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A Ranma ½ fan fiction story
by Beer-monster

Disclaimer: Ranma ½ characters property of Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video.


Book I: The Mantis Saga

Chapter Five: Broken Pride


Awareness returned to him slowly. Consciousness crawled through him. Hearing was regained first. He could here singing. It was a soft, gentle voice, barely more than a whisper as one might use in lullaby. The words seemed blurred, spoken in short but soft, rounded syllables.

"…Ai ren xin. Chen ru hai. Dai wo chu, ba tao…"

He stopped listening and concentrated on the feeling that was slowly returning to his body. He felt a touch, moving across his face and through his hair. The motion was tender, mild, like a caress slowly stroking his skin.

Smell was next. A mixture of delicate, floral scents tickled his nostrils. Some sunk past his fogged, blurry mind, and he recognised them. Jasmine, lavender, cherry-blossom. The aromas were familiar, tugging at some hazy part of his memory. But in some ways they were new, as if he were smelling them for the first time.

Then came taste, his mouth was filled with a harsh, metallic tang. A bitter taste, coppery and sour, trembled on his tongue. He felt his mouth twist in disgust at the flavour that was so different from the flowery fragrance that surrounded him.

Light. It shone pulsingly before him, waxing and waning as his vision fought to focus itself.

Then his sight returned with a flash, the blur suddenly clearing before him to render everything in crystal clarity. He was staring at a ceiling, familiar in that he had seen thousands like it, unfamiliar in that he had never seen this one. It was plain and white, the paint chipped and faded in places, and a dark crack zigzagging its way across the corner where it met the wall directly above him.

The thing on his face had stopped moving, and the singing had ceased. Out of trained, instinctive reflex his arm snapped up to grab the touch from his face, and hold it before him so that he could see it.

It was a hand, its size and slender fingers with painted nails marked its owner as female. Slowly he followed the arms with his eyes, past the lean, feminine wrist as it disappeared into a sleeve of red silk, embroidered with yellow thorns. His eyes continued their scan, up to the shoulder upon which fell waves of rich, lavender hair. And then he knew.

"Shampoo?" he said, looking at the beautiful face framed by purple hair and the bright, azure eyes that stared back at him.

"Ranma," she said with a small, happy smile.

Her arms opened and she slid towards him, ready to catch him in her embrace. He brought his arm up and pushed it out stiffly, holding her back.

"What am I doing here, Shampoo?" he asked sternly. "What did you do to…?"

Then it all came flooding back to him, as if a dam had burst in his head, unleashing the images of events. He remembered Happosai, bruised and broken. He remembered challenging Loaf, taking him to the park and fighting. Then he recalled a flash of brilliant green light. Then nothing.

"I lost," he said after a while.

"Yes," Shampoo replied, although it was not really a question.

He slumped back on the bed bitterly, the sudden motion sent blasts of pain shooting down his left arm and right leg. He gasped and clenched his teeth against the violent sensation. A sick, snapping sound echoed in his mind and he remembered just how badly he had lost.

"I tell Great-Grandmother you is awake," Shampoo said, and left the room.

He laid his head back and closed his eyes, screwing them up tightly as if unwilling to face the world. He growled quietly, his rage directed inwardly, berating himself. He had lost, and this time there were no excuses; he had been defeated totally. This had not been a practice match, he had not been stuck in his girl form or facing a fighter with three hundred years more experience than him. Loaf had been a normal man, who had fought him hand to hand. And he had lost. His heart sunk from his chest as if it weighed a thousand tons.

"Hello, son-in-law," greeted a rasping voice he knew all too well. "How do you feel?"

"Hun," he grunted in reply.

"Well, I see you remember how you came to be injured," Cologne said as she hopped closer, perching on her cane at his bedside. "And I trust that you will be treating your loss with an immature fury and depression. Sometimes you can be as melodramatic as that lost boy, Ranma."

Ranma scowled at her comparison. He was nothing like Ryoga, the man who would fall into mourning if his shoelaces broke.

"Don’t sulk, boy. It's rude, and I'm sure Shampoo doesn't find it attractive… because I certainly don't."

Ranma's face darkened more, and he shot the old woman a sharp glare. "I don't see why you would care if Shampoo found me attractive," he spat, his tone dripping with acid. "I would have thought you would be marrying Shampoo off to Loaf, since he obviously the better specimen for your tribe."

Cologne frowned at his words, her face wrinkling even more. "Don’t take that tone with me, boy!" she snapped. "You would not even be half the martial artist you are now without my help and training."

"Well, I guess you wasted your time," Ranma said sullenly.

For an instant rage passed over the ancient matriarch's face, but then her expression softened. She looked at Ranma with a gentle gaze and a warm, almost motherly smile. "No, son-in-law. The time I spent training you was worth every second. And I'm sure you will agree with me one day."

Ranma's eyes narrowed as he gave the Amazon a sidelong glance, he was confused by her words and unsure of their meaning.

"You are not a failure, Ranma," Cologne soothed. "You were just not ready for this fight."

Ranma was unconvinced. "Why not? That man could not have been much older than twenty-five. He does not a two-hundred-year head start like you and the old freak. I should have won."

"You could not have won, Ranma," Cologne sighed. "He may not have my years, but the style that he practices gives him knowledge that I can barely comprehend, and cannot ever hope to acquire."

It was all Ranma could do to hide his shock. There were things that Cologne did not know, and she was admitting it? He forced his face to remain impassive and continued giving her his suspicious glare.

"I’m listening," he said.

The old warrioress shifted on her cane, finding a more comfortable perch, and cleared her throat for what he assumed was dramatic effect.

"The man you fought was the Grandmaster of a style of Kung Fu called Tong Long Chuan. In Japanese, it would be known as Tourouken."

"The Praying Mantis Fist," Ranma said. He thought back to the fight and Loaf's stance. He remembered the bizarre hook shape form of his hands, and recognised them as Mantis claws.

"I recall seeing the style in China a few times; it was a long time ago when me and Pop had begun our trip. I really should have recognised it from his stance," Ranma agreed, giving himself a small mental berating for not noticing. "However, such a style would not explain his strength, or his power."

"That is because you have only seen the basic sects of the style, such as the Northern style or the Seven Stars School. Loaf, as Grandmaster of the Sho Rin Style of Praying Mantis, is in command of the ultimate evolution of his Martial Art. A style that completely embodies the art's founding philosophy and principles to a level unattainable by most fighters."

"Huh?" was all that Ranma could intelligently mutter.

Cologne sighed. This was going nowhere. "Let me start at the beginning," she said.

"You are familiar with the legend of the Shaolin temple?" she asked Ranma.

"Of course," he replied. "It was a Buddhist temple in Hunan province of China. It was virtually the birthplace of Martial arts — almost all of the styles of Kung Fu, and through them, Japanese, Korean and Okinawan arts are said to be descended from Shaolin styles."

"Very good, son-in-law," Cologne said complimenting his knowledge. "Well, Praying Mantis originated as one of those Shaolin styles. It began with a senior monk named Wong Long, a man who was very talented in Kung Fu. However his elder monastery brother, Feng, always surpassed his skills. In many ways Wong Long was like you, son-in-law. Proud of his abilities and very determined. He practised diligently, and his regime was tough. However, he could not defeat Feng, no matter how hard he tried."

Ranma nodded in understanding, it was true he was proud of his abilities and often had gone to insane lengths to be the best. That description also fit Mousse and Ryoga in particular.

"Unlike you, however, the rivalry between Wong Long and Feng produced no animosity; in fact, they were very close friends. And I'm fairly sure that neither of them attacked the other out of the blue screaming 'Prepare to die!'" Cologne chuckled at her own joke, the sound was a like a scraping echoing through a cave.

Ranma scowled. Glad she finds my life so amusing, he thought dryly.

"Anyway," Cologne said after her laughter had passed. "A tradition at Shaolin was for senior monks to travel China for a period of three years, to view the lives of men, meditate, and preach the scriptures. Feng thus decided to leave, and bid Wong Long goodbye. He promised that when he returned they would have a match, to determine whether Wong Long had improved. Determined to train hard and defeat his brother, Wong Long began to practice harder.

"Wong Long was in the habit of meditating, reading, and practising his Kung Fu in a forest that surrounded the temple. Once, while studying the Sutra he heard a violent rustling from a nearby bush. Being curious, he investigated and found two insects fighting. Wong Long watched in amazement as a small praying mantis defeated and devoured a much larger cicada. Surprised by what he saw, Wong Long started to tease the mantis with a long stalk of grass, paying close attention to how it defended itself with its pincers, grasping hold of the grass as it dodged and countered. After careful study, Wong Long condensed the insect's moves into human motion, forming 'claws' from his hands. Mixing what he had learnt with principle of his own Kung Fu style, he created a new and highly effective style that he called Shaolin Praying Mantis Fist. With this, he was easily able to defeat Feng on his return."

"What’s your point, Cologne?" Ranma asked irritably. "There are thousands of styles based upon the motion of animals: Tiger Claw, Eagle Claw, White Crane, Dragon, Snake. What so special about a little bug?"

"Well, boy, if you would shut up and let me finish, you might learn something."

Ranma pouted but kept quiet and listened all the same.

"The difference is that after the destruction of original Shaolin temple by the Manchu… a terrible time for China, I remember it well… the Shaolin styles spread across China and the world, and new temples were founded. One such temple, the Sho Rin of Fujian province, included several masters of Tong Long Chuan among its priests. There they continued to develop the style, and used it to protect themselves against bandits and communist soldiers. It was through this use in battle, this 'trial by fire', that the Sho Rin Masters were able to ascend to the next level of their art and evolve it."

"Yes, but you still haven't explained what this evolution means, old bat," Ranma complained.

Cologne leapt off her staff, whacked her offensive pupil over the head with it, and landed back on before she had even dropped an inch. "I told you to listen, and who are you calling an old bat?" she snapped.

"Anyway, as I was saying before that rude interruption, the true strength of the Praying Mantis style is to adopt the Mantis mindset. In battle, a master of Tourouken can adopt the ferocity and prowess of the patron animal."

"How does that help?" Ranma asked.

"The mantis is in many ways a violent animal. It actually likes to fight, and in mating season they frequently duel amongst themselves; in that way they are similar to Japanese fighting fish. By using such Mantis characteristics, the Martial artist can strengthen his own fighting spirit, enhancing it through the Praying Mantis' urge to fight. And since a person's battle aura is the outward manifestation of their spirit, they produce a powerful and potent energy."

Ranma's mind was suddenly blasted by an ominous memory. An image of Loaf standing there, his body surrounded by a blazing aura that coated him like green flames.

"Furthermore," Cologne continued. "A Mantis stylist can manipulate the aura he produces, making it solid and using it to strengthen his own body, or even strike with it."

Ranma remember the green fire raging around Loaf's fingers as he crushed the bones his arms, and the times were he was sent reeling and was cut by what seemed to be nothing.

"I see," he said after a while, knowing now that he faced a truly formidable technique. "What a terrible power."

"It is," Cologne agreed.

"But, Granny," Ranma said using the term he called her when he wanted something. "Couldn’t you teach me, train me so that I could have that ability?"

The wise matriarch shook her head, "You haven't listened, have you? I told you that I barely comprehend this talent, never mind how to use it. Besides, it's too dangerous. Why do you think that none of the animal styles you mentioned already have imitated the technique? While it is true that they may not have discovered it, to fuse your mind with an animal carries great risk. Many who have tried have been taken over by the animal nature and have gone mad. I once encountered such a man, and it took twelve of our best warriors to kill him in the end. Such a person has to be put down, to prevent harm to others."

"But," Ranma whined, desperation evident in his voice. "Surely there is something you can teach me, something that will let me beat him…"

"I’m sorry, Ranma," she said, and her downcast eyes told him that she truly was. "There are no techniques I could teach you to deal with such an ability, especially with your limited experience. Besides, Loaf has gone. I asked Mousse to keep an eye on him, he returned to China this morning."

"But…" Ranma said again, though no thoughts came.

"No, Ranma. There is nothing you or I can do."

Anger filled him then, at Cologne, at Loaf, but mostly at himself. With pain lancing through his injured leg and arms he rolled over to face the wall, turning his back on the old woman. "Fine," he growled. "If you won't help me, then go to hell."

He heard her sigh in disappointment. "I’m sorry you feel that way, Ranma."

There was a percussive thumping noise as she hopped away. "It does not change the fact that you must accept, son-in-law. You have lost this one."

The door closed behind her, and Ranma knew that he truly had lost. Sleep was a long time coming.


In the Middle of the Night:

Ranma woke from his uneasy, restless sleep feeling more fatigued than he had before the nap. His body was burning. The sheets were tangled about his limbs and soaked in sweat. His eyes stung from his tiredness, and he could still taste the blood in his mouth, that was now parched. He licked lips that were dry and cracked, and swallowed painfully.

Fuck this, he thought angrily. I'm getting out of here.

He braced his weight on his elbows and rolled on to his side. But his motion was answered by pain that exploded in his injured arm and leg. Lights flashed behind his eyes, and he groaned before he could stop himself.

There was the sound of flurried movement, and then there were two hands on his shoulders, forcefully pushing him down on to the bed. Lacking the strength to resist, he fell back onto the pillow.

"Ranma should not be moving. Ranma should rest," came a voice from the darkness.

"Shampoo?" he asked.

One of the hands left him and he could here the sound of it probing the gloom. There was a loud click, and the room was flooded with light, forcing Ranma to close his eyes against the brightness. After a moment he opened them again, squinting as he became used to the glow. When he vision had adjusted sufficiently, he could see Shampoo clearly. Her lavender hair was mussed and ragged and her eyes weary as she looked down at him from the edge of the bed where she sat, fingers still coiled around the string of the bedside lamp that was emitting the light in the room.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, his voice angry and his tone accusatory. After all the times she had jumped in to the bath with him dressed in her nothing but her skin, he did not quite trust her in the same room while he slept.

"You is in bed, where is Shampoo supposed to sleep?" she retorted stiffly.

For the first time Ranma took a good look at his surroundings. The room was sparsely furnished, other than the bed there was a wardrobe, an embroidered silk sleeve poking from in between the doors, and a table with a drawer, the contents of which Ranma could only embarrassingly guess. The floor was covered in a rough blue carpet, a few silk shirts, dresses and bras scattered haphazardly across its surface, along with several books with titles such as "Beginner's Japanese," and "Basic Kanji". The walls were plain and white, the only decoration were a few posters, photographs and a rack upon which hung two heavy bonbori with painted mace heads.

"This is your room?" he asked.

"Yes."

"I’m sorry I took up your bed," he said sheepishly.

"Is okay. Ranma is hurt, need bed more than Shampoo. Only problem is that chair make Shampoo's back hurt from sleeping," she said, gesturing to the corner where a small wooden chair sat, a thin, blue blanket hung over its back. Evidently she had slept there.

"I’m surprised you didn't climb into bed with me, but I should have trusted you more. Thanks," he said, chucking nervously and scratching his head with his unhurt arm.

Shampoo's gaze dropped as her head hung slightly and a faint blush coloured her cheeks.

"Shampoo wanted to, but Great-Grandmother say that Shampoo do more hurt to Ranma if sleep with Ranma," she admitted.

"Oh."

A nervous silence stretched out between them. Ranma, unwilling to meet Shampoo's inquisitive stare began glancing around the room again. As his gaze passed over the walls, something caught his eye.

"Are those pictures of me?" he asked, squinting to get a better view of the photos.

Shampoo started in shock and blushed furiously. He eyes dropped from Ranma and instead fixed on her lap where her index fingers tapped together in her lap.

"Yes," she said after a while. "Shampoo buy from Mercenary Girl."

From his limited view from the bed, he could barely make out some of the pictures and the familiar figure depicted in them. They were all pictures of his male form, some of him in various states of undress, making him blush and wonder when Nabiki took them. There was one of him in the early morning, stretching his arms as his shirt hung unbuttoned and open. Another seemed taken from a vantage point outside the Tendo's bathroom window. It featured him clutching a towel around his waist, while water dripped from his bangs and his pigtail and his muscles glistened moistly in the light.

Strangely, the majority of the photos featured him in Martial Arts scenarios. Some were of him during his fights, his opponent out of frame but for a glimpse of a wooden sword or fist, the images capturing his proud smile and intense eyes as he practised his craft. Others feature him practising his kata, in the dojo or by the Koi pond, a gentle look of concentration upon his face while the sheen of sweat coated his bare chest.

He was drawn to one image in particular. It was a portrait rendered in black and white, blown up to poster size. The image had captured his bare torso in its frame, his hands held in the classical knife-hand posture, his eyes intent on the imaginary opponent before him. The setting sun could be seen in the back ground, casting shadows over his face. The he noticed that the image lacked the laminate shine of a photograph or its harsh lines. Looking closely at the picture, he could see two characters scrawled at the bottom corner of the paper, a signature.

"Is that a drawing?" he asked, amazed that someone had captured his likeness and his passion so accurately and so sincerely.

"Yes," Shampoo replied. "Is in charcoal."

"Did you draw it, Shampoo?"

"Yes, many months ago, before we go to Jusendo."

"It’s very good." That was the truth. The drawing was brilliantly portrayed. Each stroke seemed to be made with limitless passion.

"Thank you," she replied.

"I never knew you could draw."

"You never ask Shampoo," she said harshly. "But I not do it often; is not considered appropriate for Amazon warrior."

"Oh," Ranma said. "But still it is very good. But…" He trailed off.

"But what…"

"Why do the pictures have me fighting?"

In the dull lamp light, Ranma could see Shampoo's face light up, the blood suffusing her cheeks producing a cute blush. Ranma's mind spun, he had never expected to see the extroverted, and free-loving Amazon blush, but she had being doing a lot of it tonight.

"You’re blushing."

With a surprised squeak she buried her face in her hands, hiding from Ranma's eyes.

"No, is not. Amazons not blush," she protested.

Ranma smiled teasingly. "Well, it looked like a blush to me."

"No, is not."

He chuckled. "Never thought I would see the girl who glomps me in the bath blush," he said as if to himself, but addressing it to her.

"Is your fault," she accused, her voice muffled by her hands. "Is not easy to speak feelings, much easier just to act and glomp. Is Amazon way."

"Huh?" Ranma grunted in confusion.

"Amazon’s taught to act on emotions, not waste time talking about them. Is shameful. By asking Shampoo, you is embarrassing Shampoo."

"Sorry."

"Is no matter, Shampoo try acting on feelings before, Ranma always run away. Maybe time for talking." She inhaled deeply and he could feel her body tense, steeling herself. "Shampoo like see Ranma fight. It excite Shampoo."

Ranma blinked, and muttered something unintelligible.

"Amazons taught to respect strength and skill. Ranma have much of both. Men in village meek, wimpy like Mousse; they have no spirit. Mousse do whatever Shampoo say, he always grovel to Shampoo. Shampoo no respect that. But Ranma not like that, Ranma strong, free. Ranma is like name, Wild Horse. You cannot be tamed, and when you fight, that easy to see. Ranma have such skill that Shampoo never see in anyone but elders, but Ranma is young and wild… unlike others. Ranma not bound by law or tradition, he have strength Shampoo wish to have. Wish children to have. When Ranma fight, Shampoo see that strength, and is what Shampoo like Ranma for. Shampoo love to watch Ranma fight. It make heart beat faster and body feel warm."

Ranma's mind leaped in right there, the modest and shy part of him didn't like where this was going. It particularly did not like the gleam that was growing in her eyes, a gleam that could only be described as hunger, and it shone when she looked at him.

"Er… Um… Shampoo… You shouldn't… we can't… what about… perverted… what…" he spluttered, blushing from head to toe and waving his good arm frantically.

"You see, Ranma get embarrassed. Shampoo wrong again," she said dejectedly.

"No, Shampoo, it’s not that," he sighed, willpower once again crumbling under a woman's pout. "But you’re wrong, I'm not strong. I am weak. My skill is nothing."

"What Ranma talking?" Shampoo said, pulling back to regard Ranma with wide, confused eyes.

"I’m not strong, Shampoo. I'm not the best anymore. I suppose things have changed."

"Why that? Ranma still strong."

"No, I'm not. I lost."

"So you lose. Everybody lose sometime. You still strong like Shampoo say."

"No, you're wrong. The Art I have dedicated my life to has been proven to be weak and inferior. My loss has taken my honour from me, and without it I am worthless. I'm not the man I was. Not the man you thought I was."

Shampoo pulled away, her eyes dropping beneath sunken lids and she sighed sadly, she looked as if something within her had died.

"No," she said. She stood from the bed and turned away, presenting her back to Ranma, unwilling to face him. "You not man Shampoo thought." Her tone was low, barely more than a bereft, whisper.

Her words made Ranma gulp, his throat tighter and depression welling painfully in then pit of his stomach. Even Shampoo sees that I am a loser, he thought lowly.

"Ranma should go back to sleep," he heard Shampoo say.

Rolling over he attempted to follow her suggestion, but sleep never came. After Shampoo had put out the light, he was still awake, frowning at the wall before him.

***

The Next Day:

"Is there a particular reason why you are just watching your ramen congeal?" Cologne asked dryly.

The sun streamed in through the curtains that twisted and fluttered in the breeze coming from the open window. But the light did not reach the bed where Ranma laid, the shadows still blanketing him in gloom. Cologne thought it ironic how the room reflected the youth's dark mood, shadows lining his face as he stared glumly at the bowl of noodles that sat on the tray-table positioned across his lap.

"I know my cooking is not quite as good as Shampoo's, but I can still prepare some fried noodles, and you still need to eat."

"Why?" the boy asked, the first word he had uttered since she had brought him the food.

"Because you need to conserve your strength so that you can recover," she replied. "Even with that herbal salve I bound into your cast, your bones will still take over two weeks to heal."

"What strength?" he muttered.

"Oh," she said tiredly. "We’re still on that."

He murmured something under his breath that she could not make out.

"Well, now I see why Shampoo has been so quiet this morning. It must have been your sunny disposition and good humour."

Ranma scowled at her from the bed, "You know, that sarcasm of yours gets quite irritating after awhile."

"Well, I'm not exactly fond of your sullen pouting either, boy," she responded, smiling back at him from the chair where she sat, idly spinning her staff in her fingers.

"I’M NOT POUTING," he yelled back.

"Would you rather I call it sulking?" she asked glibly. "Whatever word you prefer, you're doing it. It's quite immature."

"Shut up." He sneered, returning his stare to the cooling ramen.

In the silence that now hung over the room, Cologne’s ancient but sensitive ears could detect noises from downstairs in the restaurant. They grew louder, like a storm approaching. She knew the name of this storm though, and it was far more violent than any hurricane. Calmly she looked at her watch. Took them longer than I had thought.

"I SAID, GET OUT OF MY WAY," screamed a voice amidst the commotion. There was the sound of a struggle, and the door burst open, flying off of its hinges. A shorthaired girl stood in the splintered frame, quivering with fury.

"RAAANMAAAA!" Akane shouted, bathed in a red aura.

Ranma swallowed the lump in his throat, gulping audibly.

Her shoes thudded against the carpet as she marched across the room, stomping ominously like Nazis marching into Poland. She loomed over him, scowling. Ranma shrank back into his covers. This wouldn't be good.

"I can't believe you, Ranma," she spat. "I… We worried ourselves sick when you did not return last night. Instead, I find you lounging around in that harlot Shampoo's bed. YOU WOMANISING PERVERT."

A little of the fight returned to Ranma's guts. He hated being called a pervert. "I’m here because I'm hurt, you moron."

"Don’t lie to me, Ranma. You're here because you wanted to get jiggy with Shampoo. And to think, you said you were fighting a duel." Her tone was loaded with contempt.

"I was fighting a duel, you idiot. That's how I got hurt," he yelled.

"I did explain that in my phone call," Cologne said wearily from her chair.

Akane turned towards the old woman and snorted. "Yeah, like I'm going to believe that. You must be so happy that Shampoo and Ranma are finally exchanging body fluids. All that's left is to cart him off to China and watch the kids pop out."

Cologne frowned at the young woman's words, both angry and disappointed. The girl is even stupider than I took her for.

"I am hurt, you stupid tomboy," Ranma said, and whipped the blanket off of him, revealing his bandaged leg and arm.

Akane looked at him, her eyes widening and her jaw dropping. Her face flushed, first in embarrassment, then in anger.

 "RANMA, YOU PERVERT," she screamed, turning her back as her face glowed scarlet.

Ranma's brow furrowed in confusion as he looked at her; then down at his self. It slowly sunk in that he was naked beneath the sheets. Yelping and blushing, he hastily grabbed the blanket and covered his crotch.

Cologne smiled. "Thanks for the show, son-in-law. But I fail to see what it accomplishes."

Ranma blushed deeper and shot a quiet glare at the matriarch before, turning his attention back to the angry girl.

"I meant the bandages; get your mind out the gutter," he said.

Akane turned and inspected the white, nylon strips that were bound around his knee and forearm. As she grew closer she noticed a green paste smeared across the skin around the bindings, staining the material. A pungent, foul odour came from the substance and she wrinkled her nose in disgust.

"I applied an herbal salve to his wounds, an old Amazon recipe."

"WHAT," Akane cried, surprising Ranma and making him jump. The movement making him wince in pain. Akane did not notice as she turned to face him with an angry glare.

"How stupid can one person get," she screamed rhetorically. "I can't believe you let her douse you with one of her weird potions."

Frantically Akane seized Ranma's leg, digging her nails into the bindings and clawing at the bandages and tugging sharply, trying to rip them from him and remove whatever dangerous concoction the wily Amazon had used on Ranma.

Ranma screamed as his bones were yanked and shifted. He writhed in agony, the searing pain too great from him to stop his wilful fiancé. Then the pressure stopped and he slumped in his bed, panting wildly through gritted teeth.

Akane rubbed the shoulder that Cologne had whacked with her staff, flexing the fingers that now seemed numb, a gentle ache pulsing along her nerves like a mild electric current.

"Ranma has broken his tibia and fibula, and his radius and ulna are badly fractured. The salve will assist his own amazing healing factor; however it will still take at least two weeks for the bones to knit back together," Cologne said.

Akane scowled at her through narrow eyes. Then her expression softened, she could see sincerity in the old woman's withered features. "You’re serious?"

Cologne nodded. Akane turned back to Ranma whose breathing was slowing down to a regular rhythm. His teeth were still clenched together and he was now sat up, cradling his abused leg in his good arm.

"Sorry, Ranma," Akane said sheepishly, looking at her feet.

Ranma muttered something beneath his breath before he exploded. "SO YOU SHOULD BE, YOU STUPID TOMBOY! I WOULD LIKE TO WALK AGAIN IN THE NEAR FUTURE. KLUTZ!"

"Damn it, Ranma you…" Akane began before being interrupted.

"Aiyah," Shampoo's unmistakable voice came floating in through the door from the restaurant. "You no go in Shampoo room, Ranma should no have too much visitors."

"Let me see my son," Ranma heard his father's voice protest.

"No, is bad for Ranma," Shampoo replied.

"Shampoo, dear, I must see my son. Let us by." This voice was very formal and eloquent. It was also very female.

Ranma blanched. The colour seemed to drop from his face as he recognised the speaker as the last person he currently wanted to see. No, his panicked mind cried. She can't see me. Not like this. He grabbed the blankets in a flurry of motion, throwing them over himself. They covered his body up to his chin, and hid the bandages as he had intended.

He heard approaching footsteps. The loud stomp of his father's lumbering bulk, the near-silent, almost feline pad of Shampoo following behind. And the precise and proper rhythm of his mother's foot falls. He clenched his eyes shut, not wanting to see her when she saw his shame, his defeat. His weakness.

"Ranma," her voice was soft and concerned, but warm.

He heard her cross the room, her steps hurried shuffles instead of the prim gait of before. Fingers ran through his bangs, gently stroking his hair in a soothing manner. He forced himself to open his eyes, to look at her. She looked back, her eyes shimmering with concern, blue then grey, changing like the sky. When she saw his eyes open, she smiled warmly. It lit the features that Ranma could see echoes of whenever he looked at the mirror.

"Ranma, are you all right?" She asked.

"I’m fine, Mom," he replied.

"Are you hurt? Can I get you anything? Are you comfortable? You look pale. Are you hungry?"

Ranma smiled as Nodoka began a typical mother's coddling. He revelled in it, relishing what had been missing from his life since before he could remember.

"I said I'm fine, Mom," he weakly and falsely protested.

His mother looked at him still smiling, and as if reading his insincerity; leaned over and began fluffing the pillow beneath his head, muttering something about a man having to be comfortable when at rest. Ranma did his best to look impatient, and thanked her when she was done.

"You’re welcome," Nodoka said, and smiled at him.

"Stop pampering the boy, Nodoka," griped his father.

Nodoka rolled her eyes at her husband's comment, but stepped back as he approached their son.

"What happened?" Genma asked gruffly.

Ranma's smile fell from his face, and he turned away and stared up at the ceiling, frowning at the cracks in the ceiling instead of his family.

"I… I lost," he said, barely more than a whisper.

"WHAT?" his father exploded.

Ranma did not repeat himself. He knew that Genma had heard his words, and understood the full meaning. He looked at his mother. Nodoka's smile had fallen, but her eyes were still bright with concern and warmth. But there was sadness there also, sadness Ranma could not bear to see. He turned back to his father's red and angry face, he was used to seeing disappointment there.

"How could you lose, boy? Did I teach you nothing?"

"Well, gee, Dad. I would have used your techniques, but I didn't think running away or pretending to apologise would have worked in this battle," Ranma responded in acidic tones.

Genma had just enough shame to blush momentarily, before covering his lapse in red-faced anger.

"Show some respect, brat," his father spat. "Those techniques are part of the Saotome martial arts tradition; I won't have you insulting them."

"Your father is right, Ranma," his mother said tightly.

Ranma bowed his head and blushed slightly under his mother's criticism, but he still managed to shoot an angry, sidelong glare at his father, who had continued his rant.

"That Chinese cur must have used some sneaky trick to be able to defeat an Anything-goes stylist. Ranma, you must fight him again and show him what true martial arts are. The school's honour…"

When Ranma heard that word from Genma's mouth something snapped. He raised his good arm and swung it in a furious, horizontal arc bringing his fist hammering into the wall. The plaster cracked and fell from the crater his hand formed, revealing the bare brick beneath.

"HONOUR," he screamed. Then dropping his voice to a soft, deadly whisper he spoke glaring at his father. "What would you know of honour? What honour does the school have?"

His parents, the Amazons and Akane stared at him speechless, reduced to open-mouthed gawping at his words.

"Loaf was right in what he said to Happosai. The Anything-Goes school is a pathetic bunch of tricks. But then, what else did we expect from a style founded by a panty-stealing dwarf?"

"Ranma, listen…" his father tried to interrupt but the boy spoke over him.

"The Hellhound Yell, Fierce Tiger Falling Down Strength, and Fast Break… the so-called Saotome secret techniques." He gave a bitter bark of a laugh. "What a joke! You spoke of sneaky tricks, old man. So what are those? What would you know of true martial arts? Because our style can hardly be classed as such. Yes, maybe I did lose because of tricks and foul play, but only because I used none. For that is what our school amounts to. Hell, even the name says it all: Anything-Goes, which in essence is just a built-in excuse for cheating."

"Ranma," Akane yelled, her tone full of outrage and scandal. "How dare you say that about our school?"

The pigtailed boy’s dark gaze slowly moved from the fat, bald man to settle upon the angry girl with the short hair.

"What would you know, Akane?" Ranma taunted. "You call yourself a martial artist, but your only battles have been against a hormonal crowd of perverts and a deluded kendoka. How many duels have you had, Akane? How many martial artists have you faced? You do not even know the full extent of the style; your father was too proud to show his little girl the true tactics of the art, the tricks and the lies. You are barely more than a beginner, and are so naive you cannot see the light."

Akane opened her mouth to say something then stopped, as she closed her lips Ranma thought he saw them tremble. Her eyes shimmered as he looked at him, and he stared back blankly. Then she turned and marched from the room, not looking back.

Guilt hit him like a knife to the gut, slowly twisting in his stomach and shooting pangs along his spine. He closed his eyes and let out a long, drawn-out sigh. "I shouldn't have said that," he whispered.

"No, you shouldn't have," his mother said as she stood. Her face, normally warm and smiling, was now dark like a thundercloud and marred by an abhorring frown. Her gaze was piercing like a bullet as she glared at him venomously.

She turned to Genma who was regarding his hands and they fiddled with the belt of his gi, unwilling to look at his son. "Come, husband. We are leaving."

His father nodded and followed her from the room, but Ranma's eyes were not on him. He watched his mother leave with a heavy ache in his heart. His gaze fixed on the ornate Katana, which normally hung wrapped over her shoulder, and was now clasped in her white-knuckled fist.

 

To be continued.


Author’s notes: Firstly I would like to mention once again that this is not a romance, and I do not plan to match Shampoo with Ranma (not that I promise I won't! Ha-ha-ha!) but I did used to write a lot of WAFF, so in the Ranma and Shampoo scene, I just got carried away. Sorry if you don’t like it.

Also, I hope no one disagrees with Ranma's rant about the Anything-Goes style, but remember that he is very angry and hurt right now, so he is likely to say things without thinking. Also, since this story is about honour and the warrior's path, I feel that Ranma should renounce the tricks and sneaky tactics of his style as practised by Genma, and discover a more honourable style of fighting. Also, for those who asked, yes, I will be addressing the styles of the Umisenken and Yamasenken… but not for a while, so be patient.

Oh, and a couple of you mentioned my spelling. Well, I happen to be a British Ranma fan fiction writer, and we do spell a few things differently — e.g. 'Honour' instead of 'honor'. Not that it matters, but there you go. And I refuse to alter that, as we invented the bloody language in the first place, so nyah-nyah!

The next chapter is going to be kind of different. Thanks for reading!

—Beer-monster.

P.S.: Yes, I know this is a cop-out answer about the mantis style.

Chapter 6
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