C&A Productions Presents
A Work of Blatant Self-Insertion
Chapter 1: With You
They stopped when Aaron pointed it out to her, and Ukyou led them over to the sign. It was nondescript, just one of the thousands that appeared haphazardly across the landscape. Aaron was rather annoyed with the lack of proper signs in Japan. It made navigating the land difficult, requiring one to ask directions far more often than he wished. Ukyou was more familiar with the way things worked here, obviously, and thus had been very helpful with that. Still, she wouldn’t have known where to go at all without him. And it wasn’t like she had much choice but to let him tag along.
“Nerima Ward,” she said aloud as she read the sign. It was placed on an otherwise unremarkable street leading through the great metropolis of Tokyo. Though one would have been hard-pressed to guess this was one of the largest cities on earth, from the small houses and simple wall-lined streets through which they passed. Would Ranma really be here?
Aaron was sure that he would be. He also knew exactly where her elusive fiancé would be staying. It would make her search considerably easier. And then she could have her revenge
(Is that what you’re really after?)
Damn it! Ukyou reached up and clenched her head in frustration. She leaned against the sign and took a long, deep breath. There was no getting used to it. Feeling the thoughts bubble up and consume her mind like that. Even though she knew that the thought was alien, the experience of it was so… complete. It reminded her that she had other priorities now. Nonetheless, finding Ranma was important, because it would draw her closer to a solution to both of her problems.
With a sigh she pulled herself to her feet and walked past the sign. It was just as well she got moving, as people had started to give her odd looks. Not surprising. She did strike an odd figure, dressed in a solid black boy’s school uniform covered with a layer of trail dust. The dust could have been avoided by taking a bus; there was ample money. But the time spent walking had allowed her to… adjust to her new circumstances. It also made Aaron a lot less dangerous both to himself and others, since she had been rigorously drilling him in the Art since they had left her hometown. On her back was a huge canvas travel sack, intended for someone at least twice her size. It made her stand out, but it was not obviously out of place. Far stranger was the huge polearm strapped to the back of the sack, which resembled nothing so much as a spatula.
“He’s not there,” Ukyou stated aloud.
They had ditched the travel pack in a rat-hole motel that asked no questions and accepted cash. Ukyou wasn’t really afraid of the types who lingered there. She was more afraid of the communal bathroom, really. She didn’t know why Aaron insisted that they travel in such secrecy, but she supposed he had a right to be paranoid. She really couldn’t blame him, since his concerns were literally infectious. That was also the reason she was standing in a tree in the neighboring yard, using the blooming spring foliage to conceal her location from the family she was watching.
The compound looked almost exactly like Aaron remembered. It was a walled-in home, two stories, attached to a traditional dojo with an idyllic backyard garden complete with koi pond. Still, it was strange seeing it like this for the first time, and he was experiencing some form of strange sensory feedback. Ukyou sighed and rubbed her hand over her eyes as the headache spread. She then forced them open again as she heard the family members beginning to call to each other down below. For a moment she watched as the group gathered itself together for the traditional evening meal. Their position in the tree afforded them an almost unobstructed view straight into the dining area. Aaron took this opportunity to point out the family members. Ukyou didn’t resist his efforts, even if it was unnecessary.
“Akane.” The girl was obviously in her mid-teens, with a long head of black hair. She was wearing a simple blouse-skirt combo and was gesturing extravagantly as she spoke. If Aaron’s memories were to be trusted, something Ukyou had yet to agree with, then that hairstyle placed her either before or very early in the series. That might explain Ranma’s absence. Or it might not.
“Nabiki.” The next girl was dressed in a far less modest fashion. She was slightly taller than Akane, with shorter hair and an expression of calculated indifference.
“Soun.” The only man of the household was sitting with his back to them, so neither could see his face. He was dressed in a plain green gi and his dull black hair was cut severely just below his shoulders.
“Kasumi.” This girl Ukyou couldn’t see entirely. Her position at the head of the table edged her just out of their line of sight. All that Ukyou could see was that she was wearing a dowdy housedress and was serving the rest of the household before digging into her own meal.
“He’s still not here,” Ukyou pointed out again as she drew back her finger. Her hand wrapped carefully about the hilt of the combat spatula that was slung over her shoulder. It was early, Aaron pointed out. Ukyou didn’t know if she trusted this memory of his. It was all a bit too much to take. He couldn’t really have read out a significant portion of her life in a comic book published in another world. It was just insane. Still, enough of what he knew made just enough sense that Ukyou couldn’t dismiss it. Plus she knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that he had never been to this house or this place before. The only place he remembered that family from was the stories he had read and watched on his strange alternate Earth. It sent strange chills through her limbs to think about it. Aaron calmed her down, keeping her from hyperventilating at the idea. He was very good at that; calming her down when her emotions flared.
“We’ll do some investigating,” Aaron pointed out in a whisper. It was still strange to hear him talking like that. It was disturbing. This whole experience was disturbing… no, beyond disturbing.
(Once we have the sword, I’ll be out of your hair… literally.)
Ukyou nodded. Yes. The other reason they were in Nerima. It would give them something else to do before Ranma showed up, at the very least.
Akane glanced back over her shoulder. There he was again. The boy was wearing a school uniform, but she could swear she had never seen him at school. It would have been hard not to recognise him, with that weird weapon strapped to his back. Still, it was the same boy, and now Akane was definitely convinced that he was following her. Akane moved her eyes back in front of her before the boy noticed her noticing him. She felt her temper growing shorter as she thought about him back there, watching her. His gleaming baby-brown eyes sliding lecherously across her body. His effeminately handsome face cracked in two by a perverted leer. Akane was fuming as she felt heat rising in her cheeks at the image of him she conjured up in her mind. If some… BOY thought that he could stalk her and catch her defenceless and alone and molest her away from prying eyes, she would show him a thing or two.
“Excuse me,” she called to Sayuri and Yuka. They stopped in mid-stride upon hearing her, and blinked when they realized that she had stopped a few paces back. “I have to go take care of something,” she practically growled at them as she bowed slightly and turned to walk back the way they had come.
“Uh oh, sounds like Akane spotted that guy again,” Yuka told her friend as Akane stalked away.
“Oh man,” Sayuri sighed to herself. “I hope Akane doesn’t hit him in the face. He has such a cute face…” The rest of her friends’ conversation was lost to Akane as she moved through the crowd towards where she had last spotted the mystery boy. She was feeling good and steamed up now. After her “talk” with the acting principal about how she was “abusing” all the men on campus, Akane had been packing a good old-fashioned beating around all day just waiting for an excuse to let it loose. She had planned on working out her frustrations on some innocent bricks back at the dojo, but this was far better. Not only would giving this guy a few wallops do wonders for her peace of mind, it might also convince him to find somebody else to stalk. Akane didn’t like the feeling of being watched, and was prepared to demonstrate this… at length, if necessary.
She was just quick enough to spot the boy slipping away into an alley. Akane didn’t hesitate as she jogged in pursuit. Still, by the time she caught sight of him the boy was already exiting the other side of the narrow passage. Damn, he moved fast – especially for someone who appeared to be only walking. If he got out of her sight she might lose him in the crowd of students that were rapidly filling up the streets.
“Hey you! Stop!” Akane cried out in her most commanding tone. The boy continued to move, perhaps picking up his pace a little. “Don’t pretend you don’t hear me!” Akane snarled as she picked up her pace to a sprint. The boy jerked his head at this, his long black hair snapping behind him. With obvious reluctance he stopped his forward momentum and turned to face her. His expression was blank, with just a hint of curiosity in his elegantly arched eyebrows. Akane had spent too long living with her sister to be fooled by that expression. “Yes, I’m talking to you!” she growled as she slowed down so she didn’t slam into him. Tempted as she was to hit first and ask questions later, Akane was willing to give this guy the benefit of the doubt. THEN hit him.
“Can I help you?” he asked in an uninflected, high-pitched voice. Akane frowned. This guy looked too old and tall for his voice not to have changed yet, but he still sounded like a ten-year-old.
“Don’t play dumb with me,” Akane poked at his chest – only to stumble slightly as the boy slid back to avoid it so fast she barely saw him move. The boy’s arm was raised protectively over his chest to ward off her touch. Akane blinked at the odd gesture.
“I’m not playing dumb,” the boy said slowly as he lowered his arm.
“Yes, you are!” Akane snapped. The boy was giving her a wary look. Good, she wanted him a bit scared. “You’ve been following me around for almost two weeks now! Don’t play innocent-“
“Oh, that,” the boy cut her off with a sigh. Akane blinked. “So much for my mad wind ninja skillz…” he grinned a bit impishly and ran his hand through his long bangs. “Yes, I was following you, I admit it. But it wasn’t for the reason you probably think it was for.”
“What if I don’t believe you?” Akane stated evenly. The boy’s confession had thrown her off her stride. Akane fully expected to have to beat the truth out of him. But this boy was neither cowering in terror nor slinking away in shame. He was completely ruining her fantasies about this confrontation!
“Then I guess you don’t believe me,” the boy replied with a fluid shrug. The smile had faded from his face.
“Well, I think I know exactly why you’re following me,” Akane snapped. “I think you’re some pervert boy who sees me as some easy target for his disgusting fantasies. Well I’m not about to let you-” The boy began to laugh abruptly, cutting off Akane just as she was reaching her stride. Akane narrowed her eyes and clenched her fists so tight her knuckles turned white. He was MOCKING her?
“You have a healthy ego, I’ll give you that,” the boy commented as he quieted his laughter. “No, I’m not after you for anything like that. In fact, I’m only peripherally interested in you at all.” Akane was about to open her mouth to retort when he stopped her by holding his palm up. “And I see that nothing I say is going to prove that I’m not after that. So I’ll show you. Just not here on the street.”
“What?” Akane stepped back, unsure what the boy meant. He had a mischievous look in his eyes, but his voice was resigned.
“Follow me into the alley a little bit, just far enough to get out of sight of everyone else,” the boy invited as he smoothly slid around her. Akane stared at his back as he moved further into the alley. She could see he had moved his hands up to his chest and was doing something there, but not what. Suddenly doubt and a hint of fear crept into Akane’s consciousness. The boy paused after a dozen space-eating strides and looked over his shoulder at her. His long hair flipped with the gesture to rest over one shoulder. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. If I’m trying to trick you or you don’t believe me for any reason, you can beat me up if you like. I won’t even raise a finger to defend myself.”
Somehow, the suggestion that she might be afraid caused the emotion to evaporate. Akane didn’t really pay attention to the rest of what he said after that. She was too busy grumbling unintelligibly and planning what awful pain she would inflict on this pervert once he failed to convince her of whatever lie he had thought up. Still, Akane followed him into the alley. It was really narrow inside, not even wide enough across for two people to walk abreast. It was also filthy, and the ground was covered with some sort of slime that Akane preferred not to think about. She had gone through the alley so fast the first time she didn’t even notice the smell. The boy resumed his trek inward once he was sure she was following. Soon they were standing less than a meter apart, halfway into the shadowed passage.
“Okay, this is far enough,” the boy said with a nod. He turned to face her. One hand lay askance at his side, but his other hand was holding the high collar of his black school uniform in a tight grip. “I’m usually not such an exhibitionist, but you leave me little choice,” the boy warned her cryptically. With an easy pull he peeled down his shirt and Akane could only stare at what was revealed. At first, her mind didn’t register it right. The tightly wound bandages first made Akane think of some horrible wound, complete with the swelling that was obvious underneath them. Then she realized what she was looking at. The boy had breasts.
Akane snapped her head back as if burned, and her face felt hot enough for that to be true. The boy laughed and pulled up his shirt over his… no, HER breasts again and began to button up. Akane tried to speak, but her mouth refused to cooperate. It simply hung open there and sagged back and forth as she backed up a few steps.
“Satisfied?” the girl said with a grunt. She was just finishing refastening her top and Akane’s face drifted from his hands up to his nearby face. Now that she was looking in the right light, Akane could see that the boy was a bit too effeminate. His eyes and the angle of his nose and the smooth chin… it was a bit too much when taken all together.
Oh yeah, and he had no adam’s apple. There was that too.
“My name is Ukyou Kuonji,” the girl said with a short bow. “Sorry for the misunderstanding.”
“Akane Tendo,” Akane bowed back, dipping only slightly deeper. “It was my fault. I leapt to conclusions…” she trailed off lamely, not really sure how to address the person standing before her. Thankfully the girl seemed to be taking it in good humour. She waved off Akane’s attempt at an apology and started to walk out of the alley, mentioning that the place stank a bit too much for the conversation to continue there. Akane had to agree with that and followed along willingly enough.
“It was my fault,” Ukyou pointed out as they walked. “I was the one tailing you. Though it wasn’t just you. I’ve actually been spying on your whole family for the last few weeks. I honestly didn’t think anyone had spotted me.”
“Well, you’re wrong,” Akane replied with a frown. “I think Nabiki spotted you first, but you’re being talked about all around the school.” Akane paused at this point to growl. “Like I don’t have enough rumors floating around about me, thanks to you everyone is talking about my ‘mystery stalker’ and how ‘romantic’ it is that you don’t attack me every day like all the other guys.”
“Oh man,” Ukyou muttered to herself and put her face in her hands. “I really suck at this stealth stuff.”
Akane chuckled at her obvious disappointment. But that brought the reason for it floating back to the front of her mind and the laugh died off suddenly. Ukyou looked over at her and Akane cleared her throat. “Speaking of that, why were you following me?”
“I’m looking for someone, and I have reason to believe you – or more accurately your family – knows him.” Ukyou’s voice was even and soft. But there was a underlying hint of some deeper emotion. Akane couldn’t place it, but from the way the other girl’s hands twitched Akane suspected this was something very personal to her. “I didn’t announce myself because I know how sneaky they are. That bastard Genma would flee like a rat if he found out I was looking for him.” Akane frowned as Ukyou spoke. She was already straining her brain to identify the name Genma, but she could not recall having ever heard it before in her life. “The person I’m looking for is named Genma Saotome, and his son… Ranma,” Ukyou added after a moment’s deep thought. Her voice hitched at the second name. Akane found herself intensely curious about what this girl-in-disguise was after these two for. Especially if they were somehow connected to her family.
“I’ve never heard of them,” Akane murmured softly. Ukyou looked back at her with an unreadable expression. Then she strode forward slightly and turned her attention back to the crowds.
“No, I think you would have led me to them by now if you knew them,” Ukyou said. “But I have a feeling that if you aren’t going to contact them, they’ll be contacting you. I have reason to believe your father owes Genma something. And Genma is sure to remember a debt like that… at least when he’s not the one owing.”
“What kind of debt?”
Ukyou took a good long time answering this question. Her body was slouched slightly and she was staring off into space. Akane almost stepped past her before she realized that the other girl had stopped.
“I have suspicions, but nothing I can prove,” Ukyou said slowly. She looked at Akane with a blank, almost dead expression. “I think it has something to do with what they did to… me.”
“Did to you…?”
“Nevermind,” Ukyou laughed suddenly and waved her hand as if to dispel some stale air. “It doesn’t matter. When I catch up with them, I’ll be able to set that all right.” Ukyou paused again and looked off into the distance. “But I’ve wasted enough of your day already. I promise to stay out of your hair.” Ukyou began to walk away at an angle, her strides once more beginning to consume space with abandon.
“No, wait!” Akane called out. She was holding her hand towards the retreating back of this strange girl and didn’t know why. Maybe it was because there seemed something… sad about her. She seemed to be so alone. And Akane was beginning to understand what it was like to be alone. She had never exactly been popular. But now… now she was receiving all the wrong attention. And as a result, the only people in school that ever talked to her were Yuka and Sayuri. And Akane had known them since the three were toddlers. Ukyou had been so… so at ease with her. It was like being treated like a human being again.
The girl in question had paused and was looking back over her shoulder. Akane could see how she, and everyone else, had mistaken her for a boy. Her face was cute, but not pretty enough to give her away, and all her other signs of femininity were well-concealed. Her posture, her gestures and her very expression were so masculine it was hard to picture her as anything else. The girl must have had a great deal of experience with her deception.
“Indeed?” Ukyou asked, startling Akane out of her reverie.
“Uh… you don’t have to go,” Akane began lamely. Ukyou didn’t move, but continued to stare at her with a strange, dispassionate intensity. “What I mean is… you don’t know anybody around here, do you?”
“You could say that…” Ukyou said slowly. She cocked her head to the side and spun to face Akane. She crossed her legs at the ankle as she stood there. Her arms rose up and laced together over her concealed breasts.
“Well, we might have gotten off in the wrong foot but… do you… want to be friends?”
“Okay…” Ukyou said slowly and then laughed. “As long as you don’t get mad at me for being better than you at martial arts.”
“What!?” Akane snapped. She stepped forward and clenched her extended hand into a fist. “Are you saying you’re better than me at fighting?” Ukyou shrugged and chuckled again. “I think that’s a challenge!”
“Who, me?” Ukyou stepped back and waved her hands in front of her to ward Akane off. “No, it was just an in-joke! Really!”
“Oh no, you’re not getting away with it that easy! Let’s go… right here, right now!”
Akane wasn’t about to listen. Grinning like a loon, she charged at the other girl. She still needed to work out her frustration, after all. And it wasn’t like she was going to hurt Ukyou. Before Akane could close half the distance, Ukyou was moving. Her hand reached up and clasped the shaft of her ridiculously huge spatula. With an elegant motion she jerked it free of the harness on her back and brought it around before her. Akane felt her first blow glance off the metal of the weapon and grunted to conceal the pain she felt. She was already moving into her next blow, but Ukyou skipped back, sliding away from the shorter girl with deceptive ease. Akane had committed herself to the strike, and was already moving to recover when Ukyou countered. Akane could only blink as she felt the ground disappear from under her feet. She was already smashing her back into the sidewalk before she even felt the sharp pain in her ankles.
Akane was just re-catching her breath when she felt something cool placed against her neck. Her eyes drifted up the shaft of the giant spatula; Ukyou was holding the wide edge of her bizarre weapon at her throat. And from the feel of it, she kept the edge of that weapon very sharp. “So, do you yield?” Ukyou asked softly. She had a strange expression on her face. It wasn’t mocking, or enthused, like all the other fighters she had ever seen win a fight. It was confused, as if Ukyou was genuinely surprised at how well she had done. Akane internally debated how to feel about that and decided she might as well feel good. So she allowed herself to smile and nod, at least as much as the blade at her neck would let her. It wasn’t like it really mattered if she lost to Ukyou, anyway. Ukyou was a girl. No matter what she looked like.
Ukyou reslung her spatula with a single motion. Still wearing her confused frown, she offered her hand to Akane and yanked the smaller girl to her feet easily. Akane laughed a bit as she bounced to her feet. “I yield all right,” Akane snickered into her hand. “But I want a rematch. And next time leave your toy at home.”
“Okay,” Ukyou smiled behind her own hand. “You have a deal.”
Aaron directed them into the hotel room and hung the battle spatula, harness and all, on a hook usually reserved for hats and coats. His mind was awhirl. Well, even more than usual. Today had certainly not gone the way he had planned. It was certainly inevitable that his presence here would cause changes in the timeline,
(Like ruining my life.)
but he wasn’t expecting to cause such a change so soon. Still, as changes went, it was rather minor. Ukyou and Akane had been friends in the manga as well… eventually. Besides ,this gave him a line right into the Tendo dojo, which meant less time spent staking out the place waiting for Ranma to show up so Ukyou could have her
whatever she finally decided to do about her feelings about Ranma.
He sat down on the relatively clean – compared to the rest of the building – bed and started to undress. Ukyou was too busy thinking about what to do with Akane to help him with that, so he moved gingerly but with an annoying familiarity. He sighed in relief as he unwrapped the bindings on Ukyou’s chest and lay back to let the tensions of the day flow out of them. Aaron had tried pointing out that Ukyou’s ruse was no longer necessary, and to a large extent Ukyou agreed with him. Still, habits were hard to break, and Ukyou herself didn’t really know how to dress and act like a girl, after spending so long repressing and avoiding her feminine side. Not that Aaron was complaining. It meant he was less likely to have to deal with
(What, you afraid of a few skirts, mister sexless wonder?)
Aaron groaned and let Ukyou lead them to the bathroom, where she began to clean herself. He tried not to think about what she was doing, but it was rather hard considering his circumstances. He didn’t like these feelings she was filling his mind with. Ukyou couldn’t help it, and was trying to deny the feeling existed herself. But if there was one thing Aaron was good at, it was pointing out when people were just deceiving themselves. Ukyou didn’t want to face up to how she really felt about Ranma, but Aaron was having none of that. He may not like how her childhood crush turned teenage lust made him feel, but he couldn’t deny it was there.
And now they were friends with Akane. Aaron admitted that the girl was pleasant enough to be around. She had a boisterous energy that was tempered by her wary shyness. The odd combination made Akane both enthusiastic and sarcastic, which was a mix Aaron had never experienced before. He had spent the whole afternoon subtly picking Akane’s brain, trying to peel away her personality and see into the girl within. It was a fascinating intellectual exercise. Made even more so by the fact that he already knew
(Or think you know)
so much about her.
Not that Ukyou really approved of such activity. She was just glad to have someone to talk to that wasn’t Tsubasa or some macho jerk that she had to impress with her strength and speed before they took her seriously. She could see why Akane and That-Other-Ukyou (TM, All Rights Reserved) had eventually become friendly rivals over Ranma’s affections. Of course, Ukyou didn’t plan on becoming Akane’s rival for the boy in this world. But still… the more she thought about him, the less and less angry she was with him. He had been six. He couldn’t be held responsible for abandoning her.
Genma, they both agreed, was going to be smashed into an unrecognizable lump. Ukyou planned on testing out exactly how much of Ranma’s famous recovery speed he had inherited from his father. And given their performance against Akane, she guessed that would be no problem at all. Aaron was still confused about that. He had never believed Ukyou was that good. Better than Akane, yes. But that much better? It should have been some sort of a challenge. Unless… he sighed as Ukyou started up the shower for them. There were too many variables. Had Akane not been going all out? Was he comparing Ranma to Ukyou, but only after Ranma had already mastered the Kachuu Tenshin Amaguriken? For the life of him he couldn’t remember any time Akane and Ukyou had fought directly in the manga. Not that there was any indication this was the manga. Well, except for the hair. He fingered a strand of Ukyou’s hair and examined its severe black color. The anime had made this hair brown. But still, Ukyou was right. There was no reason to assume everything here was based on the manga he had known. There was no reason to dismiss that knowledge either. Besides, he knew the anime and most other fan-created continuities just as well.
Ukyou finished her shower quickly, and stepped out to towel off. The very fact this run-down dive had a functioning – and private – shower was the only reason Ukyou still allowed them to stay here. It wasn’t like Ukyou couldn’t afford to set them up somewhere more classy. She had inherited quite a lot of money from her father’s life insurance. Combined with the cash she had squirreled away over the years working odd jobs in restaurants, it was more than enough to afford the space for her own restaurant in the super-expensive real estate of Tokyo. But the privacy of this place suited her for the moment, and Aaron had no opinion one way or another. He only recommended she not put down too many roots before she knew exactly what she was going to do about Ranma Saotome. Maybe if she fucked him that would get him out of her head.
Well, he just hoped that they got their hands on that sword before she did. It was hard enough taking a shower like this. He wasn’t really sure if he could survive that.
Very few people understood Tatewaki Kunou. It was a condition he did little to rectify. In fact, sometimes he was so magnificent that he had trouble understanding himself. How could any lesser person thus measure up to his standards in this regard?
Kunou strode boldly through the halls of his domain, allowing his people to part before him. He listened with contentment to their inane banter as he crossed the schoolyard. He didn’t pay attention to the actual words. It was obvious that they were discussing him. Listening to their mutters of awe and reverence would doubtless only tempt him to think better of himself than he really was.
He was almost to the entrance when he spotted his goal lingering near the corner of the school. Adjusting his path, he proceeded to her without delay. Given a choice, Kunou would have as little to do with Nabiki Tendo as was humanly possible. However, as with so many unpleasant things in life, he had found it was his duty to deal with her. Few others could bring her to heel about her petty blackmail and extortion schemes around the campus. And was it not the duty of the daimyo to look out for the well-being of his fiefdom?
“You sent me this?” Kunou deftly retrieved a folded paper note from the pockets of his hakama-style pants. Nabiki looked up at him from under her bangs. As always, she had that annoyingly superior smirk on her face. Kunou despised that smirk, and despised even more the woman it came attached to. As an excuse to take his eyes from her, he unfolded the note that he had meticulously stored and began to read it aloud. “Kunou-chan,” he began, and almost immediately regretted it. Why she chose to refer to him with such a childish, diminutive title eluded him. Didn’t she know it annoyed him?
“I have some important information for you. Please bring me five thousand yen when you come to school tomorrow,” he continued. He then folded the note again and safely stowed it away. “Well, I am here and I have brought your money. So tell me what is so urgent, Nabiki Tendo?”
“So forward?” Nabiki said coyly. “Maybe I want you to say ‘please’ first?”
“Don’t toy with my time,” Kunou responded.
“I think I might increase my price because of that comment,” Nabiki pointed out in a level tone. Kunou did not groan. People of his standing simply did not do so. Thus it must have been someone nearby who made the noise. “Oh, you’re so cute when you’re annoyed, Kunou-chan!” Nabiki said brightly. Kunou did growl, however. “Okay, I have information about Akane’s secret mystery admirer. I thought you might be interested.”
Kunou perked up. He was, by definition, above the mindless gossip and rumor-mongering of his fellow students. Yet even he had seen the mysterious stranger who had started showing up shortly after his open challenge to Akane Tendo. Kunou knew the boy had been observing his Akane from a distance, but the situation bothered Kunou not a bit. What was the point of wooing such a prize if others did not also desire it? Besides, the boy had never had the courage to openly challenge Kunou’s destined paramour. Such weak-willed fools as those who could not fight to gain the attention of the young woman were typically beneath Kunou’s notice.
“You thought wrong, Nabiki Tendo.” Kunou allowed his smirk to show in his voice. Watching Nabiki’s face fall briefly was worth the annoyance of having been brought here to her in the first place. “What do I care of some miscreant who stands in the shadows cast by your sister’s shining star?” Shining star? He would have to remember to write that one down. Maybe if he altered it slightly, it would serve as a suitable nom de guerre.
“Ah, so you haven’t heard the latest news then,” Nabiki spoke with feigned innocence, thus stopping Kunou in his tracks before he could turn away.
“Very well, woman,” Kunou frowned and retrieved a wad of bills from his pocket. “I expect this news to be worth the expense.” From the venom he laced his voice with, he doubted Nabiki missed the double-entendre.
Nabiki held out one hand until he handed over the cash. She didn’t bother to count it. Instead she opened her school pack and retrieved a number of glossy photos. The exchange was over quickly.
Kunou fanned the photos with easy familiarity. Then he found himself staring hard at them. The pictures contained one of his favorite subjects, but not in a manner that Kunou enjoyed seeing. She was on the ground, while a boy loomed over her with his bizarre giant spatula held against her throat in one picture. In the next, the two were sitting in an ice cream parlour, both with huge smiles on their faces. In the next the two were walking down the street and chatting back and forth. In the next Akane was handing the boy a small note. And that was all. Creases began to appear in the photos, making it seem like the two were moving closer and closer together.
“Who is he?”
“Well I don’t know exactly…”
“I want a name and location, Nabiki Tendo,” Kunou informed her softly. “Money is no object. I must find this boy.”
“You just said the magic words, Kunou-chan!” Nabiki called and Kunou grunted. He heard her walking away, but didn’t look up to see her leave. Kunou was too busy burning the face of his enemy into his mind. Obviously the fiend had ambushed her like an assassin from the shadows, and was now having his way with her. A man like that, who had no honour…
It was the duty of the daimyo to protect his property.
Akane spotted Ukyou standing just outside the school grounds. The girl was actually leaning against the outer wall of the school. Once again Akane was struck by how male she looked with her dour frown and slumped posture. Her hands were idly sliding back and forth on the handle of her huge spatula, spinning the ring at the end in the dirt and creating a low whirring sound from the blade atop it. She was staring off into space, obviously not noticing or not caring that she was the centre of attention for all the students exiting the school.
“Ukyou, you came!” Akane called out brightly. Ukyou snatched her weapon with one hand, instantly stopping its motion and jerked her head to look in Akane’s direction. Suddenly Ukyou was smiling, and her entire face seemed to change. Her eyes, usually veiled and mysterious, now sparkled with unconcealed mirth. Animation and vitality seemed to flow into her expression and in fact her entire body. She waved eagerly to Akane and then gestured her forward. Akane heard several of the nearby girls make swooning noises and cries of delight. She hid a derisive smile behind her hand and walked easily towards her new friend.
“You thought I was lying?” Ukyou asked in her usual direct manner once Akane was a bit closer. Akane stared at her earnest face for a few seconds before she decided Ukyou was just toying with her.
“I just thought…” Akane trailed off and shrugged. “I thought you might have something else to do.”
“Indeed?” Ukyou spun her spatula around her hand and returned it to the harness on her back. Akane supressed a shot of jealousy at the ease with which she handled her weapon. “I don’t have much else to do except wait around for Ranma to show up. Frankly, I’d prefer to spend that time hanging with you than sitting in my apartment brooding.”
Akane blinked, embarrassment threatening to emerge visibly on her face.
“That’s great,” she grinned and nodded. “Don’t you go to school? You can’t be much older than me, and with your uniform, I just assumed you did.”
“Oh,” Ukyou murmured as she cocked her head to the side and took a few moments before answering. “I dropped out of my old high school before coming here. I just don’t feel the need to go to school at the moment, I guess.”
Both girls turned to see Akane’s childhood friends dashing up to the pair. Both girls were looking at Ukyou while trying not to appear as if they were doing so. They waved slightly as she met their gaze, and Akane beckoned them over.
“Akane, so this is your mystery stalker?” Yuka asked brightly. Sayuri elbowed her in the ribs at her tactlessness. For her part, Yuka responded with a glare. Akane giggled.
“Oh man,” Ukyou grumbled and put her face in her hands. “Apparently next time around I should practice my ‘not getting noticed’ skills.” This caused all three childhood friends to burst out laughing. “My name is Ukyou Kuonji.” Ukyou introduced herself with a bow to the two girls, which they returned. “Rumors of me being a sex maniac are greatly exaggerated.”
The two girls chuckled amiably at Ukyou’s remark. Then Sayuri piped up.
“I would have thought Akane would’ve flattened you when she caught up with you yesterday.”
“Well there was no need to,” Akane responded cheerfully. “It turns out that Ukyou is actually-“
“A friend of the family!” Ukyou burst in quickly, cutting Akane off. Akane glanced at her and caught Ukyou’s eyes. The girl in disguise almost imperceptibly shook her head back and forth. Akane supposed the girl had a good reason for continuing to maintain her deception, so it wasn’t her place to reveal it if Ukyou didn’t want to do so.
“That’s right,” Akane said slowly. “She has… business with my family.”
“Well, not exactly,” Ukyou amended. “I have business with someone who has business with her family.”
Yuka and Sayuri were looking back and forth between the two of them. Yuka only smirked and nodded, while Sayuri fingered her chin and mumbled, “Riiight…”
Akane broke the awkward silence and properly introduced her only other friends to Ukyou. Each of them took their opportunity to bow in turn, and soon enough all four of them were chatting easily. Ukyou seemed to be only half-paying attention to the conversation, however. Her eyes had taken on their usual concealed cast and she seemed to keep casting glances back at Akane’s school. Akane briefly wondered what her new friend could find so interesting about the school. It was just like thousands of others found throughout Japan. And she was pretty sure that this ‘Ranma’ jerk, whoever he was, didn’t go there.
“You there, step away from Akane Tendo!”
Akane groaned. This was just what she needed to ruin her day. Strangely enough, Ukyou had a smile on her face. It wasn’t a pleasant smile. It was a dangerous, almost feral smile. “I was wondering when he’d show up,” Ukyou murmured, almost too low for Akane to hear.
“Do you not know who you are dealing with?” Kunou shouted as Akane turned to watch him with a frown on her face. The upperclassman was standing only a few meters away, garbed up for battle in his traditional samurai costume. He stood almost a head taller than any nearby student, not that many of them were standing near him. His wooden bokken was out and levelled threateningly in the direction of Akane’s group. From the look ofn his face, he was not pleased to see Ukyou. “Very well, I shall introduce myself. I am-“
“Tatewaki Kunou, age seventeen,” Ukyou grunted as she slid around Akane to face the taller fighter. Her hand reached behind her back to clench tightly around the ring on the end of her spatula. Her other hand disappeared into one of her pants pockets. “I’m not impressed.”
“Obviously not,” Kunou practically spat. “Honourless cur, one who would ambush Akane Tendo on the street and then seek to take advantage of her delicate nature would not be impressed by my righteous demeanour and elegant tongue. I fear only my strong blade could garner my due respect from you.”
“Honourless!” Ukyou snapped and her knuckles whitened around her weapon’s grip. “I should-” Then Ukyou took a deep breath and closed her eyes. When she opened them again her face was set and calm, her eyes cool and unwavering. “For your information, Akane attacked me and I defeated her in open combat.”
“Believe what you want.”
Akane moaned as the exchange took place. In the wake of Ukyou’s declaration, everyone in the immediate area had gone silent. Well, everyone except-
“Is that true, Akane?” Yuka gasped and clapped her hands together. Sayuri was nodding along with her, obviously also eager to hear the latest gossip. Akane allowed her eyes to drift over everyone else nearby, most of which were listening in. A few shameless individuals were even taking notes. Her gaze finally settled on Ukyou, who nodded slightly when she noticed the shorter girl’s attention.
“Ukyou’s version is true,” Akane forced herself to admit. She took great pride in her skill as a martial artist, and Ukyou had totally floored her. Still, it didn’t sting as bad as Akane thought it would to admit it. Thankfully it wasn’t one of the pervert BOYS that had been able to do that.
“I refuse to believe it!” Kunou shouted.
“Whatever,” Ukyou commented with a shrug. “That isn’t my problem.”
“Ah, but it is your problem,” Kunou informed Ukyou as he shifted his stance slightly. “Are you not aware of the special circumstances that dear Akane has agreed to regarding her social activities?”
“Agreed to!?” Akane shouted and stepped forward. That pompous ass! If declaring something to the entire school during the first public essay contest without even consulting her was his idea of agreeing… Akane found her way blocked by Ukyou’s extended arm.
“Let me handle this, Akane.” Ukyou turned and smiled at her. “I think I can take him. But you might want to step back, I have a feeling he has a few tricks up his sleeves that might surprise you.” Akane found herself at a loss for words, so she nodded mutely and stepped back. Yuka and Sayuri sighed expansively before Akane waved her fist at them threateningly and shooed them away from the confrontation.
“Only one who beats Akane in fair and open challenge can date her,” Kunou informed Ukyou with a smile as he tossed his head. “An agreement that is enforced by me, the greatest rising legend in the high school kendo world. I will give you one chance to back away from me and leave this place, never to soil Akane’s presence with yours again, and perhaps I won’t thrash you for your impertinence.”
“I’d rather skip the battle of wits with an unarmed opponent and get straight to me kicking your ass,” Ukyou drawled. There was a loud woosh of displaced air as Ukyou slipped into a combat stance with her spatula held in front of her. Everyone in the crowd gasped and backed off. Akane found herself standing on the edge of the circle the students had created, flanked by her friends.
“Fine then, we shall join in battle!” Kunou roared as he shifted slightly, before launching himself forward. The air cracked. Wood collided with metal in a resounding clang. Akane gasped. Kunou’s swing had been almost too fast for her to follow. So had Ukyou’s defence. Now Kunou found himself growling through gritted teeth as he held his sword against the shaft of Ukyou’s upraised weapon. Akane could see the strain in his face as he attempted to power through his opponent’s guard, but Ukyou was holding her ground with little difficulty.
With another cry, Kunou pulled back his blade and brought it down again, and again, and again. Each time Ukyou deftly deflected the strike with her weapon’s shaft. Still, she was driven backward a step with each blow. Kunou began to grin as he realized he was stronger than his opponent. Soon Ukyou found herself pushed to the edge of the wall surrounding the schoolyard.
“You’re better than I thought you would be,” Ukyou pointed out in a hollow voice. Kunou laughed and struck downward again, but this time Ukyou did not meet his attack. The wall parted in the wake of Kunou’s sword. Concrete and dust erupted from the wall in all directions. The student body shouted and scrambled back as small stones pelted down among them. Akane frowned and dusted a few fragments from the collar of her dress, but didn’t move. Her eyes were scanning for Ukyou among the debris.
It was Kunou who spotted her first. Without halting the momentum of his swing, he dragged his bokken through the ground, ripping a new trench in his haste, and brought it up behind him to halt the path of Ukyou’s swing. Once again metal and wood met noisily. Kunou found himself in the unenviable position of having to hold his sword behind his back while Ukyou was using both hands to press her spatula against it. Grunting, Kunou allowed himself to be pushed forward, and he stumbled through the shattered rubble of the wall. Ukyou smirked before leaping, her simple leg pump propelling her over the two-meter-tall wall without difficulty. At that point Akane lost sight of both of them.
Muttering a mild profanity, Akane ran around the remaining section of wall to catch sight of the battle again. A few dozen of her bravest classmates followed her. She heard the battle before she could see it again. A second later she caught sight of Kunou snarling and slashing madly at Ukyou. His bokken snapped and thrust through the air, seemingly in multiple places at once. But everywhere it went, so did Ukyou’s battle spatula. Akane couldn’t even see the impacts from her parries, only hear the staccato clangs. She could see Ukyou’s face through the swirling mass of brown and grey streaks, and the girl was smiling.
“Hey Kunou, we’ve got our audience back!” Ukyou shouted aloud.
“Hold your tongue, lest I remove it!”
“That’s no fun,” Ukyou commented happily. “I have to do something to keep myself entertained. Your patterns are too predictable.”
“You mock me!” Kunou roared and stepped back. His blade was extended far over his head for a moment and then with a roar he brought it down at Ukyou, his entire body bending with the force of his blow. Ukyou wasn’t there to receive it, sliding easily out of the way of the strike. Dust leapt up from the pavement as Kunou’s sword bit into it deeply. Akane snapped her head to the side as a loud crack filled the air. She watched in mute awe as a large tree – over five meters from Kunou and almost a half-meter thick – split in two and began to topple to both sides.
“He did that… with just the air pressure!” she gasped aloud. Ukyou wasn’t kidding. There was a lot of tricks Kunou was capable of. Did he really hold back that much in her daily battles with him?
Kunou was straightening himself up and scanning for Ukyou. His breathing had grown labored and sweat trickled down into his eyes. Ukyou was standing nearby, leaning casually on the haft of her spatula.
“Okay, I think I’ve made my point,” Ukyou drawled in her kansai dialect. She stood up and swung the spatula in her grip until the wide blade was pointed at Kunou. He frowned and pivoted so he could point his own blade straight at her heart.
“Yes, you certainly are a worthy opponent,” Kunou admitted. “But no one can defeat the sword of Tatewaki Kunou.”
“You’re the one who likes quoting people, right?” Ukyou shifted her grip on her blade slightly. “Well here’s one by Musashi, ‘The sword is the queen of the battlefield…” And then she was moving. Kunou tried to engage her before she got too close, but Ukyou deflected the sword. Transferring the momentum of her block easily, Ukyou spun her weapon behind her back and rammed the ringed end into Kunou’s face. As Kunou swayed to the side from the impact, Ukyou continued past him and spun her spatula again. As it swung back, it caught Kunou’s gut and folded him over like a rag doll. Ukyou dug in her heels just past him and with a negligent tug pulled Kunou staggering forward. As he gasped to recover his breath, Ukyou continued without pause. Pulling with both arms she smashed the flat of her spatula into the back of his knees. Kunou found himself going vertical, his body shifting up until it seemed to float parallel to the ground. Ukyou swung her spatula up in his wake. Her body pirouetted elegantly on one foot, her long hair flowing back behind her in a graceful arc. Then her spatula came down on Kunou’s chest. The taller boy found himself pancaked into the pavement so hard that a spider-web of cracks radiated outward from him. All of this happened in less than three seconds. “…but the staff is king’,” Ukyou finished and straightened up while she ran her fingers through her bangs.
Ukyou nudged Kunou’s body with her foot a few times to make sure he was unconscious, and then re-slung her spatula in its harness. She pivoted away from him and strode toward Akane. She didn’t bother looking to either side as she approached the crowd of dead silent students. Once she was within easy reach of Akane, she allowed herself to smile down at the other girl. “Well, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system… is there somewhere you wanted to go? Or did you just want to hang around school all day?”
“Okay, I think this is far enough.”
Akane looked over at Ukyou as the girl ran her hand through her bangs and stopped in place. It was quiet on the street they had stopped in. Nobody was around. That wasn’t surprising, considering this was one of the less populous parts of town. Ukyou stepped over to a wall, leaned against it… and immediately slumped to her knees and began to take deep breaths.
“Oh man, that really hurts once the adrenaline wears off,” Ukyou groused as she began to rub her arms up and down along her sleeves.
“You’re hurt?” Akane asked in surprise.
“Well, not really,” Ukyou grumbled. “But that guy was throwing around strikes strong enough to shatter concrete from several meters away and I was just standing there absorbing it like an idiot.”
Akane chuckled. Somehow it made her feel better that Ukyou had come out of her dramatic battle with a few aches and pains. For a while there, while they walked and Ukyou just gazed off into space with her enigmatic blank-eyed stare, Akane had felt slightly intimidated by this superhuman fighting machine she had befriended.
“Laugh it up, Tendo.” Ukyou waggled her finger at Akane reproachfully. “I only put on that little show for your benefit.”
“What? My benefit?”
“Indeed,” Ukyou sighed as she slid to her feet again. “If we play this right, you won’t have to worry about those hordes of assholes attacking you anymore.”
“What are you talking about? I can handle myself…” Akane said a bit defensively, crossing her arms under her chest.
“That’s not what I’m saying, Akane.” Ukyou waved her arms vigorously. “I wouldn’t think of fighting your battles for you. Kunou was going to attack me anyway. But the fact that I beat him so soundly can work to your advantage.” Ukyou paused here and began to fiddle idly with the haft of her spatula. “I don’t think you’ll ever get Kunou to leave you alone, he strikes me as the obsessive type. But the others? Most of them are just being intimidated by Kunou. If they think they’ll have to face ME, after the unholy can of whupass I just opened up on the strongest fighter in school without breaking a sweat, they’ll probably back off.”
“Wait a minute.” Akane shook her head and looked askance at Ukyou. “Why would any of them back off… oh.” Akane blinked, and then blushed fiercely. “But they’d have to think that you were my…”
“Boyfriend?” Ukyou laughed. “Don’t sweat it Akane, I won’t ask you to go steady if you don’t want me to.” Akane found herself backing away from the other girl slightly. Was it possible that Ukyou… swung that way? “Geez, you’ve gone white as a sheet. I’m just teasing you a little bit. You have to relax, girl.” Akane laughed, but it sounded a little forced to her ears. Mainly because it was a little forced. “Akane, you don’t have to go along with this if you don’t want to.” Ukyou shrugged. “The way I see it, those guys with their barbaric contest have probably spoiled you on the entire other half of the genepool for a good long time. And I’m fine with that. But I have a… unique insight into the male mind and don’t want you to just keep getting antagonized with them perpetually until you lose all hope with them.” Ukyou tilted her head back and stared up at the clouds. “This will get most of them off your back, and give you a chance to start looking at things with a chance to catch your breath. You’re not being pushed into any relationships… as long as you keep this fiction about us up, you’ll be effectively off limits to all but the most insane guys. Eventually…” she shrugged again, “…eventually you might find some guy you like, decide to take a chance with him. In this case, you’ll do it under your terms. It’s not like you’ll have to worry about me getting jealous or anything.”
“Ukyou… I don’t know what to think…”
“Well, don’t get all mushy on me,” Ukyou laughed. “I have an ulterior motive, you know.” Akane blinked, not sure how to respond. “Think about it, if all the girls think I’m ‘with’ you, then it will really cut down on the number of stray love letters and chocolates I’m going to get.”
Akane frowned at that. Then she found her frown cracking. Then she found her throat convulsing. Finally she could hold it in no longer and burst out laughing.
“Hey! I know how much this hot pretty boy look turns the girl’s knees to mush!” Ukyou said with a comically miffed expression on her face.
“And you accuse me of having an ego!” Akane guffawed while pointing at Ukyou. The other girl was obviously doing little better at holding back her own laughter. Every now and then a snicker would escape from between her lips. Akane had to clutch her stomach, it was beginning to hurt. Apparently that was the last straw for Ukyou, as she too broke out in rolling laughter. Akane patted Ukyou on the shoulder and nodded between guffaws to show she approved of the idea. If it didn’t work, there was little really it would change about Akane’s life. And if it did, then all the better. She really couldn’t see a downside.
“I’m home!” Akane called out as she entered the house.
“Welcome back!” Kasumi called out from the kitchen in her usual cheerful manner. “How was school?”
“Yeah, sis,” Nabiki deadpanned from the living room. “Why don’t you tell us all about it?”
Akane glared at her sister as she walked into the home. Trust Nabiki to ruin a perfectly good mood. Her older sister was lounging on the floor, wearing a pair of embarrassingly high cut off jeans and a tight maroon T-shirt. She was idly flipping through one of her manga, but her attention was focused entirely on her little sister. Akane stuck her tongue out at her. Nabiki blinked.
“I had a wonderful day at school,” Akane retorted in her most snobbish tone of voice. Nabiki had recovered by this point and rolled her eyes in an exaggerated manner. “You’re just jealous because I got a boyfriend before you did!”
“Akane has a boyfriend?” her father spoke up from behind her. Akane froze solid. Nabiki just smirked and stuck the tip of her tongue out at Akane. Great. She had just walked into that one.
“Did I hear correctly?” Daddy asked in a reasonable enough tone of voice. Akane turned to face the music. She knew her father was not the most… emotionally dependable adult in the world. She remembered clearly the time Nabiki had brought one of her dates back to the house. The poor boy had been chased off with bows and arrows for ‘being too forward’ with her. And all he’d done was place his arm around Nabiki’s shoulder.
“Well, it’s not exactly like that, Daddy,” Akane began uneasily. Her mind flashed back to a conversation a few days ago. Specifically, Ukyou asking her not to reveal her secret to her family, or ask about the Saotomes. Apparently that bastard Genma was able to sense an ambush a mile away, and she didn’t want him or Ranma catching a whiff of her presence until she was ready to pay them back for what they had done to her. Akane reminded herself to get the mysterious girl to actually spill the truth about that soon. Every time she asked, Ukyou politely and efficiently sidestepped the question.
“Oh… what is it like, exactly?” he replied in an innocent tone. Akane sighed. She couldn’t risk revealing their scheme to get the boys at school to leave her alone. Knowing Nabiki, the information would be spread across the whole school before noon tomorrow and the whole thing would have been a waste of time.
“Well, he is a boyfriend, I guess you could say…” Akane could see Daddy’s eye twitching. “But NOTHING has happened! We just started dating yesterday! I swear!”
“I see…” Daddy murmured evenly. His eye was still twitching.
“This is great news!” Kasumi called out brightly as she entered the living room. She was absently cleaning her hands on her apron, and Akane could smell the aroma of baking bread following in her wake. Ohh, that reminded Akane. She would have to treat her new friend to some cookies or something… “I was beginning to wonder if you would ever have a boyfriend, Akane!”
Akane’s eye twitched, almost mirroring her father’s expression. “You don’t have to say it quite like that…”
“Oh Kasumi!” Daddy finally broke down in tears and clutched his eldest daughter in a bearhug. “My little girl is growing up!”
“There… there…” Kasumi muttered in an unsure manner,
“But… but what about…” Daddy’s eyes shot open and he pulled back to clutch his eldest by the shoulders. “Kasumi! You don’t have a boyfriend, do you!? Please, tell me you don’t!”
“Of course not, Father,” Kasumi laughed prettily. Kasumi did everything prettily, Akane noted to herself grumpily. Her mind drifted to Doctor Tofu and his bizarre fascination with her sister…
“And you, Nabiki, you aren’t dating anyone, are you?” Daddy pounced on the middle sister with an almost frantic energy. Nabiki stared at him in obvious bewilderment.
“No, I prefer to leave my options open when it comes to that sort of thing,” Nabiki pointed out as she pried her father’s hands off her shoulders.
Daddy collapsed to his knees in relief. “Then the agreement is still safe,” he sighed aloud.
“What agreement?” Akane asked into the descending calm.
“Uh…” Daddy broke out into a sweat as he stared at all three of his daughters. “Why… it’s nothing! Nothing you have to worry about!”
Akane frowned at her father suspiciously. Nabiki just gave Akane a flippant shrug and went back to her manga. Kasumi remained cheerfully oblivious and informed everyone that dinner was almost ready.
Ukyou ran her fingers along the spine of the books. Some of the titles she recognized, others she did not. Not that she had ever been a big fan of the medium before, but Aaron certainly liked manga well enough. Thanks to him, she now knew far more about the various titles. She had even decided that a few of them were rather interesting, from what Aaron could remember about reading them.
Thus, she was growing rather annoyed at her inability to locate a few of her favourite series. Aaron tried to point out that this world might not be the same as his own. He was aware of the selection of manga from over a decade in the “future” and wasn’t even sure when a lot of titles had been first published. Still, she wasn’t about to complain about his foresight in that regard. A quick scan of the history books had revealed that the two worlds had almost exact parallels when it came to things like politics, business, sports and a host of other areas. Ukyou certainly wouldn’t be lacking in financial resources, after the savvy investments she had spent most of today transferring her funds into.
Aaron sighed as they stepped out of the last aisle in the cramped bookstore. He stretched out one of Ukyou’s hands and cracked her knuckles in irritation. Her other hand held less than a dozen graphic novels, far fewer than he would have thought available. Still, it would do. He was just glad the two of them had finally agreed on an activity to pass the time. It was getting annoying to be constantly bickering back and forth over every little decision like that. It was giving them both a massive headache.
Paying for the collection was a simple affair, and Ukyou was out of the store in short order. She took her first breath of fresh air since she had entered the cramped basement over an hour ago. She wrinkled her nose in disgust at the remembered smells of the place, an unappealing combination of dust, body odour and drying paint from the custom garage kit models. Compared to that, the smog of the Tokyo suburb was almost pleasant.
Aaron took a few seconds to scan across the crowd moving along the street. It was mostly housewives and young adults at this hour. Still not yet afternoon… most of the younger children were still in school, and the majority of adults would be involved in whatever gainful employment they had. Still, Aaron couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched. Ukyou agreed with him, but thought it was just his paranoia acting up.
Then he spotted her. She was dressed in an elegant and fashionable business suit. She was tall: tall enough to stand out among the small-statured Japanese that surrounded her, and had a dark complexion that almost looked Mediterranean. She had red eyes and dark green hair that fell about her shoulders in a delicate cascade. And she was looking right at Ukyou. Right at her.
“Sailor Plu-” Ukyou burst out in surprise and Aaron smacked their hands over their mouth before she could say any more. Setsuna’s eyes narrowed slightly. She couldn’t have possibly heard Ukyou from all the way on the other side of the street. She had to be standing a good ten meters away.
(Can she read lips?)
Shit. Aaron realized they were staring at her, with their hands covering their mouth and their eyes agape. They didn’t exactly strike the picture of innocent nonchalance. For one brief moment Setsuna’s eyes met with Ukyou, and Aaron saw recognition flash in those red eyes. What the hell was going on?
Before Ukyou could even think about it, she was fleeing. It caught Aaron by surprise when she pumped her legs and propelled them off the street onto a nearby rooftop. She didn’t hesitate on the rooftop long, bounding away almost as soon as her feet found purchase on the tarred surface. She was muttering a few choice curses under her breath as she ran and
her legs refused to move. With a cry she fell face-first into the next roof and slid a few meters before her inertia gave out. She spent a few seconds understanding the concept of pain. With a groan she levered herself up to her knees and brushed a few flecks of dirt from her face. She probed her face gingerly but found nothing out of place or broken. No thanks to SOME people.
Ukyou grunted and looked around. The rooftops, for as far as she could see in any direction, were free and clear. Thus feeling momentarily safe, she smacked herself in the face good, enduring the pain to know that Aaron would be thrown for a loop by it as well.
Aaron frowned and pulled her hand down before shifting them into a more comfortable position. Ukyou was still annoyed with him, but he didn’t much care. They had already probably ruined any chance of clearing up whatever misunderstanding had come over the Senshi of Time. Ukyou felt herself backing away from the idea of confronting Setsuna. The woman was a psychopath. No. Aaron knew that wasn’t true. She was mixing up continuities again. Sure, many fanfics on the net had painted Setsuna as cold-hearted and ruthless, but no evidence from either canon series supported that idea. It was just as likely that she could be talked to reasonably, and they certainly wouldn’t know what kind of personality the Senshi had until they interacted with her. Unfortunately, now they had sent all the wrong signals. If Setsuna suspected them of some wrong-doing, then fleeing would only support the idea that Ukyou was guilty in her mind.
Still, the Sailor Senshi were all about forgiveness and redemption. The likelihood of them shooting first and asking questions later was from low to nil. It would be even better if Ukyou did nothing hostile. Aaron cocked his head to the side as he thought about it. Actually, having Sailor Moon around might be a blessing in disguise. With her magical powers, it might be possible to separate the two of them without having to resort to the wishing sword.
Ukyou sighed and agreed. There was no point in jumping to conclusions. Once Ukyou had taken care of her business here with Ranma, she would head off to the Minato ward and see if she could find Usagi. Aaron was sure that if they could get the young princess-to-be to trust them, then whatever problems Setsuna might have with them could be forgiven and forgotten. She pulled herself to her feet and dusted herself off. It was then she realized she had dropped her manga back at the store. Well… there was no helping it. Best not to risk confronting Sailor Pluto until she had a chance to get in good with Usagi.
Once again in agreement, the two bounced over the rooftops, heading back towards their dingy hotel room.
“I’m Ranma Saotome. Sorry ’bout this.”
Akane stared at the short, busty girl in front of her. This couldn’t be possible. Ukyou had been quite clear on the point. Genma Saotome had a son named Ranma, not a daughter. There was also no mention of any pandas of any shape or form.
“Daddy, how could you engage us to a girl?”
“My friend Genma told me his son was a boy.”
“Does this look like a boy to you, huh, Daddy?” Nabiki reached out as she spoke and began to squeeze and fondle the young girl’s ample assets. Ranma, for her part, made a sick-looking face and cringed a bit away from Nabiki.
“Ah, could you stop that?”
“You stay out of this,” Nabiki commanded the smaller girl. The girl blinked but seemed uninclined to complain any more. She was beginning to blush something fierce, however. Akane felt like she should stop this, but wasn’t sure she wanted to get involved. She was still trying to parse the contradictory information in front of her. The fact was, she trusted Ukyou completely. Especially since she had revealed her deep secret…
“Nabiki,” Akane shouted out. Her sister turned to look at her with a frown. “You should leave our guest alone.” The girl looked relieved when Nabiki let go, but was staring at Akane quizzically. She had probably picked up on the venom in Akane’s voice. Maybe she thought it was directed at Nabiki. Well, she thought wrong. “Hi there. Ranma, right?”
“I’m Akane,” Akane bowed in place, but only slightly. “I apologize for my sister’s behavior.” Nabiki snorted. “I know this must be pretty strange for you, being engaged to a bunch of girls. Why don’t I take you on the tour while we wait for your father to arrive so we can get this all cleared up.”
“But my pop is right…” she trailed off. Then she turned and glared at the large panda bear. “Yeah. Maybe I should wait until I can talk to my father before I do anything here. Or at least, until he can talk back.”
Akane stood up and offered her hand to the shorter girl. “Then why don’t you come with me?” Ranma took the hand a bit hesitantly. Akane tried to smile in a reassuring manner, but maybe it came out a bit sinister, since Ranma was staring at her wide-eyed the whole time. Akane didn’t let that bother her. She led the way out of the house proper and into the dojo. No use destroying the good furniture here. She smiled again, this time not trying to hide her angry glee. It was going to be good to get a chance to pay back Ukyou for her favour with the guys at school, and get a chance to beat a real pervert into the ground at the same time.
It didn’t take long to reach the dojo. Ranma was slumping through the area nonchalantly. Akane had to snort. Maybe if she hadn’t had such recent experience with Ukyou’s deception, this entire thing might have fooled her. But look at that “girl”! She wasn’t moving like a girl. She didn’t even try to sound like a girl, even if her voice didn’t sound like any teenage guy’s. Akane concealed her gleeful grin before turning back to her guest.
“So, my dad told me you were trained in martial arts?”
“A little,” Ranma said with a shrug while “she” shuffled her feet.
“Well, so do I!” Akane called out cheerfully. “Why don’t we have a little match?”
“Uh.” Ranma looked her up and down with a critical eye and then shrugged. “Sure, I guess.”
“Great!” Akane clapped her hands and led Ranma further into the dojo and then took a stance. Ranma seemed to have his mind on other things, since he just stood there with his arms behind his back, swaying back and forth on the balls of his feet like a little kid. “Let’s begin, shall we?” Ranma only nodded slightly in response. Akane gave a mental shrug and narrowed her eyes. She had warned the little freak.
Akane didn’t bother holding back, striking with all the force and precision her twelve years of martial arts training had instilled in her. Ranma wasn’t there to receive the punch. Akane had to skid to a stop before she smashed a hole in the dojo wall. She spun in place, and spotted Ranma standing a few meters away, still with arms behind the back and trying to look innocent. Akane began to feel her temper building.
“You’re pretty good…”
“Thanks,” Ranma replied with a shrug.
Okay, this time Akane wasn’t going to kid around. Sliding forward she made her approach slow and easy. Ukyou was also faster than her, and Akane had learned a few things from their sparring sessions over the last week. The first lesson: never charge someone faster than you. Ranma noticed her slow approach and backed up a step, allowing his arms to unfold from her back. His eyes had become wary.
“You should be worried, buster,” Akane said aloud.
“After what you did, I’m going to make sure you pay!”
“What! What did I do to you?” Ranma sounded genuinely confused.
“Don’t play innocent!” Akane pointed at him. “I know your dirty little secret! Did you think I wouldn’t see through it the moment you walked in the house?”
“You… you know…” Ranma backed up another step, his arms shooting out. “Wait, I can explain-“
“Oh no you don’t!” Akane roared. She was close enough now, and Ranma’s guard had dropped. She burst forward and lashed out with a blistering right cross. Ranma leaned back under the blow. Akane was too off-balance from the attack to recover before he had a chance to scamper out of reach again.
“Hey you crazy chick! This isn’t my fault!” he shouted.
“Yeah right,” Akane replied sarcastically. She launched a few more attacks, but again and again Ranma twisted or side-stepped away from her best efforts. Damn, this guy was good. “You can’t possibly pull off something that convincing without special effort!”
“Huh? What are you-“
“Got you!” Akane shouted as she leapt forward, jumping into the air with her arms wide. Unseeing, Ranma had backed himself into a corner and had nowhere to go as Akane spread herself like a net. Ranma yelped as Akane fell on him and the wall creaked as the two landed against it. “You can’t escape from me now, you crossdressing pervert!”
“Agh! Get off me!”
“Oh no! Not until I reveal you for what you are! Now take off your clothes, you pervert!”
“Gah! That’s my shirt!”
There was a ripping sound as Akane tore at the fabric of Ranma’s red satin shirt.
“Why are you being so stubborn about this! Take your punishment like a man!”
“No way! You’re nuts! Let me go!”
“Not until I get your pants off, too!”
“Waaah! Don’t touch me there!”
Akane frowned as the breasts came into view. They were certainly large and… very realistic-looking. They had to be very good false breasts. So of course, Akane decided the best thing to do was to rip them off. Which was what she was trying to do right then. They were very stubborn. It must be a very strong glue.
Akane paused and looked to her right. There was Nabiki, and her father, and Kasumi, and a large panda bear. Nabiki was cursing rapidly and trying to change the film in her camera. Kasumi was standing as stiff as a statue, her eyes the size of dinner plates. Soun was shuddering and twitching, his eyes sparkling with ready tears. The panda had an unreadable expression, but then, it was a panda.
Finally Nabiki had her camera reloaded. She looked through it at the pair of wrestling girls. “Don’t stop on our account,” Nabiki deadpanned. “Just pretend we aren’t here.”
“Oh… oh…” Kasumi gasped softly.
Akane slowly released Ranma’s breasts and looked down at the girl beneath her. Akane’s own gi had come partially loose in the struggle and the front was now half-open. At least open enough to see Akane’s sports bra underneath it. Now that she looked down, outside of the heat of the moment, those breasts looked very real. Much too real. Especially considering there were bruises forming on them in the outline of her grasping hands. Akane couldn’t think of any material that bruised like that.
“Could you get off me now?” Ranma asked with a dead-eyed glare.
“And you were complaining about me fondling Ranma,” Nabiki pointed out for what had to be the millionth time.
“Shut up!” Akane groused from her position at the table. She wasn’t looking up at her sister. She wasn’t looking at anything at all. She was sitting in a fetal curl, her arms wrapped firmly around her knees and her head buried in the nook created by them. Anything so people couldn’t see the embarrassment on her face. She would have really preferred to be left alone to wallow in her misery. Nabiki, however, seemed far more interested in tormenting her than sympathizing. It was times like this she hated Nabiki.
“No really, tell me again how you were trying to protect the family from a sex fiend,” Nabiki requested. Her voice had taken on a sing-song quality that Akane really didn’t like. “Because I’m interested in knowing which of you ended up acting more like a sex fiend in the end.”
“You know, if you didn’t have a boyfriend, I’d think all those rumors about you at school were true,” Nabiki mused softly. Thankfully, Nabiki couldn’t see Akane flinch at that. “Maybe you swing both ways?”
“Argh!” Akane screamed heavenward.
“Excuse me, girls,” Daddy called out to the two of them. Akane looked over at him. He was standing in the doorway with a strange man. The man was portly, but not fat. He wore a white martial arts gi and a kerchief over the top of his head. A pair of wire-rim spectacles perched on his florid face. Kasumi had preceded the pair of grown-ups into the room and was now sitting down at the table. She was glancing at Akane out of the corner of her eye, but her expression was carefully neutral. Akane felt herself squirming. Having Kasumi disappointed in her made Akane feel… soiled.
Seeing neither of her sisters was going to speak up, Nabiki interrupted her hemming and hawing father. “We’re all here, Daddy,” she pointed out. “You had something to say?”
“Ah yes,” Daddy murmured. Then he cleared his throat and seemed to straighten himself up. When next he spoke his voice was clear and resonant, fatherly. “Kasumi, Nabiki, Akane, I want to introduce you to my old friend Genma Saotome.” All three of the girls nodded at the man as he bowed to them. “And this is his son, the boy one of you will marry…” Daddy waved his hand around the corner and a boy stepped into view.
He was taller than the girl, and much more flat-chested. But his hair was the same style. His uncomfortable slouch the same. His eyes the same eyes.
“I’m Ranma Saotome. Sorry ’bout this.”
“I’ll kill him!” Akane screamed as she waved the giant stone she had uprooted out of the garden over her head. Ranma was cringing back behind the large panda that was her father. Akane tried to get a clear shot with her projectile, but the boy-turned-girl was slippery as an eel and kept sliding out of her arc behind the giant fuzzball. Akane was just beginning to consider going through the faux-animal when her eldest sister’s voice cut in.
“Akane! I won’t have you throwing such things around in our house!”
“But sis! I was right! It IS a guy! He just has the advantage of this magic to carry off his perverted plans!”
“What perverted plans? I haven’t tried to do anything to you, you psycho chick!”
“Kasumi…” Akane moaned in a voice even she found a bit childish.
“No, I won’t have you destroying the house with that rock!” Akane sighed and put the rock back down outside. “Here, use this instead.” Kasumi smiled and handed Akane a bokken. Akane tested the heft of the weapon and turned on Ranma with an evil grin. The fake-girl let out a girlish squeak and tried to flee from the room. She didn’t get very far. Genma was using his giant paws to hold onto the collar of Ranma’s recently-replaced shirt.
Akane never got a chance to ‘open the unholy can of whupass on him’ , as Ukyou would say, since at that point her father intervened with the retrieved kettle of hot water.
“Really, this problem isn’t so bad!” Daddy called out as he placed himself between Akane and her prey. “Cold water changes you to a panda… but hot water changes you right back!” He upturned the kettle and spilled the steaming water over Genma.
The transformation was so fast, Akane barely even noticed it. She saw the image of the panda superimposed over the image of the man for a brief second, like an afterimage or a reflection on a glass window. Then it was gone and there was only the man. He was panting and pulling his glasses back on.
“It needn’t be that hot!” the man groused in mid-pant.
“And while cold water makes you a girl, hot water can change you back as well!” Daddy attempted to pour the kettle onto Ranma, but the girl bent her body out of the way.
“Watch it with that!” Ranma cried out as she tried to twist out of her father’s grasp. She wasn’t having much luck with that. When Daddy moved in and grasped her around the shoulder, the girl gave up with a sigh.
“This means things can continue as planned,” Daddy stated expansively. He waved his hand towards his three daughters. “These are my daughters; Kasumi, she’s nineteen; Nabiki, she’s seventeen and Akane, she’s sixteen! Pick whomever you like, she’ll be your fiancée!”
“Fiancée?” Nabiki blinked. “You’re not still going through with that?”
“There is NO WAY I’m marrying that pervert!” Akane pointed her sword at the girl’s heart.
“Like I’d marry you either, you psycho tomboy!”
“What did you call me?”
“You… sex-changing freak!”
“You must think with your privates because you certainly don’t have any brains left at the moment!”
The two cut off as they realized that their two fathers were laughing heartily in the background.
“They sound like they’re already married, Tendo,” Genma pointed out as he calmed himself down.
“That they do, Saotome. That they do.”
Oh no. Akane saw that look in her father’s eyes. It was time to step on this fire before it spread any further.
“I can’t marry him, Daddy… I… I…” Then it hit her. “I already have a boyfriend, remember? And I really like him!” Ukyou to the rescue again. Akane made a mental note to treat her friend to an ice cream.
“But doesn’t family honour come before personal feelings?” Nabiki noted laconically.
“Stay out of this…” Akane warned her. “Besides, you’re here too. And you already pointed out you weren’t attached at the moment.”
Nabiki opened her mouth, then closed it. She glared at her sister.
“Oh dear, he’s much too young for me. Maybe Nabiki is the best choice, after all?”
“Oh no! You aren’t roping me into this so easily! I’m not marrying this guy,” Nabiki asserted in an even tone of voice.
“I wouldn’t touch him with a ten-foot pole!” Akane pointed out.
“He’s so uncouth and rude.” Kasumi clapped her hands to her cheek in exaggerated horror.
“You’re the one who was so keen on getting his clothes off earlier, you marry him!”
“No way! You’re the one who grabbed his breasts first!”
“Hey! Stop talking about me like I’m some peace of meat!”
“You stay out of this!” all three girls yelled in Ranma’s face. Wisely, the boy-turned girl decided to stay silent after that.
It was amazing what you could learn from a simple phonebook. Ukyou flipped the carefully-folded piece of paper over in her hands again and again. Written on that simple paper were the phone numbers and addresses of every Sailor Senshi she had been able to find. A few had eluded her grasp. There were far too many “Aino”s and “Mizuno”s in the Tokyo listing to pinpoint the locations of either of those girls. Heck, it was possible Sailor V was still fighting the Dark Agency over in England. It was certain that there was a lot of Sailor V merchandise that was making its way into the popular culture around here. Ukyou almost wondered how she had missed it before.
The park came into view quickly, and Ukyou hurried her steps a little bit. Akane had agreed to meet her here once again now that school was over. Aaron ran her hand through her bangs as he considered the agenda for today. It was probably best to get in a few more hours of free sparring. Every hour he spent practicing his imperfect hand-to-hand techniques on someone he didn’t have to worry too much about mangling with Ukyou’s superhuman strength was an hour well spent. He felt he was actually beginning to get a grip on this whole martial arts business. Even Ukyou agreed that learning how to fight without her weapons of choice was probably a good idea.
After that, Ukyou planned to spend the rest of the day just hanging with her new friend. It would be hard to enjoy it, what with Aaron acting as a constant black hole of cynicism and apathy in the back of her skull. But Akane was a decent person, and worth just hanging around with.
When they saw Akane sitting on the bench, fiddling her legs in the dirt and frowning at her shoelaces, Ukyou knew something was wrong. Aaron called out a greeting and waved to their new friend. Akane looked up, and her eyes brightened as she smiled with relief.
“Ukyou! Over here!” Akane called needlessly. Aaron shrugged their shoulders and bit back a comment about that, mainly because Ukyou mentally threatened to start thinking about sweaty men if he did.
“What’s up, Akane? You look down,” Ukyou asked as she slumped into the bench next to Akane. Unconsciously she sat with her legs spread and her arms stretched across the back of the seat. Aaron began to drum her fingers against the wood.
“I… Ukyou…” Akane took a deep breath and looked at Ukyou before looking away again. Then the girl began to twiddle her fingers together and sigh. “I… well…”
“Something is obviously bothering you, Akane,” Aaron blurted out in his most blunt tone. “It obviously has something to do with me, too. Why not just spit it out?”
“Right… Ukyou,” Akane drifted off, then looked at Ukyou’s expectant features. Her mouth set in a firm line and her eyes narrowed before she nodded to herself. “Ukyou, that boy you were waiting for showed up at my house yesterday. You were right.”
Ukyou felt her heart skip a beat. She knew this moment was coming. Somehow, she hadn’t quite believed it. She was going to have her chance with Ranma. She was going to get to pay him back
(Who are you kidding?)
for… for nothing. It wasn’t his fault. Ukyou dropped her head to her chest and felt her fingertips digging into the wood of the benchback. Aaron was right. Ukyou had seen too much that corroborated his memories of that stupid comic book! Ranma knew nothing about her! Nothing! He…
“Ukyou, are you okay?”
“I…” Aaron forced them to stop speaking. Ukyou’s voice was cracking with emotion. He calmly asserted control over the conversation. “I’m fine. I was just caught off-guard.”
“Is Genma with him?”
“Well, yes, but I have to ask you a favour…”
Ukyou wasn’t paying attention to Akane anymore.
She was thinking about only one man. Thinking about how he had tricked her father. Thinking about how he had tricked Ranma. Thinking about how he had humiliated Ukyou, and forced her to become this bizarre parody of a woman.
Ukyou remembered his florid, smiling face. Pretending he approved of Ukyou’s friendship with Ranma. Pretending he gave a shit about Ranma at all. Always taking. He was someone Ukyou could safely hate. Someone she could
feel something dark and malevolent about. She could feel herself starting to grin. Remembering that boy. The one that had bullied her. Little Ukyou versus the big bully. And there had been hate there. Just like this hate. Hate for the humiliation and pain and then Ukyou had just walked up to him and lit him on fire
and that had been that. And she had enjoyed watching it too. Just like she would enjoy watching Genma squirm. She could burn him too. She knew a few techniques to roast the bastard alive and
(This isn’t right…)
she would enjoy it. No more holding back. No more pretending to be something she was not. No more trying to fit in with the other boys despite the fact it was obvious she did not. She could lash out with all her
anger without having to worry about anyone caring. It would be-
The sound of wood splintering snapped Ukyou out of it. Akane was standing across the gravel path in the park. Akane had one arm extended across her chest between the two of them and the other pointed behind her. Her eyes shook in her face and her mouth was a large O. Ukyou looked down at herself. She was covered by splinters of wood. The entire bench had been torn asunder and Ukyou was now sitting on the gravel in the remains. It took her a few seconds to realize that she had done that.
No. Not her.
Aaron shuddered. That had not been pleasant. It was… a feedback loop. It had to be. Like Ukyou was drawing on his memories and feelings to fuel her own. And he had barely noticed. Barely been aware of what was happening. Heck, he’d barely been aware of HIMSELF… he had… he had… lost himself in her rage. Been almost smothered by Ukyou’s personality completely.
“Akane…” Ukyou began hoarsely. “I’m sorry… I guess it got to me a bit more than I thought.”
“I’ll say.” Akane sighed in relief, and then laughed nervously. “Those creeps must have done something pretty bad to you, huh?”
“Something like that…” Ukyou pushed herself to her feet. Aaron had retreated. He was carefully pulling himself back, filling his mind with the familiar ice and void. Ukyou felt her own perspective shifting as he did. It was unavoidable. Her anger was draining away, at least. Ukyou couldn’t blame Aaron for doing this. “I need to meet them, Akane.” Ukyou could hear the flat, impassive tone of her voice but couldn’t help it. Unconsciously, she pulled her hands through her bangs in Aaron’s nervous tic. “As soon as possible…”
“I see.” Akane seemed to be relaxing a bit. “I’ll take you to my place right away, then.”
“Thank you.” The words were formal, but had no real passion behind them. Inwardly, Ukyou wished she could show true gratitude, but Aaron was clamping down on their emotions pretty hard. Maybe he could ease up and
(Risk killing Genma?)
maybe he couldn’t. Damn.
“But while we’re going there, I do have a favour to ask you.”
“Yes… you see, the agreement between our families is kind of stupid… and if they find out that you’re really a girl… I might… might end up engaged to that jerk!”
Ukyou looked at Akane. Damn. This was just another wonderful problem she had to deal with.
Ranma sighed as he relaxed into the bath. This was getting to be a long day. At least he was a man again. But he wouldn’t be for long. He just knew something would turn him into that small, weak, fragile girl-form again before the day was out. Still, it wasn’t worth lingering on that problem at the moment. Soon enough he would ditch this place and find his way back to Jyusenkyou, and the cure.
The real problem was how he was going to survive in this house. Already he had been molested by two of the girls he was supposed to marry, almost scalded by their father, and repeatedly tossed into a koi pond by his own father. The thought of sleeping in this house of nutcases made Ranma shudder, sending tiny ripples through the water.
At least he was safe enough in the bathroom. Nobody would walk in on him here. But there was only so long he could stay inside. Especially considering eventually the bathwater would cool. Then he would not only be a walking prune, he would be a walking female prune. And that mental image would haunt his nightmares for years to come. Thank you very much, overactive imagination.
Ranma was just stepping out of the water when the door slid open. His eyes snapped up and settled on the figure standing in the doorway. It was Kasumi, and aside from the towel folded daintily over one arm she was not dressed at all. Her eyes widened when she saw the boy in the bathtub. Ranma looked down, confirming that, yes, his clothes had not magically appeared on his body to save him from dreadful embarrassment.
“Oh dear,” Kasumi said simply. “This is awkward.”
“Uh…” Ranma wasn’t sure what to say or do. So far Kasumi hadn’t tried to molest him. That was a plus.
“Well, we can’t have this at all,” Kasumi frowned slightly and wrapped her towel about her chest so that it draped over her body to obscure it from view. She stepped inside to close the door behind her. “Next time remember to put out the occupied sign, young man.” Kasumi walked over to the cleaning bench and began to fiddle with the hose. This involved her bending over.
“Gurk…” Ranma failed to speak clearly. He was blushing furiously but was far more worried about other involuntary reactions.
Ranma didn’t even see her moving before he felt the cold water spraying in his face. He blinked as he felt his body shift and his physical reactions cease to exist at the same time.
“There, now that we’re both girls, this isn’t so bad!” Kasumi called out cheerfully. “Perhaps you could clean my back?” She turned away from him and dropped her towel.
Ranma ran screaming from the room.
He entered the policebox, squinted automatically as the darkened night outside was replaced by the brightly lit interior, then realised he didn’t actually have to do that and relaxed. The police officer was sitting at the desk, writing something, but looked up as the figure walked in. He was alone. Good. But there was a phone there. Had to get him to get up.
As he thought, the policeman stared at him. His eyes crinkled a bit at the sight of the heavyset foreigner, but his expression didn’t change otherwise.
“May I…be helping…you?” the officer asked, in slow, careful English.
“That isn’t necessary, I can talk,” he replied in fluent Japanese, grinning slightly. “But I do need your assistance.”
Another twitch of the eyes, but still no change of expression. “What is…your probrem?” Still in English. Oh, he’d heard about those. So much for the ‘ever-courteous Japan’ myth. That made what was about to happen a little better. A little.
“I’m having some difficulty,” he said, again in Japanese, assuming a serious expression. “I think there’s somebody hurt. Could you please come look?”
Well, that knocked the racism out of him, at least for a moment. Maybe he thought the hurt person was Japanese. Bounding up, the officer walked up beside him. “Where?”
He pointed with his off-hand, the policeman’s gaze followed. “It’s right over…”
He was strong; he’d been careful to be strong. The officer didn’t really have a chance. As he looked, he was grabbed around the throat, jerked from the floor. Arms reached up to grapple with his attackers’, but the grip was cinched in. He made a brutal twist. A noise emerged, but the policeman’s struggles intensified. He was trying to reach the weapon at his side. Not enough. The attacker let his weight bear them both to the floor, found better purchase, twisted again. A crack, like a branch breaking underfoot. The struggles ceased, became spasmodic twitching. Still he held on, tight, tight, waiting until he felt it. A few moments later, he did, and released the body, sitting up.
He was hyperventilating. Damn it, he didn’t need to do that. That was stupid. He willed himself to calm, willed the sharp, shallow breathing to cease. It was all right. It was all over. It was necessary.
He sighed, which required him to draw breath again, but at least it was a normal breath. He didn’t think he would ever get used to this. But… necessary. It was necessary. Standing, he stared down at the body of the policeman. Life, snuffed out so fast, like a candle. But the void left by its absence… it called to him. Beckoned him. Invited him.
Now. It was time.
To Be Continued…
Blade: Wow, you actually reached the end. That’s better than I expected. Well, here’s the part where we explain to you why, exactly, after years of non- productivity and unfinished projects, we started yet ANOTHER new fanfic, and then just to make sure nobody (except, apparently, you) read it, we made it a self-insert.
Epsilon: Bah. Part of the reason I haven’t been releasing fanfics for over five years is because I never actually got close to finishing anything else. I don’t plan on being one of those writers who gets half-way through a released series and stops, never to return.
Blade: Not counting all those fanfics we DID get halfway through releasing and then stopped, I assume? Or is that a statement of intent to finish them all after all?
Epsilon: (waves hand dismisively) Products of a misspent youth.
Blade: Ahhhh, I see. Well, back on-topic. There is a reason we’re releasing this. Namely, we expect to finish it. For we are capping off a BLAZING series of writing unseen in the annals of this website, so we’re way ahead in actual writing of where we’re releasing anything. But actually, that’s still off-topic. So, I guess, the question to be answered is: why a self-insert? (stage whisper) That’s your cue, Aaron, it’s YOUR fic.
Epsilon: Its really very simple. I read “Insertion”, by Carrot Glace (aside) Highly recommended, by the way. (/aside) and wanted to do my own take on the same idea. So I did. And it sucked. (pauses) Then I re-wrote it. And I got bored. (pauses) Then I explained the concept to you, and the concept changed from doing my own version of Insertion, to doing a self-insert in the same vein that made sense. A self-insert unlike any other self-insert, because it would contain many of the elements missing from most such stories.
Blade: Those elements being “a plot”, and/or “a point”?
Epsilon: If you wanted to distill it down to the essence, yes. Also, a reason for the events that happen. And not a stupid reason, like contacting the Goddess Relief line and making a stupid wish, or a bullshit reason, like some cosmic accident. I mean an honest to goodness CAUSE for the self-insertion. Why it’s happening, period. Why it’s happening the way it is. Why me and Ukyou specifically. All of these questions have answers to them, which shall be revealed over the course of the story.
Blade: Quite so. When it comes right down to it, most – I won’t say “all”, because I don’t and never have read enough fanfiction to say, but “most” I feel comfortable with – self-insertions have either been for fun, or at best, something that TRIES to overcome its cheesy, pointless roots. But there’s no reason that has to be. The concept of self-insertion is one that has an actual literary tradition, one that is decidedly not as despised as the self-insert tradition in fanfiction.
Epsilon: Indeed. From “Good Night Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet” all the way to
“Excel Saga” self-insertion has been used as a useful tool for storytelling.
Blade: Which is not to say we’ll make a literary masterpiece, or even something amazingly better than what came before. Obviously it is you, the reader, who decides the worth of the fic. But if it sucks, it will at least suck for DIFFERENT REASONS from previous self-insertion fics. That is our promise to you!
Epsilon: I should point out I rarely write anything for others. I’m writing this fic because I want to do so and I enjoy it. This doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy criticism, reviews, or even flames. Please feel free to respond on the board I post this on, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send it along to Blade via email@example.com since we’ll forward commentary to each other. Heck, if you raise legitimate questions I don’t answer (or plan to answer) in the text of the fic itself, I’ll even answer them for you.
Blade: Yes, any commentary is welcome. Good, bad, indifferent, even those shitty “hey man i red yr fic needs more pr0n” mails. I don’t have the luxury of turning up my nose at anything anymore! Oh, to have the glory and acknowledgement that was ours during those bright days of Ran Wars and CoD! SO LONELY. Umm…anyway, yeah. Please feel free to send any thoughts you have.
Epsilon: Due note that I like the text of my fic to stand on its own, so I won’t be answering questions that I feel are addressed through the writing. Thus, I’m not using these notes to explain the concept and characters of Hybrid Theory, myself included. If I failed to convey the story to you, then obviously I didn’t do my job here. In the future, I will be using it as a way to translate the names of any “special techniques” I introduce. After all, attack names just sound cooler in Japanese. Even if I find the use of random Japanese in fanfics slightly annoying… but I digress.
Blade: Well, yeah. Although, if you didn’t understand anything, feel free to ask, since we will explain, and if we were unclear in our writing, well, that can be rectified in a reedit or future chapter. Plus, next time, we’ll explain exactly why I get a spot in these author’s notes aside from the fact that I always try to hog an equal share of the spotlight on projects Aaron’s doing most of the work for!
Epsilon: And on that note… there isn’t too much left to say. I suppose I could insert the standard “disclaimer” here, but I don’t really believe in them. I will note that this fanfic is written not for profit, and I hereby give anybody the write to post it on any website they want so long as none of the text is altered, no fees are charged, and Blade and I are informed. Heck, you inform us, and we’ll probably end up linking to you from our website:
(plug) http://www.bladeandepsilon.com (/plug)
Blade: Not that anybody is likely to do this. But we live in hope that our True Genius And Godlike Talent will someday be recognised by the great unwashed.
Epsilon: Indeed. On that note… in our next installment of Hybrid Theory…
Ukyou wasn’t even aware she was moving before her feet hit the pavement. The throwing spatula impacted into the man’s hand with a meaty thunk. But he didn’t scream. Instead, he turned around and looked at her, his eyes narrowing. Ukyou pulled her battle spatula from her back with ease as she closed in.
He continued to stare at her as she approached. And then his eyes snapped open at the last second as Ukyou body-checked him away from Akane. The man flew like a rag doll across the street and landed limply against the other sidewalk. Ukyou spun around and briefly checked on Akane, Aaron’s practiced eyes noting a lack of any injury. Her mouth was open in a small ‘O’ of surprise, but that was okay. Ukyou turned her attention back to the man across the street without saying anything, shifting her grip on the spatula to bring the wide plate in front of her.
Damn, would this thing stop bullets?
Hybrid Theory, Chapter 2: Numb