Chapter: 28
Mei ren ji
(Use a woman to ensnare a man)

"Hi Kodachi." Akane called cheerfully. "Kasumi is
trying on a dress, but she'll be out in a minute."

"There is no hurry." The young Templar was
conservatively dressed in gold-washed mail, over which she
wore a silk tabard emblazoned with the Templar Cross and,
stitched in silver thread around a scarlet naginata, was her
motto:

For Honor, Justice and God

Strike hard and fear nothing.


"Nabiki-san asked me to stop by with some papers she
had asked for. She told me you were shopping and I thought
to offer you a ride home."

Akane blinked. She hadn't heard Kodachi speak so
clearly since . . .she thought a moment. She'd never heard her
be so direct. It was disconcerting.

"Thank you, but we're going to be a while."

Kodachi turned to face Kasumi as she left the dressing
room and bowed slightly. "Nevertheless, I shall instruct
Sasuki to remain with the car and I shall proceed by," she
swallowed hard and Akane had to stifle a laugh at the look on
her face. "by . . .public conveyance."

"It's not so bad," Kasumi hid a smile by pretending to
cough. "I travel on the train all the time."

"Walking across hot coals," Kodachi said grandly,
"Could not but be enlivened by the knowledge that you were
near. However I misdoubt that I may avoid the indignity of
congress with the hoi-polloi - - -saving yourself," she hastily
added bowing in Akane's direction, "and avail myself of
a . . .a . . ."

"Taxi?" Akane offered, when Kodachi seemed unable
to bring herself to utter the word.

"Thank you." Kodachi paused a moment, abnormally
subdued. "My lady . . .no, Kasumi-san," Kasumi's eyes went
wide. Kodachi hadn't called her Kasumi-san since the day of
Kodachi's mother's funeral. "Kasumi-san . . . trust only your
sisters, avoid the touch of strangers. Go no place alone, not
even the . . .facilities," she added delicately, flushing slightly.

"Kodachi-chan," Kasumi was touched by the other
girls serious tone. "I know you are worried about that
monk - - "

"He is a worry, but not my greatest. I can not say
more," she added hastily. "Not without proof. I would slander
no man, and to speak without proof might make me less in
your eyes and lead you to folly . . ." she broke off, realizing
that she was saying too much and not enough. "Please,
Kasumi-san," she took a deep breath and looked the older girl
in the eye. "Please do this and . . .and I will trouble you no
more after this crisis is past."

Kasumi's left eyebrow tried to crawl off her face and
Akane gave a small gasp of surprise. "I appreciate your
offer," Kasumi said sincerely, "but, after all this time I'm not
sure if I could get to sleep without someone singing archaic
French ballads outside my window. And who else would
protect me from rogue cappuccino machines?"

Kodachi hung her head, recalling the Starbucks
debacle.

"Besides," Kasumi put a finger under Kodachi's chin
and tilted her face up, "we still have some unresolved issues."
Kasumi's face was tinged a delicate pink and Kodachi felt her
own face heat.

"I have to go . . .now. I have to," Kodachi backed
hastily away, getting tangled in her sword. "Ummm . . .yes. I
have to go. Now. I . . .I'll see you later. See you." Realizing
she was babbling, Kodachi's mouth snapped shut. She
sketched a jerky bow, then turned and fled from the store.

"That was fun," Kasumi remarked to the air. "What
do you think of this dress?" Kasumi asked Akane, holding up
a wisp of scarlet that appeared to have been spun by an
especially anemic silkworm, composed as it was of mostly
empty space and a healthy imagination.

*****
*****

On the other side of the room, Saotome Genma stood,
completely invisible by virtue of the enormous hairy mole he
had affixed to the corner of his mouth. People either turned
away, or stared fixedly at the blemish. In either case, no one
saw _him_.

He never looked in their direction, but he knew every
move the Tendou sisters made, having long ago perfected the
ability to count every pearl in a dowagers necklace and
appraise the diamonds being worn by the ladies on either side
while kissing her hand. As Kasumi and Akane paid for their
purchases, he moved casually away, not bothering to watch
them anymore. He already knew where they had to go next.

It had taken him a while, but he had finally figured it
out. Souun! His old friend had his package. That explained
why he had left so suddenly, without a word to anyone.

Moderately clever, Genma thought savagely, for a
weak fool like Tendou Souun.

From his right hand pocket Genma pulled a bottle of
pure grain alcohol, clearly marked for industrial use only. His
hand shook slightly from anticipation. He always did his
planning dry, but the execution . . . ahhhh. . . that needed a
little lubrication with the 'water of life'.

From another pocket he pulled a small tube filled with
an oily green liquid and poured a small amount into the first
bottle which took on a delicate green tinge. Frowning Genma
added a bit more of the oily liquid and the contents of the
larger bottle turned a cool mint colour, which only seemed to
anger the old con-man. Savagely Genma emptied the entire
contents of the tube into the bottle - - the heavy green liquid
roiled and flowed like mad worms eating through flesh, until
the contents of the bottle turned the dark furry green of moss
growing beneath a tumbled gravestone.

Taking a pull from the bottle, Genma shuddered as
liquid fire burned down his throat and exploded like a bomb in
his belly. The mix of nearly two hundred proof denatured
alcohol and absinthe would have killed any three normal men
in a matter of minutes and was killing Genma, though more
slowly. Decades of drinking everything from Napoleon
Brandy to Sterno had built up his tolerance, while shear bulk,
and the remnants of a once magnificent physique gave him a
truly astounding capacity for drink.

Another slug from the bottle burned it's way down his
throat and Genma relished the feeling of god-like savagery
and power that flooded his brain. Smiling in anticipation he
fingered the icepick in his pocket. The slender needle sharp
steel shaft would slide easily between the vertebra and into the
base of the brain. A few minutes with a pair of pliers had
assured that the wooden handle would slide free, leaving no
fingerprints behind. There wouldn't even be any blood, as the
skin would close around the tiny entry wound almost
instantly. They wouldn't figure out what had happened until
after the autopsy. Sometimes not even then, he knew from
experience, if the coroner was inexperienced or in a hurry.

Settling into the spot he'd picked out earlier, Genma
vanished into the shadows, patient as stone. Akane would
learn what martial arts was _really_ about, though it would be
a short lesson, he thought with grim humor. And Souun, his
old,_dear_ friend Souun. He would learn not to fuck with
Saotome Genma. He might even let Souun have Kasumi back,
if he paid up quick enough.

He took another pull from his bottle.

Enough of her for a funeral, at least.

*****
*****


"What do you mean they lost him?"

The boy swallowed hard, then steadied himself. "It is
difficult to follow a man in this city. The streets are confusing
and - - ," he defended, only to be cut off.

"I'm not interested in assigning blame. I only want him
found. Now!"

"Yes, Reverend - - "

"And cut the Reverend Grandmother crap. We don't
have time for that nonsense." She pursed her lips, then
nodded sharply as if coming to a decision. "Have a car
brought around. We're going on a trip." As the door closed
behind the boy, she rose and walked across the room,
scratching softly on a hardwood panel.

"Nodoka-san?"

The door opened to show a much younger looking
woman than the aging, sick creature who had been brought to
the embassy over nine weeks earlier "Yes?" Nodoka smiled
and it transformed her, even more than the good food and
new clothes. "Is it time?" she asked eagerly, seeing the look
on her benefactress's face.

"Why don't we go see your son."

*****
*****

"You wanted to see me?" Ranma asked casually,
leaning against the door frame.

"Why don't you sit down," Nabiki made an effort to
be polite.

"Nah, I'm fine."

"I was wondering if I could ask you a couple of
questions about this?" Nabiki held up a bundle of papers, with
bank letter-heads.

"Nope," Ranma replied easily. "Anything else?"

Nabiki blinked, unable to comprehend at first. "What
do you mean, nope?"

"Can't help you." He turned to go and there was a
flash of steel as a giant spatula blocked his way.

"I think Nabiki asked you a question." Ukyou's voice
was hard and the look in his eyes said he was looking for an
excuse to hurt Ranma.

"Can't help, or won't?" Nabiki asked, moving closer
with a whir of her electric wheel-chair.

Ranma didn't bother to answer, but turned away from
Ukyou to leave. A slender figure in blackened mail, bastard
sword at her hip and morning-star swinging lightly in her left
hand, stepped in his way.

"It is impolite to turn your back on a lady."

Ranma looked over his shoulder at Nabiki, the lazy
smile on his lips belied by the hard look in his eyes. "Are you
sure you want to do this?"

"I want to know why you've mortgaged the doujou.
The house. Everything!" She shook the papers at Ranma.
"What in the hell do you think you're doing with my home?"

"But it's not yours, is it?" Ranma replied softly. "It's
mine now. The house, the doujou, it's all mine since I married
your sister."

Nabiki went white, swaying slightly in her chair and
Ukyou leapt to support her.

"Dammit, what are you up to!" Nabiki was horrified at
the tears that clogged her throat. She had to be strong. "What
are you doing? Akane would never let you - - "

"Akane trusts me completely. And, not that it's any of
your business," Ranma replied cooly, "but if we're going to
compete against all the . . . McDoujou's" he grinned at little
at Nabiki's expression hearing Akane's derisive term on his
lips, "we're going to need money for modern equipment,
expanded facilities, advertising." he shrugged, "it takes money
to make money. Don't you think I got a good rate?"

"That's not the point," Nabiki raged, "you have no
right - - "

"I have every right," Ranma squatted beside her chair,
putting himself at her eye level, " _you_ have no right. You
have the clothes on your back. Everything else is mine."

"You don't own me!" Nabiki's voice shook, "you
don't own Kasumi. You don't own Ak - - "

Ranma stopped her with a finger against her lips.
"Every. Thing. Is mine. Especially Akane."

"You need a little attitude adjustment," Ukyou said
coldly. "I've been waiting ten years for this."

"I think," Kodachi slid her sword from it's scabbard,
advancing with both sword and morning-star. "that this cur
needs lessoning in manners."

Ranma blinked sleepily, like a lion slightly irritated by
the buzzing of flies. "Let's take this outside. I don't want you
bustin' up my furniture."

*Crap* Nabiki didn't like Ranma's calm attitude, like
he didn't care if there were two or twenty of them. She knew
something about martial arts, and no one was that good. No
one _could_ be that good. Could they?

"HI!" Akane's voice rang cheerfully from the front of
the house. "I'm back. And look at the dress I found on sale."
She skipped around the corner, swinging her shopping bag,
then stopped, the smile sliding from her face.

"Is something wrong?"

Nabiki felt an instants gladness at seeing her sister,
then her heart went cold as Akane automatically went to
Ranma's side. Not her's. Not her sister, but her husband.
Nabiki felt sick inside, but she had to try.

"It's this," she held out the papers, "Ranma has
mortgaged everything. He's - - "

"OH, is that all?" Akane's body relaxed.

"Is that . . .you _knew_!" Nabiki gaped at her baby
sister.

"Well of course," Akane looked surprised. "I had to
sign the papers too. Everything is in both our names."

Nabiki felt a sense of unreality. She'd assumed that
Ranma had forged her sisters signature. But now - -

"Baka!"

Nabiki jerked at the shout, and looked up in time to
see Akane smack Ranma across the head.

"Just _what_ have you been saying to Nabiki?" Akane
glared around at Ukyou and Kodachi, who were sheepishly
lowering their weapons. Akane looked at her sister, who
remained silent. Partially because Nabiki didn't want to carry
tales, and partially she was afraid to test Akane's loyalties.
Nabiki's hesitation seemed answer enough for Akane, who
rounded on Ranma and boxed his ears.

"Owwww!" Ranma rubbed his head glaring at Akane.
"What did you do - - Owwww!" Stepping back he rubbed the
other side of his head. "Would you quit - - OW! Now cut that
out!" Ranma grabbed both her hands and dragged Akane
close. Nabiki gasped at the angry glint in his eye, while
Kodachi and Ukyou took a step toward him.

"Don't hit me like that again," Ranma growled.

"Then don't be an ass!" Akane snapped, not in the
least intimidated. "Don't tease Nabiki."

"What makes you think - - Owww!" He twisted her
arm roughly, genuine anger in his eyes. "Don't kick me on the
shins!"

"That little love tap?" Akane said scornfully. "What
are you, a sissy?"

"Don't call me a sissy!" Ranma's voice was almost a
scream and Nabiki began to be really frightened.

"Are you going to apologize to Nabiki?"

"What? Why should I?" He added petulantly. "She
started it."

"Because," Akane leaned forward, deliberately
increasing the strain on her arm, so that Ranma was forced to
either let go, or risk really hurting her arm. He let go. "_You_
are a martial artist. That means you have to be more
responsible. You can't go around teasing people and picking
fights. That makes you a bully." The way Akane said the
word, it was clear that there was nothing lower. "It's like me
with my temper. You're helping me with that, and it's my
duty to help you with this."

"Because it's a martial artists duty?" Ranma sneered.

"Because it's a wife's duty." Akane replied gently,
stroking the tense line of his jaw.

"Oh," Ranma seemed to deflate slightly. "Uhhhh . . .
Okay. Nabiki . . .Nabiki-san," Ranma tried to be a little more
formal. "I'm uhhhh . . .sorry."

That was probably the best she was going to get and
Nabiki gave a grudging nod of acknowledgment.

"Where is Kasumi-san?" Kodachi asked, a note of
strain in her voice. "She promised she wouldn't go off alone."

"Relax," Akane assured her, "I put Neesama into your
car with Sasuki and he drove her to the University while I had
a talk with Uncle Genma."

"What!"

Suddenly united the four turned on her with identical
expressions of horror and disbelief.

"Where is the bastard . . .Th' Ol' Man! . . . What th'
hell . . .That was a dangerous . . .are you stupid!"

"QUIET!" Akane burst away from the press of bodies
and bent over gasping. "What in the world is the matter with
you all?"

Ranma took the lead.

"What th' hell do you mean you wanted ta' talk ta'
'Uncle Genma'?"


"Ummmm . . ." slightly flustered by the intense stares
she was getting Akane took a moment to marshal her
thoughts. "Well . . . I noticed Uncle Genma in the store while
we were shopping . . .is he craz. . .uhhh . . .he was wearing
the most _disgusting_ mole thingy on his face," she gave
Ranma a puzzled look. "Anyway," Akane forced herself back
to the subject at hand. "I thought it strange he wouldn't stop
to say hello, and I wanted to talk to him anyway. So I told
Kasumi to . . ."

"Wait, wait," Ranma stopped her. "You _saw_ the ol
man? That rubber mole is one of his best gags. _No one_ ever
sees him." Ranma was flabbergasted, as if the sun suddenly
rose in the west. "How did _you_ see th' old man?"

"Situational Awareness Training from my wonderful
sensei," Akane leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek,
smiling at Ranma's flush. There were soft sniggers from the
rest and Ranma flushed brighter, darting an angry look at the
room, which produced more laughter.

"I noticed that there was a part of the store that I
wasn't really seeing," Akane continued, deciding to give
Ranma a break, "and I got this tingly feeling that I get when
you're about to pull something sneaky," she looked at Ranma
and they both grinned at a shared memory. "So I started
looking for you, figuring you were about to get all creative on
me. But it was Uncle Genma."

"And you confronted him!" Kodachi was outraged.
"How dare you put my lady in danger."

"Of course not." Akane said, a little impatiently. "First
I took Neesama out and put her in the car . . ."

"Without the old man seein' you?" Ranma asked
skeptically.

Akane's face split with an urchin-like grin. "We snuck
out through ladies wash-room window. I boosted her up and
Neesama wriggled through and I followed."

"You . . .wash-room . . .MY LADY!" Kodachi was
horrified. Her lady, 'wriggling' through a window? A _wash
room_ window! Kodachi had never even _been_ in a public
wash-room, but was firmly convinced they were swirling
pools of germs, filth and perversion. What else could you
expect from something that was open to . . .to the _public_.

"Neesama said she was going to stop by the
University to talk to her calculus professor, then come home."
Akane decided it might be better to ignore Kodachi and
continue her story. "Then I went back to look for Uncle
Genma - - "

"For God's sake, WHY!" Nabiki pounded the arm of
her chair, making it jerk back and forth with an electric whine
of protest. "Why didn't you just come home?"

"I have a few things I want to discuss with Uncle
Genma. Concerning training." She shot a look at her husband,
noting the gathering fire in his eyes. "It's martial arts stuff,"
she put a hand on his arm, sighing as she felt the iron-hard
tension. "Not very interesting," she dismissed.

"It's a good thing you couldn't find him." Ranma
spoke through a tightly clenched jaw and Akane winced.

"Ummm . . .actually I did find him," she decided to
make a clean breast of things, while there were witnesses
around.

The temperature of the room seemed to drop. "And?"
The single word dropped from Ranma's lips like the voice of
doom.

"And . . .heh . . .well . . . I tried to think like you do,"
She gave her husband a winsome smile that would have
melted the heart of a bronze Buddha, but had no noticeable
effect on Ranma. "and . . .uhhhh . . .he's _really_ good at
hiding, I guess that's why you're so . . .good," she trailed off
miserably under Ranma's hard stare. "So I found him, hiding
in a corner of the elevator lobby. It was amazing that he could
hide in such a public . . ." Heaving a deep sigh, Akane decided
to give up trying to placate her husband. Men were so
unreasonable sometimes.

"What did you do?" Ranma grated, biting off each
word as if his teeth hurt.

"Nothing. I got scared," she burst out. "I started to go
up to him, but I just couldn't. Something . . .it just felt funny
and I couldn't do it!" Miserably she waited for his teasing.

"Thank god you ain't as stupid as ya look," Ranma
enfolded her in a crushing embrace. He held her against him
for a moment, then pushed her away. "Don't you _ever_ do
that again." She winced as his grip on her shoulders tightened.
"You don't see the old man, you don't talk to him, you don't
talk to people he's talked to, you don't even _think_ about
him." Ranma took a shuddering breath, trying to control
himself.

"But . . ." Akane started to protest.

"But nuthin'!" Ranma stormed, "The old man's my
problem."

"Actually, he's our problem as well." Everyone turned
in shock at the sudden intrusion, to see a tiny form, shrouded
in some dark, heavy material.

"What store did you say Saotome Genma was in?"
came the politely worded request in faintly accented Japanese.

"I . . .I know you!" Akane stared at the figure, her
body automatically going into a defensive stance.

"I apologize for the other night," came the mild
rejoinder, "and will gladly make whatever apologies and
reparations you think right. But first, please, which store?"

"Ummm . . .Matsuzakaya," Akane replied, "But he's
not there anymore. He saw me and uhhh . . .he left." She
finished miserably, feeling as if she'd done something wrong.

"He _saw_ you?" Ranma forgot about the stranger,
becoming angry at Akane again. "Why didn' you tell me that
first!"

"S . . .sorry," Akane stuttered as Ranma shook her.

"What happened, what did he do?"

"N . . nothing," Akane waited for her brain to stop
bouncing around. "He just saw me. He got this _angry_ look
on his face," she felt a slight chill remembering the ugly look
of rage on his face, "and he ran off."

"Crap!"

"Succinctly put," the stranger agreed with a sigh.

"Who th' hell are you!"

"Another of your friends?" Nabiki asked Ranma
tiredly, not able to cope with any more strangeness. Ukyou
stepped beside her and covered Nabiki's hand with one of his,
giving a silent squeeze of comfort.

"I've never seen you in my life." Ranma stated
positively.

"Shan P'u sends her love," the stranger chuckled.

"Amazons!" Ranma spat, taking an offensive stance.
"Bring it on!"

"Prepare to die!" the garden doors crashed open under
the impact of a boy wielding a pair of broad bladed swords.
Instantly Kodachi whirled to confront this newcomer, her
sword springing into her hand. Akane gave a gasp of outrage
as Ranma pushed her behind him, while Nabiki felt a strange
sense of relief as Ukyou stepped protectively in front of her
wheel-chair.

"Mu Si," the shrouded figure snapped, "I told you to
wait in the car."

"I'm not going to let this scum escape justice," the
boy hotly protested. "Shan P'u had to run the gauntlet
because of you. She's disgraced. Ruined!" His voice broke as
he started a slashing lunge toward Ranma.

"Mu Si!"

Nabiki blinked. She hadn't seen the tiny figure move,
but suddenly it was across the room and the boy's swords
dropped from nerveless fingers.

"Apologize, then remove yourself at once!"

"But . . ."

"Who is Shan P'u?" Akane asked, stepping from
behind her husband.

"His wife!" The newcomer spat.

"Wife?"

The room went still as Akane turned to face Ranma.
"Wife?"

"No, it ain't nuthin' like that!" Ranma stepped back, a
horrified look on his face. "That was just some stupid village
tradition. I ain't never really married anyone but you!"

"Oh my," Nabiki felt an hysterical giggle bubble up in
her throat at the look on Ranma's face. "This is going to be
good." She leaned forward, anticipating blood and carnage as
Akane ripped Ranma into tiny, tiny pieces.

"Okay," Akane said simply, slipping Ranma's hand
into hers.

"What!" Shaking feeling back into his arms Mu Si
looked at Akane in outrage. "You're going to believe that
lying dog! He seduced my sweet innocent Shan P'u - - "

"Innocent!" Ranma snapped. "Shan P'ui taught me
stuff that would embarrass a Shanghai whore . . .uhhhhh . . ."
Ranma winced as he realized what he'd just said. "Uhhhh . . .I
can explain."

"Explain how you seduced and abandoned Shan P'u!"
Mu Si cried, his face twisted in rage. "Explain how you used
your evil power to distract her from her duty so your father
could steal our sacred treasures!"

"I never did nuthin' she didn't want! And my ol man
didn't do nuthin' but copy some of your old scrolls!"

"Lying bastard!"

"Ranma," Akane stepped in front of Ranma, placing a
gentle hand on his chest. "Did you make love to . . .to this
girl?"

This ran a close second to repeating the Neko-ken
training of all the things on earth he didn't want to do.
Frantically his mind worked, trying to think of an answer to
this question that couldn't be contradicted by anyone present,
yet didn't involve a lot of pain and possibly a few broken
bones. A lifetime of Genma's training, dodging the law in
sixty countries and living life on the edge had honed his wit to
razor-sharp edge. In a milisecond he examined and discarded
a hundred different schemes, until he hit upon the perfect
solution.

"Yes."

He'd never tried the truth before.

"Did you seduce her?"

There was absolutely no expression on Akane's face,
but somehow Ranma couldn't convince himself this was a
good thing.

"No."

The sheer novelty of it might just save him.

"Did you promise to marry her?"

"N . . no."

Or get him killed.

"No?"

He watched her nostrils flair slightly and felt like a
man in avalanche country who hears a pebble falling from the
slope above his head.

"Sha . . .she wanted ta marry me. An' I didn't exactly
push her away when she started tryin' to convince me. But I
_never_ promised her nuthin'." He looked her straight in the
eye, feeling enormously virtuous. He'd let Shan P'u _think_
he would marry her, but he'd never actually _promised_ her
anything.

"Do you deny that you made love to her while she was
on duty, so that your _father_," Mu Si spat the word, "could
sneak in and loot our treasury."

"Dammit, if you hadn't been so tight assed about
lettin' us inta your stupid ol' temple, none o' this woulda
happend."

"So it's OUR fault for making it hard for you to rob
us!" Mu Si's voice broke as he choked on his anger.

"You seem awfully complacent about your father's
deeds," the tiny figure broke it's silence at last. "You feel no
remorse for what you did?"

"I . . .nuthin' bad happened to Shan P'u, did it?"
Ranma muttered.

"A few scars on her back from running the gauntlet,
which will heal. Some scars on her heart," Ranma flinched
from the look on Akane's face as the Amazon spoke, "which
may keep her from such foolishness in the future. But, what
of your father?"

"Hell, he just copied your dumb scrolls." Licking his
dry lips Ranma looked at Akane. "See, there's bunches of
people who'll pay big bucks for old books and stuff. An' th'
ol man ran across a box fulla really old parchment in a junk
shop in Shanghai. So he was gonna make copies of these old
scrolls an' sell 'em to collectors as originals he'd found. Only
the Amazons," he jerked a thumb at Mu Si and the robed
figure. "wouldn't let outsiders look at their stuff. So . . .I . . .
uhhhh . . .distracted Shan P'u while she was guardin' the door
and th' old man snuck in an' copied th' stuff."

"You didn't promise marriage" Akane said softly, "but
you let her think you had." The cocky grin slid off Ranma's
face. How the _hell_ did she . . .

"You took advantage of her love for you."

"Hell, she didn't lo - - "

Akane pressed her palm against his lips. "Yes, she did.
You're an arrogant, conceited, macho jerk. And, I'm not
certain I like you very much right now. But, you're very easy
to love." Akane turned away, leaving Ranma frozen in place
as she walked to the shrouded figure and, awkwardly because
of her brace, knelt before the Amazon, pressing her forehead
to the floor.

"Please forgive my husband," Akane's voice was low,
but clear. "For the things he has done, the hurt he has caused.
He is a dutiful son and willingly carried out his father's
wishes. In accordance with giri, he took his father's
transgressions as his own, as his wife I willingly accept this
burden as my own. I beg you to forgive him and punish me in
his place."

"What th' hell!" Ranma lunged forward. "Get th' hell
up off th' floor. My wife don't bow to nobody!"

"Why?" The tiny figure asked. "Why would you do
this? Love? Duty?"

Akane didn't answer and Ranma's heart went cold.

"Punishment will only harden his heart," Akane
answered at last. "And I would lose him, forever. Not just the
boy he is, but the man he could become."

"Ha," the figure chuckled, "you're a gambler I see."

"Will . . .will you let me take his debt - - "

"If we start talking debts," the figure said, still
chuckling, "then we'd have to add in some of our own
transgressions, such as breaking into your home, the use of
'Dragons Breath'," she shot a loot at Mu Si, who ducked his
head, "and our little tet a tet in an alley. So, why don't we
consider our debt with your husband canceled?"

A tiny gesture from the figure and Mu Si helped
Akane to her feet.

"There is still the matter of Genma." the Amazon
continued.

"Are you still goin' on 'bout that?" Ranma was still
reeling from what Akane had just done. She said she loved
him all the time, but that was just words. This was . . .what
did Akane really mean? Lots of girls had told him they loved
him, but Pop. . .

* 'I love you',* Genma mimicked in a falsetto, *Don't
believe 'em boy. 'I love you' is just the hook and you're the
poor stupid fishie. Women use words like a man uses his fists,
and they need to lie like a man needs to breath. Don't believe
'em, never trust 'em.*

What was Akane - -

" . . .robbed our treasury," the tiny figure was saying.
"Not only the scrolls he was 'copying', but artifacts, jewels,
currency, every thing we had. Money we need for machine
tools, medicine, seed . . .everything."

"That's a lie," Ranma shouted, glad to be detracted
from trying to figure out women. "Pop never stole nuthin'
from you. He just copied those dumb scrolls. Me an' Pop
planned th' whole thing. We're partners. He wouldn' never
do somethin' like that without tellin' me first." Uneasily
Ranma recalled the truck Genma had insisted they use for
their getaway. At the time Genma claimed he'd wrenched his
knee, and couldn't travel far on foot. But - -

"Why would we lie?" The tiny figure asked
reasonably.

"You're a woman," Ranma knew that the Amazon's
almost never let their men leave home. And would certainly
never let a man be in charge of an important mission.
"Women don't need a reason to lie." He felt better after
saying that. It helped make Akane's strange behavior, if not
understandable, at least less threatening.

"I am lying, because you father told you differently?
And he never lies?"

"Not to me!" Ranma retorted with the assurance of
someone stating the sun would rise in the east. "He'd never lie
ta me. Pop an' me are a team. Partners. Th' only person ya
can trust is your partner. Th' rest are just marks."

"Would you trust your mother?" The figure asked
softly.

"My . . .That lying, thieving whore!" Ranma's face
twisted with such rage and hatred that Akane stumbled back,
frightened of Ranma for the very first time. "I'm glad she's
dead! She said she loved my Pop, but that was just a lie,"
Ranma raged. "She just wanted stuff, an' when he ran out of
money, she made him steal. An' when he got caught, she left
him."

Shanking with anger as he recalled what his mother
had done, he could hardly speak. "Filthy whore. She was
runnin' around on him from the start. She used him, an'
laughed at him . . ." he rounded on Akane, grabbing her and
shaking her like a rag doll. "Just like you. Like YOU!" He
threw her from him in disgust. "You're tryin' ta fool me, like
that bitch fooled Pop. Then you're gonna laugh at me. But
I'm too smart. You ain't gonna laugh at me! I'm - - "

"Ranma?" Soft voice full of wonder and longing the
slender woman, dressed in simply in wool skirt and silk
blouse, stepped into the room. "I'm sorry to intrude," she
apologized, her eyes never leaving Ranma, " but I heard
shouting. Ranma?"

A sense of dread closed around him as this gentle
featured woman took another step into the room. Soft
feathery curls framed her pleasantly plain features and her
eyes reflected a friendly trusting nature.

"Who are you!" Ranma snarled, backing away from
this woman, more afraid than he'd ever been in his life. Some
instinct warned him to flee.

"Oh, my baby. My precious." She reached a
wondering hand to gently caress his face. "I'm your mother,
Nodoka."

"You're crazy!" he slapped her hand away, face ashen.
"My mom's dead."

"You were such a good baby," Nodoka couldn't take
her eyes from his face, "such a healthy appetite, you never got
tired of eating. And so vigorous. You could cry for hours and
hours," she remembered proudly. "I remember how often you
drove poor Genma away for days at the time. It kept him
from getting a job, but I didn't mind working. They let me
keep you with me while I sewed, and that gave me more time
with my precious."

She pulled a locket from around her neck and opened
it to reveal a picture of a decades younger Nodoka and
Genma holding a scowling red-faced infant. Beside the
picture, tied with a blue ribbon, was a lock of soft, dark hair.
"And now you've grown to be such a handsome young man."

"You crazy bitch!" Ranma gasped. "My mom is dead.
She ruined Pop, drove him to drink. She whored around, an'
she died. He told me. He - - " his voice broke and whirling he
dashed out into the garden and flowed over the wall like a
running panther.

"Ukyou?" Naibiki rubbed the bridge of her nose,
feeling another headache coming on.

"Yeah?" Seeing Nabiki's grimace Ukyou began
working on a knotted muscle in Nabiki's back and was
rewarded with a sigh of pleasure.

"I was wrong." Nabiki said wearily. "I think singing
okonomoyaki is an idea whose time has come." God, after the
soap opera her life had become, electric okonomoyaki and
Enka singers would be a breath of normalcy.

"Go," the tiny figure ordered Mu Si, "follow and
report his movements." Mu Si hesitated only an instant before
dashing out the broken door and over the wall.

"With luck," the robed figure remarked to the room at
large, "he will lead us to Genma. In the meantime, I suggest
we wait together."

There was a commotion at the front door and Nabiki
twisted the joystick on her wheelchair, turning half-way
around.

"Kasumi? We're in here. And we have visitors."

It wasn't Kasumi. The blind Yamabushi stumbled
around the corner, a small battered form cradled in his arms.

"Sasuki!" Kodahci gasped, running to take the limp
body from his arms. "What villainy is this?"

"I am sorry, mistress," the small man croaked, "I
fought him. But he . . .was too strong."

"Fought? Fought who . . .my lady!" she whispered in a
small voice. Clutched in the small ninja's hands was a familiar
book-bag. With horror Kodachi saw that it was stained dark
with blood. "Where is my lady?" But Sasuki's head rolled
back as he lost hit battle to stay conscious.

"Gone! Stolen." the blind monk grated, sliding down
the wall in exhaustion. "I thought to question the sister . . .
Kasumi, again," Kodachi growled in outrage and the monk
chuckled tiredly. "Just talk. Over tea perhaps. Sometimes I
learn from my mistakes." He wheezed, as if tired from his run
carrying Sasuki. " My spirit sight told me she was the key to
finding Genma. I knew she'd come back to the University,
sooner or later. Today she did."

"What happened?"

"Genma happened. He grabbed her as she started to
get into a car." He motioned to the still figure of Sasuki laying
on the couch, Kodachi holding one of Sasuki's hands as she
spoke rapidly into a cell phone. "The little fellow tried to stop
him. I think he actually hurt Genma," the monk sounded
amazed. "but that just made Genma mad and he took some
time to really work the little guy over."

"And you stood by and did nothing?" Kodachi stalked
over to the monk, outraged. "Coward! Can you do nothing
but assault women? On your feet and face me!" She grabbed
the monk, who screamed in agony.

"What . . .?" White faced Kodachi removed the
monks concealing hat, to reveal a bloody ruin where his face
had been. With a strangled groan Nabiki lurched to her feet
and made a stumbling run for the bathroom, accompanied by
Ukyou.

"Your arm is broken," the tiny Amazon knelt down
and ran expert hands over the monk. "Several ribs as well.
You have a punctured lung and other internal injuries."

"I am sorry," Kodachi said, knowing how inadequate
that sounded.

"Next . . .time." The monk wheezed, blood bubbling
around his lips. "I won't . . .go . . .so easy on him."

"I called the hospital again," Akane said quietly, "The
ambulance will be here in a few minutes."

"Why," Nabiki returned to the room, helped by Ukyou
who was holding a damp cloth to Nabiki's forehead. "What
does he want with Kasumi?"

"He . . .left a . . .note," the monk whispered, one hand
fumbling at his waist. "In . . .my . . ."

"I have it," Akane said, pulling a crumpled, bloody
piece of paper from a pouch at the monks belt. Across a sheet
of torn paper, in a bold scrawl, Genma had written his
demands.

'Souun. You have my package. I have your girl. Let's
trade. Too slow, too bad.'

 

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