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All Over Again

Episode 4: Joining Forces

By Andy Searls

Characters are creations of Rumiko Takahashi

"spoken lines"

*thoughts*


Prologue - The Inevitable

"She's wrong." Ranma paced along the top of the fence. "I can't go back. What would it prove, anyway? That I lost?" He sighed and looked up at the sky. "Ukyo, you were always there for me. Why does SHE think it's my fault? You said yourself that you don't wanna be... be...." He clenched his fist. "It's not MY fault, it's her fault!"

"Whose fault? Who are you blaming now, Ranma?"

Ranma looked down in the direction of the voice. "Ryoga, P-chan. You should talk about blaming people. You always say everything is my fault."

Ryoga shook his fist. "That's because it always is! Especially this time!" Ryoga held P-chan up towards Ranma. P-chan growled and bared his tiny teeth.

Ranma flicked his bangs out of his eyes. "You should thank me for letting you in on the cure."

P-chan bweed an angry response. Ryoga nodded. "That's right, what kind of cure do you call this?"

Ranma blinked. "Um, the Hansolo something."

"I don't care what its name is! I want the spell broken!"

Ranma blinked again. "What? What's wrong with the cure?"

"Ask poor P-chan." Ryoga held the piglet up even higher. P-chan bristled and bweed again. "Now that you've told Akane about us, he can't be her pet any more. Your stupid cure is worse than the curse. At least then, I could be myself most of the time. I can't let him stay this way."

Ranma knelt on the fence. "Can't be Akane's pet? Oh, Ryoga. I'm all broken up."

Ryoga took his umbrella out with his free hand. "You're gonna be, Ranma. You're gonna be."

Ranma dropped to the ground, hands ready. "Anytime, Ryoga."

Ryoga put his pack down and let P-chan down on top of it.

From her viewpoint of the nearby roof, it nearly looked like a dance between the two young men. Cologne quickly realized that the two had become used to fighting each other, their attacks and defenses so well synchronized. She had no doubt that they could read one another through the series of punches and kicks. She was disappointed when Ranma caught Ryoga's kick in mid-air.

Ranma easily flipped himself on top of Ryoga and used him as a cushion when they landed. Ranma stepped off the lost boy and was surprised to see that Ryoga was still conscious. Ryoga rolled over and pointed an ominous finger. "I'll be back."

Ranma snorted. "Ooh, like I'm really scared."

He walked off, leaving Ryoga to sit up and dust himself off.

"Young man, you have become complacent in your training."

Ryoga jumped and then recoiled at the sight of the old woman. "You again. Your breaking point technique doesn't work."

Cologne dropped from her staff and sat in front of Ryoga. "Oh really, tell me what happened."

Ryoga pointed his finger to Cologne's head. "I hit Ranma on the head, and nothing happened."

Cologne chuckled. "The bakusai tenketsu was developed by miners for breaking rocks, it doesn't work on anything else, especially not people."

Ryoga stood up, fists clenched. "You never told me that!"

Cologne chuckled again. "Must have slipped my mind."


Chapter 1 - Affirmation

In the swirling, curling, storm of desire unuttered words hold fast
With reptile tongue, the lightning lashes towers built to last
Darkness creeps in like a thief and offers no relief
Why are you shaking like a leaf?
Come on, come talk to me

- Peter Gabriel "Come Talk To Me"

Akane walked home from school with Ranko walking beside her. Ranma followed from atop the fence, as usual. Akane glanced over at Ranko. "So, Ranko, how was your first day at school?" Ranko didn't say anything. She just stopped walking and stared at Akane. Akane stopped after a couple steps and looked back Ranko. "What?"

Ranma stood on the fence where Ranko had stopped. "Jeez, Akane, and you yell at me for putting my foot in it."

Akane stepped back to Ranko and held her hands. "Oh, Ranko. I'm sorry. What did I say wrong?"

After a few seconds later, Ranko found her voice. "Is it that easy to forget who I am?" She huffed a bit and took her hands away from Akane, pointing to Ranma. "Maybe I should have kept my name and made him change his." Ranko put her hand on her chest. "Akane it's ME," she said, as if that was enough explanation. Akane merely blinked. Ranko sighed. "I've been going to school since I arrived with the old man. You fought with all those stupid guys until I beat Kuno. You and Ukyo rescued me from Joketsuzoku, and I rescued you back." Ranko beat her fist against her chest. "Until a little while ago, I WAS Ranma. I was NOT born yesterday!"

Akane held her hands at her chest. "I'm so sorry, Ranko. I won't forget again. Will you forgive me?"

Ranko folded her arms. "Forgive an uncute tomboy like you?"

Akane put her hands on her hips. "Well, fine then."

Ranma waited impatiently from the fence. "Come on, Ranko. We need to get back to help Ukyo."

Akane huffed. "Well, don't blame me for making you late for U-chan. Go ahead. I'll be alright."

Ranma smiled and winked at Akane. "I know, Ranko can go back to help U-chan, and I can walk you home."

Ranko coughed a bit. "Real subtle there, Ranma."

Ranma muttered a reply before holding his elbow out for Akane to take. Akane smiled and walked with him down the street. Ranko watched the two for a while before giving a wistful sigh and heading to U-Chanís.

Akane sighed and gave Ranma's arm a squeeze. "It's been a while since things were this quiet, ne?"

Ranma squirmed a bit uncomfortably. "It is ... um... kinda... you know...."

Akane looked up at Ranma's struggles. "Romantic? Affectionate? Cute?"

"... er... kinda... nice."

Akane decided that he was close enough.


Ranko arrived at U-Chanís to find Ukyo getting the place ready for dinner. She smiled at the few customers who were early as she walked behind the counter. "Ukyo, how did lunch go?"

Ukyo smiled at Ranko. "Better than breakfast. I may not be able to see everything, but I can make my way around. I can even still cook as well as I always did. I'm figuring out other ways to tell when they're done."

"Like what?"

"Well, I noticed that I can smell when they're nearly done. The sizzling sound changes, too."

Ranko smiled a bit. "That's great. "

Ukyo threw a nod in the direction of the kitchen. "Oh, by the way. You got a delivery today."

Ranko blinked. "For me?"

Ukyo shrugged. "Well, it's addressed to ' Saotome Ranma', but I figure that describes you just as well as it does him."

Ranko stepped around the counter. "I wonder what it could be." She walked back into the kitchen and returned with a small box. She put it down on a non-heated portion of the counter. She blinked at the address. "It's from China. Joketsuzoku!" Just then, the box moved a bit.

Ukyo looked down at the box, remembering their adventure in the Chinese Amazon village. An adventure that she wished had happened to someone else. "I've got a bad feeling about this."

Ranko shrugged and opened the box. She looked inside and gasped. "Oh no, it's... it's...!"

She was interrupted by Ranma's arrival. Ranko's eyes went wide. "Ranma can't see this," she whispered to Ukyo. Ukyo blinked, ran into the kitchen, and returned with a large watermelon. She put it in front of the box before Ranma walked up to the counter.

Ranma waved at the two young women. "Hi U-chan. Hi Ranko." He blinked at the counter. "What's that watermelon doing there?"

Ranko waved at it vaguely. "Uh, I'll tell ya later."

Ranma shrugged. "What's left to do, Ukyo?"

Ukyo winked at Ranko. "You could get the dishes out for me."

"Sure." Ranma nearly skipped into the kitchen.

Ukyo giggled. "Well, Ran-kun is sure in a good mood today."

Ranko turned to the box. "Well, let's not let this ruin it."

Ukyo blinked down at the box. "A cat?"

Ranko looked at Ukyo. "I never told you about the neko-ken? Cat-fu?"

Ukyo shook her head.

Ranko looked down into the box. "Well, let's just say that Ranma doesn't do well with cats."

Ukyo blinked again. "Ranma's afraid of cats? You don't seem to have a problem."

"I know. I'm not sure why, though. Something about Yin?"

Ukyo shrugged.

Ranko picked up the cat. It looked at Ranko a bit and began to purr. "It seems to like me."

Ukyo scratched under the feline chin. "You know, I could keep it up in my bedroom. That would keep it out of the way." The cat seemed to meow an affirmative.

Ranko pet the cat gently, looking at it. "Something about this cat looks familiar...."


Ranko nearly tripped over the cat as she was carrying a pile of dishes back into the kitchen. "Hey, how did you get out of U-chan's room?" The cat merely purred and rubbed against Ranko's leg. Ranko looked out at the dining room. Ranma was busy taking an order from a few customers. Ranko gave the cat a gentle poke with her toe. "Come on, you." The cat obediently followed Ranko back into the kitchen. Ranko put the dishes in the sink and turned on the hot water to let them soak.

She returned to the dining room to find Ranma talking to Akane. "Konnichiwa, Ranko," Akane said. "Genki des'ka?"

Ranko sighed, "Ok. "

Ranma rubbed his stomach. "Man, dinner was great!"

Ranko nodded her head. "You make a very nice dinner, Akane." Akane blushed. Ranma gave Ranko a look. Ranko looked back at her twin. "What?"

Ranma sighed. "For a second, I thought your were jealous of...."

Ranko folded her arms. "Jealous of whom?"

Ranma shook his head. "Nothin'." He picked up an empty plate from a nearby table and walked towards the kitchen.

Ranko sighed. "What was that all about?"

Akane thought for a moment, then winked. "I think he was bragging about himself again."

Ranko smiled. "You're a smart girl, Akane."

"Then why are you hanging around that okonomiyaki chef?"

Their private joke was interrupted by a loud crash coming from the kitchen. "Oh no!" Ranko wailed. "I forgot about the cat!"

Akane and Ranko followed Ukyo, all three running into the kitchen. They saw Ranma on the floor. On top of him was not a cat, but Shampoo. She had two dish towels for herself. Neither one quite covered the situation. She was rubbing her hand on his chest, making a sound that almost sounded like purring.

Ranko looked around. "Where did the cat go?"

The fear gave Ranma enough strength to push Shampoo off of him. The dish towels fell to the floor as they stood up. Ranma quickly grabbed the towels and draped them over Shampoo. They covered less than they did when Shampoo was lying down. Ranma fumbled with the towels, trying to get them to cover more without touching or seeing what he was trying to cover. Shampoo didn't seem to be disturbed by her lack of clothing. She reached out and glomped Ranma. His arms waved awkwardly at his sides. Ranko blinked, distracted for a moment by the speed in Ranma's arms. She almost expected him to lift off the ground.

Ukyo, however, needed no better vision to figure out what Akane was thinking. Her heavy breathing, combined with the fact that she was growling, made her emotions clear enough.

Ranko stepped up, placing her hands firmly on Shampoo's shoulders to pull her away from Ranma. "Shampoo, how about getting something decent on?"

Shampoo turned and looked at the familiar voice. She blinked. Several times. Then she looked back and forth at Ranma and Ranko.

The growl was beginning to become intelligible. "RRRRRRRaaaaaaannnnnn...."

Ranma looked over at Akane. "Yo, Akane. It's not what you think!" He began to back up, holding his hands in front of him. He prepared to dodge the impending punch.

"...nnnnnmmmmmmmaaaaaaa!"

Shampoo stopped whipping her head about in time to see Akane's approach. She squeaked and ducked.

Ranko looked down at the naked Amazon for a moment too long. She looked up in time to see Akane's hand connect with her jaw.


Ukyo walked back into Ranma's room. Ranko was lying down on Ranma's futon with a wet cloth on her forehead. Ranma and Akane were sitting on opposite sides of Ranko. Ukyo looked at Ranko's image. The black and white swirls moved lazily across her face. It almost appeared as though Ranko was constantly changing expressions. Ukyo sighed quietly before speaking. "Shampoo is finding an outfit of mine to wear. She promises to leave us alone for a while. Ranma?"

Ranma looked up at Ukyo. "Hmm?"

"At least one of us needs to get back to running things downstairs. I can handle things okay by myself for a while, but...."

Akane looked up, her eyes red. "I'll watch over Ranko. You two can go back down and take care of U-Chanís."

Ranma didn't look at Akane. He just put his hand out for Ukyo. "C'mon, Ukyo. Let's go."

Akane watched as the two quietly stood up and walked out. "I'm sorry," she whispered. She looked down at the still unconscious Ranko and sobbed. She was still crying softly a few minutes later when Ranko finally began to stir.

Ranko groaned and put her hand to her head. Akane picked up Ranko's free hand and held it firmly as she opened her eyes. Ranko quietly regarded Akane, saying nothing. Akane sniffed. "Ranko, I am so sorry. I did it again, didn't I?" Ranko didn't say anything. She just stared at the ceiling. Her silent expression made Akane more uncomfortable than anything she could have said. Akane squeezed Ranko's hand. "Ranko, please say something to me." Ranko rolled over, facing away from Akane. Akane let her hand go, sighing again. "If you need anything, just ask me." Akane quietly stood up and walked downstairs.

Ranma walked by with a load of dirty dishes. "How is she?"

Akane sniffed. "She's awake."

Ranma stopped and looked at Akaneís expression. "Did she say somthin?"

Akane shook her head. "She's still angry with me." She put her hands on Ranma's shoulder. "Ranma, could you talk to her?"

Ranma looked into Akane's eyes. "Um, yeah, I guess." Ranma walked into the kitchen with Akane close behind.

While they were in the kitchen unloading the dishes, a young woman came in. She looked around a bit before walking up to the counter. Ukyo saw the blurry image and smiled. "Welcome to U-Chanís. How can I help you?"

The woman straightened up at the sight of Ukyo. "I am Kuno Kodachi, the Black Rose of St. Hebereke

High School and the rising star of the Martial Arts Rhythmic Gymnastics team. I am here to find my future husband."

Ukyo blinked, trying to remember what Ranma had said about her. "Your future husband? Who would that be?" She quietly thanked Kami that both Ranma and Akane were in the kitchen.

Kodachi looked around the restaurant again. "Oh dear, I don't see him. Is Ranma here?"

Ukyo crossed her fingers. "Not at the moment, can I give him a message for you?"

Kodachi laughed. The sound made Ukyo shudder a bit. "You can do better than that, dearie. You can give him this." She tossed a small envelope onto the counter and skipped out the door, laughing and spreading black rose petals along her path.

Seconds later, Ranma and Akane came out. "What was that awful noise?" Akane asked.

Ukyo sighed. "She said she was Kuno Kodachi."

Akane looked at the rose petals on the floor. She looked back to Ranma to see him cowering behind the counter. "You can relax, Ranma. She's gone."

Ranma stood up and began to breathe again. Ukyo pointed to the counter. "She did leave you something." Ranma regarded the envelope like it was an ugly bug.

Akane picked up the envelope and opened it. "It's a ticket to the St. Hebereke Martial Arts Rhythmic Gymnastics Competition." She held it out to him. "Well, Ranma. It looks like you have another girlfriend, doesn't it?"

Ranma noticed the tone in Akane's voice. "I ain't gonna be anywhere near that place, Akane."

Akane folded her arms. "Why do you have these women all over you, Ranma? Everywhere I turn there's some new chick who wants you."

"I know." Ranma shook his head. "It sucks."

Ukyo stepped beside Akane and folded her arms. "It must be terrible for you."

"Yeah!" Akane pointed her finger. "Who are these people? Friends of yours? Now this really pisses me off to no end!"

Ranma stepped up to Akane, holding her hand. "Akane, I promise I will never go near Kodachi or that gymnastics thing."

Akane softened a bit. "You promise, Ranma?"

"Believe me, it'll be an easy promise to keep."


Chapter 2 - Double Trouble

The next day at school, Ranko overheard an all-too-familiar-laugh. She sighed, closed her bento, and got up. As she walked over the hill, she could see Ranma fending off Kodachi. His expression reminded her of emotions she had felt not too long ago. She silently stepped up to Ranma's side and looked at Kodachi.

Kodachi put her hand to her mouth. "Is this your fiancée?" Ranko blinked, but before she could think of something to say, Kodachi tossed a black rose at her. Ranko caught it and looked at it. Kodachi sneered at Ranko. "In that case, I challenge you. The winner of the martial arts rhythmic gymnastics competition gets the darling Ranma."

Ranko looked from the rose to Kodachi. "A challenge?"

"Unless, of course, you aren't up to it. Then, I win by default."

Ranko put her hands on her hips. "I've NEVER backed down from a challenge."

"The competition it is then." Black rose petals began to fall. "Oh, I do hope you are able to attend." Kodachi gave Ranma a last little hug. "You, too, darling."

As she disappeared in a flurry of rose petals and laughter, Ranma sighed and turned to Ranko. "Thanks."

Ranko blinked. "For what?"

"If you win that gymnastics thing, maybe Kodachi will leave us alone."

Ranko looked at him and shrugged. "Well, I suppose you'd do the same for me."

A light flickered in Ranma's head. "Except that I promised Akane I wouldn't be anywhere near that place."

Ranko shrugged again. "I didn't."

Ranma grinned. "At least I can help you train."

Ranko looked at her male twin. "What kind of training do you have in mind?"


Akane was sure of it. It was some sort of cry. She quickened her pace. She turned the corner to find Kodachi snapping her ribbon at a trio of gymnasts. Akane recognized them as her classmates. Kodachi whipped the ribbon against one of them, leaving a nasty red welt on her arm.

"Hey," Akane yelled. "What are you doing to my classmates?!"

Kodachi let her twirling ribbon drop to a low idle. "I am Kuno Kodachi. And just who are you?"

Akane put her hands on her hips. "I am Tendo Akane, and I don't like seeing my classmates being picked on."

Kodachi laughed. "Well, you don't have to watch. Besides, I was just telling them how welcome they will be at the St. Hebereke School for the gymnastics competition."

One of Akane's classmates grunted. "Welcome? You keep attacking us so we can't compete."

The ribbon under Kodachi's control twirled faster. "Attack? I wouldn't DREAM of attacking. Not outside of the competition. That would be wrong."

Akane shifted into a ready stance. "Well, whatever you were doing, your visit is over."

"Oh really?" Kodachi's ribbon flashed out. Akane caught the ribbon, yanking the stick out of Kodachi's hand. Kodachi stood for a moment, mouth open. "You took my ribbon. How did you do that?"

Akane smiled. "I have a fast sensei."

Kodachi re-gained her composure and smiled. "My, my. It's too bad you aren't competing, then. It would be nice to have a challenge for once." She laughed insanely and leapt away along the rooftops.

Akane looked at the trail of black petals. "I wonder if she ever runs out of those things," she muttered.

One of the three classmates limped over to Akane. "Akane, thank you so much for rescuing us."

Akane blushed. "Um, it was nothing. Really."

Another classmate crawled over. "Oh, Akane. We can't compete like this. Could you stand in for us?"

Akane blinked. "Stand in? At the competition?"


Ranko looked at the pile of equipment. "Where did you get all this stuff?"

Ranma scratched the back of his head. "Well, once I told the Furinkan rhythmic gymnastics team that you would be competing, they lent us this stuff. They said somethin about giving anyone a good chance against Kodachi."

Ukyo nudged a metal contraption with her toe. "And this?"

Ranma waved vaguely. "Itís for throwing stuff into the air."

Ranko blinked at the catapult. "Uh, Ranma, just what kind of training did you have in mind?"

Ranma smiled. "Trust me."

Ranko sighed. "That's what I was afraid of."

Ranma handed Ranko a ribbon on a stick. "Just think of it as Anything Goes Martial Arts advanced techniques training."

Ranko walked a short distance into the clearing. "Youíre starting to sound like the old man, you know." Ranma loaded the catapult with a club and pulled the string. The club lofted up over Ranko's head.

Ranko watched the club land a good distance away. "What kind of aim is that?"

Ranma adjusted the aim of the catapult and quickly re-loaded it with a club. He pulled the string, launching the club directly at Ranko's head. She swatted it out of the air. "Don't use your hands," Ranma said. "Use your tools." Ranma used the catapult to launch a hoop at stomach level. Ranko picked up the club and blocked the hoop shot with it. "That's better." Ranma picked up a baton and threw it.

Ranko, beginning to get the hang of things, caught the baton in mid-air with her ribbon. Ranma pulled the string on the catapult, launching a clay pigeon. Ranko leapt into the air to intercept.

A stranger who had been watching for a few minutes walked up to Ukyo. "What in the world is she doing?"

Ukyo shrugged. "Target practice." As if to agree, Ranko swatted the clay pigeon with the rim of her hoop.

The stranger watched in awe. "Don't you usually use a gun?"

Ukyo, feeling a little silly, grinned a bit. "Oh, she wants more of a challenge." A well-aimed baton intercepted another club in mid-air. "Yeah...you know, you'd be amazed at some of the attacks people use on pigeons around here...." She paused. She heard the unmistakable sound of a missed clay target shattering against Ranko's head. "You'd be amazed at some of the attacks the pigeons use, too."

The stranger walked away, shaking his head and muttering something about crazy teenagers.


The next day, Ranko carried another pile of dishes into the kitchen. Ranma looked at the pile that Ranko had just doubled. "Man, it must be packed out there."

Ranko sighed. "Tell me about it. Ukyo is cooking up a storm."

Ranma flexed his arm. "Well, keeping up with customers is good exercise. Good training for the competition."

Ranko whacked his shoulder with her fist. "You sound like the old man. Besides, after going through your idea of training this morning, you owe me."

Ranma blinked. "What dya' mean?"

Ranko pushed Ranma aside with her hip. "I mean get yourself out there and YOU deal with the customers. I'll wash the dishes for a while. Iím tired of getting pinched."

"Fine. Whatever." Ranma turned and walked out of the kitchen. He stepped up behind Ukyo and cupped his hands over her eyes.

"Very funny, Ranma." Ukyo put her hands on her hips. She heard the bell hanging on the front door ring. "Better take care of our new customers."

Ranma looked up to see Akane waving at him from the doorway. He leapt over the counter, landing behind the customers seated there. "Yo, Akane. What's up?"

Akane walked over to Ranma. "Hi Ranma. I, uh... have a favor to ask."

Ranma blinked. "Sure. What kind a' favor?"

Akane looked down at her feet a bit. "You know the little bit of training you've been giving me?"

"Uh, yeah. What about it?"

"Well, I was wondering if you could teach me something a little... different."

"Like, what kinda different?"

"Like, um...." Akane looked up at Ranma. She really wasn't sure how he'd take this. "... kinda like, uh, a bit of rhythmic gymnastics?"

"You're competing, too?" Ranma blinked again. "Well, I'm kinda already training Ranko, but I guess that both of you could-"

"No way!" Ranko yelled from the doorway to the kitchen. "I'm not training with that uncute tomboy!"

Ranma spun around and glared at Ranko. "Aw, man. Can't you just-"

"Not a chance!" Ranko folded her arms. "You need to pick. Either her or me."

Akane put her hand on Ranma's shoulder. "Don't worry about it, Ranma. You go ahead and train Ranko. I'll find someone else."

Ranma turned around and looked in Akane's eyes. "You sure, Akane?"

Akane sniffed a bit and forced a smile. "Yeah, I'll be fine. I bet the school coach can give me some pointers."

"Aw, jeez. I'm sorry, Akane."

Akane patted Ranma's shoulder. "Don't worry about it. Just cheer for me at the competition."

"I wasnít planning on going. I mean, I promised, right?"

"Donít be silly. You can't be Ranko's coach and not go to the competition, can you?"

Ukyo smiled over her shoulder. "Hey, don't forget me. You two need a personal cheering section."

Akane's smile grew. "Thanks, Ukyo." She turned to Ranma. "Well, see ya' at school tomorrow."

Ranma waved at Akane before marching back into the kitchen. "Hey, what's the deal with not letting me train Akane?"

Ranko, arms still folded, glared back. "After the way she treats us? If you think for one minute that I want to be working alongside that uncute, stubborn as a mule, twice as dumb tomboy, then it's obvious to me who got the brains."

"Have you forgotten what she's done for us?"

"Have you forgotten that twice as many times she's hit us? Or that this whole stupid match thing between you two was the old man's idea? Come on, Ranma, there's other fish in the sea."

"I don't want just any fish." Ranma walked back out of the kitchen.

Ranko stared at the doorway for a few seconds after Ranma left. She sighed. "Feh." She turned and angrily threw more dishes into the soapy water.


Chapter 3 - Proper Use of Tools

When your secret heart
Cannot speak so easily
Come here darlin'
From a whisper start
Have a little faith in me
When your back's against the wall
Just turn around, you will see
I will catch you, I will catch your fall
Just have a little faith in me

-Jewel "Have a Little Faith"

Akane walked into the Furinkan High School gymnasium. "I'm sure glad you can help me, Mrs. Kosagi."

The coach dismissed Akane's gratitude with a wave of her hand. "The whole team is out with injuries. I wouldn't have anything to do during practice if you weren't here to bail them out. Besides, with the way that the meets have been going, Iíve been worried that the school might disband the team altogether."

"What do you mean?"

Mrs. Kosagi sighed. "Well, each time a competition is scheduled with the St. Hebereke school, the girls get themselves injured and canít compete. Itís starting to look pretty bad. Iím just glad you have the courage to compete on your own."

Akane smiled and blushed a bit. "Thanks. What should I start with?"

"Well, since we don't have a lot of time, I think it would be best to start by finding out how much you know."

"I've studied Kenpo from my father for a few years. In the past month or so, my boyfriend has also been helping me with some different styles. I'm afraid I don't know much about rhythmic gymnastics, though."

Mrs. Kosagi nodded. "That's actually good. That means that there is less for you to unlearn. What you will be competing in is MARTIAL ARTS rhythmic gymnastics. It is more like Kendo than gymnastics. The main difference is that you have to use the tools of the trade." She led Akane to the store room. "I'm afraid that some of our equipment has been lent out. We should have enough for you to start with, though." She took down a few clubs from a shelf. "Let's see how you do with these."

Akane took the clubs and followed her coach back to the gymnasium. She tossed two of them into the air. One of them landed a short distance away. The other bounced off Akane's head.

Mrs. Kosagi stared at Akane for a few seconds, tapping her finger to her mouth, before taking a deep breath. "Ok. Not to worry too much. It's a start."


Ranma easily blocked the blow with his baton. He quickly parried with the club in his other hand. "Getting the hang of things?"

Ranko leapt over the swing of the club, stirring up the ashes from their spell when she landed. "At least this is better than your dreaded ĎSkeet-kení training." With a flick of her wrist, she sent her ribbon to catch Ranma's wrist.

Ranma dodged the strike, but lost his club as the ribbon wrapped around it. "You comparing me to the old man again?" His arm and baton became a blur, striking again and again at Ranko.

Not only was she keeping up with his strikes, but she was able to drop the ribbon and catch the newly released club. "You have to admit that Skeet-fu sounds very much like an Anything Goes School technique." Ranma had no reply. The two continued to spar, kicking up more of the ashes in the abandoned lot. After nearly an hour of non-stop sparring, Ranko disarmed Ranma by hitting his hand with her club. "That's enough for now. We need to get back to U-Chan's for dinner."

Ranma put his hands on his hips. "So, are you telling the master what to do now?"

Ranko dropped her tools, putting her hand to her brow and looking right and left. "Master? Master? Do you see a master nearby?"

Ranma picked up some of the equipment. "Very funny. First one to U-Chan's gets to wash dishes."

Ranko bent over to pick up her half of the tools. "I suppose the last one has to deal with the customers." She glanced down, suddenly noticing her footprints in the ashes. She stared at the mutilated symbol for a few seconds. She looked up to see Ranma already on his way to U-Chanís. "Hey!"

Ukyo hummed to herself as she wiped the cooking surface down with a damp washcloth. She stopped when she could feel the heat of the surface through the material. She turned and took five steps to the kitchen door, tossing the washcloth and listening with satisfaction when it splashed into the sink. She heard the twins burst through the door. There was no mistaking Ranko's giggling. Ukyo smiled and walked around the counter without burning her hand on the cooking surface. "I take it training went well."

Ranko pointed back to Ranma. "His coaching techniques have already gotten better than the old man's."

"That's great!"

Ranko smiled. "It's also not saying much."

Ranma swatted at Ranko's shoulder. She ducked the swing and swung back. Ranma blocked. Ukyo folded her arms. "Ok, children. The dinner rush should start picking up any minute now. Who's going to serve?"

Ranma pushed Ranko forward. "She needs the exercise."

Ranko turned around. "Think again, Ranma. I beat you here, remember?"

Ranma snorted. "Barely."

"Hah! I had time to stop and open the door before you got here."

"Just kiddin'." Ranma mussed Ranko's hair.


"Hmmm." Mrs. Kosagi looked at Akane, who had managed to get herself entangled in a ribbon. The coach stepped over to her and began helping her out of the wrappings. "I can see you haven't had much training in the proper use of tools." She was beginning to think that Akane's face would stay red permanently.

"Uh, not really." Akane hung her head.

Mrs. Kosagi mussed Akane's hair. "Not to worry. I've dealt with students who had less experience than you."

Akane looked up. "Really?"

The coach smiled. "You definitely have strength and agility. You just need to learn to get used to using the weapons instead of your hands." She pulled the last of the ribbon from around Akane's ankles. Picking up a club, she turned to Akane. "Let's start out like this. Take a club." Akane picked up a club. Mrs. Kosagi tossed the club up to head level, allowing it to drop back down to her hand to catch it. "Just a simple toss." Akane tossed her club. It sailed over her head and landed behind her. "That's ok, try again." Akane picked up the club and gave it another toss. It still didn't go straight up, but she managed to catch it by lunging forward. "That's better. Again." Akane tried again, and didn't have to move as far to catch it. "Good. Now try catching it with one hand." After a few minutes, Akane could feel her confidence grow as she quickly became able to toss the club and catch it without moving her feet.

After Akane had more practice, Mrs. Kosagi tossed the club again, but this time, she caught it in her left hand. She tossed it again, and caught it in her right hand. "Back and forth. Now you try it."

After about half an hour, Akane could consistently toss the club from one hand and catch it in the other without having to move her feet. She smiled. "Hey, this is getting easy."

Mrs. Kosagi smiled. "Take it one step at a time, and it all falls into place." She picked up a second club, holding one in each hand. "Now it starts getting a little tricky." She tossed the club in her left hand. As it reached the apex and began to fall, she tossed the other club and caught the first in her right hand. She then caught the second club in her left hand.

Akane watched her demonstrate again. "Hey, that almost looks like juggling."

"Exactly. Learning to juggle these clubs will get you used to tossing them and judging how they move in the air."

Akane gave it a try. The two clubs hit each other in mid air and fell to the ground.

"No one said it would be easy. Try it again."


Ranko fell gratefully onto her futon. The combination of Ranmaís training and the busy restaurant were beginning to catch up with her. She was glad that Ukyo had convinced Ranma to let her turn in early. She folded her hands behind her head and stared at the ceiling.

There was something in the shadows that didnít seem right. Just as she moved her head to get a better look at the ceiling, something dropped from it. Kodachi struck, hitting the futon where Ranko had been a moment before. She lifted the large wooden mallet, noticing with a sad sigh that she had not hit her mark. She looked around to see where Ranko had gone. The room was dark. The window opened into a dark alley, and the light from the stairway wasnít much to see by. As she turned and looked about the room, she could hear footsteps running up the stairs. "Just you wait," she warned. "The night is still young, and I have never failed to properly Ďwelcomeí challengers before the competition."

Ranma entered the room in time to hear the laughter die in the distance of the alley. He turned the light on and looked around the room, quickly noticing the sizable dent in Rankoís futon. "Ranko?"

"Iím okay."

Ranma spun around to see Ranko standing in the corner behind him. "Who was that?"

Ranko stepped over and poked her futon with her toe. "Kodachi. She had this huge mallet."

Ranma looked at Rankoís expression. "Youíre scared?"

She shrugged. "I donít know what it was about that mallet, but there was something about it that made me want to stand quietly in the corner. Then I heard you coming before I realized that I was hiding scared."

"Whatíd she want?"

Ranko sat down on the futon. "She said something about welcoming challengers."

Ranma thought for a second. "That means sheís probably on her way to do something similar to Akane right now."

Ranko saw Ranmaís hands clench into tight fists. She sighed, dismissing him with a vague wave. "Go ahead and go warn her. Iíll be fine."

Without another word, Ranma flew down the stairs and out the door. Ranko took another sad look at the dent in her futon, then went downstairs to tell Ukyo what had happened.

Ranma leapt from rooftop to rooftop. In a surprisingly short time, he found himself across the canal and at the front door. He knocked impatiently until Kasumi answered. Before she could say anything, Ranma burst inside. "Whereís Akane?!"

Kasumi took a breath before she answered. "In her room. Ranma, whatísÖ." She trailed off as Ranma disappeared up the stairs.

He flew down the hall, throwing the door open to see Akane standing in the middle of the room.

Akane blinked. "Ranma?"

Ranma stepped up to Akane. "Akane, Kodachiís gonna come and try to keep you from competing."

Akane folded her arms. "Oh really? How do you know about this?"

"Because she just tried to attack Ranko."

A muffled sound came from behind the door to Akaneís room. Ranma looked behind the door to see Kodachi and her mallet, both plastered to the wall. Kodachi recovered quickly, dropping the mallet and raising her hands to glomp Ranma. Ranma ducked in time, causing Kodachi to overshoot. Akane happily caught Kodachi in the face with her foot. Kodachi stepped back, shook off the dizziness, and turned to Ranma. "Oh, Ranma, darling. Iím so glad you came to see me."

Akane folded her arms. "Now why would he come to MY house to see YOU?"

Kodachi turned to Akane and said in a condescending voice, "Well, itís obvious that he knew I was coming here, so he was coming to see me."

Akane glared. "Gee, it looks to me like he was coming to warn me about you."

Kodachi folded her arms. "Yes, well, we all have our little delusions, donít we?" Her ribbon flashed out. Akane was caught in the ribbon before she could react. By the time Ranma knocked the stick out of Kodachiís hand, Akaneís arms were tied to her sides.

"Forget it, Kodachi." Ranma stepped to Akaneís side, hands ready. "Youíre not gonna keep Akane or Ranko out of competition."

Kodachi stared at Ranma a second. "Oh, I get it." She giggled a bit. Ranma and Akane winced at the sound. "You want to see me beat these two at the competition." She stepped forward, putting her hands on Ranmaís chest. "Well, my darling, I wonít let you down. I forego the welcome I usually give challengers. Iíll do it for you, my dear." She looked at Akane, wrapping her arm over Ranmaís shoulder. "I guess youíll have to wait until the competition to find out youíve already lost him." With that, she began laughing and leapt out the window.

Ranma and Akane looked about the room as black petals settled on everything. Ranma sighed. "I tried to get here faster, but I had to make sure that Ranko was okay." He unwrapped Akane from the ribbon.

Akane looked at Ranma. "How is she?"

Ranma smiled. "I think sheís more determined than ever to do some damage."

Akane took another look at all the petals in her room, thinking about how long it was going to take to clean them up. "Sheís gonna have to get in line."

Ranma looked at the large wooden mallet that Kodachi left behind and felt a shiver go down his spine.


Chapter 4 - Rhythmic Competition

An unprecedented bustle arose at St. Hebereke High School over the impending Martial Arts Rhythmic Gymnastics Competition. News that people would actually compete for the first time in years spread quickly. A radio sportscaster came out of retirement to work the event. A hastily made sign at the front gate read, "Actual challengers _ & _ to compete today!" Holes had been torn through the names in the plywood sign. There were no witnesses, but black rose petals were found all around the surrounding grounds.

In one of the dressing rooms, Ranko was standing rigidly in front of a mirror. She squirmed in her red leotard. "Hey, this thing feels weird."

Ranma, sitting in a chair in the corner, said nothing, but his expression was one of sympathy. Ukyo stepped up behind Ranko and massaged her shoulders. "You know, being in girl form, you should probably get used to stuff like this."

Ranko wrinkled her nose. "Girlsí clothes? Yuck!"

"Come on, Ranko. Itís not that bad." Ranko turned to see Akane in the doorway. Akane was wearing a similar leotard, but in green and white.

Ranma stood up and walked halfway across the room. "You look, uh, kinda, um..."

Akane smiled. "Thanks." She looked at Rankoís outfit and blinked. "Um, Ranko, shouldnít you be wearing the school colors?"

"I would if I had entered in the name of the school, but I didnít." She flexed her arms and posed. "Iím an independent competitor."

Akane folded her arms. "Well, if youíre not fighting for the school, who are you fighting for?"

Ranko put her arms on Ranmaís shoulders. "Iím fighting for him. As a favor."

"So, Kodachi mustíve put out some sort of challenge for Ranma. The winner of the competition gets to date him, then?" Akane blinked. "Ranko, for you to want Ranma for yourself is just too weird."

"Feh." Ranko brushed Ranma aside as he recoiled at the suggestion. "I donít want him for myself. Iím just saving him from women he doesnít need in his life."

Akane thought for a second. "So, you intend on beating me, too?"

Ranma stepped between the two. "Now wait just a min-"

Both girls yelled in unison, "Shut up!"

Ranma decided to step quietly behind Ukyo.

Ranko turned back to Akane. "Why should Ranma be stuck with such an uncute, violent tomboy like you?"

Akane folded her arms. "Why do you feel you have to be Ranmaís personal girlfriend critic?"

Ranko turned her nose up at Akane. "I have the unique perspective of knowing what he needs and likes. He doesnít need someone who gets jealous so easily. He needs someone who actually has some self-esteem."

Akaneís face turned red. "Ranko no baka!"

Ranko stepped right up to Akaneís face. "What are you going to do, Akane? Hit me again?"

Akane opened her mouth for a moment, and then backed down.

Ranko folded her arms. "Well, you just might get your chance today. Youíd better use it if you want to continue dating Ranma."

Ranma and Ukyo stared at Ranko. The finality in her voice stunned them.

Akane was not speechless for long. "Humph. Well, Iíve gotten better since you last sparred with me."

Ranko scoffed. "Hah! Youíre not THAT good." She turned her side to Akane, hands on her hips. "And Iíve got a better body to start with."

Akane huffed a few times before spitting out, "Baka!" and leaving the dressing room in a run.

Ukyo closed her mouth and glared at Ranko. "I think that is the worst thing I have heard you ever say." She turned on her heel and followed after Akane.

Ranko turned to Ranma, arms folded defiantly. "So, do you want to chew me out, too?"

Ranma was still staring at Ranko, mouth open. Finally, he found his voice. "Ranko, itís cool that you wanna help me get rid of Kodachi, but who died and made you my mother?"

"Iím looking out for my family. Youíre the only real family Iíve got."

"What about Ukyo? Isnít she family?"

"Now what about Ukyo? Sheís always been there for us. ALWAYS. And she doesnít hit you at the slightest hint that someone else likes you."

"Yeah, sheís been a great sister. At least she isnít trying to break up me aní Akane."

Just down the hall, Ukyo was walking back to the dressing room. "Akane just disappeared. I hope sheís okay, wherever she went." As she neared the door, she could hear Rankoís and Ranmaís discussion.

"Thatís because she likes you. And we had to turn her down as a fiancée because of what? The old man? Why did we have to make her a sister?"

"You were there. Donít you remember?"

"I remember WHAT we did. I donít understand WHY." Ranko put her hands on Ranmaís shoulders. "Ranma, why are you wasting time with a violent tomboy when thereís a woman like Ukyo in your life?"

Ukyo stopped just short of the door. Had she just heard Ranko correctly? Did part of Ranma regret that they considered each other siblings? She could feel her chest pounding. What did she want? How happy was she being Ranmaís sister? If she was happy, why was her breath coming in short gasps?

Why was Ranma taking so long to answer?

Ranma finally spoke. "Ranko, youíd better finish getting ready. The fightís about to start."

Ranko looked at him. "Hmm. For supposedly being the more Yang side, you sure are taking a passive way out. I must be as close to the mark as I think, then."

Ranma put his hand on the doorknob. "You know what, Ranko?"

"What?"

"You think too much." Ranma opened the door and saw a wide eyed, blushing Ukyo.


"Well, we have an exciting day before us, ladies and gentlemen." The announcer took a sip of tea before continuing. "First of all, not only do we have an actual challenger to the St. Hebereke School, we have two. Second of all.Ö" The announcer paused as the audience grew quiet. He moved his mouth silently for a few seconds before taking another sip of tea. He stared blankly at the ring for a few more seconds. "What was I saying?" Murmurs came from the crowd while a St. Hebereke staff member ran up to the old man and whispered something in his ear. He nodded. "The, uh, first two competitors will be Takeda Masaru from the St. Hebereke school and Tendo Akane from the Furinkan school."

Akane, eyes still a little red and puffy, stepped into the ring. Masaru, not knowing what else to do, stepped into her corner and began stretching out. Akane watched quietly as Masaru began her normal workout warm-up routines. Akane awkwardly swung her arms around a bit, wondering if she should figure out some stretches or something. She looked down to Mrs. Kosagi, who was standing just outside her corner. Mrs. Kosagi gave her the thumbs-up. Akane took a deep breath. She could barely hear the announcer review the rules, which was just as well, since he stated one wrong and missed another completely.

The referee gestured to Akane and Masaru to meet her in the middle of the ring. Akane barely heard what the referee said, and numbly nodded when she was asked if she was ready. Then the words drifted into her reverie. "Okay, FIGHT!"

Akane blinked, noticing that a club was sailing in a lazy arc towards her head. She batted it out of the air absently. Mrs. Kosagi was yelling something. Akane looked down to see her coach shoving a handful of clubs at her. Akane picked up the clubs, trying to think of what to do with them. She looked back at Masaru, who was standing, arms at her sides, looking back at her. Kodachi was yelling from the side of the ring, "I donít care if sheís out of it! FINISH HER!"

*I need to have my head clear to fight,* Akane thought to herself. *Why canít I focus?*

She looked back down to Kosagi, who was yelling, "Akane, remember your training!"

"Yeah, training," Akane mumbled to herself. She looked back down at the clubs and tossed one of them into the air and caught it. She tossed another club, and another.

Masaru shook her head. "This is stupid. My first match, and I get Miss Juggling Clown for an opponent." She threw another club in a shallower, faster arc.

Akane concentrated on her juggling. She was doing well, when suddenly there was an extra club. "I canít juggle this many," she said to herself, and tossed one of them away.

Masaru after watching Akane juggle for a bit, turned to Kodachi. "What kind of stupid match is this?" The club from Akaneís toss sailed down and hit Masaru upside the head. Masaru reeled, leaning against the ropes for support. She was trying to make sense of Kodachiís screaming, and leaned further forward, saying groggily, "What?" Then she fell through the ropes, landing on the floor outside the ring.

"The defender falls out of the ring. Tendo Akane wins!" The aged announcerís hands shook from the excitement. "That must be the shortest match that Iíve seen!" A staff member whispered in his ear. He looked back. "Really? Oh. Well, then it would also be the longest match Iíve seen."

"Way to go, Akane!" Akane looked over and saw Ukyo run down the aisle.

She looked down to her coach, who just smiled, shrugged, and said, "Donít look at me. I LOST my first match."

Akane smiled, allowing the referee to drag her to the middle of the ring and hold her arm up in triumph. The referee let her arm go and pointed back to Mrs. Kosagi. "Congratulations. You can go back and wait for your next match."

Akane stepped down from the ring. Mrs. Kosagi helped her down. "That was, um, great." Akane nodded absently. "I think we might need to work on our focus, though."

Akane nodded again. "Um, yeah."

The announcer struggled to read the card while his hands still shook. "The next match is between Kuno Kodachi of the defending St. Hebereke and the independent, uh, Ranko."

Ranko climbed into the ring as Ranma stood at the corner. Ranma stood and leaned over the ropes, massaging Rankoís shoulders. "Remember your training. Kodachi is tricky. Keep your eyes open for anything."

Ranko pushed Ranmaís hands away. "Jeez, Ranma, just let me fight." She took a step away from the corner and looked around. "So, whereís the prom queen?"

Moments later, the lights went out. A single spot light followed Kodachi as she sat on a swing. The swing dropped from the ceiling towards the ring. Kodachi was wearing a traditional western wedding dress. Ranko turned to Ranma, putting her finger in her mouth and making gagging sounds. Ranma nodded in agreement. Dramatic music drifted over the PA system as Kodachi neared the ring. The music built up into a crescendo as she stepped down off the swing. After a few dramatic poses, the music faded and the lights came back on. Kodachi demurely slipped out of the dress, revealing a leotard in St. Hebereke colors underneath.

The referee gestured for the two combatants to meet in the center. "Okay, I want a fair and honest fight. Use of kicks and punches is not allowed. Only strikes with tools are legal. First to fall down or touch the floor outside of the ring loses. Understand?" Ranko and Kodachi were staring into each otherís eyes. Both of them nodded. The referee backed up quickly. "OkayÖ" The ref made sure she was safely against the ropes before continuing. "FIGHT!"

Kodachi raised her hand and began twirling her ribbon. Ranko, a club in each hand, stood ready. The ribbon was spinning faster and faster, until the wind it created forced Ranko to lean into it to remain upright. Without warning, the ribbon lashed out, striking through the space where Ranko had been. Kodachi yanked on the ribbon, pulling it taut. It didnít budge. She looked at the other end, which had wrapped itself securely around the pole in Rankoís corner. She blinked in time to see Ranko land on the ribbon as if it were a tightrope. "Hmm, youíre good." Kodachi smiled. "This might be the first time Iíve seen a challenge in quite a while."

Ranko winked. "Youíll see Iím full of surprises."

Kodachi jerked the ribbon to the side, sending a wave traveling down the ribbon. Ranko merely dropped down and stepped away. Kodachi loosened the ribbon and whipped it to Rankoís head. The club in Rankoís hand received a sizable dent as it blocked the strike.

Ranko looked at the dent in the club. "Wait a minute," she mumbled to herself. "That isnít a regular ribbon!" She hopped up to the top of a nearby corner post, hand stretched towards her corner. "More clubs!" The ribbon snapped again. This time, the club snapped in Rankoís hand as she blocked. She dropped the broken stem and held the second club ready. She didnít see much movement in her corner. She took a moment to glance over and see what Ranma was up to. He wasnít even looking at her. She blocked another blow. The remaining club now looked like a large spoon. She glanced again. He was looking at Akane! "HEY, ROMEO, WAKE UP!"

Ranma heard someone yelling and looked in the direction of the sound. It was Ranko. Her face was red, almost like she was angry or something. She was yelling something. "Coach?! How about a hand, ne?!"

Ranma scratched the back of his head. "Uh, yeah, sure. Whaddya want?"

Ranko leapt over the snapping ribbon, landing in the ring near her corner. "How about more of these?!" She tossed the spoon, um, club towards Ranmaís head.

Ranma snatched the dented implement out of the air and looked at it. "Uh, sure." He reached down and tossed a handful of them in Rankoís direction.

Ranko caught four of them, allowing the other five or six to land on the mat around her. She sighed. "Thanks." She reached behind her head, crossing two of the clubs behind her. The ribbon strike bounced harmlessly into the air. Ranko turned around. "Ok, lessee what the heck that ribbon really is." At the next strike, she swung two of the clubs into the ribbon. The ribbon slid between the two clubs and wrapped around few times, the end striking a club with a loud "CLUNK." Ranko yanked the stick out of Kodachiís hands and looked at the end of the ribbon. A solid metal sphere a few centimeters across weighted the end.

Kodachi stared at Ranko. "You took my ribbon from me. No oneís ever done that before." She brushed her hair over her shoulder. "No matter, Iíll settle this withÖ" She raised her hands, each holding a club. She leapt in the air towards Ranko, yelling as she came down. "Öthe Attack of the Thousand Clubs!"

Ranko was impressed. A little. She hadnít seen anyone able to send nearly as many strikes her way since her fight with Cologne. It seemed as though Kodachi had ten or twenty clubs to strike with. She didnít, however, have the speed that Cologne did. Ranko blocked the blows for a full second before smiling. "Not bad, but not fast enough for my Kachu Tenshin Amaguriken!" Ranko blasted through Kodachiís attack, knocking her clubs aside. She stopped with a single strike to Kodachiís chest. The strike was more of a push than a hit, and Kodachi stumbled back. Ranko heard the sound of the clubs hitting the mat and looked down. There were more clubs of Kodachiís on the mat than hers. She really did have ten or twenty of them. "Feh," Ranko muttered. "Cheap trick."

To one side of the ring, Akane was watching the match. "Ranko had Kodachi beat with her chestnut fist, but she stopped."

Mrs. Kosagi frowned. "Why wouldnít she end the match right then and there if she could?"

Kodachi regained her balance and her composure. "You dare make a mockery of me!" She raised her hand. "HOOP!" A red hoop lofted into the air for Kodachi to catch. "Take THIS!" She threw the hoop at Ranko at high speed.

Ranko knelt, angling a club with both hands to block the blow. The hoop was sent towards the ceiling. Ranko straightened and looked at the club. The top half of it had been shaved off. She yelled over her shoulder. "Hey, ref! That hoop is razor sharp!"

The referee folded her arms. "Iím sorry, her tools are legal."

Kodachi leapt into the air to intercept the wayward hoop. Just as she reached out to it, the hoop disappeared. Ranko twisted and completed her swing, tapping Kodachi on the head with the flat-sided club. "Bing bong!"

Kodachiís face was a deep crimson by the time that she landed. She glared at Ranko, who landed atop a post, smiled, and winked.

A shiver went down Akaneís spine. "Ranko is toying with her."

Mrs. Kosagi put a hand on Akaneís shoulder. "Akane, you have already shown great courage by being the first Furinkan challenger to compete. You did even better when you won your first match. Anything that happens now is icing on the cake, ne?"

Akane turned to her coach. "You donít understand. I have to win, or I lose Ranma."

Mrs. Kosagi could think of nothing to say. She patted Akaneís shoulder and looked back at the battle.

Kodachi, fuming, picked up two of her clubs from the mat. She and Ranko faced off in the center of the ring like a pair of dueling swordsman. Ranko had a confident grin. Kodachi snarled. "Okay, you redheaded brat, we end this!" She charged.

Ranko shifted her weight. "Fine by me." Ranko blocked Kodachiís strike and planted her clubs into her stomach. She lifted as Kodachi folded, sending her into the air.

Kodachi sailed high, obviously clearing the ring. She let go of her clubs and whistled.

Rankoís eyes went wide as the whole room seemed to move. She turned to see Kodachi land well within the border of the ropes. Kodachi smiled. "As you can see, I canít be sent out of the ring."

Ranko narrowed her eyes and whistled. The whole ring moved back to where it was. She sighed. "Alright, if thatís the way you want it."

Kodachi smiled. "I canít lose."

Ranko mirrored her smile. "Weíll just see about that."

Kodachiís smile disappeared. She grabbed another ribbon. Ranko frowned and did the same, using the same motions as Kodachi. The two began twirling their weapons. Kodachi struck at Rankoís head. Ranko struck with one hand and caught Kodachiís ribbon in the other. Kodachi felt a tug and looked down. Rankoís ribbon had wrapped itself securely around her ankle.

Ranko yanked Kodachiís ribbon out of her hand, yelled a kiai, and leapt into the air. The ribbon pulled Kodachiís leg higher and higher. Kodachi shifted her weight, allowing her knee to come to her chest. Ranko continued on her arc. As she reached the apex of her leap, she gave an extra tug on the ribbon, lifting Kodachi off the ground and changing her fall.

Kodachi landed on her back. The stars in her eyes obscured her view of Rankoís feet, but the sound of Ranko landing was deafening. Kodachi blinked the stars away to see Rankoís feet on either side of her head. Ranko knelt, bringing her face and pointing finger mere centimeters from Kodachiís nose. "Now hear this," Ranko said. "Iíve beaten you. I can do it again. If you bother Ranma, Ukyo, or me again, you will regret it. Understand?"

Ranko stood up, turned her back, and walked slowly to her corner. As the referee approached, she raised her hand, a vague imitation of Akaneís triumphant gesture. "Yeah, yeah. I won." She didnít stop walking until she reached Ranma at her corner.

Kodachi stood up and sniffed. "I can tell when Iím not wanted." She left the ring and the gymnasium with her hand dramatically against her forehead, leaving a trail of black petals.

Akane slowly stood up, staring at Ranko. Her voice came of its own accord. "Iím next."

Mrs. Kosagi put her hand on Akaneís shoulder. "You may not have to go just yet. They usually have a break between rounds."

The announcer was barely over the excitement of the previous match enough to read his cue card. "There will be a, uh, brief intermission before the next match."

Akane slumped. "Oh great. Just prolong the wait, why donít you?"

Her coach leaned closer. "You really want to win this, donít you?"

"I donít like being told what to do." Akane looked over to Ranma and sighed. "Besides, we might have had a rocky start, but I thought we mightÖ." The impending failure of the next match made it very difficult to finish her sentence.

Mrs. Kosagi looked over at Ranma. "Well, he IS cute."

Akane sighed again. "But how am I going to beat Ranko? You saw how good she is."

Mrs. Kosagi said nothing, but began to massage Akaneís shoulders again.

Ranma walked over to the front row, where Ukyo sat. "Hey, I missed Akaneís match. How did she do?"

Ukyo beamed. "She was fantastic. Took out the competition in less than 30 seconds."

Ranma stood silent for a moment. "ThatÖ that means that she and Ranko will fight in the next match."

Ukyoís smile disappeared. "Hey, sugar, how about if we go over and congratulate Ranko?"

"Um, sure." Ranma turned around and walked back to the corner. Ukyo followed him.

Ranko had climbed down from the ring and was waiting for them. "Boy, this break is going to be brutal. Why canít I just cut to the chase and fight again?"

Ukyo grabbed Rankoís hands. "Because they want you to calm down a bit before you have your next match."

Ranko could not stop moving. She tried jogging in place. "But Iím ready NOW! Itís not like Iím tired."

Ukyo pulled on Rankoís hands. "Ranko, will you settle down for a minute and listen to me?"

Ranko stopped jogging. "What?"

"Your next match is gonna be with Akane, right?"

Ranko nodded. "Thereís no one else left. So?"

Ukyo took a deep breath. "I noticed that when you fought Kodachi that you were pretty brutal."

"Yeah? She asked for it."

"Just keep in mind that Akane hasnít trained for nearly as long as Kodachi has."

Ranko shrugged. "So? Itíll be that much easier to beat her, then."

"Well, I think you should just remember that AkaneÖ isnít the same kind of person that Kodachi is."

Ranko narrowed her eyes. "What are you talking about?"

Ranma stepped forward. "I think what Ukyo is trying to say is that you donít need to go hurtiní Akane."

Ranko looked from Ranma to Ukyo with wide eyes. "What?" She pulled her hands away from Ukyo. "You two want me toÖ"

Ukyo pleaded, "Just take it easy on her."

Ranko huffed a couple times. "You want me toÖ toÖ throw the match?! I canít believe you two!" She turned on her heel and walked away.

Ukyo stared at the shrinking, distorted image of Ranko and sighed. "I kinda get the feeling we just made things worse."

Ranma nodded. "I guess Iíd better follow her." He jogged off to the doorway that Ranko had just stormed through. As he reached the door, he looked around. The hallway and adjoining lawn was empty. He checked around the corner of the gymnasium. No sign of Ranko. He sighed and walked back to Ukyo.

From the roof of the gymnasium, Ranko sat on her haunches. She leaned against the slope of the roof after she saw Ranma walk back inside. "Baka," she spat. Then she shook her head. "Ite, now Iím starting to sound like her!"

A couple of minutes later, the announcer spoke. "The next match between Tendo Akane and Ranko will now begin."

Ranko dropped down to the ground. "Akane, your time has come." She stepped inside and headed for the ring.

Akane stood up and sighed. Mrs. Kosagi massaged Akaneís shoulders. "Good Luck." Akane climbed into the ring, noticing that Ranko stared confidently at her from the other corner. She turned back to her coach. Mrs. Kosagi reached between the ropes to grab her hand and squeezed. "Just do your best. Thatís all anyone can ever ask." She pulled Akane close, within whispering distance. "And keep in mind that there are more ways to win than just raw skill."

Akane blinked back at her coach, and then smiled. She knew what she had to do. She stepped into the ring with a ribbon in one hand and a club in the other. Ranko stepped in with two clubs.

After seeing Ranko in the previous match, the referee was nearly outside the ring before she called out, "FIGHT!"

Akane took a few careful steps to one side. She saw that Ranko mirrored her movements. Akane sent her ribbon out to try to catch Rankoís feet. She wasnít surprised when Ranko casually jumped over her strike. She saw Ranko begin to show off a bit with her clubs, swinging them around like nun-chucks. *Sheís trying to intimidate me,* Akane thought. *What would Ranma do?*

She remembered one of his lessons at the Tendo dojo. He was showing off, and she was getting angry. He then quickly swept her feet before she knew what he was doing. "Never lose your cool, Akane," he said. "If your opponent gets you mad, youíve lost."

Akane stood and watched Ranko, forcing herself to stay calm. She whipped her ribbon out, managing to snatch one of the clubs out of Rankoís hands.

Ranko blinked. After a couple of seconds, she nodded. "Ok, you caught me off guard. It wonít hap-" The second club disappeared in a flash of ribbon. Ranko glared at Akane before turning her back and walking back to her corner. Akane tried to catch Rankoís feet again. Ranko merely leapt out of the way, landing on the corner post. She casually knelt, reaching towards Ranma. "More clubs." She took another two clubs from him, ignoring his expression. Then she dropped back down into the ring and walked casually back to Akane. "Now, letís see you try that again."

Akane struck with her ribbon, this time snapping it close to Rankoís face. Ranko ducked and glared. She lunged and struck with her club. Akane tried to dodge, but Ranko was too fast. The club hit her in the shoulder. Akane let her shoulder take the strike, turning with it. *Keep control,* Akane told herself as she straightened up. She smiled at Ranko.

Ranko sneered. "You think this is funny?"

Akane saw Ranko shift her weight. She could hear Ranmaís voice in her head. *Step inside the strike.* She leaned to her right. Rankoís club harmlessly glanced off her shoulder. Akane stopped face-to-face with Ranko, mere centimeters away. Ranko blinked.

Akane smiled, raised her hand, and tapped Ranko on the head with her club. "Bing Bong." Akane hopped back and winked.

Rankoís face matched her hair. "Are you making fun of me?!" She huffed a few times before yelling incoherently, striking again.

Akane gasped. This was it. Everything seemed to slow down. She moved painfully slowly compared to Rankoís speed, but she could feel Rankoís club bounce off her arm as she blocked. She continued her movement as quickly as she could. Rankoís hand, now an empty fist, missed Akaneís arm.

Ranko blinked, unable to move. The club landed beside her. Her outstretched arm ended in a fist. She had felt Akane knock the club out of her hand. She had also felt her handÖ her fist make contact with Akaneís chin. The refereeís whistle seemed to echo in the distance. She had done it. Akane had done it. On purpose. Why had she done it? What had she gained by this? One of the refereeís words drifted through her reverie. "Disqualified." At once, Ranko understood.

Akane had won.

Ranko had defeated herself.

Her hands fell to her sides. She looked down at Akane. Akane now lay unconscious in the ring. The roar of the crowd faded away. She stared at the motionless body. "Akane," she said. "I guess weíre even now."


Epilogue - The Aftermath

Ranko stepped up to the Tendo home, box in hand. She hesitated a moment before knocking on the door.

Kasumi answered. "Ohayou gozaimasu, Ranko."

Ranko nodded. "Good morning, Kasumi. Is Akane around?"

Kasumi smiled and nodded. "Sheís relaxing in the tea room." Kasumi stepped back, allowing Ranko to enter and follow her to the back of the house.

Akane sipped at her tea, half-heartedly watching a sitcom on TV. Ranko sat down on the opposite side of the table and offered the box. Akane blinked. "A delivery? But we didnít order anything."

Ranko nodded. "Itís a gift to you."

Akane took the box and opened it. There was writing on the okonomiyaki inside that said "Akane." She smelled the aroma wafting out of the box. "Shrimp, my favorite. Thank Ukyo for me."

Ranko folded her arms. "Ukyo didnít make it. I did."

Akane took a bite. Her eyes went wide. "Itís delicious."

Ranko smiled. "I had a good sensei."

Akane took another bite before regarding Ranko. "Not to be rude or anything, but why are you being nice to me all of a sudden?"

Ranko sighed. "I didnít realize that you wanted to win that badly. You took a hit in order to win. That took a lot of courage. I have to respect that."

Akane smiled and nodded. "So, youíre not going to try to keep Ranma and me apart anymore?"

"Well, I guess he could have picked someone worse." Ranko pointed her finger at Akane. "But that still doesnít mean youíre not a violent tomboy."

"Whoís a tomboy?"

Ranko smiled. "Akane no baka."


Episode 3: Double Trouble Return to Fan Fiction Page Episode 5: Unwanted Surprises

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