"The Saotome Sisters"

Chapter 77

Ranma waited until after the bell had rung to announce lunchtime, and then he pulled his sister aside. "Hey, can I talk to ya a second?"

"Sure, Ranchan, what's up?"

Ranma glanced back at Akane, who had opened her lunch and was chatting with Sayuri and Yuka. "Can we talk outside? It's kinda private."

"Okay, sure."

They headed out to the hall, and Ranma tried to put on his most stern face. "So what's this about you trainin' Akane with weapons? Don't you think you've been goin' a little hard on her?"

"Huh? What are you talking about?" Ukyo studied him for a moment. "Is this about those bruises?"

"Yeah," Ranma returned his sister's penetrating look. As he suspected, she was as in the dark about what was going on as he was. "She told me that you've been training her with a shinai so you can keep pushing her, and building up her conditioning more than you could with bare hands. But you ain't been doin' that, have ya?"

Ukyo shook her head. "She told me YOU gave her those bruises. But I didn't believe her. I know you too well. I know you'd never hit her hard enough to leave a bruise, unless it was by accident."

"I thought so." Ranma glanced back at the classroom, but Akane hadn't followed them. "If it ain't me, and it ain't you, who is it?"

"I wonder if it's Happosai." Ukyo put a finger to her lip as she thought about it. "I didn't think he'd give in so soon, but I did ask him to train her..."

"That old freak! If he's the one that hurt her like that... !"

Ukyo put her hand on her brother's shoulder, before he could let his anger get out of control. The last thing she needed was for Ranma to go charging off looking to punish the old pervert. "Ranma, you settle down. You know Akane wants someone to take her seriously with her training, and you know that means she has to get hurt sometimes."

"But that pervert! If he's been laying a hand on her... !"

"Ranchan, we don't know for sure that's what's going on. Why don't you talk to Akane about it? She's not going to want to admit it if she's been keeping a secret from you, but just be patient and don't yell at her and eventually she'll give in. If I know Akane, she WANTS to tell you that she's getting better. She's probably just worried about your reaction."

"She's right ta be worried! I don't want her gettin' hurt like that!"

"Neither do I, but it's her choice." Ukyo stared at Ranma for a moment, then turned his chin to face her when he tried to look away. "It's HER choice!"

"Gah," Ranma muttered. "Look, you're gonna take off early to go work at the Cat Cafe', right?"

"Yeah, just like always."

"Good. I'm gonna tell everybody I'm leaving with ya. But I'm really gonna stay behind and see if I can find out what the tomboy is up to. Okay?"

Ukyo grinned back at him. "Just don't be too hard on her, Ranchan."

Just as planned, Ranma and Ukyo left right before the last class for the day. As soon as he was out of sight of the school, Ranma circled back around, leaping over the wall. He slipped up to Akane's classroom, and listened in under the window as the class began.

He could hear Akane's voice right nearby. "Okay, I think Ranma and Ukyo have been gone long enough, so I'm taking off. You'll take notes for me and turn in my homework from last night, won't you?"

"Of course we will," Sayuri answered.

"You guys are great." Ranma could hear the gratitude in Akane's voice. "I don't have training with Kodachi tonight, so I'll meet you at the usual place to pick up my notes and the homework for tomorrow. Maybe we'll stop and have some ice cream as well."

"That sounds like fun," Yuka said. Her voice then turned more concerned. "Just don't push yourself too hard, okay? I think some of the other girls noticed the bruises in the shower today. Some of them asked about it."

"What did you say to them?"

"Only that it's special training, and you'll be done soon." Sayuri said. There was a moment of silence. "You will tell Ranma and Ukyo, won't you?"

"Not yet. I'm getting close, I can feel it. I just want to try to get a little further before..." Akane's voice trailed off for a moment, as well. "... before I tell anyone else."

"Okay. We're just worried is all."

"I know. Thanks, guys." Ranma heard Akane gathering up her books, and then she left the room, just as the teacher started the lesson.

Now really worried, Ranma kept out of sight as Akane came out of the school building. As he expected, she looked around, and even seemed to look towards his hiding place. He was well hidden, though, and far enough away that she couldn't see him if he kept still. He didn't even breathe, freezing in place until Akane looked away. She continued down the path to the school's front gate, her head down, with her book bag held in front of her. He finally let himself move once she was outside the gate, and out of sight.

Staying well back, Ranma took to the rooftops, and trailed Akane as she made her way down the empty streets. He couldn't help but be surprised at Akane's determination. She was actually skipping school to meet with this mysterious trainer? That didn't seem like her at all. He knew how much she loved school, even though he hated it. He had to admit, though, if Akane needed time to herself, the best time would be when he and Ukyo were off working at the Cat Cafe'.

His thoughts returned to who Akane could actually be training with. It wasn't Cologne, that was for certain, she had been at the Cafe' all the time when he and Ukyo were working there. They would have noticed her leaving. It could not be Mousse for the same reason. He clenched his fist as he again thought about Happosai, putting his perverted hands all over his fiancée. He would knock him into the next ward if that was what was going on...

Or... maybe it was Ryoga. The Lost Boy hadn't been seen around lately, but maybe that was intentional, to throw off suspicion. For a moment, Ranma felt a flash of jealousy, along with the thought that maybe Ryoga and Akane had been doing OTHER things behind his back. But then he roughly shoved the disloyal thought aside. His tomboy would never do anything like that to him. Not after they had finally admitted their love for each other.

After a few minutes of following Akane, it became obvious that she was heading for home. So whoever she was meeting wasn't somewhere else. He kept up his pursuit, staying out of sight. It wasn't that difficult, Akane wasn't in any particular hurry, and outside of that one time in front of the school, she didn't seem to be on the lookout for anyone. In fact, she seemed a bit sad and withdrawn, as if something was weighing on her conscience. Could she be feeling guilty about lying to him?

Akane made her way through the front gate of the Tendo home, and then inside. Ranma skulked around in the bushes outside. He heard her enter the kitchen, and then Kasumi's voice. "Hello, Akane? Are you going to the dojo for your training?"

"That's right. I just wanted to change and get a snack first. I'm not hungry yet, but I know I will be after."

There was the sound of Kasumi handing Akane a tray, which she had probably already prepared, knowing Kasumi. She then spoke again, her voice gentle, but as concerned as Yuka and Sayuri's. "Be careful, Akane. And call me if you have any trouble."

"I will. If Ranma or Father come home early, let me know, okay?"

"I will, Akane. Good luck."

Ranma kept to the bushes as Akane came out with her tray, from the side door that led to the dojo. He couldn't see her clearly, but he could tell that she was munching on the snacks as she walked. She disappeared into the wooden building that adjoined the Tendo home. Ranma crouched in the shadows of the bushes for quite a few moments, trying to decide what to do. No one else came out to join her. Was Akane training on her own?

Minutes passed. When there was still no activity from the dojo, and no one showed up to join her, Ranma began to consider leaving his hiding place. He half expected Happosai to pop out of nowhere, cackling and waving around his bag of ill-gotten "pretties". But there was no sign of the letch, and Akane hadn't asked about him inside. His curiosity continued to grow. What was Akane up to?

Suddenly, there was a sharp cry of attack. Ranma heard shuffling and the cracking sound of a strike from the dojo, and then another cry. There was then a loud explosion. It shook the ground under his feet, and caused Ranma to take a step back. For a moment, he heard a sizzling noise, like the rain of debris hitting the ground, and then there was another explosion. And another. And another. The explosions began to shake the dojo, although the wood held against the assault.

The sound was strange, not exactly something he had heard before, but it was all too close to a sound he was familiar with. The Bakusai Tenketsu. This explosion wasn't as loud, and there was a sharper quality, more like a crack than a bang, and the settling sound after was too light and weak to be rock. But it was close. Way too close. Now truly frightened for the tomboy's safety, Ranma rushed for the door to the dojo.

What he saw when he threw the door open stunned him into inaction. Akane was there, performing a kata. He had caught her just as she stepped into a strike, one finger outstretched. She was not wearing her usual gi. Instead, she was wearing some of her old, worn out clothes, a pair of shorts, and a gym t-shirt that was about a size to small for her. Neither was truly enough to cover her, they both were ripped and torn to shreds, great rents in the cloth exposing the skin underneath. The shirt was barely holding together, hanging in strips over her taunt belly, and exposing the white of her bra.

And without the clothing to cover her, with so much of her skin exposed, it was painfully obvious her injuries were far worse than Ranma had thought. She was covered in bruises, on her arms, her thighs, even her stomach and shoulders. The yellowed and purple bruises were themselves crisscrossed with cuts and scratches, most of them recently healed, some of them open and bleeding. Scrapes and abrasions covered her body as well, reddened patches of skin fresh from bearing the brunt of an explosive impact.

Concrete cinder blocks, like those Akane used to break to build up her strength, had been hung from the rafters by ropes. They were laid out in a pattern, covering the entire dojo. Akane was performing a kata underneath them, and as she flowed through the steps of her kata, she struck at the cinder blocks. She struck each with a single finger, and then moved on, without pausing to witness the result of her strike. Each cinder block exploded anyway, and as Akane positioned herself to make the strike on the next cinder block, she turned her body to expose herself to the blast of the previous. Her back, her chest, her side, her hips. Each time, she bore the brunt of the impact of the blast on a different part of her body.

It was no wonder her clothing was torn to shreds. And even more shocking, Ranma could see the agony on her face. Tears were streaming down her cheeks, and each blast made her flinch, involuntarily. Still, she never wavered in her kata, and although her knees shook slightly, she never missed a step. Her focus was perfect, and not a single foot was out-of-place or strike off of the point of impact. That Akane could perform a kata so flawlessly almost took Ranma's breath away, and that she could do it while in such pain was unbelievable.

Ranma's reaction was completely instinctive. He threw himself across the dojo, slamming into Akane, and knocking her to the ground, just as she triggered another Breaking Point blast. He curled his body around her, bearing the brunt of the explosion with his own back. The cinder block ripped into him as it shattered, its sharp edges and rough texture in its own way worse than one of Ryoga's boulders. He bore the pain with no complaint, though, knowing that it could not truly hurt him. Not unless he continued to expose himself to it, like Akane was doing.

"What are ya doin' ya crazy tomboy!" Ranma yelled at her, as he moved back to let her sit up. "Of all the dumb, stupid, crazy things for you to do... what were ya thinkin'?"

Akane looked up at him, scared and ashamed. She was obviously embarrassed at being caught, and not sure what to say. She finally looked at the dojo floor, and muttered, "I'm sorry."

"Why would you do that? Why would you do that to yourself?"

There was another long, long silence, while Akane stared at the floor, her face blazing red. Finally, she swallowed and spoke, her voice small. "It's based on the Bakusai Tenketsu training. I can't take boulders slamming into me, but I thought cinder blocks would be a weaker alternative, so I could build myself up to it gradually. Like you said about the tile..." She met his eyes for a moment, and then looked away. "I could start with something that wouldn't hurt me as bad, and work my way up to boulders."

Ranma glanced back at the cinder blocks hanging from the ceiling. "So you swung those at you and hit yourself with them?"

"Yes, but it wasn't enough." Akane swallowed, her eyes still rooted firmly on the floor. "So I came up with the idea of making them explode, instead."

Ranma stared at her. Then he signed. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I was going to tell you. I just... I wanted to see how far I could get before I told you and Ukyo, and you made me cut back." Her voice dropped even further, to barely a whisper. "Or made me stop."

Ranma wrapped his arms around her. "I'm not gonna make you stop, tomboy."

"You're not?" She looked at him, tears running down her cheeks. She sounded desperate, frightened.

"No." He sat back, and scowled at her. "But you're gonna promise me, right now, that you are NEVER going to do this again without somebody watchin' you."


"RIGHT NOW, Akane! You coulda broken an arm, you coulda cut open an artery! You could have been knocked unconscious and bled to death on the floor before anybody found you!"

She looked away again, her face glowing with shame. "Kasumi knew I was out here. She would have noticed if the explosions stopped."

"She still might not have gotten here in time! You don't EVER train for a special technique without someone to watch you. Promise me!"

"Okay." Akane swallowed. "I won't ever train like this alone again."

"On your honor as a martial artist!"

Akane sniffled. "I swear on my honor as a martial artist. I won't ever train a technique like this on my own again."

"Good enough." Ranma wrapped his arms around her again, holding her close. The very thought, that he might lose her like this...

"I'm sorry," Akane repeated, her voice becoming choked with sobs.

"It's okay. Stupid tomboy."

Akane sniffled again, and then returned Ranma's hug, holding him even tighter. After a moment, she looked up at him. "Are you... are you sure... you want to watch... this?"

Ranma's heart sank as he realized what she meant. But for her... "It's okay, Akane. You need ta do this. You need to be tougher. Otherwise, no matter how strong you get, all it'll take is one hit, an' yer out. It's a great technique." He smiled a bit as he released her, and looked into her brown eyes.

Ranma ran his hand down her cheek, tracing a tear with his thumb. He noted absently the tiny scratches and abrasions on her face, too small to be noticed at a distance, but all too obvious up close. She had covered it up with makeup, but he now realized that the reason she had avoided him was so he wouldn't get close enough to her to notice.

"How long does it take the bleeding to stop?" He asked her.

Akane blinked, caught off guard by the sudden change in subject, and then cut her eyes away again. "Usually, about an hour after I take my bath. Sometimes half an hour. Kasumi usually drains the bath and refills it so no one notices the blood."

She was silent for a moment, then looked back at Ranma. "When I first started, it used to take a couple of hours. I know if I keep working on it I can get it to stop before I finish my bath. I KNOW I can."

"I'm sure you can, tomboy," Ranma said, with a smile. He looked back at the cinder blocks hanging from their ropes and chuckled. "You know what this means, don't you?"

"Yes." Akane looked away from him again, truly ashamed. "I've made it so... so you don't have to hit me... to help me get stronger."

"No," Ranma said. He laughed again. "Well, kinda, but no. You've figured out how to hit YOURSELF... to use your OWN strength to make yourself tougher."

He sat her up, with his hands on her shoulders. Then he stared into her eyes. She looked back at him, confused.

"You've taken somebody else's technique and made it your own, Akane. You're makin' it do somethin' it wasn't intended ta do. You ain't just doin' what somebody else taught ya. Yer figurin' it out for yourself..."

Ranma grinned at her, his eyes shining. Akane swallowed. Her heart had begun to pound in her chest, even though she didn't know why.

"Anything Goes, Akane. That's what Anything Goes is all about."

Akane's mouth fell open. But it was Ranma's next words that completely floored her.

"I guess you really are a martial artist, after all, like you keep sayin'..." He grinned teasingly at her stunned expression, until she flung her arms around him and kissed him, soundly. "And now I gotta remember THAT for the next time you're mad at me," he quipped.

"Baka." Akane shook her head, then took a deep breath. "Are you sure it's okay?"

"Yeah." He nodded his head towards the dojo. "Why don't you continue your practice."

Akane smiled at him, excited. "Really?"

"Really. And the fourth step in that kata try bringing your left leg out a bit. It'll brace you a bit better."

"Okay." She stared into his eyes. Her enthusiasm made him feel giddy.

"Are you lettin' yourself get good an' angry, to help hold your stance? I didn't feel your battle aura."

Akane shook her head. "I don't want to block the attacks, I want to take it, to build up my body."

"Still, it can help brace you and keep you from havin' to compensate so much for the explosion. And it can help with the pain, too. If it helps, just think about me." He grinned, impishly.

Akane's smile was just as mischievous. "I don't know if I can get angry with you when you're being so nice."

"Even if I call you flat chested and thunder thighs?"

Her eyes flashed, but more with amusement than anger. "That might do it."

"How about if I point out that I can see your bra... and a whole lot more." He pointed at her chest.

"HEY!" Aware of her near nudity for the first time, Akane wrapped her arms around herself. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I was enjoying the show."

"Pervert!" Her aura flared a bit, but only a little. She still wasn't serious.

"Good thing Happosai isn't here to see that. I bet he'd have his hands all over you. I'd protect you, though."

"I bet you would. I bet you don't want anybody's hands on me but yours."

For a moment, Ranma considered his usual denial. But then, an alternative suggested itself to him. Half deciding to act before he could think about the possible consequences, (and change his mind) he leaned forward, to bring his face closer to Akane's. Her eyes widened as he got close to her.

"Not as much as you want me to put my hands on you, tomboy."

BOOM! That did it. Akane's battle aura erupted like a bonfire. But to Ranma's credit, not all of that was anger. A good part of it was another emotion, just as intense and passionate, but in a totally different way.

"You think you can touch me before I break both your arms?" Akane asked, her voice thick with challenge. Or maybe that was something else.

He ran his hand over her bare shoulder. "Only if you want me to..."

Akane stared at him, perhaps wondering if he would go further. When he didn't, she stood up. Ranma smirked at her as she stood proudly, making no attempt to hide her body. "Thanks, Ranma. I think I'm ready to continue now."

Smiling, Ranma sat back to watch the show. At least for a while. He wasn't sure how long he was going to be able to watch once she really started hurting again. But for now, with his tomboy marching across the dojo like she was ready to take on the world and win, he couldn't think of anything he'd rather do.

By the time she finished her training, Akane was dripping with sweat, and there was a slightly dazed look in her eyes. Ranma had needed to fight back the impulse to stop her on several occasions, when the explosions caught her particularly hard. The shrapnel from the cinder blocks had cut deeply into her skin, leaving rivulets of blood behind. But he had held himself back, and Akane had somehow held fast against the impact, keeping up her kata.

A part of him was proud of her. Although she would never be as tough as Ryoga, he estimated that she was getting close to being as tough as his cursed body, and she had definitely surpassed Ucchan's physical resilience. Of course, his sister was far faster than either Akane or himself, and could avoid most strikes or twist around them, so it wasn't like a single blow could take her out. Still, if it weren't for Ukyo's supernatural sense of awareness, she could be taken out easily if caught by surprise.

Akane looked on the verge of collapse, but still stubbornly remained standing. It was starting to get dark, and it occurred to Ranma that Akane might be pushing herself so hard simply because he was watching. "That's enough, Akane," Ranma said, hoping to put a stop to that. "Sis will be home soon, and you still need to take a bath."

"Still thinking of taking a bath with me, eh, pervert?" Akane quipped, although her eyes didn't quite focus on him.

"Of course not!" Ranma protested, more out of habit than anything else. He moved over to take her hand, and she smiled at him.

"Just a few more minutes," Akane begged, with a bit of a pout. "I'm not... tired..." But then she suddenly swooned, and collapsed against him.

"Akane?" Worried, Ranma put his arms around her, to hold her up. But she quickly recovered, getting back on her feet. She continued to lean against him, though, until Ranma finally lifted her into his arms.

Akane slapped his chest, as Ranma picked her up. "Hey, I can walk!" She protested.

"Is that why you're hangin' on ta me, tomboy?" Ranma asked. He raised an eyebrow, taunting her.

Akane frowned for a moment, but then cuddled up closer. "I guess it's all right, then. If you're going to hold me while I'm half-naked, though, you can at least help me into my gi." She gestured at a chair, where she had hung her martial arts uniform, so it wouldn't get ripped by the flying debris.

Ranma looked down at her chest, and Akane smirked at him. "If you look any lower, Ranma, I WILL hit you."

"As if I'd want to look at an uncute tomboy like you," Ranma said, although for once, it was obvious from his tone that he wasn't serious. "But I have to make sure you don't have any serious injuries."

Akane's face reddened a bit as Ranma completed his examination, and then he brought her over to the chair. He set her on her feet for a moment while he helped Akane put the gi on over her shredded shirt and shorts. He then picked her back up, and Akane put her arms around his neck. Ranma brought them out of the dojo and into the house.

Ranma went around to the family room, where he found Soun lying on the floor, on a mat. Kasumi was applying a cold cloth to his forehead, while her father mumbled something about "I was afraid something like this would happen." Ranma scowled at the thought of what Akane's father might be up to, when his own father grabbed him by the arm. Genma dragged Ranma out to the engawa, and Ranma struggled to hold onto Akane as they were jostled about.

The old man was wearing a backpack, and had a bunch of Ranma's clothes hung over his other arm. "Come on, Ranma, we have to go on a training trip right away. There's not a moment to... what's wrong with Akane?" Genma drew up short, as he finally noticed that his son was carrying his black-haired fiancée.

"Nothing's wrong with me!" Akane snapped back, her face again turning red. "Put me down, Ranma!" She began to squirm in Ranma's arms, and he was hard pressed to remain standing while holding her.

Soun sat up. "My poor baby! What is wrong, my darling Akane?" Tears began to pour down his cheeks. "Ranma! What have you done to my daughter?"

"I ain't done nothin'!" Ranma yelled, starting to panic. He almost dropped Akane again, and she cried out in indignation.

"I am just fine!" Akane spat, "Or I will be when Ranma lets me go! I was doing just fine until the baka came in and started going on about me hurting myself, and picked me up! I told him, I can walk!"

He finally managed to get the struggling girl back on her feet, and she pushed him away, roughly. "I don't need your help, Ranma." As she turned away from their fathers, though, she gave him a secret smile and a wink. "Just because I hurt my knee a little bit, that doesn't mean I need you to carry me."

"You hurt your knee?" Soun came up off of the mat. "What did you do?"

"It's NOTHING!" Akane yelled back. She grabbed Ranma and shoved him in front of her, making it look like she was mad at him, not using him to hide her bruises from her father. Not to mention the bloodstain he could see spreading across the arm of her gi. "I told this idiot, and I'll tell you! It's just a little bump, it doesn't even hurt!"

Ranma decided to play along. "It's not like I wanted ta carry you or anything," he quipped. "You're so heavy I might have strained somethin'."

She spun him around at that, meeting Ranma's eyes with a glare that promised later retribution. "Well, I never asked for your help anyway! Honestly!" She turned away, sticking her nose in the air as she stomped around the corner towards the furoba. But just before she turned out of sight, she stopped and grinned back at him again. Then she disappeared from view.

Genma paid no further attention to Akane's abrupt departure, apparently having completely forgotten about his earlier concern. "Come on, son, we have to leave, now." He grabbed Ranma by the shoulder, and pushed him out onto the engawa again. "We already may be too late to get away in time."

"Stuff it, Pops," Ranma sneered, turning his attention back to his father. "I don't care if Mom has some contract to make you commit seppuku. You may be scared of her, but I'm not! She asked me to visit her, and that's just what I'm gonna do!"

"It's not your mother I'm worried about, son," Genma said. "It's the Master. You don't know the true terror of the Master's wrath, and I for one don't plan to be here to face it."

"You're the one that has angered the Master, Ranma, you and your sister," Soun added, sternly pointing at the pigtailed boy. "I shudder to think what he has planned." He then looked at Genma. "And you'd better not leave me to face this alone, Saotome."

Genma tried to herd his son out into the yard again. "Don't worry, Tendo. Once the boy and I get out of here, hopefully the Master will calm down."

"What about Kuonji?"

As if Soun's question was the cue, Ukyo called out from the genkan. "I'm home! What's with all these guys waiting out by the gate?"

"Guys by the gate?" Soun hurried down the hallway to the front entrance, with Ranma and Genma right behind him. They met Ukyo as she was taking off her shoes to put on house slippers.

"Yeah," she said, "there's some big crowd out here."

Soun threw open the door, to find the entire front walkway crammed with people, all of them carrying boxes and platters piled high with food. Even more were squeezing in through the Tendos' open gateway.

"I have a delivery of 50 orders of pork cutlets over rice for Ukyo Kuonji," said the nearest of the delivery men. Another nearby added, "100 orders of sushi, here." The others all chimed in with their similar orders, all for increasing amounts of food.

"Is this Happosai's idea of revenge?" Ukyo asked incredulously. "Ordering a bunch of food in my name?"

"If it is, he's got a big surprise coming," Ranma put in. "I can take anything that old freak can dish out. And I can sure eat all this food."

"Yeah, Ranchan, but you can't pay for it," Ukyo countered. The delivery man with the pork cutlets frowned at her, and a murmur of disquiet moved through the crowd.

"What worries me, son, is that all of these orders are for Kuonji," Genma said ominously. "What could he have in mind for you?"

The crowd of delivery men then parted, as a wave of young women forced their way through the gate and into the entryway. "Where is this Ranma Saotome person? We demand you show him to us right now!"

Happosai suddenly popped up on Ranma's shoulder, with a sign in his hand saying "Ranma Saotome, right here", and an arrow pointing to Ranma. The girls all screamed and charged at him.

"How dare you steal our underwear!" they all yelled. "You even had the nerve to leave a note! What kind of pervert are you?"

Both Ukyo and Akane tried to protest Ranma's innocence, but they were unable to stop the girls as the small area inside the genkan erupted into chaos. Happosai picked up one of the incriminating notes that fluttered out of the cloud of dust kicked up by the scuffle. "Yep, that is definitely signed by Ranma Saotome. Give him his just punishment, girls." Puffing on his pipe, he sat down to watch the show.

It was a very subdued Tendo family that sat down to dinner that night. Happosai bounded around the room, throwing okonomiyaki sauce on the walls, and poking "Ranma is a dope" into the rice paper shoji doors. He seemed deadly serious, not laughing or cackling as he usually did, but instead throwing Ranma and Ukyo withering scowls. His pranks were not even limited to Ranma and Ukyo. He had thrown water over Genma, turning him into a panda, and hung a sign saying "Please don't feed the animals" around his neck. And he had written "Spineless" across Soun's face.

"You know, while I can appreciate Grandfather's resourcefulness," Nabiki said dryly, "After a while, the humor of it starts to wear thin."

"Hey, you didn't have a bunch of angry girls beating on you," Ranma complained. "And it wasn't even my fault!"

"Be that as it may..." Nabiki paused a moment, as Happosai hopped across the table, dumping pepper into everyone's food. "I've had enough. What's it going to take to restore what passes for peace in this house?"

"I don't see why I gotta apologize!" Ranma said. "I didn't do nothin'!"

"We're not going to apologize," Ukyo said, taking a bite of her food. Although she did give a grimace of distaste, she still continued eating, ignoring Happosai's antics. "I gave the old freak a chance. He's a guest in this house. He should be grateful we're letting him keep any of those panties he stole at all."

Nabiki looked at her father. "She does have a point, Daddy. What are you going to do about this?"

Soun looked very solemn, and put down his chopsticks. "You're right. It's time I did what I should have done all along." He looked over at the panda. "Saotome, are you with me?" As one, they rose to their feet.

Happosai turned his scowl on Soun and Genma, studying them carefully. The rest at the table watched, expectantly. Ukyo and Ranma both looked hopeful, and Akane beamed at her father's show of bravery. Even Nabiki seemed impressed.

The tall man and panda immediately fell to their knees, bowing deeply. "Forgive us, Master!" Soun cried. "Spare us your terrible wrath! We'll do anything you ask!"

"Daaaad!" Akane's expression went from proud to exasperated in an instant. Ranma and Ukyo both just shook their heads.

"I should have known," Ukyo huffed. "Well, you two can give in if you want to, it doesn't change a thing. Sensei's 'pretties' are already on their way back to the folks they belong to, and no amount of bawling and temper tantrums are going to change that."

She glared at Happosai, and he glared back. "It's nothing to have these two bow to me," Happosai said, gesturing at the two adults, "but it seems to be that you two are the ones who should be begging for my mercy."

"Me? Bow to you?" Ranma got up from the table to confront the old man, clenching his fist as he stood over him. Happosai just watching him, unflinching. "Ranma Saotome doesn't bow to nobody!"

Genma shoved his son's head to the ground, doubling him over. "You don't have to mean it, Ranma," his sign read. "Just say it. It's for the best."

Ranma slugged his father off of him, and the panda went flying out of the family room and into the koi pond. "I told you, I don't bow to no one!"

"And that makes two of us," Ukyo added her agreement, standing at her brother's side. "I'm not afraid of a few pranks, and if you cared about more than lazing around and feeding your fat butt, you wouldn't be afraid of him either."

"Ranma, Ukyo, this is the peace and tranquility of my home you are disturbing," Soun said, his voice stern. "If you cannot apologize to the Master, then I will have to ask you to leave."

"Me?" Ukyo shouted, and Ranma echoed, "What?" Ukyo glanced at him, then nodded. "Why us? Why don't you make the old freak leave?"

"Do you think you can make me leave, Little Ukyo?" Happosai said, puffing on his pipe. Ukyo just ignored him.

"Just apologize to the master," Soun said. "It'll be easier on all of us."

"Forget it!" Ranma shot back. "I'd rather leave than apologize to HIM."

"If that's the way you feel, then I'm afraid I have no choice..."

"No, Daddy!" Akane interrupted. "You can't make Ranma leave!" There was desperation in her voice for a second, but then she caught herself. "I mean... it's not like I care about the baka or anything, but it's not fair! Grandfather is just as responsible for this as Ranma and Ukyo are."

"I don't know, Akane," Nabiki put in. "Ranma and Ukyo are the only ones Happosai has any argument with. It doesn't have anything to do with us. Maybe if they go off somewhere, the old man will follow them." She glanced at Happosai. "I mean, if the old man wants his apology he'll have to chase after them."

Ranma scoffed and crossed his arms. "He can follow me ta China if he wants, I ain't gonna apologize to him."

"That's it then." Akane got to her feet. "Come on, Ucchan, let's go upstairs and pack. I'll go with you."

"No way!" Ranma's response was automatic. "I don't need some useless tomboy gettin' in my way! It'll be hard enough bein' on my own, without having to take care of you, too!"

"Sheesh, Ranma, it's not like it's the middle of winter or anything." Akane said with a scowl. "It's been nice and warm lately, even at night. I'm sure it'll be fine, and like your father said, this is the perfect time for a training trip." Her scowl faded, and Akane gave him a cheerful grin. "It'll be fun!"

"Akane, do you mean it?" Soun burst into a fountain of tears. "Whaaaaa! My little girl is leaving me!"

"I'm not leaving, Daddy, I'm just going away with Ranma for a while."

"I'm not goin' anywhere! Certainly not with you taggin' along!"

"My poor baby!" Soun wailed, "Who will look out for her when she gets hurt! Ranma, you must take care of my little girl!"

"I ain't takin' care of nobody!"

"You don't have to take care of me! I'm a martial artist too, Ranma!"

"ENOUGH!" Ukyo slammed her fist down on the table, cutting through the racket. "Everyone, just SHUT UP! I'm not goin' anywhere, Ranchan's not goin' anywhere, and we are NOT giving in to this old man!"

She turned to glare at Happosai, who had been watching the argument with an increasingly wide grin. He met her gaze calmly, without flinching. "You think you can cause enough trouble to get us kicked out, eh, 'Sensei'? Well, you don't know what trouble is. Don't you worry, Mr. Tendo, because by the time I get through with this old man, he's going to be the one bowing to me."

Happosai puffed on his pipe. Soun eyed the two of them, worriedly, and then spoke up. "Are you planning to challenge the Master, Ukyo?"

"Nope. I know the old pervert has the edge on me in martial arts. But I've just decided to fight fire with fire." She leaned closer to the Master. "You like pranks, do you, Sensei? Well, let's see if you can take what you dish out. At some place, at some time, when you least expect it, I'll get you back... and then you'll be singing a different tune."

Happosai held her gaze, the smoke drifting lazily up from his pipe, between them. Ukyo could tell that she had piqued his interest. "Do you really think you can catch me off guard?"

"I'm bettin' on it. You'll never see it coming."

Happosai glanced around at the others in the room. "All right. You've got a deal, Little Ukyo. My pranks against yours. I'll even leave the others out of it, until you've declared me the winner."

Ukyo grinned, wickedly. "Don't count on it, Sensei. You've got no idea what you're getting into. You want a prank war... YOU'VE GOT A PRANK WAR!"