Chapter: 19


"What part of _watch, only_ was not clear to you?"

"I thought I could get in . . . and search the house. No
one was supposed to be home."

"Don't try to think, you're not equipped for it." Cool
fingers gently probed a massive bruise. "Next time, try finding
more reliable minions. They should at least not run _faster_
than their employer."

A pitiful moan from the figure on the bed was the only
answer.

"Drink this." the proffered glass was accepted by a
pallid and shaking hand, the contents downed quickly.

"Tastes . . .awful! What . . . is it?"

"You don't want to know," a brief examination
showed the patients gums and nail-beds were pale. "You're
bleeding inside. Why weren't you wearing your armor?"

"I . . .was."

"Ahhhh," clever fingers examined a battered titanium
breast-plate that was cracked down the center. "Breaking-
Point Technique? Then the wild horse _was_ there."

"No-----Girl. Youngest daughter . . . weeping-man.
Used . . .Dragon's Breath . . .cover . . . escape."

"Imbecile. Bad enough to frighten the elder daughter,
you must also injure the youngest? We need allies, not
enemies."

"Panicked. Thought she . . .kill me."

"If the bleeding doesn't stop, she may yet succeed."
Another check of gums and nail-bed. "If it hasn't stopped in
another quarter-hour, we go to the embassy. They have a
surgeon."

"Elders . . . will not . . . be pleased."

"The elders," pillows were plumped to make the
patient more comfortable. " won't have to tell your mother
that they let her baby bleed to death in the land of Wa."

"Failed . . .you." Bitter self-loathing filled the voice.
"Better . . .I die . . . roll me into . . . ditch . . . eaten by dogs."

"What do you have against dogs?" A check of pulse
and meridians seemed less than reassuring. "I'm calling the
embassy. They'll send a car for us." the patient was
frighteningly pale, covered in a cold sweat.

"I will die . . .wipe out . . . my shame."

"You are not an idiot Japanese to do such a thing," A
slender hand cuffed the patient lightly on the head. "Besides,
you do not have my permission to die. I order you to get strong
and healthy so that I may beat you properly, as you deserve,
for being such an idiot."

*****

"I'm not a baby. I can stay home by myself."

"Don't be silly," Nabiki was rapidly losing patience.
"You can't even go to the bathroom by yourself. You can't
possibly stay at home alone."

"I'll stay with her."

Nabiki snapped around at the unexpected interruption
to see Ranko peeking around the door. "Thank you for your
offer," she said coolly, "but I can take care of my sister," she
stressed the possessive, trying to put some distance between
this relative stranger and her sister.

"I don't need either of you," the heavily bandaged
figure in the middle of Akane's bed snapped. She might have
been more believable if her arms and upper chest hadn't been
encased in heavy bandages. Another, lighter set, wound
around her eyes. Here and there, exposed patches of skin were
marred by angry red blotches of inflamed tissue. "So just go on
to school."

"How many fingers am I holding up?" Ranko asked
mildly.

Akane's body stiffened, but she remained silent.

"We don't need your help." Nabiki began, starting to
get angry.

Ranko flopped down on the bed, beside Akane,
watching as Nabiki's color deepened to a rich puce.

"Get----away----from----my----sister!"

"What's going on?" Akane twisted blindly, from one
voice to the other.

"You're sister doesn't trust me," Ranko grinned at
Nabiki, "she think's I have designs on your virtue."

Nabiki seemed to swell to twice her normal size and
onna-Ranma wondered if a person could really explode from
anger.

"Huh?"

"She's afraid that if she's leaves me alone with you,
that the site of all this exposed flesh," Ranko's finger traced
the air over a particularly irritated splotch, red, scaly with
some burst pustules leaking clear fluid. "and seductive
lingerie," onna-Ranma rubbed a fold of Akane's comfortable,
but old and ratty sweats between two fingers, "will drive me
mad with lust."

Ranko's look of wide eyed innocence forced a
surprised bark of laughter from Nabiki.

"What are you talking about?" Akane was beginning
to sound peeved.

"Nothing," Nabiki said quickly. "Ranko and I need to
talk about a few things."

"What things?"

"Getting you your homework, for one." She grabbed
Ranko by the hand. "C'm on. We can talk downstairs while I
get Akane's breakfast ready."

"I can fix my own breakfast!"

"Oh, be quiet and let Nabiki-san fix your damn
breakfast!" Ranko snapped, pulling out of Nabiki's grip.
"maybe a nice bowl of ground glass and barbed-wire will keep
you from whining."

"I am _not_ whining." Akane retorted, but she settled
back against her pillows.

"Back in a minute," Ranko turned and walked out the
door, leaving Nabiki scurrying to catch up.

"What are you _doing_?" Nabiki hissed, discovering
Ranko in the kitchen lighting a burner on the stove.

"Fixing breakfast," she set a pot of water to boiling.
"Where do you keep the-----" opening the refrigerator she
started rooting around inside. "-----never mind.".

"Akane doesn't like nori for breakfast,"Nabiki said
smugly, as Ranko emerged with a box of kelp.

"Good flavor on the miso," Ranko dipped a finger into
a clay bowl she'd grabbed along with the nori. "You make it
yourself?" She smiled at Nabiki's bemused nod. "Get the best
flavor that way."

Nabiki shook off her stupor and took an angry step
toward the little redhead. "Look," she tried to use her superior
height to intimidate the smaller girl. "you can't just waltz in
here and take over . Why do _you_ want to take care of
Akane?"

"There's a practice exam today," Ranko grinned, "but
if I'm taking care of a sick friend, I don't have to take it."

"Is that the only reason?" Nabiki asked, somewhat
mollified by the fact she'd used the same excuse herself to get
out of tests. As Ranko knew from 'girl talk' shared with
Akane.

*Never tell a lie, boy* Genma beat into him. *You'll
always get caught.*

"You've found me out," Ranko started a salmon steak
grilling, checking on the rice at the same time. "This is all a
plot, so that I can steal this," she waved an expansive hand,
"magnificent castle and all your land and wealth."she pulled
pickles, spinach and eggs from the refrigerator. "And it all
started with the 'puppy'." She flipped the salmon on the grill
and seasoned it lightly. "and ended with those guys the other
day." Checking the rice she found it nice and sticky. Putting it
in a bowl, she cracked a raw egg over it and added spinach
and some pickle.

"Everything that I've done-----" Ranko started
arranging things on a tray, making minor adjustments so there
was a balance of color and texture.

*Just tell the 'truth'*

"---- has been a big lie."

*that helps you most.*


"She won't eat any of that." Nabiki followed Ranko
up the stairs, trying not to be aggravated at Ranko's sarcasm,
yet oddly reassured because a really bad person wouldn't be
so flippant.


"Won't eat what?" Akane said surlily from where she
lay propped in bed. "I don't want it," she barked, catching the
scents from the tray in Ranko's hands. "I'm not hungry."

"Did I ask for your opinion," Ranko plopped down
beside Akane on the bed. "Open up," she grabbed some rice
and nori with chopsticks.

"I don't want it," She repeated and Nabiki smiled in
triumph.

"Tough!" Ranko snapped. "Taking care of you is my
ticket out of a practice test. So you're going to eat this if I
have to suff it in your ear."

Nabiki felt her face go slack as Akane obediently
opened her mouth and allowed Ranko to feed her a bite.

"Yuck! I hate nori for breakfast."

"Well, I like it," Ranko answered, "And since I'm
cooking, you eat what I like. Now, shut up and chew so I can
go eat my own breakfast." She grabbed a bit of salmon and
held it in front of Akane's mouth. "Open," the salmon went in.
"Chew. Big hulking brute like you-----Open . . . Chew-----I'm
probably going to starve to death."

In remarkably short order the bowls were cleaned,
Ranko wiped Akane's mouth with rough gentleness and
gathered up the tray. "I'll be back later. Try to stay out of
trouble."

"How the . . .how did you do that?" Nabiki asked in
the kitchen as they shared cleaning duty. "It took Kasumi and
me an hour to get her to take a single bite last night, and then
she threw the tray at us!"

"Akane likes hot peppers." Ranko replied, "rinsing a
bowl and putting it on the drying rack.

"There weren't any peppers in this." Nabiki said,
puzzled.

"Nope." Ranko finished the last bowl and turned to
Nabiki drying her hands. "So, do I have to take my practice
test, or not?"

Nabiki looked at the clock, dithering for the first time
in a long while. "If you can get her to eat nori for breakfast, I
guess you'd better stay." She grabbed her book bag and
headed for the door. "Call me or Kasumi if there's any
problem. The numbers are on the message board."

*****

"I really hate to ask you to do this," Kasumi fretted as
Ranko helped her on with her coat, three days later "But
Nabiki is at cram school and my chemistry professor wants to
talk to me about my mid-term project."

"No problem." Ranko assured her, handing Kasumi
her briefcase.

"I wish you'd let me pay-----"

"We've had this talk before," Ranko interrupted,
wrinkling her nose in the disarmingly-adorable way she'd
perfected in front of the mirror over the last several weeks.
"you're letting me stay here while my father is gone. So the
least I can do is help out."

"If you're sure-----"

"GO!" Laughingly Ranko pushed Kasumi out the
door and locked it behind her. As soon as the lock clicked in
place her open laughing countenance disappeared like water
down the drain, leaving a more calculating expression in it's
place.

Things were going even better than he'd dared hope.
Ranko had access to a mostly female family that Ranma could
never have hoped for. Kasumi trusted him, Nabiki was coming
around and Akane . . . he re-entered the family room and
quietly watched her sitting and listening to the newly replaced
TV. Blind and almost helpless Akane was slowly, almost
imperceptibly coming under his control. It was exactly like
pop had taught him you trained a hawk or other wild animal,
he thought, moving to stand behind her.

*Blind her eyes,* Onna-Ranma thought looking at the
bandages wound around her head *an' th' meanest junkyard
dog'll be docile and submissive." He lay a caressing hand
along her cheek.

"KiiiiiiYAAAAA!"

The reverse-knuckle strike hit Ranko in the temple
like a pile-driver.

"Owieeee." she whimpered, sliding down the wall.

"Ranko?" Akane began to blindly crawl along the
floor." Ranko? Is that you?"

"I like okonomiyaki best of all, pop." Onna-Ranma
muttered.

"What?" Akane followed the sound, feeling around
until she found a warm lump on the floor. "Ranko, are you
Ok?"

"Uhhhhh . . ." Ranko groaned, feeling as if the Red
Army Band were folk dancing behind her eyeballs.

"You shouldn't sneak up on a martial artist like that."
Akane said, scooping Ranko awkwardly into her bandaged
arms. She stood, pausing to think about what to do next.

"Bathroom," Ranko whispered, wincing from the pain
the effort caused.

"Wouldn't you like some ice from the kitchen?"

"Bathroom," Ranko repeated. "Throw up first. Then
bath."

"You navigate," Akane said, turning in the general
direction of the bathroom. "I don't think you should be
exerting yourself with a bath, though."

"Not me, you." Ranko said faintly, wrinkling her nose
at the smell, instantly regretting the move as it felt as if her
face was going to fall off. "You stink."

"You need to learn to be more careful around Martial
Artists. If I hadn't pulled my blow," Akane slowly shuffled
toward the bathroom under Ranko's direction. " you could
have gotten hurt."

*Dammit Pop,* onna-Ranma thought, laying limply in
Akane's arms. *What th' hell happened to your sure-fire,
never-fail, lost for centuries secret Tame-the-Wild-Badger-
New-Bride technique?*

*Heh, Sorry boy," he could hear Genma as clearly as
if he were in the same room. "I guess I should have read the
entire scroll.*

*****

"I feel a lot better," Akane said from the side of the
furo, "you ought to soak for a while too. You'll feel like a
new woman."

*I'd feel like a new something.* Onna-Ranma
suppressed a manic giggle at the thought. "That's Ok, I'll soak
later." Even with Akane's eyes still bandaged, Ranma was still
nervous around all this hot water. Ever since he'd fallen into
the cursed pool, he sometimes felt as if water was alive.

"If you're sure." Akane sighed, sinking deeper into the
steaming depths of the furo.

"Watch those bandages," Ranko snapped, grabbing for
Akane's arm as it started to submerge.

Unfortunately, he missed and plunged his arm into the
steaming water past the elbow, triggering the change back to
male. "Gaaa!"Bug-eyed he stared at his now masculine arm,
then at Akane, convinced she could see clearly through the
thick bandage.

"A . . .are you alright?" Akane started to grope blindly
around the edge of the furro, "You sound strange."Ranma
shook off his paralysis as Akane's blind groping just brushed
his transformed arm and made a leap for the washing stand.

"I just----" Ranma's baritone changed abruptly "I
thought I heard something," to soprano under a spray of cold
water. "I'll be right back."

Dashing out of the bath-room Ranko took a
shuddering breath, pressing a hand to her thundering heart.
That had been close-----her head snapped up as she heard a
noise from upstairs.

*What . . .?* She started for the stairs, just as a pimply-
faced boy in a baggy pinstriped suit stuck his head out of the
kitchen.
"Psssst . . .Kenji!" he whispered harshly, "have you
finished yet?"

*Ah, crap.* What are you little piss-ants doin' here?*
Ranko groaned.

"Get her!" A voice called. From _behind_ her.

Ranko rubbed the bridge of her nose, feeling a
headache coming on, as two Seiki-Juka rushed her from
behind. Twisting fractionally she lowered her hips and the two
young thugs stumbled past, falling to the ground.

She needed a cup of coffee.

Suiting thought to deed she changed direction toward
the kitchen. "Scuse me," she nodded politely to the pimply boy
and edged past him into the kitchen, where three more boys
were enthusiastically pulling apart the shelves and tossing the
contents on the floor.

*I _just_ cleaned in here!* Ranko bent to pick up a
broken bag of flower as the three lunged for her. Their heads
met with a sound like ripe melons and they collapsed,
groaning. *Now where . . .* she rummaged through the debris,
triumphantly producing a tin marked 'Coffee', then started
looking for the pot.

"What th' hell is goin' on in-----"

"They heard us chief!" Pimply-faced stuttered.

"Akane can't see and this one's no fighter." The
'chief' assured him.

"We've got to get out of here!" Pimply-faced was in a
panic.

"Not 'till we finish."

Ranko glanced over her shoulder to see a chunky,
surly-faced boy in a suit that actually fit, berating Pimply-
faced. She turned on the tap and started filling the pot.

"Hey you!"

Startled by his sudden shout, Ranko spun around,
'forgetting' she held the heavy pot in her hand. Chunky-boy
dropped like a pole-axed cow.

"Ooops."

Carefully measuring out the coffee, she filled the pot
and set it on the stove, then started to straighten up. She'd just
found the broom, where it had been thrown in the corner, when
suddenly the kitchen was filled with a horde of pinstripe-suited
thug-wannabe's.

"What did you do to the chief?!" A wannabe yelled,
striking at Ranko with something that looked vaguely like a
Karate front-knuckle-fist. Ranko appeared mildly puzzled as
he broke his hand on the bamboo broom that she was holding.

"Gotcha!" A heavy hand came down on her shoulder,
spinning her around. Unfortunately the end of her broom
slashed across the face of a boy coming up behind her.

"Are you alright?" Ranko turned toward the sound of
his scream, as the boy holding her somehow lost his grip.
Moving to help the boy who was holding his hands to his face,
she shifted the broom out of the way, accidently driving the
end into the diaphragm of the boy who had been holding her
and he fell to the ground, whooping for breath.

Moving the blinded boy toward a chair, he somehow
stumbled in the way of two boys who where just rushing into
the kitchen and they all tumbled to the ground.

"I'm so sorry," Ranko apologized to a green faced boy
who'd broken her fall with his groin. "Are you alright?"
Pulling herself up by grabbing the edge of the table, she
inadvertently tipped the table and it's contents onto the
groaning tangle of bodies, who were abruptly quieted.

"Ranko!"

She looked longingly at the coffee which had just
started to perk.

"Ranko? Is everything alright?"

"Pardon me." Ranko edged past Pimply-face who was
frozen in the doorway. In the family room were four more
Seiki-Juka.

*Damn, just like cockroaches.*

"Ranko, what's going on. Who's here?" Akane stood
dripping water on the floor, heavily bandaged head turning
slowly back and forth.

Ranko watched a trickle of water run down the deep
cleft made by massive pectoral muscles, divide and join
several times as it wound around the cobblestones of her belly
toward-----

There was a tiny gasp from a boy standing to her right
and Akane turned heavily toward the sound, the muscles in her
back flexing like corded steel as she brought her bandaged
arms up in a guard position.

"Who's there!" Her voice held a bark of challenge and
Ranko was mesmerized by the sight of muscles and tendons
writhing like giant steel cables as she settled into a ready
stance. "I'm starting to get mad." Akane took a step forward,
the hard hemispheres of her buttocks softening and tightening
as she moved, tiny diamonds of water glistening on her skin.

Ranko shook off her paralysis as one of the boys
groaned, the sound cutting off abruptly as the redhead drove a
hard fist into his temple. "Pervert!"

That broke the spell, and the boy closest to Akane
leapt on her from behind, wrapping his arm around her neck in
a full-nelson.

"Don't move, or I'll break her-----" Akane shrugged
irritably, tearing the boy lose from his hold and flinging him
against the wall.

"Ranko, what's ------owww!" She awkwardly raised a
bandaged hand to rub at her head. "That wasn't nice," she
complained mildly, while one of the Seiki-Juka stared blankly
at the splintered bamboo staff in his hand.

"Just some friends of Kuno," Ranko replied, kicking
the staff wielding idiot between the legs from behind, then
again in the side of the head as he fell.

"Senpai?" Akane sounded puzzled. "What do they
want?"

"I think they wanted to surprise you by cleaning up,"
the pimply-faced boy nodded vigorously, "and restocking the
kitchen," Pimply-faced was about to give himself whiplash.
He couldn't agree fast enough.

"C'mon," Ranko took Akane by the arm and lead her
toward the bathroom. "Back in the furo before you get a
chill."

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

1