That's 1/2 My Goddess Part X:
Of The Truthful End And A Dreamt Beginning...

Goddesses as a rule do not dream. All of the
subconscious processing of the day's data which is
dreaming is done far more efficiently and without the
need for images while a goddess rests. So one might
think that it was most curious that Akane, who was
dozing lightly, would dream. Or were they dreams?
Ranko was speaking to Ranma on the stage. Akane
was in the wings. The comb. The golden comb. The
memory of it was returning to her. Things made
forgotten. Not by time, but by someone else. She HAD
given it to Ranko. Before. When they were so much
younger. Before things had changed between them and
they began to fight. But why? Why had she given her
something so precious? Loneliness? Sadness? Her
sadness? Ranko's? Akane's?
Ranko was proclaiming her love to Ranma,
casting secret, furtive glances at Akane. The
audience moved slowly to tears as Akane watched the
two, her heart grew heavier with every word. She does
love him. See how fiercely she loves him? It shone
like a beacon. She couldn't possibly hope to match,
could she? She would give him up because it would
make him happy. She remembered. Her intrusion. She
had stolen him away from her. It was wrong.
Ranko rose slowly into the air. The twisting,
hidden runes she was weaving around herself were
plain to any of the divinities. The Rite of Recall.
The spell to open a gateway, a portal for home. To
return to the heavens. It was time enough. Time to
accept what was. But it did not feel right! She loved
him! She could not surrender! Akane reached out
trying to call her cousin back to her. To him. She
would give him up. She would accept. It was not right
for the one who stole him away should win.
The thoughts raced through her mind even as she
felt her heart begin to break. Only the one who would
be right for him should stay. It was not her. She did
not deserve him. Not after she had hurt her so. It
was her.
Next to her a pretty little girl, with long
black hair and wearing a black dress nodded
approvingly. The light began to fill the stage. The
light of heaven spilling out as the gate was opened.
The little girl, a black balloon in one hand, took
Akane's hand in the other and spoke to her
cheerfully. It's time. Your wish is granted. On the
little girl's forehead a symbol like a V began to
glow black. It was familiar. She was familiar too.
Ranko, bathed in the fraction of a second of
white light as she rose, slowly turned to look at
them. Her mouth was open in surprise as things
changed. The balloon in the little girl's hands
growing incredibly larger, moving to eclipse her
light... A goddess' wish was granted. A goddess' wish
was fulfilled. The price to pay is... the one to pay
would be...
Akane snapped awake with a start. Ranma turned
to her, worry plain on his face as she gave him a wan
little smile, forcing those thoughts from her mind.
It was just a dream, she told herself. A strange
nonsensical dream. She knew it was a dream though
she'd never had any before. She didn't have time to
dwell on such things. She was with her love and that
was all that mattered. She placed her hand over her
heart, feeling its beat slow as her tension fell
away. Ranko, she knew in her heart, was fine. Perhaps
it was just worry.
Ranma drove his van at a leisurely pace
homewards, savoring the companionable silence with
Akane. The roads weren't too congested and it was
actually a fairly easy drive back home. It was only
early evening, the sun just finishing its descent and
the first few stars were starting to become visible.
The play had done extremely well. The standing
ovation was well deserved he added idly, considering
all of the hard work they'd all put into it. The only
item of concern was that the audience, or at least a
third of it, nearly rioted when Ranko failed to show
up for her curtain call. Fortunately Ranma was quick
thinking enough to duck quickly behind the curtain,
apply some eyeliner to his cheeks and forehead and
pretend to be Ranko to take her bow for her. Where
HAD she gone? The way she'd spoken to him, it sounded
as though she didn't expect to ever see him again. He
frowned slightly. There was a time when that news
would've made him happy to no end. But now... now, if
she had been telling the truth, he realized he'd miss
her. He'd miss her a lot.
Trying to shake his growing melancholy mood, he
glanced over to Akane. She returned his look, smiling
lovingly at him. She extended a hand, gently
caressing his cheek. He smiled back, kissing her
upturned palm lightly.
"What's the matter, Ranma?" she asked lightly.
Ranma replied with a shrug, "It's nothing... I
was just wondering where Ranko went. It's not like
her to miss a chance to take a bow in the spotlight
and flirt with a couple hundred guys all screaming
her name. She would've loved it." He mused.
Akane giggled lightly, quickly suppressing the
worrying thoughts that were suggesting themselves,
"I'm sure she's fine. She's probably home by now."
Ranma blinked at her curiously, "Do you think
Akane leaned over to him and kissed him
playfully on the cheek. "Don't worry about it. She's
fine. You'd better keep your attention on me or I may
get upset," she added with a saucy wink.
"Um..." Ranma blushed slightly, still a little
uncomfortable at how quickly their relationship had
changed. She seemed so different now. So much more
flirtatious. So much less tentative and more sure. He
found he rather liked her like this.
"How about I keep my eyes on the road for the
time being?" he replied weakly.
She laughed lightly, "Good idea. Then you can
pay attention to me when we get home." She kissed the
line of his jaw this time.
He couldn't help but grin, glancing towards
her. Her face was very close to his.
"If that's what you want," he said.
She nodded, a playful and almost... hungry...
look on her face, "You'd better believe it. I want
you to pay very close attention to me." She added
softly, "To... all... of me."
Ranma blinked in disbelief at her. Was that an
invitation for..?
She lightly ran her tongue along her lips.
"Take us home?"
He stared into her eyes for a long moment.
Those loving, hungry eyes. His throat felt dry and
his palms were getting sweaty at the wheel. Without
another word he turned his full attention back on the
road and floored the gas.

"No, I will not hold." Nabiki spoke into the
phone in a cold, imperious tone. Light touches of
frost were forming on the receiver, "You DO know who
I am, don't you? I expect to be accorded the proper
respect even on the phone, now what are you NOT
telling me?"
Kasumi looked at Nabiki in slight reproof and
asked gently, "Nabiki... that's no way to speak to--"
Nabiki put her hand over the phone and gave
Kasumi a mildly exasperated glance. She spoke in a
cool, restrained tone, "This uppity little third
class goddess is trying to put me... ME of all
people... on hold." To those who knew her, that very
tone would've been indicative of just how incredibly
irritated she was. But underneath even that was her
growing uneasiness.
Kasumi looked slightly puzzled and moved next
to her sister, "How peculiar. Let me try speaking to
them..." as she extended her hand for the receiver.
Nabiki shrugged and handed it over to her. Kasumi
spoke softly into the phone, murmuring something
sympathetic to whoever was on the other end of the
line. As she spoke, she nodded every so often before
replying. Within a few moments she had a very tiny
little frown on her normally placid face. The first
time that had happened in recorded memory.
She put the receiver very carefully back into
its cradle and said in an even softer voice than
usual, "Oh my."
Nabiki blinked at her, "It's that bad?"
"Worse," Kasumi answered.
"We're home!" Ranma's voice called out from the
front door.
Nabiki bounced lightly to her feet, "We'd
better tell them what's going on."
Kasumi nodded her head gently, "Oh my, yes.
This has gotten quite out of hand."
"Now there's an understatement." Nabiki
commented wryly.
Ranma strode into the room, still holding
Akane's hand. He paused for a moment and noticed the
mood the other two goddesses were in and asked, "Hey,
what's going on you guys?"
"Have either of you seen Ranko since the play?"
Kasumi asked them.
Akane shook her head, "No... she was opening a
portal wasn't she? Wasn't she coming here?"
"Portal?" Ranma asked.
Nabiki replied, "Those were the motions and
sigils for a gateway to heaven. She was going home."
"When we arrived here, all of her belongings
were gone." Kasumi added.
Ranma gaped in surprise, "Did anyone know she
was leaving?"
All three goddesses shook their heads.
Ranma frowned slightly at Akane, "So when you
said she was going home you meant... um..." he
pointed upwards, "Home as in heaven?"
"I wasn't sure!" Akane replied defensively.
"There's more." Kasumi spoke.
Nabiki continued, "It seems Ranko didn't make
it back to heaven..."
Ranma asked, puzzled, "How do you know?"
"If she were there, we would feel it. All of us
would." Kasumi replied.
Akane nodded in agreement. She asked, "So where
is she?"
"That's what I'd like to know." Nabiki grumped,
crossing her arms.
"Well, I've found out why no one seems to be
able to help us find her, though." Kasumi said,
smoothly interrupting Nabiki's pouting, "It would
appear there's been a system crash."
"A WHAT?!" Akane reeled.
Nabiki's eyes widened, "Oh, boy. How bad are we
talking here? An hour to fix? Two hours?"
Kasumi shook her head, the tiny, tiny frown on
her face growing slightly, "More like a week or
so..." her two sisters stared at her in shock, "Files
were corrupted, contracts were inadvertently
severed... they're mobilizing the backups, but
they're not sure how long it will take to fix
Ranma blinked in confusion, "What are you
talking about?"
Akane turned to answer him, "The Yggdrasil...
the mainframe that runs the universe. Where we draw
our power from."
"That's the thing you guys work with, right?
The thing that holds onto the contracts?" Ranma
asked, beginning to get a glimmer of the situation.
His eyes boggled, "That can't be good..."
"Do they know what caused it?" Nabiki asked.
Kasumi could only shake her head, "They can't
even get the diagnostics to make sense...
everything's in disarray in Heaven. They'd recall us
if they could get the portals to work right. If the
records that we're down here even still exist..."
Ranma asked slowly, "Is that why Ranko's
missing? All of the... stuff you guys do is cleared
by the Yb... Yurgd... Clearasi... erhm... that
mainframe thing right? Maybe it went haywire while
Ranko was trying to cross, that's why she's missing?
Or maybe she is there, but you just can't tell
because everything's so messed up?"
Nabiki looked thoughtful for a moment, "That
could be it."
Akane shook her head, "But what can we do from
Kasumi sighed, "Not much I'm afraid. But we can
at least try to find her."
"No system access at all, so we're currently
just limited to our own power for now." Nabiki mused,
"Not that much..." She raised an open hand
thoughtfully as though measuring her own reserves.
The three goddesses looked at one another and
began to talk in quick succession, their voices
overlapping as they discussed possibilities and plans
using technical jargon well beyond Ranma's
experience. He backed up a little, seeing that they
needed to talk this out. He waited until there was a
break in the conversation before saying, "Look, I've
got no idea what you guys are talking about, but if
Ranko's in trouble and I can help, just tell me,
okay? Any kind of help you need. Anything." Ranma
Akane looked sharply at him for a moment while
Kasumi and Nabiki nodded to him. A puzzled look
crossed her eyes for a moment as she just stared at
Ranma noticed her stare and looked back, saying
quietly, "Hey... Akane, please... this is no time to
be jealous... I mean she could need our help, right?"
Akane shook her head and gave him a faint smile
on her face, "No... no... I wasn't jealous... just...
a thought." She leaned over to him and kissed him
lightly, "Why don't you go get some rest... I think
my sisters and I are going to be up all night on this
"I'll stick around. Maybe make everyone some
tea. You look like you'll need it." Ranma replied,
lightly caressing her cheek.
Kasumi and Nabiki noticed the intimacy the two
were sharing and paused for a moment. They exchanged
glances... then shook their heads and returned to
their discussion. By now the considered angle of
attack for locating their lost cousin had wandered
into 12th dimensional variables relating indirectly
to the derivatives received through Cantorian
transfinites, in terms of the relativistic placement
of subclass item 'Goddess', specific item 'Ranko'.
Which was a fairly simple computation, but Ranma
couldn't even follow that much.
By the looks of things, this was going to prove
to be a long night.

Ranma as a rule, did dream. It sort of came
with the territory of being human. You sleep, you
dream. Simple. More often than not he'd forgotten his
dreams by the time he woke up, but not always. There
was one particular dream that always escaped him. One
which he never remembered on waking... The elements
sometimes got jumbled, but it was usually the same...
He'd had it for years and never knew. He was having
it tonight. Considering how strange the day had been
and how it had ended... and how tired he was, given
the last few weeks worth of work with the play, it
was not surprising that he would fall back on what
was perhaps his most consistent dream. Even one which
he could never remember.
Ranma tugged uncomfortably at the ribbon which
had been wound around his neck in a fair imitation of
a bow tie. If only it hadn't been pastel pink. He
fidgeted uncomfortably and kept looking at his feet.
The ground was a lot closer to his perspective in
those days. He couldn't have been more than nine and
he still had a lot of growing to. Somewhere behind
him he could barely hear someone humming the wedding
march. The sound was getting closer.
In front of and before him a harsh whisper
called his attention, "Hey! Ranma! Quit it! The
groom's not supposed to take the tie off!"
He looked up, not quite able to make out the
person speaking to him. Whoever it was, was tall.
Much taller than Ranma. The sun was behind the
person, casting shadows over the face. Ranma could
make out hair, long and black... maybe the hints of a
All around them was a wooded area within the
grounds of a temple near Ranma's home. He played here
often as a child. There were many fond memories of
playmates to be found here for him. But never any
names or faces.
Ranma pouted at the figure looming over him and
replied sourly, "But I didn't wanna play this silly
game in the first place!"
The figure chided him in a reasonable, though
playful voice, "Hey, we played tag like you wanted
yesterday, so now it's our turn to pick the game."
"But this is the first time I've ever played
house with someone who wanted to have a wedding
before they'd play house," Ranma muttered.
"Hah," the voice replied airily, "She just
doesn't wanna live in sin that's all. So we gotta
make it official before we can play."
Ranma gave his ribbon another savage tug, "It's
still silly."
Whoever it was humming the wedding march was
practically at his side... Ranma glanced in that
direction and found himself looking at a girl around
his height, maybe a bit shorter, wearing a neat
looking red and white dress that flowed around her.
In her hand she had a random bunch of flowers that
had no doubt been picked just moments earlier. She
wore what looked to be an elaborate veil that had
originally been a shawl. Only a few details could be
seen of her face, but Ranma knew that he could
remember that face perfectly if he had to. He could
tell she was glaring at him through the veil and
despite himself quickly shut up.
The taller individual coughed importantly
producing a huge book from somewhere and said,
"That's better... let's start it off."
The girl in the veil nodded and hooked an arm
possessively around Ranma's arm. He didn't mind at
all. In fact he liked being near her like this. She
was nice. Actually so was her cousin. Except when the
two of them got together and ganged up on him for
being a boy.
"'Mostly well liked--'" the person in front of
them began in a loud voice.
"That's 'Dearly beloved'!" The veiled girl
playing the role of the bride hissed.
"Oops! Okay... okay... um... here we go...
'Dearly beloved we are gathered here today to witness
the onion of--'"
"That's 'union'!" The veiled girl poked the
other person's knee.
Ranma tuned out most of the droning voice and
took a glance around him. The small clearing where
they were holding their 'ceremony' was peopled by a
few dolls, some stuffed toys and more surprisingly,
several robots and action figures. He remembered why.
They had decided that if it was going to be a
wedding, there had to be people from the groom's side
of the family, so his toys got drafted.
He snapped out of his haze just as the girl
next to him said, "I do."
"And do you, Ranma Saotome, take my cousin to
be your awfully bedded--"
"Lawfully wedded!" The girl snapped, tugging on
Ranma's arm.
The shadows across the taller person's face
formed into the semblance of a pout, "Geez, if you
think you can do this better than I can why don't you
come up here and I be down there saying 'I do'?"
"Well, you can have your turn tomorrow. Today,
he's my groom!" the veiled girl replied airily.
"We gotta do this tomorrow too?" Ranma asked a
little sourly. He was hoping they'd play tag with him
"Aww... come on, it'll be fun!" The girl said,
tugging on his arm again.
"I guess..."
"Now he's gotta kiss the bride!" The person in
front of them piped up.
Ranma erked and backed off, "Hey! Wait! Nobody
said nothin' about no kissin'!"
"It's traditional, says so in the book," the
figure said, holding up the aforementioned book.
"Ranma!" A voice suddenly called out.
Ranma blinked in surprise and turned, "Oh,
man... it's nearly dinner time. That's my mom."
The voice called his name again, louder this
The other two immediately went, "Awwww!"
"Do you really have to go?" The veiled girl
Ranma nodded sadly, but with just a bit of
relief, "Sorry guys. How 'bout we pick this up
tomorrow, okay?"
"I guess." The figure sighed, "This moustache
was getting itchy anyway."
The girl pulled her shawl off her head,
readjusting it around her shoulders, revealing a
cascade of unbound shoulder length red hair. "No
fair, we were just getting to the good bits." She
The obscured figure, now having lost its
moustache, jumped off the rock she was standing on.
The illusion of height was lost as she brushed her
long black hair back over her ear. "Ranko, he has to
go eat dinner."
The eight year old Ranko pulled at her shawl
slowly and gave a defeated sigh, "I guess, Akane."
A young Akane beamed at her cousin and put an
affectionate arm around her, "Don't be so glum."
Ranma was about to turn and head out when he
caught sight of Ranko's expression, "Aww... don't be
like that. Um..." he forced a smile. Well, some
sacrifices had to be made. He just couldn't bear to
see Ranko so sad, "Tell you guys what, let's do this
again tomorrow... and Ranko can kiss me all she
likes, okay?"
Ranko brightened up immediately, "Great!"
Akane rolled her eyes, "Hey, no fair! When do I
get a turn as the bride?"
"Um... you get your chance afterwards?" Ranma
replied weakly.
"I better." Akane said mock severely, crossing
her arms.
Ranko laughed and hugged Akane playfully,
"Well, you don't get to be a bride unless I get all
the kisses I want out of him first."
"But he'll be all kissed out!" Akane protested.
The two looked at each other then at Ranma,
"And how do we know you aren't gonna welsh?" they
asked simultaneously.
Ranma laughed, "Hey, quit it you two." He held
up his hand, little finger extended, "Okay, I pinky
promise both you guys, okay? Ranko gets all the
kisses she wants and Akane gets to be my bride."
The two cousins exchanged puzzled looks but
extended their own hands, Ranko first, then Akane,
hooking pinkies with Ranma in turn. All the while,
the voice calling for Ranma was getting louder.
Ranma grinned, waving to them as he ran out of
the clearing, coming closer to the voice that kept
calling his name.
"Ranma..." the voice repeated. That wasn't his
mom's voice...
Slowly, Ranma let himself wake up. He could
feel something touching his face. Something soft and
warm was pressed against his body. He was very
comfortable. Toasty warm in fact, but at the same
time it also felt oddly... drafty?
He blinked and found Akane's smiling face just
inches from his own, her fingers tracing the line of
his jaw. "Good morning, sleepyhead," she murmured,
kissing him awake.
"Good morning, Akane... um... how'd I get in my
room?" He asked.
"I dragged you in after you dozed off." Akane
replied quietly, "I'm not sure, but I don't think
Kasumi or Nabiki got any sleep."
Ranma nodded, "I see... um... okay, I hope this
isn't a dumb question, but why are you in the futon
with me?"
Akane smiled pleasantly, shifting slightly in
his arms, "Well, I was getting tired too when you
fell asleep... and you looked so cold and lonely in
here, I decided to keep you company."
"And... all we did was sleep, right?" Ranma
asked cautiously.
Akane giggled, "Yes, silly. Just sleep."
Ranma nodded and then blushed a bit as he
phrased the most important question, "So... why are
we both naked under this blanket?"
She shrugged slightly, "Well, with both of us
under here, it was too warm to wear any clothes, so I
took our clothes off..." she grinned hungrily at him,
"Besides... I thought you'd appreciate the practice."
She pressed closer against him, "I really need to get
you more used to feeling my body against yours..."
Ranma could feel the heat climbing up his neck
even before the blush reached his face, "Er... I... I
guess I can appreciate that."
"Good." She laughed kissing his nose playfully.
Admittedly her behavior was definitely
pleasant, but she seemed a little too eager to be
with him. This was going just a little too fast, a
little too suddenly for him.
Ranma shifted, trying to keep specific parts of
himself from touching specific parts of her, and
doing a poor job of it. Worse, there were certain
inevitable reactions on his part. Desperate to keep
his mind off of things (his things and her things,
and the things that could be done with those things),
he asked, "Have... um... have Nabiki and Kasumi found
out anything yet?"
Akane's face suddenly turned serious before she
replied, "I don't think so, but I just woke up
myself. Let's find out." She smiled once more,
bouncing to her bare feet. As she did so, she drew
the blanket up with her, wrapping it around herself
toga style. Unfortunately, Ranma who had been sharing
that sheet with her, found himself exposed rather
forcibly to the chill morning air by her departure.
He gave an alarmed yelp and tried his best to cover
himself up. Akane was at the door when she glanced
over her shoulder. She paused just long enough to
take the golden comb she'd worn during the play off
of the table and use it to pull back her hair. She
had a grin and a playful twinkle in her eye as she
gave him a thorough once over.
He blushed at her unabashed inspection and
pulled the pillow over to cover himself up better.
She laughed once as he did so before darting out of
the door. Ranma shook his head. If he hadn't known
any better, he thought to himself, he could almost
have sworn that that was a disguised Ranko... but
those kisses weren't the familiar ones Ranko stole
off of him. There were other differences as well.
Subtle ones. The way she walked. The exact way her
lip curled when she smiled. The way she breathed.
Little clues about how Ranko moved and how Akane
moved that he'd learned over time. He didn't even
realize how well he'd gotten to know the two of them.
Or how closely he'd watched them.
He shook his head clear of those thoughts,
reaching into his closet for some clothes.
"Ranma!" He heard Akane's alarmed voice call
out to him.
He'd barely managed to slip into his pants and
grab a shirt before barreling out the door, running
towards the sound of her voice. He found her in the
living room, which opened up to the porch which led
to their garden. On the floor some strange circular
design had been chalked in during the night. Next to
that were reams of paper, with precisely neat,
handwritten notes had been jotted. Kasumi and Nabiki
were also there, but there was something odd about
Kasumi was kneeling, her hands folded on her
lap and a small smile on her lips. Her eyes were open
and stared vacantly out into the garden. She was
almost eerily motionless. She didn't seem to blink or
breathe. Even her clothing and hair were totally
unmoved by the slight draft from the open windows. As
Ranma caught sight of her, he suddenly felt all the
worry in him just melt away completely. Everything
was alright... everything was perfectly fine. After
all, how else could she be so perfectly tranquil if
anything at all were the matter?
He blinked in an effort to clear his head and
tear his gaze away from her. Not quite looking at her
now, he felt his normal worry and alarm return to
him, full force. Something was definitely wrong.
His gaze fell on Nabiki who was standing just
beside the door. She stood almost, but not quite
perfectly still. And certainly didn't radiate quite
the same feeling of calm Kasumi did. If anything,
there was a definite expression of annoyance and
exasperation on her face. Akane was standing right in
front of her, waving a hand in front of her older
sister's eyes, trying to catch her attention. But
Nabiki's gaze didn't seem to waver either.
"What happened, Akane? What's wrong with them?"
Ranma immediately asked.
Akane shook her head, she looked shaken. "I...
I'm not sure. I think the system crash was worse than
we realized."
"What do you mean?" Ranma asked, moving towards
her protectively.
She clung to him, answering his questions with
a deliberate softness, as though trying to calm
herself, "The marks on our foreheads? They're not
just there to help identify our ranks... they help
control who and what we are. Each goddess is an
expression of something in nature... we can't help
but show it... except when the system is helping us
to regulate it."
"So..?" Ranma glanced at Kasumi then to Nabiki.
Akane continued slowly, "Kasumi is Goddess of
Tranquility... that's probably why she's stuck like
that. Nabiki is Goddess of Transactions... I don't
think she can do anything unless someone else does
something to her first..."
Ranma looked worriedly at Akane, "What about
She took slow deep breaths before replying,
holding him close to her, "I'm Goddess of Aggression.
I think... I think I'd lose my temper repeatedly.
That or go berserk."
Ranma gulped nervously. "You... you seem to be
fighting it okay..."
Akane answered slowly, "Probably because
nothing's set me off yet... but if anything...
anything at all looks like it's going to make me
upset or angry, promise me you'll get as far away
from me as you can, alright?"
He looked at her confused.
She held him tightly, "I don't want you to be
hurt. I... I don't think I'd much notice what I was
doing if I lost my temper at this point."
He nodded, gently stroking her hair, "I
promise... but let's just hope you don't get mad
She smiled tentatively and nodded before
kissing his cheek.
They looked at Nabiki again and now both of
them waved their hands in front of her eyes. There
was no obvious reaction aside from a half irritated
eyebrow twitch.
"What if we talk to her?" Ranma asked.
Akane glanced at Nabiki and said deliberately,
"I think she'll be able to talk back."
Ranma addressed Nabiki. "Can you hear me?"
"What do you think?" Nabiki snapped, perhaps a
bit tiredly.
"Are you okay?" Ranma asked.
Nabiki asked back, "Do I look like I'm okay?"
Ranma winced a little, "Hey, there's no need to
be so sarcastic."
"I'm not being sarcastic, I can't help it."
Nabiki replied, practically only her lips moving.
Akane snapped her fingers, "Oh, that's it."
"What's it?" Ranma asked her.
The youngest goddess answered, "Don't ask her
questions, she's going to answer with questions." She
turned to Nabiki, "You need to sit down."
"I do, but I can't," was her reply.
Ranma was struck by sudden inspiration, then
dug into his pocket, "I'll give you a hundred yen if
you'll sit down."
Nabiki's face broke into a look of intense
relief as her hand came up snatching the coin. Her
knees buckled suddenly as she collapsed onto the
floor. "I accept," she declared with a sigh. Ranma
could swear he could hear her joints popping as she
leaned against the wall, sitting inelegantly on the
floor. She must've been standing there for the better
part of the night, he thought to himself.
"I was right about the system crash." Akane
said to Nabiki, managing to turn the question she had
in mind into a statement.
Nabiki spoke wearily, "Yes. Kasumi and I
managed to set up the portal to get to Ranko... but
the file corruption got bad enough to affect our
regulators. We're reverting to base archetypes." She
looked as though she wanted to say more, but her
teeth snapped shut, cutting herself off.
Akane started to frown as she thought. Ranma
noticed that, edged away slightly. She didn't even
notice and pulled him against her once more, not
wanting to let him go.
"I..." Ranma said to Akane, trying to think of
some excuse. She looked like she was getting upset.
Now he had to extricate himself from her without
upsetting her further. "I just thought of
something... I'll be right back..."
Akane looked stricken, "Do you have to?"
Ranma grinned as he managed to edge a way a
little, "Ahh... I think I can get Nabiki to keep
talking. Really!"
She nodded reluctantly releasing his hand.
Nabiki seemed to be watching them with a mild
interested look, but had not moved since she sat
Ranma dashed quickly to the kitchen, then back
with a pitcher of water and a glass. She remembered
Akane telling him about Nabiki's first arrival to the
temple. That and considering the fact that the older
Tendo sister probably hadn't had anything to drink
all night...
"Hey, Nabiki," Ranma said, "I'll give you as
much water to drink as you want. In return, you have
to talk and move without us prompting you."
She seemed to mull it over for a moment before
replying, "Accepted."
Akane smiled and hugged Ranma, "You're
Ranma smiled back at her, returning the hug,
"Well, it seemed like the right thing to do."
Nabiki thirstily drank down her first glass and
refilled it before rearranging herself to sit a bit
more comfortably. "Yeah, smart thinking, Ranma." She
finally said with a breath of relief.
Ranma looked over his shoulder, then quickly
looked away before his vision could be caught again,
"Can we do anything for Kasumi?"
Nabiki shook her head, finishing her second
glass, "Not really. We can snap her out of it, but
not for very long. Trust me, I tried all last night.
At least up until I couldn't move anymore," she added
Akane asked, "How long have you guys been like
Nabiki looked thoughtfully at Akane as though
assessing something, "About two hours after you took
Ranma to bed."
Ranma blushed.
The elder Tendo continued, "By all rights,
Akane, it should've affected you way before now. Do
you feel any different?"
Akane shook her head, "No... not really... I
just thought..." she glanced at Ranma and gave him a
little squeeze and another smile, "Well, I guess
Ranma must be keeping me calm..."
Nabiki looked at them dubiously, "Possible. I
doubt it, though. Something really weird is going on
here. Ranko would never have left just like that...
All of our locator spells keep telling us she's here
though... Then the system crash happening at the same
time..." She glanced significantly at her younger
sister, "And you not being affected by the crash at
all..." Nabiki peered closely at the pair, before
adding, "Or are you?"
"What are you saying?" Akane simply looked
confused and clung tighter to Ranma for support.
Behind them Kasumi's spoke in a gentle, near
inaudible voice. "She's saying they're all
interrelated. Things are happening in perfect
synchronicity, all in accordance with someone's
intentions. It's a lovely harmony, really."
Ranma turned to look at her, but her face still
bore no more than a contented smile. He thought he
could catch a glimpse of her struggling somewhat,
before the blank, glazed look slid across her eyes
"Someone planned this?" he asked incredulously.
Nabiki nodded, then looked at her pitcher
meaningfully. "I'm nearly out of water."
Ranma nodded and took it, "I'll get some more.
But we need more of an explanation than that."
When he returned, Nabiki was looking intently
at Akane once more. The youngest Tendo sibling was
squirming uncomfortably under her sister's scrutiny.
As he set the pitcher down, Nabiki reached a hand up
to touch his and reached a hand out to Akane as well.
"Well, since you need more of an explanation...
and you are paying, then I really need to check
something that's been bothering me. May I?" Nabiki
Ranma nodded. Akane gave him a panicked glance,
but seeing his assent, she nodded as well, perhaps a
bit more nervously.
Nabiki turned her full attention to the two of
them and closed her eyes as she began to intone, "I
balance the truth with a lie. I balance a revelation
by a deception. False face you wear, fall and reveal
to me the truth I seek. False face you hide, reveal
There was a swirl of energies as Nabiki spoke.
Coruscating around both Ranma and Akane. It didn't
hurt, at most it tingled a little... there was a
sharp cracking sound, followed by a brief, but
intense flash of light.
Ranma blinked his... no... her eyes to clear
them. He was female again. Her hair now, red and her
features that of the missing Ranko. "What did you do
that for?!" She sputtered, her pants almost falling
off her much smaller frame.
Beside Ranma, Akane's hair had turned the same
bright shade of red as Ranko's. In fact... it was now
past her waist, and braided as Ranko always wore her
hair, the comb was still there. She reached up,
feeling the braid, stunned. Ranma couldn't see her
face, but she seemed totally caught off guard.
Ranma instinctively took a step back, releasing
Nabiki's hand as he concentrated, shifting his body
back to his male form. Where Akane should have been
now stood Ranko, the sheet wound around her exactly
as Akane had originally worn it. Ranko looked at
Ranma, her eyes wide. She looked utterly lost. "How?
Ranma turned sharply towards Nabiki,
overturning the pitcher of water he'd brought. "What
did you just do?! Where's Akane?!"
Nabiki nodded slowly, looking at the still
confused Ranko. That just confirmed it. "She was
never here... she's the one that's missing. Not
Ranko. Ranko was here the whole ti--" she suddenly
cut off in mid-word as her internal monitor for
balances caught her. She stopped in place once more.
"She was WHAT?!" Ranma howled. In a split
second, he closed the distance between himself and
Ranko, catching her arm. "You did this? This is all
your fault again, isn't it?!" He roared.
Ranko winced, looking fearfully into his
enraged eyes. "Ranma," she pleaded, "Stop... that
"What have you done to Akane?!"
"I... I didn't do anything to her!" Ranko
whimpered, tears forming in her eyes, "You're hurting
Ranma recoiled, pulling his hand back. Not
expecting Ranko to look so... so... vulnerable. He'd
half expected her to dance away from him, laughing at
the feat she'd just managed to pull. He was even more
surprised at himself. To lose his composure like
that. To lose control so totally. Where he had
grabbed her was beginning to bruise.
Once released Ranko collapsed to her knees,
sobbing quietly, holding herself. "It's always my
fault. Always! Always me. No one thinks little miss
perfect Akane ever does anything wrong. I don't know
what happened! I don't know how I got here! It's not
my fault! I didn't do anything!" she wailed.
A bewildered Ranma knelt next to her. He
awkwardly put his arm around her shoulders. "I... I'm
sorry, Ranko... I just kind of... I lost it for a
She turned, clutching at him desperately,
slipping her arms around his bare torso. He could
feel her tears rolling down his chest. Her voice was
muffled, but the pain in it was clear, "Sure... it's
okay for you to go ballistic when Akane's missing...
but when you thought it was just me that was gone,
you were just going to sleep." She made a fist and
hit him lightly on the back, "You can be such a JERK!
I don't know why I'm so in love with you."
"R-Ranko?" he murmured nervously.
She clung tighter to him and he could feel her
placing small kisses on his chest. "And right now,
all I can think about it just to be as close to you
as possible so bad I can almost taste it... taste
you... you smell nice..." She moaned softly, pressing
against him, "Just... just hold me for a little
while, okay?" She asked in a small voice. "I... I
need to get a hold of myself... I'm... I'm not
Nodding slowly, Ranma tentatively put his other
arm around Ranko as well, her embrace tightening. He
could feel her quivering in his arms, but her
breathing slowed, becoming more regular and he could
feel her coming somewhat more in control of herself.
"Are you okay?" Ranma asked softly.
She sighed, "Almost... almost... it feels so
nice here. Don't let go. I don't think I can handle
that yet." She added softly.
"Ranko?" he prodded her tentatively, "Ranko,
what happened?"
There was a long silence before she finally
spoke, "The last... the last thing I remember clearly
was saying goodbye to you onstage."
"Did you really mean that? I mean, like as in a
real goodbye for good?"
"Yes." She replied immediately, "Every word. It
was going on too long... Me... Akane... you... I
loved you too much... I didn't want to see anyone
hurt, especially not you... and you and Akane seemed
so happy together, I just decided to finally get out
of your hair. With enforcement down it wouldn't have
been a problem... by the time things got sorted out,
I was sure I could have reworded the contracts so you
two could stay together..." Her voice was sad and
Ranma was stunned... but no more than by any of
the other surprises he'd had these past twenty four
hours. He simply nodded.
"I was opening a gate... you know... to Heaven.
I could've done it anywhere actually... but I
had to make a dramatic exit..." she suppressed a
giggle, "You know me."
"Yeah..." he answered, half smiling.
"I could see Akane watching us... watching me
when I was going... she looked," Ranko's face was
hidden from Ranma, but he could swear she was
frowning, "Upset that I was going. She didn't want me
to leave I think... something like that... then it
gets hazy."
"Hazy? How?"
I remember rising up... I remember the light
coming out of the gate... then all of a sudden,
something huge and black got between me and the light
and... and..." she shuddered in his arms, biting her
Ranma made comforting noises, moving a hand up
to stroke her hair.
"It felt like... like I was being torn apart...
then knit back together... it hurt... and I can't
remember anything clearly after that. I know I was
with you... but I don't think I was me... and... I
think I thought I was Akane... and I wanted to snap
out of it but I was kissing you and you were kissing
me back and I didn't want to think anymore... and you
kept looking at me... That way you look at Akane...
cause I think I was Akane then... but that didn't
matter because your eyes... I just..." Ranko shook
her head as she trailed off incoherently. There was a
long pause before she finally added, "I don't think I
wanted to remember who I was."
Ranma didn't doubt her story at all. The
sincerity in her voice was unmistakable. And she was
too upset to even begin to attempt to lie coherently.
"This wasn't like your usual disguise was it?" He
asked gently.
She shook her head against his chest, "No...
you always see through that. This was almost like
someone took a bit of Akane and put it in me. You
always eventually see through my disguise.
Especially after I kiss you. I don't think you even
noticed this time."
Ranma bit his lower lip and flushed in
embarrassment, "You didn't kiss like you usually
He was sure she was smiling and he could hear
the faintly the sly tone Ranko usually spoke with,
"Mmm... and I'll bet you know how that feels really
He could only blush in response.
She whispered softly to him, "Did you really
mean that? When you said you'd would've done anything
to help me?"
"Do you remember that?" He asked.
She nodded, "Yeah. Kind of. I just want to know
if you meant it?"
"Yeah. I did. I do. I was... I was worried
about you. You keep getting into all sorts of trouble
you know."
She pulled away just enough to look into his
face, a slight smile on her lips, "I know. I'm glad
you worry about me."
"Course I do." He answered awkwardly.
"Ranma? How do you... how do you feel about
He blushed and stammered, "Uh... Ranko... now
isn't really the time for that... I mean... it's kind
of in the middle of a crisis and..."
She nodded, "I know. Akane's in trouble... I
think. No, I'm pretty sure of it. I remember some
more bits and pieces. There was someone nearby.
Someone who closed off the gate and switched me for
"Do you remember who it was?" Ranma asked, his
brow furrowing.
Ranko frowned slightly in thought, "It was a
little girl in a black dress."
"A what?"
She moved her hand close to his face and
snapped her fingers. There was a clicking sound as a
Polaroid photo popped into existence in her hand. Her
eyes widened in shock as she felt the strain of even
that minor bit of magic, forcing her to lean even
more against Ranma.
"Hey, you okay?"
"I'll be fine," she replied in a strained
voice, forcing herself to smile for him, "Here's what
she looked like."
Ranma stared at the photo in bewilderment. It
was a little girl, probably no more than ten years
old. She was pretty, with large eyes and long,
straight black hair that reached well past her knees.
On her forehead was a mark which looked vaguely like
a V. She wore a cute black a-line dress to her knees
that had long sleeves which reached a little past her
wrists. In her left hand she held a large black
He couldn't help himself and asked. "This... is
the kidnapper?"
Ranko nodded, "I think so. That's what I
Ranma eyed her dubiously, "Are you sure? I
mean... your memory is still pretty frazzled..."
"No. I'm absolutely sure of it."
"Awww... and here I thought you'd have your
happily ever after." A cheerful voice called out to
both of them.
Ranma looked up and Ranko glanced over her
shoulder. Standing at the doorway leading to the
porch was a little girl in a black dress who looked
exactly like the girl in the photo. She stood there
smiling cutely at them with her hands behind her
"That's her!" Ranko gasped.
The little girl hopped up to Kasumi waving a
hand in front of her eyes, smiling all the while.
"Awww... she's stuck," the girl giggled.
Ranma stood up, moving to the ten year old,
"Who are you?"
She turned to face him, "Hi! I'm Hinako
Ninomiya! It's so nice to meet you." She extended her
hand to him. A bemused Ranma moved to take it, but
Ranko sprang to her feet, and stood between them,
glaring at the little girl.
"Don't you DARE touch him!" She snapped.
The girl turned her smile on Ranko, "You guys
are just tooo smart for your own good. If you hadn't
done that, he'd've been happy with you already."
Ranko got weakly to her feet, moving to Ranma
protectively, "What are you doing here? What did you
do with Akane?"
"Me?" Hinako asked innocently, "I didn't do
anything she didn't want me to."
"Don't lie to me demoness." Ranko said softly.
"Um... what?" Ranma asked.
"I didn't get to finish my introduction, cause
she interrupted!" Hinako pouted, "I was going to add,
Demoness First class, unlimited license. And you're
Ranma Saotome, she's Ranko Tendo... and the lumps
over here are Nabiki and Kasumi." She giggled,
"They're funny like this."
"What have you done with Akane?!" Ranko asked
again, her voice growing more dangerous.
The little girl frowned at her. Her voice
changed for a moment, losing it's childish quality
and becoming more menacing, a sharp hiss all the more
disturbing for seeming to come out of the mouth of a
cuter little ten year old. "Don't presume to threaten
me little goddess. I've granted your desire, to be
with Ranma... and I've taken the agreed price. Akane
Tendo is now one of ours. Forget her and get along
with the pleasures of your lives..." her eyes glinted
as she looked at Ranma, "However short and fleeting
they are."
Ranma stared in shock at Ranko, "Ranko... you
didn't... not after what you just told me..."
"You're lying!" Ranko cried at her, she turned
to face Ranma, tears in her eyes, "She's lying! I
didn't have anything to do with this!"
Ranma bit his lower lip in thought, but gave
Ranko's hand a comforting squeeze.
Ranko smiled at him a little, then looked at
Hinako, "Funny you calling me little when you don't
even come up to my chin."
Hinako smiled coldly, her body beginning to
slowly unfold as he watched, lengthening, broadening,
the little girl body acquiring curves, more befitting
of a full grown woman... her body stretching until
she was several inches taller than even Ranma. Ranma
blinked in surprise as he looked at her now
devastatingly sexy form. Her top was now stretched
tightly across her entire body, the modest neckline
was pulled open to reveal prodigious amounts of
cleavage, the hemline of her dress had risen from
somewhere around her knees to just barely covering
her bottom. She faced them both a tiny playful smile
on her face, "Better, Ranko?"
Ranma merely frowned, unimpressed. He'd seen
enough of Ranko's shapeshifting not to be
intimidated, "What are you talking about?"
"Well, think about it, Ranma," Hinako smirked,
"After all... doesn't it seem that Ranko just got
what she wanted? To be the one woman in your life?
Now you tell me... aren't you just a little
suspicious, hmmm?"
Ranma looked at Ranko... his insides churning
with the agony of indecision. Was Ranko lying again?
It wouldn't be the first time... but after how Ranko
had looked just a few minutes ago and she had just
said... it was difficult to lend credence to what a
self proclaimed demonness was saying. But what Hinako
was telling him made too much sense. No. He could
trust Ranko. In this at least, maybe. He shook his
head and forced himself to look into Hinako's face.
"I don't care who's fault it is, I just want Akane
back." He said in a level voice.
"But I can't give her to you... there's a
contract," Hinako smiled coldly, putting her fist to
her hip. "Unless... you'd like to make a deal for
Ranma bit back a growl, "Contracts! Contracts!
What is it with you people and your contracts!"
Ranko held him back, standing protectively in
front of him. "No... don't..."
"Let me see her!" Ranma shouted at Hinako.
The demonness smirked, "Oh, well showing her to
you is different." she inclined her head, stepping
across the threshold. "Right this way."
Cautiously, Ranma and Ranko followed her out to
the garden. As she stood in the middle of the clear
area in the garden, she gave a shrug and the front of
her outfit opened, making it look more like a jacket
rather than the dress it was originally. Underneath
it, she wore a series of overlapping leather straps
held in place by metal buckles, which while keeping
her modesty... also did a startlingly good job of
tempting the eye. Ranma however wasn't really paying
attention to that. She faced them and put a hand
under her jacket, drawing out what appeared to be a
bottle of mineral water.
She gave the bottle a shake and tapped the cap
lightly. "Wakey, wakey Akane. Your lover boy out here
wants to look at you."
There was an outpouring of smoke from the
bottle, like steam or mist which swirled tightly...
Ranko and Ranma both taken by surprise stepped back
as the smoke coalesced into another form... It was
Akane... but not quite as either Ranma or her cousin
could recognize.
She wore dark eyeshadow and her outfit was one
they never would've associated with Akane. It was
similar to Hinako's, comprised of alternating strips
of black leather, which simultaneously covered and
concealed a great deal of skin, which vaguely
resembled a swimsuit. On her hands were black gloves
which reached to the elbow and she wore high heeled
boots reaching up to her thigh. Held at her throat by
a silver clasp in the shape of a lightning bolt was a
long gray cloak. She had one hand at her hip, and
stood with one leg just slightly ahead of the other.
She was pretty before. Now... now she was
devastating. Ranma had trouble keeping his mouth
shut. It was her and it wasn't... and somehow... that
only made her all the more exciting.
"By all of the... Akane! What's happened to
you?!" Ranko blurted out, clinging tighter to Ranma.
Akane looked at the two of them through hooded
eyes, before languidly turning her face to Hinako,
"Did you need me for something, ma'am?"
Hinako smiled sweetly at her, "Why yes...
there's a mortal who's been looking for you oh, so
She returned her gaze to Ranma and Ranko,
looking at the two of them thoroughly. Her eyebrow
quirked, calling further attention to another change.
The symbol on her forehead was no longer a diamond.
It had become a V shape. Just like Hinako's.
"I'm gone less than a day and already you two
are all over each other." Akane smirked, "You're
absolutely disgusting."
Ranma's eyes widened as he tried to pull away
from Ranko, who was having none of it. "It... it's
not what it looks like Akane--" he stammered.
Akane stepped closer to them, gliding smoothly,
until her face was practically just inches from his.
She took a deep breath, her nostrils flaring slightly
even as her eyes flashed. "Oh... and what's this? You
practically smell just like her... the only way I
could think for that to happen is if you'd spent the
night together... did you do that, hmmm?"
Ranma stammered, taking a step back, still
trying to extricate himself from the clinging Ranko,
"Er... we did... but... not like you're making it
Akane straightened up, looking coldly at him,
"I just knew you were waiting for me to leave so you
could have your way with Ranko... all the way from
the start... all those kind words... all those loving
promises... all lies. I suppose I shouldn't have
expected too much from you." She all but spat out,
"After all, you're just human."
Around them the sky was darkening. Clouds
rolled across the sky with frightening speed and the
winds were building up. Despite Akane's cool facade,
all around them the fury of the building storm could
be nothing more than a pale shadow of the anger
inside Akane.
Hinako laughed merrily, stepping next to Akane
and lightly placed a hand on the shorter woman's
shoulder, "As you can plainly see, Ranma... she
obviously doesn't want to come with you. So why don't
you just keep Ranko and have fun. Akane just isn't
interested anymore."
Ranma looked past Akane to Hinako, "What have
you done to her?! Is this even her? I've seen so many
people changing shape today I wouldn't put it past a
demonness to show us some sort of fake."
Akane sneered, "I'm right here, so why don't
you ask me if I'm a fake or not? And if I could
possibly mention it, you're cuddling to the world's
expert on being a 'fake Akane' why not ask her?"
Ranko turned, facing Akane, "You made a wish
didn't you?" She demanded.
"Of course, I did, you stupid ungrateful cow."
Akane replied, as lightning began to arc above them,
"I made the wish for you. The wish you didn't have
the guts to make."
Ranma frowned, "Wish? What are you talking
about? Akane, you told me yourself the Goddesses
aren't allowed to have wishes."
Ranko spoke in a level voice, "Goddesses aren't
allowed to make wishes come true for themselves.
Wishes are granted. They're always granted. No
goddess can make a wish come true for another one.
But demons can grant a goddess' wishes. And the price
for it is to become a demon."
"Right," Akane grinned, "And I got my wish
granted. A wish I made for you. I'd think you'd
appreciate it more, you stupid idiot. I mean, I only
gave up everything just so you could have him, the
least you could do was to at least look like you were
enjoying yourself. Look, you've even got the dumb
comb," she smirked, pointing at Ranko's hair.
Ranko looked shocked, "This... I'm starting to
remember... this can't be over that, can it Akane?
You couldn't have possibly done this because of what
happened so long ago."
"I made this wish long, long ago... everything
has been leading up to this. Everything." Akane
sneered. Behind her, Hinako merely smiled.
Ranma shook his head, still confused, "But...
but why, Akane? How could you do this?"
"Why?" Akane asked, her eyes locked with his
moving even closer, "Because I couldn't stand to see
Ranko constantly mooning over you anymore. I was sick
and tired of it. You wouldn't even think of doing to
me what you've been wanting to do to her all this
time... guess I wasn't good enough for you, huh? I
figured you wanted to be with the red headed chippy
more than you wanted to be with me, so why not? I
gave you both what you wanted, didn't I? "
"No! You're turning this all around!" Ranma
roared pushing Ranko behind him, "You know how I feel
about you! Stop talking like that, Akane! This isn't
like you!"
"'Like me'? Not 'like me'?! What do you know
about me, Saotome?!" She literally thundered, the
howling wind of the building storm taking on her
words, "What makes you think you know me?!" She asked
sharply, shoving him back.
Ranma staggered a step backwards as Akane
closed in, aiming a roundhouse for his face. He
pulled his head back, her punch barely missing him.
she began to unleash a flurry of blows, which he
began to duck and weave, avoiding them all by the
narrowest of margins. He couldn't believe how fast
she was. The more he avoided them, the faster her
blows came, around them the wind was now roaring,
thunder rolling ominously close to them.
"I hate you, Ranma! For every time you made me
suffer the humiliation of wanting you... for every
indignity I've taken since your stupid wish... I hate
you! I hate you!" She screamed out, the intensity of
the wind growing even stronger, pounding at all of
them. Akane's eyes were glowing an electric blue,
power crackling from her body. "I hate you!" she
cried aloud as lightning suddenly tore from the sky,
striking Ranma full in the chest, hurling him back.
She was breathing hard as she loomed over him,
her face all the more terrifying for it's familiarity
as for the expression of unadulterated fury etched
into it. She raised a hand, electricity arcing across
her fingertips.
"No!" Ranko cried, hurling herself on top of
Ranma's stunned and smoking form. She was still weak.
Too weak. Being cut off from the system had drained
her tremendously, but being so close to Ranma renewed
her strength. A warmth building up inside her as she
felt her own love for him burning fiercer. A bolt of
lightning arced from Akane's hand striking her in the
small of the back, but it bounced off of the glowing
aura which had sprung up around her.
Slowly, perhaps a little shakily, Ranko rose to
her feet. Her eyes locked with Akane's. She spread
her arms to her sides and a shimmering dome of pale
red energy surrounded her and Ranma. Her eyes had
tears in them, but they were hard as steel. "No more,
Akane. No more."
A cruel, triumphant smile crossed Akane's lips
as she spoke, coldly. "A nice effort, cousin... but
ultimately futile. The system's down, or didn't you
know? You've got a very limited reserve of power left
to you, don't you? It's only a matter of time before
that's exhausted..." she raised both of her hands
above her head, a crackling ball of energy began to
form as she continued to speak, "Whereas I... I am
tapped into the other system. My power comes from my
anger. And right now, I'm feeling very, very ANGRY!"
She screamed the last as she loosed the ball of
energy hurling it at Ranko's shield.
There was an explosion of pure force that
rocked Ranko's construct, staggering her, forcing her
to one knee. She wet her lips as she rose to her feet
again, "And you know where my power comes from
Akane... I'm protecting Ranma right now... The man I
love. Give it up..."
Ranma struggled to her feet behind her, "Ranko,
no... don't fight her. This is between us. This is my
fault. I think I can see that. Let me talk to her.
This is between her and me."
Ranko took a moment to glance at Ranma over her
shoulder and favored him with a weak smile. A tiny
tingle of warmth fanned the power within her at the
sight of him. "No, Ranma... this isn't about you and
her. It's about her and me." She turned to look at
Akane, "It always has been. Ever since the day we had
to make you forget us... ever since the day we made
each other forget about you..."
"What are you--?" Ranma began to ask, but
Akane's cry drowned out the rest.
"You've never beaten me, Ranko. Not once! Let's
finish this once and for all!" She called out hurling
another lightning bolt at Ranko.
Ranko grit her teeth anticipating the blow...
she allowed her shield to give a little, catching the
energy her cousin had hurled within a web of her own
power. Slowly she drew her hands in front of her, the
shield around them tearing and flickering as it
coalesced, enfolding the energy Akane had hurled at
them as she called back, "That, Akane... is because
we're always... getting... INTERRUPTED!" She shouted
as she tensed her arms, suddenly hurling both the
mingled energies. The blast, tore through the lawn,
singeing the grass as it passed. Akane was caught off
guard. She crossed her arms desperately in front of
her, trying to ward off the blast, but it caught her
full force, hurling her back all the way to the wall,
embedding her in the stone. She slumped forward
collapsing onto the lawn. Ranma screamed her name,
running to catch her just before she hit the ground.
Ranma stared in shock as he cradled Akane in
his arms. She seemed to be breathing, but she was out
cold. , "Ranko, why did you?!"
"I had... to stop... her... don't worry,
she's... not hurt..." Ranko walked towards them and
teetered for a moment longer before she slumped to
the ground, almost totally drained. Ranma lunged
forward, catching her clumsily, since he was already
supporting Akane with one hand.
Hinako clapped slowly, "Oh, that was terribly
sweet. Not too effective, though. Akane's still mine.
I granted her wish and there's nothing more you can
do about it."
Ranma stared at her, his face livid with anger,
"Don't bet on it. Contracts can get broken."
"Not this one," Hinako laughed. "I've spent the
past thirteen years setting all of this up. It's
totally airtight. You haven't a chance of breaking
it." she stopped laughing and sauntered closer to
him, "Unless of course... you'd like to make a deal
for her. I can be quite generous with the terms."
Ranma ground his teeth in frustration, before
setting Ranko and Akane gently down onto the ground.
He rose to his feet, facing her, "What kind of
She gestured, "Your willing, complete and total
servitude for the remainder of your life. In
exchange, I free Akane of the demonic infiltration
I've performed on her. I'll even throw in not
interfering with Ranko, Akane, Kasumi and Nabiki's
lives ever again, if you like, just to show you I'm a
fair minded demoness."
Ranma stared at Hinako. His mouth was opening
in preparation for accepting the terms of the deal.
It wouldn't be that much of a price to pay, would it?
It was for Akane. And Ranko. He could save them. Keep
this... this monster away from them. They wouldn't be
hurt anymore. They wouldn't need to keep near him
anymore. The stupid contracts would be nullified,
they would be free to live their own lives. Away from
him. Away from everything he'd ever inflicted on them
through his thoughtlessness. As these thoughts
flashed through his head a curious calm filled him.
He straightened up, as the winds began to die down
and an eerie silence surrounded everything. As though
he'd suddenly grown distant to everything. Around him
a blue aura began to flicker to life, gaining
strength as he stared at Hinako.
Knowledge began to pour through him. Memories
locked away... his dream... it's conclusion... the
pillar of light that erupted from the forest as he
left it... the wonder... he understood. He finally
knew how it all fit together. He felt as though the
final piece of the puzzle has slid into place and the
whole picture had simply leapt into shape. The
interactions. Balance, Peace, Force, Proximity...
"No." He spoke. And it was like a book being
closed. With that one syllable came a force of
absolute certainty that it would not happen, never
would happen and nothing ANYWHERE could possibly
change conditions.
Hinako took a step back, gaping in shock as the
aura surrounding Ranma intensified. He looked to be
almost transfigured. Even the gaping hole in his
shirt was mending itself.
"Akane was never the one you wanted. It was me
all along, wasn't it?" Ranma asked sharply.
Hinako took another step back, shrinking down
to her childlike form, an expression of pure terror
replacing her surprise.
"You will answer." Ranma spoke and there was
something so totally indisputable about his voice. It
wasn't possible to resist. He wasn't simply making a
statement. He was telling her how it would BE.
"Yes," Hinako squeaked.
Ranma gestured, calling on his newfound
knowledge. Ranko and Akane both began to stir weakly
as they felt energy pouring into their bodies once
more. System energy. Akane rubbed her head. It was
still ringing. the brand on her forehead was still
the V shape, but it seemed to slide open and closed,
shifting shape between that and it's normal diamond
shape. From inside the house, Kasumi and Nabiki, both
stepped out, neither looking much the worse for wear.
"You can't have Akane, Hinako..." Ranma spoke,
quoting information as it came to him, "It was an
unselfish wish she asked for. Demons aren't allowed
to grant those... at least not permanently. Akane's
not yours."
Akane lurched weakly to her feet, her face a
fierce scowl the mark on her forehead now a V. "I...
it was selfish! I did it to get rid of Ranko! So she
wouldn't bother me anymore! I made the wish for me!"
Kasumi shook her head gently, moving to Akane's
side, touching her gently on the shoulders, "No,
Akane... you wanted Ranko to be happy. Your wish was
clearly for her."
"No! I was winning! You can't do this! I nearly
had him!" Hinako bawled. "It's not fair!"
"Funny," Nabiki smirked, "A demon going on
about fairness. You were hoping you could keep the
charade up long enough to have him sign over his free
will to you. Nice ploy. A little convoluted, but it
might have worked."
Ranko stood up groggily, "Did the good guys
"Not yet, but we will." Ranma replied with a
smile, he turned his attention back to Hinako, "Go
home, demonness. You have no claim on anyone here.
Between four goddesses and me... you're better off
going away."
She pouted up at the lot of them, "This isn't
over you know..." she sniffled, "You haven't seen the
last of me."
The goddesses moved to surround her...
realizing her position, she gulped nervously and
pulled a cassette tape out from a pocket, "Well...
um... I guess I should be going." She dropped it to
the ground and within a matter of moments her body
had turned into a thick smoke which poured into the
tape. As the last of the smoke disappeared into it.
Akane blinked unsteadily as the symbol on her
brow reformed into it's usual shape, stabilizing into
it's original configuration.
Ranma took a step forward and crushed the tape
under his foot. "And that's that." He grinned.
"RANMA!" Akane and Ranko both cried
simultaneously, rushing towards him, tackle hugging
him from two sides.
He blushed a bit, but had to admit to himself
he definitely enjoyed it. Especially considering
Ranko only had a blanket draped around herself, and
Akane's leather outfit showed so much bare skin that
her torso was close to naked.
Kasumi and Nabiki smiled at him.
"I almost wasn't expecting you to pull through,
Saotome... very close. Lucky you owed me enough."
Nabiki smirked.
Ranma blinked as he mulled that over. She was
right. Absolutely right. "Yes. Yes, it was."
"What does she mean?" Ranko asked.
"You wanted him in debt to you?" Akane turned
to Nabiki.
"'Debtors of sufficient magnitude to the
Goddess of Transactions are required to repay
aforementioned debts with these effects to take
precedence over any subsequent contracts placed, or
attempted to be placed on the debtor in question'."
Ranma quoted from their regulation manual.
Nabiki nodded, "Precisely. I was worried you
didn't owe enough, but I suppose it must've been."
Ranko and Akane were both staring at Ranma.
Ranko said to him, "But that doesn't explain
how you were able to chase Hinako off. Or how you
woke us up..."
Akane nodded, "Or how you know so much..."
Ranma grinned, "I guess... you could say I just
figured out my place in the universe."
Ranko and Akane traded glances.
"Do you know what he's talking about?" Akane
asked her cousin.
"No idea." Ranko replied.
"You don't suppose he's gone nuts do you?"
"Hope not."
"Hey," Ranma mock scowled, "I'm right here, you
can ask me you know."
The two giggled, "Yeah, but it's more fun not
to." Ranko answered.
Akane was about to say something else in
agreement, when she suddenly stiffened. She went pale
and collapsed against Ranma, her face a grimace of
pain as she felt something like hot knives searing
through her soul.
Ranko looked at her in concern, calling her
name. Ranma cradled her gently, worry plainly etched
on his features.
"What's happening?" Ranko asked.
"Hinako. The demon essence she placed inside
Akane when she claimed her... it's withdrawn
completely, but... she must've bound it so tightly to
Akane that there's not enough left of her to hold
together..." Kasumi spoke gently, moving closer to
them. Only the slight quaver in her voice betrayed
her own anxiety.
Ranma looked up at her, bewildered, "What does
that mean?!"
"She's dying." Nabiki said in a flat tone,
keeping her emotions under tight control, but she
moved closer, her own concern evident,
"Not now," Ranko muttered, "We already won.
This can't happen."
Akane took a ragged gasp of air and they could
see her body beginning to shimmer, losing its
Kasumi shook her head, "I... Ranko, I don't
think there's anything we can do for her... none of
us have any capacity for this... and Yggdrasil's
down... maybe--" she started to say, glancing at
Ranko interrupted scowling, "Well it's not
going to happen!" She took Akane's hand and looked
fiercely into the dazed goddess' eyes, "Listen up
stupid! Don't you dare die on us now! Just cause I
kicked your behind is no reason to give up the ghost,
right? I mean you've got Ranma... that's a huge
consolation prize... are you listening to me?! You
better not die, or I'm stealing him from you!"
Akane barely shook as she suppressed a laugh.
The effort cost her as her body seemed to pulse
briefly into near total clarity. "Maybe... maybe
that's for the better, huh? No more fighting for us
at least."
"No!" Ranko shouted at her, "Not now! We were
just starting to get along again! I remember
everything now... why we started fighting... why
everything! You can't die!"
Kasumi and Nabiki maintained a respectful
silence, but their concern was almost palpable,
reaching out, washing across the others. Almost
solid. As though through their emotions they were
trying to hold Akane together.
"No." Ranma said flatly, rising to his feet. He
glanced over to the other three goddesses, "If you
had access to the Yggdrasil you could help her,
Nabiki nodded, "Yes."
"Upload me." Ranma said, "Do it now."
Kasumi blinked, "Immediately?
Nabiki answered at the same time, "We need at
least an hour to configure for upload..."
Ranko looked up at him in horror, "No! Akane's
already fading, don't risk yourself too!"
"I don't care," Ranma returned, "It can help
Akane. It's worth the risk."
Nabiki chewed on her lower lip, doing a few
quick calculations in her head, "The portal we were
setting up in the living room can do it with a little
Ranma nodded, running back into the house,
still carrying Akane, "We haven't got time, just fire
it up!"
Nabiki and Kasumi looked at each other, before
following him.
"Will it work?" Ranko asked them both.
"Only one way to find out, cousin." Nabiki
frowned as she gathered her energies together. This
could get messy... but there was no other choice.
Ranma stood in the middle of the circle
inscribed into the floor. Kasumi and Nabiki took
positions to each side of him, both raised their
hands, setting up a circuit of energy which would
activate it.
Ranko barreled forward just as light began to
erupt from the fringes of the circle, "I'm coming
along too!"
"Ranko, no! This is dangerous enough as is!"
Ranma called back to her as she grabbed his sleeve.
Akane looked up weakly, obviously trying to say
something, but it was too late, as the three of them
were swallowed by the sudden explosion of light.

Certain mythologies speak of forty righteous
souls that walk the Earth. As long as the Almighty
remained pleased with these forty, the world would
not be destroyed. Myths tend to have some basis in
reality. One way or another. There are in fact forty
souls who are very important to Yggdrasil. These
forty, by virtue of lineage or quirk of chance are
essential to the functioning of the System which
monitored and controlled all of reality. They are the
backups. Files existing within the Yggdrasil system
are distributed among these souls, and in the event
of file loss or corruption with Yggdrasil itself, the
files could be safely and easily uploaded back to the
main system from these backups. Think of them as a
metaphysical safety margin. Unfortunately, the safe
upload required at least a minimum of three hours.
Ranma didn't have that much time. He was the backup
for the Interaction Protocols. He had access to
portions of the knowledge within him, but he only
needed one bit of information... how to dump the
files he had inside him quickly. It could be done. It
was just going to hurt. A lot. That was a price he
was willing to pay, though.
Ranma howled as he felt himself being drawn
through the portal. As more of him entered the other
side, he felt his mind beginning to expand, filling
to encompass the space he was in. A massive emptiness
that was forcefully drawing all of his newfound
knowledge out of his head. Like being squeezed and
torn apart at the same time. Words could not even
begin to fully describe the experience, as he was
emptied, he could feel parts of him overwriting
things, overlaying others out in the blank white
expanse surrounding him. He knew he still cradled
Akane in his arms, but that was the only sensation he
could be certain of. Nothing else he could be certain
of as he simultaneously experienced hundreds...
thousands of sensations... all equally vivid, all
clamoring at once for his undivided attention.
Water across his body...
The sounds of traffic...
The roar of the ocean...
An aria...
Hands across his body...
All sensations of interaction... all at once.
He tried desperately to focus. To remember.
Akane. In his arms. That was consistent. The one
overarcing thread of sensation which he could cling
on to. How light she felt in his arms. Lighter than
he would've imagined. Was that because of her fading
or was she really that light? Or was he just
imagining that she was light? Even these thoughts
were beginning to fragment... it wasn't enough... his
mind reeled, being swept along into the flow of
information which roared all around him. But he felt
another set of consistent sensations. Hands... hands
on his face... caressing, holding, touching... a
voice that cut through the clamor within his mind...
calling his name, over and over again. Two voices...
louder... calling harder... more desperately, leading
him back.
Ranma's eyes snapped open. He was on his knees.
All around him was empty blackness, but he could feel
a surface underneath him. Ranko and Akane were both
looking at him worriedly. Both looked to be a bit
faded, but Akane at least did not seem to be in any
more pain.
"Are you okay?" Akane asked him.
Ranma nodded slowly. He still felt as though
he'd just been put through a wringer.
Ranko smiled and touched his cheek, "Well,
we're in the system... you managed to reboot it, I
"How do you know?" Ranma asked weakly.
Ranko pointed in front of him where a short
distance away, large glowing green letters spelled
out the words, "System Reboot Commencing"
After a few seconds, those words vanished and
were replaced by the words "System Reboot Successful.
Now scanning files."
The words blinked out again after a few seconds
and were replaced by two icons and two lines of text.
Akane said, "I guess the source of the problem
seems to have been isolated."
Ranma blinked, trying to clear his head. Just
underneath the glowing words were a pair of smaller
icons. One appeared to be a superdeformed Ranko and
the other a superdeformed Akane. The words said:
"Crosslinkage has occurred between file
Ygg:\Goddess\ and file
Ygg:\Goddess\ at address
"File Ygg:\Goddess\ has been
Akane winced as her body became translucent for
a moment. With an effort of will she pulled herself
together. It was easier here, but whatever was
happening to her, hadn't stopped. Ranko touched
Akane's shoulder and for a moment they both faded a
bit as Ranko lent some of her substance to her
Akane jerked back, "Don't do that!"
Ranko shot back, "You're going to die if I
don't, stupid! At least I'm slowing it down a bit
"I don't want to take you with me..." She bit
her lower lip and glanced at the still somewhat
stunned Ranma, then back at Ranko, "Who's going to
take care of him, when I'm gone if you die too?"
"That's not the point!" Ranko replied sharply,
"Hinako did something to me too... a lot of the
pieces of you that are missing... I think they're in
me." She looked to Ranma, "I can give those parts
back to you... you should have enough to pull you
through this."
"But what about you?" Akane asked with concern.
"I was leaving anyway," Ranko shrugged, "Maybe
it'd be easier like this, huh?" she smiled weakly.
"Nobody's dying on anybody if I have any say in
it." Ranma frowned, finally managing to straighten
The two looked at him. Bot looking as though
they were going to argue the point when another line
of text appeared just below the icons. "Do you wish
to delete the following files?"
Ranma answered sharply, facing the glowing
text, "No!"
The words faded out and were replaced by a new
string of text, "Do you wish to repair the following
"Ranma..." Akane looked worriedly up at him, "I
don't think the System has enough resources to
allocate for that... it would have to go through you
to perform it... and I don't think you could take
another time through..."
Ranko pleaded, "Ranma don't, please... you
shouldn't risk yourself anymore. We've gotten this
far... We can probably get someone to set up the
proper buffering first. Akane and I can keep swapping
for another hour or so..."
"Would that be any safer for you two?" Ranma
asked quietly.
Akane replied, unable to meet his gaze, "No...
it would probably just make things worse. Not just
for us, but for the entire system. Still... please...
don't do this."
He bit back a laugh, "would you rather I listen
to you two argue about who gets to die? I know what
I'm doing. I think. I don't want to lose either of
you..." he stood raising his hands to his sides as
new text faded into view.
"Commence repair on the following files?"
Ranma stared at the words for long moments. He
grit his teeth in anticipation. He took Akane's hand
in one of his, and Ranko's hand in the other, looking
at them both. He took a last deep breath before he
finally said, "Yes."
There was a wrenching tug... followed by a
sensation of motion and speed... rushing...
rushing... speed... screaming down the wires and
conduits of Heaven as information once more poured
through his brain...
There was a jarring moment as Ranma, with his
two companions found themselves watching a sketchily
depicted scene of Ranko and Akane... both only eight
years old, playing together. Laughing. Happy.
Both goddesses watched thoughtfully, as the
scene abruptly changed to a forest. Everything moved
in a slightly jerky, stop-start manner, but it was
unmistakable. There was an eight year old Ranma,
walking down a path, kicking an occassional stone...
in front of him a beam of light sliced down from the
sky and as he watched, wide-eyed with surprise. The
young Ranko and Akane slowly descended down the beam.
"This..." Ranma started to say.
"This is when you first met us..." Akane said
remembering it vividly.
"It was our first assignment..." Ranko
murmured, "We were supposed to familiarize ourselves
with Earth..."
"That and kind of keep an eye on you since you
were... you know, a backup," Ranko added.
There was rush again in Ranma's mine as the
scene shifted and surged forward... the three
children playing together. One series of games after
another. Happily. Scenes of the three enjoying
themselves as only children can. More often than not,
the young Ranko would be hugging the young Ranma,
while the younger Akane would laugh in delight at
Ranko smiled as the memories played themselves
out, "You were so cute back then..." she smiled at
Akane tried to suppress a smile, "Even back
then you couldn't keep your hands off of him."
Then the day of the mock wedding... the pinky
promise... and they watched as the young Ranma
receded in the distance... a beam of light streaked
down from the sky, bearing a message for the two.
And the young Ranko crying. And the young Akane
looking confused. And the young Ranma looking back...
at the beam as it rose into the heavens... and he
began to forget.
With every scene played out the circuit of
warmth connecting the three of them grew stronger.
Ranma closed his eyes, his head was already beginning
to pound.
The scenes of Ranko and Akane's return to
heaven began to play out flitting both through
Ranma's mind and the area around them... hazy,
indistinct, as though they were memories so long lain
dusty and forgotten that they would fall apart under
scrutiny. There was the disciplining... the lecture
about how they were unauthorized to make contracts,
and even something so seemingly trivial as a pinky
promise had carried with it the weight of the most
iron clad contracts... there was a scramble... and
confusion as the problems were sorted... and fixed...
blurry figures, obviously adult deities rushing to
and fro past the confused children... all they wanted
was to make their playmate happy. Everyone seemed to
be so upset... they couldn't understand it.
Ranma asked them quietly, "What happened next?"
"Look..." Akane pointed as the scene shifted
again to just the young Ranko and Akane again. They
both looked sad, but Ranko far more than Akane. There
was no sound, but Akane pantomimed conversation...
Ranko spoke, "I was depressed about not being
able to see you again... Akane tried to cheer me up,
but it wasn't working."
The Akane in the scene pulled a golden comb
from her hair. The golden comb the real Ranko was
wearing now. They watched the younger Akane gave it
to the young Ranko.
Akane smiled slightly, "That's when you perked
up a bit. You'd wanted that thing for a long time."
Ranko smiled back, "Yeah. Only that wasn't the
only reason. That's when I got my bright idea."
The Ranko in the scene hopped to her feet
suddenly and dashed off, leaving a baffled eight year
old Akane.
"I always wondered how that got into my sock
drawer..." Ranma mused.
"It's showing it..." Ranko spoke back, as the
scene shifted again... the young Ranko moving
surreptitiously, walking around what appeared to be a
boy's bedroom... she slipped open a drawer and put
the comb in carefully. Then with exaggerated caution
she walked over to the bed, leaning over to what
appeared to be the sleeping young Ranma and whispered
something, before kissing him on the ear.
Akane smiled at him, "Ranko had this notion
that maybe if you had something to remember us by, it
would come back to you eventually."
Ranko slapped Ranma lightly on the shoulder,
"Except you gave it to your sister, you bum."
"Er... sorry. How was I supposed to know? I
didn't remember that."
Akane nudged them both and spoke quietly, her
voice was hoarse. "Here's where it goes wrong..."
The scene changed again, and the young Akane
stood sighing as she watched the young Ranko mope.
Her lips moved as she seemed to speak something, and
behind her, a figure in black tapped her shoulder...
it was Hinako in her young form. Words were obviously
exchanged between them.
"I couldn't stand seeing Ranko so sad anymore."
Akane continued softly, "So I made a wish... I wished
she could be with Ranma... and they could both be
The scene began to quiver and shake as the
pressure began to increase on Ranma's mind. This was
the source of the corruption within the system, he
realized. The shaking grew worse as the image began
to degrade into individual motes of light.
Akane began to fade once more, quicker this
time... her entire body was all but transparent
within seconds. Ranma, lost in the confusion and pain
of the knowledge flowing through his mind, stood
mute. Ranko held both their hands tightly.
Ranma screamed, "Hold on you two! We can do
this! Just... don't give up!"
Akane grit her teeth, sucking air in, or at
least trying to. It was growing difficult for her to
maintain her own hold on Ranko and Ranma's hands as
her grip became more and more tenuous, her strength
was leaving her.
Ranko clutched at Akane tighter, calling on
what strength she still had, sharing it with both of
them... lending her substance to Akane, desperately
trying to help hold her together.
Ranma pushed with all his might and will.
Forcing the process to work. Forcing himself to keep
sane. Every fiber of his being was set entirely on
the task.
The longer they held closer, the more he could
feel the weight and pressure of their thoughts...
they were all open to one another. Akane's love for
Ranma... her possessiveness... her occasional
jealousies... his own for her, powerful, but
unexpressed... his fears... his inexplicable fondness
for Ranko... there was love there too... not the
same... different... Ranko's own fierce love for
him... an almost all consuming passion for him... for
his happiness... before these feelings, even the
thirteen years of bad blood between the cousins could
not help but be washed away in a torrent of
Ranma cried out drawing renewed strength from
them both, "We're leaving together! One way or
another! All together..."
There was a sudden cry from one, perhaps all
three of them as one, as energy surged and pulsed
within them, drawing them together. Light and energy
begin to play across their bodies, it's intensity
climbing as all three stood locked in a silent scream
or prayer. The light grew... brighter... hotter...
almost beyond endurance... before suddenly,
startlingly... it winked out, leaving only a tiny
mote of light floating within a black space.

Ranma woke up slowly... his head was pounding.
The pain was exquisite and almost unbelievably
intense. If he were the type to drink, this would've
been comparable to the resultant hangover of a month
long binge on which nothing was consumed but Tequila.
Of course, he didn't, so he had no basis for
Faintly he could hear laughter and music
filtering into the room. Faint, but still far too
loud for his taste. He could feel his head throbbing
in time to the beat.
Akane leaned over him, smiling lovingly down on
him, "Finally awake. We've been waiting for you to
wake up for two hours."
He stirred weakly, "You're--"
"Yes. I'm fine." She murmured, embracing him
He winced at the movement but did nothing to
discourage her. Even if he could've, he wouldn't
have. He closed his eyes, relief flooding into him.
"I'm glad," he whispered. He could feel the headache
begin to recede as he touched Akane. The pain
draining away from him with slow certainty.
"Hey," came a familiar, playful voice beside
him, "Can I get in on some of that?"
Ranma glanced in that direction to find a
smiling Ranko. She looked teary eyed but relieved.
There was a faint, hopeful look in her eye." Akane
looked at her and her face broke out into another
smile as she gave the barest of nods. Ranko moved
forward, hugging them both.
She held them fiercely to her, "I'm so glad
you're both okay!"
There was a long moment of silence as the three
just held their position, enjoying the warmth of each
other's company.
Ranma coughed weakly, a blush creeping faintly
up his cheeks as they began to untangle themselves.
"So... I guess... everything's okay now,
right?" Ranma asked.
Akane nodded, "Nabiki confirmed the system came
back up a few minutes after you uploaded yourself.
But there were some file losses..."
Ranma blinked at her in incomprehension. The
clarity of vision he'd had from before, the
knowledge, was fading. Even his memories of his
moments within the System were hazy and uncertain.
The color and power of the emotions he had felt were
still there, but the details... none of them would
stay in his mind. That, he realized was for the best.
Ranko continued for her, "... certain contracts
were lost..."
"Like ours." Akane finished quietly.
Ranma stared at them in shock, "The contracts
are gone?"
They nodded in unison.
He willed the transformation into his Ranko
form to come over him and stared stupidly at his hand
as it remained unchanged. "I'm normal now?" he
grinned. They smiled back and nodded once more.
Suddenly a thought hit him, "But... does that
mean you have to go back?"
Ranko hopped to her feet and grinned at him,
"Oddly enough, no. For some reason our old assignment
from way back suddenly kicked in again."
Akane quoted, "'The Goddesses Tendo Akane and
Ranko Tendo are hereby sent to Earth in order to
maintain a watch on the individual known by the
nomenclature Ranma Saotome for an indefinite period,
with the intent of familiarizing themselves with
Earth and observing the actions of individual Ranma
"So you're staying?" Ranma laughed, "Both of
you are staying?"
Akane looked at him fondly, "You big silly. It
wasn't the contract that made us want to stay in the
first place."
Ranko added with a wink, "Yeah. If that order
hadn't arrived, we probably would've found some way
to keep Akane here anyway."
Ranko walked to the door and threw them a
backwards glance, "Well, I'll get back to the
"Party?" Ranma asked in confusion.
Akane grinned sheepishly at him, "Well,
apparently the Martial Arts Varsity's post-production
party got a little out of hand."
Ranko laughed, "Yeah. They've been going strong
since last night and the survivors managed to stagger
here for more food and booze after they ran out at
the dorm." She opened the door, "I'll just leave you
two lovebirds alone..." she said with a hint of a sad
"Ranko... wait, I..." Ranma began to call her
back. Surely there was something more he could say?
Something more he could offer her.
She held her hand up, "No. Don't say anything
else. Don't make this harder than it has to be. I
know enough, Ranma. I know how you feel about
Akane... and I know you don't feel the same way about
me and I can take it. I'm a big girl. I want what
makes you happy, got that? If Akane makes you happy,
then I'm happy."
Ranma was silent.
Akane stood up and gave her a hug, "Thanks,
Ranko smiled at her. She inclined her head in
Ranma's direction, "I'll let you two have some
privacy." Her grin widened, "You know, a little of
the wink, wink, nudge, nudge."
Akane and Ranma both blushed scarlet, "Ranko!"
She giggled and stuck her tongue out at them as
she stepped through the door. "I'll have em crank up
the music so no one can hear the moaning and
Akane just gaped at her, shocked speechless.
"You really should reward Ranma for saving your
life you know, Akane-chan." Ranko grinned just as she
stepped out and slid the door closed.
Akane knelt down next to Ranma and glanced at
him, her face still burning from embarrassment,
"Will she be okay?" Ranma asked quietly.
Akane nodded thoughtfully, "Yes... I think she
will be."
He smiled, "That's good."
Akane returned it, "It's nice to see her
chipper again."
"And nice to see you two getting along," Ranma
"Yes." Akane smiled, looking at Ranma now,
"Yes, we are. I think we can credit you with that
"Er... well, you guys usually end up fighting
over me, so... I don't think that counts." He replied
She knelt next to him and looked into his eyes.
She spoke seriously. "There's still more that I owe
you for."
Ranma, perhaps feeling a lingering bit of
Ranko-ness in his soul made him put on a playful
grin, "So... DO I get a reward?"
Akane leaned forward, their faces inches from
each other as she replied softly, "Come and get it."
He hesitated for a moment. But not a long
moment. And in short notice, he did.
And it was better than either of them could
have wished.

Outside, in the hallway, Ranko leaned her back
against a wall. Her eyes were shut tightly as she
tried to control herself.
It hurt. It hurt more than she imagined it
would to give him up. A single tear traced a path
down her cheek, unheeded. Somehow, despite herself,
at the same time she was happy as well. It was the
right thing to do. An understanding of everything...
and perhaps a resolution. She loved him... no... she
loved them both too much to do any less.
A calm overtook her finally, her heart settling
back into place. She was at peace with her choice.
The future still held surprises, perhaps. She grinned
and glanced down at the blanket she had draped over
her. she had been so caught up by events that she
hadn't even remembered to change into something more
appropriate. She grinned as a thought occurred to
her. She could almost imagine their reactions
to seeing her in this get up. She shrugged. Time
enough for such thoughts later. But now... now it was
time to party... and perhaps time enough to forget...
even if just for a little while.
She sauntered confidently into the living room,
where amidst sprawled and unconscious members of the
Varsity, Ryouga was half drunkenly arguing with
Ukyou, while Natsume clung to his arm and Mousse was
nodding, stupidly drunk to the music, while Shampoo
was... nibbling on his ear? She smirked. Day light
was apparently no barrier to a party which had lasted
over sixteen hours already. This looked like a fun
crowd to be with right now. It was time to have bit
of fun. It was time for her to make a little noise.

The End