Balance of the Valley

By: James Thomas

 

            Ranma clutched the limp form of Akane close to his body as he sat beside the ruined pool of Jusendo.  Unshed tears haunted the edges of his eyes as he yelled again.  “AKANE!!! I LOVE YOU!!!  PLEASE COME BACK TO ME!!!”

 

            No response came as before.  She still lay silent across his lap wearing only his red Chinese shirt.  He sat there in his black pants and undershirt, holding her close.  At last the tears finally fell.  He started soaking Akane’s lifeless body as they came out with a vengeance.

 

            Inside the cavern, a few yards away from the mourning martial artist, his companions watched as he wailed away for the life that had passed.  Mousse couldn’t help but feel saddened by the girl’s death.  He knew he owed a lot to her for all he had put her through since he had arrived in Japan.  Now he could never repay that debt of honor.  Genma’s eyes were stern as he held back his emotions.  Now was not the time to be weak; his son needed him.  A tear tracked down the side of Shampoo’s face as she fought to keep any more from falling.  She was a proud Amazon warrior and they honored worthy opponents with a painless death.  Ryoga looked on as his heart broke.  He had come to the realization that Akane would never be his.  He had long since taken to Akari, but the youngest daughter of Tendo sill held great real estate in his heart.

 

            None of them could do anything but look on as Ranma’s heart died.  They all knew that he loved her; the verbal proclamation came as no surprise to them.  In the back of their minds they thought that she should wake up now.  Isn’t that how a fairy tale was supposed to end?  The fair lady was supposed to awaken to the declaration of love from her prince.  Reality hit them like a ton of bricks at that point. The princess wasn’t going to awaken ever again; her spirit had shuffled the mortal coil.

 

            The companions thought back to what had happened only a few hours ago. Ranma had shut down before when he thought he had lost Akane to the searing heat of the Kinjakan.  She had given her life for him then, and had done so twice more during his decisive battle with Saffron.  He was dead, but so was she, a life for a life, the tragic balance of life.

 

            The captain of the royal guard walked over to where Saffron had fallen and lifted an egg into her arms.  She was conscious of what had occurred in the life of the martial artist that still sat in the ruin of Jusendo, but her loyalty to her emperor came first.  “Here we are, back at the beginning.”

 

            The alert members of the Nerima Wrecking Crew turned to see her lift an egg from the ashes of the fallen monarch.  “That’s Saffron?”  Mousse asked.

 

            She nodded.  “It is the cycle of our people.  He burned out his fire in the battle.  The last flame returns him to the egg, starting the cycle over again.”

 

            Ryoga was about to make another comment when he felt an energy buildup.  He turned to see Ranma glowing with a sickly green/black aura as he stood with Akane in his arms.  The pigtailed martial artist walked out into the waters, transforming into his cursed form.  When the pool reached chest level, he lay Akane down into the pool and she floated out of his arms.  The smile that had been there when she had helped him kill the fiery menace was lost for eternity.  Ranma stood in the pool and allowed all of the pain inside to accumulate into what would become the mother of all Shishi Hokoudans.  He transformed back into a man as the waters boiled with his power.

 

            Mousse’s eyes widened in terror.  “He’s going to collapse the cavern!”  He quickly grabbed Shampoo before she could protest and ran toward the exit.  The Phoenix people were hot on his trail. 

 

Genma-panda followed with one last look toward his son.  He knew this was how the boy wanted it, and he couldn’t blame him.  He thought about what he would do if Nodoka had suffered such a fate.  Even if his son didn’t kill himself, he would just be a hollow broken man from that point on.  It was better to die a proud, strong martial artist then a broken man simpering away like a weak woman (A.N.:  Genma’s thoughts, not mine).  He completely ignored the fact that his best friend was currently doing exactly that, and would be much worse when he found out that he had lost his youngest daughter.

 

Ryoga turned to run, but couldn’t help but look back one last time as Ranma raised his hand to bury himself alive along with his lost fiancé.  At the last instant the lost boy bolted toward the other cursed boy.  He grabbed Ranma and spun on his feet just as he released the massive depression blast.  Ryoga’s muscles had already been taxed with all of the battles he had been in the past couple days, and they were now screaming at him as he carried himself and the mourning martial artist to safety.

 

The mountain seemed to shake as the cavern collapsed on itself, burying Akane and remains of Ranma’s heart all in one massive shrine.  The lost boy stopped when he had caught up to everyone outside.

 

Shampoo turned when she heard Ryoga’s footfalls as he emerged from the dark interior.  “Aiyah!  You saved Airen!”  She ran forward and took the pigtailed martial artist from Ryoga and engulfed him in a tender embrace, knocking the lost boy from his feet in the process.  She hugged him close and lifted his head to look into his eyes.  What she saw made her gasp.

 

Her eyes were met with two orbs of death.  No light burned in those blue eyes. Though strength still flowed through his limbs, his eyes were dead. He righted himself and pushed the lavender haired Amazon away as she stood in stunned panic.  He slowly turned and looked down at the boy who had saved his life.  “Why couldn’t you let me die?”

 

Ryoga met the accusing, lifeless glare with a determined one.  “Akane’s last spoken wish was for you to live!  I’ll not fail her again!”

 

Ranma nodded as if understanding and turned away from him.  “You saved me now, but what kind of life am I left with?  My life means nothing without her.”

 

The lost boy reached out toward the pigtailed martial artist, but the other just turned and walked away.

 

A cracking sound brought Ranma’s attention to toward the remaining contingent of Phoenix people.  He walked up to the female captain that held the hatched egg of Saffron.  The infant sat in the egg, waiting for nourishment and care.  Ranma’s eyes narrowed as he looked down at the babe.  “That Saffron?”  Kiima nodded.  Wordlessly, the martial artist swiftly took the babe into his arms and casually walked away.

 

“What do you think you’re doing?!”  Kiima demanded.

 

Ranma didn’t even look back as he responded.  “You took the light of my world, now I’ll take yours.  I’m taking him away so that you all will dwell in the same darkness that the rest of my life will be.”

 

“Stop him!”  She yelled and the Phoenix guard leapt to heed her command, brandishing their swords or any other weapons that they had.  “Retrieve our lord!”

 

The pigtailed martial artist turned nonchalantly as they approached.  He sidestepped the first attack and lashed out with a side stomp kick the birdman’s leg, snapping it at the knee.  The next guard met with the same fate; different leg, but with the same sickly crack sounding that he would never again walk normally.  Ranma reached out his hand at the next warrior and grabbed a wing, snapping it easily.  The momentum from its owner’s strike had carried the mass of his body by as the wing was held in place.  Another soldier came from the other side and lost his ability to fly as well.  Finally one guard tried to to decapitate Ranma from behind.  The martial artist dropped and spun around, sweeping the guard from his feet.  The birdman’s fall was interrupted by Ranma’s knee flying up to meet his back.  Everyone’s eyes went wide as the sickening crack echoed in the valley.  The final guardsman fell to the ground, legs twitching as the last of the nerve impulses left them.  His eyes went wide as he started to go into shock.

 

With a deadly air radiating off of him, Ranma turned to face the remaining Phoenix people.  “Anyone else want to try?  After everything that you have cost me, I will not hesitate to give all of you a similar fate.”  A couple lifted their swords and started to step forward.  Ranma gave them a smirk that didn’t reach his eyes, giving him a maniacal and menacing look.  “I also wouldn’t hesitate to kill him either.”  He stated almost casually as he held the infant up by the back of his neck.  “All I have to do it squeeze.  I heard he used the last of his power to regenerate himself.  Do you think he’ll come back from this?”  The baby began to cry as its limbs flailed in the air.

 

“Stand down!”  Kiima ordered.  She strode forward with a hard expression on her face.  “Please do not kill him.  He is the only source of heat for our people.  Without him, we would die.”

 

Ranma glared at her.  “Then die.”  He brought the infant down and cradled him in his left arm once more.  “Dwell in cold darkness until death, and then you’ll know how my life will be from this point on.”  He turned on his heel and continued to walk away.

 

“Wait!”  Kiima shouted as she went to take a step forward.  The withered arm of the elder Phoenix man held her back.  She gave the older man a questioning glance.

 

The elder advisor to the throne shook his head.  “If you attack him now you will only bring death to our people.  We will return for him later, but right now it is too dangerous.”  The guard captain nodded her head in comprehension.

 

The other non-bird people ran to catch up with Ranma.  They slowed down as they caught up to him, taking up a sedate pace two steps behind him.  The Jusenkyo guide turned to his daughter.  “Of all the stories at Jusenkyo, this one the most tragic.  You remember this and tell to any others who come in your lifetime.  This is the true sorrow of the pools.”  Little Plum nodded sadly as tears streaked down her face.

 

 

 

A few days later, Ranma returned to the Tendo dojo with the infant Saffron in his arms.  Mousse and Shampoo stopped at the Nekohanten and his father had as well.  It seems that Shampoo hadn’t got around to freeing him from her surikomi egg induced control yet.  When she stopped thinking about Ranma’s sadness she would kick the old panda out, he was sure.  Then, or whenever he starts to eat them out of house and home, which ever came first.  He suddenly wished that he wasn’t alone now as the heavens above decided to rain down on him.  He transformed into his girl form and the baby began to cry.  Ryoga would have been with him, but he had gotten lost somewhere between the ship from China and the Nekohanten.

 

Ranma-chan unconsciously pulled the babe close to her breast to shelter him from the storm.  What am I doing?  She thought.  I can’t go back to the Tendo’s without Akane, but what can I do?  I can’t just wander the streets with a baby!  She had long since lost her bloodthirsty rage from Phoenix Mountain, but she would not look back.  They would know her suffering, but she was left with a crying baby.

 

Before she knew it, she was at the gates of the Tendo compound.  She took a deep breath as once again her heart dropped.  She had to tell them the truth even if it reopened the deep, painful wounds that she was still trying to heal.  With heavy heart, she strode into the house without closing the door.  “I’m home.”  She spoke softly.

 

The house echoed with the scampering of six feet running to the door.  Soun and his remaining two daughters scrambled to meet him.  “Ranma!”  They all cried.

 

“What is this?”  Soun asked as he looked at the soggy girl.  “Whose baby is that, and where is Genma?”

 

“He’s at the Nekohanten.  He’ll be home whenever they kick him out.”  Ranma spoke scornfully as he held up the child.  “This baby is Saffron.”

 

Kasumi smiled and took the child from him.  “The poor thing is soaked!  We have to dry him quickly before he catches pneumonia!  The poor dear is already hot with fever!”

 

“It’s not fever.”  The redhead’s voice was having a hard time staying steady.  She took a deep breath and steeled herself for what was to come next.  “Mr. Tendo, I have something to tell you about Akane.”

 

The Tendo patriarch raised an eyebrow.  “What?  That she is standing behind you?”

 

Ranma’s eyes lit up as she spun around to look where she had come.  Standing in the rain was indeed Akane, or what looked like her anyway.  She stood there wearing what looked like a bathing suit with feathered boots and a sword strapped to her leg.  She had the look of a lost child about her.

 

Unbidden, the rage that had took her at Phoenix Mountain boiled forth again as she strode back out into the falling rain.  “Kiima!”  She seethed.  “What are you doing here?”

 

The transformed bird woman instinctively took a step back at the scathing tone.  “I’ve come to take care of Saffron.  You can’t possibly know how to care for a child!”

 

“It’s all your fault, you know.”  Ranma-chan’s eyes narrowed in hate.  “You were the one that took her from here.  You drowned her and tried to use her against me.  If you had just stayed in your country, Saffron would still be on his mountain.”

 

Kiima’s expression seemed to fall.  “I accept that, but I cannot abandon my liege.”

 

“You killed her!”  Ranma-chan cried out as she raised her hand to strike the other girl.

 

Sensing trouble but not hearing any of the conversation, Soun leapt out and grabbed Ranma-chan’s fist.  “Now, now, son.  You mustn’t strike your fiancé!”

 

“But she’s not…”  The redhead tried to explain, but was cut off as the elder went forward and hugged the Akane look-alike to himself.

 

“I don’t know what you two are fighting about this time, but I’m just glad to have my baby girl back!”  He turned and pulled her toward the house.  “You must be freezing, wearing those strange clothes.  Hurry inside and get a warm bath and then we’ll all try to work out what you two are fighting about this time.”

 

“That’s not AKANE!!!”  Ranma-chan at last managed to shout.

 

“Of course it’s Akane.”  Soun chided him.  “Come along, let’s get you to the bath.”  He walked off with Kiima in tow.

 

Ranma-chan stormed in, but was held up at the door by Nabiki.  “Get out of my way, Nabiki.  That’s not Akane.”

 

The mercenary girl’s eyes narrowed.  “What’s going on Saotome?  You leave with a group and come back by yourself.  What happened in China, and why do you insist that that isn’t my sister?”

 

“Because that’s a bird woman that stole Akane’s face!”  Ranma-chan nearly shouted through gritted teeth.  “She threw Akane into one of the pools and created a new pool of drowned Akane.”

 

Nabiki’s eyebrows went up in shock.  “You mean she killed Akane?”

 

Ranma-chan shook her head.  “No, but she might as well have.”

 

The middle Tendo daughter shook her head.  “That story’s pretty hard to swallow.”

 

“I’m home!”  Genma-Panda ‘signed’ as he walked in.

 

The redhead turned to face him with her arms crossed.  “So they finally decided to kick you out?”

 

The giant panda cocked its head and held up another sign.  “What are you talking about?”

 

“I’m talking about the egg slaving that Shampoo put your through!”  Ranma-chan had about had enough.

 

The panda’s head shifted to the other side as the current sign turned around.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about?”

 

            The redhead stomped her foot, nearly putting it through the floor.  “I’m talking about when Shampoo had you enslaved while Akane was killed!!!”

 

            “I think you’ve lost it son.  Wasn’t that Akane that Soun just took in?”  The panda pulled out yet another sign.

 

            Nabiki just shook her head.  “I don’t know what’s wrong with you this time Ranma, but I suppose I’ll hear about it eventually.”  She turned and strode up the stairs.

 

            Ranma-chan turned a scathing glare at her father.  “What’s wrong with you, pops?  You know good and well that Akane died at Mount Phoenix!  You watched me bury her!”

 

            The panda shook his head and held up one last sign.  “I honestly don’t know what you are talking about.”  He turned it around.  “Let’s just get some sleep, boy.”

 

            The redhead fumed as the panda walked away, but then she cocked her head as she noticed that the fur on the crown of the panda’s head was cleaner than the rest of its hair.  “What the?”  The Xi Fang Gao?

 

            Her expression narrowed.  Something was going on, and she was going to find out what.  She stormed over to the furo and let herself in without announcement, walking in on a bathing bird woman.  She stood up proudly as Ranma-chan stomped in and glared at her.  “What’s going on?  Why are you here?”

 

            The bird woman narrowed her eyes.  “What’s the matter?  Not happy to see your fiancé?”

 

            “You want to get Saffron killed.”  Ranma-chan’s eyes narrowed in a quiet rage.  “Then fine.  The crying was annoying me anyway.”  She turned to leave.

 

            “No don’t!”  Kiima cried desperately as she jumped out and grabbed his shoulder.  “Anything but that!  I apologize!”

 

            Ranma-Chan turned a cold glare at the Phoenix woman.  “You ‘apologize’?  You invade my home…again, get my fiancé killed, and antagonize me.  ‘Apologize’ just doesn’t cut it.  Now my father has had his memories removed and I’d like to know what’s going on.  If you keep on the path you’re going, I’ll kill him and leave you like I left your flunkies back at the mountain.”

 

            She tensed up and then took her gaze to the floor.  “I know nothing of why your father has lost his memory, but I can tell you why I am here.”  She took a deep breath.  “The destruction you caused at Jusendo caused the warm water to flow freely to our mountain, so Saffron was no longer needed.  Our people felt that it was an adequate sacrifice for their salvation.  I did not.  Saffron is our king and I came to see to his care.”  She knelt down to her a single knee and bowed her head.  “Please allow me to care for my lord.  It’s been my duty for as long as I have been able to fly.  I will do whatever you say.  I would sacrifice anything for him.”

 

            Ranma raised an eyebrow.  “Anything?”

 

            Kiima smiled as she stood up.  She spread her arms to show him all of her feminine assets.  “Anything you ask of me.”

 

            The redhead’s eyes narrowed as her hand shot forward and her finger jabbed into the bird woman’s chest.  While Kiima was giving the redhead a curious stare, Ranma-chan filled a bucket with cold water and splashed the taller woman, transforming her into her cursed form.  “Then you will never take a warm bath or fly again.  Now leave, you can’t use the bath any longer.”

 

            Kiima gave him a wide-eyed stare.  “What have you done?”

 

            “The same thing that happened to me.”  She turned a hard glare at the false Akane.  “That spot burned on my chest for weeks after I realized what had been done to me.  Now it’s your price for staying.  I can’t have you trying to fly away in the middle of the night, can I?”  The bird woman’s mouth was still wide open.  Ranma-chan shook her head.  “Try putting your hand back in the furo.”

 

            The false Akane walked over and put her hand toward the water, promptly pulling it back as if it had been burned.  “What happened to the water?  It was just right just moments ago!”

 

            The redhead gave her a sardonic grin.    “The Full Body Cat’s Tongue.  Anything warm will seem like it’s scalding.  You’ll never be able to transform back to your original form ever again.  Now leave.  I’m going to take a nice, long, warm bath.”

 

            The former bird woman numbly walked out of the furo, put on the waiting bedclothes, and went out to find Saffron.  The implications from this night were just now starting to become clear to her.

 

 

 

            The next morning set the tone for the days that would follow.  Ranma came down the stairs to find Kiima bottle-feeding the infant Saffron.  Ranma glared at her and she looked away in shame.  She was in Akane’s spot at the table as everyone else acted like it was an ordinary day.  Nabiki noticed the cold glare that Ranma was giving her sister, but thought it had to be something wrong with him.  She still didn’t know the story of the baby, and she wondered why Ranma had sworn up and down that Akane was dead the night before.

 

            Ranma finished his breakfast without saying word and stood up.  “I’m going out.  I’ll be back later.”  He turned and left the house without a second look.

 

            Nabiki eyed Akane for a reaction, but her little sister didn’t do anything but attend to the baby.  “What’s going on, Akane?  Why do you let Ranma treat you like that?”

 

            Her ‘sister’ didn’t even look up as she attended to the baby.  “Let it go.”  She spoke in an even tone of voice.

 

            “What?”  Nabiki’s face held a surprised expression.

 

            ‘Akane’ looked up at her ‘sister’ with an even, commanding glare.  “I said, ‘let it go.’  Don’t pursue the matter any further.”  With that she stood up and went to her room, leaving a very confused Nabiki in her wake.

 

 

 

            A short time later, the door to the Nekohanten swung open with a crash.  Ranma strode in with a dangerous aura burning around him.  Shampoo had turned to glomp onto him, but she stopped herself in mid-motion.  She was smart enough to realize that this was not the best time to express her feelings for her husband.

 

            Unfazed by Shampoo’s motion, Ranma continued into the middle of the restaurant.  “Old ghoul!  Come out!”

 

            “What can I do for you, Son-In-Law?”

 

            The voice coming from directly behind him made him lose a little bit of his composure, but he quickly recovered as he spun around to face her.  “I want to know why you brainwashed pops.  I figure you would want him to remember Akane dieing.”

 

            “An unfortunate side effect.”  The elder sighed as she sat atop her staff.  “Your father still had not shrugged off the hold of the surikomi egg.  By their nature they can usually be resisted by force of will.  Not surprising, your father didn’t have the will power to overcome the control.  He could have been commanded to leave Shampoo alone, but the hold would have still been there.  So to remove the hold, I used the Xi Fang Gao to remove the memory of the egg and the bonding.  Regrettably, this also took the fool’s memory of the events after the egg was thrown at him.”

 

            Her eyes scanned around until they rested on Shampoo.  “On that note, there is the matter of my Great-Granddaughter.  She should have easily resisted the egg’s effect, but she only put up a token resistance, easily squashed by the eggs control.  From what I could glean of the story from her and Mousse, she could only break the spell long enough to try to seduce you.  I thought I had raised a better heir.”

 

            The lavender haired Amazon’s face was slack with shock.  She couldn’t believe the word’s coming from her great-grandmother’s mouth.  She had fought the control the best she could.  What more could she have done?  More importantly, why was great-grandmother talking about this in front of her husband?

 

            Cologne turned once more to Ranma.  “What do you plan to do with the young Phoenix?”

 

            Taken aback by the question, Ranma’s aura died down a bit and he scratched his head.  “I guess I’ll just keep him here.  Maybe he won’t be so much of a pain when he grows up this time.”

 

            The Matriarch of the Amazon tribe nodded her head as if coming to a decision.  “Then that will be for the best.  Keep him and Japan and raise him as your son.  You have served your purpose, Ranma.”

 

            The pigtailed martial artist gave her a questioning look.  It didn’t escape him that this was the first time that Cologne had called him by his first name.  “What purpose?”

 

            Cologne ignored the question, as she wistfully looked him over.  “I would have liked for you to return to our village as Shampoo’s husband, but I can see it wasn’t meant to be.  She is obviously too weak willed for you.”  She cocked an eye at him.  “I would be tempted to bring another warrior for you, but it’s for the best that you stay in Japan.”

 

            The elder turned and pogoed her way out of the room.  “Farewell Ranma.  You needn’t worry about any obligations to the Amazon tribe again.  I hope that if we meet again that we can talk as old friends.”

 

            Ranma’s head was reeling like he had taken a heavy blow to the head.  He had expected some sort of fight, not a dismissal.  Just like that, he’d never have to worry about the Amazons again.  He walked out of the restaurant in a daze.

 

            After Ranma left, the sound of water dripping to the floor could be heard.  The tears were falling freely from Shampoo’s eyes as she watched her husband walk out of her life.  Why had great-grandmother decided that she wasn’t worthy of Ranma?  Wasn’t he supposed to be worthy of her?  These and many other questions ran through her mind at light speed.

 

 

 

            Ranma returned home to find Kiima out in the dojo working through a few katas of her people’s martial arts while Saffron slept on a blanket at the side of the room.  He watched her with a callous expression for a while until she wound down and looked to find him standing there.  She glanced at him once, and then walked over to retrieve a towel to wipe the sweat from her face.  When she realized that Ranma wasn’t going to talk, she decided to ask something.  “What are their names?”

 

            “Who?”  Ranma raised an eyebrow at the question.

 

            “The people who live here.”  She looked at him with a serious glare.  “I can’t very well act like Akane without knowing the names of her family.”

 

            He nodded his head.  “You know my father, the panda.  The other man is Tendo Soun, the father of the two girls.  The elder is Kasumi, Nabiki the younger.”

 

            “Thank you.”  The false Akane walked over and checked on the sleeping Saffron.  “Why did you come out here?  Were you looking for me?”

 

            Ranma snorted derisively.  “I need to think.  I do my best thinking when I’m training.  Now leave me alone.”  He didn’t wait for her to leave before he stared one of his more complicated katas.

 

            Kiima shook her head and picked up the infant Saffron.  She looked at Ranma as he moved through his katas.  She watched the power and grace that he displayed and it drove home to her that he was the one that had defeated her and Saffron. She observed him for a few more moments before finally leaving.

 

 

 

            The next few days went on much the same way between Kiima and the other members of the household.  She spent most of her time with the baby and ignored or deflected any questions about him.  She quickly deduced that the two adults in the house were, quite frankly, morons.  They couldn’t tell that she wasn’t the Akane that had been taken to Jusenkyo.  Kasumi was just delighted in having a child in the house.  Did she think it was Akane’s?  Did she think it was Ranma’s from some other woman?  Did she even care?  Nabiki was more intent on getting the information she wanted.  She was always bugging and pestering Kiima for all the details about Saffron and Jusendo.  Luckily both Kiima and Ranma had been very tight lipped, which was very frustrating for a girl who was used to pushing both around.  The middle Tendo daughter couldn’t get Ranma to speak past mentioning China (he locked up tighter than Fort Knox and refused to talk), and she simply wasn’t able to compete with a woman who had commanded an army.  Kiima could tell that the girl was getting frustrated, but she couldn’t find it in her heart to be sympathetic.

 

            Ranma continued to be absent from the household most of the time.  No one knew where he went.  They had tried checking with his other remaining fiancé, but Ukyou hadn’t spoken with him since he had returned from China.  She had been rather taken aback when she had come by one day and found Akane feeding a baby that Soun had sworn that her and Ranma had brought back from China.  She refused to believe it was theirs (after all, they hadn’t been gone nine months…).

 

 

 

            One night, about three weeks after his return from China, Ranma came home to find the house empty.  He searched the house looking for someone when at last found Kiima in the kitchen cooking dinner.  He looked around and saw Saffron lying in a playpen to the side.  He looked back toward the Phoenix woman whom he noticed was wearing rather thick oven mitts while preparing the food.  “Where is everyone?”

 

            She turned to him and rolled her eyes.  “The two idiots decided that we needed some time at home alone to work out whatever is going on between us.” 

 

            He had a confused look on his face.  “So you’re making dinner?”

 

            She nodded her head.  “It would be rude if I just made food for myself and Saffron.”  Plus I don’t want to antagonize you more by eating in front of you while you have nothing.  She went back to the stove and carefully watched the food.  “If you’ll set the table, we’ll be ready to eat in a few minutes.”

 

            Ranma nodded and decided to do as she asked.  After the food was ready they sat down and prepared to eat.  Kiima ate hers while Saffron lay drinking from his bottle beside her.  Ranma just sat there staring at the food, wondering if he could trust what was laid out before him.  It all looked like real food, but could he be sure it was safe?

 

            Kiima noticed his trepidation and finally spoke.  “Don’t worry, I didn’t poison it.  You saw me take mine from the same bowl you took yours from.”

 

            He just looked at her like the thought of overt poisoning had never occurred to him.  “Sorry, it’s just that our dad’s used to do this to us all the time.  Usually Akane would cook and the food wasn’t fit for consumption by anyone or anything.”  He took a tentative bite.  He chewed it for a little bit with a thoughtful look on his face before swallowing.  “This is pretty good.”  After that, he dug in with his usual gusto.

 

            “Thank you.”  Kiima eyed him critically as she watched him eat.  I’ve seen birds with better eating habits than that.  She thought absently.  She finished her meal and then attended to Saffron.

 

            They ate in silence until Ranma had finished his first portion.  Ranma looked over at the transformed bird woman.  “That was much better than I expected.”

 

            Kiima picked up Saffron and tried to burp him.  “What did you expect? I’m not Akane.”

 

            At the mention of his late fiancé, Ranma’s face became cross as he helped himself to another plateful of food.  Kiima looked a little wary as she expected him to blow up after hearing Akane’s name.  When nothing came of it she just continued to burp Saffron.

 

            After a little bit, Ranma finally turned back toward the transformed bird woman and noticed that she was fidgeting while still trying to get the infant to belch.  “What’s wrong?”

 

            She looked over at him with an apologetic face.  “I’ve got to go to the bathroom and Saffron won’t burp!”  The baby was starting to cry.  “Oh please don’t do that!”  She pleaded as she frantically tried to get the baby to relieve itself of internal pressure.  She finally turned a beseeching look in Ranma’s direction.  “Could you please burp him while I go to the bathroom?”

 

            The pigtailed martial artist held his hands up.  “Hey, I don’t know anything about that stuff!”

 

            Kiima, caught between her fear of him and her need to pee, decided to go on the offensive.  She grabbed a towel from the table, put it on Ranma’s shoulder, and placed Saffron on top of it chest down with his head looking over the boy’s shoulder.  “Just pat his back until he burps!  That’s all you have to do!  Now I HAVE to go!”  She turned and bolted out of the room.

 

            While patting the infant on the back, Ranma shook his head.  How in the hell do I get into these situations?  He asked himself rhetorically.  And how am I supposed to know if he…

 

            “BBBRAAAGGGHHHGG!!!”

 

            “…burps.”  Ranma finished aloud.  He looked over his shoulder and saw some half digested milk on the towel on his shoulder.  So that’s why mothers always have a towel with them…  He brought the baby off his shoulder and put the towel aside.  He began to cradle the infant in his arms as he thought wistfully.  I wonder what Akane’s and my baby would have been like.  He shook his head so he wouldn’t dwell on the things that wouldn’t be.  He looked down at the child and realized that Saffron was staring up at him with large eyes and a toothless smile.  “What are you looking at?”  He asked in a teasing voice.  He began to tickle the small child on the cheeks with his index finger.  “You certainly don’t seem like the big bad killer now.”

 

            “He’s not a killer.”

 

            Ranma looked up and saw a less tense Akane clone watching him hold the child-god.  “What?”

 

            She sighed as she walked over and sat down beside him.  She traced a finger around Saffron’s face.  “He’s not a killer, he’s a provider.  He has cared for his people for thousands of years, and would have for many more if you hadn’t stopped him.”

 

            Ranma scowled at her.  He would have crossed his arms for added effect, but the child in his arms stopped him.  “Well, that’s mostly your fault, now isn’t it?  If you hadn’t come to town trying to hurt the Guide’s daughter, we wouldn’t have met, wouldn’t have been enemies, and Akane would still be ALIVE!”

 

            She blanched at the tirade and Saffron began to cry.  Ranma quickly tried his best to calm the child down.  Kiima quickly took the baby and, after a couple minutes, managed to calm him down again.  She gave the martial artist a level glare when she had quieted the babe.  “You may be right, but please don’t yell with a baby in your arms.  They’re very sensitive to the emotions of the person holding them.”  She

 

            Ranma glared at her.  “I am right.”  He kept his voice level and menacing.  “You charge into my neighborhood, chasing a little girl using a bunch of birds.  You attack me when I try and help her.  I find out you kidnapped her father.  What was I supposed to do?  Say ‘hey, nice wings.  Want the map?  How about some tea with that?’  Not in this lifetime.  All that made you an enemy in my book.  Then to top everything off, you kidnap Akane, and drown her in a Jusenkyo pool!  Then to top everything off, you caused Akane to die!  THAT MAKES ALL THIS YOUR FAULT!!!”  He finished his rant by yelling in her face.  She backed off and Saffron began screaming at the top of his lungs.

 

            Kiima, visibly shaken, tried in vain to calm the crying child.  Tears started to come to her eyes as well.  Something inside of Ranma stabbed at him as he saw the face of Akane crying.  He turned his head away so she wouldn’t see him starting to falter.  I’m right.  He thought.  She’s not going to make me feel guilty.  He steeled himself and turned back around to her.  She had tears rolling down her face mixing with the tears the babe was crying.  “Just leave, okay.  I don’t want to be reminded of what I lost.”

 

            She sniffled as she tried to compose herself.  “Can I take Saffron with me?”  She asked carefully.

 

            He shook his head.  “No.  I still haven’t forgiven him, you, or your people.”

 

            She started rocking the baby in an attempt to calm him once more.  “Then I’m not leaving.  I can’t leave him behind.”

 

            Ranma scowled.  “Have it your way.”  He turned and left behind the crying woman and child.

 

 

 

            More time passed and tension between them solidified to the point that the fathers began to notice.  Nabiki was still unsuccessful in trying to ply information out of the bird woman she thought was her sister.  Kiima just ignored her and went about caring for Saffron.  Akane’s friends came by after a time and were taken with the child.  They knew it couldn’t have been hers and Ranma’s, so they tried to ply the information of the child’s origins from their ‘friend’.  Kiima, whom Ranma had managed to supply with the other girls’ names, dismissed them with as much diplomacy as she could.  They were put off, but decided to leave before ‘Akane’ blew her top.

 

 

 

            Finally two months passed and Ranma found himself knocked out and revived to the shock of being dressed in a tuxedo.  His father and Mr. Tendo were saying something about being properly dressed for the wedding.  Ranma saw red as he batted the two fathers away like they were minor nuisances.  He charged up and into Akane’s room.  He stopped dead in his tracks when he saw her.  There was ‘Akane’ in all her radiant beauty dressed in a western style wedding dress and looking into a mirror.  He found his heart beating faster than it had in any fight he had ever been in.  He found his mouth felt like it was filled with cotton, and his words were only coming out in unrecognizable syllables.  He stumbled his way to try to say something until he noticed that there was a tear rolling down her face as she stared into the looking glass.  He walked up and put a hand on her shoulder.  “What’s wrong?”

 

            “She really was beautiful, wasn’t she?”  Kiima choked out at last.

 

            Ranma slowly nodded his head.  “She was, but I never really noticed it until now.”

 

            She turned back to him with new tears in her face.  “I thought you were an evil man.  I thought you were the enemy; that I had to protect Saffron from you.”  She fell to her knees before him and bowed her head.  “I beg your forgiveness for what I and my people have done.  I will do everything in my power to try to atone for the sins of the Phoenix.”

 

            To say that Ranma was shocked would be the understatement of the century.  He finally dropped to a knee and lifted the repentant woman’s chin so he could look her in the eye.  “What’s going on, what do you mean you ‘thought I was an evil man’, and why are you trying to marry me?”

 

            She took a deep breath.  “I’ll answer your questions in reverse order.”  She wiped the tears from her eyes as she calmed herself.  “The idiots of the house decided that what we needed to relieve the tension between us was to get married immediately.  I saw this as a way to stay around you and Saffron for as long as necessary.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  Why did I think you were an evil man?  Because you are the Amazon’s Chosen One.”

 

            He gave her a confused look.  “What do you mean ‘Chosen One’?  I thought they just wanted me as another man for their breeding stock.  Is Shampoo that important to them?”

 

            She shook her head.  “That’s not what I mean at all.”  She took another deep breath as she sat back on her knees.  She suddenly looked up at him with surprise.  “You really don’t know, do you?”  He shook his head.  “I saw you fight, how could you not know?”  Ranma was really confused now.  Kiima shook her head.  “You are the Amazon’s Chosen One, the one that was trained to assassinate Saffron.”

 

            Ranma’s eyes went wide.  “Hey!  I didn’t want to kill anybody!”

 

            “I know that now.”  She looked back toward the mirror.  “When you were ranting before I just thought it was all a cover, and then I finally saw what you had lost.  I know now that you were truly only fighting us for her.” She turned back to face him.  “Who put you under the Full Body Cat’s Tongue?”

 

            “Cologne.”  Ranma stated simply.

 

            Her eyes narrowed.  “The matriarch taught you, of course.”  She spoke ruefully.  “Tell me, did she teach you a technique called Kachu Tenshin Amaguriken?”

 

            He looked at her with trepidation, not knowing where this conversation was going.  “Yeah, what about it?”

 

            She thought carefully on how to explain this to him.  “Ranma, in the Jusenkyo valley there are three major powers: the Phoenix People, the Musk, and the Amazons.  In the beginning there were wars and we all fought for the land and for survival.  We held the greatest power with Saffron on our side, but over the years the others began to develop ways of fighting against us.  The Musk began to breed with strong animals using the Jusenkyo springs to make them into humans.”

 

            “Yeah, I already know about that.”  Ranma interrupted.  “Herb came to town and I had to rough him up a bit.”

 

            Her eyes went wide.  “You defeated Herb?”  He nodded his head.  She had a bewildered look on her face until she finally shook it off and continued with her history lesson.  “Anyway, they finally found a dragon to breed with and made the descendants of the dragon their kings.  That left the Amazon’s in a very dangerous situation.  Their greatest male warriors were dieing off and they were now the weakest of the three powers.  The women stepped up and began to fight and develop techniques to defeat Saffron and the Musk if they had to.  They finally developed a set of temperature related techniques that could defeat our lord, so they managed to bring balance to the valley.”

 

            Ranma had a confused look on his face.  “What about the Musk?  How did they balance them?”

 

            Kiima smirked.  “They found out that the male warriors went to mush when they exposed their bodies.  Did you ever noticed how all their warriors did their best to be beautiful as well as lethal, and that their outfits were very suggestive? Anyway, the Amazon’s also developed their marriage laws to bring in strong males to replace the ones they lost.”

 

            “What about killing the women?”  He asked.

 

            She looked away from him, slightly ashamed.  “They had to develop that law because of us.  We tried to infiltrate their village with cursed women so that we could gather intelligence on them.  We tried sending men, but they were easily turned by the Amazon’s feminine wiles.  The Amazons got wise to us after a while and started attacking any women who came to their village.  If they could defeat an Amazon, they were a threat and most likely a spy, either way they had to be eliminated.”

 

            “So what’s this about me being trained to kill Saffron?”  He asked.

 

            She met his eyes once again.  “When we all finally came to an agreement and formed a truce between our people, everyone was allowed to have someone ‘just in case’.  The Musk had their King with dragon blood, the Phoenix had Saffron, and the Amazon’s had their Chosen One, the one that would be the heir to all of the techniques specifically developed to defeat Saffron and had the looks or brains enough to easily deal with the Musk.  This woman was usually the Matriarch from that point on.  They were forbidden to teach the techniques to anyone else except the Chosen’s heir.”  She rubbed her chin in a thoughtful pose.  “But why would they choose a man at random?  They usually choose the female warrior that wins their tournament.”

 

            Ranma chuckled nervously.  “Uh, I kinda crashed that and beat Shampoo for the title.”

 

            Kiima shook her head.  “I should have known.  Anyway, the winner of the tournament is touched with the Full Body Cat’s Tongue to learn to be wary of heat and escape the sources by instinct.  Next they are taught the Kachu Tenshin Amaguriken to learn to attack with a speed that could ignore fire.  Finally they are taught the Hiryu Shoten Ha to be able to manipulate heat and cold to overcome Saffron.  At that point they must face the last holder in combat to prove themselves, and, if they are successful, are given the Phoenix Pill to give them the ultimate resistance to the flames and the cure for the Full Body Cat’s Tongue.  At that point, they are ready to kill Saffron if the Amazon’s ever choose to.”

 

            A crash outside the door got both their attention for a moment, but Ranma still wasn’t clear about the whole thing so he pursued the conversation.  “But I got the Phoenix Pill before I learned the Hiryu Shoten Ha.”

 

            “Did you manage to defeat the Matriarch before that?”  She asked.

 

            “Yeah, I used the Neko-Ken to defeat her and take the pill.”  He puffed out his chest.

 

            “You know the Neko-Ken as well?”  He gave her a nod.  She was truly amazed the more that she learned about this boy.  “I guess since you managed to defeat her early, you were worthy.  She just waited until the most opportune time to show you the final technique.”

 

            Ranma scratched the back of his head absently.  “So that’s why they were so dead set on taking me back to China.”

 

            After a moment of silence, Kiima bowed down before him once more.  “I thought you knew what you were the whole time you were fighting Saffron.  I thought the girl was just a convenient excuse to take Saffron from us.  I didn’t realize until now that you truly loved the tomboyish girl with short hair.”  She prostrated herself until her forehead touched the floor.  “I have wronged you, and I beg your forgiveness. To atone, my life is yours to do with as you see fit.”

 

            Ranma sat on his knees in front of her.  “Does that mean you’ll stop trying to blame everything on me?”

 

            She looked up at him.  “That and more.  I would marry you, bear your children, or, if you wish, I would commit Seppuku.”  She took her sword from where she had stowed it under the bed, unsheathed it, and presented it to Ranma.  “Or you can take my life yourself.  I await your judgment.”

 

            He took the sword and stood to his full height.  He watched as she steeled herself for the coming death.  He examined the sword and saw the fine craftsmanship and obvious age.  It was an exquisite piece with scrolling artwork along the hilt and blade that depicted many ancient battles.  It was a fine instrument for bringing death.   He looked to the Phoenix woman once more and marveled at how beautiful she was, wearing Akane’s body and the wedding dress.  He thought about if Akane were here, would the wedding still have happened?  Would she have pushed for it?

 

            He turned the blade and held the point to the base of her neck.  She didn’t flinch or attempt to move out of the way.  She was committed to this act; she would give up her life at his whim.

 

            At length he spoke once more.  “Your life is mine.”  Her head nodded but her neck didn’t move away from the blade.  He lifted the blade and plunged it downward.

 

            Kiima was startled when she saw the point of the blade imbed itself just to the side of her head.  She looked up at the pigtailed martial artist with wide eyes of wonder.  “Why have you spared me?”

 

            He reached out his hand, took hers, and drew her to her feet.  “You are going to help me repay my debts.”

 

            “What debts?”  She asked in surprise.

 

            “My debts to the Tendo family.  I failed them when I couldn’t save Akane.  She was my fiancé through an arranged marriage, and I let her die.  I’ve lived with the Tendos for the past two years, fully intending on eventually sealing the deal made by our fathers.  You will help me by acting like their daughter, and I will help by marrying you.  That way we will have an excuse to be together and cover for one another.  We will live this lie until we die, and maybe then our debt of honor will be paid.”

 

            She nodded in understanding.  “Then I will truly never be able to fly again.”  Her expression dropped as she looked to the floor.  “I agree, of course.  My life is yours.”

 

            He lifted her eyes to meet his again.  “Something I found out later is that it will eventually wear off.  You will be able to fly again, just don’t fly away.”

 

            “I will not leave without my debt being repaid.”  She stated with conviction.

 

            “Good.  Now, since we’re dressed for a wedding, let’s get on with it.”  He took her hand once more and led her out into the dojo.  What greeted their eyes made their jaws drop.  It looked like World War III had started inside the dojo and blew out into the street.  The unconscious bodies of ill-tempered martial artists littered the ground.  A baby’s cry could be heard form the side and Kiima quickly ran toward Saffron while Ranma inspected the damage.

 

            Kiima ran up to Kasumi, who held a fussing Saffron in her hands.  The eldest Tendo daughter was being careful not to directly touch the moisture that clung to the baby.  “What’s wrong?”  The Akane clone asked.

 

            “When the boys were fighting over the barrel of Nannichuan, some of it spilled on the baby.”  She continued to dry him.  “It’s a good thing he was already a boy.”

 

            Kiima breathed a sigh of relief; there was one problem solved.  She had been careful to be the only one that bathed Saffron so no one saw his sprouting wings.  Now that he had a curse, living in Nerima would be that much easier.

 

            “YOU HAD NANNICHUAN AND YOU DIDN’T GIVE IT TO ME!!!”

 

            Both of the girls turned to see Ranma’s aura flaring to new heights in his anger.  He quickly and unceremoniously kicked the other cursed males out of the hole someone had made in the roof and into LEO.  He finally calmed down enough to survey the mess of the dojo.  It seemed that his friends could indeed trash a place without his help.

 

            Kasumi looked between the pigtailed martial artist and what looked like her sister.  She noticed that the pair had come out of the room holding hands and that their clothes were still intact.  “I see you two have made up.”

 

            Akane stood up and smoothed her dress.  “We’ve come to an understanding.”  She looked over to where Ranma was looking around.  “Is it still salvageable?”

 

            He looked up at her and shrugged.  “I can’t tell.  This place is a mess and I can’t find…”  Ranma heard a groan and spun around.  “The priest!  Hey, found him!”  The poor padre had been knocked out in the calamity that followed the barrel of Nannichuan.

 

            Kiima nodded.  “Good.”

 

            Kasumi looked up at her.  “Are you two actually going to go through with the wedding?”

 

            For an answer, Kiima just smiled and nodded.

 

            “Obstacle, I KILL!!!”

 

            Kiima turned quickly, but could only stand there and watched as the Amazon blade traveled toward her face wielded by a certain lavender-haired warrior.  All she did in defense was turn her head at the last minute, hoping that it would reduce the pain.  She felt blood splatter on her face, but she couldn’t help but notice that she was still alive.  She cracked open her eyes and saw Ranma in front of her with the blade of the sword caught between his palms.  A trail of blood dripped down its edge as he turned the blade to the side and unleashed a kick into Shampoo’s midsection. It was strong enough to make her let go of the sword, but not enough to hurt her.

 

            “What’s the deal, Shampoo?”  Ranma asked as he turned the blade back toward her in a defensive stance.  He made sure to put himself between her and Kiima.

 

            “Is the Phoenix girl’s fault!”  Shampoo seethed as she brought her bonbari to bear.  “She steal husband!”

 

            Ranma’s eyes narrowed as he kept the point of the blade pointed toward the Amazon’s eyes, making sure she didn’t try to close the distance between them.  “The old ghoul said it’s all over.  What are you doing here?”

 

            Shampoo gritted her teeth.  “Shampoo love Ranma, can’t you see?”  She lowered her weapons and her expression turned sad as she saw his hand bleeding around the hilt of the sword.  “Shampoo would do anything for Airen.  Phoenix girl no deserve you, Shampoo do.”  A tear made its way down her cheek.

 

            “Please go, Shampoo.”  Ranma choked out the hardest words he ever had to say.  “I’m marrying Akane.”

 

            His heart almost broke when Shampoo looked between him and Kiima.  She looked into their eyes, looking for any sign of deception and found none.  “B-but she no Akane.”  She managed weakly.

 

            Lowering the blade, Ranma strode over to where the conversation couldn’t be heard by the entirety of the room.  “I know.”  He put all his willpower into looking into her eyes and not bending to her emotions.  “I know she’s really Kiima, but we both owe it to the Tendos to keep Akane alive in their eyes.  It will only work if we are together.”  He finally dropped the blade to the floor.  “Shampoo, it’s my fault that Akane died.  I owe an honor debt to the Tendos that can’t be repaid.  I’m sorry, but I can never marry you.  Do you understand?”

 

            The tears were flowing freely as the Amazon warrior slowly nodded her head. One of the things she loved about her husband was his stubborn commitment to honor.  She knew now that she had lost him.  She looked up at him once more with a remorseful face and launched one final glomp attack.  She threw herself around his neck and kissed him as passionately as she could.  After a few seconds, she released Ranma and took a slow step back.  “Always remember. Bie liao, airen.”  A trail of tears followed her as she turned and ran from the dojo.

 

            Ranma raised his hand and started to take a step forward, but a hand on his shoulder stopped him.  He looked back and saw the beautiful face of his fiancé currently being worn by the Phoenix captain.  “Let her go.  It’s better this way.  Give me your hand.”  He slowly reached out to her with his bleeding hand.  She took an already bloody rag, which he supposed was what she had wiped her face with, and wrapped it around his palm, covering the wound as a crude bandage.  He couldn’t help but recall all of the times that Akane had done that for him.  As much as she would gripe at him and was usually the one who caused the injury, she would still do her best to bandage him up.

 

            After she had finished wrapping his hand, she took it between hers.  “There is still a matter of a wedding to attend to.”

 

            He nodded his head and turned toward the now fully awakened priest.  “Can we still do this?”

 

            “Are there any witnesses?”  The priest asked as he looked for more conscious people.

 

            “I will witness my son’s wedding.”  Nodoka exclaimed joyfully.  She had been in the kitchen the whole time and had just now walked into the dojo.

 

            The priest nodded and pulled out his big black book.  “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…”

 

 

 

            The ceremony went off mostly without a hitch.  Unfortunately for Ukyou and Kodachi, they had only regained consciousness in time to hear, “I now pronounce you man and wife.”  Both of the girls fled the building crying.

 

            The reception was a loud affair with the Saotomes and Tendos celebrating the joining of the families; the culmination of two years of hard work.  The sake flowed like water.  Despite his efforts to the contrary, the fathers managed to get some down the boy.  After all, they figured, how else would they get Ranma to sleep with Akane without fighting?

 

            Finally, Kiima decided that Ranma had had enough.  She made the announcement that it was time to put the poor boy to bed.  Everyone cheered as she helped Ranma stumble up the stairs with one arm draped across Kiima’s shoulders.  He started to head down the hall to his room, but she pulled him around to Akane’s room.  “Wha?”  Was about the most intelligible thing he could say.

 

            “We have to keep up appearances.”  She smiled at him as she led him into the room.

 

            She helped him into the room and closed the door.  She was leading him to sit on the bed when she tripped on the rug, causing them both to fall onto the bed with her on top and her face pressed against his.  She could smell the alcohol on his breath, but she couldn’t take her gaze from his eyes.  His lips closed the few millimeters to hers and they began to kiss passionately.

 

            Ranma broke the kiss and groaned.  “Akane.”

 

            Kiima nodded and met his lips again.  Slowly, she started disrobing herself and her new husband. 

 

            Throughout the next hours they tenderly made love while Ranma constantly cried out to his lost love.  Kiima’s heart was hurt, but she knew that this was the only way he would be happy.

 

            Ranma awoke the next morning nude with Kiima curled up at his side and one arm over his chest.  He looked down at her and still saw the most beautiful face he had ever laid eyes on.  He pushed a stray lock of hair away from her face and spoke softly.  “Akane.”  He shook himself when the name escaped his mouth, waking the woman beside him.  “No, not Akane.  Kiima.  Sorry.” 

 

He tried to sit up, but a pair of strong arms held him.  Kiima looked up into his eyes.  “It’s all right.”  She spoke softly.  “For you I will be Akane, whatever it takes to make up for what I’ve done.”

 

“I couldn’t.”  He tried to push her away, but she held fast.

 

She pulled herself up on top of him and felt his arousal growing.  She drank of his lips as she rubbed her body against his.  “Call me Akane.”

 

“Akane.”  Ranma pulled her back to him and they proceeded to consummate their wedding vows once again.

 

 

 

A few hours later, the couple finally made their way out of the room and downstairs to find the house empty.  Ranma found a note from his mother telling him that they and the Tendos had all gone to her house for the week to give the couple something of a honeymoon.  They couldn’t afford a real getaway, but this would have to do.  Ranma was slightly surprised that he hadn’t awoken to camera flashes and people cheering downstairs.

 

Upon finding the house empty, Kiima went into the kitchen to fix something for breakfast.  Ranma decided to go through his morning workout routine, even though he was a little more tired than usual.

 

After the food was ready, Kiima went out and watched Ranma practice.  She couldn’t help but marvel at how much his style favored mid-air combat.  A little twist of the hips, an extra throwing of weight, and he appeared to fly into the air.

 

He finally settled down and noticed that she was watching him.  “Something wrong?”  He asked.

 

She just shook her head.  “No, nothing’s wrong.”  She suddenly became shy and started to turn her foot on the ground.  “I was wondering…if it’s not too much to ask…”

 

He looked at her with a confused stare.  “What?”

 

“Could you teach me to fly?”

 

 

 

Nine months after the wedding, Kiima bore Ranma’s first child.  The girl, Megumi, brought the couple closer, and her grandparents much joy.  As time passed, she and Saffron became like a normal brother and sister.  Both children already had budding wings, so Ranma eventually sent a letter to the Jusenkyo guide for a barrel of Nyannichuan so that his daughter could be ‘normal’ when she eventually went to school.  He didn’t go for the water himself because he never wanted to visit the Jusenkyo valley ever again.

 

A few years passed and Ranma eventually began to call Kiima by her name in their wedding bed.  He eventually came to terms with the loss of Akane and learned to love his wife.  He also taught her the Saotome and Tendo forms of Anything Goes Martial Arts, so she could reasonably pass as Akane and fly once more into the air.  The Full Body Cat’s tongue eventually wore off, but she still enjoyed training with her husband and could not wait to begin teaching the children martial arts.

 

In the summer of their fifth year together, Ranma was watching the children play while Kiima cooked dinner.  The pigtailed martial artist was a little worn out from teaching classes all day and then babysitting the kids.  He wondered where everybody else was.  Kasumi and Nabiki had long since moved out.  His mother and father had sold their house and moved in; Genma was making good on trying to milk his son’s ability for all it was worth, freeloading deluxe.  His mother just wanted to be near her grandchildren.  Saffron was still a mystery to all of them, but she just accepted him as another grandchild.  Ranma thought it was funny that they would all disappear in the evening.  He guessed that they still had not found out that Kiima could cook.

 

A strange ring brought his attention toward the back of the dojo.  “What was that?”

 

Kiima walked out onto the patio, wiping her hands on a towel.  “That sounded like the challenge bell.”

 

He gave her a confused look.  “That thing works?”

 

She gave him an amused smile.  “Yes, only this is the first time that anyone has ever bothered to use it.”

 

At that moment the conversation ceased as the person that they supposed was the challenger rounded the corner of the house.  They could tell it was a woman with her lithe, graceful movements and the flashes of her body that they saw through her swirling black cloak.  She was wearing a dingy, brown, skin-tight outfit that looked like it had seen better days.  The hood of the cloak obscured their view of the challenger’s face.

 

“Kids, you need to play inside now.”  Kiima calmly called to the children.  They looked at the visitor and then to their mother and decided that they feared their mother more.  They did as she asked and went into the house.

 

Ranma stood in a relaxed stance as he looked at the visitor.  “You’ve come to challenge me?”

 

The woman shook her head, extended her arm, and pointed at Kiima.  The Phoenix woman quickly tossed her apron aside and dropped into a stance that matched Ranma’s, despite wearing a housedress.  “So you’re here to challenge me.”

 

The woman nodded her head and finally spoke.  “I’m hear to challenge you as the rightful heir of the Tendo School of Anything Goes Martial Arts.”  Ranma and Kiima both gasped when the girl pulled the hood of the cloak back to reveal the face of Akane Tendo.  Her hair had grown down to below her shoulders and her demeanor was much harder, but it was the lost daughter of Tendo.

 

“A-Akane…”  Ranma managed to get out.  “Y-you’re alive!”

 

“No thanks to you, idiot.”  Akane snapped at him.  “I know you were upset, but did you have to bury me alive?”  His shoulders fell as his strength seemed to drain from him.  She smirked at him.  “But I can forgive you.  It was a week before I could move again.  Luckily the fallen Phoenix head sheltered me.”  She looked over at Kiima.  “Ironic, isn’t it.”

 

“Mommy, why is she wearing your face?”  Megumi’s curiosity had gotten the best of her, so she had come to investigate.

 

Akane smiled at the little girl.  “Because I’m the one that gave your mommy that face.”  She turned her sight to her look-alike, and it turned into a glare brimming with hatred.  “Now I’m here to take it back, along with everything else.”

 

Kiima relaxed her stance and dropped her head.  “I will not fight you.  I stole your life, and I must pay for my actions.”  She looked down to Megumi and then returned to Akane.  “I and Saffron will leave.  M-May I take my daughter with me?”

 

The youngest Tendo gave her a cold glare.  “How could I hurt Ranma like that?”

 

The Phoenix woman’s heart dropped.  The punishment for her sins seemed to be too much.  “I’ll gather my stuff.”  She turned to go into the house to take some of the few things that she could call her own, mostly pictures of her with Ranma and Megumi.

 

Akane sauntered over to Ranma.  “Good.  Then Ranma and I can start catching up.”  She smiled up at him.  “So I guess we’re already married?”

 

Ranma had started to become confused at how his until-recently-deceased-fiancé was acting.  Akane could never be this cold and cruel.  “What’s going on, Akane?  Why are you being so mean to her?  She was only trying to repay her debt.”

 

She glowered for a moment.  “I went through hell trying to get back here.  Cologne tried to stop me.   She caught me when I was leaving Jusendo and imprisoned me.  I went through years of labor until I could finally escape, and then I come home to see a woman has had a child by MY fiancé!  How am I supposed to act!”

 

“I’m sorry, Akane.”  Ranma managed.  “If it makes you feel any better, for the first two years I called her Akane while we made love.”

 

She bristled a bit at that, but shook it off.  “You never could keep your foot out of your mouth could you?”  She strode up to him and put her arms around his neck.  “Luckily, I’ve learned some patience.”  She pulled him down for a passionate kiss.

 

That was the moment that Kiima emerged from the house, transformed into her original form and packed for departure.  She could do nothing as her heart was shattering.  She loved Ranma, but she knew that she was only a replacement for the woman that was kissing him now.  When they broke for a breath, Kiima spoke up.  “I’ll be leaving now.”  Akane smirked at her with an arrogant, belittling smile.

 

“You’re not going anywhere.”  They both turned to Ranma in surprise.  His expression went cold as he turned to Akane.  “Isn’t that right, Shampoo?”

 

The youngest Tendo’s eyes went wide.  “What are you talking about, idiot?  Can’t you see it’s me, Akane?!”

 

He reached up and touched his lips with his right index finger.  “Always remember.”

 

Akane’s eyes lit up as those words were uttered.  “How could you think I was Shampoo?!”

 

“How could you come back twice after Cologne forbade you?”  Ranma folded his arms.

 

The jig was up as far as Shampoo was concerned.  She snarled. “Sometimes I think you are too smart for you own good.”  She turned toward Kiima and took a single step away from Ranma.  “What I said was true.  Great-Grandmother did imprison me for going to your wedding.  It took me years to get back into her good graces and learn Japanese well enough to pass for Akane.  After a brief trip to a certain pool I came looking for you.”  She narrowed her eyes.  “Now you’ve rejected me again.  I have no honor left.”  She turned and took another step.  “But at least I can have my revenge!”

 

Megumi screamed as Shampoo launched herself toward Kiima, drawing a vicious looking dagger from her cloak.  The winged woman could only stare in horror as the blade came toward her heart. 

 

At what seemed like the last instant, Ranma came up in front of Shampoo, grabbed her wrist, and turned the blade back into her.  Her falling momentum caused her to impale herself on the knife.  Her body went limp and she fell into Ranma.  “Wo da, airen.”  She managed before she breathed her last breath.

 

Ranma gently laid her on the ground as a tear made its way down his face.  This was not how he wanted this to end.  One part of him had hoped that this was really Akane, but another part knew that he would not have been able to leave Kiima.  When he discovered it was Shampoo, he hoped that he could make peace between all of them, but he had failed yet another one of his fiancés.

 

He looked up when he felt a hand on his shoulder.  Kiima looked down at him with sympathy in her eyes.  “This is the way she wanted to go.  To die in battle is the only way an Amazon can die.  She got her warriors death in the end.”

 

Ranma slowly stood up and looked back at her.  “A part of me wished that it was really Akane come back to me, but…”  He found that he could not properly relate his earlier thoughts to her.

 

She gathered him into her arms and brought her wings around to enfold him in a cocoon of feathers.  After spending five years with the man as his wife, she had come to realize what he was about to say.  “I know.  I love you too.”