Welcome to story arc #4!

As always, send C&C to: oddball22@hotmail.com

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Trouble.

We all get into it, and it comes in many forms, that's not unusual. What
defines us, is how we get out of it.

Most people would rather avoid trouble, so they could possibly live an
easier, stress-free life. But for those of us more enlightened, we know
that conflict is an integral part of human life.

For only by facing what troubles us head on, will our character, that
which defines us, grow and learn.

Ranma, Akane, and their friends have faced many troubles in the past,
and will continue to do so in the future; both known and unknown.

But for now, their troubles fall in the former category...


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Ranma 1/2: New Challenges
Trouble with a Capital `A'

Chapter 1





Four people walked along the street to school, two in front and
two in back, a dozen or so meters seperating them. The two in front
talked business while the two in back walked hand-in-hand.

"How're you feeling?" Akane asked.

Ranma yawned. "Still a bit tired. I have enough trouble stayin'
awake in class as it is. Man, I've never used that much energy all at
once."

Akane squeezed his hand. "You were pretty great."

He raised an eyebrow. "Just `pretty great'? I thought I was a
lot better than that." He looked down at her, his face coloring
slightly. "Still, I couldn't have done it with you. You were pretty
impressive back there, too."

Akane beamed with pride. "You think so?"

He nodded. "Uh, yeah. You didn't klutz up once." She swatted
the back of his head before returning her hand to his. "Seriously, I
think we made a pretty good fightin' team." He took a deep breath, his
tone changing. "During this upcoming training trip, I ain't gonna be
easy on ya. I want ta at least get you fast enough ta teach you the
Amaguriken. Think ya can handle it?"

She nodded feriously. "Definitely. I can take whatever you dish
out."

From up front, Nabiki turned around. "We're going ahead to
school. See you two later."

"Hey sis, will Ucchan, Kenji-kun, or Yuri-chan be coming in
today?"

"Nope, they got the day off to recover," Nabiki replied. "See
ya!"

The upperclassmen and upperclaswoman took off down the street
at a faster pace. Kuno turned his head to see the couple walking slowly,
hand-in-hand. "Truly, they really do... care for each other," he said
softly.

Nabiki sighed noisily. "Come on, Kuno-baby. You can walk me to
class."

Kuno smiled back at her. "T'would be my fondest pleasure,
Nabiki-kun."

He held out his arm and she took it, still trying to assimilate
the fact that he no longer just called her `Tendo Nabiki'. [Hope he's
not falling for me. I'm a high maintenance business woman.]

She shook her head, her thoughts turning to the day's business.





Walking slowly together, neither one noticed the bucket of
water dump on Ranma from above. It was just enough water to get his head
wet and to change him. Predictably, he shrunk and his hair turned red.
He was now a she.

"Who did that?" she said in her higher voice, scanning for the
`attacker'.

"Ah, so it is true," came a guy's voice. The couple looked up to
see a short, old guy wearing robes and a straw hat standing on a fence.

"Who are you?" Akane asked.

"You can ask my students, the Soyokaze siblings about me," he
replied.

"Why'd you dump water on me!?" onna-Ranma demanded.

"I heard a rumor you were touched by Jusenkyo," he said simply.
"I wanted to see if was true."

"I could've told you I was cursed to turn into a girl," she
grumbled.

"You think of it as a curse?" he asked. "Interesting."

"Nani?" Akane asked. "What does that mean?"

"You change into a woman," he said simply. "Have you ever given
any thought as to why that is?"

"Because my stupid old man knocked me into pool at Jusenkyo,"
Ranma said, becoming annoyed at this line of questioning.

"Your name is Saotome Ranma, correct?"

"Yeah, so what?"

The old guy stroked his beard. "Hmmm, this could be very
interesting."

Akane blinked. "Excuse me? What do you mean `interesting'? And
just who are you?"

He ignored her. "I can say no more right now. Do not worry
about it, as it's still far off. You will be ready when the time comes."
He paused. "I will say, however, that the only `curse' you should be
concered with is the one your family is under. If you want to know more,
I suggest you ask your father. That's all I can say for now, but we will
talk again. Farewell!" He dropped behind the wall and was gone.

Ranma leapt to the top of the wall, but couldn't see him. "He's
gone." She jumped back down next to her fiancee.

"That was weird," Akane commented. "Any idea what your family
curse is?"

Ranma shook her head. "None. But you can bet I'm talkin' to pop
tonight. Things have been gettin' wierder than normal lately."

"Well, we'll worry about later. Right now, we should get to
class." The school was in sight now, and Kuno was waiting by the gate,
along with several students, gathered to watch the morning festivities.
"You don't think he's going to fight you this morning, do you?"

"I don't know. Actually, he wouldn't be fighting me, but
glomping me, seeing as I'm a girl right now." He shrugged. "Let's find
out."

They entered the school gates and Kuno nodded his head slightly
toward the couple. "Greetings Saotome Ranma and Tendo Akane." He seemed
to pause, then Nabiki kicked his leg. After giving her a short glare, he
turned back to Ranma and Akane. "I wish to offer my sincerest thanks for
your assistance last night, and my apologies for my behavior over the
past year and a half."

To say that Ranma and Akane were stunned would be an
understatement. In fact, the entire school, with the exception of Kuno
and Nabiki, were stunned. There were various murmers going back and
forth, Furinken's notorious rumor mill springing into action.

Most people couldn't believe Kuno had finally figured out
Ranma's curse. The rest thought it was about time. All were surprised
that he seemed to be giving up his quest for his two loves, seeing how
he didn't quote any poetry or give any flowers to either of the two
girls standing at the gate.

Ranma recovered first. "Ah, sure Kuno. No problem. I, uh, guess
I accept your apology."

"The same goes for me, Kuno-sempai," Akane added. "Though this
better mean that you will never pursue me again."

Kuno nodded his head slightly, looking somewhat uncomfortable.
"I have realized that we were not meant to be. For now, I must bid you
adieu. I must escort a certain young woman to class." He turned, even as
Nabiki took his arm, and the two entered the school.

Akane gasped. "Nabiki!?"

"You're kiddin' me," Ranma said, scratching her head. "I always
thought they hated each other."

"Yeah, they may have seemed to detest each other, but they have
spent quite a bit of time together." Akane turned to him and smiled
slightly. "Sounds like another couple I know..."

Ranma smiled nervously. "Heh, I guess you're right. But I can't
say what scares me more. The fact that Kuno is acting somwhat normal, or
that your sister may actually be interested in him." She glanced down at
her enlarged chest. "Right now, I only care about getting some hot
water."

Akane could only nod.






The campus was abuzz with rumors of that morning, though Ranma
ignored them all as he headed to lunch. His only concern was talking
with Nabiki over something he wanted to do, and he at least wanted her
advice. He'd take her help if he could afford it. He'd already told
Akane there was someone he needed to talk to, so she should go ahead and
have lunch with her friends. She did eye him suspiciously, but let him
go without further questions.

He spotted Nabiki talking with several of her school business
associates and waved her over. He then took a few deep breaths to try to
calm himself for what he needed to say.

"What can I do for you, Ranma-chan," she said sweetly.

The `chan' honorific caught him slighty off guard and he
blinked at her. "Uh, yeah, right." [Soul of ice. Gotta do this.] "Well,
I suppose I, uh, could use your advise, and maybe your help... if I can
afford it. But I don't have a whole lot of money."

"This is about Akane isn't it?" He nodded, hesitantly. "First,
let me ask you a question. Do you plan on marrying my sister?"

Did he? He had done a lot of thinking about it. The idea used
to scare him to death. Now, after almost losing her to Saffron and
Krynn, it only just scared him. But he knew he loved her, he knew he
couldn't live without her, so maybe marriage to her wasn't such a bad
thing after all.

Still, he glanced around to see if anybody was in earshot.
Seeing nobody, he replied in a very low voice. "Yes."

Nabiki smiled. [It's about time. Okay Akane, here's where I
really honor my promise to help you get this low-class ruffian.] That
thing that most people called a conscience, but that Nabiki considered
an annoyance, twinged again.

"Okay, then my original wedding gift still stands," she told
him. "I consider your debt erased. That being said, you did a great
service last night by helping to kill that thing. Because of that, I'm
in a postion to make a whole lot more money, so you are entitled to a
small share." Ranma thought he heard some emphasis on the word `small.'
"Plus, you'll be running the dojo someday, so anything extra you may owe
me, you can pay me back then."

Ranma blinked his eyes. Then he grabbed Nabiki's shoulders.
"Alright, who are you and what have you done with Nabiki?"

She chuckled lightly. "Calm down, Saotome. You're going to be
my brother-in-law whether I like it or not, and when it comes between
money and family, family wins hands down."

Ranma nodded slowly. "Okay..." He took a deep breath and
decided to forge ahead. "Well, I kinda wanna get Akane something."
[Something she seemed really happy to get awhile ago, even though it
didn't turn out to be what either of us thought. Mom also thought it was
a good idea.]

"And what would that be?"

Ranma fiddled his fingers. "Iwannagetheraring."

Nabiki blinked while her mind translated. "You want to get her
an engagement ring?" Ranma nodded, and Nabiki swore he looked like a
caged animal that was getting ready to bolt at the slightest noise. She
smiled. "No problem. I think you've got enough for that. On one
condition, though."

Ranma grew nervous and was hesitant to ask. "What's that?"

"Simple. I go with you to help pick it out. After all, I know
what she likes."

Ranma relaxed. "Thanks, Nabiki!" He then got a mischievous look
it his eye, and before Nabiki knew it, he threw his arms around her and
hugged her. "Or should I say oneechan?"

She pushed him away. "You can call me that after you've married
my little sis, okay?" He smiled and nodded. "Now get out of here and go
see your fiancee. We'll go either today after school or tomorrow. And
don't worry about anybody finding out, I'll keep it a secret."

She pushed Ranma off and went back to her friends. [You're
growing up, Ranma. It's about time.] She smiled slightly. [And so am I,
I guess.]






He joined Akane under the tree with a couple of her friends and
began to eat his lunch.

"Who'd you go see?" she asked

"Your sister," he replied. "Had some money matters to discuss
with her."

He didn't volunteer any more information, and she thought it
best not to ask. Besides, she had to learn to trust him.

"So, what's the deal with you two?" Sayuri asked. "You haven't
fought for a long time."

"Yeah, is there something going on we should know about, Ranma-
kun?" another Yuka asked. "Something's definitely changed between you
two."

He shrugged. "Why don't you ask Akane?"

"We're trying, but she's not saying much," Sayuri responded,
then seemed to get quite excited. "Are you really a couple now?"

"Could be."

"Oh, come on!" Yuka pleaded. "Are you or aren't you!?"

Akane sighed and broke down. She knew that their friends would
find out sooner or later, so it looked like their time was up. "Okay,
okay. We're trying to have a real relationship. Happy?"

The two girls looked back and forth between the couple, big
smiles on their faces. "Really!?"

"Does this answer your question?" Akane replied, reaching down
to grab Ranma's hand and twine her fingers with his.

When Ranma didn't deny anything or pull his hand away, Akane's
two friends began to bombard both of them with questions. While he
would've rather his new relationship with Akane remain secret, he
guessed he didn't mind people knowing about it. What he did mind, was
being the subject of a spotlight interrogation.

Finishing his lunch, he quickly made his escape.






When school let out, Ranma and Akane headed back to the dojo
and dropped their bookbags off, then annouced they would be heading over
to the Saotome house for dinner. After making a quick call and clearing
it with Ranma's mother, they were off.

Nodoka greeted them at the door. "Ranma, my son! It's so good
to have you visit." She hugged him tightly.

"Aw, momma," he sputtered, embarassed.

"Hello, Saotome-obasama!" Akane hugged her future mother-in-law.

"Why hello, Akane-chan! It's so good to see you two together and
getting along so well." They removed their shoes at the door and walked
inside. "Genma dear, our son and his fiancee are here!"

"Has pop been behaving himself?" Ranma asked.

"Yes. We have some more matters to discuss, but he is showing
some promise."

Genma was sitting in the dining room reading the paper and
Nodoka left the couple there while she went to check on dinner. Ranma
nodded to Akane and the two
took seats next to each other.

"You'd better not be getting slack in your training, boy," he
huffed from behind the paper.

"Knock it off, Oyaji, there's somethin' I wanna ask you." Ranma
took a deep breath. "This mornin' this old guy said somethin' about a
family curse. He said you'd know about it."

The Saotome partriarch froze. It would have been an easy thing,
he realized, to just deny it, laugh, and shrug it off as just crazy
nonsense spouted by a crazier stranger. After all, they didn't have any
real proof, did they?

He lowered the paper some to glance at his son and his fiancee.
Their curious and determined faces were studying and gauging his own.
"He did, did he?"

"Yeah, so what's the deal, Oyaji?"

[Just lie and...] Internally, he winced and sighed. [No. That
never worked before, and it just got me into more trouble. I can't shirk
responsibility anymore. Not if I want my wife, the woman I love, back.
They have a right to know and it might as well be now.]

With great ceremony, he folded the newspaper and laid it upon
the table. "I knew this would come up, eventually," he intoned solemnly.
He raised his voice and called to the kitchen. "Nodoka, would you mind
coming in here for a few minutes?" Ranma and Akane exchanged surprised
glances, even as the Saotome matriarch entered the room. "It seems our
son would like to know about my family's curse."

Both Ranma and Akane were now throughly baffled. It was clear
that they expected Genma to laugh it off and/or spout some nonsense. But
he actually seemed serious about this.

Nodoka bit her lower lip nervously as she entered the room. She
nodded to the younger couple and took a seat next to her husband.
"Please be aware that I knew about his family's curse before I married
him. It is good you are asking about it now, as this concerns both you
and Akane." She nodded for her husband to continue.

Genma closed his eyes and turned his back to them, as he began
to recite his tale. "It is said that a long time ago, our ancester
joined with others and fought a mighty battle over a very strong evil.
Despite the strength they wielded, they were only able to weaken and
trap their adversary. Before it went, however, it cursed our ancestor
and several others. These curses would afflict us down through the
generations. Who the others our ancestor fought with has been lost to
time, but not our curse."

He took a deep breath before continuing, and felt Nodoka take
his hand. "Before the evil was trapped, it cursed the Saotome line. From
then on, we would only have one child and it would always be male. When
that male marries, he passes part of the curse to his wife. In that way,
the evil was assured that we would not amount to a great enough number
to threaten his return."

Ranma and Akane sat there stunned. Neither one of them imagined
anything like that. Akane found her voice first. "Does that mean
Ranma..."

Genma nodded. "If you marry him, you will only have one male
child."

"The doctors confirmed that both of us were sterile after you
were born, Ranma," Nodoka added. "Based on this, you will have to decide
for yourselves if you still want to go through with this arranged
marriage. I pray you will."

Genma finally turned back around to face his family. "And
that's one of the reasons I took you on the trip. Your mother wasn't up
to travel, and I wanted to see if there was anything I could do to break
the curse." He sighed and looked down. "I failed."

"There has to be some way to break this curse, right?" Akane
asked, worridly..

Genma shook his head. "Like my father before me, I tried
everything."

Ranma glanced back and forth between both his parents, growing
increasingly upset. "Then what about all that crap you put me through!?
The Nekoken, Jusenkyo, and tons of other stuff you called trainin'!"

"Ranma, he may have made some mistakes," Nodoka said, glancing
at Genma. "But he is still your father."

"But mom!" Ranma relented under his mother's gaze. "Alright,
momma."

"Of course, training you was also a part our trip, Ranma," Genma
continued. "You see, it's also said that our ancestor lost much of their
power when he was cursed. With each generation, there is an increase in
ability as some of that power is regained. While you are better than me,
your son will be better than you. When you have your son, Ranma, you
will have to train him in the art as well. This is to prepare him in
case whatever cursed us returns, like it says in the legend."

"I love your father, in spite of the curse," Nodoka said to the
two now-speechless and confused teens. "I was from a poor family and
gladly married your father so that they would be better off. In time, I
came to love him. When Genma said he was going to take you away on a
training trip for 10 years, I became very upset, even though I knew it
had to be. Eventually, Genma made that promise to raise you as a man
amongst men or else commit seppuku. I was so angry at him, that I
grabbed my family's sword, pointed it at him, and swore that I would
hold him to it."

She looked down, and the pain on her face was evident to both
Ranma and Akane. A single tear leaked out of her right eye. "I spent the
next ten years learning to use it, but I would rather have had my son.
Still, I understood my duty." She looked up to see various emotions play
across the couple's faces. "I know this has been a bit much. I will
leave you to think it over while I go back to check on dinner. Akane-
chan, would you like to join me?"

Akane nodded absently, her mind on autopilot, and and the two
women left.

Ranma was so stunned about all thatt he had heard, he didn't
even register that Akane was going into the kitchen.





While working with the rice cooker, Akane was quiet. Nodoka
noticed this and attempted to get her to open up.

"You want to talk about this, dear?" she asked.

Akane looked up at her. "Oh, Obasama, I don't know what to
think. What am I going to do? I love Ranma, but I can only have one male
child before I become sterile? I don't know if I can accept that." Tears
formed her eyes and Nodoka felt compelled to hug her. "What do I do?"

"There, there, dear." She stroked the young girl's hair. "It's
something you'll have to decide with Ranma. Remember though, you can
still have sex."

That effectively stopped the tears as Akane blushed furiously,
thoughts of sex with Ranma flashing through her mind. [I'm not a
pervert! I'm not a pervert!] she chanted internally. A memory of the
first time she met the male Ranma popped into her head, him stepping out
of the furo. [Although...]

Nodoka went on, seemingly oblivious to Akane's internal
reverie. "The curse won't have any affect on you until after you give
birth to your child. One thing that we've been able to learn, is that
all curses have a power source that, if destroyed, will negate the
curse. That was another reason Genma went away, to either find the
source of the curse, or a cure. He believed that I should be able to
have more children if I chose."

Akane dried her face on her sleeve. "Thank you, Obasama. I-I
have a lot to think about. I guess Ranma and I should have a talk."

"Very good dear. Now, let's return to the stir fry..."





Traveling home after dinner that night, the two confused and
wary teens walked side-by-side without touching. Both lost in their
thoughts and each afraid of the other's reaction.

[Will Akane reject me?] Ranma thought. [And maybe I should let
her. After all, she does deserve the chance to have more than one kid. I
don't want her to go, but the best thing would to let her go.]

[Will Ranma push me away] Akane wondered. [Do I want him to? The
important thing is I do love him. And one child wouldn't be so bad. At
least we can have children. Besides, we have plenty of time to hold off
having kids. After all, we're still in high school. Next will come
college. Only after that can we consider having the time to have a
baby.]

"Ranma?" "Akane?" They said in unison.

"You go first." "Go ahead." Twin blushed marred their faces.

"I'll go first," Akane stated, clearing her throat. "I won't lie
to you. This is a big thing and it does scare me some. But what would
scare me more, is living without you. I still love you and I want to
spend my life with the man I love. Besides, we will at least be
guaranteed of having a son to train in the art."

"Akane," said Ranma as he stopped walking. Akane stopped a few
steps after and turned to face him. "I was thinkin' of whether it would
be fair to ya to be forced to only have one child if you want more.
Maybe you would be better off with someone who could give you what I
can't..."

Akane scowled and stepped up to him. "Saotome Ranma! I don't
want anyone else!" Her face softened. "I told you I love you and I'm
sticking by you no matter what, so don't you dare try to push me away!"

"Akane..."

She put a pair of fingers on his lips to silence him. "No.
Please don't shut me out. I want to stay by your side until the day I
die. Whatever comes, we face it together and make the decisions
together. You want to protect me, and that's alright; but I want to
protect you, too. We're partners, Ranma, now and forever."

Ranma smiled slowly. "Partners, eh? Heh, I kinda like the sound
of that." He looked down. "Thanks Akane, I... I don't really want you to
go. I told you I do need you..."

She smiled warmly at him and her hand took his as they began
walking again. They passed several more minutes in silence before Ranma
chuckled.

"What is it?" she asked.

"I was just thinking of Ryoga and his family curse. I think
kinda know how he feels now. To know something is wrong with you, yet be
so helpless ta change it." Akane stopped cold and Ranma circled back
around when he realized she was no longer beside him. "What is it,
Akane?"

"Ranma, don't you see?" she said. "Ryoga's got a family curse.
So do you. And if you think about, so does Kuno. Didn't your dad say
that your ancestor fought along side other warriors against this evil
and it cursed them?"

Ranma blinked as the implications hit."You mean Ryoga's an'
Kuno's ancestors fought alongside mine and that's how we were cursed?"
She nodded. "I should ask Ucchan, Kenji, and Yuri if they have family
curses. Maybe I should also write to Shampoo and Mousse and ask them. If
it turns out they do, then maybe..."

"Maybe there's a reason why several strong martial artists have
gathered in one location?" she finished for him. They resumed their
walk. "We should talk with Nabiki about this as well. If there is more
information about this out there, she can find it." She looked up at her
fiance. "Don't worry, whatever happens, I'll be right here with you."

He looked at her with wondering eyes, then their heads tilted
in toward each other. There was a slight hesitation on both their parts,
but eventually their lips met. It was only a light kiss, but this kiss
far more important than all the others.

This one was made with the knowledge that no matter what the
future held for them, they would face it together.