The bright sunlight shown over the sweltering late spring of Tokyo. And in front of one house, a young lady swept the walk in front off her house. She hummed as she cleaned, making small neat piles of the wind debris as she went.
She heard the front gate open and automatically turned to greet the newcomer with a smile and a small bow. "Welcome! Please excuse the mess," Kasumi said.
"Pardon me, for I didn't call ahead to warn you that I would be visiting. It is my fault," the tall, older man said with a small bow. He was dressed casually, in a dark tweed suit, his dark hair cropped close. He carried the trace buzz of an accent. Kasumi couldn't quite place it, but his Japanese was otherwise quite impeccable.
"How may I help you?" Kasumi asked, leaning the broom against the house and walking to the front door.
"I'm here to meet an old friend. A Nodoka Sao-tome. I understand that she is staying here while her house is being fixed. I haven't seen her in a very long time," the stranger said in a comfortable voice. He only slightly stumbled over the family name.
"Oh! Auntie Saotome is out right now, but she should be back in just a small while. You aren't here to kidnap her are you?" Kasumi asked cheerfully.
The man started suddenly. "What? I'm not here to kidnap anyone!" His normal unflappability was shaken by the young lady's simple statement.
"Really? Are you here to challenge Ranma? It's only been a day or so since his last challenger," Kasumi continued on, blithely unaware.
The stranger just stared at the back of Kasumi's head as they walked. This young lady might be in need of some psychological help. "Um, no. I'm not here to challenge anyone."
A small confused look appeared on Kasumi's face for just a second. "My name is Kasumi Tendo. Would you like some tea, sir?" A nice, normal guest? How unusual.
"Thank you, Miss Tendo. Please, call me Rakemio Tashukama."
"You are sooo dorky. What did I do to deserve that?" a male voice said from outside.
"Oh, just letting Shampoo hang all over you," a female voice replied.
The door swished to the side and two grumpy looking teenagers walked inside. They slipped off their shoes and dumped their backpacks at the door.
"I didn't 'let' Shampoo do nothing," Ranma shot right back. He rubbed his face, which had a hand print showing in red.
"Like you went and stopped her from hanging off of you, you jerk. You're never going to change." Akane fumed. The stupid, idiotic dumb jock. She stopped short as she saw an older foreign man sitting at the table, having a cup of tea with Kasumi. "Oh, excuse me. I didn't know we had a visitor."
"Huh?" Ranma looked around suddenly. He spotted the man just a second later.
"Hello, Ranma. Akane. This is Rakemio, he's here to see your mother, Ranma," Kasumi said, gesturing at Rakemio. Rakemio nodded, sizing up Ranma and Akane.
Ranma jerked as if shot, dampening his aura suddenly. He started to study the man closely, noting the casual looseness of his posture and his seating at the one place that he could watch all of the different accesses to this room.
The object of his scrutiny put on careful show of casualness, trying to appear to be harmless. Ranma didn't relax at all. If anything, he became a more tense. This guys was used to appearing non threatening. But his aura was of one highly trained in the martial arts.
Akane missed the subtle by play and bowed slightly. She elbowed Ranma to get him to bow, breaking his concentration.
"Why'd you do that, hammer girl?" Ranma grouched, rubbing his stomach.
"Because you were being rude." Akane rolled her eyes. Ranma had the civility of a feral animal sometimes. But it really wasn't his fault. It just was so tiring correcting him all the time though. It was almost a full time job.
"Oh, ah, yeah! So, you're here to seem my mom?" Ranma asked.
"Yes. I studied at her fathers dojo when I was younger. I happened to be in Japan and I wanted to look up some old friends. I'm sorry to hear that her father passed away quite some time ago. He was a very strict teacher," Rakemio replied. He smiled sadly in the memory of the gruff older man.
"I, I really don't remember my grandfather. I think he died when I was really young," Ranma said.
The door opened again and another voice called out, "We're home!" Nodoka called out, slipping her shoes off.
A rough growl was heard, along with the creak of boards carrying a large weight. "I quite agree Saotome. It was quite rude of Mrs. Tikuma to splash you." Soun sighed dramatically.
"The old lady got ya, huh Pop?" Ranma asked over his shoulder.
Genma whipped out a sign that said, 'Yup. How does she do that?'
"I don't know. And she never misses either. I think she just likes to splash people like us." Ranma grimaced, remembering that she had gotten him earlier in the day.
"Is that panda trained?" Rakemio asked, staring at the huge panda that was waving a sign that said 'Who's that?'
"Nah, that's just pop. He's got a Jusenkyo curse that turns him into a panda when he gets wet," Ranma replied. He snickered a little bit as the panda sat down to wait for the kettle to heat some water. Pop always looked so comical.
"That is you father? How... odd." He decided to not pursue that after a moment. He had seen far stranger things himself, after all. "Nodoka, it's been too long. I really should have stopped by a long time ago. I should have made it to your fathers funeral, at least. That was incredibly rude of me." He stood and bowed formally to her.
"Nonsense. You live all the way in America. The fact that you still remember him is a great kindness. My father said that he never saw such a devoted martial artist in his life. He always wished that he had found you when you were younger," Nodoka said as she smiled in greeting.
"You are from America? That's a pretty long journey," Akane said, eyes wide. She just couldn't imagine traveling that far from home to do, well, anything! A trip to China was a big deal!
"Yes. I had some business in Japan and I thought I would drop by and say hello to some old friends. Nodoka was the daughter of one of the best teachers of the art that I studied under," Rakemio replied.
Genma whipped out a sign that read, 'I don't remember you.' He flipped the sign around, 'Was that before me?'
Rakemio read the signs carefully and then nodded. "Probably."
Nodoka responded to the question, "Oh, yes. Genma showed up about two weeks later. His father was dragging him along for the betrothal ceremony. I'd seen him a few times before, but neither of us had known that we had been engaged. We were married just a few weeks later."
"Huh? I thought pop picked you?" Ranma said in surprise.
"Yes, but it was still an arranged marriage. Unfortunately, Genma shares many traits with his father, including engaging their sons to multiple girls. You would almost think that is was a tradition," Nodoka said disparagingly. She sighed.
"Ranma, we are not going to continue that tradition, DO YOU HERE ME!?" Akane yelled at him loudly, blasting Ranma's hair sideways.
"Uncute tomboy! What's it to you?" Ranma said in rebuttal. He clapped his hands over his ears. Owie, that was loud.
"So does that mean you are going to marry him then, Akane? After all, you only have to worry if you get married," Nabiki said from the side, where she had entered quietly. "Ranma, you did catch that did you?"
"Eep. I didn't mean that. You're twisting my words! He tricked me! I didn't say that!" Akane babbled quickly.
Ranma was just about as bad as her, frantically denying everything that he could. "Uh, uh! No way! Me and her? Are you out of you're mind?"
Nodoka sighed and turned back to Rakemio. "I wish that they would just admit that they love each other and quit fighting. At least Akane isn't as violent as she used to be."
Rakemio smiled and replied, "It must be tough being in an arranged engagement."
"It can be. But I think it's more that they just hate being pushed into it than anything else," Nodoka said. She sipped her tea to calm herself down. Ranma and Akane had started a full blown yelling match. "Ranma, Akane, you are being quite rude to our guest."
They both stopped suddenly, blushing to the roots of their hair. They bowed deeply and in unison apologized for their rudeness.
"It was good to see you again Nodoka. And it was good to meet you and the Tendo's, Genma, Ranma. That had to be one of the best meals that I've had in ages," Rakemio said at the door to the Tendo Dojo.
"You are always welcome at our home, Rakemio. Go in peace," Soun Tendo replied, acting for once like the patriarch he was.
Rakemio waved as he closed the gate and walked down the road. In minutes, he had managed to get quite a distance down the road. He was waiting for a bus when a women wearing a black, skintight body suit stepped from the shadows behind him. "Hello, Shiva. What do I owe the pleasure?" Rakemio asked, not turning around.
"Why, `Rakemio', I was just here to extend the hospitality of my home country to such a distinguished visitor," Shiva said as she smiled. Sharks had warmer smiles than her.
"I was under the impression that you were in Berlin, looking for one of your challenges. Or are you here to keep tabs on me?" the man who called himself Rakemio asked.
"Keeping tabs, of course. But I just found an old friend that I really need to deal with. He's been avoiding me for over a decade, so I'm just a touch put out." She paused just moment. "This is a battle between honorable warriors. Stay out."
"Not if it's one of those challenges. Shiva, I will stop you from killing him, if it comes down to it." He frowned in deep thought. Shiva had always claimed to be the best martial artist in the world and defended her title vigorously. Very vigorously indeed.
"It depends on how good he is, `Rakemio'. I never destroy the really talented. Someone has to keep training the younger generation, after all," Shiva said. He was always too uptight. And his code of honor. Not killing at all and trying to subdue his foes. Silly. Laws are for the weak. And Shiva was not the weak!
Shiva stepped back into the shadows, disappearing in moments. A bus pulled up and he waved it away. In moments he was following, leaping up onto the roofs in the direction of the Tendo Dojo in easy graceful bounds.
Shiva landed on the ground next to the front gate. She smiled at the small sign and bounced quietly over to the back door, where a small bell hung. She sighed dramatically. This was going to warn her prey, but honor dictated that she challenge the owner of the dojo first and then his guest. And she was in a whimsical mood. She rang the bell. One time and three times and then two.
Soun moved his piece on the shogi board, ears catching at the unfamiliar tones. "A challenger? A courteous challenger?" Soun mumbled to himself. That would mean that someone was here to challenge him. He stood up and walked out. Genma watched him go, wondering what that sound was. Genma shrugged, deciding to wait patiently for his friend to get back.
Soun panicked for a second, trying to remember if he engaged his daughters to anyone other than Picalot. He couldn't remember anyone else. He brushed his gi and walked towards the back gate. Checking himself, he opened the door. "Greetings and welcome. I am Soun Tendo and this is my dojo."
"Greetings and welcome, Soun Tendo. I am Shiva and I wish to challenge your guest. I am honorably challenging you for the right to do so," the young looking lady said as she bowed.
Soun started and replied mechanically, "Please enter, S-Shiva. This way please."
"You may, of course, concede the match. I only wish to challenge Saotome," Shiva said slowly. She smiled, expecting him to agree immediately.
Soun mistook who she was going to challenge. He thought deeply and long. He couldn't let Ranma be killed by her. This was for the dojo and the continuance of the art, after all! After a few minutes, he replied, "My honor dictates that I must accept your challenge."
Shiva smiled coldly. He had more backbone than she had thought.
Soun shivered. Hopefully Ranma would run. The Shiva was known to kill those who were her equal. He shivered slightly in her cold gaze.
They stood apart in the yard, preparing. With a loud yell, they charged into combat.
"Hey, Akane. Dad's got a challenger!" Nabiki yelled out down the hall.
"What? Really? Come on Ranma, let's watch!" Akane exclaimed.
"Wow, somebody challenged your old man?" Ranma said from his door. He closed it behind him and followed Akane.
Soon they were sitting on the lawn, watching the fight. The fight was progressing quickly up to the upper limits of Soun's ability. He pushed himself to new heights, seeking to slow her down long enough. Ranma and Akane watched as Soun fought better than they had ever seen him before.
The woman in front of Soun blocked and attacked deftly, using minimal movements. Ranma's eyes narrowed, watching her movements carefully. "She's holding back. A lot."
"What are you talking about, Ranma?" Akane asked. She didn't look like she was holding back. It wasn't like she was as fast as Ranma or anything.
"She's only using Kempo to fight him. She's reading him like a book," Ranma replied.
Nabiki smiled. "Ranma, could you fight dad only using Kempo? I doubt it."
"I could. Whoever she is, she could be as good as the old ghoul." Ranma frowned. He thought he knew most of the really good Japanese martial artists that were adults. It wasn't like she was one of the young unknowns that kept challenging him.
Soun and Shiva circled each other warily. At least until Soun saw Ranma sitting next to the house. That distraction was all Shiva needed, as she drove her fist into his solar plexus, her elbow into his stomach and smashed his jaw with her palm.
Nabiki and Akane jumped up in shock. That was brutal and left no doubt in their minds that this lady could have killed their father.
Shiva bowed politely and then turned in the direction of the house. "Saotome. I challenge you."
Ranma bounced to his feet and bowed to her, "I accept."
Shiva showed a bit of her surprise. Who was this young whelp? "I am Shiva. Do you know me, boy?"
Ranma stopped in mid step. Shiva? Oh, %$#!&! "I know you, Shiva. I am Ranma Saotome, of the Saotome School of Anything Goes Martial Arts," Ranma replied, wetting his tongue nervously.
Akane paled. "Nabiki. That's Shiva. The Shiva."
"Who?" Nabiki asked, carefully turning over her father. He was out cold, his jaw was purpling up nastily.
"You haven't heard of her? She's reputed to be the best martial artist in the world. She defends her position by killing anyone who might be as good as her," Akane said quietly. Fear was evident on her face.
"What? You're kidding right?" Nabiki turned back to the fight, watching as the fight started.
Ranma probed and tested her defenses, finding them almost flawless. Shiva smiled as she sent her first flurry of attacks, expecting them to be enough to overwhelm the young man in front of her. She was quite surprised when he blocked all of them and then sent his own blindingly fast attacks at her. Not that she was in any danger, of course.
He was worthy of being a challenger. She upped the ante and attacked at just a little faster than he had. He managed to block all but one blow, but he had managed to snake in a shot to her stomach as well.
They circled each other, warily testing each others limits. Shiva smiled, finding herself truly stretched for the first time in ages. He had increased his speed again to match hers, but still hadn't shown his full speed yet. She was fairly certain that he was near her equal in style and form. How about power? Conner was her equal in the former, but he had never shown that sort of power. It wasn't something that she would do normally, but the Anything Goes style was known for its ki techniques.
"Hadoken!" Shiva shouted, stepping back and letting loose with a fast ball of tightly compressed ki.
Ranma leaped up, dodging it just in time. In the air, he cupped his hands and yelled out, "Moko Takabishi!" He flung his own ball of ki at her, which she adroitly dodged.
He was! He was a true challenger. There could only be one outcome, then. She charged him full out, unleashing her attacks at her full speed. Ranma responded by pushing himself to his utmost speeds, hands blurring.
Nabiki and Akane gasped at the pure, raw intensity of the fight. Akane shivered, thinking of the one time she had seen that look on Ranma's face. Phoenix Mountain! She didn't remember it all that well, but she knew that expression.
Only one of these opponents was going to walk away.
Genma wandered out, looking over the fight. Soun must have lost and Ranma took up the challenge. Genma smiled, thinking that this was a true sign that Ranma cared for Akane. He eventually got a good look at Ranma's opponent.
She'd found him, finally. Happosai had told him that Shiva would eventually challenge him. And probably kill him too.
Genma did the only sensible thing and splashed himself with water. She wouldn't want to kill him now, he was just a cute panda!
Ranma ached. A lot. But he was pretty sure that he was giving as good as he got. Shiva limped slightly, moving to make sure her injuries didn't impede her fighting.
Shiva was quite upset. He was as good as she thought, but he wouldn't make a killing move on her. He was just as bad as the other one. He was destined to lose, just like the rest. Her eyes lit on the two young ladies that were watching the fight. She could practically feel the concern oozing off of the younger one.
Shiva smiled again. She had found her lever. "I'll kill her, you know. After I've killed you."
Ranma frowned. What was she talking about? Who was she... Akane!
"Yes. You realize who. She cares for you. She will die with you too." Shiva unleashed a fullisade of blows, trying to weaken his defenses.
Ranma's aura flared for just a moment and then dimmed to a cool glow. "No one threatens my Akane. No one!" Ranma said coldly, unleashing his full potential.
Shiva kept her smile cool and met his charge. Even now, when he should be in a blind rage, he was calm and collected. She unleashed a blow that she had adapted from someone who had mastered the Cat Fist, oh so long ago.
Ranma instinctively dodged the wide, easy swipe, avoiding the invisible cut. He followed up with one of his better moves, opening her defense and pummeling her jaw with a rapid punch.
Shiva backed away for a second, wiping the blood away from her. He knew how to defend against that! That shouldn't be possible. The last person who knew the Cat Fist died over a hundred years ago. Even she hadn't mastered it. She could only mimic some of the more basic moves.
She switched to a Tai kick boxer routine, which he countered with a fast, soft Tai Chi, lessening her blows to nothing. Ranma switched to a blur of Kempo, almost catching her off guard. She used her own skills in Kempo to stop him.
She reached even further into her bag of tricks and used one of her moves that she had learned from an Amazon when she has younger. Her finger stabbed the ground, causing it to explode.
Ranma's hands blurred even faster into an invisible shield, knocking aside each rock. He pressed his attack, pushing her defenses.
Shiva ruminated. He knew the Bakusai Tenkatsu, even without it being `announced'. She should be able to endure past him, but she couldn't be certain now. She had never seen anyone actually just block it before. Dodge, yes. After all, that was how she had defeated it herself, all those years ago. But not block it.
She was dragged back into the fight, as Ranma yelled out, "Hiryo Shotan HA!"
Chinese Amazons! He had been trained by Chinese Amazons. Impossible! They only trained those they considered their own. Luckily, she knew how to diffuse the tornado. Otherwise this fight would be over right here and now. Her brows furrowed in concentration, causing the air to collapse upon itself. In moments, she had landed on the roof of the house, followed closely by Ranma.
Ranma was getting worried. That should have defeated her, unless she knew more of the Amazon techniques than he did. There were only two people that he knew of could defeat the Hiryo Shotan Ha. Other than Cologne of course.
He didn't know the Hadoken though, Shiva thought. And it was more powerful than any heavy emotion based ki attack. She focused and started channeling the ki around her, forming it into a swirling ball, growing it larger and larger. A cold smile appeared on her face.
Ranma watched her build up the power. It wasn't like his own ki attack. It was more powerful already and she hadn't stopped infusing it. He had speculated on how to defeat something like this in the past, but had never really had the chance to test it. It was one of those do or die things. He had to be at his fastest. He tensed his shoulders and cleared his mind.
"Hadoken!" Shiva cried out, sending out a massive ki blast. He should have at least tried to ki blast it. He might have survived if he had.
She saw his arms flash in a burst of motion, right before the attack hit him. He was pushed back over thirty feet in a furrow of shingles and then stopped. Her smile dropped. His aura had grown suddenly to massive proportions.
How? All of his bones should have been broken and his body lying with his blood seeping out of it. Unless he was better at manipulating his ki than her? But she had defeated Thyme, of the Musk. One of the undisputed masters of ki. She charged up another ball of ki.
Ranma finally saw how she did it. She used the ki of the air and the earth. Her own ki was impressive, but not overly so. The glow around Ranma turned ruddy, showing the source of his aura. He cupped his hands, a glowing point of light appearing in his hands.
Shiva shivered. She had never run into someone who learned techniques as fast as this one. His aura was growing faster than hers too. How was this possible?
Simultaneously, they released their ki attacks. For just a moment, they held in equilibrium. And then Ranma's struck through at incredible speeds. Shiva was slammed by the blast, hurting her severely. She flew through the air and landed in a heap next to the koi pond.
Blackness took her in.
Ranma breathed raggedly, as he dropped to the ground in front of Shiva. Her body glove was singed, small tears all across it. Even after all of that punishment, she was only unconscious. He drew in his ki again and the earth's below. A blazing fist was raised, poised to strike.
Shiva opened her eyes to her death. This boy had defeated her. It was galling. The only thing that was left, was her death at the hands of this youngster. "Kill me and get it over with."
"You don't deserve death. For threatening A... an innocent. Shiva, your life is mine to command, do you deny that?" Ranma said quietly. Beads of sweat glistened his forehead.
"No. My life is yours to command."
"I command you to defend the Tendo's life, until I say the honor debt is repaid," Ranma said through gritted teeth.
"All of the Tendo's?" Shiva asked.
"The ones in this household right now. From this day forward, they are under your protection."
Shiva felt hope grow in her heart. She might live to challenge him again. "I agree to that. Why did you not demand that I serve you, young warrior?" His weakness would be his downfall.
"You wouldn't hold to it and you know it," Ranma replied cockily as he let the ki flow back into the air and earth.
"We are kindred in heart then. Only one of us can be the best and neither of us is willing to be second."
"Yeah. That's me alright." Ranma reached out his hand, offering to help her up.
She pushed the hand away and stood on her own.
Soun awoke to pain and familiar faces. Kasumi was tending to his injuries as best as possible. Akane and Nodoka sat next to him, while Genma, as a panda of course, was across from them.
"Father, you're awake! You had us worried for while there," Kasumi said placidly.
"Don't try talking dad. Shiva hurt your jaw. You're going to have to go to the hospital," Akane said earnestly.
Soun nodded slowly, feeling the pain in his jaw and agreeing. He made some mumbling noises, trying to find out what had happened to Ranma.
"Ranma's fine dad. He defeated her. He defeated Shiva!" Akane said excitedly.
Soun blinked in astonishment. Ranma had defeated Shiva?
"Yes, Soun Tendo. And to repay a life debt, you and your immediate family are now under my protection," Shiva said from the corner.
Ranma walked into the room, toweling off his hair. "I can see why were terrified of her, Pop. That was the hardest fight I've ever been in, barring Jusendo. And this one was just martial arts. No magic or weapons."
"Growf?" Genma said, looking over at Shiva.
"That is Genma? How did that happen?" Shiva said suddenly. Magic?
"Pop and his stupid training trips. He managed to get us cursed. He turns into a panda," Ranma explained.
"Really? And what is your curse?" Shiva said carefully.
"I turn into a girl." Ranma gave her a very flat stare. "It's not a weakness, Shiva."
"I see." Shiva frowned slightly. There went that idea.
"So is she going to be staying here? We really don't have room for another guest." Nabiki said suddenly.
"I haven't seen Happosai since the wedding. She can use his room," Ranma said smugly. He was pretty sure that Happosai didn't stand a chance against Shiva. Especially with the way she dressed.
"Happosai? I haven't run into him in a long time. If he wants the room, he may challenge me for it," Shiva said, smiling tightly.
"Oh, ok. Guess that works." Nabiki blinked. This lady was spookier than Pantyhose Taro.
Rakemio sighed in relief and leaped off of the house next to the Tendo's. He wouldn't have believed it. But still, that was likely to hold her attention for quite a while. And he could get back to the business at hand. Soon he was on a bus and deposited in front of a large building down town.
He walked in a side door and over to the private elevator and took it to the top floor. It opened up into palatial splendor that was, for the most part, lost to the grim man. Light filled the room, awakening the sleeping individual laying on the couch.
He was a younger man, with long dark hair pulled back into a ponytail. "So you made it back? No problems?" Dick asked, stretching mightily.
"Not really. We shouldn't have to worry about Shiva for a while. She finally found her match. The son of an old friend, actually," Bruce Wayne, nee Rakemio Tashukama, replied. "But we have other business. Has any contact regarding Bane surfaced?"
Dick Grayson shook his head in frustration. "Not yet. But we'll find him."
Ranma hung from the roof of the Tendo's. Everyone else was asleep. Well, almost everyone. He rapped nervously on the window. It slid open and he slipped into the room.
"Uh, hi Akane." Ranma scratched the back of his head nervously.
"I really don't bite, Ranma. Come on, please sit next to me," Akane asked demurely. She sat on the edge of her bed in a coy pose.
Ranma sat next to her in trepidation. This Akane he didn't know how to deal with. She was nice and didn't pound him. Well, much, any ways. Akane leaned next to him. He tensed for just a second and then relaxed. Her hair was a heady perfume to him.
"This is so much better than fighting all the time, don't you think so, Ranma?" Akane asked. He always felt so comfortable when he was holding her or just sitting close. Well, when she let him.
"Yeah. I know what you mean. I just wish our parents weren't pushing us to get married so soon." Ranma sighed, letting the days tension flow out of him.
"But you love me, don't you?" Akane asked.
Ranma tensed and then relaxed again. "Uh huh. You're the only one for me, you know that?"
"How do I know that it isn't just honor that's forcing you to marry me?" Akane asked, trying to force back her tears.
Ranma thought for a long minute. He kneeled in front of her and took her hands in his. "Akane Tendo, will you marry me?"
"Oh, yes. Yes I will, Ranma," Akane said, tears streaming down her face. "I'm so happy. Thank you Ranma."
Ring. Ri... Slam!
Akane looked at her alarm clock through bleary eyes. Morning already? And it was the same dream she had been having for the last two weeks. Ever since the 'wedding fiasco' actually.
Akane held back the tears for just a second and then let them loose. She wasn't good enough. She couldn't cook, she couldn't sew and she wasn't as pretty as the other fianc‚s. How could she compete? She sniffled for a minute and then wiped the tears away.
Tears were for losers and she wasn't a loser. Ranma always came after her, so he was worried about her. It was just when there weren't any problems, he was a real jerk. It was just that didn't treat anyone else like her. Well, except for his father.
Akane wrapped her mind around that concept for a minute and just couldn't be sure what that meant. Was that the way that Ranma treated those that were really close? Actually, that was the way Genma treated Ranma too.
Could that be the only way that Ranma knew how to treat those that were close to him? Genma raised Ranma and Ranma's social skills stank to high heaven.
Akane had a suspicion that Ranma didn't really think she was 'uncute'. Not really, any ways. And even she had to admit that she was somewhat of a tomboy at heart. She really didn't want to be the helpless damsel all of the time. And she wasn't. Akane knew that she was good at the Art. She just wasn't in the same league as Ranma and the people that he fought.
She pushed the thoughts out of her head and walked to the bathroom to clean up for school. It wouldn't be good to be late again.
"Jeez Ranma, we're going to be late again!" Akane yelled at her fianc‚.
"So hurry up all ready, slow poke!" Ranma retorted.
Shiva shook her head. She really couldn't believe she had lost to this uncouth boy. He had a good heart, she could see that. But the way he treated that girl. She leaped from roof to roof, keeping the short haired girl in sight.
That had been quite the illuminating talk she had had with Kasumi. It was hard to believe the many insane things had happened to this household. And usually either to Ranma or Akane. Nabiki and Kasumi were unusually safe and she had been the first person to challenge Soun in months. So she focused on protecting the one most likely to be attacked or kidnapped.
She tensed as she saw a young man in kendo garb step out at the school gate, but he was promptly ran over by the two late teenagers on their way to class.
Ranma yelled over his shoulder, "Later Kuno! We don't want to be late!"
"Foul sorcerer, I shall yet defeat thee!" Kuno sputtered.
Shiva shook her head. And this was supposed to be normal? She disappeared back into the shadows to wait.
"Mr. Saotome! You do realize that you are flunking biology, don't you?" the teacher at the front of the class said loudly.
Along with Math and English, Ranma thought. "Yes, teacher." He sighed deeply. It really wasn't his fault. If he wasn't getting challenged all the time, he knew he could do better in school. But he wouldn't be as good a martial artist either. So it was a lose-lose situation.
"And what do you plan to do about that, Mr. Saotome?" Mr. Fujiwara asked.
"Uh, try to make up as much school work as possible?" Ranma said hopefully.
"Saotome, even if you got straight A's on the rest of the work, you are still going to fail. I understand that this situation is not entirely your fault, but you should really work on solving you extracurricular activities. Soon."
Ranma paled. He thought he could catch up, but he hadn't put as much work towards this class. He had been focusing on the other two more. After all, they were harder. "Uh, is there an extra credit project that I can do?" Ranma asked, sweat beading on his forehead.
Mr. Fujiwara pretended to think about it for a second. "Maybe. Meet with me after class and we'll see what we can do," he said finally.
Ranma sighed again and slumped in his seat. It just wasn't fair. It really wasn't his fault. Well, not that much any ways.
Akane looked at Ranma with a bit of worry. Her grades had been pretty adversely affected by being kidnapped and taken to China. She was struggling to pass herself. Ranma was probably much worse off.
Lunch started normally, with a normal bickering session starting between Ranma and Akane (though neither could remember how it started or what it was about.) They were under their tree and relaxing. Ranma had dragged some of his math homework with him, even though he denied that he was worried about passing his next math test.
Ukyo smiled. Ranma hadn't actively snubbed her, just not gone out of his way to talk to her in the last two weeks. But he had mentioned to her in passing, that he really didn't hold it against her about the wedding. Ranma had said that he was upset at getting exploded, mauled and losing his chance at getting cured. Mostly about the cure. Ranma always had these funny priorities.
"Ranma honey! How are you doing?" Ukyo asked as she walked up. She was dressed in her male school uniform. She nibbled at some leftovers from her lunch.
"I'm okay, Ukyo. Well, except for the math test this afternoon," Ranma replied absently.
Akane glared at Ranma and then Ukyo. She hadn't forgiven Ukyo for her part in destroying the wedding. She settled for glaring at Ukyo, as Ranma was blithely ignoring her to study his homework.
"Why, helloooo, Akane. And how is Miss 'I almost managed to marry Ranma'?" Ukyo said carefully, dripping sarcasm.
"I'm fine, Ukyo." Akane gritted her teeth and tried not to unleash her aura. She wasn't worth it, she wasn't worth it, Akane said to herself like a mantra.
"So Ranma, why the homework?" Ukyo asked as she turned away, rudely snubbing Akane.
"I, um, need to study to pass my math test. Nothing to it. Really!" Ranma replied glibly.
"Ranma husband! Shampoo bring special soup for you!" Shampoo said loudly, walking across the yard.
Ranma back peddled furiously. "S-Shampoo! What are you doing here?"
"Bring Ranma soup? Didn't husband hear?" Shampoo put her delivery box down and then with a startling fast movement, grabbed Ranma in a very intimate hug. "Shampoo do anything for husband!" Shampoo purred seductively.
"Ranma, you jerk! HOW DARE YOU!" Akane ignored his incoherent pleas of innocence and drop kicked him over the school and into the swimming pool on the other side. She almost always managed to hit the nearest body of water.
"Pervert girl gone too far. Try marry my husband and now try to keep Ranma away from Shampoo. Obstacles are for killing. Soon, Shampoo have no more time and must kill Pervert girl. Spatula girl too." Shampoo smirked haughtily.
"I don't have to take that from you!" Akane retorted. She took a classic Kempo stance, fist raised up in front of her.
"Ranma not here to protect weak Pervert girl. Not even challenge."
"Both of us, Shampoo? I don't think you're that good." Ukyo hefted her combat spatula. Shampoo tensed and readied herself. Ranma would be at least five minutes away. She could hurt them a lot in that time. A Cheshire smile appeared on her.
Shampoo sent a snap kick at Ukyo and then charged at Akane. She didn't even see what struck her, but she felt the effects. She skidded over the ground, bouncing painfully off of a tree.
Shampoo looked back, spotting the figure that had interrupted her attack. "Don't know you. But spandex lady make big mistake attacking Shampoo with ambush."
Shiva just smiled and then replied in flawless Mandarin Chinese, "Come now, little one. Don't mangle the tongue of your betters. I understand your language." She paused dramatically for just a second. "Know this, child Amazon. Akane Tendo is under the protection of Shiva. To attack her is death. I have given you the one warning of honor, as is your custom."
Ukyo gaped in astonishment. Who was this lady? What was she saying?
Akane ground her teeth. She was not some weakling, to be protected and pampered. How could Ranma?
"Shiva? How is it that you know the dictates of Amazon honor?" Shampoo replied in her barely stilted Mandarin Chinese.
"I took it upon myself to learn your secrets. I only had to kill ten warriors of your tribe. They were a good challenge. Of course, only three were matriarchs."
"T-ten warriors? My Grandmother mentioned a Shiva, a warrior with a black heart, that no Amazon is to challenge. Is that you?" Shampoo inquired. Sweat beaded her brow. This was very bad. With a double bolded, capital 'B'.
"But that was story was from over a hundred years ago!"
"Age means nothing to a true Master of the Martial Arts."
Shampoo gulped audibly. In Japanese she stated, "Shampoo go now."
"A wise decision, child," Shiva responded in Japanese.
Ukyo watched in amazement as Shampoo turned tail and left. "You know what? I don't think I've ever seen her run away before."
"Me neither." Both of them turned and looked at the black clad warrior in front of them. Maybe they didn't want to know what would cause Shampoo to leave.
"Grandmother! Elder! I need to talk to you!" Shampoo yelled out in her native tongue.
"Shampoo, I've told you to speak in Japanese." Cologne sighed as she went back to cooking more noodles.
"This is very important, Honored Elder. I must ask your advice with dealing with the one known as Shiva! She claims that she has killed ten Amazons."
"Shiva? Describe her, Shan Pu."
"She has very short, dark hair and wears a black body suit. She has very sharp Japanese features and she claims to be over a hundred years old but looks thirty. I didn't even see her attack."
"That does fit what I remember. Yes, Shan Pu, she did kill ten Amazons. After worming her way into our tribe, she learned most of our secret techniques in a matter of a half year. Not satisfied, she challenged the weakest matriarch to combat, tricking her into using one of the last secret techniques. She then killed her to force another matriarch to attack her. She continued the process until she had learned all of our secrets. I myself watched as she killed my oldest sister."
"Grandmother! We are the strongest, it should not be possible for an outsider to defeat the council," Shampoo stuttered.
"We learned that day, that there is always someone stronger than us. She forced us to admit that she was our superior and on our honor, to never strike back at her, lest she return and destroy us all. It was the darkest day of recent history."
"But she has put the Tendo girl under her protection!"
"I was going to start scaring the Tendo girl, to drive her away in fear. I didn't even see her, before she had defeated me. Shiva then gave me the one warning of honor. And told me that Akane Tendo is under her protection." Shampoo shivered.
"How did that happen?" Cologne waited until Shampoo shook her head, showing her ignorance. "Very well, Shampoo. As Matriarch Elder of the Joketzu, I forbid you from attacking Akane Tendo while you claim your husband."
Shampoo nodded slowly. Not being able to deal with Akane was going to make it near impossible for her claim Ranma. A smile crept across her face. But not totally impossible.
Ranma rapped on the door, hoping that his teacher had already gone home.
"Come in, Ranma." Mr. Watanabe pointed to a seat as Ranma entered into the room. "This is Professor Pudoyn of the Tokyo University." He leaned forward to whisper into Ranma's ear, "You didn't get cured of your curse, did you?"
"Um, no. Why'd you ask?" Ranma looked back and forth, a dreadful feeling crawling up his spine.
"Good. Please demonstrate your curse. You did want an extra credit project, didn't you?" Mr. Watanabe asked louder.
Ranma nodded pitifully. He hated being treated like a sideshow freak. With a gulp, he picked up a glass of water and doused himself.
"Amazing, isn't it Professor? And it only requires hot water to turn her back into him," Mr. Watanabe said conversationally.
"Yes. Quite. I can see why you would think this would be interesting for my line of research. Studying the differences in the genetic structure would definitely lead to somewhere interesting. The red hair is unusual. And environmental factors would be identical, wouldn't they?"
"Ah, it's nothing. My pop turns into a panda."
"A panda? That's patently impossible. The structures are too varied."
"Tell that to Shampoo or Mousse. And Pantyhose would be even more impossible. It's magic."
"Oh? And what do they turn into?" the professor asked interestedly.
"Shampoo turns into a c-cat, Mousse into a duck. Oh, his name is Mousse, he's not a moose. Pantyhose turns into a, uh, er, let me think for a second. That's right! A yeti, riding a bull carrying a crane and an eel. Looks a lot like a demon. Tough in a fight too." Ranma smirked.
"Do you know anyone else who turns into a girl?" Professor Pudyon scribbled furiously. This was absolutely amazing.
"Uh, yeah! Herb does. He's a guy like me, he got splashed from the same pool I did." Ranma thought after a second.
"Interesting. Well, Ranma, let's have you demonstrate this curse for the video camera and then I'll take a few samples."
"Uh, is that it? You're not gonna put me in no lab are you? I'm not some sort of freak," Ranma stated loudly.
"Not at all. But you are helping science here, young man. Besides, all I need is the cell sample. I would like to get some more samples for a thorough study."
Mr. Watanabe thought for a moment. "I could make it worthwhile for Ranma to convince some of the others to submit samples. Each study could be considered an extra credit project. What do you think?"
"Will it help me pass Biology?" Ranma asked hopefully.
"I can almost guarantee it, my boy!" Mr. Watanabe said, smiling widely. Finally, some way out of this insane high school.
"I'm ho-ome!" Ranma called out.
"Why, hello Ranma. How was school today?" Kasumi asked, stepping out of the kitchen.
"Coulda been better, I suppose. Where's Akane? And Pop?" Ranma added quickly.
"Sh's over at a friends house. I think Genma is with Father, out celebrating."
"What are they celebrating now?"
Kasumi frowned and responded, "I think they were celebrating that Shiva wasn't hunting Mr. Saotome down any more." Father was still hurting. He should be in bed, not out drinking.
"AHHHHH! MY PANTIES!" echoed from within the house.
"Oh! It sounds like Master Happosai is home."
"Ranma. You've gone too far this time!" Happosai shouted as he bounded into the room.
"What? I haven't done nothing." Ranma said nonchalantly.
"What have you done with my panties, Ranma!" Happosai cried out, getting his aura going.
"Nothing. Shiva might have thrown them out, though."
"Our new house guest. She's a very pleasant conversationalist," Kasumi said, looking down on the diminutive martial arts master.
"Wowza! Shiva's back. Hotcha!" Happosai's eyes almost glowed in anticipation. "I haven't seen her in ages!"
"She needed a place to stay, so we let her have your room. She said she'd be more than happy to challenge you for it."
"She actually smiled when she said that." Kasumi smiled herself.
"Ah. Hokkaido sounds nice this time of year. See ya boy. Hope you survive!" Happosai disappeared in a blur, out the door and over the wall in a flash.
Kasumi looked thoughtful for just a second. "She seems to terrify quite a few people. Is she such a mean person?"
"Kasumi, she usually kills the people that she challenges."
"My word! I didn't realize that, Ranma." Kasumi paled. And she seemed to be so nice.
"Uh, yeah. She's infamous for that sort of thing."
"Hey, Pop! I need your help with something," Ranma said as he was preparing for bed.
"Do you need help mastering a new technique?" Genma asked.
"Nah. I need your help for an extra credit project for school."
"How can I help? I haven't been in school for a long time," Genma said with a hint of worry.
"Don't worry pop. I just need some blood."
"B-b-blood?" Genma paled.
"Sure. What's wrong, Pop? You don't faint at the sight of blood. I know that." Ranma looked at his father curiously. What was up with him?
"Ah, no reason. How is this going to help you with school?" Visions of demon infested teachers leading evil rituals and sacrificing their students danced in his minds eye. He must save his boy! But how? That's it, a sneak attack when Ranma isn't expecting it!
"He's got some nutty professor interested in doing a study... ERK! Hey! Oooof." Ranma barely blocked the kick to his face and didn't block the shot to his stomach. Genma followed up with more kicks and punches
Ranma managed to block the worst of it, but retreated out the open window. Genma followed, pressing his attack fiercely. Shiva snapped to attention and watched the fight from her vantage on the roof. Genma was talented, but not quite as good as Ranma.
She studied the fight closely. Genma knew his sons fighting style intimately. He had all of the counters that she had learned during the course of the match. Ranma also knew his father's style very closely. All in all, Ranma was better off. With his speed and stamina, he had the definite edge.
Soon it became telling, as Ranma landed stunning blow after stunning blow.
"Stupid old man. Why'd you do that?" Ranma asked rhetorically. With a sigh, he picked up his father and dragged him back upstairs.
"Ranma, what was that all about?" Nodoka asked, holding her bathrobe closed with one hand and holding her katana with her other as she peeked out the door.
"Ah, Pop just attacked me. It was probably some stupid sneak attack training. You know how Pop is."
Nodoka smiled and then nodded. "Oh, of course I do, dear. I'm going back to bed." And with that she walked back down the hall to the room she was sharing with Kasumi. It had been very nice of Kasumi to let her share the room, it wouldn't have been quite proper to share the same room with Ranma.
The next few weeks went by in relative quiet, by Nerima standards. No new martial artists, no successful kidnapping attempts against Akane, just the regulars and their fighting. The Amazon's had even mostly behaved.
And all it did was drive home how very far away Akane was from even noticing himself. Hikaru Gosunkugi sighed. The appeal of using magic to try and solve his problems had paled recently. Nothing worked and frequently caused him to catch his hair on fire. So that left him with a fairly decent skill in photography and his mind in trying to win his true love, Akane Tendo.
"Oh, Akane. Why can't you see that he is bad for you?" Gosunkugi said to himself as he wandered through the halls of Furinkan late one afternoon. Ever since the 'Ranma' wedding fiasco over a month ago, he had been lost and alone. He should have done something. Well, he should have least tried. He conveniently ignored the fact that he had nearly fainted just seeing what had happened to Ranma.
So what if he didn't know martial arts? The mind was a far deadlier tool. If you happened to be a vicious sort. Gosunkugi sighed to himself. He really wasn't vicious and mean. His plans tended to backfire on him too. He turned a corner as he headed to the door to exit the school.
He bounced into an imposing barrier and crashed to the floor. Gosunkugi ended tangled up with the person he had just run into.
"What in the heck are you trying to do?" Mr. Watanabe said loudly in the young man's face.
"I'm really sorry, sir!" And Gosunkugi really was. He managed to extract himself and started to frantically pick up the pile of folders and packages.
"I guess you are." Mr. Watanabe stood up and stretched. Ah, let the boy pick up the mess. "What are you doing here so late, young man?"
"Um, I was just returning a book to the library. It's not like my family is home from their jobs yet."
"Well that's commendable, I suppose. Oh, Mr. Tunkaju! Are we still up for that game of chess later?" Mr. Watanabe asked the other teacher as he stepped out of the teachers lounge.
"What? Of course, of course. I hope you've been studying."
Gosunkugi tuned out the teachers banter, as he continued to pile up papers. He was near the bottom on the pile when he came across a large packet, labeled 'Ranma Saotome study' from Tokyo University. On impulse he slipped it into his backpack. Maybe it was something that he could use to get rid of Saotome once and for all! He set his pack to the side and quickly finished picking up the mess.
"Here you go, sir!" Hikaru Gosunkugi said, handing the pile back to Mr. Watanabe.
"Very good. Now get out of here. I don't want you loitering."
"Yes sir!" Gosunkugi picked up his backpack and fled the school.
"Give it up, you old geezer. There is no way that you are going to get me into a bra."
"Oh, Ranma, you know that you would just look soooo adorable for your old feeble master." Happosai grinned and held out the object of dispute. Not only was it a bra, it was a lacy, frilly pink bra.
"Feeble my butt. Take your pounding like a man, you old goat." Ranma lashed out with a flurry of punches, moving out of Happosai's range before he could retaliate. She was not going to get groped by Happosai if she could help it.
Ranma had to admit to herself that the old man was in fine shape today. Happosai was really pushing Ranma this time. After Happosai's water bucket ambush (unusually clever and inventive), they'd been dashing around the yard like a couple of hyperactive jumping beans.
"Ha ha! You're weakening, girl!" Happosai said in triumph, after he had managed to squeeze the red haired girl a good one.
"Ack! Don't touch me there, you pervert!" Ranma exclaimed. She swatted him away for a second. This really wasn't doing anything except making her work really hard. So remove his reason to attack!
"Hiyaaa!" Ranma cried out, diverting Happosai's attention for just a second with an interesting bounce while popping open her shirt's top. Happosai managed to control himself from simply leaping at her. She snagged the bra and leaped to the roof, her hands blurring furiously.
"MY BRA! Ranma, how dare you take my silky darling!" Happosai cried out. He leaped up after her, his eyes bugging out as he reached the roof. "What have you done!"
"I'm burning it, you old coot."
"But that was my one of a kind that I had got from Marilyn Monroe! NOOOOOO!" True tears appeared in Happosai's eyes. "M-m-m-my one of a kind, unique Marilyn Monroe bra. Waaaaaa!"
"Ah, get lost, you freak." And with that, Ranma booted the crying martial artist out over the horizon. With a dismissive wave of her hands, she let the burning fragments catch the wind and blow themselves out.
As Happosai streaked through the air, he cried out to the shrinking figure below him, "Ranma, this time you have gone too far. I will have my revenge!" Dark thoughts crowded into the mind of the diminutive, bald martial artist master.
Gosunkugi looked at the sheet of paper. Who would have thought that he, Hikaru Gosunkugi, would have stumbled on a gold mine of information like this? He put the single sheet of paper back into the pile of others and started tapping a pen on his study desk. Now, how to use it to destroy Ranma Saotome?
Ha, simplicity itself!
This secret must be told to all! What was it that hackers always said? Information just wants to be free! It would take a lot of work, but it would be worth it. Luckily, there was a twenty-four hour photocopy store just around the corner.
Now, how much money did he have?
And so, by the light of the setting sun, Hikaru Gosunkugi plotted his ultimate undertaking.
Ranma's chopsticks snapped as he was eating his pickles later that very evening. The entire family stopped and stared. Ranma never broke his eating utensils. Surely it was a bad omen.
"Oh, dear," Nodoka said quietly. A cold chill sent tingles up her back.
"Saotome. This is as bad as when the Master freed himself." Soun Tendo nodded knowingly. A mirror crashed to the ground behind him, falling from the wall.
"Quite true!" Genma Saotome replied. He turned on his child instantly. "Ranma, what have you done to anger the Master!" A horseshoe fell from where it had just been put up over the door.
"All I did was burn one of his 'silky darlings'. Heck, I've done a lot worse in the past." Ranma continued to eat, watching the whole room as carefully as he could. It wouldn't hurt to be on the safe side.
"Ranma, why do you go out of you way to irritate people?" Akane growled at him. Honestly, you'd think he was trying to anger the entire hemisphere.
"What, you wanted him to stick me in that bra? You can be so dumb, you uncute tomboy," Ranma shot right back.
"I didn't say that, you jerk!" Akane yelled at him.
"So what were you saying? Do you want to fight?"
"Ooh. No, I don't. I don't know why I even bother." Akane slammed her chopsticks down and stomped up the stairs.
Ranma relaxed and then idly scratched his head. Things just weren't normal anymore. Sure he had oodles of fights and challenges, but that was normal. But Akane wasn't fighting as much as she used to.
Heck, she hadn't hit him for... almost... When had she last hit him?
"Ranma, why don't you go and apologize to you fianc‚e? And don't start any fights. I want you on your best behavior." Nodoka speared Ranma with a fierce but motherly glare.
"But... sure Mom!" Ranma replied sullenly. It was just Akane. Maybe that was why Pop ran away from home. There really wasn't a scarier thing than his angry mom. Well, except for cats, of course.
Ranma might be apologizing, but he was going to do it in his own way. And so he was tiptoeing across the roof to Akane's window.
Hmm. Let's go over what he had to do.
He had to apologize to Akane. For what, he wasn't certain. But his mother seemed to think that he had to.
He couldn't start a fight. How was he supposed to do that? They always fought. She called him a pervert and he called her uncute. This continued until either she hit him or they left each other alone. Let's get back on that one.
He was supposed to be on his best behavior. What did that mean? Was he supposed to be a gentlemen like those saps in the romantic movies that Akane was always wanting to watch? Eewww.
This was going to require some thought. Ranma sat down and tried to think. It was harder than it looked, he mused to himself.
Nabiki's nose was twitching slightly. She finished her bowl and made as to stand up. Genma and Soun were beaming to each other with a knowing smirk as they finished up their own food.
"Where are you going, Nabiki?" Nodoka asked.
"I've got some homework to do, Auntie."
"Oh, I thought your favorite show was on. The one you never missed watching and then always did you homework afterwards." Nodoka pinned the girl with a stern look.
"I've got a big test tomorrow. Busy, busy, you know. I'll just be up in my room."
"I'm sure that it will wait for you. I'll watch your show with you." Nodoka took a calming breath of air.
Nabiki squirmed. Her YEN!
"Genma. What are you doing?" Nodoka said with icy calmness.
"I, uh, was just going to check on the children." Genma started to sweat. Uh, oh. Nodoka had that look on her face.
"And do they need checking on?"
"Why, of course! Ranma might need some pointers!"
"Enough pointers so that he never talks to Akane? Genma, I've only been living here a couple of months. But every single time you put those children in a situation where they might talk about their feelings, you interfere!" She took another couple of breaths to calm herself down. "Not once. Not even a dozen times. But almost two dozen times in a single month. Does there sound like there might be something wrong with this?"
"I'm not sure what you mean."
"Genma, you know that I want those two to marry. But with your help, they are never going to get married. And you are just as bad, Soun. Leave them be."
"Ah. Sure." Soun turned back and casually sauntered over to the shogi board. He gestured to Genma to join him.
"Where are you going, Nabiki?"
"Um, my room?"
A shadow disappeared from the corner of the room. With feline grace, Shiva stepped into the night. A smile graced her lips. If she could get Ranma to agree to marry Akane, most of her work would go away. Shiva would have never have believed the amount of work it took to safe guard one girl.
And if making sure that he wasn't interrupted would help, by the gods, she would make sure that he wasn't interrupted.
Akane snapped her head to the window, as she heard someone rapping it. Well, that limited it to Ranma or a polite kidnapper/attacker. And since Shiva had been appointed Tendo bodyguard, those had dropped off significantly.
She stomped over to the window and slid it open. "What do you want, Ranma?" Akane said angrily. A hurt expression covered her face. Hadn't he done enough for one day?
"Uh, ah, I just wanted to come up and say I was sorry?" Ranma said hesitantly. He was hanging from the roof by his toes, as he normally did. Akane still seemed to be upset over something.
"Are you sorry, Ranma?" Akane said hotly.
"Uh, yeah! I am!"
A calculating look crossed Akane's face, making her look a bit like Nabiki. "So what are you sorry for?"
"Ah..." Ranma paused. He really didn't know what he had done wrong.
"You don't have a single clue, do you?"
Ranma opened his mouth to retort. He snapped it shut as remembered that he wasn't supposed to fight. What was he supposed to do?
Ranma shook his head finally, twiddling with his thumbs.
Akane stepped back into the room, letting the drapes fall while wrapping her arms around herself to ward off the cold. "Get in here and close the window, Ranma."
With a bit of trepidation, he snapped and rolled into the window, landing on his feet. He reached behind him and slid the window closed.
"Your mom put you up to this, didn't she?" Akane asked as she sat on her bed.
"Yeah. I don't know why though."
Akane laughed for just a second. "Do you think I like being called names?" Ranma could be such an idiot sometimes.
Ranma thought about it a second. Oh, that again. "Not really."
"So why do you call me names then?"
"Because you always call me names. And well, a guy isn't supposed to hit a girl," Ranma said finally. It was taking a lot of effort to not snap out and start fighting like he always did. Soul of Ice, indeed.
"I do? I, uh, guess I do, don't I?" Akane sighed and blushed. Ranma wasn't the only one who could be an idiot at times. "I guess that's my only way of dealing with you being a jerk sometimes. It's just so easy to get upset at you. You're always saying something mean."
"Ranma! People don't like to be insulted about everything they do."
"But that's what you do when somebody isn't doing it right!"
Akane blinked and considered that. Could he actually believe that? "W-what do you mean?"
Now it was Ranma's turn to look confused. "That's how pop trained me. He's not much into giving out praise, but boy can he rag on you for screwing up."
Akane thought about that for a second. The only time that she remembered Genma praising Ranma had been when he had just mastered a really difficult special technique. "So... you're trying to help me by insulting me?"
"Sure. Doesn't everybody?"
"No. Ranma. Most people insult to hurt the other person."
"So when you insult me, you're trying to hurt me?" To Ranma, this was almost to an alien concept. Akane was really trying to hurt him? He started to get upset until Akane replied.
"No! Well, not really. Or most of the time. I just get so upset. You say or do something really stupid and the only way to let you know is to yell at you or hit you. You don't notice if somebody gets upset or 'gives you the look'."
"Oh, so your just like Pop. You yell at me to get me to do it right." Not like why he insulted Ryoga. Whew.
"I am not... Ok, maybe I do." She paused a second. "But I'd rather not yell at you, you know."
"You wouldn't?" Now that was a weird thought!
"No, not really."
Akane stared at Ranma, while Ranma stared back at Akane. It was so quiet, that they could hear the other breathing.
"Why not?" Ranma asked finally.
"Ranma, why do you think I don't want to?"
"I'm not sure. You seemed really happy when you said that I said that I l-loved you." Ranma paused a second, building up his nerve. "D-do you l-love me?"
"Yes, silly." Akane said while blushing. She was surprised at how easy it was to say it, when he asked.
"I don't know." Akane just shrugged her shoulders.
"What about you, Ranma? Do you... ?" Akane held her breath. This was the thing that had worried her for months. Did Ranma love her?
"Um, ah, uh, I don't know. Maybe?"
"Ranma!" Outrage showed on her face and then crumbled into near tears. She rocked back into her bed. "Can't you do better than that?"
Ranma was pretty sure that getting Akane mad at him wasn't going to stop her from crying, this time. He started to fidget. Why did he have to come up here? Oh, right his mother. "Ah, I think I do. I was really worried for you in China. I ain't never been that scared for anyone before. I don't want that to ever happen again." China and the near wedding had been rather shocking to him. It had taken him weeks to muddle through figuring out his thoughts.
Consternation showed on Akane's face. "So why didn't you want to get married?"
"I never really said that! But how would you like to get hit over the head and shoved into a tuxedo? Nobody ever asks me nothing."
"No one told me that! Those jerks!" Akane fumed as Ranma nodded his agreement. "Don't you want to marry me, Ranma?" Akane asked suddenly. She really hadn't meant to ask that, but she had to know.
"Do you want to marry me?" Akane held her breath. She couldn't believe that she had actually asked him.
"Ahhhhh." A look of abject terror crossed his face for one second. "I think so." Ranma cleared his throat carefully. "But if you think we got problems know, look what Shampoo and Ukyo are did last time. Brrr." Ranma shuddered in imagined torture.
"You? Do?" Akane managed to squeak out. She stood there quietly for just a second, eyes wide and impossibly vulnerable in her very proper yellow pajamas.
She was so pretty sometimes, Ranma thought to himself. He nodded back to her absently. "Maybe, someday. I'm not really against it anymore."
Ranma thought for a second that Shampoo had managed to sneak up and tackle him, until he realized that it was Akane, holding him as tightly as she could. Overbalanced, his feet slipped out from underneath him and his head slammed up against this sill of the window.
Pretty birdies and stars, whirling round and round!
Ranma just lay there for a second, head spinning. Akane didn't care, her head snuggled up to his chin and her grip not loosening one iota. Only one thing was crossing her mind, like a mantra. 'Yes!' 'Yes!' 'Yes!' 'Yes!'
Ranma became conscious of the snuggling form as the pretty stars went away. His arms were loosely wrapped back around her. He pinched himself, just to make sure he wasn't dreaming. "Ouch!"
Akane loosened her grip a little and looked around. "What?"
"Heh, nothing. You've got a good grip, you know that?"
Akane was brought back down from cloud nine as her uncomfortable position started to make itself aware to her. Regretfully, she let Ranma go and sat up on the floor. "You know, that wasn't quite the way I ever imagined. I thought the guy was supposed to propose?" Akane said with a giggle. She was so relieved that she was giddy.
"Huh? Oh, yeah. Could have been a lot worse, I guess. I keep expecting exploding food and poisoned roses to come flying in the window."
"That does seem like normal, don't it?"
"Yeah. Makes me wonder who changed the rules."
"So, now what?" Akane asked nervously.
"Well, I don't think telling everyone is a good idea. We'd be in front of an alter in no time and it'd get bombed again. And we really don't need that. Could we keep it a secret, just until we figure out some way of stopping the others?" Ranma asked.
"NO!" Akane took a breath and calmed herself down with a large effort. "Do you really think so? Do we have to hide it?" She wanted to run outside and trumpet it to the masses. Or something like that.
"No we don't. We also don't have to fight off every maniac that would be out to get you, me, or both of us. Even with Shiva around, we'll still have a pile of problems."
"Oh, good point. Dang." It wasn't fair, Akane pouted to herself.
"Uh, now what?"
"Don't I have to kick you out of my room yet?" Akane asked impishly.
"Huh? Oh, I get it. To throw off people. Good idea!" Ranma opened the windows and stepped in front of it.
"Close your eyes." Akane pulled her arm back, fist clenched. The grin hadn't left her face.
Ranma steeled himself, bracing himself for the expected blow. He thought that she didn't want to really hit him?
He wasn't expecting the gentle kiss that was softly administered. Ranma's eyes snapped open. The finger that knocked him out of the window was gentle and didn't hurt in the slightest.
"RANMA, YOU JERK!" Akane yelled loudly, just before he thudded into the ground. Very quietly, she said, "Got you."
Ranma lay on back, staring at the window above him. His hand went unconsciously to his mouth. Definitely better without the tape, he thought.
He was suddenly surrounded by a host of inquiring people, all asking him what he had done. They were so used to the shouted denials, that they ignored his pleas of innocence and went back to planning their normal shenanigans to get the two together.
Or in the case of one particular lady, at least try to have some fun and profit.
Shiva smiled to herself, as she watched the group trundle off into the house from her perch on the wall. She looked over her shoulder at the pile of bodies laying on the ground. At least she had figured out why Ranma was so good at such a young age.
He got into fights with world class martial artist about twice a day. The kendoist was pretty good. His sister (never caught her name) used a very unorthodox style and was sneaky to boot. The chief was at least decent. She couldn't believe the amount of damage the guy in the dusty yellow shirt with the bandana could take. And what the hell was that thing with the tentacles? It looked vaguely like a Minotaur. Strong, but not overly fast. It was very used to fighting smaller and weaker opponents.
At least the Amazons had enough presence of mind to leave well enough alone. They showed up and then left when they saw her there. It was like all of these people had this sixth sense for when Ranma and Akane were going to have a heart to heart.
Didn't they have anything better to do? She was going to have bruises for days. "Fools!"
Happosai bounced along in the early twilight of the morning. His face was covered in a ridiculous attempt at a mask. His bag was as full as Santa Claus's, though with an entirely different treasure. He was headed back to his hidey hole above the Tendo dojo, when he spotted a leaflet posted to a tree right next to the school.
"Well, well, well. What have we here." He took a moment to leaf through it. It would have been much easier if he hadn't had to bounce to read the piece of paper. "Perfect! And I know just how to use this to my advantage! Bwahahaha! Soon, Ranma. Very soon, I'll have my revenge!"
Thunder crashed in the distance, adding natures echo to his cry.
Ranma tapped his toe as he waited for Akane to finish up her breakfast. He was still mentally adjusting to the change just one conversation could make. Shampoo was going to be so upset and Ukyo wasn't going to be much better. At least Kodachi has some idea that he didn't care for her. Not that it changed much. Realization should have made her leave, but no, she was still infatuated with him.
Ranma sighed. "Come on Akane, we're gonna be late!" He'd worry about it later. It'd probably take another couple of weeks to figure it out.
"Be right there!" Akane trotted over to him and they took off down the road towards school. Amazingly enough, they got to school without any major disruption.
They looked around, noticing the crowd of students in the courtyard, all of them reading some sort of paper. They looked at each other, wondering what was up.
"Huh? No Kuno?" Ranma muttered.
"Maybe he's still recovering from your pounding yesterday?" Akane said.
"Nah. We weren't serious yesterday. We were just keeping ourselves in shape."
Ukyo pushed her way through the crowd. "Ranma! Is this true?"
"This paper says that you aren't related by blood to Genma Saotome! And so, you aren't under any obligation to marry me or Akane!"
"WHAT?" Ranma and Akane yelled out.
"There must be some sort of mistake. What sort of proof does that say it has?" Ranma said angrily. He snatched the paper out of her hands.
"Some sort of relationship test with genetic samples. Says they have an eighty percent probability that you aren't his son. It says that even you blood types don't work out." Ukyo was very, very upset. Genma might not even have had the right to betroth them. Now there was no way to recover her honor. And she had wanted to marry Ranma.
He'd done it again, damn him. It was always Genma's fault.
Ranma read through the papers, his face getting even paler as he went. This couldn't be true, could it? This was from that professor that was doing the genetic study about him. And it didn't look like it was faked. Could he have been adopted?
"Ranma?" Akane said, biting her lip.
"Let's get to the bottom of this. This is more important than school anyways." Ranma turned and took a step towards the gates.
"Halt, varlet! So have your plans come undone! Finally, the truth will be out! And Akane Tendo will finally be free of thy vile clutches!" Tatewaki Kuno said loudly.
"I don't know what's going on, Kuno. I'm gonna find out."
"Hah. I'll not let you weasel your way from out of this stain on your honor." Kuno struck out with every once of will and strength.
Ranma ducked and leaped backwards. "I don't have time for this." He took off over the wall, being chased by one kendoist and two girls.
Ranma's progress was noted and plans set in action. The stage was set.
Ranma bounced over the wall of the Tendo compound. "Hey, Pop! I need to talk to you!" Ranma called out.
"What are you doing home! You are supposed to be in school!" Genma cried out, his face turning red. He stood up from side of the shogi board. Soun looked on in interest, while Happosai looked up from his ironing innocently. Kasumi looked up from the table where she was sharing tea with Nodoka and having a nice morning chat.
"Shove it! This is important. According to this paper, you aren't my father!" Ranma cried out. He held it out for Genma to see.
"What?" Genma stuttered.
Nodoka gasped. No! It couldn't be!
Kasumi blinked in surprise at Nodoka's reaction.
"Someone went to a lot of work to make it easy to understand. This says that it's almost impossible for us to be related. What gives old man? Did you adopt me?" Ranma asked.
"No! You aren't adopted. I've seen the birth certificate!" Genma's mind reeled from the bombshell that had just landed in his lap.
"You have? How about you Mom? Do..." Ranma stopped, looking at his mother. The fear was evident in her eyes and on her pale face. The hand holding her cup of tea was shaking.
"Mom! Tell me I'm not adopted!" Ranma said forcibly.
"Y-you aren't adopted, Ranma."
"I was away when you were born, Ranma. Soun and I went away on one last training trip and so I wasn't able to be there for you birth." Genma paused. A sudden suspicion grew in his mind.
Nodoka bowed her head, placing her cup on the table.
"Ranma is my son, isn't he Nodoka?" Genma yelled. His face turned an even uglier red, his eyes narrowing dangerously. He walked across to the table and kicked it out of the way, breaking it into splinters. He grabbed her by her shoulders, lifting her as if she were a doll. "Answer me," he said in a very quiet voice.
Tears started to stream down her face. Her eyes look haunted as she replied. "No. Ra-anma was born eight months after we were married."
Kasumi laid a calming hand on Genma's arm. "It's possible he was just premature, isn't it?"
"H-he was overweight. I've long suspected that Genma wasn't Ranma's father." Quiet sobs racked her body. "I-I tried to give you a heir. For four years, before you took Ranma on that training trip, I tried."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Genma shouted.
"I w-w-was ashamed. I didn't want to bring more shame on my family."
"How is this possible?" Genma was almost beyond words.
"It was just before you showed up. I was enamored with one of my fathers students and he was so gentle and nice. I-I seduced him one night in the dojo. My father must have found out, because I was sent away to my aunt's until he married me off. That was when I met you."
"And so your father married you off to protect his own honor. Why didn't he force you to marry his father?" Genma shouted loudly, pointing at Ranma. Ranma jerked as if shot.
"He wasn't... Japanese. Father was very biased towards foreigners. The only reason he taught him, was because he paid very well and kept the Dojo from the bankers."
Genma tried to say something, but it came out as a strangled gurgle. Finally, he let her go. Before Nodoka had a chance to steady herself, Genma sent her reeling with a slap, stumbling badly and finally falling to the ground. Ranma was at her side instantly, holding her close, worry evident in his face.
"I HAVE NO WIFE." His eyes narrowed, noting Ranma's protectiveness of his mother. His nostrils flared, as his lung took in air needed for his next words. "I HAVE NO SON."
"Genma!" Soun managed to get out.
Genma turned his enraged gaze on Soun. "Don't. They have dishonored me and shamed the Saotome Clan name. They deserve nothing."
"Get out of my sight, filth." Genma's aura flared and grew to massive proportions.
"I think it would be better if you left for now." Soun looked over his friends face, seeing nothing but outrage and fury.
Ranma helped his mother to her feet. She felt like a mannequin, made of dead wood. The only sign of animation were the tears on her face.
"Well, now the true colors of Sao. no just Ranma, are apparent." Kuno smirked. This was far better than hurting his foe physically. Far better indeed.
A murmur arose from the onlookers. This changed a lot of things.
Only two things saved Kuno from the pounding of his life. One was the fact that Ranma was supporting his mother. The other was a small hand put on Ranma's shoulder.
"Upperclassman, that is enough," Akane said. She looked at Ranma with worry evident on her face.
"Of course. I will see you later, oh beauteous Akane." Most of the students started to leave the compound. Kuno led the way, swaggering back to the school.
"Ranma?" Akane asked.
"I think, I'd better go. I'm really sorry, Akane."
"Why, Ranma? It's not your fault."
"The... engagement is broke."
Akane whispered fiercely, "That doesn't change our feelings, Ranma." She took a breath to steady herself and look around. "Besides, I want to... spend time with you. That doesn't have anything to do with the engagement."
Ranma blinked and then smiled. "Yeah, your right. But it's gonna be a lot tougher now."
"Ranma, life with you is always tough. I'm pretty strong too, you know."
"Thanks, Akane. I better get Mom home to her place." Ranma smiled wanly, escorting his mother out the door.
"Bye, Ranma. I'll tell the teachers that you had to take care of your mother."
And in the background, for the eyes of anyone that could see, Happosai grinned widely. Even better than he had hoped. Though Akane seemed to have said something to cheer him up. He'd have to stop that. He had to crush his spirit, a tough proposition.
Ranma opened the door and guided Nodoka in to sit on the couch. One of the workers looked on in surprise. They were busy painting the walls, as they were almost finished with the repairs. Everything sparkled as if new.
"Could you leave for a while?" Ranma asked.
"We'll be back tomorrow." The worker nodded and then he and his two people left the house.
Ranma nodded absently. "Mom?"
"I'm so sorry Ranma. Can you forgive me for being a foolish girl?"
"Heck, we all make mistakes. Give Pop some time and he'll calm down." Ranma put his bravado on his face, ignoring the fact that Genma had never, ever been so angry before as far as Ranma could remember.
"I should contact you true father. Now that this is public, he deserves to know. And to decide if he wants a son."
"Yeah. I guess so." Ranma went into the kitchen and started making some tea. Luckily, the kitchen was already repaired.
She reached into her purse and pulled out a business card she had been given just a few weeks ago. Nodoka picked up the phone and checked for a dial tone. She tapped a single number and then said quietly, "Operator, I'd like to make an international call."
A stately old man dressed in a butlers uniform dusted a row of computers. When one of the monitors blinked on, he arched an eyebrow. My, that must be one of Master Bruce's contacts in Japan. With a flick of his wrist, he finished his dusting and walked into the elevator.
Soon he was walking down a hall and stepped into a large room. The sun had set and a man was sitting as he watched the city lights come on.
"Master Bruce, you have a message. The computer traced it to a Saotome residence," Alfred said. He was surprised, when Bruce turned around, a smile touching his face for just a moment.
"Really? I do hope it is an invitation to a wedding."
Alfred blinked in surprise. "I take it this isn't one of `his' contacts, sir?"
"Oh, no Alfred. This is a friend from my past." Bruce walked towards the clock and opened it (in a very special way, fingers dancing quickly) and went down the very long and windy secret passage. Soon he was back in the caves and at the same screen that Alfred had been dusting just a moment later. He shed his sports coat and laid it down.
He flicked a switch and started to listen to the message with a headset. A frown grew on his face. At the end of the message, his face had a very stern scowl. "Hmm."
"You could say that. Nodoka Saotome just called to inform me that it is quite likely that her son was not by her husband, but by me."
"Oh, another gold digger, sir?"
Bruce sat there thinking for a second, steepling his fingers as he sat back further into his chair. "Unfortunately, no. She doesn't even know Bruce Wayne exists."
"Really? So what shall you do, sir?" Now this was surprising. "So is it possible?"
"Just once? And so very long ago? The chance is very remote. Fortunately, there are paternity tests that can be done, discreetly." He sighed and kneaded his forehead. "One of my companies does this sort of thing. I can trust them not to spread this to every rag, at least."
"Very well, sir. Shall I send a doctor to visit the young man?"
"No, Alfred. He has to come here, to Gotham. He will be a guest for a while. I wish to know what sort of person he is. And afterwards, who knows?" Bruce sat back into the dark shadows, his eyes hidden in darkness.
How would this change things?
After Ranma had put his mother to bed, he sat in the living room. He had better be prepared for the worst. Ranma sighed, not seeing how it could get much worse. He was interrupted by the phone ringing.
"Hello! Ranma speaking." Maybe it was Akane, Ranma thought to himself as he answered the phone.
"Ranma? This is Rakemio Tashukami. I understand your mother thinks that you might be my son?"
That didn't sound like a very happy young man. "I'm afraid that I'm going to have to test this myself. I'm having tickets delivered for an international flight to Gotham. They're good for anytime this month, whenever you can get your paperwork in order and leave. Just leave a message and there will be someone there to pick you up. In Tokyo and Gotham."
"Ah, ok. I guess."
"I'll see you then."
"Bye." Great. Ranma slumped, his shoulder bent as if he had the weight of the world resting on them.
Ranma went back to sitting in the center of the room, trying to figure out how he was supposed to handle the mess that was his life. The TV droned in the background, making white noise and filling time. He was suddenly pulled back to reality by the doorbell. Ranma walked over to the door and opened it, seeing a courier with a clip board.
"Nodoka Saotome?" the man in the work uniform asked.
"Ah, no. That's my mom. Just a second." Ranma went upstairs to her room and knocked softly.
Nodoka opened the door and asked, "Yes, Ranma?"
"There's a delivery at the door."
"Thank you." Nodoka smiled. It was nice to have her son back with her, at home. She had missed him so.
She came back into the living room, package in hand. "Ranma, what is this? These are some first class tickets to Gotham, in the United States." Who would be sending her tickets?
"Wow, that was fast. Rakemio sent those, I guess. He said he was, anyways."
"When did he say that, Ranma?" This was odd.
"Oh," Ranma paused and looked at a clock. "About two hours ago." Guess more time passed than he thought.
Nodoka blinked. She had known that Rakemio Tashukama was well off, but not quite so well off. That was easily over a hundred thousand yen, just for the tickets. To get the rest done in a few hours spoke of money and connections. "Well, I'll have to get a passport ready. It looks like we have visitor visas ready for us."
Ranma snickered, the first sign of his humor since this morning. "I've got mine already. Comes with chasing kidnappers and always wanting to go China in a heartbeat."
"It'll take a week to get mine ready."
A week? Shampoo was going to be here in hours, wanting to drag him off to China. He'd wanted to go to get a cure, but under his own steam, thank you very much. And definitely not as an Amazonian bridegroom. "Damn. I really don't want to be here when Shampoo arrives. No way am I going to China with her."
Nodoka looked at her son in surprise. "Why would she think that?"
"Because she thinks she's the only fianc‚e that I've got right now."
"Well, she's right, isn't she?" Nodoka bit her lip. She was going to lose her son, too.
"Well, um, no. Not entirely. Ah, Akane asked me to marry her last night," Ranma finished in a rush. Ranma started to blush in embarrassment.
Nodoka took a second to digest that and then smiled. At least something good happened today. "So you've finally admitted that you love her?"
Ranma nodded, looking so mortified. It was so cute, Nodoka thought to herself.
"It took you long enough." Nodoka thought for a moment and then decided something. "We can send you off right now. To America, I mean. I don't think announcing that you've picked Akane as your future wife would help anything today."
"But what about you?"
"I'm going to be busy, Ranma. I think I'm going to have to talk to my lawyer before I go anywhere. Divorce papers, custody and such."
"Oh. I don't really have a lot of stuff. Just the clothes on my back."
"I'm sure you can sneak in and get your backpack at the Tendo's."
"Oh, yeah. So right now?"
"I don't want you going to China if you don't want to. And you were right about Shampoo wanting to drag you off. You'll take care? And write letters?" Nodoka asked. She tried to hide the pain that his leaving was causing her. It won't be for so long, she said to herself. At least that's what she tried to convince herself of.
"You bet, Mom. And I'll be back in no time. It's not like I'm moving there for forever. Don't forget to tell Akane!"
Cologne almost fell off of her stick, as the door slammed open and the jubilant cry of, "Shampoo have great news, Grandmother!" echoed through the entire store.
"Don't scare the patrons off, Shampoo. What is your good news?" Cologne asked with her raspy excuse for a voice.
"Shampoo only fianc‚e for Ranma! Panda disown Ranma, say Ranma not son. So Panda can not engage husband to Spatula girl or Violent girl. Too, too good news!" Shampoo chirped happily.
"Really? That is good news." She turned to her customers. "Out. We're closed." She let just a bit of her formidable fighting spirit show. They wouldn't need patrons if they were back in China.
The customers almost fell over themselves in their haste to leave.
"We go get husband right now?" Shampoo asked dreamily. She clasped her hands to her left cheek, eyes staring vacantly into the sky.
"Yes. Let me put Mousse in his cage."
"Hey! Don't... Quack-quack-quack-quack-quaaaaack!" Mouse managed to get out before he was dumped into his cage. His protestations fell on deaf ears as Shampoo and Cologne left the restaurant at a stately but formidable pace.
Damn you Saotome! Mouse thought savagely.
Ranma sighed. He thought it took more effort to get on an airplane. But it had been remarkably easy. He had showed his ticket and walked to where the airplane was. He declared what he was bringing (almost nothing) and he was now sitting on the plane as it was taking off. He looked at the papers that told him where he was flying to.
Honolulu, Hawaii, and then to Los Angles, California. From there it was a direct flight Gotham, New Jersey. It was almost the other side of the world. Ranma had never traveled so far in his life. He opened his backpack and took out a small photo. He looked at it for a while and then shoved it into his shirt.
"Would you like something to eat, sir?" the stewardess asked.
"Uh, sure. Whatcha got?" Ranma asked.
Shampoo was seething. She hadn't been able to find Ranma anywhere. Not at the Tendo's, nor at school. Her confrontation with Akane had been quite ugly and Cologne had only just barely stopped her from attacking the impertinent girl.
So here she was at the last place she could think of, Ranma's mother's place. It looked pretty good, considering all of the damage from before. Shampoo rang the doorbell, slipping on a happy smile.
Nodoka answered the door and smiled as she saw the young lady at the door. "Why, hello Shampoo. How can I help you?"
"Looking for Ranma! Want to take him home, like good wife supposed to do!" Shampoo almost bounced in anticipation.
"Oh, I'm afraid that Ranma is going to America to meet his father. I don't know when he'll be back."
"Oh. Shampoo thank Ranma Mother." Shampoo's face collapsed. Gone again?
"Cologne, may I speak with you?" Nodoka asked, bowing to the older lady.
"Of course, child." Cologne actually walked in, showing respect for Ranma's mother.
"Please come in. It will only take a moment, Shampoo. If you'll just wait a moment."
"Wake up, sir. We'll be landing in Gotham in about ten minutes." The stewardess smiled, hiding her vexation with the young man. He sure did eat a lot and didn't know much English. It was her job, but boy was he a pain.
"Ah, thank you!" Ranma rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. He looked out the window, trying to see the city below him. It looked like it was wreathed in fog, with spires jutting out. It was vaguely ominous, even in the evenings sunlight. "Nice place," Ranma muttered in his native Japanese.
Soon the plane had landed and Ranma made his way through the turnstile and out into the front of the airport. Ranma had decided early on, that walking was the only real way to travel. Flying was for the birds.
He was looking for a phone, when he spotted an old man wearing a butlers uniform holding a sign that said, `Ranma' in large bold kanji.
Huh? Guess he was expected, after all. Ranma walked up and said, "Hello!"
"This way, Master Ranma. My name is Alfred. I'm here to assist and guide you."
Ranma was led to a sedan and put his luggage into the trunk. He then promptly hopped into the front passenger's seat. Ranma stared outside the entire way, looking at all of the buildings. They were quite a bit different than any place that he had seen.
Soon they were on the freeway and leaving the city. It didn't take too long and they were traveling through the hills. The houses became bigger as they came less often.
They turned the corner and drove in a gate as the doors automatically opened to let them in. Before them was a large house. No, a mansion. It was huge and placed on a large parcel of land, that looked more like a park. It was several times bigger than the Kuno residence.
Ranma whistled in appreciation as they came to a halt in front of the mansion.
"This way, Master Ranma," Alfred said, leading the young man into the front.
"Uh. Thanks!" Ranma took his backpack back and easily slung it over one shoulder. He missed the arched eyebrow from the butler. Quite fit.
Alfred led him through the house and into the back den, where Master Bruce waited. He was wearing what he considered casual clothes, a sweater and slacks. "Master Bruce? He's here, sir."
Bruce Wayne turned and looked at young man. "Hello, Ranma. How was the flight?"
"Huh? Oh, English no good. Er, no bad?"
"That's all right, Ranma. I can speak Japanese if you don't mind," Bruce replied easily in Japanese.
"Oh, thanks. My English stinks. I never thought I'd get the chance to use it. Hello, Rakemio Tashukama." Ranma bowed deeply.
"Hmm. That's just a name I used while I was studying martial arts in the orient. Please, call me Bruce."
"Ah, sure, Bruce. Is this your room? It doesn't seem to fit you."
"For some reason, I expected you to be out in a dojo, practicing."
"Hmm. I'm a wealthy socialite. I don't have a lot of time to devote to the art." Bruce's eyed the young man with interest. Odd. I hadn't thought I had done anything to tip him off.
"Huh? This is your place? I thought you just taught here?" Ranma said in surprise.
"I guess introductions are in order. My name is Bruce Wayne. Nice to meet you."
"Oh. Likewise, I guess."
"He really didn't know who you were, did he, sir?"
"Actually, I don't think he knows who `Bruce Wayne' is, still." Bruce sighed as he slumped further into a plush velvet chair. "So it doesn't look like someone out to get the Wayne fortunes."
"If I may be so bold? How did it happen?" Alfred kept himself stiffly attentive, his body and facial posture showing some of his displeasure with the situation.
"Nodoka was something of a rebel and saw past the masks that I wear. I think she wanted to heal my pain. And she saw `seducing me' as the perfect method. I must admit that I was a bit dense about the whole situation. I was only seventeen. She would've been a year younger. I think her father figured out that something had happened." Bruce sighed again. "He sent her to visit relatives and his classes were suddenly full."
"Did you love her, Master Bruce?"
"No, not really. I was infatuated and hurt for a while. And I still feel something for her. But love? No."
"And this boy?"
"That is the million dollar question, isn't it?" The grim faced man stared out over the city as the lights came on. "He's likely to be me only heir by birth, you know that? Dick is my main beneficiary right now, with a large nest egg going to Tim. Barbara and her father are also in my will, as are you my old friend."
"So what do you plan to do? It isn't going to help your reputation if word of this gets out, you know that sir."
"No, but he deserves something. And I should have married Nodoka if he was a product of that affair. Besides Alfred, it just adds to my `glamorous' image of being a playboy." Bruce smiled thinly at that comment.
"Oh how droll, sir."
"I would like to know him a bit better before I go off and make some rash decisions. Even if I only leave him a few million as an inheritance, he'll be well off."
"It looks like I'm going to have a busy night, anyways."
Alfred nodded as he spotted the odd spotlight shining into the almost ever present clouds. The stylized bat danced across the city skyline. "I'll see to the young masters needs, of course. Until later."
Tim yawned as he stepped in the front doors of Wayne Manor in the morning, softly closing them behind him. He was a young man of sixteen, short cropped dark hair let down. A look of concentration was on his face.
Bruce hadn't called him in to help with the situation last night. And he had to admit, for a good reason. There weren't a lot of reasons to call in every vigilante in the city for a cat burglar. He headed to the kitchen, where Alfred would be and maybe Bruce too, if he was still up.
He turned the corner into the kitchen and stopped, seeing a new person sitting at the table. "Er, hello, Alfred."
"Master Tim! Good morning. I'd like you to meet Master Ranma."
"Ranma? Hello, I guess." Tim let his confusion show on his face.
"Huh?" Ranma looked at Alfred for a second and then back to Tim. "Is Tim son of Bruce?"
"Oh, no, sir. He's just a good friend of Master Bruce's."
"Ok! Hi!" Ranma seemed a bit down for a second. He had thought for a second that he might have had a brother. He brightened back up after a moment. That didn't mean that he couldn't have a new friend. Tim seemed to be a nice kid. Ranma also thought that he knew something of the art too.
Though Ranma had to ruefully grin, he was pretty sure even Akane could defeat him one on one.
"Is Bruce up?" Tim looked over the new fellow. He seemed to be oriental, though why he was wearing a `wife beater' shirt and a pair of loose black pants were beyond him.
"I'm afraid that Master Bruce won't be with us this morning. He is a bit indisposed. Ranma is visiting from Japan for a while. Perhaps you would like to show him around? It is a Saturday and he has nothing more to do until Master Bruce awakes."
Ranma was watching the byplay and trying to follow the conversation as best as possible. "Alfred? Must workout! Keep fit!"
Alfred and Tim both laughed. "Of course, sir. We do have a full gymnasium to practice in."
"I'll just hang out and watch, if you don't mind?"
"No mind!" Ranma never `minded' showing off a little bit.
Ranma put his slippers next to the door. He looked around and nodded his agreement with the choice of equipment. With a loud `kia' he bounded to the top of the parallel bars and started a complicated kata that seemed more at ease in the air than on the ground.
Tim watched in amazement at the graceful leaps and bounds, interspaced with blindingly fast kicks, punches and throws. Whoever this Ranma was, he was very good at the arts. Tim felt a surge of jealousy, easily suppressed. He looked more at ease up there than Dick Grayson, a person that Tim had felt was totally comfortable in the air. This continued for about twenty minutes, then Ranma switched to punching exercises, using the large bag that was hanging just for that.
Tim watched as Ranma's hands went faster and faster. Ranma started to throw in kicks, seeming to make it a kata and resistance training. After a minute, the poor bag gave out, splitting and spilling everywhere.
"Kuso! Sorry. No mean to break." Ranma started to play with his pigtail nervously.
"Don't worry about it. I'm sure Bruce has had to replace it in the past."
"Yeah. He good martial artist. Can see in aura!" Ranma beamed proudly about that. He might not know much about English, but he had made sure to know what the martial arts translations were. It was so limited in some ways.
"Really? Well, let's clean up. Would you like to go to the mall?" Tim felt a bit nervous. Could he suspect that Bruce was Batman?
"Mall? Oh, shopping! I guess. Can clean up? Sweat lot!"
Tim nodded as he bagged the spilled remains of the punching bag and dragged it off to the garbage. Ranma took off upstairs after assisting him in picking up for a minute.
Tim was almost finished, when he ran into Alfred. "Master Tim? If you wouldn't mind, I'd be quite grateful if you could give me your impression of Master Ranma. What sort of person he is, what he likes, that sort of thing."
"Sure, Alfred. Why?"
"I'm not really at liberty to say, young sir. But I'm sure that Master Bruce wouldn't mind your insight."
"Hey, it's no problem."
Ranma glanced around as his new friend drove him towards the mall. Tim looked to be a bit younger than him, but had his own car. Even the Tendo's didn't have a car, having to rely on public transportation. Ranma had changed into one of his normal Chinese outfits (as almost always, he was partial to red.) Tim had merely added sunglasses to his t-shirt and jeans combo, for a very `American' look.
"Why go to mall?" Ranma asked.
"Mostly just to hang out with some friends. If you want, we can pick you up some new clothes." Tim paused and glanced over at Ranma. Time to satiate his curiosity. "So Ranma, what do you do?"
Ranma smiled, "Martial Arts! Practice since I was five, uh... kuso. Yars? Be best someday."
Tim smiled. "So do you have a girl in your life? A girlfriend?"
Ranma digested that and then busted out laughing. "Too many. Supposed to marry three girls. Really tough."
"Three girls? How did you manage that?" Tim was not too thrilled. He wasn't too found of `Casanovas' types and the troubles they left behind.
"Stupid father do. One to continue the Art, other he took, uh, yata. Cart. One because I beat her in fight. No fight Chinese Amazon, unless want to marry. Really stupid. Not my fault!"
"So you're engaged to three girls and it's all your old man's fault?" Tim asked, deciphering Ranma poor English.
"Yeah. Not want to talk about father no more, ok?" Ranma sunk into a funk of depression.
"If you're sure? It might be better to talk about it."
"Father disown me. Not feel good about it."
"Oh, sorry. So what are you doing here?" Tim asked, turning into the parking garage of the mall.
"Bruce want to check out if me really his son, I guess." Ranma wasn't too sure about that himself.
"Bruce is what?" Tim exclaimed.
"Guess might be Bruce's son. Not understand everything. All messed up."
"That makes two of us, Ranma." Oh, boy. No wonder Alfred didn't say anything. This could be ugly.
Tim relaxed a moment. Ranma seemed to be an all right fellow. Not the quickest on the uptake, but he had a pleasant disposition.
Ranma didn't know what to make of playing video games, but liked the 3D fighting games, even though he complained that they weren't accurate enough. Tim was impressed at Ranma's reaction time. After he had gotten a hang of the strange controls, Ranma had roared his way to the top score. The previous holder of the title looked quite upset, but only redoubled his efforts good naturedly.
"Hey, Ranma. Hungry?"
"Food!" Ranma patted his stomach. He hated trying to talk in English. He probably sounded more stupid than Shampoo did speaking Japanese.
Tim laughed and took him down to the food court. Ranma immediately picked out a Japanese cuisine commissary. Luckily, he could read the really poor Japanese on the menu. Tim picked out a fairly basic dish and the two took their orders to a slightly remote seat.
"So, Ranma? Did you like any of the girls that you were engaged to?" Tim asked, working with his chopsticks to eat his meal.
Ranma paused, chopsticks frozen mid way to his mouth. He chewed and swallowed. Ranma cast a nervous grin at Tim. "Think so. Not sure what going to do. I, uh, like Akane."
"She's the martial artist, right?" Tim shoved his chopsticks into his food.
"All girls were martial artists. Akane engaged to me for the... school. That right word. Continue art." Ranma smiled wistfully at the memory of Akane. He missed her already.
Tim grinned. "You've got it bad for her, don't you?"
Ranma nodded ruefully after he deciphered Tim's words. "Hope things work out. Maybe when I go home."
"Oh, not planning on staying?" Tim asked with veiled intensity.
"Not sure. Confused." Ranma finished scarfing his food. He looked over at Tim, a question evident on his face. "Think should go back. Bruce be up, I think."
Tim nodded and stood. In moments they were walking back to his car. The parking garage was dimly lit, certain areas almost totally hidden in shadows. Tim glanced into those shadows, tensing as the awareness of danger flitted over him.
Ranma had also become aware of something going on. Keen eyes managed to spot several figures manhandling another into a car. "Kuso! Stop!" Ranma called out, dashing forward.
Tim swore under his breath. He was not supposed to jeopardize his secret or let anything happen to any civilians. And with Ranma running in there, he was not going to be able to disappear to change. "Ranma!" Tim whispered urgently as he tried to keep up.
Now that he was closer, Ranma could see that it appeared to be some street punks assaulting a girl. She was dressed in the same leather, T-shirt and ripped jeans as the rest. But also very obviously not wanting to go with them.
The biggest punk stepped up, his green Mohawk making him look even taller and imposing. "Get outta here, chink. This ain't none of your business." He emphasized by pulling out a very large knife.
Ranma grinned as he came to a stop. Slowly, he clenched his fists, the popping and cracking easily heard across the short distance. "Let go!"
Tim tried to appear innocuous. He really wished he had his staff right now.
"You outta learn English, stupid. Now we're gonna have to teach ya a lesson." Ear rings by the dozen marked this one from the rest. "Too bad you get to graduate to hell, kid!" His right hand was now visible, holding a mean looking 9mm pistol that had a smiley face painted on its side.
With out further ado, he pointed it at Ranma and squeezed the trigger three times. Martial artists were always so stupid.
Tim dived for cover behind a nearby car, whereas Ranma just disappeared, period.
"Neat ninja trick. I'll have to ask him how to do that," Tim muttered to himself. He continued to crawl quickly.
Ranma bounded suddenly out of the darkness, disarming the guy with a Mohawk by jamming his knife up to the hilt into the beat up car he was standing next to. Mr. Earring spun around and tried to shoot Ranma again.
A click was the only response. He looked at the gun stupidly for a second.
Ranma smirked. "Yours?" He held out his hands, where eight bullets were held.
The final punk tried to hit Ranma. He'd had some martial arts training, so thought they would hold him in good stead. The three punks couldn't believe it as Ranma effortlessly dodge each punch and kick.
Ranma ended the fight by leaping straight up and landing on his opponents head, driving him to the ground with a solid thud.
Tim appeared out of the shadows behind the two remaining punks, hitting the larger one with a double kick to his kidneys and slamming him into the side of the car. He slid to the ground, groaning.
The last one decided that he had had enough. He turned to run, but stumbled backwards as Ranma was suddenly in front of him.
"Night!" Ranma said cheerfully, punching him once. Well, what appeared to be once, anyways.
"You really are good! I didn't even see you move sometimes." Tim took out his cell phone and dialed the local police's number.
"Yup!" Ranma beamed. He looked over to the girl that he had rescued. She had longer purple hair and a nose ring. Other than the ring, he thought she looked kind of pretty. Almost reminded him of Shampoo.
She had stood up and was walking over the one punk that had numerous ear rings. She spit in his face and then kicked him in the groin twice, before Ranma could stop her.
"No more! He's out!" Ranma said, a queasy expression on his face.
"It's a dog eat dog world, kid. There ain't no such things as white knights." She looked him up and down for a second. "Tho' I'm not against rewarding you for saving me." She slouched suggestively up against a car, her short T-shirt almost flashing him a very revealing view.
Ranma stuttered and backed away, looking around frantically. "No! Is fine! Martial duty!" Doh! Of course there's no Akane to slug him for some girl throwing themselves at him.
"Hey, Ranma! The police and the security guards are on their way. Shall we get on our way?" Tim really didn't want to explain to his father why he was fighting criminals. Things were tense enough already.
Ranma nodded gratefully and trotted behind Tim to his car.
Tim opened up his sun roof, letting in the cool breeze in. He squinted at the sky. It looked like it could rain anytime. This time of year in Gotham was always wet.
Ranma stretched. "Thanks, Tim! No want another girl! Too much problems!"
"Somehow I don't think she was going to be your girl friend." Tim grinned at Ranma's discomfort. He had some really big buttons that were pretty easy to push.
Tim casually stopped the car for a stoplight. At the sound of a particularly obnoxious song that he'd heard on every radio station, Tim started to play with the radio to find a different station.
So he and Ranma could be given a little leeway as they were startled at the dark skin-tight leather clad figure that bounded over the hood of Tim's car. That was... "Catwoman!" Tim yelled out in surprise. Tim started to scan around for someplace that he could ditch Ranma and his car.
Ranma blinked, a look of fear crossing his face. "No look like cat."
"Huh? Oh, she isn't. She's just a burglar that wears a cat-like costume." Tim tried to come up with some reasonable excuse to get away from Ranma to chase down the criminal.
"Oh! Good!" Ranma was quite relieved.
Tim started to pull through the green light, when another figure bounded off of his hood, going in the same general direction. "Spoiler?" Tim stuttered out. Tim groaned as he pulled off to the side and into an alley. That purple and blue outfit was pretty distinctive, even if it clashed badly with everything. Damn it, Stephanie!
Quick, think of something! Tim turned to Ranma's seat, an excuse on his lips. His voice died out before the first word was uttered. Tim started to look around frantically, trying to spot Ranma. It should be easy, with him wearing that red shirt... and bouncing down the road with thirty foot long leaps after Catwoman and Spoiler.
Tim sighed, kneading his forehead. Somehow, he was absolutely positive that he was going to have a headache by the end of the night. He flicked a switch, instantly tinting the windows to opaque blackness, windows closing. He set the Redbird going down the road in the general direction of the chase. Another button was pushed, activating the auto-drive as Tim slipped out of his T-shirt and started to listen to the police dispatcher.
Thunder rumbled, as small drops of water started to sprinkle down as Tim slipped on a small dark green domino mask. Tim wondered, as a markedly changed red car stopped for a second and he leaped out, why had he decided that he needed to be a vigilante?
But he had and that meant that Robin was on the case. With casual grace, Robin went up the fire escape and started to a fast and furious marathon of 'roof hopping'. Hopefully, it wouldn't be too far this time.
Spoiler seethed in anger. How dare that hussy call her an immature brat! And now it was starting to rain. What a perfect end to a perfect day, she grumbled to herself. Spoiler leaped from car to van and then to a low roof top.
Catwoman was about a half block ahead and pulling away. Without even pausing, she snaked her whip out and snagged a pipe sticking out of a building near an alley entry. A quick glance behind her showed the nosey brat still following her doggedly. "Tootles, kiddo. Come back in a few years when you can play in the big league," Catwoman called over her shoulder as she swung off the edge. With practiced ease, she snapped into a roll at the end of the swing, landing lightly in a crouch and releasing her whip behind her. The moment she touched down, she sprinted off over the flat rooftop.
"No way am I letting you get away again!" Spoiler fumbled for her grappling hook in her bag. She had it spinning and tossed in good order and was about to swing across when a red blur just bounced across the twenty feet over and ten feet up like it was nothing. "What the heck was that?" She shook her head and chided herself for being distracted.
With a quick deep breath, she swung out. At the apex, she managed to snag the edge of the building and pull herself up. "Damn it, she got away!" Spoiler squinted through the rain, seeing the red garbed figure ahead of her. With a shrug of her shoulders, she started to follow the new person.
Catwoman glanced behind her. She was pretty sure she got rid of the younger caped girl. She blinked in surprise as she noted a new figure that was only fifty feet behind her, casual strength and grace apparent.
Selena snarled to herself in frustration. That was the problem with dealing with super-heroes. When one showed up, you could almost guarantee that another would show up.
She spun on one foot, crouching into a defensive posture. Her whip uncoiled at her side, pooling into small pile on the ground next to her feet. "Who are you and what do you want?"
Ranma skidded to halt, taking just a moment to rake her hair out of the way. "Eh? You crook! No run away!"
"And little old you is going to take me in? Well, chop suey girl, you just bit off more than you could chew." She snapped her whip at the red-head's feet, expecting her to dance back.
When she didn't, Catwoman though to herself, she's one cool customer. Wonder if she can back it up?
Ranma arched an eyebrow. It had been quite a while since she'd fought anyone who used a real whip and not a ribbon. She twitched to the left and then the right, cracks of the whip telling her that this 'Catwoman' wasn't pulling her blows. She ducked another snap at her head and then flipped forward in where the whip is not as effective. "Stop! Or you be sorry!"
Catwoman narrowed her eyes. This girl is fast. Catwoman managed to avoid the spinning kick aimed at her head and cart wheeled away, trying to open up some distance. Ranma danced closer, hopping a snap of the whip. Ranma landed two light punches to the burglar's stomach, knocking the wind out of her.
Spoiler finally managed to catch up, seeing the fight on the next roof over while she tried to catch her breath. At the sound of someone landing next to her, she ducked and rolled, coming up in a crouch, weight on her back foot in preparation for a powerful kick.
"Whoa! Easy, Steph! It's me!" Robin cried out. He held up his hands to show her that he wasn't going to attack.
"It's Spoiler while I have the mask on, comprend‚? Jeeze, it's not like I haven't told you enough times," Spoiler responded vehemently. "So what's up, Boy Wonder?"
Robin grinned at Spoiler to let her know that he wasn't being mean. "Just saw you pursuing Catwoman and thought you might need a bit of help. Did you see some guy wearing a red Chinese shirt go by? He seemed to get drawn into the chase too."
Spoiler shook her head, looking back to the fight. "That might be him, kind of hard to see in the rain. Who is he?" she asked.
"I'm not sure. Sure is fast," Robin lied easily, grudging respect evident in his tone. "Come one!"
Spoiler nodded and followed, leaping the ten feet between roofs easily.
Catwoman winced at another punch. This was turning out to be bad. She had really underestimated this young girl. It was time to vamoose. She hopped and twisted to the side, planning on leaping off of the roof and to the next building, when Ranma kicked her on the temple, stunning her for just a second. She went over the edge, eyes wide open but slightly unfocussed.
She fumbled for just a second, trying to snap out with her whip and catch something, anything before she impacted into the ground sixty feet below. She missed a window catch, but saw a clothesline hung in between the two apartment buildings. She grabbed it, using it to slow herself down. The muscles in shoulder complained as they took her full weight and momentum. The pain from her fingers holding such a small line flared through her, causing her to let go prematurely.
With a thud and the sound of a bang from hitting the side of a dumpster, Catwoman ended her fall sprawled up against the trash bin in a dark, slimy, stinky alleyway. She shook her head and stumbled to her feet, just in time to see her unknown opponent bounce off of each wall on her way down to the ground.
Catwoman hissed in anger. Who the hell was she? She was like trying to fight Batman, except harder to distract. Her legs wobbled for just a second.
"No run! Give up!" Ranma said cheerfully. Whew, she's all right. She'd had a heart attack for just a second, when she'd seen Catwoman fall.
"No way, kid. I've had enough of jails, thank you." She slowly tried to reach into a bag that she had slung over her shoulder. Maybe a mini-flash grenade would buy her some time.
Ranma lunged forward to grab her hand. She might have a nasty surprise in there.
Her muscles froze and her mind blanked out as a plaintive cat made its presence known with a quiet cry of, "Meow." The little gray tabby cat hopped to the edge of the dumpster, just in time to see Catwoman twist to the side and elbow the red-head to the back of her neck, sending Ranma sprawling to the ground.
" N-N-NEKO! NEKO!" Ranma started to babble, crawling backwards grab-like.
Catwoman blinked and then smiled tightly. "My, my. So the big, bad martial artist is scared of a little kitty." She reached into the bag and rummaged around, pulling out a small packet. She tossed it lightly at her while ripping it slightly open, all in one fluid move.
Ranma by this time had backed herself up against a wall and almost regained her wits. Her hand snapped out and caught the thrown object. Huh?
The tabby sniffed the air, suddenly very attentive. It bounded eagerly towards Ranma, hopping on to her chest, pawing at the tightly clenched hand holding the catnip packet.
"Ta, ta, sucker. I hope that I don't see you later." And with that, Catwoman dashed out to the street, snapping her whip to move the pedestrians out of her way.
She'd only been gone a moment, when two figures landed near the street in the alley. "I'll keep after her! Make sure he's all right!" Robin called out, running after Catwoman.
Spoiler all but growled, her displeasure making itself known even through a full face cowl. She took two steps, when she heard something from behind her.
Two more cats dashed out of the shadows, making a beeline for the tempting smell. Each one hopped on, mindless of the terror they were causing. Ranma shivered, unable to deal with the presence of more cats.
"...neko-neko-neko..." Ranma babbled, her fears rapidly overcoming her.
"Meowr!" Ranma yowled out, lithely rolling to her feet, spilling all of the felines to the ground. The cats immediately ignored the catnip and started to flee in abject terror.
Spoiler blinked in surprise. What the heck? She scanned the dark alley, finally spotting the figure that was crouched over. Her hackles raised, every sense screaming that she was in trouble. Two cats dove past her feet at a full run. With an audible gulp, Spoiler set herself into a defensive stance, arms raised up in fists.
Ranma looked around, sniffing the air. Where was she? Not here? The cat looked over at the figure back lit by the street lights and bristled. She wasn't the one. Ranma backed away carefully, ready to leap and attack at a moments notice.
With a 'mew', Ranma took off down into the darker recesses of the alley, mind totally focused on trying to find the most important person to her.
"That was weird, even for Gotham." Spoiler thought about it for a second and then shrugged. "Huh. Oh, well."
Spoiler shook her head and trotted out of the alley, looking down the road. She couldn't see Robin or Catwoman anywhere. "Dang!" she cried out. She smacked her fist into her open palm. She stepped back into the alley. No need to have someone call the cops on her.
"She got away," Robin said as dropped from a roof top just a minute later.
"That figures. She says she's on the side of angels, but I caught her snooping around the Metropolitan Museum. She took off like the Flash when I called out to her." Spoiler leaned back against the alley wall, crossing her arms over her abdomen.
"You can never tell with Catwoman. I'll talk to Batman and see what he thinks. I think he's run into her recently." Robin looked back into the alley. "What about that guy who was fighting her? Is he all right?"
"He? Looked more like a girl to me. Well, she was mobile. I don't know about 'all right'. Spooked me pretty good when she started yowling like a cat. Scared some alley cats too." She was happy that her mask covered her face fully, as a Cheshire grin adorned it for a second.
"Oh, it wasn't an oriental guy?" Robin stared at her curiously. He started to ponder this latest bit of information.
"It might have been, but looked like a girl to me. She has red hair, if that helps. Took off and I really didn't feel like following. Spoo-ooky!" She took a moment to pull her mask up a bit, uncovering her mouth. With quiet languid steps, she approached him carefully.
Robin had turned to the side and missed her moving toward him. He almost started when she put her hand on his shoulder, turning him back toward her. His train of thought was interrupted by her quick but passionate kiss.
"Steph! Give me some warning. I almost decked you," he said, absently touching her check with his hand.
"Oh, you're being a poo head. Lighten up, will you? Are you up for a patrol?" Spoiler asked.
"I, uh, was here with someone. I should probably get back."
"What? I thought we were dating? Who're you with?" Spoiler asked suspiciously.
"Huh? Wait! I was showing a guy around town! I wasn't here seeing a girl!" A panicked expression shown on his face as he denied any wrong doing.
"Oh, sorry, I guess." She paused a second, trying to figure out the right thing to say. "It's just kind of hard, not knowing who you really are. I just thought that you were dating someone in your civy ID."
"You don't have to worry. You're the only one I'm seeing right now. I promise." Robin embraced her quickly, reassuring her with a quick hug.
"Thanks. I guess that was kind of silly. Well, you gotta get back, I'm sure. And I really should be headed home. Mom's probably gonna be upset that I've been gone so long."
"See you later, then!" Robin said, starting to vault up towards the rooftops, using a readily accessible fire escape to aid him on his way.
It only took him a few minutes for him to get back to his car. Robin was actually quite surprised that she hadn't tried to follow him. She had been putting pressure on him to tell Robin's true identity. So far she'd been able to deal with it and understood that it wasn't his choice.
Robin grinned ruefully as he slid into the Redbird and drove off. Being a side kick to someone like Batman wasn't the easiest thing to do, he thought to himself.
A few moments of privacy and he was back in normal clothes. The Redbird shifted to look like a much more ordinary vehicle, going from a sleek custom car to a much more conservative, modern minivan. Moments later, Tim was back on the main roads, driving slowly along the sidewalks, trying to find Ranma among the rest of the masses.
Bruce sat at the main console of the Batcave, staring intently at the screens as a news anchor reported that the continuing trial of Two Face. A screen popped up, displaying a message that Tim was trying to get through to him here, in the Batcave.
"Yes?" Bruce said, eyes back on the news show. His face, as almost always, was impassive, nearly cold looking.
"Bruce? Alfred told you that I was taking Ranma into town for a while right?" Tim said nervously.
"He mentioned something to that effect. What's taking you so long? It is almost four in the afternoon. I was planning on taking him over to Tech-Med."
"Well, uh, we left the mall at about noon, heading back to the mansion. I was driving back when we spotted Spoiler trying to case down Catwoman. Ranma asked who she was and then took off after her. I tried to catch up, but I never found him later. Catwoman got away too." Tim paused to take a breath. "I've been driving around the neighborhood for hours, hoping he'd see me."
Bruce looked over at the phone's computerized listing. "He hasn't tried calling here. I'll talk to Alfred and see if Ranma knew how to get in contact." Bruce started to go over different places that he would go to or visit if he was lost in a strange city. This shouldn't be that tough.
"Meowr," Ranma cried pitifully, full of weariness. She was hunched over in an alley, under some boards that gave just a bit of protection from the heavy rain and cold night. "Meowr."
A black cat wandered over, but kept its distance. It looked at the bedraggled figure curiously.
Ranma halfheartedly hissed at it, making it run away. Her sense where too sharp, city noise in the background setting her on edge. She could hear and feel people moving around constantly. It wasn't safe.
Her muscles shifted under her skin, tensing unconsciously when someone would come close. She'd already run off two people that had wanted to take her dry spot.
Nothing smelled right. Everything was confusing and the cat mentality that was currently in charge of Ranma was unhappy and lost. Without knowing consciously, she understood that she was far away from friends and family. She just couldn't figure out how to get home.
"Meowr." She tried to get comfortable, but just succeeded in dripping some water on herself. Soaked to the bone already, she didn't even hiss. "Meowr."
Bruce drummed his fingers on the mahogany desk, setting his mind to the task of determining how best to approach this. Finally, he sighed, there really wasn't anything else to do. His fingers danced over the phone, dialing a long number.
When the phone was picked up, he asked in Japanese, "Is this Nodoka?"
Nodoka put the phone to her shoulder, tipping her head to hold it against her ear. "Yes. Rakemio? It's been a while. How are you and Ranma doing?" She continued to write, filling in forms and signing her signature when needed. There was a pile in front of her an inch tall, all needing to be finished.
Bruce looked out the windows, onto the moon dappled grounds, tree waving in the rainstorm. "I actually called because it appears Ranma has run away. I was hoping that you might have some ideas where he would go."
Nodoka's eyes widened in surprise. "What? Why?"
"I'm not sure. He was being shown the city by a friend of the family and seemed to just disappear." And thirty hours of investigation had not illuminated a single clue. The police promised to help, but they just didn't hold out much hope. Bruce, as Batman, had found master criminals in less time.
"I don't know, it doesn't seem like something Ranma would do. He's fairly responsible." Nodoka winced, but continued. "I, I don't know him all that well, unfortunately. He was raised on the road by his... Genma. I've only been a part of his life for the last few months." That had hurt to admit. The scab of her pain was ripped anew by her failure as a mother and a wife.
"Hm. How about contacting Genma? He might be able to tell us something." Bruce frowned as he noticed a beam of light, stabbing through the sky, trying to illuminate a certain symbol.
"That... would be a bad idea. Genma almost attacked me when I went to talk to him. He is acting... irrationally. Akane might have some idea. I'll call and talk to her." Her heart raced with just the remembrance of Genma's anger, his flushed features twisted into a mask as terrifying as any demon mask. Soun had to physically restrain Genma, shouting for her to run.
"I've contacted the police. I'll keep looking and I've got one of the best detectives on the job. Feel free to call me. If I'm not available, just leave a message." Bruce stood in preparation to leave.
"Of course. What ever I can do. Please find him, Rakemio."
"I will." With that, he hung up the phone and strode out of the office.
Nodoka started to cry, fitfully. She curled up into a ball of loathing and despair. She was still being punished for her fornication and dishonorable ways. Her Aunt Sucho was right. She was going to be old and lonely, ignored by everyone that she cared for.
A small part of her cried out that she had tried to make recompense. She had done her best to try and have an heir for Genma's line. Hadn't she tried to follow the ways of honor since then? She had lost her son's childhood because of that same honor.
Nodoka rocked herself while sobbing, mindlessly spilling tears on the papers. Aunt Sucho should have drowned her, it would have been less painful.
A slap rang out, rocking a young Nodoka, bringing tears to her eyes. Aunt Sucho slapped her again and again, all the while screaming at her. "How could you bring such shame to your father? To your family? What sort of slut are you?"
"Please, no more. No more," she sobbed. Her cheeks were already red, her vision blurring from the tears of pain.
"No! There shall be much more! You have no right to beg for mercy!" More slaps echoed across the yard as the stout Sucho dragged Nodoka towards the bubbling brook dancing down some rock into a pool. Sucho was a fearsome woman to a young girl of sixteen, being burly and strong. Both were dressed in their formal kimonos, a present of greeting left scattered on the ground in the front yard of the country house, up in the mountains.
Standing huddled in the distance, two young girls whispered to each other. Their cousin seemed to be in no real danger yet, so they stayed back, away from their angry mother.
"I didn't mean to do any wrong! It wasn't so bad, was it?" Nodoka managed to get out between two slaps.
The next slap was even more forceful, nearly knocking her to the ground. "He's a foreigner! And worse yet, an American! Look at what they've done to our country! That you would have sex with such filth! Honorless dogs! Murderers!" Sucho screamed at the young girl.
"He hasn't done any wrong! I, I love him..." Nodoka tried to get out through her bloodied lips, a backhand interrupting her defense.
"No! They're all scum! Filth! Killers and murderers! They killed my father!" Sucho roughly pulled Nodoka off of her feet and forced her to kneel next to the icy waters. With both of her strong hands she pushed her niece's head below the water for almost a minute.
She pulled the wheezing and gasping girl out of the pool. "They are nothing! You will be cleansed! Cleansed until these evil thoughts are purged from you." Sucho dunked her again and again, barely giving her time to catch her breaths.
Finally, Sucho seemed to calm down, dragging the bedraggled girl away from the pool. With cold numbed fingers, she let her collapse sobbing and gasping for breath on the cold autumn dirt. "You will not speak of him again, not ever. Do you understand?"
Nodoka nodded numbly in response.
"Your father has managed to find a suitable husband for you. You will be married to him in two weeks. This is the time that he has given me to make you understand your mistakes! And to teach you how to be a proper young woman. No more back talking, no more! Am I making myself clear?" Sucho slowly adjusted her wet Kimono to a somewhat presentable state. With deft hands, her hair became less muddled. "Come, there is much work to be done. You're father has been terribly lax because of his wife's death. I shall correct this. You have had a taste of the punishment that I can and will give to you."
Nodoka's only response was sobbing gasps.
The next two weeks were the closest thing to hell that Nodoka had ever endured.
Her sobbing had ended, leaving only the ruins of her reddened face and eyes. It had been such a long time since she had thought of her aunt and her cousins. It had only been a year after her father had passed away when the terrible news of their deaths were delivered to her. A train accident, she had found out, while they were on vacation.
Suddenly, her family's honor rested on her weak shoulders, as the only direct descendant. A mother already, with a husband who was almost never home. She had almost given up then. They only thing that had kept her going was a small bundle of joy. Those had been the most trying times, but they were also some of her most fond ones.
Until Genma had decided that she was coddling the young boy and that he needed to be raised away from her. She had protested weakly, but could not in good faith deny him anything. All her protestations had managed to garner was an oath, that Genma would return and that Ranma would be a man among men. All she could do was cling to that oath, the promise that Genma would return her son and not leave her alone.
How the thought of that oath made a bitter taste in her mouth. The very oath that nearly kept her from her son.
Nodoka scrubbed her eyes, trying to keep more tears from coming. She mustn't give up hope yet. It could just be more of the insanity that seemed to follow her son. Obviously, he had fallen under more than just his gender changing curse.
To live an interesting life, indeed.
Detective Bullock rubbed his three day beard. He hunched his heavy set shoulders, trying to ward off the cold rain that droned on. You'd think being a bit overweight would keep him warmer. His trench coat never seemed to be enough to keep him dry. "Whatcha got, Mack?" he called out, pushing his discomfort aside. He walked up to the line of police cars, all with their lights on. They were out on the road next to a copse of trees.
The police officer in question turned to look at him. "Eh? Oh, detective! This is an odd one. Got a call about some sort of big critter in the woods, here in Denning Park. It had been catching an' eating pigeons a couple of days. It was upsetting some old ladies. Animal Control came in to try and catch it. S.O.P. right?"
Bullock nodded, trying to light a cigarette. He gave up and flicked the soaked cigarette onto the ground. With a grimace, he settled his battered fedora on his head.
"Well, it seems that Animal Control wasn't having any luck catching it. Led them around in a big goose chase. Finally, one of the two guys managed to catch sight of her. Whoops, it was some girl. Seems like we've got another nut case on the loose. They called us up and said that some girl is running around acting like an animal." He paused to take a breath and dart a nervous glance over at the trees. "So Animal control calls in Arkham and some police backup. The doctors aren't sure how, but no one from that group are going to need stitches, just a new set of clothes and hair cuts. Whatever she is, she's fast and can cut wood with a swipe of her hands. That's when we got called in."
Bullock grunted an acknowledgement. "So we got a nutso on the loose who's got a freaky power. Why didn't they tranq her?"
"They tried. Just couldn't seem to hit. She would just leap out of the way, even when they shot at her back."
"Some freak this is. Give me a description of the perp." The detective hands fidgeted, wanting to get out there and do something.
"Young, oriental with red hair and blue eyes. Darndest thing. She's wearing a tattered red shirt and what looks to be the remains of some black pants and no shoes. Hair is about mid shoulders. We haven't got an accurate height estimate, but we guess at about five feet."
Detective Montoya walked up to huddle next to the car to get out of the wind a bit. Her jacket and hair were soaked, giving her a miserable appearance. "Several of the officers just want to lob tear gas and use rubber bullets. What are they thinking? This isn't the Joker, you idiots." She glanced over at Bullock and spoke directly to him, "So what's up? Any ideas?"
"Remember McPherson? Shooter in the SWAT division? I betcha he can hit this girl," Bullock replied evenly. Rubber bullets were his second idea, but he didn't want to mention that yet.
Batman landed on a rooftop, at the edge before a main street. Off across the street, he could see the police mobilizing a large force around a small copse of tree, may one hundred feet by two hundred feet. Dozens of officers were there already, with more showing up every few minutes. Two SWAT vans were there, alongside of two ambulances. Movement could be seen as figures hurried around, administering medical aid to four figures lying on gurneys.
Slow, cautious steps took him to the edge of the building. Low light lens gave him a clarity and insight that the police wish they could have. A quick snap and he removed a device from his belt, bringing up a set of very compact and powerful binoculars. It took several minutes, but he finally spotted the cause of so much confusion.
She was prowling around in the trees, bouncing from tree limb to tree limb. She would pause and look out at the police, with their flashing lights. Batman narrowed his eyes, trained eyes watching her mouth carefully. Hm, she was meowing, even when she wasn't being watched. After a couple of minutes, he could see that she had fully regressed into an animalistic state.
Which meant she needed help as much as any victim. A thought tickled at the back of his mind. She might be related to Ranma's disappearance. Robin had mentioned something about a 'cat-girl' that Spoiler had told him about.
With that, he disappeared into the shadows. He had to do something before things got out of hand. Moments later, he stepped up to a group of officers arguing loudly.
"I'm telling you, she's a menace to us all. We got to take her down and down hard!" Bullock said explosively.
"Detective Bullock, was it? In my expert opinion, we are causing this problem. The girl seems loathe to kill, but is definitely caught in some psychotic episode. She needs our help, not your guns!" a thin, crew cut man said back to Bullock calmly. "I would suggest that we pull back and let her calm down. Perhaps a more friendly approach might be able to be used later."
Bullock huffed and then replied, "The commissioner has given you guys an hour to try and calm her down. Your hour's got fifteen minutes left. After that, we go in with tear gas and rubber bullets. Damn super freaks."
"Perhaps I could assist you, doctor," Batman said in his low, gravely voice.
Bullock jumped and spun around. His eyes squinted angrily at the caped crusader. "Get out of here, we don't need your help."
"Excuse me, Detective Bullock, but I think he was asking me," Dr. Cliffstone said dryly. He pushed his large round spectacles back up on his nose. "The Batman. Hmm, I've always wondered what sort of psychological profile you would have. But enough of that. You said you are willing to help?"
Batman nodded curtly, eyes narrowed as he watched the officers.
"Well, good. Considering your reputation, I have confidence that you will succeed," the doctor said to the Dark Knight.
"Possibly," Batman said cautiously. "Why has she caused so much troubles, detective?" Batman listened closely for Bullock's response.
"She's superhuman, able to leap over forty feet. She's also incredibly dangerous, as she uses some sort of claws to cut through wood and metal." He grinned to himself. Let's see bats for brains can do any better than Gotham's best.
"Is she bullet proof?" Taking on a meta-human was always tricky. Even a simple, silly sounding power could be sometimes used to devastating effect.
"Nah, looks likes she's scratched herself up good going through some bushes. I doubt she's very strong either," Bullock replied.
Montoya looked up, as if to ask God why did you force me to work with this idiot. But only in a good naturedly way. "That's pretty much it, Batman." She frowned at the well known vigilante. This is what the police were for. She sighed to herself. She knew, deep down, that Batman was only fighting the fights that the police usually couldn't. It was petty to be jealous just because he was better at it.
Batman nodded, casually unsnapping pouches and pulling out a sundry of items from his belt. "Give me ten minutes and then proceed with your plans," Batman said grimly, knowing that even those extreme methods may not be enough.
He didn't look back as he dashed into the nearest trees, lowlight lens now in place. The trees were lit up in vivid shades of green, allowing him to see the girl bristle at his entrance.
Ranma hissed, drawing herself up into a higher crouch. This one was different, dangerous. She prepared to leap down and deal with him, when the cold, wind-chilled breeze dragged a scent to her. She mewed in confusion, instincts warring.
The dark shadow stopped thirty feet away, a Batarang ready. The lights from the building easily illuminated the girls face, bedraggled hair framing her face, eyes unseeing of intelligence. "Come out! You won't be harmed!" Batman called in his gruff, seeing her look directly at him.
That seemed to do something, as her feral features hardened, showing displeasure. "Meoooowr!" Ranma yowled, leaping at him in one single bound.
Batman threw his weapon while adroitly dodging to the side, his eyes only widening slightly when he saw the girl `paw' at the Batarang in mid-leap. The pieces of it landed in five separate places on the ground behind her with a muted tinkle. She landed on all fours and hissed at him again dashing at him while pawing.
Her speed shocked him, reminding him of the time when he had worked out with the current Flash on a training exercises, trying to see if he could push himself to be faster. He managed to block four of five blows while adrenalin surged in his veins. Painful scratches appeared on his chest and arms. With a lifetime of training, he blocked out the signals that his body was sending during that one single instant of fighting.
Instantly, he switched tactics, snapping out the fastest kick of his life. A kick that this strange girl still almost dodged, rolling with it instinctively.
Ranma rolled once and was back on her feat, leaping at the foe who had invaded her new territory.
The grim crusader of justice leaped and rolled to the side, gaining only a single set of scratches on one leg. Rolling smoothly into a run, he fled deeper into the trees, dodging randomly while procuring more items from various pouches.
At the touch of painful claws landing on his shoulders, he twisted into a roll, feeling the weight of his cape disappear. His move only served to put her in front of him, ready in an instant to claw him again. The child hissed at him in vexation, unnerving even his iron shod will. She really thought she was some sort of cat.
He gained two more sets of scratches as he threw a short punch at her, snapping the pellet in his hands while closing his eyes. Ranma yowled in pained surprise, as bright, stabbing light stole her vision. Batman unflinchingly took another item out of his belt, biting down on the soft plastic of his gasmask.
His other hand threw three pellets around her, which her head followed while in the air. He reasoned instantly that her other sense must be able to compensate for the loss of sight. The instant they struck, the pellets exploded into a fine yellow gas.
Batman struck at that same instant, allowing two more strikes, but gaining a hold of one of her arms. It was liking grabbing a mountain lion in a frenzy. He held on grimly, withering the painful attacks, moving his body when he could to avoid. He managed to avoid serious injury for the excruciating minute of punishment.
But finally, she went limp, out like a light. Breathing heavily, he waited another fifteen seconds. He took stock of his wounds, seeing that none of them was life threatening. The attack that he had taken to his head didn't look like it would compromise his identity.
With a sigh, Batman put away the gasmask. Quickly scooping the young girl up, he started to walk back to the police line. He flicked a vial behind him, releasing an agent that would contaminate any blood, without endangering anything else.
Bullock had finally managed to light a cigarette, savoring the warmth that it brought him. The exclamation from his partner, Detective Montoya snapped his attention back to the trees.
"My God!" she said, not believing what she had seen It had only been a scant five minutes ago that Batman had walked in their, his movements sure and powerful.
A far different figure walked out, lit by a portable spotlight. He was conveying the small figure of their predicament in his arms. Slashes covered his body, showing the ragged ruins of his outfit, smeared in blood. He set her down carefully and then turned, disappearing into the trees. The shadows swallowed him whole, leaving the officers stunned.
The doctor reacted the quickest, dashing up to the prone form. A simple check showed that she was merely unconscious, her breathing regular. She appeared to have no wounds other than one bruise and scratches from being outdoors. "We should transfer her to Arkham immediately. Quickly, bring that gurney and your medical kit. We need to keep her unconscious until we get there."
They nodded in response and immediately followed orders.
Bolluck's cigarette fell to the ground, unnoticed. The Batman had looked like he had gone three rounds with Bane! "Son of a bitch. What is she?"
"That is a very good question. And somehow, I don't think the commissioner is going to argue about us following this one up." Montoya was also shocked, unable to believe her eyes. That little girl did all that damage to Batman?
A car whined to a halt in a cavernous opening, pulling smoothly into its place. Moments passed, until the door swished open. It was moments later when Batman walked unsteadily towards the medical station. Alfred walked in from the elevator.
"My word, sir? Are you all right, Master Bruce?" Alfred asked, picking up his pace. In moments he had a bandages and wipes ready.
"It looks worse than it really is. I am just in a bit of shock. I'll be fine if I get the chance to lay down for a while," Bruce said calmly, control evident in his words. He sat down heavily on the examining table.
Alfred nodded calmly, ascertaining that it seemed his assessment was correct in just the moment that he sat down. Not even bothering to try and pull off the costume, he began to cut it away. "If you don't mind, sir? May I ask which of you many nemesis's did this?"
"She isn't one, as far as I can tell. Just a poor lost soul, caught in the grip of madness. Hopefully she can get the help she needs." Bruce only winced once or twice during the extensive cleaning process.
"A lady?" Alfred inquired.
"No, just a young girl, confused and alone. I will have to make it a point to make sure she has that help."
Alfred nodded. Being wealthy and charitable were the signs of a civilized man.
Bullock sifted through paperwork like a bulldog. Several plastic bags lay on the two desks that were pushed together. "Hum, did that fax from the airport come in?" He stared suspiciously at the wallet in one bag.
"Yeah. Let me grab it." Montoya grabbed the said piece of paper. "It says here that Ranma Saotome, one Japanese native landed at Gotham international airport within the week." She continued to read on. "I pulled a few favors and found out who paid for the tickets. Would you believe that it was our own world famous Bruce Wayne?"
"What's Bruce Wayne got to do with a kid, whose wallet found on a strange, screwed in the head, girl?" Bullock asked.
"Doesn't make sense to me. He did file a missing persons report for him. This is the only lead we got, so we better follow up on it." She slid her papers into a neat pile. "So, are we going to get a warrant or just ask politely?"
"Are you kidding? Do you have any idea how much money Bruce Wayne donates to the Police Fund every year? I like my badge!" He hated having to do this, the police should be totally nonpolitical.
"That much? I think that's the first time I've ever seen you want to place nice cop. Are you feeling all right?" Montoya said playfully. She had a sly smile on her face.
"Hey, I resemble that remark. `sides, if I find out he's responsible for her condition, no amount of money it going to be enough to save his hide."
"That's the pit bull that I've got for a partner. Let's go," Montoya said, getting to her feet. "Any word from the doctors?"
"Yeah, they say she's totally nutso. All drugging her did is make it so that she can't escape. Seems she needs to be able to concentrate to do her claw thing," Bullock said as he grabbed his coat.
"Poor girl," she muttered, walking out of their office.
"I really don't know why he'd run off, Auntie. It doesn't sound like Ranma at all," Akane said, concern evident in her voice.
"That's what I thought, too. I'm just worried. He's in a strange city, all by himself," Nodoka said over her tea cup.
Akane sighed, looking out into the small yard. The trees swayed lightly in the wind. She had thought that coming over here would have given her some respite from the madness of her life. If it wasn't Kuno trying to date her, it was Shampoo dropping by to gloat about `winning' Ranma.
The sudden ringing of the phone startled her. Nodoka looked up hopefully, picking the phone up by the second ring. "Hello? Is there any news, Rakemio?" she asked, directly to the point.
"A bit. I just had the police drop by. It seems they found Ranma's wallet on a girl the caught," Bruce said, sitting in the large chair in the Batcave, watching monitors scroll through information. "Did you get the chance to talk to that Tendo girl you mentioned?"
"Ranma's wallet? How in the heavens did a girl get that and then get caught by the police," Nodoka said, repeating the important parts for Akane's benefit. "Akane is right here, Rakemio. I'm sure she'd be happy to answer any question that you ask."
"Auntie? What did this girl look like?" He could have been in his cursed form and just didn't want to tell anyone of his curse. It usually caused these sort of problems
Enlightenment dawned in Nodoka's eyes. "Of course! Silly me. The girl that the police have, did she have red hair?" Nodoka asked excitedly.
Bruce blinked in surprise at the leap in logic. How had they known that? "Yes, I think so. Is it one of Ranma's challengers?"
Nodoka smiled in relief. "No, not a challenger." She paused a second and then started explaining, "Actually, Ranma has a little problem. It is very embarrassing and he tries to hide it."
Bruce's brow showed his concentration. "Oh? What sort of problem?"
Akane giggled, it was just like Ranma to get arrested and be accused of stealing his own wallet.
"Trust me, but I am very serious about what I am going to tell you. Ranma is under a magical Chinese curse. The, ah, curse turns him into a red-haired girl when he's splashed with cold water." Nodoka's relief was palpable.
Bruce blinked in surprise. "That is... surprising. You're positive?" Nodoka confirmed quickly. "Does Ranma have any, how is the best way to put this? Mental problems?"
"Oh, no! He's a fine boy. What makes you think that Ranma has any other problems? Mental or otherwise! He is a very manly man, even when he is a girl!" Nodoka had to grin at that phrase, it sounded so odd.
Akane spat her tea all over the older woman in surprise. "Oh! I'm so sorry! But, did you say, mental problems?"
Nodoka calmly wiped the tea off of her face. Her expression had become very serious. What hadn't they told her this time? "Yes, he did. Do you know something important?"
Bruce listened from the other side, using the computer to selectively amplify the young girls voice.
"Well, Ranma has a small problem with... cats. He's deathly afraid of them. It came about because of a training accident that Genma put him through," Akane said meekly. How had they forgotten to tell her?
"So he's afraid of cats? That is disturbing, Akane."
"Well, it's a bit more than that. If he's forced to be around a cat for too long..." Akane paused uncertainly for a second. "He can't stand it anymore and thinks he becomes a cat."
That was Ranma? Bruce thought incredulously. He waited for Nodoka to relate that information before replying, "Why, yes. They did mention that. How do you get him out of that state?"
Akane started replying, even before it was confirmed, "Usually you just have to knock him out. A blow worked one time." She thought for a second. "Hmm, that might have been his curse, actually." Akane blushed suddenly, "He usually goes to sleep in my lap and comes out of it. Genma did say that only an old woman that Ranma likes could bring him out of it, when he first told us about it."
Bruce frowned as Nodoka stated what Akane had said. "Hm, well he was knocked out by the police and they didn't mention anything about her becoming lucid." He paused uncertainly and then continued, "How long do these episodes last?"
"Akane says that it is usually about ten, fifteen minutes at the most."
"I'm no psychologist, but Ranma may have been stuck for three or four days in this cat state. I'm not sure if he is going to be able to recover normally. It might require more drastic measures," Bruce said slowly. He had never heard of a case like this before.
"What dear? You think you could get him to come out, if you were there?" Nodoka looked at the young girl with a hint of confusion.
Akane nodded her confirmation. She tried to keep her cheeks from blushing.
"If that is what it takes, I will have the fastest means available for her to get to Gotham." Bruce started to figure in his head how many hours it would take while typing on his computer, bringing up different areas of Wayne Enterprise's computers up.
"Oh, could she use my ticket? I don't want to put you out unduly!" Nodoka said with a start.
"Hold on just a second," Bruce said, continuing his work. The sounds of typing could be heard over the phone. "There will be a plane at Tokyo International Airport waiting for both of you. Just go to the `Far East Skylines' and they'll direct you. All you really need are your passports, everything else will be prepared.
"Oh, thank you Rakemio! You don't know how much this means to me. Thank you greatly." Nodoka breathed a sigh of relief.
"If it helps bring her out of this... `state', it is the least I can do. I'll meet you at the airport in thirteen hours. Until then," Bruce said, waiting until see answered back and then hung up.
He then leaned forward, holding his hands together to prop his chin up. Perhaps he had better do some research into a curse that could turn a boy into a girl and back again.
"Um, Auntie? I might have a problem getting permission to leave. Father has forbidden me to even talk to you or Ranma. I kind of sneaked over here." Akane put on a slightly ashamed face.
"Well, it's up to you, but you seem to know the most about this problem and how to deal with it. I'm sure that Ranma really needs your help," Nodoka said, trying to sooth her. "I'm sure that Soun will understand if you have to leave."
"You're right. I think he just did that to keep Genma from being upset," Akane replied seriously.
"Very well. Why don't you go home and get some clothes and your passport. I'll have a taxi pick us up near your home. Would you like some more tea?"
"No thank you! I really should hurry!" Akane couldn't believe her luck! She was going to go to America! And rescue Ranma. The poor jerk couldn't be left alone for a moment, she thought happily. She's better sneak out, though. She didn't want to have to argue with Father over leaving.
It was dark when the two women boarded the small, sleek corporate jet. Akane looked back over Tokyo, before the pilot shooed her in, closing the door behind her.
"If you'll take your seat miss, we'll be on our way in about ten minutes," the young occidental man said in passable Japanese.
"Oh! Thank you!" Akane hurried back past the small galley, finding her own seat.
Nodoka was sitting down in a large and comfortable seat. She seemed to be looking around at the small passenger compartment. She was humming to herself.
"Is something wrong Auntie?" Akane asked.
"No! It's just, I think that we are the only passengers on the plane. I hadn't quite realized that Rakemio was quite this rich." Nodoka had a very thoughtful expression on her face.
Absently, they both put on their seatbelts when the PA asked them to.
"Really? I guess it would take a lot of money to do this. I hope Ranma's father doesn't go broke getting us there!" Akane had her nose plastered to the window, looking out into dark runway.
"I don't think that is a problem. It would not be polite to mention that to him, of course!" Nodoka said, with that lecturing tone that all mothers can use at will.
"Would you two quit belly-aching?" Happosai snapped to his two students, sitting at the Tendo dinner table in the morning. The sounds of Kasumi cooking breakfast could be heard drifting in from the kitchen.
"But master! Our dreams of uniting our two families are ruined!" wailed Soun. This latest batch of tears had been brought up by Genma's unthinking comment about Ranma's absence.
"Damn that woman for deceiving me!" Genma started to whine. "She's ruined all of our carefully laid plans!"
Happosai bounced off of both of their heads, knocking them momentarily senseless. Both assumed the stance of the crouching tiger, prostrate on the ground in front of him. "Now that I have your attention, I have a simple solution. A solution so simple, that I'm surprised that even you two dullards didn't think of it." Happosai puffed on his pipe contentedly.
Soun and Genma threw a quick glance at each other. A solution? "Please, master! Tell us!" they shouted in unison, clutching the front of his gi with their fervent grips.
"Let me go! Or I won't tell you!" His students complied instantly. "It's simple. Just have Genma marry one of your daughters, Soun Tendo. It's not like Genma is too old or anything." A profound silence settled over the room.
Soun's eyes almost bugged out of his head. The shocked expression on Genma's face turned to wonderment.
"Master! You're right! Why didn't I think of it? It's the perfect solution!" Genma crowed happily, trying to ignore the almost mute sound of his conscience. Sudden tears welled up in his eyes as he grabbed Happosai in a hug.
"Perfect," Soun said hollowly. His eyes betrayed his frantic thoughts as he tried to figure some way out of this. Genma was a dear friend, but these were his babies! And it was going to be his grandchildren that Genma was going to be selling for food!
Happosai chuckled wickedly, rubbing his hands manically. Everything was going according to his cunning plan. "Well, I'm off! Now that Ranma isn't around to spoil my fun, I can rebuild my collection!" And with that, he bounded out of the house.
"I-I'll just go get the girls. We'll announce it this morning, just after breakfast," Soun managed to get out, a haunted expression on his face.
Soun soon had a sleepy Nabiki and cheerful Kasumi at the table. A troubled expression was on his face when he asked, "Where is Akane? It's not like to her to miss breakfast!"
"Oh, she's been very upset because of all of her school problems." Kasumi said, her cheerful expression wavering.
"Yeah. She probably just left early or something. You know Akane will be back," Nabiki said, grimacing at the thought of Kuno out after her sister again. She'd even heard a rumor, that the morning attacks from so long ago, were going to start up. It had actually taken Kuno several days to get their courage up to try that again.
"Well, maybe we should wait for her, eh, Tendo?" Genma said, nonplussed.
"Oh, no need! I'm sure that my girls will tell Akane when she gets home today," Soun said, a calculating expression apparent for just a moment. This could work to his advantage. "I have an important announcement to make. As you know, because of what happened, Ranma is no longer bound by honor to marry one of you girls."
Nabiki's expression showed how adroitly bored she was. Old news. Kasumi's face went strangely blank.
"So, to honor the pact made between the Tendo's and the Saotome's, it was decided that Genma should marry one of you to join the families."
For a moment, you could hear the bird chirping outside, as the two girl's eyes widened. Soun spoke up smoothly, continuing as if nothing had happened. "Of course it will take a few days for the arrangements to be made and the wedding preparations to be finished. Don't do anything unusual, or different. After all, this is the best for us all," he finished glibly. "We'll have to determine which of you will marry him, of course."
They just blinked in response. They couldn't have just heard that. That was just... just too wrong! But their father had put just a few strange emphasizes during that little speech.
"Well, eat up! We have a big day ahead of us!" Soun said brightly.
Finally, the two girls made some motion of agreement, nodding their heads. Soon the sounds of slurping filled the silence. Breakfast was finished in record time.
"Well, I'm off to school! See you later!" Much, much later, Nabiki added silently.
Kasumi smiled and turned to her father. "Oh, dear! I'm running a bit late. Father, would you do me a small favor and clean up the dishes? There is a sale down at the market this morning on shrimp and sake. If I don't hurry, I won't be able to get them before they sell out!"
"Oh! Of course Kasumi! I'm sure that two old men can handle a simple batch of dishes, don't you think?"
"Oh, Kuno baby? I have some news that is vitally important to you about Akane," Nabiki said slyly.
"What! Do you know where she is? Please, tell me that I might fly to her side, to heal her troubled soul!" Kuno intoned almost musically. He tilted his head, flicking the hair out of his eyes with one hand.
"Now, now! This is very important information. Worth more than money, even. But, I'll do it for a simple favor or two," she said with a grin.
"What! Truly the heavens do smile upon me, that Nabiki Tendo does not wish to separate me from my wealth!" Kuno stared at her feverishly.
"So I'll take that as a yes?" A nod was her response. "It seems my dear father is going to engage Akane again. Wait! Not to you, but to... Genma Saotome! I'm sure that this is the reason that she fled, so that she can't be forced into a marriage that she would hate."
"The horrors! What must I do?" Kuno yelled impassionedly.
"Well, if Genma wasn't able to marry her or wasn't around, maybe she would happily come home to you. But there isn't anyone strong enough to force Genma to leave. I'm sure that Happosai put him up to it." Nabiki put on a hurt, pleading mask. "But you could do it, couldn't you? And even Happosai wouldn't be able to stop you're invincible might!"
"As the sun does rise in the east, so I swear that this shall not stand! You have my word of honor!" Kuno stopped mid rant. "By the way, what is this `favor' that you require of me?"
"Oh, I'm just going to be living in your mansion until I get my own place while I get some papers filed. Nothing big."
"That, Kuno baby, is a secret!"
"I detest you even more, you know that?"
The door chime jingled, signaling the arrival of another customer. Idly, the other patrons, mostly older people, looked up in time to see a bright, cheerfully smiling lady walk in. Most looked away, nothing of interest keeping their attention.
One old man was an exception, who had traveled on train to visit the only doctor that fixed his back properly. "Ohmygod, it's Kasumi Tendo!" he managed to croak out in his wavering, high pitched voice.
That attracted everyone's attention. He started to scrabble out the window, trying to escape a fate worse than death.
"Did he say, Kasumi?"
"That's what it sounded like."
"Isn't that the girl that Dr. Tofu supposedly goes crazy when she's around?"
"Yeah, but that's just exaggeration."
"Didn't you just see Toshi? He looked like the very world was going to end."
A crash from the alleyway shattered the quiet tranquility of the office.
"Maybe it might be a bit safer to just to, say, go stand by the entrance?"
"Sounds like a very good idea."
Kasumi ignored the gossip. It would be quite impolite to acknowledge the talkers. She walked over to the doctor's desk and waited patiently. All of the rest of the patients had moved closer to the exit, feeling that prudence to be the best course.
A few minutes later, an old woman came out, nodding to the doctor as she ambled out the door. She passed Kasumi and smiled a greeting.
At that moment, Dr. Tofu stepped out of the private room and gazed upon perfection. Kasumi could see his eyes for just a moment and then his glasses fogged to opacity. "Why, Kasumi! What a surprise! What brings you here? Isn't that the most amazing thing, Betty?"
All of the would be patients blink-blinked. This was the normal, nice doctor they knew? As one, they took careful steps towards the door. Maybe those stories, of the good doctor turning people into human pretzels, weren't an exaggeration.
"Why, Dr. Tofu, I just decided to come out and visit you," Kasumi said pleasantly.
"Did you hear that, Betty? She came all the way out here to see me!" Dr. Tofu grabbed up the medical skeleton that was affectionately known as `Betty' and started to stagger around the room giddily.
That was the last straw for his patients, as they scampered to the four winds, leaving the couple alone.
Kasumi sighed, she had hoped he would have gotten better. It appeared he might even be worse now. She just did not have time to deal with this right now. As he bounced on by, she stuck her leg out, tripping the poor doctor to the ground.
"Why, how silly of me to trip!"
"Dr. Tofu, it really is important that I talk to you. Please don't leave me. It is very important."
Ranma mewed listlessly, watching the door as intently as she could, through heavily lidded eyes. She was only covered in bandages and a slightly chewed on hospital gown. The walls of her cell were bare metal, with a pad strapped down to the floor. She had been quite efficiently caged. The temperature was slightly cool.
The doctors had figured out a way to drug her food so that she was easy to contain, only requiring four burly orderlies to hold her down. She had been forced to endure being hosed down and needles. All in all, her poor cat mentality was not happy.
She had tried to claw her way out, through the thick metal door, but just couldn't muster the will. For most of the time, she barely deemed to note the food that was placed in her room. Still, after a while, she would scamper over and devour it messily, trying to eat like a cat.
Suddenly, she perked up, looking at the door with anticipation. She sniffed again, making sure of what she smelled. A camera pivoted a bit, to get a better view as the red haired girl leaped to the front of the door.
"Meow!" Ranma called loudly, wanting out. She waited a moment and then called out louder, "MEOW!" She started to paw at the door.
A minute passed, while she became further agitated. Finally she started to claw at the claw even harder at the imposing metal portal. Hissing in irritation, she scratched harder, her panting breath quickening. Finally, metal shavings started to fly. In moments, she had burrowed a hole big enough for her small body to wiggle out.
When she got out, she saw the same orderlies that would hold her down, headed towards her. She hissed at them. When they didn't back off, she leaped on the last one's head, speeding down the hall. She paused to sniff.
She followed this pattern for almost a minute. Finally, she came to another heavy door, this one of wood. Wood shavings flew as she exploded the door, feeling almost none of the effects of the depressants in her system.
Akane, Nodoka and Bruce all spun at the sound of the shredding door, seeing Ranma crouched on all fours. "Meow!" Ranma greeted happily, bounding forward.
Bruce started to step forward, but decided to step back at the last moment. He had to trust that Akane knew what she was doing.
Akane dashed forward, until she was knocked onto her rear by the exuberant red haired girl. "Ranma no baka!" Akane said softly, accepting the cat kiss on her lips.
Ranma started to purr, settling on Akane's lap. In moments, even before the first orderly and doctor could get there, she slipped into the comforting blackness of sleep.
Dr. Mathews watched in surprise as their newest patient just curled up on the oriental girl's lap, seemingly happy and content. "Excuse me, but what is going on?" she asked.
Bruce stepped forward, trying to calm down the situation. "This girl thinks that she can get your patient to come out of her psychosis. I think we should let her try."
From behind a large desk, a shaky head rose, taking in the panorama. "So it is as you explained it, Mr. Wayne? She is the beauty that tames this beast? She must share a special link for the patient to trust her so." Dr. Cliffstone got to his feat shakily. Working at Arkham could be nerve wracking at times.
Suddenly, Ranma groaned and looked up. Blearily she noted Akane sitting there. "Akane?" Slowly, she started to take in her surroundings.
"Ranma! You idiot! What did you do?" Akane said in Japanese to her.
Ranma looked around fearfully. "It was a c-c-c-cat! I don't feel so good." As a matter of fact her stomach was feeling quite queasy and she felt an unnatural lassitude from the drugs.
"My word. What an amazing recovery. And she's perfectly safe as long as this girl is around?" Dr. Cliffstone asked.
"So I was told. She is a... friend of the family. I'll make sure that she has the absolute best help available." Bruce rubbed his jaw in concentration. He tried to follow the conversation between the couple.
Ranma and Akane were startled when they were enveloped in a hug. "Thank you, Akane. I couldn't believe what you had said. My poor baby, what did Genma do to you?" Nodoka said, holding them both tightly.
"Ah, it ain't that bad. As long as Akane's around, I'm fine." Ranma paused a second and thought about that. "Uh, what are you guys doing here? Last I remember, you guys were in Japan." She wavered a bit on her feet, feeling unsteady.
"I came to help you, dummy! Mr. Wayne flew us all the way from Japan!" Akane said, scolding her slightly with a bop to her head.
Ranma ignored that and stood up to stretch, her back popping in sympathy. "Ah, that feels good!" She turned to face Bruce, throwing a quick glance at Akane. "Ah, did they explain about the, um, curse?" Ranma asked nervously.
Bruce nodded while putting his hands in his pocket. "I find it hard to believe, but I'm willing to see. I have seen a few things that can't be explained by, well, contemporary physics."
Ranma giggled kind of nervously. Oh, boy. What kind of freak does his father think she is? For some reason, she wanted him to think highly of her.
Dr. Cliffstone interrupted them in English with, "Excuse me, Mr. Wayne? I can see where you think that this problem is controllable, but I fear the police are not going to see it in that light. She did hospitalize several officers during her capture."
Ranma's face fell. She didn't remember having ever really hurting anyone while under the effect of the Cat Fist before. So what had changed?
Bruce spoke up quickly, "Only when she was threatened. She was not aggressive in the slightest, before they attempted to incarcerate her. I think in the future, that with the proper knowledge of how to deal with her, it won't be a disaster. And the wounded officers are already out of the hospital, with only a few stitches."
"I don't know, Mr. Wayne." The doctor looked quite uncertain.
"I'll take full responsibility and make sure she gets the best treatment possible," Bruce said in his best convincing voice.
"Hmm. I do have to admit, that even here, she won't get the `best' help." He sighed, rubbing his eyes tiredly. "Very well, I'll release her on your cognizance. I do hope that this is one story that has a happy ending. Let's see what we can do to get you out of here, hmm?"
Alfred winced at the sound of the slamming door. It appeared it would take a little bit of training to get Master Ranma to act like a proper gentleman.
"Oh, there you are, Alfred. We are going to have a few more guests today. What have you planned for lunch?" Bruce folded his coat across his left arm.
Alfred stepped quickly, taking the proffered coat. "Of course, Master Bruce. It will be soup and sandwiches for lunch. May I inquire as to who the lovely young ladies are?"
"Certainly, Alfred. This is Nodoka Saotome, Ranma's mother, and Akane Tendo." Bruce pointed them out as they bowed primly.
"And this young lady? And where is Master Ranma?" Alfred asked, pointedly looking around.
"Uh. Hi, Alfred!" Ranma said brightly, waving cheerfully, nearly dropping the luggage that she was carrying. She quickly put the suitcase that she had been balancing on her head down.
"This is actually Ranma, Alfred. He has some sort of curse that turns him into a girl," Bruce said, shrugging to show his disbelief.
Alfred was about to reply, when Ranma interrupted with, "Hot water? Please?" She almost bounced in her eagerness.
Alfred just stared at her for a second. "Of course. If you will follow me."
Bruce watched as Ranma and Akane followed the butler off to the kitchen. It had been a moderately busy day. After releasing Ranma, they had stopped by his clinic to get the necessary samples for the paternity test. He was brought out of his ruminations by Nodoka speaking to him.
"Wayne-san? Why did you hide your wealth and name?" Nodoka asked curiously, showing a remarkable knowledge of English. She was dressed in her typical kimono, her sword wrapped up and tied over her back.
Bruce smiled thinly. "To throw of the more ardent `gold-diggers'. Unfortunately, I've had to do things like that to hide who I was."
"Gold-diggers? I am not sure what you mean."
"Ah, that's an American saying. It means that I had no wish to marry someone who wanted just my wealth," he replied. His face became pensive.
"Oh. I think I can understand. So you live in this large mansion, by yourself."
Bruce answered defensively, "I do have Alfred and some friends, of course."
Nodoka looked at him pensively. "I see."
"G'night, Akane. I, um, really appreciate you coming and helping me out." Ranma pondered a second on what he was supposed to do now.
"You're welcome, Ranma." Akane didn't close her guest room door, waiting expectantly.
Ranma started to sweat nervously. Akane seemed to want something more from him. Couldn't she see how hard it had been to even admit that he had even needed help?
Akane drifted half a step closer. Her eyes shown with hardly disguised emotions. Fear, caring and love mingled in her gaze.
Ranma became even more nervous. He licked his lips nervously. It had just become glaringly obvious, even to him, what she wanted. He stepped up and attempted to give her a quick peck on her lips.
Just as he was starting to pull back, Akane reached out with both hands and embraced him gently around his neck, pulling him back into the kiss. Ranma froze for just a second and then let himself be dragged in.
From the shadows, down the hall, shadowed eyes watched, darkness hiding their pain. He turned and disappeared into the blackness behind a tapestry. Bruce trudged slowly down the hidden corridor. Minutes later, when he stepped into the Batcave, he appeared unaffected by any emotional turmoil.
"Ah, Master Bruce. You have to go out, this evening?" Alfred asked, turning away from the glass display case that he had been cleaning.
"Have to? No. I should make an appearance more often than to just stop `super' menaces. Some need to be reminded that Batman is a relentless foe all criminals," Bruce said slightly sullenly, trying to mask his feelings.
Alfred took note of his dark mood. "That fax from the TechMed just arrived. You wanted to be informed the moment it appeared."
Bruce stopped for just a second and then nodded. He quickly walked over and retrieved the papers from the desk. He sat heavily as he started to read. It was quite easily outlined, spelled out in simple terms. For a few minutes after he finished the report, he tapped his fingers on the desk. Alfred puttered around the Batcave, cleaning and straightening where needed.
"Alfred, could you set up a time to meet with my publicist and lawyer in the morning? It appears I need to make a public announcement to the press." Bruce stood, starting to strip of his normal clothes.
"Ah, I take it that the clinic confirmed what you had already suspected?" Alfred asked patiently.
"Ranma's cursed form having red hair made me think it highly possible. The clinic just confirmed it well enough for any court of law."
Finishing his change of outfits, he tugged his cowl in place. Without a further comment, he turned a strode off toward the Batmobile. In moments, the muted whine of turbines faded into the distance.
"Hm. I do believe that Master Wayne is in a quandary," Alfred said to himself as he headed back into the mansion proper.
"So, Bruce Wayne is having some sort of press conference this morning. He'll have a lot of people in his house. Caterers, reporters and such," the dark skinned man said to the shadow. "It's the perfect opportunity to kidnap him and hold him for ransom. A cool one hundred million dollars."
The larger, bulkily muscular man replied, "And what does this have to do with me?" His voice carried the smallest bit of a Hispanic accent.
"You, Senior Bane, will keep the Batman away while we get the money. I'll cut you in for twenty-five million dollars if you do this," the gangster said, rubbing his bald head. Light sparkled off of his rings.
"You want me to take care of Batman while you kidnap Bruce Wayne?" Bane asked, smiling lightly. "And for this... service, you'll pay me twenty-five million dollars?" This could be... humorous.
"Yes! My men will secure the grounds and the target. It should be easy to extract the money and the escape vehicle." Mathew Black let slip a bit of desperation. His whole plan hinged on this maniac.
"What? But... fine! How will you deal with the Batman?" Black asked.
"Leave that to me. I'll be joining your little group as you take Bruce Wayne prisoner."
"How will that keep Batman from interfering?"
"Don't ask questions or my price will go up dramatically." Bane clenched his fist, popping his knuckles.
"Of course! We leave immediately!"
Ranma tried to tie up his bow tie. It obstinately drooped to one side. "Damn. Why won't it stay?" He was looking at himself in a mirror in his bedroom.
"Ranma! Are you ready yet?" Akane asked from the other side of the door.
"My tie won't stay! It's all messed up!" Ranma called back.
Akane sighed and walked in. Leave it to Ranma to mess up getting dressed up nicely. Ranma glanced away from the mirror. She walked over and carefully spun him around to face her. It only took her a few moments to adjust the tie to look correct.
Ranma started to wave his hands frantically.
"What? It looks much better!"
The moment her hands released the tie, his hands flew to it and loosened it. "Couldn't breath! Not so tight, you stupid, sexless tomboy!" Ranma snapped out as the flow of oxygen was resumed to his head.
Akane went from concerned to angry in one point two seconds. "You creep! How dare you say that!" She snapped a punch at him, which he dodged effortlessly.
"Nyah! You're still too slow!" Ranma crowed. He dashed back outside his room and down the hall, an angry Akane on his tail.
They came pounding down the hallway and down the main stairs, where a small crowd was gathering.
Several reporters looked on in astonishment as the young man was chased by the young lady, dodging the occasional kick or punch.
"Ranma no Baka!" Akane cried out, snapping another kick at him as Ranma bounced over a couple of couches.
"Ranma! Akane! Settle down instant!" Nodoka called out angrily. Bruce just stared in mute astonishment at the spectacle.
Ranma's gaze snapped back behind him, from where his mom was standing, distracting him from his feet for just an instant. His heavy shoes caught on the edge of a carpet. His arms started to windmill as he valiantly tried to stop from falling over.
"Ranma!" Akane cried out, trying to stop herself from running him over, with predictable results.
They crashed into each other, arms and legs flailing as they slid across the floor and into a wall. Ranma had managed to catch Akane, interposing himself to take the brunt of damage.
For a second, no one was sure of what to make of the scene. Ranma was cradling his unhurt fianc‚e up against the battered wall. Both of them made it to their feet while blushing madly.
Bruce cleared his throat, bringing everyone's attention back to him. "Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I'm sorry for the disturbance, but in a very real way, this young man is the reason I called this press conference. A fairly energetic fellow, isn't he?"
Polite laughter drifted up and then cut off just as suddenly.
The Japanese duo walked up to the podium where Bruce Wayne was talking. Behind him sat the Drake's and one Dick Grayson who was trying as hard as he could to not burst out laughing. About two dozen reporters and their crew stood by, intense curiosity evident on their faces. Sprinkled among them where important mover's and shaker's who had finagled into the press conference.
The multi-millionaire glanced at his watch and then shrugged. "If you don't mind, we'll get this started little early. Ranma?" He waved the younger man forward. "This young man was recently brought to my attention. He's the son of an old acquaintance. His name is Ranma Saotome. With a bit of due investigation, I determined that he is my son." A roar of surprise broke out among the reporters and visitors. "I've invited him to stay with me here at Wayne Manor, so that I can get to know him better."
Up against one of the walls, near the back, a craggy, mustached man with white hair and squarish glasses looked on in deep thought. This was totally unexpected. He turned to the police officer next to him. "Hmm. Bullock, find out what you can about him. He's prime kidnapping material."
"What are you looking at, Clark?" a pretty brunette said and she leaned over his shoulder to get a look at his computer. Behind them the chatter of the newsroom rose a slight amount as news traveled around.
"Something I never thought I'd see, actually. I wonder how Bruce Wayne is handling being a father on such short notice, Lois?"
"Well, it's not like he hasn't the time, being a multi-millionaire playboy. Maybe it'll force him to grow up and become responsible."
Clark smiled as he looked in on the area directly with his x-ray vision. "You might be right."
Bane frowned at the small TV as his hated nemesis finished up and retired to a private area of the mansion, leaving his publicist to speak to the camera. He pulled on the black cowl with red diamond eyes that he'd made into his trademark, hiding his features and short cut hair. He towered above all of the other men, who were standing around in fatigues and black hooded masks.
"He didn't hold to the schedule. This just became more difficult." Bane pointed to the screen. He had a bad feeling about this.
"I can see that. It is of no importance. We are inside and we shall strike quickly and decisively."
With that, he signaled his men to start the operation. The large catering truck they were in lumbered forward and slammed through the gate. Positioned snipers fired scramblers at the same time, knocking the security system down for two minutes. The truck screeched to a halt, disgorging over two dozen men who mowed down the two security guards. Four big men in fatigues slammed the main door open, laying down a covering fire over the heads of all of the assembled. The rest continued on without stopping, leaving only a couple of men behind to keep two more security guards occupied.
Bruce turned at the first sign of gunfire and was almost to the door when it was violently slammed open, catching him unaware, stunning him for just a moment. Before he could blink, arms enveloped him in a bear hug, pinning him.
"Why here's Wayne right here. You'd think he was going to be heroic or something wouldn't you?" Under his mask, as nasty grin could almost be seen. Bane whispered to Bruce, "Wouldn't want anything to jeopardize your precious secret, would you?"
That stopped the sometimes-cowled crimefighter. He could slip out of this, given time. But would it be worth it? "I thought you were above this sort of thing."
"The pay is good and I couldn't refuse the chance to tell you that I'd returned personally, Batman," Bane replied quietly.
"Good! Do not hurt him, Bane. We have secured the premises and neutralized the guards. Now all that is left is to get our money." The leader of the bandits swaggered in, his face hidden by his own mask.
"Right. Cuff him."
Two of the thugs followed the orders instantly, seeing their meal ticket in front of them.
"All of you, get down," another masked man shouted, waving his submachine gun threateningly. When the Japanese woman didn't respond quickly enough, he let loose a burst above her head, shattering a large mirror. Shards of glass fell to the ground, cutting her as she crumpled into a ball from fear.
Ranma was at her side as if he'd teleported. "Mother!" he cried out in Japanese. Seeing that she was relatively fine, his eyes snapped up to lock onto the man who'd hurt one of the dearest people to him. "That was the last thing you'll ever do, bastard!"
Unperturbed by the young man speaking in a language he didn't understand, he said casually in English, "Do anything, and I'll kill you and the woman."
"Idiot! What are you doing? They aren't important!"
Ranma adjusted his stance slightly and then suddenly sprung, faster than the eye could follow. Before he landed, he'd knocked out three of the ruffians, bouncing off of a pool table and caroming off of a wall.
Bane blinked, suddenly feeling a powerful fighting presence from the boy. His reflexes barely saved him from a concussion as a flurry of balls spun from the madly moving dervish. He suddenly felt the first stirring of worry as he saw how each thrown cue ball had knocked out at least one thug and some two or more.
"You are his son. I can see it now." Bane didn't bother to stay and fight to keep these idiots from being captured. They had brought it upon themselves by not checking all of the variables.
"Bane!" Bruce Wayne called out, slipping free of the hold and wheel kicking the kidnapper that was holding him. Behind him, Dick, Tim and Akane were pulling similar moves with blinding precision.
Bane ignored his arch foe, leaping out the window and crashing into a bush below. He'd deal with the Batman later.
He was almost a hundred yards away when he heard footsteps right behind him. He ducked and spun a kick, expecting to see Bruce or possibly the one he suspected to be Nightwing.
Ranma let the heavy boot slide past his head while performing his own kick into the much larger man's side. Bane merely grunted as he snapped a quick set of punches at the much smaller target. That blow had some real power behind it, Bane thought to himself.
Ranma ducked and weaved, dodging and blocking the blows. He was good, the younger man noted. Strong and knew how to use his greater reach to advantage. Ranma's blows were not striking well, losing much of their force.
Moments dragged out as they moved in a chaotic dance of battle. Finally, the battlefield was changed by a loose patch of ground, distracting Ranma for a brief instant as he slipped. Bane grabbed him, not giving him a moment to recover. Using his massive frame to his advantage, the South American threw Ranma roughly against a tree over thirty feet away. Without a backwards glance, he turned made for the walls of the compound.
By the time Ranma caught up to him, the car he was driving was already burning a track of rubber down the road.
"Damn!" Ranma growled to himself.
"He'll be back. You've made a dangerous enemy," Bruce said as he stepped out of the shadows, startling Ranma. This young man had fought brilliantly against a far stronger foe.
The young man turned back to road, thinking hard. Something about this whole mess was just odd.
Nabiki was chewing on her toast while watching the news, ignoring the 'sparring' that Tatewaki and Kodachi were doing in the background of the dining room. What was it with these martial artists and fighting all the time? And at the breakfast table no less. At least they hadn't started up with the machine guns again.
"... very own resident of Nerima, Tokyo was announced as the heir to the Wayne fortune. Billionaire Bruce Wayne of the United States held a press conference just this morning to announce that he is legitimizing this wandering martial artist as his only known natural heir. This makes Ranma Saotome one of the most eligible bachelors in Japan, even if he is currently living within the US..."
"No... way... Ranma is the son of some billionaire? Nooooooo!" Nabiki cried out, berating herself for dumping the martial artist on her younger sister. "That was so stupid of me!"
"Ranma Darling! What news do you have of him?" Kodachi demanded, dismissing her brother into unconsciousness by landing on his head.
"He's rich. He's half American, but he's filthy rich! He's rich!" Nabiki was almost blubbering to herself.
"Oh, that I must be away from his side! That he should be forced to be away from the lands of his birth is a fate too cruel to behold!" the young gymnast cried out, sparkling lights illuminating her and a microphone appearing in her hand.
"Nay! He's a mongrel and worth nothing!" Tatewaki cried out, bouncing instantly to his feet, his wooden practice sword held high.
"He's filthy rich!" the middle Tendo cried to herself, starting to smack her head against the table top.
"I say, brother, is this a normal reaction for Nabiki Tendo?"
"Not that I am aware. Most unseemly."
"It doesn't matter! I must be off to make preparations to fly to the side of my love!"
"Grandmother, Ranma on news! Shampoo not understand everything that stupid Japanese man saying." Shampoo had the little black and white TV on in front of her.
"Eh? Why is Ranma on the news?" Cologne asked as she hopped into the room on her stick.
"News say Ranma is son of Bruce Wayne. What billionaire mean?"
"It means that he is very rich. Interesting, wouldn't you say, Shampoo?"
"Shampoo guess. We still move to America?"
The Elder of the Joketzu nodded sagely. "Of course. You can't bring your husband home while we're in Japan and he lives in the US. We are almost finished selling what we need."
"Shampoo so happy!"
"But Shampoo, why don't you just let him go? Cologne already told you that his mother doesn't see any validity in your claim?" Mousse said suddenly. He had managed to creep into the room undetected and stood at the door, looking regal.
"Shampoo never quit! And Mousse should not bring up stupid mother-in-law! Joketzu law everything!"
"I can't believe my ungrateful daughters! Nabiki gets herself emancipated, Akane runs off to America and I haven't been able to find hide nor hair of Kasumi!" Soun exclaimed, managing to hide his elation at his children's quick thinking. The fact that Akane was still interested in Ranma was a very good thing, in his eyes. Especially considering he was now one of the richest bachelors around!
We'll take a moment to peek in on what has happened to Kasumi. It's really quite simple, if you happen to know where Dr. Tofu's clinic is. And if you could read a neat little sign that was taped to the window.
'Public Announcement of Marriage of Ono Tofu to Kasumi Tendo. Office will reopen in one week.'
But you have to know where to look, after all. Though, if you were looking, you would have also noted that the handwriting was far too neat for anyone in a medical profession.
Genma just grumbled. In the last few days, he had begun to regain his composure. Greed (that had to be it, there wasn't anything else that he really cared for, could there?) and time had lessened his anger at his wife's illegitimate child.
The same boy he had raised almost single-handily on their ten year trip. Tears started streaming down his face. "Oh, Soun! I've ruined my wife's happiness! I am such a fool!"
"Now, now, Genma old friend. I'm sure that Ranma won't hold a grudge against you." Finally, Genma was starting to act normally. Soun sighed in relief.
"Why do I have to learn English?" Ranma complained to Alfred.
"Because just about everyone here speaks English, dummy!" Akane exclaimed heatedly.
"Young lady," Alfred scolded.
"Sorry, Alfred," the young lady said contritely.
"We are almost finished here for the morning. Lunch will be served in a half an hour, at Noon." Alfred looked miffed from where he sat at a large desk.
Ranma sniffed the air. "Sweet and sour chicken, I think. And wonton soup. Smells really good, actually."
Alfred blinked in surprise, sniffing the air himself. "I say. Why don't we investigate this delicious aroma?"
A scant three minutes later, the trio had entered the kitchen to find Nodoka humming a tune while cooking. "Good morning! I hope you don't mind, Alfred, but I wanted to help out. And it seems my cooking skills are more needed than my office skills."
"I do not mind, my lady, but that is my job, of course."
Yabai - Dangerous
Kichi - peril
Doki - anger or wrath
Suto - strike
Kobushi - fist