It's All-Out War!
THE BATTLE FOR RANMA
It was a beautiful fall morning that dawned on Nerima. The sun was shining, bathing the tidy streets in golden light, the sky was a mesmerizing blue without a cloud in sight, and over at Furinkan High School, the air was filled with the sweet sounds ... of gossip.
"Omigod! Did you hear?! Eriko broke up with Yuichi because she found out he was seeing Miho!"
"Her best friend?? What a low-down, two-timing --"
"Yeah, but didn’t you hear about Eriko and her crush on Kenji? She liked him the entire time she was going out with Yuichi!"
"Aw, that’s nothing. I heard that Ranma and Shampoo went on a date last night and bumped into Akane."
A lone figure stomped in through the gates, her blue skirts swirling and her murderous expression clearing a path for her straight into the school building. One unfortunate student standing in her way was booted into orbit, creating a paper trail in the sky. A low string of curses followed in her wake, mainly involving one particular fiancé: "Ranma, you jerk, you dummy, you idiot!! BAKA!!"
"Boy Akane sure looks mad today."
"Yeah, even Kuno didn’t try to tangle with her!"
The egotistical kendo club president suddenly materialized behind the two students. "Nay, I have chosen to admire her beauty and strength from afar this temperate morn. See how the golden sunlight touches her ebony locks, as though bowing to her superior grace and loveliness?" Kuno had managed to clear another circle with his maniacal prose but was too swept up in another of his psychotic episodes to notice. "Ahahaha! Yes! But soft, what light through yonder temple of learning breaks? It is the east, and Akane is the sun ..."
Another figure -- battered and bruised -- limped onto the school grounds. He was a mess -- his pigtail was drooping and dusty, his usually spiffy red shirt was tattered and ripped in several places, and his normally carefree expression was glum. Oblivious to the stares and whispers in the crowd around him, he trailed into school muttering about a certain fiancé: "Akane, you violent tomboy, you dummy! KAWAIIKUNEE!!"
Akane sat in her classroom during lunch, surrounded by scandalized schoolmates. She pointedly ignored -- or tried to ignore -- the funny faces Ranma kept throwing at her. Instead, she concentrated on the delicious bento box Kasumi made for her lunch.
If he "bii’s" me one more time, I’m gonna pound him into the dirt! She thought angrily, crumpling her skirts in her clenched fists. And to think I actually made lunch for him today! He just wants to make me mad!
"So Akane, what are you going to do about Ranma?" Sayuri asked, her eyes flashing with excitement.
"Yeah, you can’t let him get away with that Akane!" Yuka added indignantly. "Imagine! Dating another girl right under your nose!"
He hasn't even asked me on a date yet and I'm his fiancé! Akane tried even harder to control her rising anger, shoveling her lunch into her mouth, but at that last thought, her temper burst. Her chopsticks snapped loudly in the sudden silence in the classroom. Her chair scraped back and toppled over as she stood up and Pointed at Ranma, who was in the process of sticking his tongue out at her again. He blinked.
"Look at him! What makes you think I want a fiancé like that?!" Akane was just getting started. "He’s more boy than man, he has no feelings, he’s a regular Casanova, and to top it off, he turns into a GIRL! Believe me, if you want him, take him!!" Akane spun around and yelled the last bits at him, but at the sight of his white face and pained expression, she lost all her steam. She instantly regretted her harsh words.
"... Ranma, I - I didn’t --"
He cut her off and held out a trembling hand. In his palm was a half-eaten bento box. "Y-you made my lunch again, didn’t you?"
Akane felt even more miserable, touched that he appreciated her gesture.
At her hesitant nod, Ranma dropped his head, clutched his stomach, and groaned dramatically. "Ohhhh, now I know I’m dying! Oh man, the pain! Stop the pain!"
Akane's ire returned in full force. "Make fun of my cooking, will you?" She picked up a chair and held it high over her head. "Y-you-you BAKA!!"
Ranma big-sweated and nervously peeped from under his bangs, his eyes full of fear. "But Akane, -- ooooh -- it's just a natural -- uuahhh-urp -- reaction..." His explanation was cut off as Akane gave him a taste of real pain.
The classroom was filled with the sounds of blunt metal objects and extreme violence, the noises echoing through the empty school corridors. News of Akane's angry statement also spread, but gossip is a funny thing. Words tend to change and take on new meaning when passed on. And there's no better breeding ground for gossip and misunderstanding than a high school. And so ...
"Did you hear? Akane said that if you want Ranma, you have to take him from her!"
"Akane said we have to take her on if we want Ranma, and boy was she mad!"
"Ranma has feelings for little boys?! No way!"
"Omigod! Akane challenged all the girls who want Ranma! Whoever beats her, gets him!"
And fortunately, (or unfortunately) the last piece of information became the predominant gossip floating around school by the time classes rolled to a stop. It reached the alert ears of Nabiki Tendo, who busily set upon taking bets and figuring the odds. It reached an interested Ukyou Kuonji, who busily set upon sharpening her favorite combat spatula. And it reached Akane.
"Ohohoho! Must I repeat myself again for your lowly ears, Akane Tendo?" Kodachi Kuno pranced around Akane in her leotard as she spoke in her lilting, shattered-glass voice. "I accept your challenge! The one who defeats you tomorrow and wins Ranma-sama's hand in wedded bliss shall be I, the Black Rose of St. Hebereke High School!! Ohohoho!" She twirled her ribbons some more and leapt away in a shower of black rose petals, leaving a stunned Akane.
Ranma chose a bad moment to approach. "Hey Akane, are you ready to go home now? -- huh?" She grabbed the front of his shirt and hauled him over to her.
"Ranma, this is all YOUR fault!" She growled, "If you hadn't gone out with that Amazon hussy I wouldn't have said that and now everyone thinks I'm going to fight for you!"
He brushed off her hands indignantly. "Hey waitaminute. I already explained to you that Shampoo threatened to stop serving our family the Cat Café's ramen unless I went out with her! You didn't have to lose your temper like that and say all that, and you don't have to fight--" He blinked several times as he realized what she had said. "You're going to fight for me?"
"Are you deaf? That's what I said, and it's still all your fault!!" She stomped away, as angry as she had been that morning.
"Chicks," Ranma sighed and hastily ran to catch up with her.
The bickering couple didn't even notice when they passed a lone dusty figure dressed in drab yellow and green clothes that had seen better days. A huge backpack and a red umbrella were strapped to his back, both also rather travel-worn. His hesitant "A-akane?" wasn't heard and he watched as they quarreled down the street and then around the corner.
He stared blankly, completely at a loss of what to do, when it occurred to him that Akane had been really mad about something. And that could only mean ... "Arrrgh, Ranma what have you done to Akane?? Prepare to die!" He ran down the street after them, not noticing that he took a left where they took a right. He ran and ran and ran in his blind anger until finally he burst through a set of doors.
"Ranma, today is the day you DIE!!"
His exclamation was greeted by several nervous glances as the customers paused in munching on their okonomiyaki. "Huh?" His entire body seemed to deflate. "Isn't -- isn't this the Tendo Dojo?"
Ukyou threw him an exasperated glance from behind her counter. She deftly flipped up an okonomiyaki, let it fall neatly on a plate, and presented it to her hungry customer with a chirpy, "Here you go! One Ucchan's Supreme!" Her cheeks were flushed with the pleasure of watching people enjoy her cooking and her long brown hair was tied back by her usual white ribbon. She turned to the lost boy with a wry expression, her eyebrows arched expressively.
"Come on Ryouga, by now you should realize that you never end up where you're heading," she said. "What happened this time?"
His options as exhausted as he was, Ryouga sat on an empty stool with a heavy thump. As the dust clouds settled down, he sighed, "I finally return from an extended training trip in the forests of Japan only to find that Ranma has hurt Akane again in some way. This time he will pay!"
Ukyou leant on her elbows, wrinkling her nose at his -- interesting -- smell. "That's funny. The last thing I heard is that Akane is challenging all of Ranma's other fiancés -- and anyone else who's interested -- to a battle to decide once and for all who will get him." She straightened and cracked her knuckles as she added in a determined voice, "And I plan to be the winner."
She didn't notice that Ryouga had become enveloped in a black cloud as she spoke, or that he had created a couple small craters in her countertop. At his low growl, she finally turned her attention back to him. "Ryouga?"
"Impossible! Akane would never actually fight to keep Ranma! She hates him! She's said so!" Ryouga cried desperately, struggling to keep his depression at bay.
Ukyou sighed. Guys just didn't understand the attraction of Ranma. He was just so boyishly charming, so carefree and fun, so intense concerning things he cared for -- and with the body of an excellent martial artist and the face of dream, that boy was one hot honey. Ukyou felt a delicious thrill run down her back just thinking about him.
"Gee Ukyou, thanks a lot." Ryouga looked disgustedly at his okonomiyaki, decorated with a suspicious sauce-picture of a boy with a pigtail.
She snapped out of her little fantasy. "Look Sugar," she stated brusquely, "You should know by now that when girls say mean things to guys, they usually mean the opposite of what they say, you know what I mean?"
Ryouga slumped over his food, toying with his chopsticks. "Oh, I don't understand girls at all," he frowned his usual frown.
"Okay, here's an example. When Akane says 'Ranma, I hate you!' it's because she cares so much!" Ukyou spoke slowly and calmly, as though talking to a little kid. Then she realized what she had just said. Of course! I didn't even notice it! Akane has got it bad for Ranma -- she just doesn't know yet! And if she actually cares for him ... that makes her even more of a rival.
Meanwhile Ryouga just looked uncomprehendingly at her for a few moments. Then a light bulb flashed on over his head. His face turned totally red, but he didn't seem angry. Ukyou peered at his averted face, astonished. Is he blushing?!
After a minute or two of his sudden shyness, Ukyou finally snapped, "Okay Ryouga, now what's your problem?"
He wouldn't meet her eyes, instead focusing on his twiddling fingers. "Ukyou," he started in stifled tones, "are you saying that whenever you call me a jackass or an idiot, it's because y-you like me??" He put both hands on his cheeks, as though trying to hide his becoming flush. "I-I-I never realized!"
He was rewarded with a massive spatula slap-punch combo. "You IDIOT!!" Ukyou was really steamed now. "Why would I like you when I already have Ranma for a fiancé?!" She emphasized her anger with another sound whap. "Jackass!"
The battered boy, now suitably chastened for even thinking that a girl could ever express feelings for him, rubbed the two eggs on his head gingerly. "Now I really don't understand girls. Why can't they be more like guys? I love Akane -- see, straightforward and direct. If Akane were here, I'd tell her --"
"Tell me what, Ryouga?" Akane asked from the entrance.
Instantly, Ryouga froze. The restaurant was silent except for the thumping of Ryouga's heart. To him, anyway. The drone of the crickets outside seemed to magnify in the sudden stillness.
"Well Sugar," Ukyou said with an expectant smirk on her face, "don't you have something to tell Akane?" She cupped her face in her hands and rested her elbows on the counter. She was practically bouncing in glee.
Ryouga slowly turned around. The sight that greeted him made his heart stop: Akane, looking as beautiful as ever, framed by the light of the setting sun behind her. How could Ranma even think she's uncute? She looks like an angel ... "A-Akane-san, I-I" His heart started pounding again, the fear of rejection closing up his throat.
"Yes, Ryouga?" She smiled encouragingly (and looked rather like Kasumi, actually). She had no idea why Ryouga always seemed to have speech problems around her, but she had gotten used to it and acted accordingly.
He took a deep breath. "I-I love y--"
Ukyou blinked. Was he actually going to do it?
"-- your backpack!" Ryouga cried forcefully. "Yeah, that's it! Y-your backpack! Gee, it looks so neat, with all those pockets and zippers and patches..."
Ukyou sighed. Yet again, he chickened out.
"Really Ryouga? Wow, I didn't even think anyone would notice! I sewed those on myself! How nice of you to tell me."
Ukyou soon tired of this inane chattering. It was making her sick. Really, she had a business to run. "So Akane," she butted in loudly, "what can I do for you? I thought you would've been training hard, what with your battle for Ranma and all." She slid a thumb down the sharp edge of her giant spatula. "I know I would be."
At the mention of that forbidden name, the other two's faces darkened. "Who said I'm even fighting for that jerk?" Akane said heatedly. "Someone has challenged me, and I can't let that go! I must maintain the Tendo Dojo's honor!"
Oh, so that's her cover, huh? Ukyou smiled to herself.
Obviously, Ryouga bought it. "Akane-san, I admire your martial artist's pride and vigilance! I knew you wouldn't fight for such a lowly cause as that bastard Saotome!" Ryouga proclaimed fervently. He clasped her hands in his and stepped closer to her, caught up in the moment. "I wish you the best of luck Akane -- may you maintain your family honor with skill and wisdom!"
"Why thank you Ryouga-kun!" Akane's smile momentarily soured. "Unlike some people I know, you really value me as a martial artist! You're a great friend Ryouga!" She beamed up at him again, unaware of how close they were.
His smile froze, breaking to pieces inside of him. Why can't I ever be more?! He asked himself in anguish. Bweee?!
Sunlight flooded into the restaurant again as Ranma-chan stepped in. "Hey Akane, what's taking --" she paused, taking in the scene with a blank stare. Ryouga and Akane, smiling and holding hands?! That idiot Ryouga's putting the moves on her and she hasn't pulled out her mallet yet? I'm her fiancée, but she doesn't mind if some other guy ... For a second, she clenched her fists until her knuckles turned white. Then she blinked and hastily put that thought away, coming back to the present and the fact that Ryouga and Akane did look quite .. close.
Ranma-chan reacted the only way she knew how. "Hey Ryouga, didn't know you were back in town," she started casually, sauntering in. "And putting the moves on two girls already? Wow, you're acting even more like a pig than usual."
Ukyou was delighted that Ran-chan had come to visit, even if he was in his girl-form. "Come on, Ran-chan, you know I'm a faithful fiancé ... but Akane, I don't know ..." she trailed off and arched an eyebrow at the pair suggestively. She continued as though she hadn't implied anything out of the ordinary. "So! What'll it be? The usual?"
At Ranma's words, Ryouga sprang into action. "Ranma, you'll pay for that!" He launched an attack, barreling toward Ranma in his anger. But his quarry simply flipped over him and kicked his behind as he passed by, unable to stop his momentum. "Arrghh!! Saotome, prepare to die!!"
What followed looked more like a dance than a fight -- Ryouga attacking with lightning-speed punches, kicks and sweeps while Ranma threw in a few taunts and dodged nimbly around the now-empty restaurant.
Ukyou became extremely annoyed. Not only did they get rid of her customers, but they were also wrecking the place. Again. "Gotta take matters into my own hands," she muttered as she hefted her spatula over her head. Then she slammed it into the space where the two combatants would have been if they hadn't acted with their quick reflexes. "You idiots are ruining the ambiance. Do you mind?"
The two hastily jumped back from each other and the spatula.
"Stop picking on Ryouga, Ranma!" Akane's cheeks burned with color. "As if you're one to talk anyway! Parading around with all your girlfriends -- you're such a pervert!"
"Sorry about that Ucchan, but P-chan here couldn't control his piggy feelings." She didn't seem to hear Ryouga's outraged "Who are you calling P-chan?!" "We're actually here to order dinner for the family. I don’t know why we had to go together -- Akane's manly enough to carry the orders herself." For once, Ranma ignored Akane's barb, choosing not to participate in their constant feuding. If anything, it just inflamed her further.
"All right. If you feel that way, then just go home!!" She kicked the other girl through the roof, giving Ukyou yet another skylight.
"You're so UNCUUuuuuuuute!!"
"Are you sure you don't need any help carrying those home, Akane?" Ryouga asked hopefully, imagining a romantic sunset walk -- sigh, just the two of them, with the crickets chirping, and a gentle night breeze sifting through her hair, and they'd hold hands and she'd suddenly realize who she really loved …
"No, I'm fine Ryouga," Akane said firmly, shattering his daydream. "Ranma is actually right sometimes. I can handle this myself. I'm sorry I interrupted your dinner. Goodnight Ryouga, Ukyou!" She brushed out the entrance, carrying the large take-out bag easily.
"Aheheh, goodnight Akane-san," Ryouga said, smiling through his fangs.
As soon as the door slid closed behind her, Ukyou hopped to the entrance, peered in both directions outside, and closed her restaurant early. She turned back to him, an evil smile on her face. A shadow hung over her forehead so that only her eyes were visible. "Hey Sugar, how would you like your Akane to be rid of Ranma for good?"
As soon as he recovered from Ukyou's sudden transformation into a witch, Ryouga asked warily yet intrigued, " … Why?"
She brightened and jumped onto the countertop, swinging her legs excitedly. "Okay, here's the plan. Akane's challenging all the girls who want Ranma to a battle, right? And that of course includes yours truly. All I have to do is beat her and --"
"WHAT?!" Ryouga roared, standing up and nearly toppling over the surprised okonomiyaki chef. "You want to harm dear Akane and you'd think I'd go along with this? Lady, are you nuts?!"
"Hey, stupid, if you'd let me finish …" she shot him a glare "I was going to say that I have a plan that doesn't involve hurting your precious Akane at all."
Still grumbling a little, he sat down again. "Okay, okay."
"As I was saying, here's my plan. I have this special sleeping powder --"
"Isn't that Kodachi's line?"
"Shaddup, willya?" She whapped his thick skull to emphasize her displeasure. "It isn't harmful at all -- I just give it to some of my customers who don't want to be kept up all night from my Spicy Supreme Special, and it works like a dream. All they have to do is breathe some in, and then in a couple of minutes -- sweet dreams!"
He still wasn't getting it. "Yeah, so you have this great sleeping powder. Woo-hoo."
Ukyou bit down a frustrated scream. "All right. Let me spell it out for you. When I fight Akane, I can give her some of this powder. She's knocked out, therefore she loses the battle and Ranma honey is all mine." At his look, she added hastily, "And Sleeping Beauty -- unharmed and uninjured -- is all yours."
Ryouga was still doubtful. "But what about her family honor?"
"Oooooohh! Who cares about her family honor? She'll be yours! No more Ranma, no more fiancé, no more anything to stand in your way!"
The image of a small black piglet immediately rose to his mind. He savagely pushed it away. If Akane is as kind and forgiving as I know she is, someday I will tell her. The image of a warm, pink bra-encased bosom loomed into his mind. Or maybe not.
"Ummm, okay Ukyou." He scratched his head. "But what do you need me for?"
"Good boy!" She smiled cutely at him. "I need you to distract Akane from training. I plan to be the first one to fight her tomorrow, and she'll be in top form. She's gotten pretty good from all those sparring matches with Ranma."
"Distract her? Wha- how am I going to do that?" He looked bewildered.
"Oh I don't know. She seems to be overly concerned about you. Pretend you're sick or something. She'll be so busy taking care of you she won't have time to train." She stood back up. "Let's go. We're wasting time."
She grabbed his hand and ignoring his blubbering, dragged him outside. This was not what Ryouga had in mind when he had imagined his sunset stroll. Strangers on the street smiled knowingly at the lovely couple, in such a hurry to get home and be alone. Although the girl did look a little more impatient …
"But Ukyou! I'm not sure if I'm ready for this!" They heard him cry.
"Shut up! I know what I want, and you're going to do it for me!" She snapped back. The passer-bys were taken aback. Girls nowadays were quite aggressive.
They arrived at the Tendo Dojo minutes later, in a swirl of dust and grit. Ukyou looked over Ryouga's bedraggled appearance and nodded in satisfaction. "Good. You look like you've been through hell and back."
"Isn't that what I keep telling people?" He laughed nervously and broke into a mess of fear and panic again. "Ukyou, what if she doesn't believe me? I mean, she just saw me fifteen minutes ago. Don't you think she'll even suspect?"
"Stand right here," Ukyou said, planting her hands on his shoulders firmly. "Now take a deep breath and think about how Akane will be all yours by tomorrow night." He followed her actions and calmed down a little. Then she let go and rang the doorbell.
"Everything will be okay! Just give her your usual cute smile -- uh, I mean your usual stupid smile, andeverythingwillworkoutfine.Bye." She rushed away, a flush covering her entire face. Where the hell did that come from? I meant his cute -- no mute -- no stupid smile. Stupid, stupid, stupid!! Shoot.
Ryouga stood frozen to the ground, staring at the darkness Ukyou had fled into. Did she just call me cute? He was still so stunned that he didn't even see the cup full of water heading towards him. The little old lady that terrorized Ranma had just gotten him, too. As he sat there blinking the water away from his piggy eyes, Kasumi opened the gate, washing him in the light from the Tendo home.
P-chan gave a little sneeze.
"Aw, poor P-chan! How did you get so wet?" The piglet nested comfortably in Akane's arms. "Kasumi says you've got the sniffles," she crooned at her pet, feeding him little bits of her okonomiyaki.
The family was gathered around the dinner table, finishing up their meal. A bruised Ranma-kun sat stiffly next to Akane. "I suppose you'll be sleeping all cozy with widdle P-chan tonight?" He asked in a muffled tone.
"Of course, Ranma! He's sick! He needs some place warm and comfy to stay," Akane said indignantly. "I'll just put him to bed, then I can start our training for tomorrow."
"Ha ha ha ha!" Soun Tendo leered between the two of them, slapping each heartily on the back. "My little girl, fighting for her fiancée!"
"For honor!" Genma joined in next to him.
"And on behalf of the moon, for justice, and, for LOVE!!" They both shouted together, standing up with a fist pumped in the air.
Genma abruptly became serious. "Ranma my boy, finally you're recognizing your position as heir to the Saotome-Tendo School of Anything Goes Martial Arts!" Genma laughed even more loudly. "Training with Akane shows you really care …"
Ranma big-sweated. Does Pop really know?!
"… about the dojo," Genma continued blithely, not noticing the look of relief that crossed his son's face, or the look of disappointment across Akane's.
"Yeah, well, that's all I'm doing it for, you know. And it looks like someone would rather play nurse to a little pig than train." Ranma pointedly looked at Akane, who was busy fussing over her sniffling pet.
"Akane, just to warn you, I've got a lot riding on this," Nabiki said idly from her place in front of the TV. "Ever since those rumors about Ranma's date with Shampoo spread, people have been busy placing bets. So just don't let Ranma discourage you, ok?"
"Oh Nabiki, how loyal of you! You're placing your bets on me?"
Nabiki turned back to the TV, lying on her stomach. "I didn't say that." Everyone face-faulted.
P-chan sneezed delicately again. Instantly Akane was all concerned again. "Oh you poor thing!" Akane cradled him tenderly against her, the battle practically forgotten. "There, there, you'll be fine in no time!"
"Pig-boy didn't seem that sick forty minutes ago," Ranma muttered under his breath, shooting daggers at P-chan, who was oblivious to everything except Akane's bosom. "He doesn't seem that sick right now, actually."
"What?! You saw P-chan before and didn't even bother to tell me?"
"Gee Akane, he must've gotten lost. I turned around and he wasn’t even there." Ranma smirked at the glaring piglet, who snorted angrily. "He's kinda like Ryouga in that."
"Why must you always pick on Ryouga?" Akane rose to her feet. "And leave P-chan alone too. Honestly Ranma, you seem almost … jealous." She looked at him curiously. P-chan abruptly stilled in his snuggling.
Ranma backed away a little, his face a cross between "how-the-hell-did-she-figure-that-out" and "uh-oh-I'm-in-for-it-now." "J-jealous?" He stuttered, a sweat drop forming by his head when he saw the little smile playing around her lips. "Why should I care if some creep even looks at you? Who would want a uncute, unsexy, macho tomboy who can't cook, who's built like a brick --"
"-- who gets so mad at every little thing --"
" -- who has some weird relationship with a mallet that I still don't understand --"
He broke off his defensive ranting and blinked. Akane was nowhere in sight. "Wh-where did she go? Was she that mad?" A look of fear crossed his face. "Was she … crying?"
Nabiki smiled dryly at him, flipping through her Scam Magazine. "Nah, she left around 'uncute, unsexy, macho tomboy.' I think she was smiling -- laughing actually. Don't you think your insults are getting a little old?"
Ranma looked around wildly. Had the world suddenly gone mad? Was he the only sane person left? Where was Akane? Why wasn't he in orbit yet? He felt bereft. He had grown so used to their little fights that he was beginning to enjoy them. He never actually meant what he said -- except for the violent maniac part -- but he couldn't help it. She just got him so mad sometimes that he didn't pay attention to what he said. But when she smiled …
He snapped out of it. Nabiki was still waiting for his answer.
"Uh, yeah, whatever. Hey I gotta go and help Akane train. See you later. Bye." He hastily left the room at a run, missing Nabiki's slow grin. She whipped out her little ledger book and tapped out a beat with her pen, humming "I'm in the Money."
"Ranma, how -- ugh! -- can I -- ahh! -- get good training if you don't fight back? Hi-yah!" Akane punctuated her words with quick punches and kicks. She and Ranma had been training for a couple hours now after she left P-chan with Kasumi. The little pig had seemed to protest -- his hacking cough had grown even more pronounced and he had begun having peculiar spasms -- but Kasumi had soon put him to sleep with a mild cough medicine, assuring Akane he would feel fine in the morning.
Now she had Ranma stood facing each other. She paused, breathing shallowly in her worn yellow gi. He hasn't even broken a sweat yet, Akane thought resentfully. For the past hour or so she had been on the offense, throwing her best moves at him, but he would easily dodge or block her attacks without bothering to fight back. I won't let my temper get the better of me, Akane resolved. No matter how frustrating this is.
She tried to reason with him. "Ranma, I have to win this, but I can't if all I'm going to practice is offense. I need to practice my defense too. Why don't you attack me?" She sighed and wiped her forehead with the back of her hand.
"Akane, right now, you've got to work on your offense. You need to remember that the other girls have different fighting styles from you," Ranma said patiently. "Don't forget that Ukyou, Shampoo, and Kodachi all use weapons. You need to adjust according to how they fight."
Akane was slightly amazed. If only he applied this much concentration and logical thought to his school work -- or his fiance situation for that matter -- life would be a whole lot easier. But a lot less interesting. "All right, I'll try it."
Ranma was surprised. Akane didn't call him a jerk or try to challenge his lessons. If she was actually listening to him … She must be taking this battle-thing more seriously than I thought.
He cleared his throat nervously. He'd never gotten this far before. "Umm, okay. You'll be doing a lot of dodging and ducking to get a punch or a kick in."
"In that case, it looks like you'll have to attack me," Akane said triumphantly. "How can I dodge naturally otherwise?"
"I've already told you Akane. I don't fight girls." Ranma stated simply. He was still wary, slightly crouched in a defensive position.
"Look Ranma, when you don't fight girls, it's as good as saying you don't respect them as martial artists. It's like we're not good enough for you to fight with us." Akane was exasperated, yet determined that he finally understand this concept. "How about if I put it this way: when you're in your girl form, what if no one was willing to fight you, simply because you were a girl?"
" … Well, I'd probably be a little mad." He saw what she was getting at but there was no way he'd concede her the point. "But if I was as cute as you are in your gi, I don't think any guy would deny me anything."
While Akane blinked in confusion, Ranma finally attacked. He was in her face before she could react, and the floor was swept from under her feet. She was able to roll into a crouching position, then kicked up with both of her legs at Ranma. While he deftly blocked, she flipped back up again and quickly pulled out her special move: "Mallet-Strike!!" She whipped out her little friend and pounded the space were Ranma had been.
She looked up too late to see him spring off her mallet and fly toward her, his descent and aim sure. Akane rolled onto her back and kicked as Ranma attacked. She felt herself connect. Yatta! But then she felt him grab her leg and the next thing she knew, she was flying over him, on a nasty collision course with the floor. She closed her eyes and heard a soft shooshing sound below her. Instead of the floor, she landed on something a little more yielding.
"Oof!" Ranma grimaced below her. "Itaiiii…"
"Ranma!" Akane looked down him in concern. "Are you all right?"
"See, that's why I don't fight girls -- they always fall for me," Ranma grinned, flashing a smile that made her dizzy. Then he stuck his tongue out at her. "Nyahhh!"
Akane realized that she was still lying on top of him and quickly scrambled off, blushing. Why was her heart beating so fast? It must be the sparring. "Hah! You wish, you pervert."
He sat up, his pristine appearance now a little rumpled by their fighting. "You know Akane, that was pretty good. You've been improving a lot, I can tell."
She was startled at his sincere tone. "Why thank you Ranma." She smiled sunnily at him, missing the stunned expression on his face. "It means a lot that you would actually fight for real with me."
Kawaii, though Ranma in amazement. I should fight with her more often.
"Hey Akane, what's the big deal with this battle anyway? The other girls aren't fighting to win the dojo or anything, and it's not like you want to be my fiancé, right? I mean, what have you got to lose?"
The image of his smile rose in her mind again, but she immediately banished it. "Even if the other girls aren't concerned with the dojo, it doesn't mean my family honor hasn't been challenged!" She hadn't answered his most important question and she knew it.
"But you know if you win, you'll be stuck with me again," Ranma persisted.
She had no idea what to say next. "Well …"
Is she fighting this for her family honor, or because she actually likes me? Ranma wondered. Or does she really hate me? He remembered all those times she'd told him so, and that painful experience that morning -- "What makes you think that I'd actually want a fiancé like that?! … more boy than man … turns into a GIRL!!" He'd attributed the feeling of having his stomach punched out to Akane's horrible cooking, but now …
Nah, it was just her killer slop.
Man, can she read my mind? Ranma squinted in pain as he rubbed his head.
"Hey, are you even listening to me?" Akane shouted. That jerk, asking a question like that then going off into one of his daydreams. And to think she was actually going to fight for him -- no my family honor, not him.
"Akane." He was looking at her very seriously.
"Hmm?" She blinked and sweated a little. Did he read my mind?
"I want you to fight and win -- for me."
Her eyes went wide as saucers. Ehhh? Does that mean what I think it means?
Ranma continued. "Cause if you lose, I might be stuck with Shampoo or Kodachi, and those are fates worse than living with your cooking." He shuddered delicately.
"BAKA!" This time she did score with her mallet. "Enough talking idiot. Let's fight!"
Meanwhile, P-chan lay in Kasumi's sleeping arms. For a girl that was so gentle, she was remarkably strong, keeping a firm grip on him. He struggled again to climb out, but in vain. The cold medicine was making him weak and Kasumi was too strong. P-chan sweated. Ukyou's gonna kill me.
Kasumi tightened her hold, making his eyes pop out. "Oh my, Dr. Tofu!"
The day dawned bright and cheery. The birds were chirping, a crisp wind blew through the sky, and already, the smells of Kasumi's cooking floated through the house. Akane sat up and yawned, feeling incredibly invigorated. Wow, that was a great night's sleep. I should spar with Ranma more often. She looked out her window, towards the familiar sounds of fighting.
"Hey old man, that was my pickle you just ate!"
"Ranma, my boy, you're going to have to do better than that if you want to fight me for your breakfast."
"Aahh!" Splash. A high-pitched voice cried in outrage, "Let's see how you like this!"
"Ranma! You're a sight for these old eyes! Come welcome your master home!"
"Auughh! Get offa me, ya old pervert!" Boot.
Akane watched as a shriveled little old man sail past her window, a trail of panties and bras following in his wake. She sighed. She scrambled out of bed and dressed for her morning workout. She had an important match to get ready for.
At school the battle was the topic of choice. Naturally, Akane was subject to plenty of speculative looks. And people weren't exactly quiet either.
"So whaddya think?"
"Really? I bet on Ukyou. She's got some great moves with that spatula of hers."
"No way! Kodachi's gonna be the winner! That ribbon of hers kicks butt!"
They didn't notice how Akane started smoldering.
"You're all wrong. Akane's going to win." Her heart leapt at that familiar voice. Ranma? You think that I …? "How could she lose, with a great teacher like me?"
"Thanks for believing in me, you jerk!" She booted him sky-high.
"Hmmm. Akane seems to be in top form today."
"Hey Nabiki! I want to change my bet!"
When school finally ended, a huge crowd of spectators had gathered around a grand ring behind the building. Vendors were scattered about, selling their fragrant food to the milling crowd. The air was humming with excitement. Ukyou and Akane stood in the ring, both in ready positions, while Shampoo and Kodachi waited restlessly in an opponents' box on the sidelines.
Where the hell is that idiot Ryouga? He's useless! Akane looks ready for anything today. Ukyou tightened her grip on her spatula and slowly lifted it up, assuming a very intimidating pose. Akane moved her hands into a defensive pose, looking very cool and confident.
Nabiki stood in the middle of the ring, pumping up the excited audience. "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the fight of the school year! Today, the question burning in our minds is: Who will get the much sought-after Ranma Saotome? Will it be fiancee number one, the girl who has beaten the Furinkan's kendo club every day for a year, the girl every guy is in love with … Akane Tendo!!"
"Nabiki, what in the world are you talking about?" Akane shouted indignantly over her cheering supporters.
Her mercenary sister ignored her and continued. "Or, will it be the cross-dressing --"
"Hey watch it, sister!" Ukyou gritted from her corner.
"-- okonomiyaki-cooking extraordinaire --"
"-- Ukyou Kuonji!!" Wild applause followed as Ukyou gave a cute victory sign to her fans.
"But don't forget folks, there'll be more to come after this fight, should Akane win," Nabiki teased the crowd some more. "There's still Shampoo, the Amazon who first hunted Ranma but now chases him, the girl with more hair than brains --"
"Hey pervert girl's sister, you want Kiss of Death?"
"-- but with an amazing talent in waitressing and getting her guy --"
"-- Shampoo!!" A mainly male chorus cried in protest. "No Shampoo, don’t do it!" "Saotome doesn't deserve you!" "It is a sad day indeed!" "Whaaaaaa!"
"And don't ever forget the Black Rose, the girl with the insanely scary laugh --"
"Hohohohoho!" Chills ran down the spectators' backs.
"-- the girl with all the tricks hidden somewhere in that skimpy leotard --"
The guys all whooped appreciatively, then stilled under the steely gaze of Kuno.
"-- Kodachi Kuno!!" Another round of healthy applause. "Okay people, let's get down to what you're here for. The Battle for Ranma!"
"Hey don't treat me like some object!" Ranma yelled from the sidelines, chained by his wrist to the ring with a heavy iron shackle. "And what's the big idea with this chain, anyway?"
Nabiki turned to him with a smile. "It's so our main attraction doesn't run away and lure those girls with him…. And don't worry Ranma, you're no prize." She turned her attention back to the fight and the waiting audience.
It took a moment to sink in. "Hey!"
"Match one! Akane Tendo versus Ukyou Kuonji!" While the opponents did some last minute stretching, Nabiki stepped out of the ring and held out a little gong.
"Get ready, honey, Ran-chan's gonna be mine!" Ukyou immediately attacked, first throwing her mini spatulas, then running towards Akane with her giant one raised.
"In your dreams, sugar!" Akane flipped over the spatulas, ignoring the cries of alarm from the spectators behind her. Still in the air, she finished her flip and kicked out at the surprised girl, spinning the spatula out of Ukyou's hands. She landed and they squared off again. Hey, I can do this, Akane thought, her confidence building. I can beat her!
Ranma watched nervously from the side. Hey, she's doing okay so far. "Go Akane!" He yelled encouragingly. He was rewarded by one grateful look from Akane and several dagger-filled ones from the other fiancees.
Ukyou saw her chance. No one's looking now. Maybe I can sneak that powder to Akane now. Her free hand crept towards her hidden powder, taped to the inside of her fighting outfit.
"Spatula girl, no fair! Shampoo get here first!" The blue-haired Amazon protested from the opponents' box. "I should be one to fight violent pervert girl first!"
Without warning, she leapt into the ring and rushed Akane, brandishing her bonbori. Akane stepped quickly to the side, allowing the Amazon dangerously close, then lashed out with a punch. Shampoo's eyes widened in obvious surprise, but she readily adjusted to Akane's unexpected skill. She blocked the punch and flipped backwards, unable to maneuver her big weapons in such close range, kicking out as she flipped. Akane anticipated this and sensing motion behind her, ducked. Shampoo's heel clipped Ukyou's chin, and the surprised chef rolled back and drew out her spatulas again. Ukyou tested her jaw gingerly, then growled, "Shampoo. Get. Out. Of. The. Ring!"
She flung her spatulas at the Amazon, who deflected them with a bonbori, but Shampoo couldn't deflect the massive spatula heading for her. "Ai-yah!" Ukyou connected with a satisfying whap, and the Chinese girl bounced against the ropes.
"It is time! The Black Rose shall be the first to defeat that impudent hussy. Imagine! Thinking that my Ranma-sama is her fiancée! She will pay!" Before anyone could react, Kodachi jumped lightly into the ring, twirling her ribbon menacingly.
Ukyou spun around. "Oh no you don't. This is my turn!" She whipped out several more of her mini spatulas and threw them at the gymnast with deadly accuracy. Kodachi leapt out of the way and snapped her ribbon around Ukyou's legs. Before she could pull and topple over her over, Ukyou cut the ribbon with her big spatula and attacked, her weapon gleaming in the sunlight.
The chef barely had time to dodge Shampoo's attack from above. She rolled away from the Amazon as she smashed her bonbori into the ring, creating a giant hole where Ukyou had been. She jump-kicked towards Ukyou, but was halted in mid-air by a razor-sharp hoop that zipped dangerously close to her. Kodachi grabbed the hoop as it spun back towards her and laughed.
Ukyou's mind was in chaos. How in the world did this happen?! "Hey you idiots, we're supposed to be fighting Akane, not each other!" She yelled angrily.
The remark stopped the other two cold. They paused a moment, looking at each other, then all three turned with evil grins toward Akane, who was still standing there, relatively untouched. They shouted together. "Attack!!"
As Ukyou ran towards the hapless girl, Kodachi drew back her baton for a deadly strike, accidentally (or maybe not) hitting Ukyou in the chest. Where she had hidden her sleeping powder. The bag erupted, creating a mini-cloud in the ring. Matters worsened when Kodachi decided to use her whirlwind-ribbon trick. The cloud spread throughout the entire crowd.
Uh oh. Ukyou barely had enough time to wonder where Akane was before the world turned black.
As all three started towards her, Akane big-sweated and awaited her doom. Even when Ranma was up against all three of them, he usually chose to run away. One-on-one, I had a chance, Akane thought in despair. But all of them?
Suddenly, the three were enveloped in a small cloud. Wha-? Akane was dumbfounded. The thick, yellowish mist started to spread, surrounding her as well and obscuring the audience's view of the ring. Suddenly she was lifted off her feet and was flying through the air.
"Ranma?" She looked down to see the entire area covered in the cloud, although it was mostly concentrated in the ring. "What do you think you're doing? Put me down!"
They landed lightly on a tree branch in relative isolation. Akane still couldn't figure out how he managed to defy gravity like that. She looked at him and noticed the remains of a metal chain around one of his wrists. Then she noticed the nearness of his blue-grey eyes. She hastily moved off him and sat gingerly on the branch.
"I knew something funny would happen," Ranma explained. "I think Kodachi pulled out one of her powders again, only it backfired."
"Ranma, I thought you understood! I can fight for myself!" Akane said angrily. "I could've taken them on."
"Yeah and you would've lost," he said matter-of-factly. He continued when she opened her mouth to say something. "Akane, even I don't like fighting them all at the same time. They can be pretty vicious, and I --" he blurted "-- I don't want you getting all hurt and complaining about it and blaming everything on me again."
"Ranma..." She stared wide-eyed at him.
They both sat in silence, avoiding the other's eyes and blushing.
Their heads jerked up. "Oh no!" Ranma groaned. A split second later the branch broke and they tumbled to the ground with a heavy thump. They looked around dazedly and saw feet in every direction. A crowd full of yawning students surrounded them. Nabiki stood up front.
She was using a mega-phone. "Well there you have it people. Akane wins. TKO." She waved cheerily to everyone. "Now pay up."
"I-I won?" Akane asked, brushing the dirt off her gi.
Nabiki nodded and pointed towards the ring with a smile.
Akane looked over and saw three prone figures lying there, spread-eagled and drooling in their unconscious states. She peered at them. Are they … sleeping?? Must be Kodachi's powder. She turned back to the waiting crowd. "Yeah! Akane won!!" They all started cheering. Oh brother, Akane thought, while Ranma face-faulted.
Ryouga trudged into the fight area, covered in dirt and mud. "Finally, I've arrived." As soon as Kasumi had woken up that morning, he ran out of her room and promptly got lost. He wandered around the house and when he finally managed to get out, he got lost outside. Hokkaido had been remarkably warm for this time of year, and where had those beaches come from? And he could swear he had seen the Furinkan High School principal romping around with a ukulele. He shook his head of the vision. The heat must have made me hallucinate.
He looked around and took a double take. Akane is still up? What happened to Ukyou's plan? And where is she, anyway? He spied the chef lying in the ring, along with that crazy ribbon girl and that blue-haired maniac. He approached cautiously. What's going on here?
He bent down to the KO-ed girl. "U-Ukyou?" No response. He reached out and shook her gently. "Hey Ukyou, what's going on? Ukyou!"
"Oh Ran-chan!" She murmured, much like Kasumi had last night. Suddenly he was glomped and his face was pressed to a bosom other than Akane's. His nose instantly spurted blood and he began hyperventilating. Unfortunately, there was still some powder remaining on her, and he passed out, still glomped to her.
Ukyou blinked several times, feeling a heavy weight on her. Her mind began functioning again. Where am I? Man, what a great dream. For once, Ranma had actually acted on his passion and things had gotten rather heated. She flushed, remembering. Waitaminute. What am I doing?! She woke up completely and heard interested buzzing noises all around her.
"Oh so that's how it is, huh?"
"And I heard she was the faithful fiancé!" A scandalized voice whispered loudly.
What are they talking about? She clenched her hands and found them touching soft hair. She lifted her head slightly and saw Ryouga's head -- marked by his distinctive bandanna -- nestled against her chest. He was drooling. Her mind exploded.
She whipped out her giant spatula. "What the hell do you think you're doing, you JACKASS!!" Clang! His still-slumbering body sailed through the air.
The next day, things were back to normal at Furinkan High School. As usual, Ranma and Akane were fighting, Nabiki was still profiting from the bets placed the previous day, Kuno was going on about his dilemma of being torn between two lovers, and the gossip was still flowing. Only it was a little different today.
"Ohmigod! Did you hear about Ukyou and Ryouga?"
"Yeah, who knew?"
"I heard that she wears his clothes!"
"Well, I heard that he wears hers!!"
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