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Chapter 1

A Ranma ½ story
by Larry F
Last update 10 Feb 98

Disclaimer: Ranma ½ and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video.

    On a sunny Monday in the city of Tokyo, four men dressed conservatively in business suits were gathered in a type of apartment building the Japanese refer to as a "mansion".  These buildings were called mansions because many citizens of Tokyo lived in single room apartments that foreigners would consider cramped at best.  "Mansions" (luxury apartment buildings) had suites of several large rooms and were sinfully spacious by Japanese standards.  In the living room of one such suite, three of the men were looking over the floor plans of what appeared to be an office building.  They were making notes about the plans on small writing pads as they listened attentively to the other man, who spoke in a commanding tone.

    "Okamura, you're in charge of Groups A, B, and C.  Sugisawa, you have D, E, and F.  Hashiga, you're leading G, H, and I.  Each of your groups will be composed of a subcommander and ten men, which means we are going to have only one hundred and three men to control an unknown number of civilians.  It is essential that we have control of the building within fifteen minutes of entry or the whole operation may collapse.  We will have a lot of work to do as soon as the building has been secured, so make sure your teams are able to coordinate with each other by Friday.  I know that isn't enough time to train your men as thoroughly as you'd like, but we do have a time limit.  The local authorities have approved the transfer of citizen Furuki to government hands on Sunday morning.  If we can't convince the Mayor to release him before then, we have no hope of preventing his execution.  I can't overstate the importance of this mission, gentlemen.  Without Furuki to lead us, our cause is doomed.  That must not be allowed to happen.  You have your pick from the arms supplied by our foreign friends, and three days to train your men with dummy explosives.  This is going to be an all-or-nothing gamble.  If we are captured, we will probably hang right next to Furuki, so let's train hard and avoid failure.  Hail Victory!"

    "Hail Victory!"

    It was a lovely day to be outdoors.  The sun was shining brightly, and white clouds in the sky set off the green of the athletic field just right.  The students of Furinkan High School were taking full advantage of the lunch break to enjoy it, sitting in the shade of the school yard trees or playing pick-up games of baseball and volleyball.  A small group of girls were sitting under one of the larger trees giggling among themselves.

    "…And she to told him that he could just take his ring and…"

    "No! Did she really?"

    Akane Tendo wasn't really listening to her friends as they gossiped about Yuka’s (probably ex-) boyfriend; she was content to let the sounds wash over her while she paid attention to the activity across the field.  Ranma was showing off for his classmates on the pull-up bars, dressed in shorts and a tank-top t-shirt.  She was fascinated by the way he made the high bar routine he performed look so effortless and graceful.

    He ended the show with three giant swings around the bar before landing lightly on his feet.  He held himself in a pose like a gymnast, then bowed at the applause of the watching students, hamming it up a little.  He had collected quite an audience.  The boys were watching enviously, and the girls were watching because they liked looking at handsome young men with rippling muscles.  It was at times like these that Akane remembered why she went along with their engagement; he could be really attractive when he wasn't acting like a jerk.  She could almost wish their engagement wasn't just a ploy by her father to insure the family legacy.

    She slipped into a daydream, imagining what it would be like if Ranma would just say…

    "Dammit, Shampoo, let go of me!"

    Ranma was flat on his back, trying to peel the Amazon off.  He had just finished demonstrating a gymnastics move he'd seen on TV when she had, as usual, popped up from nowhere and tackled him to the ground in sheer enthusiasm.  Her bicycle and delivery container were parked on top of some boys who'd been unfortunate enough to be between her and Ranma.

    "Shampoo bring delicious lunch for husband, see him do wonderful trick!  Wo ai ni!"

    "Jeez, Shampoo, how many times do I hafta tell you I'm not your…"

The words caught in his throat as a shadow fell across his face, and he looked up to see Akane standing over them.


    "A-Akane, it's not like it looks, I'm not…"

    As usual, he could barely get the words out of his mouth before Akane kicked him hard enough to send him flying halfway across town.  He had plenty of time to wonder why she NEVER stopped to hear his side of the story as he flew in an elegant arc that gave him several seconds to enjoy the finest (but soon to be most painful) view of Tokyo he'd ever seen.

    It took a few minutes for the stars to stop dancing around Ranma's head after the impact.  Once he'd regained his senses, he was rather pleased to note that this time he hadn't landed in the river.  Usually when Akane drop-kicked him, he was female, soaking wet, and in intense pain at the end of the trip.  Only being in pain was a nice change.

    It took a moment for him to realize that he did not recognize his surroundings.  Thanks to Akane, he knew the neighborhood around the Tendo Dojo like the back of his hand. He leaned up against a fence while waiting for the wobble to leave his legs, and looked around trying to figure out how to get back to school. It was still too close to noon for the position of the sun to be much of a clue, but there was a park not far down the road. He started walking towards it, intending to find someone he could ask that classic question: "where is Furinken High School?"

    <Ha! Wonder where I've heard THAT before!>

    There weren't very many people in the park (no surprise on a school day) so Ranma paused a moment to see who was around. There was a young couple snuggled up in the shade beneath one of the trees, but Ranma didn't want to disturb them.  The most likely looking person to ask was an old man at the far end of the park feeding pigeons.  He had walked halfway over to the man when he heard a noise from behind a bush. Creeping up quietly to look around it, he saw a little girl who looked to be about twelve years old lying on the ground.  She had some very bad bruises on her face, and was crying into her sweater, which she was using as a pillow.

    The child, who was named Kazuko Niwa, calmed down after Ranma spent a lot of time comforting her.  After careful questioning, he learned that a bully was making going to school hell for her.  The entire time she was there, she never knew when he would show up and demand money from her.  If she didn't have any, he would beat her up to "teach her a lesson".  Ranma couldn't help but think about how much his own life was like that.  He never knew when someone was going to attack him, either, and for even less reason sometimes. The thing that made a difference was that HE was able to fight back.  That made him think.  If he taught Kazuko to defend herself, it might make a real difference in her life.  Ranma had never taught anyone martial arts before, but then he'd never really had such a good reason to want to.

    The first thing he would need to do was get her parents' permission.  Ranma stood up, and helped Kazuko to her feet as well.

    "Kazuko-chan, I need to talk to your parents. Why don't I walk you home?"

    Kazuko sniffled a little, and brushed the last of her tears away.  She gave Ranma a heartbreakingly sweet smile and nodded enthusiastically.  Taking him by the hand, she tugged him along in her wake all the way to her home, which was only a few blocks away.  As they walked, she recovered her natural good nature, and talked to Ranma non-stop.

    "…An' I really really like Michael Jackson's music an' Show Ya an' Crazy Boys.  D'you like them?  I wanna be a singer like Shirai Takako-san!  She's sooo cool!  You look really strong; do you work out all the time?  How come I never seen you around here before?  Those clothes look really funny.  Are they Chinese or something?  Why are your pants tied at the bottom?  How come you don't have any socks?  Okasan won't let me go outside without shoes and socks!  I think you're really handsome.  Do you have a girlfriend yet?…

    To Ranma's great relief, they arrived before the conversation got too deep into his romantic life.  The Niwa residence was a modest middle-class house, with a well tended garden in the tiny front yard.  As Ranma and Kazuko walked up to the door, it flew open and an attractive woman who looked to be in her early 30's rushed out to gather Kazuko into her arms.  She gasped a little at the black and blue marks on Kazuko's face.

    "Oh, dear, were you in a fight again, Kaze-chan?  Does it hurt?  Let me look at you…"

    Kazuko squirmed a little in her mother's embrace as she blushed.  Not wanting to look like a baby in front of Ranma, she wriggled part way loose from her mother's embrace and took him by the hand again to pull him up next to her.

    "I'm ok, Okasan.  Chigiri-sempai got mad 'cause I spent all my money on lunch instead of giving it to him and beat me up again.  Mama, this is Saotome Ranma-san, and he walked me home. He says he wants to talk to you about something."

    Mrs. Niwa released Kazuko and stood up to bow gracefully to Ranma.

    "Konnichiwa, Saotome-san.  Thank you very much for bringing my daughter home.  Would you care for some tea?"

    Tuesday morning started out much the same as it always did.  Kasumi was in the kitchen making breakfast, and Ranma and Genma were practicing in the yard while Soun Tendo watched them.  Nabiki blew through the house and rushed out the door, yelling to Kasumi that she would be eating out that morning.  No uninvited guests showed up to shatter the peace (or the walls), and Happosai was out on a "training trip".  All in all, it was so peaceful around the Dojo that it was almost unnatural.

    As they sat down at the table, Akane decided that she was ready to forgive Ranma for the previous day's fiasco with Shampoo.

    "Ranma, where were you yesterday afternoon?  Everyone was wondering what happened to you when you didn't show up for afternoon classes."

    Ranma almost choked on a mouthful of food at that.  She was the one who made him miss the classes!  In an uncharacteristic show of restraint, however, he held back the insult that was trying to roll off his tongue.  He had too much planning to do today to waste time in an argument with Akane.  He decided to try brushing her off with something noncommittal.

    "Um, well, I kinda got lost and had to find my way back. Didn't get home until after school was already over, so I stayed up on the roof until dinnertime.  I had a few things to think about."

    Akane gave him a sideways glance.

    <Hmmm, that was awfully meek. I thought he'd yell at me.>

    "Well, you better not be late today. Hinako-sensei says that if you're late on top of missing English yesterday, she's going to punish you."

    Ranma stayed silent, concentrating on finishing his bowl of rice.  He'd settled on plan B; if she wouldn't take a hint, he'd ignore her as best he could.

    Akane could hardly believe he wasn't fighting with her.

    <Why isn't he saying anything?  It's not like him to miss a chance to argue with me.>

    During the rest of breakfast she deliberately insulted Ranma, trying to get a reaction from him.  He never said another word.

    Akane watched Ranma all day at school, but couldn't figure out just what was going on. He wasn't acting at all like himself.  He paid about as much attention to class as normal (almost none), but during breaks he seemed to be completely distracted. Instead of hanging out with his friends, he went off by himself and started working on a kata. The strange thing was that it was really basic.  It appeared to be much "softer" than what he practiced at home, consisting mostly of defensive moves.  The style was so simplistic to Akane that she didn't see how it could possibly help him win against any of his usual opponents. Even Kuno wouldn't have trouble seeing right through the techniques she saw him practicing. At lunch, he ate in the classroom and then went right back to the kata. She was completely mystified. Did this have anything to do with his disappearance yesterday? Where had he gone? Why was he trying to come up with a new fighting style?

    Whenever Akane thought about Ranma's motives for anything, she invariably came to the same conclusion.

    <That pervert, he was probably off flirting with another woman while we were all worrying about him!>

    Akane's reasons for always assuming the worst about Ranma were complex.  In the months since he had come into her life, she had come to feel much the same way about him that she did about Dr. Tofu, and that frightened her.  Ranma wasn't anything like she had imagined her future husband would be.  He was brash, egotistical, and made a habit of blurting out the first thing that crossed his mind without considering what it might mean to anyone else.  He usually tried to fight his way out of problems instead of thinking about them rationally.

    She'd fallen in love with Dr. Tofu because of his gentleness and kindness, and she had always admired his ability to stay calm in a crisis.  He was everything she'd dreamed a man should be.

    She'd never imagined she would be attracted to someone with such a completely opposite personality, but she found herself getting insanely jealous about Ranma whenever he was around other girls.  She also found herself wanting to do things that would get him to notice her.  That was why it always made her so mad when Ranma insulted her cooking, or her occasional attempts to be more feminine.

    Ranma had a power to hurt her that she didn't really understand, and she didn't like that one bit.  She never let him say anything at all when she caught him in compromising positions for one basic reason.  When the other girls were hanging onto him, she was too insecure to let him explain.  She was afraid that if she did, he would tell her that he DID want to be with them…

    That was a possibility that she simply did not have the courage to face, so she took it out on Ranma.

    That afternoon in class she kept watching him from the corner of her eye, but he didn't look up from the book propped open on his desk.  When that period's teacher gave them a pop quiz, she was unable to concentrate on the questions at all, and her mind drifted off into a daydream.

    In her imagination, Ranma and a girl, whose face was shadowed, were sitting in a secluded bower with flowers and hearts framing the scene. They smiled at each other, and the girl took Ranma's hands in her own.

    "Ranma-san, it's so good of you to spend the evening with me."

    Ranma, with a sappy expression on his face, replied:

    "I can't bear being apart from you even for a single moment.  I wish I could stay with you forever!"

    The girl frowned prettily.

    "But Ranma, what will we do about your fiancée?"

    Ranma scowled.

    "Akane?  How can I think about such a macho, sexless tomboy when you're so cute?  Once I've taught you to defeat her, nothing will stand between us!  Forget about Akane.  Will YOU marry me?"

    The girl answered tearfully

    "Oh yes, Ranma-san! YES, my love!"

    The two figures kissed passionately.

    The imaginary hearts and flowers exploded around Akane as she jumped to her feet, her angry face frightening her nearby classmates. The quiz paper dropped from her hand, completely forgotten, as her trusty mallet magically appeared in its place.

    "RAAAANNNNNMMMMMAAAA!  How DARE you propose to her!"

    Ranma had only a moment for a look of astonishment to cross his face before Akane sent him crashing through the window.

    The classroom buzzed as the rest of the students started whispering about her outburst, and Akane blushed in mortification, having only just realized what she'd done.

    By the end of the school day, she was thoroughly upset. She left class before Ranma and waited for him to come out, determined to make him tell her where he had gone.  When she saw him coming out of the main doors of the school, she walked up to him.

    "Ranma, I want to talk you."

    Ranma looked over at her, but it was obvious that he wasn't really listening.

    "Huh?  Oh, hi Akane.  Look, I'm kinda busy… I gotta go now… see ya…"

    She was left standing with her mouth open when Ranma jumped up on the school's outside wall.  He was gone in seconds, racing over the neighborhood rooftops.

    Wednesday went the same way, with Ranma withdrawn and concentrating on the new martial arts kata, which everyone could now recognize as Judo.  Akane wasn't alone in her confusion.  Everyone was talking about his odd behavior, and the school gossip circuit was alive with speculations about the new fiancée, thanks to Akane's outburst in class.  Nabiki spent the day trying to find out if Ranma really did have a new girlfriend, but her usual sources came up dry.  She consoled herself by managing the school rumor mill and charging outrageously for "inside information" about Ranma, most of which had no basis in fact.  By the end of the day, she'd raked in more money than she would have made in a week of her regular scams.  While Nabiki was extremely curious about whatever it was that Ranma was up to, she decided it wasn't important in itself.

    <I don't know what you're up to, but as long as you're going to act weird, I can make money off it… and that's what matters in the long run!>

    For Akane, the day was horrible.  She wasn't included in the gossip circles, and she could see the other girls looking at her.  Some had expressions of pity on their faces and some looked sympathetic, but others wore spiteful looks as if to say "you're the one all the boys wanted instead of us all year.  You deserve to be jilted".  Although Yuka and Sayuri had the courage to stay near her for moral support, it was plain that they were embarrassed.  Each time another whisper reached her ears, Akane's anger would gain just a little more heat, until it seemed that she was spending every minute in a rage.  Ranma was still too preoccupied to pay any attention to her.

    That afternoon, Kodachi Kuno came to bring him some handmade pastries.  Ranma saw her as he was walking off the school grounds, and bolted for the rooftops.  Kodachi was not one to be left behind, and followed him on a wild chase across town, bouncing along from roof to roof as only she could.  Ranma lead her around the city, up one street and down another, until she was finally left gasping for breath at the edge of town after chasing him for nearly half an hour.

    Ranma sighed with relief as he balanced on a tree branch, watching as Kodachi finally left for home.  She had been the most determined pursuer so far, and he had not been sure he would be able to lose her.

    The last thing he wanted right then was for someone to discover what he'd been doing.  Although his father had always said that it was the job of a Martial Artist to protect the weak, he just wasn't sure what people would think.  It was certain that Happosai would yell at him about "wasting his time" teaching a girl.  His father also held that opinion to some extent, although he was not as extreme about it.  Ranma was sure that he would go along with teaching Kazuko in the end, as would Mr. Tendo.  If Akane knew, she would understand the little girl's problem and help Ranma train her, but telling Akane anything when she seemed to be so mad at him was not something he wanted to try.

    The real problem was with the rest of  his age group.  The thought of what Ryouga would say was bad enough, but what about the others?  His rivals had more than enough ammunition to use on him already without giving them something new, and the kind of leverage Nabiki could get out of the situation was enough to make him shudder.

    He went a different way than usual to travel to the Niwa's house, carefully avoiding any chance of running into anyone who knew him.  Because of Kodachi, he was an hour late and found Kazuko anxiously waiting for him at the gate to the yard.  When she saw him, she ran to him and latched onto his arm.

    "Ranma-sensei!  Where were you?  I waited and waited!"

    "Sorry, Kazuko-chan.  I got ran across someone I know and it took me a long time to… get away.  Are you ready to start practicing today?"

    "Hai!  Mommy even got me a new practice outfit to wear!  Do you like it?"

    Kazuko let Ranma's arm go and twirled around to show him the pale blue Gi she was wearing.

    "It looks good, Kazuko-chan.  Ok, why don't you get started on the warm-up exercises?  I'll show you how to do some arm throws today after you've practiced the basic katas."

    Kazuko moved out into the center of the yard and began one of the routines Ranma had worked out earlier in the week.  Ranma sat down on the porch to watch.  A moment later, the door opened, and Mrs. Niwa came out balancing a tray of tea and cookies.

    "Konnichiwa, Saotome-san."

    She sat down next to Ranma, placing the tray between them, and handed Ranma a cup of tea.

    "How is Kazuko is doing so far?  She seems very enthusiastic about the lessons, and looks forward to seeing you every day."

    "I think Kazuko really has talent.  She's picking up the Judo moves I'm teachin' her as fast as I can show 'em to her.  Have you ever thought of enrolling her in a Dojo?  That way she can learn more than I can show her just practicing in your yard.  I'm stayin' at one right now.  It's called the Tendo Dojo, and it's owned by my fiancée's father."

    "I will consider it seriously.  I can't say I've ever thought of that before, because I had no idea she would like this sort of thing.  I've had to raise her alone since her father went to work overseas, and it's sometimes hard to know what is right for her."

    She gave Ranma a sideways glance.

    "You know, I believe she just may have a crush on you!"

    Ranma started to get that hunted feeling again…

    "Uh, sorry, Mrs. Niwa.  I had no idea she felt that way!  As soon as I've taught her what she needs to know t'get that boy to leave her alone, maybe I'd better stop comin' over."

    Mrs. Niwa smiled as she saw his face reddening.

    "That's hardly necessary, Saotome-san.  I rather approve of it.  She could do much worse than to try to be like you; I can see that there is kindness you try to hide beneath your "manly" image.  I think your dedication to your art and your sense of fairness will be a good example for her."

    Her smile took on a slightly wicked twist.

    "And how many times do you get to be thought of as a good example?  Hmm?"

    Ranma flushed an even deeper red, and looked away from her trying to regain his composure.  He sipped his tea for a moment before he turned back.

    "Uh, thanks.  I'll try my best not to mess up."

    "Kaze-chan can be very stubborn once she gets an idea in her head.  If she really does decide she likes you, perhaps you should start thinking of me as your mother!"

    A drop of sweat trickled down Ranma's cheek.

    Friday dawned without anyone being able to figure out what Ranma was up to.  He would be gone for several hours after school, only coming home to do a little of his homework before dinner.  At school that afternoon, Nabiki cornered him and handed an envelope to him.

    "…and I can't get out of meeting with the science club.  I'm going to have to depend on you to deposit this for me, Ranma.  I can't put it off until monday because I don't want Happosai finding it if he comes home and starts digging in my room for my underwear.  If you do this for me, I'll knock a thousand yen off your debt the moment I get the receipt.  Just don't screw up, Saotome, because you don't want to know what I'd do to you then!"

    She waved a cheery good bye as she walked towards her class, leaving Ranma wondering if she'd just asked for a favor or issued an ultimatum.

    Akane began to suspect more and more that Ranma was going somewhere to meet another woman, a thought that set her teeth on edge, but she couldn't figure out who it might be.  Ranma hadn't gone to visit Ukyou that week, or spoken to her at school, and she was the only person Akane knew of that Ranma would go out of his way to talk to.

    <Damn.  I hate being in the dark like this!>

    She decided that she'd had enough.

    <Ranma, you're going to tell me what's going on, and for your sake, the explanation had better be good!>

    She left her last class early, and went down to wait for Ranma, thoughtfully packing her book bag full of textbooks she needed for her homework that night (the fact that they added weight to the bag didn't figure into it at all, of course).  She took up station at the front gate.  Her patience was rewarded when he came out of the main doors of the school and headed straight for her, not really paying much attention to his surroundings.

    Akane took a deep breath, then stepped into his path.

    "Ok, Ranma.  You need to talk to me right now.  Who is the girl you go to see every day?!"

    He gave her a startled look, like a deer caught in a car's headlights.

    "Huh?  How did you know…?  It's none of your business!"

    Akane moved to keep him from brushing past her.

    "Who is she, and where did you find her? Is it anyone I know, or did you just pick her up on the street?"

    Ranma took a step back.

    "What d’ya mean?  I don't know what you're talkin’ about!"

    Akane, her temper stretched past breaking by the way Ranma had ignored her all week, moved up until she was only inches away from him as she began to glow in anger.

    "You know exactly what I mean, you pervert!  I don't know why I have to put up with a jerk like you!  You always wreck the place brawling with everyone who walks by!  Between you and Happosai, I'm never sure my underwear is safe!  You even dress up in drag and flirt with shopkeepers!  Sneaking off every day for some sleazy affair is the LAST STRAW!"

    Her voice was getting louder and louder with each word, and a large crowd gathered, watching in amazement as she tore into Ranma, pushing him back a step at a time by shoving him in the middle of his chest.

    Ranma's expression was still startled, but by now it was more like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming train as he began to realize just how mad Akane was.

    "Now wait a minute, I ain't…"

    Akane didn't let him finish the sentence.


    She swung her book bag at Ranma's head with all her might.

    Suddenly, Ranma was moving, his eyes blank and his hands a blur as training and reflexes took over from his conscious mind.  The bag went flying as a block she never saw coming sent a numbing shock through Akane's arm.

    After a moment that seemed to last forever, Ranma lowered his hands to his side, his face white as a sheet.  He silently shook his head "no" for a moment, then ran blindly from the school yard.  Akane just stood there for a moment in disbelief that he'd retaliated against her, but her surprise passed quickly.  She snatched up her book bag and hurried after him.  No doubt he would run straight to his new girlfriend, and she didn't want to miss her chance to get to the bottom of the whole mess.

    Ranma was not being very observant as he walked down the street with his head down.  His shoulders were slumped, and he looked completely miserable.  Akane had no trouble keeping him in sight, although she was careful to always have somewhere to duck in case he looked up.  They soon arrived at a small park, where he sat down with his back to a tree and wrapped his arms around his knees.

    <Oh, man, what am I gonna do?  I can't face Akane after that.  I didn't mean for her to get hurt!  Should I try an' tell her what's really goin' on?  Would she even give me a chance to explain?>

    He gathered himself into a tighter ball, not noticing Akane slip into a nearby clump of bushes. She vowed not to let him out of earshot until she knew what he was doing.

    Akane hadn't waited very long when a woman walked up to Ranma, holding a young girl by the hand.

    <Why, that hentai, he picked up on a married woman with a daughter?!  It's even worse than I thought!>


    He looked up, then quickly wiped his eyes with the back of one hand.

    "H-hello, Mrs. Niwa.  Hi, Kazuko-chan."

    Mrs. Niwa got down on her hands and knees before him, Kazuko beside her, and both bowed formally to Ranma in a sign of deep respect and thanks.

    "Saotome-san, we wish to thank you from the bottom of our hearts. The training you have given to Kazuko this week allowed her to finally face up to Chigiri-kun today."

    "Yeah!  I did it just like we practiced and every time he tried to hit me, he went flying into the ground!  After awhile he ran away!  He said he's gonna get me later, 'though."

    Ranma gave Kazuko a half smile.

    "Then you've made a good start today, Kazuko-chan. You may hafta fight a few more times before he gives up, but don't worry.  He'll get the idea sooner or later."

    <Unless maybe he's a Hibiki… Ryouga STILL hasn't gotten over that bread thing…>

    He turned to Mrs. Niwa.

    "Have you thought about my advice?  Kazuko-chan's a really fast learner, and I enjoyed teaching her.  I think she's got potential as a martial artist if she gets serious training."

    "We don't want to be a bother, Saotome-san. You are still in school yourself, so what would it do to your grades if you had to look after Kazuko every day?"

    "Don't worry about that, Mrs. Niwa.  Even when I can't train her myself, my Pop, Mr. Tendo, and A-Akane…"

    A brief flash of pain crossed his face as he said her name.  Mrs. Niwa saw the way he looked immediately.

    "Your fiancée?"


    Ranma drew a breath, then let it out slowly.

    "She doesn't practice enough to go toe to toe with some of the guys I fight with all the time, but she knows her stuff an’ got lots of practical experience at school before I met her.  I think she'd be a great teacher."

    (They didn't hear the dull thud as Akane dropped on her backside behind the bushes.)

    <WHAT?  I never thought I'd hear him say that!>

    Mrs. Niwa nodded with a smile on her face.

    "Then it is decided.  I will enroll Kazuko at the Tendo Dojo next week."

    She then looked more closely at Ranma.

    "Saotome-san, forgive me if this is an intrusion, but I'd have to be blind to miss how sad you are when speaking of Akane-san.  Is it anything you would like to talk about?"

    (Seeing Ranma pale slightly)

    "Please, Saotome-san, I would like to hear your troubles.  It would be a very small way of returning your kindness to Kaze-chan."

    Ranma sat for a long moment staring at the ground, then sighed.

    "I guess it wouldn't hurt to talk about it a little.  I… I've been thinkin' about what you said.  I mean, when you were talking the other day about treatin' you like you were my mother.  I don't know my real mother.  I kinda wonder if she's like you.  You've been real nice to me this last week while I was training Kazuko-chan.  I guess I've been sayin' stuff to you I never thought I'd say to anyone.  The problems I'm havin' with women may be about the only thing I haven't talked about."

    He sighed.

    <Except for my curse, that is.  I hope you never find out about that.>

    Mrs. Niwa looked into his eyes.

    "I could tell that there was something you were keeping to yourself.  You always seem to avoid certain topics when we are talking.  You have told me about Akane-san, but what is this about problems with women?  Is there more than one in your life?"

    "Well, how to start?  Um, Akane.  Our fathers decided that their kids would be engaged before any of us were even born, and I never met Akane or her sisters until a few months ago.  We kinda got off on the wrong foot when I first got here, and now I can't talk to her without gettin' into a fight."

    "If that weren't bad enough, three other girls are out to marry me because of my greedy father, or just plain bad luck on my part.  One of 'em is really cute, but she's my best friend and I just can't bring myself to think of her the way she wants me to.  The second one is pretty, but she just wants to marry me 'cause the law in her village says she has to.  The last one is kind of cute, I guess, but she's such a nut case I can't imagine that any guy would want to hang around with her."

    "I been tryin’ to straighten it out on my own, but nothin' I do seems to work.  While I guess a lot of that's my fault 'cause I do some pretty dumb things sometimes, Akane won't listen to me when I try to tell her what's goin' on. She just gets mad and says I'm doin' it on purpose, and then she hits me and says she hates me!"

    A tear slid down his cheek.

    Kazuko jumped to her feet and threw her arms around his neck.

    "Don't cry, Ranma-sensei!  I love you!"

    Mrs. Niwa reached out to briefly squeeze his shoulder.

    "Saotome-san, do you think your fiancée really hates you?"

    "I just don't know.  She has this way of looking at me that makes me think she likes me, but then a minute later she's yelling at me an' hittin' me on the head with something.  What's worse is that I'm starting to get so upset about it all, I'm losing my focus.  Today I got in a fight with her, an’ when she tried to hit me, I lost it.  My reflexes took over before I realized what I was doing.  One of the things I'm really proud about is that I've never hit Akane on purpose, but today I did.  That's not the sign of a good martial artist."

    Ranma sighed again, and then gently pried Kazuko off his neck.

    "Thanks for hearin' me out.  I ain't good at talkin', usually, but I guess I really do think of you like you were my mother.  Sorry 'bout that."

    Mrs. Niwa smiled gently.

    "Don't apologize, Saotome-san.  I'm honored that I am worthy of your confidence.  I am sure your real mother would be very proud of you.  I want you to feel that you can speak to me anytime you need someone to listen, and certainly Kaze-chan wants you to come over more often."

    Kazuko nodded emphatically at that, holding onto Ranma's hand.

    "Thanks, Mrs. Niwa.  I guess I better go now.  It's gettin' kinda late and Akane's older sister Nabiki wants me to go to the bank and deposit some money for her. I guess that'll give me a chance to do some thinking and maybe figure out what to do next.  I’ll see you next week."

    Mrs. Niwa bowed once more as Ranma walked away, then gathered up Kazuko and left.  No one paid any attention to the bushes, where Akane sat staring down at her hands.

    For once, she really felt like she'd blown it.

    Ranma had to hurry get to the bank where Nabiki kept her accounts before it closed.  The fight with Akane and his subsequent meeting with the Niwas had caused him to lose track of time, and he had almost forgotten to drop off the deposit.  One thing was sure, he didn't doubt Nabiki's word when she said she would make his life hell if he didn't.

    He arrived at the bank about fifteen minutes before closing time, and walked into the lobby.  It seemed to be pretty crowded considering how late it was.  Ranma got into line for the tellers, then opened the envelope Nabiki had given him to make sure the deposit slip was inside, and saw for the first time how much was there.  His eyes got very wide.

    <Where the hell did she get this kind of money?  Do pictures of me as a girl sell that well?>

    He began to suspect that if he had been a little smarter and insisted on a royalty, he'd be pretty well off by now.

    <On the other hand, a deal with Nabiki involves signatures in blood, so maybe I’d better hold off on that idea. I’d end up doing pictures for Sports Illustrated by the time she finished with me… for the Swimsuit edition!>

    He then started thinking about what he was going to do about Akane.  As usual, her ability to jump to a conclusion astounded him.

    <How can I ever explain that I'm not cheating on her?  If she ever found out I was meeting the Niwas every day, she'd think I was doin' somethin' weird.  She'd never believe I just wanted to help Kazuko.>

    He smiled a little to himself.

    <Y'know, it really feels good having a kid like her look up to me.  It's kinda like having a little sister.  Man, oh man, I just hope she doesn't really have a thing for me!>

    Ranma's thoughts were interrupted when he got to the head of the line.  He went to the open teller and handed over the envelope with Nabiki’s money and deposit slip, and was soon given a receipt.

    Just as he was turning to leave, he saw several men running into the room carrying assault rifles. Ranma could see more men going into the main lobby of the office building the bank was part of, armed like the ones near him.  People started screaming and trying to rush to the doors, frightened by the sight of so many weapons.

    Some of the men in the bank began shooting over the heads of the customers and bank employees, shouting at them to fall down on the floor.  As Ranma looked around, shocked, he saw one of the men hit a bank guard across the face with his rifle butt.  Nearby, another of the men grabbed a pregnant woman by the front of her dress and shoved her up against a wall.

    Ranma reacted to that instinctively, immediately jumping next to the man.  Ranma struck him over two hundred times in a heartbeat, knocking him unconscious before he even knew what was happening.  Seeing this, another of the men fired a burst at Ranma with his automatic rifle.

    Ranma wrapped his arms around the woman and dived behind a couch placed near the wall for waiting customers. The man with the assault rifle tracked his movement, and bullets sprayed a trail of holes into the wall, shattering a water cooler that was standing next to the couch.  Ranma's usual luck kicked in at that point and the water splashed on him, soaking him to the skin.  He felt the change sweep over him and quickly looked around to see if anyone had noticed.

    <Thank God, looks like nobody saw me!>

    The young woman he had rescued was limp in his arms, having fainted as they were being shot at.  Ranma dragged her a little ways away from the spot where they had landed then gathered her into his arms again just as the man with the rifle looked around the end of the couch.

    "What!  Where the hell did he go?  You, girl!  Where is that bastard who jumped back here?!"

    Ranma shook his head, putting on his best wide-eyed innocent-little-girl look.  The man knocked over the couch and then looked around wildly, trying to see where the male Ranma had gone, while his partner lay sprawled on the floor unconscious.

    "Commander!  Come over here, quick!"

    The rest of the building was occupied with ruthless efficiency, and all the exits were barricaded.  The invaders showed no interest in any of the money or valuables of the bank customers; they just hunted down the building's occupants and collected them together in the bank, posting a guard over them.  The Commander began to look more and more concerned as his men reported back to him by radio.  Each one reported his failure to locate the boy who had escaped from the bank after knocking out one of his men.

    The Commander was fond of imported American movies, and remembered very well what had happened in a flick called "Die Hard" to men in a situation just like his.  As the searchers called in with negative results, the leader began to sweat, thinking of the horrible possibilities he could be facing.  A martial artist loose in the building he had to hold, and who could vanish at will, was a thought that made his hair stand on end.  This operation had been planned to the last detail, but now the whole thing might be ruined if they couldn't find and capture one kid.  His men weren't mental giants by any stretch of the imagination, and were nervous to begin with because they knew they would be facing government troops before this was over.  Throw in a spook like this, and their morale could be down the toilet.  There wasn't really any choice in the matter.  He had to take action to eliminate the threat.

    He spoke forcefully into his radio.

    "Groups A, B, and E, suspend your planned operations.  You are now detailed to locate and capture that boy.  Be thorough, but also to be careful not to trip any of the booby traps the other teams are setting.  Group C and group D, link up with them and get the materials they are carrying, and take over setting up their traps.  That's going to put us well behind schedule, but it can't be helped.  The kid must be captured at all costs, and you are not to stop searching until then."


To be continued.

Chapter 2
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