Comes the Cold Dragon

Don Granberry.

Chapter 7d

Copyright

Most of the characters in this piece and the setting for it were conceived of by Rumiko Takahashi for her Ranma1/2 series of Manga. All such characters and the setting are the property of Takahashi-san and her licensees. All other characters, except those noted below, are purely fictional and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, are purely coincidental.

Jack Burton is the creation and property of W.D. Richter, Gary Goldman, and David Z. Weinstein, screenwriters for the movie _Big Trouble in Little China_. The role of Jack Burton played by Kurt Russel. The movie directed by John Carpenter.

Notes

Brief mention is made of Sensei Nobuhara Yagyu. Yagyu-Sensei is the current and twenty-first headmaster of the Shinkage-ryu hyoho. He is a direct descendent of Yagyu Sekihusai Munetoshi, the founder of the Shinkage-ryu. The Shinkage-ryu hyoho was the school of swordsmanship adopted by the Tokugawa Shogunate. The Yagyu and their allied clans were instrumental in assuring a Tokugawa victory at Sekigahara. No insult of Yagyu-sensei or his renowned school is intended by mentioning him and the Shinkage-ryu in this story. Quite the opposite obtains. In this writer's opinion, it would be a gross violation of verisimilitude to write of a great, Japanese Martial Artist and not mention the Sensei and his school, at least in passing.


Nabiki and Ukyo were downstairs waiting when Burton pulled up to the curb in front of the clinic. Kasumi had called them a block or so away. Kasumi got out of the front, after having thanked Burton for such an entertaining ride. Tofu Ono got out of the back next, then reached inside and withdrew a very limp Onna-Ranma. Nabiki noted the care and protectiveness with which Tofu seemed to be handling Ranma's limp form and found it revealing, but not terribly surprising. Ranma seemed to grow on everyone that was around him very much and Tofu had seen quite a bit of Ranma since his arrival in Nerima. It took Akane three separate tries and Kasumi's help to get out of the cab. Nabiki rolled her eyes at this. Not only would there be more bills, but Ranma would likely be furious once he found out.

"Are you okay, Akane?" Nabiki asked worriedly.

"I'll be okay, Onee-chan," Akane said irritably, "I just overdid it a little, that's all."

"Are you sure?" Nabiki asked.

Akane grimaced as she nodded her head yes. Nabiki stood aside so that Kasumi could help her youngest sister into the clinic. The slow drizzle turned into a light rain as they went into the lobby. Nabiki deployed her umbrella, then turned back around only to find Konatsu clinging to the open door of the cab for support. The ninja looked like the proverbial cat caught in the washing machine--frazzled and bruised.

"Oh, Konatsu!" Ukyo cried out, sounding dismayed. "What on earth happened to you? You poor baby."

"It's a long story, Ukyo-sama," Konatsu said in a weak voice.

"Where's Ryoga?" Nabiki asked, sounding concerned.

"Ryoga?" Konatsu asked, sounding puzzled. "I haven't seen him all morning. Was he here?"

"I mean P-chan," Nabiki amended.

"He's in the trunk," Konatsu said tiredly. "He had a nosebleed and the Baato-san did not want him in the passenger compartment."

"Konatsu, honey, are you okay?" Ukyo asked, with obvious concern on her face. Konatsu looked past the chef at Nabiki and gave her a sly wink, then slid into a slow collapse. Ukyo caught him, of course.

"Let's get you inside before you catch your death of a cold, Sugar," Ukyo said, carrying Konatsu towards the clinic door. Nabiki chuckled softly as she watched them go.

"Hey Nabsy-doll," Burton said in Nabiki's ear, causing her to gasp in alarm.

"Yeah, what is it, Jack?"

"Money, remember?"

"I've got one more little job for you first," Nabiki said.

"Money, first!" Burton said, with a grim look on his face. "Gas ain't cheap around here."

"You have a pig in your trunk," Nabiki said in a matter-of-fact tone, rather than starting another round of haggling.

"Yeah, so?"

"I need you to deliver him to the Unryuu farm west of town. Do you know here it is?"

"Oh, yeah! That's the place where they raise all those Sumo pigs, right?"

Nabiki nodded.

"It's gonna cost ya! That place is way, way outta ... "

Nabiki slapped Burton hard--with a wad of bills. He grinned stupidly in response.

"You win!" Burton said, still smiling.

"Put those in the trunk with him," Nabiki said, indicating Ryoga's loose clothing and other gear.

"Wha? Whose stuff is this?" Burton asked.

"It belongs to the pig," Nabiki said, handing Burton a thermos bottle.

"The pig?" Burton asked sounding puzzled as he took the thermos. Realization dawned in his face. "You mean he's ... "

"Yet another victim of Jusenkyo, yes."

"Has everybody in this town been to China?" Burton asked, then looked alarmed. "Damn! I nearly forgot Wang and Mai Ying!"

"Who?" Nabiki asked.

"Old friends of mine! I'm supposed to pick 'em up at the airport!" Burton said. "Would'ya mind if I picked them before I delivered your porcine pal to his farm?"

"No," Nabiki said smiling evilly. She knew all too well how Burton drove.

"I wouldn't mind that at all. Just make sure he gets to the Unryuu farm, Jack. If you lose him anywhere near Nerima and my baby sister finds out, she'll throw a major fit."

"What she did this morning wasn't a major fit?" Burton asked, sounding shocked.

Nabiki shook her head no.

Burton whistled as he clapped a palm to his forehead.

"I'd better get goin'!" Burton said, sounding excited as he carelessly pitched Ryoga's pack and other things into the trunk. "Nice doin' bidness with ya, Nabs."

"Pleasure's all mine, Jack," Nabiki said, suppressing the urge to laugh out loud. "Drive safely!"

"Hey! This is Jack Burton you're talkin' to here!" Burton said, with an offended note in his voice and demonstrating his agitation by angrily waving his arms. As he got into his cab he added, "I always drive safe!"

"Yeah, right!" Nabiki said, as she watched the cab fly off down the street and take the first corner it came to on two wheels. "Except when you're in a hurry, Jack!"


Nodoka Saotome awoke early, bathed, and made breakfast, finding that she missed Kasumi already. She could not blame the girl for walking Tofu home. Had it been her own daughter in similar situation, having a fine catch like Tofu Ono in the offing, she probably would have advised the girl to do the same. Kasumi had taken a small risk relative to the potential reward. Word would spread quickly, and that was at least part of the idea. Other girls would be warned away from the good Doctor with Kasumi Tendo, of all people, staking her reputation on him.

Nodoka sat down at the table in Kasumi's usual place, seeing to it that Genma and Soun were amply supplied with food. Much to her chagrin, they began stealing from each other's plates. As embarrassed as Nodoka felt about it, Soun seemed to enjoy the game. Judging from the look of his technique, Tendo had plenty of practice at stealing food from the plates of others.

"Husband?" Nodoka asked, seeing that the two men were fast approaching satiation.

"Yes, Nou-chan?" Genma rumbled.

"With your permission, I will be gone for most of the day," Nodoka said.

"Oh? And why is that, my dear?" Genma made it sound as though he could refuse her, and if he did; Nodoka would have complied with his wishes. She was that kind of traditionalist. However, Genma was not nearly the idiot many believed him to be.

"I wish to congratulate our son on his victory over that hoodlum," Nodoka replied, "and spend some time with him."

"Of course, dear!" Genma said cheerfully. "That sounds like an excellent idea! I am sure Ranma will find your company a great comfort about now."

This last sentence was habit on Genma's part. He was forever watchful of Nodoka lest she cause the boy to become soft. Nodoka managed to contain her desire to scream with red-eyed rage by giving Genma a polite sniff.

"Actually, I am rather counting on his comforting me, dear," Nodoka said with a grim smile.

Genma looked vaguely surprised for a moment, then smiled and nodded his head.

"Of course, Nou-chan," Genma said in his rumbling voice. "Don't worry about him too much. You do remember what the doctor said?"

"I will be leaving sandwiches in the refrigerator for lunch," Nodoka said. "Do try to make them last until the evening meal."

"Of course, dear."

The two men retired to their shogi board for yet another battle of wits. Had it been just them and Kasumi, Soun might have tried to help clear away the dishes, but knew better than to even try such thing in Nodoka's presence. They were slogging through an exceptionally difficult mid-game phase, when Nodoka quietly left the house in her tattered overcoat. She proceeded down the street towards the Ono Clinic carrying a picnic basket and affecting a kind of imperious dignity and reserve, despite her faded umbrella and badly worn geta. The life of a Martial Artist's wife was not an easy one, but Nodoka Saotome carried it off with a style that few could match.

She wished the food in the basket could have been for her son as well as Akane, Nabiki, and herself, but that simply was not possible given Ranma's condition. Hopefully, Nabiki had already seen after the delivery of Ranma's rations. She was shocked when Ranma did not appear to be in the green-space between the clinic building and the property's wall.

"Ranma?" Nodoka called out.

"In here, Aunt Nodoka," Nabiki called from the doorway. "He changed back much sooner than expected."

"Already?" Nodoka asked with more than a little concern in her voice. "I thought Doctor Tofu said it would be at least a week."

"Well, Ranma probably should have waited at least that long," Nabiki said, her voice sounding angry about something, "but he changed trying to help a friend out of trouble. I'm afraid your son is incorrigibly heroic, even when he should not be."

"How is he?" Nodoka asked.

"He's pretty weak, but Doctor Tofu thinks he'll be fine after a few days of rest."

Nodoka closed her eyes, took a deep breath, then sighed.

"What will it take for my son to have a little peace?" Nodoka asked as she tapped her umbrella against her geta to shake the water off.

"Doctor Tofu has an idea about that," Nabiki said quietly, clearly sharing Nodoka's concern. She took Nodoka's overcoat and hung it up carefully on the wall of the lobby. "We were about to call you."

"He's here?"

"Yes, he and Kasumi arrived here about an hour ago. Doctor Tofu is in the lab concocting some medicine for Akane."

"Akane?" Nodoka asked, now even more concerned. The future of her clan was riding on these two young people. "Is she sick?"

"Well, you know how my baby sister is, Aunt Nodoka," Nabiki said with an irritated sigh. "She never does things by halves. She overexerted herself this morning chasing after Ranma and Ryoga."

"Perhaps you had best explain," Nodoka said. "Who is Ryoga?"

Nabiki explained about Ryoga, then brought her up to date the morning's events. Nodoka was furious at Ryoga's behavior towards Akane, but managed to contain it behind her cold, steely facade.

"Perhaps I should speak with Doctor Tofu before going upstairs," Nodoka said after an uncomfortable period of silence.

Nabiki merely nodded her head in reply.

"Do you have any idea why my son tolerated this young man's behavior?"

"Aunt Nodoka, one of your son's shortcomings is that he is honorable to a fault. I cannot imagine why Ranma allowed it to go on, but I'm sure he had what he believed to be good reason. Kami-sama knows, it must have caused Ranma enough grief."

This brought Nodoka up short. Much of Ranma's odd behavior towards girls was suddenly explained by Nabiki's observation. It was not that her son was unmanly. Ranma was simply trying to be honorable. Nodoka wondered why she had never considered such a possibility before. His behavior was truly amazing, given that his father had raised him.

"I'll go see Doctor Tofu now," Nodoka said after another moment of silence. "Will you be joining us upstairs?"

"I gather you brought a luncheon along in that basket," Nabiki said.

"Yes."

"I'll take it up for you and set the table," Nabiki said.

"Thank you, Nabiki."

"No, thank you, Aunt Nodoka," Nabiki said with a smile, "I was just about to order take-out. This will save us a few yen."

"At least you won't have to feed Ranma in his dragon form," Nodoka said with a wan smile.

"I wouldn't mind it too much. He'd make a great pet like that, you know."

Nodoka managed a smile in lieu of a shudder, then went to find Doctor Tofu.

"Ah! Youkoso, Saotome-san!" [Please be welcome, Mrs. Saotome.]

"Thank you kindly, Sensei," Nodoka said. "How are things today?"

"Well, Ranma is again in great need of rest. He changed back to his human form much too early, but Elder Ko Lon agrees me that he will be fine in a couple of days."

"And Akane?"

Tofu Ono shook his head.

"She has the worst case of acute overexertion I've seen in years. She is going to be sore for at least a week, probably longer."

"Will she recover fully?" Nodoka asked, her concern quite obvious.

"Oh, yes!" Tofu said cheerfully. "She's quite strong, you know. A perfect match for Ranma in many ways."

Nodoka breathed a sigh of relief.

"Why don't you try cup of my special tea, Saotome-san."

"Special?"

"Yes, it's quite rare," Tofu said. "It's a fine oolong, aged for two years with rose petals. I just received a box of it from China earlier this week."

"It sounds delicious," Nodoka said, "thank you."

Tofu smiled and poured Nodoka a cup of the brew.

Nodoka sipped accepted the cup and sipped it. Not only was it delicious, but she could feel the tension flowing out of her even as its aroma reached her nose.

"Ranma has a great future ahead of him, you know," Tofu said with a sunny smile, "All we have to do right now is help him past this little hump."

Nodoka tightened her grip upon her cup, fighting off a shiver.

"Doctor, I'd like to ask you about my son's cursed form, if I may."

"You mean his female form?"

"Yes."

"What would you like to know?"

"Is it truly complete?"

"Physically, Ranma is one-hundred and ten percent female in his cursed form," Tofu said in a careful tone of voice, "Mentally, I don't think he knows how to be a female. His psyche is overwhelmingly masculine."

Nodoka nervously sipped at her tea again.

"Then you don't think he ... suffers from ... has urges ... "

Nodoka could not continue and cursed herself for even thinking of the question.

"That, I'm sure, is one of the unique challenges Ranma has faced on nearly a daily basis since the day he fell into that spring," Tofu said gently, "but his determination to be a man has never wavered insofar as I can tell."

"Then it _does_ affect his mind to some degree?"

"He has never said so," Tofu said evenly, "but I cannot imagine how it would be otherwise. He loses several kilos and several centimeters of his reach when he becomes a girl. The change in his body is totally complete, including fully female hormones according to the lab tests."

Nodoka took another sip of tea and closed her eyes.

"My poor, poor son," Nodoka whispered after a long silence.

"Oh, I wouldn't say that, Saotome-san," Tofu said, "He will have a much richer life than the rest of us for all of this."

Nodoka opened her eyes wide with shock.

"You sound envious!" Nodoka said.

"Think of it this way, Saotome-san," Tofu said, "Ranma is one of the few people on this earth who will be able to know what it is to be fully human."

Nodoka started to speak, but Tofu held up his hand.

"Please, hear me out," Tofu said. "Ranma is not just a fine young man. He is also a lovely young woman, or can be should the need arise. Now he is also a powerful young dragon."

Silent tears began to well up in Nodoka Saotome's eyes.

"These are opportunities to be treasured, but they do come with a great price. They mean that Ranma must do three times as much growing up as any ordinary human being. The kami have seen fit to ask a lot of him."

"It's unnatural!" Nodoka exclaimed.

"Nonsense!" Tofu said, sounding amused. "It's all perfectly natural, just extraordinary, that's all."

"Natural but extraordinary?" Nodoka asked, sounding suspicious.

"Ranma is not the only man to have had this type of curse, you know?"

"No?"

"Nor is it peculiar to the orient if legend is to be believed. The Ancient Greeks have stories about at least two different individuals who spent parts of their lives as members of the opposite sex."

"Did they ever meet?" Nodoka asked, her curiosity overcoming her fears for a moment.

"Not as far as I know," Tofu said, "but you have to admit that it would have made for some intriguing possibilities."

"I can't imagine," Nodoka said, then winced. "No, that's not true. I think I _can_ imagine and it is one of the things which concerns me."

"You needn't be concerned, Saotome-san," Tofu said. "I've watched Ranma and Akane together now for quite sometime. Ranma is so much in love with her I do not think anyone, much less another man, could ever turn his head. He looks at Akane the same way no matter what form he is in at the moment. She is the same by him."

Nodoka breathed a huge sigh of relief in spite of herself. She hated to admit it, even to herself, but her son's doctor knew more about him than she did. She was just now barely beginning to know who or what her son was. She could not deny that he was manly after seeing him fight that horrible monster and winning with such relative ease.

"But what of his draconian form?" Nodoka asked. "You seem to think his female form has some effect on his mind. Won't this new form effect him as well?"

"Oh, certainly," Tofu said, "but Ranma is basically a very decent human being down deep inside where it counts. To him, his draconian form is just another challenge to be mastered. Just as his Jusenkyo curse was a challenge to be mastered."

"Has he really gotten control of curse?"

"He has at least partial control," Tofu said, "that much is certain. Whether or not he has full control of it, or whether he will be able to control it all the time is another question."

"Why?"

"Well, changing forms without using water, or resisting it when he is splashed, takes a lot of ki. Fortunately, Ranma generates a great deal of ki. He is the strongest adept I or even Ko Lon has ever seen. Even so, he may not be able to resist the Jusenkyo affect whenever he's very tired, or has expended a great deal of ki. He is in his female form right now because of that."

"Oh," Nodoka said. "I did not realize this might be the case."

"Then of course, there's the fact that he will need to spend some time in his alternate forms once in a while in order to stay healthy."

"What?" Nodoka asked.

"Here," Tofu said with a gentle smile, "allow me to freshen our tea."

"Thank you, Doctor," Nodoka said, as Tofu refilled their cups. She told him with her eyes that she would not be distracted from receiving an answer to her question.

"Ranma will spend the rest of his life engaged in a kind of balancing act. In order to maintain the proper and healthy balance of his ki, he will need to spend time in each of his three forms."

"Then he will need to be fully female when he is female?"

"Ah, well more or less. He cannot help that, really. Mentally he remains masculine, but his body is, well ... "

"Drop dead gorgeous and female?" Nodoka asked.

"Yes," Tofu said with a chuckle, "and his draconian form is, well, very draconian as far as I can tell, even though I'm not sure of all the details."

Tofu unconsciously scratched the back of his neck with one hand, then said, "Once he reaches about age eighteen, Ranma will probably spend the bulk of his time in his male, human form."

"I don't understand, he doesn't do that now?"

"He tries, but he just recently gained partial control of his curse. His real problem has been that young women mature at an earlier age than young men."

Nodoka gasped, then covered her mouth with one hand. Tofu raised his eyebrows in response.

"You see now what I mean about Ranma having more growing up to do than anyone else? He has three different bodies now. Each of them needs time to grow. He's only seventeen."

Nodoka closed her eyes and nodded her head.

"His father may not approve of it, but Ranma needs a lot of nurturing right now. The next year or so is going to be quite difficult for him. I think it is well past the time he had a loving mother in his life. The same could be said for Akane."

"I'm not sure of what to do!" Nodoka said, clearly distraught. "Is he my son or is she my daughter? Is he a human or is he some kind of kami in the making?"

"Welcome to the club, Saotome-san," Tofu said in gentle, but amused voice. "I am his doctor, and I seldom know exactly how to treat Ranma either. I find that I must think every step completely through before I take it. He is no ordinary patient."

Nodoka sipped at her tea, looking upset despite its calming effects.

"I think your job is much simpler than mine, really," Tofu's said.

"How so?" Nodoka asked, sounding slightly offended.

"You need merely do what is already in your heart, Saotome-san," Tofu said. "Just love your child and nurture him as best you can."

Nodoka stared at Tofu for a long time without saying anything.

"It can't be that simple, Sensei."

"The normal standards for many things do not apply to Ranma," Tofu said, "but the most important ones are just as much the same for him as they are for anyone else. In many ways perhaps, they are even more important. Right now, he needs a mother who loves him. What could be simpler? Or more complicated?"

"Is Ranma conscious right now?"

"Yes, in a way," Tofu said. "He is aware of what is going on around him, but he is very lethargic. He may have gone to sleep since I came down here."

"Then I will go see him."

Tofu smiled at her.

"Good! I'll be up as soon as Akane's medicine is finished."

"She will bear him strong sons, won't she?"

"Hah!" Tofu laughed. "Her daughters will be at least as strong as the average boy. Each of her sons will be more than a handful."

"I look forward to that," Nodoka said with a grin, then left the lab and made her way up the stairs.


Happosai sat quietly in his cell, thinking and reminiscing. He had done much more of that than he liked in the last few days. He was, he had decided, a man living outside of time. He had, over the long years, slowly become a stranger in his own homeland without ever realizing it until today. Japan had changed so much from the time of his youth, that if he stopped and thought about it, she was hard to recognize. The number of people he had known when a young man and who were still alive was quite small. Out of them, the ones he could count as friends were even fewer. He had outlived the majority of his friends and all of his serious enemies. While his wealth was not vast, he was more than comfortable. He was at an age now where he would have to do something truly foolish to ever want for money. Wealth meant very little to him anymore.

The only thing left that he actually treasured was The Art. Oh, to be sure, he loved stealing lingerie, but he never kept it for very long. There was a ready market for stolen lingerie in Tokyo and he sold the stuff by the truckload. He did not enjoy keeping his silky darlings nearly so much as he did stealing them, but even that was beginning to pale somewhat. No, what truly mattered to him now was to see his Art continued. The true medium of a Martial Artist's Art is his students. Having watched two of his best do battle in Furinkan yard, there was no longer any question about which of them was his true heir.

Like it or not, it was time for him to begin the hard and dangerous work of passing the torch. He would license Ranma to teach. In teaching, the boy would learn more about himself and The Art than he would from further study with a master. Happosai got out his writing materials and began drafting a license, no, a permit really. Ranma would be allowed one student of his own choice. If that student did well, then perhaps Happosai might certify him as a master of the Anything Goes School. In this, as in all else, the boy would have to prove himself worthy. Ranma would also have to prove himself capable of producing more than one heir. The Art was too important to have its future hopes pinned to the well-being of a single person.

Happosai would have preferred that Soun Tendo had remarried and tried to have more children, but that simply was not to be. The death of his wife had reduced the man to a quivering shadow of his former self. Genma had been nearly hopeless from day one. The fool believed that a woman's influence weakened him, when obviously the exact opposite held true. Nodoka was all the backbone Genma had ever had or ever would have. Fortunately, Ranma Saotome showed every sign of having his mother's steely nature and implacable will. Happosai laughed mirthlessly to himself and silently thanked the kami. His waning years were going to prove interesting after all.


Nodoka paused at the top of the stairs. The climb had seemed interminable to her. She had begun to fear that she had waited too long; that the distance between herself and her child had become so great that the gulf between them could never be bridged. Now, on this very evening, she would find out if she were just a woman with a grown child, or hopefully, a mother.

She took in the scene of the second story flat with fearful eyes. The place was warm, but the silence pervading the room was heavy, almost oppressive to Nodoka. Kasumi and Nabiki had finished setting out dishes for luncheon. Nabiki was sipping at a cup of tea while reading a textbook. Akane was lying on a futon next to Ranma, obviously suffering from great discomfort and awake because of it. Kasumi was kneeling beside her baby sister, holding a cup of tea for her. Ranma's appearance was positively frightening; Nodoka had never seen him so pale or his exhaustion so complete; yet he called out to her in the soft voice of his feminine form. Somehow, without ever opening his eyes, Onna-Ranma had detected Nodoka's presence.

"Mom?"

Nodoka fought against the adrenaline surging into her bloodstream. The desire to tear across the room and throw herself down by Ranma's side was nearly unbearable, but she had an example to set. Her son did need to do a lot of growing up, and he needed to learn the things his father had not troubled himself to teach, or worse, discouraged. Nodoka walked softly across the room with carefully measured steps, then knelt down by her son.

"Yes, Ranma?" Nodoka asked as she took Onna-Ranma's left hand. She found the feel of it startling. There was little that could be called feminine about the feel of Onna-Ranma's hand. It was all ropy steel wrapped in the hard calluses of pain and endurance. Nodoka clutched it a bit harder than she intended, waiting for Onna-Ranma to speak. He had to struggle several times to get out the words.

"I'm ... I'm ... sorry, Mother. I ... did ... didn't ... mean ... to ... disappoint ... you."

Onna-Ranma opened his eyes despite the fatigue plaguing him, staring deep into Nodoka's eyes, worriedly seeking reassurance. Nodoka gave out a little gasp as she felt her heart plummet into those ocean blue depths.

"Nonsense, Ranma! You have not disappointed me. I was a little frightened, that's all."

"Didn't ... mean ... to ... do ... that ... either."

"It was a most difficult battle, my son," Nodoka said, silently cursing at the catch in her throat. "You were magnificent."

The obvious relief in Onna-Ranma's face tore at Nodoka's heart. Just the day before her son had faced a monster nearly five meters tall with careless ease, as though it were just pleasant walk in the sun. Today all Ranma Saotome was worried about was what she, his mother, thought. Tofu had been right. Her son might occasionally be as much a daughter as a son, or even a dragon in his spare time, but the truth was undeniable. He was her child. Hers! She loved him and he was as precious to her now as the day he was born.

"We are about to have luncheon, Ranma. You should eat if you can."

Onna-Ranma moved his head from side to side, and smiled faintly.

"Had ... a ... really big ... supper ... last night, Mom."

Nodoka laughed softly at this, as did the other girls.

"Perhaps you should rest then."

Onna-Ranma nodded his head, then felt about with his right hand until he found Akane's left. He gave it a squeeze before falling fast asleep.

Nodoka looked up at Akane.

"How are you feeling, my dear?"

"I ache all over, Mother, but I'll be okay in a day or so."

Kasumi and Nabiki both gasped at the word "mother." Both had on some level expected to eventually hear Akane call Nodoka that, but hearing her actually say it came as a shock. Even Nodoka had been taken aback, but she recovered her poise quickly. She gave Akane a sunny smile.

"Good. Will you eat here? Or shall I help you to the table?"

"I'd like to try eating at the table I think, Mother."

Kasumi quickly moved aside, her face aglow with happiness.

"Lean on me, child," Nodoka said to Akane. "Don't strain yourself any more than you must."


P-Chan woke up tumbling around within the dark confines of Burton's trunk like a dried pea rattling around in boxcar. To say that he was confused amounts to the understatement of this century and possibly the one previous. He could remember very little of what had happened during his brief ride in the dogcatcher's truck. All he could remember was a hungry-looking dragon speaking with Ranma Saotome's voice. Shortly after he became conscious, the thermos Nabiki had given Burton shattered, covering him with hot water. While the sudden increase in size greatly reduced the velocity at which he banged into the limits of his confines, rattling around in Burton's trunk still hurt. Being assaulted by his own pack and umbrella only added insult to injury.

"Great!" Ryoga shouted. "First you swallow me whole, then you go for a long jog! Is that how dragons settle their breakfast, Ranma?"

The violent motion tortured Ryoga's middle ear unmercifully. Bile rose in his throat. The good part about this was that he had not eaten for quite some time and therefore threw up very little. The bad part of it was, his stomach insisted that he keep throwing up. If Ranma doesn't stop running soon, my stomach is going to pitch my toenails, Ryoga thought as his empty stomach made yet another painful effort to heave its nonexistent contents.

"Why am I throwing up when I should be giving him indigestion?" Ryoga cried out between painful retches.


Jack Burton did not forget the black piglet in his trunk, but he did have more pressing concerns on his mind. Chief among those concerns was the traffic slowing his progress towards Haneda airport. He was thankful that his friends were coming in from Taiwan, rather than Australia as they had originally planned. That would have meant a trip out to Narita. The very thought of making a trip to Narita caused him to shudder. Once at the airport he could not convince the airport cops that he was there to pick up friends and not a paying fare, so he had to park in the garage.


The sudden cessation of motion first came as a relief to Ryoga, but then he began to worry. Soon, very soon, Ryoga thought, he would be bathing in the gastric juices of a dragon. Then, over the next several days, he would slowly dissolve, as he became a part of his hated enemy. He would never see Akari or Akane again and it would all be Ranma's fault. Yellowish-green fire began to flicker around Ryoga as the worst case of depression he had ever felt began settle upon his heart. Unfortunately, he did not open his eyes. If he had, the light of his own aura would have given him cause for hope.

"Oh, so you finally decided to take a nap and digest your breakfast, is that it, Ranma?" Ryoga bellowed. "I'll show you! YOU BASTARD!"

"SHI-SHI HOKODAN!"

Life for both Jack Burton and Ryoga Hibiki then became very, very complicated as Ryoga's ki blast tore Burton's cab to pieces and generally made a shambles of the parking garage. Airport security and damage control personnel immediately leapt into action. They were not amused by this turn of events, even after finding a naked and very befuddled Ryoga Hibiki standing in the middle of the wreckage.


Ukyo Kuonji lay back on her futon, marveling at how relaxed she had become. Konatsu had just proven to be a marvelous gift. She just wished she had been sensible enough to unwrap it sooner. Oh, well. No use crying over spilt milk, right? Konatsu might not be nearly as showy as Ran-chan, but he certainly possessed a great deal of talent. Oh, did he EVER possess some talent! Life without Ranma was going to be pretty good after all, provided she could figure out a way to explain things to her dad.


There were times when Nabiki Tendo well and truly hated the cellular telephone. Now was just such an instance. She was tired. It had been a very trying day, even though a Saturday. Now, while she and Kasumi were rushing about the house gathering the things needed to take Ranma and Akane out to Tofu's country house, the damned phone had to ring.

"Tendo!" Nabiki all but snarled into the infernal device.

"Nabiki Tendo?" A rough, masculine voice asked on the other end of the call.

"Yes," Nabiki said, sounding both irritated and puzzled.

"The Master told me to call and ask about your pet dragon."

"Tell him the dragon is just fine and well fed for the moment, but that could change suddenly," Nabiki answered, with a fine, sharp edge of menace in her voice.

The man on the other end chuckled then said, "He said to tell you that he needs to see you as soon as possible. He has something on hand that the dragon will want."

"Tell him I'll be there as soon as visiting hours start tomorrow morning," Nabiki snapped. "I'm in the middle of covering another emergency."

"Are you sure you want me to tell him that?" The man asked. "He seemed rather keen on seeing you this evening."

"Tell him that I won't have the dragon leashed in time to make it tonight," Nabiki said, making sure her grin got across in her voice. "He'll understand."

"I'll tell him," The man said, then broke the connection.

Nabiki shook her head and went about her business. Happosai would just have to wait his turn. Ranma and Akane would always come first in her book. Well, Ranma would always come first, even if she went to her grave without ever admitting it to anyone. Well, anyone but Ranma. Her secret was safe with him.


End of Chapter 7 Part d
Copyright © Don Granberry.