Chapter: 3



"Ahhh . . .Ranma m'boy," Genma panted a little as
he was dragged in his son's wake, "don't you think we should
slow down a little?"

"I don' like th' look of those clouds," he jerked a
thumb in the direction of some heavy low-hanging gray
clouds. "I wanna get under cover."

"Well then," Genma huffed, "why don't we repair to
a shelter closer to hand." He pointed his free hand toward a
row of small shops lining the street.

Ranma glanced in that direction and repressed a sigh
as he spied a brew-pub and wondered again at his father's
almost mystical ability to find ji-biru or ji-sake in the middle
of a wasteland. Genma had once located a half-liter of
fermented mares-milk in the possession of a goat-herd, in the
middle of a snowstorm, halfway between hell and nowhere
as they were slogging through Kazakstan, looking for the
Hidden-Masters of the Swallow-fights-Tiger style.

"We ain't stoppin' 'til we reach th' Tendo's."
Ranma groused, tightening his grip on his father's arm. The
Tokyo bar scene affected Genma like chumming for sharks,
except a shark had better table manners.

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

Kasumi tried to repress a guilty little tingle of
pleasure. When father's old friend and son had shown up out
of nowhere, she had been prepared to be polite, nothing more.
Despite her father's apparent hopes, she really preferred
_older_ men. But Ranma was so _yummy_ looking . . .

"Please, Ranma-san . . .have another shrimp,"
Kasumi deftly took a particularly succulent specimen
between her chopsticks and offered it to the young martial
artist sitting on her right.

"Oh, no I couldn', Kasumi-sama." Ranma replied,
smiling.

Kasumi turned a delicate pink under the force of
Ranma's devastating smile. "You don't have to be so formal,
Ranma-san. And the shrimp is really very good; please take
some."

"Then, you gotta' call me Ranma . . .Kasumi-chan,"
the young martial artist turned his smile up a notch with
practiced ease, noting how Kasumi's color deepened.

"Have some of this steamed-custard," Nabiki offered,
a little breathlessly. She'd never _seen_ such a gorgeous boy
in her life. And his careless speech and style of dress, so
different from all the Fuurinkan _boys_, gave him a slightly
dangerous edge that she found a little exciting.

"I _really_ couldn' eat anymore," Ranma protested
with a grin. "Or, at least I shouldn'."


"Ah, Tendo my old friend," Genma sighed from his
place beside the Saotome patriarch, "you are indeed a lucky
man to have two such lovely and accomplished daughters."

"Ummm . . .friend Saotome, I have _three_ lovely
and accomplished daughters," Soun corrected.

"What . . ." Genma was on top of the world. Good
food, old friends . . .he took a deep, refreshing draft, from his
mug . . .cold sake . . . He ignored the angry looks Ranma was
shooting him, when no-one else could see. The unnatural boy
had missed a couple of bottles from his emergency stash and
Genma was enjoying the moment while he could.

" . . .oh, yes, of course. Three daughters." He
dismissed the shadow sitting behind Soun, (like a retainer in a
samurai movie, came the unbidden thought), from his mind
and held out his bottle to his old friend. "But this is a
celebration . . .the uniting of our two schools. Drink with
me!"

The atmosphere in the room changed abruptly,
becoming brittle as glass.

"Oh . . .I don't think Father wants any," Kasumi
offered softly.

"Yeah," Nabiki half rose from where she was sitting,
"it doesn't agree with him."

Ranma cursed softly to himself. Things had been
going pretty good up to now. This really _was_ a plush
layout, with lots of cash potential and he had the two girls
eating out of his hand. A few weeks, that was all it would
take, and then they could take the money and run for China.
Although Australia would be better for Genma. He didn't
_think_ the old man had any outstanding warrants there, and
he could catch up after he took care of his problem. Just a
few weeks, and the old-man was about to blow it, because he
couldn't stay away from the booze.

"Nonsense," Genma disagreed heartily. "Sake is the
water of life. It fires the blood, quickens the eye, makes glad
a sad heart----" he grabbed Soun's cup and tossed the tea over
his shoulder into the yard. "It honors the spirits . . ." he
poured a generous splash into the now empty container. "You
wouldn't want to anger the spirits----" he laughed, a little too
loudly, at his own joke.

"Father," Kasumi said softly, "You don't really want
any, do you?"

"No . . .no of course not," Soun replied, looking
longingly at the proffered cup.

"Friend Tendo!" Genma said over-loudly, "Friend
Tendo! Surely you are not going to let the women of you
house dictate to you." He shot Kasumi a venomous look that
caused her to recoil slightly.

"Now then," Genma relaxed slightly, satisfied that
he'd put the girl in her proper place. "Let's honor the spirits
and toast the joining of our houses." He took a generous pull
from his bottle, not wanting to take any chances with the
spirit world himself. "With Ranma's talent and your doujou,
the Musabetsu kakutou Saotome-ryuu will be world famous
in no time."

"It's my doujou." a quiet voice interjected from the
corner, opposite and slightly behind Soun.

"What?" Genma's hand, holding the cup of sake,
froze inches from Soun's mouth.

"It's my doujou," Akane repeated, dipping a slice of
yellow- tail into a bowl of sauce and popping it into her
mouth. Immediately her eyes teared and her whole body
broke out in a sweat. Picking up a small bottle she dumped
another three ounces of Habanero concentrate into the sauce,
bringing the Scoville rating to six million units, or about three
times that of police pepper spray. With a small moue of
pleasure she reached for another piece of fish.

"What do you mean, 'your doujou'!" Genma's voice
cracked and he stared at the girl who had sat quietly and
almost invisible throughout the dinner. "Friend Tendo, what
does she mean?"

"Ummm . . .well, Akane is the heir to the Musabetsu
kakutou Tendou-ryuu," Soun explained, "and it only made
sense to give her the doujou."

"But . . ." the cup fell from Genma's suddenly slack
hand and rolled across the table. "But . . ." he shook himself,
brain working furiously, then smiled broadly. "But that's
wonderful. You will make a fine wife for my Ranma. And he
will make the Musabetsu kakutou Sao . . .errr . . .
Tendou-ryuu the greatest in Japan."

"How?" Akane examined a piece of yellowtail
before selecting it for dipping.

"How?" Genma parroted. "What do you mean,
how?"

"How will Ranma make the Musabetsu kakutou
Sao . . .Tendou-ryuu," Akane carefully copied Genma's slip,
"the greatest in Japan?" She popped the fish between her lips,
shuddering from the endorphin kick as a ball of fire exploded
in her mouth.

"Why . . .why through hard work and diligence. With
his expert instruction and the supremacy of his . . .errrr . . .
our combined ryuu's techniques, it is inevitable that our . . .
ummm . . . _this_ doujou will become the greatest in Japan.
Perhaps in the world!" He smiled benignly at the small girl.

"When I win the All Japan Tournament, the doujou
will have all the students we need," Akane countered, taking
a small sip of tea, her other hand fisted against her side, out of
site from the others. Ranma, however, noticed the slight
quivering of the muscles in her arm . . .

*Dammit pop, let it slide.*

But Genma's higher faculties were awash in sake and
he didn't notice the warning signs from Akane, nor hear
Ranma's silent plea.

"Win the All Japan Tournament?" Genma chuckled
at the thought. "That's so cute, Tendo" he slapped his old
friend on the back. "Win th' All Jap-an Tournament."

"What's so funny about that." Akane delivered in a
flat monotone.

"Heh," Genma reached over and patted her
avuncularly on the shoulder, his hot, alcohol saturated breath
making her nose wrinkle in disgust. "You don't need to fill
your pretty little head with pretend games. My Ranma will
make sure you're taken care of."

"Pretend?" The single word was so cold and hard
Ranma was a little surprised it didn't draw blood. But at the
best of times, his old man was a little thick. It was about time
he tried to shut his pop up. The only problem was, when
Genma'd been drinking, the only sure way was to cold-cock
him. Which wasn't the best way to make a good impression
on his future bride, whoever she might be.

"Pretend," Genma returned a bit testily. Little girls
should be seen and not heard and preferably not seen either.
"I've been a martial artist for longer than you've been alive
and a girl can't be a martial arts master." He gave her cane a
pointed glance. "Especially not one who is crippled."

"Crippled?" Akane jabbed her chopsticks into her
bowl with such force the ceramic cracked.

Kasumi paled a little at the sight of the slender pieces
of wood, quivering upright. Something she'd seen only once
before, ten years earlier.

Genma was drunk enough to get angry and angry
enough to do something stupid. Furious at the deliberate
insult he lunged to his feet, Ranma only a fraction of a second
behind him. If he stopped Genma now, he could blame it on
the drink and perhaps salvage something of their plan. Then
he got a good look at Akane's face and wondered if he wasn't
saving more than just Genma's plan.

Soun, not having a table in the way, moved even
faster than Ranma, stopping Genma with a deceptively gentle
looking hand to his chest. Genma ooffed, and sat down
suddenly.

"Genma, my old friend," Soun said mildly, "I'm
certain Akane is sorry for any accidental insult." Soun placed
his other hand on Akane's leg, feeling the steel hard muscles
relax slightly under his touch.

Nabiki, watching her baby sister's face, was certain
Akane was only sorry she broken a poor inoffensive bowl and
not Genma's head.

"And I'm sure my father is sorry that he let the sake
speak for him," Ranma offered, knowing that too much drink
was an acceptable excuse for otherwise inexcusable behavior.
Genma sobered suddenly as Ranma speared him with a cold
look.

"Yes . . .yes of course." Genma stuttered, rubbing the
back of his head nervously. "I only meant . . ." he trailed off,
wondering what he could say that wouldn't make things
worse. "Ummmm . . .I only meant that . . .uhhhh . . .we have
an agreement, old friend," he fell back on his original
argument. "I've worked and sacrificed for ten years,
dedicating every waking hour to make Ranma the best martial
artist in the world . . ."

Ranma resisted an urge to smack the old fraud.
_He'd_ worked and sacrificed? He'd worked and sacrificed
_Ranma_ for ten years, he meant.

" . . .sacrificing my health and comfort. All with the
knowledge that I was working toward uniting our two
schools," Genma put all that remained of what once had been
a formidable personal charisma into his voice. "I . . .I have
been too long on the road, away from the civilizing influence
of the fairer sex," he smiled at Kasumi and was gratified to see
a softening in her eyes, and those of Nabiki as well. "The
thought that it is all in vain, that our great family arts that have
survived through the centuries might, at last die out . . .it is
almost too much to endure." He let his shoulders slump
artistically and was gratified to hear a gasp of alarm from each
of the two Tendo girls. Even better, Soun put an arm around
his shoulders to support him.

"I suppose that I am old and foolish," Genma's voice
was low, almost a whisper. The tone of a man who has given
his all to achieve some noble goal and has nothing left to give.
"And have outlived my time." He drew himself up, a tired old
warrior who was beaten, but not defeated. "Ranma and I will
leave in the morning," He smiled, a heart wrenching smile.
"On another training journey. There is still much for us to
learn."

*Damn* Ranma thought admiringly. *The old fart still
has it.* He didn't know why he was so surprised. He'd seen
Genma talk entire villages into looting their own treasury to
fund some scheme of his, and apologize for making him carry
the loot himself. Of course, he thought sourly, the more
common result was that he'd get greedy, lazy, drunk or all
three, before they made a score. In which care they would run
like hell, a half-step ahead of a date with hot-tar and goose-
feathers.

"There will be no talk of leaving, old friend." Soun
was on the verge of tears. "The agreement between us _will_
be honored. Akane," he gestured at his daughter, "will marry
Ranma and unite our two ryuu."

"DADDY!" Akane looked at her father, eyes filled
with betrayal.

"Akane . . ."Soun spoke firmly to his youngest. "This is
more than an old agreement. I want to know that you will be
taken care of if anything happens to me."

"Nothing is going to happen to you," Akane retorted.
"And that's no excuse for wanting me to marry _him_!" The
last was spoken in tones of loathing usually reserved for
finding something multi-legged and fuzzy in the middle of a
rice-ball.

"Hey!" Ranma wasn't real pleased with this sudden
turn of events himself. Kasumi was a real sweetheart,
emphasis on sweet perhaps, and Nabiki had possibilities. But
as for _her_ . . .he'd rather eat worms creamed on toast.
Looking at her face screwed up in anger, the worms were
looking downright appetizing. Long years on the road, having
to deal with Genma's mistakes, clean up after him and act the
peacemaker, enabled him to control his tongue. Barely.

"I hope I am around for many years to come," Soun
was trying to convince Akane, "but life is uncertain." His face
clouded over as he recalled his wife, dead for nearly a decade.
Akane saw the change, but resisted her impulse to comfort
him. Right now she needed her anger to give her strength to
fight. Sometimes it seemed all she had left was anger. And
pain.

" Kasumi is going to go to medical school," Soun
nodded at his eldest, "and Nabiki is planing to buy Honshu
and turn it into a pachinko parlor," Nabiki just grinned at that,
"but if something happens to me, where will you go? What
will you do?"

"I'll run the doujou ----" Akane began.

"The death duties will take everything. It will all have
to be sold, just to pay the tax." Soun stressed. "But if you
marry Ranma, the law allows me to _give_ the house, doujou
and grounds as a wedding gift. Then I'll know your future is
secure."

Akane closed her mouth with a snap. She'd known
about the death duties, in a vague sort of way, but the thought
of her father . . .he mind shied from the thought like a
frightened horse. But the doujou was _hers_. The ryuu was
_hers_! She'd dedicated her life to a single goal . . .mastering
the Musabetsu kakutou. If she didn't have that, she didn't
have anything.

"I can't marry some stranger." She objected as her
mind started working again.

"He won't be a stranger after a while." Soun tried to
pint out reasonably.

"I'm too young." she tried again.

"Nonsense," Soun said, shuddering inside at the
thought of his baby, _any_ of his babies, with a . . .a man.
"You are both at the perfect age. You haven't gotten set in
your ways yet".

"I won't marry a man who can't defeat me." She
countered, with absolute conviction.

"What!" From Genma and Ranma, almost in stereo.

"That was just a sort of joke," Soun objected, recalling
his daughters defiant pronouncement before the near disaster
that had almost---- "You can't really mean it."

"Oh yes I did----do! I _do_ mean it." Akane spat.
"I'm a martial artist. If I'm going to marry someone in order
to save the Musabetsu kakutou Tendou-ryuu, he's got to be
better than I am, otherwise why bother?"

Soun wanted to argue, but her reasoning was good.
More to the point he knew his daughter. If she wasn't as
stubborn as a block of granite, it was only because granite had
_some_ flexibility. But he could see from the look in her eye
that if he pushed on this issue, he might as well set fire to the
doujou. Besides, she loved the art more than anything else. If
she and Ranma could find a common ground here, it would be
a good foundation to build a life together.

"I agree," Soun got to his feet. Kasumi and Nabiki
looked as if someone had dropped the Tokyo Dome on them,
while Genma and Ranma looked only slightly less stunned.
"Let us go to the doujou, where Ranma," he gave the young
martial artist a narrow look, "will fight my daughter for the
privilege of marrying her."

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

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