DREAM A LITTLE DREAM
A quiet morning broke over the tidy streets of Nerima as gentle sunlight crept into still-slumbering homes. Shops were opening, early morning joggers were doing their daily run, and on one particular street, a little old lady was splashing unsuspecting cursed teens with cold water. The relative peace of the street was broken by the pounding of approaching feet and the screeching of two female voices raised in argument.
"Honestly Ranma, I'd think that you'd be able to avoid her by now!" The taller of the girls sniffed. She was cute in a tomboyish way, her blue school dress swishing around her knees as she ran toward Furinkan High. Her short blue-black hair bounced against the gentle curve of her face, which would have been quite pretty, if it wasn't for the angry scowl that it currently held.
"Hey, you think I don't try? That old lady has got it in for me, I swear!" The other girl looked frustrated, clutching the straps of her large backpack to her as she ran. She was an odd sight -- a petite redhead with a droopy pigtail, wearing thoroughly soaked baggy Chinese clothes. "At least I can get some hot water before class."
"Well you'd better make it quick." Akane turned to her fiancée with a grin. "Don't forget -- Miss Hinako's taking the entire class straight to that career fair we're having today."
"Aw, who cares? Our futures are set, remember?" Ranma rolled her eyes.
"Yeah, with a body like that," Akane eyed Ranma's curves, "you're set for life."
It took a moment to sink in. "Hey!" Akane "bii-ed" her and took off through the gates of their school. Ranma followed, calling in indignant tones, "At least I've got a body, unlike some tomboys I know!"
Suddenly she found herself lifted off her feet and turned around to face the imposing figure of Tatewaki Kuno. "Indeed you have, fair pig-tailed one. Indeed, you have." He clasped her to him, apparently not hearing her gag in disgust. "Ah, let me enfold you in my manly arms. Forsooth, how long have I been away from your beauty! For like a flower to the nurturing sun, I must be near you to bask in your radiance, else I will perish!" His dramatic speech was interrupted by Ranma's foot in his face.
"Get your hands offa me, you pervert!" With one mighty punch, Kuno was flying through the air, toward the nurturing sun. "Ugh, is that idiot ever going to get it?"
Brushing herself off, she heard Akane's voice cry out in surprise, followed by a heavy thud. Ranma turned around and was hit full in the face by a wall of hot water. Through stinging eyes, she spied Akane sprawled at her feet with an upturned tea kettle next to her. "And when are you going to stop being such a klutz?"
"Oh, that's the thanks I get for getting you hot water while you play huggy-huggy with Kuno -- ouch!" Akane winced as she got to her feet. She straightened her shoulders resolutely and headed toward the school doors, limping slightly. "Come on baka, we're going to be late!"
Suddenly she found herself scooped onto Ranma's back. "Hey! Put me down, you pervert!" She squawked in embarrassment and knocked his head angrily. "What do you think you're doing?!"
"We're going to be even more late if you limp all the way to class, you dummy." Ranma bounced to settle her more comfortably on his back and tried to ignore her repeated knocks to his head as he ran lightly along the halls.
"I said, put me DOWN!" Akane finally whacked him with her schoolbag. Hard.
Ranma dropped like a rock to the floor, a tear in his eye and a crown of bumps decorating his head. Rubbing the sore spot gingerly, he glared at Akane, who was once again sprawled on the floor, next to him. "Man, this is the thanks I get for trying to --"
"Mr. Saotome! Miss Tendo! What do you think you're doing?!" The pair looked up from their spot on the floor. Ms. Hinako, despite being in her child-form, towered over them in her short yellow dress. The rest of the class peered from behind her with saucer-eyes. "This is a school! Not only are you holding up the entire class from going to the Career Fair, but you are indulging in extremely inappropriate and delinquent behavior!"
Whispers rose up from the crowd of students behind her.
"Whoa, Ranma finally went for it!"
"But in the middle of a school hallway? How tacky."
"What's going on? I can't see!"
Ranma and Akane were again alone in the hallway, now standing stiffly side by side, carrying water buckets. "This is all your fault." Akane growled. "They've all left without us."
"Hey, if you hadn't hit me, none of this would have happened."
"If you had put me down in the first place, like I asked --"
"More like yelled into my ear."
"It's the only way to get through your thick skull."
"Which I think you fractured with your brute strength."
They turned simultaneously away from each other and stayed silent for a full five minutes. The air stilled. Nothing was heard except the distant sounds of the busy fair. Then --
"Akane?" Ranma cautiously glanced at her from the corner of his eye. He sounded a little hesitant.
"What?" Her voice was flat.
"Is - is your ankle okay now?"
"... Yeah, I think so." She turned back to him, a small smile on her face. "Thank you. I didn't think you cared."
Ranma twitched at that last word, then looked up at the ceiling, putting his hands behind his head. "Yeah, well, if you're okay, that means I won't have to hear your griping anymore."
Just as he was about to get a bucketful of water on his head, another figure rounded the corner. Dressed as usual in a boy's uniform and wearing her giant spatula, Ukyou spotted Ranma and visibly brightened. With a toss of her rich brown ponytail and a delighted smile, she bounced over, full of feminine sparkle. "Ran-chan! I was hoping to see you!" Then she noticed Akane, who was still yielding her bucket of water threateningly over the cowering boy. "What are you guys up to?"
Akane turned away and put her bucket down, ignoring Ranma's sigh of relief. "Well, Ranma got us in trouble - again - and just right now he was being an idiot, as usual."
Ukyou couldn't help but grin. Any fight of theirs was sure to further her own cause. "Well, I was just about to join everyone else at the career fair. Ranma honey, you're coming with me, right?" Before he could reply, she attached herself to his arm and snuggled up to him.
"Uh ..." He looked helplessly at Akane.
"Don't worry about it Ranma, three's a crowd. I'll just go by myself." Akane smiled sweetly then stomped off, kicking her buckets out the window.
Ukyou giggled gleefully to herself and hugged Ranma's arm a little tighter as she dragged him toward the fair. "Come on sugar! Let's see what the future has in store!"
Ryouga yelped and narrowly avoided the two buckets of water that came hurtling out of the sky. "Are even the kami against me?" He looked wildly around, but no one paid him the least attention. After a while, people in Nerima had gotten used to crazy teenage martial artists and their city-leveling fights.
The lost boy sighed and gazed into the blue sky, the one constant wherever he traveled. After a month-long forage into the depths of Japan, he had finally returned to Tokyo, to Nerima, and to Akane. While training in the forests, he had exorcised thoughts of any other and strengthened his resolve to confess his true feelings to dear Akane-san. This was it. He would finally tell her the truth -- it was their only chance for happiness. And perhaps, she would say that she'd always loved him, that she was just waiting for him to say it first, and then they'd get married and live together in a little house in Nerima and then she'd say, "Oh Ryouga-kun, you've made me the happiest woman in the world! And I don't care if you're P-chan -- I love you more for it!" ... But first, he had to find her.
Without looking, he grabbed the shirt of a passing stranger. "Where is Furinkan High School?"
He turned his head and yelped again, hastily releasing Akane's clothes. "A-Akane! What are you doing here?" He smiled nervously and scratched the back of his head.
"Ryouga, you silly! This is Furinkan!" She smiled sunnily at him and clasped her hands behind her back. That Ryouga. What a joker. "It only looks different because we're holding a career fair today."
The dusty boy looked around. It appeared to be the back of the school, with dozens of booths placed all around. Streamers and colored flags decorated the booths and people stood around handing out flyers. Students milled about, some pausing to buy hot buns and tea from Nabiki, who had her own refreshment booth. It looked more like a festival than a school.
"I was just about to take a look around. You want to go with me?" Akane asked.
Ryouga blushed. "Y-you want me to go w-with you? ... Su-sure Akane." She took his hand and led him to the stand of booths closest to them. Wow, this is almost like … a date.
Akane peered at some of the advertising flyers with interest, not noticing that her companion had suddenly become very shy. "So Ryouga, what do you plan to do in the future?"
He snapped out of his daze and looked blankly at her. "Huh?"
"You know, like work." She tried again at his confused look. "A career. A job. What do you want to do?"
"Oh ... I don't know," Ryouga smiled again. "I'm not really good at anything, besides getting lost."
"Don't worry Ryouga, I'm sure you'll find something." Akane smiled encouragingly at him and patted him on the shoulder. "And you'll do great."
His head nearly blew a fuse at the added contact with Akane. "Y-you think so?" He began nervously poking holes in nearby furniture, creating large craters with a touch of his finger.
"Whoa son! How did you do that?!" The person sitting behind the ruined table jumped up in surprise.
"Huh? Me?" Ryouga looked around in confusion.
"Yes, yes, you. That was amazing! You could do that just with your finger?" The heavyset man pointed to the large holes in his countertop.
"Oh, yeah. Sorry about that." Ryouga began turning away, intent on catching up to Akane, who had strolled over to the next stand of booths.
"Wait, wait! This is a job fair -- why don't you look into demolition as a career? With your skills, you'd have a job in no time!" The man smiled cheerfully and motioned to the posters behind him, depicting buildings in various stages of ruin.
Ryouga started. "D-demolition? I never really thought about it..."
With a roar, the decrepit building collapsed in one fell swoop. As the dust clouds settled, the crowd clapped in appreciation. There among the debris, Ryouga Hibiki leaned carelessly against a stone pillar, his arms folded and his eyes lazily amused. He uncoiled himself from his seat, held up one powerful finger and blew some dust off it. A sigh rose from all the women in the crowd. He stepped away from the pillar, then lightly tapped it with his pinky. As it exploded behind him, he sauntered over to the waiting crowd and deftly caught a woman just as she fainted at the awesome sight of him.
"Thank you, thank you," he called to the applauding audience. He gently placed the woman on the ground and was soon surrounded by giggling girls, all holding pens and autograph books. "Ladies, ladies, I'm far too filthy right now to be near your lovely selves. But please, accept this as a token of my appreciation."
He took a deep breath and Poked the ground. Gravel and stone erupted, sending the hoards of women backing away. When the dust settled, Ryouga was nowhere in sight, but there, immortalized forever, was his signature, carved into the ground, with a single bandanna next to it.
"That bandanna is mine!"
"No way honey, he meant that for me!"
"Over my dead body!"
General chaos ensued as the women bumrushed the poor piece of cloth.
Ryouga watched on the top of a nearby apartment building, shaking his shaggy head in amusement. "Boy, I never imagined all those years ago that this Breaking Point Technique would do me any good." Going into the demolition business had been a brilliant idea. Now he was famous all over Japan for his powerful technique. Companies were constantly begging him for his expertise and women were constantly throwing themselves at his feet -- not that he was tempted. No longer was he the unsure, lonely wanderer. He had a comfortable home, loyal friends, and a beautiful wife.
His cell phone rang shrilly from his trusty old backpack. That was probably her right now. He deftly flipped the phone out and pulled out the antenna in a motion that was smooth from years of practice. "Hello?"
"Ryouga-chan, where are you?"
"Oh hi honey. I was just about to head home. I finished that last job a minute ago." Beep-beep! Beep-beep! Ryouga glanced down at his pager and sighed. Yet another job needed his attention. "Honey, bad news. Just one more job, ok? Then I'll be home in a jiffy."
"Oh." Her voice sounded a little disappointed, but she quickly regained her sunny disposition. "Well, okay, but make it quick. I'm making your favorite for dinner!"
He smiled at her enthusiasm. It had taken a little while, but Ryouga had grown to love her cooking. He especially enjoyed watching her big brown eyes fill with pleasure as he ate her cooking. "Sounds great dear. I can't wait."
"Okay then. See you soon, my little P-chan!"
He hung up and in minutes was at the site of the demolition. He spied a man who appeared to be the one in charge and tapped him on the shoulder. "Hey. You paged?" Before the man could say anything, Ryouga continued blithely. "Is this the site?" He cocked his head toward the structure.
The man nodded with wide eyes, his mouth opening to speak.
Again Ryouga interrupted him. The poor guy must be starstruck. He heartily pounded him on the shoulder. "Then say no more!" He ran towards the building, in total attack mode, holding one finger aloft. He didn't hear the man, who finally managed to yell, "Wait! That isn't it!"
But it was too late. "BAKUSAI TENKETSU!" Yet another building was demolished, thanks to Ryouga Hibiki. He tossed his head back and waved the crowds away. "No, no, really, no thanks is needed."
Ryouga blinked. No one had called him that in a very long time. "Wha-?"
"You just destroyed the Tokyo Tower, you puffed-up imbecile!" The previously mute man was now a pillar of rage. "You- you idiot! What the hell are you doing here!?"
For the first time in ages, Ryouga Hibiki was unsure of himself. "Isn't this Tokyo Tower Condominiums?" He eyed the gigantic pile of rubble and dust with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.
"NO!!" The man was practically spitting in anger, tears leaking out the corners of his eyes.
"Uhh, I - I think I'll go off and get lost. Bye now." Ryouga zipped away from the scene of the crime. Maybe I should call home and tell Ukyou I'm going to be late for dinner ... Ukyou?!
Ryouga woke abruptly from his daydream. The man was still looking at him expectantly. "Well, how about it son?"
Images clashed in his head and he turned into a stuttering wreck. "I - I ruined the Tower, and -- got lost ... and Ukyou? I'm really sorry -- I didn't mean to! Heheh!" Then he turned tail and ran.
The man watched his diminishing figure and shrugged. He had seemed pretty sane.
Akane watched nonplussed as Ryouga dashed off the school grounds. "Hey Ryouga, where ...?" She sighed and turned back to the booths. That darn Ranma, leaving me alone like this. She suddenly felt a little lonely, half expecting her fiancée to tap her on the shoulder with a boyish grin and join her. But he didn't. No, he's off somewhere with Ukyou. First Shampoo, now her. She scowled and kicked a small rock into the heavens. "Oh well, I guess I'll have to look around by myself."
"Fear not, Akane Tendo. I will gladly escort you around this fairground… where sinister forces may be lurking anywhere." Kuno materialized behind her and placed a hand on her shoulder.
Almost on instinct, Akane grabbed his arm and threw him over her shoulder. "No thanks Kuno! I'd rather be alone."
He rebounded back onto his feet. She jumped away a little at his creepiness. "Such maidenly modesty! It is a most becoming virtue, fair one. However, it is not needed -- I assure you, Tatewaki Kuno lives to serve and protect you!"
"And I assure you, I don't need it!" She put a little punch into her words this time. Literally. As he slumped unconscious onto the ground several feet away, Akane felt another hand on her arm. "Hey!" She spun around, kicking out at the same time.
No one was there.
Then another tap on her shoulder.
She faked a spin to the right then jabbed her left elbow back hard. It made contact. "Oof!"
She turned and saw Sasuke crouching behind her. "Sasuke, what do you think you're doing?" She narrowed her eyes. "Did your master send you?"
Still massaging his stomach, the faithful Kuno servant bowed and hastily got to his feet. "No, no! Actually, I'm representing the Mugai no Ninja Society at this fine fair."
"Ninja??" Akane repeated incredulously.
"Yes yes. I have been watching you for some time now, and I believe your superior martial arts skills would make you a fine ninja warrior. Have you ever considered the field?"
"Me? A ninja?" Akane felt flattered and bewildered at the same time. "I never really thought about it ..."
Akane crept stealthily along the roof of the target house, a silent silhouette against the starry backdrop of the night sky. Her inky black ninja outfit made her blend like a shadow into the darkness surrounding the building as she ran lightly along the tiles. With her amazing sense of balance and athletic grace, Akane was known in the underground ninja world as the Black Swan. She was a deadly combination of grim ruthlessness, superb fighting abilities, and stunning beauty.
However, only her adoring husband knew of her public identity as Darling Saotome, the most talented and lovely actress of her generation to ever grace the stage. The unfortunate ones who learned of her disguise were quickly dispatched to the afterlife, never to pass the secret on to another soul.
Akane whipped around at a slight noise, but found nothing behind her. Although she was known for her grace, it had been hard won, and she still experienced very rare spells of her old clumsiness. She had to be very careful this time. In this, possibly the most important assignment of her life, not only was her reputation as the deadly Black Swan at stake, but the life of her husband Ranma also hung in the balance. Akane paused in her scan of the grounds to smile and shake her head wryly. Ranma couldn't go anywhere without getting into some sort of trouble. Whether it was another killer fiancée from the past or some supernatural being swearing vengeance, time after time Akane found herself racing to her husband's rescue. Although he made feeble attempts at fighting, they both knew his martial arts skill came nowhere near her own.
"Ranma you dummy," Akane murmured, clenching her fist. "Why did you have to be so stupid?" These kidnappers had taken Ranma, and god only knew what evil things they were doing to him. They wanted him in exchange for their silence on the matter of Akane's public identity. She didn't know how they had discovered her secret, but she did know that they would pay for taking Ranma, and pay dearly.
Akane quickly traced her steps and determined that the room Ranma was being kept captive was just about ... here. She hung upside down from the roof and peered cautiously into the dark room. No sign of activity. She slowly slid open the window, then froze as it squealed protestingly. She watched the darkness with wide eyes. No movement.
She nimbly swung herself off the roof and feet-first through the window. Then her uniform snagged on a nail. A loud rip sounded through the silence of the room. Akane stilled again, cursing her bad luck. Still no action. She flattened herself to the floor and crawled along, searching for the bed. Then her foot caught the leg of a nearby table, jostling it enough to knock something off. It broke with a loud crash. "Kuso ... not again," she gritted.
Akane flinched as the lights switched on and she met the eyes of Ranma's captors. Ukyou towered over her, leaning indolently against a chair, one arm resting on the handle of her giant spatula. "Boy Akane, you must be the clumsiest ninja I've ever seen. Some Black Swan," she derided. "What are you doing down there? A contact pop out? Or just preparing to grovel for your life?"
"Ukyou, I'd rather choke down those cow chips you call okonomiyaki than grovel before you." Akane snarled, every muscle preparing to attack.
"Akane, you're here!" Ranma sat bound to a wooden chair. His voice was filled with relief and triumph. "See, I told you she'd come for me! Now you're in for it!"
"Shut up you!" Shampoo gestured menacingly with a bonbori. "Or I shut you up myself."
"Easy Shampoo," Ukyou warned in an undertone.
That distraction was all Akane needed. In one smooth motion she leapt from her crawling position and drove a fist into Ukyou's stomach. As the chef doubled over in pain, Akane spun around, sweeping her leg out and tripping the surprised Amazon. Without looking, she deftly blocked a spatula strike from Ukyou, then rolled behind the chef, stood, and with a quick jab to a pressure point, rendered her unconscious.
"Akane!" Ranma's voice was full of concern as he struggled to break his bonds.
Feeling the air stir behind her, Akane spun again and kicked up with her heel, catching Shampoo square on the jaw and sending her flying to crash against the wall.
Akane straightened and surveyed the scene. Two would-be extortionists, now lying unconscious on the floor. It had taken less than a minute. She hurried to Ranma and started untying the ropes holding him down.
The dilation of his pupils and a sharp intake of breath were all the clues she needed to know there was yet another assailant near her. She leapt to the side just as a razor-sharp ribbon sliced the air where she had stood.
"Ohohohoho! Akane Tendo, you will not win so easily against the Black Rose!" Without warning, Kodachi snapped her ribbon like a whip towards Ranma, who was still bound to the chair. It sliced through his shirt and a startled cry of pain escaped his lips.
A red fury enveloped Akane at the sound of that pain. "You'll pay for that!" In an instant, she was before Kodachi. "KATSU TENSHIN AMAGURIKEN!" With a flurry of lightning-quick punches, Akane drove the hapless gymnast through the wall to land in a broken heap in the next room. Now slightly out of breath, she turned back to Ranma and untied him, carefully blotting his shallow cut.
"You dummy! All you had to do was untie me! I can fight for myself you know!" Ranma flushed indignantly as he stood and flexed his arms to restore circulation.
"Come on Ranma, you would've just gotten in the way, as usual." Akane said dryly.
"Oh, is that so? Well, if that's the way you feel, I'm surprised you even bothered to come rescue me." He turned his back on her, his voice lightly scoffing.
Akane sighed. She hated when he was in one of these contrary moods. "Ranma, you know that's not what I meant!"
His shoulders relaxed a little, and he turned back around, pulling her to him. He hugged her as though afraid she would disappear. "Akane, don't you know that every time you go fight, I'm afraid something will happen to you?" His voice was rough with emotion and his hold tightened slightly. "I don't want to lose you. How could I ever find anyone so perfect again? There isn't anyone in this world with your beauty, your grace, your fighting ability, your terrific cooking." He smiled, that engaging boyish smile she loved so well. "Everyday, I thank the kami that you are mine."
Akane grinned back at him. "It's the other way around, baka. You are mine." She pulled his head down by the pigtail and lifted her own lips to his, closer and closer ...
Akane blinked and came back to reality. Sasuke still stood before her, waiting attentively.
"So have you thought about it?"
Akane flushed guiltily and blurted defensively, "Thought about what? I wasn't thinking about anything! I ..." She trailed off as she spied Ranma several booths away, with Ukyou still wrapped around him. With the images of her daydream still dancing in her mind, she immediately steamed up. How dare he?! Right after telling me all that ... oh wait. That was a dream. Akane deflated and put her mallet away. Just a dream.
Sasuke was a little alarmed at the suddenness of Akane's mood swings. Over all things else, a ninja needed control over his emotions. Maybe he was wrong about Miss Tendo. Although she was a fairly strong martial artist, the way her aura had flickered on and off so suddenly and without any warning, made him nervous.
"Ah, I beg your pardon Miss Tendo, but I - I must go check on my master!" Before Akane could say anything, the odd looking ninja disappeared.
She shrugged and shook off the remnants of her daydream. That's too bad. Being a ninja was starting to look so appealing ... She headed towards some more booth, but before she could take five steps, Kuno loomed in front of her.
"Akane Tendo, I have returned from the heaven unto which you sent me. I could not be long from your presence, for heaven is a pale thing compared to the paradise of your enchanting company. Oh, that --"
"Save it Kuno," Akane said flatly, then sighed in exasperation. "Why don't you look around the booths? They're there for a reason, you know."
"What? A Kuno? Work?!" He spat the last word out in loathing. "Woman, have you gone mad?"
"Look, there's even a booth for poets. All those people babbling in words normal people can't understand -- you'd fit right in!" She directed him to the booth, then fled when he wasn't looking.
He eyed the flyers and the sample texts, a glimmer of interest sparking in the depths of his perverted soul. "In truth, Akane Tendo, I have not pondered the matter much ..."
Kuno sat at his glossy wooden desk, furiously scribbling down his soulful, heartfelt poetry. This was going to be his finest work yet. After years of acclaim and fame for his writing, he would top it all off with this, his "Ode to My Beloveds." Comprised of a mere 264 stanzas, this pithy passage contained only barely adequate praise of his two loves. With a flourish of his quill pen, Kuno collapsed onto his desk, weeping tears of joy. "Ahh, I have finally finished my greatest work!"
Small hands crept over his shoulders, gently kneading. "Tatchi-chan," a sing-song voice murmured in his ear. "Are you going to let us read it yet?" The pig-tailed girl walked from behind him and perched herself daintily on the arm of his chair. Gracefully, she flung her length of rich crimson locks over one little shoulder and batted her big blue eyes at him.
"Darling, here are those confections you requested," Akane sang gaily from the doorway. She wore her usual apron and looked absolutely adorable with flour on her nose. She pranced over, carrying with her a platter of delicacies. "Let me feed you, you poor dear." She picked up a Turkish delight and popped it into his mouth, then wiped his lips with the edge of her apron. "Yummy?"
"Ah, your culinary efforts are delightful as usual, my love." Kuno rose from his seat, still munching, then stretched. The two girls appeared awestruck at the rippling muscles beneath his blue yukata. They sighed. "Alas, I require respite from my hard work. I shall venture forth and stroll my grounds."
The pig-tailed one pouted and opened her little mouth to say something. Kuno whipped out a finger and placed it gently against her lips. "Shush dear one. I give you my word of honor to read my poem to you both. Now run along and get pretty for your Tatchi." He patted both affectionately on their bottoms as they scampered to their rooms, giggling all the way.
Kuno strolled along the stately corridors of his family mansion in a leisurely fashion. Then he reached an unmarked wooden door, quite plain in appearance. However, only few knew of its terrifying secret. For beyond that door, lay the evil sorcerer Ranma Saotome, chained by Kuno's own hand and kept in captivity, unable to work his unholy magics on the unsuspecting world.
Kuno pushed it open and could not help but sneer at the sight before him. Saotome sat on the cold stone floor, crudely picking his nose and scratching himself. At the sight of Kuno, he scrambled to the corner of his foul-smelling cell and bared his teeth, snarling in a low voice. "Kunoooo."
"Saotome, you are a cur. This is your only chance at repentance! Do you not feel any remorse for enslaving the beauteous Akane Tendo and the glorious pig-tailed one under your evil spell?" With every word, Kuno seemed to glow brighter and brighter with a silver aura of the righteous and good.
"Kuno, I'm not stupid, you know," Saotome tapped his skull, the action producing several hollow thuds. "As long as evil lives in the hearts of men, I shall never repent! Long live the dark forces! Muhahahaha!" Saotome gave a great bellowing laugh and stood straight up, his lips curling in a sinister smile.
Kuno slowly drew his bokken with a sigh. Someone had to carry the weight of the world, and if it fell to him, well then, so be it. "Very well Saotome. Today, I shall rid the world of your evil influence once and for all." The obnoxious sorcerer widened his eyes, his smile fading, and slowly backed away from the awesome sight that was Kuno. "Yes, now you know real fear. Before you were protected by your cursed magics, but now, taste the pain of justice! Argghh!! STRIKE!" ....
Kuno returned to his beloveds, exhausted both in body and spirit. "No more, my loves, no more need you fear the presence of the dark sorcerer Saotome."
At the name, both paled and jumped into his arms. "Oh Kuno-senpai! You have saved us and the world! We are forever in your gratitude!" They cried together, their beautiful eyes shimmering with love. "You must have us both!"
"Oh pigtailed one! Oh Akane Tendo! How long have I waited for this moment!" Kuno embraced the two figures tightly, then after a moment his hands started roaming.
A sharp pain in his gut woke him from his twisted daydream.
"Kuno-baby, hands off, okay? I can understand if you can't help yourself, but really, PDAs aren't my thing." Nabiki withdrew her fist from his stomach and smirked at him.
Immediately, Kuno backed off from her, not quite hiding his expression of distaste. Then he tossed his head and sneered. "Nabiki Tendo, I cannot fathom how you and the beauteous Akane are kin. Where she is a paragon of purity and innocence, you are manipulative and sly and --"
"Stop it Kuno, I'm blushing." Nabiki folded her arms. "Now, I've got some new pictures for you." She held up a finger at his eager expression. "A set of four for the bargain price of 20,000 yen."
"Done!" In his excitement, Kuno whapped his wad of bills across Nabiki's face and tried to snatch the package of photos out of her hand. He was wondering why she was gripping onto them so tightly when he finally realized what he had just done.
Nabiki turned her head back to him slowly. He felt a momentary chill under her Evil Eye. "Just for that, it'll be 70,000 yen."
He hastily extracted several more bills and took the photos. He gazed avidly at them, his eyes tearing in admiration. "Truly, Nabiki Tendo, you have outdone yourself this time. I must admit, despite my abhorrence of your technique, that you have a skill for spying on others. One wonders why you choose not to pursue that field."
"Hmm." Nabiki seemed on the verge of an uncharacteristic daydream. "You have a point there. And I have actually thought about it ..."
Behind dusty blinds that cast fingers of shadow throughout her office, Nabiki sat at her modest wooden desk and stared at the black and white photos before her, trying to piece together their puzzle. She shuffled them and reshuffled them and her eyes became unfocused as an idea, a nearly impossible rationalization, popped into her mind. The air around her stilled, as though holding its breath for her next action. She pushed on her intercom button.
"Yoko, hold all my calls. I'm leaving the office, and if all goes well, I should be back soon." She stood and threw on her coat in one smooth action, then put the pictures into a crisp manila envelope. Excitement, anticipation, and a little fear sizzled through her veins. After all these years of trying to make it as a private eye, she had figured out the case of a lifetime and wasn't going to waste another moment. She walked out the doors and headed for her destination.
Several months ago, Nabiki had noticed that Happosai had been gone for quite some time, and began inquiring after his whereabouts. No one knew. They all assumed he was off chasing girls and collecting panties -- having the time of his life as usual; however, Nabiki found no trace of him. Not one movement or report about a strange demon terrorizing young girls. She had been about to give up when, just as suddenly as he had disappeared, he showed up again. Nabiki had watched him carefully and noticed he was acting a little different. Oh, he still enjoyed looking and chasing after girls, but he didn't need to touch them anymore to retain his strength. Nabiki doubted anyone else had noticed. So she investigated further, and what she found was most intriguing…
She finally arrived at a cozy little restaurant, filled with the hum of customers and the muffled banging of pots. She headed straight towards the kitchen, pushed open the swinging doors, and found the person she had been looking for.
They both stared down at each other, their feet spread wide apart and their stances cocky and sure.
Nabiki quirked her lips into a smile. "Or should I say … Happosai?"
Cologne was skilled at hiding her reaction, presenting a stony face to her foe. "And why should you say that, Nabiki Tendo?"
The young girl folded her arms and pretended to think about the question. "Well, let's see ," she said, tapping a finger to her chin. "How about … this?!" Without warning, Nabiki grabbed a pot of cold water behind her and flung it towards the ancient Amazon, who easily dodged.
"Ha ha ha! Foolish girl, you think you can take me on? I've got an advantage of 200 hundred years over you. Even Ranma couldn't beat me."
Nabiki pounced on that statement. "Ah, but he did, didn't he?" Cologne looked startled at the sudden change in tactics. "He beat you with the Cat Fist, and he got the Phoenix Pill to cure himself of the Full-Body Cat Tongue. And no one seemed to notice."
She pressed on, seeing that Cologne had paled and was gripping her walking stick with white knuckles. "And then you started thinking, by the Amazon law, Ranma should be your husband. He was the first man to ever defeat you in combat. A mere boy, actually. But such a fine young boy!" Nabiki curled her lips in a feline smile. "With that natural charm, that incredible skill, and those looks, how could you resist, Cologne?
"You wanted him for yourself, but you'd have to defeat him in combat first. But you knew you wouldn't have enough skills to manage that… But Happosai did." Nabiki was really into it now, advancing on the older woman, who seemed to shrink with every biting word. "You killed him didn't you? Not by a fair fight though…. maybe you got him drunk?" Cologne paled even more. "Yes, you got him so stinking drunk, he wasn't even aware that he was drowning. In a spring of Jusenkyo. And then you entered that pool, didn't you, and you became Happosai, and you gained all his martial arts abilities -- so you could finally beat Ranma and force him to marry you!" Nabiki ended on a note of triumph.
"Ai-yah." A small voice behind Cologne whispered in shock. "Great-grandmother, is not true? You no want Airen for yourself." Shampoo looked at her grandmother with eyes of pleading that soon turned dangerously cold and hard at Cologne's damning silence. The younger Amazon walked up to her great-grandmother and slowly bent down. She brushed her lips against that weathered cheek. "I give you Kiss of Death, Khu Lon. I follow you to ends of earth and kill you."
Cologne backed away slowly at the mad gleam in her great-granddaughter's eyes, fear in every step. Then she fled, soon chased by Shampoo, who gave a blood-curdling wail of vengeance.
Nabiki stood alone in the steamy kitchen of the Cat Café and whistled cheerfully. Her greatest and most cunning foe was vanquished and gone for good from Nerima. She sighed in satisfaction. "Well, I've done my good deed for the day."
Kuno resisted the impulse to cross himself at the sight of the wicked grin that had suddenly spread across Nabiki Tendo's face. Then all thoughts of the evil girl before him vanished, for there, not ten feet away, was the lovely pig-tailed one. She was walking towards him, next to that odd boy-girl who never left his/her monstrous spatula. Kuno was flooded with overwhelming emotion and he rushed at her to better express his burning love. "Yegads, but you are fair, pig-tailed one!"
Ukyou and Nabiki watched as Kuno was booted into the sky once more that day. "Let's see, that's been twice in the past hour or so. Maybe he'll beat his record today." Nabiki studied her ledger book and tapped her pen against her lips.
Ranma trudged over to the two, her red hair damp and tangled. "Man, this has been a horrible day." She looked at Nabiki hopefully. "Hey Nabiki, do you think I could get something to eat?"
A sudden eclipse of the sun was the only warning she had before Shampoo's bicycle landed on her head. "Ai-yah! Ranma, if you hungry, Shampoo bring lunch just for you!" The lithe Amazon sprang off her seat and bent down to smile into Ranma's groaning face.
Ranma was barely able to hold down the gorge rising in her throat. That last ramen episode had left her temporarily allergic to any sort of noodle. "Ugh. I don't think so Shampoo."
Ukyou bristled at the sight of the other girl and put a casual hand on her spatula handle. "Oh no you don't, honey. You're not pulling any of your tricks this time. Not if I can help it."
A black aura surrounded the two girls as sparks of negative energy crackled between them. Shampoo frowned and tensed, ready for battle. Ukyou squeezed her handle and squinted. Nabiki started taking bets. A lone tumbleweed rolled pass.
"Hey Ranma, you don't want in on this fight?" Nabiki called to the fleeing martial artist. She shrugged and turned back to the gathering crowd of spectators. "Oh well, can't win them all."
Ukyou and Shampoo simultaneously jerked their heads around to stare after the diminishing figure of their fiancée.
"Hey Ran-chan, wait for me!" Ukyou abandoned the fight, giving her rival a taunting "bii" as she ran after Ranma.
"Stupid spatula girl! I get to Ranma first!" Shampoo prepared to spring after the other two, but a sudden weight around her waist stopped her.
"Oh Shampoo! You waited for me! Oh, how I've longed for this day!" Mousse wept tears of joy as he wrapped his arms around his beloved. Then his face hit dirt as Shampoo punched his clinging form into the ground.
"Stupid Mousse! Go away!" With a toss of her hair, she flounced off.
Mousse pushed himself off the ground, now weeping tears of pain and loss. "Shampoo? Shampoo? Where did you go? Oh why did you leave your loverboy alone?!" He pulled out a handkerchief from his voluminous robes and blotted his eyes daintily. Then he polished his glasses and saw his beloved standing not five feet away. Instantly he bounded over and embraced her passionately. "There you are, Shampoo! You had me so worried! Never leave my side again, my darling love!"
Nabiki heaved a gusty sigh within the circle of Mousse's arms and rolled her eyes. "What is it with today? Do I look like Akane? Or Shampoo? Or Ranma?"
"What was that Shampoo? Forgive me, but I could not hear your low, dulcet voice." Mousse held Nabiki out at arms' length and peered at her. "Waitaminute … You're not Shampoo! What have you done with her?!" Mousse's voice was rising in outrage as he backed away from her. "Arrrghh, you'll pay if you've done anything to her!" He threw out his arms and his wide array of maces, chains, spears, and various weaponry sped towards Nabiki's defenseless form.
A collective gasp rose in the surrounding crowd. "Nabiki, watch out!"
She just turned her head slightly and waved away the warning with an unconcerned smile. "Come on, he's blind. You really think I'm in any danger?" Then Mousse's arsenal shot through the air all around her, missing her by inches. Finding no target, they fell with a clatter.
"Ha! Now you know the price you pay for hurting Shampoo!" Mousse crowed triumphantly.
"Hey Mousse, that was a neat trick, but next time you should put your glasses back on." Nabiki strolled over to him and dropped Mousse's glasses back onto his nose from their perch on his forehead. Then a light flashed on behind her eyes. "Hmm… that was a neat trick." She glanced around at the large crowd oohing and ahhing around them. "Why didn't I think of this before?"
Meanwhile, Mousse was distraught over the apparent disappearance of his love. "Oh Shampoo, where have you gone! I have vanquished your captor, but where are you??" Suddenly, an arm hooked his neck and his face was dragged down to Nabiki. "Huh? Nabiki Tendo? What is the meaning of this?"
Nabiki ignored his usual bewilderment. "Mousse, I've got a business proposition for you. What do you do now -- bus tables at the Cat Café? You don't get paid and you're treated like a slave. How would you like to make some real money?"
Mousse straightened and brushed her arm off contemptuously. "Faugh. What need do I have of material possessions when all I truly desire is a warm smile from Shampoo?"
"Oh yeah?" Thwarted in her money-making schemes, Nabiki leaned back and folded her arms. "And how exactly would you get Shampoo to even look at you?"
Mousse deflated somewhat, then bounced back, full of determination and vigor. "All I'd have to do is defeat Saotome! I've done it before! I can do it again!"
"Yeah, you beat him when he was a girl. Have you ever beat him when he's a guy?" Nabiki smiled again at his crestfallen expression. She loved seeing people suffer.
"I am sure I could!" Mousse clenched his fists. "Oh how I have longed for that day - the day when I finally defeat Saotome and Shampoo is mine. I have dreamt of it and thought about it countless times …"
"Saotome, I challenge you! No longer will you hold Shampoo in your evil clutches! Once I defeat you, she will be free!" Mousse yelled at Ranma, who stood casually before him with one arm draped heavily across Shampoo's shoulders.
"Ignorant Mousse, leave us alone!" Shampoo shouted at him, tossing her hair behind her angrily. "Ranma can crush you single- handedly!"
Meanwhile, Ranma ignored this witty repartee. He shoved Shampoo away and flexed his muscles, kissing each one, then crouched down, ready to fight. "All right then Mousse, let's fight. I'm sure in five minutes you'll be at my feet, eating dirt!"
Mousse growled and charged at the other boy. "Arrrgh!! This is for Shampoo!" Sharp blades shot from his wide sleeves, arcing toward the weaponless Ranma, who flipped over them easily.
Straightening, Ranma thumbed his nose. "Feh. This'll be a piece of cake." He ducked Mousse's "Fist of the White Swan" and drove his knuckles into Mousse's side -- several dozen times. "KATSU TENSHIN AMAGURIKEN!!"
Mousse winced and gasped for breath but fought on. He flung out a flurry of metal chains at Ranma, who leapt over them and with a feral smile, viciously kicked at his opponent's head. His foot made a sickening crack as it impacted with Mousse's temple. The wounded boy staggered back and shook his head, trying to clear the black spots from his vision.
Ranma, being the honorless cur that he was, saw his opportunity. "HA! You're dead, duck boy!" Swelling with arrogance, he stretched his hands out in front of him. A glowing ball of chi soon appeared, increasing in size and light until it flooded the entire fighting area with its pulsing energy. "MOUKO TAKABISHA!" The ball shot towards Mousse's helpless form, and he squinted despairingly against its blinding light.
"NO!" Suddenly, a figure leapt in front of him, her arms open wide. The ball of chi struck her squarely on the chest and with an agonized cry, she flew backwards against Mousse. They tumbled to the ground, encircled by a smoking crater.
Mousse blinked, trying to orient himself. His head was screaming with agony, but he struggled to sit up, determined to keep fighting. The figure in his arms was very light and still. Mousse peered at the face until its familiar features finally came into focus. Large shimmering eyes, filled with tears, a mouth specked with drops of blood. "Shampoo? Wh-why?!"
She coughed and grimaced at the pain that slight movement caused. "Mousse, you're so stupid. I told you not to fight with Ranma. You'd get hurt, my dearest."
"Shampoo!" His heart leapt, then fell as he noticed the extent of her injuries. "Shampoo, don't worry, I'll take care of you - as soon as I teach that Saotome a lesson!" He shushed away her protests and laid her gently on the ground. Ignoring his own cramping muscles, he straightened and pointed at Ranma, who watched with a bored expression. "Saotome, look at what you've done to Shampoo! Do you not feel any shame, any remorse for your evil actions?!"
Ranma snorted. "What for? I'm Ranma Saotome! I can have her replaced in no time with any chick I want! Probably a babe that looks even better than that Amazon sl--" His words were cut off by Mousse's fist in his face. Blood spurted from his nose and ran down his chin as he stumbled back. "Augh! My face! My beautiful face!"
"And I'm just starting." Mousse cracked his knuckles and smiled in satisfaction at the damage he had caused. While Saotome continued to whine, he leapt into the air and lashed out with a flying kick that clipped a surprised Ranma on the jaw. As the dazed boy spun from the force of the blow, Mousse charged. "Strike of the Deadly Razors!!" He shot his arms out and his sleeves snapped into razor-sharp edges. With two powerful punches, Mousse cracked Ranma across the face twice, breaking through his puny defenses, smashing into bone and teeth. His sleeves tore long bloody gashes across the hapless boy's face and torso. He followed up with a kick to Ranma's already injured chest that sent him flying backwards. He landed in a broken heap, writhing in agony. Mousse approached again, determination on his face.
The beaten and bloody boy looked up, desperation in his wild eyes. "No! No! Don't hurt me! Please!" He cowered before Mousse, begging on his knees in the dirt.
Mousse sneered at the pathetic sight, his mind still consumed with thoughts of Shampoo, lying unconscious and battered because of this infidel. "Ranma, you aren't worth it. But you'd better run before I change my mind. Run away, and disappear."
Ranma backed away on his knees, alternating between hasty bows and piteous groveling. Then when he was far away enough from the terrifying form of Mousse, he scrambled to his feet and ran like the coward he was.
Mousse ran back to Shampoo, tears of joy streaming down his cheeks. "I did it Shampoo! I defeated Saotome! No longer are you beholden to him, my love!"
Shampoo stared up at Mousse's dear familiar face with wide eyes. "H-he's gone? For all eternity?" At his affirmative nod, her eyes shimmered with happiness. "Oh Mousse, you've defeated him! You are a great warrior!" And with their faces framed by the setting sun, Shampoo reached up and dragged his head down to hers until their lips were a fraction away from touching. She breathed against his lips, "Wo ai ni!"
"Oh my precious girl, wo ai ni!" Nabiki found herself once again gathered up in Mousse's arms.
She rolled her eyes. "Three guesses to what he's thinking of." Then she noticed how close his face was. "Uh oh." As she readied to slap his glasses off, their little romantic moment was interrupted.
"Mousse! What you think you doing?!" Shampoo stood by them, her entire body tense with anger.
Mousse blinked and his glasses unfrosted. "Sh-Shampoo?" He peered at the girl in his arms. Then he dropped her hastily. "Nabiki Tendo? What is the meaning of this!?"
Unceremoniously dumped on the ground, Nabiki gingerly rubbed her bottom and smiled mischievously. She pouted up at the big-sweating boy. "But Mousse-chan, you just told me that you loved me! You called me your precious girl! Didn't you mean it?"
His hair suddenly sprang straight up. He big-sweated and began waving his hands wildly in denial. "WHAT?! N-no! Of course not!" He shot a glance at Shampoo, who was quietly smoldering. "No, no! Shampoo, you are the one I love!"
Shampoo spun around with a sniff. "I no care. You is stupid duck-boy. Ranma is Shampoo's airen. Ranma is great warrior, is strong man. You and 'precious girl' welcome to each other."
"Gee Shampoo, for a girl who's already engaged, you seem awfully concerned about Mousse's love life," Nabiki put in archly. "Are you sure it's Ranma that you want?"
"You shut up!" The blue-haired Amazon shot her a look full of daggers. "Weak man and weak woman good together! But Ranma and Shampoo is strong! We go back to Joketsuzoku and lead strong Amazon tribe!"
"B-but Shampoo! Ranma cannot possibly rule with you!" Mousse sputtered.
She looked at him like he was an idiot. "Of course not. I talk with Great-grandmother many time about this. I rule. Ranma teach Martial Arts to other men at home. Is so obvious!" She ignored Mousse's blubbering protests and gazed dreamily into the distance. "Sometime is only thing I think about ... "
"Airen, I'm home!" Shampoo entered her spacious home and inhaled the fragrant smells from the kitchen appreciatively. After another day of leading her Joketsuzoku tribe, Shampoo was weary of the sounds of old women arguing and attempting to challenge her power as chief. She had to prove her strength and claim to the rule almost daily, defeating one challenger after another. By now the number of challengers had dropped off, especially since word of her incredible prowess had spread through the Joketsuzoku community. But now she was home, and she looked forward to being pampered a little.
A pig-tailed head popped out of the kitchen door. With a smudge of flour decorating his nose, Ranma looked like a slice of heaven. He was wearing an outfit he knew she liked: his black kung-fu pants, white apron, and a lot of skin. His face was a bit flushed from cooking, but he immediately brightened at the sight of his lovely wife. "Shan Pu! You home already? I so happy!" He bounced over, grinning and holding a pot of spicy black bean sauce. "I still making your dinner. Can Wife wait a little?"
Shampoo smiled at his eagerness. Even after being married for two years, Ranma still hadn't quite gotten the hang of Chinese. But his efforts were so adorable. She slid her arms around his slim waist and murmured happily, "Of course darling. How was your day?"
He wrapped his arms around her shoulders and kissed the top of her head. "Was okay. But I had problem with new move. Shampoo show me again how to do it?"
"Of course. You know these sort of things take some time."
His chest rose against her cheek in a big sigh. "But Wife, you make it look so easy! You so much better at fighting than me." He pulled away slightly to look at her in concern. "You tired? Want foot rub before dinner? Massage?" He grinned knowingly as he asked.
Shampoo stretched lazily and lifted the weight of her luxurious hair off her neck. "Mmm that reminds me ..." She turned and called in the general direction of the back of the house. "Mousse!"
In seconds, the long-haired Amazon was prostrate before her, his eyes respectfully kept on the floor. "Yes, mistress?"
Shampoo held out one dainty foot. "I need to take off my shoes."
He began to reach out for her slippers, but before he could touch her, she placed her foot on his forehead. "What are you doing you idiot? I can take off my own shoes! I just need a foot rest." As she finished unbuckling her slippers, leaving dusty marks on his head, she straightened and waved her hand at him carelessly. "Now go."
"Yes mistress." He quietly shuffled away on his hands and knees.
Shampoo turned back to her husband, who was still waiting patiently. "Now, where were we? Oh yes, that massage." She smiled from beneath her eyelashes and watched him approach.
Suddenly, the door flew open. "Ranma! I here!" A dusty and wild-eyed Akane stood there, breathing heavily.
Shampoo turned in the circle of Ranma's arms to glance idly at the pesky nuisance in the doorway. She shook her head and smiled sadly. Akane still hadn't gotten over the fact that Ranma had chosen Shampoo as his bride. Everyone except Akane had seen long ago that compared with a beautiful, loving woman like Shampoo, she was no competition for Ranma's affections. But the tomboy continued to live in constant denial and turned up in China occasionally to darken their doorstep. What a sad, sad girl.
She felt Ranma's muscles tense up. "Akane? What you doing here? I told you no follow me, you pervert girl!"
Akane apparently didn't hear his insult. "Ranma I come rescue you from hussy Amazon! Come now, we get married and continue my family dojo!" Her Chinese was just as bad as Ranma's, if not worse.
"What you talking about, you crazy girl?" Ranma shouted angrily. "I love Shan Pu! She is my wife!"
"B-but Ranma, you love me!" Akane seemed really desperate now, clutching her fingers tightly together, her eyes shining with unshed tears.
"Why would I love you?!" Ranma yelled, holding Shampoo to him. "I have strong woman, beautiful woman already -- Shan Pu! Go away, stupid Akane! Leave Shan Pu and me alone!" And with that said, he booted the hysterical girl into an immediate flight back to Japan. He turned back to his wife, his eyes anxious and concerned. "Shan Pu, you no mad? You okay? You know I no love pervert girl, yes?"
"Of course I know, Airen. Just forget about that silly girl. She's too pathetic to even talk about," Shampoo said soothingly, smoothing down his ruffled hair. "All that matters is us, right?"
He gathered her up in his arms, and declared passionately, "Oh Shan Pu, wo ai ni!"
Life is good, she thought as she studied her husband's dear features as he came in for a kiss. That thick black hair, those mesmerizing eyes, those adorable glasses ...
"Mousse?!" Shampoo abruptly woke from her reverie.
"Yes, my darling?" Mousse hovered by her elbow, painful eagerness in his voice.
Shampoo watched as Ranma walked by, Ukyou still attached to his arm. Her quarry had escaped her yet again while she had been daydreaming. And she knew who was at fault. "Stupid Mousse! Leave Shampoo alone!" She conjured up a pail of water and upturned it over his head, then dashed after Ranma, leaving behind a confused and quacking Mousse.
"Ranma, wait for Shampoo!" She was stopped midair by a curtain of cold water. Shampoo-neko landed on the ground, a drenched ball of pink fur.
"Hey cat-girl, leave Ranma-honey and me alone. We were about to spend some quality time together." Ukyou stood over her, one hand on her spatula and the other holding an empty pail. "Now you'd better run before I decide to make some feline okonomiyaki."
As the hissing cat backed away and fled, Ukyou tossed her brown hair over one shoulder and turned back to her fiancée. "Now, where were we?"
Ranma clutched his stomach protectively. "Ugh. I don't feel so hungry anymore."
"Don't be silly. I'll whip something up in no time." In a blink of an eye, she took out her portable grill and began cooking, unaware of the wide-eyed stares she was getting from the milling crowds. She was entering her okonomiyaki-trance. Pour. Sizzle. Flip. Add sauce. Ukyou began singing to herself, almost unconsciously. "She's a very kinky girl … the kind you don't take home to mutha …"
"Superfreak, superfreak -- yeah!"
She blinked and her eyes came back into focus. "Huh? Did you say something sugar?"
Ranma grinned at her startled expression. "More like something you said. What the heck were you just singing?"
Ukyou flipped the okonomiyaki onto a plate and shrugged. "I don't know. Probably something I heard on the radio. I just start singing sometimes when I cook. It relaxes me."
"Yeah? Because you sounded pretty good, actually." Ranma picked up his plate. "You're great at cooking okonomiyaki, but do you ever feel like doing something else? Maybe you could try something new - like singing?" He chewed contemplatively. "Think about it… you could be 'Ucchan - the Idol Singer!'"
Ukyou began cooking another okonomiyaki and beamed at his apparent interest. "Why Ran-chan, you really do care about me!" She didn't notice his sudden fit of choking. "But I've never really thought about doing anything else later on. Singing is a fun little hobby, but come on, can you imagine me – an idol star?" An idol star, huh? I kinda like that sound of that …
It was the day of the widely anticipated concert, and lines circled countless blocks around the Tokyo Mega-dome. Screaming fans held up signs and memorabilia and the media buzzed around the scene, taking random interviews. This wasn't just any concert. After all, this was OKO, the hugely popular all-girl band famous for their catchy pop tunes and lively personalities. But most of the people weren't lining up to see the cute Akane, the sexy Shampoo, the quietly pretty Kasumi, or the slinky Nabiki. They all wanted to see the group's lead singer – Ukyou Kuonji. Admired for her emotional voice, her unbelievably gorgeous face and figure, and her sassy attitude, she was the sweetheart of the entertainment world.
And at the moment, the most famous icon of Japan was losing her temper.
"No! Not like that, Akane! Put some hip into it!" Ukyou directed the others in a frustrated tone. It was the last time they could rehearse, and she wanted it to be perfect. After years of hard work and determination, OKO had finally made it to the top, and Ukyou wanted to keep it that way. "Let's try it again!"
The other girls groaned in exhaustion.
"Really Ukyou, it's not like we haven't rehearsed every day for the past six months," Nabiki said dryly, adjusting her tight black leather skirt.
"And Shampoo so tired! Can't we take rest?" The Amazon wiped some perspiration off her forehead and sighed.
"No! This has to be a perfect concert! We have to show Tokyo that we really care! And the only way to do that is to pull off a flawless show! Now are you guys going to whine all day, or are we going to get some work done?" Ukyou spun back around and struck her pose. "Now, from the beginning. Ready? Go! One, two, three, crouch, five, six, jump, spin --" She broke off when she saw the others still standing there, arms crossed belligerently. "Now what?!"
"Ukyou, the rest of us have talked this over, and we've decided that we've had enough of your attitude," Akane stated flatly. "You seem to think you have a right to tell us what to do. We're sick of you ordering us around! So we're quitting, and forming our own band."
Ukyou listened to Akane's speech with disbelief and growing hysteria. "What the hell are you talking about?? I formed this band, I made it big, so of course you're going to be taking directions from me! And now you're going to form your own band?!" Ukyou sneered. "Hah! Let's just see how well that works out. I'll go solo! You guys can deal with the concert tonight. Then you'll see how OKO can't survive without me. And who can you possibly get to fill in for me anyway?"
"Um hi. I'm the sub. Sorry about all this." Ranma-chan stood in the doorway, looking timid and embarrassed.
"Ranma? Oh right, what a laugh!" Ukyou snickered. "He's not even a real girl! And he doesn't know how to sing! He doesn't even have the right voice! Good luck you guys – you're going to need it!" She laughed all the way out of the studio.
Later that night, after several hours of furious media activity on the band's sudden breakup and Ukyou's last-minute replacement, Ukyou sat alone in her hotel room, listening to the radio. No longer was it known as OKO – now it was Doco – a truly stupid name, from Ukyou's point-of-view. But the band was actually doing pretty well, she admitted grudgingly. Even Ranma sounded … not bad. And if the crowd's roaring applause was anything to judge by, Doco was going to survive Ukyou's departure.
Ukyou flopped down onto her bed and buried her face in her pillow. She shot out a hand and slapped the radio off. How was she going to do it all by herself? Especially when the rest of the band had already moved on so quickly? Now she had to prove herself again, and this time, alone. She felt the tears begin to well up behind her shut eyelids and struggled to keep them down. All her work, down the drain. No one cared. No one had even come by to hear her side of the story. None of her old friends, not even … Then from far away, she heard knocking.
"Go away!" She yelled, her voice thick with unshed tears.
"Uh, I'm sorry to bother you, but could you tell me the way to Nerima?" The voice from the other side was muffled and hesitant. And familiar.
She bounded off the bed and wrenched open the door. There stood Ryouga, of all people, in his old yellow shirt and baggy green pants. Even after all these years, he still carried that huge red umbrella and bulky backpack.
"Ryouga?! What on earth are you doing here?" Ukyou felt her spirits lifting. At least she wasn't alone anymore.
"Ukyou? Oh hey. Long time no see. Heheh." Ryouga rubbed the back of his head and grinned, showing those little fangs of his. "What are you doing here? I thought you had some big concert tonight."
She waved the question away. "Aw forget about that stupid thing. How about some okonomiyaki? It'll fill ya up, and I need the practice!" Without waiting for his reply, she yanked him into the room and began fixing up a meal for him. As the delicious smells of the Japanese pizza filled the room, Ukyou remembered what a pleasure it was to cook for someone. Thundering applause from thousands of people couldn't beat Ryouga's sighs of contentment as he shoveled down his okonomiyaki. While she had been an idol singer, she's forgotten her first love….
Ukyou smiled happily and began humming again. "… say 'nighty night' and kiss me, just hold me tight and tell me you'll miss me...."
"…while I'm alone and blue as can be, dream a little dream of me… doo doo dee dah …"
Ranma watched bewildered as Ukyou absently swirled layer after layer of sauce onto his burnt okonomiyaki. "Hey Ukyou?" He tugged on her sleeve to get her attention. "Ukyou?"
"Hmm? Oh!" The chef lost her dreamy gaze and snapped back to reality. "Wow, I haven't burnt an okonomiyaki in a while! Sorry about that Ran-chan, I'll just cook up another one in a jiffy."
Suddenly, a bonbori crashed into her hot grill, breaking it in half. Shampoo soon followed, danger in her eyes. "I don't think so, spatula girl. You insult Shampoo. You pay now."
"Ready when you are, honey." And with that, she leapt into battle.
As Ukyou and Shampoo disappeared into a dust cloud-catfight, Ranma nimbly dodged the various spatulas and bonbori that came flying out, chewing idly on his okonomiyaki. He made a face at the strong burnt taste and sighed heavily. This day had been one disaster after another so far. First that scene with Ms. Hinako in the hall, then being dragged all over the place by Ukyou, and then changing into a girl so that Kuno could grab him all day. But the worst was that he couldn't seem to find a certain uncute tomboy. Was she mad at him or something? Did she go home? Or was she somewhere plotting his untimely death? He leaned back against a nearby tree and watched the fight. As long as it didn't concern him, he was in no danger.
"Hey Shampoo, you'd better get used to it. Ranma-honey is MY fiancée!"
Uh-oh. With one eye warily on the action, Ranma began tip-toeing away. And walked right into someone.
"Hey baka! Watch it," Akane sniffed up at him, her arms folded. "Hmph, and I'm supposed to be the clumsy one."
"Akane!" Ranma felt eyes immediately on his back. Sounds of the fighting came closer until ...
A spatula whizzed by his ear. "Ranma, you come back here! What do you think you're doing with that tomboy?"
A bonbori flew through the space that formerly occupied his head. "Ranma! Why you with pervert girl?"
"Here we go again," Ranma muttered under his breath. He scooped Akane up and with a couple of leaps, landed on a low rooftop a safe distance away from his enraged fiancées. He grinned down at Akane, who hadn't had any time to think, much less yell in anger, before he spirited her to safety. "We seem to be doing this a lot lately. Why do you always end up in the wrong place at the wrong time?" Or more like the right place at the right time, he thought, still carrying her.
Akane flushed angrily. "It isn't my fault girls keep throwing themselves at you. If you wanted to stay with them, it's fine by me. I can take care of myself!" Then she seemed to remember where she was. "And put me down!"
Just as he was about to put his foot in his mouth, Ranma was interrupted by a voice from below them.
"Hey you! You there!" A man stood squinting up at them.
"Wha- me? I didn't do nothing! It isn't my fault!" Ranma stammered.
"Hey kid, I'm not going to punish you for anything. Far from it, in fact. I just saw you jump up there. That must've been at least ten feet -- and you were carrying someone! How in the world did you do that?"
His curiosity piqued, Ranma peered down at the man and sensing no danger, lightly jumped down, with Akane still in his arms. Just as he landed, Akane chose that moment to whack him one on the head. "Didn't I just tell you to put me down?!" He dropped her and rubbed his head, squinting at her in pain.
"Ha ha! Ah, young lovers!" The man laughed heartily, not noticing their frantic protests and denials. "So where did you learn how to do that? You must have trained a long time!"
Ranma recovered from his initial shock to stare blankly at the man. "Trained? Well, I've trained all my life in the Saotome School of Anything-Goes Martial Arts."
The man waved away the statement dismissively. "Never heard of it. How would you like to join a real organization of athletes? Have you ever considered trying for the Olympics? Why, with your skills, you have the potential to become Japan's latest national treasure!"
Ranma blinked, taken aback. "The Olympics? Huh, I never even thought about it …"
The stadium was filled to its maximum capacity. Hundreds of thousands of people sat restlessly under the hot sun, with all their anxious eyes on Ranma Saotome. The young Japanese man had come out of nowhere during this latest Olympiad and had swept nearly all the track and field gold medals, breaking records and causing an international furor over his amazing athletics. Rumors were that he was to be the next spokesman for Nike, in addition to hosting his own talk show and creating his own line of sportswear. Some whispered that his superior skills weren't natural, but his faithful supporters -- most of the world population -- defended him against all attacks. And now, the last medal was to be won -- this time, in high-jumping. The first jumps were already finished with, and Ranma had flew by that round with the utmost ease. But this was the moment of truth. Was he about to become the world's most decorated Olympic athlete?
Ranma stood under the scrutiny of millions of eyes, but he was only aware of one pair of eyes, cheering him on by the sidelines.
"Go Ranma! I know you can do it!" Akane pumped her fist into the air while her family and Genma called encouragingly around her.
Ranma flipped his pigtail behind him, causing several thousand women to sigh dramatically, then bent down to his ready position, causing another thousand to swoon. He had never imagined competing at something like the Olympics could be so effortless. I guess training with those two old farts really did improve my skills, he thought. Next to fighting against them, this is a cinch.
A peanut bounced off the side of his head. "Who are you calling an old fart, sonny?" Happosai called from his seat with the rest of the Nerima crowd.
Ranma ignored the shriveled pervert and focused his concentration on winning. Once I win this, I can finally be a real man. I need to win this. For myself. For my family pride. For Japan. And for Akane … He could already imagine it: he would win, people would come rushing down from the benches and carry him around on their shoulders, then Akane would be there, looking at him with those huge shimmering eyes of hers, and she'd say "Oh Ranma, you're the greatest! I love you!"
"Hey Saotome! They're calling you!"
Ranma snapped out of his daydream and wiped the huge grin off his face. "Right." This was it. He put one arm up to signal the start of his jump. He rocked a little on his heels, took a deep breath, and ran. The air around him stilled and thickened. Every step he took echoed throughout the hushed stadium, and his breathing sounded quick and loud in his own ears. Then the bar was before him, and he was leaping through the air. Pretend Ukyou and Shampoo are behind you. This is just another building in Nerima. You can clear this. Unlike the other athletes, Ranma didn't use any pole to propel him up and he didn't' jump backwards over the high bar. Instead, with a grace that took the breath away from the millions watching, he simply flew over, as though it was just an unusually high hurdle. The wind ruffled his hair slightly, and the air was filled with the sounds of clicking as everyone in the stadium took pictures of the historic moment. Then he landed lightly onto the cushion on the other side.
After a moment of quiet, the crowd exploded. A roaring approval resounded throughout the field and filled his ears, deafening him. Ranma turned and saw Akane clapping eagerly, practically jumping up and down in her excitement. He grinned and gave her a victory sign. Then he saw her eyes widen and she stopped clapping. She seemed to be screaming something at him, but the applause from the fans in the stadium overwhelmed her voice.
Ranma felt an ominous presence behind him. He turned too late to see his jubilant teammates bearing down on him with an enormous barrel of water. Cold water. In seconds he was drenched, and female.
The barrel bounced onto the soaked ground, echoing hollowly. Ranma-chan slowly wiped the water from her eyes and heard the applause falter and slowly die down until the entire stadium was completely silent. She could see her own horrified expression reflected on the giant screens surrounding the field. She closed her eyes and muttered curses under her breath.
Then it started.
"Oh my god! He's a girl!"
"Ranma Saotome is a girl!"
"A GIRL!" The word ran like a wave throughout the crowds, touching every person, and then transformed into laughter. They tittered first, then began chuckling, until everyone in the stands was laughing hysterically at her.
She looked pleadingly at her family and friends, but to her disbelief, they were also laughing! Even Akane, who had tears streaming down her face as she pointed at him. Then she felt hard fingers on her shoulders. She turned and looked up at the Olympic officials who stared grimly down at her.
"Ranma Saotome, you are hereby disqualified from these Olympic games. All your medals are revoked -- hm- heehee… From here on, you will be the joke of the world, you girl. Ha ha - they're all going to laugh at you!" Then they dissolved into the helpless giggles as well.
Ranma clutched her head as the sky cracked and fell to pieces around her. "NOOO!! Why is this happening to me?!!!"
Akane watched with some concern as Ranma's eyes turned completely black and his pigtail drooped. "Ranma? Hey baka, what's wrong?"
Ranma shook his head dazedly, then turned to her, a haunted look in his eyes. "Akane?" Then he blinked and seemed to return to himself. He smiled hastily at the waiting man. "Uh, sorry, but I don't think I'd fit in at the Olympics. Something tells me I wouldn't do so great. Come on, Akane, let's head home." He grabbed her hand and began walking quickly away from the puzzled man. "Sorry to waste your time like that. See ya around."
As soon as they were off the school grounds, Ranma let out a heavy sigh and released Akane's hand. "Man, this day has been crummy."
Akane looked curiously at him, her hand still warm from being held in his. "Why do you say that? It didn't seem any different from any other day."
Ranma jumped up to his usual spot on the fence and balanced on it carelessly. "Well, I just realized that carrying on our families' dojos is just about the best option for me."
Akane super-deformed and turned into a fire-breathing ogre. "And that made today especially awful?! You- you JERK!" She rounded on him began advancing, ignoring his stuttering protests.
"Wait! Wait Akane! That isn't what I meant! Man, can't you just listen to me sometimes? Can't I get any breaks?" Ranma put up his hands helplessly to fend off his incoming punishment.
"In your dreams, Ranma," Akane said grimly, steam still rising from her head. "In your dreams."
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