She had learned at the awards ceremony that the girl's name was Akane Tendo, so this must be the place were she lived and studied. She was working out her introduction in her mind when she spotted the very girl she was looking for approaching down the street with another Japanese girl. Deciding that it wouldn't hurt to first meet the girl without the presence of her master, Mei Lin set off down the street towards the pair when her view was obscured by a tall young man in traditional samurai dress. He was even wearing a sword.
'This,' she thought 'doesn't look too good.'
She picked up her pace to a brisk walk, hoping she could deal with this strange situation without having to do anything rash. Too bad for her that the Kunos didn't know any other way of doing things.
The boy's proudly pitched voice, as if performing for an audience, made it easy to hear what he was saying. Understanding his mangled way of speaking was much harder. Even so, it was clear to her, even before he drew his sword, that he intended to take these two girls and have his way with them. By force if need be.
Cursing the eccentricities that seemed to permeate the magic community everywhere, she drew her wand and pointing it at the back of the boy's head she cast a spell that would at least delay this encounter.
Before the boy could recover, she stepped around him to meet the girls.
"Come on." She said, beckoning them. "Let's get inside before he recovers his senses."
Ranma couldn't help herself.
"No worries. Kuno doesn't have any sense to recover."
Akane slapped the umbrella into Ranma's chest and arms, then relieved of its burden she stooped to gather the groceries. Seeing that Ranma was still standing there, warily watching the young woman who had come to their aid, she grabbed her fiancé's arm and started dragging her towards the house.
"Come on baka. This has been too nice a day to spoil it with Kuno."
Akane was fuming inside and had little patience left for Ranma's posing.
As if it wasn't enough for Kuno to get them thrown out of school, now the jerk was accosting her outside her home. It didn't help that she had heard his comment about Ranma and pictures. She suddenly knew what Ranma and Nabiki had done to raise the money for the tournament. She would not allow any lingering sense of guilt eclipse the happiness she felt at winning, nor at knowing Ranma had made it possible.
Still holding Ranma's hand, she led her and their savior through the gate and into the house beyond.
Kuno found himself standing in the street near the home that sheltered his three loves, his sword bare in his hand. He spent several confused moments trying to remember what he was doing waiting in the street instead of greeting them in their home.
'Oh yes.' He thought, 'now I remember. Sasuke saw my two wives leaving the Tendo home this morning without Saotome. Surely their desire to consummate our love hath weakened the sorcerer's spell and even now they seek me out. I will not waste this opportunity by blindly seeking them in the streets, nor will I warn my foe of his imminent defeat by intruding into his stronghold. No, I will wait right here beneath the shelter of this noble tree, which surely the kami have placed here for this very purpose, and when my loves return I shall surprise them with the pleasure of being with my august self.'
Now sure of his intent, and having no memory of their having already returned, he sheathed his noble blade and returned to his god given shelter to await the joy in the eyes and hearts of his loving wives. To pass the time he warmed himself by surveying the wonderful pictures his future wife Nabiki had provided.
With those in hand there was little danger that he would soon tire of waiting and seek his prey within. There was, after all, no way they could have evaded his vigilant watch.
The mind of a fool is a happy place.
Inside the Tendo home, Akane presented their guest with a pair of house slippers while Ranma put away the umbrella.
"Thank you for helping us with Kuno." Akane bowed to the woman they had just met.
"Please, let me at least offer you a cup of tea in gratitude."
Mei Lin smiled, this was going much better than she had dared hope.
"I would be honored to join you, thank you." She answered.
Ranma was eyeing their guest warily. She didn't recognize the technique, but she knew what this woman had done to Kuno was some form of magic. The only women she had ever met who practiced anything similar were the Amazons and this woman did look to be part Chinese. Maybe Dr. Livingston had gotten lost on his way to Zimbabwe and suffered the misfortune of winning a fight with one of their warriors. After all, if they were willing to claim one of the hated Japanese then why not a westerner.
Akane saw the suspicious looks Ranma was giving their guest and discreetly kicked her fiancé in the shin.
Ranma's face scrunched up in pain and annoyance.
'Stupid tomboy, when would she learn not to be so trusting. Fine, if that was the way she wanted it.'
"I'm going upstairs to change." She said.
Then committing words to action, she disappeared to her room.
Downstairs Akane bowed again to her guest, this time in apology.
"I'm sorry for her rude behavior. I'm afraid we haven't had the best of luck with strangers. My name is Akane Tendo, welcome to my home."
Mei Lin bowed back.
"Thank you for having me Miss Tendo. I am Mei Lin Braithwaite."
"Please Ms. Braithwaite, if you would follow me."
Akane led her guest down the hall to the dinning room where she invited her to sit at the table, then left for the kitchen to get the tea. When she arrived in the kitchen she found her sister Kasumi already putting together a tea set.
Kasumi answered her little sister's questioning look by telling her that she had overheard them in the hall, so she took it upon herself to prepare the tea. She handed the tray to Akane.
"Why don't you see to our guest Akane, and I will summon father to come greet her."
"Thank you Kasumi." Akane said with a grateful smile before leaving the kitchen.
As Akane left the kitchen, Ranma-Chan was coming around the corner from the stairs. The red head had lost the coveralls and all that went with them and was again wearing her traditional black pants and a light blue Chinese shirt.
Ranma looked first at the tray Akane was carrying, then towards the dinning room were Mei Lin sat patiently looking out the open doors of the veranda at the koi pond.
Akane looked at her currently female fiancé with disapproval clear on her face.
"Ranma, you shouldn't be so rude. After all she did help us with Kuno."
Ranma was still watching the stranger in their home.
"Don't you think that's a little convenient Akane. Besides, she's Chinese and does magic. Add that to her being a woman and it all screams Amazon."
"Ranma," Akane said in exasperation "every woman of Chinese descent who does magic isn't an Amazon."
"Oh yeah" Ranma responded, the look on her face said she was going to be stubborn. "Name one who isn't."
Akane didn't have a response for that. Like Ranma, every Chinese woman who did magic she had met was an Amazon. She shook her head, prepared to be stubborn herself.
"There have to be some who aren't."
Not giving Ranma a chance to argue, she pushed past her and into the dinning room.
Ranma entered the kitchen, she needed some hot water.
Mei Lin may not have trained in the neko-ken, but she still had good ears and without any competing background noise she was able to hear most of what was said in the hall. She had heard of the Chinese Amazons before, but all she really knew about them was that they were very insular and more than a little arrogant. Her teachers in Hong Kong had uniformly warned her to avoid them if at all possible.
She was surprised to learn that Akane had run across them.
'This' she thought to herself, 'might complicate things.'
She would have to convince them that she wasn't a threat before she could even hope to try recruiting the girl for the ministry's plan.
Akane placed the tray on the table, then after serving her guest she sat down across the table from Mei Lin. A moment later Ranma, now male, entered and sat down next to Akane.
Mei Lin recognized him from the tournament. Seeing him now she realized how much he resembled the red haired girl that had been with Akane, right down to the open distrust on his face.
Before anyone could say anything, Soun entered the room followed by Kasumi, Nodoka and Genma. With the exception of Genma, who sat on the veranda, the others joined them at the table.
"Welcome young Miss. I am Soun Tendo and I understand we owe you our gratitude for helping my daughter and her fiancé with a little problem outside our home."
Mei Lin bowed and was just starting to introduce herself when they were interrupted by an ugly little goblin with a large stuffed bag on his back. The wrinkled little man came in through the open veranda, bouncing off of Genma's face and landing on the table. He was holding a lacy black bra out towards the young couple when he finally noticed Mei Lin sitting across from them.
The bra disappeared to be replaced by a metal pipe. Happosai sat upon the table between his heirs and the unknown woman, puffing on his pipe. He studied Mei Lin with a frightening intensity.
"Hmm … you've had some training girl, but your not a true artist."
Leaning in uncomfortably close, he sniffed her. Then he leaned back, an unpleasant frown on his face.
"Witch." He named her.
Everyone in the room looked at her and Happi with puzzlement. Everyone but Soun who was now giving her an appraising look.
Mei Lin decided that she had delayed long enough.
"My name is Mei Lin Braithwaite and though my mother is Chinese, I am from England and I am a witch."
"Excuse me miss," Soun interrupted, concerned. "but why did you come to Nerima? Your ministry has no authority here."
She had been surprised when the little troll recognized her for what she was, she was also surprised when Soun mentioned the ministry. How much did they know?
"You are right, but I am an auror here on ministry business."
"Auror?" Kasumi inquired.
Happi now looked disgusted. "A busy body who interferes where their not wanted." He said.
Soun and Genma exchanged knowing looks. "Cop." They both said in unison.
"Be that as it may," Nodoka said in a commanding voice that let it be known she would brook no interruption. "Miss Braithwaite has earned our gratitude. She is also a guest and we will not shame ourselves by not treating her like one."
The last was aimed at Happosai. He didn't look happy about it either.
The situation was threatening to spin out of control.
"Please, I did not come here to cause you any difficulty. I have come to Nerima in search of a young practitioner of your eastern arts with an offer from the ministry in England."
"What sort of offer?" That was Nabiki who had entered the room unnoticed while everyone was distracted by Happi's little performance.
"As aurors we protect the magical community in England from those who would abuse the magical arts. In our schools we teach our young people how to defend themselves from the dark arts, but your arts here in Asia are far more combat oriented than our own and the Minister feels that it would benefit our students to be introduced to your ways of magic. I am looking for an eastern adept who can relate to our own students, someone their age, to teach a supplementary defense course at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I witnessed Akane's performance at the muggle, what you call the touki-rui tournament. I was hoping she would be interested in accepting the position."
"You want to take my baby all the way to Scotland!" Soun wailed.
Happosai was puffing away on his pipe, lost in thought. He wasn't happy to hear that one of his heirs had participated in a touki-rui competition, it was beneath his art. This offer though …
"Are you saying you want Akane, one of the heirs to my art, to teach a defense course at Hogwarts? That this request is coming from your Minister himself?"
"Yes." She answered. She thought she had made that clear.
"This all sounds very important, but what are you offering my little sister to make it worth her while to go all the way to Scotland?" Nabiki again. She always had her eye on the bottom line. "You are asking her to give up a great deal after all. Why she hasn't even finished high school yet and unless this class your asking her to teach is really short, she'll have to miss her last year. She wouldn't be able to graduate."
She ignored the fact that right now Akane wasn't attending school thanks to the Kunos. Mei Lin didn't need to know that.
"Hogwarts" Mei Lin directed at Akane in a reassuring voice, "is an accredited finishing school. You can attend your last year there and I can assure you a diploma from Hogwarts is worth as much as one from the most prestige's school in Japan. Even if you do intend to enter a muggle college."
Now she turned back to Nabiki.
"Also she would receive a wage consistent with being a starting teacher at Hogwarts. You should understand, a teaching position at Hogwarts is highly sought after in magic circles. They pay very well."
Nabiki wouldn't be placated that easily.
"Will she be paid in yen or English pounds?"
"We use our own money, not muggle currency."
"I've never heard of your currency, what if it is worthless in Japan? How would we exchange it and what is its value?"
Mei Lin's posture grew stiff, clearly insulted.
While Happi looked ready to bust a gut.
"You can tell your daughters to relax Soun. The magic community of England is made up of a bunch of sticks in the mud. They don't change unless forced to. That is why they still use coin of silver and gold, good anywhere if you melt them down."
That was good enough for the middle Tendo. Gold and silver are commodities and commodities, unlike money only increase in value.
Kasumi couldn't contain her excitement, this was like an answered prayer.
"Oh Akane, you could still graduate!"
Her reaction seemed a little strong to Mei Lin.
"Yes dear," Nodoka, "this would deal with the Kuno problem, but there is still one thing we must consider. What of the engagement and the pledge between our families?"
Everyone was looking at the young couple seated across from the auror, including Mei Lin. This was a problem that had never occurred to her. After all, they were so young.
Akane was looking at Ranma while trying to look like she wasn't. She was unconsciously chewing on her lower lip.
Ranma wasn't looking at anyone or even seeing the table that lay before his eyes. He was struggling to contain his fear. If Akane went to this Hogwarts who would protect her? She would be too far away for him to be there if she needed him. All he could see at the moment was Akane as a small doll, her eyes slowly closing.
The answer to their dilemma came from an unexpected source, Happosai.
"Ranma will just have to go with her."
Now everyone was staring at the diminutive martial arts master. He had a very unsettling gleam in his eye.
"I don't think that would be proper." That from a shocked Kasumi.
"I'm afraid Kasumi is right, it wouldn't be proper for them to go away to England like this." Nodoka said in her best matriarch's voice. "They will have to be married first."
Mei Lin was floored by the sudden wave of overwhelming support her offer now received.
The first was Genma. "Quite right Nodoka, they will have to be married. Come Tendo, we must find a priest." With that the fathers were gone.
Kasumi rose and headed towards her father's room. "I'll gather the paper work from the last wedding."
Nodoka followed her, discussing all of the preparations they would have to make.
Nabiki was next to rise to her feet, intent on rushing off to sale the news to anyone who would pay. Then she paused as she remembered that the only really interested party still in town was Kuno, and she no longer felt it was safe to sale information about her sister to the delusional idiot. Not just because of what he sought to do to her baby sister, but because of what he might try to do to her if she called him. The knowledge that her picture now hung beside that of her sister and Ranma's female form was more than a little distressing. So instead of heading for the door or the phone, she went upstairs to her room. She suddenly felt the need to lie down. Then she would start planning her own departure to college. Classes might not start till next fall, but she saw no reason why she couldn't leave early.
Ranma and Akane just sat there side by side, looking overwhelmed. Akane was also blushing profusely because in his fear Ranma had unconsciously taken hold of her hand and had yet to let go.
Mei Lin sat there lost in the tumult and confusion. She had come hoping to find one adept willing to come to Hogwarts, instead she was gaining two whether she wanted them or not. She was lost in the moment, but a tap on her shoulder with a metal smoking pipe brought her back.
Happosai was standing on the table in front of her, staring her in the eyes.
"You will be taking my two heirs to London, yes?"
She nodded hesitantly, "We will stay in London while we make preparations for their introduction to Hogwarts, yes."
Happi was now wearing a truly malevolent smile. "And while your there, can I assume you will have occasion to take them to Gringotts Bank?"
She couldn't believe how much these people knew about the community in England.
"I … I expect at some point, yes, most likely."
The pipe had disappeared and the little troll was rubbing his hands together in a happy fashion. He wasn't really talking to her, or anyone else for that matter, when he said in his most evil voice: "Stick that in your craw, cousin."
Less then an hour later, the whole family plus one auror was assembled in the dojo for the wedding. In the interest of time the fathers had decided to go with another western style ceremony. They had even found a western style priest to conduct it, one who specialized in quick marriage ceremonies.
Mei Lin was staring at the priest, who though he was Japanese, didn't look like any priest she had ever seen in either Asia or England. His hair was swept up in a pompadour, he had long sideburns going down each cheek, and was dressed in a white flashy outfit with blue suede shoes. He also talked with a most peculiar accent, one she couldn't place.
For some reason he looked familiar.
Akane was again wearing the white dress from the first wedding attempt. It was a little wrinkled and the veil was torn, but both Kasumi and Nodoka assured her that she looked beautiful.
Like Akane, Ranma was back in his tux. Only this time he was conscious when he put it on. He was more than a little afraid, he didn't think he was ready for marriage, but he knew that without this she might go to England without him. She might be safe at this Hogwarts, but he couldn't bare the thought of losing her even for a little while.
So now they were standing together before a priest who reminded them too much of principal Kuno and when asked, each squeaked out their 'I dos'. Then the priest pronounced them man and wife and told Ranma he could kiss the bride.
Kuno had been waiting patiently under the canopy of his god given tree ( it's easy to be patient when you fall asleep ), when he was awoken by the Tendo and Saotome patriarchs rushing by with a third man in tow. One who somehow reminded him of his own father.
His wives had yet to return to the place of their imprisonment, at least he hadn't seen them. He sat waiting, ever vigilant for some time more when it suddenly occurred to him that he also hadn't seen the fathers leaving yet now they returned, clearly from some where else. There was no way they could have slipped by unnoticed on his watch, so he was forced to come to an unpleasant conclusion.
'They must have used foul magic to leave unseen and if not for the stranger they brought back with them would likely have returned the same way.'
This led to another unpleasant thought,
'If they were able to use magic to come and go unseen, then they might also have used magic to spirit my devoted brides back to their cage! Their escape was for naught!'
The blood rushed from his face leaving him pale as a truly horrific realization set in. The heartless fathers, one who would raise a foul sorcerer and the other who would force his daughter's unwanted engagement to said fiend, the man they brought with them was someone he had seen before.
His loon of a father had an unholy idol of that man placed within a shrine in his office. The idol was an eight inch tall statue wearing a necklace of flowers and holding some pagan instrument. It was truly a cursed artifact for when you moved within its sight it would suddenly start shaking in a most disturbing fashion, while screaming out evil incantations about a 'Blue Hawaii'.
That statue must have come from the accursed isles of Hawaii, the source of his father's madness, and that meant that man he had seen go by must be the most abominable of all abominations. The witch king to whom all other such answered. This was the demon who was even now rushing towards the helpless Akane and the pig tailed girl. ( Kuno forgot that if the third man was in fact the king of evil spell casters, then he could have used his magic to pass unnoticed as the fathers had earlier. Such thinking would have derailed his perfect logic and thus was beneath him. )
With only one thought in his mind ( it involved silken veils, plush throw pillows and chocolate syrup ) Kuno drew his righteous blade and raced to the rescue.
Ranma faced Akane, his wife, and with trembling hands he lifted the rent veil from before her face. She wasn't wearing make up as she had last time and her hair had been put up in a hurry, but in his eyes she had only looked more beautiful once. That time being at Jusendo when she was wearing only his borrowed shirt.
Her face was flushed, her eyes were closed and the only reason he didn't hear the loud beating of her heart, was because he was deafened by his own. Her face was lifted towards his own and he was struggling to find the courage to do as the priest had said, when Nerima tradition reasserted itself.
"Unhand my wife you fiends!"
Yelling his challenge, Kuno leaped to the center of the dojo sword swinging.
He was met by a pair of jumping kicks as Ranma and Akane Saotome performed their first action as a married couple. While most would cement their vows with a kiss, they concluded their ceremony with a combined smack down on Kuno.
After the strange wedding ceremony Mei Lin retrieved her scooter and returned to her hotel to call in her report. She hoped her superior Shackle Bolt, would be pleased with the 'success' of her search. Reaching her room she delayed the inevitable by first showering and changing. Then she called room service and ordered a hot toddy, not the virgin kind.
With the warm drink settling her nervous stomach, she spread a large cloth on the floor. Then after ensuring that the smoke detectors wouldn't be at risk of going off, she drew from her carry on bag a metal brazier sixteen inches in diameter ( Magic luggage, it's a wonderful thing. ). Filling it with embers from a pouch, she used her wand to ignite them. Once the coals were ready she cast the complex spell that would make it possible to speak to her superior.
Soon the coals formed a strong masculine face, Shackle Bolt.
The face gave her a warm smile, both literally and figuratively.
"Mei Lin, it is good to hear from you. How are you?"
Shackle Bolt could be extremely intimidating and the medium of hot ash didn't hurt, but somehow he still managed to seem warm and inviting when he desired to.
"I am good Sir, the people of Japan are very polite and I have enjoyed my time here."
"Your time, past tense? Have you finished your mission then?"
"I believe so Sir, though not entirely the way we had planned."
The ashes raised an eyebrow inquisitively.
"Then in what way have you finished?"
Mei Lin drew a deep breath to steady herself. As a young girl in Hong Kong she had studied meditation and the techniques had served her well over the years, in spite of their muggle origins.
"I found a young girl newly turned seventeen years of age. She is a practitioner of the eastern arts and she and her family have agreed to her coming to England and Hogwarts."
"That sounds wonderful, we shall do our best to make her feel welcome. It sounds like you have done exactly what we set out to do. So what am I missing?"
He sounded amused and she was reminded that he never took this assignment very seriously. While she did.
"The girl, Akane Tendo was engaged to be married to the son of her father's friend. It was an arranged engagement, something both families took very seriously and neither was willing to risk it by sending her to England." She released a tired sigh. "So I will not be bringing Miss Tendo to Hogwarts. Instead I will be bringing Mrs. Saotome and her new husband."
Shackle Bolt was laughing, releasing small tongues of flame.
"Well, Mr. Scrimgeour did want someone who would attract attention. I dare say an exotic pair of underage newlyweds will certainly do that."
The fiery face looked up at her.
"Relax Mei Lin, you have done well and the Minister will be pleased. How soon can we expect your return?"
"Immediately sir, it seems the young couple are anxious to begin. Their master, one ugly little man named Happosai, is even more anxious. Though I don't think his reasons are well intentioned."
"Happosai?" he asked. "A goblin looking little man with an unusual affection for women's undergarments?"
Mei Lin remembered the lacy bra the little freak had been holding when he arrived. The description was too accurate to be a guess, or even a crude divination.
"Yes. You know of him Sir?"
The embers in the brazier turned to true fire as Shackle Bolt lost himself in gales of laughter. Before the ashes collapsed, ending the spell, she heard him say "Oh yes, this will be quite distracting! I can't wait till they hear about this at Gringotts."
Mei Lin sat there before the bowl of cooling ashes, wondering what she was missing.
Happosai had specifically mentioned Gringotts as well.
She cleaned up the ritual's remains, then prepared to depart. The Saotomes wanted to leave tonight and given the eventful way the wedding ended, she wasn't inclined to argue. They had a long flight before them.
Later that evening found Mei Lin and the Tendo/Saotome families at the Narita Airport in Chiba Japan, waiting to leave on a Northwest Airlines jet to America. They had stop over in Hawaii, Las Angeles, and Boston. Then a quick hop across the Atlantic to Heathrow in England. It was going to be a very long flight.
It had been decided that Nodoka and Kasumi would accompany Mei Lin and the newlyweds to London, where they would stay for the summer and maybe longer.
Nabiki would be taking a train from the airport to Shinjuku near Waseda, the university that hosted the tournament. She was hoping to be admitted to their school of political science and economics, with heavy emphasis on the economics. Perhaps even a second major in commerce. She intended to avoid the Tendo home for a while, least she suffer another run in with Kuno.
That left only the fathers and master Happosai, and the old man had made their plans. He just hadn't told them yet. He didn't want his pupils running off on him and he certainly didn't want any of the women folk learning of it. He had been planning this particular training trip for a very long time, even before his imprisonment in that cave. Now that his school of the art was off to show its glory to those good for nothing relatives of his in England, he wanted to celebrate and who better to join him then his own disciples. He didn't believe for a moment that either Ranma or Akane were ready for this trip. He seriously doubted either ever would be. The two had a gift for breaking things and people, but he despaired of them ever grasping the true meaning of Anything Goes.