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A Ranma ½ story
by Brian Randall

Disclaimer: Ranma ½ is property of Rumiko Takahashi and Viz video, and Project A-ko was borrowed from Soeishinsha Co., Ltd. and U.S. Manga Corps.

Long overdue. I just hope it's not a letdown. >_<

Disclaimer: Takahashi provided us with the paint, property of her and Viz video, and additional colors borrowed from Soeishinsha Co., Ltd. and U.S. Manga Corps, this time around. I'm simply a peasant with an easel.

Chapter Four: Three Kisses

The sun rose, shedding its soft amber light across the slumbering homes of Graviton City, a golden-red glow that banished the soft wisps of fog trailing in from the bay.

One of the homes was neatly located between the cratered remnants of two larger buildings, allowing the sunlight to strike directly in through the windows. The light descended, spearing through a gap in the curtains and illuminating the tatami directly next to a sleeping martial artist.

The small point of light slowly crawled across the floor, working its way inexorably closer to the boy, angling a course to fall across his eyes.

Moments before the light reached him, the boy sat up, looking around in alarm. Seeing no immediate threats, he rose to his feet and stretched languorously. He blinked, stifling a yawn, and glanced about the room. His pack sat in the corner, along with his jo — the only decoration in the otherwise bare room.

After a few exploratory tugs at his bedroll, he folded the thin mat and stowed it in the closet before striding out of his room and to the stairway.

He hesitated at the door, shrugged, and stepped into the back yard. Half of the lawn was reduced to sandy waste, occasional bits of jagged metal littering it, while the rest was simply green, spared the destruction of the falling debris.

Ranma sighed, eyeing the sparse grass mistrustfully. "I'd bet the metal's in the grass too," he grumbled before leaping up towards the roof, which was miraculously bare of litter.

Clearing his mind, he began his morning kata, preparing to face a new day — his first in his new home — feeling hopeful for the future.

Eiko woke to her mother's urgent shaking. "Eiko-chan, Eiko-chan. You need to wake up. You mustn't be late for school."

The redhead opened one eye tiredly, pouting, "No school. Blew up."

Diana blinked at that, considering her daughter's words. She opened her mouth to chastise the girl's lack of diligence, then glanced out the window to see the multi-ton mass of the remnants of one giant space faring vehicle mounted atop the city's central spire. "Oh. Never mind then. Rest well."

Eiko sat up and stretched, frowning as her mother departed. "But I'm already awake…" She cocked her head to one side, smiling slowly as she stopped stretching — and straining the buttons on her shirt. "Mmm… maybe I'll go visit Ranma."

Ukyou and Akane met in the entry hall of the hostel, surprised to see Ryouga waiting for them. The bandana-clad boy shuffled his feet before managing a hesitant question, "Is this still Graviton City?"

The girls shared a glance, Ukyou speaking first. "That's right. We're going to go find Ranma again."

Akane smiled, glancing out at the morning sky, stretching before moving forward. "Ahh… it looks like it's going to be a nice day today."

Ryouga nodded, falling into step behind the girls as they marched out into the city. "Um," he began again, still hesitant, "where is he?"

Ukyou froze, wincing. "Oops. We forgot to ask him where he was staying, didn't we?"

Akane winced along with Ukyou. "I knew I missed something…"

"Don't worry, I just know we can find him again! Let's go!"

Eiko frowned at her reflection in the mirror. Her clothing was simple, but fashionable. A pair of denim shorts, and a red T-shirt, with a long-sleeved button-up shirt over that left open. The ensemble set off her bracers nicely, the longer sleeves making them seem more appropriate.

She frowned again at the reflection. Her appearance was fine, but… "I forgot to ask him where he's staying." She blinked, belatedly realizing that he probably didn't know where she lived either. "Aw… shoot. Now what?"

A knock at the door pulled her thoughts to the ground for a moment, and she trundled down the stairs, curious. "Oh! Shiko! Good morning."

The little blonde smiled up at Eiko brightly, calling out, "Good morning, Eiko-chan! Let's go out and do something together today!"

"Um…" Eiko paused thoughtfully, then shrugged. "Okay, let's go look for Ranma."

Pouting, Shiko asked, "Who's Ranma?"

Eiko sighed, shaking her head. "The boy from yesterday. Now let's go look for him, hmm?"

The diminutive blonde nodded dubiously. "Okay…"

The long grass was high enough to conceal even the elder Saotome, hesitant though he was after seeing the flashing lights in the sky from the previous day… but Ranma was nearby. He was certain of that, since someone had reported him heading eastward from Tomokomai via train.

Genma's favored method of traveling on a train was somewhat conspicuous, even by his standards, so finding signs of the boy was easy, especially since Ranma was apparently not traveling alone.

Sighing, he stowed his gear in his bag, shouldering it and stretching briefly. Normally he would be sparring with the boy at this hour… though that might be difficult with him weakened. Still, Genma had some hopes, even without real plans. The most important thing to remember was that Ranma's mother was nowhere around, so she wouldn't see the obvious lapse in Ranma's 'manliness'.

He shivered briefly at the thought before descending into the city, prepared to reproduce his feat of asking every random passer-by if they had seen 'either of his children' as often as necessary to find him.

A weak breeze rustled a set of lace curtains, sending ripples through the fabric and swirling faint lavender scents through a large, lavishly decorated room.

From the immense, European canopy-bed, a figure stirred, rising slowly and stifling back a yawn in the most ladylike manner possible. Stretching luxuriantly, Kodachi climbed out of her bed, humming thoughtfully to herself.

How to approach her Ranma-sama… She sighed, mumbling to herself, "My normal mode might not be appropriate… something more elegant, befitting to my station, perhaps? Yes… Hmm… Something to capture even Ranma-sama's gentle attentions…"

So musing, she set about rifling through the selection of clothing she had brought with her. "I'll find you, Ranma-sama…"

Biiko sat in her chair, fuming to herself over the total failure and the fiasco that the previous day had turned out to be.

"Damn you, Eiko," she seethed. "And damn that boyfriend of yours. Not enough to have him, you have to take my beloved Shiko-chan too." She ground her teeth together, scowling. "No matter, I'll simply find your boyfriend, and take my revenge on you that way…" A giant illustration of the plan appeared on her main monitor, as she read through the notes beneath it, nodding to herself.

"And then, when you're busy waiting for him to recover, I'll be there to take Shiko, who you've been neglecting!" She giggled to herself, then dismissed the image. Maniacal grin fading to disappointed frown, she mused, "Except that he's better than me even with the Akagiyama M-line 23 power suit, so I can't hurt him… Hmm…"

Shrugging, she rose and began marching towards her closet. She had dismissed the schoolmates that she typically kept around for such duties, but there was no reason that she couldn't at least perform some reconnaissance herself. "I'll just have to find you," she muttered under her breath, "and see where to go from there…"

Dr. Tofu scanned through the newspaper on the dining room table idly, looking for any items of interest, as Ranma served breakfast. He pushed the newspaper away after a moment, taking a bowl of rice from the boy. "Thank you, Ranma. You didn't have to make breakfast…"

The pigtailed boy shrugged, preparing a bowl for himself. "Nah. I mean, you got the groceries already, and I gotta—" He broke off, wincing at Tofu's expression. "It's no problem. You got the groceries and I need to pull my weight around here too, right?"

The doctor nodded. "But still, it's very thoughtful of you to do so without my asking." Ranma nodded dubiously, digging into his breakfast with slightly less than his normal enthusiasm, under Tofu's scrutinizing gaze. "What are your plans for the day?"

Ranma shrugged again, setting his bowl down and thinking to himself for a moment before replying. "Well… I was thinking that I could probably start on cleaning the backyard, so we can get the sand garden set up… Hmm… After that, maybe some practice; but you'll probably be busy running the clinic." He shrugged again, taking a few more bites of his meal.

The boy froze suddenly, and Tofu watched bemused, as he saw the shiver work it's way from Ranma's feet to the top of his scalp, where his hair stood on end, his pigtail standing straight up behind him. "Something wrong?"

Ranma shivered again, and smoothed his hair back. "Nothing… I just got that feeling you get when… It's hard to explain. I'm sure it's nothing."

Tofu nodded once towards the boy, and turned his attention back to his breakfast.

A woman in a sparsely populated office answered a phone, glancing warily towards her office window. "Thank you for calling G.C. Phone! My name is Kobayashi Junko; can I help you?" Likely another customer angry about the loss of service…

But then, alien invasion, as far as Junko remembered, was not covered by any service contracts… yet. She jotted down a note on a nearby piece of paper, reminding herself to bring up 'alien insurance' with a superior later. The voice on the other end of the phone was difficult to make out, static occasionally cutting in, "Hello, this is Ono Tofu, and I wanted to inquire about getting service?"

Junko blinked, considering that. Someone had moved into the city yesterday? With the alien invasion, and all the explosions, and the lights and the noise… and they wanted to stay, too? "Okay, I'll just need some information…" she let her mouth run on autopilot, her mind buzzing.

There was a way to make some quick money off of this, and she did have the man's address…

Once she had collected the information and punched it into the computer, she glanced around to make sure none of the other operators were looking. Seeing the coast to be clear, she dialed another number, one she had memorized long ago. "Yodan-chaaaan…"

His voice sounded annoyed, though the connection was much clearer. "Yes, Junko? I'm a little busy."

"I think I have a scoop for you…" She batted her eyelashes coyly at a hand-held mirror, offering it a single devastating wink. Pity Yodan couldn't see it… it always floored him when he could.

"What? It'd have to be pretty sensational considering what happened yesterday."

"Maybe not sensational, but it's still interesting. You know someone moved into the city yesterday?" Dead silence rewarded her. "I mean, they still want to, even after the aliens."

"And… This is interesting because?"

"Yodan-chan," she chirped, pouring as much syrup into her voice as she could manage, "think of the human-interest angle! You know your boss is a sucker for that kinda garbage. You can sell it to him. Anyway. I got one of those feelings about it, so check it out, okay?"

Ranma whistled softly, sweeping the front steps of the clinic, while Tofu talked to someone on the phone. He had said that his, and Ranma's things, would be shipped from Nerima over the next few days, though Tofu himself would have to return to Nerima to fill out some paperwork, first.

He wasn't worried about that, instead focusing on sweeping, and trying to figure out what his plan was. The first part had been easy: finding Eiko and apologizing. Once that had been done, she'd forgiven him, which surprised him, and…

Sighing, he shook his head, wishing he had thought ahead, or that he could ignore the problem and it would go away. Eiko… he knew how he had felt, but he wasn't certain how he felt now. And he still hadn't managed to explain the curse to her.

And then there was Akane, following him all the way from Nerima, and Ukyou as well. That was significant, his brain shouted, telling him that she cared. She was happy to see him. Ukyou was too, and he couldn't ignore it, but… he didn't know what to do about the situation.

He hung his head. "Oh, well," he muttered, "it could be worse."

Setting the broom away, he cracked his back, stretching, and sat on the front step of the not-yet-operational clinic. Pushing the tangle of his relationships to the side, he instead contemplated the backyard. Tofu expected him to somehow remove everything, and make a sand garden and koi pond.

He frowned. Raking sand would be easy, and maintaining a sand-garden was not an unfamiliar task to him. He had spent more than one season in a monastery or the like with his father, training, and the pair had usually ended up with chores to pay their way.

Genma enjoyed heavy work, things that helped him and Ranma build muscle, but Ranma enjoyed the sand-gardens, their simple patterns converging into a more complex one. It was a pleasure the elder Saotome rarely begrudged Ranma, and one of the few things he enjoyed.

He shook his head, clearing it. That wasn't the problem. The problem was how to get rid of the grass, and the topsoil, and then move the sand in. People could be hired, he supposed, but he was supposed to do the work to pay his way, and he had no money for the job, anyway. But it would require lots and lots of heavy lifting, which Ranma couldn't do very well anymore.

And even though rocks were often part of the sand garden, there was a certain… moderation… involved in the process, and there were too many rocks for the design Ranma was already forming. And large pieces of debris, too. And then the koi pond. That might solve the rock problem, using the extra rocks to make the bed and borders of the koi pond, but… How would he move them? Even the smallest ones could be too much for him.

A shadow fell across him, and he looked up sharply, seeing only a man in a frayed looking suit glancing around the place. "Hello!" Ranma called, "Can I help you?"

The man nodded, bowing slightly to Ranma. "My name is Hiwa Yodan." Ranma nodded politely back, climbing to his feet. "I'm looking for an Ono Tofu. Are you him?"

Ranma snorted, shaking his head. "Nah, he's— Um. No, he's talking on the phone at the moment. My name is Ranma. What do you need?"

Yodan shrugged, glancing around the place. "Okay. Just wanted to ask him a few questions about his move here, and maybe take a picture for the paper."

Ranma blinked, studying the man closely, noticing the small camera around his neck. "Paper?"

Yodan nodded, looking upwards and over the central island of the city. "Yeah… I figure that thing is going to be front page, but we can always use the human-interest angle."

Ranma shaded his eyes from the sun, and stared for a moment. "Looks weirder inside."

Blinking, Yodan turned to stare at Ranma. "You've been inside?"

Ranma nodded at the older man, sitting on the step of the clinic again and relaxing. "Yeah. They grabbed one of my friend's friends, so we went after them… There was a kind of an accident, heh… Why?"

Yodan shook his head, seeming to dismiss the boy. "We're planning on having some reporters go up and take a look at it later today."

Another voice interrupted Yodan before he could say more. "Hello, Sir. Can I help you?"

Yodan nodded, turning to face the doctor. "Ono Tofu, I presume?"

"Tofu-sensei," Ranma corrected him.

Tofu smirked, rolling his eyes at Ranma. "That's me. You're with the paper? Here to talk to Ranma about the ship, no doubt."

Yodan blinked, staring at Ranma in befuddlement. "He was on the ship?"

Tofu nodded, glancing at the monstrosity briefly. "Oh, yes. Would you like to come in and talk about it over tea?"

Yodan opened his mouth, disbelieving, but then muttered, "She had one of 'those' feelings about it." Smiling, he nodded. "Actually, I'd love to. Mind if I take a picture of you for the paper, Ranma?"

Ranma shrugged. "Sure, no problem."

Smile widening, Yodan pointed towards the center of the street, walking there himself. "Can you stand here, so I can get a picture of you in front of the ship?"

Ranma shrugged a second time, walking leisurely to the middle of the street. "Can't hurt," he commented.

Eiko's eyes widened, and she jumped up and down excitedly, grabbing Shiko's hand and dashing forward, shouting, "Ranma! There you are!"

Kodachi glanced at the commotion, her eyes quickly scanning to Ranma. Grinning, she bounded towards him easily, her lacy black dress fluttering in the breeze as she called out, "Oh-ho-ho-ho! Ranma-sama!"

Akane and Ukyou saw at the same moment, and pointed, simultaneously yelling, "Ranma!" and "Ranchan!" respectively.

Ranma had only enough time to blink, as four pairs of arms wrapped around him from different angles, and he distantly heard the 'click' of a camera. "Uh-oh," he said sensing something about to go very, very wrong, "this can't be good."

Four voices shouted at once, "Ranma!/Ranchan!/Ranma-sama!" and Ranma was borne to the ground, blinking upwards as the various girls dropped him, and glared at each other.

"What are you doing with my Ranma-sama, you hussy?"

"'Your' Ranma? He's not yours, he's—"

"Nope," Ranma muttered, rolling over and steadily crawling away, "not good."

He looked up, seeing a shoe before him, and followed that shoe with his eyes to the hem of a dress, then upwards, to a curious and annoyed looking blonde. "Hi," she said after a moment, "I'm Shiko. Who are you?"

"Ranma," he grumbled, scanning the area around him nervously. The girls were entangled in their own argument, ignoring him for the moment. He supposed that was good, but he didn't want them hurting themselves, especially not over him.

Sighing, he shook his head, not really sure what to do. Yodan edged over to Ranma, whispering, "Does this sort of thing happen a lot?"

Ranma nodded dourly, waving at Dr. Tofu as he headed back towards the clinic. "Tofu? I'm going to go out and get myself beat up a little before they hurt each other."

Tofu blinked, nodding sagely. "I'll ready the antiseptic."

Ranma half-managed to laugh, calling out to the girls as he stood a distance away from breakable things like stone walls or parked cars, "Hey! What's going on here? I ain't nobody's but my own."

The girls all turned to him, collecting themselves, and pretending that the incident had never occurred. "Ranma," Akane began before the others could say anything, "I wanted to make sure you were okay. Is everything going well?"

He nodded slowly. "I guess… why?"

Ukyou spoke up next, clapping a hand over Kodachi's mouth, "Ranchan, I just wanted to tell you that it's okay if you kissed another girl. I forgive you."

Ranma winced. "Uhhh…"

Kodachi tore Ukyou's hand away, bellowing, "Who has defiled my Ranma-sama so?" She turned towards Eiko, one eyebrow twitching a furious staccato to her anger. "You! It was you, the redheaded harridan who claims my Ranma-sama's name!"

Ranma coughed loudly, moving to stand between the two before Eiko could respond, but clearly seeing the hurt and anger in the redhead's eyes. "Uh, it's not quite like that, y'know!"

Eiko calmly pushed Ranma to the side, where he stumbled. "Hey, I don't need to apologize for liking Ranma! He's a nice guy, and I bet I knew him first anyway!"

"Oh, no!" Ranma whispered his eyes frantically searching for a venue of escape.

"Is that, so?" Kodachi sneered imperiously.

"Not good!" Ranma squeaked, only seeing Ryouga, staring at him with a shell-shocked and dumbfounded expression.

"Yes! We were together in Sasebo."

"Awww… Kuso!" Ranma exclaimed, wincing.

Two voices joined Kodachi's, exclaiming in surprise, "'TOGETHER'?"

Ryouga blinked a few times, and then started to realize what he was seeing. Not wasting the time to respond, he simply spun around, and ran away as quickly as he could, praying to have his curse kick in shortly.

Eiko's voice sounded proud, as she said, "Yes. We aren't together right now, but we used to date—"

Ranma twitched, weighing his options. The situation was volatile enough, but adding in a new girl, and then explaining that Ranma had dated with her would be like… like… like throwing a martial artist into a pack of starving cats!

The three girls yelled together, "Ranma! Is this true?"

He said nothing coherent, edging away slowly. Ukyou grit her teeth, glaring at the pigtailed martial artist. "He's not answering," she stated coldly. "That means it's true." Drawing in a breath, she yelled as loudly as she could, "Ranma, you jackass! You promised me FIRST!"

Eiko was only able to blink, wondering what forces she had unleashed as the girls rushed towards Ranma, bellowing their fury at him as he turned and fled.

Ranma dashed down the street, managing to latch onto the Lost Boy in passing. "Ryouga! Buddy! Friend!" He gasped, "You gotta hide me!"

"Um…" Eiko said quietly to the departing group, confused. "Is it that big a deal? We aren't dating now…"

Tofu frowned, commenting "I'm going to need more than antiseptic."

Yodan merely stared at him, eyes wide. "Is that… normal?"

Tofu considered for a moment, then shrugged. "For Ranma… not quite. Normally it seems to be much lower key."

Yodan blinked repeatedly, staring at his camera and wishing he had gotten more than the one shot… "Um… I'm probably not putting that in the story. Can you tell me about the ship, though?"

Ryouga panted, his eyes casting about him wildly, and unable to lose the girls chasing him. Them, rather. "Ranma!" he wheezed. "This is where you say, 'Save yourself!' and let go of me!"

Ranma laughed hysterically, hanging onto Ryouga for dear life, "Not a chance, Ryouga! If I'm going down, it isn't alone!"

Taking a deep breath, and preparing to leap into a copse of trees, Ryouga skidded crazily, seeing a girl step before him suddenly. "ARGH!" he bellowed, colliding with her and tumbling, Ranma somersaulting over a fence and disappearing into the foliage. Not bothering to explain himself, Ryouga found his feet, and swept the girl into his arms.

He wasn't certain if she'd get trampled or if she'd join the pursuing trio, but didn't want to find out either way. He turned left sharply, accelerating and abandoning Ranma. "Sorry," he panted, still running full-tilt, "are you okay?"

She blinked confusedly, then stared at him, hard, and again over his shoulder. "Oh, my. Can you run faster? My estate is this way — turn right, here."

Groaning, he tried to do just that.

Ranma spun through some leaves and smaller branches, uncoiling his body and balancing on a thin tree limb, jogging towards the tree trunk to avoid falling.

Glancing behind him, he noticed the girls running after Ryouga, who had just disappeared… Ranma blinked. Who had just disappeared. In broad daylight, into thin air.

Shrugging, Ranma crept to the ground, making a mental note to lay low for a while, and avoid his otherwise imminent doom.

Shiko stared at Eiko suspiciously, frowning as the trio of angry girls departed. "Eiko… who's Ranma?"

Eiko giggled, watching Ranma streak away into the distance, along with the other boy she remembered from the ship. "He's the guy who helped me rescue you yesterday, Shiko. Isn't he great?" she asked.

Shiko frowned again, not liking the way Eiko's eyes shone at those words. "What do you want him for? I like you, Eiko-chan!"

The redhead sighed, ruffling Shiko's hair. "I like you too, Shiko, but that's different." Shiko pouted, while Eiko turned towards the pair of older men as they entered the clinic. "I wonder if this is where Ranma is staying…"

Shiko's pout deepened, as she trailed Eiko impatiently.

Pausing at the doorway, Eiko tapped, looking inward curiously. Catching up to Ranma was likely possible, but… it would be a nice idea to learn about whomever Ranma was staying with. "Hello?"

A taller man in glasses, wearing a gi, waved to her from inside, calling out, "Go ahead and come in, help yourself to some tea. There's hot water in the kitchen." He glanced away, and then back at her again, blinking in surprise. "Oh, I'm sorry! Mistook you for someone else. Please, come in."

He disappeared around the corner, and Eiko followed after him, shrugging. "I guess Ranma's got an older brother. They look kind of similar." She frowned at that — he'd never mentioned an older brother, or any other family at all, really.

Shiko followed with some trepidation, both girls sitting nervously at the far end of the table, while the men chatted quietly. The man with the glasses glanced towards the girls briefly, then shook his head. "Where are my manners? Ah, ladies, I'm Ono Tofu, and this is Hiwa Yodan."

Eiko bowed politely towards the men. "I'm Megumi Eiko, and this is my friend, Kotobuki Shiko. Are you Ranma's cousin?"

Tofu blinked, then shook his head, laughing softly. "No, no… We're just friends, Megami-san."

Yodan smiled at the girls, nodding. "I'm interested in everything you can tell me about Ranma for our story, actually. We had heard rumors that someone was up there, but… we haven't found any of them yet."

Shiko grimaced, shaking her head quickly. "I don't like it up there! They're all mean, and took me away from Eiko-chan!"

Eiko laughed, slightly embarrassed, and explained, "They kidnapped her, because they thought that she was their princess, and then Ranma helped me get her back… Um… let me think… Me and Ranma used to date…"

Shiko's pout increased further, though she kept silent.

The city was huge, Genma decided. And ugly.

Buildings were scattered about haphazardly, crews already setting to work on clearing the rubble from damaged walls and collapsed structures. He wasn't sure where it went from there, but…

He shook his head, hoping to find someone more aware than the majority of the people he had spoken to, who seemed to be almost completely absorbed in repairing their city. A large-ish foreign man stood at a street corner waiting for a bus, seeming slightly unsettled, and largely ignoring the surroundings.

"Excuse me," Genma began slowly, fishing the weathered pictures of Ranma in both forms from a pocket. "I'm looking for my children, and needed to know if you've seen them around?" He was semi-thankful for the oddness concerning the alien invasion, though. It meant that one way or another; people didn't find a man asking after his children too noteworthy.

The man looked at Genma, then glanced at the pictures, freezing suddenly. "Ahem," he said carefully, his eyes nearly seeming to burn behind his glasses. "Your children? Saotome-san, it's been a while. Why are you looking for my daughter, exactly?"

Genma blinked, slowly remembering who the man was. "Ooooh…" he said, scrambling frantically for an explanation. "That's a remarkable coincidence, you see, heh… uh, Megami-san, uh…"

"I thought your son had died, Saotome-san." The man's voice had turned even grimmer, and he had dropped his briefcase, arms crossed over his chest angrily. "He seems quite healthy here, to me…"

Genma inched away slowly, still wracking his brain, and wondering why such an obviously untrained man felt so… dangerous. "Um… he didn't drown after all, though we didn't find out for a while…"

"You said it was a training accident, and that he had been mutilated beyond recovery. That was why you insisted that Eiko-chan not see him after he had perished."

"Um… I can explain that, too!" Genma said, edging further away.

The man began to uncross his arms, and Genma gasped, pointing behind him, "Look! The big ship over there is falling!" Genma whirled and ran, turning as many corners as he could, trying to put distance between the angry man and himself.

"Not good!" he panted out, collapsing in a deserted lot when his legs finally began to give out. He groaned, catching his breath, and mulling if over. Ranma had known somehow! He had known about the girl, and come after her! Even though Genma had made a promise to himself to never go to Sasebo again, and to certainly keep Ranma away… how had he known she would be here?

And how to take care of this? With a little bit of luck, the girl's father would likely blame Ranma, and not let them get close… but that still did not bode well for the Saotome/Tendo union! An answer was needed, and quickly. But first, to find Ranma before the girl did!

Ranma wandered back into the clinic, passing Yodan on his way in. Eiko smiled, looking up from her mostly untouched teacup at the table where she and Shiko had sat while the men had chatted. Yodan grinned at Ranma, whispering something about a 'lunch' some time. The boy waved tiredly to Tofu and Eiko, worriedly glancing over his shoulder before slumping to a place at the table.

"Man," he groaned. "That was unreal."

Eiko giggled. "Does that happen to you a lot?"

Ranma shrugged, glancing at Tofu, who hid a smile and watched silently. "Sometimes. Normally there's an Amazon involved, but I guess not this time…" He shook his head trying to ignore the frosty stare that he was receiving from Shiko.

Setting her teacup down, Eiko opened her mouth to ask Ranma about his plans for the future, but was overridden by Shiko, who had silently fumed her way into a rage. "What are you gonna do with Eiko-chan?" she snapped at Ranma.

Ranma blinked, taken aback, as Tofu unobtrusively slipped out of the room. "Do? Uh… Nothing. Why?"

Shiko glowered at Ranma, yelling, "Liar! I can tell! You're going to take my Eiko-chan away!"

Eiko flushed crimson, realizing Shiko's words, and grabbed the smaller girl, clamping one hand over her mouth. "Shiko!" she hissed. "It's not like that!"

Shiko wormed her way free from Eiko's grip and screamed at Ranma, "I hate you!"

With that, the girl scampered away, running free and trailing tears. Ranma was only able to stare, stunned, and blink, as Eiko offered a hasty apology and dashed after her friend.

Tofu reentered the room, the phone on one shoulder, and a pad of paper in one hand. He raised an eyebrow as Ranma simply stared at the wall, blinking. It had been Shiko, he was fairly certain, who had cried out her hate, not Eiko.

"Ranma?" he queried, wondering at the boy's stricken demeanor.

The book shook his head, snapping himself out of his shock. "Huh? What's that, Tofu?"

"Are you okay?"

Ranma nodded slowly, scratching the back of his head. "Yeah, yeah." He sighed, shaking his head, "I'm fine. Just… that was…" He paused for a moment, considering something, then blanched. "I'm gonna go work on the backyard for a bit, okay, Tofu?"

"Okay, Ranma. Take care of yourself."

Tofu walked back into the room with the phone, still organizing the things he would need to have dealt with before the move could be considered complete. He felt bad about not devoting as much time to Ranma as the boy probably needed… If only someone else could help keep the boy's spirits up, perhaps even helping his shiatsu training, but there was so much to be done readying the clinic anyway…

Cologne sighed, stretching, and smacked her lips together, blearily staring around before she remembered where she was. "Oh, yes," she muttered under her breath, "Ranma." A soft growling noise from her stomach distracted her, and she grimaced. "And food."

Pursing her lips together thoughtfully, she stretched, leaping from her place of concealment to bound from the roof she had chosen to nap on to another house, and cast out with her senses. The boy's ki was fairly easy to trace, but she'd have to get close enough to sense it, first.

And then spend some time explaining what the Jusenkyou curse meant. That would be… interesting. She paused for a moment, glancing down into the busy street below her, at a noodle-shop, still operating after the events of the previous day.

Well, the boy could wait. "For a while, at least," she mumbled, following the scents of fine food inward. And the explanation for Jusenkyou could likely wait even longer.

Ranma stared down at the yard from the peak of the roof, wondering if perhaps a different angle would help him find a solution.

From this height, the debris and stones were scattered in a roughly circular formation, which had a certain appeal, he thought. Not, of course, that he would use that as the final design. The crater was slightly to the left, and made a good base for a koi pond, even if it would need to be deepened and the sides shored up. So that meant that the rocks would need to be rearranged in a different pattern… and the hole would need to be deepened.

The hole could be dug easily enough, he decided. The soil was loose, and would need the stones of the yard to keep the dirt from flowing in and retaining its 'crater' shape. He sighed, shaking his head, leaning back against the roof, and staring at the sky, occasional clouds dotting its surface like stray sheep wandering across a field.

He blinked, wondering at how clear the sky was. No planes flying overhead, no helicopters to investigate the ship that was lying there… He grimaced at the ship, his thoughts wandering back to his present situation. Eiko. And Akane, Ukyou, Kodachi— and Shampoo, wherever she was.

Rolling to his feet, he peered at the yard again. Finding it empty, he relaxed; focusing on the trick that Tofu had taught him. Focusing was important, even if it was no more than a harmless light show. It had some potential for Ranma insofar as his aura was not dependent on his physical strength.

If only there were a technique that depended on his ki, instead of his body. He sighed, losing his concentration for the moment, as his ki bled out of the visible spectrum again. Ki wouldn't solve his other problems, either.

Even if he wanted to make a decision — and he certainly wasn't certain which of the girls he would choose — he wasn't sure how he'd go about it. No matter which choice he made, he'd be hurting someone, and that simply didn't sit well with him.

"Bah," he grumbled, shaking his head. Honor. He was honor bound, beyond his own feelings, and that just wouldn't help anything… anything at all. "If only there were a way to make things easier…"

The faint sound of something tapping against the roof beyond his field of vision alerted him, though he took care to avoid reacting. Counting in his head, his eyes becoming unfocused as he concentrated, he waited until the right moment and…

Rolling upwards suddenly, he lashed out, spinning one kick viciously at whoever was trying to sneak up behind him — only to be effortlessly deflected by a pair of chopsticks. Catching himself, he rolled into a ball, straightening out in time to slide to the very edge of the roof, crouched low and studying his opponent. "Good morning, Son-in-law!" she called to him cheerfully.

He dropped his stance immediately, returning to his previous position and nodded. "I ain't —" he coughed, as she raised one eyebrow in warning. "I'm not your son-in-law."

She shrugged, pulling a bowl of soup from a box balanced on the staff at her side. "We'll see… we'll see." She slurped at her noodles for a moment before blinking suddenly. "Oh, would you like some?"

He hedged for a moment, uncertain, then nodded. "Sure. What are you doing here, anyway?"

She snorted, throwing a bowl and a pair of chopsticks towards him. He caught them effortlessly, sniffing at the bowl a few times before tasting. A little spicier than his normal preferences, but not bad. The woman shrugged, smacking her lips. "It should mean something to you, Ranma, that I still consider you a worthwhile match for my great-granddaughter even without your strength."

Ranma cocked his head to one side, considering that as he finished off another mouthful of noodles. "That's true," he said after a moment, swallowing. "But I figure you got another trick up your sleeves, or…" he trailed off, blinking. "Or you know something," he concluded, smiling softly.

The woman chuckled in a low tone, stowing her empty bowl in the box at her side, and catching Ranma's when he tossed it to her. "I do, Ranma… but before I tell you, aren't you forgetting something?"

He blinked, then rolled his eyes. "Thanks for the soup?"

"Much better, Ranma! Now, I have a bowl of soup to deliver to your doctor friend… come with me for a moment."

Scowling, Ranma followed after the woman as she effortlessly bounded into the yard, then rapped on the back door.

Tofu answered after a moment, carrying a thick pad of paper in one hand, and a pencil in the other. "Ranma?" he asked. "Something wrong?"

Ranma smirked, shaking his head, and pointed lower, towards the ancient Amazon woman. She scowled at the boy for a moment, then bowed respectfully to Tofu. "Hello, Tofu. It's been a while."

Tofu stared at the woman, uncomprehending for a long moment, then his eyes widened in realization. "Oh," he said gesturing her inside, "sorry if I'm a little distracted, Elder, make yourself comfortable." Cologne nodded, offering yet another bowl of soup to the doctor. He took it, taking a moment to stare at it. "Is this…" he trailed off, frowning.

Cologne smiled, nodding. "Yes."

Tofu raised an eyebrow. "Why would you think I want it?"

The woman made a show of buffing her nails, while Ranma simply blinked, confused. "By abandoning his father, Ranma is an orphan. As far as I know, he has no mother." She glanced at Ranma, who shrugged.

"Not that I know about," the boy grumbled, wondering what Cologne and Tofu were muttering about.

Cologne's gin widened. "That makes him an orphan, then. So…"

Frowning sharply, Tofu asked Ranma, "Did you eat a bowl of this soup?"

"Uh… yes?" he answered, wondering at the purpose of Tofu's displeasure.

The doctor grumbled, and began eating the soup himself, explaining around a mouthful of noodles, "Elder, I don't think that thith ith the right thing to do."

"You mean 'is', Tofu. And don't eat with your mouth full," the woman responded cheerfully. Turning back to Ranma, the woman sighed. "It's like this, Ranma… you're an orphan, with an honor debt to the Amazon tribe."

He blinked, frowning. "I never said I rejected my father."

Tofu snorted, still working on the bowl of soup before him. Cologne shot him a dry glance over her shoulder, and cleared her throat. "Ahem. In that case, Ranma, you have a choice before you. If you do choose to… part ways… with your father, you are an orphan, and as such, you can be adopted into the Amazon tribe."

Ranma blinked again, then shook his head. "Um… no thanks. I'd rather just stay here… uh, if Tofu doesn't mind, anyway."

The doctor set his bowl down, sighing loudly. "Actually, Ranma, I'm not an Amazon, but I did spend a few years training with them. They have some amazing shiatsu techniques." He shook his head. "But that's not the point… the point is that I'm an honorary Amazon, and so if you were to join their tribe as an orphan, er…" he trailed off, frowning at Cologne pointedly.

The old woman shrugged, dismissing Tofu's gaze. "Well, Ranma, I've seen what you've learned in only two weeks under his tutelage… I will be honest with you. Your skill would not be without a place in our village, but I have a reason to suspect that you might not be willing to take Shampoo as your bride."

Ranma blinked, nodding slowly, and noticing that she had used — and been using — 'Ranma,' not, 'Son-in-law', ever since he had eaten the soup. "Okay," he said slowly, while Tofu merely watched, arms crossed over his chest, "I'm listening."

She cleared her throat, glancing at Tofu as if to make sure he was still remaining silent, then turning back to Ranma. "Now, Ranma… do you remember the technique that I used yesterday?"

He nodded slowly. "I think so. The one that made the crazy girl go through the ceiling?"

Cologne's smile returned. "Yes, that's the one. Wouldn't you like to learn it? It requires no strength, and would let you do something with your ki, since your strength is… unavailable."

Raising an eyebrow, Ranma shrugged, falling to lean against the wall behind him. "What's the catch?"

"Ah," the woman said, nodding, "but that's what we've been talking about. I don't know that I would want to teach this technique to an outsider. If you were a member of the tribe — or if I believed you would want to be an ally…" she trailed off.

He grimaced, suspicious. "Ally? So why did you help with my speed training before?"

Cologne looked distant for a moment. "Perhaps I was too forceful," she admitted quietly. "But at that point, I believed you might still choose to marry Shampoo. Now, I'm not so certain. Hmm. Had you remained in Nerima, I would have still considered you a worthy ally to the tribe, and a possible match for my great-granddaughter… But since you left, I have to question your bravery."

Ranma shot upright at that, scowling. "What do you mean by that? I ain't a coward!"

"But you did run away," the woman countered, waggling a finger at him. "And I, for one, am uncertain about teaching you any further Amazon lore until we can have some more… binding agreement."

Uncertain, and unbalanced, Ranma looked to Tofu for advice. The doctor cleared his throat. "Ah, well… since I am an honorary Amazon, if you chose to be adopted into the tribe, you could stay with me, so you wouldn't have to go to China…" He trailed off there, looking uncertain.

Not quite convinced, Ranma nodded. "Okay, so let's say that I do this thing… what are the catches? What aren't you telling me?"

Cologne shrugged, taking Tofu's empty bowl and storing it with the others. "Then you give up your last name. You give up all of your honor agreements, and are no longer bound by anything save your own will, and your loyalty to the tribe — and you must respect Tofu as your father in all things, and myself as your Elder."

He grimaced, shaking his head. "That doesn't sound like such a great deal. Loyalty to the tribe?"

"It's nothing serious," Tofu explained, "simply showing respect for the elders, generally. Nothing like battling demons… anymore." He shivered at the end, shooting Cologne a querying glance.

"Those days are gone, Tofu," she assured him, before turning back to Ranma. "If you do this, Ranma, then you are released from your obligation to my great-granddaughter, and I shall train you in further Amazon techniques."

Ranma hedged for a moment, uncertain. To abandon his father? To accept Tofu as Genma's replacement? It was too sudden… Far too sudden, but… what other choices did he really have? "I can… I can make my own choices, right?"

Cologne nodded. "Correct."

"Then…" he bit his lip, glancing at Tofu, "then if it's okay with Tofu… I mean, if he's got no problems with that… I'll do it."

The doctor shrugged. "Just as well — Cologne already had you go through the ceremony… simple as it is."

Ranma blinked, looking at the box of empty soup bowls stupidly. "Eh?"

The woman grinned at Ranma. "One thing you should understand, Ranma… I want to train you. And now that I've secured you as an ally to the tribe… I will."

Ranma resisted the urge to beat his head against a wall — likely he couldn't hurt himself enough anyway — instead managing, "Oh. Great."

Eiko finally cornered her friend at a street corner, where the diminutive blonde had stopped, busily crying at the top of her lungs. Skidding to a halt, she crouched low, wresting with her emotions. "Shiko!" she exclaimed. "What did you do that for?"

Control, she told herself. There was no reason to get mad at the girl, even if she had made a scene in front of Ranma… but what place did Shiko have coming between her and Ranma like that? Hiccoughing, the shorter girl shook her head, wailing, "He's going to take you away!"

"What…" Eiko flushed at the thought, wishing Ranma would take her away, but… "What do you mean by that, Shiko?"

Scowling, the girl stamped her foot, "You're going to leave me for him!"

Eiko's flush deepened. "Shiko!" she hissed. "Don't talk like that. People might think that we were… you know…"

The smaller girl shook her head, her grimace fading into a look of curiosity. "People would think that we were what?"

Eiko hung her head, sighing. "Never mind," she mumbled. "You wouldn't understand anyway. Just… try not to make it sound like we're a couple, okay?"

"A couple of what?"

Eiko groaned, "Never mind! Next time you see Ranma, can you apologize to him for me?"


Glancing around to make sure that no one was looking, Eiko crossed her arms over her chest. "Why not?"

"Because he's going to take you away from me!"

The redhead resisted the urge to scream. It was obviously going to be a long day.

Having calmed down after losing Ranma at some point — they weren't certain when — Ukyou, Akane, and Kodachi had settled into an uneasy truce, stopping at a small cafe to exchange baleful glares. And in theory, to eat, though there was little evidence to suggest that, as the sole male waiter deftly avoided contacting the visibly seething trio.

Ukyou broke the silence first, slamming her fist against the table angrily. "I can't believe it!" she exclaimed. "He promised he'd take care of me!"

Kodachi and Akane's glances towards her were only slightly sympathetic. Akane cleared her throat, grumbling, "I can't believe him! When I get my hands on him…" she trailed off, staring at the table before her menacingly.

"You'll what?" a voice asked curiously.

The three turned to see a slightly older woman at the table next to them, light green hair cascading in waves across her shoulder, chin rested on folded hands over the table, and her face made up just so.

Akane frowned, thinking. "I don't know," she admitted after a moment's thought. "But… I can't believe he did that!"

"Did what?" the woman asked, raising one eyebrow.

Ukyou grumbled, "He dated with another girl!"

Smirking, the woman pointed to the girls, "So all of you are dating him at once, and you caught him in the act?"

Kodachi coughed delicately, shaking her head. "No," she enunciated, "he is dating only myself, through the will of my older brother." She nodded sagely. "Only one as beauteous as I is fit to date with my Ranma-sama…" Her eyes narrowed suddenly, and she crossed her arms over her chest, slumping back in her chair and angrily huffing, "But that redheaded harridan is attempting to seduce him away from me!"

The woman rolled her eyes. "So all of you want to date him, but he's seeing someone else?"

"Err…" Ukyou managed, coughing slightly. "Come to think of it, he's not dating her now…"

Blinking, then narrowing her eyes at the girls and leaning forward inquisitively, the green-haired woman asked, "What are you mad at him for?"

Akane flushed, smiling weakly. "Um… would you believe me if I said that I wasn't sure anymore?" she asked.

Nodding, the woman straightened. "So," she continued, "unless you want to risk losing this guy of yours, you're all going to have to calm down." She smirked knowingly, commenting, "Just like my Yodan-chan always says, it's being calm that wins out in the end." She winked at the girls, arching her back as she added, "Though being stacked doesn't hurt."

The trio blinked, their attention drawn to the woman's robust… charms… and then to their own.

Kodachi merely looked thoughtful, a slight smile playing about her lips, while Akane and Ukyou stared each other in the eyes. "Being calm, huh?" they stated in the same tone of voice.

Smiling at the girls, the woman rose, dropping a handful of coins on the table behind her. "That's the way!" she encouraged them. "Now, I have to get back to work, but don't you forget, and try your best!"

The three girls nodded, each deep in thought.

"This should be pretty easy," mumbled Ukyou. "I'm already engaged to him, and he rejected your claim on him…"

Akane twitched at that, eyeing Ukyou coolly. "He's engaged to me too," she reminded the okonomiyaki chef.

Kodachi's expression remained placid, as she asked, "And what claim does the redheaded harridan make on him?"

Akane pursed her lips thoughtfully, thinking. "None that I know of…"

Ukyou pouted. "Only Ranchan knows for certain. We'll have to ask him."

Rising smoothly to her feet, the hints of the same smile playing about her lips, Kodachi said, "Then I must be off. Enjoy yourselves." With that, she bounced away, chuckling ominously.

A wry grimace was Ukyou's response, while Akane grumbled, "I just don't get this at all."

"Um… this is a good place to stop."

Ryouga did so, stumbling to a halt. He was strong, and had what he considered to be fantastic endurance… But he had been running very fast for a long time, so the break was welcome. He glanced around the street, not recognizing it. "Say," he asked, "do you know where this place is?"

The girl responded, "Yes, this is my estate."

He nodded. The street was clean, and the estate took up one half of it, giant stone walls towering overhead, with a wrought iron gate in the middle, a huge, heavy thing, with someone's name on a giant crest in the middle. 'Daitokuji', it read. "Is this your house?"


He nodded again slowly, glancing around the walls. The house was mostly obscured behind a low copse of trees, but the wall was capped every few paces with giant steel drum-like contraptions, that slowly rotated as he watched. "Are those some kind of security system?"

"Yes. Those are 140-watt automated laser turrets for defending the compound and warding off intruders."

"Are they aimed at me?" he asked, this time, with some trepidation.

"Yes, but if you put me down, I'm sure they'll leave you alone."

Ryouga did so carefully, stepping away and raising his hands. "Uh… Sorry?"

The girl, now that Ryouga could see her, smirked at him, shaking her head. "Kidding," she said. "Those aren't active. They're just sensors."

"Oh," he mumbled, eyeing the girl's dress. She had long, gray-bluish hair, somehow seeming familiar to him. "Wait," he drawled, "I remember you, don't I?"

Her smirk intensified. "Do you? From where?" she asked innocently.

Furrowing his brows, deep in thought, he said, "Yesterday! You asked me to protect you, didn't you?"

"So I did," she said, "and you did so admirably. But tell me… why were those girls all chasing you?"

Ryouga blinked, scratching the back of his neck. "Well, that's… they weren't chasing me, you see, they were chasing Ranma."

"Ranma?" She raised an eyebrow at that. "Do you know him well?"

Growling, Ryouga nodded. "Because of him, I've seen hell," he grumbled.

If anything, the girl's smile widened. "Interesting. My name is Daitokuji Biiko… would you care to join me for tea?"

Ryouga shrugged, glancing over his shoulder. "What harm could it possibly do?" he asked.

Kodachi mused silently, as she leapt away from the other, lesser, girls. They both had claims on Ranma, though she would obviously need to supercede them… somehow.

Perhaps an arranged meeting between her father and Ranma's… no, wait. That wouldn't work at all. Perhaps a meeting with Ranma's father, then? Yes, that could work, though she'd have to find him, first…

Bouncing briefly near a bespectacled — and inexplicably irate — sarariman, she smiled, thinking of what the green-haired woman had mentioned. 'Stacked' was her term. Obviously a reference to her… physical attributes.

In that regard, she was not worried, though she had a firm suspicion that her Ranma was likely not as interested in the merely physical aspects of his true love… obviously he would love her for her own merits. All she had to do was make sure that she came across in the best possible light.

And to destroy the redheaded harridan, of course.

She paused, landing from a particularly long jump, and looked about. There was a… less desirable gentleman… standing in an abandoned lot, gasping for breath and shaking his head slowly.

Blinking, she recognized the man. Ranma's… father. "Oh," she murmured. "The kami seem to see fit to deliver what is necessary for my union with my Ranma-sama…"

The man looked up warily as she approached, rolling his eyes when he recognized her. "I suppose everyone follows that boy," he grumbled before she could speak. "What do you want?"

One eyebrow twitching in mild irritation with the man's attitude, she said, "I desire a… formal union with your son."

He blinked, then shook his head slowly. "Wait," he said, "if I'm hearing you right… you want to be engaged to him?"

"Oh, so much more than that," she said, winking slyly.

"Great," the man muttered. "You want him, the Kuonji girl wants him, the Amazon wants him… everyone wants him except Akane!" He pouted, crossing his arms over his chest. "It's not fair. Everyone wants to control his life. He's my son, so he should do what I say."

"Um," she managed, thrown off balance by the man's brief tirade. "I… see. So… how can I convince you that a union between yourself and my son would be… beneficial?"

The man shook his head, turning away and walking slowly forward. "No," he grumbled. "No, I think not. I have enough trouble to sort out as it is."

Kodachi deflated, her primary plan for putting herself on equal footing — as equal as it could be, considering her regal breeding and background — with the other girls momentarily thwarted. If she knew who Ranma's mother was, perhaps… And failing that… well, she could likely appeal to his own sensibilities.

Cologne clucked her tongue once against the roof of her mouth, shaking her head. "At any rate," she said, "I have to go find another elder that's supposed to be living in the area. You take good care of our village's latest adopted child, Tofu."

The doctor nodded, watching the woman stride away as though she owned the street. "Okay," he managed after a moment, "that went well."

Ranma shrugged, sitting at the table. "I guess," he allowed. "Probably."

Tofu snorted, shaking his head. "Anyway, I've got to get back to calling… any ideas for the backyard?"

Ranma sighed, climbing to his feet. "I've got a few," he mumbled. "I'll try and clean up the scrap."

Tofu watched Ranma wander through the back door, and begin combing carefully through the grass for small bits of shrapnel. A wonder that the clinic itself wasn't damaged, Tofu mused. But he turned his attention to the boy, again, realizing he was trying to dodge the issue.

Ranma was a good boy, and deserved better than his father; of that, Tofu had no doubt. But what made him more fitting a father than Genma? It was difficult not to resent Cologne's pushing Ranma so forcibly… but maybe she knew something that Ranma didn't. And Tofu didn't, either, but likely should.

He didn't care for that idea, and brooded darkly, wondering what could be done. Asking the woman for an answer up front wasn't likely to receive much of a response — she was too stubborn. Being covert was pointless; the woman had decades of experience in the field over him. "Gah," he muttered, turning to the list of people to call, and arrangements to make.

And the next number on the list was his mother. "Oh, great," he groaned. How was he supposed to explain this to her? "Oh, hi, Mom; still single, moved out of Tokyo, and have informally adopted a teenager. Now I'm living even further away, so will visit less often. So sorry!" He rolled his eyes in disgust. The day just didn't get any easier. "Maybe I'll ask the elder if she's got any ideas," he sighed, dropping the list onto the counter, and wandering towards the door.

Ranma would be fine by himself for an hour or so.

Tacky red awnings with green stripes. The colors were horrendous, but it had the advantage of being the first intact ice cream parlor that the two girls had passed. Flaming shrapnel falling from the sky apparently did bad things to business.

Eiko poked at a small dish of plain vanilla half-heartedly, while Shiko continued to dig into the colorful monstrosity that was her sundae. It had pacified the unruly blonde, though it had taken its severe toll on her savings, too.

Still, seeing Shiko happy was definitely a good thing in her book… But she worried that the little blonde would monopolize all of her free time. Was she that set against Eiko seeing Ranma? Or just jealous and feeling left out?

She blanched at that thought. Maybe not much could be done to resolve that problem, but at least… she could try. "So, Shiko… are you feeling better now?" she asked.

Shiko nodded, her sundae now almost completely leveled. "Yes."

"So," Eiko ventured, "will you be okay the next time we go and see Ranma?"

Her cheery demeanor evaporating like fog, the blonde crossed her arms over her chest, pouting. "You don't need Ranma," she declared. "I like you!"

Eiko flushed with embarrassment, as the other patrons of the small ice cream parlor all turned to look. "Um, Shiko… we've been through this…"

Shiko threw herself across the table, glomping onto the redhead. "You don't need any boy! You have me, Eiko-chan!"

"Um, Shiko," Eiko whimpered, "can we talk about this somewhere else?"

"Okay!" Shiko caroled loudly. "We can go back to my place!"

Eiko was certain that her face was redder than her hair by the time she left the parlor, running full speed with Shiko in tow.

The small heap of collected shrapnel and jagged metal bits that were small enough for Ranma to move lay in a neat pile, while the larger ones were laboriously maneuvered across the yard via the leverage of Ranma's jo. They neatly ringed the pile of smaller pieces, and Ranma was reasonably certain that the yard was cleared of metal, with the exception of one much larger piece wedged into the bottom of what would eventually be the koi pond.

That part, he wasn't so sure about. But, when he thought about it, Cologne had said she wanted to train him, and the Breaking Point would be the ideal attack for him to learn at this point. Toughen him up to last longer since he couldn't do as much damage, and it served many useful non-combat applications. After all, hadn't Cologne said that it was originally created for civil servants?

It was a good solution, since he could use the power of the Breaking Point to cover some of his own weaknesses… but it left him with the obvious problem of having to still remove the topsoil, deepen the pond and square the sides, shore up the bottom… He sighed. Where was he going to learn techniques that would help with that?

Still, if Tofu was now technically his father, he wasn't about to fall short on his promised duty to make a koi pond and sand garden. The trick was just to get it done with as little help as possible.

Rolling his sleeves up, he knelt near one of the smaller stones. Well, he knew the principle behind the Breaking Point, even if he hadn't ever used it… why not try and get some practice in before he asked for help?

"Okay," Akane stated, punctuating her speech by slapping the table in front of her with one palm. "We'll find Ranma, and apologize."

Ukyou nodded, adding, "And we won't get upset no matter what happens when we find him. Right?"

"Right! Now let's get going!"

With that, both of the girls rose, marching in tandem back to where they had found Ranma earlier that same day.

Alone again, finally having won her way free of the clingy Shiko, Eiko wandered around, largely aimlessly. What was she going to do? The little blonde thought that Eiko should have nothing to do with Ranma, and Eiko didn't like the thought of that at all.

But where Ranma had just disappeared into the blue, one day, supposedly dead… Shiko had been with Eiko nearly her entire life. It was an ugly choice to have to make, choosing between two friends… Maybe she could just put it off until she had time to think about things — or better, give it time and hope that they got along.

Of course, that's when a flaw entered the equation, and she had to admit that she didn't know Ranma as well as she wanted to. Her feet, nearly of their own accord, altered course, wandering back towards the house where Ranma was staying.

The house was two stories, and had a high, peaked roof. Not, she thought, very fitting for her Ranma-sama… too small by far. But at least, by all accounts, he was living there alone, not with the redheaded harridan, or the accursed Tendo girl.

She landed lightly on the peak of the roof, adjusting her dress primly as she did so. Not that anyone was there, but she was given to understand that he seemed to like the roof for some reason. A somewhat feline quality, she reflected. Her Ranma-sama, lying on the roof and sunning himself. Appropriate, considering his feline grace. Except that the roof was bare, save for herself.

Pouting, she leapt to the backyard, seeing as she descended, the object of her affections, studiously meditating over… a rock? He muttered something, and the rock seemed to detonate, sharp fragments of stone whistling past her, one larger fragment striking her on the temple, and leaving her to flail blindly, as everything became diffuse.

When she returned to her senses, she found herself cradled delicately in her Ranma-sama's lap, though he studiously looked away, and the sun's position on the sky had shifted. She blinked, staring upwards in disbelief. "So," he said, looking down when he noticed her waking, "are you okay?"

She nodded, stretching languorously to display her charms to their fullest advantage. "Oohh," she cooed, wrapping her arms around his unresisting frame. "You saved me!"

He coughed, explaining, "Uh, actually, kinda… um… It's my fault. Are you okay?"

She sighed deeply. How romantic, he had arranged for her to fall into his arms! "Better than ever, now!" she exclaimed, drawing Ranma down into a long, lingering kiss.

He blinked at her in surprise for a long for a long moment after she released him, smiling seductively at him the whole while. His only response was, "Ooooooh… boy."

Eiko paused at the end of the street, seeing the girl from the previous day and the male okonomiyaki chef, both of whom eyed her dubiously. Why did they act in such a way? The pair was engaged, even though the girl was apparently engaged to Ranma, and the okonomiyaki chef… As little as that pleased Eiko.

Shameless as he was, stealing a kiss from her and calling her Ranma. She made a note to ask them about that later, though. For now, she wanted to try and talk to Ranma, hopefully getting some answers from him about his plans for the future. And avoid getting too close to the okonomiyaki chef, who looked decidedly uncomfortable near her.

"So," she began, wondering why they hadn't entered, "what are you doing here?"

Akane blinked, flushing nervously. "We're here, uh… to apologize to Ranma."

Eiko nodded in relief, then gestured to the clinic. "Should we go inside and look for him?"

Ranma tried — very hard — to ignore Kodachi's oddly comforting weight against him, pinned as he was with his current weakened state. And the small trickle of blood on the side of her face was worrisome, too.

He wiped it away carefully with the cuff of his shirt, wondering how he would explain what she was doing in his lap. Women seemed to have a knack for that, he decided. Ukyou, just a single day previous, and then on occasions previous, too.

Then again, Akane had fallen into Ukyou's lap just the day before… That must be it, he decided. Women had a knack for falling into laps. Period.

That question solved, he turned his attention to Kodachi, strewn across his lap as prettily as she possibly could be, her dress showing a more than generous portion of cleavage. "Oh, yeah," he muttered, "this is just going to look great. Tofu? Can I get a little help here?"

But no response came. "Lovely," he muttered.

Eiko, Akane, and Ukyou all stood in the doorway, looking down at the yard with Kodachi snuggled up to him — quite comfortably, and completely oblivious to them. Each wore differing expressions, but all spoke of upset and… general unpleasantness. Likely for Ranma specifically.

And him with a woman on his lap, and hence, immobile. "Um," he said slowly, causing Kodachi to look over her shoulder at the other girls in surprise. "I can explain everything. Just, uh, give me a few days to come up with a really good explanation."

Akane stepped forward first, trembling, hands clenched into fists and promising untold pain. He glanced over at his shoulder at the crater, wondering how he would complete the project of turning it into a koi pond after he became a matching crater…

But the blow never came, the shorthaired girl instead shoving Kodachi to the side, and pulling Ranma up — largely unresisting and wide-eyed — into a deep, brutal, and nearly suffocating kiss.

"Urk," he managed, knees shaking. What the hell was going on?

Ukyou marched forward and grabbed him before he could collect his wits, or collapse on the ground. Before he could even quite figure out what was happening, she collected him into another of the kiss, this one pleasantly soft and warm.

Eiko blanched, shaking her head. "Ranma! I thought you liked girls!"

"I can explain everything," he said calmly, wondering if escape were still a valid option. "Just, uh, give me a few minutes to think about how."


To be continued.

Author's Notes: I'm not very happy with this chapter. It just doesn't feel very well done…

Chapter 5
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