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Bonds.

That which holds two or more things together. It can be physical, such
as tape holding a piece of paper to a wall. Or it can be non-physical,
such as a vocal agreement made between two parties.

The less likely you want something to be broken, the stronger the bond
you attempt to forge.

No stronger bond can be found then between two people who love each
other beyond life itself. Usually this love has been tested by much
adversity, and yet still stands against those which would destroy it.
These two people willingly link their lives together, in order to
present a stronger front then would otherwise be possible, individually.

Traditionally, this is called marriage, an understanding between two
people who know all the faults of the other, yet still have the will to
face a life together. Knowing their life may not be easy, but also
knowing they cannot live without the other.

Only truly special couples can attain this unique bonding of souls.

Now, as Ranma and Akane face that milestone of their lives, they can't
help but hope the feelings they have for each other will be strong
enough. Because no matter what stands against it, this strongest of
bonds cannot be broken.

However, there are quite a few others who have formed, or are starting
to form, special bonds of their own...


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Ranma 1/2: New Challenges
Bonds and Connections
Chapter 1





It was a day long in coming.

It was a day of happiness for some and a day of sadness for
others, depending on who you asked.

It was the end of an era and the beginning of a new one, at
least that's what the members of the Tendo Dojo hoped. After the last
attempted wedding, they held at least some doubt that another would
succeed, what with all the people that were against it.

In the aftermath of the battle with Drakon, it was a welcome
distraction. Ranma and Akane returned the day after the fight and Soun
was distressed to see the weakened condition his daughter was in,
unleashing his demonhead on Ranma.

Amazingly, Ranma didn't flinch or shy away from the attack, but
faced it down with an calm demeanor that amazed all present. It was
quite evident to all present something had changed within him.

Ranma and Akane declared that they felt enough time had passed.
They had known each other for over two years, and had gotten to know
each other extremely well in that time. Based upon how their life had
gone so far, they had decided that waiting wasn't much of an option.

Of course, Genma and Soun, masters of the martial arts shotgun
wedding, wanted to hold it right then and there. Nodoka, however, sided
with the young couple in saying it would be held in a week, in order to
allow Akane some time to recover and to send out some invitations.

Ukyo returned shortly thereafter as well. She wouldn't say how
her reunion with her father went, only that she felt freer than she had
in a long time. In fact, she felt like an entirely new person.

Konatsu, Yuri, and Selah were the next ones to comeback, a
couple of days later. Apparently Kenji had gone missing and they were
searching for clues to his whereabouts. When they found no sign of him
in Nerima, they were tempted to leave again, but were persuaded to stay
for the wedding.

The worst case of the whole ordeal was poor Hikaru and Ariko.
After the final attack, the sorceress-in-training collapsed unconscious
and hadn't awoken since. She was currently in a coma at the hospital,
where Hikaru kept almost a constant vigil with a worrisome face.

Tofu examined her, but couldn't find much to help her. All he
said was that she had channeled so much magical energy, it nearly burned
her out. She was lucky to be alive at all. There was no telling when, if
ever, she would recover. Tofu also discreetly checked Hikaru, and was
quite surprised to notice a change in him as well. But because of the
swirling and turbulent nature of his aura, Tofu was unable to determine
whether it was good or bad, or maybe a bit of both.

Of Shampoo and Mousse, or any of the Amazons, there was still
no word.

Tatewaki and Kodachi had retreated to their mansion, and had
not been seen since, not even in school.

A bright spot on the whole affair, was that Akari phoned the
dojo and told them the good news that she had found Ryoga and everything
was alright. Naturally, she was enthusiastic that Akane was going to be
married, and promised both her and Ryoga would attend.

And now, one full week later in the Tendo Dojo, the atmosphere
was all hustle and bustle.

"Kasumi, do you have the food prepared yet?" Nabiki called from
the dining room.

"Almost!" came the reply from the kitchen where Kasumi and
Nodoka were cooking as if they're lives depended on it.

The middle Tendo checked an item off on her clipboard. "How's
the Dojo coming?"

Her father rushed by the open verandah, carrying a bunch of
folding chairs. "It should be ready in an hour!" Then he was gone again.

Check. "Priest?"

{He'll be here in an hour and a half!} read the fast moving sign
as the panda chased after Soun, carrying banners and other decorations.

Check. "Guests and invitations?"

Tofu whisked through the room and dumped a stack of small cards
on the table. "This is everybody that will be here!" He disappeared
again.

Check. "Bride?"

*Crash!* "I'm FINE!!!" came her little sister's voice from
upstairs. *Wham!* *Bang!*

"But the doctor said you needed to rest, Akane-chan!" came poor
Natsume's voice. She was the one tasked with keeping the bride occupied,
so the wedding could proceed and Nabiki almost felt sorry for her.

After Ranma brought Akane home, he explained some of what
happened to her. She was weak and Tofu's report declared she wouldn't be
back up to full strength for a quite awhile. Still, Nabiki wouldn't know
it by listening to her.

"Why don't we go through the music for the wedding again?"
Natsume suggested diplomatically.

"WE'VE BEEN THROUGH IT 5 TIMES ALREADY!" *WHAM!* "I WANT TO
COOK!"

"KURUMI, WHERE ARE YOU!?" came the pained, heartfelt plea.

The middle Tendo knocked on the table. "Your sister's looking
for you."

A face framed by medium-length brown hair poked out from
underneath it. "I don't wanna go up there!" Kurumi wailed. "Akane-
oneechan's scary!" *Zip!* She disappeared under the table again.

Nabiki sighed and rubbed her temples. Akane was incredibly
nervous and apprehensive about the upcoming nuptials, and that meant
what energy she had was being funneled into familiar territory where it
could be dealt with: anger. There was only one person who could handle
her little sis now.

"Groom?" she called.

No response.

"I said, GROOM!?"

"I haven't seen Ranma all day!" Nodoka called from the kitchen.
*crash!* "Oops, oh dear."

[Where could he have gone?] Nabiki wondered. [Well, there's only
option left.] "Doc! Are you still here?"

"Right here, Nabiki-chan!" he said cheerily as he appeared right
behind the girl.

She nearly jumped out of her skin. [How does he do that!?] "Uh,
could you calm Akane down some?"


"WHAT DO YOU MEAN THAT BAKA HAS DISAPPEARED!?" came the yell
from upstairs.

Nabiki sweatdropped.

"I'm on it, Nabs!" Tofu vanished.

Check. "Well, that's everything, but where could Ranma be?"

Nabiki's eyes bugged. [Nabs!?]




"You know, Ranchan, if Akane-chan finds out you were here on
your wedding day..." Ukyo sighed as her ex-fiance cowered in her closet.

"I can't go back to the dojo!" came the whine from behind the
closet door. "Akane's on the warpath 'cause they won't let her cook, and
I'm afraid Pops or Tendo-san's gonna knock me out again or somethin'!
They tried to fill me full of sake last night!"

The chef sighed again as she polished the grill for the
umpteenth time. Once upon a time, she would have gladly hid Ranma from
any wedding that wasn't her own to him. But she knew better than to try
and come between Ranma and Akane now, especially knowing about how some
people had, like Shampoo, Kodachi, and Saffron. The first two were
beaten to a pulp, while the third was ripped apart.

Ukyo shivered, glad she never got to that point, but knowing
she could have easily ended up there. "Come on, Ranchan. Surely her
cooking's gotten better with both Kasumi and your mother helping her?"

"Only when she's calm and takes her time," he corrected from the
closet. "Her cooking can still kill when she's upset."

"Konatsu, Selah, and I are just about ready," Yuri called from
upstairs. "We can leave within the next hour or so."

"Okay, Yuri-chan!" Ukyo answered. She hadn't gotten all the
details about Kenji's disappearance from them yet, but had the distinct
impression they were keeping something about the practical joker from
her. Well, she would find out. She had come to care about the ninja boy
(not that she'd admit it), and she wasn't about to sit around if he was
in trouble.

She turned her attention back to the closet. "You hear that? In
an hour I'm draggin' your sorry butt over to the dojo! If you don't
marry Akane-chan today, you're going to make me very angry. I didn't
give you up to her just so you could chicken out on your wedding day!"

A whimper from the closet was her only response.




*BUUUZZZZZ!*

Nabiki got up to answer to the doorbell and smiled when she
found out who was on the other side. "Akari-kun! Ryoga-kun! It's good to
see you kids again!"

Akari smiled brightly in her pink floral dress while she clung
to Ryoga's arm, almost as if she was afraid she would lose him if she
let him go. "I hope we made it in time!" she said while presenting a
gift basket of fruits.

"Just made it," Nabiki replied, accepting the basket. They'd
decided on small gifts this time, instead of money, seeing as how that
didn't work that well last time. "In fact, if you'd like, you can go up
and help Akane out. After all, you did volunteer to be a bridesmaid."

"Okay!" Akari beamed, then turned to give Ryoga a peck on the
cheek. "Don't wander off, Ryo-chan." She fairly skipped up the steps.

Nabiki was impressed that the lost boy didn't do more than
tremble a little at the contact. "I'll make sure the best man sticks
around." She grabbed his arm and pulled him towards the bathroom. "Come
on, lost boy. There's a tux in the changing room with your name on it."

"B-but, what's wrong with what I'm wearing?"

Nabiki eyed him up and down, pointing out his standard, dirty,
ragged, yellow shirt and faded black pants with her gaze. "I'll not
dignify that question with an answer." She shoved him into the changing
room. "Now get changed or I'll come in there and dress you myself!"

She smirked as she heard him hit the ground. He was pretty
good-looking and Nabiki half-hoped she could make good on her threat,
even though she knew he belonged to Akari.

She sighed and turned to go Ranma-hunting. She had a pretty
good idea where to look and wanted to get there and drag him back before
the guests started arriving.

"Your sister's taken care of!"

Nabiki nearly duplicated the patented Saotome-cling-to-the-
ceiling maneuver at Tofu's surprised appearance "Don't DO THAT to me!"

"Sorry." The doctor actually looked a bit sheepish.

Then Nabiki noticed the quiet. "What'd you do to her?"

He shrugged. "Pressure points. She should be out for an hour or
so. Anything else I can do?"

Nabiki nodded, grabbing the front of his brown gi. "Come on, I
have just the chore for you."

It occurred to her that, by herself, she may not be able to
drag the obviously cold-footed Saotome back. She needed someone with
heavier weaponry.

Or more specifically, a katana.




"Nabiki-chan, Saotome-no-obasama, hi!" Ukyo greeted the two
women as she checked herself in the mirror. She was wearing a white
floral dress, and it felt strange on her since she hadn't worn something
like this for a long time. "We were just getting ready to head over
there."

"Greetings, Kuonji-san," Nodoka offered. She was still a bit
wary of the chef after Ukyo took part in the destruction of her home and
her son's previous wedding. She understood the ex-fiancee's feelings,
she just didn't agree with them.

"Hiya, Ukyo-chan," Nabiki greeted. She had replaced the Saotome
matriarch in the kitchen with Tofu, who was all too happy to oblige. She
chuckled at the memory of the doc and her older sister practically
dancing around the kitchen as they prepared the meals. They had been
going slow with their own engagement, though it was pretty much set in
stone they were going to get married soon. They just hadn't set a date
yet.

Nabiki shook her head and returned to the present.

"So what brings you two by?" Ukyo asked. [As if I didn't know.]

"We are looking for my son," Nodoka told her directly. "I
understand you were one of his close friends and he frequents this
restaurant."

[Subtle, isn't she?] Nabiki thought.

"I, uh, haven't seen him in awhile," Ukyo replied. Technically,
this was true. She barely caught sight of his blurred form before he
jumped in the closet. Still, she jerked her head sideways at the
suspect's hiding place.

"Is something wrong with your neck, Kuonji-san?"

In the closet, Ranma grimaced.

Nabiki sighed, then walked over to the closet door. "Surrender,
Saotome. The jig's up." Silence greeted her pronouncement.

"Nabiki-chan, what are you..." Nodoka was waved to silence by
the middle Tendo, while Ukyo sighed and collapsed into a chair.

"You know, Akane knows you're gone, and she's quite upset about
it," Nabiki continued. [At least until the doc put her out.] "In fact,
if I know my little sis, after the last wedding attempt she's determined
to get married today. If you're not there, she's liable to grab someone
else, like Ryoga or Mikado or..."

The closet door exploded outward. "Like hell! The only guy's
she's marryin' is me!" He glanced around at the three women staring at
him, and suddenly realized he'd been had. "Oops."

Nabiki grinned. [Too easy.] "Oops is right. I'll leave him to
you, Obasama."

"Nice going, Nabiki-kun," Yuri said, smiling, from the bottom of
the stairs. Her dress was nice match for Ukyo's, but in light shade of
blue. Selah, standing next to her, was wearing an almost exact copy,
except smaller. "But we should get going, Ukyo-chan."

"Just a minute." *CLANG!* "That was for ruining my closet door!"
Ukyo peeled her battle spatula off Ranma's head and reholstered it on
her back while the group left the restaurant. The quartet of girls went
on ahead, while Ranma walked along slowly with his mother.

"I do hope you were not thinking of being absent from your own
wedding?" his mother asked at last, a note of disapproval in her voice.

Ranma suddenly found his fingers interesting. "Um... no?"

The Saotome matriarch sighed. "Son, what you're experiencing is
just pre-wedding nervousness. It happens to all of us."

Ranma looked up. "But, I shouldn't be nervous, right? I mean, I
love her, so why do I feel like..." He shrugged and his gaze dropped
down again. "I mean, it just seemed easier last time."

"Most likely since you did not have time to think about it,"
Nodoka said with a wry smile. "By the time you knew what was happening,
all of the preparations were done and things were happening."

"I guess." They walked in silence for several minutes before
Ranma spoke up again, although it came out as barely a whisper. "She
says she's okay with marryin' a half-man freak who's scared of c-cats,
but..."

"Akane is... strong-willed," his mother told him. "I do not
doubt that if she did not want to marry you, we would not be preparing
this wedding."

Ranma had to agree with that, though he couldn't completely
dispel the disquiet he had been feeling.




Two hours later, his mind was no longer on that subject. The
reason for this, was currently dressed in white and walking towards him,
escorted by her father.

While he couldn't see her face because of the veil, Akane had
no trouble seeing his, and she smiled demurely. His look was like a deer
caught in the headlights, and his gaze never left her. It stirred up the
same warm feelings she had felt when he had burst into her room right
before the failed wedding.

Seated in the dojo around them, were their families and some of
their schoolmates, but neither groom nor bride noticed them.

Akane soon took her place beside her husband-to-be and the
priest, an elderly gentleman in clergy robes, gestured to the two kids
to stop looking at each other and turn to him. All were silent, as they
waited for him to speak.

"Mawwige... Mawwige, is what bwings us here, togwetha!"

The entire assembly face-faulted, while the priest cleared his
throat. "Sorry, wrong cue card." He shuffled his notes and began again,
though the nervousness of the bride and groom had been greatly reduced.

"We are gathered here today to witness the union of Saotome
Ranma and Tendo Akane..."




The ceremony wasn't long. In fact, it was designed that way by
the parents, so as to get the two married as soon as possible before
something untowed happened. Given what happened last time, it seemed
like a wise precaution. As it wound down, both Soun and Genma began to
release the breath they'd been holding since the wedding began.

It turned out to be a premature maneuver.

"And if anyone knows a reason why these two should not be wed,
speak now or forever hold your peace."

Ranma and Akane turned to the gathered audience, silently
hoping that no one would object. Their gaze eventually fell on Ukyo, but
all she did was offer a wan smile, tears leaking from her eyes. It was a
look that said, "I may not be totally comfortable with this, but I've
done enough interfering."

Deep inside, she had known this day was coming. It was just as
painful as she knew it was going to be, but she had to see it so that
she knew it was real.

When no one seemed to object, they turned back to the priest,
who was about to resume, though he didn't get the chance.

The dojo doors burst open and a female voice cried out a single
word. "Hold!"

The eyes of the entire room focused on the figure standing in
the doorway, and a collective gasp was released. Kodachi Kuno strode
into the room, stopping several paces from the bride and groom. To the
relief of Akane, she was clad in not a black wedding dress, but a blue
and black formal kimono instead. She was, however, holding a gymnastics
ribbon in her hand.

"I do not wish for this to proceed," she declared with a air of
haughtiness. "Ranma-sama shall not be forced into marriage today."




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Author's notes:
You just knew she was going to show up, didn't you?