Subject: [PMFFML] [FFML-R] [Ranma] Fragments Pt 8/9
From: "Linda Shen" <echonymph@msn.com>
Date: 3/16/2001, 1:44 PM
To: FFMLRefuge@listbot.com

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Hi Everyone,

All right, I sent out the feeler, and now I know exactly where the story left off from. =)  I hope you all enjoy this post, it's probably the longest one you'll ever get. =)

All feedback is welcomed and appreciated, if you'd like past chapters please email me privately

-Linda/echo

^*^*^

^*^*^

"AKANE!"

Her sister had gone to the cemetery with Auntie
Nodoka hours ago, and while Nodoka had turned
up at the dojo a while back, tired but no worse
for wear, Akane could not be found anywhere.

Very few people in the history of time had ever
seen Tendo Kasumi in a panic, but those brave
souls who ventured out into the storm were in
for a surprise.

Kasumi had grabbed an umbrella, now useless
because the winds had blown it inside out.

She 'hrmmph'ed in frustration and threw it to
the ground, and looking around the Garden
Cemetery, she ran towards the Saotome's private
burial area, where Akane should have been.

She wasn't there.

But there was a bouquet of dripping, wilted
daisies, a muddy blanket, and a shred of cloth,
the old, familiar blue color that Kasumi had
seen a million and one times, though her memory
failed her in retrieving where and when.

"AKANE!  AKANE!"

Still the rain poured down, and still it
drowned her cries.

Desperate, she circled around, her dress
sticking to her body and her hair plastered to
her face, the rushing sound of water filling
her ears and hurting her head, the pressure of
it falling on her body stinging her skin.

Where was Akane?

The wind screamed, and the heavens roared.

Nerima was not a stranger to storms, but this
was a gale the likes of which no one had ever
seen.  A phenomenon fueled by ancient hatred,
and renewed by unwise choice.

A blackness rose, one that Saotome Ranma and
Tanakawa Yuki had faced and feared and
conquered twelve years ago, an evil that had
risen again.  It was not unnatural; it had not
magic woven into its thick, red venom.

It was the simple function of hate, of shame,
and of a human concept called 'feud'.

Kasumi heard a whisper, and then a scream.

^*^*^

It was dark where Akane was crouched, her legs
splayed rudely beneath her, squelching quietly
in the mud and grass mixture at the roots of
the ancient tree.  She was covered in a thin
film of dust and water, not quite mud, and not
quite nothing.  Her eyes were empty, her mouth
was open.

It was as if someone had stolen her very soul.

And Kasumi bent down to shake her little
sister, sobbing and screaming for her to wake,
slapping her cheeks and pinching her arms.

She tried everything in her power to break the
trance until she saw the grave that Akane had
collapsed before, until she read the poem.

It was an old stone, worn with age, though not
as weary as the others, being afforded the
protection of the willow tree's branches and
leaves.

The rhyme was familiar, childlike in its
innocent cadence, friendly in its words:

"She who reached the heavens,
She who shined with spark,
She who loved and lived and laughed,
She who slew the dark."

Kasumi's hands gripped Akane like steel as she
finished reading the inscription.

"Here lies Tanakawa Yuki, beloved daughter and
master of the Tanakawa School of the Rising
Phoenix.  Proud as she was strong.  (1980-
1998)"

So the two sisters sat there on the sodden
earth as the rain washed them clean of their
lies and inhibitions, staring at the words
carved onto the stone.  An eternal shrine to
something neither of them had quite understood
at the time.

"Kasumi," Akane finally said, her voice quiet
in the sound of the rain, "why did she kill
him?  Why did she kill him?"

And Kasumi stared still at the rock, letting
her fingers trace the names, her mind finally
remembering where she had seen that blue
before, many, many times.

^*^*^

Nerima
13 years 8 months previous

"Ohiyo, Akane-chan, I'll have some tea out in
just a se- Oh!  Pardon me, I see you've brought
a friend!"  She bowed politely at the redheaded
girl.  "And what might be your name?"

Yuki looked impressed, so far, this was the
only human being who came in contact with Ranma
to think that she was her own person.

"Oh, Ohiyo, my name is Tanakawa Yuki, pleased
to meet you," she smiled brightly.

She looked exactly like him, Kasumi observed.
The exact same blue eyes, the same perfectly
satin skin, the same startling red hair.

But personality-wise . . .

Yuki seemed far more complex than she let on.
Beneath that exterior of glowing smiles and
perfect, polite friendliness, there was a
quicksilver glimmer of something pained.  A
soul matured and broken before, someone who had
lost everything.

While Ranma shared the same darkness inside of
himself, he reacted differently, with anger,
with words, and instead of hiding it underneath
a proper showing, he took it out in his martial
arts.

'Two such similar people,' Kasumi thought
softly to herself, 'two such sad people.'

"Well, in that case, my name is Tendo Kasumi,"
she said politely, smiling again, "please, come
in, I'll have tea and cookies out in just a
second."

Akane led the girl into the house, saying, "I'm
sorry we couldn't talk under the bridge, the
rain was coming down pretty heavily."

Yuki shrugged and sat down, setting her elbow
on the table and leaning her cheek against it,
she started:

"Alright, this is serious," her tone of voice
promised Akane that is was, "You and Ranma have
been engaged for a year now, right?  And with
between fighting with each other, and being
stolen away by mystical princes and whatnot,
you two ought to be pretty close, right?"

Akane narrowed her eyes, Ranma had told this
girl * everything *?

"We're pretty close, yes, why?" she asked
suspiciously, if she was trying to find a way
to weasel into Ranma's heat, that little hussy
would be cut off right at the turn.

Yuki reached out her hands, and clasping
Akane's tightly, a serious, sober expression on
her pretty face, she said slowly, "Do you care
about him at all?  Even the tiniest bit?"

Akane stared back, her mouth opening and
closing like a fish out of water.

And Kasumi, from where she stood near the open
doorway of the kitchen, hearing every word
being spoken, was fairly certain that Akane
would have answered honestly in her own time.
After the shock wore away, her sister could be
quite assertive.

But as it always happened in Nerima, there was
a momentary distraction that ruined the moment.

"CHIKUSHO!  STUPID WEATHER!  STUPID HINAKO-
SENSEI!  What sort of twisted human being keeps
a kid in after school detention so she has
someone to play tic-tac-toe with?"

Akane felt a growl rising in her throat and
Yuki only rolled her eyes, "Perfect timing,
Ranma-kun," she muttered.

There was much stomping, and a hiss of hot
water.  Then, a male voice cried out:

"Akane?  Are you here?  Hinako-sensei found
your notebook, do you want it back now?"

Yuki sighed and leaned back on her haunches,
frustrated that she hadn't gotten an answer.
And Akane yelled as she ran towards the entry-
way:

"Yes!  Of course I want it back!  You didn't
read it, did you?"

And as the Tendo girl disappeared from vision,
Yuki heard Ranma reply, "Why?  Writin' love
letters to Ryoga in it?"  She grimaced,
thinking, 'Ranma-kun, you have a death wish.'

"BAKA!  Give it back!" Akane yelled.

"Bi-daaah!  Nope, you have to tell me what's in
it first, come on, Akane, it can't be * that *
bad, you haven't been keeping a diary, have
you?"

"RANMA!  GIVE IT BACK NOW!"

"Dear Diary, today, I saw Ryoga, oh, he's just
* so * dreamy!  I can't wait to marry him and
have tons of little porker children!"

Yuki closed her eyes and counted to three.

* BOOM * * STOMP * * CRASH *

" . . . ite . . . "

"Serves you right, stupid jerk!"

There was a rapid footfall, and a red-faced
Akane returned to the calm of the family room.
Upon seeing the disapproving expression on
Yuki's face, she grew slightly sheepish.

"Gomen-nasai, Yuki-san," she murmured, lowering
her head and clutching the notebook she'd just
liberated in her hands.

"Oh," Yuki said slowly, "it's okay, he was
asking for it."  There was a pause.  "But
still, Akane, answer my question."

Only Kasumi and Akane would ever understand her
answer the way it was meant to be said.

"That baka?  I don't like him at all!  He could
dry up and die for all I care!"

^*^*^

That blue, that haunting blue color.  The same
hue as Ranma's shirt had been that afternoon,
the same texture of the soft cloth, the same
feel of it against her fingers as she hung up
the laundry.

"Kasumi," Akane ventured again, eyes still
trained on the headstone, "Kasumi?"

The older woman started to speak.

"It's odd, isn't it, Akane?  She seemed so
lovely, so terribly nice," her voice died in
her throat for just a moment, "she loved him,
did you know that, Akane-chan?"  The wind grew
louder and the rain fell faster, "Did you
know?" Kasumi continued, "I know you were too
busy hating him for spending time with her, I
know you were too jealous to see it.  But
underneath all that, she loved him."

"No," Akane whispered, her hands curled into
fists, her knuckles white from anger, "she
killed him, why would anyone hurt the person
they loved?"

"Why did you hit Ranma?" Kasumi murmured,
remembering Yuki.

Remembering her friend.

^*^*^

^*^*^

"Caffeine isn't good for pregnant women,
Kimiko."

"Yeah, and I'm sure that getting kicked in the
groin isn't good for men in general," she
growled savagely, "so, if you ever want to
enjoy the pleasures of flesh again, HAND OVER
THAT COFFEE!"

Soichi had to admit that his wife in a rage was
a very scary scene.  The way her eyes glowed an
iridescent blue, and how the air around her
seemed to spark with electricity were all
indicative of severe pain in his near future.

But this was Soichi, the former heir to the
Saotome School of Anything Goes Martial Arts.
And although the name had been abandoned, and
the cause denied, the mule-headed stubbornness
remained, much to Kimiko's distress.

"No," he stated plainly, holding the coffeepot
high over her head, "you're not getting any of
this, if you want something to drink, have some
orange juice.  A, it'll power you up, B, it's
got vitamin C, which is good for the baby
anyway, and C, it has no caffeine."

Kimiko stared at him for a good long minute
before she replied.

Which was probably a good thing because it gave
the people in Tokyo General's cafeteria time to
cover their ears.

"YOU ARE SUCH A PAIN!"

Three seconds later, Kimiko was sipping a mug
of decaf coffee, and Soichi was sitting very
sullenly across from her, rubbing the growing
bruise on his shin.

Ten minutes passed before he ventured to speak
again:

"Hey, do you think he's out of surgery yet?"
Soichi's voice was soft, worried.

Kimiko set down her cup and leaning her cheek
against her palm, she murmured, "I hope so,"
her eyes grew sad, "what is he going to do when
he wakes up?  He's going to be devastated."

Soichi frowned, "I'm here for that."

Kimiko shot him a skeptical expression, "Your
not working for free you know, without parents,
who's going to pay for his sessions," she
paused, "besides, he's not eighteen yet, he's
going to become a ward of the state, they've
got their own staff psychiatrists."

There was a pensive silence for a long time.

"Kimiko," he whispered, a touch of hope in his
heart, "I think I have an idea."

^*^*^

Akane and Kasumi had awoken in their beds,
somehow having gotten back to the house after
their afternoon encounter.

But Akane could not forget Kasumi's words.

Had Yuki really loved Ranma?  Had she seriously
felt pain when she'd dealt that final,
horrifying blow?

Her eyes glazed over as she stared at her
ceiling, and then she slept.

^*^*^

Somewhere in the far valleys of China, where
rolling hills protected the last Amazon tribe
from the Chinese government, and shielded
Jusenkyo from prying eyes; an old woman awoke
to the sound of ki whispering through the air.

It sounded crimson, tainted with the blood and
anguish of too many years on too young a
person, she blinked, and she tasted the fear
and panic.

'HELP!' it cried soundlessly, wordlessly,
aimlessly, 'HELP ME!'

It had been over a decade, but Cologne
recognized that ki, she recognized that color,
she could recognize the soul that screamed it.

'It has to be something big,' Cologne wondered
in bemusement, 'something enormous if the it is
coming in this strong, even after death,' she
paused, frowning, even more wrinkles appearing
on her face.  'No, it couldn't be, death
weakens a ki scream tenfold, at least,
regardless how strong she is, was, it couldn't
be this powerful unless-'

Cologne's eyes opened wide in shock, 'Unless
she's still living.'

She focused, searching for that line of ki
energy again, reaching out to taste that
panicking cry.

And when she touched it, she gasped, it was not
pure crimson, and instead, she found it to be
deftly colored by patches of gold.  A tone of
gold she had only ever seen on one other human
being.

"[Tamade!(1)  Ranma and Yuki . . .]"

She started laughing slowly, softly, and as it
grew louder, so too did the memories that came
with those names.

^*^*^

(1) The Chinese equivalent of SOB

^*^*^

Nerima
Thirteen years 7 months previous

It had taken Cologne five months of research,
study that had consumed her days and nights,
fueled by a dread curiosity that rose from the
depths of her, but she'd found it, she knew
why.

But she didn't like the answer, and she knew
that the Tendos would not be too happy about it
either.

But Ranma, well, she wasn't certain how Ranma
would respond to such a discovery.  For a boy
at the nubile age of sixteen, he'd grown rather
accustomed to the insanity that plagued his
life, and having fiancée after fiancée forced
upon his person, Cologne was sure he'd handle
this as he would any other situation of the
like:

With an infamous knack for shoving his foot as
far into his big mouth as his pipes would
allow.

She'd finally pinpointed the origins of the
Spring of the Drowned Girl, and the tourguide
was right, there * was * a terribly tragic
story behind it, though, the version he told
was so vague that it was, essentially, true.
In ancient lore, before people started to keep
written record of fairytales and magic, it had
been called the Lake of the Drowned Lovers.

A boy and a girl who had been engaged to marry
had been training on the grounds, having stuck
the sandy bottom of the lake full of sturdy
bamboo rods, they were hopping from rod to rod,
tagging each other gently and generally
enjoying their lives.  The details were sketchy
from there on out (she'd gotten the entire
account from some partial diary of an old,
schizophrenic woman who'd off and on rant about
chickens worshipping the devil), but she knew
for certain that the girl had lost her footing,
and had drowned in the lake below before the
boy caught her and dragged her to shore.  It
was then that the girl's family, a proud,
Chinese clan had discovered the lovers there,
one dead and the other sobbing.

It was said that the boy had cried so hard and
so long that the lake had overflowed to fill
the entire valley, creating spring after spring
from his endless grief.

Cologne smirked, his passion had not touched
the girl's family, though, and they'd pulled
him away from his dead fiancée and had drowned
him in the same waters from which his lover had
perished.

Needless to say, the boy's family had not been
pleased, and hence, the blood feud had been
started between the Nobu Clan and the Fujiwara
Clan, both too proud and too heartbroken from
the loss of their children to realize the
damage that they would deal because of it.

Of course, Cologne knew that the crying boy was
not the origin of Jusenkyo, but the other
things, the enchanted lake that was there
originally, and events that led to their
deaths, they were all plausible, honest.

Over years, people had forgotten the true
purpose and cause of that spring.

Cologne was beyond certain now that if a woman
fell into the spring, a phenomenon would occur,
she'd become a man.

Since most often, it was only men that were
taken on training trips and that fell into the
Lake of the Drowned Lovers, turning into women,
people had roundabout come to the conclusion
that it was the 'Spring of the Drowned Girl'.

But Cologne knew better.

The Spring of the Drowned Lovers was not
vicious in nature, not cruel or laughing as the
other pools were.  It held the spirit of
longing, the soul of love forever bound to
those deceptively gentle waters.

Falling into the Spring of the Drowned Lovers
did not turn you into a man or a woman at
random, it showed you the face of someone you
were destined to love. (1)

A soulmate.

Yuki didn't look like * Ranko *, * Ranko *
looked like * Yuki *.

Cologne turned around quickly at the sounds of
the door to the Nekohanten being opened.

"Nihao, Elder-Cologne," Yuki cried out
cheerfully, dropping her bookbag on a table,
she sat down across from where Cologne balanced
on her staff.

"Yo, Cologne," Ranma said, his voice placid,
but curious.  The Amazon had to bite her tongue
to keep from exclaiming in surprise, in the
months that she'd known Ranma; the boy had
never greeted her with anything but
disrespectful epithets.

"Nihao, Yuki-chan, Son-in-Law," she started,
watching the irritation grow on Ranma's face,
"I think you're going to be surprised when I
tell you what I've found."

She was right.

They were surprised.

Which was odd, you see, because Cologne lied
through her eyeteeth, her false words spilling
from her lips even as her aged fingers covered
a passage written in worn Chinese characters –
a prophecy the old woman had declared somewhere
between detailing how to exorcise poultry.

[The waters will part, and the heavens will
weep, because in due time, the families will
once again find their blood against blood.]

'Blood against blood,' Cologne mused, staring
at the two teenagers before her, entirely
focused on words, believing her, having faith
that her explanation was true.

In the back of her mind, she was spinning lies,
something about the pool being polluted with ki
from Yuki's ancestors.

[But in that feud from times far future, the
line will have dulled, and two who start as
friends will end as lovers, dying as they were
borne, cursed by their existence, and blessed
by their passage.]

"Told ya!  Told ya!" Yuki cried triumphantly,
poking Ranma in the stomach, giggling as he
poked her back, a peevish expression on his
face, muttering:

"I tell yah, you old Mummy, it's too damn weird
to be a stupid coincidence."

Cologne hit him over his head with her staff
hard, yelling, "Do not doubt me foolish boy,
it'll be a hundred years before you have earned
that right!"

'Friends,' she wondered silently, watching the
two of them tease smiles out of each other,
carelessly enjoying the other's company, 'they
are friends, and something simmers below the
surface on that boy.'  She watched them
carefully, 'Trust, belief, safety . . .
perhaps, perhaps, God in Heaven, perhaps even
the first embers of love . . . '

[Both will have a warriors spirit, both will be
strong and sound of mind and body.  But one
will be two, and the other a half.  Flame red
and midnight black, two bodies, one blue.]

"Admit it, Ranma-kun, you were just bein'
paranoid!"

"Oh, shut up already, Yuki, I get it, I get it,
alright?  No new technique, no fightin', I
lose, you're right, okay?  SHEESH!"  While
Ranma's face was almost always twisted into an
expression of supreme pain when admitting error
to anyone, especially a woman, he didn't seem
to mind being wrong, at least, not when it came
to being wrong against Yuki.

But from the way they competed, she could tell
that they were warriors born.  Cologne could
see the fight materialize in the air.

'One will be two,' Ranma's curse.

'And the other half,' Yuki's heart, broken by
something that happened long ago, something
she'd never tell anyone about, leaving only a
dark red patch over her chest where her ki
faded painfully.

'Flame red,' Yuki's hair, Onna-Ranma's hair.

'And midnight's black,' Son-in-law's hair.

'Two bodies, one blue,' and then Cologne
realized with a terrible shudder the color of
Ranma's eyes, so uniquely blue, gray like
stormy skies, but tempered with a good natured
azure that seemed to radiate simple happiness.
A color, had she not know better, she would
would have sworn could not have been reproduced
in any other human being.

She did not dare look into Yuki's smiling eyes,
but the knowledge was there already, Cologne
knew that their irises would mirror each other.

[The waves will roar and the thunder will
strike, burning down pretense to reveal the
truth in its broken ashes.

And the world will mourn the passing of two
skilled as they are kind, two bound by their
blood, two ultimately killed by distant pasts.

God save you wretched creatures.]

Cologne waved weakly towards Yuki as the two
left her restaurant.

And she excused herself to her room for the
afternoon, trying to reconcile her conscience
with what she'd just done.

^*^*^

(1) Yes, yes, 'What about the Musk Dynasty?
You can't say that the animals (the female
ANIMALS at that) were being shown the image of
their lesbian true human loves.'  The Spring of
the Drowned Lovers was created from the soul of
two human beings, I'm going to go ahead and
assume that dunking animals into it distorts
the original purpose.

^*^*^

Cologne steeled her nerves and hopped from the
bed, pulling things from her drawers and
throwing them to the floor.

A sword, an amulet, three feathers.

'Where is it?' she thought frantically, 'where
is it?'

And finally, she came upon those tattered
sheets of paper where she'd tossed them in the
bottom of a chest.

She sat down on the sawed board floor of her
house, and surrounded by clothes and ancient
artifacts strewn carelessly about her, she
flipped through the pages and came upon that
weary passage again.

Her aged eyes scanned passed those words she'd
read before, and came upon those final lines
that she hadn't bothered to finish.

[But the fight in the two will force them to
survive, they will outlive, they will outlast.
But the feuding families will end in the deaths
of their heirs, and the birth of a new line,
one with no history but one all their own.]

"[Unbelievable]," Cologne murmured, slipping
carelessly through her native tongue, "[Still
alive after all this time.]"

She started to cackle, and murmured, "Good,"
this time, she spoke in Japanese, the words old
and familiar, "It will be nice to see Nerima
again."

^*^*^

"Mom," he whispered, his throat scratchy and
hoarse, it hurt to breathe, "Mom, where are
you?"

There came a soft voice, and an even gentler
touch, the palm of someone's palm against his
forehead, warm and weighty on his skin.

"Sleep, Naka-kun, sleep."

It was not his mother, but his mind did not
bother to realize this, and he followed the
directions, flittering back off into his
fevered dreams.

^*^*^

Soichi sat quietly in the hospital room, feet
tapping soundlessly against the cold, tile
floors.  Her hair was cropped short and he
played with a lock of it out of nervous habit,
wondering what he looked like as a girl with
such an obviously male haircut.

He was certain that Kimiko had meant for her
presence to be a comfort to Naka if he woke,
Soichi found himself smirking, 'Man, I bet the
kiddo is more likely to scream and faint over
what 'she' did to her hair than feel
reassured.'

Kimiko had been sent home, protesting and
pouting the whole way, but she'd been gone
nonetheless, Soichi would not have her be
anywhere else.  She'd been awake for almost two
straight days, and after finally falling asleep
in the waiting room, she'd awoken gasping in
terror.

He'd looked at her in deep concern at the
moment, but it was only later that he realized
that the usually invisible aura of ki that she
carried with her wherever she walked had grown
thinner, lighter, weaker.  As if she'd just
been in a massive battle, and had lost.

Once he'd stumbled upon this discovery, he'd
done as any normal Father-to-be would have,
ordered her straight to bed where she belonged,
and then proceeded to fall apart in worry.

She'd called once she'd reached the apartment,
and yawning lazily, she had whispered, "You
were right, Soichi, I think I'll take a nap."

All was right in his world.

Well . . . almost all.

He smiled warmly at the child who slept
fitfully, unaware of the horrors of life that
awaited him.

And it reminded him of another time when he was
just as young, just as innocent, and just as
blessedly oblivious to the hate in the world.

^*^*^

Nerima
13 years 6 months previous

They sat face to face in the Tendo's dojo, both
glaring with all the ferocity that they could
muster, and as world-class martial artists,
they were capable of mustering a lot.

"You're a bastard, Ranma," she muttered.

"And you're a klutz," he muttered back.

"What the hell does that have to do with
anything?" she asked, her voice incredulous.

"Hell, you tripped walking home from school
today, if you hadn't have fallen on top of
Akane, you'd have probably broken your ankle,"
he rubbed the bruise that was forming on his
chest, "Although, I think I paid for that in
full when she hit me for bringing you along
with us."

Yuki rolled her eyes, but remained silent.
She'd had enough of talking about Akane.  There
were certain people in the world that she could
not bear, arrogant, angry, violent people who
abused their titles as 'martial artists' and
used it to randomly dole out extreme violence.

Actually, now that she thought about it, she
despised Akane.

It wasn't a first impression problem or
anything, in fact, the first time she'd ever
really talked to the girl, she'd seemed nice
enough, polite and gentle when she'd finally
realized that Yuki wasn't Ranma.

It was the conversation thereafter that made
her tick:

"You know, he never says anything about it, at
least, maybe not to you, Akane-san, but your
words hurt him, you know?  All the snide little
comments, calling him bad names," she'd frowned
unhappily, sitting in the Tendo's living room.
"You should really stop."

Akane had sniffed haughtily, and Yuki had come
to the first of two conclusions that afternoon,
1: Tendo Akane was a spoiled, self-righteous
brat who refused to listen to anyone.

"He's a pervert, Yuki, and if I were you, I
wouldn't hang around him any more than I had
to, who knows what sort of hentai things he
might try," she'd said, her voice venomous.

"He's not a pervert, Akane-san," Yuki had
replied firmly, the first hints of anger
seeping into her voice.

"Yes, he is!" Akane yelled, far too loudly for
polite conversation.  Realization Two: Akane
was the most uncontrolled, spoiled, self-
righteous brat in the world.  "I mean, look at
that curse of his, he turns into a * girl  *!"

Yuki gritted her teach and chanted in her mind,
'A martial artist must have strength, skill,
and wisdom, having the last, they know only to
use the first two if there is no other choice.'

"Akane-san, I'm not here to discuss his curse,
which, by the way, does not make him a pervert.
I'm hear to tell you that he is hurt when you
are mean to him!  You * are * his fiancée, and
even if you don't want to marry him, at least
treat him with some respect."

Under any other circumstance, the speaker would
have stopped talking very early on in the
sentence, mostly because Akane's infamous
battle aura had started to act up, glowing
dark, ugly red.  It wasn't that the martial
artists in Nerima couldn't all ritually beat
Akane into a pulp; it was just that there would
be dire consequences if they did.  Ryoga was
too obsessed to lay a malicious finger on her,
Shampoo knew that Nabiki would have her
deported in a moment at the slightest sign of
bruising, and Kodachi knew her brother would
extract revenge.  Ukyo knew that if she hurt
Akane, her position as the 'cute' fiancée would
be gone faster than Shampoo could dish out a
glomp.

And Ranma . . .

Well, Yuki was fairly certain that Ranma loved
her too much to hurt her.

Which made her all the angrier that Akane
treated him in such a low-grade manner.

Which brought her back to her original point.

Yuki scowled at the memory of Ranma's fiancée,
and gracelessly shifted the topic back to the
problem at hand.

"You're still a jackass, Ranma.  Sparring with
me won't kill me," she said.

"You're a girl, girls are weaker," he recited,
eyeing Yuki's twitching fist with a little
nervousness, so far, she'd refrained from
hitting him, but he was fairly certain that his
last comment had just put him in her 'bad'
column.

"Girls, Ranma, are not weaker," Yuki muttered,
and then an idea lit up her eyes, making Ranma
nervous, "Ranma, how's about we make ourselves
a little agreement."

He narrowed his eyes and looked at her closely.
He'd learned a lot from being in the same
household as Nabiki, and he was half tempted to
pull out a sheet of paper and a pencil, borrow
a legal dictionary and ask her to sign a
binding contract.

"What kind of agreement?" he asked
suspiciously.

"Nothing volatile.  Actually, it's pretty fair,
at least in my opinion," she said excitedly,
jumping to her feet, the earlier tension
suddenly forgotten.  "We'll spar," she
continued speaking, totally ignoring the
unhappy expression on Ranma's face, "BUT, we're
going to do it according to a kata, is that
okay?"

"You're kidding me right?  Then what's the
point of sparring?  We'd know each other's
every move, that wouldn't even count!" Ranma
cried.

Yuki raised an eyebrow and fell into a
defensive stance, seemingly unconcerned that
she was still dressed in her school uniform,
"Come on, Ranma, give me a little credit, you
once recognized the martial artist in me," she
grinned wickedly, "she wants to come out and
play."

With almost no warning, she leaped to attack,
throwing a roundhouse kick at Ranma's head, and
he instinctively ducked at the same speed he
used when sparring with his father, his mind
not yet clicking into 'lets humor females'
mode.

He never saw it coming, her heel tagging him on
the side of his face, leaving a burning sting
in its wake.

"By the way," she said twirling and landing
gracefully from the jump, "no special attacks,
no ki, no speed techniques, just a straight,
fair fight.  Now pay attention, I'm not going
that slow for this whole time."

When he didn't respond, but chose only to stare
at her in stupefied wonder, cemented to that
same spot on the dojo floor, she began to
worry.

"Are you okay?  Ranma?  Wake up, man, what's
gotten into you?  I only tagged you, well, I
only * meant * to tag you, maybe I got you a
little harder than I meant, Ranma, Ranma?" Yuki
started to panic, and wringing her hands
worriedly, she walked up to him, searching his
vacant, horrified eyes for some sign of
response.

"You," he finally whispered, "you hit me."

"Yes," she said slowly, wondering where it was
leading.  "Yes, I tagged you."

"I," he paused, looking down at her in wonder,
"I was going at the speed I go with Pop, that,
that's like one hundred times faster than what
I go with Akane, and you * still * tagged me!"

He was silent and digested this for a moment.

A girl had tagged him.  Certainly, he'd fought
with Shampoo and various other dangerous women
before, women who had pounded him rather bodily
and left him bruised for weeks, but never in
fair battle.  No, there were always big
spatulas and noxious chemicals involved.

But Yuki had just tagged him fair and square,
and from what she'd said immediately
afterwards, it seemed that it hadn't even been
as fast as she went.

Maybe it wouldn't be so bad to spar with her,
after all.

Grinning, he replied, "All right, Yuki, you
asked for it, the moment I think you can't
handle it, I'm pulling my strikes."

Yuki rolled her eyes and hopping backwards, she
muttered, "Yeah, whatever."  Jumping towards
him and throwing a playful punch, she asked,
"Have you any idea how arrogant you are?"

Ranma blocked it, stunned by the speed with
which he was forced to respond, it wasn't as
fast as he went, but it was pretty close.
Finally gathering his wits about himself again,
he answered, carefully dodging a kick that
landed where his stomach had been seconds ago,
"I'm not arrogant!"

Yuki flipped backwards, tagging him again on
the shoulder as she went, laughing, "You are,
too!  I don't know of any other male martial
artist who is as messed up as you are about
sparring with girls!"

He growled, very carefully starting an
offensive strike, missing her by a mile, "Aw,
Ranma, is that the best you can do?" she
teased.

"No, it's not, I'm just going easy on you!"

Unbeknownst to the sparring martial artists,
the door to the dojo slowly slid open, it was
Akane, having returned from picking up a new
first aid kit for Ranma.

She'd been suspicious when Ranma offered to
stay with Yuki in the dojo, but she'd bitten
back the immediate reaction to yell at him for
his obvious perversions and faked a smile,
remembering Yuki's earlier words: "You're going
to lose him eventually if you don't trust him,
Akane."

But now, she was full blown mad.

In the year that they had been engaged, he'd
never so much as taken her seriously in the
dojo, never put up an offensive when they
sparred, and refused to do anything but dodge.

'Well,' she muttered to herself, 'he's
certainly putting up a fight now.'

And that he was.  Beautifully in fact.

Had Akane been paying closer attention, she
would have realized something by that time,
Yuki's entire attack was just a kata, an
elegant, fast-moving dance that was difficult
as it was graceful.  She was just playing with
him, and he, finding it delightful that
* someone * knew how to have a little fun, was
happily playing back.  Their strikes were
calculated, their kicks were planned, and the
footings were all just parts of their memory,
manifested on opposing sides, like a rousing
game of tag where everyone knows all the rules.

But Akane didn't notice, and the end result was
rather messy.

First, she screamed something along the lines
of: "RANMA NO BAKA!"

Then, both Ranma and Yuki became distracted,
leaving them both rather awkwardly midair and
started them crashing down to the ground.

There was a thud, resulting in a tangled heap
of limbs and cloth, forcing the poor, confused
martial artists to yelp in pain and generally
become one big bruise.

So surprised were they, in fact, that neither
were out of their stun enough to put up a fair
protest when Akane dragged both of them out of
the dojo.  While she threw Ranma into the pond,
she spared Yuki, seeing as she was a guest, and
put her on a sleeping roll, waiting impatiently
by her side until the girl regained full
consciousness, a bellyful of questions to ask.

^*^*^




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