Chapter: 5


"Ranma?" Kasumi knocked softly on the guest room
door the next morning. "Ranma . . .chan?" She tried, daringly.
He _had_ asked her to call him Ranma, and he _was_
younger. It was perfectly proper, so there was no real reason
for her to blush . . .Quietly she opened the door, and realized
why no one had answered her knock. Uncle Genma (as she'd
been instructed to call him) was sprawled on his back across
two futons, his wide-open mouth emitting a noise that
reminded her of the time a naughty little boy had put two tom-
cats and a small dog in a dryer at the coin laundry.

She'd put up a clothesline the next day.

She frowned slightly. If the oaf . . .Uncle Genma . . .
was using both futons . . .where was Ranma? She scanned the
room, discovering a lumpy bundle of blankets in the corner
farthest from Genma, one bare shoulder and arm sticking out.

She made a mental note to see about putting up a
screen, that might cut down on the noise on his side of the
room. And she'd better find another futon so he didn't have to
sleep on the floor. Walking softly across the floor the bent
down next to him.

"Ranma?" She reached out to shake him awake.
"Ranma, it's time to g----eeeeeeeep!" Kasumi tumbled
backward as Ranma erupted from the floor like a panther, one
powerful arm grabbing her own in a joint lock, while the other
flashed toward the vulnerable hollow of her throat. When
nothing more happened, Kasumi forced her tightly shut eyes
open, to see a broad tanned expanse of chest.

*Pectoralis major. A large, fan-shaped muscle that
covers much of the front upper chest.* her professors voice
droned in her head. *Its main use is in moving the arm across
the body* She knew the function, but no one had ever told her
how _beautiful_ it was. How it moved and glided below a
covering of smooth, warm skin.

*Latissimus Dorsi, Rectus Abdominis* she traced the
path of each muscle, envisioning their function, the associated
nerves and blood vessels. *external abdominal oblique, tensor
fasciae latae . . .* My goodness, martial artists certainly had
wonderful definition. *gluteus maximus. The strongest muscle
in the body and covers a large part of the----*

"Ummmm . . .Kasumi?" Ranma's voice squeaked a
little. "W . . .what're you doin'?"

*----buttock*

Oh . . .my! Kasumi jerked her wandering hand away,
blushing furiously.

"Uhhhh . . .sorry about that." Ranma said sheepishly.
"Ya gotta be careful 'bout waking me up. Th' old man jumps
out and hit me with sticks and stuff, ta train me to be alert,
even if I'm eatin' or slepin' or using th' cra . . .errrr . . .no
matter what I'm doin'."

"I see." And she did, his blanket having fallen to the
floor. "Well, I just wanted to tell you that breakfast will be
ready in about thirty minutes. And the furo is free, if you want
to wash first."

"Geee, thanks Kasumi. I'll be down in a minute." He
flashed her a boyish grin as he helped her to her feet. "Uhhhh,
sorry 'bout almost clobberin' you."

"It's not a problem, Ranma. I've grown up around
martial artists." Smiling to show there were no hard feelings,
she bowed and left the room.

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

"Kasumi?" Nabiki paused stirring the miso soup and
made a quick check on the rice. Perfect, nice and sticky. "Are
the others coming down?"

"I just stopped to tell Ranma about breakfast."

"And?" She looked critically at the fish to see how it
was cooking. Then she checked to see if every thing else was
ready . . .raw eggs to break over the rice, pickled plums . . .
where was the kombu? Cooking was her least favorite thing,
next to a root canal. But if she _had_ to do something, she
wanted to do it well.

"He has dimples."

Nabiki was only half listening, more interested in
finding the little jar of black-kelp jam. "Yeah, I noticed them
yesterday when he smiled."

"Not these you didn't." Kasumi murmured, plucking
the jam-jar from where it was hidden behind a large can of
protein-powder. Kasumi grimaced a little at seeing that,
thankful that it hadn't been Akane's turn in the kitchen when
they had guests. If she _ever_ found the sadistic fiend who
had told her defenseless baby-sister about "health food", she
was going to beat them unconscious with a package of
organically grown artichokes.

"Huh?" Nabiki took the jam from Kasumi with a nod
of thanks.

"I said that perhaps we should buy an alarm clock for
Ranma."

"I can wake him up in the mornings," Nabiki offered,
adding a pinch of seasoning to the soup.

"No . . ." Kasumi felt her face heat, "I think an alarm
clock is more practical."

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

" . . .butt?" Nabiki's voice went up a notch as Kasumi
described her mornings adventures as they walked toward
Fuurinkan.

"What're you guys talkin' about?" Ranma called over
his shoulder from his position atop a fence.

"N . . .nothing!" Nabiki looked at Ranma, then at her
sister, breaking out in a fit of giggles. "J . . .just girl talk."

"Huh," Ranma lost interest. "Why do I hafta go to
school, anyway?" He decided to bring up another grievance.

"Because it's the law," Kasumi answered calmly,
feeling her face heat again as Nabiki winked at her,"and
because it will be good for you to make new friends." And get
you away from "Uncle" Genma, she thought.

"I'm a martial artist," he did a flip and started walking
backwards along the fence top. "I don't need this sissy stuff."

"Well, we'll see----" Kasumi started to say.

"Hark . . .the Beautiful-Angel-of-the-Morning, the
Light-that-Warms-the-World," a figure clad in the style of a
Saxon Warrior of five centuries earlier sprang from a side
street. "How the common detritus of this sad world is uplifted
by your presence."

"Who th' hell is that?" Ranma demanded, leaping
from the fence to put himself between the Tendo sisters and
the raving lunatic.

"Common Detritus," Nabiki gestured at Ranma, "meet
the Velvet Avenger." She indicated the silk and leather clad
figure.

"Nay, you have it not aright," the figure bounded over
Ranma's head to land in front of Kasumi. "For the vision of an
Angel hath revealed to me mine new name----" With a flourish
an enormous bouquet of roses, a brilliant cobalt blue in color,
appeared in one gloved hand. "For you . . .a trifling token of
natures bounty in appreciation of your own sterling beauty,
from the hand of . . .," the figure paused dramatically,
"Samurai-kamen, of Saint Hebereke's Academy for Young
Ladies of Refinement!"

"Ummmm . . ." Kasumi took the flowers, gingerly
because of the rows of jagged thorns. "Thank you. They're
beautiful." She smiled and the figure staggered back, a mass
of silken hair tumbling from underneath an elaborately styled
headpiece.

"Uhhhh . . .that's a girl . . .ain't it?" Ranma's eyes
darted back and forth between Kasumi and the newcomer.

"Kasumi-sama, your regard fills me with the strength
of righteousness and purity. Once again I dedicate myself to
your service."

"That's nice, Kodachi-san . . ." Kasumi began,
"but----"

"Give me a quest," Kodachi went down on one knee,
drawing a European-style hand-and-a-half sword and driving
it point first into the ground and pressing her forehead against
the cross-shaped guard. "a deed worthy of your magnificence.
A dragon to slay, treasure to find . . .you have but to command
and I will do it, for you!"

"Kodachi-san, don't you have to be in class, soon?"

"Class?" The slender young woman leapt to her feet,
striking a pose with her sword held high above her head. "You
have class at the University, do you not?"

At Kasumi's hesitant nod, the other girl whirled, cape
billowing like a scarlet cloud. "Sasuki! Attend me!"

With a sound like distant thunder, eight thousand
pounds of Bugatti Royale Coup‚ Napoleon heaved itself
around a corner, like some prehistoric monster released from
it's eons long slumber, a tiny ninja in turn-of-the-century
chauffeur's uniform at the wheel.

"Allow me to transport you to the gateway of learning
that you have deigned to grace with your infinite wisdom."

"Oh, go ahead Kasumi," Nabiki urged, "Ranma and I
are old enough to walk to school by ourselves. And this will
save you having to take the bus."

With the beatific smile of a martyr who's gotten the
wrack _and_ a burning stake, Kunou Kodachi held the door
for Kasumi, then slid in after her, becoming only slightly
tangled in her sword and cape.

"What the heck is up with her?" Ranma stared after
the huge creme and gold monstrosity as it lumbered down the
street.

"Ummm . . .that's kind of hard to say," Nabiki picked
up her book bag and started back on her way to school.
"Some people think that her nanny used to play otedama with
her, using Kodachi as the beanbag." Nabiki grinned at
Ranma. "Of more immediate interest . . .somebody gave her a
copy of Morte de Arthur . . .King Arthur and the Knights of
the Round Table," she elaborated at Ranma's blank
expression. "At any rate, Kodachi decided she was the
reincarnation of Sir Gawain and she's dedicated her life to
noble quests, deeds of knightly daring, courtly love and saving
damsels in distress. Kasumi being her distressed damsel of
choice."

"That's the craziest thing I've ever heard of!"

"You haven't met Tatewaki yet," Nabiki muttered.

"Huh?" Ranma turned back from watching the Bugatti
vanish around a corner. "What did you say?"

"I said, we should be running into Akane anytime
now."

"What? Where?" Ranma spun around, hands coming
up in a defensive position.

"Relax."

"Relax? How can I relax around that psycho chick . . .
ummm . . ." Ranma blushed, realizing he was talking to the
psycho chick's sister. "What I mean is . . .uhhhh . . ."

"Don't worry," Nabiki elbowed him in the side,
grinning. "I know what you mean. Akane's got a little bit of a
temper----"

"Little bit!"

"But she doesn't mean anything serious, unless-----."
Nabiki caught herself . "Ummm . . .she's just a little touchy
about the doujou and her martial arts. They mean a lot to her."

"Yeah? Well . . ." Ranma trailed off, unable to come
up with a good counter. "Marital arts meant a lot to me, too."
Freezing in winter, broiling in summer, he thought. Blistered
feet, empty belly and running from the law. Training until you
threw up and passed out----then starting over again. And
pits . . .dark holes that smelled of damp moldy earth and were
filled with . . .his stomach cramped painfully as he fought not
to vomit.

"And Akane? And the doujou?" Nabiki looked slyly
at him, misinterpreting his sudden pallor and flush.

"Ummm . . .," He fought back the memories, hoping
Nabiki hadn't noticed anything. " . . .well, I don't really know
Akane," Except that she's a certified whacko, he thought
recalling the tanto and the rope of hair she'd thrown at his feet.
It had been soft and real sweet smelling . . .he shook off that
line of thought. "And I guess I don't know what to think about
the doujou, either. This is all kind of a surprise to me." He
affected his best "aw-shucks-ma'm-I'm-just-a-simple-but-
honest-country-boy" look that had cost him a few dozen
strokes with a rattan cane before Genma was satisfied. He
watched Nabiki's eyes go soft and knew the effort had been
worth it. It was too bad it wasn't Nabiki that came with the
doujou.

"Hey! Akane! Wait up."

Ranma jerked out of a pleasant daydream ( where
Nabiki was stroking his brow while Kasumi fed him little
tidbits) and looked in the direction Nabiki was shouting.

"What th' heck?" They'd turned a corner and just
ahead of them was a grotesque looking hunchback dwarf with
stubby legs, enormously long arms, an impossibly thin
neck---- and no head! Then his brain reprocessed what he was
seeing.

"Why is she walking on her hands?"

"Why don't you ask her?"

"Builds upper body strength." Akane answered, before
Ranma could say anything else. She twisted her head to look
up at her sister and Ranma, showing the fist-sized lump on her
head from last night's sparring. "Where's Kasumi?"

"She got a ride with Kodachi."

"Oh boy," Akane flipped upright, landing just a bit
awkwardly Ranma noticed. The walking stick "neck"
strapped to her book-bag "hunch" wobbled just a bit. "We're
not going to have to go on a quest, are we?"

"Quest?" Ranma looked back and forth between the
sisters.

"I kinda liked Starbucks." Nabiki reminisced.

"What quest?"

"I'll never forget the look on the managers face when
Kodachi cut his cappuccino machine in two." Akane chuckled.

"It _did_ sound a bit like a monster hissing, if you
think about it." Nabiki tried to be charitable.

"What . . .quest!"

"They're never going to let us back in there, though."
Nabiki noted, shaking her head at life's conundrums.

"It's too bad," Akane shrugged her book bag into a
more comfortable position. "I liked their organic roast."

"What! Quest!

"Actually, it's too bad Kasumi isn't a lesbian." Nabiki
looked thoughtful, ignoring Ranma for the moment.

"Nabiki!" Akane giggled, scandalized.

"Well, it would solve a _lot_ of problems. And
Kodachi is rich and good looking."

"You're awful." Akane punched Nabiki lightly,
apologizing when her sister's arm went numb and she dropped
her book bag.

"Well, it would," Nabiki asserted, rubbing her arm.
"Too bad there isn't a way to make Kodachi a boy," she joked,
missing Ranma's flinch.

"So . . .ummm . . .do you walk all the way to school on
your hands?" Ranma put in, a little uncomfortable with the
direction the conversation was taking.

"I alternate," Akane answered, calmly as if she'd
never flung a challenge in Ranma's face, "and sometimes I do
flips and cartwheels and stuff."

"Really?" Ranma tilted his head, looking at her
thoughtfully. "How about the fence?"

"How about the fence . . .what?"

"Walking on the fence," Ranma suited word to deed
and jumped lightly to the top, balancing easily on one foot.

"Well, I'm not much for jumping," Akane shrugged
out of her book-bag and handed it to Nabiki, who oofed and
let the bag fall to the ground with a faint clang. Ranma looked
embarrassed for a moment and was in the process of jumping
down when Akane grabbed a fence post in both hands, "but I
get the job done."

Ranma's mouth fell open as Akane levered her body
parallel to the ground and "walked", hand over hand, to the
top of the fence. With a convulsive movement she flipped until
she was doing a handstand next to Ranma.

The pig-tailed martial artist whistled involuntarily and
was surprised to see Akane blush.

"That's amazing," he said honestly. "I'm glad you
didn't get your hands on me last night." He said without
thinking, then could have kicked himself for bringing up
_that_ debacle.

"You're pretty good yourself," Akane said, looking up
from between her legs. Ranma noticed that someone had
trimmed the ragged ends of hair left from her impromptu cut
of the other night. Even with the bruising from his axe-hand,
she looked really cute with her hair----

"I wear Lucky Kitty Gym shorts," Akane said acidly,
"to keep perverts from looking at my underwear."

"What! No, no . . .it wasn't nothin' like that!" Ranma
protested. "I was just lookin' . . .uhhhh . . .at your hair."
Genma would take a stick to him for being so clumsy. And
he'd deserve it. "It's . . .nice . . .short." He finished miserably.

"Really?" She asked suspiciously.

"Yeah, it's kinda . . .nice." He trailed off lamely,
aware that his ability to charm women had failed sadly.

"Oh, . . .well . . .thank you."

He was amazed to see Akane turn pink at the mild
complement and decided to see if he could capitalize on his
success.

"Short like that, it kinda makes your eyes look bigger.
An' you've got really cute ears."

He'd never watched a girl blush while she was doing a
hand stand. He could see the back of her knees turn red. Now
he was back on track.

"T . . .thank you." She wobbled a little, perched on the
fence and he decided to push it just a _little_ bit more.

"The back of your neck is really sexy----" She tumbled
from the fence and he dove to catch her, flipping in midair to
land with her cradled against his chest. He held her tight for a
moment, his heart thundering in his ears so loudly he thought
his head would burst.

"Are you al---" A hand connected with his
cheek with a crack that echoed off the surrounding
buildings. "----right?"

"I----don't----need----your----help!" She grated,
pushing free of his grip.

"Geeez," he rubbed his cheek. "I was just tryin' to be
nice."

"Don't try!" She grabbed her bag from Nabiki and
stalked off down the street.

"Akane has a little trouble accepting help from
people."

"Ahhhh . . .that's alright" Ranma said mildly, holding
his seething anger in check. Rule of The Road Eighteen,
_never_ let the other guy know what you are feeling. That was
especially true if the other "guy" was a girl.

"I'm glad you're so understanding," Nabiki said
gratefully. "Some people have a hard time dealing with
Akane's temper."

Ranma smiled, his face practically glowing with
sympathetic understanding. "I can't say I understand," *except
that she's a certified whacko* "but if she takes after her
sister," he let his eyes fill with masculine admiration and was
smugly satisfied to see her face heat a little, "I know that she
must be a wonderful girl and I'm sure that any problem was
probably my fault." He altered his tone and body language to
convey contrition and honest masculine bafflement at female
emotions.

Like taking candy from a baby, only easier, he
thought, as he let Nabiki earnestly assure him that it was
_not_ his fault and that if she could do _anything_ to make it
up to Ranma for Akane's tantrum . . . he only had to ask. He,
in turn, spent the rest of their walk together consoling Nabiki
and assuring her that she didn't owe him anything. With the
result, of course, that by the time they passed through the
towering stone gates of Fuurinkan, Nabiki felt she was deeply
in his debt.

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

1