Subject: [PMFFML] [FFML-R] [repost][Fanfic][Ranma] Three Souls, One Heart Chapter 1-2
From: "David A. Tatum" <desaix@sysnet.net>
Date: 2/3/2001, 12:14 PM
To: <FFMLRefuge@listbot.com>

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I'm going to work on this fic again for a bit, but it's been a while since
I touched it... so I figured I'd repost the back chapters for those of you
who don't remember it.  Here are the first two chapters... chapters 3+4
will be posted tonight, and I'll try reposting 4 chapters a day until I get
the whole thing reposted.  (plus, this'll give you all something to read,
or talk about, or SOMETHING to get discussion going on this list...)

Ranma 1/2:  Three Souls, One Heart
by David A. Tatum

Disclaimer:  Ranma 1/2 obviously does not belong to me, but to its creator,
Rumiko Takahashi (and to the producers of the anime...)

Author's Notes:  I've had this in the planning stages for months now.  Now
that Return of the Sister's is stalled until a side story is written, I
figured I'd get at least one part of this thing out.

Chronological Notes (kept separate for those people who NEVER read author's
notes):   Okay, the Ranma stories I write are always a anime\manga mesh
(unless otherwise noted).  Now, the movies are part of the anime-only
collection... and haven't exactly got a set place.  So I'm going to set it
immediately after the second movie, but before about a week before they
return from Toma's island.  For this fanfics purposes, I will say the
second movie happened AFTER the last manga.  (Okay, so Ranma fights a lot
better at the end of the manga than he ever did in the anime- maybe after
he literally tore Saffron apart he couldn't bring himself to fight all-out,
fearing he'd get carried away and do that sort of thing to someone who he
doesn't quite hate so much, like, say, Ryouga.  We'll see if I can work
that into the story, as I like doing things with the anime\manga
incongruities (where do you think RotS's Nodoka came from?  She's not out
of character, she's just got multiple characters...))

On with the story...
-------------------------

Chapter 1:

Toma glared at the young man standing on the flat of his practice sword. 
"Huh... if you had fought that effectively in our earlier battle, Ranma, I
would have given up before we reached the sacred spring, and you would not
have had to destroy it," the young prince snorted, disgusted by his
failure.

Ranma shook his head sadly.  "If I'd known your style as well then as I do
now, I probably would have.  I still might have, but... well, it's easy
enough to see what mistakes you can make after you have made them."

He surreptitiously glanced at Akane, who was watching the sparring match
with interest, before leaping down from the sword.  'There goes another of
those mistakes,' he thought to himself.  'When we were about to get married
two months ago, she told me that she could go through with it because I
loved her.  I denied it, of course- I didn't want her to marry me because
she felt obligated to return my feelings, and I certainly didn't want her
to marry me because our parents made her!  But then... in the battle here
last week, she tells me she likes me the way I am.  Dammit, if only I'd
known how she felt then!  Now, I can't tell her at all, because I've
already denied it!  If I-'  Ranma didn't finish his thought as pain
exploded from his side.  

"Is your mind somewhere else?" Toma asked, surprised himself that the blow
hit.  "You would have been able to dodge that even the first time we
fought."

"True," Ranma nodded.  "I'm not able to focus, though.  Something else is
on my mind."  He couldn't stop himself from turning his eyes towards Akane
briefly, something which she missed but Toma didn't.

He smiled knowingly.  "Ah, of course.  I believe the same thing was on my
mind briefly during our battle.  You mustn't let yourself get distracted by
such things, though, or else you will take many more hits than you should."

Ranma thought briefly to the blow he had taken almost a year beforehand as
his eye was caught by a photo of a particular young woman in a yellow gi
that had flown out of a certain kendoist's pocket.  "Heh... I guess you're
right.  That particular distraction has been getting me hurt for more than
a year now, though I wouldn't want to get rid of it for anything."  He
frowned.  "It nearly WAS removed in a very permanent way a couple months
ago... and I went crazy and tore apart the person responsible- and I mean
tore apart."

Akane was not completely oblivious.  She thought they might be talking
about her, but she didn't know for certain until that last phrase.  There
was only one person Ranma had literally dismembered, and that person was
Saffron.  As he and Toma continued to pretend they weren't talking about
her, a small voice came into her head.  'See?  He does have some feelings
for you.  He just said he never wanted you to go away for anything.  He
loves you, and he KNOWS that he loves you, but he's just too shy to tell
you.'

'Oh, come on!' another part of her argued.  'I can see how he being shy
could keep him from telling me how he feels, but DENYING it?  Besides, he's
a loudmouthed hentai baka- why should I care?'

'Oh, nonsense,' the other voice said.  'You can't lie to me.  I know how
you feel- I know everything about you.  I know you dream about him, I know
you worry for him in his fights... and I know you fantasize about him when
you're alone and hor-'

'Shut up!  That's something which you shouldn't be bringing up when he's
around!'

'Oh?' the voice asked, amused.  'Why's that?  Because you're afraid of what
he might think?  Or because you might actually say what you feel?  Or
because you might forget yourself, tear off your clothes, and drag him to
your bed, regardless of who's watching, like you were dreaming about last
night, hmm?'

Akane blushed.  'H-hey!  That's...'

'Right on target?'

She didn't respond for several seconds before a new line of thought
occurred to her.  'Say... who are you, anyway?  You've been talking in my
head for more than half a year now.'

'You really want me to tell you?' the voice asked, surprised.  'All right,
fine... but you're not going to like the answer.'

'Try me,' she demanded.

'Well... I suppose you deserve to know that.  I'm someone who once tried to
kill that man you love- who, despite your misgivings, seems to love you
more than life itself- much more.  After all, while I was here, I did a
little searching of your memories- there was a time he said he'd give up
his life for his martial arts, but he wouldn't give up his manhood.  Well,
what did he do when YOUR gender was threatened?  Not your life, your
GENDER!?  He destroyed what might be his last chance to restore his
manhood!'  Akane was silent for a moment, and the voice continued. 
'Anyway, I once tried to kill him, but failed.  He... you BOTH saved me
when I nearly destroyed myself in that attempt.  I doubt you even remember
me, though you might remember what I did.  I was known as th-'

"Hey, Akane," Ranma broke in, breaking into her thoughts and chasing away
the voice.  "Oh, sorry about startling you.  Toma and I are done now, so if
you're ready for some practice yourself I'll help you work out a little. 
Might as well make use of these training facilities while we can- Toma told
me we should reach Japan in a couple of days."

Akane, a little flustered at the sudden interruption but unable to get mad
at Ranma about it, merely stood up and nodded at him.  After all, it wasn't
often Ranma actually VOLUNTEERED to help her work on her martial arts...

*	*	*	*	*

Floating in a sealed wooden crate, a once-powerful entity dreamed of what
it once was.  It could only dream, however, because even if it were to
escape from its airtight prison it would never be able to return to its old
self- the jailer had made that impossible with the specific ward he had
used, in combination with the powerful spell which had placed it.

This dream had been dreamt by the crate's prisoner since its one-time ally
had betrayed it on the beach and stolen its power before capturing it and
forcing it into the floating... no, hell was better than this prison.

Oh, true, had it had the chance, it would have betrayed its ally as well,
but not until they were nearer to its goal of world conquest.  Somehow,
though, their goals were not the same- it wanted power, the ally wanted
wine, women, and food.  And it had been 'scaring away the women.'

Like many others this night, however, its thoughts of the past were
intruded upon before they could be completed.  However, unlike the others,
this particular being was happy about the intrusion- for the crate in which
it was held was broken open, and the seal was destroyed.  Now, all that the
oni had to do was to break the curse of perversion that its one-time ally
Happosai had placed on it.

*	*	*	*	*

Hideki Yoshii, a footsoldier in Prince Toma's Royal Guard since the
floating island had last been near Japan three years ago, had been enjoying
himself for the first time since he accepted that advertisement and took
the soldiers job.  Sure, employment in any army was certain to have a lot
of hard work, but there was little danger of actually going to war in an
army as small as Toma's, and the job was on a tropical island.  Tropical
islands were filled with pretty girls who would be in awe of a 'mighty
warrior,' right?

The true horror of the island 'paradise' was hidden from him until after it
was too late to turn back.  Who would have known that there weren't ANY
girls on Toma's island?  Oh, sure, there was the Prince's harem, but all
those girls were his 'property,' and so if anyone were to do anything with
them...  Well, perhaps it wouldn't have been as bad as he imagined it would
be, but it still probably would be pretty painful.  The Prince had shown
himself to be a very... intimidating... fighter.

But finally the girls were 'released' into the custody of his minions, and
so he quickly snatched the nearest girl and dragged her off to his room. 
Despite her surprise at the sudden change in her condition, the girl soon
fell to his charms, and nearly two years of his pent-up frustration had
been released in one night.  She was now talking about marriage, but...
well, Hideki wasn't too certain he was ready for that just yet.  Still, now
that he thought about it, she wasn't a bad catch, and most of his army
friends were getting married to their girls.  Maybe it wouldn't be TOO
bad...

"Good-bye, dear," Yoshii said, absent-mindedly kissing his lover on the
cheek.  "I'm off to work- I've got beach patrol tonight."

She smiled, grabbed him, and gave him a VERY deep, passionate, and
lingering kiss.  "I'll just have to wait till morning then, won't I,
'Deki-chan?"

Nah, probably wouldn't be too bad at all...

*	*	*	*	*

Yoshii glanced around his patrol station.  Where was the man he was
supposed to relieve?  He gripped the army-issued ceremonial trident that
was the symbol of his post (well, largely ceremonial.  The steel tines on
it were sharp enough to tear through inch-thick armor) tighter, and looked
around cautiously.  Something about this whole situation felt wrong...

"Kyah!" a voice cried loudly, giving Hideki just enough time to leap out of
the way before a different trident would have gone through his chest.

"What in-" Yoshii cried from his knees as the polearm was thrust at him
again by someone who was wearing the same uniform he was.  Instinctually
acting on his training, he rolled back and cross-checked the attacker's
thrust to deflect it above him.  He felt a sharp blow to his chin as the
back of the weapon's shaft was flicked into his face, and went flying
backwards.  He slowly stood up, his vision blurred.

Yoshii blinked, trying to focus.  For a brief instant, his head cleared,
and he could see his opponent clearly.  'Are those... horns?' he thought,
seconds before a glint of steel caught his attention.  He raised his own
trident defensively, but the blades on his opponent's polearm sliced
through the wooden hilt of his own weapon.  Fortunately, though, the
last-second action had deflected the blow a bit, but not enough to stop it.
 Just the flat of the metal tip grazed him, but that graze was delivered
with more force than Yoshii had ever experienced.  He was sent flying to
his side, colliding head-first into a tree before falling unconscious.

*	*	*	*	*

Ranma was slow to awaken.  Blinking, he slowly opened his eyes to see
Akane's anxious face as she shook him.  Immediately, three things pierced
Ranma's sleep-ridden mind.  'Akane's waking me up... she's not doing it
with the mallet or a bucket of water... and she looks worried.  Hmm...'

He bolted upright.  "Akane, what's wrong?!" he asked, a little concern
creeping into his somewhat panicked voice.  Not enough that he couldn't
deny it if he had to, though.

"Toma said to join him in the hospital right away- it's an emergency.  One
of his soldiers was nearly killed!"

Ranma visibly relaxed, now that he knew none of his friends had been
harmed.  "Okay.  You go tell him that I'll be with him right after I get
dressed, okay?"  Akane nodded and ran out of the room.  "Huh... she's not
acting like herself.  Must be something serious."  He stood up, slipped on
the previous day's shirt and pants (because he didn't think he had time to
recover his one clean shirt from the laundry) and dashed off towards the
hospital.

When he arrived, Akane was standing next to another young woman, her arms
circling her comfortingly as she cried.  Ranma looked down into the bed
they were standing next to, and noticed one of the island's Royal Guards
lying unconscious, his head and side covered in gauze bandages.

Toma stepped out of the shadows and whispered to Ranma, "Can I talk to you
privately for a moment?"  Ranma nodded, and followed the prince to a small,
isolated room.  "You saw Hideki Yoshii- the soldier who was in the hospital
bed.  According to his lover, Marie Desaix, she was coming to the beach to
surprise him when she caught what looked like one of our soldiers standing
over him, about to run him through with a trident.  The attacker ran upon
discovery, but she was able to get a good look first.  What she saw leads
me to believe I might need the help of you and your... friends."

Ranma nodded.  "Well, I can't speak for everyone, but I'll help you.  What
is it that she saw?"

"Two horns, here and here on his head," he gestured.  "Like a man possessed
by an oni."

Ranma stood unmoving for a moment before bursting out into laughter.  "Oh,
is that all?  We've already dealt with that sort of thing once- I'm pretty
sure we can do it again.  Just start getting a bunch of spirit wards made,
and we'll handle it."

*	*	*	*	*

'Damn,' the oni, still possessing Master Sergeant Alejandro Perez (a native
of Spain who had joined Toma's band when the floating island had been in
the Pacific seven years before), thought to himself.  'I thought Happosai's
spell had failed, and that I was still able to direct the actions of the
more weak-minded of those who I possessed, but I was forced to run from
that woman.  It looks as though I was wrong, though- I can only control the
wills of men with little mental discipline when there are no women around.'
 Perez began pacing.  'Without a host which I can act through, my plans
will fail or I will have to build my strength till I can fight without a
host.  This is not acceptable- I am going to have to find a way to end this
curse he has placed on me.  It will take too long to build the strength
without being able to react to other women.  But how can I force my host to
make love to a woman when I must run from one if I'm in a man?  I mean, I
suppose I could possess a woman and find a lesbian, but I can't control
females that easily- they would have to WANT me to influence their actions,
or I couldn't get them to do more than petty atrocities like that Kasumi
girl I was in.'  Alejandro shook his head.  'So what do I do?'

Perez's spirit, a weak little soul but well hardened due to his years of
service in various militaries (he had been a mercenary for some twenty
years now), spoke up in a machiavellian attempt to regain control over
himself.  'Well, you could START by taking over a lesbian, and rape another
woman...'

'No,' the oni thought absently.  'If it isn't consensual, it doesn't count.
 What I need are two women ALREADY in love with each other... and what are
the chances of finding two women like that on an island like this?'

'Well,' Perez contemplated.  'It's said the man who stole the Prince's
woman away from him could change his sex with water.  Perhaps-'

'RANMA?  You mean RANMA'S here?!'

*	*	*	*	*

In the hospital room where Hideki Yoshii lay unconscious, two young women
talked.  One was in tears, and the other was trying to comfort her.  Two
observers watched them from the doorway, unseen.

"I haven't known him for very long," Marie began.  "That doesn't mean I
didn't love him as much as if I'd known him for my entire life.  I kept
hoping he'd ask me to marry him, but now..."  She broke down, unable to
continue.

"You sound like he's dead already," Akane said softly to her friend. 
During her brief imprisonment by Toma, Marie and she had talked a lot. 
Then, when the whole incident with the spring was over they had resumed
their blossoming relationship.  "But he's not, thanks to you.  He'll wake
up and, in time, I'm sure he'll ask..."

"But he came so close!" Marie insisted, moisture flying from her eyes as
she spun on the other girl.  "I came so close to losing him, it feels like
I have!  Don't you know how that FEELS?!"

"Well..."  Akane thought back to the time in the martial arts figure
skating contest, when Ranma took the blow from the couple cleaver for her. 
He wasn't even breathing when Akane first saw him, and for that brief
instant she had thought he was dead.  "Yes, I do.  Ranma has taken many
blows in order to protect me, and one of those times he wasn't even
breathing after doing so.  I was so scared..."

'True,' the voice which had been talking to her earlier said.  'You have
felt that once or twice.  But think of how many times he thought he lost
you?  Once he thought you were trapped as a duck (and was willing to marry
you anyway, I might add), three times he thought Saffron had killed you,
once thought you had completely forgotten him when Shampoo used that
formu-'

'ENOUGH!' Akane's mind screamed.  'And weren't you going to tell me who you
are?'

'Well-'

"Then you know how I feel right now," Marie broke in.

Akane frowned.  "Ranma and I have had a very rocky relationship, and so
it's easy to forget sometimes what we've gone through for each other. 
Ranma's probably thought I was dead- or lost forever- several times more
than I thought he was.  We've normally forgotten how we felt in those
instances, though, because we've made each other mad almost immediately
afterwards.  But yeah, it does hurt.  A lot..."  She sighed, and wrapped an
arm comfortingly around the other woman.

One of the two shadows in the doorway slipped away, and the other soon
noticed and followed.

*	*	*	*	*

"Ranma, what's wrong?" Toma asked, concerned.  Ranma's face seemed to be in
pain, and he had no idea why.

"She's only partly right, you know," he said.  "It does hurt- more than I
hope you'll ever know.  But she got part of it wrong- I've NEVER forgotten
how much it hurts to think I've lost her.  I would rather face a thousand
cats than let anything happen to her..."

Toma, realizing the seriousness of Ranma's words, forced himself to not
laugh at the reference to cats.  He had heard of both the fear and the
reason behind the fear, and it seemed so amusing to think of a martial
artist of Ranma's caliber turned into a quivering mass by a common
housepet- or a meal, to some of his people.

However, his words had sparked another thought in him.  "Ranma, I've been
wondering for a long time- why were you more interested in the water than
Akane?  If, as you say, it hurts so much to lose her, then why-"

"Because," Ranma said forcefully.  "Akane should be free to make her own
decision.  If she wanted to marry you, I would not have stood in her way. 
But if she had asked me to keep you from her, you probably wouldn't be here
right now."  He sighed.  "If I ever marry her, I'm going to make sure she's
willing to- and not because I might want it, but because SHE wants it.  And
if I'm ever sure she does, then heaven help those who might stand in my
way- man or girl, young or old, friend or enemy."

Toma stood back for a moment- Ranma usually looked so relaxed and
easygoing, despite the obvious stress he was under.  However, right now
Toma saw a Ranma he had never seen before.  Little did Toma know there had
been only one time the world had seen Ranma as he looked that second- and
that was when he had been tearing one of his enemies limbs off for nearly
killing the woman he loved.

"Uh... Ranma?" Toma asked tentatively.  "Relax- you look ready to kill
someone."

Ranma took in a deep breath and closed his eyes.  Slowly he let it out, and
with it some of the tension from his muscles.  When he opened his eyes, he
smiled sadly and turned to Toma.  "Sorry about that- got a little carried
away.  Don't worry- it's unlikely Akane and I will ever really know how we
feel for each other, so it'll probably never happen."

"That's not-"

"Anyway, shouldn't we be trying to find to find the others so we can hunt
down your oni?"  Ranma asked.

Looking at him with serious concern, Toma could only nod.

Chapter 2:

The island's alarm sounded for the fifth time in two hours.  Once more, a
squadron of guards ran off to find the source of the trouble, and once more
they arrived just in time to see a horned man run off, leaving destruction
in his wake.

"Damn," Bird-Man cursed.  "He knows just where to strike, and how long it
will take us to respond."

"It means one of two things," Cologne, who had, along with Shampoo,
volunteered to help the patrol for this shift, began.  "Either he is both
very good and very lucky... or you have a traitor in your little army who
knows exactly what we are capable of doing."

Shampoo looked at her grandmother strangely.  Had she not heard, or was she
hiding what she knew from these men so as not to scare them?  Taking
special note that no-one other than Cologne and herself were Chinese, she
began speaking in her native tongue.

"<Great-grandmother, Ranma told me that Toma said the attacker was a man
possessed by an oni... surely he could not be considered a traitor if that
were the case,>" she noted.

The Amazon matriarch nodded.  "<Child, I had already heard that the
attacker was an oni, but it is better if these people think of him as a
traitor- they will do their jobs better, and be more willing to do what
might be necessary.>"

Shampoo frowned.  "<But... isn't the man who is possessed innocent?  They
might kill him, and while I do not mind killing in the field of combat, I
cannot consider him a willing fighter if he's just a puppet of an evil
spirit...>"

"<If he were truly as innocent as you presume,>" Cologne began, "<Then I
would not be telling these people what I have.  I am not needlessly
cruel... however, while a spirit may be able to force the possessed body to
fight and even die as its slave, it cannot force a mind to reveal knowledge
as intricate as would be necessary to avoid us this successfully without
killing the original body's spirit.  So either the man has cooperated with
the oni... or the oni has killed the man.  Since death is the proper
punishment for treason...>"

"<Either he is dead or he deserves to be,>" Shampoo sighed, nodding.  "<I
understand, great-grandmother.>"

Cologne nodded.  "<I would not worry about it, little one... I don't think
we shall witness it- we shall be off the island before the demon is
captured, I bel->"

Alarms went off again, halfway across the compound.  Everyone in the group
sighed, before the inevitable orders came down from Bird-man.

Before he gave them, however, he turned to the two Amazons.  "<If what you
say is true, honored elder,>" he began in perfect Mandarin, "<Then perhaps
the man should be killed.  But if you ever work with me again, let me know
something this important at the start- as commanding officer over these
troops, I have the right to decide what they should and should not know
about our enemies.>"  Leaving the two stunned women behind, he turned to
the rest of the tired platoon.  "Let's get going, men... don't worry, we
only have to keep this up for two more hours before our shift is over."

The men groaned when they realized they still had as much time to keep up
the hunt as they'd already given to it, but quickly fell into formation and
moved out.

Cologne turned to Shampoo as the soldiers were about to disappear from
view.  "Come on, child, we must not let my having overlooked one person for
the first time in over a hundred years stop us from carrying out our
duties.  You heard him, two more hours, then Ranma and Ryouga take over for
us..."

*	*	*	*	*

Akane sat, comforting Marie as she watched over Hideki Yoshii's comatose
form.  Up until a half hour ago, Ranma had been with her helping her out,
but he'd been forced to leave in order to join Ryouga in the oni patrol. 
Marie herself was not very good company at the moment- she had said little,
giving the occasional sniffle as she looked over her lover.  It left Akane
a lot of time to think alone- well, not quite alone.

'You know, you still haven't told me who you are,' she thought.

'Every time I've tried, someone interrupts- almost like fate is keeping me
from doing so,' the Voice in her head replied cautiously.

Akane laughed mentally, but tried to keep her outside expressions somber
for her friend.  'Sounds a bit like me and Ranma trying to get closer.  I
think we're pretty safe here, though- just you, me, Yoshii, and Marie...
and I don't think either Yoshii or Marie will be wanting to say much to me
for a while.'

The Voice paused for a few seconds.  'There is something else, though,
which can break in.  And I think I just sensed it...'

'Oh, give me a break.'  Akane was starting to get angry.  'You can't expect
me to believe that-'

'Shh!' the Voice hushed insistently.  'Listen, the Oni is here!'

'Huh, what are you talking about?'

'The Oni!  You know, the thing that put Yoshii here- he's outside of the
room and-'

Akane, realizing what the Voice was talking about, leapt to her feet. 
"Marie, go, sound the alarm!"

Marie snapped out of her somber mood and blinked at Akane in surprise. 
"Huh?"

Akane stood up and tensed her muscles.  "No time to explain- just sound the
alarm!  GO!"

Marie looked at Akane, nodded once, and ran out a door.  It would take her
about a minute to reach the alarm and sound it, she knew- she just hoped
that whatever it was that had worried Akane so much would hold off until
then.

'Okay,' Akane's thoughts demanded.  'I'm ready... now where is this thing?'

'Getting closer,' the Voice replied.  'Akane, maybe... maybe I should take
over your body for this one...'

Akane blinked, this time both mentally and physically.  'Huh?  What do you
mean by that?'  Suddenly it dawned on her.  'Wait a minute- you don't think
I'm up to this, do you?  Listen, Ms. Voice In My Head, I am a martial
artist, and I'm perfectly capable of handling any fighting which needs to
be done!'

'Against ordinary martial artists, yes,' the Voice argued.  'But this is a
case where we have to face an oni- a hostile entity from the spirit world. 
You don't know as much about that as I do- after all, I used to live in the
spirit world myself...  Besides, last time I took over your body, I was
able to beat Ukyou and Shampoo with ease- I don't remember you ever doing
that unaided!'

Akane frowned.  'Hey, when did you take over my body before...'

*	*	*	*	*

While Akane was arguing with the Voice in her head, another man outside her
room was having an argument of his own with a similar adversary.

'It's time we stopped these pointless hit and run tactics- we're wearing
ourselves down faster than we're wearing the patrols down, and those
patrols haven't even given us a HINT that they're giving up.  In fact,
they're more determined than ever!' Perez complained.  'I KNOW that you, as
a demon, cannot bring yourself to trust me... but in this case you have
little choice.  You cannot, controlling me, even approach her without
sending both of us into a panic... and if you were to try and approach her
without using my body to pin her first, you know she could escape, given
how Happosai's curse has slowed you.'

'Akane Tendou is a better fighter than you alone- the memories of her
sister, Kasumi, showed her defeating hundreds of fighters of moderate skill
every day for nearly two years, before her fiance chased them away.  True,
she is among the least skilled of her friends now, if Hibiki's memories are
to be believed, but she should still be more than ten times your unaided
equal.  Returning control of your body to you will not help.'

Alejandro growled.  'If you have a better idea, I'm open to suggestions.'

The Oni sighed in Perez's mind.  'No...  If I had more time to plan,
perhaps I could, but...'  It paused for a moment.  'I will allow you to
assume control, provided you swear to me that you will do everything in
your power, regardless of how this turns out, to aid me in ridding myself
of this curse.'

'Very well, I swear!' the one-time Spaniard vowed.  However, as he did, he
briefly considered breaking his oath- honor would not be damaged if he were
to break his word to a demon, would it?

'Ah, you think you may betray me?'  The Oni seemed amused.  'Well, I think
you should know that you are required to keep an oath directly made to a
spirit.  If you break it of your own free will, you will die and your soul
will be trapped as a ghost forever!'

'Oh, really?  I have never heard of a demon keeping his word- does this not
work in reverse as well?'  Alejandro did not really care about the answer,
he merely wanted to distract it while he tried to figure out what to do now
that he had literally made a deal with a devil...

'Beings such as myself may twist the wording of any vow so that it can
serve our purposes, but if we completely and totally violate it beyond any
possible interpretation, we will be torn apart and our fragments will be
sealed for all eternity with the thing which causes us the most agony. 
Even for one of us, that is enough deterrent to prevent us from breaking
our words without extreme provocation.'

'Oh?'  That got Perez thinking.  'Then I make a small request... I ask that
you vow to protect me from retribution- without causing harm to myself-
that may be dealt to me as a result of cooperating with you.'

'And why should I do that?' the Oni asked arrogantly.

'Because otherwise my aid of you shall merely be in my allowing you to
consult my mind when you need to know of how the security on this island
operates... which, with the special properties this island possesses, does
not give you many opportunities to rid your curse if this fails.  I can
justify this very easily, as this island's defenses and many languages are
my only area of expertise...  However, if you were to make this vow, I
shall agree to leave this island- with you- when we reach Japan, and you
will have a much greater chance of success.'

Laughter echoed in his head.  'Well reasoned, my disciple!  Very well, I
swear to protect you without harming you from any danger you may encounter
as a result of aiding me!'

Perez was uncertain if he liked being called the demon's 'disciple,' but
quickly shook it out of his head.  Soon, he would regain control of his
body... and immediately thereafter, he would have to fight.

*	*	*	*	*

Akane did not have time to receive an answer to her question before the
attacker entered the hospital room.  She quickly fell into a much more
defensive stance, noticing his polearm, and slowly sidestepped away from
Yoshii's bed to keep him from receiving further injuries in the fight.

'Akane, listen to me!' the Voice cried, panicked.  'Let me take over- I can
fight him better than you can!  I know how he thinks!'

'SHUT UP!' she shouted mentally back at it, just as she ducked underneath a
jab from the trident.  'He's not that good!  Just look at that move he
made- he's no more skilled than any of the other petty goons Toma's hired-
I can take him easy!'

The Voice had to admit she was right.  It looked almost as if the man had
retaken control over his own body, and was fighting with just his skill
alone- but the demon's presence was still there.

Akane sidestepped another thrust, and caught the weapon just behind the
blade.  The horned man yanked at it a couple of times before he realized no
matter what he did it wouldn't budge, and let it go.  Briefly, the light in
his eyes flared- panic behind them- before snap-kicking the polearm away
from her and catching it in his hands.  The fear was just too much, though,
afterwards, and the now oni-controlled man was only able to do one thing
before bolting away.

"Akane Tendou...  You haven't seen the last of us," he cried hideously,
just as the alarm sounded.

*	*	*	*	*

'Probably a good thing we left when we did,' the oni thought as it calmed
down from taking Perez's body in a rapid escape.  'If we'd waited much
longer, Toma's forces would have caught us...'

'We have to come up with a new plan,' Perez thought, as his body wheezed
slightly from the exertion.  'She's stronger and faster than I could ever
hope to match, and you could barely stay long enough to recover my weapon
after you took control.  We need some way of pinning her down for you that
doesn't involve trying to fight her.'  He paused.  'I still don't
understand why you just don't use female Ranma...'

'Something would go SERIOUSLY wrong- Ranma's curse would be activated at
the wrong time, when all four of the women chasing him are around, and I'd
bolt in a panic and never be able to find anyone again.  No, it has to be
Akane- less chance for error.'

'If she would just go to bed, you could sneak me in to her chambers when
she slept, but she's too determined to stay by the side of her friends in
the hospital!'

Perez thought for a moment.  'Perhaps... perhaps when we get to Japan...'

*	*	*	*	*

"...was going well- I'd caught his weapon and he couldn't pull it away,
when suddenly his eyes flashed and he seemed to triple in strength for that
one kick to my hand," Akane was saying between sips of the tea they had
given her.

'That boost in strength was because the Oni took him over again, you know,'
the Voice said.  'I told you I should be the one to fight him- I would have
looked for that!'

'Will you shut up about it already?' Akane yelled internally.  She was
annoyed at herself for letting the possessed man get away, and she didn't
particularly like being scolded like she was.

Ranma, Toma, and Bird-man were all sitting around her as she related the
events to them.  Ranma was being surprisingly kind to her (in her mind),
not having once said anything about how she had let the attacker escape and
being especially concerned about her bruised hand- he'd even made sure the
island's doctors had examined it for breaks or other serious injury.  Now,
she had a small bag of ice held to her thumb, which had taken the worst of
the damage and was now turning a bruised purple.

"Hmm, you said he was Hispanic-looking?" Toma inquired.  When Akane nodded,
he continued, "Bird-man, have we heard anything lately from that man my
father picked up in Spain... seven years ago, was it?  Alejandro Perez?"

Behind his face mask, Bird-Man frowned.  "He IS on the list of people who
are unaccounted for, My Prince.  There was no reason to suspect him any
more than the other dozen or so men that have gone missing in the past few
weeks, though..."

Toma frowned at that.  When he had allowed his men to 'do what you will'
with the assembled concubines, almost his entire army had deserted to spend
time with their chosen women.  As soon as he had lost Akane and started,
with the help of his advisors, to restore order, they had returned- some
sheepishly, others with a renewed vigor, and still others with bruises on
their cheeks where the women had rejected their advances quite...
forcefully.  A few people, though, remained missing.  He had suspected that
the Oni was actually one of them possessed, and now this seemed to confirm
it.

"Except for the fact he's the only Hispanic on the island who might be the
right age.  See if you can find his records, will you?"

"As you command, My Prince."  Bird-man bowed and, with a flourish,
departed.

Toma turned back to Ranma and Akane and nodded once.  "I'm done here- I
have a few more things to check out, though, so I'll be on my way.  Ranma,
I'm putting Mousse on your shift for a while- I want you to stay here and
make sure that Perez doesn't try to attack Akane again.  If he tries to
follow up on his threat, I want to be sure that there's someone here who
can handle him."

"I'm a martial artist!  I can handle him myself!"  Akane shouted angrily.

"You're hurt," Ranma said simply, avoiding mention of her previous defeat.

"Not badly- I just sprained my thumb."

"And I happen to know you've been staying here with Marie and Yoshii for
the past three days, and that you haven't slept once in that time," he
countered.

Akane blinked.  "Three days?"  

Ranma nodded.

'Yeah...' the Voice confirmed.  'Normally, I'm not able to talk to you
while you're in the middle of a conversation with someone else, but as
tired as you are, it's impossible for you to focus on the person you are
talking to, and so I can break in every now and then, but you can still
follow what's going on around you.'

"Akane," Toma broke in.  "I'll tell you what- if you agree to go lie down
and sleep yourself out while Ranma protects you, I won't put an armed guard
around you twenty-four hours a day."

"But... I can't sleep now!" she argued.

"Then I'll get you some sleeping pills."

"That's not what I meant!" Akane sputtered.  "I mean, someone needs to keep
Marie company- she's been through a lot."

"Akane," Ranma said calmly, "If you want, you can sleep in the same
hospital room as he does, and I'll stay in there with you and keep Marie
company while you sleep."

Akane looked at him in wonder.  If she didn't know he'd just stammer out
some kind of insult rather than give an honest answer, she'd ask him why he
was doing this.  Oddly, though, the exhaustion she was suddenly feeling was
giving her a clarity of thought she never knew she had.

Still...  "I... I don't know..."

"Akane, it's that or the armed guards.  Your choice," Toma said.

"Oh... all right.  Come on, Ranma," Akane growled as she turned towards the
door leading to Yoshii's room.

Behind Akane's back, Ranma mouthed a silent 'Thank you' to Toma and quickly
fell in step behind her.

*	*	*	*	*

When Ranma and Akane reached the hospital room, Marie was there again,
asleep in her chair.  Two additional beds had been placed in the room, as
well- one for Akane, the other for Marie.

"See, Akane," he whispered in her ear.  "You didn't need to worry about
keeping her company after all."

"Let's get her into bed, okay, Ranma?" Akane asked wearily.

Ranma nodded and, very gently, picked the sleeping woman up and lay her in
the bed next to Yoshii without waking her.  As an afterthought, he pushed
the two beds a little closer together so she could continue to hold his
hand as she had been doing.

"Okay, Akane, your turn," he said.  By now, she could barely stand on her
own, and didn't resist when he wrapped an arm around her waist to support
her as she walked towards the bed.

"Say, Ranma," Akane said deliriously as he helped her up onto the hospital
bed.  "You've either been with me or with the patrols since Yoshii was
hurt- how come I'm so tired and *yawn* you're not?"

Ranma smiled, adjusting the sheets over her body.  It didn't matter what he
said now, as long as he didn't upset her- she wouldn't remember it when she
woke up anyway.  "I don't know, Akane.  Maybe I nodded off once or twice
while you were busy with Marie and neither of us noticed it."

"Oh... okay, Ranma."  She yawned a few more times.  "Good night..."

Ranma waited until her breathing evened out before, after making sure he
wasn't observed, carefully bending down and giving her a gentle kiss on her
forehead.  For once, he was confident she wouldn't wake up when he did
that.  'I will protect you, Akane, no matter what,' he swore.

Taking a small bottle of sleeping pills from his pocket, he set it back in
the medicine cabinet where he'd found it.  No-one else needed to know that
her tea had been spiked with a sedative, after all...

*	*	*	*	*

The third of the four shifts was almost over.  Ukyou sighed slightly, glad
that it was over so she could escape the person who had been chosen to
replace Mousse in her patrol.

"Forsooth!  The hour in which I may depart draws neigh!  Then onward, to
the infirmary!" Kunou babbled.

Ukyou sighed again.  There hadn't been a choice, really- Happosai and Genma
had the next shift (a shift which, for the past three nights, had three
times the number of alarms as all the others... primarily because, while
the Oni seemed to be dormant during that period, those two jackasses were
committing a number of crimes themselves) and Soun refused to participate,
so as to keep the demon from taking over Kasumi again.  Also, he seemed to
want to keep an eye on Nabiki, who he was afraid might try some... well,
more than improper things to gain some money on an island which knew little
or nothing about women.

"Oh, really, Kunou?" she asked disinterestedly.  The Oni hadn't shown up
since it fought with Akane, and so tonight's patrol had been especially
boring.  "Why the infirmary?"

"There Tendou Akane rests, guarded by that fiend, Saotome. The foul heathen
is not to be trusted in the presence of her innocence."

Ukyou twitched.  Ranma and Akane had been getting closer for a while now,
and she was pretty sure that meant she would slowly be taken out of the
picture.  "Oh... really?"  Ranma had given her a bit of a dressing down
after the failed wedding- apparently, using explosives powerful enough to
tear his clothing to shreds was too much- Happosai could get away with it
only because Ranma couldn't stop him.  Putting on her sweet act, she turned
to Kunou and said "Only one of us needs to stay on duty for this shift,
considering how slow it is.  I'm taking off a little early, okay, sugar?"

Kunou nodded once, and Ukyou picked up her spatula and ran off.

*	*	*	*	*

"Halt!" one of Toma's soldiers ordered Ukyou as she appeared in the
hallway.  She froze.  "Approach slowly- prepare to be searched."

Ukyou walked up to the four people guarding the door to the hospital room
cautiously.  'What's going on here?' she asked herself.  'Why is this room
protected more than the others?'

She wasn't frisked, but someone patted her hair down- much to her
annoyance.  She drew in a deep breath- it would have been no trouble to
take all four of them out in a second, but she had to keep her temper
despite their liberties.

"Okay, no signs of the oni are detected.  We ask humbly that you leave any
weapons you may possess out here, however- unless you WANT us to have to
strip-search you..." the corporal apparently in charge of the detachment
asked.

Sighing, Ukyou started to remove her spatula and bandoleer.  "What's with
all the added security?"

"We believe that Akane Tendou, who is currently asleep inside, is the Oni's
target," the corporal answered.

'Well, that explains why Ranma-honey's here... but why the guards?'  Ukyou
frowned.  "Um, I'd been told Ranma was inside with her.  Shouldn't he be
able to protect her himself?"

One of the other soldiers stifled a giggle before the same corporal
answered her.  "Ranma justified to Ms. Tendou that she needed to sleep
because she hadn't in three days.  However, Toma knew that Ranma was also
just as lacking in sleep..."

"Huh?"  Ukyou asked, confused.  'What does that have to do with anything?'

"Oh, well, as Ranma was drugging some tea Akane drank, Toma arranged for
him to be injected with a slower-acting sedative himself.  The prince felt
as though they both needed their sleep more than they let on."

*	*	*	*	*

"Ranchan?" Ukyou whispered, shocked to see Ranma still awake as he hovered
around Akane's bedside.  He was looking very grey and ill, however.

He smiled wearily.  "Hi, Ucchan... let's keep our voices down, shall we? 
Akane really needs her sleep."

Ukyou frowned.  "Ranma-honey, you look as if you need sleep more than any
man I've ever seen has.  Why don't I arrange for a bed to be brought in,
and I can watch over the both of you?"

Ranma closed his eyes and shook his head sluggishly.  "Can't...  I trust
you not to hurt either of us, Ucchan, and to do your best to protect us-
when I can trust that you are you, that is.  But, for all I know, the Oni
is hidden somewhere inside you and could force you to attack me or Akane in
our sleep.  No, this time, the only person I can trust is myself... and
possibly Akane, here, as she's the one I'm protecting."

Ukyou frowned.  His logic was falling apart at the end there- why would the
fact he was protecting her matter?  "Ranchan, what do you mean by that? 
How can you trust Akane?"

Ranma smiled.  "Well, first of all, she's the Oni's target- I seriously
doubt the oni is going to target itself."  Well, that at least made sense. 
"And if she WAS possessed, I couldn't lift a finger to stop her, because
she's the one I'm supposed to be protecting.  Get it?"

Ukyou shook her head.  "What do you mean by that?  I thought you were just
protecting her from the oni..."

Ranma started to open his mouth, but then shook himself furiously.  'Gotta
remember who I'm talking to,' he thought to himself.  'If I tell her I've
vowed to myself to keep Akane safe, she'll ask why, and I'm not sure I'm
awake enough to convince her that it isn't because I love Akane...'

"Ukyou... just don't ask, okay?  I'm not even sure I understand myself at
this point..." he begged.

She didn't miss the look in his eyes, though.  'He really is in love with
her, that's why,' she thought to herself.  'Well... I'm still going to win
your heart, Ranma, whatever it takes!  But for right now... I think I'd
better do as you say.  I'm not sure how you'd react, as tired as you are.' 
She turned to leave, and smiled bitterly.  'For all I know, it's just the
drugs making you think that way.  Oh, that reminds me...'

"Say, Ranchan?" she whispered over her shoulder.

"Yeah?"

"I figure you should know- Toma drugged you as you were spiking Akane's
tea.  I was expecting you to be asleep in a chair when I came in..."

His eyes widened in surprise as Ukyou continued walking out the door.  To
her surprise, Ranma's quiet laughter followed her into the hallway.

'I can't believe he did the same thing to me I did to Akane,' he thought,
trying to control himself to keep from waking her up.  Then he started
pacing to keep himself awake- Akane'd only been asleep for about seven or
eight hours, and as tired as she was she shouldn't be awakening for several
more.  As tired as HE was, it would be a struggle to stay awake until she
did...

*	*	*	*	*

Several hours later, Akane awoke to find Ranma slumped on the floor,
dozing.

"Gotta... stay... awake," he was mumbling in his sleep.

Akane rolled her eyes- here he was worried about her needing rest, and he
had passed out himself from lack of sleep.  Nevertheless, she decided he
deserved a more comfortable resting place than he had passed out in, and
tenderly placed him on her old bed, covering him up much as he had covered
her up hours ago.  And, like he had done more than half a day ago, she
secretly kissed him on the forehead when she was certain he was asleep,
blushing furiously.

Noticing Marie was still asleep, she headed out for the bathroom.  To her
surprise, there were four of Toma's footsoldiers outside her room.

"What's going on?" she asked, concerned.

The same corporal who had talked to Ukyou was still there, and he smiled as
he turned towards her.  This time, it was going to be fun to explain
things.

"Well, see, Toma was worried that Ranma hadn't been getting any sleep like
you hadn't, so he drugged Ranma and ordered us to guard you two instead."

Akane's eyes widened.  "He DRUGGED Ranma?"

The underling who had chuckled when Ukyou showed up burst out laughing. 
"Oh," he gasped, "I don't think Ranma will mind- after all, your fiancee
did the same thing to you for the same reasons!"

Akane very nearly turned and stormed back into the infirmary to get a
confession out of her fiance before the Voice broke into her anger.

'Look, I know what it's like to get mad at someone,' it said, 'But don't
you think getting mad at Ranma for being justifiably worried about your
lack of sleep is at least a BIT uncalled for?'

'B-but he-' she sputtered.

'He was drugged, and yet he was still trying to stay awake when you woke
up- he was looking out for you as much as he could.  When I first met you
and Ranma, I learned that he would gladly take any punishment from you and
not think it amiss.  He'd throw himself in the path of danger because he
merely SUSPECTED you were in trouble...  Maybe he doesn't respect your
ability to take care of yourself as much as he should, but his heart is in
the right place.'  Akane was silent for a few moments, so the voice
continued, 'You're too hard on him sometimes... though he DOES sometimes
deserve it.'

Akane started heading for the bathroom, followed by a couple of guards. 
'Maybe...'

*	*	*	*	*

A day later, both Akane and Ranma were well rested, and had assembled with
the rest of the Nerimites in preparation to leave the island and return
home.

"Are you sure it's a good idea to let us go?" Ranma asked.  "I mean, maybe
we should stay until that Oni's caught..."

"No, no need to worry," Toma answered authoritatively.  "My men can handle
it... besides, I'm transferring Yoshii to a hospital in Tokyo- they have
better facilities than we do here.  Ms. Desaix will want to go with him,
and I'm sure Akane will want to go with her... and I'm just as sure you
don't want her to go back home alone."

"Uh, right," Ranma nodded.

"Good luck, Toma," Akane said, smiling.  "I hope we all can see you again,
some day."

"I hope so, too, Akane."  He returned his smile.  "Maybe when you get
married," he whispered.

"Huh?"  Akane blushed.  "What do you mean by that?"

"Oh, nothing..."

With that, everyone made their final farewells and boarded the rubber
dinghy that was all that remained of Kunou's yacht, before starting the
engine and motoring off towards Tokyo bay.

Clinging to the bottom of the boat, Alejandro Perez and the oni that
possessed him waited in his scuba gear for the ride to stop.  Finally, the
Oni had returned home...

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