夢ばかりじゃない少女 - Yume Bakari Jyanai Shoujo
Not Just a Dream Girl
For a few days following the tournament, Akane noticed Ranma was rather distant. He spoke little and didn't eat much. He spent his time in the dojo, sometimes working out but, mostly meditating, or at least thinking quietly for a long time. Akane also noticed she was the only one who really paid him any mind. With few exceptions, everyone at school treated him like he didn't exist.
He hadn't made many friends, aside from Hiroshi, Daisuke, and Sayuri. Really, even they were more her friends to begin with, still trying to get to know Ranma better. Ranma had otherwise been left out of any other social groups. Granted, Ranma hadn't exactly had the time or energy to put much effort into it. He was so busy focusing on catching up at school as well as keeping up his grueling training regimen, that he had little time to become enmeshed in a social life.
This was, perhaps, the main reason why Akane hadn't minded sacrificing her relationship with Yuka too much. She had felt a need to help Ranma these last few months. She wasn't sure why. Maybe it was because she saw how vulnerable Ranma actually was when he couldn't fight his way out of a problem. She knew the dreams were somehow affecting her view of him, if nothing else, it was a space where she could, quite literally at times, see a different side to the quiet martial artist who came into her life. While she was initially certain that the most she could see in him was as a best friend, our perhaps as something like a brother, but it felt like whatever ground she had to stand on, whether real or somnambulant, was shifting. With those thoughts swirling, she wasn't sure to be relieved or panicked when he asked her to meet with him after club practice.
In the evening, they wandered into a small cafe. There was silence as they sat aside one another at a narrow counter which was placed against the window looking out into the street. Akane took a small sip of her mug of black coffee while Ranma swirled his paper cup of oolong tea.
Akane noted the pensive mood on Ranma's face. He had been thoughtful, much more so than the dream Ranma, but the real one's thoughts seemed to drive him to distraction rather than help clear through the clutter.
"Ranma... Ranma!" She said, yelling the second time catch his attention.
"Yeah. Um, sorry. I guess I'm out of it... Sorry I asked you here only to be like this."
"It's okay. Take your time. Besides, it's been a while since I've been in here. I forgot how nice it is."
"You come here with Yuka a lot? Um, Before, I mean."
"Not really. She hated the idea that someone from school would see us and get the right idea. We mostly hung out in karaoke boxes and bookstores. Before her, back in middle school, I'd spend a lot of time here, coming to terms with things. I'm glad you suggested it. It's a good place to sit and think for a while."
Ranma took a sip, then said, "It's... the dreams are worrying me. I mean, aren't you worried too?"
"Well... I mean, it's a bit weird. Mostly the stuff between us in the dreams. Like seriously, it's so weird seeing myself in love with a boy. But, they're just dreams."
"Huh... I didn't think of that. I guess I'm usually busy dodging hits by everyone. I guess I'd freak if like Ryouga started pining for me or somethin'. Kuno was creepy enough."
"Yeah, well thankfully, it's just a low level freakout. I know I can't really control what happens, so I just have to endure it."
"I... I guess so. It's just that I..."
"Well... I mean the stuff I found out about Ryouga. Is it my fault I didn't know him well enough? Should I somehow have been there for him?"
"You didn't even remember him until the dream, Ranma. Hell, even in them, he followed you to China. He gets lost going anywhere and lives in the wilderness. He even becomes a pig when wet. I wouldn't say that's the best life for anyone."
Ranma put his head on top of his arms, staring absently out of the window and sighed.
"But, he seems like a good guy, through it all. In the dreams, we butt heads and maybe then I dislike him, but I mean, what if the reason our Ryouga, the real one, became a bully cause I wasn't there to stop him or protect him from himself? What if there was something else going on and he ended up having to lash out at others cause there wasn't a Ranma Saotome to challenge him and be his friend?"
"Ranma..." Akane grabbed his shoulder lightly, "You're making wild guesses. And besides, Ryouga is a person just like us. He made his choices and lives with the consequences. We can't let these dreams throw us from who we are, even if they're about us. We can't control them. We can't let them control us."
"Well.. what about Kuno? He went bonkers when he fought me. He started talking like his dream self. And I'm-"
"Kuno has always had a screw loose, even if he didn't speak like he was spouting bad poetry"
"Yeah, I guess you're right, Akane. We got to stay strong. We're not gonna figure out why we're having them unless we stay focused. Right?"
Akane nodded, "Right."
A voice behind them said, "Indeed."
Ranma and Akane were utterly shocked as they turned to see Kuno, seated at a table, bokken on an adjacent seat. He loosened the top buttons of his gakuran and leaned back.
"Kuno-sempai?" Akane asked.
"I agree. I do have a screw loose. Though I'm not alone, am I?"
"Dammit," Ranma said, "I was hoping you were back to normal."
He shrugged, "As normal as I suspect I'm ever going to be again, cross-dresser."
"Goddamn it, Kuno, you know that ain't for real. Hell, even there, I'm not even technically cross-dressing then! It's just a curse."
The third-year student eyed Ranma skeptically, then cracked a smile, "We'll see about that. Hey Tendo, since you're here, I should probably apologize for the bullshit I pulled the last few years."
"What," Akane was too in shock to say much more.
Kuno laughed smugly, "Well, to her credit, your sister has been steering me away from you for ages now, but after witnessing your exchange the other week with that 'friend' of yours, I should have known there was only one reason you never thought about me. So, I guess I can't be too mad."
He put a hand, as an aside, "Though, really, you could probably find a better girlfriend than cross-dresser, over here, even if you two are engaged."
Ranma glared at Kuno, fists raised, "Kuno, we're just friends, you hardheaded imbecile. And I'm a guy, dammit."
"Of course you are. I still got the bruises to prove it, after all," He looked away, sipping his Italian Soda, smirking to himself.
Akane finally snapped out of her daze. "A-A-anyway. Sempai, I trust you're keeping this to yourself, for now. If anything comes up, we'll find you, okay?"
"I'm not an idiot, Tendo. Well, maybe I am... I've been doing a lot of thinking. But yeah, only a fool would think they could convince a random stranger that they were having dreams where they chased after an... 'uninterested' woman and a cross-dresser."
"Would you stop calling me that?" Ranma said, exasperated.
Kuno finished his drink, stood up and took his bokken. He smirked as he looked down on Ranma.
"Not in a million years, Saotome," was the last thing he said as he casually stepped out of the cafe.
The two remained for some time. Ranma's face was red with what Akane assumed was rage.
Akane rebuked the now departed kendoist, "That asshole. He shouldn't be provoking you like that. Especially since you thrashed him before. Twice, technically. He of all people should know that just because you're something in the dream, doesn't mean it's the same in real life."
Ranma's emotions deflated, he looked really quiet as he stared at the bottom of his paper cup. He slowly nodded.
"Y-Yeah. Stupid bastard."
Akane felt herself inside a gymnasium at the start of a gymnastics tournament. At least it looked like one, with the exception if the fact there was a ring set up in the middle that looked like it meant for boxers or wrestlers than gymnasts. In fact, Akane, thought to herself, since when did two gymnasts compete against each other?
Akane stood at ground level, noting that Ranma was a competitor, leaning against the corner post. She was wearing a green leotard and looked a bit jumpy.
"Goddamn Kodachi..." Ranma said, looking down at Akane out of the corner of her eye, "I can't believe she almost got us with that sleeping gas... That Furinkan team better be thanking the gods I'm a girl half the time, cause if they relied on you and your sprained ankle, they'd be toast."
"It's not my fault! I slipped!" Akane countered.
"Cause you're a clumsy gorilla, Akane. Ryouga did a good job teaching you, but you'd need a month of training to have a chance. I got this. Just wish I didn't have to wear this leotard. It's kind of embarrassing." There was no response. After a beat, Ranma looked down at Akane.
"You're not looking weirdly at me are you?"
"N, No!" Akane shook her head, cheeks reddened.
Ranma sighed, running a hand through her red hair. "Whatever. Just make sure you got my back, coach. Here she comes!"
A female referee entered the crowded arena, holding a microphone.
"And in the blue corner we have, from Furinkan High, ..." The referee covered the mic and asked, "name?"
The hastily recruited gymnast replied, "Ranma Saotome."
The announcer repeated, "Ranma Saotome!" to an amazed crowd. Ranma could hear the whispers of the Furinkan attendees.
"Is he a cross-dresser or something, after all?"
"Nah, that girl's too short, maybe it's his twin sister?"
"With the same name? No way. That's Ranma!"
"You're all crazy! It's gotta be a cousin or something!"
Ranma sighed as the referee turned away from her.
"And in the red corner, St. Hebereke's very own... Kodachi Kuno!"
The lights dimmed and, from the rafters, in a wedding dress, Kodachi was lowered to the ring.
"Oh, hohohohohohoho!" Akane had never heard that laugh before, yet she was somehow instinctually drawn away from it.
"Oh, when I defeat you, my red-headed strumpet, Ranma-sama will be all mine!"
"Oh, of course, where have I heard this story before?" Ranma flatly said, as she noticed the elder Kuno in the audience. For his part he waved and carried a sign which said "I love you pig-tailed girl!" on one side and "Die, Foul Sorcerer Saotome!" on the other.
Ranma didn't have time to process the sign when, upon meeting a now leotard clad Kodachi in the center of the ring, a cuff was locked on her wrist. Dangling from it was a long chain and an angry P-chan.
"Oh, come on! Ref!" Akane yelled.
"Happened before the bell. Legal by the book."
Ranma, shocked, retorted, "You gotta be-"
The bell rang just then and the match became a flurry of spiked clubs, ribbons, exploding balls, and razor sharp hoops. Ranma, hindered by an interfering Ryouga, was immediately put on the defensive.
After a few volleys of clubs and hoops, Ranma and Kodachi started grabbing items from outside the ring to hurl at one another. Kodachi with the ringside bell, Ranma with the announcer's table, Kodachi with Tatewaki, Ranma with a bench.
Then Kodachi spied a kettle of water next to a panda drinking tea.
As soon as Ranma saw the trajectory of the ribbon, she held her breath. Preparing her ribbon to counter attack.
Akane yelled to no one in particular, "Dammit Ranma, can't you at least stay a girl when it's necessary!" She ran outside.
Ranma and Ryouga looked in awe as Kodachi, with a flick of her wrist, sent the messenger of transformation airborne. Ranma jumped up and cocked her arm back to grab the kettle mid-air, but Kodachi's ribbon neatly sliced the kettle in half, releasing its contents on the two. Ranma had never felt pain of that magnitude and specificity before. As he and Ryouga came down, they were buffeted by a blast of cold water from an Akane-wielded fire hose and the girl and her pig fell back into the ring.
"Thanks coach! Thought I was a goner for sure!" Ranma's gratitude was cut short as she blocked two more hoops with the chain, inadvertently freeing her from Ryouga, who promptly ran off.
"Stupid pig. Can't believe I was worried about your stupid ass," Ranma muttered to herself.
Ranma, now unfettered, jumped in the air, throwing several clubs and, with a ribbon, grabbed a ball from Kodachi's hands, landing on a post behind Kodachi. As the ball started glowing, Ranma performed a backflip and threw the ball towards Kodachi's feet. The explosion destroyed the floor of the ring and knocked Kodachi clean out of the ring. Ranma, for her part, was barely holding on the the ropes in her corner by her right toes.
"The winner! Ranma Saotome!"
"I can't believe I lost to such a... girl. Very well, I promise I will not seek Ranma-sama's affections."
Ranma looked at Kodachi for several seconds, studying the gymnast's expression. Ranma slumped her shoulders and quietly.
"You're totally going to go after him again, aren't you?"
"Well of course. This is merely an exhibition match in the game of courtship. I'm not that easily swayed from my true love."
"So I basically fought you for no good reason?"
"That's about the long and short of it, hussy."
"I hate you all."
The next morning, Ranma sauntered up to Kuno.
"Yo, Kuno-sempai. Got a sec?"
Kuno rubbed his head in irritation, "What is it, Saotome?
"You don't have a younger sister do you? Someone who's a gymnast or somethin'?"
"I think we both know that I do. What do want to know?"
"She's not... strange is she? Like psychotic or something?"
"No more so than the usual person who attends a religious all-girls school. Though I guess that isn't saying much."
"I'm serious Kuno. Has she injured or beaten up anyone? Is she some kind of person who would attack or bully people for no reason? Plays with poison?"
Kuno eyed Ranma, "Look, Saotome. I don't really like you. At best, I tolerate your presence. But I see what you're getting at."
Kuno shook his head, "She's cool. She's just an average stuck up bitch who happens to throw her weight around in the gymnastics team. Or starting shit and getting me on the hook for it. But she's isn't a psychopath. Not enough daddy issues for that, thank god."
Ranma nodded, "Phew, Thanks, Kuno-sempai. You're a pal." Ranma said, patting him on the back, then running down the hallway with a disproportionately large smile on his face.
Kuno turned too late to yell, "No problem. Wait... I'm not your pal, cross-dresser!"
The last class for the day ended up being an impromptu Study Hall. Ranma spent most of the time on schoolwork, but for the last ten minutes or so, he pulled out a small black notebook and started writing fervently.
Hiroshi walked up to him and asked, "what's that?"
"Uh, nothin'." Ranma started covering the page with his hands.
"Looks kinda like you're writing a short story, but what's with these diagrams? Who's that girl you're drawing?"
Ranma sighed in defeat, "It's a long story," Ranma laughed a little too hard to himself.
"Look, Hiroshi, don't rib me too much, but it's.. " he whispered almost inaudibly, "kind of a journal. Been writing in it for a while now. Been having weird... I think I found a book that called 'em 'lucid' dreams."
"Huh. What about?"
Ranma looked at the other boy and shook his head, "Jeez, if I told ya, you and Daisuke would think I'm even weirder than everyone thinks I am already."
"I wouldn't say that. Daisuke would, but he wouldn't mean it. I mean, how weird could they be?"
Hiroshi lightly punched Ranma's shoulder, "Aww, come on. We're pals here."
Ranma thought for a moment, his lips pursed, "Tell ya what. You guys come to the dojo and we'll talk. I feel more comfortable somewhere I can kick your ass without botherin' anyone else."
Hiroshi thought for a moment, then nodded, "Sure Sure. I'll get Dai and Sayuri there. We haven't had the gang together at Akane's since before the term started."
Ranma nodded. As Hiroshi walked back to his desk, Ranma caught Akane's worried glance. He nodded at her, and silently mouthing "Please?"
Akane grumbled a bit, but nodded.
After club activities, the group of five walked back to the Tendo home. Ranma took to walking on the fence. Seeing this, Akane followed suit, walking steadily, if more hesitantly in her steps.
"Jeez, you two are such showoffs," Sayuri said, teasingly.
"We've been *whoops!* practicing," Akane replied, stopping momentarily to regain her balance. "I thought it'd be fun to try. Ranma's better at it than I am."
"I ain't that much better, but I can do this!" Ranma took off in a short sprint, turning back to face Akane. His foot slipped slightly and he almost fell off the fence, just managing to grab the top of it with his hands before falling into the canal.
Daisuke chuckled, "That was close Ranma. Wouldn't want you to fall in now, even if you're more entertaining to watch when you're a girl."
Ranma had been in the midst of pulling himself up when Daisuke's comment startled him, He let go suddenly to protest and fell in.
"Couldn't wait till we get to Akane's, huh? Not cool, dude." Hiroshi remarked.
"I just had to know! Plus if that curse deal is true, she's hot," Daisuke grinned.
Sayuri rolled her eyes at the display of the average teenage male thought process, "Ugh, boys! They only have one thing on their minds, huh Akane?"
Akane, who had been staring at the waterlogged Ranma looked back at the threesome, "Huh? Oh Yeah, idiots..."
Daisuke nodded, "Oh, I see..." he said with a hurt expression, "I suppose we are. Oh, can I get my AV tapes back when we get to your place, Tendo?"
Now Akane's balance slipped and she fell onto the soaked Ranma, who caught her in his arms. The momentum of her fall, however threw them both back into the drink.
The three non-martial artists laughed as Ranma and Akane scrambled over the fence and walked back towards the Tendo home, dripping along the way.
A change of clothes and some tea later, Ranma was practicing some airborne kicks and spinning jumps, his hands outstretched as though he were throwing items in the air. His expression shifted between focusing on his movements and hesitation at the sight of his pals. Akane sat and started talking.
"So is everyone having these dreams?"
Daisuke shook his head, "Just us weirdos, I think. Sayuri thought she was losing it till Hiro and I admitted we had the same ones too..."
Hiroshi thought for a moment, "Well the first one I remember was the Kuno fight."
"Ah, so you haven't seen 'em all. They started since I got here," Ranma said, performing a somersault which ended in a handstand.
Sayuri thought for a bit and posited, "Maybe we had to meet you first? Or maybe it's more like we have to be around in the dream to see it?"
Akane nodded, "Maybe... Do you guys feel like you can move around in the dreams? Or is it more like you're just watching?"
Sayuri looked at the other two, "Hmm. I guess I can look around, but I can't do much more than that."
Akane nodded, "Yeah, same for me as well."
Hiroshi added, "Then again, our dreams are about seeing you guys, Ranma usually, breathing the crap out of people."
"And ending up topless." The other boy cracked a smile.
"Daisuke! You're just as bad as Kuno!" Sayuri scolded.
"Nah, Kuno thinks Ranma cross-dresses in real life too."
Ranma fell down from his handstand. He sat up, rubbing his head, saying, "That why everyone gives me the poison stare?"
Daisuke thought for a moment, "Hmm... I guess there's that. I think it's more that you don't act like a normal guy."
"Whaddaya mean by that?" Ranma looked defensive.
Akane interjected, placing a hand in front of Ranma.
"I think what Daisuke means, is that you're more mature than someone in high-school usually is. You're usually pretty quiet. You focus on schoolwork in class. And, aside from showing up at karate club once in a wile, you don't really hang out with anyone aside from me."
"Well, come on. I haven't been to real school in three years. And I need the time to train. I usually pull three hours in the afternoon, plus the hour I spar with Pop in the morning"
"I guess being a martial artist is kind of lonely, huh?" Sayuri asked.
Ranma shrugged, "Could be worse. Not like I was wandering the wilderness with just Pop around. I had friends at the monastery. And I guess I got some friends now at least?"
The trio next to Akane nodded.
Ranma smiled slightly, "And maybe I can hang around the karate club more, if the captain doesn't mind me showing her up once in a while?"
Ranma placed his hands behind his head, affecting a smug look on his face.
Akane let out a dry laugh, "Hah! I can take you, Ranma. I got home field advantage in the club room, after all."
The five teens laughed together briefly.
Hiroshi stood up and stretched, "I'd pay good money to see Akane beat the tar out of Saotome. Anyway, we should get going. Thanks for letting us come by, you guys. We're were kind of worried, actually."
Sayuri nodded, "I'll see if we can put in a word for you with the other classes. 2-C knows you're a good person, but the other second years don't know the real Ranma like we do."
"The real me, huh?" Ranma paused at that thought for a beat before nodding and, with a light grin, said, "Yeah, thanks Sayuri."
The trio of guests stood up. Hiroshi and Sayuri left the dojo. Daisuke remained, however, and, after a beat, said, "Hey Tendo, did you forget about earlier?"
"Oh, right," she blushed, "let's go to my room. I got it hidden somewhere."
Ranma facefaulted, "He was serious about that!"
"Later Ranma," Akane said as she and Daisuke left Ranma alone in the dojo. Ranma huffed at both of them, before taking a Horse stance, and practiced a Hua Gar form, pushing the air in front of him with both hands as though holding back a river.
Up in Akane's room, she was struggling with a dresser drawer as Daisuke sat on her bed.
"Sorry about holding on to it, Daisuke. I watched it once and... it was kind of boring, sorry. So I hid it and kind of forgot about it until today. I guess I'm better off with my light novels and yuri manga."
Daisuke rolled his eyes, "Girls... Well, you're on your own there, Tendo." He took a glance at the small bookshelf by her bed, "Oh, by the way, thanks for that save earlier. I'm guessing he's really touchy about the whole 'girl' thing?"
"Yeah. Kuno's teasing doesn't help. I don't know why it's bothering him so much."
"Who knows, maybe it hits too close to home? He said he fights his dad everyday. The guy practically fights for a living. I'm sure he's got some baggage."
He looked at the Namie Amuro poster on the wall and mused, "I also noticed you take quite a shine to him in the dream."
"Just the dream. And, even then, it's really 'her' that I can't get out of my mind."
"Even though it's technically the same dude?"
"I know it's not rational, but... yeah. That girl is cute, tough, wild. I even like the way she's sounds so childish when, even though she acts like a guy, she calls me 'tomboy'!"
She covered her face with a hand, shamefaced, "That's why it's kind of scary how we're basically best friends now. I keep thinking of her face whenever I see Ranma."
Daisuke laughed, "I knew there was a reason I told Hiro you were an honorary bro."
Akane clicked her teeth as she resumed rummaging through her dresser, "I'm still a girl, even if I like other girls, you kno-Ah! there we go!" Akane handed Daisuke an unlabeled VHS tape.
"Thanks Tendo. I should get going before Hiro and Sayuri get too far on their own, if you know what I'm saying. Maybe we'll see each other tonight, perhaps?"
Akane raised an eyebrow ans asked, "Tonight?" She laughed a bit once she understood the implication.
"Well maybe. Who knows, maybe this time Ranma and I aren't fighting someone and the five of us can find a nice dream cafe and relax a while."
"It's almost summer vacation. Hopefully, we'll see some cutedream girls who'll find us charming and attractive?"
"In your dreams," Akane remarked with a smirk, finding unusual pleasure in the cliche expression.
Daisuke shrugged, "I'll take what I can get. Later Tendo." Daisuke waved the tape as he exited her room.
Akane sat on the bed for a long time. Slowly she cracked a slight smile.
"Dream girls, huh..."
Akane and Ranma found themselves in an ice cream shop, Ranma in her girl form, both eating elaborate parfaits. Akane was slowly making her way through the elaborate connection, whereas Ranma attacked her with the ardor usually reserved for her opponents.
"I know that you're embarrassed to eat this as a boy, but could you maybe not eat so much like a boy? And is that dress really necessary?" Akane addressed Ranma, her spoon pointed at the green low cut sundress Ranma was donning.
"It's too good to eat slowly!" she whined, before adding, "And it ain't like I'd get extra scoops for free if I wore somethin' else. Plus, I like the way it keeps you on your toes," she finished her argument with a wry smile on her face, which was marred only with a slight trace of melted vanilla ice-cream and an errant sprinkle on her upper lip. Akane blinked, as she looked down at her sundae as she blushed.
Akane muttered, "I swear Ranma, I'm going to beat you with your parfait glass if you keep acting like a perverted boy-girl."
"Can't help it Akane. I am what I am. Well, the second part. You're obviously the perverted one in this relationship." Ranma stuck out her tongue.
Before Akane could make good on her promise, a loud crash was heard by the register as a large hole opened up in the wall of the shop. A girl, with long purple hair and clad in elaborate Chinese clothes emerged from the dust and rubble. She was holding two decorative chui and looked like a trained hunter.
"Sh...ShanPu!" Ranma whispered in horror.
"Shampoo?"Akane repeated as she stared at the purple haired girl.
Said girl announced to the patrons, "Ranma! Kill!"
Akane looked back over to Ranma to find she had disappeared. The Chinese girl walked to Akane.
"Nope. Not here."
The girl looked at her, eyes narrowed, then moved on, creating another wall on the other side of the ice cream parlor.
After the fallout, Ranma emerged from a large terra cotta pot, fake palm tree on her head.
Akane nodded. Ranma sighed in relief and, after grabbing Akane's hand, ran out of the shop.
Running back to the dojo, Ranma spoke quickly, "Here's the short version. Shampoo's a Chinese Amazon from a village called Joketsuzoku. After Jusenkyo we went to their village. Pops and I were starving. We kinda ate grand prize that she won by accident. I beat her in combat. Now she has to kill me cause I'm an outsider girl. Didn't think she'd make to Japan to finish the job."
Akane couldn't really muster a response. Breathless they returned to the dojo to find the purple-haired girl drinking tea, her Panda father cowering at her feet.
"Ah crap... Shampoo."
"Ranma... Kill!" She said standing up.
"W-wait wait! We can come to some agreement here I'm not really-"
"Kill Ranma. Outsider woman must die!"
"But I'm a guy!" Ranma protested, which caused Akane to let out an ugly chortle.
"Not now, Akane! Dammit..." Ranma ducked in the way of a chui which smashed a large hole in the floor. Ranma yelled at the the panda, "Pops! Throw me the tea, you fleabag!"
Genma skillfully threw back the mug. Ranma threw the contents on herself and felt the change in form... or rather would have, had it not been empty save for a few lukewarm drops.
"You gotta be kiddin' me, Pops!" Ranma dodged another chui strike as she scrambled for the bath.
Shampoo swiftly followed Ranma into the bath, where Soun was soaking in the tub.
"Sorry Uncle Tendo, I'm pressed for time!" Ranma said, flipping into the air to avoid a chui strike, which instead smashed a large hole in the tile wall. Ranma dove into the bath and stood up, black pigtail sticking to his face.
"I'm a guy, Shampoo! I fell in Nyaniichuan. Not an outsider woman. Can't kill."
"No can kill... Ranma marry! Outsider Male marry!"
"Oh no, Oh no no no..."
Shampoo jumped up and hugged him.
"Boy Ranma so handsome and strong! Girl Ranma cute, too."
Ranma was rendered speechless as the Amazon wrapped her arms around his neck.
Soun cleared his throat, "Um... would you two mind? I'm starting to prune here."
The following Sunday, Akane and Ranma were wandering the neighborhood streets of Shibuya, walking back towards the station from Yoyogi Park, where they spent the day people watching and sparring.
"That was an intense crowd, Ranma. Especially when you came in with that huge feint of a spinning kick. I can't believe you tricked me like that. You got me right in the gut."
"Well, I tried not to hit ya too hard. You okay, Akane?"
"I'm fine, Ranma. I couldn't be captain of the club if I couldn't take a punch."
"Yeah, but the time with Kuno almost hit you with that air strike or Ryouga and the bandanas..."
"They're dreams. They don't count."
"You really are convinced the dreams don't mean much, huh?"
"Well, not unless you're really planning on being a playboy. Jeez Ranma, three engagements?"
"Shut it, tomboy. Even in wacky dream-land, Kodachi don't count."
"Heck, I'd be impressed if I wasn't one of them," she joked.
"Jeez, what the hell is wrong with me? or rather, 'that guy'... or is it 'that girl'?" Ranma scratched his head.
Akane shrugged, "I honestly have no idea anymore."
Walking closer to the station, they started approaching the small specialty shops that, aside from it's central location, are what put Shibuya on the map.
Ranma stopped suddenly, though Akane only noticed he was not by her side a few moments later. She saw him, stopped on front of a nice boutique.
"What are you looking at?"
"Huh? Uh, nothing. I guess I spaced out again."
Akane slowly nodded and they continued. She looked back occasionally to see him look around at the different window displays, especially the window displays of dresses. When they neared the station, Ranma walked up close to her and spoke quietly.
Ranma muttered, "Earlier... there was a dress... it was like the one... I wore. In the dream."
Akane corrected him, "Your dream self wore it, not you."
"Well, at least when I'm asleep, we're the same person... I feel like I'm in control."
Akane shook her head, "You putting too much weight in what happens."
"That's the thing," he looked away, "I think I like 'em."
Ranma ran up in front of Akane, looking ahead at nothing in particular, "The dreams. The fighting, the rivalry with Kuno and Ryouga. Even the whole gender changing curse ain't so bad. I don't like the whole 'women cashing after me' part so much, but it ain't like I'm Daisuke or somethin'."
Ranma stopped and turned, looking at Akane, and said, "The only thing is... I get this weird feeling when I'm there. Like it's all somehow both familiar, but totally strange. Or like you put on comfy pair of shoes you haven't seen in a long time or somethin' "
"You mean it's uncanny?"
Ranma slowly nodded, "Yeah, I guess that's the word... I ain't losing it, am I?"
Akane shook her head, "Not really. You're a bit more smug than when you first got here, but no major damage."
The boy looked somewhat relieved, "Okay, just as long as I don't freakin' lose my mind, start talkin' nonsense, put on a dress, and and try to run off with Kuno. If nothing, else, I can't stand the idea of that smug bastard being right about me."
Akane put a hand to his shoulder in consolation, "I think I can hold you back if it ever gets to that."
"So I ain't insane for thinking it ain't so bad, getting roped into weird fights or being a part time-girl like that in the dream?"
"Well, as a full-time girl who also fights, I don't think that's too weird. I mean, don't get me wrong, Ranma, you're probably a bit insane. But then again, if we want to go by those standards, so am I. So are Kuno, Daisuke, Hiroshi, and Sayuri."
Ranma looked thoughtful as the two neared the station gate, "Okay. Thanks Akane. I mean that." He smiled, "You're all right. Thanks for being a friend, tomboy."
Akane smiled back, "No problem, girl-boy."
Ranma and Akane were walking home from the movie theater, the Sunday evening. Ranma looked down at his Chinese shirt, a dark stain still visible on the front. He sighed as he walked on the fence.
"This is like the third time this week that Shampoo just showed up."
"It'd be nice if she didn't come in just as Jackie Chan was about to beat up Giancarlo."
"It wouldn't be so bad if she didn't always 'spill' soup on me. It ain't even about whether I like one form or another anymore. I just hate all the washing I have to do."
Akane huffed a bit, "Well, you've spending a lot of time as a girl, lately. I'm sure Shampoo prefers to see her betrothed as a guy at least once in a while."
"Well maybe she can find some other time, since it seems like the only time I'm not splashed with cold water by accident is when I'm in the bath... actually scratch that. I'll live with the soup burns."
As the two kept walking, Ranma kept feeling a twinge in the back of his head. Suddenly, before he even really understood, he grabbed Akane and jumped back, as a metal claw with a chain attached flew just past.
"Watch your back, tomboy! Here they come!"
Ranma jumped up onto a nearby brick wall, dodging a cloud of knives, which now embedded the stones by several inches.
Ranma yelled out, "Who's there!"
A low voice echoed, "Ranma Saotome... at last we meet."
A young man emerged from the shadows. He was dressed in a long sleeved white robe. His long black hair came down to his lower back, and his eyes were a dark jade.
The young man readied a battle stance "I've waited so long to finally have you in my sights, Ranma!"
Unfortunately, for him, he was focusing his threats on a nearby lamp post.
"Ranma! Now I will destroy you!" he yelled, raising his arms in a combat stance.
"A-HEM!" Ranma loudly coughed.
Mousse turned to his right and appeared shock. He put on thick glasses and yelled, "Saotome! How did you teleport yourself from my grasp?"
Ranma slapped his forehead, "You gotta be kidding me."
Akane shook her head dismissively.
"Ranma, I'm going home. I have to finish my homework for tomorrow. I'll tell Kasumi you'll probably be late for dinner."
"Oh, Thank you! Later, Akane!"
"Wait a second! I'm making my speech here!" Mousse whined.
Ranma waved him off, "Sure, sure. No offense, but I ain't scared of some guy who should be pulling rabbits outta hats or somethin'?"
"Do you think these are magic tricks! Behold, Musi of Joketsuzoku and my Hidden Weapons Technique!"
Mousse jumped up, releasing a swath of at least twenty chains at Ranma.
"Oh, crap!" Ranma yelled as he jumped up away from the bulk of the swarm. He landed on the chains that embedded themselves on the wall he was previously standing on. Running on the chains, Ranma lunged at Mousse's face.
Mousse quickly dropped his end of the chain and jumped back, missing Ranma's strike. Ranma feinted a leg sweep and instead, using his arms to push up, struck Mousse in the chest with a raised leg.
The Amazon boy fell back, staggering. Shaking off the attack. He threw a barrage of items, from knives and shuriken to plates, yo-yos, and a child's potty. Ranma was pushed back, dodging or deflecting the items.
Mousse ran towards Akane, grabbing her hands to abduct her. This proved difficult as slipped Mousse's grasp and started attacking him with a series of strikes.
Ranma laughed and gloated, "If you're gonna try and take her hostage, you're gonna have to try harder than that. I'd suggest lifting from the legs. You don't wanna hurt your back from the weight."
Akane turned her anger from Mousse to the smug boy next to her.
"Ranma! Hmph!" She struck Mousse twice in the face and stomped off.
Mousse, grabbed his head, steadying himself. Finding his glasses he put them on, looking around wildly. Ranma was missing. Instead, walking by, was a damp red-haired girl who seemed to be trying too hard to look nonchalant.
Mousse ran in front of her, taking a battle stance, uttering, "You bastard."
The girl put her hands under her chin and, with a the sweetest expression she could muster, asked, "Oh my, where you looking for someone, mister?"
Mousse pulled his glasses down, staring at the girl in front of him.
"I know all about Jusenkyo, Saotome. I'm intimately familiar with it."
Ranma put her hands back her sides and snapped her fingers.
"Damn. The last few opponents were totally clueless. Worth a shot, right?" she smiled weakly.
Mousse pointed at Ranma and yelled in a swelled voice, "Don't you have any shame parading around like that!"
"Well, shame ain't really a big part of the Saotome-Ryuu..." she laughed nervously.
"I'll defeat you Saotome! When I crush your body, I'll make Shampoo min-" A torrent of water came over the Amazon boy, effectively interrupting his speech as he flapped his wings uselessly.
"Stupid Mousse talk too much! If Mousse hurt Ranma, I won't forgive!" Shampoo said as she turned off the spigot of a nearby garden hose.
Ranma started walking backwards away from the duo, looking side to side erratically.
"Well, that's that... I guess I'll be going-OW!"
Ranma screamed in pain as Shampoo produced a thermos and threw the contents at him. She then proceeded to hug him tightly.
"Wo ai ni! We go on date now, Ranma?"
Ranma looked down at the white duck, who looked up at him daggers in his eyes. And wings. Ranma ducked quickly as Mousse threw the first set of them in fact.
"Oh jeez! Lay off me, will ya! Stupid appetizer!" Ranma said as he ran away , Mousse flying close behind, knives at the ready. Shampoo followed them as well, yelling, "Airen! Wait! Stupid Mousse! I not forgive!"
The next morning, Akane found Ranma shadow boxing in the dojo once more. Instead of confining himself to a corner, he was utilizing the whole space, executing a series of punches as he jumped back, lunged forward with strong kicks. He even incorporated several flips and somersaults to his practice.
"Ranma, what are you doing with all the jumps?"
"Oh, I was kinda of inspired with that fight with Mousse. I thought maybe adding some of the gymnastics moves from the fight with Kodachi could be useful."
"Really? I have to say it's quite... graceful, I guess."
"Well, I'm not going for that, Akane. But It'd be good if I can fluidly change up from something like this, " he took a broad stance, crouched low and executed a series of strikes and leg sweeps, "to this," he jumped backwards in the air, executing a flip. When he landed, he threw three punches, then rolled forward and jumped back up into a standing position, throwing more punches.
"Seems like it'd be too flashy or inefficient," Akane replied.
Ranma stopped for a second, nodding, "that what I thought too, but if I can just get a bit faster, it will make me really unpredictable. Of course, I'd only find out if I had a willing guinea pig to try it out on..."
Akane put a hand up, "okay, okay. After breakfast though, Kasumi asked me to get you."
"Great! I'm starving."
"You're always starving. Even when Shampoo gives you all that free food."
"Aside from the fact it ain't real food, you know it ain't free. It costs me at least one piece of head trauma on your part. At least she's had the good sense not to turn into a cat again, cause to hell with that."
"Were you scared of cats before? I don't think you ever mentioned your father doing that training on you."
"I'm pretty sure that, in real life, the Neko-ken training is illegal, like everywhere."
"Are you scared of cats now, then?"
"I don't think so. I mean it's just-"
"meow?" a small kitten appeared at Ranma's feet from the garden. Ranma looked down and screamed.
"AHHH! Get it off! Get it off!" Ranma ran around frantically, the kitten scampering behind its new playmate.
Ranma found herself on the roof of the Tendo home, fighting a tiny, withered old woman who, while balanced on a cane, was moving with superhuman speed.
"Dammit Cologne! Gimme the Phoenix Pill! I need it if I want take a shower again!"
The old woman merely cackled, "Oh, Son-in-Law, you never cease to amuse me. But you're 100 years too young to beat me."
"Ranma!" Akane yelled, "Be careful!"
"The red-haired girl, snarled, "All right, I'm gonna show you what I'm made of! Kachuu Tenshin Amaguriken!"
Ranma's fists exploded in a fury of punches, matching the old woman's blow for blow. Neither seemed to slow down after what Akane figured was thousand of punches over the few minutes they had been sparring.
Suddenly, Cologne broke off from the her challenger and laughed loudly.
"Oh, Son-in-Law, you've no idea how long I've waited to see you fight. It's no wonder my great-granddaughter loves you. You've warmed an old woman's heart today. Here, child." She threw up a large container as she flew off, cackling "We will meet again Son-in-Law! Hee Hee Heeeee!"
"Come back here, you old ghoul!" Ranma yelled as she caught the container. Opening it, she saw a large white pill.
"The Phoenix Pill!" She jumped down to the ground and quickly ingested the pill. After a second, she started struggling, clutching her throat.
"Ranma! What's wrong?" Akane asked in concern.
"Hot... water..." she croaked. Akane ran off and came back in a few minutes. She returned with a kettle.
"Kasumi had it off the burner for a while, I hope it's hot enough to-" She stopped as Ranma, against expectations, put the spout of the kettle to her mouth and took several long draughts, swallowing loudly. After a moment, with a loud clanging sound, she dropped the kettle, and sighed in relief.
Ranma smiled, patting her stomach, "Much better. Don't you freakin' hate it when you get crap stuck in your throat?"
"Shouldn't you have used that to change back!?" Akane asked, flabbergasted.
Ranma shrugged as she walked back inside, "Enh, coulda, shoulda, didn't. What's for dinner? I'm hungry."
Akane ran behind her and, with great speed behind her fist, knocked Ranma out, "Don't be so smug, you stupid girl-boy!"
The next day was a Sunday. Akane blearily sauntered downstairs. Upon entering the kitchen, she saw Ranma on the phone nodding vigorously, but speaking in a soft voice.
"是...是...是马？请发送你所能！非常感谢您! Bye bye 郭師傅!"
Ranma hung up the phone and looked up to see Akane stare at him.
"What was that about?"
"Oh, Hey, Akane. Morning. That? Um... just an... old buddy of mine! Yeah, from China. Just catchin' up and stuff. Nothing too important."
"Really? You looked pretty serious for someone talking to an old friend."
"Oh it's um... cause he's um... oh nevermind, just lay off ya tomboy! "
"What! How dare you Ranma, when you're not any better you-!"
Ranma turned, now similarly blushing, "I... what?"
The two stopped and look uneasily at each other for a second.
"We're both losing it, huh?" Akane asked.
Ranma sighed, "Looks like it. All right, I'll level with you, but not here. I made some tea. Let's walk over to the dojo."
The two entered the chilly space, their steps echoing as they sat along the wall, underneath the dojo Shrine.
"Who was that on the phone? I didn't know you spoke Chinese."
"Well I don't really speak that well, but you live in China couple of years, you kinda pick up a little. That was Master Guo, at the monastery I stayed at. I finally got a hold of him after trying for three weeks. I asked him to dig up any information he could find and send me the relevant info."
"Information on what?"
Akane blanched, "What are you talking about? I thought we decided to just let the dreams stay that. After what we found out with Ryouga. It's not hurting us or the gang. The only person who's probably been hurt as a result is Kuno, but that dick deserves it."
Ranma shook his head, "I know, but... I decided a few things recently. The dreams have been all kind of ridiculous, even without the... gender stuff involved. I thought that we should just let it go, whatever. Once the Amazons appeared in the dream, something awoke in my mind, which made me start doubting things again. I remembered a story told to me by Master Wei. He told me that, near where the monastery was, up until the 1920s or so, there was a tribe of warrior women who were brilliant fighters and stewards of powerful magic. Most of the other disciples thought he was just spinning a yarn, some kind of Qinghai fairytale. I thought he was exaggerating or maybe even telling us a parable about, I dunno, being on our guards."
"What happened to the tribe?"
"He he never said what happened specifically. He just said that, after a period of bloodshed and destruction, the warrior women were decimated and the world suffered dearly for it."
"That not a lot to base your hunch on."
"I know, that's why I asked Master Guo to see what, if any historical records there are of the region. I'm... This is crazy, but, what if, what if maybe what we're watching isn't a dream after all, but, what coulda been or... shoulda been."
"Ranma, that's crazy talk! Even if a bunch of Chinese Amazons did exist, that doesn't follow that you'd be able to throw punches that fast."
"Cologne taught me! her! him! Ugh!"
"What about the gymnastics fight with Kodachi or the figure skating match or the boys at school ganging up on me to fight for my honor? What about Ryouga? Or Kodachi?"
"I don't know. I can't say why the dreams are about things like that. Ugh, Mikado Sanzenin... just remembering him makes me want to throw up. Stupid gigolo wannabe." Ranma sighed, shaking his head, "Anyways... maybe this is just a wild goose chase. I know it's silly, especially cause in the dream, everything is so ridiculous. Me especially."
"Well you have three women after you for marriage at 16. That's a recipe for disaster. Actually, it's kind of unsettling seeing me so into you like that. At least when you're a guy..." Akane coughed a little bit, "Girl-you is pretty cute, though."
"Um, thanks? I, guess?" Ranma laughed nervously and stood up.
"Well, until I hear back from Master Guo, there's no point in worrying. I'm going to train for a while."
It was a few weeks later when Ranma, after staying to help with Karate Club, came home from school with Akane, they found a large envelope waiting for him. Kasumi smiled, saying, "A courier came by this afternoon for you, Ranma. It's from China."
"Master Guo! Finally!"
Ranma took the envelope and the two ran up to his room. Ranma tore open the envelope to find a small stack of papers. He pored thorough the materials as best he good, with his limited Chinese and Master Guo's limited notes in Japanese and simpler Chinese. Most of the papers seem to be bureaucratic notes by Late Qin dynasty and pre-war administrators of the region.
Ranma put the reports down and sighed, "Jeez, based on these notes, even he's stumped."
Akane for her part marveled at the photocopy of a detailed hand-drawn map of the region surrounding the Bayankala Mountains. Ranma pointed to a region half way up the mountain range.
"That's where the monastery is... hmmm, this must be an old map. The area is actually more of a plateau. The monastery is on top of one of the larger ones.
The two noted several landmarks circled in pencil. A large area of forest near the base of the mountain was labeled marked "Joketsuzoku". A group of forest and mountains to the East was labeled "Musk". An area to the southwest, which looked like a series of small lakes was labeled "Jusenkyo". Finally, the largest peak was labeled "Phoenix Mountain".
Ranma then picked up a hand written letter in Chinese. He translated it aloud.
"Ranma, how are you my Japanese student? I hope you have been meditating as instructed. This is all I could easily find on the region. Master Wei had some old effects in his room and was quite interested in assisting me when he heard what had happened.
If I can find more information or if you find anything else, do not hesitate to contact me again.
Additionally, there is another matter I wished to discuss regarding your ... um 我形a ...Oh!"
"Ranma, what is it?"
"Um, uh, it's somethin' private, tomboy. Not important anyway. Hey, look at this."
Ranma found that, additionally, a few photocopies of photographs were included. They were mostly one which caught Ranma's eye was that of a short, yet spry old woman, carrying a staff much taller than she was. On the bottom right corner was hand written
"Cologne... What the hell is going on?"
Akane looked at the boy sullenly.
Ranma and Akane were walking towards school, Ranma casually strolling on the fence with lights steps of her small feet alongside Akane who looked at the red-head out of the corner of one eye.
"I still can't believe you didn't even bother with the hot water after Kasumi made a kettle for you and your father."
"Jeez Akane, Dad and I end up in the pond almost every morning. Not like he cares about being a panda. Plus it's rained like three times this week. And it ain't like no one knows what I look like after the gymnastics meet."
As they entered the school, they were quickly stopped by a boy, in a black gakuran. He had long brown hair tied in a ponytail and was rather effeminate in looks, though he carried himself normally. He also carried what appeared to be a bandolier of small metal spatulas with an especially large version strapped to his back.
He cleared his throat, "Excuse me ladies, I'm looking for Ranma Saotome,"
"Yeah? You're lookin' at him."
Ranma glared at Akane and the exaggerated smile on her face. "I'm Ranma. Do I know you?"
"Must be some mistake. The Ranma Saotome I'm looking for is a boy."
Ranma sighed in frustration, "Like I said, you're lookin' at him. Whaddaya want? Class is starting soon."
The boy just stood, confused, mouth agape, as though wanting to say something, but unsure what.
"Oh, for fuck's sake," Ranma grabbed the boys hand and led him inside the school to the men's room.
Inside the relatively clean, if institutional smelling room, Ranma turned on the sink, flipping the handle as far left as it would go.
"Give it a sec. The plumbing is so lousy I bet it hasn't been updated since the war. "
The boy in the gakuran looked concerned as he scanned the room, "Are you sure you should be in here?"
Ranma looked at him with one eye narrowed as she continued feeling the water coming from the faucet. Just then, two other boys entered and move to stand at the urinals.
"Yo Ranma, looking cute as always. "
"Kiss my ass, Daisuke."
"Is that a date? My weekend's free so far," he smirked.
Ranma rolled her eyes momentarily, the countered, "Get in line. Also, I'm pretty sure Hiroshi would be furious if he thought you were stepping out on him with another guy."
"Very funny. You make time with Shampoo yet? Or has Akane decided to keep her 'girlfriend' on a tight leash this time?" Daisuke said as he finished up and zipped his pants.
"God no! Amazon's be crazy, dude! You don't want any of that, I promise you. And as far as Akane, I think she likes me better as a dude. I get called pervert less, anyways."
Daisuke laughed as he went to wash his hands at the sink adjacent to Ranma.
"Yeah, right. Dude, I've seen her leer at that body of yours worse than I do."
Ranma replied in a deadpan, "Thanks. That's the kinda honesty I really appreciate from my pals... What the hell is taking so long with the hot water?"
Daisuke shrugged, "Dunno... Anyway, who's the pretty boy? I didn't know you swing that way."
Ranma countered snide the remark, "Poor Hiroshi. How does he put up with your cheating ass? Anyway, this guy is... Um, I dunno," she turned to look at the boy, "What's your name, pal?"
The boy shook his head, awoken from his confusion.
"Um, Kuonji. Ukyo Kuonji."
"Ukyo? Ucchan?" The girl smiled, ignoring the lukewarm at best water flowing from the sink and jumped up to hug him, "It's me, Ranchan!"
"I said already! Ranchan is a guy."
"I'm a guy, you hardheaded Osakan! Goddammit, where's the hot water?" Ranma said kicking a pipe underneath the sink. The sink began vibrating uncomfortably, Steam fissures forming around the plumbing.
"Aw crap," was all Ranma said before she and Ukyo were blown into a stall by the jet of hot water. Ranma rubbed his head as the now proportionally smaller boy sat on his lap, his gakuran pulled open. Ranma spied some strips of white fabric wrapped around his chest.
"Did something happen to Ucchan? looks like he got his ribs bruised or somethin'," he thought.
Ukyo shook his head and looked at.
"Yep. Told ya I was a guy."
Ukyo looked deeply into his eyes. Ranma blushed slightly, unsettled at another guy staring so so intently at him.
Ukyo looked away suddenly.
"I'm sorry, Ranchan."
Ranma stood and asked, "What for, Ucchan?"
Ukyo stood up and jumped away from Ranma, his battle spatula at the ready.
"Ranma Saotome, I will have my revenge! Prepare to die!"
Outside of the school building Akane heard the explosion and oncoming rumbling noise. She saw Ranma running from Ukyo as fast as his legs could take him.
Akane sighed and asked herself, "What did he do this time?"
"Crap crap crap!"
"Ranma, what's going on?" Akane yelled as Ranma turned to face Ukyo, still moving backwards.
"Come back here! I want revenge for what you and your father did to me!" Ukyo yelled emerging outside, holding his spatula high in the air.
"I didn't do anything to you Ucchan! Take it up with my old man! We were six the last time we met!"
"You're still responsible!" Ukyo yelled as he closed the distance, swiping at Ranma's legs. Ranma jumped above it just in time to flip back and take a defensive posture.
Ukyo started running laterally, throwing razor sharp spatulas. Ranma saw that several of them were headed towards Akane.
Ranma broke his stance and darted towards the shuriken like weapons.
"Akane! Watch out!"
Akane took a blocking stance as Ranma slid across the ground deflecting spatulas, finally standing up quickly and catching the last one, which was headed for Akane's head.
"Got it. You okay, tomboy?
"I can take care of myself, Ranma! What did you do to him, anyway?" Akane yelled.
Ukyo ran back, taking a battle stance, "He destroyed my family business and left me behind!"
"Left you? Whaddaya mean? Didn't you stay with your dad?"
"No. From the day you ran off, I swore I would train until I was the strongest Kuonji. Ten years I've been training. Now, after this time, I've finally hunted you down and I won't let you live."
Ranma crouched down, wiping his nose with his thumb and smirked.
"I hate it to break to break it to ya, Ucchan, but you ain't the first to try. I wanted to settle this peacefully. You're my oldest friend. But if you need to fight to settle this, that's fine. We're men after all."
Akane struggled to not break into peals of laughter. Ranma looked back, "Dammit tomboy, don't interfere! This a man to man fight."
Akane struggled not to laugh, "This coming from someone who won't stop borrowing my clothes every time we go get ice cream!"
Before Ranma could reply, Ukyo yelled, "Stay out of this already! W-women like you don't understand the honor at stake here!"
Rage seemed to envelop Akane, "Oh that's it! No wonder you two are friends." She grabbed Ranma by the back of his collar, "You're both stupid and stubborn!" She yelled, as the threw Ranma towards Ukyo.
The two crashed into each other against the side of the school. Ranma stood up, legs wobbly, preparing a comeback for his fiancee when he felt a distinct dampness from above.
A male teacher yelled, "Hey! You can't just dump mop water out the window like that!"
"Sorry!" Two students replied.
Ranma looked back at Ukyo, lying dazed. Ranma noticed his gakuran had opened up, making the wrappings around his chest. Ranma picked up Ukyo, sitting him up.
"Ucchan, I'm sorry. I don't know what happened to you. Just, don't push yourself if you're already..." Ranma's speech stopped as the wrappings came loose, revealing a unmistakably feminine pair of breasts.
"Oh, god! Ucchan! Wake up!"
Ukyo finally came to and saw her condition. Panicked she slapped Ranma and closed her jacket.
Ranma put her hands up, "Wait! Ucchan! You fell in Nyaniichuan too!"
Ukyo looked at Ranma with a look one would give upon being asked if they had eaten staples and Post-Structuralist Theory for lunch.
"What are you talking about? I'm a girl."
Ranma stood, mouth agape, "Wait, what! T-then why the outfit?"
Ukyo closed her eyes, holding back tears, "Dammit, Ranchan! When you left, I gave up my femininity for revenge. You left me! Even after you father promised I'd marry you when we came of age! Even after he took my father's cart as a dowry!"
Ranma's jaw dropped, "Uh... come again?"
Ukyo looked flabbergasted, "Don't tell me you didn't know!"
"Hell no!. The old bastard engaged me to you, too?"
"What do you mean 'too'?"
Ranma pointed back at Akane, "I'm engaged to her. Since before we were born." Ranma then sat next to Ukyo. The red-haired girl mussed her hair in frustration.
"Ugh! Then there's Shampoo, this Amazon girl I beat in a fight. They have some crazy law so I'm supposed to marry her. Oh and there's a crazy gymnast who thinks my boy form is her destined lover, even though she thinks I'm a witch when I look like this."
Ukyo just ignored these other details and said, with an air of finality, "So your father... tricked my father?"
"Hey, you wanna kill him, all right by me. I really didn't know, Ucchan. I'm sorry for everything you went through."
Ranma gave the other girl a deep hug.
"Ranchan!" Ukyo gasped in surprise.
"Look, I don't know what you been through, but I'm tellin' you, you don't gotta give up your femininity. I mean, unless you want to. You're pretty cute either way, if ya ask me."
Ukyo suddenly blushed.
Akane looked at Ranma, cross expression in her eyes. "Ranma, you, pervert!"
"Hey! You agree with me, right Akane?" Ranma motioned with her eyes towards Ukyo.
Akane blanched as she looked at Ukyo for a moment.
"Tha-that's beside the point! You have four girls after you! What do you have to say for yourself?"
Ranma stood up, brushing her pants off, "I don't even know anymore, tomboy." She extended a hand and helped Ukyo up, "Anyways, I hope you stick around Ucchan. I'd love to have a old friend by my side."
Ukyo turned a deep shade of scarlet as she walked away, her head down and her hands clasped together in front of her.
Ranma for her part, leaned against the building, enjoying the shade of the late morning sun, eyes closed. Akane stood in front of the tired girl, her angry glare having softened into bemusement.
Ranma spoke quietly, "Thanks Akane. For once, your anger was useful."
"Oh just shut up for once, Ranma. Stupid girl-boy."
"Okay, okay. Jeez, Akane..." A moment of silence passed between the two before Ranma said, softly, "She is pretty cute though, huh?"
Akane stood next to Ranma and nodded, "Yeah, she is."
That afternoon at lunch, Ranma and Akane sat against a tree, eating their lunch. Afterward, Ranma stood, stretching his legs over her head and lightly punching the tree with a set of quick strikes.
"So what about last night?" Akane asked, still eating her lunch.
"Hmm... I dunno. I remember Ucchan, but he's... I thought he was a guy too! Maybe I've been wrong all these years?" she spun around, striking the tree with the side of her hands.
"I mean, we've been writing off and on for like 10 years now, though I was still in China the last time I wrote him. I got his address. Maybe I can send him a card? Who knows, maybe he... or she is having the same dreams?"
Two weeks later, Akane came home to find Ranma sitting at a table in the living room, fanning himself with an unopened envelope, staring at a seemingly interesting speck on the wall. The envelope was off-white with a slight tint of pink in color and adorned with hearts and cherry blossoms. Akane looked at Ranma and the two shared a skeptical look at the envelope as she sat down.
Akane hesitantly asked, "Is that..."
"Yeah." Ranma nodded, still staring at the wall.
"You don't think..."
"I've been sitting here three hours thinking just that."
Ranma took a swig from the long cooled teacup and slowly opened the letter. A photograph fell out along with a sheet of paper that looked similar to the envelope. The letter had been handwritten in a precise, yet delicate script.
He started reading it aloud.
Long time no write. Back from China, huh? Meet any cute china girls while you were there? How's Tokyo? Osaka is all right, but kinda boring. Nothing really happens outside of punching the clock. Maybe one day I'll be lucky and a cute face will show up at the okonomiyaki stand one of these days?
In response to your questions. One, I'm a boy. Last time I checked anyway. One sec... yep, still a boy. Is everything all right, Ranma? I know I'm not the most masculine of men, but I'd think you remember that I'm a guy. Remember that peeing contest when we were six? Just cause I've had a boyfriend or two doesn't make me a girl, you know?"
"Jeez, everyone is coming out to me this year..." Ranma lowered his head in exhaustion
"Would you just keep reading the letter, idiot!" Akane yelled.
"All right, all right, jeez! Slave-driving tomboy..."
Ranma cleared his throat and continued,
"Two, I don't really remember my dreams, but the night after I got your postcard, I had one where I ran a store in Tokyo. There was this cute ninja girl who worked for me, though it turned out he was really a cute boy. Ah well, cute is cute if you ask me. I also had one were I fought with spatulas, like a ninja or something. It looked fun, but I think I prefer jiu jitsu.
Anyway, now that you're back in Japan, feel free to hit me up if you ever make it all the way down to Kansai. Or maybe I can spend the money and get my ass to Tokyo and I can show you just how much of a guy I truly am, Saotome?
P.S. Sorry about the stationery. I didn't have anything except what my ex-girlfriend gave me. Kinda awkward now that I think about it. Anyways, later, dude.
Ranma put the letter down, confused.
"Well, that answers that, I guess. But now I'm even more confused."
"Was he hitting on me? I mean, I guess I'm flattered, but..."
Akane slapped him on the back of the head.
Akane then picked up the included photo and studied it intently for a few minutes.
"Jeez, even I can't tell if that's a guy or not. If he is, he one of the first guys I ever thought was cute."
Ranma took the photo from her. He looked at the face closely. Ukyo was wearing a gakuran and had long brown hair, like in the dream, but Ranma noted that the face was slightly narrower and that the boy in the photo had traces of peach fuzz on his chin.
"This is gonna sound weird, but somehow I feel like it's my fault Ukyo is a guy, after all."
Akane turned her head slightly, "You're really strange sometimes, Ranma."
The next night, Ranma and Akane found themselves in a forest. Akane in particular found herself tied up and hanging up from a tree limb. She saw Ranma, her red hair in disarray as she stared down a smug-looking Ryouga.
"Why am I tied up like this? Ranma! Help!"
"Hush Child. You are the prize after all." The elder Cologne quietly joked.
"I'm not a prize! I'm a fighter!"
"Hush! I've too much to do at present for your prattle. Son-in-Law! Prepare yourself."
Ranma shook her head, "Yeah, yeah, I'm ready for whatever you're up to, you old mummy. Ryouga! I ain't afraid of a little poke."
"Even if one touch means death?" Ryouga asked, his voice a paragon of calm hostility.
Ranma gulped slightly, "N-No! 'sides, I ain't gonna let you get close bacon breath!"
"Oh, you poor deluded girl..." Ryouga said.
"I'm a guy!"
"Hah, so you say! Watch yourself, Ranma! Here I come!"
Ryouga leapt at Ranma, who jumped back as the ground where she stood exploded in shards of rock. Ranma grabbed the shards of stone that came her way and, after the explosion, dropped them and lunged forward, striking Ryouga in the gut with a haymaker.
Akane blinked and thought to herself, "That wasn't a punch... that was dozens of strikes at once. Like the Tenshin Amaguriken."
Ryouga slumped down momentarily before getting up.
Ranma yelled, "Jeez! Stay down, you stubborn pig!"
"Ha. it'll take more than a little sting like that to get me."
Ryouga once again charged Ranma. She, dodged under his extended pointer finger and, using his momentum, threw him behind her rapidly. Ryouga, however, grabbed the collar of her shirt and the two sped down the side of the mountain, until they found themselves airborne, a wide river below.
Ranma yelled in frustration, "Dammit, Ryouga! I didn't wanna fall again!"
As she said this, everything turned white and she found herself falling only a few feet below to an equally white floor.
Standing up shakily, she saw only Cologne and Akane, now free from her bonds and standing.
"Where... am I?" Ranma said, scanning the expanse of nothingness around her.
"Come now Son-in-law. We haven't much time for games. The biggest weakness of this spell is how little time we have for pleasantries."
Ranma raised her fists at the matriarch, "Old goat! What is the meaning of this? What did you do?"
"Surely you're aware that you're in a dream, Son-in-Law. Isn't that correct Akane Tendo?"
"Huh? What are you talking about? Dream?"
"Hmm. Come now, you are not merely a spectator, as much as you wish to believe it to be the case. I know that Son-in-law is quite aware of his actions."
"Dammit! who are you really!" Ranma yelled.
"I suppose it's most accurate to say that I'm an echo. A spirit that lives in this plane of existence."
Akane shook her head as understanding took hold.
"R-Ranma? Is this... This is the dream isn't it?"
The red-haired fighter slowly nodded.
"Y-Yeah, it is."
"Why do you look like that?"
"Cause I'm cursed in the dream. I can't change that, but also..." she looked down, shame-faced, "I thought you'd like me better like this. And I'm also-"
"I mean, I really liked you and it ain't like I decided to be cursed in the dream, but if I was gonna have it anyway, I may as well use it. It's not that important, right?" Ranma asked, quickly.
"You tricked me." Akane said in a voice that registered a certain amount of finality.
"What? No! I didn't. I-"
"No, Ranma. You tricked me! You never told me you could control things in the dream. Is this your idea of a joke? The four fiancees? the wacky martial arts? You let me think the things happening to you were out of your control like they were for me! You made me so confused about... everything!" She gave the red-haired apparition a cold look.
"Ranma Saotome, I trusted you."
Ranma winced at those words, but yelled back, "No! It ain't like that! I can't control the things that happen to me here! I know I should have told you sooner, but I didn't want to say it because I didn't want you to hate me." Ranma's head drooped once more as she admitted:
"I really care about you even though I probably shouldn't"
"Well you thought right, then. You did something I don't think I can forgive. Why did you do it? Was it just to trick me? So you could laugh at me? Were you trying to get back at me because I didn't want to be engaged to a boy!" Akane spit the words out. She felt ill, nauseous, as though she taste the bile in the back of her throat.
Ranma collapsed in a heap, tears pouring from her eyes, "It ain't about you. Not really. It... it was just curiosity at first. I said I can't control what happens, just how I react. I had this curse and I just wanted to see. I wasn't gonna have a chance otherwise. It's just..."
"It's just what?" Akane said, anger now being cut down by confusion.
"I- I didn't think I would like it this much. That it would feel so easy."
Ranma sighed, "Do you feel this way all the time? Like moving, breathing, living feels absolutely effortless? Is this what other people feel? When I'm awake, it always feel like I'm trapped in lead and foam rubber. I feel like such a creep and a pervert, but I don't think I've ever felt more alive than like I am now."
Akane was quiet for a while as she looked at the shamed figure. The boy who had charmed her into thinking of him as something more than a friend, to her dismay.
"I don't know what to tell you. I barely even want to speak to you now. You played with my heart, using me to fulfill some stupid desire. Am I right? I am, aren't I!"
Ranma looked up at Akane and protested loudly, her tears leaving a sheen on her cheeks, "No! I wasn't trying to hurt you! I'm sorry I did. I don't even know what to do anymore. You said I made you sway, or lose your bearings, but I'm totally lost here! What am I supposed to do?"
The tension was thick between the two teenagers as Cologne stepped in between them, standing upon her cane.
"I have an answer for you. Son-in-Law. You as well, Akane Tendo. Whatever your personal feelings, I ask that you do an old woman an favor and remain silent as I speak." The two begrudgingly nodded.
"The world you live in now is the result of several mistakes."
"What do you mean?"
"I said to remain silent, son-in-law!" Cologne hit Ranma on the head with her staff. Ranma stood, clutching her head in agony.
"All I can say is that, because of the actions of the past, the present is cut off from the power of the heavens and, worst of all, the true potential of the spirit."
Cologne pointed her cane at Ranma's chest, "You child. Your presence was foretold by our prophecies. You were fated to be the greatest fighter in generations and, among other things," the figure looked wistful, "my great-granddaughter Shampoo would be fighting for your affections." Ranma twinged at the thought.
"You would also be twice the fighter you presently are. Granted, you are quite formidable as it stands, but without access to your chi, your power is but a shadow of your true potential."
"My chi? I got it. I can feel it when I fight. I spent three years training to sense it."
"Alas, what you possess in reality is, in comparison, tantamount to nothing. The power you have in the realm of dreams should be evidence of that. The fact that you can feel it at all is merely testament to role you are bound to play."
"So why the dreams?" Ranma asked slowly.
"Ah, if things had come to pass as intended, they would be unnecessary. As it stands. this was the only way I could make myself available to train you."
"You say you do not know what to do. I will tell you: train with me. You two must learn the skills that should never have been lost."
"Us Two'? I thought it was the pervert who was foretold." Akane snapped.
Cologne cackled lightly, "That is true Tendo. However, you have surpassed my expectations. You are truly a strong woman, for an outsider such as yourself. I suspect Son-in-Law's training has had its effect on you or perhaps, your feelings for him."
Akane balked at the claim, "I don't like Ranma like that! I'm not sure I even like him at all right now." Ranma shrunk at those words as Cologne cackled loudly once more.
"Be that as it may, I'd rather two martial artists learn what they can from me since the opportunity has presented itself. However, I only have so much time."
Cologne tapped the ground with her cane. They were now standing by a slowly flowing river, an unconscious P-Chan resting along the bank nearby.
"It may seem troublesome, but your training here will be best served by going through these events as they would have been. If nothing else, it will serve as a practical exercise. I will be here to instruct you in what I know, though I suggest taking notes."
"So our dreams are a training ground for learning powerful attacks that, according to you, haven't been seen in at least two generations?"
"That is part of it, Akane Tendo. However, this is about more than the physical aspects of your power. The long term effects are far more important. You will eventually need to figure out how to restore the connections between humans and the heavens. Between people and their own will made manifest. Even if you master the techniques here, you will be responsible for releasing your potential in reality. It is, again, another one of my limitations as an entity that exists only in dreams."
"How do we do that?"
"If you master the techniques here, I dare say the answer will come to you."
"An old mummy like you would say that, huh?"
"That's the spirit, Son-in-Law. Now, shall we? You seem to have gotten the hang of the Kachuu Tenshin Amaguriken. Tendo, you watched Ryouga. Care to try a hand at the Bakusai Tenketsu?"
"Isn't that dangerous?"
Cologne suddenly poked Ranma in the head as she asked, "What, this Bakusai Tenketsu?"
Ranma nearly fainted dead away as Cologne laughed hoarsely.
"It only works on inanimate objects. It was invented by quarry workers a thousand years ago. The true power is in how durable it makes you. Now then, if you will." Cologne said, pointing at a nearby boulder.
Akane took a deep breath, and tried to find the weak spot in the boulder. Her mind was distracted by thinking of Ranma and the red-headed girl's stupid head. Her mind was so distracted the rock in front of her began to remind her of Ranma. In channeling her rage, she found a point glowing brightly."
"Stupid Girl-Boy Pervert! Bakusai Tenketsu!"
Ranma scrambled to catch all of the shards in her direction, missing one which lightly cut her cheek as it zoomed by.
"Woah..." was Akane's response between breaths as the force of the attack knocked her winded.
Ranma nodded, "Yeah..."
Then they woke up.
Ranma's eyes sprung open.
For the first time in a long while, he dreaded what the future held.
So we find ourselves in another cliffhanger. I initially said it was two parts, but the story really called for one more part after all.
Thank you all for your reviews. I've been working hard )harder than I probably should given my commitments this summer) making this story work.
Thank you to Monkeys With Typewriters for doing some brief pre-reading for me. If anyone is interested, I could always use pre-readers for this story, Balance, or Hourou Budouka.
Thanks and happy reading,