Subject: [PMFFML] [FFML-R] [repost][Ranma][fanfic] Three Souls, One Heart Chapters 3-4
From: "David A. Tatum" <desaix@sysnet.net>
Date: 2/3/2001, 9:35 PM
To: <FFMLRefuge@listbot.com>

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As I said, I'm reposting 3-4 tonight.  I'll try to keep posting 2 chapters
in the morning and 2 in the evening until I get to the end...
Anyway, enjoy.

Chapter 3:

After 'thanking' him for their impromptu vacation, the Amazons, Saotomes,
Tendous,  and Ukyou dropped the unconscious Kunou off into his sister's
care before heading off to the Nekohanten for a brief welcome-home meal. 
Marie had taken Yoshii to the hospital alone, following the directions
Akane had given her.  Ryouga was sidetracked, and wound up at Furinken High
School instead.

After a short time, everyone had eaten their fill and it was time to return
home.  Ukyou left first, mumbling something about making sure Konatsu
hadn't run her out of business.  Happosai went on one of his usual nightly
raids.  Shampoo had disappeared upstairs- she and her great grandmother had
been on the last watch the Nerima company had participated in, and hadn't
slept in nearly thirty-six hours.  Mousse soon followed, not having any
reason to stay up himself with Shampoo gone.  With her two helpers gone,
Cologne shooed everyone out of her restaurant, in order to clean it up in
preparation for business the next day.  So it wasn't until night that the
Tendous and Saotomes returned home.

"What?" came a scared voice from upstairs as they made their way in through
the front door, coupled with the sound of metal being drawn from cloth
wrappings.  "Who's down there?!"

"It's us, Mother!" Ranma called from the bottom of the staircase.  "We're
home!"

"RANMA!"  Nodoka's voice cried from upstairs.  The sound of steel hitting
the floor was followed by her bounding down the stairs and giving Ranma a
crushing hug.  "When I heard about that storm, I didn't think much of it,
but when you didn't get back....  Oh, I was so worried!"

"Hey, relax," Ranma soothed.  "We were just stranded for a while... but
everyone's okay now.  You should know by now you don't have to worry about
me...."

"Ranma, my son, I can't help but worry... because of my stupidity in
sending my husband out to turn you into a man, I lost you for ten years of
your life!" she cried.  "When I began to think that the storm could have
sunk your boat, I was afraid I lost you for the rest of it...."  Ranma was
shocked to feel one of his mother's tears fall onto his neck.  "And that I
wasn't there for you when you might have needed me, just because I get
seasick...."

*	*	*	*	*

'Oh, so THAT'S why she didn't want to go with us,' Akane, who had been
standing in the doorway during the entire exchange, thought to herself.

'Looks like ALL the Saotome's have problems with water, Akane,' the Voice
suggested.  'Guess that makes you perfect to join them...'

Akane blinked.  'Eh?  I don't have any problems with water...'

'Oh, really?  When was the last time you went swimming?'

Akane couldn't answer that one, though having some weird voice in her head
which STILL hadn't told her who or what it was point out her flaws was not
making her happy.  

She was about to start listening in again before a gruff "Out of the
doorway" was sent her way by Ranma's father.  Sighing, she moved on inside
and up the stairs, pretending not to pay any attention to Ranma and his
mother as she passed them.

*	*	*	*	*

Genma had not seen what caused Akane to stop in the doorway, but when he
did he paused himself.  Hesitantly, he caught his wife's eyes and held his
arms open.  They had not... completely... reconciled since his return, but
she was his wife still.

Nodoka considered things for a little bit, before releasing Ranma and
giving her husband a brief hug.  It would be quite some time before she
completely forgave him, but she had to admit that he still had whatever it
was that initially attracted her to him... and that he would probably be
quite warm to cuddle up to as a panda.  "Welcome home, dear..."  Looking
back at Ranma, who was shifting uncomfortably, she smiled at Genma and
asked, "So, dearest, why don't we let our son take your bags up to our room
while you tell me about what happened on your little boat trip."

Breathing a sigh of relief, Ranma grabbed his and Genma's bags and darted
up the stairs in a blur.

*	*	*	*	*

Alejandro Perez groaned in frustration as his body cowered in the alley. 
'We are getting nowhere, fast,' he complained.  'Every time we start to
move through the streets, we encounter a woman, and you run away from her
in terror.  Why don't you leave my body?  Or let me take control of it?  We
could move much faster then!'

The oni sighed.  'No, we couldn't.  For one thing, you don't know where we
are going, and I wouldn't be able to tell you.  More importantly, though,
is what Happosai's curse has done to me- it has weakened me and slowed me
down.  I can move quickly for short distances, like I did when I possessed
you, but until the curse is lifted I won't be able to move very far outside
of a host.  Besides, if anyone were to see me it would give away our
intentions.  No, we must move together, and just try to avoid... women...
until we reach the Tendou's house.'

'And then?' Perez asked.

'Then we separate... you cause a distraction, and I sneak into Akane's
room.  Once I am inside, you must run and hide.'

Perez frowned.  'We won't be able to avoid women in the daytime- not in a
busy city like this.  We should wait until it's dark out, at least.  And
even then, you should give me as much control as you can- that way, we
might be able to stop before we get too far off course.'

'Moving at night will take a long time- we might not arrive at the dojo for
another day or two.'

'If we don't move at night, we'll never get there- we can barely stay
inside the city limits as things stand now.'

'True,' the Oni acknowledged.  'Very well, we shall do as you suggest.  In
the meantime, though, your body is very tired. Let us rest until
nightfall...'

*	*	*	*	*

Ranma finished putting away his and his father's packs and lay down on his
futon.  'It's about time Mom and Pop started to act like a married couple
again.  I was starting to worry there...  But why was Mom so worried about
me?  I mean, yeah, there was that storm and all, but she should know by now
there isn't anything I can't face....'

"Ranma?"

'Well, almost anything I can't face,' he grinned ruefully as he sat up. 
"Hi, Akane.  What's up?"

"Are you settled in?" she asked.  

"Yeah," Ranma nodded.  "Why?"

'Indeed, why?' she asked the Voice.

'As I already told you, it's a good opportunity to get him alone for a
while and ask him about why he was still so uncomfortable around his
mother.'

'But why do I care about that?' she asked defensively.

'Because you want to be able to help him... and because you KNOW you're
curious.'

'Well... yeah, I am curious,' she acknowledged, refusing to admit she
wanted to help him.  'But I'll only do this if you agree to tell me who you
are!'

'I promise to tell you next time you're alone and not about to fall
asleep... but right now, I think your fiancee is beginning to wonder why
you haven't told him what you're doing here, and it's beginning to make him
nervous.'

Akane was mildly surprised to see that Ranma was, indeed, looking at her
rather nervously.  'Probably thinks I'm mad at him or something...' she
thought, and decided to try and make him realize she wasn't.

"Ranma, do you want to go out for ice cream?" she asked.

That made Ranma even more nervous, after waiting a full minute for her to
say something.  It was almost like she was building up her resolve in order
to ask him something very important to her, and with what she asked... 
'She wants to go out for ice cream?  Does that mean she wants to go on a
date or something?'  He swallowed.  "Uh... now?  Isn't it a little late?"

Akane frowned.  "Well, maybe a little, but I was thinking that, with
Shampoo and Ukyou at home resting from the trip..."  She paused.  'Which we
probably should be doing, come to think of it.  Still...'  She cleared her
throat.  "Well, we wouldn't have too many distractions and we could... talk
privately."

'It sure sounds like a date to me, but at least she's not calling it one...
yet.'  Ranma nodded slowly, saying, "Okay... give me a minute to freshen up
first, and I'll meet you downstairs."

As Akane left the room, she asked the Voice, 'Do you have any idea why
Ranma's still so nervous?'

'He thinks you asked him on a date,' it said.

'A DATE?  But... why?  And how do you know this?!'

'You just asked him out for ice cream at an ungodly hour so you and he
could have some time alone together.  If I were he, I'd think it was a
date, too.'  Before Akane could object, the Voice continued, 'And as to how
I know this... well, his mind shouted in panic "It sure sounds like a date
to me."'

'Last time you said you heard his mind speak was when you said he wanted to
tell me he loved me- after the battle with Saffron.  You were wrong then,
how do I know-'

'HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU, I WAS NOT WRONG!' The voice shouted
in anger.  'He thought the words... maybe he didn't say them, but he
thought them.'

'Oh?  Considering how he acted when I confronted him about it, I can't
really say I believe you.'

The voice just sighed.

*	*	*	*	*

Akane knew something was wrong with Ranma when he didn't go overboard
ordering his ice cream.  However, she didn't know whether it was because of
his parents or because of something else.  Curiosity, eventually, overcame
her shyness, and she had to know.

"Ranma, what's wrong?" she demanded.

"Wrong?" he looked up, surprised.  "What do you mean?"

"I mean..."  Akane didn't want to come right out and ask about his family
problems, so instead she noted, "Er, you aren't eating your ice cream with
your usual... gusto.  Is there something wrong with it, or are you upset
about something?"

Ranma seemed surprised.  "Er, well... I just didn't want to upset you by
eating like a pig again," he admitted.  He had decided that, whether it was
officially one or not, this sure seemed like a date to him, and he wasn't
going to do anything to mess it up if he could help it.

That explanation didn't give Akane the answers she wanted, however.  'Fine,
I guess I'll have to come right out and say it,' she thought.  "Oh... I
thought it might have something to do with why you were so nervous around
your mother earlier today."

"Huh?  No, not at all...  I've got no problems with my mother right now. 
It's just going to take me a while to get used to being around her.  For
several months, every time I was around her I had to watch what I said,
what I did, how I acted, and how I... looked, or else I was going to die. 
That's no longer the case, but she still makes me... nervous, if you know
what I mean."

Akane frowned.  Of course, that was the obvious explanation, but it still
didn't explain why he was so nervous now.  She decided to press the issue,
certain that his relationship with his mother was the cause.  "Are you
certain that's the only reason you're nervous around her?"

Ranma shrugged, figuring Akane was just trying to keep a conversation going
without letting it drift off into another one of their arguments.  "Well, I
suppose it worries me a little that my mom thinks the ideal man would be
Happosai," he joked, managing to get a chuckle out of Akane despite
herself.

"Oh, she's not that bad," Akane grinned.  "At least, she isn't when she's
not trying to get you to peep on me."

Ranma surprised her by not taking the opportunity to insult her figure, and
the night proceeded smoothly for them from that point on.  Akane was
essentially satisfied for the moment, and moved on to discussing other
things.  They talked casually, their earlier light teasing of Ranma's
absent mother relaxing them a bit, and managed to avoid insulting each
other the entire time.  

As they headed home from the ice cream parlor, Ranma looped his arm through
Akane's and laughed happily, grabbing her hand and squeezing with delight
that the evening had gone so well.  Akane was too tired because of the late
hours and too happy with herself to remember that she should blush, and
just returned the squeeze affectionately.

They were lucky almost everyone else had passed out with exhaustion by the
time they'd gotten home, because they had forgotten to let go of each other
until they were at the duck sign by Akane's door.  

"Thanks, Ranma."  Akane smiled up at him, grinning.  "Tonight's been
great."

There was no goodnight kiss, which was not how Ranma had always thought his
first real date with her would end, but she still gave him a smile that
would happily haunt his dreams for days.

*	*	*	*	*

The one other person in the house still awake watched the little exchange
at Akane's door before turning around and heading right back down the
steps.  P-Chan sighed with loss, regret... and acceptance.  He had much to
apologize for...

*	*	*	*	*

"So..." Toma said, frowning.  The Nerimites has left the previous morning,
and he'd had a hard time sleeping since then.  But it wasn't a lack of
sleep that was worrying him this time.  "We haven't had a single incident
since we let our friends leave for Japan, and all of those soldiers
unaccounted for have been found EXCEPT Alejandro Perez.  You have scoured
the entire island, and found no trace of him or the oni...  You believe he
left with Ranma and his friends?"

Bird-man nodded.  "I'm not certain how- he certainly wasn't on their boat-
but it appears as if he has given us the slip.  The only place where he
could have done that would be Japan."

Toma thought for a moment.  He had been in training to be ruler of
Tokenkyou since he could remember, and that training kept him from
embarrassing his kingdom, but even he knew he could sometimes make stupid
policies resulting from his youthful arrogance and immaturity.  The two
years he had spent looking for a wife by stealing hundreds of women from
various countries had been such a policy, as he now realized.  So his next
action would require SERIOUS thought... and maybe some words from his chief
advisor.

"Bird-man... should I order the island to return to Japan so we can help
our friends with this oni?"

"Of course, My Prince, if you so desire it- you are the ruler of Togenkyou,
after all."

"No, Bird-man," Toma admonished, sighing.  "I don't want you to answer me
like that.  I don't want you telling me I'm doing the right thing just
because I can.  I..."  Toma hesitated.  He had always been told by his
parents never to admit failure.  This would be a serious failure he would
be admitting to... but if he did not admit to it, he would not be able to
get the advice he needed.  Bird-man had been his father's advisor for a
year before his father died, and yet Toma had not sought his advice in the
two years since he had taken the throne.  Perhaps it was time... but he had
to explain himself, first.  If he didn't, he would never get the help he
needed.  But that would mean admitting to a failure...

"My liege?" Bird-man prompted patiently.

"When my father d..." Toma's voice trailed off.  He cleared his throat, and
tried again.  "When my father d-died in that hurricane that destroyed the
Government House... I was so lonely.  I wanted... someone to help me.  I
was not READY to rule- I wasn't even supposed to be able to until I turned
eighteen and could be crowned king.  But... along with my father, the
regent and most of his advisors were killed.  All that was left of the
Royal Court was you, me, Dog-man, and Monkey-man.  I needed... someone to
talk to.  Monkey-man was a good diplomat, and most of his duties at the
time consisted of keeping us from foreign intrusion.  Dog-man is...
incoherent.  And you... you reminded me of my father too much, at the
time."  

Bird-man's mask concealed his entire face except for his eyes, but these
now flashed with visible concern. "I..."  He didn't know what to say.

"I wanted... well, I wanted a mother," Toma continued.  "I was twelve- I
knew mothers did not grow on trees- mothers were people who married
fathers.  So, without asking anyone for advice on how to proceed, I ordered
our island to begin collecting as many women as possible so I could find
someone to marry me... a mother, really, who would be joined to me as my
wife.  When Akane Tendou approached me, slapped me, and admonished me... I
knew I found someone who would be a good mother.  She did not strike me
harder than I could take, or harder than was justified; she just...
corrected me, like my REAL mother used to do."  He chuckled a little.  "I
admit, my mother used to slap me in a bit different location- one which
would sometimes not let me sit down comfortably for days- but it was still
the same idea- discipline."  He sighed.  "And then I learned that I cannot
always have what I want, no matter how badly I want it.  She did not love
me, she loved another... and so she betrayed me to help him.  And I was so
petty about it I nearly destroyed her.  Talking to her later, I realized I
would never have gotten what I wanted even if she had not loved Ranma- if I
had succeeded in forcing her to marry me, she likely would have lost what
she needed in order to give me that discipline- her free will."

"Wh... why are you telling me all this, My Prince?" Bird-man asked,
hesitantly.

"I have yet to ask for any help ruling this kingdom, despite knowing I am
not really capable of doing so alone.  I have already made one major
mistake by trying to find a new mother when doing so was impossible.  I
want someone to help advise me before I send this nation on another foolish
errand- and before I do something to destroy my kingdom.  I nearly left
with Akane and the others to find a new bride in Tokyo- and would have,
too, if I hadn't suddenly realized that doing so would be abandoning my
responsibility to my people... we can thank the oni for that.  But now, I
wonder if I would be abandoning a responsibility to our friends if we don't
turn around and help them capture the oni which escaped us- which we said
we could take care of.  But I don't know... Bird-man, is turning around the
island and returning to Japan the right thing to do?"

Underneath the mask, Bird-man smiled.  It was about time the Prince started
asking for help.  "It will take a fortnight to return, My Prince- turning
around an island this big is no easy task, but yes, I think it is
appropriate.  However, perhaps we should try to open communications with
the Tendou residence, and inform them that the Oni has escaped us and is
loose in Tokyo, in case they are still unaware of it."

Toma smiled.  "Get Monkey-man to send the Tendou residence such a warning
and then send off the orders to get us turned around.  And... thank you,
Bird-man."

*	*	*	*	*

Akane woke to a light tapping on her door.  "Akane?  You've overslept.... 
You'd better get up now if you want to join us for breakfast," Nodoka's
voice echoed into her room.  "If you hurry, you can still take a bath."

Akane quickly slipped out of bed, and noticed she'd fallen asleep before
changing clothes the previous night.  Sighing, she quickly rushed to her
wardrobe and found some shorts and a T-shirt she could quickly slip on, and
dashed out to the bathroom.  Haphazardly stripping and tossing her previous
night's clothes into the laundry hamper, she slipped into the bathroom and
began cleaning herself with the buckets of cold water.  After soaping up
and rinsing down, she slid into the hot water of the furo, hissing in
sensuous pleasure as the heat warmed her up.  Closing her eyes, she leaned
back and relaxed.  She had rushed faster than Mrs. Saotome had expected,
probably, so maybe she had time to ask that mysterious voice in her head to
do what it had promised and let her know who or what it was.

"Ack!"  Or maybe not.  "Oh, no, not again!  Sorry, Akane, really!  Sorry,
sorry...."  Ranma's female voice echoed as she streaked naked from the
doorway, down the hall, and probably back into his room.  Akane looked in
the direction he had departed and very nearly darted up to chase after him
in order to give him a good pounding for peeping on her like he did. 
However, she was too relaxed to get up right away, and that split second
gave her time to realize it was partly her fault- she had been in such a
hurry she hadn't put out the sign.  As she thought about it more, she
realized it might have even been another attempt by Ranma's mom to make him
show some more 'manliness.'  She shook her head and laughed- poor Ranma. 
Caught between a fiancee who would pound his head in if he looked at her
funny and a mother who might chop his head off if he didn't occasionally
try and look at said fiancee while she was naked, and his own shyness which
caused him to panic and shout insults instead of admitting feelings.  For
once, she actually realized he WASN'T trying to look at her, and it really
had nothing to do with her appearance, either.  Maybe she hadn't figured
out the real reason why Ranma was so nervous last night, but his jokes
about his mother's views on manhood were still ringing in her ears, and she
knew....

Sighing, she realized she had to get out of the tub before Ranma and his
father sat down to breakfast, or there would be nothing but miso soup to
eat again.  Without thought, she grabbed a towel and headed out into the
changing room.  She'd just have to ask that voice about itself later.

*	*	*	*	*

Akane sat down at the table, surprised that she was the first one ready for
breakfast.  Nodoka followed her in, sitting down a couple of places away
from Akane to leave room for her husband and son.  Soun, Nabiki, and Genma
all strolled in after her, taking their usual seats and waiting for Kasumi
to show up with the food.  Akane turned her eyes to the kitchen doorway
expectantly.

"Ranma!" Nodoka's voice cried out sternly.  Akane spun to look at her
fiancee, who was still female.  "Why are you still in that form!?  Did you
not take that bath when I told you to?"

'I was right!  She knew I was in the bath, and she sent Ranma in after me-
she WAS trying to get him to walk in on me!' Akane realized.  'And now she
thinks he didn't... well, maybe I could help him out some...'

Akane slowly stood up, allowing an angry expression to mask the devious
smile that was trying to come to her lips.  "Ranma... no... BAKA!" she
cried as she grabbed him by the pigtail and slammed him towards the ground.
 She let up at the last second, however, and only tapped him to the ground-
though to all outside appearances, it looked as if she had pounded him just
as hard as she usually did.  "Quit sneaking in when I take a bath!" 
Turning around, she walked back to the table and sat down, not risking a
glance at Nodoka until she was seated.  As she expected, Mrs. Saotome was
beaming at her slightly crumpled son with pride.

Ranma recovered and returned to the table just as Kasumi walked in. 
"Breakfast, everyone!" she called, setting the food out.  Ranma looked at
Akane strangely for a moment before digging in.

*	*	*	*	*

Akane had just finished breakfast when the phone rang.  "I'll get it!"
Kasumi called, darting to the phone with her usual grace.  Akane picked up
her dishes and took them to the kitchen, setting them in the sink for
Kasumi and Nodoka to wash later before returning to the dining room.  By
the time she had returned, Kasumi had finished her conversation.

"Oh, my...  Everyone, that was a message from Toma.  Apparently, the Oni
isn't on his island anymore.  He thinks it followed us here to Tokyo,
though he's not sure how.  He said he's on his way to help, but it will
take at least two weeks for him to get here."

"Hmm... this could be bad.  Remember the last time the Oni entered our
home, Tendou?" Genma asked nostalgically.

"Yes, I do, Saotome," Soun nodded.  "Let's start making wards..."

With that, the two fathers left the room, grabbing a couple of bottles of
sake as they went.  Akane sighed- if those two succeeded in making more
than one legible ward, it would be a miracle.  Still, they WERE the only
ones who seemed to care about the news.

"Well, I'm going out," she said.  "I promised Marie I'd go see her at the
hospital."

"If you wait a minute, I'll go with you."

Akane looked at Ranma in surprise.  She had been hoping again to have a
chance to talk with that voice in her head while strolling on out to the
hospital- she hadn't had a moments peace since she went out with Ranma for
ice cream- but as pleasant as last night was she wanted her fiancee's
company as well.

"You know, Ranma," Nabiki began casually, inspecting her nails
meticulously.  "I didn't know you particularly cared about Ms. Marie or
that young soldier she keeps watch over.  Why would you want to go along
with Akane?"

Ranma glared at Nabiki before turning back to Akane.  "Um... er... well,
uh, there is that oni out there, and he did swear to attack you again..."

"I can handle myself, Ranma," Akane growled.

"I know you can beat it," Ranma admitted.  "After all, you chased it away
when it attacked you the first time.  But it DOES have the ability to
possess individuals, so if it were able to surprise you...  I really don't
think ANYONE should go out alone until this thing is caught."

'I don't think it really would be able to surprise me, with the Voice's
sixth sense, but I don't think I'd mind his company.'  Akane shrugged.  "If
you really want to, I guess you can come."

Ranma nodded, and turned to get ready.  "Kasumi, would you call Ucchan's
and the Nekohanten to let them know about the oni?"

"Of course, Ranma," she said, smiling.  "I'll see if I can get in touch
with the Kunou's, too."

Ranma nodded.  He didn't really care about them, but the more people who
knew, the better.  "Nabiki, can I talk to you a minute?" he whispered.

That caught Akane's attention.  Looking at the pair, she tried to see what
they were saying.  She didn't hear anything outside of a mumble, but she
did see Nabiki mouthing "How much," and shortly thereafter hand Ranma
twenty thousand-yen notes.

'Twenty thousand yen?  What's he planning on using that for?' Akane
wondered.  Her musings were cut short as she noticed Ranma approach her.

"Ready to go?" he asked.

She nodded, and they were on their way.  They were silent all the way to
the fence, and Akane tensed, expecting Ranma to leap up on to it.  She was
surprised when he didn't- the times he walked beside her instead of above
her were very rare indeed, and usually only happened when he had something
really important to talk about.

"Ranma?" she asked tentatively.

He was silent for a moment.  "What was all of that fuss you made this
morning about my walking in on you?" he blurted out.  "If you were really
mad at me for it, why didn't you hit me as hard as you usually do?  And if
not, why not?  And why the show?"

Akane smirked a little.  "Well, don't take it as permission to walk in on
me whenever you want.  No, I wasn't mad at you for this morning- actually,
I was trying to help you out."

Ranma blinked.  "Help me out?"

Akane nodded.  "Your mother set you up, Ranma.  She KNEW I was in the
bathroom, and sent you in after me.  She was trying to see how manly you
are again...  The show was just so you didn't get in trouble with her.  I
forgave you because you seemed so sorry about it, and it was partially my
fault, anyway, for not putting out the sign to let you know I was in there.
 But, like I said, don't take that as permission to walk in on me whenever
you want..."  She frowned.  "By the way, why did you borrow so much money
from Nabiki?"

Ranma laughed a little nervously.  "Er, actually, I didn't 'borrow' that
money.  It's money Nabiki owes me..."

Akane's eyes widened.  "Nabiki owes YOU money?!"

"Er, well... yes and no.  See, when Nabiki started that mail-order company
with those napkins of my female form, she was trying to blackmail me into
giving her permission to use my likeness.  I don't even remember what she
was blackmailing me about- I think it was about my debts to her, or
something like that- at any rate, I couldn't just plain refuse her or else
I was going to be in serious trouble.  Anyway, I didn't agree to just give
it up to her without getting SOMETHING out of it.  So I made her a deal- I
get ten percent of the net profits in return for the rights to my likeness.
 Kasumi helped me look over the contract to make sure there weren't any
loopholes or anything like that.  The money I made was to go to paying off
her blackmail and any loans I had, but Kasumi noted that there was a chance
the business would make enough that it would more than pay all that off. 
So, I included the clause that Nabiki would keep any profits past those
debts in trust for me to use later, either to pay off future debts or to
take for future debts."

Akane wasn't certain she followed all of that about clauses and loopholes-
it sounded like Nabiki sometimes did when she was trying to confuse her out
of a few thousand yen- but was able to figure out the gist of what he was
saying.  "You out-maneuvered Nabiki?  How much money have you made?"

"Well... actually, Kasumi out-maneuvered Nabiki for me.  She said something
about how I let Nabiki take advantage of me too often, and that I should at
least be getting something back for it.  At any rate, her business
skyrocketed.  Ten percent of the profits amounted to about a million yen,
but with all my debts I only have about seven-hundred and fifty thousand...
er, make that seven hundred and thirty thousand, now that I've made this
withdrawal."

Akane's eyes widened.  For one thing, she would never have expected Kasumi
to act that way.  For another, she was amazed that Ranma had that kind of
money at his disposal.  "If you've got that much, then how much does my
sister actually have?"

Ranma shrugged.  "It's been a while since I've seen her books- the last
time was a few months ago when I cleared into the black, and wanted to
check and make sure she hadn't charged me for things I didn't need to pay
for.  The mail-order business makes most of her money, by far, but I'd
guess by now she has about fifteen million yen saved up.  Half of that she
has in a trust fund in the bank for her future college tuition and
expenses.  I don't know about the rest- it's just labeled in her books by
'project number.'"

Akane shook her head in disbelief and they continued walking.  After a few
moments of silence, she looked back at him.  "Say, you still haven't told
me why you got all that money out..."

Ranma blushed a little.  "Oh, well... see, I was thinking that when we were
done visiting Marie, we might go around town and do some things- eat out,
catch a movie, you know- make a day of it."

Akane was about to object- after agreeing to let Ranma walk her to the
hospital, she had decided she would talk to the Voice after she got back
home.  However, she could do that later- she might as well spend as much
time with her fiancee as possible while he was still in this pleasant mood
of his.  "Sure thing, Ranma," she agreed, smiling.

Ranma smiled back.  She'd asked him on one unofficial date- now he'd
reciprocated.  If this kept up, they might unofficially be more than
friends before too long.

*	*	*	*	*

Ranma sighed and leaned back, giving up on his attempt to read the dull
article on sports injuries he'd found in one of the hospital's decades-old
waiting room magazines.  The staff had decided that Akane could go in with
Marie, but that he should stay behind so that Yoshii wasn't too crowded. 
So, he was stuck alone with nothing to do until Akane finished her visit. 
Thankfully, he knew that the visit couldn't last TOO much longer- the
hospital staff had said the patient was doing fine, but that they could not
allow extended visits by anyone other than Marie (who was listed as
Hideki's 'Significant Other').  Still, that meant he could be here for a
couple of hours.

Suddenly, an all-too-familiar voice called out to him from down the
hallway.  "Ranma!  Come over here- I want to talk to you!" Ryouga boomed.

Ranma leaped up and darted down the hallway, carefully avoiding the
doctors, nurses, and patients along his path.  "Ryouga, you idiot," Ranma
growled.  "Keep your voice down- we're in a hospital!"

Ryouga looked around him as Ranma guided him to the waiting room, and
realized for the first time that he was, indeed, in Nerima General.  "What
are you doing here, Ranma?" he asked.

"I walked Akane here from the dojo- she's keeping Marie company for a
little while.  The oni escaped Togenkyou with us, apparently, so I don't
think it's a good idea for anyone to go out alone."

Ryouga nodded.  "Good idea..."

Ranma sat back down and leaned his head back.  It looked as if his quiet
day with Akane would be ruined.  Sighing, he decided to get it over with
quickly.  "So, you wanted to talk to me?"

"Um, yeah," Ryouga began nervously.  "I wanted to... um... apologize for my
behavior when we were shipwrecked."  He took in a deep breath, noticing
Ranma's confused look.  "While we were on the island, I thought... well, I
thought we weren't getting off- at least not for a long time.  So, I
returned to my old behavior, and started once again trying to win Akane
from you.  I... haven't been doing that in a while, because I realized that
the two of you love each other, and because... well, I was turning into
Kunou.  I love Akari... yet at the same time I was going after Akane...  I
eventually chose Akari, and have been... comfortable with my decision.  But
when we were stuck on that island, I thought..."

Ranma chuckled.  "Relax, Ryouga.  To tell you the truth, I barely noticed
it- you weren't acting all that different."  Then he narrowed his eyes a
little.  "But why do you assume Akane and I love each other?  I mean, true,
we don't hate each other as much as we pretend to, but we barely get
along..."

Ryouga laughed sadly.  "Ranma, give it up.  I know already, alright?  I was
with you at Jusendo when you thought she was dead, and I know that you
sacrificed our cure for her at Togenkyou.  And I saw you when the two of
you came home last night, mooning at each other like a pair of lovers. 
Trust me, Ranma, I know you love her."

Ranma's eyes widened.  "Um... hey, it's not like we kissed or nothing...."

Ryouga laughed again, with a little more humor this time.  "Oh, please. 
You both are just too shy for your own good.  I wouldn't be surprised if
you considered the kiss at the altar your honeymoon when your parents
finally get you hitched- you two would be two embarrassed to try anything
else!"

Ranma winced, knowing it was probably true.  "Well, maybe...."  After a few
uncomfortable moments of silence, he decided to change the topic before
things got even more embarrassing.  "So, anyway, have you got any ideas for
what to do about the oni?"

Ryouga shrugged.  "I don't see what we can do until it shows itself, except
travel in groups and try to keep an eye out for it."

Ranma sighed.  "Yeah, I guess you're right.  In fact, let's try and get
you... hmm, well, the dojo doesn't really need any more fighters between my
parents, myself, and Akane... how about I take you to Ucchan's and you keep
an eye on things there?"  Ryouga nodded, and Ranma got a nurse to get Akane
for him.

"What's up, Ranma?" Akane asked, before glancing over his shoulder.  "Oh,
Ryouga!  Hi, nice to see you!"

Ryouga blushed and stuck a hand behind his head.  "Uh, hi! Akane...."  

Ranma sighed, realizing Ryouga still wasn't over her yet.  "I was going to
take Ryouga over to Ucchan's so he can help look after her during this oni
mess.  I'll be back right after dropping him off- I just wanted to let you
know where I was going in case you got done before I got back."

"Oh, well, if you want I'll..." Akane stopped.  She was just about to
volunteer to go with him on the way, but she couldn't just leave Marie like
that.  She'd been talking non-stop since Akane had gotten there, and really
needed someone to comfort her.  She couldn't just abandon her friend like
that.  "Never mind.  I'll be here when you get back."

Ranma led Ryouga out of the hospital as Akane slowly walked back to
Yoshii's room.  Why had she so casually forgotten her friend, just to spend
some more time with Ranma, who she seemed doomed to spend the rest of her
life with, anyway?  The Voice was buzzing, trying to tell her, but she
didn't have time to listen to it right then.  Shaking her head to clear it,
she stepped back into the room.  She didn't have time to sort out all of
her feelings right then; she needed to help out a friend.

*	*	*	*	*

Akane smiled as Ranma led her home, holding her hand.  Night fell nearly
three hours ago, so there was no worry of being caught, and that just
helped her to relax.  It had been a wonderful night.

Ranma had gotten back to the hospital just as she'd finished visiting
Marie- who looked hopeful when Hideki said something in his sleep just
before she left.  Ranma had proceeded to treat her to an excellent dinner
at a fancy French restaurant, noticeably restraining himself from pigging
out too much.  The food was all the more delicious because neither one of
them had eaten lunch (Ranma hadn't even had a snack okonomiyaki at Ucchan's
when he dropped Ryouga off).  Then they had gone to the movie.

The movie, America's latest blockbuster 'Titanic,' was sad and romantic-
not Ranma's first choice, Akane knew.  But he had given her choice of
movie...

In the middle of the movie, Ranma had shocked her by hesitantly putting his
arm over her shoulder, pulling slightly to hint she should lean into him. 
The whole experience was... delightful.  He didn't even tease her for
tearing up at some of the sad parts... though Akane noticed his eyes
glistening more than usual during one or two of those scenes as well.

After the marathon of a movie ended, they wound up in a small coffee house,
eating and talking much like they had the previous night in the ice cream
parlor.  Finally, they started on home, and he clasped her hand in his as
they went out the door.

Akane felt the strangest desire to kiss him... but she couldn't find the
right moment.  The mood was right, the night had gone well... but there
wasn't really any opportunity to meet his lips.  Sighing contentedly, she
relaxed, realizing that it wasn't yet the right time.  Still, she kept her
eyes open- something inside her wanted this to be the night....

*	*	*	*	*

'Hah!  We made it!' the oni proclaimed, staring at the wall of the Tendou
residence.  Night had fallen two hours ago.  'I'll separate from you, and
hide in Akane's room.  If I need one, I'll call for you to cause a
distraction.'

'And if you don't?' Perez asked.

'Then keep an eye out for Happosai and warn me if he shows.'

Perez nodded, then waited as a small, floating beachball with horns emerged
from his head.  It took a few seconds to regain his equilibrium, but when
he did, he saw the oni still floating before him.  "Good luck," he said.

The Oni nodded, floating out from him and through a window on the second
floor of the dojo.  Taking cover, Perez began to wait.

*	*	*	*	*

Smiling, Akane withdrew her hand as she and Ranma passed through the door. 
They both started upstairs, slipping past their parents unnoticed, and
headed for Akane's door.  As they moved, Akane heard the Voice buzzing
inside her, but she shut it out.  She knew that it was probably telling her
this was a now-or-never moment with Ranma, and that she had a rare
opportunity, but if she stopped to hear it out she was afraid of zoning out
at a critical moment.  Stopping at her doorway, she turned to Ranma and
smiled brightly.

"Thank you, Ranma... this evening has been lovely."  With that, she leaned
over to him, standing on her toes as she wrapped her arms around the back
of his neck, and pulled him in for a brief but sweet kiss on the lips. 
Ranma's arms went around her, and he started returning the kiss, but the
fear of getting caught kept both of them from continuing it for long. 
Releasing him, Akane smiled and rocked back onto the balls of her feet. 
"Good night, Ranma," she whispered as she turned and went into her room. 
The buzzing in her head was getting incessant now, but she couldn't listen
to it until she'd finished closing her door.  She smiled at the blank but
happy expression on Ranma's face as she slip it shut, and then went over
and sat down on her bed.

'Okay, what is it you're trying to tell me?' Akane thought to the Voice.

'...Oni!  The Oni is HERE!'

That was all the warning Akane had before she was possessed. 

Chapter 4
Dedicated to the three people who all had the identical comment:  "I was
hoping Akane's possession would be more drawn out."

Ranma closed his eyes and leaned against the door frame into his room. 
Akane had kissed him!  And for the second day in a row, they had gone out,
had a great time, and not gotten into any fights!  For the first time since
he'd been cursed, life was good.

His brief reverie was broken by a scream emanating from Akane's room that
broke off abruptly.  Without any hesitation, he darted down the hall,
slammed the door to his fiancee's room open, and burst inside her room.

There, he saw Akane, sitting up in bed, looking very... strange.  At first,
Ranma couldn't place it- then he noticed the horns on her head.  'Oh, gods!
 She's been possessed!'  Not taking his eyes off her for a moment, he
waited until he heard others approaching.

"Go, get some of the spirit wards Pop was making!  We have to get this
thing out of her, fast!" he shouted.

"Your father got drunk and passed out before finishing even one," Nabiki
replied.

"Then someone make one!  Hurry!"

"What, and get my hands dirty?" Nabiki continued.  Ranma clenched his fists
angrily, but couldn't break his eyes off of the girl already in front of
him.

"I'll do it," Kasumi's terrified voice echoed back.

"Ranma, what's going on?" Nodoka asked.

Ranma continued to study Akane, ignoring his mother.  The oni horns
sometimes grew larger, and sometimes grew smaller.  Her eyes sometimes
looked like her own, and sometimes grew devilish- and sometimes seductive. 
Frowning, he knew he'd seen that expression on her before, but she hadn't
been possessed by the oni last time.  What was going on?

*	*	*	*	*

Inside Akane's head, three separate powers clashed.  Akane was very
confused- she seemed to be in a very dark plane. On one 'wall' was a
picture of Ranma standing in her room, shouting something she couldn't
hear.  To her left, a being which was obviously the Oni stood, looking like
the beach ball with horns she remembered.  On her right, however, was a
figure she didn't recognize.  In fact, she could hardly see it- it looked a
bit like a beautiful female body, but it was so obscured by mist that
nothing distinct could be made out.

"I really wish you'd been listening to me, Akane," the mist-like figure
sighed.

Akane recognized it right away.  "You're the Voice!  Well, it's about time
I got a chance to see you... but apparently, I can't do that- I can't see a
thing through that mist.  What's going on?"

"Yes, that is what I want to know," the Oni growled, turning towards the
Voice.  "What IS going on, and who are YOU?"

"Don't bother," Akane snorted.  "I've been trying to get her to tell me
that for months now, and she still wouldn't tell me."

"Well, actually..." the Voice began.  "Yes, I will. My name is... was...
Iria.  You have heard of fallen angels becoming demons?  Well, when a demon
falls, he or she does not become an angel- they become something like what
I was.  A vengeful spirit."

Akane's eyes widened.  "You were the-"

"Yes, I was the doll at the inn," Iria admitted.  "I am sorry for what I
did to you- I was not then what I am now.  Now I am... well, I suppose you
could call me your guardian angel- but like I said, I am not truly an
angel.  Perhaps you could call me a guardian demon."

"What class?" the Oni demanded.

"Eh?"

"What class of demon are you?"

"I WAS a succubus... and it was as a succubus that I fell.  I grew to love
one of my assignments, and could not betray him to the horde of Jigoku.  In
return, I was banished to the become the Curse of the Vengeful Spirit Doll.
 The only way to break myself from that curse would be to find a target who
did something worthy of forgiveness."

"A former succubus, eh?" the Oni said.  "Do you still have any of your old
traits?"

Iria glanced at Akane briefly.  "Well, I was nearly able to use Akane's
body to seduce the man who loved her when I was still a vengeful spirit,
but I'm-"

"Good!  Then you can help me."

"Help you?!" Akane screeched, not quite believing all that was going on.

"Help you?!" the one-time succubus echoed.  "I was planning to stop you
from possessing this girl!  After all, I am her guardian!"

"Well," the oni explained, pointing to the view of the outside world on the
wall.  "I was thinking you might want to help me stop that!"

*	*	*	*	*

Kasumi rushed into the room, waving a strip of paper.  "Ranma, here!  The
ink's still wet, but I think you can use it!"

Ranma grabbed the ward without looking.  "Okay, Akane... hold on for just a
second."  With a swift motion, he sped the ward at Akane's head.

An arm reached out from Akane with speed he had previously not seen and
grabbed his hand securely by the wrist, stopping his motion.  Ranma's eyes
widened.

"Ranma..." Akane answered, her eyes momentarily becoming the seductive set
and one of the horns momentarily growing larger.  "Please... not yet.  Let
me... try... and handle things on this end first."

"Why should I listen to the thing which is possessing Akane?" Ranma cried,
trying to jerk his hand free.  Akane's grip held fast.

"If you use that ward, you will harm more than the Oni... please, trust
me!"

Ranma looked into Akane's eyes.

*	*	*	*	*

"What're you doing!?" Akane, pinned by the oni, cried out to Iria.  "I
thought you were trying to help me!"

"I am, but..."  The misty figure turned towards her and gestured for the
Oni to release her.  To Akane's surprise, it did.  "If you let Ranma put
that ward on your body, the oni will be chased away, yes... but, with
nowhere to go, I will be destroyed.  So, please... help me get Ranma to at
least give us a few minutes to figure out what to do?"

Akane looked at her guardian demon, looked back at the oni, and sighed. 
"Can we control him enough to let Ranma do this if we can't figure out what
else to do?"

Iria nodded.  "Probably."

"Okay, then..."

*	*	*	*	*

Ranma saw the transformation take place as he watched- the horns receded
and the eyes became their normal selves.  Suddenly, he wasn't sure if he
should use the ward or not.

"Ranma... I'm in control at the moment... hold on to it, I may need you to
slap it on me later, but if you use it now, a... friend... will die.  I am
talking to it now... we might come to some agreement soon.  Unless you want
to hit me, though, that's all we can do for now...."

"Well, if that's our only option," Nabiki's voice surprised Ranma from
behind him.  A feminine fist sped its way towards Akane's head.  With
astounding ease, Ranma caught it before it could hit.

"Nabiki, no-one is going to hit Akane.  You got that?  Not while I'm
around," he ordered.  "I can't sit around while Akane's body is hurt when
there's something else we can do.  If there's no choice... then maybe."

"Oh?  Then there IS another choice?  What is it?" the middle sister asked.

"Do nothing, at the moment, and let her try whatever she has planned," he
said, ignoring Nabiki's protests as he pushed her back slightly before
releasing her and turning back to Akane.  "I'm going to give you five
minutes... if you can't settle things by then, I'll have to use the ward. 
Okay, Akane?"

Akane nodded.  "Okay, Ranma... and thank you."

Akane's eyes went blank and the horns receded even further.  Akane's
breathing slowed, and Ranma began to fear he'd just made a deal with a
devil- literally.  But he said he'd trust her for five minutes, so five
minutes it was.

"Nabiki, start timing.  Let me know EXACTLY when five minutes is up."

"Five minutes, no more.  Got it, Ranma..."

*	*	*	*	*

"Okay," Akane said, turning away from the wall and walking towards the
other two beings.  The images of the outside world slowed and faded behind
her as she approached Iria and the Oni.  "It seems he won't try to knock
you out of me with a punch, but I got him to give us five minutes before he
uses the spirit ward.  Now, can we try and reach some agreement before our
time is up where you'll leave us alone?"

The Oni shrugged.  "Maybe.  Are you willing to help me break a curse that
Happosai placed on me?"

Akane blinked.  "Happosai placed a curse on you?  And it worked?!"

"I cannot gain strength from possessions, like I normally can," it
explained, "And, when in a male body, I feel an irrational fear of women
that will make me run from them in terror.  Why it doesn't effect me when
I'm in a female body, I don't know, however."

Iria snorted.  "That isn't a curse- being forced inside a little doll as a
vengeful spirit for over a thousand years, now THAT'S a curse."  She shook
her head.  "So, if we help you lift this curse, will you SWEAR to leave
Akane's body, never to return?"

The Oni smiled.  "Oh, yes..." it hissed.

"AND would you swear that, regardless of what happens, you will never harm
myself, my family, or Ranma?" Akane added.  Iria nodded- that was always a
good addendum to include in any bargain with an Oni such as that one. 
That, and she seemed to be willing to protect Ranma from this thing, as
well- a good sign that their relationship was progressing well.

"Er..." it hesitated.  "Suppose what was involved with the cure were to
cause some small degree of harm?  The cure may cause you some small degree
of pain, but it is something you would need to agree to of your own free
will, anyway."

Akane blinked, and looked at her guardian.  "Um... you're more experienced
at this, what do you suggest?"

Iria thought about it for a minute.  "How about if it promised not to harm
them without their freely given consent, and ONLY for what they give their
consent on?"

Akane frowned.  "Well, that might work... then again, it IS a demon.  Can
we trust it to keep its word?"

Iria nodded.  "Yes... a demon may not break its word without a severe
punishment which even the more masochistic of them would not dare to risk. 
It WILL, however, try and twist its promises as much as can be allowed
without breaking them."

"Well, that's not too much of a surprise."  Akane seemed to think it over
for a few minutes before turning to the Oni.  "Make your oath, and I will
see if it is strong enough for me to be willing to help you."

It nodded.  "Very well.  Akane Tendou, I hereby swear that, if my curse is
lifted and you try to help me do so, I will leave your body forever, and
never harm you, your family, or Ranma Saotome without their direct, freely
given consent for the abuse received from the one who I am to harm."

Akane blinked, and turned to Iria.  "Well?"

"Interesting," she said, still facing the Oni.  "Are you that desperate?"  

The Oni shrugged.  "Not really- it doesn't have to be Akane- or anyone in
particular, for that matter.  But if Akane were to help me, then it would
destroy Happosai, for I would have used his curse to do something he could
only dream of. 

Iria turned to Akane.  "He was very careful to fill any loopholes I might
find.  It seems he feels he cannot afford to do without your help."

"Hm...  Oh, okay.  I suppose I can bring myself to help an Oni who's down
on its luck, if it means saving a friend.  What do you need me to do?"

"Oh, it's a very simple task- one which I suspect you've wanted to do for a
long time... and one which your ex-succubus friend should have no trouble
helping you with."

Akane waited patiently for a full half-second of time before snapping out,
"Well?  What is it?"

The Oni grinned.  "I need you to have sex with your fiance."

"WH-"

*	*	*	*	*

"-AT?!"  Akane suddenly shouted, startling Ranma.  Her eyes were still
completely empty, and the horns on her head were still at their smallest.

Ranma twitched.  "How much longer, Nabiki?"

"NO!" Akane shouted, making Ranma jump again.

Nabiki's arm and watched appeared in his view.  "Four minutes thirty
seconds.  Relax, Ranma- if you're going to be so nervous that you'll ask
every thirty seconds, then find another time keeper, because I can't handle
that."

"What?!"  He shouted, turning on her.  "She's your sister, dammit!  Aren't
you worried about her, too?"

Nabiki snorted.  "Oh, please.  Just be thankful I'm not charging you for
helping her out, this time.  You've dealt with worse, and always managed to
pull her through.  This is something anyone could solve, just by tapping
her on the head once.  Maybe I will charge you for this, after all."

Ranma sighed.  "Nabiki, I know you hate me.  I know that the REAL reason
you stopped the wedding was because you shuddered at the thought of me
being an actual part of your family.  I know you keep the never-ending line
of would-be suitors coming after us night and day because you don't care
what it does to me and you want to try and break Akane and me up.  But does
your hatred of me extend to not caring what happens to your own sister?"

Nabiki twitched.  "I don't know where you're getting that ridiculous notion
from, Ranma.  Everything I did in those cases, I did for money."

"Bullshit," Ranma said evenly.  "Even Kasumi can see that you hate me for
some reason."  Nabiki blinked when the woman who Ranma mentioned made no
move to correct him.  "Why do you think she helped me out on that napkin
thing?  She got tired of seeing you take advantage of me for no reason. 
She got tired of seeing you hate me just because of who I am.  And I can't
even talk to Akane about it, because it would just hurt her.  Why would it
hurt her?  Because you're letting your hatred of me turn on her, as well. 
Remember the fake cure for her coma?"

"B-but-" she started.

"Shut up.  Just keep an eye on that watch, and let me know when the five
minutes are up."

With that, Ranma turned back to his vigil on Akane.  Not knowing what to
say, Nabiki started watching the time again, just like Ranma had asked. 
Three minutes to go.

*	*	*	*	*

"-AT!  Have sex with THAT pervert?!" Akane shrieked, stunned.  "Nuh-uh, no
way, deal's off!  Possess one of his OTHER floozies and do what you will
with the idiot, but you are NOT getting me into bed with him!"  She paused
for a moment.  "Or any other guy."

Iria sighed.  "Akane, maybe you're not ready for sex with him yet, but you
don't have to insult him like that.  He doesn't deserve it."

"Who's side are you on, anyway?" Akane growled angrily.  "And he most
certainly does deserve it!  Maybe he's been getting better lately, but that
still doesn't excuse all the times he walked in on me in the bath, or all
the times he's snuck into my room at night!"  She looked thoughtful for a
moment.  "Maybe when I'm sure he's over his perverted streak, but not until
then."

A weird noise vaguely resembling stifled laughter erupted from the Oni. 
"Oh, really?  Suppose I were to convince you that he had no perverted
intentions most of the times he snuck into your room or walked into your
bath?"

Akane snorted.  "That would take a LOT of convincing."

Iria looked from her to the Oni and back again.  "Oddly, Akane, while I
don't approve of his motives or methods, I want you to take the Oni's
challenge.  If it is able to convince you that Ranma is not the pervert you
accuse him of being, would you promise that you would make love to him?"

Akane's eyes bulged.  "Wh- what?  You're asking me to PROMISE that I
would... sleep with him?" she stuttered.

The misty figure looked at her sternly.  "Akane, you DO want to marry him
eventually- even you can't deny that.  When you do, you will need to sleep
with him probably most of your nights.  If you were convinced that Ranma
was not such a pervert, that one of his worst qualities in your mind was
not nearly as bad as you thought, wouldn't that mean that there was one
less thing you needed to worry about before you are ready to marry him?"

"Uh, well...."

"And if you DO get closer to marriage, aren't you going to want to find out
what marriage is like?"

"Well, maybe...."

"So just think of it as finding out what marriage to Ranma would be
like...."

"But this is such a big step-" Akane began.

"And that kiss YOU initiated wasn't?  Okay, maybe you'll be going pretty
fast, from first kiss to passionate sex in less than an hour, but you're
doing it to save me... and besides, I happen to know you've fantasized
about him before, so it's not like you'd be doing something you didn't want
to do in the first place...."

Akane was silent.

"Well?"  The Oni growled.  "Will you accept my challenge or not?"

She looked down.  "It would take me a long time to build myself up to...
doing something like that."

"Well, that's no problem- Iria can take over, and she'd give your Ranma a
night he would never-"

"NO!" Akane snapped.  "If Ranma is going to be... with my body... then I'M
going to be the one in control."  She steadied herself and continued.  "It
just might take some time before I'd be able to do it, is all.  A day or
two, maybe."

"Oh, so you are agreeing to the challenge?  If you kept it under a week,
that would be perfectly fine," the Oni grinned.

"M-maybe," Akane stuttered.  "What would you do to convince me that Ranma's
not a pervert?"

"I'll do more than show you he's not a pervert.  The last time I was here,
I possessed a number of people.  His father, your oldest sister, and two of
his rivals all hold many memories of him- memories which I can show you,
and compare to your own memories.  I'll show you him from a different point
of view... and I'll show you secrets he had no choice but to keep from
you... AND I'll show you some of the things your families have kept secret
from the both of you."  It chuckled.  "Ranma's self control is amazing.  If
you had put Ryouga through what you put him through, he'd have killed you
by now."

"Hey!" Akane protested.  "Ryouga wouldn't hurt anyone....  Well, maybe
Ranma, but only because Ranma deserves it for picking on him so much."

"He DESERVES it?" the Oni laughed.  "All Ranma does is tease him.  What
Ryouga does is far... FAR worse."

"Oh?  What does he do?  Why do they fight all the time?"  Akane asked,
anxiously.

"Do you accept the challenge, then?"

"I...."  Akane was still uncertain.  She REALLY wanted to know what the Oni
could tell her, and she wanted to chase it out of her body without hurting
Iria... but was she willing to lose her virginity to do so?  She needed
more time to think... TIME!  "Aren't we about to run out of time?  Ranma
only gave me five minutes."

The Oni laughed.  "We're having this conversation FAR inside of your
subconscious.  In real time, only about twenty seconds have passed so far-
and time for us is slowing.  Much like you can have a dream which seems to
be many hours when in fact it is only a few seconds, our discussions here
can last days with only minutes passing in the outside world.  We have
plenty of time."

Akane was out of ideas.  She looked desperately at Iria, but the former
succubus only nodded at her.  Akane nearly kicked herself when she
remembered the spirit wanted her to agree to this challenge, anyway.

"I give up.  Yes, I accept your challenge- if you can show me that Ranma is
a significantly better man- meaning at least less perverted- then I
currently believe him to be, I will... I will seduce and sleep with him in
order to lift your curse... after having some time to prepare myself for
it, which will not last more than a week."

The Oni grinned.  "Excellent.  Shall we begin?"

"Remember your promise not to harm her...."  Iria eyed the Oni warily.

"Or her family, or Ranma.  Yes, I know... I will be careful," the Oni
sighed, obviously annoyed at the continued delay.  "It's not like I'm going
to dump their entire memories on her- I'm just going to show her scenes of
Ranma's life from some of the people around him.  I'm not even going to do
it too quickly.  In fact, I'm not going to show her any of Kunou's
memories- his mind is so demented that it might hurt her.  Satisfied?"

"For now," the guardian demon nodded.

"Okay, I believe we should start with Ranma's childhood, as remembered by
Genma."

The world around Akane slowly melted into... Kansai?  "Huh?  What's going
on?" she asked, astonished.  "And how are memories of Ranma's childhood
going to make me think him less a pervert?"

"I thought you said to show you Ranma was a better PERSON than you believed
him to be... I'm showing you his past relations with the other women who
claim him, in order to demonstrate why he has had such a hard time breaking
up with them.  Now hush, or you'll miss something important."

A slightly younger Genma appeared, seemingly out of nowhere.  "Where is
that idiot boy?" he growled.  "If he doesn't show up in the next five
minutes, maybe I'll give him a refresher course in the cat fist."

"Huh?" Akane began, startled.  "I thought he stopped training Ranma that
technique when he found out about it being banned.  Why is he threatening
it again...."

"Well, he only did it once or twice after that.  He used it as a severe
punishment."

Akane clucked.  She knew Genma treated his son pretty harshly when he was
growing up, but that was even worse than she thought.

"Ah, there he is!"  Genma's voice attracted Akane's attention.  The scene
had changed a little- they were now just outside an alley in Kansai.  "Oh,
this looks interesting... might be good to see what the boy will do when
challenged."

Akane saw a six-year old Ukyou holding a pair of mangled little spatulas, a
bruise on her eye, as a man dressed in dark clothing towered over her.  

The man laughed.  "I told your father to keep his little okonomiyaki stand
off of that corner, and he didn't listen to my warnings!  Now he'll see
what defying the yakuza means!"

"The YAKUZA?!" Genma gasped as he (along with Akane and the two spirits)
watched his six-year old son approach the attacker from behind.  "No, boy,
don't stop him!  I don't want the yakuza after our family!" he whispered.

Little Ranma, however, didn't hear his father.  "HEY!  Don't pick on people
who can't fight!" he shouted, jumping at the man with a flying kick.  The
man spun around and caught Ranma by the foot.

"Oh-ho!  What's this?  Another little child, interfering in things he
shouldn't!"  The Yakuza man slammed Ranma into the ground.  "Get away from
me, little child, before I decide to kill you, too."

"NO!" the little boy shouted defiantly, leaping and sending another kick to
the man's knee.  A crack was heard as the kneecap shattered.

"ARGH!  Now you DIE!"  Akane was horrified as little Ranma was picked up
again, and slammed back into the ground several times.  

Ukyou, recovering, saw what was going on and went running, screaming,
"DADDY, DADDY!  HELP!" as Ranma was battered more and more.

"Damn!  The boy's a goner," Genma lamented.  "I'd better get out of here!"

The scene slowly faded around them.  Akane blinked.  "Oh, my god...."

"According to what Genma was told, Ranma was rescued by Ukyou's father.  He
lived with Ukyou and her father for several months before Genma found him
again.  By the time he got back, Ranma had practically been adopted by
Ukyou's family, and even Genma saw he thought of her as his sister... er,
brother," the Oni narrated.  "Which is probably a big reason Ranma couldn't
hurt her when she showed up again."  Akane was silent.  "Incidentally,
before this incident, Genma recalls Ranma as always asking where his mother
was.  After it, Ranma didn't even seem to remember his mother when Genma
brought her up."

"I knew Ranma and Ukyou were childhood friends, but this...."

"Ukyou probably saved Ranma's life, Akane," Iria intervened.  "Now,
remember how you actually ran away from him in order to show your gratitude
to Shinnosuke, just because the forgetful boy saved yours, despite that
incident happening years ago?  Ranma has yet to leave you for Ukyou."

"I...."  Akane didn't know what to say.

"The next incident I think you should see," the Oni continued as the world
changed again into that of the Tendou dojo from right after Ranma showed
up.  "Is from nearly ten years later.  It's very short, but shows how often
he's been tricked into walking in on your bath.  This was shortly after you
hit him over the head with a table...."

She was transported to the guest room, where a female Ranma was lying on
his front while Kasumi and Nabiki sat nearby.  Moaning, Ranma started to
rise to his knees.

"Oh, she's awake," Kasumi began.  "Are you okay?  Don't think too badly of
Akane- she's really a very sweet girl.  She just a little... high
spirited."

"Oh, good, Kasumi- like that explains everything," Nabiki said
sarcastically.

"Don't you want to take a nice hot bath right now?" Kasumi continued.  "Or
maybe I should go and boil another pot of water..."

"No... a hot bath sounds great... maybe it'll help me with this headache,
too," Ranma groaned, slowly getting up and leaving the room.

Nabiki watched him go and then turned to her older sister in surprise. 
"Isn't Akane supposed to be in the bath?"

"Yes, she is.  You know how nervous she gets around men- I think if she
were to be seen naked every now and then by the man she's supposed to
marry, she might be able to deal with him better.  As long as she doesn't
take it too far- and I think there's no danger of that happening for a long
while- it will probably do her good.  And it will just make it more certain
that he's the one that marries her and not us... but we have to be careful-
they aren't married yet, after all...." Kasumi's voice, and the world
around them, faded away.

"My sisters were trying to get him to see me naked?  But...."

"Akane, even you saw that Nodoka was doing the same." Iria said.

"But that's different!  Ranma's mom is weird!"

"Well, I won't argue with you there, but that just goes to show you it
isn't THAT unbelievable."

"Still...."

"Now for some of the biggest questions you've had regarding Ranma.  Why do
he and Ryouga fight so much?  Why does he pick on your little pet?  Why did
Ranma really try and sneak into your room those times, if he wasn't trying
to do something 'perverted?'  And how are all these things connected?"

"They're connected?" Akane asked, surprised.

And the world dissolved again, and the first of many similar scenes began.

*	*	*	*	*

Ryouga fell into a Jusenkyou spring, and Akane blinked.

*	*	*	*	*

A female Ranma, in the bathroom with a naked Ryouga, tells of his promise
not to reveal the secret of P-Chan.

Tears started to form in Akane's eyes.

*	*	*	*	*

The first night Ranma snuck into Akane's bedroom with the teakettle ended
with Ranma flying out the window.  A single tear dripped down Akane's
cheek.

*	*	*	*	*

Many scenes of Ryouga, as P-Chan, using his closeness to Akane to annoy
Ranma, such as the time he rubbed his head against her breasts as she held
him following the Bakusai Tenketsu training, flashed in front of the girl. 


"Ryouga no baka," she whispered.

*	*	*	*	*

The final scene the Oni showed her, where she hit Ranma hard for trying to
stop Oni-Ryouga from raping her, caused Akane to collapse onto her knees. 
"I hit him for... that?" she asked, tears now covering her face.

Iria came over to her and hugged her.  "Shh...  you didn't know.  It's not
your fault...."

"Yes it is!" Akane cried.  "Ranma's been trying to tell me for so long, but
couldn't because of his promise....  All those times he's called him
P-Chan, and that bandanna... oh, sure, I didn't have any way to know about
Ryouga trying to rape me, but still, all those other times...."

The Oni didn't care about her tears, though.  She wasn't really harmed-
this was something she needed to have seen.  And it had never promised to
keep Akane happy.  "So, are you convinced Ranma is a better person than you
originally believed him to be?"

"I... yes, I am," Akane admitted.

*	*	*	*	*

Ranma turned back to his vigil on Akane.  Not knowing what to say, Nabiki
started watching the time again, just like Ranma had asked.  Three minutes
to go.

Intelligence returned to Akane's eyes just as he turned back- and they WERE
Akane's eyes that Ranma saw.  A second later, tears formed in those same
eyes.

"Ranma," Akane sniffed.  "The Oni has made a deal.  You and I need to
talk... privately.  The Oni will cause no trouble for now."

Ranma looked at her for a moment.  Something- maybe it was her eyes- made
him believe her.  "Okay.  Nabiki, will you please leave for a bit?"

"What?!" Nabiki screeched, not believing her ears.  "You mean to tell me
you still trust her when she's po-"

She collapsed on to the floor as Ranma tapped one of her pressure points. 
"Kasumi, can you take Nabiki away for a little while?"

"Oh, my!" she exclaimed.  "Yes, Ranma, but do be careful!"

Kasumi dragged her unconscious sister away, and shut the door behind her. 
"Okay, Akane," Ranma began.  "What deal is this, and why did you need to
make it?"

*	*	*	*	*

"You really painted an unfair portrait of Ryouga, you know," Iria said,
still deep in Akane's subconscious with the Oni.

"Yeah, I know.  I didn't have much choice- if I didn't give Akane a target
for her anger, she would have taken it out on herself much more, which
would have caused her serious harm.  I would have broken my oath."

"That, and you wanted to get her to seriously hurt Ryouga when she sees
him," the former succubus guessed.  "You just love to cause trouble, don't
you?

"Well, yes, of course.  I AM an Oni, after all."

-------------------------
*Note:  I've been trying to avoid including lots of authors notes in this
series (due to the complaints about the notes in Return of the Sisters),
but since I've received several messages on the matter... No, it is NOT
said in the manga or the anime that Ranma tells Ryouga of the promise he
makes.  However, it IS possible that he did so anyway, 'off camera.'  For
the purposes of this fanfic, yes, he did.

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