Chapter Twelve

“The Making of a Man”

 

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.  Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

1 Corinthians 13:11-12

 

1995

 

            “RANMA NO BAKA!!!”

 

            Ranma was used to these trips via air-malletsama.  The same thing would happen everyday.  He’d get up, argue with Akane, spar with his pop, argue with Akane, eat breakfast, argue with Akane, go to school while arguing with Akane…  It was a repeating cycle.  Even after the events of Jusendo and the failed wedding, nothing had really changed.  This was going to be his last year of High School. This was supposed to be a big year of change.

 

            He sighed inwardly.  Of course he was going to hit something really hard, because, naturally, Akane could always aim him toward the hardest objects in the vicinity.  He looked down where he was heading.  “Oh crap!  GET OUT OF THE WAY!!!”

 

            There was a girl that looked to be about his age.  She had long brown hair, dressed in an odd school uniform.  She looked like she maybe weighed a buck twenty-five soaking wet and carrying a sack of potatoes.  He knew instantly that she wouldn’t be able to withstand the impact.

 

            Using his advanced skills in the Saotome School of Anything Goes Martial Arts, he managed to alter his course enough to catch a telephone poll with an outstretched arm.  He felt the muscles in his arm pull against the momentum his body had built up while falling.  He spun around the poll and turned his fall into a skid on the sidewalk.

 

            Ranma stood up and brushed himself off.  He looked down and saw where part of the leg of his pants had been burned off from the sidewalk friction.  “Well, there goes that pair of pants.”  He thought.  “Might as well go home and change before heading back to school.”

 

            “Excuse me, are you okay?”  He heard a voice behind him.

 

            He turned around to see the girl he had barely avoided.  He scratched the back of his head with his good arm and smiled a nervous grin.  “It’s nothing.  Happens all the time.”

 

            She gave him a concerned look.  “Really?  You mean this doesn’t hurt?”  She poked the shoulder of the arm he had used to snag the telephone poll.

 

            “OACH!!!  What’dya do that for?”  He cried out in pain.  He turned to glare at her and saw something that astonished him, genuine regret.

 

            “I’m really sorry.  I…I just wanted to help.”  A tear welled up in her eye.

 

            “Oh, no.  Please don’t…” He took a deep breath.  “I’m sorry I yelled at you.  It just hurt when you did that.”

 

            She smirked.  “So you were just being macho before, eh?”

 

            “Yeah, I mean, No…” Ranma’s shoulders slumped.  “Listen, I’m sorry about the yelling and almost landing on you.  I’ll just be going.”  He turned to leave.

 

            “Wait a minute.”  He turned back to her.  In her face was a look of concern.  “Let me take a look at that shoulder.  You might have pulled something.”

 

            “I don’t think that’s such a good idea, I mean, I’ve got to get going.”  He tried to cover his exit gracefully, failing miserably.  She gave him the puppy dog eyes.  “Don’t do that.”  She put her hands on her hips and glared at him.  “Okay, just one question.  Are you here to marry, or kill Saotome Ranma?”

 

            She gave him a funny look.  “No.  Never heard of him.  I’m just passing through here on my way to college prep school.”

 

            “Oh good.”  He heaved a sigh of relief.

 

            “Are you Saotome Ranma?”

 

            “Yeah.”

 

            “Does that sort of thing happen to you often?”

 

            “More than I could ever want.”  He rolled his eyes.

 

            She pointed over her shoulder to a nearby park.  “Come on.  You and I can sit in the park.  While I fix your shoulder, you can tell me all about it.  Okay?”

 

            “What do you get out of this?”  He asked cautiously.

 

            She gave him an unbelieving look.  “Nothing.  I just want to help you.  Why are you so suspicious?”  She watched a haggard look passed over his face.  She could almost see the painful memories playing across his face.  “You’re not used to charity, are you?”

 

            “Charity?  What’s that?”  He asked.

 

            She took a deep breath.  “Thought so.  Come over here and I’ll show you what charity is.  It’s giving something without expecting anything in return.  Now let’s take a look at your shoulder.”  She started walking toward the park.

 

            He followed her at a sedate pace.  He was really confused.  Didn’t all women want to marry and/or kill him?  Didn’t they always expect something in return for something they do?  Sure, Dr Tofu had patched him up a few times, but he got paid.  Why was she doing this?  Wait a minute, didn’t she say she was on her way to school.  She’s going to miss school because of him.  He couldn’t let anything bad happen to her because of him.  He didn’t even know her.  “Hey, aren’t you going to miss class or something?  I don’t want you to get into any trouble cause of me.”

 

            She turned and smiled at him.  He blushed slightly.  “Don’t worry.  My grades and attendance are good enough that I can miss a day.  Besides, I’ve already taken the practice college entrance exam a thousand times, and have aced it the last hundred or so.”

 

            He scratched the back of his head.  “Wow.  You must be pretty smart.”

 

            “I’m going to be a doctor.”  She smiled again and ushered him to a park bench.  “Have a seat.”

 

            He sat down and she started to examine his shoulder.  Luckily he was wearing one of his sleeveless Chinese shirts today.  He felt a few sharps pains as she poked around.  He started to talk to take his mind off of the pain.  “That’s great that you’re going to be a doctor.  I’d never be able to do that with my grades.”

 

            She narrowed her eyes and looked at him.  “You look pretty smart to me.  I’m usually a pretty good judge of that.”

 

            He smirked.  “If it’s martial arts, I can do anything, or learn anything.  I just never found school interesting.  Plus I spent ten years of my life on the road, so I missed a lot of the work and have been behind a while.”

 

            A look passed over her face that he knew all too well.  It was the same look he got on his face when there was the prospect of a new martial arts challenge.  The excited look of anticipated, enjoyable challenge.  “Maybe you need a tutor.  I could help you get your diploma.  What year are you?”

 

            He chuckled a bit.  “Senior.”

 

            She smiled brilliantly.  “You’re the same age as me!”  She finished up his shoulder by applying some ointment from her purse.  “I could tutor you and then you could go on to a university.”

 

            Ranma didn’t really know what to think.  “Uh, okay.”  He thought for a second.  He was failing most of his classes.  Akane would pass him on if he didn’t graduate.  He definitely wasn’t going to get help around his normal crowd.  And his family?  Let’s just say it wasn’t ‘manly’ to ask for help.  “Sure, but how about this.  I meet you at this park after school everyday.  We can study here or your house.”

 

            “Why not your house?”  She asked curiously.

 

            “Here’s the part where you hear my life story…”

 

            She smiled.  “Well, before you start, I haven’t introduced myself.”  She gave him the best bow she could, sitting on the bench.  “My name is Ikari Yui.”

 

 

 

2015

 

            Ranma had been working on the condominium, trying to finish the renovations, when the phone rang.  “Hello?”

 

            “Ranma?”  It was Akane’s voice and she was hysterical.

 

            “What is it, Akane?”  He asked quickly.

 

            “Kaji’s disappeared!  He told me about his jobs.  I’m really worried about him.  I can’t find him anywhere.”  She was starting to come unglued.

 

            “Keep looking.  I’ll see if I can find him around headquarters.” 

 

            “Thanks, Ranma.”  Her voice had some relief in it.  “Look at the bright side, at least this time your not saving me.”

 

            Ranma nodded grimly.   “Thanks.”  He hung up the phone.  No sooner had he hung up the phone that it rang again.  “Hello?”

 

            “Ranma?”  It was Misato this time, with a little bit of panic to her voice.

 

            He groaned as he put a hand to his temples.  He knew today was going to be one of those days.  “Yes?”

 

            “Didn’t you hear anything I said while we were on honeymoon?”  Her voice took on its playful tone.

 

            He rolled his eyes.  “Yes…dear.   What’s going on?  Akane just called me frantically wanting to know where Kaji is.”

 

            Misato went into full serious mode, her voice at a whisper.  “It’s about Kaji.  They think he’s kidnapped the vice commander.  They’re locking me up for the time being because of my past with him.  He’s doing something foolish, I just know it.  This is my one phone call, Ranma.  Make it a good one.  I love you.”  With that she hung up the phone abruptly.

 

            “She was being watched.”  He thought.  “No doubt the line was tapped.  That’s why she didn’t go into detail.”  He sniffed himself.  “I need a shower and change before I do anything.”

 

He went into the master bedroom and looked for a change of clothes.  Everything was still piled up for laundry.  They hadn’t had a chance to take care of it since arriving back.  Plus the fact that when they got off work Misato thought they were still on honeymoon. He looked around for a clean set of clothes, and found nothing but the paper-wrapped package that she had given him what seemed like a lifetime ago.

 

            He unwrapped the package and looked at the contents.  “Well, if I’m going to go rescue someone, I might as well wear appropriate clothing.”  He pulled out the red Chinese shirt.

 

 

 

1995

 

            Ranma tugged nervously at the collar of his red Chinese shirt.  She would be here any minute.  Any time now, she would show up and help him for no other reason than the challenge to make him a good student, and succeeding so far.  They had been meeting for a while now, and it still unnerved him that she wanted nothing in return.  He wanted to do something to repay the kindness, but what?

 

            “Ranma?”

 

            He turned to see something that made his heart seize.  “You cut your hair!”

 

            She smiled back at him as she ran a hand through her now short hair.  “It’s what all the college girls are doing this year.  What do you think?  Do you like it?”

 

            He thought about it for a little bit.  Her hair was thinner than Akane’s, so it wasn’t as full, but there was enough there to frame her face perfectly.  There was only one word for it.  “Kawaii…”

 

            She beamed her beautiful smile at him.  “Thank you, Ranma.”  She frowned as she got a closer look at his face.  There was another bruise there.  “What happened this time?”

 

            He absently rubbed his bruised cheek.  “Ah, that stupid tomboy decided she wanted to play with P-Chan again.  I’m trying to save her from Ryoga, and she hits me for it.”

 

            Yui shook her head.  “I still don’t see why you don’t just tell her about him.”  Ranma had told and shown her long ago about Jusenkyo.  “All he’s ever done is use your honor against you.  I’d say he doesn’t deserve it any longer.”

 

            “I’m glad somebody is on my side, but still, my word is my honor.  I can’t break my honor.  It’s the only thing I have that I can truly call my own.”  He sighed.  “And that macho chick won’t listen to me.”  He rubbed his cheek again.

 

            Yui gave him a withering look.  “Ranma, hasn’t anyone ever told you; if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all?”

 

            He gave her a dumbfounded look.  “Uh, no.”

 

            She raised an eyebrow and then let out a sigh.  “I keep forgetting you didn’t have any real parents.  Come on, while we study I’m going to give you a few hints about getting along with people…”

 

 

 

            Ranma was smiling broadly as he made his way home.  Yui had helped clear up a lot of things.  Hopefully, some of what she told him would actually work!  He whistled a little tune as he entered the dojo grounds.  “I’m home!”  He shouted as he came in.

 

            “Look who’s mister cheery today.”  Nabiki deadpanned.

 

            “And good evening to you Nabiki.”  He quipped back with a smile.

 

            Akane stood up from in front of the TV.  “Ranma, where have you been?  I’ve been wondering if you needed help with your homework.” 

 

            He smiled broadly and pulled out his completed homework.  “Already finished, but thanks for the concern.”  “Must keep voice genuine…” He thought.

 

            “Let me look at that.”  Nabiki took the paper and looked it over.  “Hey, most of these are right!  Wow, if this wasn’t in your handwriting, I would have said you’ve been having someone doing your homework for you.”

 

            “Nope, just found a good place to study.”  He smiled.

 

            “Probably with Ukyou I bet.”  Akane scoffed from the side.

 

            “So why don’t you show me this miracle study place?”  Nabiki asked.

 

            Ranma snatched back his paper and stuffed it into his school bag.  “Nope.  First, I tell you, you sell it to everyone, and then I can’t study anymore.  Do you want me to be uneducated forever?”

 

            The middle Tendo daughter raised an eyebrow.  “Who are you and what did you do with the real Ranma?”  She asked.

 

            He smirked.  “He’s still here.  He’s just making sure he doesn’t get stuck in High School all his life.”

 

            Akane smiled.  “Well, since your doing so well, maybe a little celebration is in order.  I’ll make some dinner for you!”

 

            “That’s nice of you, Akane, but you don’t…”  He couldn’t complete the lines that Yui had taught him fast enough.  Akane was already gone from the room and the destruction of the kitchen could be heard from where he stood.

 

            Nabiki gave him a sympathetic pat on the shoulder.  “Damned if you do.  Damned if you don’t.”  She smirked and headed up the stairs.

 

            Ranma just stood in place.  “Mustn’t insult anyone.  Mustn’t insult anyone.”  Kept on repeating in his mind.  He thought quickly what he could do.  Then he had a wide grin on his face when he remembered the martial arts dining.  He’d just have to modify it a bit.

 

           

 

            That evening Akane indeed served one of her ‘masterpieces’.  Ranma was getting nauseas just smelling it.  “Couldn’t she at least make her curry?”  He thought.  “At least that’s partly edible.”  He decided he’d take one real taste, just to see if it had any redeemable value.  Miracles are known to happen.

 

            He took a small bite.  It took every bit of his strength to keep his face from twisting into a grimace.  He covered it with a faked surprise look.  “This is actually decent Akane.”  He then started moving his hands faster than he had ever before.  Everyone just thought he was using his usual gusto at eating.

 

            He stood up and patted his stomach.  “That was good Akane.  I’m going to go grab a bath.”  He left the room.

 

            Akane was glowing from the compliment.  She couldn’t believe that he hadn’t said one bad word about her cooking.

 

            Soun and Genma were proclaiming the power of true love and how it helped Akane over her cooking handicap.  Kasumi just smiled her vacant smile at everyone’s antics.  Nabiki was the only one to notice the koi in the pond out back floating to the top.

 

           

 

            Time passed and summer turned to fall.  It was too cold for Ranma and Yui to study in the park anymore, and, since her parents would have a cow if she brought a boy home, they started going to some of the eateries around the park to study.  They had met a few times for their little ‘dates’.  As Ranma progressed with his studies, learning at the same rate that he learned martial arts (thanks to Yui), they spent less time studying and more time talking, laughing, and such.

 

            One day toward late October, they were eating sandwiches at a coffee house near the park.  Yui looked up at Ranma.  “You’d think that with all the trouble in your life, you’d be more worried about someone following you here.”

 

            Ranma smirked his usual cocky grin.  “It’s no problem.  Thanks to my pop’s Umi-Sen-Ken technique, no one can follow me.  I have had to ditch a few watchers, but otherwise there’s been no problem.”

 

            “You mean nothing bothers the great Saotome Ranma?”  She smiled an amused grin at him.

 

            “There is one thing I worry about.”  He took a bite of his sandwich.

 

            “And what’s that?”  She asked.

 

            Ranma finished chewing his bite (something Yui had taught him to do early in their dining times), and spoke.  “Ryoga.  I’m afraid he’ll show up and mess things up.”

 

            “You mean he’ll find where you’re going?”

 

            “No, he’ll stumble on it accidentally.  He’s about the only one who has a chance of finding my special study place.”  He smiled at her.  “Or my special tutor.”

 

            She blushed a bit.  “Thank you, Ranma.”

 

            “For what?”  He looked confused.

 

            She couldn’t help but smile at how naïvely cute he was.  “For thinking so much of me.”

 

            “I think a lot of you.”

 

 

 

            Akane couldn’t believe it.  Ranma was actually doing his best to get along with her!  They hadn’t had a real fight in a long time.  Of course there were still times when she had to pound him for being stupid or a pervert, but otherwise things were looking up.  He was even eating her cooking!  Could he really love her?  In fact he was coming home from another study session.  She had tried to get more information out, but he was extremely tight lipped about it.  She had given up after a while.  After all, if it helped them get along better, then it couldn’t be too bad, could it?

 

            Nabiki watched as Ranma came wondering in with that sickeningly bright smile on his face again.  If she didn’t know him better, she would swear he was out getting laid.  She was too busy with her college work to give him her usual attention, but if he kept on coming home this damn happy, she’d have to do something.  The least he could do is wipe that smile off his face before he came in.

 

            Ranma just greeted them all like before, was nice to Akane, complimented Kasumi cooking (which he oddly didn’t eat as much as usual), and he was even partly civil to his father.

 

           

 

            Of course life progressed as normal for Ranma.  Akane got kidnapped again.  Ranma had to cut out of his last class to go catch him.  Ranma didn’t even bother to get the guys name, school, or serial number.  He just burst in beat the crap out of the guy and carried Akane out.

 

            She was so grateful (yet again), but when she went to thank her savior.  He looked at a clock on a storefront.  “Oh crap!  I didn’t realize it took so long to find you!  I’m going to be late for study!”

 

            A myriad of emotions played over Akane’s face.  The first of which was surprise that those words had actually escaped Ranma’s mouth.  Several more played over her before she settled on anger.  Here she was ready to give him a nice reward for saving her (maybe a kiss, the way he had been acting lately), and he just turned to leave!  She brought malletsama to bear.

 

            She cracked him over the head with her might hammer with a satisfying crunch.  Ranma pulled himself out of the concrete.  It was the first angry expression on his face she had seen in a while.  “What’dya do that for?!”  He demanded.  “I just saved your butt, and that’s the way you thank me?!”

 

            “That’s for ignoring me!”  She shouted back.

 

            “Ranma, for the way you’ve treated Akane, PREPARE TO DIE!!!”

 

            Ranma turned in time to leap out of the way of Ryoga’s umbrella.  While he was dodging Ryoga, Akane decided she needed to add a few more lumps of her own.  And of course things went downhill from there.  Mousse and Kuno eventually showed, and Happosai dropped by, just to keep things interesting.  He knew that he was definitely going to be late to meet Yui.

 

 

 

            Yui was getting worried.  Sure Ranma had been late a few times, but not this bad.  He was over three hours late.  She’d have to be getting home soon if he didn’t show up.  She was getting afraid that he wasn’t going to show.  She knew something bad must have happened if he hadn’t shown up.  She was about to go call the police when she heard her name being called softly from the side.  She turned quickly and saw Ranma walking toward her slowly while he leaned on a walking stick.  “Oh my god!  Ranma!  You’re hurt!”  She ran to his side and lifted his arm over her shoulder.

 

            “Don’t do that.”  He said softly.  “You’ll get blood on your clothes.”

 

            “Like I care about that right now!”  She walked him toward a bench in the park and sat him down.  Ironically it was the first bench they had sat on together four months ago.  “What happened to you?”

 

            He leaned against the bench and his head rolled back.  “Oh, you know, the usual.  I save Akane from someone else who wants to kidnap her.  She hammers me for a thank you.  Everyone else joins in the fun.”

 

            “Why didn’t you just escape?”

 

            “They would have tailed me all the way here.  I couldn’t risk them finding you, I had to defeat them.”

 

            Yui’s face was full of pity as she cleaned up his wounds.  Luckily, since she had been hanging out with Ranma, she had always packed a first aid kit.  At the very least some bandages.  She patched up the cut on his sides and arms and then worked her way up to his face.  “Ranma, Ranma, Ranma”, was all she could say as she worked on him with a sad look on her features.  She tilted his head up so she could look at his face.  He had a small cut above his eye and a skinned cheek.

 

            As she was cleaning up the blood from over his eye, his arm came up and grabbed her hand.  She looked at him with a questioning look.  “Yui?”

 

            “Yes, Ranma?”  She had a concerned look on her face at the pain in his voice.

 

            “You would never hurt me, right?”

 

            Tears welled up in her eyes.  She saw a man in front of her that had been through too much.  He had no one he could count on, no one he could trust.  Her heart went out to him.  She had thought she might have been falling for the pigtailed martial artist, but now she was sure, but she was still rational.  “Ranma, I can’t say that, because people hurt each other without meaning to.  We are, after all, human.  But I will promise you this:  I will do everything I can to take away the pain and I will never intentionally hurt you.”

 

            That seemed to satisfy him.  He let go of her and she went back to cleaning him up.  She sopped up the blood and bandaged the cut.  As she was applied ointment to the scrape on his cheek, her rubbing turned into caressing. 

 

Their eyes met.  Electricity went through their bodies at the contact.  If asked later, neither one of them could say who started it, but it happened.  Their faces neared each other and their lips met.  The kiss was clumsy from two inexperienced teenagers, but it was the entire world to them right now.  They held this kiss for a small eternity.

 

They pulled away from each other.  Ranma looked deep into her eyes.  “Yui, I love you.”

 

Tears were coming down her face as she smiled broadly at him.  “I love you too, Ranma-Kun.”  She put her arms around him and they held each other until the sun went down.

 

 

 

2015

 

            Misato was getting bored.  She had been sitting in this holding cell for hours now.  She was glad that she wasn’t further along on her pregnancy, otherwise the baby would be giving her fits right now.

 

            “Misato.”

 

            She turned her head and saw Ranma fade in from the shadows.  “I’ll never know how you do that.”  She smiled at him.  She suddenly    noticed what he was wearing, and her smile grew wider.  “You finally wore it.”

 

            He walked over and kissed her forehead.  “We need to do laundry when you get out of here.”

 

            She leaned forward and chuckled into his chest.  “I thought that’s what we had kids for.”

 

            The martial artist took a step back and lifted her face up.  “How are you holding up?”

 

            “I’m fine.”  She soothed him.  “They make sure that I get food.  Even my odd tastes thanks to little Ranma here.”  She patted her stomach.

 

            He put his hand over hers on her stomach.  “Take care of him or her.  I’m going to go after Kaji.”

 

            “Be careful, Ranma.”

 

            He gave her a quick peck on the lips.  “I will…dear.”

 

            She smiled as he faded from view again.

 

 

 

1996

 

            Ranma was whistling a merry tune on his way to the park.  Graduation was coming soon and he would be walking out with a diploma thanks to Yui.  In fact, they were meeting today to celebrate!  No study, just her and him.  Absolutely nothing could go wrong today!

 

            Of course having that thought pass through his mind, something had to go wrong.

 

            “RANMA, PREPARE TO DIE!!!”  Ryoga’s all too familiar battle cry sounded.

 

            Ranma turned to him.  “No!  Not here, not now!” He cried in his mind.  He spoke up when Ryoga charged in.  “What are you doing here?”

 

            “I’m going to destroy your happiness!”  Ryoga growled.  The lost boy had made that threat several times before and Ranma never really reacted.  But this time he watched as his nemesis’ eyes narrowed and his muscles tensed.

 

            Ranma knew that threat all to well, except this time he had actually been happy.  Ryoga made his taunt, and the first thing that popped into Ranma’s mind was Yui.  Yui, the woman he loved.  He was NOT going to let anything happen to her.  “This is your only chance, Ryoga.  Leave while you’re still able to move.”

 

            The lost boy gave him an arrogant smirk.  “Like you can back that up, Ranma.  This time I will defeat you.  I’ve been toughening and strengthening up since our last battle, and this time it will just be you and me.  I’ll prove once and for all who deserves Akane!”

 

            Ranma smirked.  “You can have her.”

 

            “What?”  Ryoga got a really confused look on his face.

 

            The pigtailed martial artist just smiled his cocky grin.  “If you want her that much, why don’t you just take her.”  He stopped and tapped his finger on his chin.  “Oh yeah, I remember why you don’t.  If she finds out you’re P-Chan, she’ll kill you.  Silly me.”  He squared off on the boy.  “Why don’t you just get out of here while I’m still feeling generous with your life.”

 

            “DIE!!!”

 

            Ryoga charged in for a full assault.  Ranma managed to turn most of the blows aside and dodged the rest.  He waited until Ryoga left a punch out too long.  He let it pass in front of his chest.  He grabbed the arm with his right hand and drove his left elbow into Ryoga’s face as hard as he could.

 

            The directionally impaired martial artist staggered back a bit, holding his face.  Ranma had a smug look on his face.  That was until Ryoga started laughing.  He pulled his hand away from his face to reveal that there was no injury.  “Is that the best you can do, Ranma?  If that’s all you got, then I’m sorry I wasted the effort looking for you.”

 

            There was an audible thunk when Ranma’s jaw hit the ground.  “What in the hell?”

 

            Ryoga smiled his toothy grin as he pulled his bandanna off.  Underneath was a small gold wire frame circlet with a red jewel in the middle.  “The old man said that I could defeat you with this, but this is too good to be true!  You’re powerless Ranma.”

 

            “Of course, he couldn’t beat me without help.”  Ranma thought to himself. “So you’ve found yet another crutch to help you beat me.”  He spoke aloud.  “Not surprising.  You never could take me fair and square.”

 

            The lost boy popped his knuckles.  “Today you die Saotome.  Kiai!”

 

            The battle became fiercer this time.  Ranma pulled out everything he had and then some, but nothing affected Ryoga while he wore that circlet.  He tried Katchu Tenshin Amaguriken, no effect.  The Moko Takabishi?  He shrugged it off like it was nothing.

 

            The battle raged around the little block.  Buildings were destroyed, walls crumbled, and people screamed at their approach and fled.  Ranma had to bring Ryoga back to the park to try and contain the damage.  Ryoga got in a lucky blow and sent Ranma flying into his and Yui’s bench, splitting it in two.  It was an eerie omen as Ranma found himself looking toward the entrance of the park.  Yui stood there with wide eyes of terror.

 

            Ranma’s danger sense flared and he rolled to the side in time to avoid Ryoga’s crushing fist.  The lost boy’s hand created a large crater where the bench once stood.  Ranma jumped back and fired a Moko Takabisha to keep Ryoga’s attention away from Yui.  He couldn’t cry out for her to leave because in the state that Ryoga was in, he would probably hurt her without thinking.  He remembered what he did to Akane’s hair.  He didn’t want the same thing to happen to Yui’s neck.

 

            “I’ve got to end this!”  Ranma thought.   He finally decided on a course of action.  “Yo, Ryoga!  Even if you win, you’ll never get Akane.  She’d never love you!  The first time you change in front of her she will have bacon the next morning!  And who would want a directionally challenged freak like you!”

 

            His taunts had the desired effect as the air began to crackle with the power the lost boy was shedding with his anger.  Suddenly, Ryoga charged forward in a blind berserker rage.  Ranma, with a serious expression on his face, began leading the lost boy into the spiral.  At last he came to the end of it.

 

            “Hiryu Shoten HA!!!”  Ranma threw his fist up and the tornadic winds swirled about him, carrying the lost boy aloft.

 

            In the midst of the cyclone, laughter sounded once more.  “You fool, Saotome!  You think that this could beat me?  I’m invincible!”  Amidst his turning in the wind, Ryoga started firing his own chi blasts.

 

            The balls of energy were wild and erratic, but it forced Ranma to keep on his toes.  The winds were picking up, as Ryoga’s power seemed to increase more.  He was effectively trapped, but he was still dangerous.

 

            At last one of his energy blasts went toward Yui.  It fell short of her, but blew up the wall she was hiding behind.  Her small frame was quickly swept up into the maelstrom.

 

            “YUI!!!”  Ranma shouted.

 

            Ryoga couldn’t understand what Ranma had said, but he heard him call out.  The lost boy turned to see a girl trapped in the twister with him.  “Oh no!”  Ryoga shouted and tried to make his way over to help her out.

 

            Down on the ground, Ranma saw Ryoga trying to claw his way toward Yui.  “Oh god, he heard me!”  He thought.  “He’s going to kill her!  There’s only one more thing to try.  I never actually tried it before, but I saw Kumon Ryu do it enough in our fight, I think I can pull it off.”

 

            Ranma leapt toward Yui using all of his strength.  He caught her with one arm a few feet in front of Ryoga.  With his other arm he made a wide slashing motion.  “Kijin Raishuu Dan!”

 

            The vacuum blade hit Ryoga square in the forehead, shattering the circlet.  As Ryoga passed out the storm died.  Ranma set Yui back on her feet and stomped over to the unconscious lost boy.  “Never threaten her like that again!”  He hauled the other boy up by the front of his shirt, turned around, and launched him into the ether.

 

            Satisfied, he dusted off his hands and turned back around to Yui.  “Hey, you all ri…”  His words died in his throat as he saw her standing in place, trembling almost violently.  “What’s the matter?”

 

            “You and he did all this?”  She waved her hand around.

 

            Ranma looked around and saw the aftermath of carnage that was left by he and Ryoga’s battle.  Nothing unusual to him in fact…  “It doesn’t look as bad as it usually does when he shows up with a new trick.”

 

            Her face had a look of sheer terror.  “I thought you were kidding.”

 

            “What?”

 

            “I thought you were kidding about your fights.  Guys like to boast and make their adventures seem larger than life.”

 

            “You didn’t react this bad when you saw my curse!”

 

            “A magical curse is one thing.  This,” she swung her arm wide, “is something entirely different.  A lot of people could have been hurt or killed!”

 

            “Come on, Yui.  Let’s just go get some dinner, you’ll feel better afterward.”  He reached out and tried to put his hand on her shoulder.

 

            She pulled back from him.  “I can’t do this, Ranma.  This isn’t something I’m equipped to handle.”

 

            “What?”  His face had a look of dread anticipation on it.

 

            “I can’t live in your world.  This is too dangerous!  I have to go.”

 

            “We could run away from this!”

 

            She looked at him with some pity.  She had promised that she wouldn’t hurt him intentionally, but she couldn’t take what kind of danger Ranma’s enemies were to those around him.  “If you run away, they will follow.  I can’t fight them, and you can’t watch over me twenty-four hours a day.  I’m sorry, but I have to leave.” 

 

“You can’t, I love you!  I’d leave everything behind for you!”  He was pleading now.  “I’ll leave behind all the engagements, the dojo, even honor.  Anything for you!”

 

“Ranma, you mustn’t run away.  You have to deal with your problems before someone you care about gets hurt!”

 

He reached out one last time, but she turned away quickly, tears flying form her eyes as she turned and fled.

 

Ranma began to feel numb.  He had driven her away.  He had loved her, told her so, did everything in his power, and he still drove her away.  Was it because he was a freak?  She was scared.  She was scared of him.

 

“No.”  He looked down at his hands as he flexed them.  “No, not a freak.  A monster, a dangerous monster!  NOOOO!!!”  He shouted as he leapt toward the nearest building.  He came down on the roof hard and began to cry.  Why was he this way?  What had made him so terrible?

 

He wallowed in his misery for what felt like an hour.  In the midst of his lamentation, he had an epiphany.  Suddenly he knew why he was the person he was.  He knew exactly why.  It was them, they, everyone, all those around him!  They made him the man he was.  He stood up and wiped his tears away.  He had to deal with his problems, eh?  He would deal with his problems, once and for all.

 

He leapt from the building and made his way back into the Nerima district of Tokyo.  He landed and decided to just walk the rest of the way back to the Tendo Dojo.

 

Inevitably, someone came from the shadows.  “For what you’ve done to my darling Shampoo, you’ll pay Saotome!”  Mouse sprang like a panther from the shadows behind the pigtailed martial artist.

 

Ranma didn’t even turn around to face him.  He just extended his hand behind himself and unleashed a powerful chi blast.  The ball struck the blind Amazon and sent him flying though a wall of a nearby building.  As unconsciousness began to overtake him, Mouse got one last look at the green wisps of smoke trailing from Ranma’s hand.  “Shishi Hokoudan?”  He asked no one before darkness finally took him.

 

Without turning back once, Ranma continued his grim march.  It wasn’t long before another of them crossed his path.

 

“Ranma-Sama!”  Kodachi jumped up onto a parapet of a nearby building and twirled her ribbon, starting her standard grand entrance.  “You’re all mine now, my love!”

 

Ranma turned and threw a vacuum blade that severed her ribbon into small pieces and sliced through the parapet she was standing on.  She dropped to the ground unceremoniously on her rear end.  With a look of cold anger, Ranma stood over her.

 

 “Leave me alone!  You have no claim on me!  If you ever mess with me again you will die!  Got that?  DIE!”  He clinched his fist to punctuate his statement.  When he felt his point had been adequately conveyed, he turned to continue his grim walk.

 

“You can’t mean that, Ranma-Sama!”  She pleaded.

 

Ranma turned and threw another vacuum blade.  The attack went straight for her in a single line, tearing up the concrete in its path.  Right in front of her feet, it split in two and demolished the remaining wall to either side of her body.

 

“You will die.  Tell your brother, the same applies to him.”  He continued on, for he knew this night was long from over.

 

After a few more steps, he wasn’t disappointed.  “Airen!”  Shampoo glomped onto him.  “Is lovely night to take Shampoo to date, yes?”

 

He pushed her away violently.  “Get off of me!  I never have or ever will love you!  Why don’t you grab Mousse out of the crater I left him in and take off?!”

 

“Son-in-law.  Love or not, you’re still bound by Amazon law.”  Cologne’s voice came from behind him.

 

Ranma steeled himself.  He decided to use some of the legacy Yui had left him.  “For everything you’ve taught me, I thank you honored elder.  But I cannot live in your world.  My ego would destroy your tribe.  I would rather die than be subservient to women.  Trust me, it’s for the best.  I think your tribe would rather accept Shampoo back as she is than face destruction at my hands.”  He turned and continued his march.

 

“Airen!”  Shampoo shouted and tried to pursue him, but she was brought up short by the matriarch’s staff.  “Great-Grandmother?”

 

Cologne knew the look of pain and hatred in Ranma’s eyes.  Something had happened to him that was very traumatic.  No one had died because he was still walking and talking.  If they were to take him now, there would be no more Amazon tribe.  They were too late.  “That’s enough Shampoo.  He’s right.  It’s time we accepted the truth.  Go get Mousse and we’ll be gone.”

 

“Should leave here.   Would serve stupid Mousse right.”

 

“You’re right.”

 

He made it to the Tendo Dojo without further ado.  Akane was there to meet him at the door.

 

 “Where have you been?”

 

“What?  No one to hit around here without me?”  He asked in a biting tone.

 

“I just want to know where you were!”

 

“None of your business.”

 

“Ranma no baka!”  Once again she brought her the mighty malletsama into play.

 

She was shocked when she didn’t hear the satisfying crunch.  She looked around to see Ranma holding up the head of her mallet.  A small flicker of energy left his hand and suddenly the mallet exploded into splinters!  She was surprised beyond words.  “Look what you’ve done!”  She threw her hardest punch at him.

 

Ranma caught the punch and returned a punch of his own.  He punched her in the stomach and she went flying back until she hit a wall, cracking it with the force of her impact.

 

His grim expression remained the same.  “This is my last martial arts lesson to you.  Don’t swing at someone unless you expect to get hurt.”  He looked down on her with a look that scared her.  “Gather the everyone in the dining room.  I will be down in half an hour.  Do not disturb me until then.”  He turned and strode up the stairs.

 

Upon reaching his and his father’s room, he shut the door and blocked it.  Then he reached over and grabbed his traveling pack.  He neatly packed his meager possessions and, when he was finished, he sat down in the middle of the floor in the lotus position, meditating in preparation of the upcoming conflict.  “I mustn’t run away,” was his mantra as he waited for the half hour to expire.

 

At last the time ran out and he stood.  He gathered his bag and unblocked the door.  He walked down the stairs, calm and determined.  He walked into the dining area and looked at who was there.  “Good,” he thought.  “Both families and …”

 

“Nice to see you, Ryoga.”

 

“For hurting Akane you will pay!” 

 

“SIT DOWN!”  Ranma stomped the back of Ryoga’s knee and dropped the lost boy in a sitting position in extreme pain.  Ryoga was obviously still weak from the previous conflict.

 

Ranma walked until he was looking out the open doors out toward the koi pond.  He took in the sight, as he knew it was the last time he would as a welcome guest.  He turned to address those gathered in the room.  “I have to solution to the engagement problem.”  He paused, waiting until he had everyone’s full attention.  “I won’t marry anyone!”

 

“Foolish boy!  You’ll destroy our family honor!”  Genma protested.

 

“You are the last to lecture anyone about honor, you who are without honor!  Only one of the obligations is remotely my fault, and that’s Shampoo.  But that wouldn’t be a problem if you hadn’t a said, ‘Hey look, a buffet!’”  Ranma shouted back.

 

“Ranma, you have to follow your father’s wishes the alternative is…” Nodoka patted the sword at her side.

 

“Gimme that!”  Before she could react, Ranma took the sword and slung it over his shoulder.  “How could you ask your son to kill himself from a vow made before he could walk, much less make a mature decision.  You are a terrible mother to kill your only child over a stupid pact.”

 

“Son, think about Akane!”  Soun wailed.

 

Ranma’s eyes seemed to flash.  “You should have thought about that a long time ago!  You should have tried thinking about your kids before you force someone into their lives that they never even liked!”

 

Akane started to wilt at that.  Nabiki, seeing her sister’s pain, had to do something.  “If you leave, I’ll make your life hell.”

 

Ranma walked over and bent over until he was face to face with the mercenary.  “The engagement is lost.  There’s nothing standing between you and a bloodstain on the wall.  No one here can defeat me or protect you.”  Nabiki turned white.

 

Ryoga stood back up.  “Hold it right there, Ranma!”

 

“SIT DOWN!!!”  Ranma swung his arm again and released another vacuum blade.  It knocked Ryoga back into the wall.  His battle hardened, and trained stone skin was the only thing that kept him from being cut in half.  As it was, he had a nasty cut across his chest.  It was a light wound, but it still started to bleed profusely.

 

The pigtailed martial artist returned his attention to Nabiki.  “Better yet, I won’t kill you.  I’ll just rip out your tongue and pulverize your hands.  I’ll leave your ears perfectly intact so you’ll be able to hear all the information in the world, but there won’t be a damned thing you can do to take advantage.  Understand?”

 

Nabiki was genuinely frightened for her life.  She had never seen anyone in a killing rage, and she wasn’t about to find out what a person in such a state could do.  She backed down immediately.

 

Coming about once more, Ranma faced Kasumi.  His stone expression seemed to melt a little.  “I’m truly sorry you had to see all this, but you had to see what your family really is.  Don’t waste the rest of your life imprisoned by them.  You’re much too sweet and beautiful to be trapped here.  Go out and live a life of your own.”  He finally turned to Akane.  His expression hardened back to its previous state.  “And you.”

 

Akane got on the defensive.  “You’re not going to blame this on me!”

 

"Why don't you go fuck Ryoga?!  You're already sleeping with him!"  He blared his final revenge.

 

“What?"

 

Ranma took one of the forgotten drinks on the table and flung it on Ryoga, triggering his curse.  Akane saw the transformation and her aura leapt up around her.  “DIE!!!”  She picked the pig up and punted him out the door.  Lucky for Ryoga that wounds are proportional to your size with Jusenkyo curses, or that certainly would have been the end of him.  Akane looked back at Ranma and then realized what a fool she had been.  “Oh Ranma, I’m so sorry.”  A tear was starting to come to her eye.

 

“It’s too late now Akane.”  Ranma shoved the Saotome family blade into his pack and shouldered it.  “I dropped so many hints and you refused to believe me.  I even shouted ‘Ryoga’ at ‘P-Chan’ the entire rhythmic gymnastics match and you never thought twice!”

 

Akane was weeping openly now.

 

“I’m sorry.  I loved you once, but not anymore.  If you had kept to your offer to be friends, it would have been magical.  But not anymore, the magic died on the head of your mallet.”

 

“But I really do love you.”  She managed between her tears.

 

“Too late.”  With that he turned and walked out of their lives forever.

 

Unfortunately, his night wasn’t over yet.  He ran into his last fiancé on his way out of the district.  “Ranchan?”  The okonomiyaki chef had a concerned look on her face.

 

Ranma turned and looked at her with some regret.  “I’m leaving, Ukyou, and I’m not coming back.  The only way to save everyone’s honor is to not marry anyone.”  He took a deep breath to keep from losing his resolve.  “You were always my best friend.  If you had returned as my friend and not my fiancé, you would have had me.  It’s too late now, it’s too late for all of you.”

 

He faced the outskirts of town and never looked back, even when Ukyou’s loud wails of grief followed him into the night.

 

 

 

2015

 

            Ranma shook his head as the ghosts of his past haunted him once more.  He hadn’t found Kaji yet, but he had located Fuyutsuki.  He was in front of a bunch of monoliths that represented Seele, the real Seele, not just the committee that he had seen before.

 

            The vice commander was telling all about his past and evolution of GEHIRN into NERV.  He went back and talked about how he had met Yui and Gendou.  Ranma remembered that year all too well.

 

 

 

1999

 

            Ranma sat alone in a bar.  He was back in Tokyo for the first time in three years.  He wondered if he would ever have come back if the martial arts tournament tour hadn’t come to town.

 

            He’d been traveling with the tour for the past two years.  It had taken him a year to get the recognition he needed to get on the tour, winning all the major tournaments male and female.  He made all the fights look good, but for the most part they were not challenging at all.  In fact he hadn’t found anyone in his class in a long time.  He kind of wished Ryoga would show up, but he hadn’t seen the lost boy since he had left Nerima.  Ranma frequently took time off to visit Herb in China just so he could have a decent challenge.

 

            Now he was a big star of the tour, one of the headliners everyone came to see.  His name on the bill was one of main reasons why he was sitting here in blue jeans and a t-shirt with his hair unbound.  Yui had seen his name on one of the promotional videos and flyers and had managed to thread through the read tape to get a message to meet her here.  He checked his watch once more; she was late.

 

            The bartender shouting brought his attention to a man sitting a couple stools down.  Apparently someone had drunk too much and had run his tab out.  Ranma shrugged.  “Alcoholics.”  He muttered under his breath as he took a slow drink of his beer.

 

            The man was becoming belligerent.  He refused that the bartender wouldn’t give him another drink.  He started begging after a while, but got nowhere.  The man finally gave up on the bartender, but he noticed Ranma sitting at the bar.

 

            The man was rather scraggly looking, thin, with an unkempt mop of black hair on his head.  The rings under his eyes and the slightly gaunt expression reminded Ranma of Gosunkugi.  The man approached him.  “Hey, friend, I seem to have left the rest of my money at the house.  Can you buy me a drink?  I really need it.”

 

            Ranma swiveled his eyes over and glared at him and then went back to his drink.  “No.”

 

            “Come on, man.  I really need it.”  The man went on as he sat next to Ranma.  “I’m supposed to meeting my girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend today.  The way she talks about him, you’d think he walked on water.”

 

            “Maybe she should have stayed with him.”  Ranma grumbled.  “Now, go away.  I’m not going to buy you a drink.”

 

            “Please friend?”  The man put a hand on Ranma’s shoulder.

 

            The martial artist took the drunk’s hand off his shoulder and twisted the man’s arm with it.  He had to go a little bit further (straining some muscles) then he usually would have, just to make sure the man felt it through his stupor.  “I said, no, and never touch me.”

 

            The man held his arm like it was in pain, but still he persisted.  “Come on, friend!”  He stepped up once more.

 

            Ranma rolled his eyes and backhanded the drunk across the face.  He went flying back and crashed through a table.  The martial artist went back to casually sipping his beer.  He did throw some extra yen on the bar for the damage.

 

            The bartender came over and took the money.  “I’ll call the cops to take him to the drunktank for the night.”

 

            “Thanks.”

 

            The cops eventually came and took the drunk away.  About ten minutes afterward, Yui walked in the door.  She smiled brightly at Ranma, she only got a slight smile in return.  Nonplussed, she looked around the bar and sat down next to him.  “It’s been a while, Ranma.”

 

            “Three years since you ran from me.”  He didn’t look at her as he continued to nurse his beer.

 

            Yui looked saddened.  “I’m sorry, Ranma.  I shouldn’t have been like that.  I helped you to be understanding of other people, but I didn’t try to understand you. Can you ever forgive me?”

 

            He let out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding.  “Why shouldn’t you be scared?  I’m a monster after all.”

 

            She looked shocked at him.  “No, Ranma!  No you aren’t!  I…it was my fault!  You needed me and I ran from you.”

 

            Ranma set his empty beer on the counter.  “Let’s just drop it.”

 

            Yui wasn’t satisfied with that, but she went along with his wish.  “Why are you dressed like that with your hair down?”

 

            He turned and gave her a half smile.  “I’m traveling incognito.  I’m a big star now.  Have to dodge the press and all.”

 

            “I saw that.”  She smiled at how he was starting to open up.  “You’re all the rage on the fighting circuit.  I always knew you were great.”

 

            “But you didn’t want to believe it when you saw it.”

 

            Her face went sullen again.  She reached over and hugged him.  “I’m so sorry, Ranma.”  She started crying into his shoulder.  “So sorry…”

 

            He softened a bit and returned the embrace.  “It’s not your fault, Yui.  I’m not normal.  I shouldn’t have endangered your life like that.”

 

            She pushed back.  “Can we just put it in the past and start over?”

 

            He smiled.  “Okay.”

 

            She looked around a bar.  “Where is he?”  She wondered aloud.

 

            Ranma’s brow furrowed.  “Who?”

 

            “Gendou.  I wanted him to meet you.”

 

            “What does he look like?”  She described the drunk that he had just punched out.  His eyes narrowed.  “Why did you call me here?”

 

            She looked a little surprised at the edge of his voice.  “I wanted to you to meet my boyfriend.  I wanted all of us to be friends.  Ranma, I’ve missed you.  I wanted to be friends again.”  He paid for his drink and stood up to leave.  “Where are you going?”

 

            He brushed a lock of his hair out of his face.  “I’m leaving.”  He turned and walked toward the door.

 

            “WHY?”  She asked in a tearful voice.

 

            He spun around on her with an angry expression.  “Friends?  FRIENDS?  You want to be FRIENDS!  I love you, Yui, more than I ever loved Akane or any of the other fiancés!  You think that I would be able to be around you and know that we couldn’t be anything more than friends?  Do you think I would be able to stand watching you with another man?  Did you think I could take watching you have his kids!  I’m sorry, but I couldn’t stand the pain.  Goodbye, Yui.  I hope he makes you happy.”  With that he left without another word, leaving yet another woman crying in his wake.

 

            Ranma didn’t go straight back to his hotel room.  He made a stop by the police station.  Using the Umi-Sen-ken fade, he made his way through to the drunk tank.  He found the haggard man there in the midst of sobering up.  He dropped the veil and the man jumped.  “Listen, Gendou, you had better not hurt Yui, or I’ll make sure you leave this world in several more pieces than you came into it.”  To punctuate his point he punched one of the bars of the cell, making an impression of his fist.  When he saw that the man had sufficiently wet himself, he turned to leave.

 

            As he was about to reached the door, he turned back toward Gendou.  “Oh yeah, and don’t bother calling Yui to bail you out.”

 

            A while after Ranma had left, Gendou was sober enough to call someone to bail him out.  He didn’t dare call Yui, so he rifled through his pocket.  He had the number of his new advisor in there somewhere…

 

 

 

            Ranma went to the tournament that night with a vengeance.  Most of his fights were over before the start bell had finished resonating.  The crowd was wondering if he was sucker punching all the opponents before the bell.  Just the fact that they judges had digital video playback was the only way they could tell that he had indeed been on his side of the ring as the bell was being struck.

 

            Before his final match, one of the tournament coordinators approached him.  “Saotome, I know you must be bored with this batch of fighters, but could you please take a little more time?  These people came to see a show!”

 

            The pigtailed martial artist rolled his eyes.  “Okay, whatever.”

 

            The match started and Ranma stood staring at a man that looked like a mountain of muscle.  He was a real brawler, but nothing Ranma couldn’t handle.  The bell rang and Ranma stood his ground.  The other fighter slowly stalked forward.

 

            “What’s the matter?  The great Saotome Ranma is scared of Bruiser!”

 

            Ranma gave him a withering glare.  “I want you to hit me as hard as you can.”

 

            The man smirked.  “Cocky, ain’t’cha?”  He hauled back and punched Ranma square in the jaw.

           

            His head swiveled to the side slightly, but turned back to the larger fighter.  “Again.”

 

            Bruiser threw a punch directly into Ranma’s stomach, no effect.

 

            “Again!”

 

            The cycle went on.  Ranma taunted the large man, but still he felt nothing.  The larger fighter started to panic and throw several punches at once.  After a while Ranma’s commands of ‘again’ changed to something else entirely.

 

            “It doesn’t hurt.”  He said with some remorse.  “It doesn’t hurt.”  His voice began to shake.  “IT DOESN’T HURT!  GOD DAMN IT, WHY DOESN’T IT HURT!!!”  With the final yell, he punched the other out of the ring, through the stands, and into the far wall.  The paramedics were on Bruiser like flies on a dead carcass.

 

            Ranma just walked out of the ring and back behind the stage area where the other fighters were.  He headed back toward his dressing room, went in, shut the door, and dropped into his chair.

 

            After a couple minutes a knock came at his door.  “Come in.”

 

            A thin, athletic woman dressed in tights and a karate gi top walked in.  She had a cute face with long hair braided to her hips, Yuri Sakazaki, one of the other fighters on the tour.  “Looks like you had a rough night, Ranma.  Care to talk about it?”

 

            He turned back to his mirror.  “No.”

 

            She came up behind him and started rubbing his shoulders.  “You need to relax, honey, and I know just the thing to helped you out.”

 

            He turned and pulled one of her hands off his shoulder.  “I’ve told you before, Yuri.  No.”

 

            She set her hands on her hips.  “What are you saving yourself for Ranma?  You don’t have a girlfriend, or a boyfriend for that matter.  Why don’t you relax a little?”

 

            Ranma thought for a second.  What was he saving himself for?  Marriage?  That was never going to happen thanks to his stupid father.  Yui?  She was probably already having sex with that toothpick Gendou.

 

            While he was thinking, she sashayed up to him and started tracing circles on his chest.  “I’ll make it worth your while.  You’ll enjoy it, I promise.”

 

            Coming to a decision, he looked down and took her head in his hand.  He started kissing her.  With his other hand he loosed the belt on her gi.

 

 

 

2015

 

            Ranma was still soaking up information that was being thrown around when they came to Second Impact.  They played some stock footage to make a point.  Ranma was probably the only one in attendance that heard the “Where the hell am I now?”  Right before the screen went blank.  He smirked.  “I always wondered what happened to Ryoga.”  He thought.

 

            He hadn’t moved from his spot for two reasons.  First of all, this was valuable information.  He now knew almost everything that he was missing about NERV’s purpose and creation.  Second, he had a feeling that Kaji would be showing up here soon.

 

            Seele and Fuyutsuki went on to the events following Second Impact.

 

            Ranma himself remembered what happened shortly after the disaster that had only recently come to haunt him in a different way.

 

 

 

2001

 

            Ranma awoke in a strange bed with his chest wrapped up.  Suddenly the events of the previous night came flooding back.  He had killed someone.  He had killed Kuno.  He would have cried if he had any tears left.

 

            Ukyou came into the room with a fresh change of bandages.  She was still in the tights she was wearing the previous night.  She had obviously brought him back to her place and patched him up, trusting in his innate healing abilities to take care of the wound.

 

            She had joined the tour recently, shedding her family martial arts in favor of a more practical form of hand-to-hand.  She had even rekindled her friendship with the pigtailed martial artist.  And now here she was, putting him all back together again.

 

            “How are you feeling this evening, Ranchan?”  She asked in a cheerful voice.

 

            “Evening?”  He asked with a confused voice.

 

            She nodded her head.  “You’ve been out for a day.  I’ve had to put some water down you and force feed you to make sure your body had some material to heal with.”

 

            He smiled.  “Thank you, Ucchan.  I just wish there was something I could do for you.”

 

            She looked longingly at him.  “There…there is something you could do.”

 

            He got uneasy.  “Listen, you know I can’t marry you.  Everyone else I’m engaged to would lose their honor.”

 

            “You mean the Tendos.”  She walked over and sat on the bed.  She started changing his bandages.  When she pulled away the dirty ones, he saw that she had stitched him up expertly.

 

            “Maybe you should have been a doctor.”  He smirked.

 

            She nodded as she finished changing the bandages and looked into his eyes.  “Ranma, I’m going to offer you a deal.  Just make love to me once, no protection, no strings attached just as if you were my husband.  If you’ll do that for me, then as the last member of my family, I’ll relieve you of your obligation of marriage.”

 

            He looked at her in panic. “What if you get pregnant?”

 

            She smiled.  “I’ve been on birth control for a while.  My monthlies make me sick if I don’t take the pills.  There’s no worry about that.  There’s also nothing to worry about disease because I’m still a virgin.”

 

            He looked at her.  “You’ve been waiting for me?”  She nodded.  His heart dropped.  “Ucchan, I’m sorry, but I can’t do that to you.”

 

            She started to get angry.  “Sure!  You’ll sleep with every other woman on the tour, but you won’t sleep with me!  What’s wrong with me?!  Am I not attractive enough?  Do I smell?”

 

            Ranma shook his hands in warding gestures.  “No! No! No!”  When she had calmed he went on.  “It’s just that you’re my best friend.  I couldn’t do something like that to you.”

 

            She glared at him.  “Ranma, do you know what it’s like to be with the person you love and know that you’ll never be more than friends?  Do you know how much it hurts to do that?  Do you know how often I’ve wanted to run away?  Ranchan, I’ve stayed with you through all the pain, this is the least you could do for me.”

 

            “I…”  His voice caught in his throat as he remembered his last encounter with Yui.  “It would hurt too much…”  He remembered himself saying.  At last he finally understood his friend.  At last he knew what he had put her though all these years.  She was right; this was the least he could do.

 

            He nodded as if making a decision.  When she finished putting the bandages on he put his arm to the base of her back and drew her close.  “You win, Ukyou.  Tonight you are my wife.”

 

            She smiled and brought his face in for a kiss.  More followed, each more passionate than the last, until the night came to its ultimate conclusion.

 

 

 

            The next morning, Ranma woke up and looked at Ukyou, who was still fast asleep.  Guilt flooded his mind as he stood and gathered his things.  As he finished dressing she awoke.  He fumbled for words, but she cut him off.  “Go, Ranma.  You’ve fulfilled your end of the bargain, and now it’s my turn.  No strings attached, remember?”  He nodded and turned to leave.  “I hope you find happiness, Ranchan.”  She said quietly.

 

            “You too, Ucchan.”  He breathed as he left the room.

 

            Ukyou felt guilty as she opened the dresser drawer next to the bed.  Inside was a pack of a month’s worth of untaken birth control pills.

 

 

 

            Ranma looked out upon the Pacific Ocean.  He stood with the Saotome family blade in his hand.  “I know you can hear me mother, and I know you’re disappointed in me.  I’m no longer the boy you once knew.  The boy you knew wouldn’t leave his best friend behind.  The boy you knew wouldn’t kill.  Therefore…”  He unsheathed the blade and pulled his pigtail back.  With one smooth motion he cut it off at the base.  “The boy you knew as Saotome Ranma is dead.  All that is left is the man.”  He threw the pigtail and the blade far out into the ocean.  “I’m going to prove that I am a man among men.  I’ll resolve all our family obligations before ever seeking my own happiness.  Seeking my own happiness first is what got me in this mess in the first place.  I won’t let the family honor down.”

 

 

 

2015

 

Ranma’s patience was rewarded when Kaji came in and freed the vice commander.  “You’ll be in a lot of hot water for this.”  Fuyutsuki warned him.

 

“You let me worry about that.  This was the last mission I’m doing for Seele.”  He said as he untied the older man.

 

Fuyutsuki stood and massaged feeling back into his wrists.  “You’ll be hunted by both sides.”

 

He nodded his head.  “I know.  I’m meeting one more contact and then I’m leaving.”

 

“What about Misato and Akane?”

 

He smiled.  “It will be better this way.”

 

They exited and Ranma followed them.  After a while, they parted ways and Kaji started walking toward the industrial part of town.  Ranma sensed several tails and went to take care of them.

 

 

 

Kaji stood in the abandoned warehouse waiting for his contact to show up.  At last he heard movement.  Hi, you’re a little late, aren’t you?”  He had a shocked look on his face as a NERV intelligence officer stepped out holding a gun.

 

Before he could pull the trigger, he was knocked out from behind.  The officer’s body fell to reveal Akane standing behind him, wearing all black.  “So you were just going to leave without even saying goodbye.”

 

He smiled his roguish grin, he figured it was the only way he’d get out of this with his skin attached.  “It was the only way I could think of to keep them from using you to get to me.”

 

She cocked an eyebrow.  “That’s the BEST you can come up with?”

 

They both jumped when they heard several bodies hit the floor.  They looked around the room and saw several more intelligence officers out cold.

 

Ranma dropped from the rafters and stood in front of them.  “You need to be more careful when you go out.”  Kaji smirked at him.  “But seriously, you two need to get out of the country.”

 

“Where could we be safe from NERV and Seele?”  Kaji asked.

 

While he turned to Akane, Ranma spoke.  “I’ve already called Nabiki and told her to go visit Shampoo.  I suggest you do the same thing.”

 

“Why would we be safe there?  I haven’t seen her in years!”  Akane asked.

 

Ranma smirked.  “They might not be friendly when you get there, but you have a better chance there than anywhere else.  Plus, tell Cologne this:  if I show up and you guys are dead, it’ll be very unpleasant for their tribe.”

 

“You’re going to China?”

 

“Not immediately, but maybe later.  Now get out of here.”  Ranma cloaked himself with the Umi-Sen-Ken and left them alone.

 

 

 

When Ranma arrived home, Misato was already in bed.  He came into the room, disrobed, and joined her in bed.  She opened her eyes when he started rubbing her stomach.  “Good evening, lover.”

 

He kissed her.  “How are you feeling?”

 

“Better now.”  She sat up.  “They told me that Kaji was being dealt with.  Did they kill him?”  Her voice had a lot of worry in it.

 

Ranma smiled.  “Didn’t you know that Saotome Ranma always saves the day?”  She shared his smile, wrapped her arms around him, and held him tight.

 

He held her close for a while until, “honor before happiness,” went through his mind.  He loosened his hold and pushed her away, not far enough for her to let go of him, but enough that she looked up at him with a concerned face.

 

“What is it, Ranma?”

 

“Misato, I’ve got a story to tell you.”