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A Ranma/ Rurouni Kenshin crossover story
by Brian Randall

Disclaimer: Ranma ½ belongs to Takahashi Rumiko and Viz video.  Nobuhiro Watsuki owns Rurouni Kenshin.

Authorís notes: Please, please be certain to read the first part of this story before you read this chapter. Otherwise, it will make little to no sense. You can find it here.  Apparently this fic drove about half of the pre-readers insane. They recommend re-reading the original before you read this, lest it destroy your mind.


Chapter 2

Part 1: Will You Dance With Me…


"Ghosts."

The word escaped his lips before he could stop it, flying across the distance and settling in the ears of one whom might have heard it even had it remained unspoken.

Her eyes flitted briefly to his, a silent embrace of wills, reassurance from those luminous pools, and she nodded. "There are ghosts here."

He shivered, suddenly afraid and alone, wondering what was to become of him, and how he would cope with them. Ghosts? Only one. And it, not dead. That ghost was alive, possibly someday to return, banished as it was those long months ago. But that thought did not help, as it should have.

She stepped towards him, laying a hand atop his shoulder as an angry and defiant fire burned in the depths of her gaze. "I will not lose you to your ghosts. You will not make the mistake I have."

He shuddered again, not knowing how to respond, and wondering what other untold mysteries and secrets she carried with her, as his lips committed a second betrayal, surprising both of them.

"Ghosts."


[Kentou. The present.]

Mayoigo.

That was how he had seen himself much of the time. A lost child.

He had hoped, and fought, and grown… no… perhaps not grown. That had been a failure, and he had not seen it until it was nearly too late.

He had become larger, at least, and strong. He shook his head at the thought. His mind wandered more than his feet, some days.

But he had been forced to grow when he saw something that he could not deny, and a certain part of himself called to him — warning him that he had no chance to defeat his… foe?

He shook his head again at the thought, taking a moment to clear his mind and his vision, not knowing where he was, but feeling a pair of strings guiding his heart. And which one to follow?

There were two of them, elaborate and laced, knotted about his heart in a bow. One a dull brown, the other a vibrant red, though both led away — further than he could see.

He sighed, shaking his head, and obeyed the tugging on his heart. He knew where he was, in a peripheral sense, and he knew where he was going. He was not staying in that place — merely passing through the area he had once spent so much of his time in.

No, there was no solution to his problems here, but laying blame for them would not solve anything. He contemplated, not for the first time, an apology.

How well would such a thing be received? Would either of them care?

No, he decided, they had enough of their own troubles without his interference.

Shaking his head, he returned his attention to the ribbon on his heart, dutifully following the brown ribbon as the red slowly became unknotted to fall to the dusty earth behind him.

He spared it a single sorrowful glance before leaving. He knew too well that there was no way he could help his… friend. Much as he might have pleaded otherwise, he could admit that to himself, with the red cord cut. Yes. A friend, not a rival for… her… affection.

A smile formed on his face, as he followed the line before him again. Who was to say it was truly any less red?


[A dreamer prays for the lost. The present.]

He could not have known that she was watching him. He could not have known… but she smiled in fond remembrance. He could have been a great ally, or a terrible foe. It was not such a horrible fate to have him removed from the field without harm. That thread, at least, could be discounted from her plans.

Her fingers flew to her lips, tracing their contours with their tips as she frowned thoughtfully. Someone was interfering.

She turned her attention to the red ribbon that she knew of, even if she couldn't see. She knew its hold on the boy was gone, but…

What of Ranma? He was no closer to a solution, and tensions were mounting. Her frown deepened, remembering the impulsive theft, and its deeper significance.

"Akane," she said softly, the tone of command in her voice unnoticeable. It would be followed regardless.

"Yes, big sister?"

"I think it's time we had a talk about you and Ranma."


[Fury. The present.]

She stared at the wall blankly. A bare wall.

Her sister's warnings and admonishments buzzed about her, leaving her dazed and frightened.

Frowning, she sat on her bed, and studied the wall more intently. Not entirely bare. There was a hanger for her school clothes, but largely the wall was empty… devoid of color and life.

Biting her lip, she considered more closely. What of the blank wall? What could it be?

Anything. She simply needed to be willing to help it.

And… Ranma.


[Watching foolishness. The present.]

The boy hedged uncertainly.

The man frowned, wondering about his son's behavior.

The boy sighed, turning to face his father and regard him frankly. "Pops," he said, struggling to speak.

Nodding gruffly, the older man affected an air of superiority. "You need help with something, boy?"

He returned his father's gruff nod. "I… I need help, Pops."


[The Dreamer. The past.]

"What's going on?"

She turned slowly, studying the young couple before her. Smiling at them gently, she shook her head. "I have to see… To explore and see if it was worth it."

The young woman frowned, not understanding, and leaning on her husband for support as she held a handkerchief to her lips. "What do you mean?"

She shook her head again, waving a hand dismissively. "It is not for you to worry about. Live here, enjoy your lives, and I will return in a few years…"

"Himura-san?"

She cocked her head to one side, still smiling at the couple. "Yes?"

"Why… why did you help us?"

The smile faded somewhat as she shouldered her pack and stepped out of the door. "Penance? Maybe my own selfish desires… I'm not certain. Be well, I will return."

"Th… thank you, Himura-san."

She nodded, not turning back. Another murmur escaped her lips — too quietly to be overheard. "That name, too, will have to go…"


[Pariah. The present.]

He wiped at a table absently, thinking. What had he gotten for his troubles?

Nothing.

… She… did not want him, though the mere thought of it set his teeth on edge and made his stomach churn. He could admit it now, without going into violent rages. The thought still made him furious, but he had no choice. Ranma was not his foe; he knew that much.

Even if Ranma was not a foe, he knew full well that he had no hope of challenging the man in combat. Or anything, for that matter.

It rankled him, driving him nearly mad, but he had come to make his decision.

He would not ask… her… if she loved him. He would not ask… her… if she would leave with him.

He would not ask… not ask…

He stopped suddenly, blinking back salty tears, mixed with beads of sweat, and paused to wipe at his eyes. She was gone now more than she was present, though he wasn't certain where. He nodded sadly to himself, unclenching his hand and wiping at the bloody gouges he had torn into the softer skin of his palms.

He would accept his loss to whoever had claimed… her heart. Whoever that man was, he would surrender to him willingly, acknowledging his defeat.


[Foolish dreams of temperance. The present.]

She scowled from the entrance of the room, not bothering this once to hide her irritation at the rotund man. She had failed that mask of obliviousness before — the first time she could recall since she had returned being when Soun had attempted to engage her to the boy.

The only satisfaction she got was that the boy knew enough to tell he wasn't being helped by the man's answers.

She shook her head sadly, turning away and meeting the gaze of a younger girl.

"Akane," she whispered softly.

Akane's eyes held a soft glow of betrayal; the shimmering that came with the preparations to shed tears. "I can't," she whimpered finally. "It's too much. I can't…"

Her own eyes narrowing in response, she nodded. The forces and immeasurably dark pressures about the boy were too much for Akane to brave. "I understand," she stated succinctly, focusing her will on reaching the girl one last time. "You have one more chance. If you cannot, then I will. I will not let him fail as I have."

Shocked, stunned, and hurt, the girl could only stare as the woman who had been mentor, friend, older sister, and part-time mother spun and marched away, leaving her alone in the hall.


[Lover. The present.]

What to do?

She knew… she knew so much it cut into her like a keen blade, the knife-edged longing and desire keeping her awake and unhappy the few nights she did not sleep with… her.

But her great-grandmother would never let it pass, were she to know about it.

She turned her mind back to the present, the unfulfilling task of serving food to empty headed men. And… that one… was there, though he had learned to keep his distance, as time wore on.


['Friend?'. The present.]

Her family would never forgive her.

She knew it.

There was no way she could manage to get them to understand it.

She accepted it.

More importantly, there was no way that she could tell… her… about what she felt.

She hated it.

But even more than that, there was no way that she could continue as she had, simply not saying anything. She could no longer share space with her, and pretend as though nothing was amiss. It was eating into her, hammering at her already wounded heart.

She had to tell her.


[Ever wend the deepening spiral. The past.]

The Answer to the Question.

At last.

She found it.

The Question had haunted her, tormenting her endlessly, but now she had the Answer for it.

It wasn't worth it.

She opened her eyes, looking down at the sea below her, easily over a hundred feet to the jagged rocks below, which would later be covered by the pounding surf.

It might even be enough to kill her, though she had an odd suspicion that it wouldn't.

But was that the answer? Deaths… so many deaths… would ending her own life satisfy them? Or would she have to make restitution?

They were not evil men, so there was no justification in that. They simply believed differently from her. And that meant that they were both wrong, but she was alive, and they were not.

Only the situation wasn't that simple. Killing herself was a poor exchange for the countless lives she had ended. There was no excuse.

But death had made no move to take her, either. Perhaps then, she had best make the most of what she had, and settle the ghosts that she bore?

But it was such a long path, and there were so many ghosts to lay to rest…

No choice.

She owed them. "I think I know what my task is," she whispered quietly, turning away from the cliff.


[Line broken. The present.]

"Look… I… gotta tell you up front. I'm sorry, but… I… I can't be your friend anymore."

A pained silence, and teary eyes, more than just her own. "Why?" a rasping, plaintive cry.

"I… I… damn it… I can't because… I…" Wringing her hands, looking away and wearing an expression that said she hated herself for the thing that she had just said.

A lone tear trickling down her cheek. "… D-don't want to be your friend either." A sympathetic flinch at the sudden pain that mirrored her own, rendering the two nearly beyond speech.

"I'm sorry. It's because… because…"

"I love you."

Silence.


[Dreamer and Ancient Yang. The present.]

"I can't help but think that there's more to you than it looks like…" She must have, because she seemed to move people too easily.

Did he suspect? "Ara?"

"You're a damn fine ally for the boy." He shook his head, looking away.

Was he an enemy or an ally in this puzzle? "How do you mean?"

"Hmm… I know you didn't mean what you said." Nothing perverse escaped his notice, and he knew that she had no intentions of doing what she had claimed to her sister.

Best play the fool as always. The old man probably had his share of ghosts, too. "Ara?"


[Dreams for the Fool. The present.]

Soft scents of sustenance.

He frowned, wondering at the imagery evoked. What would be cooking, then?

He yawned hugely, trying to ignore the thoughts, and turning his attention to the game board before him. Little tiny pieces, all lined up, like… like…

He stared at the board in thought, wondering at his next move, until a plate was placed before him. He accepted it with a mumbled thanks to the bearer of the plate.

Food is waiting here. Boy is missing. Punish him later. Stupid boy.

He smiled at his own cleverness, ignoring the small part of his mind that shrieked that he was better than that, had been so much more…

She clicked her tongue idly, eyes glancing between the men at their game board. Both of them had succeeded in controlling their own ghosts. One at the expense of his control, the other at the expense of himself.

She sighed, turning towards the kitchen. Obviously those paths were no better than the one the boy was on… He would be kept from that fate… he had to be. How else could she begin to atone?


[Lack of guiding dreams. The past.]

"So…"

"So."

"It's been a while. What have you been up to?"

"Mm… not much. Yourself?"

"I've been thinking… we need to improve, you know?"

"What do you mean?"

"Our skills, Tendo. We need to find a smart and powerful sensei to teach us more martial arts."

"Why? I'm good enough to make by…"

"That's all well and good for you, but what about me? I don't have a dojo… I need to be much better. And you need to be good enough to withstand any wandering dojo yaburi that want to destroy your school."

"Um… I never thought of that."

"Tendo… you must consider these things. Now, what I propose is that we find someone who can train us further, until we're good enough. This won't get me a dojo, but I have a plan for that…"

"Oh?"

"Well, yes. We don't have any children yet, but once we do, they can unite our schools, thus ensuring that our teachings will live on, and your dojo would be safe."

"Wouldn't that be 'our' dojo, Saotome?"

"Very kind of you… but not yet. We simply have to find someone to teach us. So let's start looking for a strong sensei."

"Um… We could ask… no… we couldn't."

"What's that?"

"I know someone… but she's gone… it doesn't matter. Let's start looking."

"A woman? Well… right."


[Ascension and Control. The present.]

"Ranma." I can't do this… I can't do this…

Chaos.

Turn slowly; act like she surprised you. "Yeah, Akane?"

Control.

"We need to talk." I can't do this. I can't do this.

Chaos.

Not good. Is she suspicious? "What about?"

Control.

"Ranma… you… I…" Oh, kami… I want to help him. I want to, but I can't. I don't know how!

Chaos.

This is bad. What's wrong? Is she pushing me away? Did I make a mistake!? Keep panic out of your voice, you moron. "What are you talking about?"

Control…

"Ranma. Come here." I will do this. I just hope…

Chaos…

This is bad… this is bad… this is bad… I finally did it. I pushed to far, and now it's all gonna come crashing down… moron, moron, moron, moron… "… okay…"

Control failure.

"Do you trust me?" I will do this…

Pattern detected.

What is this? What's going on? I need help… help… help… help… I'm pathetic. I'm weak… I'm nothing. "…help… help me…"

Control failure cascading.

"I trust you, and I want to help you…" Kami… Ranma… what's happened to you? Please, don't let me lose you… let me help you.

Pattern signal increasing.

Kami! I can't! If I… If I… But… Kasumi said… maybe… I can… it's too dangerous… but I lo- "Akane."

Control failure compleee… t… e.

"Yes, Ranma?" I wish I knew what to say…

Signal identified.

I don't know what to say… "I love you." Maybe words weren't needed.

Release.


[Once more unto the Breach. The present.]

It was out. Now she knew. So what next?

"No…"

Of course. It was to be expected. It hurt, oh kami it hurt… but she knew it was coming. "Sorry."

"No…"

It hurt. A dagger in her heart, and all of it her own fault. Of course it wouldn't work, but that hope had to die such a painful death… it wasn't fair. Not fair at all. "Sorry."

"No…"

It had to stop; she couldn't handle much more of it. "I said I was sorry. This… this really hurts, okay?


[Calm before the Storm. The present.]

Seeds of distrust, hate, self-loathing… she had those — those and more. Allies, tools… they were nothing to her. The crazy sword wielding boy, or his equally crazed sister… or perhaps she hadn't been so crazy. The plan had no room for failure, and it depended on her being crazy.

So she was made to be mad, on the chance that she wasn't already.

The old woman nodded in satisfaction, clutching the stone about her neck, and pleasing herself anew with its warmth. She knew that things would go well, but this had exceeded even her expectations.


[Bonds broken and forged anew. The past]

"I've returned."

The couple seemed startled, staring with jaws agape before collecting themselves. "Welcome… Himura-san! You are looking quite well. Welcome home."

She affected a weak smile, feeling the burdens mount on her back. "Home… hmm… How have things been for you? It's been three years."

The man beamed proudly, gesturing her to follow while his wife clung to his elbow, flushed and smiling. "Come, I wish to show you something."

She followed the young couple hesitantly, already guessing what they were to show her. "Ah." She smiled, peering over the edge of a cradle at a slumbering child. "I see that the medicines helped."

The woman nodded, then coughed. "Um… there is… another, you see… We were hoping you would come back and name her, since you've done so much for us…" The woman bit her lip and stared at the floor.

She smiled in understanding. "It's okay. What is the child's name, then?"

The man answered, one hand seeking his wife's. "Her name is Nabiki."

She said nothing for a long moment, simply nodding. "It is a good name… but what is this 'other'?"

Grinning widely, the man gestured to his wife, as the woman's flush deepened. "I," she began hesitantly, "am going to have another child soon… and we'd like you to name him or her…"

She raised an eyebrow at that, wondering at how her life would have to change now. "That is a great honor…"


[Clouds and Rain. The present.]

She wasn't certain where it began, just a tender touch, a tentative kiss.

The sparks from that contact urged more, a sensation welling from deep inside.

Build.

But the feelings returned were real, making it a deeper thing between two lovers.

Further touches, more firm and intense.

Control.

Silent eyes communicated more than words could at that moment.

No room for words, with the confusing blur of touch, the taste of the other's tongue…

Unity.

And a sense of fulfillment from the other, of becoming one with them.

Part of a greater thing then they — there was life there.

Release.


Part 2: …Along the Razor's Edge?


Synthesis.

A grizzled woman sat along in her room, clutching a faintly pulsing talisman in one aged claw, and cackling to herself in satisfaction.

A young man with a heavy heart stood firm in his resolve, seeking out the one he loved to tell her she would be free of him, for the man who had claimed her heart.

A much older man watched over his young ward, awe at his student's power apparent on his visage, as soft words escaped his lips, "You have succeeded where I failed…"

A pair of young lovers lay tangled in the sheets of a room, the young woman struggling to accept the enormity of what she had done, while her lover lay quiescent, staring at the ceiling, and presently began to speak…

Two young women watched each other in amusement and alarm, unsure of the next move as they hesitantly began to dress.

An older woman still, though young in appearance watched over it all, wondering who would make the next move.

Balance.


[Some lines are not to be crossed. The present.]

He stalked down the streets, searching for some clue or sign of her whereabouts.

No sense waiting, letting his heart turn sourer by the lack of regard she held for him. He would tell her.

While he was still strong.


[Lapsing from visibility to tranquility. The present.]

"Why…"

"I don't know. I'm sorry."

"Don't be… I should be."

"No… this is silly. I'm… I'm… You're worth it. I want to help you."

"This wasn't… the only way…"

"Doesn't matter. What next?"

"I… I don't know. But… Thank you."

"Do you want to talk to me now?"

"I… yes."


[Genius of Folly. The past.]

"M… Master?" He was unable to make his voice stop wavering. Had he… had he really?

Was the whelp suffering from his actions so soon? Foolishness. "You're smarter than that, Genma. It was self-defense. Let it go. They would have killed us otherwise."

"But… I didn't mean…" Why did they have to be here? What was the purpose?

With his luck, the other student would probably be just as broken up. "Don't lose your head, fool. Think straight. I know you're smart, so let this pass. Self-defense."

"Weak justification." And it was. Soun would fare little better, most likely. He was a murderer…

They were going to have to deal with it. Different from the way he dealt with his problems, but why was he cursed with such weak men? No sense leading them down his path; he'd seen it to be a failure. "You just have to forge ahead and make your own path through this problem. You'll find a way."

"A way… yes… I see a way." A sacrifice. Give a piece of himself up to let the dead lay at rest? Madness. But maybe the best answer.

He was sharp, that Genma. "I know you're bright. Brains like yours should find a solution quickly."


[The dreamer. The present.]

She stood in front of the door to the youngest girl's room, nodding to herself.

"Good enough," she whispered, respecting them and leaving them alone. "Be strong for what happens next, Ranma, but know that you will not ever have to face it alone."

She turned down the hall, marching to her own room, and the closet, with its secrets, a hundred years and more waiting.


[Ancient Yin. The present.]

She grinned at the talisman in her hands, the reverberating pulses of warmth telling her that the chain of honor was secure. The boy would be loyal as long as she lived, and there was no room for error on this one. Her great-granddaughter and he had come together enough for it to be obvious that there was no other way.

"Time to collect," she whispered to herself, turning to a desk and preparing a letter.


[Dreams of wishes. The present.]

"Excuse me…"

"Yes?"

"I'm looking for Shan Pu, but… the old monkey asked me to give this to Ranma. I don't really want to see him right now…"

"I understand. Thank you."

"Yeah…"


[Family convenes. The present.]

She placed the letter on the table before him where he was sitting, a much more relaxed and contemplative expression than he had worn recently gracing his features. "This came for you."

He nodded, taking the letter and opening it quickly, scanning the flawlessly written characters. His brow furrowed, and he set the letter back on the table, shaking his head. "I don't understand."

The girl next to him peered at the letter, frowning sharply. "I can't read Chinese."

The woman's eyes flickered across the letter before she joined the younger in frowning. "I can."

"Me too," the boy muttered. "At least, enough to see what she's saying here."

The woman's piercing gaze settled on the boy. "Is it true?"

"Of course not!"

"Then it's a trap."

"I guess… I guess I'd better go deal with her then…"

"No." Not from the woman; from the girl.

The woman and the boy stared in surprise. "What?"

"I'm going with you."

"I as well."

"I can't stop you?"

A glance between the girl and the woman, then responses in one voice, "No."


[Ancient Yang. The present.]

Fools. They thought that they could manage alone. Perhaps that woman was something he couldn't understand, and maybe she had a secret, or a trick up her sleeves…

But it was foolishness to think that they could do what they were planning without help.

He knew that they would need help. A simple matter to follow them and make sure that they weren't left alone to long.

He winced, rubbing at a frilly piece of lace.

It hurt to focus that much. Best collect the more capable student and follow.

The boy had to be admired for his balance, though he wasn't able to do it alone… and neither was he, when he thought about it.


[The Shadow. The present.]

She knew, in the same way that she knew that she wasn't really… a woman… that she hadn't won. It wasn't a matter of analyzing points and asking, "What went wrong?"

It was a matter of simply not ever having a chance in the first place.

Such was life.

Her life was full of hardships, to the point where simple steamed rice was a luxury. Being denied something that was never rightfully hers was something she could cope with easily, and if nothing else, there was friendship. That was important, and worth more than fanciful dreams of romances that could never happen.

In a sense, she was pleased for her mistress, finding… happiness… the way that she had. Things would be changing, but she was glad for her mistress's happiness… and her mistress's lover. She deserved better, and then got it.

She had to wonder what lay in store for herself, but… every family could benefit from a guardian. Smiling, she set about tidying up the already immaculate store, affecting ignorance as her mistress and her lover ran in, hand-in-hand.

A giggle echoed down the stairs as the lovers ascended, and she clicked her tongue once, flipping the entrance sign to 'closed,' and leaving the door unlatched behind her.

Time enough to worry about that later. In the meantime, there was shopping to do, and an undeniable joy overpowering the faint disappointment. She had family, and belonged.


[Pariah's fragile paradigm. The present.]

He glided down the street silently, his feet scarcely touching the ground as he ghosted forward, trailing… her.

Rage!

No no no no no no no… Can't give up, fought more than ten years, not to lose! No! Not good enough… no! Would —

Check.

Now was as good a time as ever, lest he lose his resolve. Whatever man…

Rage.

… no, she's mine, mine mine mine mine! I can't… no… Will win! Will become good enough somehow, will —

Check.

He shook his head, trying to erase the images of… her…

Finding the door unlatched, he entered the restaurant. Time to say goodbye…

Rage…

She belongs to me! ME! She is mine… mine… Never… never give up… she's…

Check.


[Of names and naming. The past.]

"What… what should we name the child, Himura-san?"

She blinked, startled out of her reverie. "We don't know if it's going to be a boy or a girl yet. How can I name it?"

"A name for each? He or she will be your brother or sister, after all."

Sister? She'd had… Blinking back a sudden tear, she nodded. "If it's a boy, then… Yahiko. If it's a girl…"

"Himura-san?"

She blinked suddenly, wiping away tears. The women who had died to try and protect him as a mere child… the ones who had given their lives in the hopes that he become something greater, to live and… He had failed. She had failed. The guardians, then. A promise to build a success out of the failure that had already plagued her. "Akane. And I'll be Kasumi, now."

"Those are lovely names, Kasumi-san."

Kasumi nodded, feeling an eerie sense of tranquility settling into her at the thought. "I think… I think I'm going to have a sister…"

"Kasumi-san?"

Kasumi smiled. "Kasumi. Not 'Kasumi-san.' I'm your daughter now, remember?"


[Ancient Yin in the challenge yard. The present.]

She grinned toothily, waiting in the center of the empty lot. He would know better than to try and avoid the issue, and would most likely bring her wayward great-granddaughter with him.

A dim worry began scratching at the back corners of her minds, but was quickly ignored. There was no room for failure.

She allowed a single flash of irritation to cross her face before she regained her composure. Meddlers… the boy was followed… or taking people with him.

Well, she had sent the letter as a challenge, but she could stand against him easily enough. Her… assistants… would be able to counter any unexpected additions short of the old man himself, but she suspected she could handle him, even if it was at a cost.


[Confrontation and conflict. The present.]

"Son… in law…" She furrowed her brow, looking at the boy in displeasure. "Where is your lover?"

He glanced instinctively towards the younger girl, shaking his head. "I thought you were an ally."

The woman behind the boy stared, her eyes taking in everything quickly, as she adjusted her stance, bearing a wooden blade with a somber expression. "Things are never as they seem, Ranma."

The old woman narrowed her eyes. "Where is Shan Pu?"

The boy shrugged, narrowing his eyes. "Dunno. Haven't seen her in a few days."


[Paradigm lost. The present.]

He frowned, hearing a muted noise from above, followed by a giggle.

Rage.

She's found another — replaced, useless, unneeded —

Check.

He slipped quietly up the stairs, a sickening fear and worry beginning to gnaw at his heart as he ascended the stairs. But she couldn't have… and if she had… she had not ever been his.

Another giggle and a slight gasp. "No," he whispered, already knowing that his suspicions were true, and hoping they weren't.

Rage.

Betrayal! Betrayal! She is your! She is yours! Go and take her, destroy —

Check.

The door stood before him, the sounds behind it unmistakable. "No…" his hand rose inexorably, preparing to confirm it, while his heart desperately pleaded for it to somehow not be true.

Rage.

You know it, you know it, you know it! She's found anoth—

Check.

The panel slipped open abruptly, slamming into the wall with a resounding impact.

"No." Their startled eyes met his, wide in shock, as their mouths made to make some excuse or explanation.

"NO!" No longer thinking, he gave himself over.

Rage.

She is mine! Mine mine mine mine mine mine… Checksum invalid. Mine mine mine mine mine…


[White queen. The present.]

It made no sense. The device — with an easily obtained and stored lock of hair from a prior encounter with the boy — should have eroded his will completely.

It had taken months of planning, subtlety, focus… all that time spent after Ranma's return from China with Akane, and for naught? Was the boy's will that strong? Or had he somehow been helped?


[Clash. Battle begun anew. The present.]

White: Advance pawns.

Black: Huh? Me? Oh, I, um… gimme a minute… oh that's easy. Take one of them. One on the, er… left. Yeah.

Dao: We wait.


[Black knight, White rook. The present.]

Black:

His son's life was nothing to laugh about, laughable as his own efforts at raising the boy were.

But there was no reason to evade the issue now, knowing as he did his utter failure in so many ways… a way to unleash the parts of himself locked away for oh-so-long… the parts denied even to himself and his own mind. It was time to face his own failure, and protect his son.

White:

Ready for combat.

… Combat initiated.

Fool charges at me. I ready my weapon and — strike. He stops my blow!

… Why am I fighting?

Do not wake — the battle continues.


[Clash. Heart of the storm. The present.]

The boy did not blink, or even look as combat broke out about him, seemingly oblivious to the enhanced leotard clad woman as she was neatly rebuffed by a rotund blur in a frayed white gi.

His eyes did not track the ribbon that missed his face by mere centimeters, as the fight rolled briefly about him, then out of his mind's way.

This was the key, in some sense. The battle, the combat… it had an answer beyond the simple perceptions that he had available. Think. The key…


[White knight, Black rook. The present.]

White:

He spared only a glance for his miniscule opponent. Was he not great? His foe could challenge, but never hope to win. He readied his steel, frowning grimly and raising his weapon in salute.

The foe had no honor, and attacked before the salute was finished. He was prepared for that, and moved his blade in defense. Unity. One mind/body. He would win.

Black:

Pattern, pattern, pattern… where are you, little pattern? Where are your faults that I might exploit them!

Hehehe… that makes me smile for some reason.

Can't focus too hard — lose the rhythm, don't ya know? The boy can do it. And his friends. But I'm the real hope. Yep yep yep.

Hotcha! Trade partners?


[Clash. Eyes in the storm. The present.]

What was he doing? What was she doing?

She waited nervously, knowing that whatever was going on, he knew what he was doing… and trusting her family. Her sister knew what she was doing, certainly.

So she waited, trying to ignore the constant combat spinning around them.


[White knight, Black knight. The present.]

White:

I am great, for my opponent flees, facing a lesser instead. Pah, this one shall fall before me as the others — mown wheat, and nothing more.

An opening!

Black:

A simple manner, such predictable tactics.

I should have seen it sooner! I failed — I made a mistake… the answer is there!


[Black rook, White rook. The present.]

White:

… Acquisition of target. Is this really necessary?

Of course. We must win.

… Then… you are making an error. It should be like so…

Black:

Yes, yes, yes. Much better.

Should have done this in the first place. Yes.

Much better, oh so much better. Why didn't I do it earlier?

Oh.

Damn.


[Te. The present.]

He is close. I can feel it. Oh-so close. The answer is there — the one that not even I have found.

Not Kasumi, not a mere dreamer… I, Kenshin.

And now I can see how gloriously close you are to sorting this out and finding the answer.

I have faith in you, Ranma.


[Shadows in the theater of the mind. The present.]

She wasn't certain how it began, only how it ended.

A savage, unskilled attack, one that ended in a staggeringly fierce shudder through the man.

She pushed her lover aside, the startled expression and fast breathing worrying her anew — and saw him.

Standing in the doorway with wide, disbelieving eyes, and a single hand that tremblingly drew away from the exposed steel in the — in the — that drew away slowly.

She rose to her feet, trying to explain, to say it was okay, it wasn't his fault, and to call him back, but no words came, and he turned to flee, leaving her alone with her lover and the— and the— leaving her alone with her lover.


[A shadow on the field. The present.]

No no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no… she had never meant to do it, no, she hadn't! She meant merely to help them, and then had… had… had… no…

"Why?"

Who said that? Her? Another? Was there another there?

She needed help… help help help help…

Who could help!?


[White queen. The present.]

She bared her teeth, still not moving, but bowing under the weight of the tool, the horrid mental strain that using it at such strength brought down.

And still there was nothing. At this much power he should be reduced to a mindless quivering whelp!

Unless… was it not focused on him? Was it perhaps then… affecting all of them? Or was he simply that balanced?


[Between light and dark — there is Dao. The present.]

I see it. There's a line, a razor's edge between the wailing abyss of yin and yang…

Why did I never see it before? It's there. I'm there. I am…

I finally understand… I am… I am…

I am become… me!


[Clouds. The present.]

Time to make a move.

Fear.

Time to make a move — family is on the line.

Fear.

The master was right to reject you out of hand — you are worthless.

Fear.

Time to move. Unless you want more to be afraid of, and less to be afraid for.

Then let's be on our way.

Yes.


[Sundered circle. The present.]

Her eyes widened — not understanding what was going on, but there was someone that she knew. Someone that did not know what she had done to protect her— to protect her— what she had done.

Stumbling, she froze, watching the tableau before her.

In the center of a maelstrom of violence, he stood, simply staring, seemingly unaffected by the movements of those nearby. Reaching as deep into herself as she could, she called for help to the one person she thought could help her.

"Ranma!"


[White knight, Black night. The present.]

Black:

A cry for help!? I can't — too much, trying to find a path — no time.

The boy, is he —

White:

My true foe! I will strike him down!

An opening!


[Black rook, White rook. The present.]

Black:

No time, gotta help, gotta help, must move quickly, another stone on the table. Heehee… White and black, so what's the opposite of that one?

Oh, attack? Duck, hop, fun fun fun… no, work to do. Focus?

Need to. No choice.

White:

… This is… Why am I doing this? The one I want is there…

Error! Re-engage enemy.

… No, this is my enemy.


[Temperance. The present.]

Noise? What then… what is this?

It's never been like this… why is it like this?

Am I being selfish? I want him… he's at the center of everything, but I want him to be safe… whatever happens, that's all I want. Please be safe?


[Te. The present.]

Confusion. Reaction. No time, movement and thought are one.

Wait… risk… must control… must control…

That was the failure? Must not control?

There! Now I see it!


[Dao. The present.]

There was no clear path — he could see that much. But any movement he made would put the results on his hands. Action vs. reaction.

Reaction was preferable — but even the act of choosing to not make a decision was… a choice.

The best choice here, for him, for her… for all.


[Strike. The present.]

Knight:

His eyes widened, sudden pain and fear marking his expression as his opponent stepped back, lowering a bloodied blade and ignoring him there to charge his son.

Failure.

He fell to the ground, not able to muster the strength to move and knowing — knowing — too late… too late.

Failure.

Rook:

He strained himself, utilizing the fullest extent of his ability, his training, his skill — and fell into the trap.

Success.

He smiled grimly, seeing in the chaotic haze and muddled jumble of possibilities that even if he failed — so had she.

Success.


[Passing trial.]

It's cold… I'm cold. So cold.

And dark. I don't like the cold and the dark. What next? Can I say one last thing before it's over?

I can?

Thank you…

Thank you.


[Impetus. The present.]

That should not have happened. It was not meant to be — balance was needed here, and there was none.

He was less aware of thinking about it, and more aware it being done.

No complex kata, evasions and strikes — simply being there and deciding.

"You should not have done that."

Her eyes were wide; her breath rasping. Was she still capable of fear?

Decision.


[Clash. Children and their toys. The present.]

She smiled grimly at her foe, realizing the path that she truly needed to walk — only now these long hundred years and more later.

Was it not she herself that had said she preferred the 'playfighting' to the real thing?

The boy before her was skilled, and had potential…

And stood no chance before her.

That was not the issue, rather it was… could she do it without killing?

Did she have the control?

No.

She didn't.

But it wasn't about control.


[Path to truest temperance. The present.]

"There is another way."

… Is there?

No. There isn't. Resume function.

"Yes… You just need to be calm… to think about things."

… That… is it that simple? Then…

No. Resume function.

"Please?"

… Yes… I… I see.

System failure.

"I'm sorry."

… No. I should be sorry.


[Hand of Dao. The present.]

Justice. An eye for an eye, they say…

That would make the decision active.

Mercy. She cannot grow if she is dead.

That would make the decision reactive.

Which one?

A voice?

"Ranma."

Yes. That voice. The one that all of this is for.

"Ranma… do… do the right thing."

Both. Balance. The path in the center.

How?


[Ancient yin. The present.]

Her eyes were wide, seeing Kasumi effortlessly dispatch her pawn and then turn to face Ranma, her face impassive as the martial artist stared down at her, his aura unwavering and perfectly calm — a seething and boiling furnace of power kept only barely restrained as a dangerous light burned in his eyes.

"The answer," he said slowly, still holding her to the ground with one hand, the other poised above her throat, "is obvious. I must do both. There must be both justice and mercy. Balance. You will punish yourself far worse then I shall. Because you may look upon me, or any of us, and see in us what you have failed to become, and then know that the blood on your hands is still unresolved." He shook his head once. "And it will stay on your hands forever."

With that he stood, releasing her, and strode away.

 

To be continued.

Epilogue
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