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A Ranma story
By Wun Wong

Disclaimer: I certainly do not own Ranma ½ or its characters. They belong to Rumiko Takahashi and Shogakukan in Japan, Viz Video in the USA. I do not, and will not profit monetarily from this work. Thank you.

Thanks to my first and only pre-reader: Cannibal who Snacks

C&C encouraged!!! Email me at wunwong@hotmail.com

Chapter 3: "Normal" Days in Nerima II

"Time for your lesson, Wen Mei." She turned to face her sifu, her weapon at the ready. It was a duster, made of horsehair bound to a sturdy wooden handle like a whip, similar to those carried by Taoist nuns. In the hands of most nuns, it was used to clean the temples where they trained to transcend their spiritual limits. To those trained in its use, it was a formidable weapon.

She looked pensively at the older nun, whose stern visage, gray hair, and gray attire made her seem more statue than woman. With a nod from her sifu, she swept forward in a graceful leap that took her within range to use her weapon. Swhack! Her duster whipped forward at her sifu's face, only to be avoided with a quick sway by the older woman. Quickly stepping to the side in anticipation of a counterstrike, she brought up her duster in a defensive pattern. Her sifu tested her with a few slow strikes, then faster strikes until their dusters tangled together, and then she delivered a well-controlled kick to Wen Meis stomach that brought her to her knees. Coughing and gasping for air, she dimly heard her sifu's commentary that the lack of a good offense constituted the lack of a defense.

"I know you dont want to hurt anyone, but sometimes you will find it necessary. The Art is meant to be protection as well as a tool for physical improvement. I would not have you train yourself to be healthy and focused, only to have your life taken by some second-rate bandit just because you dont want to hurt him." Her sifu's stern expression softened slightly at her distraught student. "Moreover, how can you transcend if you cannot acknowledge your human instincts? You must experience them, understand them, and then choose with morality to become enlightened. Sheer avoidance will not help you learn. Pacifism is a moral path, but not always correct in every circumstance. Wake up from your delusions, child. Wake up…"

"…Wake up! Wake up, Kasumi! …We have to get you a new alarm clock or something, Sis." Kasumi reflexively reached for her duster, but managed to stop herself when she realized she was in her own room, being awakened by Nabiki. She felt good, though not as 'jubilant as the day before. It was as though whatever filled her with happiness yesterday was no longer exerting its full influence on her. "It's the first time in years you slept in, Big Sis. From the sound of your breathing, you must have been fantasizing about some hot guy."

"Oh, my! Was that what it sounded like?" Kasumi blushed at Nabiki's teasing. "I wasn't dreaming about that, Nabiki. Though it was an interesting dream." Sitting up, Kasumi peered at her alarm clock, which seemed to have stopped at 3 am. "I must have forgotten to replace the batteries." Kasumi reached for the clock, but drew back when a thought occurred to her. "Oh, no… If Im late, then who cooked breakfast?"

"Well, Aunty Nodoka would have helped out, but Akane wanted to reuse the leftovers from last night." Kasumi didn't realize she had spoken her thought out loud until Nabiki answered her. "Ranma and Akane then got in an argument about the toxicity of it, mixed with stuff about Ranma leaving Little Sis to chase Chinese skirts. Guess what happened to the poor boy after that?"

"Why didn't you wake me earlier, Nabiki?" Kasumi quickly started changing from her nightgown to her normal house outfit. "Akane really shouldn't be making breakfast without supervision."

"I was worried about you, Big Sis. Youve been acting a bit odd lately, perhaps from working too hard for so long." Nabiki glanced toward the neatly packed luggage sitting in one of the corners of the room. "Besides, since youre going to China for an undetermined amount of time, I figured you could use a couple more hours in your own bed. After all, if Ranma being smashed through the roof isn't enough to wake you, you must really need your sleep." Nabiki helped her older sister zip up her dress, then moved toward the doorway. "By the way, Cologne called earlier. She said you guys are leaving tomorrow morning. Unless I can pull off a miracle, this is your last day here for a long time." Stopping at the entrance to Kasumi's room, Nabiki turned and said, "Enjoy it, Big Sis."

Ranma surveyed Nerima from the top of the Furinkan High School building. Normally, he would have gone up to the Tendo dojo's roof when he needed to be alone. However, having been sent through said roof by Akane's fist made him less receptive to the idea. Also, the memory of Akane's accusing eyes reduced his desire to return. The empty rooftop of the high school on a Saturday afternoon served as an adequate substitute for the dojo roof.

Ranma pondered his earlier choice, trying to think about its 'correctness'. He needed to be the best martial artist he could, and a powerful new martial art was simply too important to pass over. But every time he thought about leaving, he thought of Akanes eyes. They were saddened… almost betrayed. It made him felt guilty inside like nothing else could. It was nothing he hadn't seen before, since Akane had that expression every time he did something she didn't approve of, but usually, it was over a misunderstanding when she thought he was with one of the other girls. Often it was mixed with anger, and sometimes completely overwhelmed by rage. Sometimes Ranma wanted her to get angrier just so her expression would change to something more bearable. The problem was, Ranma still had no idea why she would feel that way. He was simply doing what he needed to do as a martial artist, and to get rid of Shampoo as a fiance. Ranma couldn't help but come to a reluctant conclusion. 'Maybe Ill never understand her.'

A blur of movement from the corner of his eye caught his attention. Looking left, he saw Happosai hopping across the field being chased by angry women while he carried an enormous bundle of undergarments. Rubbing his eyes, then staring hard at the sight, Ranma was forced to conclude that he was not hallucinating. 'How the heck did he recover from that explosion last night? I could swear that at least twenty of those bombs his went off at once…' Letting his thought trail off, Ranma prepared himself for combat as he dropped himself directly into the path of the ancient Anything Goes Master.

"Stop, you old freak!" Happosai narrowed his eyes at Ranma's appearance, and ran even faster, despite Ranma's presence.

"Ranma! Im going to pay you back for what you did last night. Just you wait!" Spat Happosai as he hopped on the school building's wall, then bounced away, perpendicular to his previous path. As Ranma rushed to follow, he left two of his Happodaikarin behind. By the time the dust settled from the explosion, Happosai was sufficiently far away that Ranma didn't feel it was worth the effort to chase him. The horde of angry women milled around in confusion, their prey out of sight, but their anger not yet spent. Ranma sweatdropped as they collectively decided to resume the search for perverts-- or just men in general-- to punish. Not wanting to attract the attention of several dozen angry women, Ranma quickly made a getaway that Genma would have been proud of.

Kasumi spent most of the day doing chores in the Tendo household. It was the best way for her to relax, and to say goodbye to her home. In addition, she went to Ranma's room and packed his things for him as well, ensuring that they wouldn't be late due to the young man's lack of preparedness. She also made a list of things that would need to be done to keep the house in order, making sure to name the people responsible for each chore, in hope of containing any damage caused by her absence. Akane wouldn't do the cooking; that went without saying. Nabiki wouldn't do the laundry, since the last time shed tried, shed mixed the colors and the whites. Genma would be held accountable for most of the cleaning, since he did most of the shedding. As for the Tendo patriarch; Kasumi thought he might be able to handle meals and the yard.

She was almost finished with her list when someone tapped her on the shoulder. Turning around, Kasumi saw a scowling Nabiki, holding a red dress. Kasumi recognized it as her old prom dress, which should have been hidden deep in her closet. 'Im surprised Nabiki remembered I had it.'

"Didn't I tell you to take a load off? You are going to put on this old dress of yours, and go shopping with me for something sexier. Then were going to a club downtown for the evening." Nabiki's tone of command was spoiled by her smirk, but Kasumi took the dress out of her hands and nodded.

"Weren't you trying to stop Ranma from leaving?" Kasumi asked, somewhat puzzled. Nabiki grinned ruefully, and shrugged her shoulders.

"Not worth the effort, Sis. The deck is stacked against me, and I only have a day to do it. Unless something else happens to even the odds a bit, I don't think there's much I can do." Nabiki's matter-of-fact tone didn't fool Kasumi, who knew her too well to believe she'd simply give up after expending the previous effort she had. "Besides, Im not getting paid for it." Nabiki winked, causing Kasumi to laugh and think, 'that's my little Nabiki.'

Akane wandered the streets of Nerima aimlessly, her thoughts heavy. She had yet to come to terms with Ranma's imminent departure, and her arguments with him so far had not helped at all. Unable to resolve the conflicting emotions of anger, affection, and sadness, Akane walked the length of Nerima as she searched within for inspiration. She couldn't help but wonder if Ranma liked her at all, if he was so willing to leave her behind. Yet… he had done so much for her, and she for him. She didn't know how long she walked and pondered her dilemma, but when she finally did reach a conclusion, the sun had set. Eyes clear of doubt, Akane walked home with one purpose in mind. She needed to talk with Ranma about how they both felt before he left. It didn't matter that she didn't know how she felt, or that Ranma didn't know either. 'If the two of us talk it through for once, we might finally understand what we have.' As she trod down the darkened streets, she passed the closed door of the Ucchan. Business usually was booming about this time of night, thus Ucchan being closed so early was very unusual. Despite her need to confront Ranma as soon as possible, Akane was nevertheless unable to ignore this puzzle. Walking up to the entrance, she knocked on the door while calling out for Ukyo.

"Good evening, Akane-sama! How may I help you?" The 'waitress' who answered the door seemed to be exhausted. Used to hard labor along with harsh treatment from his stepmother and sisters, Konatsu usually felt relaxed and pampered by comparison while working at Ucchan's. However, the Konatsu that Akane faced was a far more haggard Konatsu than usual.

"I was just curious about the Ucchan being closed… Did something happen? Where's Ukyo?" Eyes wide at the sight of the bishonen ninja, whose makeup was running and whose kimono was askew, Akane blurted out her question more bluntly than she would've liked. Curiosity was completely replaced by worry when the feminine young man fell weeping into her arms. "What happened? You have to tell me, or I can't help!" Akane didn't know what to do. Usually when a boy touched her, she reacted by hitting him. But this was Konatsu, who was one of the most feminine individuals she knew. Added to the fact that he was weeping like… well, like a girl… made the situation somewhat confusing. Fortunately, he only wept for about ten seconds before he broke off and started talking coherently.

"Ukyo-sama is badly hurt! I only know enough about treating battle wounds to keep her stable, but she needs a doctor! Where am I going to find a doctor at this time of the night?! The nearby clinic is closed, and I don't know anyone! Oh, Ukyo-sama!!" To Akane's embarrassment, Konatsu resumed his incoherent weeping on her.

"Um, have you tried the hospital?" Akane asked as she tried to remove him gently, with little success.

"What's a hospital?" Akane sweatdropped at Konatsu's blank expression. It seemed that being raised as a cross-dressing ninja in the middle of nowhere had left strange gaps in his knowledge.

"Just take me to her, okay? I'll try to take care of it." Akane tried her best to ignore the young man's expressions of gratitude, and allowed herself to be led upstairs.

Despite being occasional friends and constant rivals, Akane had never actually been in Ukyo's room. Akane could not help but glance around the residential section of the Ucchan, since it was normally off-limits to customers. Akane noted the stark decor of the living room area, the complete lack of personal affectations save a clan symbol on the wall. She would have studied the symbol further, but Konatsu opened a door and gestured for her to enter. She nodded as the ninja backed out of her path, and crossed into Ukyo's room.

Although she was ready for a surprise (this being Nerima, anything was possible), nevertheless Akane gasped in shock when she saw Ukyo. Until that moment, she had thought Konatsu to be overreacting, and Ukyo would only be somewhat bruised, perhaps. She hadn't expected Ukyo to be completely covered in feathers. Most of her outfit was shredded, with minor cuts and bruises all over, and some dark substance-- probably tar-- glued the feathers to her body. The way that she curled around her abdomen suggested heavy damage there, and her moans as she wavered between semi-consciousness to unconsciousness indicated a great deal of pain.

"I relocated both her shoulders, cleaned her cuts, and tried to remove the feathers, but the tar glues the feathers on. I was trying to melt it off with a potion, but Ukyo-sama made me leave the room." Akane raised her eyebrow when Konatsu mentioned melting off the tar. She hoped that whatever it was, it was made of herbs or some such instead of, say, a magic potion bought from a cursed antique shop.

"I think her ribs are cracked, but she won't let me get close to them." Konatsu wiped a tear from his eye. "She just told me to start sharpening all the weapons, and pack everything up. She said something about getting ready for a long trip to get vengeance, and then she passed out from the pain."

"Ukyo?" The only response that Akane got was a pained moan. She had a bad feeling about this. "Konatsu, can you make a stretcher? We have to carry her to the hospital. Let me use the phone to call Ranma first, okay?" Akane left the room without waiting for Konatsu's reply, trying to remember the shortest route to the hospital while she searched for the phone.

Kasumi almost laughed out loud when the boy asked her to dance. The way he blushed and tripped over every word coming out his mouth was highly amusing (also pathetic, but Kasumi suppressed such unkind thoughts automatically). Kasumi managed to keep her composure as she refused, since she didn't want to embarrass the young man any more than he had himself. Afterward, she leaned back on the counter of the bar, picked up her drink, and sipped it while her head bobbed to the pounding music of the club.

"I should have known you didn't need another dress." Nabiki grinned at her sister from a similar position to Kasumi's left. "All that growing after high school really shows now." Nabiki grinned even wider when Kasumi blushed. She had been right to dig that old dress up. Although Kasumi's usual attire didn't flatter her figure, she possessed a healthy and attractive body. Her prom dress, a perfect fit when she was in high school, was a couple of sizes too small now that Kasumi had fully matured. It had originally been a modest dress that didn't show much shoulder and had a reasonably high neckline. But Kasumi had since grown inches taller, and her body had filled out nicely, even though her waist was still as slender as before. When she put the dress on again, it was skintight and showed an indecent amount of leg. The visual effect was quite similar to Hinako in adult form; hence the panicked, hormonally driven activities of the boys at the club. Kasumi had been much too embarrassed to shop while wearing that dress, but Nabiki had managed get Kasumi to wear it to the club.

"I can't believe Im doing this, Nabiki. I should be talking to Daddy about the list of chores…" Kasumi wasn't fooling Nabiki's keen eye. She was enjoying the club and the attention, no mistake. It made Nabiki wonder what Kasumi would have been like if she hadn't had to play mother to the whole family. 'Shed probably be surrounded by a dozen boyfriends!' Kasumi blushed even more when Nabiki suddenly giggled.

"You need this, Kasumi. We all need this once in a while. Getting appreciated for her beauty is a woman's right." Nabiki said firmly. 'Nows the chance for me to feel out her side of this.' With that thought, Nabiki moved a little closer to Kasumi's side, and whispered in to her ears. "You havent been wearing that dress for someone in secret have you? You look awfully comfortable in it, despite your protests."

"Oh, my! Who would I wear it for? Besides, I haven't seen this dress since prom. How did you find it, Little Sister?" Kasumi's reply was normally delivered, but Nabiki knew better than to take that at face value. She knew that Kasumi had years of practice looking innocent, and no one in the family could hide things better than the eldest daughter.

"Well, I just sorta looked through your closet a while back. You know how it is; no matter how many outfits I buy, there's always one or two dresses that you and Akane have that fit the occasion better. I kinda keep regular tabs on your wardrobes in case I need to borrow something." Nabiki confessed, hoping that Kasumi would lower her guard in return for this bit of information.

"Hmm. That explains why Akane keeps missing dresses. She thinks Ranma's been borrowing them, you know." Kasumi commented, catching Nabiki as she sipped her drink. The timing was perfect, and an unfortunate passerby ended up wearing Nabiki's drink for the rest of the evening. After a hasty apology, Nabiki turned to Kasumi with an accusing eye.

"You did that on purpose, didn't you?" Kasumi looked as innocent as always. Nabiki scowled, then laughed it off. "Just for that, you have to tell me how you knew about Tofu's marriage."

"I got a letter." Kasumi looked less comfortable. "Why do you want to know now?" Since the strange 'happy' effect from the day before had partially worn off, Kasumi was almost as vulnerable to her loss as before. She was able to maintain high spirits by forgetting about Tofu's letter, but this brought the matter back to the front of her mind.

"Because we were discussing your love life, and the people you have been wearing that dress for. The good doctor was definitely infatuated with you, you know." Nabiki searched her sister's face for clues about her true feelings, and finding little to go on. Little did she know that Kasumi was shaking inside. "What happened between the two of you, anyway?"

"I knew… but it didn't work out." Kasumi smiled painfully. "He couldn't wait for me any longer, and I wasn't ready."

"Oh, Im so sorry, Kasumi." Nabiki regretted grilling Kasumi, just a bit. "But there are plenty of guys who'd be thrilled to have you. Im sure another one will come along." Nabiki was never good at cheering other people, but for Kasumi's sake she would at least try. But more than that, she needed to know if Kasumi had fallen for Ranma on the rebound. If so, it would be disaster in more ways than one. As she was planning the next step of her questioning, Nabiki was interrupted by a familiar voice.

"Nabiki?" Turning away from Kasumi, Nabiki saw a flustered Ryoga standing next to the bar. "Boy, am I lucky to see you here. Could you lead me to the dojo?"

"What the heck are you doing here?" Having gotten over her surprise, Nabiki looked the lost boy up and down. "I guess not to party, considering the fact that youre wearing your normal outfit. Lost as usual?"

"Well… um… Ive been chased by this ghost for days, you see… Ryoga flushed in embarrassment at Nabiki's amusement. "I was trying to find the Vatican, or just some sorta church or temple where I could get exorcised. But the Vatican wasn't in Italy anymore, and I kept running into this alligator…

Nabiki noticed that he was doing his best not to look at her at all. It took her less than a second to realized that the cause was her outfit. Whereas Kasumi's dress was tight due to growth, Nabiki's slinky black dress was tight by design, and showed a lot of bosom. She didn't wear the dress often, but it was very helpful when she needed something from guys with more brains (average or above intelligence) and guts (not intimidated by threats from a girl from a weird high school they did not attend) than the usual Furinkan student. At that moment, it was doing what it was exactly supposed to do; distract the male mind by fueling the male libido.

"Why don't you wait over there by the exit, and well take care of you when were done?" Nabiki didn't want to deal with the tongue-tied boy, especially since she was prying secrets out of Kasumi. She pointed over to the exit, past Kasumi's shoulder.

Ryoga nodded while averting his eyes from Nabiki's… face… and tried to make it to the exit. When one has as bad a direction sense as Ryoga, it could be called justice if he were to find his way by deliberately not looking at where he was going once in a while. It could be fate, that Ryoga never found his way whether he was looking or not, because he got lost on his own or his course was changed by accident. Unfortunately, neither justice or fate could be called upon to comment on this, else there might have been an explanation of why Ryoga managed to walk in the general direction of the exit, only to trip over a dropped shot glass and fall right into Kasumi's lap, face pressed against her bosom. Kasumi and Nabiki spent the next twenty minutes cleaning up Ryoga's nosebleed from Kasumi's dress and trying to explain to the bouncer why he shouldnt toss Ryoga's unconscious body into a dumpster.

The hospital had always been an unwelcome sight, in Akane's eyes. It evoked images of the pain and loss of her mother that she'd rather not face. Fortunately, the current situation distracted her enough that she didn't have time to dwell on the feelings that the hospital usually brought to her. After carrying Ukyo there with Konatsu, Akane had been talking to the nurse at the reception desk, trying to dissuade her from calling the police.

"Please, you have to believe me. The police won't be able to do much about this. It's from a martial arts duel, and Ukyo certainly won't thank you for it." It was a shot in the dark for Akane, since she didn't know how Ukyo got injured in the first place. Nevertheless, it was her best chance to keep the girl who was legally a boy, along with ALL the weirdness that came with Ranma's friends and enemies, out of police and public awareness.

Since the hospital was near Nerima ward, and the Furinkan male student body had visited it quite often during the morning fights for Akane's hand some time back, the nurse was somewhat acquainted with the situation there. Not that she believed every tale from Nerima, but she did know of the unusually high weirdness and martial arts concentration. She relented finally, and allowed Konatsu to sign Ukyo's information forms.

"What happened? How's Ukyo?" Ranma arrived at the hospital only scant minutes after Akane. Hed had a longer way to go, and had to deal with Soun and Genma trying to capture him. Theyd wanted to hold a 'surprise wedding' for Akane and Ranma, consisting of a small 'wedding cupcake', a priest, and recorded organ music. Hed also had to escort the priest home, since it was dark out and he was an elderly man. Afterward, hed rushed to the hospital as fast as he could. When he saw Akane and Konatsu, but no Ukyo, his anxiety increased tenfold. Was her injury that bad? Was she in surgery? Would she live? Fortunately, his thoughts were interrupted before his imagination had gone too far.

"She's hurt bad, Ranma. But I don't think it was life-threatening." Akane said soothingly, trying to calm the pigtailed martial artist down. "I don't know who did it, but someone tarred and feathered her."

"What?!" Ranma exclaimed, somewhat baffled.

"Yeah. It's really weird. Is there a school of Martial Arts Tar and Feathering?" Akane fished for clues from Ranma, despite his demonstrated lapses in memory.

"I… can't really remember if I ever heard of one. Maybe its another one of Ucchan's rivals? Like that crepe guy?" Ranma hazarded a guess, his face marred by a frown of concentration as he searched his memory for a clue.

"I believe that we should ask Miss Shan Pu." Konatsu's calm voice surprised Ranma out of his 'thinking' session. "Ukyo-sama was heading over to see her. She might know something." Ranma and Akane stared at Konatsu in shock.

"Why didn't you say so?!!" They both shouted. The nurse glared at them after that outburst, causing them to move over to a corner of the reception area as they talked.

"Because I didnt believe that Miss Shan Pu had anything to do with this. It would be beneath her to humiliate her opponent this way. She would have killed Ukyo-sama before that, I think." Konatsu admitted.

Now that he had Ukyo in the hospital, hed calmed down and managed to review much of the day's details in his mind. He was angry at whoever harmed his mistress, but was not foolish enough to lash out before realizing who was responsible. "She was planning to… negotiate with Miss Shan Pu about your trip to China. At worst, I expect Ukyo-sama to be defeated. Not brutalized." Ranma and Akane gaped at this new facet of the cross-dressing ninja: the information analyst. "From the appearance of her injuries, I conclude that the majority of them were inflicted by weapons that are not in Miss Shan Pus usual repertoire. Furthermore, tar and feathers are not a typical method of humiliation used by Chinese, or Asians in general. Therefore, I must conclude that whoever did this has experience with foreign customs--

Whatever else Konatsu was about to say was cut off by a nurse announcing that Ukyo was out of the emergency room. During his lecture, Konatsu's eyes had glazed over as his mental training took over, working feverishly to analyze the situation. Upon the mention of Ukyo being available for a visit, it promptly shut down and re-engaged the panic section of his brain. "Ukyo-sama! Please be safe!" Konatsu disappeared down the hospital corridor before Ranma and Akane could ask him whod done it. As one, they shrugged and then followed in search of Ukyo.

*Riiinnngggg!!* *Riiinnngggg!!* Nodoka lowered the dish into the sink, and then walked over to the phone. "Hello? Doctor Miasaki? What a pleasant surprise. Im fine, thank you. Oh, I was about to call you. I had to cancel the checkup on Wednesday. We have to leave earlier than I thought. Yes, it will be a shame that you can't see how manly Ranma has become. My influence? Oh, youre flattering me! Of course well send you a postcard! Ranma's picture? Sure. I will write you a letter with it in the envelope. Okay, I will. Bye!"

"Who was that, Dear?" Genma didn't turned from the shogi board to address his wife. This proved to be a mistake, as she thwacked him over the head so that his head swiveled to face her.

"Oh, it was just Dr. Miasaki. Id scheduled exams with him for Wednesday. He was calling to check the time." Genma's face turned pale. "I had to cancel, though, since we will be leaving tomorrow." His shoulders slumped in obvious relief, to Nodoka's displeasure. "Is there something you should tell me, Dear?" Genma's body tensed again at the sight of Nodoka 's hand moving up her katana.

"Eh, nothing! I mean, what are you talking about?" Genma sweatdropped as he lied through his teeth-- badly.

Fortunately, Nodoka was not a woman who contradicted her husband in public… though she might publicly behead him. Instead, she smiled at her 'dear' husband and returned to the dishes, silently promising a painful question-and-answer session for Genma later.

Ukyo was in fine form when they finally found her… at least in the area of swearing. The damage done to her person was mostly superficial, though a few injuries would take several weeks to heal.

Apparently, it was mostly exhaustion and pain from pressure points that caused her to pass out. At least, that's what Ranma and the others gathered from her angry monologue. According to Ukyo, shed been beaten by Shampoo with a cheap pressure point attack. Then, on the way home, Kodachi had ambushed her, wearing a strangely conservative outfit consisting of a cowled robe.

"I was going to point that out earlier, I swear," Konatsu muttered.

Shed been captured by the use of a paralyzing powder, and then taken to the Kuno Mansion to be tortured. For some devious and no doubt nefarious reason, Kodachi had tarred and feathered her first, instead of moving straight to the hot irons. Ukyo had managed to escape through a clever ruse, telling Kodachi that Shampoo kidnapped Ranma and crawling out of the pile of feathers after the paralysis powder wore off. Ukyo had then sworn eternal vengeance, and had reserved a special place on her okonomiyaki grill just for Kodachi. All of this Ukyo ranted rapidly, with a vocabulary that made a drunken sailor (whod been injured in a bar brawl) on the next hospital bed blush. Ranma and the others would have stayed rooted to their spots in shock, if a nurse didn't casually remark that the young lady have a strange reaction to the painkillers. Apparently, Tourettes Syndrome could be induced by the right combination of drugs…

"Sasuke!" Kodachi Kuno limped into the Kuno Mansion, back from fighting-- and being beaten by-- Shampoo. "Is the torture room ready? I need to vent some steam."

"Sorry, mistress! I can't quite get Mr. Green Turtle out! The rubble made by his earlier landing is too extensive." Sasuke abased himself properly, in a vain hope that his mistress would not decide to punish him. "It will take a few days before local laborers can come to clear it.

"ARRGHH. Very well, Ill simply punish the imprudent peasant wench with my clubs…

Sasuke let out a sigh of relief when his mistress moved past him toward the gymnastics punishment room where Kodachi usually punished the less enthusiastic members of her team, and where Ukyo was being held prisoner. He could finally get back to routine duties that could be 'sleepworked' through. The day had been very stressful, and some relaxation was sorely needed.

"Sasuke! Where is the wench?!"

Facing the angry Kodachi, whose mood was foul by reason of her lack of eyebrows, the loss of her beautiful locks, her defeat by a rival, and the loss of another rival whod been taken captive, Sasuke dropped and begged for his life.

The drugs the doctors gave Ukyo finally wore off, allowing the okonomiyaki chef to speak without swearing every other word. She was noticeably embarrassed about her earlier outburst, though her face was red also from Ranma's touch on her hand.

"Ucchan! What were you thinking, trying to fight Shampoo?" Ranma sat next to the bed, holding his best friend's bandaged hand with both of his own. "You could have gotten really hurt!"

"Well, um, I thought you needed to be rescued from them. I thought they were kidnapping you." Ukyo shed a crocodile tear, skillfully earning a sympathy point with Ranma. "It's a trap, Ranma. I don't think theyre planning to let you come back!" Ranma's reaction was not favorable, in Ukyo's opinion. It was full of exasperation, rather than agreement.

"Ucchan… Cologne gave her word. The old ghoul may be tricky, but she'd never break her word. Ill be back before you even know it." Ranma smiled at Ukyo, which effectively destroyed any remain ounce of reason in her. With a surprising strength (considering her injury), Ukyo leaped off the bed and clung to Ranma like a drowning man clinging to a piece of driftwood.

"You can't leave me all alone, Ranchan! What will I do without you?!" Ukyo screamed into Ranma's ear as she squeezed him, ignoring the quiet 'I will be here for you, Ukyo-sama' from the other side of the bed. Just before Ranma passed out from the lack of oxygen, Ukyo changed her grip from an encircling one to grasping the front of his shirt. "You weren't even planning to tell me you were leaving tomorrow, were you?! You were going to leave without telling me!!" The shaking of Ranma's head was almost as bad as the choking, but Ranma made one valiant effort to get out of his predicament.

"I… was… urk… going to… argh… come by… tonight… to tell you!" Ranma gasped for breath as Ukyo loosened her grip on his shirt. Before he knew it, he was smothered in another tight embrace.

"Oh, Ranchan, Im so sorry. You were planning to spend the night with me before you went, weren't you?! One last night with your cute fiance to sustain you on your long journey--" Ukyo's happy monologue ended when a glowing Akane booted Ranma out of the hospital window.

"So, how long before you think Fang Boy here wakes up?" Nabiki and Kasumi were sitting by the curb, next to an unconscious Ryoga, whod been tossed out by the bouncer. "I say we leave him here, and charge him for your dress the next time he wanders by the dojo. I promise to keep the money safe for you, Big Sis." Nabiki was less than pleased at being interrupted by the lost boy's arrival, and somewhat cranky since Kasumi had insisted that they watch over him-- which moved them outside of the club.

"Im sure you will, Nabiki." Kasumi smiled at her sister. "But I think we should make sure he's all right."

"Oh, well. It's just that I hate to waste this chance to have some fun together, and maybe pick up on some guy." Nabiki shrugged. "I was thinking you could, too."

"Well, I wasn't planning to pick up a boy." Kasumi absentmindedly brushed at her dress with a towel given to her by the bartender. "Especially with my dress the way it is."

"So, does that mean you were planning to pick up a guy before Ryoga showed up?" Nabiki teased.

"I… Im not sure." Kasumi was mortified. She had been thinking along that line before! 'What's going on with me? I HAVE been acting differently these last couple of days, haven't I? How? Why?' The sudden realization made her face pale slightly, and her breath come a bit quicker. Ignoring Nabiki's gaze, which was no longer playful, Kasumi stood up. "Perhaps youre right, Nabiki. Ryoga can take care of himself. I need… to get home now. I don't feel so well." Trying to rein in her confusion, and to prevent her panic from showing, Kasumi looked away from Nabiki. Ever thoughtful, Kasumi pulled a sleeping bag out of Ryoga's backpack, and draped it over the Lost Boy. Without looking back, she started to walk away. Nabiki watched with some confusion, unable to discern the cause of Kasumi's distress. With nothing better to do, she stood up and followed her sister home.

Ranma rubbed his growling stomach as he trudged back to the Tendo Dojo. It had been close to two hours since he last ate, and he was ravenous again. Fortunately, Akane had sent him toward the dojo this time, and it wouldn't take long for him to get home and get some snacks.

"We should charge him 6000 yen, I think, since your dress needs to be specially treated to get the blood out and keep the color vibrant."

Ranma turned his head toward the familiar voice, and saw Nabiki and another woman turning a corner ahead. He flushed in embarrassment when he realized how formfitting their dresses were, and how many details of their bodies he could make out. For just a second, Ranma thought about avoiding them; but instead he walked a little faster to catch up to them. After all, it was a martial artist's duty to guard ladies on their way home, especially when they made such tempting targets. It definitely had nothing to do with how their hips swayed as they walked, or how the taller woman's hair fluttered in the wind; no way…

Ranma thus tailed them for a moment, before he ended up beside them and saw whom Nabiki was walking with.

"Ka… Ka… Kasumi?!" Staring at Kasumi's new look, a shocked Ranma did his first ever Tofu imitation by first walking into a telephone pole, bouncing off and hitting his head on the mailbox next to it, and then staggering like a drunken sailor.

Ichiro Miasaki hummed a soft tune as he descended the stairs behind his clinic, down into his laboratory. The dimly lit laboratory contained gray, featureless machines toiling at inhuman tasks, their metal surfaces gleaming cold. Miasaki himself wore a colorful and comfortable sweater with a pair of brown slacks, all partially covered by the white lab coat so favored by his profession. His body moved with the fluidity of a healthy man, his hair graying but full, and his weathered face softened by a contented smile as he walked toward his computer workstation. He seemed out of place amidst the multitude of machinery in the dark, cavernous room-- unless one was to look into his eyes, that is. They were colder than the machines, even though half of them were computers cooled with liquid nitrogen. Sitting down in front of his workstation, he carefully flexed his fingers, and rubbed them together before he started inputting the latest batch of data from his patients. After the trivial, routine work was done, Miasaki turned on the surveillance module and quickly went over the data collected on his 'special' test subject. Nodding in satisfaction at the results, he transferred the data to the primary mainframe, and started adding annotations to the batch of data.

A ringing from his left interrupted him. Without pausing, he reached over and grabbed the phone. Placing on his shoulder, and tilting his head to hold it in place while he typed, he answered it. "Miasaki here."

"Have you managed to contact the subject for phase three?"

"Not yet. His father is still wary of me, despite the money I paid him for the first phase. The subject's mother and I are on good terms, so it will only be a matter of time before we make contact."

"It is imperative that the subject be presented for inspection by the Institute's personnel in order for you to get the equipment; you know that."

"I know. The problem is, he is unlikely to comply any time soon. Why do they need his physical presence so soon, when the data sets I handed them are perfect? At least five new procedures were devised based on it, and they made millions from them all. What's the problem with the current arrangement? I am not asking for more funding, just… old equipment."

"They are interested in some of his more… recent developments. Especially the gender-switch mechanism. The physiological data you have can't help them determine a controlling factor. They are thinking high-energy physics lab tests, and perhaps even having some old European mystics look him over. Some people-- important people-- are pressuring them for it."

"It's probably impossible, anyway. Whatever it is, it defies the laws of thermodynamics with the way it manipulates his mass. I doubt there's anything they can do to uncover the secrets of that. The mystics are a long shot. How the heck they expect hacks from Europe to figure out Eastern magic, I'll never know. Im surprised to hear of their interest, considering how many years it took for me to convince them of his more… mundane qualities."

"I know, but they simply won't release the equipment to you unless you get him to them."

"Im not worried. I still have enough funding for a couple of years, by then they will be itching for another 'medical breakthrough', and anxious to trade. I don't need that equipment for another year at least, so I am pretty sure I can negotiate with them."

"They may try to retract your funding and tools this time. Theyre really under pressure from the top…"

"Look, Ill do my best… but I have to have time. Don't kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. IF the subject finds out what were up to while he's there, hell probably tear through their precious Institute like a cat through catnip-flavored curtains. REALLY. Tell them that."

"Ill relay your message, word for word."

After the click that signaled the end of the call, Miasaki put down his phone, and stretched his neck. Finishing his data entry, he carefully locked his workstation with a new password. He stood up, then moved over to the workbench, where a microscope and a set of miniature tools lay next to a very large pile of what seemed, from a distance, like dead flies.

Carefully, he picked up one of them, and placed it under the microscope. Using the miniature tools, he carefully peeled back the bottom of the 'fly' and carefully inserted a tiny battery into a compartment there. Closing the flap carefully, he repeated the process with several dozen more. After a couple of hours, he finished his task. Walking over to the surveillance module, he activated the surveillance drones with a command. Immediately, the 'dead flies' rose to life, and flew over by the module, hovering in the air around it. Miasaki's fingers flew over the keyboard as he set down the parameters of surveillance for the drones group A.I. to follow.

After ensuring that they would follow the target one at a time, and had set up an adequate solar recharge schedule, data broadcast schedule, and sampling schedule, he entered the final parameter, the signal wavelength from a device planted in the subject at the time of his birth. With a final click of the return key, the flies flew in perfect coordination through the air conditioning system, out of the clinic, and toward the Tendo dojo.

"Stop it, Nabiki!" Ranma growled as he placed another Band-Aid on his face. A new bout of laughter from Nabiki answered his request. After his 'accident', Ranma and the Tendo sisters had returned to the Tendo Dojo. Ranma nursed his wounds in the living room, amidst Nabiki's laughter and Kasumi's somewhat embarrassed offer to help. Rubbing tears from her eyes, Nabiki made an honest effort to stop, but fell down once again when Ranma blushed as Kasumi inadvertently exposed her cleavage to Ranma's eyes while she cleaned a cut on Ranma's forehead. After finishing with that wound, Kasumi left for bed, to Ranma's relief.

"Oh, gods. I am so going to miss having you around, Ranma." Nabiki said between giggles. "I have to hand it to you, no other man has ever entertained me as much as you do. Maybe I should have kept you instead of selling you back to Akane, eh?" Nabiki laughed again at his horrified expression. "Come on, Ranma. It's not like you wouldn't enjoy it!" Nabiki turned her body just so, revealing just a little more inner thigh in Ranma's view. She laughed again at his sputtering denials while his eyes tried to avoid her legs. "Hehehehe. My stomach aches from all this laughing. Im going to bed before I hurt myself."

Smirking, Nabiki rose from her seat and left for bed, the whole time walking with an exaggerated sway to taunt the fuming martial artist. Nabiki analyzed the evening in her mind as she ascended the stairs, concluding that there was nothing between Kasumi and Ranma. 'Not with the way Ranma was reacting to us. He would be less panicky if he was having fun with Kasumi behind our backs.'

Deciding that she was too tired to bathe, Nabiki entered her room, and began changing into her pajamas. Glancing at her own dress, she giggled and made a mental note to keep Kasumi's dress so Ranma won't get tempted in China. "Heheh. I am going to miss that boy."


To be continued.

Author's notes: (8/3/01) This is the rough draft, since Cannibal who snacks is out of the country, and Im not sure when he will get this in his email. It took me a while to plot this part of the story, since there were several elements I wanted to introduce, and couldn't figure out if this was the proper time for them.

Im wondering if I should actually do the scene where Kodachi ambushed Ukyo. That event, like most of the other events in this chapter, will have an impact in the story later. I just wasn't sure if its worth explaining in detail here.

I would also like an opinion on Ichiro Miasaki. I am not sure if his name is in proper Japanese, since I just picked the names out of anime names I have heard. He will be more of a regular character, with a more central role than say, Linfa. Please give me C&C so I can write this story better, and address any questions you may have about the characters.


Chapter 4
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