Chapter 13: Getting into Motion

Ranma had never been as nervous about entering a classroom as she was that morning after leaving the Headmaster's office, not the first time she accompanied Akane to Furinkan, or even the first time she had entered this very room two days before. Back then she was just a girl in a dress and that had been hard enough, now she was a girl in a dress who had made a spectacle of herself not once but twice; first by jumping out of one of these very windows, then with Kuno's unwanted help on the front walk.

As she entered the room her ears were burning from everyone talking about her. She knew they were talking about her because they stopped when she entered, and besides, she just knew everyone was staring and laughing at her, especially the boys. It never occurred to her that maybe the reason the boys fell silent and cast furtive glances in her direction was actually because she was the new girl in class, or that she filled out the school's uniform rather nicely. Ranma was still too much of a boy herself to think that way.

While she had only sat there once before she was pretty sure of where her assigned desk was, but when she turned her eyes towards it she found someone else seated there.

"Miss Saotome." Mrs. Sato, the teacher, called to get her attention.

"Sensei?" The redhead responded, not sure if she should apologize or duck for cover. Sensei Sato looked harmless, but then so did little Hinako until the coins came out.

"I'm sorry Miss Saotome but at the Headmaster's request we have rearranged the seating, if you would please take this desk over here." She may have said 'please', but the authoritative way she stood beside the desk in question made it clear she wasn't making a request.

"Yes Sensei." Ranma responded with a nervous bow. She didn't miss the fact that her new chair was as far from the windows as you could get without going out into the hall. It was in the far row, second seat back, right behind the class president. He was a large, athletic boy and just one of several obstacles she would have to overcome if she wanted to repeat her previous performance.

Taking her seat Ranma spent the next hour doing her best not to be noticed.

She was intending to keep on going unnoticed when break came and Sensei Sato gathered her things and left, but once the teacher exited the room and the students broke up into groups to talk she found her desk hemmed in on both side by two girls she didn't know.

"Hi." The girl on her left greeted. She was tall and slender with long black hair pulled back into a tight pony tail, high on the back of her head. She introduced herself in a voice that just oozed happy chipper. "I'm Karin Fukuda."

"And I'm Emiko Hara." The other girl added with just a hint of giggle in her voice. The second girl was shorter and slightly stocky compared to the first, with her brown hair cut so short it tended to spike.

Both girls had the firm musculature of conditioned athletes.

Ranma struggled to contain a chuckle. Was it her fate to attract tomboys?

"Hi, I'm Ranma Saotome." The effort to maintain a straight face momentarily eclipsed Ranma's own nervousness and discomfort.

"We know." The girls answered in stereo, then spent a moment actually giggling before the taller of the two, Karin, finished alone. "Sensei Matsumoto told us. She said she was going to invite you to join the soccer team."

"So did you?" Emiko burst out excitedly. "Because that would be great, cause then there would be three of us in this homeroom. We could talk and even eat lunch together!"

Ranma was suddenly struck by the memory of his first day at Furinkan and how Hiroshi and Daisuki had ambushed him during P.E... She couldn't contain a slight blush at the memory of the very personal questions they had asked. At the time he had felt only embarrassment and consequently anger at their probing, but now she was struck by the image of their faces if they knew she had kissed Akane, and it wasn't just the heat of embarrassment that warmed her cheeks.

Fortunately neither Karin nor Emiko knew what she was thinking; they just attributed it to her being shy.

"Yea, I did."

Ranma was saved from further embarrassment by the arrival of their next teacher.

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While Ranma was enduring the attentions of her excitable new friends, Akane was suffering that of her own excitable old friends. Not to mention the attention of everyone else.

"All right, spill Akane." Sayuri and Yuka ambushed her as soon as she sat down. "Word in the hall is that Ranma is gone, that you…that he's no longer your-you know…?" They had the good graces to cringe awkwardly when Akane flinched with pain at the unwelcome reminder.

"We're your friends Akane." Yuka's voice was low and thick with sympathy. "We only want to help."

Glancing around at all of the actively inattentive faces around them, all unconsciously leaning in her direction, Akane whispered back conspiratorially. "Can we wait till lunch and, you know, go somewhere more private?"

Both girls nodded in agreement before hurrying to their seats as Miss Hinako, in her adult form for a change, entered the room burdened with books.

Further back in the room, Hiroshi and Daisuke exchanged concerned glances. Neither boy had seen nor heard from Ranma since before he disappeared weeks earlier and curiosity was eating them up inside. Add to the rumors Akane's reaction to Kuno…for the first time since they met him both were worried that their friend, the toughest boy they knew, had finally run into something he couldn't handle.

At the very rear of the room, unnoticed by all, Hikaru Gosunkugi perked up in excitement. 'Ranma is gone?' He thought to himself. 'He and Akane are no longer…no longer what?' His thoughts chased themselves in circles, falling into their regular pattern of thinking the worst in his one sided rivalry, until they came to the inevitable, and strangely for once right conclusion. 'Could it be that they're no longer engaged? That the muscle headed jock no longer stands between me and the glorious Akane?' The sallow faced boy melted into his seat, a blissful smile stealing over his wane features at the thought.

The girl in question, nor anyone else for that matter, didn't notice. Not even when he started subconsciously humming a happy tune to himself.

Well, one person noticed. "Delinquent, Happo Fifty-yen Satsu!"

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Kasumi returned from escorting her little sister to find a visitor waiting at their gate. He was tall, with once broad shoulders now slightly stooped with age. His peaked cap and traditional full sleeved robes marked him as a Shinto priest. Kasumi gave him a friendly smile, her worries of the day eclipsed by her duties as family matriarch.

"Hello honored priest." She greeted him with a bow. "I am afraid my father is away at the moment and I do not know when he will return."

Takumi returned the bow, a grandfatherly smile gracing his own lips. "That is most regrettable." He said. "I was hoping to speak with him about a former house guest, Ranma Saotome, daughter of Genma and Nodoka Saotome. My friend and brother of the cloth, Hsiao in Suginami has been asked to counsel her and he asked me to inquire about her background. You wouldn't happen to be Kasumi Tendo, Soun's eldest daughter?"

Kasumi hesitated, she knew Ranma wouldn't appreciate anyone telling strangers his…her…sad tale, but she also knew that Nodoka had sought out Priest Hsaio's help and Ranma was in sore need of all she could get. While in her mind she debated what to do, her immediate actions were dictated by courtesy and that path was clear. "Yes I am and as my father's oldest daughter I welcome you to our home. Would you please come inside and join me for a cup of tea?"

"I would be honored." He replied, hopeful that at last he would find the answers his brother was seeking. Still he was confused, this was the same Soun Tendo he had learned of before and according to all records the man had only daughters, no sons to whom the Saotome girl could once have been engaged.

Kasumi led her guest to the front room offering him a seat before the open doors of the engawa where it overlooked the koi pond, while she retreated to the kitchen to retrieve the tea set and hopefully gather her thoughts.

Left alone Takumi took in his surroundings. He saw the expected signs of a modern family living in a very old and traditional house. Closing his eyes in meditation he reached out with his finer senses, seeking the wa of the house. What he found was not harmony but roiling and chaotic energies seething just below the surface, a sense of the calm before the storm. It lacked the serenity of a shrine and truly was far from peaceful, but still he could sense it, the echo of the divine. It saturated the very walls, built up over a long time perhaps even generations. It put him in mind of a forgotten shrine hidden beneath the noise and hustle of the city.

Not all of it though, splashed about wildly upon the surface was another presence that hadn't yet seeped into the walls about him, an energy that was new and already beginning to fade with the absence of its source, but an energy that shined so bright it burned.

So focused was he that Kasumi's return caught him unawares and for just a moment he saw her with spiritual eyes, perceiving the energy that even now she added to that of the house.

He tried not to stare as they sipped their tea.

Kasumi decided to take a leap of faith and trust that Hsaio and his friends could help fix the disaster her family had become, including the one member not born into it, but in her eyes a sibling all the same.

"Honored priest, you ask me about Ranma and I would tell you, but I am afraid you wouldn't believe me."

Takumi gently placed his tea cup down before speaking. "Miss Tendo, when I look upon you I see only a soul that is honest and true. I assure you I will listen to what you have to say."

She gave her head a slow shake. "No, there are times when words, no matter how true or clearly spoken are not enough. There is a Chinese ramen house a short distance from here called the Cat Café, go there and ask for elder Cologne, tell her that Kasumi Tendo sent you to learn about Ranma." Now smiling as if at some secret joke, she told him; "She can give you more than just words."

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After four long hours they were finally released for lunch and Akane led her friends Sayuri and Yuka up the stairs and onto the roof. Checking to ensure it was securely shut, and that no one else was already up there, Akane led them far enough from the door that they wouldn't be overheard, while still maintaining line of sight so she would know if anyone opened it.

"Okay Akane, enough with the cloak and dagger." Sayuri said in exasperation. "Just tell us what is going on with you and Ranma."

But Akane wasn't finished yet. Putting a finger to her lips for silence, she quickly checked for any ninja spies that might be hanging on the side of the building or hiding in the few small shadows. Only once she was confident that they were truly and completely alone did she speak. Her friends didn't fail to recognize the pain on her face and in her voice no matter how stubbornly the girl tried to hide it.

"It's complicated and involves things that really aren't important now, but…Ranma's curse is locked again." Her voice was flat, tightly controlled.

"Is that all?" Yuka asked in disbelief. "So what, it's not like it hasn't happened before. Ranma will go on some quest, fight and defeat some exotic opponent and he'll be back to normal in no time."

Akane shook her head emphatically no, tears starting to leak from the corners of her tightly shut eyes. "Not this time. He…" She struggled for control. "When we were in China something happened and Ranma had to sacrifice his ability to turn back into a guy, he did it for me, to save my life."

"Come on Akane." Sayuri's voice was thick with doubt. "We saw Ranma at the-well that almost wedding and he was very much a boy, at least at first anyway."

Akane's voice was very quiet and her friends had to lean in close to hear her reply.

"It didn't happen all at once. At first it just grew harder and harder for him to change back until…he couldn't."

The other girls exchanged worried looks, finally beginning to understand that this wasn't just a case of the usual craziness of the martial artist's life.

Akane's eyes closed as she continued her narrative.

"Girls can't marry girls so we aren't engaged anymore and Ranma has gone to live with his mother, as a girl."

"Ranma can't like that." Sayuri had never really cared for her friend's unasked for fiancé, but the thought of Ranma trapped in his girl body left her feeling a sympathetic emptiness inside.

"No, he doesn't, and to make it worse that fool Kuno tracked him down at his new school and attacked him."

Yuka let out an amused chuckle. "At least he got to beat up Kuno that must have made him feel better."

Again, Akane was shaking her head. "No. Ranma…What happened didn't just trap Ranma as a girl; it hurt him, left him weak. He couldn't fight like he used to and Kuno hurt him, bad." Her pain was subsumed by a more familiar anger. "As if we haven't lost enough, that jerk can't let it go, he has to rub our faces in it and make it worse!"

Akane had never really noticed Gosunkugi, no one did, and for one of the few times in his life being overlooked proved a benefit as he crouched unseen on the roof above the clock.

'Ranma is trapped as a girl!" He cried silently to himself in exaltation. "He's no longer engaged to sweet Akane and best of all, he's weak. Weak enough that maybe I can finally beat him!'

Gosunkugi was brought back from the world of his deluded fantasies by the sound of the roof door closing behind Akane and her friends. He went to follow but was stopped by the unexpected lightning bolt that shot up his…well that left his singed, twitching, smoking body lying on the roof and out of everyone's hair. No one even noticed his failure to return to class. A few did wonder about the crack of thunder. Sure the sky was overcast but there were no other signs of a storm and no more lightning.

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Entering the Cat Café Takumi was surprised by the size of the lunch time crowd, at least until he caught sight of the waitress. She was a vivacious Chinese girl blessed with abundant…assets, and while her outfit wasn't exactly immodest it still did a good job of displaying those assets to the mostly male crowd's appreciation. Seeing how crowded the room was the priest decided that his original plan to sit down and order lunch, then ask the waitress about Elder Cologne was not going to work. He wouldn't be able to just flag down said waitress and ask her directly either as the energetic girl was already running to keep up with her demanding customers. Looking over the room Takumi didn't see any other women that might hold the title of Elder, Chinese or otherwise. He did find one other possibility, a young Chinaman who appeared to be busing tables to make room for new customers. He was tall and trim with long hair and white robes with voluminous sleeves into one of which, to the priest's amazement, he was stuffing all the various plates and flatware, all without the slightest bulge showing. Then just to make it even more incredible, he pulled clean plates from the other sleeve resetting the table for new customers.

Takumi wasted several moments just watching and trying to figure out where up his sleeves the young man was keeping the stuff, until a customer's cry for the waitress broke him from his trance, reminding him why he was there in the first place.

"Excuse me young sir." He said stepping closer. "I was told I would find an Elder Cologne here."

Mousse looked up, blinking owlishly at the blurry figure before him. "The old mummy, what do you want with her?"

Takumi was slightly off put by the young man's disrespectful tone, but answered in hopes that the 'old mummy' referred to was the elderly woman Miss Tendo sent him to see.

"I wish to speak with her about Ranma Saotome."

The room grew deathly silent as the waitress and most of the patrons turned to stare at him, while those few not giving him the eye were looking about in quiet confusion at everyone who was.

"Saotome is gone." Mousse said in a low whisper. "You should leave him alone."

Turning to face the priest fully, he slowly raised his arms out to each side in a clearly threatening manner and as he did Takumi could have sworn he heard the clinking of chain links.

All of which ended when a plastic water pitcher bounced of the young man's head, spilling its contents over him.

The priest's eyes grew large as the young man disappeared, his empty robes dropping to the floor. Takumi jumped back with an embarrassing squeal when said pile shuddered and shifted as a white duck wearing thick glasses pushed its way out.

"Stupid Mousse!" The waitress walked around to confront the duck, fists resting on her hips like an angry fishwife. "No treat customer that way!"

The duck gave first her and then Takumi a fierce glare, before gathering its tattered dignity and waddling towards the door. A trip made quicker by the waitresses' foot in its backside. Squawking angrily and frantically flapping its wings, the duck pushed its way out the door taking flight as soon as it hit the street beyond.

"Shampoo sorry for stupid Mousse." The waitress said drawing Takumi's gaze from the door, only now she was giving him a hostile, if subdued, glare. "What priest man want with Air…Ranma?"

Takumi was feeling lost and out of his element, but after so many years serving as a counselor to his flock he didn't miss the painful catch in the girl's voice at the end. Still if he wanted to learn anything to help his brother he knew he didn't want to ruffle anymore feathers.

"My apology for intruding upon your business, my brother in the cloth is counseling Miss Ranma Saotome and Miss Kasumi Tendo told me to seek out Elder Cologne for help."

The hostility left Shampoo's flashing eyes to be replaced with worry. "If too too nice girl sent you then must be okay. Come, Shampoo take you to grandmother."

Following the proud girl, Takumi did his best to ignore the avid eyes of the lunch time crowd. They were now ignoring (well, mostly) the Chinese girl and watching him, like vultures hoping for fresh meat.

The delicious aroma of cooking spices wafted across his nose as he followed the young woman into the kitchen where a wrinkled old woman perched atop a gnarled staff stirred the contents of a large pot of ramen noodles.

"You must be Priest Takumi." The old woman said her eyes still on the pot. With a small, satisfied noise Cologne set the spoon down and turned down the flame on the stove, before pivoting on her walking stick to face him. "Don't look so surprised, Kasumi called to warn me you were coming. She asked me to discuss Ranma Saotome's situation with you, if she hadn't then priest or not we would not be having this conversation."

Hopping across the kitchen to where two stools stood beside a small table she took a seat, gesturing to the one across from her. "Shampoo, pour our guest some tea, then go see to our customers. You don't want to be gone too long or all of those hungry young men might leave."

"Yes grandmother." Shampoo poured the tea before leaning close and telling the old woman in a low voice not meant to carry "Mousse left and he was being too too rude."

"I know dear. Now that Ranma is no longer a rival he has become rather protective of her, as is only right." The old woman then turned her eyes to Takumi. "No doubt he is going to tell Ranma of your visit, I hope you did not wish it to be a secret. I must warn you, Ranma is very proud and she won't like you asking questions."

Takumi waited until after Shampoo left the room to respond.

"It is not my intent to pry where I'm not wanted, but Hsiao, a fellow priest in Suginami, has been asked to counsel her and he fears that in her current state she might seek to harm herself, so it is very important we learn what is wrong."

She chuckled without humor. "Yes, I understand that Ranma has already tried to 'reclaim his honor' in the Japanese way. It is fortunate her mother was there to stop her. What you and this Hsiao need to understand is that while Ranma is proud, stubborn and the most gifted artist I have taught in more than a hundred years, he has always equated his self worth with his strength and right now she is feeling very weak and a weak Ranma is a burden her honor won't allow others to carry."

"That is what is so confusing about this." Takumi's voice betrayed his frustration. "Half of the time everyone refers to Ranma as a boy, while the other half they refer to her as a girl and she is a girl."

This time Cologne's laugh was filled with humor. "I don't doubt you are confused, maybe I can make it clear to you. This is Ranma Saotome." That said, she placed a picture face up upon the table. Looking closer Takumi could see it was a picture of an athletic young man, but Cologne wasn't finished yet. "And this is Ranma Saotome." She placed a second picture beside the first but this time it was of a young girl with red hair.

Takumi sat back. "Are they twins? Is that what she lost in China, her brother?"

"No priest, you are letting logic confuse you." She picked up both pictures, holding them back to back so they made one sheet of paper that she then turned so he could see first one side and then the other. "This is Ranma and make no mistake, there is only one. Do you believe in magic Priest Takumi?"

He could sense that while she was taking amusement at his expense, the old woman was also earnest in what she was asking, so Takumi thought carefully about his answer. "I believe in the power of the kami, and that there are things in this world that man and his science does not understand, so yes you could say I believe in magic after a fashion."

"Not understand?!" She laughed. "That certainly describes Jusenkyo. So tell me priest, how about ancient Chinese curses, can you believe in them?"

The Takumi that left the Cat Café was not the same man that entered. He was a man of faith, but what the old woman and her granddaughter showed him shattered all that he held as real in the world.

Looking back one last time, he wondered how he was ever going to explain this to his brothers.

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The sky was still overcast with clouds heavy with rain but there were enough breaks in the dismal cover above to allow the sun to peek shyly through the cracks, its welcome rays falling lightly upon the world below. So it was that after classes ended for the day Sensei Matsumoto directed a nervous Ranma and the girls of the school soccer club to join her outside for practice. The grass was too wet for any sort of scrimmage but with the season soon to start she refused to waste any time crying over the weather when it could be better spent preparing. The tarmac of the track would be good enough for practice drills.

Dressed in dark blue, painted on shorts and a white cotton T-shirt that was clearly two sizes too small (just like those worn by all the other girls), Ranma felt extremely uncomfortable as she joined the team on the track. She had waited in the hall outside the locker room until she was confident the other girls would be finished dressing, and even then she immediately made for a spot in the farthest back corner were she couldn't see her few classmates that were still standing around in their bras and panties. The girls tried to engage her in friendly conversation but the best they received were Ranma's averted gaze, blushing face and stuttering replies. They weren't offended though, each and every one of them had witnessed Kuno's attack and having drawn all sorts of wrong assumptions they expected her to be socially awkward, at least a little. So instead of growing angry they just tried even harder, making the Saotome girl's embarrassment grow in leaps and bounds. She really wished they would put some pants on first. It came as a great relief to Ranma when Sensei Matsumoto entered the locker room to find out what was taking the team so long.

Ranma Trailed behind the other girls in the hope that remaining to the rear of the pack would help her avoid any more attention.

It was not to be.

The coach had asked the others to make her feel welcome and while most were content with having done their duty in the locker room, two of the girls took it upon themselves to go the extra mile. Karin Fukuda and Emiko Hara, the girls from her homeroom class, had taken the coach's request to heart and decided that they were going to be her new best friends. Hiroshi and Daisuke, Sayuri and Yuka, boy or girl it seemed every school had a pair like this. Strangely, in spite of the awkward embarrassment, Ranma found herself enjoying their infectious excitement. Even if she didn't want to be there, it felt nice to be wanted.

Noriko began practice by running her girls through a set of calisthenics before sending them on an easy lap around the track, followed by a more vigorous sprint for the last fifty yards of straightaway. She kept a close eye on her newest recruit and was pleased to see that even after the sprint the Saotome girl's breath was still slow and steady, not labored like some of the other girls'.

Physical conditioning was not an area where Ranma would be found lacking.

Next she had the girls lay out two parallel lines of flat cones. Lining them up she directed them to practice dribbling between the cones, first up one side then back down the other in a continuous loop. After several circuits of this she split them in pairs, each running down the outside of the opposing cones, passing the ball back and forth between the orange obstacles.

She had already guessed that Ranma had little to no experience with the game so she placed the new girl near the end of the line where she could watch the others go first. Noriko was pleased to see how quickly the redhead picked up the techniques and the girl's control was phenomenal.

For Noriko it was a struggle to contain her giddiness.

As for Ranma, for the first time since China she was truly enjoying doing something physical. The exercises they were doing didn't require the kind of power or speed that only came with ki manipulation, just coordination and control, two things she still had in spades. She was enjoying herself so much that she didn't notice the tall Chinese boy in loose white robes and glasses watching from the sidelines until after the coach called an end to practice. Leaving the others to clean up she jogged over to where he waited unabashedly, having forgotten the tight nature of the clothes she was wearing. Fortunately Mousse only had eyes for Shampoo.

"Hey Mousse, what brings you this way? Don't tell me the Old Ghoul has you running deliveries all the way to Suginami now."

"I'll have you know that I have run deliveries all the way to Minato ward." He responded with pride. "Our Ramen is very much called for as there is none better in all of Japan, but that is not why I am here Saotome. I have come to warn you that someone has been asking questions about you."

"Not another fiancée?" Some of the old fire flared in her eyes. "How many did the stupid panda arrange?! I mean he only had ten years!"

Mousse shook his head in the negative, "Not a fiancée no, at least not unless he is engaging you to elderly priests now too."

"A priest…Hsiao." Ranma's voice was pitched low, nearly a hiss, and she didn't sound happy.

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"I'm home!" Ranma called out, pausing inside the door to remove her street shoes.

"Welcome home, dear." Nodoka called back brightly from further into the house. "How was your day and did you enjoy your first club meeting?"

"It was okay." Ranma's voice was slightly wistful in spite of her best efforts to keep it neutral. She didn't want to admit that she had enjoyed herself doing girl's sports, or anything that wasn't in some way related to the martial arts.

It wasn't even martial arts soccer, which given her history, seemed wrong somehow.

"Mousse came by the school after practice and…" She drew up short as she entered the main room to find her mother cleaning the much feared Saotome blade.

"That's nice." Nodoka answered out of reflex before glancing up and catching that 'deer in headlights' look on her child's face. "Is something wrong dear?"

"No!" Ranma exclaimed out of her own reflexes, trained by the long held fear of disappointing her mother. Not to mention the consequences of being found less than manly.

"Good." Nodoka pretended not to notice Ranma's fear, her own memories regarding the blade were still too sharp for comfort, but she would not abandon the past. "Sit down and join me. This sword represents our family's history and honor and it is an important part of your inheritance. Now I know that it has ties to some things you would really like to forget, but we cannot forget who we are and where we came from. So, we will just severe those ties by cleaning and purifying the blade and starting anew." She studied the curved sword with a critical eye, disgusted by the water stains on the blade. Her tradition oriented mind rebelled at the memory of the dirt she had already scrapped out of the guard. "Come, sit with me."

After Ranma had done so Nodoka directed her in cleaning the blade, then turned her mind to small talk in an effort to relieve the tension she saw in her daughter's shoulders.

"You said your friend Mousse visited, that must have been nice."

"Yea…well kinda, but not…" Ranma hesitated, not wanting to offend her mother by disparaging one of her friends. "…he told me that someone has been asking questions about me."

"Not another fiancée?" Nodoka asked when Ranma didn't continue.

"Uh, no, an uh, priest." The younger redhead almost whispered the last, afraid of how her mother would react.

"Oh." Nodoka took her daughter's hand, squeezing it reassuringly with her own. "Ranma, Hsiao is an old family friend, he isn't trying to judge you, and he only wants you to be happy. Everything he does he does to help. Please, don't feel threatened by him." Nodoka pushed on, in spite of her own discomfort at the idea of exposing their pain to another. "In fact, I think it might be good if we told him about, well about everything."

"Mom, he'll think I'm some kinda freak!"

Nodoka gave her child a stern look. "He will do no such thing and you dishonor him by thinking so. Hsiao is a good friend and a priest, he only wants what is best for us and honor requires that we give him that chance. There is nothing to be afraid of."

"I'm not afraid." The younger redhead stated in defiance.

Just then the front door buzzer called out announcing a visitor and Ranma wasted no time exploiting the offered escape, running from the rather unpleasant turn their conversation had taken.

"I'll get that." She said a little too quickly, already half way to her feet.

Racing to the front door she opened it without really giving any thought or care to who might be waiting on the other side. She was pleasantly surprised when she found her friends from Furinkan, Hiroshi and Daisuke.

"Hey guys!" She greeted excitedly. "What's up?"

She waited patiently for a response, well patiently for Ranma which was about five seconds, but they just continued to stare at her stupidly. It took her a moment to realize it wasn't her face they were staring at. "Hey! What are you staring at?!" She demanded with a bark.

It didn't have the intended affect as both boys continued to stare as if mesmerized.

"Is that a…" Hiroshi started, "…sailor suit?" They finished together breathlessly.

"That is so hot." Daisuke added foolishly, earning himself a half hearted bonk on the head.

Hiroshi just continued to stare and was about to receive his own bonk, but seeing it coming he rushed to explain. "No, it's just that we never thought to see you wearing a girl's uniform, and-wait, that isn't the Furinkan uniform. Where are you going to school Ranma?" Now he was looking her in the eye, his own holding an edge of accusation and betrayal.

Now it was Ranma's turn to squirm. "It's uh, from Suginami, mom transferred me and they-well they signed me up as a girl."

"That is so hot." Daisuke really wasn't the brightest star in the heavens and this time it was Hiroshi who bonked him on the head, hard.

'You idiot!' His eyes seemed to scream. 'Keep that up and she'll go change for sure!'

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Later that night, in a shall we say 'more exclusive' neighborhood of Tokyo, Genma moved with a speed and grace that belied his apparent bulk, ducking beneath the slashing knife of his opponent in a twisting motion that brought him fully around, his own extended leg sweeping both of his opponents.

Proving that he was no stranger to the art himself, the younger man smoothly transitioned the fall into a roll that brought him back to his feet some distance away. His double breasted suit coat had been unbuttoned since before the fight began and as it flipped up during the knife wielder's roll it, along with the dress shirt beneath, rode up exposing the series of colorful tattoos decorating the taut skin of his torso. Genma didn't stick around to admire their artistry, when the yakuza bravo raised his single edged, curved knife into a guard position for Genma's follow up attack he found only empty air.

The portly martial artist was already halfway across the courtyard, racing to where his friend Soun was desperately dodging the stabbing attacks of two more knife wielding, smartly dressed young men, a Sake cask held cradled in his arms. Soun moved with a confidence that only came from long practice, and a speed born from fear for his life.

In a show of acrobatics that reminded the world that he was indeed Ranma's teacher in the art, Genma tumbled unnoticed into the space between his friend's attackers then rose forcefully to his feet, each arm extended out to his sides like hooks so that his clenched fists came up between the legs of the two yakuza thugs and with a mighty heave, Genma sent both men flying back over his head to fall upon his own erstwhile pursuer.

"Just like old times, aye Tendo?" He said quietly between measured breathes, eyes on the pile of downed men.

"Indeed Saotome." Soun responded distractedly, his eyes searching the courtyard.

Their voices were muffled by the handkerchiefs each wore tied across the lower half of his face, but you could still hear the excitement as blood surged in their veins like it hadn't in ages.

"Speaking of old times," Soun said through a hidden frown. "Where is the master?"

Genma put a hand upon his friend's shoulder. "Pray we never find out."

He said it with feeling but it was all for naught, as no sooner were the words out of his mouth then the object of fear, their diminutive master, bounced off the back of his head sending him face first into the rich loam at their feet.

"Quit loafing around boys." The tiny horror said, voice slightly distorted by the mask wrapped round his own face. It was a familiar sight to the people of Nerima, yet this was no panty raid. "There will be time for playing later but for now we have a long trip ahead."

With one last, nervous glance about the courtyard, Genma and Soun followed the little troll over the stone wall surrounding the estate, trading off the cask as necessary to surmount obstacles.

Racing down empty streets and then over rooftops, the trio of martial artists ran in complete silence until they had safely put several miles between themselves and the Yakuza mansion. Only once they were ensconced atop a late running train in a 'less exclusive' neighborhood, did Soun dare to ask the question burning in his troubled mind.

"Master, why did we have to steal this Sake from the yakuza? We could have bought ten times as much at our local store." He didn't add that his daughters were too young to be orphaned.

"Sake?" The old man's voice was filled with disdain. "This isn't that cheap swill you two seem so fond of. Check the stamp on the barrel Soun my boy."

The stamp in question was on the currently down side of the cask and when Soun turned it round to see, his eyes grew wide in shock at the sight of Donan distillery's mark.

"This is Hanazake wine from Yonaguni." His eyes, if possible, grew even wider. "It's labeled as more than a hundred years old. Master, if this wine actually survived the war than it's no wonder we had to steal it from yakuza."

Happossai removed his mask, the face he showed his students was that of a learned elder, or a wrinkled green muppet, take your pick.

"Boys, a wise man knows that when seeking help you never arrive with only your hat in hand, but with a bottle worthy of your host."

Genma felt the faint flame of hope flicker in his soul; hope that this wasn't just one of the Master's fool's errands after all. That hope gave his voice an almost respectful, reverent quality. "Master, where is this friend you spoke of?"

Lighting his pipe, Happi gave his student a look that plainly said 'Genma, you are an idiot', before answering. "It's Hanazake not Koshu, obviously we are going to Okinawa."

Author's notes:

This is shorter than intended, it was supposed to conclude with the brothers' hunt, but after several attempts over several weeks to write it it's just going to have to wait.

So next time; a hunt, a road trip and maybe a soccer game.