Comes the Cold Dragon

Don Granberry

Chapter 10


Most of the characters in this piece and the setting for it were conceived of by Rumiko Takahashi for her Ranma 1/2 series of Manga. All such characters and the setting are the property of Takahashi-sensei and her licensees. All other characters, except those noted below, are purely fictional and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.


Many extra special thanks go to my pre-readers for helping to improve this piece.

The _M/V Rodriquez_ plowed along merrily at ten knots in a following sea, making Prince Haabu, Lord of the Musk, think of Shan Wa's parting blessing. If only the seas were a bit calmer, Haabu thought to himself, things would be much better, but at least we do have the wind at our back. He watched the ship's motion from his vantage point in the superstructure, one deck below the bridge. After gauging the way the bow of the _Rodriquez_ barely ruffled the water, Haabu decided to have a word with the captain. Doubtlessly the fool was more concerned with fuel consumption than he was with improving their transit time.

Haabu made his way up ladder then entered the bridge without asking permission. Discipline aboard this vessel did exist in an offhand manner, but no one announced his presence on the bridge.

"A word with you, Captain?" Haabu said to the much smaller man. He disliked speaking with an underling this way, but had decided it was best to allow the captain to run the ship and therefore had no wish to undermine the man's authority with his crew any more than necessary. Just so long as they all knew what their obligations were, everything would be fine.

The captain stepped outside with Haabu, shivering in the cold wind.

"Why are we not making more headway?"

"At a higher speed, this old bucket will become very uncomfortable, Lord Haabu."

"Comfort is not my primary concern, Captain. Time is my greatest worry. I requested you make best possible speed to Japan."

"As you wish, Lord Haabu, but believe me when I tell you that increasing speed will make for a most uncomfortable trip. Even the saltiest of my own crew will be seasick within a few hours. Matters will become considerably worse after our next course change. We will then be in a quartering sea."

"Captain, I do not care if we all reach Japan hanging over the lee rail. All I care about is getting there as quickly as possible."

"Warn your people then, Lord Haabu," the captain said. "I shall give the word at immediately."

Without further discussion, the captain opened the door to the pilothouse and gave his order directly to his helmsman. As with most commercial vessels, he did not have an officer of the deck.

"All ahead full!" the captain ordered.

The helmsman gave his captain a double take.

"You heard me!" the captain said, sounding mildly irritated.

The helmsman rang the order through to engineering with the ship's telegraph. It did not answer for a long moment.

"Answering all ahead full, Captain."

"Very good. Steady as she goes, Helm."

The exhaust gently puffing from the stacks became steady streamers of oily smoke as the monstrous diesels in the belly of the _Rodriquez_ increased their prodigious appetite for fuel. Within a minute she began to lope across the waves, her bows creating a mighty splash as she caught up with each retreating crest.

Haabu realized immediately that the captain had not been kidding about seasickness. He hastened back to his quarters, looking for Kiima. They would need to rotate the guards he had stationed in the vessel's engineering spaces more often. A man sickened by being below decks in a rolling, pitching ship would not be of much use as a guard. He knew from first-hand experience that it helped if you could get out from below so that you could see the horizon. Kiima, quite wisely, had taken her cursed form and was wearing a life jacket.

At four in the morning on Thursday, Ranma Saotome rose from his futon fully awake.

(What's up with us all of sudden, Saotome? We never woke up like this before.)

(That's because Pop usually pitched us out of a window or somethin', Red.)

(Hmm, maybe there was some logic buried in the madness of Shit-Daddy's methods, Saotome.)

(That's the way I figure it. It's time to wake the tomboy up. You want the duty?)

(Why don't you give it a try first, Saotome. You need the practice.)


"YO, Tomboy! Rise and shine. It's time to get stretched out!"

Akane mumbled something rude, then tried to cover her head up with her pillow. Ranma reached for Akane's collar, but froze in place before his fingers could quite touch the material of her pajamas.

(What in the hell are you thinking, Saotome? Have you lost our mind?)

(Hey! It's trainin'!)

(That's a shit-daddy stunt, you jerk!)

(So? It worked for us, didn't it?)

(Yeah, and we just worship the ground Shit-daddy walks on, don't we, Saotome? Besides, we just fell in at Jusenkyou. Akane drowned there, remember? She might never forgive us if you just grab her up and throw her into the stock pond with no warning.)

(Yeah, okay. You're right. But, we gotta find a way to get her up with her blood pumpin'. It's essential to her trainin'.)

{{Try blowing in her ear.}}

(The idea is to get HER blood pumpin', Scales. WE are awake already.)

(It's not that bad an idea, Saotome.)

(No, except it might lead to stuff we ain't ready for.)

(You are such a hopeless prude, Saotome.)

{{Would not anything cold do just as well as a dunk in the pond? A bucket of water, perhaps?}}

(Now that might work!)

(It's a dumb guy-trick, Saotome!)

(You got a better idea, Red? Truck it on out here so we can see it!)

(I think you should blow in her ear.)

(Wait a minute, Red. There might be a way to do it all in one shot.)

Ranma got up and made his way to the back door of the farmhouse then picked his way around to the southeast corner of the old building.

(That'll work.)

(The rain barrel will work? What will it work with, Saotome?)

{{I understand. It's brilliant! Simply brilliant!}}

Ranma plunged his hands and forearms into the frigid water all the way up to his elbows. Not wanting to be either female, nor wanting to warm himself up to change back to his male form, he expended the necessary ki required to cancel the change. He snickered as he ran back to his and Akane's room.

"Tomboy?" Ranma asked as bent over his sleepy fiancee's prostrate form. "It's time ta get up."

Akane mumbled something incoherent. Ranma blew gently in her ear, making Akane shiver beneath the covers. He followed this up by kissing the nape of Akane's neck. This resulted in Akane squirming.

"Now?" Akane asked, with yet another, involuntary wiggle.

"Yes, now," Ranma whispered back as he slid his icy right hand beneath covers. He kissed Akane's neck again while sliding his freezing palm along her stomach.

"Heeee!" Akane said with a sharp intake of breath.

Ranma grinned, then slid his hand a little lower.

"Whaaaa!" Akane shouted then began to thrash her legs. They were so badly entangled in the covers she could not cross them, and she very desperately wanted to cross her legs. "What are you doing, you PERVERT!"

"Wakey, wakey, Akane," Ranma said, unable to keep the amusement out of his voice. "Time to do your stretches."

"Why didn't you just throw me into the stock pond, Baka!"

"Oh, well, hell!" Ranma said cheerfully as he scooped Akane up and threw her over his shoulder. "That ain't no problem!"

Ranma ignored the fact that he had scooped up the bed clothing along with his now startled and irate fiancee, and trooped down the hall with her over his shoulder. Akane began beating him on the back with both fists.

"Don't you dare! Don't you dare! Don't you dare! Don't you dare!"

"Ranma?" Nodoka asked as she sleepily as she stuck her head out of the partially open shoji leading to her room.

"'Mornin', Mom!" Ranma called out cheerfully. "Sorry 'bout the noise. It goes with the trainin' sometimes."

"Ranma, put me down this instant! You, you SADISTIC PERVERT!"

Ranma began whistling a cheerful little tune as he slid the shoji in the engawa open and traipsed lightly across the sodden yard towards the stock pond.

"Ranma, put me down! I can't swim!"

"Hey!" Ranma said cheerfully, "You asked for it, remember?"

"This wasn't what I meant!"

"Sure you did, Akane!" Ranma said as he lifted his fiancee well above his head with one arm. "You wanted to learn the okugi." He pitched Akane into the stock pond, choosing a point that was only about a meter deep. She hit the water back first creating a most satisfying splash.

"Congratulations! You're gettin' one of the more interestin' lessons today!"

Ranma's attempt at pedagogy was answered only by bubbles of outrage and drifting blankets. Akane did not surface, even to splutter or spray heartfelt invective.


(Let's give her a minute and see if she can't figure out that she's in shallow water, Red.)

(No way, Saotome! You go help her up out of that water right ...)

Akane rose from the cold and now muddy waters of the stock pond. Steam wafted off her hunched shoulders.

{{Oh, my!}}

(She is some kind'o pissed, Saotome!)


"Nyah, nyah! The tomboy wants to be a martial artist! Let's see if she can handle it like a man!"

Akane's responded by throwing a punch. It was the first punch that constituted the first move of the first kata of the Beginner's Sextet. Ranma grinned. He knew it would the first thing to cross her mind. The punch would have landed and knocked the wind from his body, had it not been for the slick clay forming the stock pond's bottom. Akane involuntarily did ninety-percent of a full split, then disappeared beneath the frigid wavelets. More bubbles of outrage ensued. Ranma laughed.

"Nice try, Tomboy!" Ranma shouted, bending over so his mouth would be closer to the water's surface. "Wanna try it again? Looks to me like you could use a little more ... Urk!"

Akane's fist exploded from the muddy depths, slamming into Ranma's chin. He went over backwards and into the mud. He made no attempt to stop his cursed body from changing into his female form. He would need all the ki he could muster from now until breakfast.

(Heh, she's almost as sneaky as we are, Saotome.)

(What are you talkin' about? She don't know the meanin' of sneak yet!)

(She got us with that one didn't she?)

(Only because we let her have a free shot.)

(Yeah, okay. But she's learnin' fast.)

(She should! She's had all this time watchin' me and the old man every mornin'!)

Ranma leapt to his feet, just in time to see an exceedingly annoyed Tendo rise from the waters of Ono Pond. Onna-Ranma put on his most irritating smirk, the one guaranteed to annoy even Kasumi, and waded out into the pond until he was in water of about the same depth as Akane. Akane turned to keep her eyes on him as he did so.

(Good! Very good!)

{{Yes, she is definitely in training mode!}}

(More like track and kill mode, if ya ask me, but it'll do.)

"Have I ever told'ja how pretty you are when yer mad, Akane?"

Akane dropped into a ready stance. This stance had been designed to look like nothing of the kind, but Onna-Ranma recognized it at once and was enormously pleased.

"Begin!" Onna-Ranma shouted.

Akane made no protest. She simply launched a hard punch at his solar plexus. Onna-Ranma backed away at the last possible second then continued to track every move Akane made in the same fashion. He began having a hard time keeping his smirk in place. What he really wanted to do was to kiss her.

(Man! She's really into it, now, Red! Lookit that concentration.)

(You got that right, Saotome. She's showing some intelligence. If she had stuck strictly to the kata, that punch would have been aimed at our breastbone. You had better not slip! She'll hurt us bad if you do.)

The cold, north wind howled across Ono Pond unnoticed as the pair continued to train, repeating the first kata of the Beginner's Sextet, over and over and over and over ...

"Pay up, Kuno-san," Nabiki said to a very irate Kodachi, "and be happy I'm not charging you for your full share. I could demand one-third of the total damages from you."

"Very well, Sensei," Kodachi said in a petulant voice. Her petulant voice had always proven effective, but ricocheted off the Ice Queen of Nerima unnoticed, "but I demand to know what you are charging that gutter-merchant. Fair is fair, after all."

"Fair?" Nabiki asked with the frigid rictus she liked to use on deadbeats. "Fair is in the eye of the beholder, Kuno-san. Other people's arrangements with me are none of your business."

Kodachi was too outraged to speak.

"Pay up or quit, Kodachi," Nabiki said, meaning every word of it. "I didn't think you could deal with the real world anyway."

"What do you mean?" Kodachi shrieked.

"I mean that the rest of us are almost always held accountable for our actions, Kuno-san. We are not insulated from reality by a sea of money. My family would be very well off by now were it not for the little incidents like the one you were involved in last night. Now pay up, or admit you haven't got what it takes and go home."

Kodachi angrily slapped the money into Nabiki's outstretched hand.

"I am not required to be happy about it, am I?"

Nabiki's grin turned feral. "Of course not! If I ever hear of you being happy about losing money while you are a student of mine, I'll personally throw your ass in the koi pond."

Kodachi briefly considered explaining how such an event was not possible, but then thought better of it. In truth, Nabiki Tendo was an unknown quantity in the martial arts. The girl had grown up in a dojo, after all. Better to study the ice-clad bitch first.

"Now let's talk serious business," Nabiki said, as though their argument had never taken place. "What did you learn from Thibbideaux's books?"

Kodachi was amazed. She had pulled nearly every trick in the book out on Nabiki, yet her composure had never faltered. Kodachi could not tell whether that was the result of a carefully cultivated skill, or if perhaps Nabiki was actually soulless. Either way, she could take lessons from the bitch on that score. She took a deep breath, and marshaled her own meager talents in this particular field and reported like a good soldier.

"He appears to be moderately profitable as matters stand now, Sensei. His payables are all up-to-date and well kept, but his receivables are something of a mess. It took me a while, but I finally convinced him that he should allow me to mail out some politely worded duns."

"Good," Nabiki said with a nod of her head. "It's not uncommon for these skilled labor types to be kind to customers they should be tough with. What else can you tell me?"

"He's paying too much rent for that little shop," Kodachi said. "Almost certainly a result of the gaijin factor."

Nabiki nodded her head in appreciation of this. Landlords invariably charged foreigners more for rent, considering them poor risks. "We may do something about that later, depending on how this deal works out in the next few weeks. For now, we'll leave matters as they stand."

"As you wish, Sensei."

"Have you worked up those break-even charts on alternative shop sites?"

"Yes, Sensei," Kodachi answered as she handed Nabiki a thick, manila folder. "They are very tedious and time-consuming."

"That's why I had you do them," Nabiki said, giving Kodachi a cold smile. "You had best get off to school, I think."

"Thank you, Sensei," Kodachi said, sarcastically sounding as though she had just been given a chest full of gold coins. "Will you require me to meet you here this evening, or shall I report directly to the bicycle shop?"

"I'll let you know, Kuno-san. Keep your telephone handy."

"Yes, Sensei. Sayonara!"

"Ja ne, Kuno-san."

Nodoka Saotome stared in horror across the breakfast table at her son and soon-to-be daughter-in-law. Akane attempted to steal a piece of fish from Otoko-Ranma's plate, but he deftly trapped her wrist between his chopsticks then forced the mercurial girl to scoop up a large load of rice from her own plate and stuff it into her mouth.

"Urrrgh!" Akane noised, as tears of frustration collected at the corners of her eyes.

Ranma smirked, then seized a pickle from Akane's plate. She vainly tried to stab Ranma in the back of the hand with her chopsticks. Ranma blocked her attack with a twist of his supple wrist, then riposted by slipping the pickle past Akane's lips, causing her distended cheeks to balloon out even farther. She looked very like an embarrassed chipmunk. Akane chewed then swallowed as she feigned a grab for another piece of Ranma's fish. Ranma answered by feigning a parry. Akane, thinking she had succeeded in fooling her lighting-born fiance, went for one of his pickled plums instead.

"Ow!" Akane yelped at the stinging pain in the back of her hand. "That ... Glurp! .. Burted!" Her eyes crossed as the full impact of the plum's pungent taste informed her that Ranma had once again gotten something she did not want into her mouth.

"Urrgh!" Akane noised. The tears collecting at the corners of her eyes this time, were caused by the extraordinary tartness of the pickled plum.

Nodoka shook her head in disbelief. Through the course of the morning meal, Ranma has somehow managed to consume enough food for two fully-grown men while tricking Akane into eating half-again as much. Between the two of them, they had eaten enough to sate five, burly, working-class males and as of yet, were showing no signs of letting up.

Ukyou breathed a sigh of relief as the breakfast rush faded, then began cleaning her grill. It had not been a bad day so far and quite profitable, or seemed to be until Nabiki Tendo walked in a took a seat. Ukyou had no doubts about what had prompted Nabiki's visit. She opened her register and took out an envelope before addressing the Ice Queen.

"Here, Tendo-san," Ukyou said with a deep blush. "Please accept my apologies for what happened last night."

"Save it for Ranma, Ukyou-chan," Nabiki said with a warm smile. "I just came in here for an early lunch."

"But what about the damages last night? I know they must have sent you ..."

Nabiki cut Ukyou off with a casual wave of the hand.

"That's not a problem, Ukyou-chan," Nabiki said, broadening her smile considerably. "I'll just put it on Ranma's tab."

Ukyou shuddered. She knew all too well what that meant for Ranma.

"That's not fair, Nabiki Tendo!"

"Unfair to whom?" Nabiki asked. "Me or Ranma? If he doesn't want to pay it off himself, he can always come collect from you."

Ukyou shut her eyes and shivered. That cold-hearted, money-grubbing bitch! How can she do this to me?

"Why are you doing this, Nabiki?"

"It seemed the best for everyone involved," Nabiki said with an arched eyebrow. "I think I'll have the seafood special with green tea."

Ukyou thought about Nabiki's answer while pouring batter onto the grill.

"How come you never tried this before?"

"Simple. It never occurred to me before."

Ukyou stared at Nabiki for a moment. How did you know it would work this time, bitch? Ukyou wanted to ask but did not. Then the answer came to her in a flash of inspiration. She knows because she is as much in love with him as the rest of us have been. She knows firsthand how badly it hurts me to hurt Ran-chan. No wonder she turned into such a cold fish. How else would you deal with being in love with your sister's fiance? There was a quick way of testing her suspicions and Ukyou did not hesitate.

"This one's on the house, Tendo-san."


"Because I pity you," Ukyou said.

"Pity me? Why?"

"Let's just say I've been where you are now, and leave it go at that," Ukyou said, watching Nabiki carefully. The Ice Queen's facade did not crack, but Ukyou could see the faint signs of a major trembler behind it.

"Far be it from me to turn down free food!" Nabiki said, sounding as though she had stumbled onto an unexpected bounty. Ukyou smiled at Nabiki, knowing full well that it was just a show.

Mu Suu spotted Nabiki Tendo near the school rather than in it as he expected. This did not really matter to him very much. He did not care whether Nabiki Tendo attended all her classes or not. It was none of his business. All he wanted to do was give her the damned envelope and be about his own affairs.

"What is this, Mu Suu?" Nabiki asked.

"I cannot be sure, as Elder Ko Lon did not say," Mu Suu said, pausing to straighten his glasses, "but I would be surprised if there isn't a sizeable sum of cash in that envelope."

Nabiki cocked an eyebrow, then opened an envelope. She examined the contents, then looked up at Mu Suu with a crooked grin.

"Please give the Honored Elder my kindest regards, Mu Suu," the Ice Queen said, "and tell her that I find it a pleasure doing business with her."

"As you wish, Tendo-san," Mu Suu said. "May the remainder of your day be pleasant."

"And yours, Mu Suu," Nabiki said.

Mu Suu wasted no time in departing. He had a great deal to do and little time in which to do it. He did not know that Nabiki had seriously considered giving the money back. Ko Lon had paid for half the damages. Nabiki was well aware that this was not generosity on the Elder's part. The wily old Joketsu was assuming half the responsibility for the affair, as though Ranma was actual kin. The only reason Nabiki decided to accept the over-payment was because refusing it was worse than accepting it. She made a mental note to give Nodoka a call after school.

Soun and Genma dropped their heavy bundles of firewood, then groaned while stretching their backs. With a sigh, Genma picked up the first of the bundles and added it to the neat stack that lined the full length of the eastern wall of Tendo-ke. Soun helped him with the second bundle when the larger man had trouble lifting it.

"Well, Saotome," Soun said between pants. "That looks be to the last of it."

"I hope it's enough, Tendo."

"So do I, Genma-kun," Soun said, as tears came into his eyes. "The next nearest shrine is out on the north edge of town."

"Hmmm," Genma growled. "It would take us weeks to fetch this much deadfall from there, Tendo-kun."

"It will be worth it, should it become necessary, Saotome."

"You're right, of course. I just hope we don't need it."

"Good afternoon!" A hearty, yet feminine voice cheerfully called from the west side of the house. "Where is everybody?"

"Breakfast!" the two old friends chorused with large smiles. Neither had eaten since the evening before, now both had a spring in their hobble as they made their way around the house. Ukyou had them well trained. The sound of her voice made them salivate.

"Ah, Ukyou-san!" Soun said as he and Genma rounded the corner of the house. "That smells delicious!"

Ukyou gave Tendo a sunny smile. "I brought plenty of it. Nabiki said you had a guest and that you two would have extra big appetites."

Genma gently relieved Ukyou of her burden. She gave him a scowl anyway.

"So we do, Ukyou-chan," Soun said, returning the smile the lithe young woman had given him. At that moment, Tetsugo limped out onto the engawa. Ukyou gasped upon seeing him.

"Good afternoon, Tetsugo-sama!" Ukyou said following her greeting with a very reverent bow.

"Hello, Ukyou-chan!" Tetsugo said with a warm smile for her. "I see you still carry that grand spatula I made. It serves you well, I trust?"

"Indeed it does, Tetsugo-sama."

"And how is your father?"

"Grey around the edges, but as robust as ever, Tetsugo-sama," Ukyou said. "He will be pleased to know that you asked of him."

"Here," Tetsugo said as he handed Ukyou a carefully tied furoshike. It was made of exceedingly fine silk and dyed in a rare pattern of deep greens and bright gold. The pattern depicted a bamboo grove full of tiny, golden birds. One could almost hear them singing. Ukyou was shocked by the weight of the package and nearly dropped it.

"I am not worthy, Tetsugo-sama!" Ukyou said, as she again gave the muscular old man a reverent bow.

"Of course you are, child!" Tetsugo said with a laugh. "Few work at a grill as hard as I work at a forge, and you are too little appreciated by most."

Tears came into Ukyou's eyes as she answered. "Thank you, Tetsugo-sama."

"Not at all!" Tetsugo said. "It is I who thank you for this delicious repast!"

Soun Tendo cleared his throat, then said, "Nabiki left this for you." He handed her an envelope.

"Thank you, Tendo-san."

"I hope it is the right amount, Ukyou-chan."

"I'm sure it is, Tendo-san. Nabiki seldom makes a mistake when it comes to money."

Genma grunted at this.

"As much as I would like to stay and visit, I must be going, gentlemen," Ukyou said. Soun could tell the girl was not merely being polite, but truly wanted to stay and visit with them and Tetsugo. "It's noon rush and Konatsu will be swamped."

"I understand, Ukyou-chan," Tetsugo said with a warm smile for Ukyou. "I shall come visit you before I return home."

Ukyou looked as though she might burst out into song.

"I would like that, Tetsugo-sama," Ukyou said, "Good-bye for now, though."

"Good-bye my child," Tetsugo said. Ukyou left quickly and the three hungry men sat down on the engawa to dig into the meal she had brought.

"So you know the Kuonji?" Soun asked between bites.

"Quite well," Tetsugo said with a nod of his head. "I've made things for them off and on for many years. They lead a curious life, the Kuonji."

"How so?" Soun asked.

"They deal with hundreds of people throughout any given day, yet end up alone in the evenings. Still, they manage to remain cheerful, outgoing, even loving."

Genma began to blush.

Tetsugo glanced at Genma then gave Soun a sly grin.

"And that young woman will soon produce a fine heir for her clan."

Soun suddenly looked fragile.

"Though perhaps not of the lineage her father expected," Tetsugo said with a huge smile.

Soun looked relieved. "I am happy for them, Tetsugo-sensei."

"So am I, Tendo-kun," Tetsugo said. "That young woman deserves a better life than she has lived thus far."

Genma Saotome turned beet red.

"But I'm sure she'll do well," Tetsugo said around a mouth full of egg and shrimp okonomiyaki. "She makes her own way."

The conversation died as the three men took on the serious work of assuaging their hunger.

Nodoka sat in the main room of Ono-ke knitting a heavy sweater. She tried to remember a time when she had been this happy. There had not been a single such time that she could recall, save perhaps the day she sat upon that stony shelf by the sea with her son's head in her lap. Oh, by the kami he had shown god-like courage that day. Now, for the first time in many months, things were peaceful. Her son sat wrapped in a quilt reading a chemistry book, while his fiancee lay stretched out on the floor, using his thigh for a pillow. She too lay beneath a quilt. Ono-ke was a very traditional old house and had nothing like central heat.

"More tea, anyone?" Nodoka asked.

"I'd like some," Akane answered.

"Sure, Mom, thanks," Ranma said, absently. His eyes never left the book he was reading.

Nodoka smiled as she poured tea for them all. "What are you studying so hard, Ranma?"

"About valences and things," Ranma said as he turned back a page. "It is very interesting once you get into it."

Akane grinned at this. She clutched her history book to her breast and sighed. "I'm hungry. How about you, Ranma?"

"Oh, I could eat a little something, I guess. Are there any apples left?"

"I'll go look," Akane said, throwing back the quilt and rising to her feet.

Nodoka gave her smile as she left for the kitchen. "She will produce fine babies for you, Ranma."

Ranma found this disconcerting. The orderly dance of electrons spinning in his head became total chaos as his concentration evaporated. He blushed violently as a look of embarrassed outrage lighted his face.


"You must be careful in training her, son. You wouldn't want to spoil her greatest value to our family and her own."

"She ain't exactly made of glass, Mom!"

"Oh, believe me. I can see that, Ranma. She is as sleek and powerful as a young lioness."

The unmistakable sound of a knife thumping a cutting board interrupted Nodoka's thoughts. She glanced at her son. Obvious concern was written on his face.

"To tell ya the truth, Mom. I worry more about what she might do to herself in the kitchen than what might happen to her in training."

Nodoka stifled the urge to laugh. "I'll go see how she's doing."

"Be careful in there, Mom. Doctor Frankenstein hasn't got anything on Akane. She doesn't need lightning to create a monster."

"Ranma!" Nodoka said in a reproving tone as she put aside her knitting and rose to her feet.

"I'm telling you, Mom!" Ranma said as he picked up his tea. "Be careful in there."

It was Nodoka's turn to roll her eyes. Ranma gave her a rueful grin.

Nodoka found that Akane was not doing all that badly -- at least not as badly as Ranma had reason to anticipate. She had managed to slice a loaf of Italian bread into two pieces along its length, although one was a bit thicker than the other, and was now constructing a sandwich of heroic proportions. The sort of sandwich an American would have called a "Dagwood,"

Nodoka watched in silence as Akane hummed happily to herself and spread a thick layer of mayonnaise on the bottom half of the loaf. She followed this with a thick bed of rice left over from the third batch Nodoka had cooked that morning. This was followed by reasonably thin slices of apple. Akane had not, Nodoka noted with mild alarm, bothered to peel the fruit, nor had she troubled herself to remove the pithy core or the seeds. Once Akane had the rice covered with slices of apple, she applied several pieces of unevenly sliced ham. This was followed by generous beads of mustard and a healthy powdering of black pepper. On top of this went a very large helping of coarsely chopped onion. Akane paused to consider her progress for a moment, then added a good crumbling of tofu. Nodoka thought that this might complete the bizarre project, but then was surprised as Akane opened a jar of pickled banana peppers and laid them on the growing heap, stems and all. The peppers were immediately buried by several thick peels of cheddar cheese. Akane then drizzled a tablespoon of maple syrup on the cheese. Nodoka bit down on her tongue and thought for a moment. Could it be? So soon?

Akane stepped back and eyed her creation as though she were Michelangelo surveying a piece of freshly quarried marble.

"Ah! I know!" Akane said to herself cheerfully. "It needs some bell pepper."

This momentous decision made, Akane picked out a bright red pepper from the basket of vegetables Nodoka had left out on the counter. Nodoka opened her mouth to speak, then decided to wait and see whether Akane would recognize her mistake.

"Gee, I don't think I have ever seen bell peppers this small," Akane said. She examined the small fruit for a moment, then with a shrug of her shoulders, she picked out several more habaneros and began dicing them up. Nodoka noted, with more than a little consternation that Akane did not think to remove the stems and seemed to be quite happy to keep the seeds along the rind. Nodoka's eyes began to water as Akane cheerfully scattered the chopped habanero across the cheese.

"It needs something else," Akane said in a bemused voice. "What could it be? Oh, I know! Lettuce!"

Akane then turned and opened the icebox and retrieved a small cabbage with which Nodoka had been planning to make slaw. Akane cheerfully ripped several leaves from it and lay them upon her growing pile of a sandwich. Satisfied with the results, Akane returned what was left of the cabbage to the refrigerator. She then placed the remaining half-loaf atop the entire monstrosity. It did not rest upon this great mix of comestibles so much as it teetered, like a drunken bird on an uncertain perch. Akane cheerfully corrected this problem by pressing it down with both hands. Things oozed out between the long slices of bread. Undeterred by this, Akane happily seized upon a cleaver and whacked the pile near its middle, chopping it into two somewhat less than equal pieces.

Akane stepped back and thoughtfully surveyed her work for a moment, then snapped her fingers.

"I nearly forgot the plums!"

She then fetched several pickled persimmons from their two-liter jar, diced them up and added them to the larger of the two pieces of sandwich. Nodoka shuddered at the sight of this. There was only one good explanation for what Akane was doing. Surely choosing persimmons over plums was merely a mistake as, no doubt, was the habanero, but there could be only one explanation that Nodoka knew of that could explain Akane's initial choices. She decided that now would be a good time to exert some gentle influence. She strode across the kitchen, picked up the large kettle and began filling it with water. Akane looked up in surprise.

"That's an interesting sandwich, dear," Nodoka said with a smile.

"Do you think so?"

"Oh, yes! Would you like some help wrapping it?"

"Oh, would you please?" Akane asked, clearly overjoyed that Nodoka had not seen fit to make her start over.

"Certainly, Akane dear," Nodoka said with a smile. She got out the waxed paper and deftly wrapped the two pieces so that they could be handled without spilling.

"Do you think Ranma will like it?"

"Well, I'm sure he can eat it, Dear," Nodoka said with a smile. "He has a very manly appetite, you know."

Akane giggled happily, then skipped back into the main room of the house, a piece of her creation in each hand. Nodoka began to dance a little jig of joy. She would be a grandmother much sooner than she had expected. Marshalling her self-control as quickly as she could, Nodoka sobered and turned the light out in the kitchen as she followed Akane back to the main room.

"Here's your half, Ranma," Akane said.

Ranma again interrupted the complex dance of electrons his mind's eye had found so fascinating and looked at the proffered sandwich.

(Ooh! A big, sloppy one.)

(Yeah, but it looks like Mom musta helped out, Red. It's wrapped up nice and neat.)

(Edible, you think?)

{{It smells delectable.}}

Ranma accepted the sandwich. Akane promptly sat down nearby and began rearranging her quilt, taking a large bite of her sandwich as she did so.

(She isn't making funny faces, Saotome.)

(See? Mom helped her out. We can eat it.)

Ranma took a large bite out of his sandwich. On the first good chew his eyes crossed. On the second attempt at mastication his face began to turn royal purple.

(GA-A-A-A-ACK! It's an Akane-meal, Saotome!)


{{Most interesting. I LIKE the combination: sweet and sour, coarse and fine, lots of vegetables with the meat. Most excellent!}}

(Oh, yeah, Scales? So how come our head feels like it is collapsing?)

{{Our head is not collapsing. That is merely the divine experience of consuming persimmons.}}

(Pah ... Pah ... Pickled persimmons, ya mean! Aw, geez! Our cheeks are crawling down our throat! We're gonna choke to death!)

Ranma's eyes began to water.

"Would you like some tea, Ranma?" Nodoka asked sweetly.

"Yis! Dat wud be wery, wery, gud, Mum."

"I think Akane did quite well for herself in the kitchen this morning."

The shade of Ranma's face deepened considerably.

(Our own mother, Saotome! Can you believe it?)

(If it had been the old man I would've, but this is really hard to take!)

{{Tut-tut, Saotome. Our mother is doing the best she can to help us out with our fiancee.}}

(We coulda used a little more warnin' than this, though!)

(Oh, never mind that right now you guys! Just grab the goddamned tea!)

Ranma forced his jaws to work; thereby grinding up the contents of his mouth enough so that swallowing would be possible. As soon as the over large bite of sandwich was on its way down, he gulped down the tea Nodoka had poured for him. She immediately refilled his glass. Ranma gulped it down as well. Nodoka poured him another.

"How is it, Ranma?" Akane asked.

"A little spicy, but okay, Akane."

(Whoa! Tell her another whopper, Saotome!)

(Hey! You're the one always gettin' on my back for not bein' nice to her at times like this!)

{{She is paying us back for that plum this morning at breakfast.}}

(Yeah, okay. We had it coming, Scales. Why did you do that, Saotome?)

(It was trainin,' remember?)

(Meanness is more like it! That was a shit-daddy trick, and you know it!)

{{I'd like another bite.}}


Ranma took another bite of his sandwich, then shivered.

"You mean you really like it?" Akane asked, sounding surprised.

"Guhd eez-ee-ir on da per-zim-mons nexdime, Agane."

"I didn't use persimmons, Ranma, just a couple of plums."

"Ogay. Varn me nexdime yew poot blums onda zambich."

Akane giggled, then said, "Okay." She smiled at him.

(Aw, man! Wouldja look at that?)

(Yeah. Take another bite, Scales. She just earned it.)

(Ya didn't hafta go that far, Red!)

{{Why not? This is vastly superior to her usual attempts.}}

(Scales has a point, Saotome. She used mayonnaise this time instead of thirty-weight.)

{{Nor did she spice it with drain cleaner crystals.}}

(Lots of black pepper though.)

Ranma drank another glass of tea. It would be a little while before his confused palate would detect the presence of habanero slivers, seeds and stems.

{YO! Scales! I thought we're supposed ta be a COLD dragon!)

{{And so we are, Saotome.}}

(Then why is it we are breathin' fire all of sudden, huh?)

(Oh, stop your arguing and drink, damn you! DRINK!)

Ichiro Kobayashi eyed his third son speculatively before speaking.

"So, now you plan to go to University. Is that it?"

"Yes, Father. You disapprove?"

Kobayashi thought about this for quite a while before answering. His first two sons had both attended college immediately upon graduating from high school. One had majored in law, the other in accounting. Both made high marks. Both were good boys and behaved responsibly. Both were now senior executives, dutifully shepherding Kobayashi interests. Neither of them would ever be fit to run the entire thing. Both were entirely too much the salary man and not enough of the hustler. Kobayashi had higher hopes for his youngest. The boy seemed to have the edge that Kobayashi had found to be lacking in the two older boys.

"No, not really," Kobayashi said. "Come walk with me for a bit."

"Yes, Father."

Kobayashi led his son down to the edge of the canal where it passed by the family estate. The sun was nearing the western horizon and off in the distance, mingled with the dull rumble of Tokyo traffic and the singing of tiny birds, Kobayashi could hear what he was waiting for, what he wanted his youngest son to see.

Bump-humph! Bump-humph! Bump-humph!

"There she is," Kobayashi said as a tiny tug pushing three narrow barges rounded a bend in the canal. "Right on time. Do you recognize her, Takeo?"

"Of course, Father. I played on her decks enough when I was little."

"I want you to take command of her for a year, starting this summer."

The boy was obviously surprised at this.

"Father! What have I done to offend you?"

"Nothing!" Kobayashi said with a snort. "That's what bothers me. You take no chances."

"So you punish me with this ... this ..."

"Nonsense, boy! I do not punish when it is undeserved. You know that!"

"Then why, Father?"

"Training, son. If you can make that old bucket turn a profit, you can make anything pay. Think of it as a challenge."

Much to Kobayashi's delight, Takeo grinned.

"I'll make her pay, Father," the boy said. "I don't know how, but I'll find a way."

"Good!" Kobayashi said. "Her skipper has his twenty years in and wants to retire. I asked him whether he would stay until you finished high school and he agreed."

Takeo looked surprised at this.

"He was pleased, you know. He expected me to have the old bucket scrapped after he retired--and I would have, if you refused the challenge."

"I accept it, Father. I won't really mind being free from classes for a year or so."

"Don't be cocky, boy! The trucking companies have been eating our lunch on the canal routes. You'll need to stay sharp to compete with them."

"I can do it."

Kobayashi was careful not to let the pleasure he felt with his son show.

"We'll see about that, Takeo. Let's go find out what we are having for dinner."

The sun had begun to sink down behind the treetops along the ridge west of Ono-ke when Ranma and Akane reentered the potting shed. The temperature was dropping rapidly. Outside, the wind howled in frustration as it raked the crude building with its icy claws. Occasionally, it would whistle when it found a crack in the structure and gleefully made the occupants shiver.

The interior of the shed was dim, and its weathered wood was glided in the eerie reds and golds of the dying day. The building had overhead lighting, but Ranma had deliberately left it off. The twilight hours taxed the human ability to coordinate hand and eye as no other set of conditions could. One's depth perception was quite poor in these conditions. The human instincts screamed for caution in low light, hampering the practitioner's movements without he or she even realizing it. The chill temperature and rough floor made matters worse. The risk to one's toes and the soles of one's feet was always something to worry about in this old building, particularly with so little light for the peripheral vision. This was a risky sort of training, but risk was the very essence of the okugi.

"Be ... Urp! ... Begin!"

(Damned sandwich!)


Akane's punch whistled in towards Ranma's solar plexus, terminating just as the two large knuckles of her right hand barely came into contact with the skin beneath the red silk of his shirt. The blow actually stung. The sleeve of Akane's heavy, cotton gi snapped quite loudly within the confines of the shed. It had been forced to break the sound barrier in order to stay on her body.


{{Impressive! Most impressive!}}

(Awright! Good one!)

Much to Ranma's elation, Akane was finally learning the awesome and terrible physics of the punch. The physicist will trot out his cold equations and explain that mass times velocity equals momentum or total energy. He will tell you that it is the transfer of that energy from one object to another according to natural law that results in damage great or small to the target. This is what makes the firearm such a terrifying weapon, despite the relatively small size of its projectiles.

"That was much better, Akane. Ready? Begin!"

For the martial artist using his or her body as a weapon, these cold equations are a double-edged sword. It takes a great deal of practice for one to be able to damage the target and not damage himself simultaneously. The human body is relatively frail at this level of performance. One may easily overextend and damage the shoulder or elbow joints. The wrist must hold the fist in perfect alignment so that the two largest knuckles strike the target simultaneously, while holding the metatarsals in perfect alignment with the large bones of the forearm. Less than perfect alignment can easily result in broken bones in the hand, or the wrist, or the forearm, or worst of all, a damaged elbow joint.

"Don't over-extend, Akane. You'll start havin' trouble with your shoulders if you keep that up. Ready? Begin!"

Properly delivered, the terrible energy of a punch is transferred to the target via the fairly small area of the two large knuckles. Energy is transferred to a living target upon contact by creating a hydrostatic shock wave which spreads rapidly with great violence through the rest of the body. This is what makes the fist of a good martial artist as effective as a thirty-eight-calibre pistol and his kick as deadly as that of a twelve-bore slug. Such blows can be fatal for even a large animal. Martial Artists have been known to kill charging bulls and several have killed bears. A true master of the Art, who has thorough control of his ki, is as deadly as a heavy machine gun, so long as the targets are within his range.

"Much better! Be sure to retract as fast as you can. You leave your foot stickin' out there and somebody'll tear up your off-knee. Ready? Begin!"

The keys to such an artist's technique is his ability to direct these terrible energies along the centerlines of his long bones and his acumen for judging the distance to his target. The difference between the success and failure of his techniques can be measured in millimeters. The Artist's muscles must be loose upon initiating a blow, but as tight and rigid as the cables of a suspension bridge at the instant of contact. Without rigid muscles for support, the Artist's bones would shatter. To remain effective in case the blow fails to land or to be able to answer other threats, the Artist must be able to relax those same muscles instantly upon the termination of a punch or kick. His speed of mobility demands it, for one cannot move quickly with the large muscles held rigid.

"Okay, your stayin' too tight again! Loosen up! Ready? Begin!"

The problems a Martial Artist faces are complex. The environment in which he or she applies the Art without reserve is as dynamic as that of a hot and fully ionized gas. In such an environment there are only two kinds of combatants: the knowledgeable and the dead. Full combat is not an environment suitable for learning or teaching. The dynamics are too fluid and the margins of error measurable only in tiny units of distance. Mistakes either result in damage so painful as to be completely debilitating or damage so severe that it is immediately fatal, hence, the kata.

"Yeah, I know. Your dad does it that way because he's a head and half taller than you. You ain't that tall, so bring that block up a little higher. Ready? Begin!"

The kata or "forms" as they are sometimes called, are the core of the martial arts curriculum. They afford the student the opportunity to learn his dangerous craft with minimum risk to himself or others. There is little time for thought, calculation or reflection in the searing heat of combat. The kata, properly taught and performed, the word performed can be taken to mean learned, etches the basic knowledge a martial artist requires into his autonomic nervous system. The basics of the Art become part of his somatic memory. The body learns to recognize when the student has gotten the physics right and when he has erred, without suffering the consequences of success or failure in actual combat. A properly designed kata is an effective simulation of combat. NASA, you see, stole a page from the Martial Artist's handbook.

"That's 'cause yer brain won't remember what your body can't learn, Akane. Back then your body couldn't learn it all. Your body knows more now so your brain remembers more. Ready? Begin!"

One does not begin the instruction of an untrained pilot by placing him in a simulator and giving him the problem of an engine failure upon take-off. Instead, one makes sure that all the mechanical aspects of such a complex environment behave in a predictable fashion during the early simulations. The thorough acquisition of knowledge is an upward spiraling process. One learns a few basics, progresses through some more advanced knowledge, and then revisits the basics again from the perspective of a higher level of knowledge and skill. The instruction of what to do about a dead engine on take-off is withheld until the putative pilot has fully mastered the basics of both the take-off and landing.

"Okay, try to go at it a little faster this time, Akane. Ready? Begin!"

On that cold, blustery evening in the potting shed at Ono-ke, Ranma and Akane both were re-learning the basics from the new perspectives of greater learning and skill. Akane because she was an advanced student and Ranma because he was now an instructor for the very first time in his life. Both were now dealing with a completely fresh set of problems, all of which stemmed from the most basic kata of their school of the Art. Ranma, for his part, found himself treading through a veritable mine field of potential disasters.

"Ow, damn!"

"Ranma, are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. That was my fault, Akane, not yours. Ready? Begin!"

The potential for physical damage was very real. Akane could by this time deliver a punch or kick with enough energy to be fatal on full contact. To be sure, she could not strike with as much power as a large man, like Ryouga Hibiki, but comparing a blow from one of the two on a personal level would be ridiculous. Which would he rather be shot with, a twenty-millimeter cannon or a nine-millimeter Parabellum? The only way any rational person would respond when confronted with such a silly question would be to answer, "Neither one!"

"Okay, let's speed it up a little more, Akane. Remember to stay loose and keep it smooth! Ready? Begin!"

Another problem for him was the ease with which he could teach Akane to do something the wrong way, or teach her the right way to do something the wrong way. He loved this young woman and treasured her beyond all else in life. He desperately wanted, no, he needed her to do well in the Art. This burdened him with constant worry, which is really fear at its most pernicious level. This opened the door to an entire range of psychological problems for which Ranma Saotome was ill equipped to handle.

"That was a little rough, Tomboy. Let's try it again. Ready? Begin!"

The other problem was one he had faced throughout all his studies in the martial arts. Effective simulation requires repetition. Repetition forces both student and instructor to scale the slippery, difficult slope that forms a barrier between the known and unknown called boredom. Doing the same thing over and over and over until it becomes an indelible part of a student's autonomic system is tedious at best and is insurmountably difficult for all but the sincerest of students and instructors. Of the problems Ranma and Akane faced, this one loomed the largest and was the most difficult to overcome. Allowing Akane to perform the kata in a perfunctory manner would be a complete waste of time and energy. The only means he had to cheat boredom of its bite was to tax Akane's ability to perform the kata, thereby forcing her to deepen her concentration. Yet, he had to be careful of overtaxing her. Excess could lead to one or both of them being badly hurt.

"Didja hurt your foot?"

"It's not that bad, Ranma."

"You sure? Let me see."

"It's not that bad!"

"I'll decide that, Akane."


"Yeah, I know. Now lemme see yer foot."

"See? I told you it isn't bad."

"Okay. It's not that bad. Ready? Begin!"

Boredom, as Ranma had learned firsthand, was at its worst in a climate controlled environment with a smooth surface upon which to practice. Such a place is ideal for the instruction of raw beginners and for practice by the extremely advanced, but was a dangerous place to instruct someone at Akane's level. Such an environment was the place where boredom loved to lurk and steal concentration away from both student and instructor. The potting shed and the stock pond of Ono-ke were perfectly suited to his and Akane's current needs. Both set up conditions where Akane was required to expend extra effort and concentration on her footwork. The acutely uncomfortable cold taxed their ability to concentrate and now, in this low level of quickly waning light, concentration upon the task at hand had become the central problem. Boredom, under these conditions, was entirely defeated.

(It's really dark in here now, Saotome.)

(Think she's ready to go for it?)

{{She is more than ready.}}

"Begin!" Ranma shouted for the thirteenth time.


(Damn! That one really stung, Saotome!)

Whirr! Snap! Pop!


Whap! Whooosh!

(Oops. We lost a little hide on that one.)

Whoosh! Thump!


(She's in the groove, Saotome! She's in THE GROOVE!)

Thump! Thump! Whoosh!



(Cuttin' it a little close there, Saotome. Maybe WE aren't as ready as WE thought.)


Whirerer! Snap! Snap! Snap! Pop!

(Ow! That smarted!)


{{Not bad, Saotome, considering we cannot see in the dark in this form, but very dangerous.}}

(Jump! This is the heel sweep!)



(Beautiful! Just beautiful!)


The silence following the completed kata was positively deafening.

"Ranma-sensei?" Akane asked between pants. "May I take a break now?"

Ranma strolled over to Akane then scooped her up into his arms. He kissed her deeply and passionately. Akane found herself panting again, and not just because she was out of breath.

"You are beautiful, Akane." Ranma said as he set her back on her feet. He kept holding her close so he could whisper into her ear. "I don't suppose I've ever told you that before."

Akane kissed him hungrily. Ranma savored the curious mix of softness and cable like strength of her body as she pressed it close to his own. The kiss lasted a long time.

(Yo! Ranma!)

(What is it?)

(We should call it day. Stop now while she has something to be pleased about.)

(Yeah, you're right.)

"That's enough practice for a day, Akane. Let's go get cleaned up."

"But I wanted to work out a little longer!"

"Okay. We'll work on your breathing after we clean up."

Akane thumped Ranma's chest. He responded by tousling her hair.

"I love you, Tomboy."

"And I love you, Ranma. Even though you're mean and a pervert."

"Hah! You love me because I AM a pervert!" Ranma said as he scooped her up into his arms and began making his way to the door.

"Think so, huh?" Akane asked as she slid one hand down between Ranma's legs.

(Oh, man! I can't believe she's doing this!)

(Well it isn't exactly like the damned thing was all that hard to find, Saotome! As big as it is now, she didn't even hafta hunt for it.)

{{Surely she already knew of its excited state.}}

(You stay outta this, Scales! We ain't ready for some of this stuff!)

(We, as in us, or we, as in her and us?)

(None of us is ready!)

(You are one hopeless prude, Saotome, you know that?)

(Prudentialism ain't got nothin' ta do with it, Red!)


{{He meant prudence.}}

(We ain't ready 'cause we can't support a kid yet and we ain't ready to be married!)

(So you'd do some other girl?)

(You know damned well I wouldn't!)

(Okay, Saotome, okay! I'll admit you gotta a point about not bein' ready for kids just yet.)

(So get off my back and take over, dammit!)

(Ah-uh-ah! And I was hopin' I'd get to watch tonight.)



"Watch yer eyes, Akane."

There was a bright flash of actinic blue light as Otoko-Ranma became Onna-Ranma.

"Hmmph!" Akane said. They were near the back door at this point. "You don't really think that is going to stop me, do you?" Akane asked as she slipped her hand beneath his now very loose waistband. Onna-Ranma's knees very nearly collapsed beneath them both.

"Put me down, silly," Akane said.

Onna-Ranma readily complied. Akane opened the door and held it open with a foot as she scooped her fiance up into her arms.

"Akane I'm sorry, but ...mmmph!"

Akane cut Onna-Ranma off with a kiss, unaware that Nodoka had been watching them as they came out of the potting shed.

Onna-Ranma gasped as they broke their kiss. "Bath!"

"Yes, Sensei!" Akane replied sweetly. "At once, Sensei."

"First, I'm gonna give you a good rubdown."

Akane smiled at this.

"Then I'm gonna lick on ya till ya yodel."

Akane laughed. "That can work both ways, you know. Besides, the noise will keep your mother awake."

"She won't mind. After all, it's the manly thing for me to do, right?"

Nodoka watched the pair, listening to their banter as they made their way down the hall and into the bathing room. She was painfully aware that she was now turning beet-red and silently thanked the kami that the children had not noticed her. She wanted to scream in outrage, while part of her was delighted beyond words. Her son was a lesbian? No that was a mutually exclusive pair of conditions. A very manly kind of man occasionally trapped in a lesbian's body? Well that made a wee bit more sense, but Nodoka wasn't at all sure what to make of that, either. She enjoyed being loved by a manly man, which Genma had been at one time, but the sex act itself had never really been that great a source of pleasure for her. Perhaps she had been missing out on something all these years. What would she have thought had it been Genma who had fallen into the Spring of Drowned Girl?

Nodoka wandered back into her bedroom and lay down. Her head hurt, and her vision was swimming. How in the very devil would she ever learn to cope with such a crazy situation? Her son preferred to have sex in his female form? Wasn't sex something the kami meant for only men to enjoy?

"What the fuck?" Nodoka asked out loud without meaning to. Fortunately for her sense of propriety and self-image, no one was around to hear her.

Nabiki had not been home for more than five minutes before Kasumi began making up a pot of willow-bark tea. One look at her sister's face was all Kasumi needed to diagnose her sister's trouble. She had a headache. Probably brought on by stress and lack of sleep. Tofu had warned her to keep an eye on Nabiki, and seeing her in such pain did not surprise the eldest of the Tendo girls at all.

Nabiki's behavior upon arriving served only to confirm what Kasumi suspected from seeing her face. Ordinarily, Nabiki would disappear into her room and bury her nose in her ledgers for a while before changing clothes and coming back downstairs, but not today. Today, Nabiki had simply dropped her books on the floor and sat down at the table then began rubbing her temples with the tips of her fingers.

"Here, Nabiki," Kasumi said in her gentlest voice, "drink this. It will make you feel better."

"Thanks, Kasumi," Nabiki said tiredly. For Kasumi, this was an even greater cause for concern. Nabiki was, in her own way, as tough as anyone else in the family and had always been reluctant to admit suffering from any sort of physical pain. Her reaction told Kasumi that her headache was severe.

"Why don't you go lie down?" Kasumi asked. "I'll call you when dinner is ready."

"Do I have enough time to get in a long soak?"

Kasumi thought Nabiki's request over for it was indeed a request. Filling the furo now was bad economics. No one else would be using it again until morning, but so what? Nabiki had a break coming.

"Yes, but you'll have to fill the furo."

"Thanks, Kasumi."

Nodoka got up after a short while. Her headache would not go away, and it was too early for bed. She decided to make a couple of batches of tea, one of green tea, the other of willow-bark. While in the kitchen, she could hear her son's onna-voice and Akane as they laughed and talked.

"So I got it right, didn't I?" Akane asked.

"You sure did, Akane. Perfect all the way through." Onna-Ranma answered.

"So what do we do next, Ranma?"

"More of the same."

A long silence ensued. Nodoka imagined that Akane had not liked hearing this and Nodoka did not blame the girl at all. Ranma had been making her do the same kata over and over for days now. Akane would doubtless be eager to move onto something else.


"Lemme ask you a question, Akane."


"Could you get up out of this bath right now and do it just as good again?"

"I ... I'm not sure."

Nodoka thought about this one herself for a moment. How many things could she do perfectly on the first and every attempt? Not many, really.

"When you can say yes to that question and know in your heart that you are tellin' the truth, we'll start doin' somethin' else."

"Ranma! That may take weeks!"

"I don't think so, Akane, but it will take a hell of a lot longer than either one of us is gonna like."

Akane's sigh was audible, even in the kitchen. Nodoka could hear water sloshing around for a minute. Ranma, is probably comforting Akane, she thought. The vision of her son's naked, female body pressed against that of another girl shocked her, so she shook her head. This made the headache worse.

"When I get through with you," Onna-Ranma said in a firm voice, "yer gonna be one of the greatest martial artists in Japan--the world, even."

Nodoka could not help but smile at this.

"Even on ice?" Akane asked in an impish voice. "You're a hot-shot marital artist until it comes to the slippery stuff."

Nodoka found herself snickering a bit at this. "slippery-stuff" could be taken more than one way and she really was eager to have a grandchild. On the other hand, Ranma did have a terrible time with slippery surfaces. It was one of the few weaknesses his father could still exploit.

"You bet, Akane," Onna-Ranma said, although his voice seemed to have a bit of doubt in it now. "Right after you teach me how to skate."

"You promise? You'll learn to skate with me?"

"You betcha!" Onna-Ranma said. "We'll make it part of our regular training in the winter from now on."

"The school doesn't have kata for fighting on ice, does it?"

"Nope. We'll hafta develop 'em." Onna-Ranma's voice had become eager. Clearly Ranma was relishing the idea of tackling this previously unconsidered problem. "We'll ... mmph!"

Nodoka could easily imagine what had cut off her son's voice. Obviously, this young Tendo woman loved him deeply. It was -- Well dammit! -- it was romantic! Even if they did spend an inordinate amount of time together as girls. They would be spending time together as dragon and lady as well. Wasn't that as romantic as some of the silly paperbacks she had read? It was not particularly conventional, but who cared? Had she been willing to settle for the merely conventional for her son, she would have insisted on his becoming a salaryman.

"Ranma?" Akane's voice was nearly a whisper. Nodoka had exceptional hearing or she would not have caught it.

"Yes, Akane?"

"You'll need to be a dragon again sometime, won't you?"

"Yeah, I guess so," Onna-Ranma said, sounding distinctly uncomfortable.


"Oh, I don't know," Onna-Ranma said, sounding truly uncertain. "In a few weeks, I suppose. It takes a lot of ki for me to make that change and even more to change back."

"So once you are a dragon, it's easier for you to stay that way?"

"Yeah, and I don't know what to do about it," Onna-Ranma said. "Mom hates me in that form."

Nodoka felt a catch in her throat. She wanted to run into the bath and tell him it wasn't so, but the truth of the matter was, she had given him reason to believe it.

"Worse yet, I can't cuddle with you in that form."

Nodoka's pain was somewhat alleviated by amusement. Her son was finally demonstrating a wee bit of wisdom in how to deal with his fiancee. A lack of which had worried her more than once.



"So what's it like?"

"It's hard to describe. I can see better, especially in the dark. I can smell better, and that is sort of a mixed blessing. I can hear a lot better, too. Tokyo is noisy all the time, you know? But when I'm dragon, it's almost unbearable."

"You are a lot stronger when you are a dragon, I can tell that."

"Faster, too."

This brought Nodoka up short. Ranma was faster than any other martial artist she had ever seen and she had seen more than her fair share.

"How are we going to train while you are a dragon?"

"I'll find a way, Akane. Don't worry."

"Did you know your claws a so sharp they leave tracks in pavement?"

"No, I didn't."

"You need to remember that. I could follow you all over town without any trouble. Are you ready to get out?"

"Do we hafta?"

"If we stay in here much longer, we will wrinkle."


"You might not care, but I don't like to look that way."

Nodoka loaded a tray and took it into the main room, knowing that Ranma and Akane would get there just as the tea had begun to cool a little.

Nabiki emerged from the bath feeling better. Her headache had subsided to something like a five on the Richter scale, a rather pleasant drop from its previous eight or nine. A look at herself in the mirror had not cheered her at all. Lines of worry had begun to work their way into the skin of her forehead, and she was developing wrinkles around her eyes. Not good for a girl who had yet to reach that magical age of twenty-one.

She hurried to dress, pulling on a pair of slacks and a short-sleeved shirt, their being the first things she found, then rushed downstairs to help Kasumi. Feeding three grown men Japanese style could be trying. Kasumi gave her a grateful look as she approached the table. The three men had kept Kasumi very busy. Nabiki concentrated her attention on helping Kasumi fetch things and seeing to it that Tetsugo-san wanted for nothing. It gave her a chance to sate her curiosity about the older man, and she would not serve Genma Saotome anything, if she could ignore him without creating a scene.

Tetsugo amazed her. He was obviously quite old, but his upper body strength was enormous. His upper arms were almost the size of Nabiki's thighs, and his forearms were so large they put her in mind of a cartoon character, what was his name? Oh, yeah! Papai! Tetsugo was built like Papai. All he needed was a pipe and one of those funny hats. The old man had made a show of appreciating Nabiki's attention. Nabiki very much appreciated his doing so, but it made her question whether the old man was really Japanese.

"Would you like some more tea, Papai-san?" Nabiki asked, then blushed. She could not believe she had just made such an incredibly stupid gaff.

Tetsugo laughed heartily and slapped the table. Which caused Nabiki to take note of his hands. They made Genma Saotome's paws look tiny. At first glance, you might think Tetsugo had incredibly short, stubby fingers. A second look revealed them to be long in proportion to his palms, but they were incredibly thick.

"Nearly every youngster I meet thinks I'm Papai!" Tetsugo exclaimed. "I went out and bought this, just so I could entertain them."

Seemingly from no where, Tetsugo had produced a flute and began to play the melody from the cartoon's theme music. Everyone around the table smiled and clapped. Nabiki was amazed. How could anyone with hands like that play a flute at all, much less the spritely melody Tetsugo was now performing?

Tetsugo rose to his feet, and to Nabiki's utter amazement, began dancing a sea shanty, using his ill-controlled foot to slap out the rhythm. Soun and Genma leaped to their feet and joined him. Tetsugo gave Nabiki a sly wink, then turned and danced his way out to the engawa and on outside. Soun and Genma followed suit, dancing and clapping their hands in time with the music.

"Oh, my!" Kasumi exclaimed.

Nabiki simply fell over laughing.

"Wasn't that silly?" Kasumi asked.

All Nabiki could do was nod her head and gasp for breath.

Kasumi shivered as a cold wind licked at their faces through the open shoji. She got up and closed it. Nabiki began to sober up somewhat.

"I haven't seen you laugh that hard in a long time, Nabiki."

"I know," Nabiki said, then giggled. "Who would ever have believed that our father, much less Genma Saotome could dance like that?"

"It was quite a sight, wasn't it?"

"What's really funny is that he went from being Papai to the Paido Paipaa!"

"I know!" Kasumi said, laughing again.

Nabiki shivered suddenly. The room temperature had fallen quite a bit after the shoji had been opened.

"I'll be right back to help you with the dishes, Sis," Nabiki said. "I want to throw something on over this shirt."

"You needn't bother, Nabiki," Kasumi said, "You should go get some sleep."

"I couldn't sleep if I had too, Sis," Nabiki called back over her shoulder. "Too much to do."

Kasumi gave out an exasperated sigh.

"Where are you going, Nabiki?"

"I saw one of Ranma's long sleeved shirts on a hanger in the laundry room."

"It needs washing, Nabiki."

"That's okay, I don't think I'll catch the cooties from him or anything."

Kasumi rolled her eyes at this then carried a load of dishes into the kitchen. "Clean sheets and warm blankets would be much more comfortable than a dirty shirt, Nabiki!"

Nabiki returned wearing Ranma's shirt. It did indeed need washing, but did not smell bad. She and Kasumi made short work of the dishes, and then Kasumi began heating a flask of sake.

"What's that for?" Nabiki asked. She could hear the banging and clatter of the men working out in the yard. "They won't be coming in all night."

"This is for you and me, my dear sister. WE shall get a decent night's sleep."

"Oh? Sake will do that?"

"Yes, provided you don't overdo it."

"Okay, Kasumi, but are you sure this is a good idea?"

"Doctor's orders."


"Yes, I gave Tofu a call while you were in the furo. He said to make sure you relax."

"Oh! That reminds me!" Nabiki said. "You guys are going to come over to the school and pick up Ranma and Akane's assignments before leaving tomorrow, right?"

"Yes, and you are leaving with us, so have your things ready to go as well. Tofu says you must bring nothing but schoolwork and as little of that as possible."

"Kasumi! I can't!"

"Yes you can. Doctor's orders."

"But, Kasumi!"

"No buts! Whatever it is you are involved with will still be waiting for you on Monday, right?"

Nabiki gave out an exasperated sigh. "This is not a very good time, Kasumi."

"So when will there be a good time, Nabiki? A year from now? Two years? You are coming with us tomorrow and that is that!"

Nabiki pouted, quite without realizing it.

"The world will not stop turning because you stopped cranking for a little while, Nabiki."

"Wanna bet?"

"Certainly! How much?"

Nabiki dismissed the idea with a wave of her hand.

"Never mind, Sis. I should know better than to try arguing with you."

"Yes, you should," Kasumi said with a smile. "Now let's go sit down. The sake is warm."

Nabiki quickly decided that she would never become an alcoholic if sake were all there was to drink. It convinced her of something she had believed for a long time. Most vices required both effort and practice. Still, three of those little cups of that stuff made her drowsy as hell.

She wobbled up to her room, removed her clothes, carelessly throwing Ranma's shirt across her pillow. She tried to get into her pajamas a couple of times, but decided they weren't worth the bother. She crawled beneath her covers wearing nothing but her panties. She went to sleep almost instantly, unaware that she had left her radio on. The volume was low, but audible in the evening quiet. The music playing at that moment was harsh and synthetic, but had a throbbing beat and was put together with an artistry that was hard to argue against. The vocalists were quite good:










Nabiki's eyelids began to flutter, signaling the onset of rapid eye movement, indicative of the fact that she had begun to dream.

Onna-Ranma sat down on the floor with her back to one wall, her legs splayed wide.

"Sit like this right here, Akane," he said, patting the floor in a spot next to him.

"What are you planning, Pervert?" Akane asked with an arched eyebrow.

"We were gonna work on your breathin', remember?"

"My breathing? Is that all?"

"Yes! Now will you please sit down?"

Akane eyed Onna-Ranma suspiciously, but complied with his request. He got up, then sat down between her legs with his back pressed closely to her front then he took her right hand and placed it on his stomach between his navel and pubic arch.

"What are you doing, Ranma?" Akane asked. "This doesn't make a lot of sense."

Onna-Ranma gave out an exasperated sigh before answering. "I discovered shortly after I got my curse that my girl half didn't know how to breathe properly. It's different for girls. If I hadn't known how to breathe before I got my curse I might never have figgered it out."

"You mean your dad didn't do all this with you when he started training you?"

"Nope. Didn't have to. Maybe a lady martial artist who already knew how to breathe wouldn't hafta do it with you, either, but this is the only way I know to explain it, okay?"

"Okay, Ranma, okay!" Akane said as she snuggled up to his back. "I was just picking at you a little."

"Well don't! This is serious. If you don't pick this up soon, you are going to have hell progressing later, okay?"

"It's just a little hard for me to believe, Ranma. What could be more natural than breathing."

"Breathin' the way you need to don't come naturally, Akane. That's the problem."

"If you say so."

"I do, because I know what I'm talkin' about. Now pay attention."

"I will."


"I promise."

"Good! Now I'm gonna take a serious breath of air, and I want you to pay attention to what happens."

Onna-Ranma inhaled quite slowly, taking in a huge breath of air. To Akane, it seemed that almost a minute went by. Just as Onna-Ranma's lungs filled to what had to be their greatest capacity, Akane felt a huge surge of power flowing into Onna-Ranma's lower stomach. It was almost as though she had been asked to hold her hand against a live wire.

"Ranma!" Akane exclaimed. "Is that your ki, I'm feeling?"

"Yes," Onna-Ranma replied as she slowly let the air out of her lungs. "Didn't your dad try to teach you this?"

"He always said I needed to learn to breathe from the soles of my feet up," Akane said, "but I never understood it, so I never really tried very hard."

"That was a big mistake, Akane," Onna-Ranma said. "You don't feel anything much at first. It takes a lot of practice."

"Can I try it now?"

"Sure. Let's swap places and I'll talk you through it."


They exchanged positions. Onna-Ranma placed his hand on Akane's lower stomach, or her "hara" as it is known to the Japanese. The concept of "hara" goes well beyond the anatomical concept most westerners learn. The hara is what the Japanese, as well as many other Orientals, believe to be the home of a person's spirit, or "ki."

"Now, I don't want you to try to breathe from the soles of your feet right now, Akane. I want you to try breathin' from right here where I have my hand, okay?"


"Now, breath in slow and even, tryin' to pull the air all the way down into this little spot where I'm holding my hand."

Akane began to breathe in.

"Take your time, Akane. You won't feel anything for the first few breaths."

Akane's lungs expanded until they could hold no more air.

"Breath out slow! Don't just push it all out at once. Take your time."

She breathed out slowly, just letting the air out in a slow, steady stream.

"Now breathe in again."

Akane complied. After breathing this way ten or twelve times, Akane began to notice strange things happening to her body. As her lungs reached half their capacity, she began to feel a powerful, less than comfortable tingle deep in her stomach, just behind the place where Onna-Ranma was holding his hand. She stopped and breathed out involuntarily. Her head swam.

"You almost got it that time, Akane."

"It makes me dizzy!" Akane complained.

"Yeah, it does."

"I don't like it!"

"Scare ya?"


"It's nothin' to be afraid of, Akane. It's just your own power building up. It IS scary at first. It took me a long time to get used to it, too."

"It did?"

"Oh, yeah," Onna-Ranma said. "I think it bothers everybody in the beginning."


"I dunno for sure. I think most people never learn to do it well because it scares 'em."

"This is one of your greatest secrets, isn't it, Ranma?"

Akane could feel the muscles in Onna-Ranma's face tighten against her neck as they shaped his face into his worst, smart-alec smirk.

"It ain't that much of a secret. Every martial artist is told about this at one time or another during their trainin'. Almost none of 'em take it as seriously as they should."

Akane's trepidation was genuine. The sensation was not at all unlike being shocked by electricity, except it did not really hurt. It was rather more like being charged, as though she had become a storage battery or something. Power was dangerous stuff, and her subconscious very badly wanted her to stay away from it, just as the subconscious of most other people did.

"I'll ... I'll try again."

"Good girl!"

Akane breathed in. The surge of ki into her body was almost painful this time and even more frightening than before. She became very dizzy.

"Ranma! I ... I ..."

"Just take your time, Akane. I'm right here with you, and I promise you, you can't really hurt yourself doin' this so long as you go slow. If you try to go fast, you'll hypervenerate."

"O ... Okay."

Akane took another breath. This time the surge was not so terribly heavy, and it frightened her less, but her vertigo worsened.

"Ranma? I ... I don't want to do this anymore ... Not right now, anyway."

"That's okay, Akane," he said, then kissed her shoulder at the base of her neck. "We'll go slow and practice it a little each evening."

Akane sighed and leaned back against her fiance. She was tingling all over now. The energy seemed to be spreading throughout her body.

"Why did your girl-half have so much trouble with this?"

"I dunno," Onna-Ranma said, pressing Akane closer to himself in a gentle hug. "I think it's because my girl-type has organs in that area that my guy-type doesn't."

"Do you really think that's it?"

"It's the only thing I can imagine, Akane. I had been using this technique for almost five years before I fell into that spring."

Akane began to feel very relaxed as the newly acquired energy began to diffuse throughout her large muscles. She reached down and slid Onna-Ranma's hand up to her breast. She smiled as she felt Onna-Ranma's breasts respond against her back. Suddenly, there was very definite flow between them, almost as though Onna-Ranma's ki was flowing into her body. It lasted for only a fraction of a second, but it made her intensely hungry for more.

"Do that again, Ranma."

"I don't think I can, Akane," Onna-Ranma said, gasping a little for breath. Akane could feel his heart hammering against her back. "I've never felt anything like that before."

Akane slid Onna-Ranma's other hand down into her pajama bottoms. "But you've felt this before, right?"

Onna-Ranma breathed a heated sigh into Akane's ear. "Sure have, Tomboy."


"You love it!" Onna-Ranma whispered.

They found a grassy hilltop shaded by the overarching branches of a mighty oak. It gave them a breathtaking view of the surf as it washed in rhythmically along the glistening sands of a sugary-white beach. Nabiki happily spread out a blanket in the shade of the oak and he gratefully sat down with his back against the oak's huge trunk.

Nabiki loved to tease him with food because he normally gobbled his meals down, seldom taking enough time to savor it. She plied him with fine, black grapes and pungent cheese, letting him wash it down with hot sake in a cup she insisted upon holding for him. He growled at her over this, but she could tell he was really enjoying it. She took her time, making sure both of them savored every morsel of their meal.

Once the food was gone, she stretched out on the blanket and used his thigh for a pillow. The air here was sweet. There was not a single whiff of auto exhaust, nor was there a single contrail to sully the startling blue of the sky overhead. Near the top of the mighty oak, a cicada sang. The harsh noise amused her. It made her feel impish for some inexplicable reason. She glanced up and saw that he was sound asleep. There was little wonder in that. Their opportunities for rest had been far and few between.

Nabiki shivered as the impish urge she felt became overpowering. She rolled over onto her stomach and slowly, with exquisite care, opened his fly. She paused for a quick glance at his face. He was still oblivious--well, mostly oblivious. Part of his anatomy was on full alert. Nabiki began doing things that she had never seriously considered doing before. He whimpered in his sleep. Nabiki smiled--well, smiled as best she could in the circumstances. She LIKED the sound of him whimpering. She liked even better the sudden quiver that shot through the iron-hard muscles of his thighs. She decided that she would make him cry. She very much wanted to hear him cry, maybe even call out her name. She would ENJOY that. Oh, yes! She would enjoy that VERY, very much! She had never before imagined that she would do this for any man, but this was HIM -- and she needed to watch HIM ache with pleasure. She needed that more than life itself right now.

Nodoka Saotome had gone to bed feeling considerably better about her relationship with her son. She had asked him about what it was like for him to be a dragon, then pretended to be looking forward to the next time he found it necessary to take that form. She shuddered at the very thought of it, of course, but had resolved to lavish her attentions upon her son the next time he assumed his draconian aspect. What else could she do? She was as much responsible for her son's odd life as was her husband. Now she could rest, knowing she did in fact love her son and that he genuinely returned it. All else mattered little.

The willow-bark tea had completely done away with her headache, even as it made her ears ring. She had taken too much of it over the years. Yet, sleep still managed to creep up on the fringes of her mind, gently seducing her consciousness to let go and seek out its sweet oblivion. Just as Nodoka had finally thrown herself fully into the pleasant embrace of darkness, a voice rang out in pain? Ecstasy perhaps? Nodoka opened her eyes and listened.


Nodoka smiled.

"Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! Not so hard! That's it! That's it! YES!"

Nodoka's smile grew larger. HE IS SO MANLY!

"Oh, stop! PLEASE, STOP! I ... I ... can't ... I ... CAN'T ..take ... it ...ANYMORE! Oooh whoo, whoo, whoo!"

"Oh, my!" Nodoka whispered aloud to herself. She listened as Akane whimpered a few times, then gave out very gratified moan. This was followed by silence.

"Perhaps Genma and I should go on a training voyage of our own," Nodoka whispered to the ceiling above her bed. "I seemed to have missed out on something rather important."

Nodoka lay still for a while and sleep again kissed her eyes. She began to drift off into his warm, dark depths when yet another voice brought her back to full awareness.

"It's NOT ... FAIR!"

Nodoka gasped at the agony in her son's onna-voice.

"You ... I ... more ... PRACTICE!" Onna-Ranma screeched

Nodoka shivered.


Nodoka threw off her covers and sat up.

"Perhaps some more of that tea might be in order now," she said to her empty room as a nervous tic took over her face.

"Oooo-hoo-hoo-hooo!" Onna-Ranma cried, then whimpered like a whipped puppy.

The alarm on Nabiki's programmable clock went off exactly on time. Nabiki opened one eye and took stock of her condition. She could not recall ever having wakened quite like this. The right side of her face was pressing down hard upon her pillow--no, not the pillow, her mattress. Between her cheek and the sheet was something vaguely familiar. Oh! It's Ranma's shirt. The muscles in her wrists and hands were aching and Nabiki suddenly realized that she had been trying to dig into the mattress with her fingernails. Her covers, sheet, blankets, bedspread, and all were lying on the floor. Nabiki began to blush, even though she knew that she was alone in the privacy of her room. She had, some time during the night, drawn her knees under herself, causing her behind to stick up into the air. Worse, she was not wearing any pajamas, just a pair of panties in desperate need of changing.

"I have really got to be careful with the alcohol," Nabiki instructed herself aloud, "especially if it's hot sake!"

End of Chapter 10
Copyright © Don Granberry