I do not own anything written by Rumiko Takahashi or Kosuke Fujishima.
The red-haired succubus floated beside Akane as the youngest Tendo strode along the sidewalk toward the dojo, Ranma smiling at the way her student was almost skipping with the joy she was radiating. They'd had a couple days to make up for Ryoga's late-night visit (and for Ranma to mostly recover from the beating she'd received, she thought, though a wonderful session with her lover had maybe also helped — she was still working out just what her capabilities and limitations were). So in spite of the long boring Monday evening Akane and Ranma in human form spent sitting in mystic circles while Nabiki and Nodoka had chanted in order to strengthen their protections against mystical assault, followed by a long and equally boring Tuesday at school, the succubus was in almost as good a mood as the human girl. The practice session at the park, the nature spirit hiding behind trees, benches, and people while trying to ambush Akane, had gone very well — Akane's newly awakened sense (or perhaps a sense she was newly aware of) was proving even more effective for tracking and detection than sight. Like Ranma's sight when a succubus, it was blocked by anything alive but not by nonliving objects (like Akane's clothes, and the suddenly blushing succubus forced her eyes up to her companion's face).
"Hey, Tomboy, ya did good," the redhead said at last.
Akane glanced out of the corner of her eye toward the spot where she could sense her sensei, face clouding up and joy tingeing with anger at the nickname for a moment before she forced a grin. "Thanks — and I didn't even have Nabiki around to distract you," she jibed back. "I'm a little surprised you did so well, with how late you two stayed up last night."
Ranma's blush deepened, her hand rubbing the back of her neck under her loose hair, happy that the other girl couldn't see her. "Uh, yeah, sorry 'bout that, didn't mean ta keep ya up," she mumbled. "We think it might help me —" get over that beatin' I took. "Ah ..."
"Why didn't we wait after school for Nabiki, anyway?" Akane asked after a moment, when it became obvious her sensei (and friend?) wasn't going to finish the sentence.
"Nabiki had ... business ta take care of, and —" and I didn't want ta be there as a human, 'cause it'd look like I'm the muscle fer her blackmail. And it'd be even worse as a spirit, 'cause they really hate Nabs, and she's miserable about it.
Looking around for a distraction, the succubus puffed out a light sigh of relief at the sight of three girls she thought she recognized from class in a nearby vacant dirt lot carrying weird-shaped clubs and surrounding another girl. The stranger's smoothly muscled body was enclosed in the faint image of an unfamiliar school uniform and her hair was tied up in an oddly off-center ponytail. "Akane, eyes right," Ranma murmured.
As Akane turned to look, the three Furinkan girls charged toward the stranger, shrieking their anger. Even as they ran forward, clubs upraised and thrown, the stranger stepped back and raised a hand, and Ranma's eyes widened as the entire length of the ribbon she sent spinning toward her attackers glowed with ki. The strength of the glow failed to match that of Kuno's bokken or Ryoga's bandanas, but it strengthened the swirling fabric enough that airborne clubs were knocked aside. Tthe attackers screamed in pain as it slammed across them and knocked them to the ground.
"If I may restate it ... !" the stranger shouted, her ribbon spinning around her, " ... perhaps this ... or this ... or this will be clearer!" With each shout, the ribbon slashed out at her defeated attackers, smashing them shrieking back into the dirt — until with a loud SNAP Ranma caught the ribbon with one hand, flying backwards to pull its wielder stumbling forward. The girl recovered and moved back, eyes widening as her weapon's length pulled taut, running suspended in the air from her hand to wrap around apparently empty space.
"Don't ya think that's enough?" the now hovering invisible succubus asked. "I mean, you've already won, right?"
"What kind of magic is this?" the stranger gasped, and the ribbon's glow began to fade as she lost her concentration in her shock.
Behind Ranma, Akane helped their schoolmates to their feet. Ranma ignored the murmurs behind her as her future sister-in-law ushered the three girls back away from the confrontation, focused on the stranger staring at the space occupied by her ribbon-wrapped hand. 'Ranko' and 'fight' were the only words she understood. Then the ki completely faded from the fabric, and it dropped through her fist to the ground. "No magic," Ranma replied with an invisible shrug, "just Ranko, a local spirit that don't much care fer people that keep up the beatin' after they've won."
"Not even a spirit may interfere in the affairs of a Kuno!" the stranger declaimed, and as she spoke she slipped a foot under the handle of one of her attackers' clubs. Kicking it up, she caught it and Ranma dropped straight down to bury herself waist-deep in the bare earth as wood suddenly shining with ki swept through the air where her shoulders had been a moment before.
Spinning to fly through the murky ground, looking up through the surface, the succubus passed beneath the girl (resolutely ignoring the view it gave her through see-through panties) to come up directly behind the stranger, clasped-together hands catching a heel and spilling the girl forward as Ranma headed skyward.
The girl reached forward as she fell, her dress flaring out around her as she turned her stumble into a handspring. She spun around as she landed on her feet, futilely searching for her invisible opponent. "I see I have some preparations to make before we meet again," she said. "Remember, I am Kuno Kodachi, the Black Rose of St. Bacchus's School for Girls!" And with that, she bound to the top of the fence at the side of the empty lot and away across the translucent roofs, wild laughter trailing behind.
From where she hovered scores of feet about the ground, Ranma watched Kodachi dwindle into the distance. "Great, another Kuno, as crazy as Tatewaki," she muttered.
Turning and looking down, the redhead found Kodachi's three attackers clustered about her student, tears rolling down their cheeks, wailing, "Akane, please, you have to help us!"
"So you were all ambushed? The entire rhythmic gymnastics martial arts team?" Akane asked from where she sat on her bed. Her eyes were locked on the bruises and bandages on the faces of the three girls kneeling on the bedroom floor on the other side of a tea tray set for four.
"Every one of us!" one of the girls agreed. "None of us will be able to compete now, we'll have to withdraw from the match!"
From where she was hovering above the bed beside her student Ranma had to agree, the succubus's eyes hard as she surveyed the multitude of cuts and what must be bone-deep bruises she could see through the faint images of their clothes, covering the girls' bodies.
"Akane, you must take our place, no one else at Furinkan can possibly keep that bitch from getting away with this!" another girl asserted, tears streaming down her face.
Whoa, hold on a minute! Ranma glanced over at the youngest Tendo. As she'd feared, the girl's eyes had lit up at the request.
"Of course —" Akane started, before Ranma broke in.
"A' course you'll ask yer sensei about it first, right?"
Akane turned to look up at the spot where she sensed her teacher hovering, face darkening with anger, only to break off to take a deep breath. After all, Ranma was right — she had accepted him as her teacher, and she had to accept the limitations that went with it. And they had a cover story to maintain. "So why don't you switch so I can ask him?" she ground out.
Ranma nodded in spite of the fact that only Akane could 'see' it, and glanced down through the floor at the furo. The room on the floor below was empty. "No problem."
"From Ranko's memories, ya want Akane ta take yer place at the next match, right?" Ranma asked from where he now sat on the bed beside Akane, dressed in a set of his preferred Chinese clothes that was kept in the room by the furo.
The girls nodded.
"So tell me just what this rhythmic gymnastics martial arts is all about."
One long explanation later, Ranma had to admit that the basic concept wasn't all that bad. Sure, the ball and hoop were pretty silly, but the clubs and ribbon were useful and the training and flexibility needed for the moves was top-notch. "An' when's the match?"
"Uh ..." The girls exchanged nervous glances. "Next Tuesday."
"Next Tuesday ... ya mean one week? You expect Akane ta learn a completely new style in one week?"
Ranma opened his mouth to reject the request outright, but paused at the pleading expressions on the faces of the three girls ... and his student. "Bring over the equipment an' some training manuals, an' I'll see what we can do," he finally agreed with a sigh. "If by next week I think Akane's got a shot at at least makin' a decent showing, we're in. But only if, an' I wouldn't count on it."
But his last sentence was drowned out by happy squeals from the team, and his heart sank as the three girls jumped up to hug Akane, then rushed from the room to fetch the requested equipment and manuals. This was not going to end well.
Standing by the dojo wall, Ranma took a deep breath. Okay, let's see if I've figured this right. He took several steps to build some momentum, tucked to roll — and the hoop in his hands caught on his heels, he landed flat on his back, and the hoop snapped between his hands.
He stared for a moment at the broken rhythmic gymnastics martial art accessory, then surged to his feet and hurled the hoop across the dojo. The hoop hit the wall a few yards from Akane and broke in half, making her flinch. Ranma noticed and took another deep breath and blew it out. "Okay, we're gonna hafta think a' somethin' else, this isn't working," he said with forced calm.
"I could have told you that," Akane said. "In fact, I did." She motioned to the stack of manuals on the floor by her feet. "What made you think you could learn it from pictures and descriptions in manuals, anyway?"
"Seein' Pop do it with scrolls he stole from places we stopped," Ranma snarled, then paused. "Ya know, I don't think I've mentioned those ta anyone. I'll hafta get 'em, get with Mom an' Nabiki an' see if we can figure out who they belong to an' give 'em back." He thought it over for a moment, then sighed and continued reluctantly, "Anyway, Pop has ta struggle, but he can do it. I figured the way I soak up techniques just by watchin' people do 'em, if Pop could do it, it'd be easy for me ta figure it out from the photos in the manual. Problem is, it isn't workin' — I need ta see the flow from beginning ta end instead a' just a few points."
Akane resisted the urge to twit Ranma over his admitting that there was something martial arts related that he couldn't do, at least not effortlessly. A side glance at the broken hoop and the way the ponytailed boy was beginning to pace made resisting temptation easy. Instead, she frowned thoughtfully. "The girls were too beat up to show you themselves, but what about video tapes?" she asked. "I'll bet they've taped a bunch of their matches. If they kept them, that would let you see the moves from beginning to end — and not just in practices, either."
Ranma broke off his angry stumping to turn and stare at his student. "They do that?"
"Yeah, haven't you ever been in a competition before?"
Ranma shook his head. "Nope, Pop said we shouldn't pick on civilians."
"More likely he didn't want to draw attention," Akane said, smirking. "They give out prizes, but you have to register."
"Yeah, you're right," Ranma agreed with a laugh. "The only thing that'd keep Pop from goin' fer easy money is gettin' the cops on his trail." Sobering, he continued, "An' yeah, videos'd be a big help. But that gets us ta the second problem, I'm a guy."
"I've noticed," Nabiki said.
The two turned to find Nabiki standing in the dojo doorway, a dusty Ryoga beside her carrying his umbrella and massive pack on his back. Instantly, they tensed up, looking for an opportunity to strike. "Let her go, Ryoga," Ranma growled. "You're fight's —"
"Whoa, easy!" Nabiki shouted, stepping in front of Ryoga and spreading her arms out. "I'm not a hostage, he isn't here to fight! I ran into him on the way home, and since he was heading here himself we came together."
Slowly, Ranma and Akane relaxed, and Akane shivered with the clash of conflicting emotions when she noticed the way her older sister seemed to ... relax, soften ... as their tension eased and her eyes met her lover's. On the one hand, her sister was sharing a bed with a part-time sex demon! She knew it wasn't Ranma's fault, it was her nature now (when he was a 'she', anyway), but still ... On the other hand, Nabiki seemed a lot happier since before she'd first met 'Ranko', not to mention was a lot easier to live with, her biting wit easing off into a wry sense of humor, at least with her sisters — she was becoming someone Akane actually liked, not just tolerated because they were family. If only magic wasn't part of the mix, the youngest Tendo thought with another shiver.
"You're a little late," Ranma commented.
"Yeah, since your ... since Mother has to move my training to the evenings so she can stay as long as she needs to at her business, after my meeting I decided to take some time to see if Gosunkugi had emptied out his little hidey hole yet, and make sure he hadn't left any traps behind — he seemed to be just the kind of vindictive asshole that would do that," Nabiki said nonchalantly.
"Did he?" Akane asked, intrigued against her will.
"Yes, and yes. Good thing I checked, too, the idiot didn't quite get the circles right, and he wouldn't have been the only one hit by the backlash. So I shielded and triggered them so he'd be the only one hit," Nabiki finished, smirking. "Nobody important gets hurt, and he gets another lesson in how incompetent he is."
"Nabiki, he may be incompetent, but —" Akane started, only to break off when she noticed Nabiki's eyes slide toward Ryoga. Right, keep it inside the family.
"Anyway, what's your problem with being male?" Nabiki hastily asked.
Akane and Ranma exchanged glances. "Well, on our way home ..." Ranma started.
A quick explanation later, and Nabiki was shaking her head. "Another Kuno, as nuts as the first, that's just ... wonderful," she muttered, rubbing her temples and thinking dark thoughts — she didn't want to try to kill the girl (or risk dying if it didn't work), but maybe if she got a hold of some of her hair ... "So what does that have to do with you being male?" she asked.
Ranma shrugged, and gestured toward the broken hoop. "First, I'm too big," he replied. "Second, guys aren't build the same way girls are, we don't walk the same way, bend the same way — I'm not sure I could curl up tight enough for some a' these stunts even if I was small enough. That's not a problem with Akane yet, 'cause we've been focusin' on her speed and gettin' her caught up on the basics, but this goes way beyond just speed."
"Got it, that makes sense," Nabiki mused. "But as stubborn as you are I doubt you're ready to give up, any ideas?"
"Well, actually ..." a little shamefaced, Ranma reached up to scratch under his ponytail. "I was thinkin' a' gettin' some help from the Amazons. I figure they have lots a' experience trainin' girls, an' Shampoo was using a couple a' clubs when she fought Ryoga."
"Not a bad idea," his lover complimented, "how did you intend to pay them?"
Nabiki rolled her eyes, chuckling. "Of course it didn't occur to you, you'd do it for free just to see if you'd learn something in the process. Don't worry about it, if need be I'll pay for it — this is family, after all, and I have quite a bit salted away. Actually, I'll come with you. I wanted to visit the Amazons, anyway. So does the Lost Boy, here," she added, stepping to the side out of Ryoga's way.
Akane and Ranma focused on a suddenly blushing fanged boy, and Ranma grinned. "Decided ta take 'em up on their offer, did ya?"
"Yeah, I ... wait, you know about it?" Ryoga demanded, tensing up.
"Yeah, I followed ya after they beat ya down, heard the whole thing," Ranma tossed off, then glanced over at a Nabiki suddenly inching to the side, away from the boy behind her.
"How dare you spy on me!" Ryoga erupted, charging forward.
"Whoa, easy!" Ranma shouted, throwing himself to one side as Akane dove away in the opposite direction, rolling to her feet braced for action. Ranma backpedalled as Ryoga followed up, thrusting repeatedly with his umbrella. "Hold up, I just wanted ta make sure you were all right!" he insisted as he dropped below another thrust and tried to kick the umbrella out of Ryoga's hand even as Akane slammed into the Lost Boy from the side. The larger boy managed to hold onto his umbrella, but staggered to the side as Akane's strike combined with the weight of his backpack to pull him off-balance.
Nabiki took the opportunity to step between the combatants. "That's enough!" she shouted. Turning to Ryoga, she said, "Hibiki-san, if you're going to make things work with your wives, you have to stop attacking Ranma whenever he pisses you off — something I'll admit he seems to have a talent for," she added with a smirk over her shoulder at her lover.
"Yeah, right," Ranma growled, glowering at Ryoga, and Nabiki sobered as a wave of worried self-disgust from the ponytailed boy washed over her.
Ryoga glowered back, but reluctantly nodded. "Whatever," he replied, then paused. His eyes dropped, his cheeks again darkening red. "Uh, could you guys take me to the park?"
Ranma held the glower for a moment, but finally sighed. "Sure," he agreed. "When did ya last eat?"
"Uhhh ... I don't know," Ryoga admitted, then winced as his stomach growled.
"Right, I'm sure Kasumi'll be happy ta feed ya, nothin' makes her happy like someone enjoying her cooking. Just don't try ta leave the kitchen till we come for ya. Akane, ya want ta use the furo first? I'll be goin' in spirit form. I can clean up after we get back, then we can do our homework while Mom whales away on ... ah, trains Nabiki."
"Actually, Mother called me to say we won't be training tonight, something came up," Nabiki broke in to add, with a grimace of her own as she started toward the dojo entrance. "She said we'll have to make it up in the morning."
A few minutes later, Nabiki looked around as she sensed her lover float into their room through the floor, up from the furo below. She smiled as her eyes roamed the length of the cute sex spirit on display. As she hoped, she felt her lover's mood lighten as the red-haired girl practically wriggled with pleasure at the wave of lust and love Nabiki sent her. Nabiki spread her arms. "Get over here," she said in a husky voice. Ranma eagerly floated over into the hug, her lips seeking her lover's as she settled into Nabiki's lap. After a long moment of luxuriating in the soft feel of skin against skin, Nabiki broke the kiss and sighed regretfully as Ranma's head dropped to rest on her shoulder. "Too bad we don't have time for a quickie," the middle Tendo murmured. "Besides, we don't want to disturb your mother."
"Mom? She's home? I thought ya said somethin' came up," Ranma murmured into the hollow of Nabiki's shoulder.
"It did. She's going to be out late, so she said she'd be coming home early to get in a nap, first. Oh, and she gotten everything turned in for changing your family names today."
"Oh." Ranma fell silent for a long moment, then sighed. "We might want ta cut back on the feeding, anyway ... Akane's complaining about the noise."
"Oh." Nabiki felt her cheeks heating. Hastily changing the subject, she asked, "Ranma, what was your problem with Ryoga, when I broke up the fight?"
"Caught that, did ya?" Ranma felt her lover's nod press into her hair. "I wasn't mad at Ryoga, he was just bein' stupid. I was mad at me."
"Yeah ... he caught me by surprise. After havin' Pop jump me whenever I get careless fer years, after gettin' ta the point that he almost never catches me off guard, and I'm surprised by a guy standin' right in front of me that I'm watchin'!" Nabiki felt the nature spirit's arms tighten around her. "It's this stupid body, I'm gettin' ta depend on its senses."
"Hey, there's nothing 'stupid' about that body! It's too cute for words," Nabiki asserted. She thought back to the night before and the mix of pleasure and love that had swept through her thanks to her lover's increasingly skilled fingers, and felt Ranma shiver as Nabiki's lust-filled love again washed through her. "And if you were normal, would you be able to feel that?" Ranma shook her head even as she relaxed. "And if you were normal, the first time we met would have been when your father brought you to the dojo. That ... would not have gone well." It was Nabiki's turn to shiver, as she thought of how her old bitter and sarcastic self would have reacted to being told that one of the sisters would have to marry an ignorant, egotistical boy whose only apparent redeeming feature was that he could beat people up — she'd probably have dumped him on Akane, and wouldn't that have worked out wonderfully!
Ranma shivered again, and not pleasantly this time, at the feelings of guilt and self-disgust her lover was suddenly radiating. "You're right, I'm glad things worked out like they did," she hastily said. "I'll just hafta remember ta be extra careful when I go anywhere as a guy."
Nabiki took a deep breath and shook off the might-have-beens. "Right, you're Saotome Ranma, you never lose. You'll deal with it, right?"
And I'll just have to put finding a way to enhance your senses while human at the top of my list, along with breaking the curse on big sis and the doc, finding a way to keep you from getting summoned whenever someone uses your name in the circle, strengthening the wards on everyone even further, surviving 'Mother's' evening training in kenjutsu, somehow getting everyone off my list of victims without incurring a karmic debt to the imps I used to collect the blackmail material, and figuring out what to do about a top-level demon trying to recruit me.
For a moment Nabiki quailed under the weight of her accumulated tasks and problems, only to yelp when Ranma reached right through her bra to tweak a nipple. "None a' that, not while I'm around!" the nature spirit insisted, leaning back and grinning at the pageboy-haired girl.
Nabiki giggled. "Right, I have you on my side, how can I lose?"
"Damn straight!" Ranma agreed, floating up and away from her seat in her lover's lap to strike a noble, self-confident pose. The effect was more than a little spoiled by the nature spirit's tiny, cute, and especially naked appearance, and Nabiki's giggles turned into laughter even as she felt herself heating up again.
A knock sounded on the doorframe of the open door, and the two looked over at Akane, standing there smiling at the scene, what she could see and sense of it. Nabiki returned the smile as she realized that this time there was nothing mixed about the pleasure her younger sister was taking in their happiness. She doubted Akane's complete acceptance was permanent, but the girl was coming around.
"I'm ready," Akane said, shaking her head and giggling a little, herself. "Let's get Ryoga and get going, maybe we can be back in time for dinner. Unless you two are too busy?"
Nope, we're good!" Ranma said hastily.
Akane's giggle turned into a laugh. "Gotcha!" she called back over her shoulder as she turned to lead the way back to the stairs.
Besides the obvious play on Kodachi's self-assumed label, the story title comes from a ritualized but deadly serious form of battle practiced by the Aztec Alliance and some of its enemies.