Chapter: 11


"I'm home!" Nabiki called, toeing off her shoes. She
waited for Ranko to follow suite, then pulled her along after
her.

"We're in here," Kasumi called from the kitchen.

"What's for----what the hell have you done now?"
Nabiki dropped her book-bag, moving quickly to Akane's
side.

"Nothing!" Akane groused, trying to get up from her
chair. "Nee-sama is overreacting again."

"She was up _all_ night working out in the doujou!"
Her older sister disagreed. "Then she _ran_ to school this
morning. I found her dragging herself home from school."

"I was not----would you cut that out!" She tried to bat
Nabiki's hands away as her middle sister came toward her
with a thermometer. "There's nothing wrong myth my tlmptr."
she mumbled around the plastic probe.

"Leave it there," Nabiki slapped Akane's hand as she
reached for the offending instrument, "or I'll stick it
someplace else." Akane glared at her, but let her hands fall
back into her lap.

"I'm about ready here, if you want to help." Kasumi
said, setting a small cardboard box and some tweezers on a
counter top.

"Uhhhh . . .what's going on?" Ranko asked, sidling
into the room. Peering around the two elder Tendo sisters she
got a good look at Akane, seated with her leg stretched across
a couple of stools. She grimaced at the sight of Akane's
distorted, lumpy knee, swollen to twice it's normal size.

"Nothing is going on," Akane groused, pulling the
thermometer from her mouth as it beeped. "I'm fine."
Glancing at the reading she handed it to her sister. "Normal!
What are you doing here?" She smiled at Ranko and started to
get up, to be pushed firmly back down by Kasumi and Nabiki.

"She ran into a little trouble with Ukyo, so I brought
her home so I could ask her a few questions about Ranma and
Uncle Genma."

"Ukyo!" Akane swung her leg off the stools, and
Ranko could see her face whiten with strain. No matter what
Akane might say . . .she wasn't fine.

"Nabiki took care of everything," Ranko said,
catching Akane's leg before it could hit the ground and gently
replacing it on the cushions. Nabiki looked at her gratefully
and Ranko smirked a little inside. One more in the plus
column.

"Just sit still," Kasumi said firmly. To Nabiki, "I'm
ready with the first one."

Ranko looked around to see Kasumi pull a small
wriggling object from the box.

"How many this time?" Nabiki asked, looking at the
distorted flesh of Akane's knee.

"Let's try six to start." Kasumi started to press the
wiggling thing to Akane's skin and Ranko's hand shot out to
capture her wrist.

"That's a _bee_!"

"Yep," Akane said sourly, reaching out to gently
remove Ranko's grip. "And they're about to give me the bee's-
knees."

Nabiki groaned. "Puns are a sign of a low And corrupt
mind."

Akane stuck her tongue out, face tightening slightly as
the first stinger went home.

"Supposedly bee venom is good for reducing swelling
And inflammation," Akane explained at Ranko's confused look.
"But I think they're just sadists."

"That's true," Kasumi said cheerfully, pressing home
another bee. "I'm the happiest sadist around."

Nabiki looked at her sister in shock, before burying
her face in her hands. "I don't know you. We're not related."

"It's that awful Ranma's fault," Kasumi said with, for
her, a great deal of heat. Ranko blinked in astonishment.
*Awful?* What had _Ranma_ done?

"He showed you that dreadful trick," Kasumi
continued. "And now you're crip----in pain," she corrected
hastily. Akane shot her a darkling look, but decided to let it
pass. This time.

"Why don't you stick to swimming," Nabiki asked,
"just for a little while," she added hastily as Akane's face
darkened. "Until your knee gets better."

"I've always admired people who can work through
pain," Ranko said offhandedly. She placed her hands on either
side of Akane's leg to stabilize it as Kasumi smiled her thanks
And applied a fresh bee. "I cry if I get a paper cut," Ranko
cheerfully lied. "And I've always been afraid of crippling
myself," she pretended not to notice how Kasumi And Nabiki
stiffened at her use of the "C" word. She gave Akane a
lopsided grin, "I always figured pain was natures way of
telling me I'd done something stupid."

"Are you saying I'm stupid? Or that I'm crippled?"
Akane said softly, not noticing as Kasumi applied the fifth And
sixth bee to her flesh.

"Me?" Ranko said, all innocence. "I was only talking
about myself."

"I don't like people trying to use reverse psychology
on me," Akane said, nostrils flaring. "Dad And Nabiki And
Kasumi are always trying that stuff."

"Don't worry about me," Ranko replied cheerfully, "I
don't know you well enough to care."

Nabiki sucked in her breath And she And Kasumi both
braced for an explosion.

"Are you trying to psyche me out?" Akane asked, eyes
narrowing.

"Nope," Ranko brushed dead And dying bees into the
trash. "It's none of my business what you do to yourself." She
rose to her feet, smoothing out the wrinkles in her dress.
"Maybe you like all the attention." Akane went absolutely
rigid at that, knuckles turning white. "Or maybe you just like
pain."

Nabiki closed her eyes, not wanting to see what came
next. After a moment, when little Ranko-pieces didn't go splat
all over the kitchen, she opened them again.

Akane had her head in her hands, her whole body
shaking.

*Oh shit!* Nabiki felt the blood drain from her body.
*Anaphylactic shock!* "Where's the kit?" She lunged for the
refrigerator, only to be brought up short by a hand on her
dress.

"Y . . .you s . . .see what I have to put up with," Akane
gasped, "if I sneeze, they want me under observation for
pneumonia."

She was laughing? Nabiki sank into a chair. She was
laughing.

"I'm glad you think it's funny," Kasumi said, a little
hurt. "It's just that you were so sick as a baby."

"I'm not a baby," Akane said crossly, "And I'm _not_
sick, now." Her look dared anyone to disagree with her.
"Now, what's all this about Ukyo?"

"He didn't go to Hokkaido" Nabiki started to explain,
"but showed up at school. And during lunch . . ."

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

"I'm going to have a little talk with Ukyo," Akane's
lips thinned And something dangerous shivered in her voice,
as Nabiki finished her story. "I don't think he's being very
friendly."

"No!" Nabiki grabbed for Akane, as if she actually
had a chance of stopping her. "I took care of it already."

"And what about when you don't have a minion with a
camera handy?" Akane demanded.

"Minion? Who do you think I am---- Dark Joker?"

"Well . . ." Akane relaxed fractionally, shooting a
mischievous look at Kasumi.

"I am _not_ Nurse Angel," Kasumi sniffed. "I've
always considered myself Fancy La La." She glanced slyly at
Akane, "And you're the Tonde Buurin type."

"Oink," Akane stuck her tongue out at her sister.
"Don't think I've forgotten about Ukyo," she glared at
Nabiki.

"I've got him stymied," Nabiki assured her sister. "If
he touches me, he's going to be in a world of hurt."

"If he touches you, you're going to be in the hospital,"
Akane countered, "drinking your dinner through a straw."

"He wouldn't dare----"

"I'm sure that will be a great comfort to us while
they're putting you back together with stainless steel pins."
Kasumi said heatedly.

"Kasumi!" Nabiki looked at her normally unflappable
sister in shock.

"It's bad enough that Akane fights _full contact_",
Kasumi said, in the tone usually reserved to describe a
prostitute or advertising executive, "I don't want _you_
getting into a brawl with a common thug. I think I should call
his mother."

"Kasumi!" Nabiki wailed And Akane gave her a 'now-
you-see-what-I-have-to-put-up-with' look. "I can take care of
myself. Besides, he's only got a post office box listed for his
address. And _no_ telephone," she ended triumphantly.

"Well then," Kasumi said thoughtfully. "I'll call the
principle and tell him you've been having trouble with a
bully."

"I'll be ruined!" Nabiki cringed at the loss of face if
Kasumi called the principle----as if she were a baby!

"Hmmmm . . ." Akane mused, "You've got a point,
Nee-sama," Nabiki looked betrayed. "I think we should also
call the Velvet Thunder----"

"Samurai-Kamen,"Nabiki corrected, a look of unholy
anticipation on her face as she realized what Akane was doing.

"Thanks . . .call Samurai-Kamen and let her know her
'Angel-of-the-Morning' needs protection from a real live
_Villain_." Akane finished in thrilling tones.

"You wouldn't," Kasumi looked horrified. "I'll never
get rid of her . . ." She turned a pleading look on Nabiki. "She
thought my anatomy professor was a necromancer trying to
steal my soul----" she shuddered in memory, "she challenged
him to a duel----" her voice became a wail," she rode a horse
onto campus and pinned his Volvo to the side of the
administration building with a LANCE!"

"At least he wasn't in the car," Nabiki said in mock
sympathy. Kasumi speared her with a look. "was he?" the
middle Tendo ended weakly.

"He's still on sabbatical . . .for his nerves." Kasumi
turned pleading look on Akane and Nabiki. "You wouldn't
_really_ tell her, would you?"

"Just promise to ride with her to campus every day,"
Kasumi looked as if she'd rather eat tacks, "so we'll know
_you_ are safe," Akane continued remorselessly, "and we
won't have to mention . . .Villains or evil magicians or
Quests."

"I hate you," Kasumi said gloomily, thinking of the
hours and hours of _bad_ poetry she was going to suffer
through. "What about you two?" she said suddenly, looking
between Nabiki and Akane.

"I hate to do it," Nabiki said slowly, "but I _think_
I'm going to have to let Kuno, father and son, know there may
be an . . . un-Japanese element trying to infiltrate the hallowed
halls of Fuurinkan." She looked as if she tasted something
nasty.

"Oh no," Akane objected, "I'm not going to let anyone
fight my battles. And I'm _especially_ not going to let----"

"It's not just _your_ battle," Kasumi said with
unconscious cruelty. "Nabiki was threatened," she looked over
Akane's shoulder. "and Ranko-chan, and Ranma. And what
about father? Can you protect all of us? All the time?"

Onna-Ranma opened her mouth to mention Genma,
then thought better of it.

"No," Akane said, almost inaudibly. "No, I can't." Her
shoulders slumped and her face was grey, as if she'd taken a
body blow. "I . . .I think I'll go lie down in my room."

"That's a good idea," Kasumi smiled. "You'll feel
better after a nap."

*Crap* Onna-Ranma hid his amazement as he looked
from Kasumi's smiling face to Nabiki's oblivious expression.
Don't they know what they've done? He could _feel_
Akane's misery as she struggled to her feet, could feel her
flinch from Nabiki's helping hands. *Don't they know she'd
rather be dead than useless?*

"Why don't I call your father to come pick you up," he
was so stunned by their blindness that he missed Kasumi's
first offer.

"What . . .oh," Onna-Ranma laughed a little
nervously. "Oh, that's alright. You don't need to go to any
trouble. I can----"

"It's no trouble," Kasumi went to the phone and
prepared to dial.

"No, no," Onna-Ranma insisted. "I'll just head on
home now."

"Don't be silly," Kasumi fixed him with a motherly
eye. "You can't go out by yourself with that awful Ukyo-kun
out there. Now, tell me your number and I'll have your father
come get you."

"He's not here," Ranko said desperately, "He's away
on business."

"Your mother, then," Kasumi said patiently.

"She's dead," Ranko blurted, then coloured in
embarrassment. "It happened a really long time ago," she said
quickly, trying to cover Kasumi's shock. "I don't really
remember her." *Only pop's stories* he thought, stomping
firmly on the anger he always felt at the woman who had hurt
his father so bad and driven him to hide in a bottle.

"We'll get you a taxi, then," Nabiki said quickly,
feeling Akane stiffen beneath her supporting hand. "I'll just
call----"

"You can stay here, until your father gets back."
Akane shrugged off Nabiki's hands.

"We don't have room," Nabiki countered, knowing
where this was headed. Akane breathed, ate and lived 'martial
artists protect the weak'---- to the extent that Nabiki had
'stolen' most of Akane's stuff, just to keep her from giving it
away to anybody with a sob-story. "Ranma and Genma have
the only guest room."

"They're not here right now." Akane replied.

"But they would be hurt," Kasumi replied, "if they
returned to find we'd given their room away." Although she
wouldn't mind too much if 'Uncle' Genma never came back.
She couldn't understand what her father saw in the man. She
got a funny feeling around him . . .like an itch she couldn't
quite scratch.

"She can stay in my room," Akane said with finality.
"We've got a spare futon."

It was not having a mother that clinched it, Nabiki
thought. *Akane never got over mother dying. Well I didn't
either.* She felt the old hurt that had never quite healed. *But
you can't go around adopting everyone in the world that
doesn't have a mother.*

"C'mon," Akane grabbed her cane from where it was
leaning against the wall, "I'll show you the bathroom and
everything . . . you can wear one of my uniforms in the
morning," she looked Ranko up and down. "I'm taller . . .but
you're better built," she grinned at Ranko's blush. "So it
should fit."

"I'll set an extra place at dinner," Kasumi sighed,
knowing that trying to pry the motherless Ranko out of
Akane's hands would be like trying to rob a cat with one
kitten. "Nabiki," the middle Tendou looked at her elder sister,
"will you look for the futon? And I'll tell Father we have a
guest when he gets home from the neighborhood meeting."

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

1