Chapter: 30
Diao hu li shan
(Lure the tiger from the mountain)

Eight Months later:

"I have failed you," Kodachi said miserably,
prostrating herself before Kasumi. "I can only offer my life in
expiation of my failure." She pulled a tantou from the inside
of her stark white robe and lay it at Kasumi's feet.

"You're mixing your fantasies, sweetheart." Kasumi
patted the cushion beside her. "Why don't you have some tea
and tell us about it?"

A little uncertainly Kodachi sat beside Kasumi, eyes
downcast. There was a nip in the air and the trees in the
garden were bare of leaves, making the warmth of the
charcoal hibachi welcome.

"If it were a matter of mere money," she started, "I
would beggar the Kunou fortune. But . . . the corporations
that bought the mortgage desperately want this property for
development. Any change in their plans could cause . . .
problems."

"They're overextended, using overvalued or worthless
paper as security and unless they keep building, they lose
government subsides?" Nabiki summarized, putting aside a
thick folder she'd been reading.

"Yes." Kodachi confirmed.

"Then, it's all over." Souun spoke quietly, staring into
his cup. "The house, the doujou . . . we're going to lose it
all?"

"You will not suffer, I swear it!" Kodachi replied
earnestly. "The Kunou estate is large, far larger than we few
need. I would be honored - - "

Souun held up a hand to stop her. "Kimeko gave me
her name, her home and," he looked around the table, "the
most precious gift a man could ask for." He sighed heavily,
"and I wasted it all." He inclined his head, "I would be most
grateful for any help you offer."

*Well, hell," Nabiki thought, amazed as always with
her father's change for the better, *I'd have shot him myself if
I'd known . . .*

Tendou Souun had made a complete physical recovery
from his wound, other than the loss of a portion of bowel and
stomach. His mental recovery had been no less than
astounding and he'd become a _real_ father again, rather than
a bumbling caricature; to the extent of reopening the doujou
and finding students. Paying students.

"When do we have to move?" Kasumi asked quietly.

"By the end of the month," Nabiki replied, referring to
the folder in her lap.

"It's better not to put it off," Ukyou added, coming
from the kitchen with a tray of fresh okonomoyaki. "It would
be hard to watch . . .better to leave early and with good
memories."

"Where is Akane-san?" Nodoka asked, coming behind
Ukyou with a pot of fresh tea.

"In the doujou," Nabiki answered sadly, "where else."

"Who is going to tell her?" Sitting beside Nabiki,
Ukyou deftly slid his creations onto plates and passed them
around, sighing as he realized they were going to get cold.
He'd just have to make some more.

"I will," Kasumi started to get up, but Souun stopped
her.

"It is . . .I am her father. I will tell her."

"I think we should all go," Kodachi said softly. "This
will be . . .she should have her friends and family around her."

"She ought to have her damn . . ." Nabiki clamped her
mouth shut on what she was about to say and glared down at
the table top. "Yeah. Friends and family." She let Ukyou hand
her her crutches. She was much improved, but still a little
unsteady when she got up after sitting awhile. "Let's go."

Taking the forearm crutches from Ukyou she snapped
the cuffs in place with the ease of long practice and pushed
herself to her feet.

"Are you Okay?" Ukyou asked, trying not to look like
he was hovering.

"Why did I bother with pachinko?" she groused,
clumping along beside Ukuyou. "I should have gone into the
medical supply business. I could have gotten rich selling stuff
to myself."

Ukyou wisely stifled a laugh at Nabiki's disgusted
tone, but earned a glare anyway.

As the small group made their way across the
darkened court yard Nabiki could hear music coming from the
doujou. Listening to the energetic mix of flute, wood-block
and Chinese hammered dulcimer as they walked she tried to
place the tune, without success; Chinese Folk music ranked
with root-canals and boiled asparagus among her least
favorite things.


The doujou doors and windows were open to let in
the afternoon breeze and a shadowy figure could be seen
moving among other shadows. Nabiki stopped just inside the
door and watched her baby sister circle among a collection of
'wooden men', as if dancing with the heavy oak training
figures.

"Dragon rises from the waves." Rumbled a voice from
the shadows and Akane obediently slammed the heel of her
hand under a wooden-man's 'chin', putting the full force of
her body behind the blow, actually shifting the massive device
on it's foundations.

"Tiger in ambush, Serpent coils . . ."

Reacting as much to the beat of the music as the
spoken orders Akane turned slightly, both arms moving in
unison to grab and twist a wooden limb, the whole assembly
moving with a groan and rattle of iron chain.

"Dragon fights swallow!"

The hundred-kilo counter-weight fell back with a thud
as Akane released the joint lock and attacked the wooden
man's trunk with a flurry of savage clawed-hand strikes that
twisted as they struck, tearing gouges in the thick bundles of
rice-straw that covered the wooden men.

"Dragon soars . . ."

Akane slipped away from her 'opponent' and started
to step atop the first of a series of short poles set around the
doujou floor.

"Thunder strikes - - -"

From the darkness a heavy iron-black sphere hurtled
toward her head.

"Wolf bites - - -"

At the same time a staff, low and fast, spun toward the
back of her legs.

"NO!" Nabiki screamed, watching in horror as Akane
hesitated trying to decide which threat to counter first,
managing to do neither.

"Ahhhhh!" Akane shrieked as the 'iron' sphere burst,
soaking her with ice water and the nerf-bat completed her
humiliation by knocking her on her rear.

"What do you call that?" the voice asked in disgust.

"Soggy dragon falls on butt?" Akane grimaced,
pulling pieces of water balloon off her sodden shirt.

"Looks more like 'Beached Whale'." Ukyou muttered,
staring at Akane's bulging abdomen.

"The Ocean Dragon technique is one of grace and
subtlety," Saotome Genma pontificated, moving to switch off
the CD player. "You must work harder to perfect it." His
voice was still commanding, almost hypnotic, but his clothes
hung loosely on a slightly shrunken frame and his movements,
especially his right arm, were a little stiff.

"What the _hell_ do you think you're doing?" Nabiki
snarled, glaring at Genma. She couldn't understand why
Akane put up with the old fraud. After everything he'd done,
Nabiki wanted to spit Genma like a pig and roast him over a
slow fire. She wanted him as far from here as possible, but
Akane insisted he stay in their house. Sometimes it seemed to
Nabiki as if Akane were afraid to let Genma out of her sight.

"I am instructing the next heir to the Musabetsu
Kakutou Tendou-Saotome-ryuu." Genma pronounced
grandly, patting Akane's abdomen as he helped her to her
feet.

Nabiki's throat closed with rage as she saw the
familiar way Genma put a hand on Akane's tummy. She
fought the urge to remove his hand - - with a hacksaw - - and
instead settled for glaring at Genma and thinking about the
time when it would no longer be necessary to consider the
'fragile' emotional state of pregnant women. It hadn't
escaped Nabiki's notice that Genma's was most worried
about Akane when he was neck deep in fecal matter and
sinking fast.

"You must be hungry," Kasumi put in, moving
forward with a heavily laden tray.

"Why thank - - " Genma reached for a piece of fried
eel, then jerked his hand back as Kasumi almost removed his
fingers with a mincing-knife.

"Oooops." Kasumi said coldly.

The aging martial artist smiled sickly and carefully
moved away from the tray of goodies. Kasumi had explained
the critical shortage of cadavers for her anatomy class and
Genma had no doubt that if he crossed the eldest Tendou
daughter he would end up on a dissecting table. And he didn't
think Kasumi much cared if he were entirely dead before she
started cutting.

Many times Genma considered leaving. Especially
when Kasumi looked at him like a specimen in a jar. Or
Souun, treated him like an idiot-child. Wouldn't even let him
have a sociable drink now and then. Everyone always
watching him. Even Nodoka . . . he ought to leave. Just hit
the road again.

But, when he was alone, especially when it was dark,
he imagined he was back in the tunnels.

With Ranma.

Cold, dark tunnels.

With his son.

A cold sweat broke out all over his body and he patted
perspiration off his upper lip, then stuffed his bandanna back
in his pocket.

He wasn't afraid. Not Saotome Genma. There was
nothing to be afraid of. A tree branch swayed in the wind,
scraping against the out side of the doujou and he jumped,
eyes darting frantically around.

Nothing to be afraid of. He was just resting. He'd
leave soon enough. And then he'd show the world what
Saotome Genma was made of. As soon as he had rested, a
little more.

"Vrish if good!" Akane exclaimed as she inhaled a
bowl of fermented cabbage, garlic and peppers.

"How can you tell? It's not like any of it actually
touched your taste-buds on the way to your stomach." Nabiki
winced as Akane grabbed a small octopus making a dash for
the edge of the tray, dipped it into a hot-fudge hallapeno
sauce, and finished it in two quick bites. Why couldn't Akane
have developed cravings for pickles and ice-cream like normal
mother's-to-be, instead of Korean food?

"I'm eating for two!" Akane defended as she crammed
a steamed bun in her mouth and washed it down with a mug
of oolong-tea, heavily spiced with ginger.

"Only if one of them is godzilla," Ukyou muttered,
watching in awe as Akane polished off a light snack that
would have kept a combat platoon in the field for two days.

"Don't you want any, grandpa-sensei?" Akane offered
a plate of cold-noodles and cod to Genma.

"I'm not very hungry right now." Genma muttered,
keeping a wary eye on Kasumi.

*Grandpa-sensei!* Nabiki grimaced. Impending
motherhood had turned her baby sister's brain to mush.
Hopefully, after her hormones returned to normal Akane
would gut Genma with a butter knife and use his intestines as
a jump rope. It was an image that often comforted Nabiki.

"Ummmm . . .we've got some news about. . .about
the doujou." Nabiki started, only to be interrupted by Kodachi
who threw herself at Akane's feet.

"This unworthy person has failed," Kodachi exclaimed
mournfully. "and your noble ancestral domicile is lost to crass
commercial endeavors."

"Yeah," Nabiki added cautiously, noting Akane's lack
of reaction at the news and wondering if that was a good
thing or a bad thing. " Twenty generations of Tendou's have
been born in this house. It's kind of a shame to break that
tradition." She just couldn't figure Akane out anymore.

"Twenty-one," Akane remarked absently, an odd
faraway look in her eyes.

"Nope, twenty," Nabiki corrected with assurance. "I
looked it up. The original foundation was laid down in
sixteen-sixty - - " Nabiki's mouth closed with a snap and she
shot a startled look at Akane who grinned and nodded.

"Ohhhmygod!" Nabiki shrieked, spinning to face the
rest. "Go call the doctor and an ambulance. And someone get
her suitcase."

"How far apart are the contractions?" Kasumi asked
calmly, taking Akane's wrist in her hands, feeling her pulse.

"About a minute, I guess," Akane replied, wrinkling
her nose in thought.

"A MINUTE!" Nabiki's face went white. "Where the
hell is the ambulance! Nevermind. Go call a taxi and - - "

"Don't worry about a taxi," Kasumi remarked,
looking at Akane's pupils.

"Don't worry? Are you out of your - - " Nabiki
watched Kasumi help Akane lie down on the doujou floor and
swallowed hard. "Here?" she squeaked. "Now! No. No. It's
too soon," she pleaded. "You're not due for another two
weeks! You've made a mistake." she accused Akane,
whipping out her day-planner and thrusting it at Akane,
showing her a date clearly circle in red. "You've got to wait."

"Due dates are only an approximation," Kasumi
remarked, stripping Akane from the waist down, while
sending Kodachi for the birthing kit she'd put together for just
such a situation. "Babies don't come according to a
timetable."

"Ahhh . . .friend Tendou," Genma remarked with
satisfaction, "this reminds me of when Ranma was born." He
smiled benignly down at Akane who was laying with her head
in Nodoka's lap.

"Oh, was Ranma born at home?" Akane asked
interestedly as Kodachi hurried back with the midwife-kit and
began laying out sterile pads, gauze, bulb-syringe and a plastic
cord-clamp.

"Not precisely," Genma expounded. "Because a true
samurai is unconcerned with material possessions - - "

"The goddamned nag didn't even place." Nodaka
remarked brightly, repeating without understanding, Genma's
oft repeated remarks from so long ago when their home had
been repossessed to pay his gambling debts.

"Errrrr . . . yes. Well . . . since money is the root of all
evil I didn't want to take chances with the boy's spiritual
development."

"Genma was so concerned about being tainted with
worldly goods" Nodoka added, looking adoringly at her
husband, "that he even got rid of my wedding kimono and all
the baby clothes I'd made."

Genma should have died instantly, reduced to a pile of
ashes from the glares directed at him.

"What about Ranma?" Akane wanted to know,
wincing slightly as another contraction hit.

"Oh, Genma found a very nice spot under the Cherry
Blossom Park bridge for me, when my time came." Nodoka
answered, patting perspiration off Akane's face with a piece
of gauze. "And stayed with me through the delivery." She
smiled mistily at what was her most cherished memory.

"We didn't even have a sleeping mat, so Nodoka had
to give birth on my kimono." Genma reminisced, pulling a
silver flask of sake from an inside pocket and taking a healthy
pull. He started to elaborate, when he noticed Souun looking
at him with a face devoid of expression. Smiling weakly,
Genma offered his 'old friend' the flask. With a convulsive
movement, Souun crumpled the heavy flask like an empty
soda-can, the remaining contents spilling out onto the floor.
Still without expression Souun handed the twisted ball of
metal back to Genma, who sheepishly returned it to his
pocket.

"The only suit of clothes Dearest had left. It was so
sweet of him to let me use it." Nodoka added, shifting slightly
to make Akane more comfortable.

Nabiki blanched at the thought. No wonder Ranma
was so warped if his first sight was of a naked Genma.

"The baby's crowning." Kasumi announced calmly.

*Crowning?* Nabiki turned toward her sisters.

"Nice head of hair." Genma remarked, leaning in for a
closer look, rubbing his own bare dome enviously.

*Hair?* The butterflies in her stomach started stunt
flying.

"Now _push_!" Nabiki heard Kasumi talking. But it
was had to hear her over the roaring sound of the
approaching tsunami. Nabiki's vision began to blur and flicker
as strange images appeared from the shadows that suddenly
seemed to fill the doujou.

"I have the shoulders," Souun said calmly and Nabiki
watched a bloody grey scrap of _something_ slide into her
father's hands.

*Listen to me,* Van Helsing said urgently, stepping
forward, holy-cross held aloft in one hand, *Your very soul is
at stake my friend.*

*It's awfully hot,* Nabiki thought, taking a glass of
wine from Dr. Pretorious who was demonstrating the home
model of his 'Resonator'. She was just about to ask Mr. Hyde
to open another window when - - - -

"Oh, good, the afterbirth is in beautiful shape."
Kasumi cooed, holding up the soggy red mass for all to see.

Nabiki decided to take a little nap.

*Some things,* Dr. Carrington proclaimed to Nabiki
von Tendoustein, *man is not meant to know!*

*****
*****

"What . . .where . . .?" Nabiki groggily opened her
eyes to see Ukyou's face, dark with concern, looming over
her.

"Feeling better now?"

"I had the strangest dream . . ." Nabiki started to say,
shuddering as she recalled images that would have given
David Cronenberg nightmares.

"Say hello to your niece." Akane's cheerful voice
came from behind her. Nabiki jerked upright, twisting around
to see Akane with a baby in one arm and a large packing box
in the other.

"What are you _doing_!" Oh god, it had all been real.
Ukyou's arm came around her in support and suddenly Nabiki
began to see some real advantages to having a boyfriend who
was really a girlfriend.

"Helping Kasumi with some boxes for the move."
Akane answered easily, shifting her daughter so the newborn
had easier access to her breast.

"You just had - - * this hideous bloody creature
expelled from your _body_!* - - a baby!" Nabiki almost
shouted, trying to push away memories of the mess-hall scene
in 'Alien'.

Akane shrugged, dislodging the baby who immediately
protested. Akane spent a moment soothing the infant before
replying. "Tomoe Gozen gave birth in the middle of a battle,
then returned to win the fight while nursing her son. This was
a piece of cake."

"I was adopted," Nabiki muttered, "somewhere
there's a family of normal people, short one daughter."

"Shunranko, say hello to your auntie Nabiki," Akane
held out her daughter who immediately let out a stone
shattering howl, her little face twisted in rage at being
interrupted while eating.

"Spring Storm Child, huh?" Nabiki examined the
newest Tendou distastefully. *Akane even managed a pun on
Ranma's name. The little absentee-father bastard doesn't
deserve it.* "I dunno, I kinda think Youunko is nice."

"Ominous Cloud?" Akane replaced Shunranko at her
breast, wereupon the infant latched on limpet-like, feeding
greedily and noisily.

"No?" Nabiki eyed the little beast sourly. "How 'bout
Makazeko? If ever there was a storm called by a
devil . . ."

"That's not very nice," Kasumi answered, passing by
with an armload of linens.

"Well," Nabiki struggled to her feet with some help
from Ukyou and followed her sisters toward the stairs, "what
about Yoarushiko . . ."


*****
*****

Two Years Later:

4:45AM

The cream and red Hirondell roadster purred through
the early morning darkness like a prowling hunting cat. The
wide avenues of the Tsukiji Dori were home to a wide variety
of small business, housed in concrete and steel buildings, all a
uniform grey from years of smog and made more than usually
depressing by the cold, wet day. The streets began to narrow
and become more crowded with delivery trucks and
pedestrians jostling for space until finally the driver pulled into
an open space in front of a small shop, redolent with the
odour of ginger, cinnamon and less identifiable spices.

"Hey!" The owner, a stocky man whose full grey-
streaked beard appeared to have crawled off his scalp and
attacked his chin, ran out waving his arms. "You can't park
here!"

Ignoring him the driver switched off the powerful
supercharged engine and hopped out of the open-topped car
with lithe grace. "Which way to the fish market?"

"I said you can't - - " The spice-shop owner jerked his
hands up in reflex as the driver flipped something negligently
at him and he gasped as a wad of Yen of a size to cause
respiratory difficulties in the average equine smacked into his
hands. " - - park here." he squeaked. "As long as you like!"
the spice-shop owner beamed at the young man, noting his
elegant grey suit, crisp white shirt and thin red-silk tie. A faint
gleam of gold from a vintage Rolex President chronometer
shown from under his left cuff and he twirled an ebony cane
topped with an emerald-eyed tiger-head of 22 carat gold in
his right hand.

"Fish market?"

"Ahhhh . . yes sir," the spice-shop owner pointed
toward one of a maze of narrow twisting lanes that wandered
into the misty darkness. "Straight down that way, just follow
the blue carts." As he spoke a propane-powered tri-cycle
zipped out of the shadows, then vanished again down the
indicated path.

"Wait a minute," the spice-shop owner called after the
nattily dressed young man, "what is your name?"

"Tombs," Ranma answered, giving the name that had
been on the registration when he'd bought the car at an estate
sale the year before. "Sebastian Tombs."

A brisk ten minute walk brought him to three city
blocks of barely organized chaos that was the worlds largest
fish market, where 35,000 vehicles and 60,000 people
attempted to move 2,700 tons of fish a day to fill Tokyo's
enormous stomach. Moving quickly, but carefully to avoid
falling victim to one of the dozens of fast moving blue-carts-
of-death, he began his search of the vast warehouse complex.
Starting against the left-hand wall he began pushing his way
through the dense pack of people who were avidly examining
the seafood crammed into small booths lining each
passageway.

There were hundreds of these booths, some offering
easily recognizable kinds of fish, others stomach wrenchingly
alien creatures and a few that did not even appear edible. A
staggering array of urchins, seaweed, and clams spilled out of
boxes, while other sea denizens flopped, flapped and splashed
in tanks of brine. Bare electric bulbs hanging from steel
girders illuminated a riot of green, pink, blue, and red fish that
gleamed wetly in the harsh electric light. Other fish of duller
hue contrasted oddly with trays of bright orange and yellow
roe while delicate cut-glass bottles of squid ink were offered
for the more discerning palate.

"What are you trying to pull?"

Ranma's head jerked around as the strident voice cut
through the din of the warehouse.

"That's _my_ tuna!"

He would recognize that voice anywhere. Instantly he
began moving toward the sound.

"Listen girlie," Getting closer, but still hidden in the
crowd, Ranma could see a hatchet-faced man looming over a
girl wearing a full length white coat and thigh-high black
rubber boots, trying to intimidate her with his greater height
and bulk. "This is my fish. It's got my name on it!" He
pointed to the kanji painted in red just below the head of a
Blue Fin Tuna worth the price of a luxury sedan complete
with sun-roof and CD-changer.

"You thieving son-of-a . . ." the girl was so angry she
could hardly speak. "The ink's still _wet_ where you painted
over our name!" She jerked her thumb at another girl standing
behind her and to one side.

"Yeah?" the man sneered, toeing another, smaller
tuna, a more common Yellow-Fin, on the next pallet over.
"This is _your_ fish. You can't go around taking stuff that
isn't yours."

Nabiki gasped in indignation. "You're calling _me_ a
thief! Who the hell do you think you are?"

"Doung Tran of the White Lotus Society," Akane
remarked calmly, moving past her sister to stand in front of
the fish under consideration.

"How do you know who he is?" Nabiki asked, getting
a bad feeling about the whole thing. She _had_ thought this
was just another street punk trying to grift a few yen through
intimidation. She hadn't bargained on one of the aspiring
Vietnamese gangs that was muscling in on the Tokyo docks.

"Grandpa-sensei's been telling me all about the
Triads." Akane took Doung's left hand and turned it over,
exposing the flower tattoo on the underside of the wrist. "It's
really quite interesting."

Doung jerked away in surprise and two hulking men,
lurking in the background, moved forward aggressively. The
shorter of the two produced a butterfly-knife with a flourish
of steel and a yellow gap-toothed grin.

"No thank you," Akane said politely, dismissing the
twenty-centimeter serrated blade with a smile. A meter-and-a-
half of chisel point surgical steel blade flashed in her hand,
beheading a tuna the size of a baby elephant in a single stroke.
"I have my own knife." She wiped clean the specialized tool,
a short sword in all but name, and returned it to it's carrying
case.

"Ttttt. . . that's _our_ tuna," Dound stuttered,
uneasily eyeing the 'knife' thrust samurai-like through the
stocky girl's belt. He motioned his men forward with a jerky
movement. "I . . .it's got our name on it."

"Yeah?" Nabiki stuck out her chin aggressively, "you
just try to take - - "

"Here you go," Akane grabbed the tuna carcass with
both hands, set herself and heaved upright with a jerk. Before
anyone could react, she thrust it at the two thugs, who
staggered under the nearly three-hundred kilo dead weight.
Akane bowed politely, beheaded the smaller tuna with a quick
stroke, then walked away with it in one hand and dragging her
sister with the other, leaving Doung standing open mouthed.
Unnoticed in the crowd, Ranma followed the two girls.

"Are you insane," Nabiki wailed, "I sold that tuna on
consignment! The Blue-Fin, not this thing!." she indicated the
smaller yellow-fin with disgust. "I'll have to refund the
difference in price. When I don't deliver the tuna I promised
our reputation will go down the toilet!"

"It's alright," Akane said soothingly.

"It's NOT alright!" Nabiki fumed. "Instead of a profit,
we're going to _lose_ probably five hundred-thousand Yen.
Not to mention that people don't want to do business with
someone who can't deliver on an order."

"It's alright," Akane repeated, smiling at Nabiki's
fuming look. "Don't forget that _I_ work on the loading
docks."

Nabiki looked puzzled, then her jaw dropped. "You
don't mean - - "

Akane shrugged, "I'll just change the shipping labels
before the trucks leave." She patted Nabiki comfortingly on
the head. "Tell your customer they'll get their Blue-Fin."

A broad grin split Ranma's face as he listened to the
two sisters arguing. Now _that_ was the true Musabetsu
Kakutou ryuu. The grin faded as he remembered the knife one
of the thugs had pulled and something hard and cold crept
into his eyes. He spared a glance at Akane disappearing into
the crowd. It had been over two years. A few more minutes
shouldn't matter.

*****
*****

"Normally I don't carry things without a bill of
lading," the driver began, "but I don't see any real harm." he
added hastily as an obscene wad of Yen was tossed into his
lap.

"Thanks," Ranma answered with a slight bow, "let me
just make sure the lid is secure." Leaving the driver at the
wheel he walked to the back of the truck and opened the
door. Just inside was a plastic shipping crate, normally used
for live-shipping lobsters and shell-fish. Unlatching the lid he
peered inside where Doung and his two henchmen lay naked
in a bed of ice, bound with thick plastic packing-straps. The
two body-guards had been gagged with their own underwear,
while Doung had a live squid strapped to his face. It was hard
to tell who was the most unhappy about the situation, but
judging from the different colours flashing across it's body,
Ranma was betting on the squid.

"Comfortable?"

Doung made a grunting noise, then squealed at the
squid tightened it's hold.

"Unless traffic is heavy, you should be home by
tomorrow night." Ranma started to close the lid, then paused.
"If you bother my wife again," his voice was conversational,
but his eyes were flat and cold as a cobra's "your own
mother's not going to be able to tell if you're face up or face
down in the coffin."

*****
*****

"Hi, Ranma."

Akane looked genuinely happy to see him. As if she'd
last seen him just this morning, not two years ago in a
maintenance tunnel after being stabbed by her father-in-law.
Ranma had spent a lot of time thinking about his reunion with
Akane and he'd imagined a lot of things, most of them quite
painful. But, 'Hi, Ranma' had never entered his mind. His
imaginings had been more along the lines of - -

"What the hell are you doing here you frigging
bastard!"

- - that. "Nice to see you too . . .Nabiki-oneechan."
Ranma grinned at the bug-eyed look of fury on Nabiki's face.

"Don't you big sister ME, you irresponsible,
thieving - - "

"You two play nicely," Akane interrupted, "I've got
to get this," she tilted her head toward the yellow-fin in her
hand, "on the truck and the shipping labels changed on our
tuna." She smiled gently at Ranma, and turned to go, when
Ranma reached out and grabbed her by the arm.

"Hey! Where are you going?" Ranma demanded.

"I've got to get this loaded - - -"

"Forget that," Ranma said, dismissing a few million
yen of tuna with the fine contempt of someone who spends
more on his shirts in a week, "what about us!"

"What about us?" Akane asked, honestly puzzled.

"I've been gone two years and all you have to say - - "
he stumbled to a stop as he suddenly realized he might not be
helping his case. "Uhhh . . .listen, we need to talk."

"Okay," Akane answered cheerfully, "right after
work."

"Work?" Ranma echoed, as if the word were an alien
concept.

"Well, Nabiki-oneesan started this little fish export
business . . .supplying restaurants outside of Tokyo and
Ukyou - - "

"Kuonji?" Ranma dropped into a defensive stance,
looking a round. "Is he still around?"

"Oh, yes," Nabiki drawled with satisfaction, "and the
blind-monk and some Russian police every now and then, and
this cute Chinese Amazon with really big . . .bonbori." She
grinned nastily at the expression on Ranma's face. "You're a
real popular fellow."

"C'mon," Ranma jumped aside as another blue-
tricycle, overloaded with a stack of crated and barrels zoomed
around the corner in an impossibly tight turn. "We can't talk
here." He tried to pull Akane along with him, only to have her
slip free of his grasp.

"I can't go until the market closes." Akane answered.
"And all the trucks have been loaded."

"That's not until noon," Nabiki interjected with relish.
"Six hours from now."

"Plus, we've got to do clean-up, and take new
orders."

"That could take another hour or so." Nabiki added,
"especially if Ukyou," she liked the way Ranma winced at the
sound of the name, "if _Ukyou_ has found a lot of new
customers."

"Then we help Ukyou-san at the restaurant."

"Uc-chans Okonomoyaki Heaven," Nabiki said,
"special group rates, open late on weekends."

"But I'll try to finish up early today." Akane ended.
"About eight?" she smiled again and hurried off to the loading
docks.

"Well, that should give you plenty of time to visit with
friends," Nabiki said as Ranma stared after his wife,
"assuming you had any. I'd offer to let you wait at our place,
but we're a little cramped for space since the house and
doujou were . . . mislaid."

Ranma spared her a sour glance, then stalked off.

"How about some nice fresh fugu liver." Nabiki called
at his retreating back. "It's great with ground-glass and
arsenic!"

******
******

Ranma could be as patient as stone, when the situation
called for it. But that was training, not temperament. His
original plan had been to simply grab Akane and run,
absorbing a few lumps as part of doing business. He figured a
few weeks in the Bahamas, looking up at the trees, would
sweeten her disposition. But her casual, friendly attitude
baffled him and made him rethink things. Ranma decided to
do a little reconnoitering before doing anything rash.
Especially since Akane was carrying a 'knife' almost as tall as
he was.

An hour's worth of time and the liberal application of
Yen got him an address. At the end of a forty-five minute
drive to a dismal concrete-slab apartment-complex that would
have depressed a Russian novelist, Ranma discovered why
normally it's faster to park your car in Hokkaido and fly back
into Tokyo, than wait for a space to open up. It is, in fact,
illegal to purchase an automobile in Tokyo without first
offering proof that you own a place to park it.

Ranma solved this conundrum by purchasing a parking
space from a resident, for twice it's book value, then giving
the dazed man another hundred thousand Yen to go for a
drive in the country, thus providing Ranma with space for the
Hirondell. Thriftily Ranma picked the man's pocket as he was
leaving, relieving him of all but ten-thousand yen gas money,
but providing him with a valuable lesson in life; Rule of the
road thirty-three . . . *Always keep one hand on your wallet,
and the other hand on the other fellow's wallet.*

******
******

*seven-two-three . . .seven-two-five . . .* Consulting
the paper in his hand, Ranma moved down the dark, musty
corridor, wondering if the builders had deliberately skimped
on lighting in an attempt to make the place look better. He'd
seen prisons that were more cheerful, but most public housing
in Japan reflected the official attitude 'Poor people, rich
country.' He noticed there weren't too many officials living in
public apartments. *seven-three-six!* He knocked, waited a
moment, then knocked again.

"Yes," the door opened to reveal a slender woman
wearing wire-rim glasses. She had a pencil stuck behind one
ear and a large Anatomy textbook was in her left hand, index
finger marking her place. "May I help . . .?" Her voice trailed
off as she recognized the beautifully dressed young man
before her. For his part, Ranma was frozen with shock. Not at
Kasumi's bi-focal's, but at the scowling mini-samurai at her
side, tiny wooden long and short swords thrust through a
scarlet obi. The thick cap of blue-black hair was distinctive,
but it was the eyes that caught and held him. He saw those
eyes everyday, in the mirror when he shaved.

******
*****
7:30AM

"That fucking _bastard_!" Nabiki raged, pacing back
and forth in the apartment.

"I'm certain that Grandpa-sensei and Auntie Nodoka
were married when Ranma was born." Akane replied calmly,
looking at the note Ranma had given to Kasumi, which
Kasumi had delivered to her, nearly in hysterics, at the fish-
market a little over an hour earlier.

"The shit-eating little fucker kidnaped Shunranko!,"
Nabiki was literally foaming at the mouth, "don't you
_care_!"

"He is her father," Akane said reasonably.

"Father! He's not her father." Nabiki spat.

"Oh, I'm quite certain he is," Akane replied, a
secretive smile on her lips.

"You don't think Ranma would hurt her?" Kaumi
asked, pale faced. She still hadn't gotten over the shock of
having her niece literally snatched from her side.

"Of course not," Akane answered positively, "The
worst that could happen is that Ranma might teach her to
forge government securities using only a box of Crayola's or
how to overthrow a small country with chopsticks and a can
of Spam." Her sublime confidence in Shunranko's safety
reassured Kasumi a little.

"I should never have left you alone, my lady." Kodachi
interjected. "But the Kunou fortune is at your disposal. We
will search the world until the miscreant is discovered."

"That won't be necessary," Akane began, only to be
interrupted by her middle sister.

"What is _wrong_ with you? How can you be so calm,
when we don't even know where Shun-chan is!"

"Of course we do," Akane handed Nabiki the note
Ranma had written. "Ranma left a map and money for a plane
ticket." She raised an eyebrow as Nabiki snatched the
envelope and it's contents from her hand.

"I will have the Kunou jet made ready immediately,"
Kodachi asserted, pulling a cell phone from her pocket. In an
effort to make things easier for her 'demoiselle' Kodachi had
started spending more time in the twentieth century, or at
least early nineteenth.

"There's no hurry," Akane asserted, moving into the
postage-stamp sized kitchenette and putting a kettle on for
tea. "Ukyou-san will have to make arrangements to close the
restaurant, if he wants to come?"

"Oh yeah," Ukyou affirmed, rubbing Nabiki's
shoulders soothingly as he read over her shoulder. "I wouldn't
miss this for anything."

"I have to give notice at the fish-market, Oneesan has
to make arrangements for suppliers for her restaurant
customers. And her pachinko rentals." Nabiki's fierce look
said how unimportant she thought all that was. "Kasumi has
to finish her last exam . . ."

"Oh, but this is more important than exams." Kasumi
objected.

"And we all have to get passports." Akane finished
with an argument no one had an answer to.

"Where the hell _is_ Oregon, anyway?" Nabiki
groused, accepting a cup of tea as she tried to puzzled out
Ranma's crude sketch of the American Northwest.

******
******

Three Weeks Later:
Paulina, Oregon

"This country is so _big_," Kasumi said in wonder,
looking out of the window of the custom Hummer-limousine
that had picked them up at the airport. "Look, a cow!"

"Ummmm . . .an elk, I believe," Genma corrected,
looking at the guide book. "Those are cattle." he pointed to a
group of American Bison, a few hundred meters beyond the
grazing llama.

"It's cold, that's what it is," Nabiki complained,
ignoring the fully functional heater for yet another chance to
complain about anything connected with Ranma. "When do
we get there?"

"About ten minutes ago," the driver, a grizzled gaijin
half a foot over six feet( who'd introduced himself as
'Shorty'), announced in Japanese with a Texas drawl.

"What? How big is this place?" Nabiki demanded.

"Bout 320,000 deeded acres, with 6,200 acres of
water rights." was the laconic response.

"Acres? What is that in meters? What's this acres
stuff?" Nabiki complained. Kasumi, Ukyou and Souun put
their heads together with Nabiki for some hurried
computations.

"Akane-chan, are you alright?" Nodoka asked her
daughter-in-law softly.

"Now that we're on the ground," Akane opened her
eyes briefly, then closed them again. "I didn't think I'd get
airsick."

"Do not concern yourself," Kodachi assured her, "the
carpeting is easily replaced."

"And a little white-vinegar and baking soda will get
the odor right out." Nodoka added.

"Are you telling me," Nabiki's voice cracked, "that the
little S.O.B. has a backyard bigger than _Nerima_!" She
looked at the results of their computations again.

"Well, Oregon _is_ about the size of Hokkaidou,"
Genma said, looking at the guide book. "And they've got
forty-nine other prefectures."

"I think the gaijin call them states, dear. "Nodoka
corrected gently.

"I . . . think we're there." Ukyou interrupted in a
strained voice.

"You think we're . . ." Kasumi started to ask, then
froze.

"Oh, my." Akane said as the limousine rolled to a stop
in front of a familiar stone wall, fronted by a heavy wooden
gate.

Nabiki fumbled with the door latch, taking three tries
to get the door open before tumbling out of the back.
Snatching the cane she still needed if she'd been sitting too
long, Nabiki made a hobbling dash through the gate, past the
sliding doors and up the stairs, followed more sedately by her
sisters. The little duck nameplate was still swinging gently
back and forth on the door by the time Akane and Kasumi
made it up the stairs, followed closely by all the rest.

"It's here," Nabiki said hoarsely, turning in a large
circle, "everything. It's all - - " She limped over to a closet
and yanked it open. To reveal a large open space where the
closet should be. "Where's my closet!"

"I thought I'd lost this dress." Akane remarked,
pulling a lone blue, short sleeved garment from a hanger
inside the door.

"I just borrowed it for . . ." Nabiki's mouth snapped
shut and she stepped back. "That's not the point. What's
going on here? This is our house! Or some of it, anyway."

"Ummmm . . sorry about that?"

Eight pairs of eyes snapped around to see a familiar, if
bruised and battered figure at the head of the stairs.

"Some of the stuff is still hung up in transit;
somewhere in Bangladesh." Ranma twiddled his pig-tail. "But
it's not my fault."

*****
*****


"Look, a new stove," Nodoka's excited voice could
be heard from the kitchen. "And the freezer is so _big_!"

"I've heard about these, friend Tendou," Genma
remarked, looking at the sixty-inch plasma TV hanging on the
wall. "They say it's so real, it's like looking out a window."

"Bad man!"

"Shunranko, don't hit your father." Akane
admonished gently.

"BAD MAN!" There was a meaty thwack of wood on
flesh as Ranma only partially dodged a particularly vicious
overhand blow.

"Would you _stop_ that!" Ranma made another of his
unsuccessful attempt to disarm his daughter but was again
defeated by the preternatural flexibility and quickness inherent
in very young children.

"NO! Nononononononononono!" The little girl
shrieked gleefully as she wacked Ranma across the ribs.

"What have you been doing to his poor child!" Nabiki
accused, alternately glaring at Ranma then beaming at her
niece when she made a particularly telling strike and slipping
her a piece of hard candy.

"What have I - - " Ranma gasped, stung by the
injustice of the question. "This ain't a normal kid, it's some
kinda monster! I seen that movie. She's gonna start makin'
pods in th' basement, ain't she?" He twisted aside, barely
avoiding a thrust to the ribs and hastily retreated to the center
of the room, followed by his daughter, tiny wooden sword in
each chubby hand.

"Bad man. Bad man. Bad man." Each word was
punctuated by a rapid thrust, quickly making it apparent that
she was entirely ambidextrous.

"Ranma," Akane said sternly, "you're spoiling her."
Firmly she reached out and took her daughter, settling
Shunranko in her lap. "You can't just let her run wild."

"LET her!" Ranma's voice rose and cracked on an
especially high note. "Just tell me where th' hell to find th' off
switch an' I'll stop her. And how come she only knows two
words? 'No' and 'Bad man'."

"That's three words." Ukyou murmured.

"You shut up!" Ranma growled. "This ain't funny."

"I think it's hilarious," Ukyou remarked. "And when
she grows up, I hope she meets a boy just like her old man."

"You _bastard_!" Ranma's lunge across the table was
interrupted when Nabiki's hand cracked across Ukyou's
cheek.

"How _could_ you!" Nabiki's stricken eyes met
Ukyou's for an instant, before she dashed out of the room.

"Nabiki-chan," Ukyou realized he'd crossed the line.
"I didn't mean it. I hope she grows up to be a nun!" He
lunged after her. "Nabiki-chan!"

Akane listened to the sound of Ukyou's footsteps
vanish out the door, then turned back to answer Ranma's
question. "Shun-chan's at the age where she's trying to
establish boundaries." Akane cooed at Shunranko who
giggled in delight. "That's why she says 'no' so much right
now."

"What kinda boundary is she tryin' to establish with
'bad man'?" Ranma asked, not entirely convinced.

"Oh," Akane flushed, "That's . . .ummmm. . . Nabiki
made this training dummy for Shunranko. It's the cutest thing.
And it looks just like you," she finished in a barely audible
voice.

"You been lettin' my kid bash on a training dummy
that looks like me, for two years!" Ranma's voice rose.
Taking this as a threat, Shunranko lunged at him, only quick
action by her mother, saving her father from a nasty scar.

"Of course not," Akane said indignantly. "Shun-chan
didn't begin serious training until she was six months old."
She thought a moment, "Of course, grandpa-sensei _did_
have that technique for training her in the womb, but I'm not
sure how well it really worked." She gave him an innocent
look and Ranma wasn't sure if she was kidding or not. He
wasn't sure what the old-man was doin' hangin' around,
either, but decided Genma could wait.

"Well, it's getting late," Akane looked out the window
at the lengthen shadows, "we'd better be heading back to
town and find a place to stay.'

"Huh? What do you mean," Ranma looked confused.
"You're stayin' here. This is your home. That's why I had it
brought over here."

"I can't stay here," Akane said gently. "It's better if
we stay in a motel."

"If you don't like it, there's five other houses. They
came with the place. I can - - "

"No." Akane said quietly, but firmly.

"You hate me, don't you." It was a statement, not a
question.

"Oh, Ranma," Akane moved close and wrapped her
arms around her husband, shushing Shynranko firmly when
the little girl protested jealously. "I could never hate you."
She gave a little chuckle. "Sometimes I want to break your
thick skull, you make me so mad. But I love you." She let go
and stepped back. "Loving you doesn't have anything to do
with it. I just can't stay here."

"Why not!" frustration evident in every line of his
body Ranma thrust his hands in his pockets and glared at his
wife.

"This isn't a . . .this isn't a happy place, anymore."
Akane said finally after a brief pause.

"What are you talkin' about?" Ranma hated this. Girls
were always talkin' and talkin', but they never made _sense_!

"Let's go for a walk," Akane gave Shunranko to the
little girl's grandmother, then took her husband's hand and led
him out side. They walked in silence for a moment, past the
gate and onto the open range surrounding the house.

"The air is so clear, and dark," Akane said finally,
"and the stars look so close. Like you could just reach out and
grab a handful."

"Uhhh. . . yeah." Ranma, said, having found it best to
agree with women when they said stuff like this.

Akane laughed, but said nothing as they walked on a
little more.

"I waited for you," Akane leaned against him as they
walked. "When Nabiki told me we were going to lose the
house and doujou, do you know what I thought?"

"Ummmm. . ." Oh hell, this was one of those tricky
ones, where there wasn't a right answer. Just some emotional
gunk that you could never get right. "I . . .you felt pretty
bad."

"I was afraid you wouldn't be able to find me, if we
moved." She looked up at him, her face a soft blur in the
gathering darkness. "Tendou's had lived on that land since the
Tokugawa era. My mother, her mother and her mother's
mother were born and died there. It was my whole life. I
never wanted anything else but that house, the doujou. To live
there, and raise my family - - like they did and like my
daughters would. And when Nabiki told me it was sold . . .
They were going to tear it down and build an apartment
complex . . .The only thing I could think of, was you wouldn't
be able to find me."

"I was going to call," Ranma started, "but it took me
while to fence . . . uhhhh take care of business stuff and
then there was some paperwork trouble - - "

"Hush," Akane put a finger against his lips, "It doesn't
matter." They walked a few more steps before she continued.
"But you didn't come. And then I found out about
Shunranko. I . . . got a little crazy then. Broke a lot of cinder-
blocks. A few windows and some furniture. Couple of small
bones in my hand."

"Oh geeez," Ranma sounded horrified. "Look, I'm
sorry - - "

"My own fault," Akane assured him. "I got careless.
But I was _pissed_! At you. At me. The world. At . . .
Shunranko."

"Did you ever . . ." Ranma's throat got suddenly tight,
though he wasn't sure why. He didn't even like the little
monster.

"For a second or two," Akane admitted. "Mostly I
thought about how I was going to hunt you down and pull
your spine out through your ear. . ."

Ranma flinched.

"Then I was going to gut you like a trout, tie your
anus in a square-knot around the back of a bullet train and
drag you naked through razor-blades and turpentine . . ."

Ranma winced.

"After that, I was going to castrate you with a brick,
roast your balls on the hibachi and shove them down your
lying throat."

Ranma stumbled as his knees involuntarily slammed
together.

"But you don't hate me?" he croaked, thankful he
shaved with an electric razor and trying to think if there was
any turpentine in the house.

"No," Akane squeezed him closer. "I never hated you.
Even when I was maddest . . ." she paused, then when on in a
very different voice. "Even then, when I imagined finding you,
we'd always end up doing the kind of things that got me in
trouble in the first place."

"Oh."

"Except, I was on top, and 'Ranko' was the one in
trouble."

"Oh . . .errrr . . ." Ranma could feel his face heat.
"But, if you don't hate me . . . why won't you stay?"

"If you'd come for me then, even when I first found
out about Shun-chan, I'd have gone with you. Gone
anywhere, done anything." Akane stepped away from Ranma
and twirled in a circle, looking up at the sky. "It was storming
that day, too."

Ranma glanced up and saw low clouds scudding
across the horizon, covering the stars. "That day?"

"I felt her move for the first time. It felt like a
butterfly," she took his hand and placed it against her
stomach, "just here."

Ranma let his hand rest against her for a moment,
feeling an inexplicable sense of loss.

"And then I realized there was a little person growing
inside of me. A little bit of me, a little bit of you. A little
person who depended on me. And I couldn't be careless
anymore."

"What do you mean?" Ranma felt as if something
important lay just out of reach. He just wasn't sure what or
where.

"I was responsible for her." Akane blew on her hands
and tucked them under her armpits for warmth as the
temperature suddenly dropped. "It wasn't just me anymore.
Everything I did, Shun-chan was going to see. Learn. From
_me_! She was going to learn how to be a person from _me_!
A good person or a bad person."

Ranma pulled Akane to him, turning to block the
wind and she snuggled against his warmth.

"Everything I say and do . . .I always think, 'Would
Shun-chan be proud of me' or worse yet, 'would I be proud
of Shun-chan if _she_ did this'?"

"And you're not proud of me?" Ranma stiffened
angrily, pushing Akane away. "Is that it?"

"Oh, sweetheart," Akane's voice was a little sad, "I'll
love you, until the day I die. Even if I don't always like the
things you do. It's not about you. Or me. It's about
Shunranko. All of this," her outstretched arms were a faint
blur against the light's from the house behind them, " . . .how
do we tell Shun-chan that her bed, her food, everything she
has, was stolen from someone?"

"It was the old-man - - " Ranma began angrily, "it was
his scam, not mine. Dammit, he ripped you off, too. He shot
your Pop, stabbed _you_! An' he was gonna . . . he was . . ."
Ranma trailed off, not quite able to bring himself to tell Akane
everything Genma had planned.

"He is greedy and selfish and a pathological liar"
Akane agreed. "He tells funny stories, is a surprisingly good
martial artist and teacher. He's spoiled and irresponsible and
he'd never let you go hungry, as long as there was a baby to
steal candy from and there was anything left over after he
ate."

She sighed heavily, " He's family. And I wish I could
love him. I wish it wasn't duty. I wish I didn't feel safer when
I can keep my eyes on him, when I know exactly where he is
and what he's doing." Akane started walking back to the
house and Ranma fell in step beside her. "Papa doesn't let him
drink anymore. He's better when he's sober. But . . .I don't
trust him. I can't ever feel proud of him. I . . .I want
Shunranko to be proud of her father. So . . .it's better if we
don't stay."

******
*******

"It's starting to snow." Ukyou remarked idly, staring
out of the window of their room at the Prineville Lodge.

"How long is she going to sit out there?" Nabiki
asked, draining another cup of coffee and wondering if her
stomach or bladder would give out first. "It's been almost six
hours." She could just make out the figure of her sister, sitting
in zazen, under a tree in a corner of the courtyard. Because of
Akane's bad knee, her meditation posture was a little
awkward looking.

"Eat something," Kasumi stifled a yawn as she offered
a tray of sandwiches. She hadn't liked the looks of the fish at
the local market, but there had been an amazing array of beef.
"Otherwise all that coffee will make you sick."

Absently Nabiki took a sandwich and began chewing
mechanically, never taking her eyes off Akane, who was
beginning to acquire a light dusting of snow. "This is crazy,"
she grabbed her cane and started to get up. "I'm going to
bring her in before she freezes."

"She won't come," Kasumi said, joining Nabiki and
Ukyou at the window. Behind them, Nodoka and Shunranko
had fallen asleep on the couch, watching English dubs of
Japanese cartoons. "She's waiting for Ranma." From the
bedroom came the faint murmur of voices as Genma and
Souun argued over a game of Shogi. Originally the argument
had been somewhat louder and more physical, until Kodachi
had threatened to use Genma to test the airbags in the rental
car. Now she was on the phone in the adjoining room
arranging to lease a house for all of them.

"Waiting for Ranma?" Nabiki looked at the sandwich
she was eating and peeled back the top layer. Pickles! She
hated pickles. She put it back on her plate, then absently
picked it back up and continued eating. "What makes her
think he's even going to come? Dammit, he was gone two
years last time. How long is she planning to wait?"

"About five more minutes," Ukyou opined, pointing
out the window, "unless he slips on a slick spot."

"Ahhh, hell." Nabiki groused, seeing a familiar
pig-tailed figure, "and I was in such a good mood."

******
*****

Ranma was almost surprised at how un-surprised he
was to see his wife sitting in meditation, slowly being covered
in snow.

"Is this sumpthin' I want ta know about?" He asked,
shoving both hands in his pockets and coming to a stop in
front of Akane. "Or is it one a' those girl things?"

"I'm trying to achieve a state of no-mind," Akane
answered, without opening her eyes. "Where hunger and
thirst, heat and cold no longer affect me."

"Yeah?" Ranma asked with interest, having spent
eight months in Tibet learning techniques that allowed the
monks to sleep on a mountainside with only a thin cotton robe
between them and the ice. "Is it workin'?"

"I'm freezing my ass off." Came the unhurried
response.

"Uhhhh . . . have ya thought about goin' back inside?"
Ranma asked cautiously, wondering if this was some girl thing
or worse, some _wife_ thing he didn't yet understand.

"I would," Akane looked up at him with eyes so brim
full of mischief that he grinned back reflexively, "but my
knee's locked up and I can't move."

"Ahhhh . . ." He bit back the first - - unflattering - -
response that came to mind and instead simply grabbed Akane
by the hand, pulling her to her feet in one smooth motion.
"Glad I could help out."

"I'm glad you didn't wait two more years."

"About that . . . I kept meaning ta call or sumpthin',
but - - " Pulling Akane against his side he began brushing
snow off of her. "Ahhh, hell. I didn't know what to say. And I
wanted to have things perfect. A house and stuff. I didn't
know you was . . .I didn't know about Shunranko."

"Would it have made a difference?" She asked,
sounding only mildly interested.

"Dammit, o' course it would. What kinda guy do you
think I am?"

"That's nice to know. Thank you."

"Ya believe me? Just like that?"

"You're my husband." Akane answered simply.

Ranma stared at her for a moment, as if she were
some alien life form, then gave a short barking laugh. "Can't
fool you, can I?"

"Of course you can." Akane looked up at him through
snow frosted lashes, which made Ranma think of a crystal
figurine of a shepardess he'd had when he was eight. The tiny
frosted glass figure had been kneeling in the grass, holding a
lamb in her lap. He'd stolen it from an East African slave
trader and two years later, traded it for quinine when Genma
came down with malaria.

"You're an excellent liar, much better than your
father. And he still fools me a lot of times."

"You're my wife," Ranma shook off the memory,
uncomfortable with the image and feelings. "There ain't
gonna be no divorce."

"Of course not." Akane said agreeably.

"Shunranko is my daughter," he asserted, wondering if
there was insanity in the Tendou family. "You can't keep her
from me." Or maybe possession by demons. That might
explain Shunranko, anyway.

"You're her father. I'd never keep her from you."

"You just won't live with me." Ranma said slowly.

"That's right."

"Dammit,"he growled in frustration, "I ought to - - "

"Throw me over your shoulder, carry me off to the
bedroom and make love to me until I agree to stay?" Akane
said brightly.

"Uhhhh . . ." Ranma fiddled with his pigtail. That
_had_ been the plan, but it sounded kinda silly the way she
said it.

"I can get your mother to babysit until tomorrow."
Akane offered in a throaty little growl that curled Ranma's
toes.

His eyes lit up, then the last part of her statement
registered. "Tomorrow? You're gonna _leave_ in the
mornin'?" At her nod he felt his temper explode.

"Dammit! What th' hell do you want from me?" He
didn't wait for an answer, "You want me to give it back? Well
I'm not. _You_ ain't never been poor. You never got locked
up 'cause you were dressed poor. 'Cause you talked poor."
Ranma was breathing hard, his fists were clenched at his side.

"You've never been so hungry that you rooted
through garbage or fought for a sandwich some rich guy
threw outa his car drivin' by. You never been so cold you
hada walk around all night carryin' a rock to keep from
freezin' ta death." His hands fastened on her shoulders, pain
shooting down her arms as his fingers dug in tight. "No one's
gonna laugh at me no more. I ain't gonna scramble in no ditch
for food somebody threw away. And you ain't gonna go
hungry and neither is th' kid!"

"No," Akane agreed quietly. "I've never been cold or
hungry. There was always food and a warm bed." She put her
arms around Ranma, pressing against his chest so she could
hear his heart. It was thundering in his chest as if he'd run a
marathon, but gradually, as she listened it slowed. "They strip
search you." She said, and it took a moment for her words to
register.

"What?" It was so odd, Ranma thought he'd
misheard. "What did you say?"

"It's a full body-cavity search. I'd always been a little
shy in the changing room, but they don't let you _be_ shy."

"What are you - - "

"I didn't speak any Thai and there wasn't a translator
in the prison."

*Oh, crap.* Ranma suddenly recalled the incident in
Thailand at the martial arts tournament. "Listen, you don't
have to - - "

"They take personal possessions, like jewelry or a
knee-brace - - stuff you could use as a weapon or bribe. Then
they give you a cotton robe and basically throw you into a pit.
There's a hole for 'sanitation' and you get one meal a day,
brown-rice and water. Sometimes there's a little green tea
mixed in. And you can take a bath anytime you want.
Providing it's raining."

"Did . . ." Ranma licked his suddenly dry lips. "Did
they - - "

"Rape me?" Akane laughed bitterly. "No. The first
guard to touch me would have died. And they knew it. Most
people think that I was, though. Except Nabiki. And she
doesn't know the real truth." A shudder went through her
body. "I did the raping."

Ranma went cold at her words. What the hell was
going on here?

"Not sexual, but just as bad. Worse." Akane took a
deep breath. Then another. "One bowl of rice a day wasn't
enough."

In a flash, Ranma understood. "That's not so bad - - "

"I was a trained martial artist. Even with a bad knee
and a broken collar-bone, and so bruised I could hardly move
- - I was stronger, and better trained than most of the guards.
What chance did a bunch of frightened, starving women . . .
girls some of them. My age or younger . . .what chance did
they have?"

"That's nothin'," Ranma started to say. "Why me and
pop's one time we grifted an entire train-load of frozen beef
on it's way to some - - "

"They were afraid of me," Akane said quietly. "They
were starving and weak and it was easy." She met his eyes
and he swallowed at the bleak look of despair in them. "A
martial artist protects the weak. But who protects you from
the martial artist? How do you fight the evil inside of you?"

"Listen - - "

"I wanted to kill myself, when I got home. I got the
tantou and white robes. I got as far as kneeling in the doujou.
But . . .I couldn't do it. Afraid. Weak."She pounded her fist
against her thigh. "Weak."

*Thank you kami-sama. I'll do somethin' nice for ya
real soon* Ranma left kami-sama to his own devices and
pulled his wife close against him.

"Listen. You did what you needed, to survive.
Starvin' people die in prison. You don't eat, you get sick and
die. Real quick."

"An' those women you feel so sorry for, they woulda
taken your food if they could. An' th' guards. They woulda
raped you as soon as you couldn't fight." He didn't think he
was getting through to her.

"You did th' smart thing. The right thing. Doncha
_ever_ feel guilty for surviving. Dead, all you're good for is
feedin' the worms."

"All the things you bought." Akane didn't seem to
hear him. "The house, the cars . . .I look at them and I see the
Amazons. They had a real hard time last winter. They could
have bought food, medicine with what that car cost. Ukyou.
Her father threw her out of the house. Disowned her. What
would it cost for her to go home?

*Her?* Ranma thought, then dismissed Ukyou as a
minor problem at the moment.

And, what about all the other people who were hurt?
Whose food am I eating? Whose bed am I sleeping in, if I stay
with you?"

"I'll never let Shunranko go hungry." Akane told him
quietly, "But, I can't take food from another child's mouth to
feed mine. I've already shamed myself forever by what I did in
that prison. I was afraid. Weak. I can't . . .be weak anymore.
Not again. Not and live with myself."

*Ahhh, crap. She believes all this noble samurai shit.*
Ranma's mind raced for some way to answer Akane's
concerns. If he let her get away tonight, she'd get stubborn
and dig in and he'd lose her for good.

"Any of the other women get raped while you were
there?" he asked, not knowing where the question came from,
but trying to buy some time.

"What? Uhhh . . no." Akane asked bewildered.

"You didn't let Kunou an' his bunch get away with
their crap, didja?"

"What does that - - "

"An' you was pretty popular around school. Spent a
lot of time helping out - - all different clubs and stuff. Nobody
was bullied while you were around, either."

"I don't understand what this has to do with
anything?" Akane sounded bewildered.

"The other women in that prison. They mighta
thought a little rice was pretty cheap to keep from bein'
raped. An' if you'd died, or just got real sick back then.
Kunou and his little thugs mighta just taken over Furrinkan
'cause you weren't around to stop 'em. Like I said, dead ain't
no use to nobody."

"You don't know that I kept those women from being
raped. Or stopped Kunou. Or - - ." Akane objected quietly.

"No, an' you don't know you didn't." Ranma
snapped. "You can't ever know what's gonna happen
tomorrow. All ya got is this," he took her hand and placed it
on his chest, where she felt his heart beat. "You only got
_now_, one beat of the heart. Cause ya never know when it's
gonna stop."

Akane went cold at the thought of his heart stopping
and her hand clenched in Ranma's shirt front.

"I . . .I think I understand. But - - " her voice trailed
off helplessly. She didn't see anyway out of their problem.

"Hell," Ranma said in disgust. "You're thinkin' again.
Women are always thinkin'. Look, there's somethin' ta this
honor stuff, I guess." He admitted reluctantly. "I mean, I ain't
never let no one sit behind me, until I met you guys. Your
Pop's always treated me good, like I was blood related.
An' . . ." Akane was amazed to see a faint flush creep up
under his collar. "I ain't . . .I've never fallen asleep with a girl
before."

"What?" Akane wasn't sure she'd heard him correctly.

"I . . .before, with the others I always stayed awake
after. . . but with you I fell right asleep."

"Oh." She said softly, feeling a warm tingle at the trust
he showed her. "But, that doesn't really solve - - eeeeeeeep"
she shrieked as Ranma bent suddenly and threw her over his
shoulder.

"What are you doing!" Akane demanded.

"Goin' with my original plan." Ranma announced,
turning and heading for where he'd left his car. "I should
never tried this thinkin' stuff."

"I told you - - "

"You talk to much," Ranma groused.

"What are you doing with my sister!" Nabiki
demanded, brandishing her cane as she limped up more
quickly than was safe on the icy surface. Ukyou also seemed
to think she was being reckless, from the worried look on his
face.

"I'm kidnappin' her," Ranma answered, "I got some
new Peerless double-locking shackles you'll really like," he
added as an aside for his upside-down bride.

"Really?" Akane asked with the interest of a true
connoisseur. "The military grade . . . I mean," she said, in
suddenly prim tones, "That doesn't make any difference. I'm
not going to change my mind. I won't stay with you."

"I got a straight-jacket an' a latex hood that ought to
slow you down some." he offered in a teasing voice.

"You filthy pervert!" Nabiki said hotly. "You better
not touch my sister."

"She likes it when I touch her," Ranma caressed
Akane's upturned bottom lightly, grinning as a vein began to
throb in Nabiki's forehead. "Oh and Kuonji, let me know
what I owe you."

"What!" Ukyou looked sharply at Ranma. "What are
you talking about?"

"Th' old man and me, we ripped you off. So I figure I
owe you." Well, Akane figured he owed, but it looked like
that was going to amount to the same thing. He looked at the
stunned Okonomoyaki chef for a moment. "How does a
coupla million sound?"

"Yen?" Ukyou asked hoarsely.

"Nah, dollars . . .whoops, catch her!" Ranma shouted
and Ukyou made a grab for Nabiki who, either from brain
overload or an icy patch, was suddenly headed for the ground.

"Nice save," Ranma allowed, grinning at Nabiki who
was now held securely in Ukyou's arms. "You two make a
cute couple. As head of the Tendou clan, I guess I should ask
if your intentions toward my little sister are honorable?"

"We are NOT a couple," Nabiki screeched, kicking
futilely which only served to tighten Ukyou's hold. "What the
hell do you mean head of the clan."

"She's kinda noisy," Ranma staged whispered to
Ukyou, "I got extra gags if you want to borrow one.
Especially if she's a screamer."

"What? Why. You." Nabiki spluttered.

"Ranma, quite teasing Nabiki," Akane said quietly.
"And let me down"

"Nope." Ranma said cheerfully. "Okay, I'll quit teasin'
But you're awful bossy for a kidnaped wench."

"I told you - - "

Ranma sighed. "You're an awful lot of trouble. Good
thing I love you."

"What?" Akane squeaked.

"I love you." he scratched his head.

"You never said that before!"

"Really? Sorry 'bout that." Ranma dismissed it as an
omission of no importance.

"But it doesn't change - - "

"Geeezzz, you don't ever shut up. Next time I bring a
gag with me." He turned his attention back to Nabiki who
was back on her feet, berating Ukyou. Just like an old married
couple Ranma thought.

"Okay, neechan," he winced as Akane grabbed a fold
of skin and pinched. Hard! "OK, no more teasing."
*Tonight.* "Contact the Amazons an' find out where they
bank. Tell 'em I'll have a wire transfer of what Pop took," he
thought a second, and sighed. "Plus interest." Virtue was
expensive. "An' I'll give 'em a list of where Pop sold their
stuff. An' a few million for the blind-monk?"

"Oh Ranma. That's wonderful. But - - "

"But NOTHING!" Ranma roared and was satisfied
when Akane shut up. Unfortunately he knew it wouldn't last.
"I can't fix the whole damn world in one night!"

"Have you _got_ this kind of money?" Nabiki asked
suspiciously.

"Oh sure," Ranma replied airily. "Pop's almost as
good a judge of gems as he is sake. An' I made some pretty
good investments when I turned 'em into cash. It'll be kinda
lean after I pay back th' Amazon's though." He gave Nabiki a
twisted smile. "I guess I'll have ta find a job or somethin'."

"Oh Ranma," Akane hugged him as best she could,
hanging upside down over his shoulder.

"Can we go now?" He asked Akane sarcastically and
felt her mumble something into his shirt.

"Oh, an' Kuonji?" Ranma added over his shoulder,
"Come by _late_ tomorrow. I figure we'll be up late. An'
Akane gets sleepy after climax," he ignored her gasp of
outrage, "an' she's a real bear if you wake her up."

"Ranma!"Akane fumed, trying to twist around, "Wait!
You can't just - - "

She yelped as Ranma's hand hit her posterior with a
sound like a pistol shot.

"Rule one," Ranma rumbled menacingly as he gave
her derriere a warning pat. "What's mine, I _keep_!"

*************************************************
EPILOGUE

"Mail's here!"

"Anything interesting?" Nabiki didn't look up from
her computer. Day trading was a fools game. On the other
hand, there was good money in publishing a day-traders
newsletter.

"Package for you." Ukyou looked at the return
address. "Postmark Thailand. From Shan P'u."

"Oh?" Nabiki held out her hand and Ukyou tossed the
small package underhand.

"Something from father," Ukyou tore open an
envelope and pulled out several sheets of paper, criss-crossed
with blotched kanji. "Heh!"

Nabiki paused in opening her package and looked up
at the barked laugh. "Something funny?"

"He and Hibiki-san have perfected his Zen
Okonomoyaki, a blessing in every bite." Ukyou read on. "And
looks like Hibiki's going to have another little brother or
sister in about seven months."

"You know, when Hibiki said his father was in hell."
Nabiki remarked dryly. "I didn't realize he meant Okinawa."

Ukyou made a face, but didn't respond as he kept
reading.

"Is that the mail?" Nodoka entered the room, trailed
by ten-year old twin girls. "I'm expecting a letter from Ke
Lun-chan."

"Uhhh . . ." Quickly Ukyou flipped through the thick
bundle. "Yeah, here you go. Whadaya know? Postmark
Thailand!"

"I got something from Shan P'u," Nabiki explained,
pulling the packing material out of the way to reveal the
contents. "They must be traveling together."

"Hey," Nabiki pulled a packet of pictures and a tissue
wrapped bundle from the box. My earrings!" she tore off the
tissue and held a Lucite sphere up against one ear. "What do
you think?"

"Is that - -" Ukyou looked a little green as he
contemplated the small lump of tissue in the center of the
globe.

"Yep. She even sent pictures," Nabiki flipped over a
poloroid of a very thin man, naked in a hospital bed except for
heavy bandages around his groin. "Gotta love Amazon
efficiency."

"Remind me never to get on your bad side," Ukyou
said, feeling an unavoidable pang of sympathy for Johnny
Peng.

"Believe me, you'll never have to worry about that."
Nabiki gave Ukyou a quick squeeze, wondering briefly if she
should try to get Ukyou into therapy. As always Nabiki
dismissed the thought. Other than a minor delusion that she
was a man, Ukyou was perfectly sane. Well, that and an
okonomoyaki fetish.

"Oh, how wonderful," Nodoka said excitedly after a
few moments of reading her letter. "Ke Lun and Mu Si had a
daughter. They sent a picture."

"Baby?" One of the little girls asked, looking over her
grandmother's shoulder.

"Yes Raikako, a baby." Nodaka answered, bending
down to show the snapshot. "Isn't she beautiful? She's got
her father's nose." Nabiki, leaning around to look over
Nadoka's shoulder, couldn't see it. To her all babies looked
like identical squashed clay figures until they were at least a
year old.

A few seconds later, Tenraiko chimed in. "School."

Nabiki shivered slightly, as she did each time the twins
got cryptic. Named Lighting and Thunder (because Akane
swore Raikako was born on a flash of lightning, while her
sister arrived just as the clap of thunder did) they were very
like their namesakes. The elder quick and silent, her sister
more deliberate, but _much_ more noticeable.

"Ummm . . .translation, please?" Of the family, only
Akane and Nodoka seemed to be able to translate the twins
monosyllabic utterances, the visible tip of some psychic
iceberg that connected the two. Ranma, of course, was
convinced that any child of his was automatically perfect and
probably didn't notice anything strange about his daughters.

"Rai-chan was asking about the baby, and wanting to
know if she could play with her." Nodoka answered, looking
puzzled as she always did, when asked such obvious
questions.

"Ten-chan pointed out that the baby was too young to
travel and wouldn't be much fun to play with now, anyway.
That it would be better to wait a few years until she's sent to
school over here. They could be big-sisters and show her
around."

"Ahhh . . .how stupid of me." Nabiki drawled, then
stiffened as Ten-chan gave her a measuring, narrow eyed
look. She leaned forward, staring the child in the eyes. "Listen
kid, you don't like my sarcasm. Tough! But anymore
livestock in my bed and I'll go have a talk with grandpa-
Genma."

Ten-chan's eyes widened at that, then narrowed. She
and her sister were smart, fast and talented. Granpa-G was
older than god, meaner than a weasel and had forgotten more
dirty tricks than the devil himself. This could be interesting.

Nabiki still despised Genma, but that just meant he
should make himself useful. "And if you push me, we'll have
a little chat with your mother." Nabiki added, smoothly.

The twins paled and seemed to shrink inside
themselves. Grandpa-G was a challenge. Like training with
their father. It could be exciting, dangerous, uncomfortable
with blood, bruises and broken bones. Their beloved mother
was something else entirely.

No one in the universe made them feel more loved,
and they knew she would defend them like a tigress if they
were in trouble. But, mama had an iron sense of honor and
duty. A samurai protected the weak. Practical jokes on their
father or Grandpa-G or Ke Lun (if they dared) might be
tolerated as a fair fight between equals.

Aunt-N didn't look like she saw the humor in the
situation, though. And Ukyou-kun had looked - - less than
pleased when Auntie had found the snake (really a very little
one) under her pillow. If mama decided it wasn't funny either.
If she thought they were being bullies . . .

They'd taken advantage of their phenomenal martial
arts abilities - - once.

He had been a bully and a bigot who didn't like
'gooks' or anyone with dark skin or talked a little funny.
Instead of leaving, when he ordered them out of his store,
they'd stayed and humiliated him simply _by_ staying.
Showing the entire neighbor hood he was too old, fat and
slow to catch two little 'gooks'.

The next day there was an article in the paper. About
a man who had hospitalized his wife and small son in a
drunken rage.

He had been a nasty man before he'd met the twins
and didn't need an excuse to beat his wife, papa told them.
And mama agreed.

That didn't change that _they_ had been bullies as
well. Raikako and Tenraiko hadn't acted to help someone
else, or even to defend themselves. They had humiliated the
man because they didn't like him.

Because it was fun.

Because they could.

Mama never yelled. She'd never laid a hand on them- -
outside of the doujou. She simply said she wasn't a very good
mother, kissed them each on the forehead, and walked out the
door.

Raikako and Tenraiko waited up for her the first night.
And, although Shunranko told them they might as well go to
bed, she stayed awake as well.

They'd cried themselves to sleep the second night. By
the third week, even papa was looking worried. Five weeks
later, gaunt, hollow eyed and filthy, but oddly serene looking,
mama limped back in the door.

Papa snapped something about a short-leash. Mama
laughed, kissed everyone, and lead the twins to the doujou.

There she made them practice a kata they'd never
seen before. Over and over she made them do it. Eight hours
a day, even skipping school, until on the fifth day - - Rai-chan
suddenly burst into tears. A moment later, Ten-chan started
sobbing uncontrollably as she understood.

Why what they had done had been wrong

How much worse it could have been.

And how much mama loved them.

Disappointing mama wasn't an option.

. . .Both twins bowed as one, very low, then turned
and left the room. Nabiki watched them go and wished she
could figure out how she'd gotten into a running feud with a
couple of middle schoolers.

"Dinner is almost - - oh, the mail?" Akane, youngest
daughter balanced on her hip, entered from the kitchen.
"Anything for me?"

"Hmmm. . . here's one. Seattle postmark."

Akane opened the proffered letter one handed and
began reading.

"Whatcha got?" Ranma asked, sauntering in from the
outside. There was a bruise along his right cheek and some
dried grass stuck out of his hair, like sprouting weeds.

"Letter from the Mariners." Akane glanced at her
husband. "Tiger Fights Swallow?"

"Left hook," Ranma corrected. "Shun-chan's getting
sneaky on her old man." He grinned, proud of his daughter.
"What do they want?" he asked, looking at the letter in
Akane's hand.

"Invitation to spring training." she wrinkled her nose
in confusion. "I'm kind of surprised they keep asking me
back."

"A woman slugger is a big draw," Nabiki interjected,
moving to look over Akane's shoulder. "And you're a pretty
decent pitcher as well."

"But I never broke .270 my last season," Akane
objected.

"You had a pretty good excuse for that," Ranma said,
ruffling his youngest daughter's hair, making her giggle.

"Yeah, and when your water broke as you rounded
third, ratings jumped sixty points." Nabiki hid a grin at
Akane's sour look. "More people tuned in to watch you give
birth in the dugout than watched the last episode of 'Friends'
It didn't hurt that you got a double your next turn at bat,
either."

"What?" Akane snorted indignantly, "Do they expect
me to get pregnant to draw a crowd?"

"It's not unreasonable," Ukyou replied, looking at the
baby on her hip. "All things considered."

"Four children in fifteen years is _not_ a lot!"

"Hmmmm . . ." Ranma suddenly whipped out a small
note-book and began scribbling. "Ya know . . .that might just
. . .maybe a magic glove or a . . ." he muttered to himself as
he wrote.

"What are you - - " Akane moved so she could see
what her husband was writing, having over the years learned
to read his scrawl, even upside down. "Oh no!" She objected
as she saw what he was writing. "Not on your life. You're not
turning _me_ into some stupid . . ."

Ranma ignored her and kept writing and mumbling to
himself.

"Darn it" Akane snapped, stomping her foot, "How
are we supposed to get our students to take the ryuu seriously
if you turn me into a comic book character?"

"I dunno," Nabiki said, moving to look over Ranma's
shoulder. "I think the idea of a base-ball player who's secretly
a magical princess is kinda cute." She bit her lip at Akane's
look of disgust. "The price you pay, being married to one of
the hottest fantasy and mystery writers around."

"You've never been turned into a Saturday morning
cartoon." Ukyou said in revulsion, giving Akane the only look
of sympathy in the room.

"But your action figure is so cuuuute," Nabiki cooed
in a saccharine voice. "Supernatural Ninja Boy, mild
mannered okonomoyaki chef by day, who uses the power of
the secret sauce to power up and fight evil by night with his
holy spatula!" Nabiki struck a pose and Ukyou stuck out his
tongue.

"Holy Spatula my ass!" Ukyou complained, "I can't
walk down the street without some kid wanting me to run up
the side of a building or shoot fire-balls from my 'holy
spatula' or . . ." he threw up his hands in disgust.

"What's going on?" Kasumi asked, entering from the
outside. "Kodachi will be in as soon as she parks the car."

"Neesama!" Akane cried in delight, throwing her arms
around her sister, breaking the embrace when the baby
protested being squashed. "I didn't think you'd be here until
tomorrow."

"Kodachi finished her exams early and I'd already
finished my rounds so we decided to come today."

"That's wonderful," Akane enthused. "How is
Kodachi-chan doing?"

"She had nightmares about her anatomy exam. But
everyone does. And she's number eighteen in her class."

"So, you and K-chan are going to set up practice
together when she graduates?" Nabiki asked interestedly.

"Something smells wonderful," Tendou Souun
remarked as he entered through the sliding doors that led into
the garden, followed by Genma. "Kasumi!" Rushing to his
eldest daughter he threw his arms around her. "When did you
get here? How long are you staying?"

"As soon as she finishes her residency," Kasumi
answered Nabiki's question. "Just now father. And we'll be
staying a week or so."


"Let's go sit down," Akane suggested, "and we can
talk over dinner." She started to lead the way to the dining
room that had been added after the twins were born. "I've got
a wonderful new recipe I've been dying to try out." Everyone
but Ranma and Genma froze in their tracks at her words. "A
glazed liver pudding with pineapple-trout sprinkles and
strawberry-bluecheese upside-down cake for dessert."

"Akane," Kasumi said faintly through teeth tightly
clenched against roiling nausea. "dear . . .that sounds . . .
lovely." Steeling herself, she decided to ask, once again, a
question Akane had never been willing to answer. "Where do
you get these . . .wonderful ideas? I want Kodachi to eat
healthier. "she lied hastily, hoping Kodachi would forgive
involving her in this horror.

"Ahhhh . . ." Akane seemed taken aback for a
moment, then came to a decision. No sacrifice was too great
for her big sister. Even . . . "she reached into an apron pocket
for The Book, smiling brightly at a sudden thought. "And
you can practice cooking while you're here. I'll help!"

"That's nice," Kasumi pasted a smile on her face,
fighting an urge to run screaming from the house.

"Here!" Proudly Akane thrust the book at Kasumi,
"I've memorized it," She added, dashing Kasumi's hopes of
'accidently' incinerating the book and saving the family
further agony. "So you can keep it as long as you like."

"Dr. Genmov's - - " Kasumi read the luridly coloured
title page.

"Guide to the Mystic Secrets of Universal Nutrition,"
Genma said in an astonished voice. "Providing the blessings of
Perfect Health and Well Being - - "

" - - Being a completely natural cure for Ileitis, Colitis
and Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Strengthening the Heart,
Invigorating the Blood, Cleansing the Lungs of Phlegm and
promoting General Well Being!" Akane chorused along with
him. "Have you read it too?" she asked in surprise.

"Read it? Why I wrote it!" Genma boasted, his
normally supernatural ability to sense danger for once failing
to note three pair of eyes locking onto him like a battery of
artillery ranging for Time-on-Target fire.

"Ahhhh, those were the days," he reminisced. "I was
in rare form . . ."

"Akane," Souun took his daughter by the arm and
ushered her through the door, "why don't you go check on
your," he gagged slightly on the word, "meal. Take Ranma
with you to set the table." Locking the door behind them he
turned back to his 'old friend'.

" . . . but how was I to know that such a simple
substitution of local ingredients would cause explosive
flatulence and hallucinations. And if not for a minor incident
of spontaneous combustion with a tofu-carob flambeaux in
Malaysia . . . errrrr . . . is something wrong?" Genma asked,
feeling unaccountably nervous as he watched Kasumi drop the
locking bar across the outside doors, while Nabiki cracked her
knuckles, eyeing him like a starving weasel looks at a baby
chick.

On the other side of the door, Akane was humming a
merry tune as she put a marshmallow-oyster dressing on the
pickled-pork-blueberry salad while the baby played with a
plush-pig toy on the floor. Suddenly, a piercing scream rent
the air, a high wavering howl of unbearable agony that
abruptly cut off. In the sudden silence, Akane turned to
Ranma, hands fisted on hips.

"Tendou Ranma! I told you I didn't want Shunranko
helping geld the cattle anymore. It's unladylike."

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END



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