Disclaimer: Ranma ½ and its characters do not belong to me.

AN: Thanks for being patient!

No more pussyfooting around: a Ranma ½ fanfic

By Indygodusk

Chapter 15: Gossip and Chakras

"No, she's right." His face still turned away from them, Ranma avoided Akane's eyes. "I am useless," his voice twisted at the word. "I'll…" he swallowed, "I'll see you later. You're a tomboy, so you should heal fast anyways." With that, he strode into the hallway and out of sight.

Picking up the mug, Mariko patted her on the shoulder and left the room. Exhausted, Akane felt first one tear, and then another trickle down her cheeks as she turned her face into the pillow. You're not useless to me, she thought, not at all. Then Akane surrendered to sleep.

Distant feminine laughter gently dragged Akane from her slumber. Blinking open gummy eyes, she couldn't help but smile at the sound. Turning onto her back, she started to fling out her limbs in a big stretch, but the sharp pain in her side quickly aborted the movement. Injured, right… she reminded herself as she slowly got up from her sickbed.

After washing her face, using the bathroom, and putting on some new clothing she found folded up on a chair, she felt almost as good as new. Her body barely ached at all.

At least, that's what she'd say if anyone asked. Truth be told, she felt like a herd of zebra with lots of sharp little hooves had stampeded across her body, followed by a pursuing lioness who'd absentmindedly clawed Akane's side open as she'd leapt after her prey.

Nevertheless, she felt better than she had yesterday. Akane was awake, moving around, and not in danger of immediately falling back asleep. After making her bed, she cautiously opened her door. The sounds of female merriment drifted to her ears again. Smiling, she slowly shuffled down the hallway in search of the sound.

Rounding the corner, she walked through an open doorway into bright sunlight. Blinking her eyes a few times, her eyes finally adjusted enough for her to make out a dining room lined with windows. All but one of the tables was empty. From the sounds of the boisterous laughter, Akane had expected at least six people, but in fact, the table only held three women. The only one Akane recognized was Mariko. The other two also looked to be in their forties. They hadn't noticed her entrance, and continued on with their conversation.

"So then he said, 'I can crush a beer can with one hand,' and then, I kid you not, thrust his weedy bicep in front of my face and flexed. Not only did he smell bad, but after all that bragging a muscle only the size of a walnut –maybe- popped up. I told him that if the size of his bicep matched the size of what he had below, I wasn't interested." Raucous laughter punctuated the story, told by an attractive, older-looking blond. Her color had to come from a bottle, considering her black eyebrows and Asian features.

She continued talking as Akane drifted closer. "Then he tried to grab me, ME, can you believe the nerve! So I collapsed the empty keg next to me with a forefinger, flipped him off, and sauntered away. Poor puppy spent five minutes sulking in a dark corner before slinking off."

"Men!" exclaimed Mariko with disgust.

"Yes, yes," remarked the third woman, who had a petite stature and a pixie haircut threaded with gray. "But we all know you, Sachi. You didn't really succeed in leaving this party alone, did you?"

Akane felt rather confused. This sounded more like the kind of conversation you'd hear in a hair salon. Yet this was an all-women martial arts shrine with a strict policy against men.

"Even though," Mariko paused, and then continued in a scarily accurate imitation of Sachi's voice, "I really am giving up men this time, I mean it! I'll take my vows the next time I come, come by myself, that is, since I'm giving up men." All three women snorted and cackled at this, Sachi loudest of all.

"You know me too well!" she howled with mirth as she pounded her fist on the table.

Considering that the youngest of them was probably at least twice as old as Akane, and the feeling that something funny, and probably dirty, had just been said that had gone completely over her head, she felt horribly awkward. Akane wanted to slink back out and return to her room.

Before she could take more than a step back, Mariko looked up, wiped a tear out of her eye, and gestured Akane over. "Our visitor is finally up," she announced to her friends.

"Excellent!" Sachi exclaimed. "I've been wanting to meet you while you were awake. After taking a punch from you and sensing your aura, I've been insanely curious."

"A punch?" Akane asked with bewilderment as she gingerly took a seat.

"Don't you remember giving me a love-tap?" inquired Sachi mournfully as she turned fully to face Akane, revealing a fat lip faintly shadowed by purple bruises. "I'd decided to tell the other girls that I got it from kissing someone a little bit too enthusiastically," she slyly explained, "but I'd hoped that at least you would cherish the truth of our interlude as much as I did." Then she batted her eyes.

"Um," Akane replied, a little wide-eyed as she frantically tried to come up with an appropriate response. "I'm sorry and… sorry?"

"Oh, leave the poor girl alone," pixie-cut scolded with a snort. "She's been delirious, raving about blood and talking socks of all things."

Talking socks? Akane mouthed in disbelief and ever-mounting embarrassment.

"Not to mention crystalline gates, cats, and cords," she added. "That punch was an accident, and you should have been able to avoid it. It's your own fault for getting lazy in your training. Don't take your pique out on our guest by making her uncomfortable. She just rose from her sickbed."

Taking her scolding gracefully, Sachi relaxed into her seat and sent Akane a friendly grin. "Oh, I do know it. I was just teasing, as is my wont." Then she frowned slightly and continued, "but the cats and cords might not have been all delirium. Her aura did something strange when she was muttering that bit…." Her voice trailed off musingly.

An image of Ranma, Ranko, and a black, feline shadow crowding around her, penning her in with desperate eyes, frantic hands, and sharp teeth skidded across the surface of Akane's mind. Akane strained to recall more. She remembered that their need had beat at her like a heartbeat, sinking into her veins and pulling forth things she'd tried to bury and deny, trapping her… but not entirely against her will. Hadn't that been a dream? Or had it been a buried memory? If it was real… what does that mean?

"Enough of that," Mariko said, breaking Akane from her spiraling thoughts. "How are you feeling? We decided to treat you here since Sachi used to be a doctor. She didn't think we should make you endure hours of bumpy roads to reach the hospital in town. At least, not in your condition, what with the chance of your cut opening even more."

"Well," interjected pixie-cut, "that, and the fear that you'd wake up possessed by a demon and try to kill everyone in the hospital." She shrugged apologetically. "Sachi also said that your aura was off."

"Off how?" Akane demanded loudly, her voice climbing several octaves.

"I'm not exactly sure," Sachi said soothingly as she shot an annoyed look at her friend, "but now that you're awake I can do a reading and let you know. Me and Aoi," (the name of pixie-cut?), "didn't get taken since we were away on business. But the other ladies, particularly Mariko, have told us what happened. I'm a little concerned."

While she'd been speaking, Mariko had disappeared into a side room and returned with a basket full of medical supplies. Gesturing everyone to come and sit at the table closer to the windows, "where the light is better," Mariko nudged Akane down onto the bench. "They probably wouldn't have taken you anyways," she said to Sachi, "since your grey was showing."

"Only a few inches!" Sachi protested, stroking her blond locks protectively.

"And you were looking your real age instead of the one you tell everyone," Mariko continued. "Their words indicated that they wanted younger women, so I'm sure you would have been fine, even if you had been here."

Finished mocking her friend, she ignored her outraged huffing and turned to Akane, who'd relaxed during their banter. "I told 'em what you said about that evil necklace and the strange cat-man you met in the hallway." Akane held up her shirt without prompting as Mariko began unwrapping her old bandage. "We don't have anything in our records about an evil necklace that entices people to put it on (though evil necklaces aren't as uncommon as I'd expected), but there were two vague mentions about cat-like warriors."

Akane winced a little as the bandage lifted off of her wound. It didn't stick as badly as she'd feared, but the large areas of crusted blood speckled with yellow and green pus on the fabric made her queasy. She'd never had a wound this severe before. However, these tough women with their lithe muscles and calloused hands hiding beneath their silly banter were ones that she wanted to impress. Biting her cheek, Akane swallowed and concentrated on remaining stoic.

Moving next to Mariko, Sachi picked up a bottle of foul smelling liquid and some gauze, and began wiping off the slice. "Most of the infection's receded, thank the Kami," she muttered. Sucking in a breath, Akane endured the pain and tried not to cry out or flinch away from the seemingly merciless fingers probing and cleaning her wound.

Sitting back, Mariko took up her story. "The records are very old and rather vague, but they do agree on one thing," she continued. "If you run into a fighter who acts like a cat or possess cat-like features, not just those who mimic feline fighting styles, such individuals are not to be challenged. We're told to avoid them at any cost. Their very ki has been warped, altered in such a way as to make them both extremely dangerous and almost certainly insane. The two instances mentioned in our records described the fighters as possessing feline features: slit-pupil eyes, tufted ears, even retractable claws and, in on instance, a furred tail. Both histories confirmed that the warriors were known as mediocre fighters for most of their lives until, discontent with their status, they sacrificed something, we don't know what, to an evil demon. Allowing themselves to be possessed, they became unbeatable warriors. None of our fighters, even those who had mastered our most advanced geometric forms, were able to beat them. In fact, several women died. That's when the avoidance order came down."

As Mariko paused for breath, Sachi slathered something sticky onto Akane's wound. It smelled faintly of honey, sage, and cheese (of all things). Then Sachi wound a clean bandage around Akane's waist.

Although grateful that the fussing with her side was over, Akane also felt faintly regretful that she'd no longer have anything to distract herself from the bad news. It didn't sound like Mariko was about to say that these cat-men had a house up the hillside and were really just misunderstood cosplayers who could be bought off with a mint-condition action figure. And that the necklace had no permanent effects at all as long as you spun around three times and left a seedcake for the local kami. Or did the hokey-pokey naked in a clearing during a new moon.

A bitter smile touched Akane's lips. "So what does this mean for my situation? Is there something I should do, or can I just return home and forget?"

Sachi took over the narrative. "We don't know. While you were ill, your aura was muddied by the infection and something else, perhaps a spiritual defense or reaction of some kind. I'm not sure, since I've never seen anything like it before. Now that you're awake and on the mend, I'd like to examine your aura and see if there is any taint of cat demon, since it seems like that's what we're facing."

Aoi suddenly raised her hand like a schoolgirl. "Um, I hate to bring this up, but what about her red-headed friend, the one who was stalking around acting like a cat? Could she be possessed too? Do we need to worry that she'll go crazy and attack everyone? I haven't seen her in hours and I'm a little worried."

"No! Ranma would never do that!" Akane hotly defended. "He's cursed by a Chinese spring, so he turns into a girl when hit with cold water, but he'd never harm an innocent."

Aoi and Sachi, both unaware of this sex-changing tidbit, exclaimed in surprise. Sachi even went so far as to yelp, "She's a man?" When Mariko didn't seem to react, already aware of this information, Aoi sent her a betrayed scowl.

Akane bulldozed over their responses and just kept on going. "But he doesn't have any physical cat traits like you describe those demon possessed warriors as having. His father traumatized him with feral cats when he was a kid, so he just thinks he's a cat when he runs into other cats. It's a mental coping mechanism thingy. It's not his fault!"

Enraged by their accusations, Akane's voice became even louder, and she found herself standing. "He doesn't have a cruel bone in his body. Sometimes he acts like a jerk, but even when mentally a cat, Ranma would never just indiscriminately attack someone. He's not a demon! Ranma's the most honorable man I've ever known!"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, calm down," Mariko ordered Akane.

Then she turned to her friends. "I've met the guy, and Ranma doesn't seem to have any of the physical traits mentioned in the histories. In fact, she woke up last night, turned herself back into a man with the use of a little hot water, and walked herself, I mean himself, down to the men's shrine with little to no argument. I talked to them this morning on the phone and he hasn't been a problem at all. In fact," she snorted, "they're having a blast with him there. I think he's just what Akane said, a little messed up in the head, but no serious threat to us." She sat down calmly and turned back to Akane to finish her thought, "and I don't think he's a demon."

Aoi let her breath out in a loud sigh. "Have you actually ever met anyone possessed by a demon?"

A half-smile danced across Mariko's lips. "No, but then again, neither have either of you."

"I think I did once, maybe," Sachi whispered faintly, and then shook herself sharply. "But I've read a good bit about it, especially after I started specializing in reading auras and disorders affecting the spirit. However," and she gave a half-bow to Mariko, "I'll accept your diagnosis on this one. I trust your judgments on people. You're right that he doesn't match the descriptions in the histories."

"Also," Sachi frowned, "when I was in Akane's sickroom before, Ranma didn't seem to like me very much. I think she even snickered when Akane punched me, even though she was thinking like a cat at the time. The bits of Ranma's aura I sensed did seem unusual, but," she paused for a second, huffed, and then continued, "I was distracted. The patterns of energy did correspond well to someone suffering a Chinese curse, though. I didn't even think of it much beyond her being weird, since Akane's illness and strange aura seemed more urgent. And then there was that punch in the face…. However, I did get the feeling that even if I wanted to, I wouldn't be able to get Ranma to sit still long enough, or to let down her barriers enough, for me to do a deep reading. I did try to read her at one point, and she gave me such an evil look that, well, it might not be a good idea. At least, not without having to force her and potentially cause her mental pain, which I refuse to do."

"Very well," Aoi conceded. "I've got work to do anyways, so I'd better get going. I'll leave things in your capable hands." Turning, she said, "Nice to meet you, Akane. I hope you feel better, and that you aren't demon-possessed." After that disconcerting farewell, she strode out of the room.

Sachi then addressed Akane. "Why don't you get some food and then meet me in my meditation room. I'd like to hear the story from your own lips, and then read your aura and try to determine if what I sensed before was just a fluke, or if it's something we need to worry about. I'll leave your Ranma be for now," she paused, and then pursed her lips in thought. "Didn't you say that he's a young man about your age? Is he very attractive, by chance?"

"What!" Akane exclaimed at her brazen question.

Mariko ignored them both. "I'll bring her by later," she confirmed.

Smirking, Sachi twiddled her fingers at them and sauntered out of the room with a saucy swing to her hips.

Right after breakfast, Akane geared herself up for going to see Sachi. Standing up, she took one step and let out a huge yawn. Mariko smiled, shook her head, and took Akane back to her room to take another nap.

It was only after she had woken up, eaten a small snack, and drank her entire mug of medicine plus a few extra pills that Akane finally went to see Sachi. Mariko left her at the door of the meditation room. It was a lovely space, with a few scrolls decorated with calligraphy and ink-drawn mountains hanging on the walls, and shoji screens saturated with afternoon sunlight cracked half-open. Despite her trepidation, Akane felt the knots in her shoulders relax in the peaceful atmosphere.

Gesturing her inside, Sachi performed the tea ceremony and made them both a cup. Then she asked Akane to repeat her story. Akane explained about the kidnapping, the pearls, the cats on the river, her escape from and return to the compound, reinjuring herself on the rat statue, and her strange interaction with the man who looked like he'd been clumsily melded with a cat.

By the end of her story, Akane felt much more comfortable with Sachi. The woman hadn't teased or mocked her at all during her story. Instead, she'd been a sympathetic listener, drawing out feelings and impressions from Akane that she'd forgotten. Akane could tell not only that she was a professional healer, but also that she cared. By the end, Akane felt like she could tell Sachi anything. Akane thought that this might be what having a slightly wild but undoubtedly wise Aunt would feel like.

It was with this feeling of trust that Akane closed her eyes and sent herself into a state of meditation.

"At first I'm just going to observe the outer shell of your ki," Sachi explained in a low and soothing voice. "Then I'm going to put my fingers over some of your chakra points to clarify my readings of your aura. I'll warn you before I do this. It won't hurt, but you might feel some odd sensations. If anything makes you uncomfortable, let me know and I'll stop."

Akane peacefully drifted for a few minutes. Then Sachi said, "I'm going to touch you now." Starting at the base of her spine, Sachi touched each of Akane's seven chakra points in order. Something inside Akane recoiled slightly at her touch. It urged Akane to move away. Firmly squashing the impulse, Akane took a deep breath and forced positive energy down her spine and into the floor.

"Huh," said Sachi. "Can you do that again?" Taking another slow and steady breath, Akane cycled the energy up to her crown, back down her body, and into the floor. "Interesting," Sachi whispered to herself.

"Now, I'm going to mention a series of words," Sachi instructed, "and I want you to just let your mind go to whatever associations it wants to. Ready?" Then Sachi placed her hands loosely on the sixth and seventh chakras on Akane's head, which encompassed both understanding and intuition. She started out with several seemingly arbitrary words, "dog, milk, box." Random thoughts popped into her head with each, but nothing important. Then Sachi moved on to words that either sparked nothing, like the "talking socks," Aoi had mentioned, or brought on vague and disturbing images of the dreams that had tormented her illness, "frog, rat, bloody hair, hakama."

Sachi adjusted the position of her fingers. "They were just dreams. They have no power over you. Let them fade," she murmured. Sighing, Akane obeyed, pushing the dreams to the periphery, until they became mere wraiths.

"You mentioned some other words during your delirium. Let your mind go where it will with each of them." Then Sachi said the new words, "crystal gate, looping back, panther, mother, collar." Images flashed across Akane's mind like a strobe light: a courtyard, shadows, a rainbow handle, tumbling down a hill, and three figures holding her down while they did… something. She couldn't quite remember.

"That's very interesting," Sachi purred. "Something's there. Go back to those images and try to hold onto them."

Akane needed no urging as she struggled to fill in the dark gaps between scenes. When had this been? What had happened? It felt like a word hovering on the tip of her tongue, almost but not quite recalled. Her inability to force the images frustrated Akane immensely. Vaguely she noticed Sachi moving her fingers to a different chakra point.

"This is a memory, not a dream, I think," Sachi said softly. "It seems to be wrapped around both your fourth and fifth chakras, heart and throat. Something's strange there. Let's dig a bit deeper."

Suddenly, Akane felt very uncomfortable. Her throat became tight and her breath became labored. Then she felt a strange, hot flush radiate across her body.

"Ouch!" yelped Sachi, jerking her fingers away from Akane. Startled, Akane opened her eyes to observe Sachi shaking her wrist as if her hand hurt. "I think something just bit me," she said in shocked disbelief. "The energy can't be feline…."

Akane felt uneasiness flit through her body. "It felt weird, but I didn't do anything, I swear. How is that even possible?" she asked.

Sachi's lips firmed. "Let's find out." Placing her hands back on Akane, she pressed down firmly on each chakra point as she once again moved from the base of the spine to the crown of Akane's head. She repeated the cycle several times, muttering things like, "strange," and "another one," to herself.

Keeping her breathing steady, Akane refused to allow any further deviations by her body. Several times something seemed to writhe within her mental grip, but she refused to falter. Her spirit would not attack Sachi, and neither would anything associated with her spirit. She forbid it.

Finally, Sachi sat back and sighed. "Akane, there seems to be a gap in the fabric of your spirit. This should be impossible, especially since you're not only alive, but also still sane. Usually only the very recently dead and inmates in insane asylums have gaps like this. Unless you've been gibbering at the walls when my back's been turned?" she suddenly teased in a deadpan delivery.

Akane smiled weakly at her joke. "No, no gibbering. Maybe a shriek or two, but I don't think those count."

Sachi rewarded her efforts with a weak smile of her own and then straightened her back. "Here's what I can tell. You have a gap in your spirit that shouldn't be there. The edges are also enflamed, as if you'd recently suffered a spiritual assault that tried to make it wider. It was hidden until I repeated that second batch of words I overheard in your sleep. There are a mess of what you'd probably call spiritual threads patched all over it, with a particularly strong line connected to your heart chakra, looped several times around your throat chakra, and then leaving your body to fade into the distance somewhere, probably connected to the owner of the energy. This energy is very intermixed with your own. I'd be afraid that pulling it all out might just kill you. I'm also not sure that it all belongs to just one individual."

Clearing her throat, Sachi met Akane's eyes steadily and continued. "There's also something else on the surface of your spirit that's burrowing in, but hasn't managed to intermix yet like the first set of energy. It's most concentrated on your navel and throat chakras right now, and so far it's weak, but there's a cord stretching from it off into the distance too, and it seems pretty strong, though thinner than the first. Depending on the demon, distance can weaken their influence. I'm not sure if it is the first energy or the second that caused the fissure in your soul and the new damage. I'm not even sure if these energies are connected to your recent kidnapping. I've never seen energy patterns like these before. Nothing in the literature mentions a situation like this. I'm assuming one of these is the cat demon you encountered over there, but again, I'm just not sure."

Akane didn't know what to say. It all sounded like bad news poured upon more bad news. "So this means that I am possessed by not just one, but several demons," she repeated in her most even voice. She was almost an adult. She could be rational about this and not freak out. "Can you get rid of them? Exorcise them, I mean, without killing me in the process?"

[To be continued]

AN: Teaching this class right now is taking up a lot more time than I expected. I shirked off today just so I could get this chapter written, because I really wanted to get it out. Thank you for reading it. Please let me know what you think of it. How do you expect Sachi to respond? What is Ranma up to down with the men? And how will this knowledge change or not change Ranma, Akane, and their relationship in future chapters? Thoughts? Thanks and stay tuned!