Act 1, Scene 3: Blind Man's Bluff
A Ranma ½/Avengers fusion by DB Sommer
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ owned by Rumiko Takahashi and whomever she sold the rights to. The Avengers are owned by Marvel Comics. Yes, the superheroes, not the British TV Series.
As always, all C&C appreciated. You can contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Avenging is also being kept on DB's page at: http://angcobra.jumpfun.com/dbsommer.html
Even in a place as odd as Nerima, one did not have racecars crash through the front glass of a bank all that often.
So it was that the huge glass window to the bank's lobby shattered in a loud crash, which caused all of the customers, tellers, and security guards to throw themselves on the ground and cover their heads. The cacophony continued as the loud impact of the racecar that had driven through the window landed on the tiled floor and skidded across it. It somehow missed all of the prone patrons and came to a stop in front of the counter, right next to a teller.
The engine fell silent, and the clear plastic dome that had been in place over the roofless car slid back, allowing the driver to stand up so that all in the lobby could see him. He wore a gaudy-looking blue leather jacket and pants with yellow birds all over them. On his head was a dark blue crash helmet, and he wore oversized driving goggles over his eyes, obscuring his features from the world. He held a machine-gun in his hands and brandished it in the air; the hint of deadly menace clear in his manner.
One of the bank tellers nearest to the car stood up and spoke. "Sir, I'm afraid the drive-through is located on the other side of the bank."
"Oh. Sorry about that." The driver began to sit down, then slapped himself in the helmet and stood up once again. "This is a stick-up! Nobody move or you'll be sorry! Now my name's Stuntmaster, and I want you to give me all of your money o-"
"Hey! You're Speed Racer!" one of the customers said as he got up off the floor and pointed at Stuntmaster in awe.
Eyes widened beneath oversized driving goggles. "H… how did you-" Stuntmaster took a deep, calming breath and collected his thoughts. "I'm afraid you're mistaken, sir. My name is Stuntmaster. As you might have guessed by my outfit, I am a supervillain, and have no affiliation whatsoever with that scourge of the speedways, Speed Racer."
"But you're driving the Mach-5." The man pointed at the distinctive-looking white racecar with the big red 'M' on the hood.
"Argh!" Stuntmaster grunted as he smacked himself in the helmet once again. He knew he had forgotten to do something. Trying to salvage something from the mess his situation had become, he said, "I… um, stole it from him. Yes, that's it. I stole it from him and now it's called the Stuntmobile."
"Why does it still have an 'M' on the hood? Stuntmobile starts with an 'S'," a five-year-old boy pointed out.
"Mind your own business!" Stuntmaster shot back.
Just as he finished shouting, the trunk to the 'Stuntmobile,' flung open and two diminutive figures, armed with submachine guns, burst out from it.
"Freeze! If anyone moves, I'll cap your sorry ass!"
Stuntmaster looked on in shock at the two stowaways. "Spridal! Chim Chim! What the hell are you doing here?"
Spridal gave an okay sign to his brother. "Me and Chim Chim wanted to help out, just like we always do."
Stuntmaster brought his hands to his helmet. "Pop's going to kill me for getting you involved in this heist."
Silently, one of the security guards approached Stuntmaster, staying out of the gaudily dressed supervillain's line of sight. He went undetected, getting within a foot of the villain before drawing the object from within the confines of his uniform and poked Stuntmaster in the back with it.
"Can I have your autograph, Mr. Racer?" the security guard asked, pen and a piece of bank stationery in hand.
By almost unconscious reflex, Stuntmaster said, "Sure," and began to sign the paper. It took him a moment to realize what he was doing. He quit signing the autograph and brandished his weapon once more. "Quit horsing around! This is a stick-up, so act like it!"
A thrown billy club connected with the side of Stuntmaster's helmet, producing a ringing sensation, but otherwise leaving him unharmed. His eyes followed the path of the attacking weapon, which bounced once on the floor before returning to the hand of its wielder.
All eyes turned to see the man, standing next to open area where the window had been a moment ago. He was wearing a loose fitting, blood red robe and a red mask with two tiny horns on the head. The lower portion of the mask was cut out, allowing the masked adventurer to talk without any obstructions. Two overlapping 'D's in black lettering were clear on the center of his chest.
"Oh my god!" Stuntmaster gasped. "It's Batman!"
The billy club met his face this time.
"I'm not Batman, you moron!" the man in red shot back.
Stuntmaster began jumping up and down in joy. Here he was, only on his first official super-villain outing and already he rated the attention of a superhero. With all of the witnesses present, it was his chance to make it big.
Preening like a peacock, Stuntmaster boldly announced to the crowd, "So, it's my arch-nemesis…" Stuntmaster suddenly realized he didn't have the faintest idea of who his opponent was. The double 'D's on his chest must have stood for something, and it probably had nothing to do with the masked man's breast size. Stuntmaster's mind raced with the possibilities.
"What are you talking about?" the red-garbed adventurer asked in obvious bewilderment.
"Dr. Danger?" Stuntmaster guessed again.
"Don't be absurd." The masked man at last understood what Stuntmaster was doing.
"Can't you at least be imaginative?"
"That's it! My name is-"
"I've got it! The Debutante Detective!"
A billy club met his helmet in the second time. "My name is Daredevil! Daredevil!"
"No need for such language, my arch-nemesis," Stuntmaster assured him.
"I'm not your arch-nemesis," Daredevil pointed out as his teeth gnashed together. "This is the first time we've ever met, Speed Racer."
"I'm Stuntmaster, not Speed Racer!" the villain snapped. "And this is but the first of many meetings we shall have."
Daredevil shook his head. "Not likely. I'm going to capture you right now and you're going to jail for a very long time."
Stuntmaster scoffed at the very idea. "What are you going to do? Bounce your billy club off my helmet again? Hahahaha. I've had my head run over by Racer X himself, and came out of it without a scratch. Haha-"
Stuntmaster found himself struck all over his body from dozens of billy clubs that were hurled from the loose sleeves of Daredevil's robes. Stuntmaster was knocked backward, momentarily stunned by the unexpected assault.
Spridal gave a sigh of disappointment. It was up to him to save the day. He turned to his simian companion. "Let's nail the horn-headed freak."
Daredevil barely had time to duck through the broken frame and outside the bank. He remained behind one of the walls as a hail of gunfire from the tiny terrors arched his way. Once there was a break in the gunfire,
Daredevil shouted, "Shouldn't you be in school, little boy?"
"Where do you think I scored these guns?" Spridal snapped back, then sent another burst near Daredevil's location.
As Spridal sprayed the area with gunfire, Stuntmaster had recovered enough to hear the sounds of sirens nearby. He turned to his brother and pet monkey. "We're out of here, you two! Hop in the backseat."
"What about the money, Speed?"
"IT'S STUNTMASTER!!!" he snapped back. "We'll get some the next time we knock over a bank!"
"But I wanna' DVD player!" Spridal wined before Stuntmaster grabbed hold of both him and Chim Chim by the backs of their collars and tossed them into the backseat. The moment they hit, Stuntmaster started the engine. With the push of a button on the steering wheel, a bulletproof Plexiglas shield came over the top and completely sealed the driver's compartment. The bank customers dove for cover once again as the Mach 5 turned around in the lobby and pointed towards the exact path it had come in through.
Daring to look around the corner, Daredevil looked just in time to see the Mach-5 surge forward towards the opening, using the four automatic jacks located next to each tire to leap up into the air and through the shattered windowpane to the street beyond.
Upon landing and steering the Mach 5 in the direction he wanted it to go, Stuntmaster saw that the police had had enough time to set up twin barricades that blocked both ends of the road. That earned a sneer from Stuntmaster as he charged forward towards one set of the police cars. The touch of a different button caused twin buzz saws to extend from their concealed positions in the front of the car. The Mach 5 only slowed down slightly as the saws tore through the police cars like they were composed of paper mache. Stuntmaster laughed hard as he sped past the scene of destruction, looking back over his shoulder so that he could enjoy the carnage one last time before leaving its sight. As he was still admiring his handiwork, sounds began to come from the backseat.
"Here he comes. Here comes Speed Racer. He's a demon on wheels."
"SHUT UP!" Stuntmaster bellowed at Spridal and Chim Chim as he considered throwing them out on general principle.
The Mach 5 turned a corner around the next building, only to see a familiar red-garbed figure make a swooping pass, using a cable from one of his billy clubs, a good fifty feet in front of the car. Daredevil continued his arc as he swung from one building to the next. Stuntmaster was wondering how Daredevil could have been so far off on his swing when he spotted the caltrops that were now lying directly in the middle of the street, having been released by the hero on the 'errant' swing.
Stuntmaster hit the button for the automatic jacks again. There was a loud bang from the front left tire before the Mach 5 was airborne. It cleared the remainder of the caltrops easily, but as the car landed Stuntmaster could feel the damage had been done.
"Spee…I mean Stuntmaster, we're slowing down," Spridal said.
"It can't be helped," Stuntmaster replied as he turned to cut through the downtown section of Tokyo. The nearest hideout was located no more than twenty miles away from their current position. Barring the police somehow having stumbled onto the hideout, they were home free. The only thing that truly worried Stuntmaster at that point was Daredevil. By swinging from building to building, and due to the slower speed of the Mach 5 from the blown out tire, there was an offhand chance he might cause problems again.
To make his path harder to follow, Stuntmaster went down a series of side streets and alleys. True, it would slow him down further, but losing Daredevil would make it all worthwhile. He continued down several others before setting back on his proper course and onto one of the main streets of downtown Tokyo again. Stuntmaster afforded a glance above to see if Daredevil was around, but there was no one in sight.
"Ha! We've escaped him. It seems my arch nemesis isn't so smart after all."
Stuntmaster noticed a 'Bridge Is Out' sign in the middle of the street and followed the detour down the alleyway.
Stuntmaster was still basking in the glory of his escape as he gunned the engine and hurried to the tunnel ahead. It was odd how the thing was pitch black though; almost as if all of the lights in the tunnel were burned out, but then Tokyo street crews had been very lax about their upkeep lately. It was only as Stuntmaster was ten meters away from the 'tunnel' that he suddenly realized there were no bridges in the middle of downtown Tokyo.
The sound of a car crashing into an alleyway wall resounded throughout the area.
Daredevil stood at the top of the building and looked down into the alleyway below. "I can't believe he fell for that," the hero said as black paint continued to drip from the paintbrush he still held in his hand. Some people just were not cut out for the supervillain business.
As Daredevil put the brush and Braille-marked can of black paint back within the confines of his robes, he focused his radar sense on the demolished car below. He could sense the strong heartbeats of all three riders, and that they were currently pinned in the car by the airbags that had erupted on impact. There were even ones in the backseat, curiously enough.
The sound of sirens became louder as several police cars pulled into the mouth of the alleyway. He could feel the warmth of the sun on his skin, and knew it was almost finishing setting. Deciding to allow the authorities to mop up, the superhero known as Daredevil, the Man Without Fear, headed towards a certain pool hall in Nerima, where he was expected by someone whom it was unwise to disappoint.
"And I bet you she can't make the shot."
The regular patrons of Ohtana's Bar let out a collective sigh. Ohtana himself, who was busy cleaning a shot glass, looked at the new loudmouth. The bar owner thought he had overheard the man refer to himself as, 'Bonecrusher' Kyan. "You don't wanna do that. It's not too late to back down."
"Bullshit! No one can sink all five of those balls in one shot. Not with the way they're sitting." Bonecrusher spit on the floor at the very idea.
Ohtana wondered if Bonecrusher thought he was being insulting in spitting on the floor of the dimly lit pool hall. Compared to some of the other fluids that had ended up on the wooden planks, spit would only add to the shine. "Stick can do it."
A consensus of "Yeah's" emanated from the bar's patrons.
Realizing he was now the sole center of attention, Bonecrusher gave the whole crowd a hard stare. Obviously they were trying to have fun at the newcomer's expense if they thought he was going to buy that story about her being able to sink that shot. 'Stick' indeed. Looking at her, he wondered how they could even suggest such a person could do what they claimed. Bonecrusher noted that the subject of the outrageous claim was a three-foot tall, wrinkly-looking woman that must have been around a hundred years old and looked more like a troll than a human being. She wore an outfit that consisted of a long-sleeved, green denim shirt and matching pants that had almost surely been bought at a children's department store, given their size. For some odd reason she chose to wear a New York Yankees baseball cap, under which a held her white hair, save for one long ponytail that hung out the back. There was also her annoying tendency to somehow balance herself on the top of a pool cue; even going so far as hopping around on it like it was a giant pogo stick. No doubt that was where the nickname of 'Stick' came from.
However her most outstanding feature was her eyes, which were milky white orbs that no longer had the faintest trace of pupils. Obviously she was blind, which made the so-called 'joke' even more insulting. The very idea that a blind person could make the shot the others were proposing was like a slap in the face to Bonecrusher. Well, he would show them. He would call their ridiculous bluff and get a hold of some quick cash in the bargain. He slammed down the ten thousand yen he had wagered, on the pool table.
"Bet accepted," Stick said as she hopped off the top of the pool cue she had been standing on and landed on the edge along one of the rails of the pool table. She brought her former perch up and into her hands as she lined the long shaft up with the cue ball.
"Aren't you going to chalk it up?" Bonecrusher asked, wondering how she knew which one was the cue ball. She had been standing on the stick since he had arrived at the bar. The soles of her shoes had to have been in blue. Stick gave a snort at that. Bonecrusher wondered why he had even bothered mentioning it. Not all of the chalk in the world was going to help her. Even if she had not been blind, there was no way on earth that she, or anyone else for that matter, would have been able to make the five shot combo with the way the balls were lying on the table. He smirked at the easy money that was all but already in his hands.
Without looking in Bonecrusher's direction, Stick said, "If I were you, I'd wipe that smirk off your face. You'll look slightly less stupid when you lose. Not by much, but every little bit helps."
A scowl creased Bonecrusher's features. How did the blind, old piece of mackerel jerky know he was smiling?
Yawning, Stick drew back on the cue and shot. There was a loud crack as she hit the cue ball dead on. Even as the balls rolled along the table, she turned to Bonecrusher and gave him a toothy grin that showed off a perfect, gleaming smile.
The smile made chills run down the six-foot mass of muscle's spine. "What the hell are you grinning at, you pruney old hag?"
As the last word left his mouth, he heard why. The sound of several balls dropping into the pockets of the table caught his full attention. Turning his gaze from the old woman, he watched in mounting horror as the third, then fourth ball fell into a pocket. There was only one left, the eight ball, amazingly enough. Slowly, inexorably, it rolled towards the side pocket nearest to him. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as the black ball drifted to the edge of the pocket. For a moment it sat on the edge of the black-green precipice, taunting him, showing him how close doom lay, daring him to speak out in protest, yet Bonecrusher said nothing.
And then the ball stopped.
After a second, Bonecrusher let out a sigh of relief. "Oh thank-"
The table was now bereft of the eight ball, the sound of it rolling out of sight through the tubes of the table running through everyone's ears.
Pain and suffering cut through Bonecrusher for the briefest of moments, then those feelings were shoved out of the way by the twin emotions of anger and denial. "That game was rigged!"
"I play nothing but straight games here!" Ohtana declared, waving the shot glass he had been cleaning in Bonecrusher's direction as though it were an accusing finger.
Two steps placed Bonecrusher within arm's length of Stick. "I say the game's rigged, the old hag ain't really blind, and I'm not paying." He looked down at the old woman, who had remained exactly in the same spot as when she had shot the ball, daring her to refute him.
Stick placed a hand inside of the pocket of her pants and came out with a pipe that seemed longer than what should have fit in a normal pocket. The moment the pipe touched her lips, smoke began curling from it. For several seconds she inhaled the smoke, then exhaled. The smoke that came from her mouth floated above her head, and seemed to Bonecrusher's eyes to form a sinewy dragon, complete with a smoky version of billowing flames. He admired the smoke creature for several seconds, until it drifted into his face and caused him to cough several times.
"Tell you what I'll do," Stick said to the now incensed man. "Double or nothing that I can take you down in two strikes."
Bonecrusher's anger temporarily left him as disbelief muscled in on the sudden turn of seemingly good fortune. "You're onUFF!"
A pool cue found its way into his gut, driving the wind out of him. As he doubled over, the butt end of the stick struck him in the head, rendering him unconscious as his form sprawled out across the wooden floor, right on top of the place where he had spit no more than a couple of minutes ago.
"Never try to teach granny how to suck eggs, sonny boy." Stick took Bonecrusher's wallet out and collected the new amount that was owed to her. She tossed the wallet back down on his chest. No one in the bar understood how she knew what the right amount was, but no one questioned how she was able to do it either. It was just accepted as being the normal way of things.
Ohtana ordered a couple of his employees to see to it that Bonecrusher was left in an alleyway several blocks away. There were already enough drunks in the alley next to the bar anyway. They wouldn't want the additional company.
"I'm taking the private room," Stick announced as she pogoed on her pool cue towards the back where the small private poolroom was. Ohtana had it set aside for special events, like when people of dubious distinction chose to engage in private games of chance. The room was expensive, and no one was allowed to use it unless they left a deposit first. Except when it came to Stick, who got to use it whenever she felt like it. Ohtana had always complied with her wishes, unwilling to risk getting on the diminutive woman's bad side.
There had been one occasion where someone had protested Stick's use of the room, claiming he had scheduled it first. The way Stick handled the disagreement discouraged any others from protesting about time conflicts. The upside to that was, after that (and several other) incident, no one screwed around with the bar if they knew Stick was in residence. Unless they were unaware of her reputation, like Bonecrusher. But they learned in the end. Eventually they always did.
Perched atop her cue, Stick waited in the pitch darkness for her visitor. She had told him to meet her by eight o'clock this week, and, thanks to techniques beyond most others understanding, she knew he had several minutes left before he would be late. He always enjoyed cutting it close.
Just as she was about to mark him as late and prepared an appropriate reprimand, a subtle shift in the area alerted her to his presence. He would come through the back entrance, like he always did, trying to avoid any obvious connection between her and the masked crimefighter, but there was always the concern that someone would evade his heightened senses and observe the two of them talking. But Stick had assured him she would rather be associated with Daredevil than Mousse, attorney-in-training at large.
Lawyers had such filthy reputations, after all.
Stick used her own heightened senses once again to probe the room and beyond. There were no irregularities, and no one was close to the thick door to the room, or hiding near one of the walls. Even if there had been an electronic surveillance device, she would have felt it -another trick she had learned over the years- but there was still nothing. Their area was secure.
She could hear the sound of a window opening on the second floor as he silently made his way to the back passageway and down to the rear exit of the room. It took him only a moment to get to the room, his robes rustling slightly, a very loud noise to Stick.
"You cut that closer than usual," she said as Daredevil closed the door behind him.
"I was busy. There was a brain-dead wanna-be supervillain I had to deal with," he said as he stood across Stick, keeping the low table set up in the middle of the private room between the two of them. "By the way, I found a use for that 'Bridge Is Out' sign I was carrying around. And you said it was just a waste of space."
Stick cared little for the tone of voice Daredevil was using with her, a tone that had made its presence known all too often of late. At times his pride was a good resource for him to employ, as long as it was kept in check. Allowed to run loose, it could possibly result in some kind of fatal consequence. "Just because you've mastered the hidden weapons techniques, don't assume you can keep the world in your hands, though your upper limits are impressive."
"You're just jealous because I'm better at it than you ever were."
She was upon him in an instant, before he could react in spite of his heightened senses. One solid blow from her pool cue and he was hurled across the room, his flight stopped by an impact into the far wall. The anger Stick held seemed to disappear as she hopped over to where he had landed. The masked man was only starting to regain his footing.
"What was that for?!" he snapped, tensing in case there was a follow up to her attack.
"You needed to be reminded who is the master and who is the student." With that said, Stick shoulders seemed to slump a little as she gave out a tired sigh. "Mousse, Mousse, Mousse. What's gotten into you lately?
He brushed free any dirt his red costume might have picked up from his unceremonious flight. As he spoke, there was an edge of bitterness remaining in his voice. "I don't know what you mean."
Stick thought the saddest thing of all was that he truly didn't know. This moment had been building for some time. She debated whether or not to take the next step on this probably necessary course of action. There was little choice since it seemed unlikely her protégé would come out of it on his own. Over time he had been getting steadily worse, not better. It was time to take the chance. "You're lonely, boy."
"I am not!" Daredevil snapped with anger inappropriate to the accusation.
Stick suppressed the urge to swat him again; it would do more damage than good. "Boy, you've been lonely since the day I stumbled on you in that shelter for Chinese immigrants." That was only partially the truth. She had gone to that shelter when she had heard someone using a name that she had abandoned decades ago, having embarked on a different life in these lands that were so far from the one she could never have gone back to again.
There was an old saying among the Joketsuzoku. When a life can no longer be lived the way it is, then it is time to cast it, and everything related to, it aside forever, so that a new one could be chosen. Ku Lon was dead forever. From the ashes of that dead person's life, Stick arose, and now had an existence entirely of her own.
When she discovered the blind, five year old boy calling out for her, and found out where he had originally come from, she knew it had to be some sort of karma being visited upon her. Two outcasts, so different, yet so much alike in other ways. His past was dead now too, and Stick took it upon herself to help show him the way to a new future instead.
Another deep breath followed as she decided on how to best say what she needed to. "Over the years, I've taken you under my wing, teaching you to harness your heightened senses, make your body strong and your mind sharp. You've learned all the lessons I've taught you save one: how to enjoy life."
"I'm perfectly fine the way I am." The anger in his voice had faded to a hollow echo of what it once held.
"You are far from 'perfectly fine'," Stick corrected. "In the early days, you were able to get by without anyone other than myself as a companion. I had believed that the demons that had been hounding you would be laid to rest over time. To a degree, that was true. You were able to live and function among others with little in the way of problems. You've even set goals for yourself, trying to become a lawyer and even a costumed hero in order to help others. Truly those are noble goals, but in trying to help others, you're failing to help yourself."
Stick could hear his pulse quicken and jaws tighten. "I already failed someone. I'll never fail anyone again. Ever."
Stick sighed. She still was not quite getting through to him. "You have to let go of the past, Mousse. There's nothing you could have done to save your village."
"It's not about that!" he snapped back.
His heartbeat jumped slightly, telling Stick that was only partially true. That was there, eating away at him, but it wasn't the only thing. "Then it's about that Shampoo girl. Listen to me. You were five years old and there was nothing in the world you could have done to change what happened. I searched long and hard for her when you told me what had happened. No one had ever seen or heard of her, and no one has to this day. You know about my connections, if she was still alive, I would have found her. She's gone and you have to bring yourself to let go. Otherwise, this will continued to eat away at you until there is nothing left."
"I have to put it behind me? You're wrong. It's always going to be with me." His voice carried little in the way of conviction. All he sounded now was tired.
There little else she could do for him, so she gave a sad shake of her head. To push harder would only alienate him from her, and he still desperately needed her guidance. "You need friends, Mousse. Friends and someone to love. If you don't, I fear you'll lose everything." She hopped back up on her cue and turned to go. Just as she was about to leave, she paused, then decided to take a chance and reveal something for his benefit.
"You're the closest thing to kin I have. I'd rather not lose you."
Daredevil's head jerked slightly. Those were the closest words to affection he had ever heard from her. His mood improved slightly. To have someone that was normally as distant as her say something like that could even cut through the pain of remembering his past. He straightened up slightly, and there was now a strength returned to his voice. "I'll consider your words. Right now I have to go. There are some new legal texts that are coming in and I want to go over them. Same time next week." Without another word he departed the way he had come in.
As Daredevil left Ohtana's bar, he considered his mentor's words. There was a void in him that left him unfulfilled. When he helped others, the pain would go away, but only for brief amounts of time before the loneliness would take command of his thoughts and remind him of his failure with Shampoo. He was alone, save for Stick, and as she had said, he had gotten by with just that, at least until now.
Friends: something he had never allowed himself since that horrible night. Could he afford to have them? If he did have some, and then failed them too in some way, it would break him forever. But what was the alternative? Who was there that could understand what he had gone through?
What was he going to do?
The sun broke through the clouds of the clear afternoon. Soun's hand trembled over the postcard that had come in the mail.
Yep. It's that time again.
A cry of "Kasumi!" brought her out of the kitchen and into the living room. He called out, "Nabiki!" next, followed by a shout for his youngest, "Akane!" Surprisingly, Akane limped into the room with her cane first, despite having come from the upstairs and being called last. Nabiki still hadn't arrived.
Before Soun could mutter more than, "I wonder where she is?" Akane volunteered to get her older sister. She was certain she had heard Nabiki out behind the dojo.
Sure enough, as Akane passed through the empty hole that had once held a koi pond (It has still been early in acquiring her powers when she had flown home and accidentally landed just a little too hard in the pond, cracking its concrete foundation and ruining it. But she was going to fix it someday) and entered the small area of the yard behind the dojo she saw Nabiki was indeed there. Dressed in a black gi, -a color she seemed to favor the last couple of years- Nabiki was standing up, a small log not more than a foot in height before her. Raising her hand to the sky, Nabiki gave a mighty "KIYA!" and brought the edge of her hand down, slicing the log into two even halves.
"Not bad," Akane said, envy biting at the back of her mind as recriminations about her injury beckoned to drag her down into depression once more. "I thought you hated breaking things with the art, though."
"I do," Nabiki said as she sat another small log on its end and shattered it as well. "I'm only doing this because someone paid me to cut some firewood for them, and it's easier that using an axe." Nabiki tossed the final two pieces of wood into a pile where there were close to another hundred pieces already stacked up.
Akane was offended by the way Nabiki reduced the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts to nothing more than a profit-making scheme. The art was meant to be used for its own sake and to help others and teach them how to use it. At least that was what Akane felt it should be used for. And she would have used it for that too, if she had known anything more than the most basic of moves. When she had been growing up, she had loved learning martial arts. Right after her mother had died, at times it felt like that was all she had, but the car wreck had taken that away from her. Physically unable to advance in the art, her father had instead turned to Nabiki, who was reluctant to learn, but forced to do so for the sake of the family honor. And it was that fact which made Nabiki so bitter at times, a bitterness she was only to happy to share with others, never mind the fact that Akane would have given anything to be able to learn once again.
Some people never learned to appreciate what they had.
Except technically that was no longer true. Now things were different. Akane could not only move effortlessly, but she was nothing less than power incarnate. Whereas before she was about skilled enough in the martial arts to break a pencil, now she was powerful enough to smash a tree into kindling with one blow. Or at least as Thor she could.
Her heart begged her to soar the skies and fly free. How unfortunate something seemed to have come up. Perhaps after her father was finished with whatever it was he wanted to discuss, she could take the opportunity to leave the house and change.
"What did you want?"
Nabiki's question brought Akane back to the present. "Dad wants us for something. He called me and Kasumi too."
"Well at least it's not just about me," Nabiki grumbled as she hopped to her feet and walked back to the house, Akane limping along with her cane and trying to keep up.
Akane arrived in the room only several seconds after Nabiki. Soun looked the girls over one last time. For one of them, their life was going to take a turn for the better. How unfortunate and unfair to the other two girls that Saotome had only one son, else they could have shared in the joy as well.
He cleared his throat and began the explanation. "A friend of mine and his son are coming here today. It's our intention that one of you marries him."
Three simultaneous blinks met him as a response.
Soun cleared his throat once again.
"I said, a friend of mine and his son are coming here today. It's our intention that one of you marries him."
Each girl blinked twice this time.
For one brief moment, Soun was overwhelmed by the resemblance each girl had to their late mother. Many years ago, when he had surprised Kitsune by proposing to her, she had only responded with blinking as well, at least until the third time he asked. Of course, her response of, "Well, I am already twenty-five and not married yet, so I guess it's time for me to settle down and raise a family. Since it doesn't look like Ryu's ever going to propose, I suppose you'll have to do," was just her way of covering up the raging torrent of love she held for him.
And now the girls were going to be just as excited as Kitsune had been since they were about to meet their true destiny as well.
Nabiki lunged across the table and picked Soun up by the collar of his brown gi. "WHAT THE HELL DO YOU MEAN, ONE OF US IS GOING TO MARRY HIM?!!!"
Yes, Soun thought. Very excited indeed.
Both Akane and Kasumi were of two minds as they watched their middle sister in action. True, Nabiki was behaving most improperly by threatening their father in such a manner. On the other hand, he did deserve it.
"Father, I don't think that's such a good idea," Kasumi said.
"There's no way I'm going to marry some guy I've never even met!" Akane shouted. The whole situation was ridiculous. When she was Thor, she never had to deal with problems like this. All she had to worry about were thugs trying to shoot her for messing up crimes and lawyers trying to serve her legal notices for the property damage that resulted when a fight ensued.
"I've given up my life up for the family's lousy martial arts! There's no way you're choosing who I'm going to marry as well!" Nabiki continued shaking Soun by his gi.
"Nonsense," Soun declared once Nabiki stopped shaking him back and forth. "If I know Saotome, and I do know him well, you'll fall in love with Ranma the instant you see him. You have to trust your father on this. Ranma will be an ideal man."
"Nyaaa! You didn't count on my having a shield, did ya' you old hag!" Ranma taunted at the old lady with the water pail that had nearly splashed him.
As much as he felt the need to taunt her, he had to admit that he would have ended up soaked had it not been for his shield. At present it was wrapped up in a plain brown wrapper so that no one could see what it truly was and identify him from his brief, televised appearance against the Hulk and the weird metal warcraft that had attacked him. He had taken the precaution of making holes in the back for the straps to hang loose, so he could still use it to guard against water, however. His superior reflexes had enabled him to catch sight of the approaching splash of water and allowed him to bring his shield up in time to block the incoming attack.
"Nice block, boy," Genma said as he crouched behind Ranma, the older Saotome's own version of a human shield. After they walked past the water pail lady, making certain she wasn't tracking them from behind, Genma relaxed and began to talk again. "I've been giving this upcoming meeting with Tendou a lot of thought-"
"And decided to call the whole thing off?" Ranma hoped against hope.
"Don't be naïve, boy." Genma gave his son a comradely slap on the back, setting Ranma's warning senses off worse than ever. "We're still going to meet your future wife. No. What I'm concerned about is the curse."
"Then we're going back to China for a cure first?" Ranma hoped against hope.
"No. There's no time and we don't have any money with which to make the trip," Genma said. "What I'm concerned about is them finding out about the curse. You see, if they see Ranma Saotome change from a large, athletic paragon of heroism into a red-haired girl that is still a paragon of heroism, and then they see Captain Japan and Bucky running around town, they just might put two and two together and your secret identity will be blown. If that happens, then they might let someone else know who you really are, and then your enemies will come after you in your civilian identity. Or worse, they might threaten me as leverage against you."
Ranma gave his father a comradely slap on the back, setting off Genma's warning senses worse than ever. "Not really. You see, pop, there isn't going to be a secret identity problem, since there isn't going to be a secret identity. Neither Captain Japan nor Bucky is ever going to be seen again. It's real simple. No superhero, No problem."
"That's not an option, boy. We promised your mother-"
"No! You promised Mom. I was only five years old at the time and had no idea of what was going on. No one can hold me up to anything I said back then. And it's not my fault I've got that super-soldier crap running through my veins. I am not now nor ever gonna be a superhero." With his declaration over, Ranma relaxed a little. "Still, I gotta agree with you about not letting them know about my curse. I don't want them thinking I'm a freak or something. So here's what we'll do. I'll meet the girls, and after we get rid of this whole stupid marriage mess thing, we go back to China, I get a cure, and we go back to mom and explain to her why me trying to become a superhero just ain't going to work out."
Genma's eyes fairly gleamed with anticipation. "Fine. We'll go to the house then." And once inside, his fate would be sealed. Ranma would be engaged to one of the girls, eventually they'd get married, and maybe someday Ranma could reveal to his wife his dual identity as Japan's foremost superhero.
It was a perfect plan. There was no way anything could go wrong.
"No, and that's final." Nabiki crossed her arms to emphasize the point.
"One of you will marry him. I am your father and will not be denied this."
Soun managed to maintain a bold posture. The unusual show of spine set the three girls on edge. Especially Nabiki, who recognized it as the same look she had received when he had announced that she would be the one to carry on the family's school of martial arts. At least this time there were three possible scapegoats, instead of just her.
Thinking quickly, Nabiki said, "Akane should marry him. It's not like she's been dating anyone. So that solves her little problem."
"No way!" Akane was disappointed by Nabiki's turning on her. Disappointed, but not surprised. "Just because I'm not dating anyone doesn't mean I should have to marry him."
"With your attitude towards guys? Oh please," Nabiki rolled her eyes, hoping her father would listen to reason and give the Ranma boy to someone else.
"What you say does makes sense," Soun said as he focused his gaze on Akane.
Akane began shaking in anger. She should have seen this coming too. "I see how it is! You're feeling sorry and trying to pawn him off on 'the gimp' because she can't get a date!"
In response, Nabiki shoved Akane, knocking her from her cross-legged sitting position to one on the floor. A gasp escaped both Soun and Kasumi as Akane got back up and grabbed Nabiki by the collar of her gi, just as Nabiki had done moments earlier to her father.
"What the hell was that for?!"
Nabiki grabbed Akane's wrist and twisted, forcing her to release the hold.
"That was to prove how sorry I feel for you. Don't give me this 'everyone pity me because I have a limp' crap. It doesn't work on me. You have plenty of guys after you, but you keep ignoring them or pushing them away."
Akane moved closer, getting right up into Nabiki's face while making sure not to actually touch her. "I have no idea of what you mean."
Nabiki began counting on her fingers. "Let's see. How many guys have tried to pay me money to fix them up on a date with you? There's Hiroshi. Daisuke. Yoshi. Tetsuo-"
"They're all just boys!" Akane snapped as she started to involuntarily blush, though it was masked by her anger at the whole situation. "I hate boys."
"I'm certain this Ranma is a man among men," Soun said, hoping to calm his daughters down.
"Well if he's mature, then Kasumi should marry him. She's always going on about how she likes mature men." Akane officially turned the tables by pointing at her oldest sister.
"This is true," this time Soun's gaze turned to Kasumi as he considered her as Ranma's prospective bride.
Kasumi was caught off guard by the sudden turn of events. It took her a moment to compose herself and say, "But you said this boy is only sixteen years old, Father. I doubt if he's very mature, and there's such an age difference."
"Mr. and Mrs. Godai are happily married and she's older than him by about three years." Akane pointed out, satisfied that her father's attention had drifted to another target.
Seeing her father's brows knit further in consideration, Kasumi realized she had to move fast. "But the purpose of the marriage is to unite the two schools. Since Nabiki is the one that's studying martial arts, I think it would be ideal for her to marry him."
Sweat began pouring from Nabiki's brow as she realized the tables had now been turned on her and her father was now seriously considering putting her up for sale. Her mind raced as she contemplated how to make him reconsider one of the other girls. Before she could give any further gems of wisdom about making Akane being the perfect choice, there was a knock from the front door of the house. Soun got up to answer it, leaving the sisters to discuss matters among themselves.
Akane and Nabiki glared while Kasumi opted for a more fretful look. No words were needed as a mutual 'No Way!' was communicated among the girls in the manner that only sisters that had grown up their whole lives together could employ.
They were still staring at one another, not bothering to look up, as Soun entered the room with two visitors. "Girls. I want you to meet my old friend, Genma Saotome and his son, Ranma."
All three sets of eyes, two of them half-lidded and one a bit frightful, turned to see the target that had already been dubbed, 'The Guy Someone Else is Going to Marry.'
Three sharp intakes of breath followed as said eyes widened in surprise at the sight before them.
He was a five foot eleven inch, two hundred and twenty-pound youth that was more man than boy. A broad chest and powerful arms and legs could be made out even under the loose red and black Chinese style outfit he wore. Handsome features and black hair tied into a tiny pigtail completed his look.
Nabiki was the first to recover. Okay, so the guy was a hunk. That didn't mean she wanted to marry him. He was probably as dumb as a brick anyway.
"Well, Akane. Ranma looks pretty manly to me."
That shook Akane out of her stupor. Fine, so the guy was rather large and not entirely bad looking. That meant he was probably as sensitive to other's needs as a rock, and not at all understanding and kind the way Dr. Tofu was. "Hey, Kasumi. He looks pretty mature to me."
That shook Kasumi out of her own reverie. It was true he did appear quite mature for his age, at least physically, and he was a bit taller than her even though he was younger, which was nice, but he was still only sixteen years old. Even if she had not been dating lately, that didn't mean she wanted an arranged marriage. "He does appear very powerful and is most likely very proficient at martial arts, doesn't he, Nabiki?"
Ranma looked from one girl to the other as each spoke in turn, saving them the problem of formally introducing themselves. Listening to the girls go on about his characteristics, Ranma realized he should have anticipated this happening. It was so blatantly obvious that he could scarcely believe he overlooked such a basic fact.
Of course if they had the opportunity to marry a hunk like him they were all going to go along with it.
He internalized a sigh as the girls began to get louder as they lauded on about all of his irresistible qualities.
"So which one do you want, Ranma?" Soun asked as he waved his hands towards his still arguing daughters.
Ranma wanted to shake his head since he had no intention of actually marrying any of them. Still, he didn't want to hurt their feelings either, and he had to say something to get both his father and Mr. Tendou off his back. It took him a couple of moments to come up with a plan of action which would relax the girls while not singling out any one of them out, or worse, lead them on.
Listening to the characteristics each girl seemed most interested in, Ranma replied, "I'd have to say that Akane appears very womanly, Kasumi very mature, and Nabiki very powerful as well."
The girls broke off their conversation and blushed at the compliments. Although, deep down inside, each felt a little disappointment that he had not singled her out as the best and most obvious choice, even if they had no intention of marrying him.
"All too true," Soun said as both he and Genma nodded their heads in approval. Their plan to unite the families was proceeding just as they had hoped. "They're all perfect choices. No matter which one you choose, you'll be a happy man. So which one is it?"
Ranma began to sweat a little. He hadn't thought they'd be quite this pushy. They seemed intent on not even giving him a minute of rest. "Well, since they're all so, ah, wonderful, that makes the decision tough." Ranma placed his hand to his chin in mock thought. "Since this is going to affect me for the rest of my life, it ain't the sort of thing a guy should rush. So I'm going to take a little time to decide."
"Of course, of course," Genma said soothingly, proud that his son was at last living up to his responsibilities. "You can have until tomorrow."
Or several years… or even never, Ranma thought to himself. Let his father talk all he wanted. There was no way he was going to be making any decisions tomorrow. Or the day after that, or the day after that, or even the week after that. If he waited long enough, the problem would take care of itself.
To be continued.
Author's notes: Sorry if this seemed a bit abrupt of an ending for the chapter, but what is to follow is going to follow seemed a bit to big to add on to this chapter. Hopefully will get to it before too long.
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