The Saotome Sisters

Chapter 92

Everyone stared in shock, as Ranma stood revealed as Ukyo's double. The water still dripped off of her from the bucket Nabiki had thrown over her. For a moment, no one dared make a sound.

Kuno raised his bokken. He made sure to glance at Ukyo, to make sure Ranma had not magically traded places with her, but scowled when he saw her pale-faced stare. "Return to your true form, fiend!" He shouted. "I will not stand for you taking on the fair Ukyo's appearance!"

"You don't get it, Kuno! It's always been me, not the redhead! And these pictures of Sis that you wanted so much? They're of me!" Ranma laughed, clearly relishing the idea of forcing Kuno to confront the idea of his attraction to her.

To everyone's surprise, Kuno erupted into a massive battle aura. It wasn't much compared to Ranma's or Ryoga's, or even Akane's, but the kendoist had never produced a perceptible aura before. "You charlatan! How dare you tempt me with your sorcerous mockery of the female form! I strike!" With that, he resumed his attack, and Ranma leaped away.

The murmuring was increasing among the girls, and both Ukyo and Akane were turning pale. One of the girls finally asked, "Are you really Ranko, Ukyo?" Ukyo nodded and the girl continued. "So then all those times you were acting like a guy, and talking like one, too... that was really Ranma?"

"Well, I was raised as a boy, so sometimes I do talk like one," Ukyo said, grimacing a little. "But yeah, when it's over the top, that's usually Ranchan."

"Does this mean that was Ranma in the girls' showers?" another of the girls asked.

Sayuri bit her lip, and then nodded. "It was either that, or let him shower with the boys... like that."

She pointed at Ukyo's currently identical twin, who was dancing around the field, seemingly flirting with the enraged Kuno even as she evaded his strike. That seemed to mollify the girls' anger, but it didn't to anything to reduce the aura of revulsion and disgust that roiled and crackled in the air. Strangely, Happosai seemed captivated by Ranma's girlish taunting of Kuno, and although he seemed to be trying to resist, he couldn't look away.

"What the hell is he thinking?" Ukyo wondered aloud, her voice high and uncertain.

As if in response, Ranma spoke up again. "Hey, Happi, you old pervert, you sure you don't want to see these pictures? You were always wanting to see me in a bra, well, I'm wearing one. In fact, I'm wearing it right now."

Happosai perked up, despite himself, but before he could say anything, one of the girls made a face. "Ewwwww! That means he was wearing it as a guy!" The rest of the girls reacted similarly, and even Happosai shuddered and managed to regain his control.

Ranma dodged a strike and then nodded her agreement. "Well, I knew I was gunna change during the fight, an' my Mom says a girl should be properly supported. She even bought it for me!"

Everyone turned to look at Nodoka, who blinked at their looks of incredulity. "Well, I did say that it was manly for my son to properly respect his sister's modesty, but I'm not sure that this is all that manly..."

Ukyo sighed, putting a hand to her face. "No, Auntie. Ranchan's just doing what he always does. This is just a martial arts technique to him. He doesn't mean to be disrespectful, he's just trying to goad the old Master." Out on the field, Happosai obviously agreed with her, because his expression turned smug. "Ranma doesn't really understand how a girl feels about things like that, he's just a guy. He may turn into a girl, but he isn't one."

Nodoka nodded her agreement, but Akane, who was sitting next to her, shook her head. No, that can't be, she said to herself. I know Ranma understands. I saw how he reacted when Sanzenin kissed him, how violated he felt. He must know how humiliating this is for Ukyo... She looked out across the field, noticing the waves of hot battle aura spiraling lazily in to the center. Humiliation... The battle auras of the girls, though weak individually, had gathered into a massive cloud, and was being drawn into the spiral formed by Kuno and Ranma.

Ranma's attempts to tease and entice Kuno became more blatant and desperate. She began unbuttoning the top of her silk shirt. "Hey, Kuno, here's a peek," she said, flashing the white of her bra. Kuno's eyes widened at the sight, but it only made him angrier. He roared out an incoherent challenge, while charging at his former love interest. Akane watched as the aura over the girls writhed and seethed, and flowed out to add to the heat building over the field.

Cologne sees it as well, Akane thought, as she glanced over at the Amazon Elder. The wizened old crone was watching Happosai carefully, observing how he would repeatedly lose himself to the fight, pulled unrelentingly towards the cloud of anger and righteous indignation, only to pull himself back and regain control. Ranma's plan was working, but it wasn't enough.

Kodachi spoke up before Akane could give voice to her suspicions. "Forgive me for saying this, but has Lord Ranma lost his mind?"

"He hasn't lost his mind," Ukyo said, moving her hand to rest her chin in her palm. "He's just made a stupid plan, as usual. Happosai isn't going to fall for this, so he's given away the curse and embarrassed me for no reason. The jackass."

Ryoga stood up. "Ranma Saotome! How dare you use your own sister as a pawn in your schemes! I'll make you pay for this! Prepare to die!" Grabbing his weighted umbrella, he rushed into the spiraling dance of Kuno's pursuit of Ranma.

Ranma's cocky grin widened considerably as Ryoga rushed at them. She even seemed prepared for Ryoga to team up with Kuno, and adjusted her spiral accordingly to avoid his strikes as well as Kuno's bokken. The intensity of the battle aura around them increased dramatically, so dramatically that Akane gasped in surprise. While Ranma had been previously circling Kuno, buying time, now she began to draw the spiral in. The spiral was still slow, stalling for time, but the change in strategy was obvious, if you were looking for it.

"That's it!" Akane shouted. "That's why he wanted Ryoga and Kuno to be here! And our friends as well! They are all adding to the battle aura!"

"What?" Ukyo turned to look at her, and the others as well. Akane grinned at their surprise, and Cologne's raised eyebrow.

"Humiliation! That's the key! Ranma knows exactly what he is doing. Happosai doesn't just feed off of female spirit energy. He has to make them mad, to make them embarrassed and ashamed so they'll get mad at him! That's why he has to grope women and steal panties, instead of just touching them.

"By making all our friends think he's a pervert, by humiliating himself and his sister by showing himself off to Kuno and Ryoga, he's making himself irresistible to Happosai." Akane glanced down at the old master, but as she suspected, he was so distracted by the massive increase in the battle aura that he was no longer paying attention. "Like Ukyo said, he's an addict, he won't be able to hold back even if he wanted to! And the stronger Ranma makes the battle aura, the more Happosai will be lured in!"

"And not only that," Cologne added, "Ranma's Soul of Ice is already much more powerful because he is suppressing such shame and remorse. I feel he is going to create a Hiryu Shoten Ha more powerful than any I have ever seen."

The Elder's wry grin shifted to a more respectful nod of acknowledgement. "Not bad, Miss Tendo." Akane blushed at the praise.

There was a pause, and then Shampoo spoke up. "Stupid Mousse! Shampoo is very angry with Airen! Airen too too much insult Shield Sister, make with showing off her body in front of friends! Shampoo think Airen should be punished for insulting strong warrior woman like Shield Sister!"

Mousse leaped to his feet. "For you I would do anything, Shampoo my love! Ranma Saotome! You shall pay for your insults!" He threw a barrage of chains from the sleeve of his robe, even as he leaped down into the battle. Surprisingly - or perhaps not all that surprising - Ranma dodged the missiles and simply allowed Mousse space into the path of the spiral.

Everyone turned to look at Shampoo. The Amazon shrugged. "Shampoo think more battle aura not hurt."

There was a pause, and then Kodachi looked at Sasuke. "Sasuke, my servant..."

Sasuke sighed loudly, interrupting her. "Yes, Mistress." As if marching off to his doom, he stood up and prepared to leap into the fray.

"Hold on, Sasuke, you'll get killed in there," Akane said. "And I doubt your fighting spirit will add much to the fight. Isn't that right, Cologne?" She looked at the Elder for confirmation.

Cologne nodded. "Indeed, child. Kuno, Ryoga and Mousse should be sufficient. An ordinary person would never survive. I'm sure Ranma intended for you to contribute to the Hiryu Shoten Ha while sitting right here."

"Good," put in Gosunkugi, "because I'm not going down there."

"Me neither," said Hiroshi. "Right, Dai?" He glanced at Daisuke, but his friend was staring at Ranma, who was once again flaunting her bra, wriggling in a most provocative way at Kuno. Daisuke let out a lustful sigh, his eyes partially glazed over.

Hiroshi cuffed him across the back of the head. "I said, right, Dai? You aren't going to go in there, right?"

Daisuke looked at him. "Go... in there?" He got a goofy grin as he looked back. Hiroshi slapped him again, and his eyes seemed to clear. "Oh, yeah, no. I'm not goin' in there, she'd kill me..."

"Yeah, good enough," Hiroshi said. Akane noted that Daisuke's lust aura was strong enough to send out a tendril which was pulled into the mix. While the pervert hating part of herself didn't want some immature boy, even a friend of Ranma's, lusting after her best friend, that part of herself had been growing quieter lately. And she had to admit that little bit of aura would help Ranma as much as any one of her friends and their hatred of perversion. And a steadily growing part of herself filed Daisuke's interest in her friend away to possibly guide and encourage later.

Even Gosunkugi and Hiroshi were contributing a combination of confused attraction and manly protectiveness to what was now becoming a blaze of hot ki. Ranma was prancing around in the circle, drawing it tighter and tighter. Happosai was sitting on the edge of the field, shutting his eyes firmly, and muttering to himself. His eyes snapped open, however, as Ranma called out a new twist in his plan.

"This bra is just too confining! I think I'll take it off! Who wants it?" With that, she reached down inside her shirt, undid a few fasteners, and pulled the bra free. A collective gasp went up among the girls as Ranma began to prance around waving the bra in the air. Her shirt was still partway open, and showed some of the flesh of her chest.

"Ranma! How dare you!" Ryoga yelled back at him. "You're actually going to flash poor Ukyo's breasts again? I won't let you!"

"Enough of your false temptation, you Prince of Lies!" Kuno screamed as well. "I do not want such a beautiful, lovely bra! Nay, for by your own admission my ponytailed goddess has not even worn it! It has only been fouled and corrupted by the likes of you!"

"Maybe when I was wearing it as a guy it would have absorbed my male ki," Ranma said, glancing back at Happosai. "But now I've been a girl long enough that it's just full of sweet, flirtatious, girly ki..." Happosai blinked rapidly, then closed his eyes and began muttering to himself again.

Mousse didn't say anything, he just flung some chains, which Ranma dodged. Ryoga almost got hit by the attack, but knocked it aside with his umbrella. Neither of them wasted time arguing with each other, though, they just continued to close in on Ranma. Ranma continued to unbutton her shirt, until it was open almost to her waist. "Here's another peek!" she called out seductively, although no one really got a good look at what she was or was not showing.

Akane was slowly turning redder and redder. I sure hope nobody figures out who inspired him to come up with this technique, she thought, although she couldn't bring herself to look away. Ranma will make sure no one sees anything, won't he?

"Ranma, you jackass!" Ukyo shouted, finally losing control of her own temper. "Stop showing off my body!" The rest of the girls began to grumble dangerously as well.

Ranma dodged another attack from Ryoga, and then was wrapped up in Mousse's chains. She just barely threw herself aside in time to avoid a blow from Kuno, and then untangled herself from the chains, but she was running out of room to move. And her shirt was baring large amounts of bare skin.

"Enough!" Ryoga shouted. "Stop this, and I'll take the bra and put it back on you!"

"No, I will not allow you to defile the beauteous Ukyo so!" Kuno put in. "I shall take the bra, only to put it back on the cretin Ranma, of course. Only so that there will no further defilement of the lovely Ukyo. Not that I would lust after common girls' underwear..."

"Hold still!" added Mousse.

"NO!" Happosai's voice boomed over the others, as his battle aura rose over them like a ghostly giant. "THAT BRA IS MINE!"

Ranma grinned triumphantly. "You've taken the bait, old man. Now to set the hook!" With that, she unbuttoned the last button and flung off her shirt.

Fortunately for Ukyo's dignity, Ranma kept the bra held over her breasts while she threw away the shirt. And it was difficult to see anything anyway, over the growing glare of the spiral of ki. The wind started to whirl around in a circle, picking up leaves and loose grass from the field to further obscure the view. Even the straps of Ranma's bra, held loosely against her chest, began to dance around as if the wind itself was trying to tear it from Ranma's grasp.

The lack of a clear view of Ranma's chest didn't hinder her pursuers, in fact it only provoked them to scuffle with each other. There was a chaotic clash of chains, Kuno's bokken, Ryoga's umbrella, and Happosai's pipe. Ranma leaped and dodged, leading them into the center of the spiral, while somehow managing to keep her breasts covered. The three teenaged boys were starting to collide with each other in their enthusiasm, and Happosai bounced off of their heads, staying above the scuffle as he closed with their target.

Happosai made a grab for Ranma's bra, and Ukyo's twin lifted it over her head, trying to keep it out of the old man's grasp. For a split second, she was exposed, and Happosai was so distracted by the sight that he missed it as something slipped out of his pocket. Nearly everyone else's attention was on Ranma, but Akane just happened to spot it as it fluttered in the swirling winds. It was a wrinkled piece of paper, yellowed with age, showing a diagram of a man's body.

Akane and Ukyo both leaped to their feet. Akane called out, "The chart!" Cologne glanced at the two girls, and then squinted her eyes, trying to spot the chart herself.

"I got it!" Ukyo called back. She unslung her spatula, and handed it to Akane. "Hold this for me, will ya? I don't wanna get it caught on anything."

Akane took her friend's weapon, but she looked frightened. "You can't go in there, Ucchan! You'll be killed!"

Ukyo was already running across the field. "Don't worry! I'll grab the chart and be gone before Ranma even reaches the center!"

"He's already at the center, Shield Sister!" Cologne yelled at her, but Ukyo had already vanished into the roiling mass of spirit energy.

"Ranma!" Akane called out, her tone now desperate. "Don't do use the Heaven's Blast of the Dragon! Ucchan's in there!" But Ranma didn't seem to hear her over the howling of the winds. She spun in place as she reached the center of the spiral, and raised her fist in a twisting uppercut.

"Hiryu Shoten Ha!" Ranma shouted. In raising her arm, she exposed her chest, but to the relief of all the girls watching, she was wearing a second bra. It was flesh colored, and matched her skin so closely that she had appeared to be nude. The ponytailed girl smirked as a wall of blinding white light burst forth from her, and smashed into Happosai and the rest of her attackers. Ryoga had actually been right on top of her, and the wave of power smashed him in the face, knocking him unconscious as he was carried skyward.

Ranma's face fell, however, as she spotted her twin, being carried into the air above the four men. She was far enough away that she hadn't taken the worst of the initial impact, but she still cried out as the winds whipped her away. Ranma's couldn't hear the sound of her cry, but it was obvious she was caught off guard. Ukyo had wrapped her arms tightly around herself, as if clutching something against her body.

"Sis!" Ranma yelled out to her, but she was more frightened than angry. She tensed, ready to leap into the winds, but Akane's voice cut her off.

"No, Ranma! You're in Ukyo's body! In your condition, you're even weaker than she is!" She was running across the field, looking up at Ukyo's limp body, as she spiraled around above their heads. "You'll be cut to pieces!"

Ranma wanted to snap back at her, to deny it, but she knew it was true. While she felt that she was a little stronger than Ukyo while in her body, the Moxibustion of Weakness made that a moot point. She would be helpless in the Hiryu Shoten Ha, assuming it didn't snap her like a twig. She needed the size and durability of her male body, but there was no time to fetch hot water.

"Whaddya thinkin', Tomboy?" Ranma called in response. "You better not do somethin' stupid!"

Ranma glanced at Ryoga, but the Lost Boy wasn't going to be able to save Ukyo this time. She bit her lip. Ryoga was out, but he had been hit head on by the initial attack. The Bakusai Tentetsu training just might protect Akane from the worst of it. But Akane wasn't leaping into the tornado, instead she seemed to be trying to find something under the ground.

"I'll save her, Ranma!" Akane yelled back, still searching for the right spot. "Don't risk yourself! Trust me!"

She was standing directly under the twister, looking both at the ground and up at Ukyo. Despite the confidence in her voice, Akane could not control the trembling in her body. I can't fail at this, she was saying to herself. Ranma and Ukyo are both counting on me. I can't be careless or rush this, I've got to focus. She cast her senses down, into the bedrock under the school. She could feel the tiny fractures in the rock, the vulnerable points, but she continued to cast deeper and deeper, as deep as she could.

Come on, Akane, this is no time to be a clumsy tomboy. Your aim has to be perfect. Ukyo's life depends on it. She glanced up at her friend, still being buffeted by the winds. Ryoga, Kuno and Mousse were ejected from the twister and crashed to the ground nearby. Akane ignored them. She had to concentrate. She grasped the spatula in both hands, lifting it over her head with the pointed end down. Happosai shot out of the twister and sailed to the ground a few feet away. No more time. Ukyo will be next. I have to act now...

Akane could feel her energy flow into Ukyo's spatula. "My weapon is my partner", she murmured, the memory of her friend and sensei's lessons chasing away her fears and filling her with a warm sense of reassurance. There was a glimmer of light, and suddenly she could see the point she was aiming for. She brought the spatula down, rapping its hilt against the paved surface of the sports field.

"Bakusai Tenketsu revised! Pillar of Stone!" The energy she had built up in the spatula shot down, like a needle of glowing ki, striking the Breaking Point deep in the bedrock. Akane braced herself. Yards under her feet, the rock exploded, a contained explosion that rebounded back towards Akane, shattering the stony ground as it passed.

Akane shot into the air as the asphalt exploded underneath her, thrusting upwards into a finger of rock nearly a dozen times her own height. As the pillar dropped back to the earth behind her, Akane kept going, flying straight up into the tornado and into Ukyo's path. The pillar dropped into the pit formed underneath it by the explosion, becoming wedged about a third of the way into the ground. The rest of it remained standing upright into the air.

"Ucchan! Ucchan, I'm coming, hang on!" Akane readied Ukyo's spatula as she neared her stricken friend, but Ukyo did not respond. The winds were tearing at her even worse than before, ripping her okonomiyaki uniform into jagged strips. Ukyo's eyes were closed, her face slack and expressionless, but she still managed to keep her arms wrapped around her chest, clutching something tightly inside her shredded vendor's jacket. I've only got one shot at this, Akane thought to herself. It's going to be close, but the wind is trying to carry her away from me.

As her momentum carried her past Ukyo, Akane reached out with the spatula, as she was just outside of arm's reach. To her relief, she snagged the hem of Ukyo's uniform, but then the wind whipped her sideways. The fabric began to tear, although the ripping sound was drowned out by the howling of the wind. No, no, no, no! Please, no, I can't miss! Desperate, Akane stabbed with the spatula again, but Ukyo was already slipping past her. The speed of her movement, driven by the Bakusai Tenketsu explosion was just too fast.

"No!" Akane yelled, tears springing to her eyes, but then she felt a hand grasp at her ankle. Ukyo had reached out and grabbed her. Almost panicking in her haste, Akane threw the spatula aside, and reached down to grab Ukyo's hand before she lost her grip. Ukyo's arm was trembling, and she grasped feebly at Akane's body as the shorter girl pulled her up. Unnoticed by Akane, the spatula was ejected from the twister, and embedded itself in the ground a few feet away from Ryoga and Kuno. Happosai moaned, but then passed out again.

"Akane..." Ukyo breathed, her voice faint. She still had her eyes closed against the wind, but started to dig around inside her jacket. She pulled out the chart, and then quickly shoved it inside Akane's blouse, pressing one of Akane's arms against it. "Don't... let... it rip. The wind... out here... will tear it to bits."

Akane tucked the chart a little deeper inside her shirt, but then turned back to Ukyo. "Never mind that! I've got to save you! Hang on to me! I'll shield you from the wind!" She suited her words to action, wrapping her arms tightly around her friend and holding her head against her chest.

"You'll... we'll... never survive. Save... yourself. The chart..."

"No! No! It'll be okay. We can survive this." But even as she said it, Akane looked down and her heart sank. It was hard to see through the winds, but they were at least a hundred feet in the air, and it wasn't hard to miss the schoolyard spread out below them. She could take a fall from the top of her house, and probably from the top of the school, but they were way above that. Even with the Bakusai Tenketsu training, they would surely be killed in the fall.

No, Akane said to herself. I'll be killed. I can at least shield Ukyo from it, like Ryoga would. Like Ranma would. She clutched Ukyo closer, as her momentum slowed and she was caught by the winds of the tornado. It was already beginning to dissipate, and Akane felt herself begin to fall.

"Akane... no... the chart..." Ukyo feebly tried to protest, as if guessing her thoughts. Akane held her tighter.

"Don't worry, sensei. It'll be okay." Akane looked down again, noticing the pillar of stone far below them, pointing up towards them. That was higher than the roof of the school, but it was still way below them. No help there. Ranma ran around to the base of the pillar, still in his sister's form. I'm sorry, Ranma, Akane thought. You're going to be mad that I didn't listen to you.

Ranma was yelling something up at her. Akane blinked, and then strained to hear over the winds. "Hiryu Shoten Ha!" she was yelling. "Use the Hiryu Shoten Ha!"

"I can't!" Akane yelled back. Apparently they weren't going to have to wait for the tornado to eject them, because it was already slowing on its own. She and Ukyo were falling fast, now.

"Sis can! I believe in her! She can do it!"

"She doesn't fear her own death!"

"But she fears mine!"

Akane's eyes widened. Looking Ukyo in the face, she began to slap her. "Wake up. Wake up, Ukyo. You've got to use the Hiryu Shoten Ha."

Ukyo was unresponsive for a moment, but then she stirred. "Think about it, Ucchan," Akane told her. "How is Ranma going to feel if you die? He'll be sad, won't he? He may even want to die. Especially if he loses both of us."

Akane didn't want to think about that, especially so soon after the Romeo and Juliet play, but she knew that it was true. She didn't think she could live without Ranma, not any more, and she couldn't live without Ukyo either. She was sure they felt the same way.

"Ranma won't be able to go on without us." Akane said, as much to herself as to Ukyo. "I know how I'd feel if he died. I'd just go through life empty... with nothing left to live for."

The catch in her voice caused Ukyo to flinch. Noticing the reaction, Akane continued, "That's it, Ukyo! We can do it. We can do it together! It's easy enough for me to provide the hot ki! It's all up to you!" Akane tamped down on her fear, and concentrated on her love and need for Ranma. Even her anger, at Ranma, at Happosai, and especially herself, for not being strong enough to save Ukyo on her own. Her battle aura blazed to life.

The heat awakened Ukyo. She opened her eyes, just barely, staring with an empty, lifeless gaze into Akane's eyes. Then her eyes snapped wide open. "No! I can't let you die!"

"Hiryu Shoten Ha revised! Dragon Descending to Earth!" Ukyo raised her arm skyward, and to Akane's astonishment she felt the heat of her battle aura pulled into Ukyo's Soul of Ice. She could even sense the leftover heat from the twister being drawn in. And then, somehow, Ukyo wrapped it in her own chillingly cold Soul of Ice and dropped it, like a bomb. She extended her arm downwards, as the Dragon Descending Blast plummeted towards the ground. Then Ukyo fell limp in Akane's arms.

Ranma stood in the path of the missile, her ponytail whipping about wildly. She raised her fist to meet the Dragon Descending Blast. "Hiryu Shoten Ha revised! Dragon Lifts the Pillar of Heaven!"

The tornado exploded from Ranma's position, ripping into the earth. Then it lifted, and careened over to the pillar of stone. Wrapping around it, it lifted the stone out of the pit and held it about ten feet above the ground. Then, the twister dissipated, and dropped the pillar.

The stone pillar fell back into the hole, falling over sideways, and tearing out the side of the pit. It fell, until it was leaning over at a forty-five degree angle, and then smashed into the ground. As the pillar fell into the hole, it cracked, forcing the top part up at a steeper angle. When the pillar came to rest, it was about fifteen to twenty feet shorter, but forming a ramp leading to the ground.

The recoil from the Dragon Descending Blast had sent them shooting slightly back upward into the air, but now gravity was taking over again. The tip of the pillar was just below her, but there was still enough space for her to correct her aim and prepare for the impact before she hit the ramp. There wasn't enough time to focus, she just let go and let her instincts take over. There was a feeling of exhilaration for a moment, as the thought crossed her mind, I'm going to live! Then she hit the stone, and bent her knees to cushion the impact.

It was still blindingly painful. Her legs couldn't absorb all of the shock, especially with Ukyo's additional weight to deal with, and so she came crashing down on her bottom on the stone. She screamed in pain, but gritted her teeth, shoving with all the strength she had against the rock with her legs. She still shot against the rock at mind-numbing speed, the stone cracking and shattering as her feet caught on the indentions and protuberances in the stone.

She slid past the point where the ramp changed from a steeper to a shallower angle, and her speed began to slow. There was a loud snap, and pain shot up her leg. Still, she shoved back against the pain, shifting to put more force on her other leg, and hold it out in front of the other. Her shoes finally gave way, and she was forced to shove her bare feet against the rock. She slid down the last few feet with Ukyo in her lap, and then slammed into the broken pavement at the end of the ramp.

This was in its own way worse, as she plowed a deep furrow into the ground, the earth and roots and asphalt tearing into her clothes and skin. Finally, she slid to a stop. She was buried half under the ground, but Ukyo seemed fine, on top of her. Ranma hurried over and lifted her sister off, then reached out an arm to help Akane up.

"Careful," Akane hissed, as pain shot up her leg again. "I... think I broke my leg." Her bottom and especially the soles of her feet were scraped raw, but that was minor by comparison.

Ranma grinned at her, unable to hide her pride and amazement. Although that quickly disappeared behind a cloud of anger. "I don't doubt it, Tomboy. What the hell were ya thinkin' anyway! Do you wanna get yourself killed!"

Akane blushed as she looked up at Ranma, unable to truly blame her for being worried. "I'm sorry, Ranma, I... I had to do it. I had to save her." She looked over at Ukyo, who was still cradled in her identical twin's arms. "She's the one who is most precious to you."

The grin returned, along with a look of adoration that took Akane's breath away. "She's not the only one who's precious to me, Tomboy", Ranma murmured, as she wrapped her arms around her.

Akane approached the stairs leading downstairs, but then she hesitated. She was on crutches, and her leg was in a cast. She had spent all morning picking out her dress, and even though she didn't want to admit that she was afraid of falling, she didn't want to get her dress wrinkled or tear it. She was about to proceed more cautiously down the steps, when Ranma came up behind her and swept her up into his arms.

"Hey!" Akane protested, more out of reflex than anything else. "I don't need you to carry me! I've had this cast on for a whole week, and I haven't had any problems getting down the stairs!"

"Yeah, sure," Ranma scoffed, giving her that mocking grin she both loved and hated. "But why take that chance? Now that the Moxibustion is cured, you've got a big, strong, man to carry you up and down the stairs!"

"Baka," Akane countered, slapping him lightly on the chest. "You're such a macho jerk. The moment you got cured, you got so excited you smashed through the wall of the school and starting running up and down the halls! Who do you think you are, Shampoo?"

As he started down the stairs, though, she relaxed into his embrace. Ranma was wearing a very dressy black outfit. Akane wasn't sure where he got it, but suspected Nabiki had sold it to him. Or maybe Ukyo had taken him shopping when she found out about their plans for today. He looked nice, which was all that mattered to Akane.

"I was just happy to have my strength back," Ranma said, as he carried her down the stairs and into the main hallway. "Don't say you didn't miss me."

Akane slapped him again, then began to struggle more obviously as they neared the family room. Ranma brought her into the room and put her down. Ukyo and the rest of the family were waiting downstairs, watching a news show on the television. The mood was a bit somber, but Nabiki and Ukyo seemed to be caught up in the news program.

Nodoka came over as Akane stood on her crutches. "Thank you for coming, Auntie," Akane said as she neared. Like Akane and her sisters, the auburn-haired woman was dressed in dark colors. Akane's own dress was brown, as was Kasumi's, but Nabiki was wearing black, although with a stylish miniskirt. Ukyo, like Ranma and Nodoka, was wearing black, but Genma had apparently borrowed a dark blue kimono, as it matched the one Soun was wearing.

"I wouldn't miss it, dear. My husband and son are honored that you want us to be here at such an important time."

Ryoga approached, timidly. He had on his usual travelling clothes, and it was obvious he was nervous to see everyone so dressed up. "Ukyo told me about today, Akane, and... um... my condolences. Maybe I should leave. I'm all healed up now, as you can see, and you don't need to look after me at a time like this."

"Nonsense," Akane told him. "We would be happy to have you as our guest. After that, if you still feel you have to leave, you can. But I think..."

"Hey, Ryoga!" Ukyo suddenly called out, interrupting the conversation. "Isn't this your dog?"

"What?" Ryoga hurried over to the TV, and Akane and Ranma followed. There was a strange-looking black and while dog on the program, half black on one side and half white on the other. She was sitting next to a basket of puppies, and barking at the camera while holding up a puppy. The rest of the puppies rolled around in the basket and played with each other, looking adorable. Like their mother, they shared her odd coloring, although their fur was not yet as dark.

"This is Checkers Hibiki, whose family is apparently always away on travel," the announcer was saying. "She has been faithfully watching over their house while they are gone."

Nabiki raised an eyebrow, frowning skeptically at the announcer. "How does he know that? Can he understand the dog?"

"She has just given birth to puppies," the man continued, unhearing, "and hopes that her master will come home to see them. 'People Search' is happy to help Checkers reunite with her family."

"Checkers was always pretty good at making herself understood," Ukyo said, in response to Nabiki's question. "She had to be, living alone all the time."

"Checkers had puppies?" Ryoga asked, leaning in to look at the dog more closely. "I've got to get back home! She may need me!"

"Oh, they're so cute!" Akane exclaimed, clapping her hands. "Ukyo, do you know where Ryoga lives?"

"Of course I do! Ranchan and I used to take him home all the time. And I want to see Checkers' puppies too." Ukyo grinned. "But his house is over in the next ward, where we used to go to Junior High. We'll have to take the bus there."

Akane looked disappointed. "Oh. Well, it's all for the best. I don't want to ruin our plans for today, just so for my own sake." She turned to Kasumi, who handed her a bouquet of flowers.

"We'll go tomorrow," Ranma said. "You, me, Sis and Pig Boy, we'll all go find his house. Maybe his folks will see the program and be there too."

"That would be nice, wouldn't it?" Kasumi smiled at the Lost Boy. "And Ryoga, you are welcome to come with us, as Akane said. And you can spend the night in the dojo, so you'll be right here and ready to go in the morning."

"Maybe I should stay here," Ryoga suggested. "That way I won't get lost on the way."

"It's more likely you'll get lost if you stay here," Ukyo said, "but I have a solution." She held up a glass of water.

The Tendo family and their guests set out from the main gate, and set off down the street in front of their home. As they walked, slowly, because of her injury, Akane gazed up at the blue sky above them. "I was really hoping the cherry blossoms would be in bloom," she muttered. "But it's such a nice day."

It was a nice spring day, a bit cool, so the long dresses Akane and Kasumi were wearing were not uncomfortable, but the trees were green and lush. Somewhere along the way, Genma got splashed, but he continued along in his panda form. The little group wound their way through the streets of Nerima, until they came upon a cemetery. The Tendos led them inside, where they walked up to a grave.

"Hello, Mother," Akane said. "We're all very healthy and doing well this year."

Kasumi quickly set about pouring water over the gravestone, to wash the dust off of it, and Nabiki burned some incense at the base of the stone. Soun, naturally, began to sob and spray a fountain of tears, kneeling in front of the grave.

The Saotomes stood far enough back to be respectful, Nodoka with a serene but solemn expression, and the rest just looking uncomfortable. Ukyo held P-chan in her arms, absently stroking his head, but the pig was too intent on the scene to notice. He watched the Tendos with a mournful look in his round eyes.

"Ranma," Akane asked, not looking back at him. "Would you please put these on Mother's grave for me?" She indicated the flowers in her arms, and Ranma ran up to take them from her. She shifted her hands back onto her crutches as Ranma knelt next to Soun.

"They're carnations," Akane continued, as Ranma set the flowers down. She was looking down at the grave, and smiling sadly. "Your favorite, as usual. Just a reminder of how much I love you and miss you."

Ranma stood up to stand next to her, and there was a long moment of silence. Soun continued to sob, but Kasumi and Nabiki bowed their heads and paid their respects. Although Ranma started to fidget, he didn't want to leave, and Akane reached out her hand and touched his, a subtle reassurance.

Finally, Akane broke the silence again. "Can I have a moment alone? Just... me and Ranma."

Soun looked up at her, his tears disappearing suddenly, as a look of hope that swept over his face. "My daughter? Are you going to accept your engagement to Ranma?" He turned back to Genma. "Do you hear that? My daughter wants to announce that she has accepted the engagement!"

The panda quickly hurried to join him, and the two began to dance around, the panda waving a sign that said, "We must begin planning the wedding immediately!" Unnoticed by them, Akane clenched her fist, and a vein began to pulse on her forehead.

Fortunately, Nodoka forestalled that explosion. "Husband," she said threateningly, fingering the silk of her wrapped katana. "I think Akane merely wants to introduce our son to her late mother. Please remember, this is a somber occasion."

"Yes, let's give them a little privacy," Ukyo said, grabbing Soun by the arm in much the same way Nodoka was grabbing the panda. Kasumi and Nabiki joined them, as they moved a discreet distance away.

Akane was quiet for a moment more, while she got herself under control. Then she sighed. "So, Mother, as you may have guessed, a lot has happened in the last year. I got engaged, for one thing. His name is Ranma Saotome, and while he is a great martial artist and a good person, we both agree we're not ready to get married yet. Father and Uncle Saotome want us to join our two the schools of Anything Goes, but no one asked us what we wanted."

She glanced over at Ranma, and then looked behind her, to make sure the others were still standing well back. Then she reached into her blouse and pulled out her necklace. She let the ring fall in front of her blouse and then stood back on her crutches. "What Father doesn't know is that Ranma proposed to me. I love him, and I said yes. He can be an arrogant baka sometimes, and he really knows how to get under my skin, but I love him anyway." She smiled at Ranma again. "And I can get under his skin too."

Ranma snorted at that, but said nothing. Akane turned her attention back to the grave. "The lady back there with the panda bear is Ranma's mother. She's really nice and kind, I think you would like her. She and Ranma had been separated for ten years, so it was nice to see them reunited after so long. She's... it's very nice to have someone like her around, Mother, but it's not like having you around. I miss you.

"I've asked if I can call her Mother Saotome once Ranma and I get married. I hope you don't mind." Akane stared at the ground for a moment, blinking back tears.

She then glanced back over her shoulder again. "Do you see that girl with the long brown hair, next to Ranma's mother? That's Ukyo Kuonji. She was sort of adopted by Ranma on the road, and now she feels like she's Ranma's sister. She's a wonderful person, and she's been teaching me martial arts, and cooking, and all sorts of things. I really feel like she's part of the family now, just like Ranma, and I think you'd like her a lot. She's a bit brash, since she grew up on the road being raised like a boy, but I think you would feel like she was your daughter too.

"I guess you're wondering about the panda." Akane grinned wryly. "Well, you probably won't believe this, but that's Ranma's father. Do you see the little pig that Ukyo is holding? His name is Ryoga Hibiki, and he's one of Ranma's friends. They're both cursed, they fell into these springs in China, and now they turn into animals. Isn't that funny? Hot water will change them back, but we'll have to wait until we get home to do that.

"The reason I'm telling you this is, Ranma and Ukyo have a curse too. They fell into the spring together, so they turn into each other. Ranma turns into Ukyo, while Ukyo turns into a cute little redheaded girl who looks like Ranma." Akane bit her lip. "It's a bit of a problem if we decide to get married, but I think I've decided it doesn't matter. Ranma is who he is even if he looks like someone else. Maybe he'll be able to find a cure or maybe he won't, but I'll still love him anyway."

Akane looked up. "So, I hope we have your blessing, Mother. My life is pretty exciting with Ranma around, but I'll bet you know all about that, don't you? You had to know 'a martial artist's life is fraught with danger' when you married Daddy, didn't you? So I hope you can understand. I love him."

There was a moment of silence, and then Akane looked at Ranma. "Would you like to say something?"

Ranma's eyes widened. He looked down at the grave, considering for a moment, but then he took a deep breath. "Hello, Mother Tendo. It's nice to finally meet you."

Akane stared at him, startled. Then she blushed a little, and looked away. Ranma glanced at her, then down at the cast on her leg.

"Sorry about that cast. I know it's my fault." Akane shot him an annoyed scowl, but Ranma ignored it. "I'm supposed to protect your daughter an' I didn't. I'll try to do better from now on."

He glanced at Akane, who was really growling now. "The thing is, Mother Tendo, your daughter risked her life to save my sister. An' I guess if she didn't, Sis would be dead right now. An' I'd probably be dead too." Akane's expression softened. "So she saved both of us. You can be proud of your daughter. She's very brave, and while I worry about her, I know that sometimes she's going to get hurt protecting the people she cares about.

"I just have to make sure I'm there to back her up, an' keep her from gettin' hurt if I can."

"Oh, Ranma," Akane murmured.

"I wonder... Kasumi says that she an' Nabiki take after their father, but Akane is starting to look more and more like you. It makes me think. I wonder if you were tough like her. Did you whack Old Man Tendo over the head every time he did somethin' stupid? I bet you did. I mean, when I first met that Old Man, I though he was a bit of a crybaby, you know? He an' my Pops, they're quite a pair..."

He glanced at Akane, and she swallowed at the look in his eyes. "But now that I've... now that I've fallen in love with your daughter, I can't image what I'd do if I... lost her." He looked at the ground. "I just might... be cryin' all the time. On the inside."

Akane found she had to wipe away tears again.

"Anyway, I just want you ta know that I'll be lookin' out for yer family. Even Nabiki." Ranma scowled, and Akane giggled. "You don't have to worry about them. Although, if you or whoever or whatever might be up there with you could look out for the tomboy, I'd appreciate it."

"Baka." Akane slapped him on the arm, and then tucked the ring back inside her dress, out of sight. The two of them turned and walked back to their waiting family, together.

Author's Notes:

Well, it's been five months since the last chapter, but I'm finally done with this chapter. I was hoping to finish before Christmas, and then before New Year's, but at least it's not a week after New Year's. I decided that since this chapter has been so long in coming, I will post it before running it past my proofreaders. There may be some edits still to come, but I've already gone over it myself and I think I'm pretty happy with it.

This wraps up the Moxibustion of Weakness arc, and begins a filler arc featuring Checkers. The last arc was pretty dramatic, and the wrap-up arc which is coming up will be pretty intense as well, so I figure we need a comedy arc to lighten the mood. There is still Ukyo's father to deal with, and that's going to be pretty serious.

I want to point out that the two variations on the Hiryu Shoten Ha here, "Dragon Descending Blast" and "Dragon Lifts the Pillar of Heaven" are both intended to be the same attacks used in the manga. The first is the "Hiryu Korin Dan", or "Dragon Descending Bomb", from the Herb arc, only without the "bomb" part. While Ranma wraps the Hiryu Shoten Ha in a Moko Takabisha and fires it at Herb, Ukyo has not yet learned to throw her ki, so she just wraps it in the Soul of Ice. This makes the ki fall, because it's cold on the outside, and thus heavier than air. The translated name of the attack would be "Hiryu Korin Ha".

The "Dragon Lifts the Pillar of Heaven", appropriately enough, is Ranma's attack at the end of the Saffron arc, "Hiryu Gyoten Ha" or "Dragon Looking to the Sky Blast". While the name is different, what it DOES is exactly the same as in canon; it lifts Akane's Pillar of Stone, as it lifted the Dragon Spout in canon, and drops it back in a different position. So in essence, Ranma uses the two attacks he used from the Herb and Saffron arcs to save Akane and Ukyo.

Akane breaking her leg is also a reference to when Ranma made an excessively high jump with Akane and Shampoo in his arms and broke BOTH his legs.

It is never made clear exactly where Ryoga lives, but I am assuming it is in a nearby ward, instead of "the next town" as in the English translation. It's possible he lives outside of Tokyo, but I'm going to assume it was "ward" in the original Japanese. I plan to go into more detail in my post on Sufficient Velocity, so visit those forums if you'd like to hear more.