Wild Destiny

Chapter Two: Crashing the Engagement

          Ranko slowly opened her eyes to the faint sunlight flowing into the room.  She yawned and stretched her arms and legs, still lying on the futon.  She sat up, sniffing the air at a pleasant aroma.  She finally noticed her strange surroundings and remembered what happened the day before.
          Usagi was still asleep and most likely dreaming something wonderful since she was nibbling on her pillow.  Ranko shrugged the funny image of Usagi off and got up and left the room.  She stopped by the bathroom to freshen herself up before going downstairs.  When she went downstairs, she kept following the wonderful smell that led her to the kitchen, where Usagi's mother was making breakfast.
          Ikuko was surprised to see Ranko there, "Good morning, Ranko, you're up early.  Did you have a nice sleep?"
          She nodded.  "Good morning, Tsukino-san.  Yeah, I slept pretty good.  I haven't had a peaceful rest like that ever since bein' with pop."
          She raised a brow, wondering what the young girl meant by that.  She saw the girl was still standing and insisted her to sit down.  "Breakfast will be ready soon."  She returned to her cooking, sighing, "I wish Usagi would get up early like you, Ranko."
          Like every morning ever since she was little, she went through her daily martial arts exercises, and this morning was no different.  "Tsukino-san, I'll be in the yard for a few minutes," she said, standing up.
          "Oh, do you go for out before breakfast?"
          "Yeah, it's a habit.  I usually practice with pop though."
          She made a confused look at Ranko, "Practice?"
          "Anything-Goes Martial Arts."
          "How. . . interesting," she smiled, nervously.  She wasn't familiar with martial arts but the style seemed strange--certainly the name was.  Ranko was about to walk out the door when Usagi's mother requested, "Could you wake up Usagi for me?"
          "Okay."
          "Don't go easy on her either."
          Not sure of what she meant, Ranko returned to Usagi's room to find her body half sliding down to the floor.  "Hey, Usagi."  She tried shaking her.  "Usagi!"  The sleeping girl just shrugged the shaking off and completely slid her body to the floor, hugging a pillow.  She was a heavy sleeper, Ranko thought, now comprehending the woman's words.  She grabbed Usagi's right ear and shouted, "YO USAGI!  GET UP!"
          Usagi's eye popped open like a bomb had just exploded.  The voice died off but the ringing sound continued in her ears, causing a momentary shock in her system.  She blinked a few times before getting angry and throwing a pillow at Ranko, who avoided it with ease.  "RANMAAAAAAAAAAA!"
          Ranko flipped away from Usagi while the latter tried to hit her with another pillow.  "Can't get me," she teased the blonde.  "C'mon, Usagi, can't you be any faster?"  It was entertaining to have Usagi angry and attacking her but wasn't challenging enough--not like her father.  Ranko hopped around the room, easily dodging every swing from Usagi.
          "Ranma!  Quit jumping around!" Usagi demanded, getting tired of missing.  When Ranma jumped over the table, she went after her, stepping her foot onto one side.  As she lifted her body up, the opposite side of the table began to rise up due to her unbalance weight on it, tripping her to the floor.  She landed face first onto the flat surface.  "Ouwe," she said, quietly, with her face still pressed on the floor.  "Why do I get the feeling it's not gonna be a good day?"
          Ranko knelt down to her, "You okay, Usagi?"  She watched her prop herself up, rubbing her face.  Seeing she was all right, she teased, "You're such a klutz."
          "I'm NOT a klutz!" she tried to defend herself.  She grabbed a pillow and her covers and returned to her warm bed.  "It's not a school day, so I'm going back to sleep."  Ranko yanked on her hair, pulling her to the floor again.  Upset, she got in front of Ranko's face, yelling, "WHACHA DO THAT FOR?!"
          Not even fazed, she replied, "Your mom told me to wake you up."  She laughed, "Bet ja could sleep through anything."
          Usagi glared at her, "You're not gonna leave me alone, are you?"  Ranko shook her head.  "Fine, I'll get up."  She stomped out of her room towards the bathroom with Ranko following until the door.  When she parted from Usagi, she headed to the stairs and slid on the rail to the ground floor.
          Shingo poked his head from the kitchen, asking, "Did Usagi run into the door again?"
          "Actually, she tripped and fell."  She noticed Shingo wasn't surprised at all and inquired, "So that's normal for her?"
          "Pretty much.  You better eat your breakfast before Usagi gets to it."  Ranko nodded before complying.
          "Hey!  WaitForMe!  I'mComingSoNoOneBetterStartEating!" Usagi commanded. The two looked up at the top of the stairs to see Usagi flying by the stairs.  She returned and started to put her feet on the first step, but it slipped, and she tumbled down the flight of stairs on her butt.
          "You really *are* a klutz," Ranko said, turning her joke into a true fact.  Usagi glared at her while Shingo sighed, hopelessly.

          Over at the Tendou Doujou that morning, the occupants of the house including their recent guest were preparing for breakfast as well.  Nabiki sat, glaring at Genma, "So when's Ranma gonna find his way here?"  From the looks of Saotome Genma, she knew well the boy wasn't inheriting a gold mine--not unless he was marrying her or one of her sisters, then he would get the doujou for sure.  It didn't seem so bad, Nabiki thought, she had her ways to make money.
          Genma laughed it off, "Even if he was lost, we could always go to the police!"  He was impatiently waiting for Kasumi to arrive with the food than worry about his only son.
          "How old is he again?" Nabiki asked, suspiciously.  "Or is there a reason he's not coming?"
          After hearing his daughter's words, Soun spun his head to his old friend.  His expression was completely serious, and an aura that was very deadly.  The dreadful stare sent chills down Genma's spine, causing him to back away from the table.  "Ranma's definitely coming!  He probably. . . uhh, had some stops to make. . . ha-ha. . . Really, getting gifts for his fiancee!  Yeah, gifts!"
          Soun dropped his ferocious face and chuckled, "Well then, that's different!"
          Nabiki, of course, didn't believe it, but she just had to wait to see this 'Ranma' before she can set plans for him.  She looked at Akane, who was not even interested in the small conversation.  "Akane, if you keep that act up, you're never gonna get a husband."
          "I didn't ask for one!"  She didn't understand why her father was making such a big deal with it.  She was a good martial artist, just leave it to her to carry on the family legacy.  There wasn't any need for a fiance.  That's it, she wasn't going to be forced into any marriage, she thought.
          "Don't be so hasty to turn the offer down," Nabiki continued, "He could be a real looker.  I mean, he knows martial arts too.  Who knows, you two might even hit it off."  She smirked at a pouting Akane.

          The normal people of the Tsukino family were quite shock and amazed at how similar Ranko's eating manners were to Usagi.  One would even think they were related somehow.  Shingo pulled his plate away, protectively, hoping neither would get their hands on it.  When all the food finally disappeared into the girls' mouths, they sat back, satisfied with the third helping to everything on the table.
          "Girls sure have healthy appetites these days," remarked Kenji, the man of the house.  His wife smiled and began to clean up the empty plates.
          "What are you girls planning today?" Ikuko asked.
          Ranko looked at Usagi, who wasn't sure either.  Usagi responded, "Well, I could show Ranko around since she just moved to Tokyo."  She nodded.  "Yeah, that's what we'll do."  She stood up and excused herself from the table to get dressed, leaving Ranko with the rest of the Tsukino family.
          Kenji began, "So Ranko, my wife tells me you do martial arts.  'Anything-Goes' was it?"
          She nodded, "Yeah, been training since I was little."
          He raised a brow, very impressed even if he didn't know what the 'Anything-Goes' style was.  His wife asked, "Does your family have a training hall?"  Shingo listened, intently, thinking the whole idea was great.  He really wanted to learn but wasn't sure if Ranma was really that good.
          "Naw, but his friend has one, I think.  Somewhere in Nerima-ku."
          "Nerima-ku?" the couple questioned and looked at each other.  He asked his wife, "Honey, don't we know someone there?"
          She thought for a bit and answered, "Yes.  A cousin of mine has his own business there."  She nodded and smiled.  "It's been such a long time since we've last seen him."  Puzzlement appeared across Ranko's and Shingo's face.  The little boy didn't recall a relative living in that district.
          Usagi reappeared in the dining room again, wearing a sky-blue dress with a white blouse underneath.  Her hair was pulled into her usual odango style with two ponytails flowing down behind her.  "Let's go, Ran-chan!" she chirped.
          Ranko stood up and bowed to Usagi's parents.  "Thank you for the nice meal, Tsukino-san."
          "Don't be so formal, Ranko," Ikuko said.  "Come by more often, alright?"
          The girl nodded and joined Usagi in the foyer as the latter shouted, "See ya, mom!  Dad!"  She slipped on a pair of blue, singled-strapped shoes while Ranko wore the shoes she came with.  Usagi opened the door, and they left the house.

          A few minutes later, Usagi and Ranko were walking down a different neighborhood, heading towards the main street that would take them to one of the busiest streets in Juuban-ku.  Ranko finally spoke up, "Hey Usagi, can we get some hot water somewhere?  I don't wanna be a girl anymore."
          "Okay."  Usagi tried to think of a place they could get hot water without an explanation or crazy stares.  When a place came to her, she grabbed Ranko's hand and raced down the street.  They eventually stopped in front of a game center, where a young man was putting up a poster.  He was tall with short, blonde hair.  He wore what looked like an apron with the name of the game center, 'Crown Game Center,' on it.  "Motoki-chan!" Usagi cried, happily.
          Motoki turned around and saw Usagi bobbing up and down with her ponytails.  He laughed at the sight of one of his frequent customers.  "Usagi-chan, nice to see you again."  He took noticed of Ranko, who was watching Usagi make a fool of herself.  "You've brought a new friend today," he started to pat Usagi's head, "You're always bringing your cute friends here, Usagi-chan."
          She giggled and pulled Ranko forward.  "This is my friend, Ranko.  Motoki-chan, can we get some hot water?"  With her free arm, she tugged childishly on Motoki's sleeve.  "Pretty please, it's just a game we're playing."
          He smiled, "Sure thing."  He took them inside as Usagi looked back at Ranko, giving her a 'victory' sign.  The young man left the two by the arcade games as he went to comply with Usagi's request.  Usagi immediately sat down at a Sailor V game and started to play.  Ranko stood behind her and watched.  After a while, she looked around the place, taking notice of how most of the customers were guys and very few girls were present.  "You come here a lot, huh Usagi?" she asked.
          "Every chance I get," she replied without budging an eye from the screen.  Usagi punched the buttons fiercely, trying to kill the enemies on the screen, but in the end, her character was shot.  "Aaaah, not again!" she shouted and stood up, hastily.  She turned to Ranko, "Wanna try?"
          Ranko shook her head, "Nah.  I rather fight for real."  Usagi shrugged.  "So who's this Motoki guy?" she asked the blonde, curiously.  "He's your boyfriend or something?"  She stared off in the direction Motoki had left to, not noticing Usagi's red face.  "A bit too old to be your boyfriend," she said, bluntly.
          A blushing Usagi confronted Ranko, "It's nothing like that!  Motoki-chan. . . he's. . ."  She didn't know how to say it, but she only had a little crush on him.  Why was she even telling Ranma about it?  Ranko stood there, staring at her, thinking that she really liked the guy.  Usagi was looking away shyly, playing with her fingers.
          "Sorry for the wait," Motoki said, coming back to them.  He handed the thermos of hot water to a gracious Usagi .  "Here you go."
          "Thanks, Motoki-chan!  I'll return this really quick."  Usagi hurried and joined Ranko, who was already heading outside.  The girls left a bewildered Motoki looking after them.  He scratched his head and shrugged.

          Usagi and Ranko went into the alley that was near the game center.  They looked around and made sure no one was watching.  Ranko nodded to Usagi, who then poured the hot water over the girl's head.  Ranma cringed from the VERY hot water.  He really had to get used to strangers' hot waters.
          "I'll go get a towel," Usagi said, "so wait here."  She ran off with the thermos into the game center again.  Ranma leaned against the wall, waiting and thinking about how Usagi was doing so much for him and she had only known him for two days.  With what he'd been through, he never thought of a nice girl like Usagi to be his friend, but it really felt good.  There was something about Usagi that made him forget about his troubles and just enjoy the moment.  Even her smile was enough.
          Usagi finally returned with the towel and gave it to Ranma.  As Ranma dried his face and hair, she watched him, noticing his beautiful, blue eyes--similar to hers, but somewhat lighter.  She was staring at him, immensely, thinking how handsome he was.  She didn't realize it the day before since she was caught up in his curse and problems, but now, there was time to admire what was in front of her.  She observed him carefully, noticing the built body beneath the layer of clothing.  Even as a girl, Ranma's body was well-defined, she thought.
          Ranma did the best he could, drying himself, but he didn't have any spare clothes with him.  His father had taken everything with him.  He then saw Usagi staring at him and asked, "Something wrong, Usagi?"
          The girl blushed, "Umm, no.  I. . . I was just wondering how good your martial arts was."  She laughed, nervously, with a giant sweatdrop dangling from her head.  "Heh heh."  She stopped laughing and became a bit serious, "Since you're a guy again, why don't we go find your father and straighten this engagement thing out?"
          "Usagi," he groaned, "I don't wanna go see him."
          The girl frowned at him.  "Saotome Ranma!  Are you a man or what?!"  Her words shocked him at the moment.  "A man deals with his problems--not avoid them!"
          Not even thinking about his curse, Ranma shouted at her, " I AM A MAN!!"
          She giggled, "Half-man works for me too, so let's go!"  She grabbed his hand and dragged him from the alley and down the street again.  After they passed the game center the second time, Minako walked up to the place and stood outside, looking at the Sailor V poster Motoki had put up earlier.
          Artemis was draped over her right shoulder, sighing, "Minako, this isn't time to goof off."
          The blonde girl just smiled, waving her hand casually in his face.  "I know!  But I've been working really hard, so a little stop by here won't hurt!"  She nodded, reasoning it out completely, and stepped inside.  She looked around and saw Motoki.  "Motoki-chan!" she called, running up to him.
          "Minako-chan?"  He was surprised to see her.  "I haven't seen you here in awhile, Minako-chan?"
          "Oh that, yeah."  She sighed, letting her eyes wander around.  It's been weeks since she had been gone, but now she was back again.  "I was just in China for a bit.  So how were things when I was gone?"
          "Pretty much the usual.  It was strange, but there wasn't much action with Sailor V about the same time," he said, wondering where the heroine of the city left to.
          Minako sweated as well as Artemis.  "Aah, I bet she took a vacation!  You know how that saying goes, 'All work and no play makes Sailor V a very cranky girl!'" she laughed.
          Motoki and Artemis just stared at her.  The young man corrected her, "I think that should be, 'All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,' but in this case, it would be 'Sailor V a dull girl.'"
          The girl continued to laugh like crazy, "That too!"  Artemis hung his head low, cursing his destiny for entrusting his companion with the future of the world.  He recalled their trip to China, where the end of a battle was just the start of another.  He had hoped Minako would learn to be more responsible with the mission, but it seemed she had become a little more carefree these days.  He really couldn't blame her--she had been working too hard.  He wished he could relax as well, but knowing that evil would soon sprout again, they had to find their allies before it was too late.

           "So the Tendous are martial artists too?" Usagi asked as she and Ranma made their way to the doujou.  Getting to Nerima-ku didn't take long, but it would have been faster by bus.  Too bad the girl had spent the money she had at the game center.  Ranma didn't seem to mind walking though.
          "That's what pop said," he said, bothered by his prearranged marriaged thanks to his father.  They were walking along a high fence when suddenly Ranma leapt onto it and continued to walk as if it was natural.  Usagi stopped and stared after him.  He didn't hear Usagi's footsteps so he stopped and looked back.  "Is something wrong?"
          "Umm, no."  She sprinted to catch up to him, keeping her eyes on him, and they continued.  "Be careful, Ranma," she said, worriedly.
          "Don't worry.  I do this all the time," he tried to reassure her.
          "Hey, Ranma."
          "Yeah?"
          "Can you teach me martial arts too?"  They both stopped, and he jumped down in front of her.  She saw that Ranma wasn't going to give in to her request, so she continued, "Please!  That way Shingo and everyone won't be able to pick on me!"  She smiled, "And I know you'd be a great sensei too!"
          Ranma grinned, thoughtfully.  "Sure, why not," he said as he walked off, "At least you won't be a klutz anymore."  Usagi blinked for a moment, realizing that he had accepted and also insulted her.
          "RANMAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA" she yelled as she chased him down the street.  "TAKE THAT BACK!!"

          Finally, Usagi huffed and puffed her way to the front gate of the Tendou Doujou.  Ranma leapt down from the top of the wall and smiled.  "You're outta shape, Usagi."
          Leaning against the wall of the Tendou home, she glared up at him, trying to catch her breath.  Usagi turned away from Ranma and looked at the sign in front of the home.  She couldn't believe they've already made it to the Tendous' place.  It only seemed like minutes when the chase started.
          Ranma noticed the sign Usagi was looking at and frowned.  "Forget it."  He started to walk away when Usagi grabbed his pigtail.  She pulled it back with all her strength.  "Let go, Usagi!  I'm not going through with the stupid engagement!"
          "You can't turn back now!  We're already here!" she cried, trying to hold onto the pigtail as best as she could.  She eventually let his pigtail go, and the boy flipped forward and landed in a squat.  He stood up and looked back at Usagi, who was disappointed in him.  "Don't you trust me, Ranma?"  Her expression softened, "I'm here to help you.  Remember?"
          He stared at her, feeling guilty.  He did owe her from the day before, but after seeing her gentle face, he couldn't just leave her.  "All right."  Then he warned, "If it doesn't work out, we're leaving."
          She nodded, smiling, "Okay!"
          The gates opened, and Kasumi stepped out to greet the girl and boy.  "Oh, I knew I heard voices out here," she smiled.  "How can I help you?"
          Usagi walked up to Kasumi and bowed with a hesitant Ranma.  "Hello.  We're here to see Tendou-san."  She looked at the tall girl, carefully.  She wondered if this was the girl Ranma was engaged to.  She seemed a little old for him.  Usagi glanced to her side to see Ranma was hoping she wasn't the oneeither.
          "Oh, my father?"  A dreadful feeling filled both Ranma's and Usagi's heart when she spoke of her relation to the man of the house.  Kasumi nodded, "All right, please follow me."  She took them inside the residence and led them towards the back of house.
          Usagi fell behind Kasumi a few steps so she could walk next to Ranma.  She whispered to him, "Do you think she's the one?"  Ranma shrugged, not really wanting to stay.  He was glad Usagi was with him though.  "She seems nice, but a bit too old for you," she told him, honestly.  He frowned as Usagi picked up her pace.
          When the the trio turned the corner, they came upon a large yard with a pretty, small pond.  Two men were sitting on a platform, playing a game of go.  Ranma immediately recognized one of them and quickly shrinked behind Usagi.  Kasumi spoke up, "Otou-san, there are people here to see you."  She turned to Usagi, "I'm sorry.  I forgot to ask for your names."
          "My name is Tsukino Usagi," the blonde girl said as the men took notice of her as well as two girls inside the family gathering room.  "And this is," she continued, looking over her shoulders at Ranma.
          Genma noticed a pigtail poking out from behind the girl and shouted, "RANMA, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?!!"  He rushed to his son and grabbed the boy in a headlock.  "I HAVE SUCH AN INCONSIDERATE SON!" he began to weep, falsely, "MAKING YOUR OWN FATHER WAIT FOR YOU!"  Everyone's attention was turned to the father and son as Ranma squirmed from the man's grasp and flipped away from him.
          Nabiki stood up, followed by Akane.  "Oooh, Ranma is cute!"
          "THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT, POPS!" Ranma shouted as he grabbed his father by his gi.  Genma, who didn't seem bothered by it, just flung Ranma into the pond.  Usagi gasped as she ran up to the side of the pond.  Completely drenched, Ranko popped out of the water and glared at her father while all eyes except for Usagi were filled with shock.
          "WHACHA DO THAT FOR?!" the angry red-head yelled at her father.
          Kasumi raised a hand to her face, "Oh my.  *He* turned into a girl."
          Ranko splashed water onto her father with a convinent bucket nearby, turning Genma from a middle-aged man to a giant panda.  The Tendou sisters were completely baffled at the second transformation.
          Nabiki spoke, loudly, to her father, "Who ARE these people?!"  Soun quietly stared at Ranko because of her change.  He knew of Genma's tragedy from the day before but he didn't know of Ranma's.  His eyes narrowed as he watched the father and son--or should he say, the girl and her pet panda--in a fist fight.
          Usagi stood there, not knowing what to do.  She didn't know the Tendous, and here she was, not able to help Ranma in any way.  Akane walked up to her and greeted, "Hi, Usagi.  My name is Akane."
          She nodded, "Hi, Akane.  Are you the one engaged to Ranma?"
          Akane frowned a bit, "I hope not.  I don't want to be engaged to anyone I don't even know."  She looked at Usagi again, "Are you his. . . her. . . friend?"  Kasumi and Nabiki joined Akane, not sure what to make of the whole situation.
          The girl nodded, "We met yesterday.  I just came with Ranma to hopefully convince his father to drop the engagement."  Akane's eyes brightened.  "I feel sorry for him.  I mean, besides the engagement, he has that curse."
          "CURSE?!" the trio blurted out.  Nabiki turned to her father, "Otou-san!  Did you know anything about this?!"
          "Aha-ha," Soun chuckled, nervously, while Nabiki and Akane glared at him.

          Meanwhile in Juuban-ku, Minako and Artemis had left the game center and were walking along the gates of Juuban Park.  Not much had changed since she left Tokyo, but she wondered who her allies were and how she was going to find them.  "Artemis," she started, "do you think we could track them down?  I mean, the others."
          "We could try," he said.  He looked at the ground, feeling helpless.  "I'm sorry, Minako."
          "Sorry for what?"
          "After waking up from my deep sleep, there's not much I can remember right now," he looked up at the girl.  "All we can do is just try."  She nodded and continued to walk.  When they passed by a parking lot, they saw a group of children crouching in a small circle.  Minako thought she heard some animal yelping for help.  Even Artemis frowned at the sound.
          Minako walked towards the kids.  As she came close to them, she saw a black cat in the middle being teased.  "Hey!  Stop picking on that poor cat!" she shouted, scaring them away from the cat.  Artemis immediately jumped to the ground and ran to the cat.
          "Luna?!" he called.
          The black cat wasn't listening to him but fumbled with the two bandages across her forehead.  Minako bent down and picked up the cat into her lap.  "Oh, poor thing.  Those kids are brats."  She carefully took the bandages off the cat's head.  When the bandages came off, the cat blinked and leapt away from Minako.
          Artemis saw the golden crescent moon on the cat's head and knew it was her.  The black cat in turn stared at him too.  "Artemis!" she cried, leaping down to him.  Minako blinked, staring at the two felines.  "It's been such a long time!"
          Artemis wiped the tears from Luna's eyes, smiling.  "Yeah, it feels like a millennia."  He looked at Minako, "This is Luna.  She's just like me.  It was our destiny to find and guide you and the others in this inevitable battle."
          Luna finally took notice of Minako and nodded appreciatively from the rescue.  "I see, you're one of the soldiers."  Minako nodded.  "The kids had covered my crescent moon, so I couldn't talk nor find any of the others.  But now. . ."  She closed her eyes, feeling a strong presence in the city.  "I can sense them.  The darkness is breaking free."

          Back at the Tendou Doujou late that afternoon, the panda and Ranko were in the ofuro while Usagi was in the main room with the Tendou family.  Kasumi was serving tea to everyone while they waited for the Saotomes to return.  Nabiki stared at Usagi, which was making her very nervous.  Akane noticed and frowned, "Nabiki, stop it.  Usagi's our guest."
          Nabiki looked at Akane, innocently, "I wasn't doing anything."  She turned to Usagi again, "I was just wondering what her relationship with Ranma was?  That's all."  Even if she didn't mean anything by what she said, Soun caught those words and stared at Usagi.
          He sipped his cup of tea and put it down again.  "I'm sorry, young lady, but the Saotomes and Tendous have made a promise.  As long as we live, we shall honor that promise."
          Usagi frowned, "I don't want to be rude, Tendou-san, but is that promise right?  I mean, is it right to choose a husband for your daughter, not knowing what or how she feels about it?"  Soun looked surprised.  "Did you ever consider her feelings on the man SHE wants to marry?"  Akane was amazed at how brave Usagi was.  The blonde girl was an outsider to the family, not to mentioned a total stranger.  She had no right in the affairs of the two families, but she was speaking her mind about it and was saying everything Akane had felt about it too.
          "This has nothing to do with you, Miss," Genma announced as he and Ranma entered the room.  They took a seat across from the Tendou sisters while Soun sat at one end and Usagi sat at the other, near Ranma.  Usagi looked offended, which Ranma noticed.
          "Usagi's my friend," he said, angrily, bopping Genma's head.  "Unlike my own father, she's considerate!"  Usagi smiled at his words, but it didn't help when she realized that Genma was right.  She was a nobody here.  Her voice was not going to be heard by these two men, who had their hearts set on an 'honorable' promise.
          Ignoring Ranma's impudent action, Genma began, "Let me introduce my son, Ranma."
          Kasumi broke in, asking, "So Ranma, were you really that girl?"
          "What's this curse all about?" Akane added.  Genma yhrn related the fateful trip to China to the Tendou family.  Usagi listened and periodically glanced at Ranma, who seemed tormented with every word his father spoke.  She felt so useless.  She had promised to help Ranma, but how could she when she was a stranger.
          "Jusenkyou, the 'Legendary Ground of Accursed Springs,'" Soun spoke after Genma finished the story.  "It's true horror has always been shrouded in mystery."
          "True horror?!"  Ranma grabbed his father's gi, "Yo, old man!  What's the idea draggin' me to a place like that anyway?!"  Genma took hold of Ranma's arm and threw him into the pond again.  Ranko jumped out from the pond and landed behind Genma and then kicked him into the pond.  The panda stomped out of the pond towards Ranko.  He was about to start a fight when Usagi pulled on his arm.
          "You went too far, Saotome-san!" Usagi shouted.  "What ever made you do something so dangerous?!"  The panda sweated and then threw a booklet to the floor.  Usagi picked it up and looked at it as the Tendou sisters surrounded her.
          Kasumi noted, "It's Chinese.  A map. . . and a guidebook?"
          "Something about. . . 'training grounds,'" Nabiki added.
          "No wonder," the eldest daughter looked at the panda, "You can't read Chinese, can you?"  Usagi glared at the panda while Ranko struck the creature's head.  Suddenly, Soun poured the kettle of boiling water over the panda, changing him into Genma again.
          "When doused with hot water, you return to human form," he made certain.
          "It needn't be THAT hot," his friend said, still feeling the burning sensation from the hot water.
          "And when doused with cold water, you become a girl," Soun continued, speaking to Ranko, "but HOT water turns you back into a BOY!"  He tried to pour the hot water onto Ranko, but she dodged behind Usagi.  "No sweat, Ranma!  Your problem isn't so terrible."  Usagi and Ranko blinked.
          Soun gestured towards each daughter as he spoke, "My daughter, Kasumi, nineteen.  And Nabiki, seventeen.  And Akane, sixteen.  Pick the one you want.  She's your fiancee."
          Before Ranko or Usagi could say anything, Kasumi and Nabiki volunteered Akane.  "Oh, he wants Akane!" Kasumi said.  Nabiki nodded in agreement.
          Akane protested, "You must be joking!  Why would I--?!"
          She was cut short by Nabiki, "Well, you hate BOYS, so you're in luck.  He's HALF-GIRL."
          Usagi, Akane, and Ranko shouted, simultaneously, "THAT'S NOT RIGHT!"
          Everyone stared at Usagi, and then all heads turned towards the two men.  "Ha-ha, they're a perfect couple already!" Genma and Soun laughed, apparently blocking Usagi's presence out.
          Usagi stood up, feeling hurt at being ignored.  She tried not to show it, so she smiled.  "Guess I should go.  Good-bye."  She ran out from the Tendou home.  Much to the fathers' dismay, Ranko got up and ran after Usagi, which shocked Akane a bit as well.
          "Usagi!  Wait!"

          "Usagi!" Ranko called again.  Usagi stopped and turned around sadly to Ranko.  Ranko became quiet when she saw the girl's face.  She looked like she was about to cry.  Ranko didn't like seeing a girl cry, but tears seemed to suit Usagi--not sad tears, but tears of joy.  "Where're ya going, Usagi?"
          "I'm sorry, Ranma.  I promised that I would help you, but I didn't do anything."  Ranko was about to speak, but she continued, "I'm sure it will be okay though.  Akane seems like a nice girl."  Ranko felt bad, not only was she not able to get out of the engagement but also made Usagi blame herself for his problems.  "Guess you'll be staying with your father now, huh?"
          "Umm, yeah, I guess."  Ranko looked away.
          Usagi smiled at her, "I'll see ya around, Ranma."  She started to walk away as Ranko did nothing but stand there and watched her leave.  Usagi stopped and turned around to her, "If you ever need someone to talk to, Ranma, Tsukino Usagi is here to listen.  So don't be a stranger."  She gave him a 'victory' sign and made her way home.
          Ranko smiled as she watched her blonde friend walk off.  Somehow this wasn't going to be their final good-bye.  "See ya, Usagi."

          Later that evening, Ranko was sitting outside, staring at the pond.  She couldn't help but think about Usagi, wondering what and how she was doing.  After seeing Usagi's sad face, all she wanted to do was go pound some sense into her father, but she would deal with him later.
          Kasumi came by and handed a towel to Ranko.  "Akane's about finished with her bath, Ranma."
          "Umm, okay."  Ranko went inside and up the stairs to the bathroom.  She remembered Usagi's smile and her words from the day before, 'I know this isn't just coincident that we met, so don't be like a stranger.  We're friends, Ranma.'  She reached the bathroom and closed the door after her.  She took off her clothes and got ready for another warm bath.
          As Ranko stepped up to the sliding door to the bathing room, the door slid opened, and a naked Akane stood on the other side.  Akane blinked for a moment before realizing it was Ranma in his girl form.  "WHY YOU. . . YOU. . . YOU. . ."  Akane was getting furious as Ranko backed away.
          Ranko never saw a girl with such a frightening face.  "A-Aka-ane. . ."  Before Ranko could get out an apology, Akane's hand swung through the air and landed on Ranko's face.
          "PERVERT!"

          After the unmemorable bath, Ranma was walking downstairs and outside down the the corridor.  He paused outside the main room when he heard Nabiki said, "But you were both GIRLS, so that makes it okay!"
          Akane, angrily, said, "OKAY is not the word!"
          He rubbed his red cheek.  That was one fiancee he could do without.  He looked up and saw his father.  "So she's got spunk.  That just makes a fiancee cuter."
          Ranma just glared at his father.  "Are your brains still that of a panda?"  He confronted the man, "Choosing my fiancee for me was bad enough!  But you HAD to pick a VIOLENT one!  And UNCUTE at that!"  Inside the room, Akane crushed the tea cup in her hand as she heard the insults.  She picked up the table and threw it at an unexpecting Ranma, who was then knocked out.

          A few hours later, Ranma woke up with a terrible headache.  "Ooooh, what happened?"  He rubbed his head.  Kasumi helped him sit up.
          "Are you okay, Ranma?  Don't think of Akane badly," she smiled, "She's a very sweet girl.  It's just. . .  she's a violent maniac sometimes."
          Nabiki smirked, "Good one, Kasumi.  That'll make her more lovable."  Ranma didn't care what Akane was like but he knew he wasn't going to get along with her.  He got up and started to leave.  "Where are you going, Ranma?"
          "For a walk."

          It was a tranquil and breezy night.  The full moon was bright, emerging from behind the clouds plastered against the velvet skies.  A mysterious aura was floating in the air, as if something was about to change that night.  Beneath the moonlight, a figure stalked across the rooftops of buildings.  It was the silhouette of a girl--her long hair chasing after her, the slender pair of legs sprinting through the air.
          She leapt to the ground in front of Crown Game Center and swiftly ducked into the alley, followed by two small blurs.  She easily got inside the game center and  walked to an arcade machine near the back of the place.  She sat down and turned the machine on.  A white screen appeared as an electronic voice demanded, "Voice identification."
          With a firm, serious tone, she answered, "Sailor Venus."

          Usagi came into her room, exhausted.  She wore her usual pajamas and undid her hair again, but this time, she tied it back loosely with a pink ribbon.  She stared at the empty space next to her bed and sighed, "No more sleepovers."  She quickly blushed when she remembered Ranma was really a guy.  It didn't matter what Ranma really was--Ranma was Ranma, her friend.
          She sat on her bed, thinking about what happened earlier that day.  She didn't get far when her mother's voice filled the house, "Usagi, get to bed!  You have school tomorrow!"  Usagi groaned and then tucked herself into bed.  She closed her eyes, inhaling, and then exhaled as she wondered how Ranma was doing.  She heard a noise outside her window, but ignored it and rolled onto her side, letting her back face the window.
          The tapping continued, so Usagi rolled back and looked at the window.  Her eyes suddenly became huge like baseballs as she stared at Ranma, who was hanging upside-down outside her window.  "Ranma?!"  She went to open the window as he flipped rightside-up onto the balcony.  "Ranma, what are you doing here?"
          He looked at her, sheepishly.  "Umm, Usagi. . . can I talk to you?"
          She blinked.  "Sure."  She moved aside as he climbed through the window into her bedroom.

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