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A Ranma ½ fanfic
by Aondehafka

Disclaimer: the Ranmaverse characters owned by Rumiko Takahashi and Viz video, and all that obligatory stuff.  This story based on the anime, not the manga.  Also, I’ve heard that in Japan, the usual custom is for students to attend school six days out of seven.  For the purposes of this story, however, both Furinkan and St Hebereke only go on Monday through Friday.  Why?  Because I said so.

Chapter 1:  The Great Escape

‘Girls sure got it easy,’ Ranma-chan gloated to herself as she licked her ice cream cone.  Being given a free scoop because she was so cute was something she could get used to.  ‘Huh?  What’s that?’   She stopped, noticing a strange pale-skinned girl with white hair in a side-ponytail.  The girl was surrounded by three girls in leotards and bandages.  Looking closer, Ranma-chan recognized the trio were in her class at Furinkan.

“This is where we pay you back for the way your team always ambushes us!” shouted Nanami, twirling her clubs menacingly.

“Please-- I only just became captain of the St Hebereke team this week!  I want to stop the ambushes!  I promise, we’ll fight you fairly from now on!”  Kodachi didn’t have much hope for heading off this confrontation- in the last three days, she’d already had five like it with students from other schools that St Hebereke had offended, and none of those girls had been willing to give her a chance either.

“Shut up!  Get her, girls!”  Nanami jumped forward with her weapons raised.  Noriko and Ayeka did likewise.  Kodachi sighed, and leaped straight up into the air.  There was a resounding CRUNCH as her attackers collided in the space she’d just vacated, knocking each other unconscious.

Ranma-chan watched openmouthed as their former target sailed almost twenty feet straight up.  ‘Wow, if I didn’t know any better I’d say she knew the Saotome secret technique for using chi energy to boost your jumping skills.’  The redhead had yet to discover that most of what her father grandiosely proclaimed ‘Saotome Secret Techniques’ had been learned from other schools.  The girl turned a somersault at the height of her jump, which somehow gave her lateral momentum, and landed in front of Ranma-chan.

“You’re getting ice cream on your shirt.”

Ranma-chan looked down.  Sure enough, the ice cream had begun to melt and several drops had splattered on her.  She wolfed down the remainder of the cone in one gulp.  “Thanks.  Pretty smooth work there, by the way.  I can’t stand it when people fight dishonorably like they did.”  Both girls began to walk away from the lot.

The white-haired girl looked sad.  “It shouldn’t have been necessary.  I’m not responsible for what they were blaming me for.  In fact, I’m trying to stop it.” 

“Whaddaya mean?”

“I attend St Hebereke school for girls.  Our Martial Arts Rhythmic Gymnastics team has been undefeated for the last six years, but that’s because the team always ambushes their rivals before matches and wins by default.  Those girls are from Furinkan High School- they have a match with us next week, and I guess the St Hebereke assault squad must have been up to their old tricks just before I became team captain.  I fought my way to the position so I could stop things like that.  But it’s going to take a long time before the other schools believe in me, I guess.”

Ranma regarded the girl, and was pretty certain she was sincere.  “I’m Ranma Saotome.  Pleasure to meet a fellow martial artist.”  Even if Martial Arts Rhythmic Gymnastics sounded totally lame, this girl seemed to have a good bit of honor and dignity.  To someone who followed Bushido, that was more important than the fact that her discipline was a bad joke.

“Kodachi Kuno, also known as the White Rose, and likewise.”  Kodachi grimaced a little as she noted Ranma-chan’s reaction to the title.  “I know, I know, it’s pretentious and trite.  But as captain of the team, I have to have a title like that.  And at least mine fits me, and keeps me from taking myself too seriously.”  She smiled.  “So what’s your discipline?”

“Saotome Anything Goes Martial Arts.  We specialize in unarmed combat, midair attacks, and absorbing the best techniques from styles used against us to work into our own.”

“Really?  That’s very different from Martial Arts Rhythmic Gymnastics- hand-to-hand combat isn’t allowed.  You have to attack with gymnastics tools.”

“Like those flimsy clubs and that silly ribbon those girls were carrying?”  Ranma-chan was amused, but tried not to show it.  Unsuccessfully.  Kodachi smiled a little at the opportunity she saw here.

“I don’t know if I’d call the ribbon ‘silly’, Ranma.”  Quicker than thought, Kodachi produced hers and sent it snaking out to one side of her… slicing a large boulder completely in half.  “Of course, that technique would never be used in anything less than a life-or-death challenge match.”  The White Rose also didn’t mention that she was certain she was the only person who could put that big a chi-energy charge into a ribbon.

Ranma-chan whistled.  “Good thing you just got out of the way of those other girls.  Maybe we could spar sometime, after the match between our schools next week.”  That would give her an opportunity to watch the techniques in use and plan counters.

“Oh?  You attend Furinkan?  Then perhaps you know my brother Tatewaki.”

THAT was the reason for that funny feeling of recognition!  She’d said her name was Kodachi KUNO, but it had slipped past Ranma-chan’s conscious notice.  “Yeah.  He seems like a pretty cool guy.  A little weird the way he always challenges Akane Tendo and completely lets her win.”  Since Akane wasn’t around to go ballistic, Ranma-chan didn’t hesitate to say what she knew to be the truth.  “Is he tryin’ to date her like the rest of those guys or what?”

“I shouldn’t speak for my brother… but I will say that he’s not trying to force himself on Akane.”  Kodachi looked around, seeking a change of subject, and noticed an ice cream parlor.  “Would you like to get some ice cream?  My treat.”

“Sounds good to me!”

Ranma walked back to the dojo, in an unusually thoughtful mood.  He’d had a good time with Kodachi.  It seemed like they had a lot in common.  It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that a girl born with albinism would have had a tougher childhood than most, like him (of course, Ranma was firmly convinced that Kodachi’s could NEVER have equaled his for sheer torture) .  Like him, she’d recently begun attending a new school.  He got the impression that Kodachi didn’t have any real friends there, but hadn’t given up hope yet.  Ranma felt like the White Rose would make a good friend, and for sure a measly little thing like being born with pale skin and white hair didn’t faze someone who’d survived Jusenkyo, but there was the slight problem that she thought he was a girl.  At this point, the level of complication meant that Ranma decided not to think about matters anymore for a while.

As Ranma approached the front door of the Tendo residence, he was surprised when the three girls from earlier that evening walked out.  Ignoring the way they stole glances at him and giggled a little (he got a lot of that at school, after all), he stepped out of his shoes and went in.  Nabiki pounced on him almost immediately.

“Hey, Saotome, do you know anything about Martial Arts Rhythmic Gymnastics?”

The question surprised Ranma, but he seized the opportunity to appear knowledgeable.  “Sure- it’s a martial arts style based on grace, control, and finesse.  Hand-to-hand attacks ain’t allowed.  Instead, you use gymnastics tools, like clubs, hoops, balls, and especially the ribbon.  It’s usually fought in a ring, and knockin’ someone out of the ring means you win.  Or you can just knock them out, period,” Ranma said, drawing on his conversation with Kodachi in the ice cream parlor.  She’d gone into a lot of detail about the discipline, telling Ranma-chan proudly that her mother, who trained her, was a champion.

“Good.  Maybe you can train Akane so she won’t embarrass herself next weekend.”

“Huh?!”  What was Nabiki talking about now?

“Furinkan has a Martial Arts Rhythmic Gymnastics match with St Hebereke next Sunday.  Those girls who just left are on our team, but they got ambushed tonight by the captain of the other team.  They won’t be able to compete, and so they asked Akane to fill in for them.  She agreed, and they showed her the basics in the dojo for a while, then left.  She’s there now, training.  And I think it would be a good thing for you to help her, Ranma.”  Nabiki smiled sardonically.  “After all, what are fiancés for?”

“That uncute tomboy is NOT my fiancée!”

Nabiki’s face lost its amused look.  “Fine, but she IS my sister, who made a promise she shouldn’t have, and I want her to be as prepared as she can be for that match.  I’ve heard nasty stuff about the St Hebereke team.  Just do it, Saotome.  I’ll even take 3000 yen off your debt.”

Ranma trudged to the dojo, mumbling under his breath about uncute tomboys making stupid promises.  He stood in the doorway and watched Akane toss her clubs up into the air, somersault forward, and come up with her hands extended for the clubs to fall into.  He smirked as one landed in the corner, and laughed out loud when the other smacked down on P-chan.

Akane glared furiously at him.  “You could help, you know, instead of just standing there LAUGHING at me!”  At this, P-chan scurried off.

“Yeah, that’s what Nabiki said.  Jeez, Akane, why’d you make a stupid promise like that anyway?  You don’t know this junk and there’s no way you’re gonna learn it in a week!”

“For your information, I promised because I was Furinkan’s only hope!  St Hebereke always wins by cheating.  The captain of their team ambushed Nanami, Ayeka, and Noriko tonight.  I’m the only martial artist they can turn to!”

Ranma snorted the snort of a lifetime.  “Is that what they told you?  As a matter of fact, it was those three who ambushed Kodachi!  She didn’t even fight them, either, just jumped out of the way.  They ran into each other and knocked themselves out!  If you ask me, they just don’t wanna face her for real, and are settin’ you up instead.”  Ranma was absolutely right about this, not that that was going to do him any good.

“WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON, ANYWAY?!  And what would you know about it?!”

“Gee, Akane, I only saw the whole thing tonight.  Kodachi admitted to me that her team is usually the ones doin’ that kinda stuff, but she just became captain and put a stop to it.”

Akane’s eyes narrowed dangerously.  “Sounds like you got to know her pretty well.  I suppose THAT was where you were for the last hour?”

Ranma’s danger sense kicked in.  “Hey, I was trying to get information on Rhythmic Gymnastics techniques.  You want me to help train you?”  Ranma didn’t really think that the measly little bit of time he’d spent hearing about this new style made him competent to teach it, but he figured he’d pass on what Kodachi had told him and serve as a moving target for Akane while she got used to the tools.  It would have helped if he’d phrased his offer like that, but that’s Ranma for you.

“For your information, Ranma, you’re NOT the kami's gift to martial arts!  I don’t need your help!”  Akane tried to demonstrate this by flinging a ball at Ranma’s head.  She put too much spin on it, however, and it curved to one side, hit the dojo wall, rebounded, and knocked her off her feet.

“Yeah, right.  Akane, you’re strong as a gorilla, twice as slow and half as graceful.  If I were you, I wouldn’t turn down my help!”  Wait, had that last part come out right?

“Would you allow me to help you in your training, Akane?  Unlike Mr Hotshot here, I actually have some experience with Martial Arts Rhythmic Gymnastics.”

The look of sheer fury on Akane’s face turned to gratitude as she turned and saw Ryoga standing in the doorway.  “Ryoga!  Where have you been?”

“Wouldn’t we all like to know that, Pork-Brain,”  Ranma muttered.  Akane ignored him.

“Oh, just wandering around, trying to find my way to somewhere I actually recognize.”

“Well, I’d really appreciate it if you helped me train.”

“2500 yen apiece.”

Kuno’s eyes bulged a little.  Nabiki’s prices kept on going up.  He looked again at the photos she’d spread on the table before him.  There were several different pictures of Akane in a leotard, practicing what looked like Martial Arts Rhythmic Gymnastics.  Nabiki had carefully chosen shots that didn’t reveal her sister’s ineptitude at the sport.  Tatewaki could just imagine the reaction of the hormone-crazed boys that challenged Akane each school morning if they’d seen these.  “Agreed, but if your prices rise any more, I fear my allowance will not stand the strain.”  He passed over a wad of bills, gathered the photos up and placed them in a pocket.

“Oh, and Kuno baby, there’s something else you might be interested to hear about Akane… and why she was dressed like that in those photos.  Buy me some ice cream, and I’ll fill you in.”

From past meetings like this, Tatewaki knew her favorite dessert was a triple fudge sundae.  He ordered one, and waited for her to go on.  “It’s like this.  My sister is now our sole hope for fame and glory in the upcoming Martial Arts Rhythmic Gymnastics match with St Hebereke.  The real team is indisposed.  So yesterday she agreed to take their place and is trying to learn the style in a week.”

“I see.”  There was only one thing he could do.  “I wish to place a bet that Furinkan will win the match.  20,000 yen on our champion!” 

Nabiki’s eyes widened almost to the dimensions of tennis balls.  “Tell you what, Kuno.  Why don’t we discuss that Tuesday afternoon.”  She wondered if two days would cool him down at all.  Nabiki finished the last few bites of her sundae, excused herself, and left.

Kuno watched Nabiki walk away.  Once she was out of sight, his expression changed to one of quiet sadness.  “The things we do for love,”  he muttered under his breath, taking the photos from his pocket and shredding them without a second glance.

Kodachi walked along the street.  She’d never been in this neighborhood before, but the directions were easy to follow.  That large building up ahead must be the Tendo Dojo.

The White Rose thought back to what her brother had told her earlier.  Furinkan’s challengers had been reduced to one girl who’d never even studied the style before agreeing to fill in.  Furthermore, from her brother’s past descriptions of Akane, there was no way she’d be able to learn enough in the time she had to put up a credible fight.  Kodachi felt terrible about the situation, although she told herself there was nothing she could have done differently.  Still, the least she could do was apologize and personally assure the girl that there would be no more sneak attacks from the St Hebereke team.

A knock at her door roused Akane from her homework.  She recognized Kasumi’s gentle touch, and called for her sister to come in.  Kasumi opened the door, and said, “Akane, you have a visitor.”  She stepped aside, and the youngest Tendo’s eyes widened in shock.  It didn’t matter that she’d never seen the other girl before- Nanami’s description made it pretty obvious who this was.  Kasumi went downstairs, as Akane realized that the captain of the St Hebereke team was here to take out the last hope of Furinkan!

Kodachi walked forward and spoke up hesitantly.  “Akane Tendo?  I’m Kodachi Kuno, the captain of the St Hebereke team.  I just wanted to say- ”

What Kodachi wanted to say would remain forever sealed to the knowledge of mortal man.  Akane gave a loud kiai, grabbed the stunned White Rose in a judo hold, and threw her through the window.  ‘THAT ought to teach her not to try and ambush me!’  Akane thought triumphantly.  ‘Shows how much Ranma knows with his stories about her being the victim.’

The war-cry distracted Ranma, currently chasing a certain black piglet through the backyard in an attempt to dissuade him from sneaking back into Akane’s bed.  He froze, thinking that Akane had seen him ‘bullying her poor little P-chan’ again.  He looked up in trepidation at her window… just in time to see it shatter as someone was flung violently through it.

The next thing Kodachi knew, strong arms caught her and she wasn’t falling anymore.  Ranma’s leap to catch her landed them both on the roof, by chance on the end of the building farthest away from Akane’s room.  She looked up at her rescuer’s face, and the sensation of weightlessness returned with a vengeance.

Ranma noticed the stunned look on her face (only Mousse would have been blind enough to miss it) but attributed it to being flung around like a rag doll.  “Geez, Kodachi, you okay?  What happened?”  He set her down gently.

“Miss Tendo apparently did not wish to extend her hospitality to me.”  Kodachi grimaced.  She knew her team deserved its reputation, but as far as she was concerned, being thrown through a second story window before she could even speak her message of peace was a little too much to overlook.  A normal person could have been scarred for life by the breaking glass, crippled in the fall, or even killed.

“Akane threw you out the window?!”  Ranma found he had a lot more problems with that than the violence she usually directed his way.

“Yes.  I came here to apologize for her involvement, and to assure her that there would be no sneak attacks.  She didn’t even let me get the words out of my mouth.”  The sympathy she felt from him made Kodachi feel a lot better.

“Well, it ain’t like you got special treatment or nothin’.  That violent tomboy hits first and asks questions never.  Sorry you had to get on her bad side.”

“Indeed.  By the way, you know my name, but I don’t believe we’ve met.”  Kodachi was sure that she’d remember a man like this.  There was something a little familiar about his voice, though, and his eyes… she told herself the reason she was staring so intently at his face was to try to determine if they had met before.

“Uh, Ranma.  Ranma Saotome.”  Ranma was a little nervous at the intensity of the gaze Kodachi was turning on him, and didn’t really think about what the likely result of giving his real name would be.

“Ranma Saotome?!”  Now she knew who he reminded her of.  “I believe I met one of your relatives yesterday.  A girl with red hair.  But she was also named Ranma.”

Ranma sweated bigtime.  “Uh… yeah.  She’s… my sister, sorta.  I mean… her mother married my father.  That’s how we ended up having the same name.”  It would forever remain an unexplained mystery how he came up with a credible story under that much pressure that wasn’t an outright lie.

“She seemed like a nice person.  It must run in the family.”  Kodachi smiled at him.  “Do you also practice Saotome Anything Goes style?”  Running her eyes over his muscle definition, and remembering the leap with which he’d caught her, she was pretty sure the answer would be yes.

“Yeah.  Hey, if you see the other Ranma again, you can call her Ranko.  She goes by that sometimes when things get too confusing.”  Ranma didn’t feel like telling her his secret just now.  He was pretty tired of watching the looks of revulsion whenever someone found out for the first time.

“I will.  It certainly was lucky for me that you were nearby to catch me.”  Kodachi wasn’t about to tell him she would have healed nearly instantly from any injuries she might otherwise have sustained.  She didn’t think she could bear the thought of Ranma looking at her like she was a freak of nature.  “Do you live near here?”

“Me and Pop are stayin’ at the Tendo Dojo.  Uh, and Ranko, too.  Pop and Mr Tendo are old buddies, and the Tendos are the only other practitioners of the Anything Goes style.”  No need to mention that farce of an engagement.  After all, he was only going along with it until he found a way out, right?

Kodachi’s heart melted with sympathy.  “You mean you have to put up with that harridan, Akane Tendo, on a regular basis?”  No wonder he hadn’t seemed more surprised at the treatment she’d received.

“Yeah… she’s even in the same class with me at school.”  Ranma grimaced.

“Oh?  You attend Furinkan?  Then you’ll be at the Martial Arts Rhythmic Gymnastics match next Saturday?”  Ranma nodded, and Kodachi went on.  “Akane will be facing me, as I’m the team captain and she’s the only competitor from her school.  I won’t go TOO hard on her, but I intend to let her know I don’t appreciate her method of greeting a guest.  Would you like me to slip in a little payback for you as well?”

Ranma was tempted, but decided not to add any fuel to the fire.  “Thanks, but after the way you sliced that boulder in half, I don’t think I’d better ask you to go any harder on Akane than you have to.  I mean, she’s a violent tomboy with delusions of fighting skill, but I don’t wanna see her get hurt.”  Belatedly remembering that HE wasn’t supposed to have seen the White Rose slice the boulder in half, he added, “Ranko was really impressed with that trick, by the way.”

“Don’t worry.  I have no intention of hurting her.”  Embarrassment, on the other hand… a little regretfully, Kodachi said goodnight and left.

Breakfast the next morning was even worse than usual in the Tendo household.  It had started with Akane snapping at Ranma that the girl HE’D said was an innocent victim had tried to attack her last night.  Ranma had planned to keep quiet about it until after school, as he was sick and tired of being late to class.  At this, though, he’d told her exactly how he felt about people who made up their minds about other people before even giving them a chance.  He told her the real reason Kodachi had been there, not really expecting her to believe him.  Sure enough, she called him an idiot.  Things just got worse from there, and they didn’t even speak to each other on the way to school.   They had actually been on time at that point.  Their fathers had thrown them out rather than listen to them argue any longer.

As they approached the school, Ranma saw the normal huge crowd of boys awaiting Akane.  ‘Well, she can fight her own battles this time,’  he thought to himself.  Then he noticed something odd.  The boys weren’t equipped for fighting, and to a man they had looks of disappointment on their faces.  One stepped forward as Ranma and Akane stopped.

“Ranma?  Kuno talked it over with the rest of us,” Kojiro paled a little as he remembered the ultimatum Tatewaki had laid in front of them, “and convinced us to stop challenging Akane.  She’s your fiancée, and we can’t change that by fighting her.  So we’re just gonna take it like men and accept your engagement to Akane.”  That way nobody would have to learn what it felt like to have both shoulders dislocated by one swipe of a bokken.

Both Ranma and Akane were too stunned at this to immediately begin protesting that they WEREN’T a couple, that it was all their stupid parents’ idea, and so on and so forth.  Ranma had almost found his voice, when he heard a new voice behind him.

“Fiancée?”  The pain in the question jerked him around like a marionette on its strings.  Kodachi was standing some distance behind him, with a look of stunned horror on her face.  “Ranma?  You’re… engaged to… HER?!”

“It ain’t my fault!!”  Ranma managed to get the words out, though they were higher-pitched than was usual in his guy form.  “It’s all a stupid promise my dad made to her dad before either of us was born.  It’s not a REAL engagement!” 

This of course didn’t sit well with Akane, even though she would have said the exact same thing if Ranma hadn’t beaten her to it.  “Don’t flatter yourself, Ranma.  I wouldn’t even look twice at you if my father wasn’t so stubborn!”

Kodachi had gone from desolate to pensive.  She’d come to thank Ranma again for saving her the previous night, and wish him a good day at school, not expecting to find out anything like this.  “Then this… engagement is against your will, Ranma?  You endure it only in the name of honor, because your father made a promise?”

“Yeah, that’s about the size of it.  What’re you doing here, anyway, Kodachi?  You thinking about transferring to Furinkan?”  Ranma didn’t realize that that last question had come out sounding a little… hopeful.

“Actually, I just came to thank you again for last night, and wish you a good day at school today.”  Kodachi glanced down at her watch.  “I must be going, or I shall be late for class.   Adieu!”  She couldn’t resist showing off a little, and leapt from the ground, to a gatepost, to a rooftop, and out of sight.

Silence fell for a minute in the schoolyard, broken by Akane’s growl.  “So she wanted to thank you for last night, huh, pervert?”

As the school bell chose that moment to ring, Ranma’s strategic retreat retained at least a little dignity.  He told himself the only reason he was running was not to be late.

Dinner was a strained affair at the Tendo household that night.  Nabiki, who was sitting next to Akane, kept blowing on her hands and rubbing them together in a vain attempt to warm up.  Genma was mentally polishing the lecture he’d be giving his son after dinner about responsibility to one’s fiancée.  Soun was telling himself over and over that, after all, fighting together is what couples do best.  The knock at the front door actually came as a relief, at least temporarily.  Kasumi excused herself, and came back a minute later with their visitor.

“Greetings.”  Kodachi’s tone was cool as she addressed the Tendo patriarch.  “My name is Kodachi Kuno.  I visited this household last night, and was… inadvertently responsible for some damages.  Specifically a broken window.”  Her gaze flickered toward Akane, who scowled back at her.  “I wish to make amends, and am prepared to pay you the sum of one million yen as compensation.”

Naturally, this statement affected different people in different ways.  Kasumi said, “Oh, my!”  Genma and Nabiki nearly went into cardiac arrest.  Akane growled, certain this was a trick of some kind.  Soun just blinked, unable for the moment to process what he had heard.  P-chan squealed.  And Ranma…

“What?!  Kodachi, what’s going on?”  Ranma had heard from some of the students in his class that Tatewaki’s family was quite wealthy, but he didn’t think anyone could toss sums like that around frivolously.

The White Rose turned and gave him a tentative smile, but didn’t answer.  She waited a moment, then when she judged that Soun was once more capable of rational thought, she added, “Subject to a certain condition.”  She took a deep breath.  “I have heard of the honor pledge made to unite the Saotome and Tendo clans, regardless of whatever the wishes of Ranma or Akane may be.  Personally, I feel that such arrangements are less than appealing.  This, then, is my offer.  If Furinkan should win the upcoming match against my school, I shall pay you the sum I previously mentioned, and make a public apology to Akane for her involvement in the matter.  However, should St Hebereke prove triumphant, Ranma will be released from all promises made by his father on his behalf, free to choose his own way in life without loss of honor.”

“Out of the question!”  “We accept!”

Soun and Genma turned and stared at each other in shock.  Then Genma growled, “Could I have a word with you in private, Tendo?”  Not even waiting for the other’s response, he grabbed his friend’s arm and dragged him off to the dojo.  Ranma was the next of those still in the dining room to speak up.

“Kodachi?  Why are you doin’ this?”

“For the very reason I already said.  I do not believe that honor can be served by forcing you into this arrangement.  You both have made it clear that you are unhappy with affairs, but neither of you can fight back without tarnishing your honor.  I am willing to fight for you, Ranma.”  Kodachi thought about the double meaning of that last statement, then turned to Akane and smiled sweetly.  “And it’s for your own good in another way too, Akane.  Since everyone knows you oppose the engagement, it gives you an excuse for what’s going to happen when we meet in combat next Saturday.  After you lose, you can say you threw the fight.”

Meanwhile, in the dojo…

“Saotome!  How could you?  Does the honor of our pledge mean nothing to you?!”  Soun was about ten seconds away from his ‘tower of tears’ attack.

“Tendo, have you forgotten everything you learned from the M… from our early training?  Never pass up an opportunity like this!  All this agreement really says is that if Akane loses, it’ll have to be Ranma’s choice to stick to the engagement.  You can leave him up to me if it comes to that, but it won’t.”

“I’m glad you have such confidence in Akane’s fighting skills, old friend,”  Soun said dubiously, “but I don’t really think she can learn an entirely new school of attacks that quickly.  Especially not some worthless style that depends on tool-use.”  Both men had heard the basics of Martial Arts Rhythmic Gymnastics over the last two days, and their initial impressions were the same as Ranma’s had been.

“She won’t have to.”  Genma’s glasses momentarily gleamed.  “Because before the match, you and I will take a page out of her opponent’s book and make sure St Hebereke won’t be competing.  We’ll win by forfeit and rake in a cool million yen to boot!  We can even put some of it aside for wedding presents!”

Soun’s mouth opened and closed a few times.  Then he managed to gasp out, “Brilliant!  I should never have doubted you for a minute, old friend!”

“Indeed you shouldn’t have.  Together, we two will sweep aside all obstacles to Ranma’s and Akane’s future happiness together in domestic bliss!”  The two took up melodramatic poses.

“It’s Soun’s- ”                               “And Genma’s- ”

                “Operation Pave the Way!”

They returned as Akane was finally winding down in her description of just what she thought of the White Rose.   Soun announced that they found the proposal acceptable, and stated that they had every confidence in Akane’s victory.  Kodachi smiled and shook her head a little at this.  After promising once again that there would be no sneak attacks, she took her leave.

The next day passed fairly uneventfully.  After school, Akane went to the dojo to resume training with Ryoga.  The lost boy was thinking things were too good to be true- he was surprised he hadn’t gotten lost yet.  Had he but known, on Sunday evening when Ranma was chasing him as P-chan, the pursuit had been broken off just in time to prevent him from taking a wrong turn and winding up in Hokkaido.

Nabiki, meanwhile, had an appointment to keep with Tatewaki.  She paused just outside the usual dessert shop.  ‘This could get ugly,’ she thought, but was reassured by the sight of Ranma-chan in the booth next to the one where Kuno was waiting for her.  Since the kendoist had never seen Ranma’s cursed form, he didn’t suspect a thing.  Nabiki took a deep breath and went in.  One way or another, it was time for some answers.

Kuno smiled briefly at Nabiki as she slid into the booth.  He noted that she seemed even less open than usual.  “A pleasure to- ”

Nabiki cut him off.  “Kuno?  Do you know that one of the waitresses here goes to our school?  Her name’s Minami.  She’s one of the girls in my network.  And she’s told me some pretty interesting things lately.”  She regarded Kuno with a flat stare.  “I’d be interested in hearing why you’re willing to pay tens of thousands of yen for photos of my sister when you shred them as soon as I’m out of sight.”  It scared Nabiki to think that she might have been encouraging someone truly unbalanced to pursue Akane.  Did Tatewaki have a split personality, or even worse?

Kuno gulped, and his face went ashen.  In the next booth, Ranma-chan perked up her ears.  She was more willing than Nabiki to give the kendoist the benefit of the doubt.  Mostly this was because Ranma couldn’t really imagine anyone obsessing over that violent macho tomboy.  The theory he’d formed, after Nabiki had told him the facts and asked for her help this afternoon, was that the Kuno family were a lot richer even than people thought and could afford to shell out huge amounts of money on a whim.  Ranma-chan expected to hear that the whole thing was some kind of joke on Tatewaki’s part.

The kendoist called on all his courage.  He’d known this day would come, but had expected to be the one who chose the time.  “That… is going to require a long and complicated answer, Nabiki.  To begin at the beginning, I am not interested in your sister romantically.  If you recall, at the beginning of the school year, I began challenging Akane to spar in the mornings before class.  This evolved into the ritual of boys challenging her to date her, but that was not my fault.  Someone assumed that was my reason, the rumor mill spread that around, and thus the horde of hormone-crazed hentais.

“My reason for challenging Akane has always been to improve her martial arts.  If you recall, I had no knowledge until just recently that there existed another heir to the Anything Goes school.  I have sparred with Ranma twice now, Nabiki.  He has the skill and control necessary to carry the entire weight of a school on his shoulders.  I do not wish to be rude, but your sister does not.  She does not even come close, though she has improved quite a bit since the beginning of the semester.  Her speed and dexterity, almost nonexistent then, are now approaching the level of a halfway-decent martial artist.  Because I thought she was your family’s only hope, I took it on myself to train her.”

“Out of the kindness of your heart,” Nabiki said sarcastically.  This didn’t even begin to explain the photos.

“Is it so hard to believe that the plight of your family moves me?”  Kuno regarded her sadly.  “In our freshman year, I became curious as to why the girl who was squeezing so much yen from the rest of the students never seemed to have any new clothes or flashy possessions.  I investigated.  I found out your mother died when you were young, and your father never recovered from the blow.  I discovered that your older sister kept house, your younger sister was the only hope of continuing your family’s school of martial arts, and you were the one who provided all your family’s income.

“On that day I went from disliking you to feeling sympathy for you.  The path you’ve taken hasn’t left you any real friends, has it?  Your image keeps everyone at a distance.  When I saw how things really were, I decided to help your family.  Akane I aided by training, as I already said.  And you… I have been far and away your most profitable customer, have I not?  The photographs were simply the easiest way to transfer large sums to you at a time.  That’s also the reason I offered that ridiculous wager on your sister.  Believe me, there is no way she can beat Kodachi.  But Akane’s loss is your family’s gain.”

Nabiki had no idea how to handle this situation.  Her instincts told her he was telling the truth, although she had a nagging suspicion that there was something he hadn’t said yet.  If that were the case… Nabiki felt like the situation was spiraling out of her control, a sensation she hated.  Because she didn’t know how to respond, she tried to fall back on the Ice Queen image.

“So you’re just one big philanthropist, huh?”  But her voice was unsteady and her hands were shaking, which ruined the intended effect.  Tatewaki said a quick prayer, and took the cue.

“No.  I confess that there is something I hope to gain in return for all that I have given.  I never said I was uninterested in all the Tendo daughters.  There is one who had the courage to take over the duties that her helpless father should have carried.  One who puts the welfare of her family above her own.  One who has the intelligence to make whatever she wants out of her life.”  Tatewaki smiled at her, ignoring the way his heart was crawling around his tonsils.  “One whose favorite ice cream dessert is a triple fudge sundae.  Nabiki, I- I would… date with you.”

At this point, Ranma-chan felt it was time she took off.  She slid out of her seat.  Pausing at the door of the shop, she turned and gave Nabiki a big smile and a thumbs-up gesture.  The look of panicked helplessness on Nabiki’s face just made Ranma-chan’s own grin wider.  ‘Dang, I never knew Nabiki was the one who paid for all the Tendos’ expenses,’ she thought as she made her way back to the dojo.  Ranma-chan decided she didn’t mind the middle sister’s treatment of her that much anymore.  ‘I just hope she gives Kuno the chance he deserves.’

Ranma quickly became reassured on that point.  The knowledge that someone handsome, cultured, intelligent, athletic, and rich wanted HER hit Nabiki like a full bottle of top-quality sake would affect Gosunkugi.  The Ice Queen melted very quickly indeed over the next few days.

Akane’s training continued with Ryoga, with Ranma sometimes watching from the sidelines.  By Thursday evening, she’d reached the point where she could have earned a place on the school team in a normal tryout.  This encouraged Ryoga enough that he decided on Friday to try something other than just honing basic skills.

“Akane, you’ve done a wonderful job of learning the foundational techniques so far.  Tonight I want to teach you one of the special attacks.  Your opponent will never believe you could have learned something this advanced in the time you’ve had.  You should be able to catch her off guard for an easy win.”

“What’s the weather like on your planet, Ryoga?”  Ranma called from the sidelines.  “It took her a week to learn the basics and you’re gonna teach her an advanced technique in one night?  Get real, bacon breath.”  Ranma was paying too much attention to Ryoga at that point, and failed to dodge Akane’s thrown medicine ball, which impacted on his head.  The ball rebounded and rolled to a stop a little behind Akane.

“Serves you right, you jerk!”  Akane turned back to her trainer, who had moved to the opposite end of the dojo.  “So what’s this special move, Ryoga?”

“It lets you throw a club like a boomerang. It’s best used to hit your opponent’s head from behind.  I can’t tell you the technique name, though, or you’d shout it out when you use it, and warn your enemy. 

That won’t happen if you don’t know the name.”

“But… won’t I learn the name anyway when you yell it during the demonstration?”

“Don’t worry, I’ve got everything under control.”  Ryoga removed several bandannas from his neck, and used them to gag himself.  Once he was satisfied that nothing intelligible could come out, he picked up a club and focused on the attack.  “MMPHRLM PHML!” he mumbled, and threw the club.  It flashed toward Akane, then curved in its flight, passing about five feet in front of her, and continued to smack Ranma on the head.

At least, that had been Ryoga’s intention.  Unfortunately, when Akane saw the club coming at her, she panicked and jumped back, landing on the medicine ball with one foot and hitting the ground in an undignified and uncontrolled fall.  Ranma jumped on seeing this, and the club hit him in the left shoulder instead of his head.

About ten minutes later, Kasumi looked up from her examination of her sister’s ankle.  “It’s definitely sprained, Akane.  You won’t be able to compete tomorrow.”

“No way!  I have to!  Everyone is counting on me!”  Akane got up from her bed, but nearly fell as soon as she put any weight on her injured foot.  She sat back down again, feeling terrible.

“Akane, you’re just going to have to find a substitute.”

“It’s not that easy, Nabiki.  The match is tomorrow!  Where are we going to find someone who looks good in a leotard, is good at martial arts, and knows Rhythmic Gymnastics in one night?”

Ranma sweated as all three Tendo daughters turned and looked at him.  “What’re you- Uh uh.  No.  Not me.  NO WAY am I puttin’ on a leotard and…”  The rest of the sentence was cut off by the splash of water.  Ranma-chan whirled and glared at Ryoga, who just smirked and said, “Looks like it’s gonna be an all-nighter.”

Akane and the other two martial artists returned to the dojo.  Akane watched for awhile, surprised and a little jealous to see that Ranma had somehow, just by watching her train, managed to become almost as good with the tools as she was.  After a little while, she let Ranma and Ryoga convince her to go to bed and leave them to their training.

Once Akane was out of sight, the smile vanished from Ryoga’s face.  Ranma had noticed it seemed pretty forced anyway.  Ryoga turned and snarled at Ranma, “Don’t think I enjoy this, Ranma.  But I could never forgive myself if I lost Akane that million yen.  So I’ll do my best to train you, and you darn well better not lose!”

“Even if losing means the engagement’s off?” Ranma said, a little surprised.

“Don’t remind me!”   The tortured expression on Ryoga’s face was now clearly understandable.  He consoled himself with the thought that even with the best training, there was no way Ranma would learn enough in one night to win.  Akane would know who she could depend on, the Tendos would never forgive Ranma for losing that money for them, and Ryoga would have an even better revenge than beating his rival at war.  He’d win at love, instead.

Even as Ryoga was gloating and Ranma was preparing to throw a hoop at him to get his mind back on training, Soun and Genma were holding a council of war.  Soun had become more and more nervous over the past few days, as his friend had made no move to carry out the plan he’d spoken of earlier.  Genma had finally noticed this evening, and asked what was wrong.

“What’s wrong?!  I thought we were supposed to ensure that my little girl will win her match by default tomorrow.  We haven’t done anything to take out this White Rose person yet!”

“Well, Tendo, just what were you thinking?  We ambush her and break her leg or something?”

Out in the hallway, where Nabiki was crouched against the door, the middle Tendo daughter felt sick.  She’d come to tell her father about Akane’s accident, and had almost knocked at the door before hearing what was going on inside.  She’d never believed the elder Saotome could sink so low.  And that her father would have come up with a scheme like this…  Nabiki was about ready to throw up, but then heard her father’s reply.

“Of… of course not!  How could you even suggest such a thing, Saotome?!  I could never do a thing like that!”

“And neither could I.”  Not to an innocent girl, at least.  Genma might have his faults, but they didn’t extend that deep.  “And even if we could, another member of the St Hebereke team would just fill in for her.  No, Tendo, what’s needed is subtlety.  We need to take out the entire team at once, in a way that doesn’t hurt anybody.  Here’s my plan.  Before the match, all the St Hebereke team will be in their locker room changing.  We’ll leave a huge bouquet of white roses there, rigged to fill the room with knockout gas as soon as someone picks them up.  By the time the gas wears off, Akane will have won by default and we’ll be in the black to the tune of a cool million yen.”

“Brilliant!  Saotome, you’re a genius!”

“Well, I have my moments.”  The two took up melodramatic poses.

“It’s Soun’s- ”                               “And Genma’s- ”

                “Operation Flower Power!”

Nabiki shook her head, and walked off.  Suddenly she felt like giving her new boyfriend a phone call.  Losing a million yen really sucked, but losing him because of her father’s misconduct would be unthinkable.

When Ranma woke up the next morning, he found his left arm was unusually stiff and sore, due to the fact that the club had hit a delayed-reaction shiatsu point the previous night.  A few exercises quickly convinced him he wasn’t going to be able to count on any two-handed attacks in the match today.  For a moment he seriously considered bowing out.  But, as Ryoga had taken great pleasure in pointing out the previous night, if he didn’t fight, St Hebereke would win by default because of his choice.  He’d lose just as much honor as if he’d flat-out rejected the engagement and left when told about it.

Rightly or wrongly, Ranma decided not to tell anyone about his arm.  Nobody noticed anything, as they were all pretty keyed-up. Also, Genma wasn’t around to try to steal food off his plate.  This would have quickly revealed his injury, but the elder Saotome was off attending to a certain flower delivery and had said he’d meet them at the school.

In the St Hebereke locker room, Kodachi noted that Nabiki had told her brother the truth.  A cunning trap, the White Rose mused.  She debated whether or not to confront Genma and Soun, eventually deciding just to let it slide unless they tried to renege on the deal after her inevitable victory.  She shoved the bouquet into a large sack she’d brought and sealed it tightly.  The slight whiff of gas that escaped in the process would have knocked out a normal person.  Kodachi didn’t even feel dizzy.  She changed into her leotard and went to give her opponent the pre-fight greeting.

Ranma-chan was not a happy camper.  She was in a leotard, and had already been ogled by several guys.  She was about to fight someone she considered a friend, who was trying to help her.  If she won, she’d get the privilege of NOT being given a free choice.  And she was going to do it with only one arm in fighting condition.

“Ranko?  Why is Akane dressed normally and you in a leotard?”  Somehow, the entire group had missed Kodachi’s approach.

Ranma-chan heaved a sigh.  “She hurt her ankle in training last night.  I’m the substitute.”

“I… see.”  So she’d be facing not someone who needed to learn a lesson and had had a week to prepare, but someone she would like to have as a friend and who’d had less than eighteen hours to train.  As far as Kodachi was concerned, the situation had absolutely NO redeeming qualities.  She just hoped Ranma wouldn’t hold it against her that she had to defeat his stepsister in combat.  “I truly wish this could have been avoided.”

“You and me both.”  Ranma-chan idly wondered why the sight of Kodachi in a leotard would reduce Soun to standing immobile with a look of stunned horror.  The White Rose looked pretty cute in her pale gold outfit as far as the heir to the Saotome line was concerned.

At that point, a glance at the clock showed Kodachi that it was time to meet with her second.  “We will see each other again shortly, Ranko.  We will be opponents then, but let us not meet as enemies.”

“Count on it.”

Thirty minutes later, they faced each other again, this time in the middle of the ring.  Ranma-chan had given her alias of Ranko to the announcer.  Akane was standing just outside one corner of the ring, to serve as the Furinkan second.  Soun, Genma, Ryoga, Nabiki, and Kasumi had front-row seats just a little behind Akane’s position.  The signal was given for the combatants to shake hands and move to ready positions in their respective corners.

“Wait, Ranko.”  Kodachi’s whisper stopped Ranma-chan as she was about to let go of the handshake.

“What is it?”  Ranma-chan whispered back.

“You do know why I’m doing this, right?  It’s for your stepbrother’s benefit.  I was thinking… it’s not like you can have had any real chance to prepare… if you’re willing, we could put on a good show.  I could make it look like a narrow victory.”

“You’re asking me to throw the fight.”

Kodachi regarded the other sadly.  “Do you think it will change the outcome?”

“We’ll just have to see.”  Ranma-chan met her opponent’s gaze.  “Why ARE you doin’ this really?  I mean, why go to so much trouble for Ranma?”

Kodachi gulped, but remembered that her brother had come through something similar recently.  “When I win, Ranma will be free to choose his own path.  I’ll be honest, Ranko… I hope he… chooses me.”  Kodachi looked away, and scanned the crowd again.  They were showing definite signs of restlessness as the ‘handshake’ went on and on.  But she couldn’t find the face she was looking for.  The White Rose turned back to ask Ranko where Ranma was.  However, at that point the referee got fed up, blew her whistle, and signaled emphatically for the two to take positions in their corners.  This gave Ranma-chan a point of reference she could handle.  Go over and stand in the corner?  She could do that.  Get ready to fight?  She could do that too.  Think about what she’d just been told?  That could wait for later.

The fight began slowly.  Kodachi had spent the past week developing a new special attack, the Ribbon of Revelation, and now she couldn’t use it.  She had expected to win the fight within the first minute.  The White Rose had looked forward to seeing Akane concede defeat without even getting off an attack, but knew she couldn’t use the technique on Ranko.  Instead she decided to try and force the redhead out of the ring.  She didn’t expect it to be too hard, as the girl had had so little time to prepare.

Ranma-chan had chosen the clubs as her initial equipment.  She felt most comfortable with them, as they were a bit like the nunchaku she was fairly skilled in using.  She blocked the first few attacks from Kodachi’s ribbon, then dodged the next and dashed forward in a surprise attack.

Kodachi was impressed with the sudden burst of speed, but evaded with a cartwheel to the side.  Coming up, she launched another set of quick, light ribbon strikes at her opponent.  This time, as Ranma-chan’s left side was closer to Kodachi, the redhead was unable to block the initial attacks.  They stung a little, but the White Rose hadn’t really been trying to hurt her.

The St Hebereke champion quickly realized that her opponent didn’t have full use of her left arm.  The idea that the Tendos had still insisted on her competing injured made the White Rose think a number of extremely unladylike thoughts.  She backflipped to put some space between her and Ranma-chan, then turned a glare like an oxyacetylene blowtorch on the group seated behind Akane.

“Sorry, Dachi,” Ranma-chan whispered, seeing her opponent was distracted.  She took careful aim, then threw a club at her opponent.  Her throw was perfect- she hit a shiatsu point on Kodachi’s left hip.  This particular point worked only on women, and would paralyze the leg for an hour.

Kodachi’s eyes widened as she felt her leg freeze up.  She tumbled to the ground.  Then, the numbness was replaced by the sensation of pins and needles, then returning warmth.  She stood back up, and Ranma-chan’s jaw dropped.

“I suppose that’s why they call it Anything Goes.  I won’t let myself get distracted again, Ranko.”  Kodachi admired the level of skill that attack must have taken.  She made a mental note to learn some shiatsu techniques herself.

Ranma-chan wondered if she was in over her head.  Okay, she knew one other shiatsu point, the back-of-the-neck Instant Unconsciousness one, but she probably wasn’t going to get an opportunity to try that attack.  She needed a quick win that wouldn’t involve beating Kodachi black and blue… a plan formed in her mind.  Ranma-chan moved to one side, so that Akane would have a clear path to her, then called for her second to throw her a ball.  Kodachi took the moment to request a club from her second.

Akane tossed the ball toward Ranma.  As it left the youngest Tendo’s hand, Ranma-chan whirled and threw her remaining club.  But her foot twisted in the move, and the club went wide to one side.  She stumbled, barely managing to catch the ball.

“Are you all right, Ranko?  Is your ankle hurt as well as your arm?”  Kodachi was just about ready to declare to the referee that Ranma-chan was in no shape to fight when she felt something impact her from behind on the seat of her leotard.  This was the club which Ranma-chan had thrown using the technique Ryoga had demonstrated the previous night.  Her slip had been to make her opponent think the wild toss was an accident.

The White Rose was knocked forward, off-balance.  Ranma-chan threw the medicine ball with all the strength she could muster.  With only one arm powering the throw, it was just barely enough.  The ball bounced off the floor and up into Kodachi, carrying her into the air and out of the ring before she could recover.

Ranma-chan didn’t want to watch her opponent touch down outside the ring and lose, but she forced herself not to turn away.  Sometimes winning sucked worse than losing, she thought.  ‘And now Kodachi’s gonna have to shell out a million-’

The Saotome heir’s thought dissolved into blank disbelief as, at the height of her arc, Kodachi began spinning her ribbon like the rotor of a helicopter.  The White Rose hovered for a moment, then propelled herself back over the ring.  She quit twirling her ribbon, and touched down lightly in a corner.  Ranma-chan realized she’d backed into the opposite corner.  Suddenly she began to appreciate WHY Kodachi had always been so confident of victory.

Kodachi regarded her opponent with a great deal of respect.  “I never thought I’d meet someone with the potential to defeat me.  If you were fighting at your full strength, I suspect you could have disabled me by now.  I didn’t give you nearly enough credit, Ranko, but I’m through underestimating you.”  She smiled.  “Remember, I never promised you a fair fight.”  She stepped to the center of the ring, and began twirling her ribbon.  “White Rose Special Attack:  SPIRIT RIBBON STORM!”

A number of things happened then in very rapid succession.

Kodachi focused almost half as much chi-energy into the ribbon as she was capable of at maximum.  This was roughly fifteen times the amount she’d used to slice the boulder.

The ribbon had been barely stirring the air.  A gale-force wind, confined to the ring, began to blow  instead.  Kodachi, in the eye of the storm, was unaffected.

Ranma-chan was not.  Only the fact that she was in a corner saved her from being flung out of the ring.  She barely managed to grab the ropes on either side and brace herself, hoping Kodachi would run out of energy before she was torn loose.

Kodachi tossed the club in her other hand high into the air.  It struck a certain valve at just the right angle.

The sprinkler system cut on.  Most of the water was sucked into the vortex, to serve as the ‘rain’ element of the storm, but some still fell on the lines of seats closest to the ring.

“NOOOOOO!!” screamed Ryoga.  His cry of agony wrenched Akane’s attention from the ring to himself… just in time to see him change.

Ranma-chan, battered by wind and rain, was trying desperately to hold on.  She couldn’t believe anyone would be capable of sustaining such a powerful attack.  Then, the final element of the storm made an appearance.  Like a bolt of lightning, Kodachi’s ribbon snaked out, and cut the ropes Ranma-chan was clinging to.  With nothing to secure her, she flew up and out of the storm… and the ring.

Once she was in calm air again, Ranma-chan had no difficulty controlling her fall and landing safely.  Kodachi had counted on this.   She remembered midair techniques were an Anything Goes specialty.  Ranma-chan, bedraggled and dripping wet, just looked at the White Rose from the aisle where she’d landed, and wondered what happened now.

The stunned feeling hadn’t worn off yet.  Ranma methodically set up the tent and made camp.  He’d done this often enough with his father over the years that the motions were more or less automatic.  Ranma didn’t want to think about the events of the past few hours, but the memories kept flashing through his mind anyway.  His father, berating him for losing to a girl.  Mr Tendo, wailing and bawling like a baby.  And Akane…

Akane, blaming him for letting P-chan sleep in her bed.  Akane, certain he’d thrown the fight.  Akane, who’d said that the engagement had never existed.  Akane, who’d declared that if he didn’t leave, she would.  And so Ranma found himself on the outskirts of town, preparing to spend an indeterminate amount of time camping out.  His father was staying with the Tendos- the plan was that the thought of Ranma all by himself would make Akane relent faster.  Ranma had kept silent when his father had explained that plan to him.  He didn’t trust himself to tell the old panda what he thought of the idea of waiting for Akane to cool down, then slinking back.  As far as he was concerned, she’d said everything that needed to be said.

Ranma forced himself to stop thinking about the past.  This didn’t really help any, as a little voice inside his head immediately began asking how he was going to cope with the future.  Going back to the Tendos was out.  That was settled.  But the thought of going back on the road, living from hand to mouth, by himself, was almost as unappealing.  Ranma decided it would have to wait for the morning, when he might be in better shape for rational thought.  Instead, since his arm had finally quit hurting, he began to find what peace he could in training.

It took her quite a while to find him.  Kodachi had arrived at the Tendos an hour after Ranma’s departure.  Needless to say, she hadn’t received a warm welcome.  Nabiki had told her what had happened, but the middle Tendo had no idea where Ranma had chosen to set up camp- just the general direction in which he’d left.  Kodachi had read many adventure stories over the years, though.  She had a basic knowledge of what constituted a good camping site.  Sure enough, by following the closest stream, she eventually located Ranma.  She watched him from the cover of the trees for a while, entranced by the skill he showed as he performed kata after kata.  Kodachi wondered a little where Ranko was, as Nabiki had said she’d gone with her brother (the little voice that noted there was only one tent, and reminded her that after all Ranma and Ranko weren’t related by blood, was squashed so thoroughly that she wasn’t even consciously aware of it).

Eventually Ranma noticed her.  Her skin and especially her hair didn’t exactly blend in with the dark tree trunks, after all.  He pretended not to see her at first, but his focus was destroyed.  He halted his last kata in mid-motion, turned, and looked straight at her.  Hesitantly, the White Rose came out of the trees and stood in the clearing with him.

Kodachi gazed at his face.  She saw a great mix of emotions there.  Hurt.  Confusion.  Loneliness.  Fear.  Tenderness.  And more.  She couldn’t tell which of them were directed at her.  Maybe all of them were, to one extent or another.

“Ranma?”  She spoke hesitantly.  “This isn’t what I wanted to happen.”

“You think I’m blamin’ you?” Ranma asked bitterly.  “Don’t.  It ain’t your fault, Kodachi.  I never asked for an arranged marriage.  I never asked for Pop to try an’ order my life around.  He always says he knows best, and I’m sick and tired of waitin’ for him to prove it.  You won the match.  That leaves me free to go my own way.  And you better believe that way ain’t gonna take me back to the Tendo Dojo.”

“What will you do now, Ranma?”

“…I dunno.”

“You can’t just stay here forever.”  Kodachi swallowed a couple of times.  “Even if you don’t blame me, the fact remains that this wouldn’t have happened but for my actions.  There are many unused guest rooms in my home.  It would mean a lot to me if… if you were to accept one of them for now.”

Ranma looked at her for a while, trying to decide what he should say, trying to figure out what he felt.  “Kodachi… I gotta be honest.  That sounds really nice to me.  But there’s some stuff you need to know.”  His mind made up, he continued, hoping against hope she wouldn’t regret her offer in a few minutes.  “First things first.  I was at the match, even if you never saw me.  And I heard from Ranko what… you said.  About hopin’ I chose you.  I think I could.  I’d like to try, at least.  If you still want to after you hear the rest of what I got to say.”

Her smile seemed to light up her whole face.  Praying it wasn’t about to change to a grimace of revulsion, Ranma walked over to the bucket he’d filled with water earlier.  “Second.  About Ranko being my stepsister…”  He steeled himself, and poured the water over his head.

As she watched the man of her dreams shrink several inches, and fill out noticeably in the chest area, only one thought came to Kodachi’s mind.  “Jusenkyo?” she said haltingly.  “Ranma, please… tell me that was cold water.”  Then she sighed a sigh of relief.  “But of course it was.  You were drenched with cold water during my Spirit Ribbon Storm, and you didn’t change then.  Therefore, your true body is male, and female is your cursed form.”

This wasn’t one of the possible responses Ranma-chan had anticipated.  She just gaped for a minute, then squeaked, “You know about Jusenkyo?”  Not the most intelligent question that had ever been asked, but she wasn’t operating at peak capacity just then.

“My father traveled widely when I was younger.”  VERY widely.  “He told us about the legend of Jusenkyo, the training ground of cursed springs.  Over one hundred springs, each of which has had something different drown there over the millennia.  Now, whoever falls in a spring is cursed to assume the form of whatever drowned there.  Cold water triggers the change to cursed form, and hot water restores you to your original self.”  Kodachi regarded the redhead.  “Although we weren’t sure it was more than just a  legend.  How long have you had your curse?”

“Couple of months now.”  It slowly began to dawn on Ranma-chan that Kodachi wasn’t exhibiting any signs of horror or disgust.  “I hate it.”

“Now, Ranko,” she said playfully, “you make it sound like being a girl is a fate worse than death.  I’m almost insulted.  After all, it’s not like you’re stuck forever in this form.  Think of it as giving you opportunities other men don’t have.”

Ranma-chan snorted.  “And you’d go jump in a spring if you had the chance?”

“Well, no.  But I still don’t think it’s that bad a curse.”

Ranma-chan looked at her without speaking for a minute.  “Thank you.” she finally whispered.

“For what?”  Kodachi didn’t see why such a simple encouragement should affect the other so much.

“You’re the first person who’s found out and hasn’t looked at me like I’m a freak.”  Ranma-chan walked over to her pack, took out a thermos, and splashed herself with hot water.   Because of this, he missed the fact that Kodachi’s face wore a look of terrible indecision for a moment, followed by scared determination.  “That means a lot to me, Dachi.”

Kodachi tried to decide how best to work her way up to what she’d decided to tell him.  “I would never do that to someone I cared for.”  She walked over to where he had made a fire pit and picked up a rock with a sharp edge.  “Ranma?  I hope you can… say the same to me.”

At this Ranma turned and looked her way again.  “What d’you mean…” his voice choked off in a gasp of horror as Kodachi drew the rock down her forearm, leaving a bloody gash.

If the White Rose had thought Ranma had moved at top speed during the match, she was quickly disabused of the notion.  He seemed to fly across the intervening distance, took the rock from her, and gripped both her hands as tightly as a vise.  “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”

“Look at my arm,” Kodachi answered as calmly as she could.  Here came the moment of truth.

Ranma did so… and was amazed to find that the wound had already closed without a scar.  “How?” was all he could say.

“I was born with hemophilia as well as albinism, Ranma.”  Kodachi noted the blank look on his face.  “That’s a condition where the blood doesn’t clot on exposure to air.  Basically, I could have bled to death from a cut less than an inch long. 

“My early childhood was very hard.  I couldn’t run, couldn’t jump, couldn’t play with any toy that might conceivably have a cutting edge.  Whenever I did get cut, I had to have the wound stitched closed to stop the bleeding.

“Can you imagine how that felt, Ranma?  I had no friends.  I had no life outside my house.  I watched my mother practice Martial Arts Rhythmic Gymnastics, and wanted to be like her.  I wanted to go outside and run around like Tachi did.  I wanted to go on adventures, like the people in the stories my parents read to me.  I was often miserable.  And one day my father could bear it no longer.

“He left with a promise to find a cure for me.  He looked long and hard, in a quest to find some sort of magical cure.  To this day I don’t know how he could have had reason to believe in magic in the first place.  But he eventually found a wizard who could make me better.

“The ironic thing is that the old man didn’t even use magic.  It was a chi technique.  He increased a thousandfold my body’s ability to absorb and store chi energy from the environment around me.  Because of this, I heal instantly.  My hemophilia wasn’t cured, but it no longer matters as any cuts close at once and my body can restore blood as fast as I lose it.”  She had found that out from the Kuno family physician, who did a thorough examination each year to make sure her condition didn’t destabilize.  This was unnecessary, but her parents felt better for it.  The doctor still dreamed of someday meeting the man who could perform a miracle like this.  “And  he left me some scrolls with exercises to perform to increase my ability to channel the energy.  That’s how I developed my special techniques, like the Spirit Ribbon Storm.

“I was nine years old when Elminster cured me, Ranma.  I thought that my life would be perfect once I could live like a normal little girl.  But I was wrong.  I went to school thinking things would be wonderful.  I was met with teasing because of my albinism.  I told the other children about my quick healing, thinking a good thing would balance out a bad thing and they’d be willing to be my friends.  Instead, most of them thought I was a monster.  If not for my family’s love, I don’t know what kind of a person I would be today.  They gave me the courage not to give up.  I have found a few good friends over the years, but almost everyone else who has learned the truth has shied away from me.  Even as you have seen these past few months, I think.”  Kodachi blinked back the tears.  “I want you to believe in me.  I will never think of your curse as having any impact on who you are… the man I want at my side.”

Ranma was silent as he tried to process this.  Then he slowly reached out and put his arm around Kodachi.  “Thanks,” he said.  “I- I want to be there.  And I promise not to get too jealous.”

“Jealous?!”  Kodachi wasn’t sure she’d heard right.

“Yeah.  You can perform techniques I can only dream of.  I only know one chi attack,” Ranma thought of the Cat-Fist, and shuddered briefly, “and I wish Pop had never heard of that one.”

“What type of attack, Ranma-kun?”  Kodachi found she liked the sensation of Ranma’s arm around her even more than she’d expected she would.  Even if it did make her heart bounce around in her chest like a kitten on a catnip high.

“I… don’t wanna talk about it right now.  Maybe some other day.”

The White Rose smiled at that.  If she had her way, they would have lots of other days.  Together.


To be continued.

Author’s notes: Okay.  Hands up from everyone who thinks Akane is acting out of character.  Sorry, but I think I have her pegged pretty well.  I don’t think anyone can argue that she makes her mind up quickly, and once she does it’s very hard to change it.  It was just unlucky for her that she was told an outright lie (that Kodachi ambushed and beat up Nanami and company) which caused her to form a mental picture of Kodachi that would have been appropriate only for the Black Rose.  Once she threw Kodachi out the window, there was no going back.  Ranma can forgive hurt to himself much more easily than he can attacks on other people.  To my way of thinking, a BIG part of whatever affection he feels for Akane in the original series is due to her constant underdog role.  Well, here he has someone who’s had it much rougher (or so it seems to Ranma, not really understanding the impact losing her mother had on Akane) and hasn’t become angry or hurtful because of it.  Someone willing to fight for his right to make his own choices in life.  Someone who accepts his curse and doesn’t think it makes him less of a man.  Someone who really needs the same type of reassurance from him, which was what enabled him to open up as much as he did.

I don’t hate Akane, but I think she makes a very poor partner for Ranma.  As if it weren’t already clear, this fic will NOT feature a Ranma-Akane match up.  Hence the title of this chapter. ^_^  Next time:  Airen?

Comments?  Criticism?  E-mail me at aondehafka@hotmail.com

p.s.  I couldn’t think of a good way to work this into the actual story, so I’ll just mention it here.  The reason Kuno finally put a stop to the boys challenging Akane was so she wouldn’t accidentally get injured before the Rhythmic Gymnastics match.  Oh, the irony.  Also, even though Nabiki never sold pictures of Ranma-chan to Kuno, that doesn’t mean the other boys didn’t form a market for photos of the mystery redhead.  Hence the reference to Ranma not minding Nabiki’s conduct so much after learning she paid the Tendo bills. 

I wanted to start this chapter with Ranma’s first meeting with Kodachi rather than his first day at Furinkan.  Here’s a quick synopsis of that day- after Akane beats the crowd, Kuno is waiting.  He means to challenge her to fight after school, as it’s nearly time for class to begin, but recognizes Ranma as a formidable warrior.  Neither Ranma nor Tatewaki can resist the temptation- they spar, to see who’s better, but it’s a match between two fighters who respect each other.  Ranma barely manages to disarm Tatewaki just as the first raindrops fall, and dashes for the school, changing just before she can make it through the doorway.  Kuno doesn’t see this, though.  When Kuno learns Ranma is engaged to Akane, he just accepts it thoughtfully (no pool scene… and no Akane helping Ranma-chan out.  However, by a twist of fate, that evening at home Ranma DOES overhear Akane’s famous quote, “It’s like I’m engaged to my worst nightmare!”).

Chapter 2
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