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A Ranma ½ fanfic
by Aondehafka

Disclaimer: the Ranmaverse characters owned by Rumiko Takahashi, and all that obligatory stuff. This story based on the anime, not the manga.

Chapter 3: United We Stand

” ‘Sunny with mostly clear skies. Chance of rain less than ten percent.’ Why do I even bother to check the weather report?” Ranma-chan grumbled as she and Kodachi trudged through the downpour.

The White Rose didn’t reply, but inwardly she decided the next time she and Ranma went out, she’d carry an umbrella, regardless of what the report said. An umbrella just big enough for two people if they stood very close together… the sight of a black piglet sitting morosely on top of a pile of clothing shook her from these pleasant thoughts.

“Ranma-kun… isn’t that Ryoga?”

Out of reflex, Ranma-chan balled up her fists, then relaxed again with a sigh. She’d given up MOST of the grudge she held against the lost boy, but some of the old anger still remained. “Looks like it.”

Kodachi picked up the little pig. He just stared apathetically at her for a moment. “Will you gather up his belongings, please?”

Ranma-chan groaned mentally. She knew Kodachi could be very softhearted for people who were really hurting. Truth be told, it was one of the things her boyfriend liked most about her. But this time Ranma-chan didn’t totally agree with whom the White Rose was choosing as a recipient of her mercy. Hoping this wasn’t a mistake, the redhead scooped up the clothes and the backpack. She remembered how hard Ryoga had fallen for Akane after being shown just a little kindness. Silently Ranma-chan promised herself that if she saw the same type of thing happening here, she’d sell P-chan to the Nekohanten.

The trio made their way back to the Kuno place, where a little hot water restored Ranma and Ryoga to their normal forms. Shortly thereafter, Ranma, Kodachi, Shampoo and Ryoga sat in the living room. The Amazon had turned up just after the others had gotten back home. Since the rain had greatly reduced business at the Nekohanten, Shampoo had received the day off. She’d been hoping to find Tatewaki, but he and Nabiki were at an art museum in central Tokyo.

“So, Ryoga, what brings you back to Nerima?” Kodachi asked, after introducing him to the Amazon.

Ranma snorted. “Or did ya think you were in Kyoto until you saw us?”

Ryoga shook his head morosely. “I came back to Nerima to try and figure out what’s happened to me.” He looked Ranma in the eye. “And to try and apologize for what I did. I know I can never make it up to you, Ranma, for all the trouble I caused. Especially not for… the last time we fought. But I want you to know how ashamed I am.”

Ranma looked long and hard, and saw sincerity, pain, and sorrow in Ryoga’s gaze. The old hubris and hostility were gone without a trace. With a slow nod, he finally let go of the last of his anger. “Then I forgive you… just so long as you NEVER put Dachi in any kind of danger again.” Off to the side, Kodachi quickly explained to Shampoo what had happened, emphasizing that she’d deliberately let him injure her when the Amazon looked ready to flatten Ryoga with a bonbori.

Ryoga laughed a little. “That’s really the only thing that mattered to you, isn’t it?” He shook his head wonderingly. “I make trouble for you left and right, I do my best to actually kill you, and the only thing that really bothers you is when I hurt someone else by accident.” He sighed. “Maybe someday I’ll manage to become half as honorable as you.”

Ranma didn’t know how to respond to that. Seeing his difficulty, Kodachi changed the subject a little. “You said you came back to Nerima to discover what’s happened to you, Ryoga. It sounds to me like you’re growing up.”

Ryoga met her gaze. “And that explains why I no longer get lost? Or why I’ve lost a good three quarters of my strength? I used to be able to swing a battle umbrella like a willow switch. Now I can barely pick one up with both hands. No, this is something a bit more serious than just realizing I was wrong to blame Ranma for everything.”

He looked away again. “I’ve changed. And I don’t understand it. And… I’m frightened.”

There was an uncomfortable silence for a minute or two. Then Shampoo spoke up. “Maybe we ask Great-Grandmother. She very old, very wise, know much lore. Maybe she explain this.”

Ranma looked out the window. The rain had stopped quite a while ago. The sun was shining brightly, and there were no more clouds in the sky. “Why don’t we go talk to her, then?”

Cologne looked up as the shop door opened. “Shampoo, you’re soaking wet. What happened to your umbrella?”

Shampoo snorted. “Still at house of Airen. Not one cloud in sky when we leave, so Shampoo no think she need.” At least it would make a good excuse to go back and fetch it, later that evening.

Ranma-chan set a little black piglet down on the table, muttering something about stupid curses and stupid rainstorms that faked a retreat before showing back up. Cologne indicated the animal. “Would you like me to prepare some Cantonese sweet and sour pork? I think this little fellow will make enough for all of us.” The pig started to squeal indignantly.

“That one not for eating, Great-Grandmother. Is boy with curse like Ranma.”

“Spring of drowned piglet? Well, that explains why Kodachi is carrying a set of boy’s clothing.” Cologne pogoed off, and returned a few minutes later with several towels and a pan of hot water. Ranma-chan used some of this, then set the rest on the floor. Everyone dried off, averting their gaze until Ryoga indicated it was safe to look again.

“Now, Shampoo, why did you all come here?”

“Is because pig boy have question for you, Great-Grandmother.”

Ryoga glared at the Amazon for a moment. If she had to deal with a curse like his, he bet she’d be a lot more sympathetic. Then he turned to the ancient one and gave a summary of his life and relationship with Ranma, leading up to the changes in himself after the latest development.

Ranma noted there was something the other left out. “You didn’t mention the fact that your fangs are gone, Ryoga.”

Ryoga looked at him in blank confusion. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Now it was Ranma’s turn to be confused. “Come on, you had to have noticed that your teeth are normal now.”

Ryoga upped the ante for confusion. “My teeth have always been like this. What on earth are you talking about?” He’d thought for a second that it was some stupid joke, but then decided Ranma wasn’t a good enough actor to fake bewilderment that well.

Cologne interrupted the conversation of cluelessness. “Ranma, do you mean to say that prior to your final fight with Ryoga, he appeared to have fangs instead of normal incisors?”

“Yeah. Whaddaya mean, ‘appeared to have’? They were pretty obvious!”

Cologne seemed to ignore this question. Turning back to Ryoga, she asked, “Ryoga, you said earlier that all throughout your previous life, you had no sense of direction and got lost regularly in your own home?” When he nodded his assent, she asked, “Did either of your parents have this same unfortunate trait? And if so, was that parent stronger than normal? What about brothers and sisters?”

“Actually, both Mom and Dad are like that. I’m stronger than they are, but I don’t get lost quite as easily.” He caught himself. “Well, that’s how it used to be, before whatever it is happened to me. It’s been several years since we all managed to be in the house at the same time. I think I’m still an only child, but I can’t be sure, because of that.”

It was difficult to see beneath the wrinkles, but Cologne had turned pale. Without another word, she pogoed to a cabinet. Unlocking it, she removed several lamps and a number of different types of incense. “I think I may have an idea of what’s happened, boy, but before I check to make sure, let me ask you a question.

“Are you sure you want to know?”

By now, just about everyone had a bad feeling about this. Ryoga tried to ignore the way the others were subtly letting a little more room come between them and himself. “I- I think I’d better find out.”

About forty-five minutes later, Cologne gestured for Ryoga to step out of the design she’d laboriously chalked on the floor. He set down the three incense burners she’d had him hold, more than a little unnerved to see that the color of the smoke from each changed as soon as he was no longer holding them.

Cologne sighed. “There’s no very easy way for me to say this, boy. At least I can give you one piece of good news: you’re no longer in danger.”

Somehow, this didn’t reassure Ryoga very much. “Just go ahead and spit it out, whatever it is.”

The ancient one regarded him closely. “Very well. Both your parents are half-Oni. Because of this, you inherited a demonic side as well as a human one.”

There was a long moment of silence. Then Ryoga stood up, his face a stiff mask of anger. “I don’t appreciate you trying to mess with my head like this, old woman. Goodbye.” He turned to go, and Cologne’s staff shot out and tripped him. He turned and glared at her. “Look, I’m not gonna…” Ryoga’s voice trailed off as Cologne’s battle aura swelled up and filled the shop.

“I realize that what I’m telling you is hard to accept, boy,” Cologne said in a controlled tone. “That doesn’t mean I’m going to let you call me a liar to my face. You turn into a little black pig when splashed with cold water. How dare you reject out of hand the possibility that Oni are real?!”

Ryoga gulped, but held his ground. “I didn’t say that. In fact, I met a true Oni once.” An expression of fear passed over his face, and then he seemed to find new strength, as if Cologne wasn’t nearly as bad as the memory. “And my parents aren’t ANYTHING like that! How dare you say they are when you haven’t even met them?!”

Cologne blinked, then let her battle aura dissipate, giving the impression of a hen settling her ruffled feathers. “My apologies, boy, I didn’t make myself clear enough. Half-Oni draw mainly on their human inheritance for spiritual nature and their demon side for power. Your parents are probably quite good people.”

“Darn right they are,” growled Ryoga.

“Is because pig boy and family part demon they get lost all the time, Great-Grandmother?” Belatedly, Shampoo realized it might not be wise to continue referring to someone with Oni blood as ‘pig boy’. She decided she’d call him ‘bandana boy’ from now on.

“Yes. The Oni are not of this world. A true Oni can, when in our world, step from one place to another without regard to the distance between the points.” Cologne smirked a little at Ryoga. “This ability is present in half-Oni, but mostly uncontrollable. That’s why such as your family spend so much time lost. It’s also how you usually manage to find your way to where you want to go eventually. And your Oni inheritance is the reason for your great strength.”

Kodachi spoke up. “And I suppose that’s also the reason Ryoga has had fangs for incisors in the past?”

“That was an illusion. His teeth have always been as they are now. You perceived fangs as a visual cue that he wasn’t then entirely human.”

Ryoga still had a stubborn expression on his face. “Look, granny, I never met any of my grandparents, but it’s really hard for me to believe that either my mom or my dad could have turned out like they did with a real demon for a parent.”

“And did I say that happened? The laws of genetics take a back seat to the laws of magic, boy. The children of a half-Oni and a pure human, or a half-Oni and a true Oni for that matter, are inevitably half-Oni. Your true Oni ancestors could be several dozen generations back.”

Cologne fixed him with a piercing stare. “It’s only when two half-Oni parents have a child that things get interesting. The child is born with two souls, one human, one Oni, rather than the simple fusion that was the case for his parents.”

Ryoga hated to admit it, but she was starting to wear down his disbelief. He wasn’t ready to ask any more questions, not really, but figured he might as well before someone else did. “So what does that really mean?”

“Think of it as VERY extreme yin and yang. You had a human soul and a demonic one in the same body, bound so closely together that each didn’t recognize that there were two rather than one.” Cologne paused, then asked in a surprisingly gentle tone of voice, “How much of what you’ve done in the past seemed right then but shames you now?”

“A lot,” Ryoga muttered, looking down.

“That was due to the Oni soul’s influence. But cheer up, boy, it’s gone for good.” Cologne took out a long pipe, lit it, and began to puff. “As to how the Oni soul has been cast out… its hold on you was weakened dramatically when Kodachi allowed you to hurt her in an attempt to shake you out of your blind fury. Disinterested self-sacrifice is something an Oni simply cannot comprehend. They have a limited capacity for love, but none for altruism. They’re basically very selfish at heart.”

Cologne blew a smoke ring on her pipe, which settled over Kodachi’s head like a halo. Then she puffed a cloud into Ranma’s face, making him sneeze. “And then, after it was weakened, Ranma pummeled you to within an inch of your life, forcing it the rest of the way out. I suspect its lingering presence in you was the only thing that allowed you to survive the beating he gave you. It’s gone now, and can’t return. That’s why I said you’re out of danger.”

“So the Oni’s just roaming around free now?” Ranma didn’t quite like the sound of that.

“Yes, but it’s powerless without a physical link to the world. It will wander for a year and a day, then expire.”

“You said the Oni cannot return to Ryoga. Is there any possibility it might settle in anyone else?” Kodachi didn’t want to see a repeat of the fight in which Ranma had come so close to death.

“Not a chance. The Oni soul is incompatible with anyone other than Ryoga, and once it left him, Ryoga’s humanity expanded to fill the gap, so to speak. This is why it has no way to regain a foothold in him. No need to worry.” Cologne took a long drag at her pipe. “Of course, had it been your humanity that was forced out, I would have had to kill you, boy.”

“That ain’t funny, old ghoul,” growled Ranma. He was still sensitive about Amazons and death-threats, since Kodachi had kept her promise to Shampoo not to tell anyone about the truth behind the Kiss of Death.

“It wasn’t meant to be,” returned Cologne. “Life is seldom fair. Had Ryoga lost his human soul, the result could have been much worse than a standard Oni. Those have weaknesses that are easy to exploit, due to the fact that true Oni aren’t really part of this world. Such would not have been the case for Ryoga, if the worst had happened.” Cologne regarded the former lost boy steadily. “So now you understand just how much you owe to Kodachi and Ranma.”

Ryoga stayed at the Kuno place for a few days, coming to terms with what he’d learned. It wasn’t easy. Eventually he realized it just wasn’t something that he could deal with fully by himself, and left for home. He wasn’t looking forward to how long he might have to wait for his mother or father to show up there. But Ryoga knew that they needed to learn what he’d found out. And if that meant staying alone for a few months, well, he’d been on his own for lots longer stretches than that in the past.

The mood left behind at the Kuno place was fairly somber. Both Godai and Hitome felt deep sympathy for a boy forced to grow up without his parents around. They told Ryoga to come by and stay with them whenever he was in town. Ranma, Kodachi, and Tatewaki were also sorry for him, Ranma in particular feeling guilty over the sheer hatred he’d felt for his former rival at one time. They wished there was more they could do.

The day after Ryoga’s departure, Kodachi decided that enough was enough. Tatewaki had shaken off his blues by taking Nabiki out. She’d follow his example. “Ranma-kun, would you be willing to take me ice skating?”

Ranma gave her a confused look. “Ice skating? I didn’t know you liked that kinda stuff.”

“Well, actually, I’ve never tried it before. But it might be fun, don’t you think? And we could both use a little fun right now.”

Ranma found he agreed wholeheartedly with that. He and Kodachi left the house, only to encounter Shampoo in the lane outside. “Nihao! Where you going?”

“Ice skating,” replied Kodachi.

“What that?”

“Well, it’s… um…” The White Rose found herself at a loss to explain it, other than just giving a basic description. “You put on special shoes, with blades on the bottoms, and use them to slide around over a large sheet of ice.”

Shampoo looked at her like she’d grown a second head or something. “Why you do that?” Then her expression changed to dawning comprehension. “Oh! Is punishment? Parents catch you too, too close to you Airen? They want cool you off?”

Kodachi and Ranma both blushed. On her, this was truly impressive. “NO! It’s not a punishment. It’s supposed to be fun!”

Shampoo looked puzzled again, but apparently was willing to take this on faith. “Is okay Shampoo get Tatewaki and come with you?”

‘Hope springs eternal,’ Kodachi thought sadly to herself. “My brother is not at home now, Shampoo. But you’re welcome to come along with us.”

Shampoo regarded her friend, then turned with a cheerful smile to Ranma. “So where he take Nabiki this time?”

Caught completely off guard by her tone of apparent carelessness, Ranma responded without thinking. “To a kabuki play…” His voice trailed off as her expression crumbled at the confirmation.

The Amazon turned back to Kodachi. “Shampoo thank you for offer. Maybe other day,” she said quietly.

Kodachi’s frown of annoyance at Ranma turned to an expression of determination. “No, I really think I’m going to insist. Please come with us.”

Shampoo hesitated, then allowed herself to be persuaded. The three of them continued to the local rink.

In a flash of purple, Shampoo streaked by Ranma and Kodachi, who had just managed to get to their feet. “Well, at least she seems to have forgotten her sorrow,” muttered the White Rose.

“How the heck did she get so good at this?! She didn’t even know what ice skating was!” Ranma was not in a very good frame of mind. Being laughed at by little kids as they glided past effortlessly was doing nothing for his temper. He’d thought about changing into a girl, as it would be less embarrassing, but decided that would be wimping out on Kodachi. After all, she wasn’t doing any better than he was.

“If her great-grandmother was here, I’m sure she’d say it was due to 3000 years of Chinese Amazon history.” Kodachi grimaced as her feet threatened to slide out from under her. She grabbed Ranma, hoping to stabilize herself, which naturally ensured that they both went down… again.

Shampoo flashed across the ice like a bullet train. A bullet train on its normal tracks, that is, not a bullet train on ice. She wove through the crowds effortlessly, a big smile on her face. So that stupid first part of the Fist of the Ice Bear training had been good for something after all! Shampoo hadn’t really believed at the time that being sealed inside a block of ice and sent careening around a frozen lake in the middle of a blizzard was going to raise her affinity for the element of ice, but apparently it had. Now she was actually looking forward to the next part of the training. Great-Grandmother had said her chi reserves should be large enough in another year.

The Amazon glanced behind her to see Kodachi and Ranma tumble to the ground yet again. She wondered how two people who were normally so graceful could lose it all so completely just because of a little ice. The distraction couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Danton! Robespierre! You’re so CUTE!” A squealing figure shot past her on her blind side.

Shampoo blinked. Something felt… different. Absently, she angled her skates for a quick grinding stop, not noticing that this kicked up a wake of ice crystals over half the rink. Turning and looking back, the Amazon saw a saccharine-sweetly cute girl bubbling with joy over…

So that was what felt different! Her twin jade hairpieces, all she had with her to remember her mother by, were missing! With a scowl of rage, Shampoo stomped over to Azusa. Not many people can stomp in ice skates without falling flat on their faces, but she managed without even thinking about it. “Give back now.”

Azusa looked up from gloating over Shampoo’s hairpieces. “No! These are Azusa’s cute little Danton and Robespierre. Go find your own!”

Shampoo gritted her teeth. “That exactly what Shampoo do.” She snatched out her hand to grab her property, and was shocked when Azusa evaded the attempt with ease.

Azusa stuck out her tongue. “Little Azusa is a master of Shiratori Martial Arts Kleptomania. You’re way too slow to match her.”

“Shampoo show you slow!” With this shout, the chase was on. Azusa zigged and zagged across the ice, usually skating backward and making faces at the enraged Amazon pursuing her and waving a bonbori. The sight of this spectacle encouraged most people to get off the ice as quickly as possible.

The warmth of Ranma’s body was enough to melt the ice crystals that coated him and trigger his change. Ranma-chan groaned theatrically, but inwardly was kind of glad that nobody would see HIM falling on the ice anymore.

“Are you all right, miss?” A suave voice that was practically dripping with concern broke into Ranma-chan’s awareness. She looked up to see a tall, handsome boy standing over her. Something about him set her teeth on edge, but before she could respond, he’d knelt down beside her and lifted her to her feet, and incidentally into his embrace.

“I’m Mikado Sanzenin. I couldn’t bear to see such beauty in such distress. May I ask your name?” Mikado flashed a grin and began channeling the cold chi that radiated from the ice.

“Uh… Ranko. Ranko Saotome.” Something didn’t feel right about this situation, not at all, but Ranma-chan’s awareness of this seemed to be a long way off. What was this haze clouding her thoughts? The red-haired girl shook her head groggily.

Mikado realized that the girl in his arms was actually fighting off the numbing effects of his technique. That had never happened before. For an instant, he was so surprised he almost let her go. Then, pulling himself together, he realized just what kind of an opportunity he was allowing to slip through his fingers. Abandoning flowery talk, he dipped his head to Ranma-chan’s… and kissed her.

Off to the side, Kodachi had been trying to get to her feet and failing miserably. The kiss caused her jaw to drop and her eyes to widen to the dimensions of saucers.

In Mikado’s arms, Ranma-chan stiffened like a frozen corpse, then slowly pushed away. She took one or two steps on the ice, still with an expression of blank horror on her face. Then, bursting into tears, she ran off the rink.

“That poor girl. I really should be ashamed of myself,” said Mikado. If he was experiencing crushing feelings of remorse, his smile did a good job of hiding it. “She must be truly shy and inexperienced for my kiss to affect her so.”

“That, or heterosexual,” muttered Kodachi, entertaining the thought of using a hula-hoop with a razor-sharp edge to make Mikado see the error of his ways. Then she did a mental double-take. A hula-hoop with a razor-sharp edge? What kind of person would resort to such tactics?

This drew Mikado’s attention to her. His eyes widened appreciatively. Only one more kiss was needed before he would reach the 1,000 mark, and here before his eyes was someone unique enough to be worthy of that special kiss! He had been intending to snare the purple-haired girl currently pursuing his partner while screaming death threats, but here was someone just as exotic who wouldn’t need to be chased down first.

Mikado glided over to Kodachi, now standing shakily on her feet. “Forgive me for seeming to overlook you in your friend’s favor,” he said. “It is merely that I believe in saving the best for last.” He placed his hand on her arm and applied the Ice Maiden technique that would freeze her resistance to his charms.

Kodachi felt something… odd… as Mikado’s hand touched her. It only lasted for a second, though, as her body’s enhanced defenses recognized an invasive chi attack and responded.

Mikado gasped and shot backwards, breaking the connection. The icy chi he’d directed her way had been returned a thousandfold at him. He barely managed to keep his balance as he tried to weather the overload. It felt like his whole body had been frozen solid. Just as he began to get a little feeling back in his arms, a cry of fury split the air.


Ranma charged onto the ice, male again and madder than he’d been since his final fight with Ryoga. With a snarl, he slammed his fist down into the surface of the rink, creating a huge split in the ice that ran from him nearly to the target of his ire.

By now, everyone had cleared the rink except for Mikado, Ranma, Kodachi, Shampoo, and Azusa. Azusa was still skating effortlessly ahead of the Amazon, facing backwards and sticking out her tongue. Because of this, she didn’t see the rip in the ice until it was too late. Her lead skate caught in the groove, and she went flying to smash into the wall of the rink. With a cry of triumph, Shampoo stopped next to her and retrieved her hairpieces, giving the prone girl a smack on the head for good measure.

The sight of an angry martial artist out for his blood gave Mikado a big enough panic-enhanced adrenaline jolt to throw off the last of the cold. Ranma continued. “You’re gonna pay through the nose for what you just did!”

Mikado felt his confidence return along with his mobility. He smiled slightly. “I don’t know who you are or what your problem is, but damaging the rink is a serious offense. I, Mikado Sanzenin, the Golden Emperor of Martial Arts Figure Skating, accept your challenge.”

With a growl, Ranma launched himself at the target of his anger. Had his leap attack connected, Mikado would probably have been reduced to a red smear. However, the self-proclaimed Emperor just slid smoothly to the side. Ranma crashed down and skidded face-first along the ice.

Mikado pulled out a comb and coaxed several unruly strands of hair back into place. “Amateur. Only a fool would launch a suicide attack so early in a battle.” To his surprise, his enemy stood back up at this, and laughed.

“Suicide attack? You think a little fall like that’s gonna stop Ranma Saotome?” Ranma propelled himself in a straight line forward, not taking to the air this time. Mikado was almost caught off guard, but managed to dodge with a desperate spin. He sighed in relief as his pig-tailed attacker slammed into the wall of the rink. Nobody could shrug off that kind of impact.

Shrugging off the impact, Ranma turned and faced Mikado again. “Keep it up, pal. You’re just digging your grave deeper and deeper.”

“So, you do have some skill,” returned Mikado. Privately he wondered if this Ranma might know the Emperor’s own trick of drawing on cold chi to restore himself. If that were so, the only way to defeat him was to hit him hard and fast, over and over, until he couldn’t keep up the recovery tactic and passed out. “I don’t like to use this on amateurs, but you give me no choice. Prepare yourself… for the Dance of Death.” Mikado extended one arm and began spinning like a top.

Ranma snorted and charged. That looked like it might be a pretty good defense against someone who wasn’t fast enough to totally break through the whirlwind of Mikado’s arms and free leg. Thanks to Kodachi, however, his increased speed made it a joke. Giving Ranma a planted target was the quickest way Mikado could have ended the fight. The heir to the Anything Goes style disrupted the spin with ease and proceeded to pound Sanzenin into a pulp.

Kodachi looked on sympathetically. She’d joined Shampoo at a table outside the rink. The Amazon was carefully redoing her hair and restoring her hairpieces to their rightful place. They watched as Ranma gave a last devastating punch, which sent Mikado sliding back to end up next to Azusa against the wall. The girl was groaning and shaking her head as she tried to pull in enough cold chi to restore herself.

Ranma shot one last look of disgust at his fallen foe, then left the ice and joined the girls at the table. “I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve had enough skating for one day.” They agreed, and returned the skates they’d rented. As they turned to go, they found their path blocked by a very angry Azusa Shiratori and an unconscious Mikado Sanzenin.

Give Azusa back her Danton and Robespierre!” Azusa shouted. Shampoo just shook her head in disgust, then feinted with a bonbori. As Azusa was still wearing her ice skates, which were somewhat less than effective on carpet, her attempt to dodge just caused her to fall on her rear.

“Then Azusa challenges you, you thief!” The skater glared at Ranma and indicated her prone partner. “And Miki challenges you to a rematch! You two against us, Martial Arts Figure Skating, one week from today!”

Ranma looked uncomfortable at this. On the one hand, accepting challenges was an integral part of the Anything Goes style. On the other, being paired with Shampoo in a figure skating competition didn’t exactly sound like his idea of a great time. He told himself that was just because he already had a girlfriend whom he didn’t want to get any wrong ideas, NOT because he felt in any way inadequate because Shampoo was a better… was so good at skating. But before he could think of a way to weasel out of the challenge, Shampoo spoke up.

Is deal. You try take Shampoo’s most prized possession, then call Shampoo thief when she take back. Shampoo teach you not to mess with womans of Amazon tribe.” The Amazon stormed out, not even realizing she’d agreed for Ranma as well as herself.

That evening, Kodachi went to the Nekohanten. Shampoo had left them behind at the ice rink, and the White Rose needed to talk to her.

“Shampoo, why did you accept on Ranma’s behalf as well as your own?” Kodachi knew he didn’t like it when others made decisions for him.

“Shampoo not mean to. Just so angry at stupid thief girl.” The Amazon sighed. Now she would have to spend a lot of time training Ranma to be able to skate better. It was just too bad that it was the wrong time of year to find a blizzard and a frozen lake.

Unbeknownst to the Amazon, Kodachi was examining her closely. “Shampoo, I would like to ask you for a favor.”

“What that?”

“Please allow me to substitute for you in the match next Saturday.”

Shampoo turned and regarded her friend incredulously. “Why you ask that?”

Kodachi hesitated, then decided not to say she wanted to make sure her friend wasn’t making a play for Ranma. “It would mean a lot to me to fight alongside Ranma-kun and best those two cretins at their own game.” Shampoo’s response to this should give her enough indication as to the other’s motivation.

Shampoo sighed. “Problem with that is match in one week. You think you and Ranma learn enough in that time beat these two? It going be all Shampoo can do to help Ranma learn. Next time Mikado not give standing-still target.”

The Amazon’s jaw squared as she continued. “And Shampoo want be one what squash thief girl like bug.” She gently touched her hairpieces. “These many hundred year old, been in family long time, passed down from mother to daughter. They only thing Shampoo have in Japan to remember mother by. When thief girl take, she place order for much trouble and is matter of honor that Shampoo be one what deliver.”

Kodachi was more or less reassured by this. “Well, at least you won’t mind if I tag along and train alongside Ranma, I hope.” It wasn’t really a question, but Shampoo answered anyway, indicating that she’d be just as happy to have her friend along.

After three days of grueling practice, Ranma had seriously begun to loathe the sight of ice. He was almost sure it was conspiring against him, to trip him and throw him around and make him look like an idiot in front of Kodachi. He figured it was because of his curse. After all, Ranma + cold water = trouble, right? And ice was just really, really cold water, right?

Between looking on the ice as an enemy to defeat, and the desire not to look like a clumsy oaf in front of Kodachi, and the frustration of watching Shampoo streak backwards across the rink on one skate with her eyes closed, Ranma found it easy to focus his entire willpower on learning to skate. By the end of the week, he could keep his balance and turn fairly easily. The same was true for Kodachi, although for her it was because repeated exposure to the cold chi radiating from the ice finally acclimated her to it. Not as completely as was the case for Shampoo, but after all Kodachi decided she’d just as soon not go through what her friend had described.

On the night before the match, Nabiki dropped by to watch the final practice session. She still wasn’t that comfortable around Shampoo, but had to admit the Amazon had been much nicer ever since the Xi Fang Gao incident. That this was because Shampoo was trying to resign herself to having to take Nabiki along with Tatewaki was something the middle Tendo didn’t know. This was probably for the best.

When the time came for a rest break, Kodachi, Ranma, and Shampoo joined Nabiki. She gave them her trademark smirk and handed each a package. “On the house.”

Upon opening the packages, the three were surprised to find t-shirts emblazoned with a stylized picture of Ranma and Shampoo skating along with triumphant grins on their faces while a battered Azusa and Mikado slumped against a wall. The legend “I Was There When the Golden Pair Fell” was written on the back of the shirt.

Kodachi was the first to recover. “Didn’t you have to go to a lot of trouble to make these, Nabiki?”

Nabiki shrugged. “The yen I get for selling them tomorrow will more than make up for that.”

Ranma frowned. “Uh… just who do you think’s gonna be buying them? You just gave free shirts to us, and I don’t think Mikado the Molester or Azusa the Klepto are gonna want them.”

Nabiki gave him a pitying gaze. “Saotome, do you even know who you’re going up against tomorrow?” His expression gave her all the answer she needed. “The Golden Pair are the undefeated champions of Martial Arts Figure Skating. They’ve got an incredible string of unbroken victories. Tomorrow, when you guys face off with them at Kolkhoz, the bleachers are going to be filled to capacity with spectators.” Nabiki grinned. “And I managed to get two-thirds of the ticket sales. Between that, these shirts, and the yen I bet on you two to win, I could treat my family to steak for a month.”

“Shampoo glad you so confident in us.” The Amazon gave Nabiki a tentative smile.

Nabiki regarded her coolly. Free shirt or no free shirt, she still wasn’t fond of her competition. “It’s pretty obvious. As soon as Azusa gets close enough to hit you, she’ll be close enough for you to hit her, and one punch from you will take her out hard and fast. Then you and Ranma can double-team Mikado, if he hasn’t already finished the pretty-boy like he did last time. Surest bet I ever made.”

Meanwhile, Kodachi was regarding the picture of Ranma paired with Shampoo with more and more distaste.

Shampoo grumbled a little to herself as she and Ranma waited for their cue to enter. Kodachi had asked her again to allow her to substitute in the match. Shampoo knew the Japanese had strange ways of thinking, but she didn’t see what was so hard about this! SHE was the one whose honor had been insulted, after all, not the White Rose. Shampoo privately suspected the real reason Kodachi was so insistent on fighting alongside Ranma was so she could have the opportunity to make Mikado pay for his effrontery. But it hadn’t seemed to help her friend’s mood any when Shampoo had promised she’d make sure Mikado regretted what he’d done to Ranma.

Ranma sneered as Mikado and Azusa made a grand entrance. He turned to Shampoo. “Let’s get this show on the road.” Noting her puzzled look, and realizing the idiom was probably not something she’d heard before, he said, “I mean, let’s go out there and kick some Golden Pair butt.”

Shampoo gave a grin that boded ill for Azusa Shiratori, and the two of them stepped out onto the ice.

Mikado regarded the pair grimly. The sheer gall of them! In sharp contrast to the elegance of the Golden Pair, Ranma and Shampoo were dressed simply, in pants and matching t-shirts. And even from across the rink, it was obvious just WHAT t-shirt the two were wearing. Mikado thought back to how fast the boy could move and hit, and resolved again not to get too close to him until he’d been worn down a little.

The Emperor was just glad this match was taking place on his home turf. The rink had a very unusual feature: the surface of the ice floated over unfrozen waters. The constant convection of those waters kept them from freezing, and also caused the ice to radiate almost triple the standard amount of chi energy. The only good thing that had come out of his earlier beating at Ranma’s hands was the certainty that Saotome’s punches had not been augmented by cold chi. Mikado was confident that he and his partner would be the only ones aided by the rink’s special property.

The announcer gave the signal, and the match was on.

Both pairs skated toward each other, Mikado and Azusa hand-in-hand, Ranma and Shampoo side-by-side. Kodachi, sitting in one of the front-row bleacher seats, was beginning to be annoyed at the way the rink seemed to waver in and out of focus. She wasn’t sure what was causing it… it seemed almost like heat waves radiated above a grill, but that was absurd. The only things ice could radiate were mist and chi

The opposing couples picked up speed. It appeared to the White Rose that they were indulging in a game of “Chicken,” where the loser would be the first to turn away from the threatened collision. And this was pretty much what was happening.

Except that neither pair turned.

As impact became unavoidable, Ranma and Shampoo braced themselves. They were certain they’d take the blow better than their opponents. In fact, Ranma was a little worried Azusa might be seriously hurt. As it turned out, he need not have been concerned.

At the last possible second, Azusa turned in a spin that gave Mikado just enough of a push to allow him to slip by Ranma on the side opposite Shampoo. Of course, this meant Azusa had no chance to even control her impact. Mikado didn’t let go of his partner’s hand, though, and she was flung horizontal by the force of his move. This caused her to slam both Ranma and Shampoo on the jaw and send them crashing backwards onto the ice. It also gave Azusa a serious pain in her side and upper leg, where she’d impacted against the two, but after landing on the ice and drawing on the extra-concentrated chi for a few seconds, she recovered.

Kodachi frowned. Why did it seem like the flickering was much stronger around Azusa and Mikado than the rest of the rink? And how could the little kleptomaniac shrug off an impact like that?

Shampoo struggled to her feet, trying to fight off the ringing in her ears. She felt a pair of arms surround her and stabilize her. “Shampoo thank you, Ranma,” she muttered woozily.

“You cut me to the quick, dear lady. To mistake one such as I for that boorish lout. But I will show you what manner of man the Golden Emperor is.” Mikado thought back to the conversation he’d had with Ranma in the dressing room. His opponent had shown amusement when informed that the lips of his partner would yield the Emperor his 1000th kiss this evening. At the time, Mikado had assumed it was an act. Well, Saotome’s reaction to his imminent success should reveal whether the other cared or not.

Mikado’s moment of distraction cost him dearly. Shampoo’s eyes focused, and with a growl, she forced her arms out to the sides, breaking free of Mikado’s grasp and simultaneously bringing one knee up forcefully. The disengagement put just enough distance between the two of them for the blow to be effective.

Ranma (and every male in the audience) winced. Unfortunately, his distraction was just the opportunity Azusa needed. She turned, and skated for the wall at breakneck speed, somehow managing to turn her motion from horizontal to vertical as she reached it. Up into the air she rocketed, then kicked back away from the wall, to land knees-first on Ranma’s head. He crashed to the ice. Azusa, having broken her fall, somersaulted safely away.

For the next few minutes, Azusa led Shampoo on a merry chase. Mikado and Ranma recovered almost simultaneously, the former as the pain faded enough for him to concentrate and draw in more chi, the latter as the Saotome quick healing kicked in.

“Told ya it’s your funeral if you wanna kiss her,” smirked Ranma. “But hey, if you ask real nicely, maybe I could arrange for her to give you something called the Kiss of Death.”

“Hmmph,” returned Mikado. “Before the match is over, I WILL steal a kiss from the lovely Shampoo. And I WILL sever the ties that bind her to you.” In point of fact, Mikado was beginning to concede that such ties might not exist at all. Granted, the match hadn’t been going for long, but it didn’t take long for someone as experienced as him to recognize the fact that his opponents weren’t showing any signs of teamwork.

Ranma was about to say something to the effect that ‘what doesn’t exist can’t die’, when something whooshed over his head. Mikado gracefully caught Azusa in his arms even as Shampoo’s panicked shout of “Aiyah! Ranma!” reached his ears.

Shampoo’s bloodlust changed to horror as she realized Azusa had tricked her onto a collision course with her own teammate. Desperately, she swung to one side, but it wasn’t enough. Her shoulder clipped Ranma’s, sending the two of them momentarily spinning in place like tops.

Falling to her knees, Shampoo used an ancient Amazon trick for restoring equilibrium in a fight (which consists of screaming loud and inventive slurs at one’s opponents’ ancestry- it’s amazing how that can clear the mind), and took Ranma’s hands to help him get back to his feet. He was still fighting off the dizziness.

“You’re wide open,” said Azusa in a reproving, sing-song voice. She reached out and grabbed hold of Ranma’s feet. Mikado, straining his abilities to the utmost, hoisted her and Ranma into the air, and began to spin. Centrifugal force quickly pulled Shampoo aloft as well.

Kodachi tuned out the announcer, who was babbling something about Goodbye Whirls, and focused on the sight before her. One part of her mind noted that the blurring was even more pronounced around Mikado now, and it appeared to be swirling with him. But the vast majority of her thoughts were focused in horror on the sight of Ranma and Shampoo lying almost horizontal from the force of the spin.

“Let go of the girl and I’ll stop the spin!” Mikado was surprised his opponent hadn’t already done so.

“You hear him, stupid! Let Shampoo go!” Shampoo knew she could take the fall without much trouble- the Bakusai Tenketsu training had seen to that. With enough time to prepare, she could shrug off just about any kind of crushing blow.

“No way!” Ranma snarled. “I ain’t gonna let a girl get hurt! Not even a crazy, violent chick like you!”

Shampoo decided not to waste any more breath trying to convince the stubborn idiot. She began trying to break Ranma’s grip on her arms. Ranma just held on tighter, hoping Mikado would run out of steam.

Of course, with the flood of chi pouring into Mikado, that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. But since Azusa was no longer in close proximity to the ice, she could only access a trickle of energy- not nearly as much as she was expending in holding on. And her reserves were still drained from that leap attack she’d used against Ranma

“Ohhh… little Azusa doesn’t feel so good.” After another few seconds, Azusa couldn’t take it any more. Ranma’s ankles slipped from her grasp and he and Shampoo were airborne.

Shampoo’s eyes widened in shock as she realized how quickly the wall was approaching. She pulled Ranma to her and braced herself, twisting to take the impact for both of them.

Ranma’s eyes widened in shock as he realized how quickly the wall was approaching. He pulled Shampoo to him and braced himself, twisting to take the impact for both of them.

Two minds with but a single thought don’t always make for harmony. The audience was treated to a brief but truly impressive sight of Ranma and Shampoo twisting and contorting, each trying to be the one to absorb the impact. The pair spun like a gyroscope on overdrive, but inevitably, as aerial combat was a specialty of the Anything Goes style, Ranma was the ‘victor’. He slammed into the wall, cushioning Shampoo, and the two dropped to the rink.

“RANMA!!” Kodachi’s tortured scream echoed throughout the rink. Ranma groaned and sat up, much to the relief of his partner. Turning, Shampoo took in the expression on her friend’s face. The Amazon hung her head in shame.

Shampoo helped Ranma to his feet, and then guided him to the sidelines, where Kodachi was waiting. Just as they got there, Ranma managed to focus on reality again. “Hold it, Shampoo! No way are we gonna give up now!”

“Shampoo not do that,” she said bitterly. “Just do what should have do in first place.” Reaching the edge of the rink, she removed her skates and stepped off, handing them to Kodachi. “You avenge Shampoo’s honor, okay?” she asked her friend, trying to hold back the tears.

Kodachi took the skates, but hesitated to put them on. “What’re you waitin’ for, Dachi? I can’t do this on my own!” Ranma said.

“Ranma-sama… I don’t want to see you get hurt anymore,” she whispered.

“Don’t worry. I’m fine!” he said. Shampoo whirled in anger and tapped him lightly on the shoulder, causing him to wince and gasp in pain.

“<Fine?! You stupid idiot MALE, I could have taken that blow for us and not even felt it!>” she shouted, shame at how she’d betrayed her friend’s trust and let Kodachi’s Airen get hurt overcoming her emotional control.

“Ranma, please…” With a visible effort, Ranma pulled himself together.

“I said, I’m fine. Trust me.” He held out his hand to her.

Kodachi slipped on the skates, and let him lead her onto the ice. Almost immediately she realized that far more chi was radiating than should be the case. Over on the other side of the rink, it finally dawned on Mikado that the challengers were bringing in a substitute, not conceding defeat. He frowned for a moment, then realized that it was Ranma who had taken the brunt of the damage so far, and yet he was still in the match. The Emperor smiled. Victory shouldn’t take much longer. And he’d still have the chance to claim his 1000th kiss during this match.

Kodachi and Ranma skated slowly toward their opponents, stopping when they were a little distance away. Mikado put on his most charming expression.

“We meet again, lovely one,” he said to Kodachi, not even deigning to notice Ranma. Behind him, Azusa was making extremely silly faces at her opponents. “I have not yet had a chance to show my appreciation for your delicate grace and beauty, but rest assured, during the match, I willLLAACKK!”

Kodachi smiled sweetly, and twitched her ribbon, releasing it from its chokehold around Mikado’s throat. “I would sooner kiss the red-haired pig-tailed girl you wronged last week than allow myself to be sullied by one such as you.” Ranma gulped, seeming to lose the focus of his fury for a moment. The White Rose continued. “Enjoy your last few pain-free moments, pretender.” Taking note of how quickly Mikado recovered from her attack, she drew Ranma back out of the others’ earshot.

“Ranma-kun, this rink is radiating much more chi than it should, and I think they’re able to draw on it. That’s why they’ve been able to do as well as they have.”

Both Kodachi and Ranma were paying enough attention to the Golden Pair that any sudden move on the other’s part would have brought them back to fighting readiness. However, as Mikado and Azusa continued to stand still, hand in hand, quietly drawing in more and more chi, the two failed to realize an attack was being readied.

Ranma groaned a little. “So what do you suggest? How do we fight something like that?”

“We’ll need to hit them hard and fast enough to overwhelm their ability to recover. What do you think is our best chance at getting into a position to do that?”

Mikado watched as his opponents continued plotting tactics. As his chi built to the maximum he could control, he whispered, “On three, Azusa. One… two… THREE! BLIZZARD FIST!” They shot their free hands forward.

The shout cut Ranma off just as he finished whispering the strategy he’d formed. He and Kodachi turned, to gape in horror as a massive blast of wind-born, chi-laden ice crystals shot at them.

Ranma, reacting as quickly as he ever had in his life, grabbed Kodachi and leaped into the air. The White Rose used her Rotary Ribbon technique to float them behind their opponents. A line she’d read once, about no battle plan lasting once a battle began, passed briefly through her mind.

Mikado and Azusa knew they’d won now. Nobody could possibly withstand the Blizzard Fist. They slumped to their knees, needing a few minutes to recover from the drain. Mikado looked up, expecting to see the forms of his opponents encased in ice (although their heads would be uncovered- after all, he still had a kiss to claim).

Even as the emptiness of the ice before him registered on Mikado’s stunned gaze, he heard a growl from his rear. Ranma grabbed his opponent and hauled him around. “Payback time.”

As the sounds of extreme violence resounded throughout the stadium, Kodachi skated around in front of Azusa, who was getting to her feet. The White Rose smiled. Seeing the drained state of her opponent had given her an idea. She wouldn’t need to beat Azusa senseless after all.

“I’ve been wanting to use this attack for a while now,” she remarked, “but the right opportunity never has presented itself.” She raised her voice melodramatically. “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… the Ribbon of Revelation!”

Azusa flinched back as she was surrounded by what seemed to her shocked eyes to be a hundred ribbons, hissing and coiling like the tentacles of an enraged kraken. Even worse, the attack was disrupting the flow of chi around her, and she REALLY needed a few more minutes of uninterrupted recharge after that last attack.

As quickly as the White Rose’s attack began, it ended. Azusa blinked. “What kind of stupid attack was that?” she taunted. “You never even hit little Azusa.” Her voice faltered as she realized two things. One, her fan club was screaming bloody murder. Two, she suddenly felt a LOT colder.

Ranma, Kodachi, and Shampoo had made plans beforehand to celebrate their inevitable victory at the Nekohanten. They’d hoped to get Nabiki and Tatewaki to join them, but had lost track of the two in the crowd before getting a chance to invite them along.

As they walked to the restaurant, a casual observer would never have thought he was witnessing winners of the greatest upset match in Martial Arts Figure Skating history. They were much too subdued. Eventually Shampoo broke the silence.

“Shampoo grateful Kodachi so eager to pay back slight on her honor, but next time not need go so far.”

The White Rose blushed fiercely and mumbled something.

“Shampoo not catch that.”

“I said, I didn’t mean to go that far. I designed that attack to be used against someone wearing a gymnastics leotard. I didn’t think her costume would fall completely to pieces like that- she should have still had the most important areas covered.”

Ranma sighed. “I just wish she hadn’t screamed that loudly. Looking over at her just then was the LAST thing I needed to do.”

“Don’t worry, Ranma-kun, I’m sure we can get a replacement t-shirt from Nabiki.” They’d never get the stains from his nosebleed out of his first one.

Ranma’s words reminded Shampoo she was still very angry at him. “And next time stupid pig-tail boy listen when Shampoo say let go! Shampoo not want be responsible for let best friend’s Airen be hurt!”

He just glared at her. “No way. What kinda man would I be if I let a girl get hurt just to save my own skin?!”

Shampoo glared daggers at him, then picked up a stone bench and smashed it with her forehead. “Stupid Ranma, Shampoo have special training that let her shrug off crushing blows if have time to get ready. Shampoo could have take hit on wall and both us not get hurt.”

Ranma gaped for a minute, then managed to find his voice. “Uh… could you maybe show us how to do that trick?”

“Ask Great-Grandmother,” Shampoo huffed. “Is not Shampoo’s place to give out Amazon secrets.”

Amazingly enough, they made it all the way to the Nekohanten without any random splashings. Cologne had a victory feast set out for them. The ancient one quickly noticed the overall mood wasn’t exclusive jubilation.

“Why aren’t you youngsters more excited?” She fixed a piercing gaze on Shampoo. “You DID win, didn’t you?”

“We win. Shampoo just feel bad because Kodachi ask take Shampoo’s place in fight. Shampoo say no, and Kodachi’s Airen get hurt because of it.” Shampoo hung her head. “Much shame to live down.”

Cologne eyed Ranma critically. “He doesn’t seem too bad to me.” Granted, there was a huge bloodstain on his shirt, but from the way he moved, she could tell he wasn’t injured. She assumed it was from his opponent’s blood.

“Eh, she’s worked up over nothin’. I’ve taken hits plenty worse than that.” Then something occurred to Ranma. “Still, it was pretty painful and all. I bet if I had special training, like if there was some kinda secret technique to help you ignore crushing blows, I wouldn’t have gotten hurt at all.”

Cologne was torn between amusement at Ranma’s attempt at subtlety and annoyance at Shampoo for revealing secrets to outsiders. “Let me guess. You’re asking me to teach you the Bakusai Tenketsu.”

Ranma gave Shampoo a querying gaze. She rolled her eyes, and nodded. “Yeah, I guess so. Me and Dachi would like to learn it.”

“Really,” purred Cologne. She weighed the amusement value that would provide against the fact that her great-granddaughter had already been responsible for this boy getting hurt today. A compromise was achieved. “I’m afraid I can’t just jump into that technique, sonny boy. It requires a very stressful training method. But I’ll show you something a lot less intense. If you two can handle that, then we’ll see about the Bakusai Tenketsu.”

She told them to eat the rest of the food while she prepared for the training, then left. Shampoo just smiled and shook her head when pressed for details. Of course, she didn’t actually know what move her great-grandmother was planning to show them, but she preferred being mysterious to clueless. Eventually the elder called them into the alleyway behind the restaurant. A rather large bonfire was burning merrily.

“You do know that’s in violation of at least three city ordinances,” Kodachi remarked.

“Ever since I had that little disagreement with the local Yakuza, the police haven’t seemed interested in giving me a hard time.” Cologne took a package of chestnuts and sprinkled them into the midst of the fire. “Watch very closely.”

Her arms became a blur as she plucked the chestnuts from the flames, quickly enough that her hands were unsinged. “That technique is called the Kachuu Tenshin Amaguriken, or Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.” Her grin lost a little of its width as she noticed neither Ranma nor Kodachi seemed especially impressed. She returned the chestnuts to the fire and stepped back. “Now you try it, sonny boy.”

“More speed training. Big deal,” Ranma muttered. He stepped up to the fire, focused his chi, and almost effortlessly duplicated her performance.

At the sight of someone learning the Amaguriken on their first try, Cologne actually lost her composure. She gaped at Ranma for almost a minute. Then, she turned and gave her great-granddaughter a swift smack on the head.

“Ow! <Great-Grandmother, what was that for?>” Shampoo asked indignantly.

“<For letting this one get away from the tribe,>” Cologne snapped back. “<The least you could have done was indicate in your letter how good he was. I could have brought some of your sisters with me!>”

Hitome regarded Ranma across the dinner table. Her daughter’s boyfriend seemed to be in a much grumpier mood than usual. “Did you have a hard day, Ranma?” she asked sympathetically.

“Sorta,” Ranma sighed. “I spent three hours hanging from a tree, letting a three hundred-year-old dried-up mummy send boulders crashing at me.”

“It wouldn’t have been so bad if it had actually accomplished its intended purpose,” said Kodachi. “It was meant to teach Ranma-kun how to increase his natural resistance to damage. If the training had succeeded, he would have been able to ignore crushing blows unless surprised.”

Godai regarded Ranma closely. “That sounds a little far-fetched to me. But if it COULD work, what’s to say that with a little more practice it won’t?” He knew better than to think Ranma might be wimping out.”

Ranma explained how the toughening-up part of the training was accomplished subconsciously while trying to learn the Breaking Point. Once he had mastered that technique, further training would no longer heighten his resilience. Cologne had given her great-granddaughter another smack and tongue-lashing in Mandarin upon seeing him master the Bakusai Tenketsu in just three hours. Ranma decided he’d never understand the Amazons.

Or maybe it was women in general he’d never understand. Ranma remembered the feeling of sick panic he’d gotten upon realizing just what he’d volunteered Kodachi for. He had expected her to chew him out for that, but all she’d done was ask him why he had spoken for her as well as himself. She’d gotten the biggest goofy smile on her face when he’d said he just kinda assumed they’d learn it together. Of course, she’d still declined to undergo the training, which was just fine by him. Even the thought of watching her smash into a boulder made Ranma’s stomach feel like some practical joker had turned it inside out.

Things were quiet for a while after that. Well, Shampoo did drug Tatewaki with some sort of hypnotic mushroom dish in order to force him to go on a date with her, and Nabiki did enlist Tatewaki’s aid in driving off a dojo destroyer, and there was the incident where the Three Teenage Thaumaturge Terrorists released hordes of water elementals into the plumbing of all the local schools in a blow against public education, but the POINT is none of those things affected Kodachi and Ranma (except insofar as they got a week’s break from class).

Such idyllic times seldom last. As Ranma and Kodachi came back from a date, they noticed a large, silver limousine was parked in the lane outside their home. Kodachi idly speculated that it was probably some old business acquaintance of her father’s. They entered the house, and Tatewaki greeted them, shooting Ranma a glance that could only be described as commiserating.

“Ranma, there are some people waiting for you.” Kuno led them to one of the living rooms. Godai and Hitome were there, as well as three guests. One was a girl (at least, Ranma assumed it was a girl) sitting demurely and completely covered in a traditional bridal kimono. There was a jovial little man with the largest ears anyone present had ever seen (and it has already been revealed that Godai had spent time among elves). And the third…

“Pop, unless you came to apologize for that business with the Tendos, you’d better make tracks now.” Ranma was putting up a good front, but the sight of the old panda made him realize that he’d actually missed his father.

Hitome spoke up. “Ranma, I think you’d better hear his story. Then you can throw him out.” She directed an angry glare at Genma.

‘Well, that was quick,’ thought Ranma, as the reluctant affection he was feeling for his father was overwhelmed by a feeling of impending doom. “What’s she talking about, Pop?”

“Promise me, boy. Promise you won’t be shocked by what I have to tell you.”

“Shocked? Me? At something you did? Yeah, right,” his son muttered.

As Ranma sat through the ensuing tale, learning that he’d been sold as a baby for a bowl of rice, a fish, and TWO pickles, and now his self-proclaimed father-in-law was here to marry him to his daughter, one thought became more and more fixed in his mind.

“Hey, Pop. There’s someone I want you to meet. She can teach you a great new technique called the Bakusai Tenketsu.”

Genma regarded his son curiously. He hadn’t expected so mild a response. Then he gulped as the banked fury began to blaze in Ranma’s eyes.

As Ranma opened his mouth to REALLY let his father know what he felt about the old man’s latest attempt to screw up his life, Kodachi placed a gentle hand on his arm, diverting his attention. He turned and looked at her, and she smiled a little smugly. “Remember, Ranma-kun, when I won that match you were released from ALL promises made by that oaf on your behalf.”

This did calm Ranma down. He turned to Mr Daikokuji. “I’m sorry to disappoint you, but all promises my dad made for me have been cancelled out.” He went on to explain.

Mr Daikokuji’s smile was looking a little strained by the time Ranma finished. His daughter whispered something to him, and he turned to Kodachi. “Are you his new fiancée, then?”

“No.” ‘Not yet, anyway.’ “I’m his girlfriend. By Ranma’s own choice, rather than his father’s.” Kodachi regarded the Daikokujis with a challenging stare.

Another whispered father-daughter conference ensued. Then Mr Daikokuji said, “Ranma may be free to make his own choice, but my daughter is still honor-bound to marry him.” He turned to Ranma. “My daughter asks that you give her a chance, rather than taking all her honor away from her.”

Kodachi nearly panicked at that. Curse him for making it sound like it was Ranma who was hurting this Kaori person, instead of her stupid father by insisting she was still bound by the pledge! She didn’t need to look at the helpless expression on her boyfriend’s face- she knew very well that Ranma couldn’t bear to hurt an innocent girl. Thinking quickly, she said, “You said you wanted Ranma to be the heir to your family’s school of martial arts. Has your daughter been trained in that school?”

Mr Daikokuji was clearly bewildered at the question, but answered in the affirmative. Kodachi continued. “Then I challenge her to a match. Should I win, you will release her from her obligation to marry Ranma.”

Yet another whispered conversation. Really, how browbeaten was this girl? Didn’t she have any independence at all? Kodachi wondered how anyone could be so subservient. If this was the kind of antiquated behavior her father insisted on, it would definitely be in her best interests if someone rescued her from him… the White Rose ground down hard on her budding sympathy. This girl, or at least her father, was trying to take Ranma away from her, trying to force him into something he didn’t want. She wasn’t about to let that happen. Ranma could leave, and even though it would break her heart she’d let him go if he should really want it, but nobody would EVER be allowed to TAKE him.

Mr Daikokuji turned back to Kodachi. “I agree, conditionally.” He held up a poster proclaiming an upcoming “Martial Arts Take Out Race” and continued. “You and my daughter Kaori will compete in this race. If she wins, Ranma will accept the engagement. Otherwise, I will dissolve our half of it.”

Kodachi’s face set like stone. She turned to Ranma. “Ranma-kun, how do YOU feel about someone else trying to force you into an engagement against your will?”

Ranma opened his mouth, but before he could say anything, Kaori made a frantic gesture, attracting her father’s attention. She whispered to him for a moment, then settled back into her demure pose. Mr Daikokuji turned to Ranma. “Son, Kaori would like to talk to you in private before you make a decision.” He frowned a little, as if the idea weren’t too appealing.

The Anything Goes heir agreed to this, and the two went into a nearby room for a few minutes. Upon returning, Ranma gave Kodachi a wink, making sure Mr Daikokuji couldn’t see it, then said, “I accept.”

”Ranma, why did you agree?”

Kodachi mentally winced. That had come out sounding much more hurt than she’d wanted it to. Even if that was more or less how she felt.

Ranma sighed. He’d thought she’d seen him wink at her before agreeing, but she must have missed it. “Kaori promised me she’d throw the fight. She doesn’t want to get forced into marriage either.”

Kodachi had to admit that made her feel better… for about two seconds. Then a thought occurred to her. “Are you certain she was… sincere?”

“Whaddaya mean, Dachi?”

“Well, it occurs to me that someone so obviously under her father’s thumb might not have the courage to defy him even to that degree. She may have just said that to get you to accept. That might have been what her father told her to tell you.”

Ranma didn’t think there was much chance of that. “Don’t you think I’d have picked up on it if she was trying to fool me?”

Kodachi thought back to the times she’d played poker with Ranma, especially the time he’d held a straight flush and she’d still been able to bluff him into folding, and didn’t answer.

“And anyway, it ain’t like she could beat you if she did fight for real,” he continued. “I believe in you.”

Tears welled up in her eyes at this. She smiled at him. “Thank you, Ranma-kun.”

Ranma grinned as another thought occurred to him. “And even if she managed to win, all I promised was to ‘accept the engagement’, not to marry her. If she cheats and wins somehow, you’re gonna see the quickest-broken engagement in the history of Japan.”

“Not in the history of the world?” she asked teasingly.

He considered this. “Well, I don’t think I can match the kinda stuff that goes on in Hollywood.”

The race took place a few days later. On their way to the starting line, Ranma and the Kunos encountered a familiar face.

“Nihao!” Shampoo gave an exuberant greeting, pretending not to notice the way Tatewaki kept his parents between himself and the Amazon, in order to prevent a welcoming hug. “Is you going to watch race?”

“Actually, Dachi’s going to win it,” Ranma boasted. “The rest of us are gonna watch her smoke everybody.”

Shampoo’s eyes gleamed a little at this. “Shampoo compete too. One year worth of free ramen make good prize for Nekohanten.” She smiled at Kodachi. “Hope you not too, too disappointed when come in second.”

Kodachi gave her friend a smile. “Actually, I’d be just as happy if you won. My only real goal is to prevent Kaori Daikokuji from winning.”

Shampoo was puzzled at this, but had no time to ask for details as the group arrived at the starting line. The rules were explained, which didn’t take long. First to the finish line with your delivery meal intact won. The girls lined up to begin the race, at which point Kodachi became aware of something. Akane Tendo was also present for the competition. The White Rose almost hadn’t noticed her, still somewhat overwhelmed at the fact that Kaori was apparently intending to compete while garbed in that wedding kimono.

“On your mark!” At the announcer’s cry, most of the girls crouched down and made ready to spring forth. All except one, in fact.

In one fluid motion, Kaori doffed her kimono and threw both it and her take-out box high into the air. The kimono caught on a breeze and drifted over to her father. The take-out box came tumbling down, turning end-over-end several times before landing in Kaori’s outstretched hand. She opened it, and turned to Kodachi with a smile that was most definitely NOT that of a downtrodden, subservient girl. The food inside was completely undisturbed.

“I’m sure Ranma and I will be very happy together,” she said.

Kodachi turned a glare as cold as Mikado’s Blizzard Fist on her opponent. She realized, a little belatedly, who’d really been calling the shots during those father-daughter moments. “Don’t count on it, you lying little harridan.”

The announcer recovered somewhat from his shock. “Uh… get set!”

Shampoo had deliberately taken a position in the line that was pretty far away from Kodachi. Right next to Akane, in fact, though she didn’t know it. She did wonder idly why the shorthaired girl in the yellow gi should be radiating such hostility toward her. This was because Akane wasn’t about to forgive the Amazon for what she’d heard about the Xi Fang Gao incident. Akane resolved that Shampoo’s take-out box would be the first to fall.


“BAKUSAI TENKETSU!” Shampoo slammed the forefinger of her free hand down into the street while hugging her delivery box tightly to herself. The explosion took out the take-out boxes of almost a third of the competition before they could even get started, including Akane’s. “Is too, too easy,” Shampoo smirked to herself as she set off at a quick trot.

Groaning, Akane picked herself up from the ground. It just wasn’t fair! Her teeth clenched, as she resolved that the purple-haired wench wasn’t going to get away with this. She picked up her now-useless take-out box and threw it at Shampoo’s.

Shampoo just barely sensed the danger to her delivery. She dodged frantically, turning with a scowl to see who had launched the attack. “What you think you doing? You already out of race!”

“So what?! The rules just say I can’t win now, not that I can’t take you out too!”

“Hmmph. Angry girl one sore loser.” With her free hand, Shampoo produced a bonbori and threw it at Akane. Akane countered by whipping out her hammer and smacking the club right back at Shampoo, who let out a startled “Aiyah!” and dodged. Akane growled and closed the distance, and the fight was on, Shampoo quickly becoming more and more irritated at how the need to protect her take-out box was handicapping her. The rest of the racers quickly passed the dueling duo.

Meanwhile, Kodachi was well out in front of the pack. She heard the sounds of commotion behind her, as Kaori took out the mass of lesser competitors, but concentrated on establishing a decent lead.

Kaori smiled. Her rival probably thought she’d secured enough of a lead to win easily. Time to show her otherwise. She withdrew a pair of chopsticks and hurled them with careful aim, striking Kodachi’s right leg in just the right places.

Kodachi bit off a less than ladylike remark as she felt her leg go numb. She fell forward, desperately taking care not to upset her take-out box. Kaori passed her just as the sensation returned to her limb. The White Rose pulled out a club and sent it curving toward her opponent.

Although Kaori had believed her opponent was out of the race, she was much too experienced to drop her guard while within projectile range of her downed foe. She deflected the club with a tossed saucer and turned to face her downed foe, intending to say something along the lines of “nice try”. She gaped in shock at seeing Kodachi on her feet, barely recovering in time to dodge the other’s ribbon.

“I suggest you not turn your back on me again,” Kodachi smirked, producing a hula hoop. She began spinning it around her wrist, moving it in slow, mesmerizing circles. The Hula Hoopnosis attack almost worked as Kaori’s attention focused more and more completely on the ring. Her eyes glazed. The arm with which she was holding the take-out box began to droop.

The sound of the miso soup inside her box beginning to slide unstably caused years of training to kick in. Kaori blinked, then sent two razor-edged sauceriken slicing through Kodachi’s hoop. It fell into equal halves. Kodachi just shrugged and attacked again with her ribbon. Kaori countered desperately with a rope woven from ramen noodles.

“You’re fighting a losing battle, miss Daikokuji.” Kodachi smiled at her opponent. “Do you REALLY think Ranma is going to accept you after the way you deceived him?”

“What do you mean, deceived him?” Kaori retorted. In point of fact she knew very well, but she also knew battles could be won with psychological warfare as well as conventional attacks.

“Promising to throw the fight, of course!” Kodachi snapped. “That’s the only reason he agreed to this, you know. He has no wish to be engaged to you!” She whipped her ribbon at Kaori, who dodged.

Kaori put on her best puzzled expression. “He told you I promised to throw the fight?”

Had Kodachi not had so much experience throughout her lifetime of people rejecting her because of her albinism, the shot probably would not have scored. But as it was, she felt her heart clench in a grip of ice. “No…” she whispered, trying desperately not to believe what the other was implying.

Kaori put on a contrite expression as she twisted the knife in the wound. “I’m sorry. Ranma said he was going to let you down gently, but I didn’t realize he meant to do it this way. I didn’t mean to take your illusions from you.”

“No. NO! I don’t believe you!” The choked sobs through which she spoke and the tears in her eyes called her a liar.

“It doesn’t matter to me,” said Kaori, speaking the truth for the first time in some minutes. All she really cared about now was that her opponent was distracted enough for an easy win. She lashed out with her noodle noose at the White Rose’s take-out box

Only to find the rope caught in a grip of iron. She glared in anger at the red-haired, pig-tailed girl who’d snatched it. “Stay out of this…” she suddenly found the words dying in her throat as she took in just how angry the new arrival seemed to be.

“Ranma?” whispered Kodachi, becoming aware of the late arrival.

Ranma-chan turned a pained glance her way. “Guess I’m gonna have ta show you how things really are,” she said grimly. Ranma-chan shifted her grip on the noodle noose, then blurred into top speed. Kaori was caught completely off-guard by the sheer velocity of the attack. Ranma-chan wrapped the noose around her foe several times, then jerked it hard. Kaori was sent whirling into the air (in the opposite direction of the finish line) and out of sight.

Ranma-chan gave a satisfied grunt, then turned back to Kodachi. “Why’d you buy that load of bull, Dachi? Don’t you trust me at all?”

The hurt in that last question actually made Kodachi feel worse than she had upon hearing Kaori’s insinuations. “I’m… I’m sorry, Ranma,” she whispered. “It’s just so hard for me to believe that someone like you would care for me. I know I don’t deserve you.”

“Don’t deserve me?! That’s crazy!” So crazy, in fact, that Ranma-chan didn’t even know how to respond to it. After several seconds of desperate thought, though, words came. “Dachi, you promised me once that you’d never let my curse matter to you. You said I was the man you wanted at your side. Well, here and now I promise to be there. Until you tell me to go, I’ll be there for you. Got it? I don’t wanna hear any more crap about you not deservin’ me. You’re the best thing that’s happened to me in as long as I can remember.”

“Oh, Ranma…” Kodachi carefully set down her take-out box, then enveloped the other girl in a fierce hug. Some minutes later, she let go and asked quizzically, “Why exactly are you in your cursed form, anyway?”

Ranma-chan grimaced. “When Shampoo blew up the street, a guy next to me jumped and splashed me with his drink. Just as well, though. This race was only open to girls.” She bent down and picked up the take-out box, handing it to the White Rose. “Now let’s win this thing!”

Kodachi smiled, and took the box. She and Ranma continued through the rest of the course without any further difficulty… only to find a certain purple-haired Amazon waiting for them on the other side of the finish line.

Shampoo smirked at her friends. “You two too slow.”


To be continued.

Author’s notes: Credit must go where it’s due. I think a fair amount of this story’s version of the encounter with the Golden Pair was inspired by D. B. Sommer’s story Shampoo ½ (which is one of THE best fanfics out there). Also, I know I read something somewhere else about Mikado and Azusa being able to draw on cold chi. I don’t remember what story that came from, so all I can say is it’s not original to me.

Nor is the concept of Ryoga with Oni blood. I can’t count the number of fanfics that feature that. However, I tried to take it in a different direction from anything I’ve read so far.

About the Bakusai Tenketsu… my idea is that for a little while after the training, the protection from crushing blows is automatic. But after a certain amount of time has passed, it needs to be summoned by a conscious effort of will. The inspiration for this came from Jim Robert Bader’s story A Tale of Two Wallets. A pity that Ranma is actually too good to learn it.

Is Ranma acting out of character? Well, by now he’s been living for several months with a sane, supportive family full of intelligent people. That’s bound to have some impact.

How did Shampoo manage to beat Akane even with one arm effectively out of commission? Anyone who asks that question deserves to be duct-taped to a chair and forced to watch the Shampoo introductory episode for nine hours straight. Next time: Happi days are here again!

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

Chapter 4
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