C&A Productions Presents A Work of Ranma 1/2 Fanfiction The Ties That Bind Part 4: Life, Tatewaki and Everything Written by Chris McNeil Original Concept Provided by Robert Morrison Ranma and Panma stared at Akane for a long moment. Then they both burst out laughing. "You're not serious!" Panma gasped. "He got up there...and TOLD them that if anybody wanted to date you..." Akane felt her face redden. "It's not -my- fault Kunou is such an idiot," she snapped. "You think I WANTED all those boys after me every morning?" "Some girls might take it as a compliment," grinned Ranma. "Then again, -some- girls don't try to be more macho than...hey, what was that for?" he growled at his brother, who had jabbed an elbow in his side. Panma met his gaze cooly, and then Ranma seemed to remember something and looked away, muttering under his breath. "So what do you do about it?" asked Panma in the uncomfortable silence that followed. Akane shrugged with irritation. "What I have to...pound the heck out of them every morning. And Kunou, too. He's always last." Panma raised an eyebrow. "You've beaten Kunou?" "Yeah," said Akane defensively, "so what?" "I guess even -you- might stand a chance against him," Ranma agreed. Panma shook his head in pure disgust as Akane glared at her supposed fiancee. "What?" Panma quickly stood up. "C'mon, bro, let's grab some food before it's all gone." Ranma, whose eyes had lit up at the mention of 'food', quickly followed. Akane heard Panma say something to his brother about not making any psycho enemies this time, but was too angry to figure out quite what that meant. So what if she wasn't so fast or fancy as either of them? She was a martial artist too, and if she had traveled all over the place and gotten in HALF as many fights as those two, she could probably have kicked them both all the way back to China. Akane stood up to get her own lunch, a small smile on her face. If Nabiki's plan worked half as well as it was supposed to, that might be the last smart-aleck comment she got out of either of them. ******** In another part of the lunchroom, a conference of war was taking place. "I didn't have time to get pictures yet," Nabiki said in an outwardly conversational yet still quiet voice, "but there he is over there. See the one in the bread line, the one without a uniform?" "The one with four pieces in his arms and six in his mouth?" "No, that one can wait. The one over there, giving him a disgusted look." The red-haired girl studied him for a moment. "Got it. With those weird clothes he'll be easy to pick out." "Make sure everybody knows him, then. I want this all to go off after first class this afternoon." "I'll make sure they all know about him." The girl hesitated. "Umm...Nabiki, some people have been wondering...some of those instructions are kinda weird..." Nabiki smiled, a slow, malicious smile. "Tell them not to worry about it. But I wouldn't suggest being too close to anyone in that guy's clothes when this goes down..." ******** Upperclassman Tatewaki Kunou, rising star of the high school fencing world and Furinkan High School's mightiest warrior, was irritated. The scowl of rage on his face would normally be enough to send lesser men - and was that not everybody? - scurrying for cover, which was only sensible, for Kunou's divine wrath was quite near at these times, and liable to fall on the incautious in the form of his mighty bokken. Indeed, even now the glower upon his visage would probably have caused his fellow students to clear before him, if it weren't for the fact that the halls were empty on account of the fact that most students were in class. So preoccupied was Kunou with his righteous indignation and inflamed thoughts, however, that even his razor-keen senses failed to acknowledge this. That was not truly a surprise, given the news he had received. After a short period of surprise in the aftermath of the morning's fiasco, he had - correctly, of course - reasoned that his trusted bokken had obviously been fatally flawed. Thus he was compelled to fetch a new one, as well as lodging a protest over the shoddy workmanship (in the form of dire threats and a rather lengthy lecture on the proper way to do business) of the last. Returning during the noon repast, he had been bent on searching out the impudent Saotome whelp and giving him the thrashing he had unjustly escaped that morning...when ill tidings had been revealed to him by the personage of one Nabiki Tendo. "Fiancee..." His lip curled around the very words. It was indeed a stroke of fortune, however, that Nabiki had informed him so quickly. She was an odd girl, even if often quite useful. Still, Kunou had to admit she had certain mental gifts, and besides which, surely she would not wish to see her beloved sister subjected to such a monstrosity. His mind settled on that point, Kunou tightened his grip on his new bokken. He could almost feel the satisfying impact as it slammed into the cur's worthless carcass... ******** Panma-chan stared at the sink, fists clenched, trembling with fury. It was -not- turning out to be a good day. The morning hadn't been too bad...sure, there was that Kunou freak, but he wasn't all that good, and at any rate would get fixated on beating Ranma if anything. Next there were classes, which looked to be incredibly boring...but that was to be expected, and at least he thought he could catch up fairly easily. And then, of course, there was the embarrassment of Akane and Ranma giving each other dirty looks and tossing insulting notes back and forth like pre-schoolers, but at least they got caught and sent out into the hall, providing some much-appreciated peace. So while the morning hadn't been great, it wasn't much worse than he had expected either. No, the problems had started after lunch, when some practical joker had left a bucket of water on the lunchroom doorway. Panma would normally have looked for, found and pounded the hell out of the freak, but was immediately preoccupied with getting out of sight before anyone could notice that he had become a she. She had been fairly sure that she hadn't been seen, but a new complication had sprung up shortly afterwards...the hot water was labeled as not working in the bathroom. Three bathrooms later, she had rushed in this, a boy's bathroom, with a rapidly sinking feeling, and had her fears confirmed. The whole hot water system must have been out of order or something. With a snarled curse, she smashed her fist into the wall, sending a cloud of plaster and dust flying and leaving a fair-sized hole. "I -hate- this damned body!" she growled, then turned on her heel and stalked out. She'd have to go home, there was nothing to do for it. As soon as the door closed behind the blonde girl, two heads poked out from the bathroom stall, where they had been forced to hide after hastily - and tardily - affixing their signs to the sink. "-I- certainly don't hate her body," one, a boy with sandy hair and a rather lecherous grin said. His companion, a dark-haired boy with a more serious expression, almost seemed ready to nod in agreement, but then frowned. "No time for that, Hiroshi. We'd better get to class...and we'd better think up a good excuse for Kishi-sensei while we're at it." Swallowing, Daisuke nodded agreement and started to follow his friend to the door. Just before the reached it, however, they heard something which forced them to stay inside a little longer... ******** Kunou had been mentally preparing a list of the unpleasant things he planned to do to Ranma, but this enjoyable and useful endeavor was cut short as a door crashed open before him, nearly striking him. He swiftly prepared to smite the insolent dog who would dare do such a thing to the great Tatewaki Kunou, but was caught short as he realized the gender of the person who had done so. "Get that stick outta my face before I shove it up your...oh, it's -you-." Kunou wracked his brain for where he had seen this girl before, for she seemed rather familiar. Finally, the memory struck him, of an identically- clothed person who had apparently - for some sick reason - been accompanying the wretched Saotome that morning. Oddly, he could have sworn that person had been male, but the contradiction was in front of him. Surely no other person would be wearing such outlandish garb. He smiled - charmingly, of course - and quickly formulated his next words, mentally congratulating himself for the presence of the mind to correctly discern and take advantage of this most fortuituous situation. "Tell me, young lady, do you know the whereabouts of one Ranma Saotome?" The girl rolled her eyes, obviously overwhelmed by the pleasure of being addressed by such an august personage. Kunou made a mental note to see what her connection was with Saotome. While somewhat boyish in looks, there was something of a healthy glow about her, and Kunou would not put it past scum like Saotome to take advantage of such a naive and innocent child. "Listen pal," the girl said with an endearingly good - if somewhat improper - attempt at disrespect. A lesser man than the great Tatewaki Kunou would no doubt be fooled by this show of being hard to get. "Forget about him," the girl continued. "Take my advice and find some other guy to attack before you get hurt." Kunou laughed at the poor girl's naive manner. Obviously she had not closely observed the fight Kunou had so effectively dominated this morning - before the unfortunate failure of his equipment, of course. "Fear not for -mine- health, dear girl. Instead, you would do well to fear for the cretinous Saotome, who is destined to meet his end upon my blade." The girl laughed, her fears obviously calmed. Kunou smiled in return, mentally congratulating himself for aiding such a charming young girl. After all, did not the code of the samurai advocate helping those in distress, particularly those of the fairer sex? The girl finally stopped chortling. "You still don't get it, do you?" she asked. Kunou wondered what this new distress could be about. Had the foul Saotome gone even further in his dark acts than he had imagined? "I'm not sure if you're delusional or just terminally stupid - or both - but get this through your thick skull. You can't beat Ranma. You're not even in his league. You're not in MY league, even when I'm in this...well, never mind about that. The point is, you're outclassed, Kunou. Do yourself a favour and go bug somebody else." It all hit Kunou with startling clarity. Though obviously terrified of retribution, the girl had slipped him the crucial clue he needed. The foul Saotome had not been satisfied with his dishonourable enslavement of the fair Akane. No, he had also dug his despicable claws into the fair creature before him as well. No doubt they prayed for release, but were too frightened of their horrible master to seek help. Well, now Tatewaki Kunou had uncovered the whole vile plot. "Fear not," he said, favouring her with a kind smile. "I have deduced the source of your distress. Soon, the accursed Saotome shall be no threat to anyone." She gaped at him, obviously terrified at the retribution that would arise for revealing the clues that Kunou's razor sharp mind had put together. Finally, she shook her head and stepped back, drawing into a fighting stance. "I have no idea what the heck you're talking about, moron, but I guess words aren't going to convince you to get lost. Fine with me; I could use the workout." With a sigh at the extent that Saotome's evil had taken hold of this innocent girl, Kunou raised his own bokken as well. He would make this as swift and painless as possible, for it was not this poor creature's fault that she could not resist her master. "Very well, my fair one. You leave me little choice, but I beseech you not to fret. Your master is no match for me." "Will you shut up and fight already?" she growled, shifting her stance. Sighing once more, Kunou leveled his bokken at her. "I understand. Take heart, and strive even in your dark cause. Should your fiery spirit arise and overcome me, I shall allow you to date me!" And even as the blonde female's jaw dropped in shock, Kunou charged. ******** Meanwhile, from their hideout in the bathroom, Hiroshi and Daisuke listened in deepening horror to the conversation occuring just outside the doors. As it culminated in Kunou's pronouncement and subsequent charge, they exchanged worried glances. "Hiroshi, we can't just let this go on." "But what can -we- do? That's KUNOU out there!" Both winced as there was a cry from outside, followed by a loud crash. Daisuke stood up, fists clenched, a determined expression on his face. "It doesn't matter who it is," he declared. "How can we call ourselves men if we just stand aside and let this poor, defenceless woman fight alone?" Hiroshi looked dubious for a moment, then suddenly his face firmed and he stood as well. "You're right. It's our duty." "Besides, she'll be grateful." Hiroshi nodded enthusiastically. "VERY grateful." "Well then, what are we waiting for?" The two rushed over to the door and then stopped, hesitating. As another crash rang out, Daisuke swallowed, reached out, and flung the door open. They rushed out, mouths open to protest, fists clenched, muscles coiled to spring...and stopped dead. The mysterious girl in the outlandish clothing, apparently unhurt and with an arrogant smirk plastered on her face, calmly reached down and yanked Kunou's limp form out of the wall where she had apparently just placed him. Absently kicking his dropped bokken out of the way, she grabbed the front of his robe and jerked the dazed kendoist to his feet as easily as lifting a rag doll. "And guess what, Kunou?" she sneered. "Ranma Saotome's almost as good as me." With that, she pulled back and then reintroduced Kunou to the wall, head first. Patting her hands with satisfaction, she turned to go and noticed the gaping duo. "You two got a problem?" she asked in a decidedly...less than friendly tone. "Uhhh...no, not at all!" Daisuke said hastily, pulling out of her way. With a snort, the girl strode past them, turned a corner and was gone. For a moment, the two simply stared at the destruction. Finally, Hiroshi turned, and the two met disbelieving eyes. "So...defenceless, huh?" "Oh shut up." ******** "Oh my. Panma, what are you doing home so early?" Panma-chan started to growl something, then checked herself. It seemed almost blasphemous to be rude to someone as unspeakably polite and nice as Kasumi. For this reason, she had resolved to avoid the eldest Tendo sister as much as possible, since the selfsame unspeakable niceness and politeness tended to drive her nuts after a few minutes of exposure. Sometimes Panma wondered if the girl even saw the same world around her that everyone else did. "Nothing much. But I got accidentally splashed and all the hot water at the school was broken, so I didn't have much choice but to come home." "I see. Would you like a nice piece of watermelon?" Graciously accepting, Panma-chan took the prooffered piece of fruit and headed toward the bath, mentally revising her earlier thoughts. Kasumi might be annoyingly cheerful, but she was definitely nice to have around at times, and at least she was always understanding and polite, unlike... "WHAT ARE YOU DOING HOME!?" Casually, Panma-chan slammed a punch into Genma's gut and flipped over him while he doubled over in surprise. "Give it a rest, oyaji," she said, not bothering to look back. "The hot water was broken, and I didn't exactly want to suddenly show up as a girl for my next class." Genma started to articulate another protest, or possibly a comment on how weak her punches were, but Panma-chan cut him off by sliding the door shut in his face. Striding into the bathroom, Panma-chan began to fill the bath. Turning away, she walked over to the hamper and tossed her still-damp clothes off, grimacing as she was forced to look at her feminine attributes. "I -despise- this," she muttered. Walking over to the sink for cold water to wash with, she glanced into the large mirror and flinched at the blonde hair and...other things clearly visible. Then, with a growl, she forced herself to coldly stare into the mirror, examining her new body. She was attractive, she noted grudgingly. Her features may have been more...masculine than those of her original form, but in all honesty that didn't make them any less feminine than that of your average girl. Her body was well- toned, and she had received generous attributes from the spring...though how much of a good thing -that- was was up for debate. With a snarl, Panma-chan looked away and filled the bucket with cold water. She hated this curse, this body that her worthless father had trapped her in. She hated the fact that it was attractive, she hated how obvious this became when wearing her usual outfit. It had been less than two months since the fateful trip to Jyusenkyou, but to Panma-chan, it was like a lifetime. She couldn't understand how Ranma - though he certainly wasn't fond of his curse either - could spend large amounts of time in it without too much difficulty. Every time Panma-chan noticed some appreciative male staring, or heard whispered comments, her stomach churned. She was torn between wanting to run away in shame and wanting to beat the miserable perverts to a pulp. Of course, it hadn't been Ranma that had decided to come back to Japan, but Genma had wanted to, and Panma had a very good reason for leaving. Now, though, she wasn't so sure it had been the right decision. As she poured the cold water over herself and picked up a cloth, she scowled. It would not be long now, she silently vowed. Her father be damned, engagement be damned, family honour be damned, Panma Saotome was not staying here much longer, even if she had to head back to China alone. ******** Kunou groaned as he returned to consciousness, his eyelids fluttering open. Nabiki walked over to the bedside as he sat up, gazing blearily around the clinic. "Took you long enough, Kunou-chan," she cooly commented. His eyes fell on her and narrowed suspiciously. Affecting a look of concern, she continued, "I heard you had a nasty run-in with the new girl." "Yes, she was...formidable," he said slowly. "I must admit she somewhat took me by surprise." His mind flew back to those last few moments...the girl ducking beneath his thrust, so fast she seemed to disappear, then the impact of a hard kick to the gut and the immediately following impact of the wall. Then, as he picked himself up, momentarily groggy, her lunge, fists pulled back, just before everything faded into a rather interesting display of colours...while Kunou would need some more time to analyse her strengths exactly, he felt safe in saying that in a real match, she might present a considerable challenge even to his peerless skills. In fact, he wondered how such a pitiful opponent as Saotome could ever hold such a lovely and skilled girl captive. Perhaps dark sorcery of some sort, or... "Yo, Kunou-chan, you listening?" His thoughts interrupted, Kunou affixed the bothersome girl with a cold stare. "Were you to perhaps speak in a manner clear enough for any man to comprehend, I would better understand your words." Nabiki smiled condescendingly. She recognized the look in Kunou's eyes. Now, it simply had to be carefully funneled in the right direction... "I'm sorry, Kunou-chan. What I said was that I thought you may want to find this girl again." Kunou arched an eyebrow. "You know her?" "Actually, she's staying at my house, along with Ranma, his brother and father." "Ah, all makes sense now. The accursed Sao..." Kunou did a double take, his eyes widening. "One moment. Nabiki Tendo, have mine ears deceived me, or didst thou make mention of a -brother- to accursed Saotome?" "Yep, the other accursed Saotome. His name is Panma. I'm surprised you didn't see him earlier; that girl you ran into is always around him." "Always around him, you say..." Kunou's brow furrowed in thought. After a moment, he looked up. "Nabiki Tendo, you say you know this blonde girl. Would you be so kind as to deliver a message to her?" "Why of course, Kunou-chan," she said, affecting surprise. "I'm sure she'll be pleasantly surprised to hear from you." Kunou nodded curtly and began looking for ink and paper. As he turned away, Nabiki smiled. Phase two was almost complete. ******** As Ranma strode into the dojo, he found Panma already there, flowing gracefully through a series of intricate katas. Instead of walking all the way in, he simply stopped and stared for a moment, entranced by the almost hypnotic rhythm of his brother's fluid movements. Finally he shook his head and grinned ruefully, walking over to set up one of the training dummies leaning against the wall. As Ranma began to launch strikes at the dummy, Panma, from the midst of his kata, glanced over at him. Most of Ranma's strikes hit glancing blows or non- vital areas such as the limbs. A casual observer may have chalked this up to sloppiness, but Panma knew better. Ranma consciously did this, for he knew that if a single full power punch or kick struck the dummy, it would be blown into stuffing. Panma's eyes narrowed and he returned to his kata with added vigour, finishing the routine with a series of vicious kicks. Slowing to a stop, he commented, "So, how was afternoon classes?" Ranma stopped as well, absently tossing the dummy aside. "Not bad. Boring, mostly. What happened to you?" "Didn't you know? The hot water was busted, so I had to come home." Ranma's brow furrowed. Though his brother wouldn't bother to lie to him - and wasn't the type to cut classes anyway - he distinctly remembered visiting the washroom during the after-school cleaning, and there was no indication of the hot water being down. In fact, he had washed his hands in it, so he KNEW it wasn't down. But before he could wonder about this, Panma's voice broke in. "So, bro, you feel up to trying for three-two-eight-six today?" Dismissing the water mystery from his mind, Ranma grinned confidently and fell back into a combat stance. "I'm -always- ready, bro. The question is, do YOU feel up to it?" "Naturally. I simply didn't want my victory to be too easy." "Funny, that's just what I was thinking." "Shall we, then?" "Let's." With a cry, the two brothers charged at each other, fists raised for the opening blows...then skidded to a halt as the door opened. "Excuse me, boys," said Nabiki. "Did I interrupt anything important?" Panma chuckled. "Well, if it isn't my erstwhile fiancee. Nah, just saved Ranma a beating, but I can make up for that later. What's up?" Nabiki's eyes narrowed slightly at the off-hand 'fiancee' comment, but whatever was annoying her didn't show in her voice as she smiled and stepped into the dojo, continuing, "Well, I've got a delivery for you." Panma blinked in surprise. "Who from?" "Kunou," came the reply. "To your girl half. He hasn't figured out you're one and the same, apparently." "Good," grunted Panma, taking the message. "That's -all- I need is to have that spread around..." Quickly scanning the message, he sighed and rolled his eyes. "Should've guessed. Some people never learn." Ranma walked over to look. "What's it say, bro?" "What else?" sighed Panma, tossing it over. "A challenge. I beat the snot out of him earlier, but I guess he didn't get the point." "Huh." Opening up the letter, Ranma read, "'To the fiery blonde one...be so good as to meet me at the ninth hour of this evening.' Yeah, seems like it." Nabiki looked concerned. "Maybe you shouldn't go, Panma. Kunou-chan HATES to lose. This time he might be out for blood." Panma snorted. "He could be out to carve his name on my intestines, but unless he's gotten about twenty times better, he's not anything I have to worry about." "Yeah," Ranma nodded, "I doubt he'd give even -you- much trouble." "Thanks," replied Panma drily. "Well, no big deal. Let's go check if dinner's ready." "Hey, fine with me!" The two brothers rushed out, towards the kitchen and Kasumi. As they passed out of sight, Nabiki smiled. "Phase three," she whispered triumphantly. Then she strolled at a leisurely pace after them, chuckling softly to herself. To be continued... Author's notes: Those of you who have borne with me note that this series is getting steadily distanced from the manga...well trust me, that kicks into HIGH gear as of next chapter. Hope you enjoy. Oh, and for those among my prereaders who have commented on my apparently-unneccessary footnotes...well, I'm hoping to drag in newbies and those without extensive knowledge of Japanese language or culture as well. In a series in which Pantyhose Tarou (or something resembling him) is a star, is that possible? Well, I try. ^_^;;; Besides, it's better to have some redundant information than have any readers not understand crucial stuff, ne? So, without further adieu... Kunou-chan: This was generally translated as "Kunou baby" in the Viz translations, which is actually fairly accurate to the meaning. Basically, "-chan" is a Japanese honourific (a word, meaningless in itself, which when following a name gives a certain slant/emphasis to it) which is normally only used between very close friends or when talking to social inferiors. Thus, for Nabiki to call Kunou "Kunou-chan" is rather demeaning to him, since he is her social superior; in other words, it's very condescending, like she's talking to a little baby. Ah well. Until next time, commentary should be sent to email@example.com, SVP. Thanks!