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A Ranma ½ / Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon / Ah! My Goddess crossover story
by L. S. McGill

Disclaimer: Ranma 1/2 characters property of Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video. Sailor Moon characters property of Takeuchi Naoko, Koudansha, TV Asahi, and Toei Douga, and DIC. Ah! My Goddess property of Fujishima Kosuke, Kodansha, TBS and KSS films; AnimEigo, Studio Proteus, and Dark Horse Comics. Other characters who may cameo are property of respective owners.  All are used without permission. I did not write this for profit, but for practice. Will be removed at request of original creators or authorized rep.

Zhu Shu (who shoo), Tao-Ching, Xi'an Chi (zy-an chee), and Clans' Dragon and Skorpion are mine, and may be used so long as I am asked beforehand.

Book One: The Mandarin

Chapter Nine: Hearts on the Line

There was definitely something different.

Ranma couldn't put his finger on it, but there was something different.

Oh, Akane still got mad at him, still called him a baka when he did something dumb; still walked in on him nude in the bath… She was still the Akane he knew….

But different.

He had watched her for the four days to the match, trying to figure out what exactly was different. Bit by bit, it came to him.

She was acting more like Zhu Shu.

He couldn't deny it by the fourth day. She was still getting angry with him when he said something badly, but she'd been much calmer and more controlled about it. And when she had walked in on him, she had been more… deliberate. And in other subtle ways, she had been… affectionate. A small hand touch here, brushing back his bangs there. And she had lost the faint awkwardness of her movements, the feeling that she was bludgeoning her way through invisible walls, and all traces of tomboyishness from her form, if not from her attitude. True, she had seemed a trifle preoccupied and distracted, but she moved with the same liquid, thoughtless grace that made Zhu Shu so mesmerizing. He found himself being fascinated with just watching her walk.

He finally had to admit, if only to himself, that she was… cute.

No, he corrected himself, she went way past cute… gorgeous wasn't even close… she was, quite simply…


As they entered the main hallway of St. Hebereke’s School for Girls, he had to tear his eyes away from the sway of her hips… the lithe way she….

Fortunately, Kodachi interrupted his wandering thoughts.

"Well… I see the clumsy cow has arrived. Are you ready to free my Ranma from your vile clutches?"

Akane's eyes narrowed. "No. I'm here to use you as a floor mop."

Kodachi laughed in a stilted manner and gazed over Akane's shoulder to Zhu Shu and a currently female, due to a small accident with a little old lady with a water scoop, Ranma. "And these two?"

"My coach and my second." Akane growled. Ranma could see that Kodachi was already making Akane seethe.

"Ah." Kodachi started to dismiss them, then she took a closer look at Ranma. "You! The pigtailed girl! So… we meet again." She smiled viciously. "I still owe you for the other day. Perhaps I'll cripple her so I can show you proper thanks."

"Anytime," Ranma replied.

Kodachi laughed at the ice in her voice. "I suppose we should be sporting." She stuck out her hand. "May the best girl win!"

Akane started to reach for it, then grabbed Kodachi's wrist and turned it to show her palm.

Kodachi feigned horror. "Oh, however did these tacks get between my fingers?" she said unapologetically. "Well, I must be off to my dressing room… I am so looking forward to this match." With another dose of her maniacal laughter, she skipped away.

"She has a very black aura," Zhu Shu murmured, her voice soft and still accent-free.

Akane nodded.

"That's the color of sickness… the color of despair. She's not as confident as she acts."

Akane turned to raise a quizzical eyebrow.

"And she's not quite sane," Zhu Shu added.

Akane harrumphed. "I don't know about her sanity, but she's defiantly twisted." She hefted her bag and began walking towards their dressing room. "But what I don't understand is why you are spending so much energy showing me people's auras." She waved a vague hand. "I mean, you've been glowing for days. Isn't it tiring?"

Ranma raised an eyebrow.

"I'm not, Akane," Zhu Shu protested. "Somehow, you've gained my ability to see auras."

Akane stopped. "What?"

"You're seeing auras. You have been ever since we blended chi."

"Say what?!" Ranma blurted in shock.

Zhu Shu turned to Ranma. "When I was teaching her the Dance, something got out of control. I don't know how, but we blended chi… entirely."

"Th-that's not supposed to happen, except… except…" the redhead blanched as he looked at them. "To lovers…." he finished in a whisper. He closed his eyes as it felt like something inside of him was dying and taking him with it. He sighed. "Oh, well. I suppose it was inevitable."

He wasn't looking at them, or he might have seen the pain his words caused in Zhu Shu's eyes… or the sheer rage that burned in Akane's. Then he was picked up and bodily slammed six inches into the wall and had to meet Akane's infuriated gaze.

"Ranma Saotome. You… you… BAKA!!! I'll have you know nothing of the sort happened!" The fire in her eyes was hotter than Ranma had ever seen. "I don't care how little you think of me…" she snarled, "But I will not stand here and let you insult Zhu Shu's honor that way!"

Ranma tried to say something, but Akane slammed him back into the wall. "I asked. I even tried seducing her! But she wouldn't. She thought she would betray you if she did, and she realized I was angry and jealous… over you." She turned and threw Ranma against the opposite wall. "And you accuse her! If I weren't engaged to you, Ranma… I would go to her." She stood over the smaller girl, slumped to the floor staring in shock at her. "But I told you something the other night, and I told you not to forget it! But I can see you can't even do that!"

Ranma met her eyes and whispered, "You said you love me…."

Akane's hands opened and closed in fury as she started to say something several times, then finally just screamed "MEN!" and stormed into her dressing room, leaving a speechless Ranma behind looking at Zhu Shu's tapping foot. Down the hallway on either side, small crowds of girls looked on excitedly.

Ranma looked at Zhu Shu's tapping foot. "I-I suppose that could have gone better."

Zhu Shu's foot continued its slow deliberate tapping.

"You're mad at me too, aren't you."

The tap continued for a few more beats, then stopped. "Do you really think so little of me?"

Ranma closed his eyes at the ice in her voice. "No… I think the world of you, Zhu Shu."

"But you casually assumed that I seduced Akane behind your back?"

Ranma curled his knees up against his chest as he sat against the wall. "What was I supposed to think? I mean—"

"You were jealous."

Ranma shrugged. "So what? It's obvious she wants you more than me anyway."

"Not true. I told you that night on the roof when Kodachi nearly kissed you, Akane was only mad because she got jealous. She started thinking why would you want her when Kodachi was rich and pretty and sexy and not clumsy. Things she felt because of the way you treated her in the dojo while she was trying to train, and the way you call her sexless, and a tomboy. I know your first impulse in a stress situation is to lash out, but because you do that, you made Akane feel like you didn't want her. And why would you want her when there was Kodachi?"

"But I don't want Kodachi. I-I wanted Akane."

"But have you ever said so to Akane? No. Even the next morning when Kodachi was chasing you, you used Akane as an excuse, not as a reason for why you didn't want to date Kodachi. Great way to make Akane feel really wanted. Is it any wonder she felt hurt? Or jealous? With every insult you've given her on her sexuality, you given her a need to feel wanted, and when she saw me feeling sad, she thought she could cheer me up, and maybe feel like someone really cared about her. She wanted me to make love to her, to make her feel loved, to hurt you the way she felt you had hurt her. She wasn't thinking about how badly she could hurt anyone else, how badly she could hurt both of us. She wasn't thinking about how it could destroy our friendship, because I wouldn't have been able to let her go if I had allowed her to go so far. I love her, Ranma, and the only reason I stopped her is because you're my friend and she's your fiancée." She made the sullen girl look into her eyes. "If she were free, I would give up my family, my honor, everything I am to be what you are! If I could have her by my side forever…. But I will not betray a friend! Akane knows this. There wasn't anything you could have said to have hurt her more…."

Ranma looked away, not saying anything for a long moment. "Why didn't you tell me?" he asked finally.

"Because nothing happened. Ranma, she needed to feel loved. In so many ways she was just as confused about how she felt as you are, but she needed some sign that someone cared, that the doubts and fears she had weren't real. She wasn't trying to hurt you."

Ranma put his head between his hands. "That doesn't mean that it doesn't hurt!"

Zhu Shu sighed and knelt down in front of the red-head. "No. Any more than it doesn't hurt me that I said no. Ranma… I know the fact that she even tried hurts, but look at it from her side too, please. You can't even bring yourself to ask her on a date, even though you said you were going to. She's felt you flash hot and cold, between resenting her because she's your fiancée, and actually caring about the fact that she's your fiancée. She's spent years trying to hide the pain she's felt from losing her mother, to keep everyone at arms length and not let them get close enough to cause her that kind of pain again, but you got in… And that's what scared her so badly. The fear of losing you… made her a little crazy."

"But you heard her! The only reason she's with me is because of this stupid fiancée thing our dads arranged!"

Zhu Shu reached out and lifted the red-head's tear-streaked face and made her meet her gaze. "If you truly take her words at face value, Ranma, you are a bigger fool than Kuno."

Ranma sniffed and turned away. "I don't know what to think, Zhu Shu."

Zhu Shu sighed. "Then let me ask one last thing. Do you love her?"

Ranma's blue eyes locked on the floor. "I-I don't know."

"Then why are you crying? She's handed you the keys to her heart, given you her soul for safekeeping. Which is more important, Ranma? Your pride… or Akane?"

Ranma pushed himself upright. "I-I… Tell Akane I'm sorry. I've got to go think."

Zhu Shu closed her eyes. "Very well. Just… before you do anything, please, if you still trust anything I say, then believe that Akane loves you."

There was the sound of Ranma's footsteps walking away… then getting faster and faster until he was running. An explosion of conversation started up at the end of the hall, but Zhu Shu ignored it. She stood and looked after the departed redhead, trying to quell the storm of emotions roiling in her breast. For a long moment she stood and watched the entrance before wiping her eyes and turning to the dressing room.

Akane stood by the window, staring blankly while idly playing with her braid and humming a sing song tune. At her feet lay a bouquet of black roses surrounded by a faint haze of white powder.

Zhu Shu stopped at seeing her. "Akane?"

Akane giggled. "Zhu-sa-ma… I-was-thin-king-of-you." she singsonged as she turned and moved towards the other girl, snagging her foot on her bag and tripping. She did a handstand and flipped, her legs catching Zhu Shu on either shoulder as she bore her over and down. Akane landed sitting on Zhu Shu's chest and looked around. "Zhu-sa-ma… where-are-you?"

She lifted her skirt at the muffled reply and looked down at the Chinese girl's face between her legs, giggling again. "Silly Zhu Shu. You're not supposed to be there. Ranma is! Except I'm mad at him!" She giggled madly, nearly tumbling over.

"Are you okay?" Zhu Shu asked, worried.

"I'm Fiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnneeeeee…" Akane giggled again and reached down to pull her panties aside to reveal her bare pubic area. "See! I shaved so I'd be just like you. Just for Ranma." She placed a finger on Zhu Shu's nose. "And then he had to make me mad at him." She trailed her finger down Zhu Shu's face and up her pubis. "So… none for him!" She let her panties go with a snap as she giggled and this time did fall over.

Zhu Shu untangled herself from Akane's legs and rose to her knees. She examined the madly giggling girl and looked around to see the roses. She dusted her finger and looked at it. "Poppy," she muttered disgustedly. "With several other ingredients, I suspect."

She sat the still giggling girl up. Akane looked at her and smiled. "Zhu-sa-ma! You were between my legs! Naughty girl!" Zhu Shu grimaced.

"Definitely more than just poppy." She reached behind her back and pulled out her herb case, opening it to withdraw a small vial. "It's not a real antidote, but the effects will offset the worst of this. But there are going to be some side-effects, especially with what you're already on," she said as she looked at Akane. "It will make you capable of fighting, but…" noted the wide-eyed look Akane was giving the bottle. "Well… I suppose it really couldn't make you less inhibited."

Akane snatched the vial out of Zhu Shu's hand. "Sake!"

Zhu Shu looked on in astonishment as she drained the vial. She blinked a few times and stole a quote from Kasumi. "Oh, my. You weren't supposed to drink the whole bottle!"

Akane sat with her head tilted and blinked a few times as her pupils undilated, then looked around the room as if she'd never seen it before. Her gaze came to rest on Zhu Shu and strange look came to her eyes. She stretched, cat-like, then stalked over to the Chinese girl on all fours and meowed. Then she batted the confused girl over and crawled up her until they were nose to nose.

"Akane?" Zhu Shu asked nervously, staring at the purring girl in shock.

"You. Are. Purrrrrrrrr-fectly. Sexy," Akane said as she nuzzled Zhu Shu's face, then her eyes fell upon her bag and the black roses lying by it and her eyes lit up. "Oh! Playtime!" She giggled and leaped upwards.

Zhu Shu caught only a glimpse of the blur that hit the door as a rain of Akane's clothes began to fall….

Ranma wandered along a canal, and kicked a rock despondently. What was he to do?

Akane said she loved him… but she had asked Zhu Shu to sleep with her! And somehow… they had merged chi.

He sat on the edge of a bridge and stared into the water. What was he going to do?

"You look troubled, young lady. May I possibly be of some assistance?"

Ranma started at the quiet and kindly voice and turned to see a woman giving her a friendly smile. She was fairly tall, and an obvious foreigner, with long grey hair and pale skin. She was very pretty, the tattoos on her cheeks and forehead seeming to add to her beauty. She was dressed like a college student, and a book bag with the words Nekomi Tech hung from her shoulder. Something about her smile made him feel like the world was suddenly a much better place to be. Shyly, he smiled back.

"I'm okay, I guess. Just trying to think things out."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. Would you like to talk? Sometimes, all you need is a different viewpoint."

Ranma shrugged, somehow instinctively knowing he could trust the other girl. "I guess. I mean, if you really want to hear about the mess I call my life."

"Surely it can't be as bad as that? Would you like to go over to that ice cream parlor? My treat."

Ranma smiled. "I never turn down ice cream."

Zhu Shu caught up to Akane at the ring, where she prowled like a playful tigress. She had changed into the black and orange striped tights she'd brought somewhere during her blur and twin ribbons lashed behind her like tails. Then she caught sight of Zhu Shu and waved before bouncing over to plant a kiss on her nose before giggling and bouncing into the ring again. Zhu Shu sighed. She was still as high as a kite… but at least the lethargy the poppy would have induced seemed to have been fully countered.

A commotion arose at the door as they opened and the audience started to filter in, along with Genma and the other two Tendo girls. They took seats at the front, the audience choosing not to argue with a giant panda. Kasumi looked at Akane and asked, "Is she okay?"

Zhu Shu shook her head. "She had a really bad fight with Ranma, then Kodachi hit her with some kind of weird drug that started to put her to sleep. I gave her something to keep her awake. Now, I am not really sure what she is going to do."

"Oh my." Kasumi looked worried.

Akane meanwhile had lashed her ribbons to the overhead beams and was using them as a swing. She swung back and forth in lazy arcs, staring off into space dreamily. The crowd buzzed with whispers as the seats filled with students from both schools commenting on her odd behavior.

Finally Kodachi entered, a small frown crossing her face when she saw Akane had made it to the ring. She greeted Kuno as she proceeded to the ring, where she threw off her robe to reveal a skintight leotard of black with a stylized rose design. She stepped into the ring, a black rose between her teeth. Akane looked at her curiously and dropped to the mat, ribbons once again lashing like a cat's tail.

The Referee looked at her nervously before proceeding with her opening. "And now the Champions of the Schools! In this corner… From St. Hebereke’s School for Girls… Kodachiiiiii Kuuuuuuuunnnnoooo!"

Kodachi waved to the cheering crowd and threw her rose into the audience. The announcer turned to Akane. "And in this corner… umm… what's your name?" she finished in a stage whisper.

Akane stared at Kodachi intently as she murmured her name.

The Referee stepped back and continued. "And representing Furinkan High… Akaneeee Tennnndoooo!"

The Furinkan students broke into cheers as Kuno threw roses at the stage.

"Champions to the center!" The Announcer called. Akane looked at Kodachi with her head tilted to one side as she tucked her ribbons behind her back.

Zhu Shu blinked.

The two girls approached each other and the Referee made them shake hands. Kodachi had to get another dig in. "Well cow, are you ready to lose your claim to my Ranma?"

Akane gave her a curious look. "Over your dead body." She tilted her head the other way and reached out and snagged Kodachi's leotard by the V between her breasts and pulled her close. "Or maybe not, cute and psychotic."

Kodachi sprang back as Akane turned and giggled all the way back to her corner. Kodachi stared at her retreating form. "Y-y-you dare!"

"You betcha!" Akane answered. She leaned over the ropes and whispered conspiratorially at Zhu Shu. "I don't know why she'd want him, though. He's a bitch! Thinks nothing or ripping out hearts. Maybe I should let her have him." She looked at the stricken Chinese girl and winked. "Or maybe I'll go to her. I'm already a slut, right! He said so. Wanna bet I can get her out of that outfit before the end of the fight?" She giggled and leered at Zhu Shu. "Hot girl-girl action, dontcha know."

"Akane, please! Don't be like that," she pleaded. "You aren't yourself right now! It's what Kodachi drugged you with!"

"I can't hear yooou!" Akane sang as she rolled to look at Zhu Shu upside down. "My head is full of fluff and my ears are ringing!"

"That's the bell! Look out!"

"Whups!" Akane giggled as she dodged Kodachi's club attack. She flipped to the top of a corner pole and shook her finger. "Naughty, naughty! Attacking while I'm talking about Ranma. Bad girl! Mommy spank!" She jumped over another blow.

Kodachi steamed. "How dare you mock the Black Rose!" she screamed as she launched the club straight at Akane's head.

At the top of her leap, Akane's ribbons reappeared and intercepted the club, knocking it flying before they quested downwards after Kodachi.

Kodachi laughed and knocked them away with her rope, the cord standing as stiffly as a sword.

"Just what we've come to expect from the Flower of Martial Gymnastics, Kodachi Kuno! She handles the rope as if it's a rod!" the Announcer called.

Akane landed while dodging another blow, and one of her ribbons caught her leg momentarily, making her stumble. Kodachi took advantage of her misstep to clobber her with her stiff rope, revealing it wasn't a rope at all.

"Wait a minute," the Announcer cried, "it is a rod!! A rod disguised as a rope!"

"Akane!" Zhu Shu yelled as Akane stumbled away from Kodachi, dazed by the blow. She yelled at the Referee, "Kodachi's cheating!"

The Referee looked at her. "So long as it's not a barehanded blow."

Kodachi laughed and twirled her clubs, then jabbed at Akane, who just barely dodged as she was recovering. Then she dived against the ropes as with a pong, spikes sprang from the club and clipped her ear.

"She's using spiked clubs!" Zhu Shu yelled at the Referee. She turned to look, but as she did, the spikes snapped back into the club. "I don't see any spikes," the Referee called back.

"I do all this so that I may date Ranma!" Kodachi cried to the crowd. "Oh, how inspiring the lengths to which I'll go!!"

Akane had regained her balance and giggled. "Dream on cutie!" she cried as a ribbon shot out to snare Kodachi and drag the girl into the ring. "He's mine! Lock, stock and cute little curly red pubic hairs!" She pulled her ribbon and sent Kodachi spinning like a top to careen into the ropes.

"An ingenious attack from the crazy girl from Furinkan High!"

Kodachi spun into the corner and caught her leotard top on the turnbuckle. As she straightened there was a loud rip, and Kodachi's entire left sleeve tore free.

Kodachi looked down at her torn leotard and screamed. "You wretched girl! Look what you have done!" She grabbed her clubs and swung repeatedly as Akane jumped and dodged. As Akane jumped over her, a pair of ribbons wrapped around Kodachi's waist and spun her to face Akane. "Now, now. Temper will get you nowhere with me. But for being really cute when you're angry—" she leaned forward and the entire crowd ceased all noise as she kissed Kodachi on the lips.

Kodachi stumbled backwards as sounds of disbelief, and the occasional cheer, echoed through the crowd.

"This match has… has taken a truly unexpected turn!! Can a kiss be considered a barehanded blow? It certainly has set our Champion reeling!"

The judges consulted in a flurry of voices before their flags came up. "Valid! No hands or feet involved!"

Kodachi wiped the back of her hand across her lips, a lost look in her eyes, then Akane giggled again and Kodachi's eyes flared. "So! Now you would toy with my heart! Such insult cannot be allowed! You dreadful girl!"

She launched a furious assault on Akane, but Akane's ribbons kept intercepting them. Akane skipped backwards as she singsonged "Dachi and Akane sitting in a tree— whups!" The rings ropes blocked her as Kodachi grabbed a hoop from her second and screamed "I shall punish you!"

The ring flew at Akane's throat, but she dodged the hoop, the ring continuing until it sliced through the top of the corner pole she'd been next to. She stared at the cleanly sliced pole and mumbled "Whoa… Burma shave" as Kodachi's ribbon reached out to snag the hoop and draw it towards Akane's back.

"Watch out!" Kasumi and Zhu Shu screamed in unison as the crowd drew a breath in horror.

Akane sensed the ring at the last second, and did a midair cartwheel as she flipped to balance on the rope on one foot.

Nabiki blinked. "Since when is she that good?"

Kodachi angled her hoop at Akane again. Akane frowned and lashed out with her ribbons. Gold fire flickered along their length as they slashed Kodachi's hoop into pieces.

"And Akane razors Kodachi's hoop!" the Announcer screamed as Zhu Shu did a double-blink. That wasn't part of Shiva's Dance.

Akane giggled. "That's not playing nice! I'll teach you to play with sharp things!" She giggled again as her ribbon blurred into a flicker of golden light that played around Kodachi's waist and spun the girl around. She staggered after she stopped spinning and small wisps of thread fell from the halter top and g-string Akane had left of her leotard. Shreds of black cloth littered the ring, and only her right sleeve remained intact. Murmurs of appreciation arose from the male students in the crowd at the sight of how little Akane had left of Kodachi's outfit. Akane sat down and bounced on the ropes as Kodachi took stock, and catcalled, "Now play nice, or I'll take the rest."

Kodachi's fists clenched as she howled "You BITCH!" She grabbed her clubs. "I will pay you back for this, a hundredfold! Now! Witness the secret technique of the Black Rose! The Blow of a Thousand Hands at full frenzy!"

Akane laughed as she dodged the massive volley of blows. Air pressure from the misses shattered the first two rows of bleachers and sent spectators flying. Screams of panic went up from the crowd.

"My God!" yelled the Announcer. "It looks like she's using twenty clubs! There's no doubt about it! The madwoman from Furinkan has definitely raised Kodachi's ire as well as her hemline!"

Zhu Shu threw a ball up to Akane from the sidelines, and she idly batted it at Kodachi's still futile attempts to hit her. The ball smashed down through the volley of clubs and popped loudly against the mat as clubs rained down around Kodachi.

"And the truth is revealed!" the Announcer called, still clutching her mike amid the wreckage Kodachi had made of her table. "She was using twenty clubs!"

Kodachi looked down in disbelief at the clubs surrounding her, then over to where Akane was casually strolling along the rope singing a nursery rhyme. Her eyes hardened. "This is only the beginning!" she cried as she pulled her ribbons from somewhere. "The true essence of Martial Gymnastics is control of an endless array of weapons!" The ribbon reached out to snag a bell from the wreckage around the ring and hurled it at Akane.

Akane intercepted the bell with her ribbons and it fell to the mat in four pieces as she laughed. "Oho! Trying to ring my bell, and we haven't even been on a first date!" Her ribbon slithered around in a spiral to smack Kodachi on the rear with a loud crack. Kodachi jumped and a blush spread across her cheeks at the yelp she had let out. Akane stood on a corner pole and looked at her with her head cocked. "Whaddaya know, I think she liked that!"

Kodachi ‘eeped’ and grabbed a chair to throw at Akane, but as she turned, she found Akane right in front of her. The chair clattered to the floor as her momentum carried her against the other girl and she stared into the strange expression in Akane's eyes. Only she heard the words Akane spoke: "Yep. You need a good fucking." But the tone made her stagger backwards a half-dozen steps in shock.

She stared at Akane as her heart hammered. Akane stood there like a hyper-eager airline hostess. Her feet were together and her hands were behind her back as she leaned slightly forward while her ribbons danced behind her back like tails. On her face was a friendly smile….

Wind whistled through the silent auditorium.

Like a trapped animal, Kodachi looked around wildly, finally spying her brother looking at her coldly. In almost terror, she snagged him and hurled him at Akane.

Whatever spell had existed for that frozen moment broke as Kuno yelled and swung his bokken. Akane moved aside and used her ribbons to hurl Kuno into the crowd.

"Use of brother valid!" the judges called as Kodachi began to hurl everything she could at Akane.

"It's a battle for the ages!" the Announcer called. "The Black Rose is in rare form today, but her opponent isn't giving an inch! What will happen next! And all our male fans are wondering, I'm sure, will Kodachi lose any more of her outfit? It's still anyone's match!"

Zhu Shu was still watching slackjawed when the panda, seemingly uninterested in the match, tapped her on the shoulder and offered her a cup of tea.

"Mister Saotome! This is no time to be relaxing! Akane's higher than a kite! She could be killed!"

The panda gave the ring an eye, then shrugged unconcernedly as he sat down with his kettle and teacup.

Kodachi was still desperately attacking an Akane who seemed to be having more and more fun blocking her attacks and snipping more of Kodachi's outfit. The right sleeve was now gone and only a thin band covered her breasts. She'd also lost the right side of her bottom and only a single strand kept the cloth covering between her legs. She was despairing because Akane still only seemed to be half paying attention and hadn't stopped giggling. As the rebuff to one last attack severed the cloth between her breasts, her eyes fell on the kettle next to the panda. Heedless of the loss of her top and the whistles of appreciation from the crowd, she snagged the kettle and held it triumphantly.

"Hah! Even a cockroach will surrender in the face of the Attack of the Boiling Water!" She leaped to pour steaming water on Akane but was unsuccessful.

"And Akane retreats!" the Announcer yelled. "But then, that water does look hot!"

Akane leaped high to avoid the splashes, but Kodachi anticipated her. As she descended, the kettle was slashed apart right in front of her and as a cloud of steam covered her a nonsense yell came from her mouth.

Nonsense to everyone but Zhu Shu. It was Mandarin Chinese for Dragon's Egg Shield. The same technique she used to shield herself. But that would mean Akane was using the Song School of Sword Dance's secret techniques….

A golden globe of light dropped from the bottom of the cloud of steam, revealing a completely dry and unharmed Akane. She dropped into a perfect stance atop a corner pole as the globe faded. "That was mean!" Akane called as her ribbon flashed out to wrap the nearly nude Kodachi and hurl her through the air, the last piece of her leotard fluttering to the mat.

"Is this it," the Announcer called. "Has Akane stripped Kodachi of not only her clothing, but victory as well?"

A shrill whistle came from the airborne Kodachi and the ring shuddered into motion towards her. It crossed the wreckage to intercept her and as she landed smugly, she struck a pose and cried "Out is an impossibility for me!" She laughed maniacally. "And the loss of my clothes means nothing! I shall prevail! I shall win my Ranma from you! I refuse to be beaten by a perverted girl like you!"

Akane looked at Kodachi's dramatic pose and giggled. "Ya know, you're really cute when you're naked and angry." Her ribbon lashed across Kodachi's nipples, electing a gasp of involuntary pleasure from the girl. "But Ran-ma sa-ma is mi-ine! No-ot your-ors!" She frowned. "Even if he does think his best friend slept with me!"

A shocked hush crossed the auditorium. In the silence a shocked "Oh my!" came from Kasumi, and the thud of Nabiki's soda hitting the floor was like a rockfall.

Akane's eyes hardened as she looked at the still stunned Kodachi. "And you! It's all your fault! If you hadn't tried to kiss him!" Her ribbon lashed across Kodachi's nipples again and made her arch her back. "Then you tried to steal him!" The ribbon lashed between Kodachi's legs. "Then you had to come to my school—" flick "—and attack me!" flick "Then chase him!" Akane's blows came more and more frequently and Kodachi's eyes were glazing. "And then you had to be Kuno's sister! And cute! And rich!" With every exclamation, Akane's ribbon struck again. Kodachi stood frozen, her ribbon falling from nerveless fingers as her breath came in short gasps.

"Then you had the nerve—" Akane yelled, raw fury in her eyes now,"—to try and take him from ME! Take that! And that! And that! And that!" Akane punctuated each statement with another blow. "Why! Can't! You! Under! Stand! That! I! Love! Him!"

As the last blow landed between her legs, Kodachi could take no more. She screamed as her body convulsed in a massive orgasm and she fell to her knees. Adoring eyes fell on Akane's tearstreaked face and she whispered, "I'm sorry, mistress…"

Then she fainted.

Akane collapsed into tears as the shaky Referee stepped up to her and raised Akane's hand. "And the winner is…" The Announcer spoke in a quiet voice, "…is Akane Tendo."

Zhu Shu rushed forward to shelter Akane as the crowd erupted in wild cheers….

"So ya see, I don't know what to think!" Ranma said as he finished the last of his ice cream and sighed. He couldn't believe he had poured all of this out on this nice girl, Belldandy, but somehow, it really had made him feel better to have it all off his chest.

Belldandy had been daintily nibbling at her ice cream as the redhead had told her about his problems, listening and commenting only as needed to help Ranma carry on, but as he finished she laid down her spoon and pushed her remaining ice cream over to the distraught girl. She had come by to check on how her spell had been working, but had decided upon seeing Ranma that the poor boy needed a shoulder to cry on… so to speak. After hearing about the fight he had just had, she felt a least partially responsible for Ranma's despair, since it had been her spell that blended Akane's chi and psyche with Zhu Shu. It was seeming to have the desired result in Akane, but some of the things Keiichi had said combined with Ranma's story made her a little worried about the Chinese girl. She was going to have to look into that, but first, she felt compelled to help Ranma.

"I do hope you won't think this is intrusive of me, but everyone makes mistakes. I think that this Akane must really love you to be so affected by what you say."

Ranma looked up from the new bowl. "Ya really think so? So why'd she want to sleep with Zhu-chan?"

"Well… humans have a very deep need to feel loved and to love. It's one of the most wonderful things about them. But those needs sometimes can cause people to do things in a kind of desperation. When they have too much of a need to feel love, they may try to find it wherever they can. They may not even realize that it's what they're looking for, but sometimes the need is so great that no price seems too great, no action too extreme."

Ranma looked at her curiously. "Really? I mean I've seen stuff like that on TV and stuff, but real life ain't like that."

Belldandy smile. "Whether you believe it or not, it is. Humans will do anything for love. Beyond hope, beyond fate, beyond even survival, love is the motivator that will make a man or woman overcome any hardship, any danger. Love has changed the fate of the world more times than anyone will ever know, Ranma. It has changed the course of more worlds than you could ever even conceive. You never know, in some worlds, perhaps even you have dared to challenge the gods for love."

Ranma chuckled. "You really believe in love, huh?"

Belldandy smiled. "Absolutely. My Keiichi is the most wonderful person in the world, and I'd do anything for him, and I think he'd do anything for me. But love's course isn't always smooth. We've had many trials and setbacks, but love makes it all worthwhile, and allows us to forgive the mistakes we make and concentrate on the successes."

"So maybe I'm overreacting, huh?" Ranma licked the spoon thoughtfully.

Belldandy gave him a gentle smile. "That's for you to decide. To err is human, after all. How many times have you forgiven your father for what he's done? Has Akane truly done anything worse?"

Ranma put down the spoon in the empty bowl as he put his head on his hand. His long red braid fell over his shoulder and he caught it and played with it as he said, "Love conquers all and all that, huh?" He looked at his hair and recalled why he had grown it out. "I just wish I really knew if I loved her."

Belldandy smiled. "Your heart will tell you… every day. You just have to learn how to interpret it."

Ranma looked at his hair and blinked, then looked down at himself. "Oh man, I forgot. You must be kinda freaked out hearing a girl go on like this about another girl."

"Hearts don't have genders, Ranma. And love knows no boundaries. It doesn't matter who the one you love is, or how many loved ones you have, love is absolute. "

Ranma looked at her, a thoughtful expression on his face. "Well, thank you. You've been really kind and you've really given me a lot to think about; maybe even a solution."

"Think nothing of it, Ranma. Helping is what I do."

He rose and held out his hand to help Belldandy to her feet. "I hope I see you again sometime."

Belldandy's eyes sparkled. "Maybe."

Ranma gave her a smile. "I gotta get back to the dojo. I think maybe I owe Akane a real apology… for more than just today."

"Best wishes," Belldandy said as Ranma turned to go.

Ranma gave her a smile from the ice cream parlor's door. "Somehow, when you say that, I believe it just might come true."

Belldandy watched him walk down the street with a smile. It always felt good to help. As the red-head jumped to a rooftop, she reached out to the mirror beside the table, and in a sparkle of light, she was gone.

The nurse looked over Akane and sighed. "She'll be okay, but damned if I've ever seen this combination before. Kodachi's potions usually result in sleep, paralysis, or some other type of incapacitation in one way or another. I'd suspect she was on some kind of speed, but that's not something Kodachi uses."

"She took a ginseng potion to counter the sleepiness," Zhu Shu said, a worried look on her face.

The nurse nodded. "Strong potion, that. She's exhausted. I'd say the potion burned the other drug out of her faster then it would have gone normally, but it drained her in the process. She'll likely sleep till tomorrow. Still, it explains some of the strange behavior she was exhibiting, but not all of it."

Zhu Shu blushed. "It was a nuptial potion. I was only going to give her a small dose, but she took the whole bottle."

"An aphrodisiac? Well, that explains that." The Nurse smiled. "She'll probably not remember much of anything she did. Kind of a pity, really. Kodachi has needed a comedown for a while. It's amusing that she had a hand in her own downfall. Still, I'd tell her to be careful. Kodachi's the type to hold very long grudges, and she was utterly humiliated.…"

The subject of the Nurse's comments sat in the locker room staring off into space. She was still nude, the marks of the lashing she had received a bright red against her skin. The other girls of the gymnastics team cowered around the room fearing her reaction when she finally moved. She had never been a kind mistress, and every girl there had felt her ribbon in a manner similar to what she had received at Akane's hands. They all feared her wrath.

But Kodachi had not reacted yet. She was still contemplating the fight….

Finally, she moved. She stood and moved over to the full-length mirror and stared at herself. For almost half an hour she stood there, the team barely daring to breathe lest they spark her wrath, yet she never moved.

At the last, she turned and walked to her locker, apparently not seeing the team. She slowly dressed, her motions almost robotic, then she turned, her eyes rising to look at the most senior girl of the team.

"I am unworthy to lead you. You must be the captain."

To stunned silence, she turned and vanished out the door.

A strange procession traipsed home from St. Hebereke’s towards the Tendo dojo. Kasumi led, with a depressed Zhu Shu at her side, followed by the panda carrying the unconscious Akane. Nabiki followed behind, carrying Akane's pack and listening to the conversation her sister was having with the Chinese girl.

"So the Nurse said she'd be okay?" Kasumi asked Zhu Shu again. "That all the effects would be gone when she awoke?

"All the effects of the drugs Kodachi gave her. I'm not sure about other things." She gave the unconscious girl a look and sighed. "I'm worried about how Ranma took off."

"Oh, I'm sure we can work that out," Kasumi said. "Once he's had a chance to think, I'll talk to him. I'm just glad the match is over with. Your teaching Akane really helped. I had no idea that you had taught her so much when you taught her the Dance! She could never do half the stuff she did in the ring before. I had no idea there was so much to it."

"There is more to it than Akane used, but not everything she was using was techniques from the Dance. Somehow, she absorbed the knowledge of the Song school as well."

Kasumi stared. "B-but how could she… I mean… she was never that good at ki before. If you didn't teach her—" Kasumi blinked in wonder.

Zhu Shu lowered her head. "I suspect we shared a lot more than just a few memories and feelings when our chi merged." She looked at Akane and the heartbreak in her eyes was plain. "A lot more. I can't separate my feelings from Akane's feelings…."

Kasumi stopped. "You shared her feelings?" She turned to Zhu Shu, realization dawning in her eyes.

"No," Zhu Shu said. "I have her feelings."

"Oh, my. Then that must mean you—" She broke off.

Zhu Shu nodded. "I'm in love with Ranma too."

It was a long, silent walk home.

Ranma had arrived home just minutes prior, to find no one home but the voodoo priest and Soun. He had taken one look at them playing Go and gone back outside to pace.

As he wore out the ground in front of the gate, his braid lashing like a whip at every turn, he went over and over what Belldandy had told him, trying to think of what he was going to say to Akane. It was so confusing how he felt.

He hadn't wanted to be engaged to Akane, yet somehow, he'd come to think of her as his fiancée. He wasn't really upset that she'd asked Zhu Shu to bed, but he was upset at both of them for not telling him about it. He'd realized that the threat Zhu Shu had delivered the night she'd kissed Kasumi had been just a bluff, and that Zhu Shu really was trying to help him with Akane, but keeping this from him had been wrong.

Hells, he wouldn't even have cared if Akane had succeeding in seducing Zhu Shu; it wasn't that big a deal, especially with the idea he'd gotten while speaking to Belldandy, but the fact they had hid it from him showed they didn't trust him when it came to stuff like this, and that really hurt, since they had trusted him in so much else. It made it feel like he'd failed somehow, and in a worse way than normal.

Okay, so he didn't know much about any of that stuff, and the thought of trying any of the things Hiroshi and Daisuke suggested scared him silly because it sounded so ridiculous, and he was positive if he tried any of it, Akane would pound him into the ground, but he wanted to get it right… to… to…

Gods! At least admit it to yourself, you baka! He thought. You want to be her lover. You can't get how nice her body looks out of your mind and you dream about her every night! Stop being a fool and tell her!

He looked down the street to see if she was coming yet, and he felt his heart stop beating.

He only saw one face. Akane's. And she looked so lifeless. The color drained out of his face as the returning group drew closer. Dread froze him in place, the blood in his veins turning to ice. Zhu Shu was so somber…

A thousand screaming demons howled every insult he had said to her in his ears. A thousand whips flayed his soul with barbs of ice. He should have been there. Should have protected her. Should have shielded her with his body from all harm.

A hand on his arm startled him and he looked over into Zhu Shu's shadowed eyes. "She'll be all right. Kodachi tried to win by drugging her. I had to give her something to counteract it. She's okay. Kodachi barely laid a finger on her before Akane defeated her. She just fainted afterwards."

The words sounded like they were coming from a great distance, but they broke the hold the ice had over his soul. With a shudder, he took a breath, his knees going weak. "Thank the gods."

"I don't know when she's going to wake up, but likely it'll be in the next eighteen hours."

Ranma shook his head in relief. "You say she won?"


Ranma hung his head. "I'm sorry I wasn't there to see it. I-I'm sorry I ran."

Zhu Shu's hand on his arm squeezed him reassuringly. "She told the whole school today that she loves you. Even Kuno could not have misunderstood."

"Yeah… I have it on tape, too." Nabiki said. "I figure 50,000 yen a copy is about right."

"I'll… I'll look at it later." He stepped in front of Genma and took Akane into his arms. "I'll take her to her room. I want to be there when she wakes."

Zhu Shu started to say something, then shook her head in agreement. Ranma sighed

"I'm not mad at either of you for what happened… I just wish you had trusted me enough to tell me."

The small redhead disappeared into the building, leaving a stricken looking Zhu Shu staring after him. Kasumi put a hand on the smaller girls shoulder. "It'll be all right, Zhu-chan."

The Chinese girl shook her head. "I'll be okay, Kasumi. Thank you." She sighed heavily. "It's just, ever since I picked up Akane's emotions I feel like I'm caught in a whirlwind. I-I think I just want to go and meditate."

Kasumi noted the pleading look in Zhu Shu's eyes and gave her a reassuring smile. "Of course. I'll bring you dinner in the garden."

Zhu Shu attempted a grateful smile. "Thank you."

As the rest of the group re-entered the house and Zhu Shu walked around to the Koi pond, a silent form observed them from atop a phone pole. Cloaked in the gathering twilight, it seemed to fade into the background as it watched the Chinese girl sit on her favorite rock and begin a meditation trance. A soft sigh escaped from the figure. Zhu Shu had done well. It looked like Ranma might finally have realized he cared for the Tendo girl, and that boded well for the morrow.

With a last long look at the figure in the garden, Ke Lun turned to go.

Time passed slowly… day crawling into night, night crawling into dawn, dawn crawling into….

Akane awoke to a bright morning. She had a few faint traces of a headache, but other than that, she felt wonderful. Still sleep fogged, she lazed with her eyes closed and cleared her chakras and cleansed her ki, letting it flow through her body and wipe the lethargy of sleep from her mind.

It came to her then exactly what she was doing, and in the calm clear state of mind she found herself in she realized it seemed she had always known how to do it, yet she could also clearly remember never having done so before.

Curious, she searched through the rest of her mind, astonished by what was there. A vast store of skills lay dormant in her mind, poised on the verge of her consciousness, and as she acknowledged them, it seemed as if a signal had been given. With an almost audible click, they settled into her mind and body as if they were her own….

And with them came memories….

She knew they were Zhu Shu's, but the feelings they evoked were her own. They flowed through her consciousness and settled into their places in her mind, bringing with them Zhu Shu's past.

She understood now, so much that had puzzled her about the Chinese girl and understanding nearly broke her heart. Zhu Shu had spent her life training for a role she could never fulfill. There would never be an Emperor to serve, but the need to serve had been driven so far into her that it consumed her life. Her friends had become her only release for that need. Zhu Shu could no more not serve than she could give up breathing, but she was caught between the need to serve and her own desires.

The fullness of that realization nearly made her cry. She could see the memories Zhu Shu had of Ying Ying and her feelings for her, the attraction that had grown over years… and the actions her aunt had taken when those feelings had been revealed… She could feel the hollowness Zhu Shu felt when she looked at men… the utter lack of a response on any level beyond friendship…

Zhu Shu might have learned to like men, Akane realized, but her aunt had ground it out of her with her lessons on how to please them. Zhu Shu knew a thousand ways to arouse men, to seduce men, to please men, some of which had long ago become unconscious actions, but men would never be to her more than a rote set of reflexes. No matter how ground into her the role of seductress had been, she would never willingly consummate the role with a man.

Men simply were not appealing to her, if not so strongly as to be an actual dislike. She had no more response to them sexually than she did to a rock. Even Ranma, much as she liked to look at him when he was female, evoked no interest. Zhu Shu had toyed with the idea when she had first met him, but interest had died as he had proven that even as a girl, he was forever male. Zhu Shu had become convinced she was doomed to a loveless marriage and what amounted to giving her consent to being raped. She wanted to see her friends happy because she was convinced she never would be. Duty wouldn't allow it.

Akane mourned for her. She herself had always liked men, and had never even thought about women until Zhu Shu had arrived. The thought of liking them sexually had been alien to her, yet Ranma had awoken strange feelings in her that Zhu Shu had helped her define. She liked men. Ranma had been right about her taking a long look that first day, and as frightened as she was, she had also been incredibly aroused. He'd been so good looking. Then, the whole Fiancée thing had gotten her riled, and she'd hated him for being forced on her. What she had hated the most about Kuno and his idiotic challenge had been the forced attentions she'd had to fight off. If Kuno had just asked for a date, she might have gone out with him.

It wasn't until that day she had listened in on the conversation in the garden that she'd found out Ranma was just as unhappy with being forced, and that he had been taking it out on her as badly as she had been taking it out on him. It had robbed her anger over the whole thing of any justification. She had tried to find every reason for not liking Ranma before then, and yet, she had admired him for the way he had stood up to Kuno. As hard as she had tried to deny it, the attraction had been there for Zhu Shu to see.

Zhu Shu had complicated her life enormously, but Akane had to admit she had simplified it in some way as well, ways which had confused her immensely . She would have bungled her relationship with Ranma, she was sure, and taken who knows how long to recognize or even admit to herself that she loved him, let alone that she loved him in either form. How long would she have fought herself over that? Over admitting that his female side fascinated her? How long would she have tried to convince herself it was perverted had she not admired Zhu Shu for being strong enough to admit she preferred girls?

Kodachi had brought it all to the fore. She'd liked Zhu Shu, and had been fascinated with her preferences, but until her jealousy had prompted her to try and seduce Zhu Shu, she had still seen her as a much-loved friend, too focused on Ranma to realize what she had come to feel for Zhu Shu as well.

And Zhu Shu's refusal to betray Ranma by allowing Akane to succeed in her seduction had shaken her, had shown her a meanness in herself she would have rather not admitted to; a selfishness that was willing to hurt even her friends for a pointless revenge over something that had existed only in her own mind….

But Zhu Shu had forgiven her… Had sent Kasumi to reassure her. She couldn't show Akane her love directly, but indirectly, she'd done all she could to make sure Akane knew she cared. She'd given Akane all she could and still be honorable.

Then… had come the Dance.

Whether she had intended to or not, Zhu Shu had given Akane the greatest gift she had ever received. Direct knowledge of what it was like to be in love. The traces of her memories of Ying Ying had shown her what she was feeling in a way she couldn't deny.

Had the accident not happened, she probably would have spent several more months of being terribly flirtatious before she'd dare admit to her love, even to herself. The mishap had changed that, it had changed a lot of things… She'd grown up a lot that night. She had realized she loved him… was in love with him.

And with Zhu Shu as well. That love had grown unnoticed, but it was there, and it was as real as her love for Ranma.

What she had gained from Zhu Shu had enabled her to see how much she had hurt her, and how close she had driven her to committing what was for her the ultimate sin… Betraying a friend.

In Zhu Shu's mind, betraying a friend was as bad as betraying her Emperor… and there was only one sentence for treason.

Akane had spent that first night following the accident trying to avoid thinking, wanting only to bask in the wonderful feeling she had gotten from admitting to Ranma she loved him. There had been too much to assimilate, so she had pushed most of it aside, but the shame of what her selfishness had nearly caused had refused to go. She had hated what life had done to her… had hated it's unfairness in taking her mother… in forcing her to be engaged to Ranma… in having Kuno set all the boys at Furinkan on her. But her shame had burned it all out… all the anger she had over life's unfairness. Yes, she had dealt with a lot of disappointments, but her self-justifications had died with the old rage.

Then shock had set in over all the alien memories and she had forgotten all but the strongest impressions. Her mind had simply refused to deal consciously with everything else she had gained, and she had wandered through the week distracted, but functional. Only the lingering guilt had remained as her subconscious processed the alien memories….

That was what had sparked the rage at Ranma… the guilt that she nearly had done exactly what he thought she had… guilt and the need to defend Zhu Shu… the one who deserved the accusation least…

She couldn't remember too clearly what had happened after that, just vague memories… she knew that somehow, her current hyper-aware state was an aftereffect of whatever she had been hit with, and it was slowly fading. Still, it had enabled her to absorb all the knowledge she had gained from Zhu Shu. It was like she had lived with her all her life and knew her like she knew her sisters, but the memories weren't hers anymore. They had faded to the background as her mind had re-sorted her self from them. Only the skills had remained as hers, the skills and a strange new sensation at the back of her head….

She felt along the strange new sense, finally realizing it was a link… a connection between her and Zhu Shu… like they were…

Twins… that's the only thing she could think of that matched what she was sensing, the description of the connections between twins….

That link let her know that Zhu Shu fighting her own rampaging emotions as well.

She wished there was something she could do to help… She knew she hadn't been all that easy to get along with, and compared to Zhu Shu's, her thoughts and emotions raged like a wildfire. Calm, contemplative Zhu Shu must be fighting a battle with what she had gained from her.

One thought came wending way to the forefront out of nowhere and made her giggle… Zhu Shu was probably having the hardest time trying to forget Akane's skills at cooking.

Gods, she had been bad at that; her new skills cringed when they contemplated what she had used to call cooking. She was glad she'd never had a chance to cook for Ranma. He probably would have thought she was trying to poison him.

The thought prompted her to really take stock of what she had processed and what she found shocked her. She had trained with her father and knew a good deal of the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts, but she'd never driven herself as hard as Ranma had… she had never been a master.


She could recall the lessons with Zhu Shu's grandfather teaching her the Song School of Sword Dancing… the years of training… learning how to focus her ki, channel it, use it… learning how to use the twin broadswords, learning first to dance with the swords, then extending her control to longer and longer ribbons… how to make them an extension of her body, alive with her ki…

And years of learning to cook, to sew, to do all the duties of an imperial servant, from lowest maid to Chamberlain… and the fun of using her martial arts training to make the other work easier… the joys gained by doing things better and quicker than her aunt expected. The disappointments of discovering that no matter how she excelled, she could never gain approval….

And the whirlwind night where Zhu Shu had learned the Dance of Shiva, the massive set of skills passed on in the same way she had passed them to Akane.

But Sarhia had only given Zhu Shu the skills… not her memories or feelings or anything else beyond the Dance. Why had it been so different with Akane?

She had no answers and the clarity was fading… normal thought was returning and with it, the sensations of her body…

She was lying in bed, and from the feelings, she was in her pajamas. She smiled. It had probably been Kasumi; she always thought of those things. She took a long languorous stretch and purred at the sensations of the cloth on her nipples. Whatever she had taken had left her very sensitive and…

She opened her eyes and slowly scanned the room, seeing an exhausted redhead passed out in a chair next to her bed. Akane smiled, her gaze slowly wandering over Ranma's body, coming at last to rest on where her shirt had fallen aside to reveal one rosy pink nipple. Akane slipped the sheets back noiselessly and tip-toed across the room. She knelt, a canary grin on her face, and gently began to lick at the proffered treat.

Ranma moaned softly as her nipple hardened, then her eyes fluttered open sleepily as a small gasp escaped her lips. "Wh-what are you doing?" she whispered.

Akane laid a finger against her lips as her teeth gently nipped and held the nipple and flicked her tongue across it faster. Ranma's eyes glazed and another gasp escaped her lips, followed by a moan as Akane's hand trailed down her body and slid inside Ranma's shorts. Ranma bit her lips to stifle her moans as Akane brought her to a climax, her body arching as her breathe came in hard gasps, then she slowly relaxed with a soft moan. Her eyes opened to see Akane licking her fingers. She stared, questions huge in her eyes.

Akane giggled.

"Oh no… You're still high as a kite!" Ranma muttered.

"Nope." Akane propped herself on the arm of the chair next to Ranma's legs and looked up at her. "I'm fine. I'm just a little… well a lot… horny. I guess in a way, this is to apologize. You aren't perfect, Ranma Saotome, but then neither am I. We're both going to have to learn a lot to make this relationship work. You tend to be thoughtless, and I… well, I do have a temper… but at least you're trying. I love you, Ranma. I know that for a fact."

She laid her head down on Ranma's breast as her arm went around his waist. "Even if our fathers all of a sudden called off our engagement, I'd still want you to be my husband. We will make this work somehow." She hugged him tightly then lifted her head again, an impish smile on her face.

"This—" her head dropped again and Ranma felt her lips close around his nipple again for a few seconds before Akane released it. " —is a promissory note. When we work out our difficulties, and we finally get married… on that day, and not before, I will take you to my bed as a man, and have you be with me as a man should. Until then… well… there may be occasions where I will want you to be with me like this. I've come to realize I like you as both a man and a woman, Ranma. I want to be with you, but I won't risk being pregnant. I will not dishonor our families that way. But I want you to know I want this to work… I want us to work."

"Oh, Akane… I am so very sorry for assuming you…" Ranma's voice trembled. "I-I want us to work too. I'm sorry I can be a… a… a jerk." She lowered her eyes. " I-I just want you to know… that…" She stopped as Akane laid a finger against her lips.

"Before you go and give me permission to go and bury my head between Zhu Shu's legs—"Akane told the blushing redhead. "—I will tell you why that will never happen. Zhu Shu loves me, Ranma, but she loved you first, as a friend. She could not betray you, Ranma, anymore than she could betray her emperor, because in her heart, they are one and the same thing, with the same consequences. Even with your permission it would still be a betrayal because she knows she would have to give me up to you eventually, and she wouldn't be able to if we were lovers. She has my love and I have hers, but we will never be anything more than sisters, because if we become anything else it could destroy us. She could not bear to give me up and would destroy herself in guilt, and I… I would not be able to live with her suicide…"

Ranma stared in dismay at Akane's words.

"She was wise enough to know this… and despite her desires, she resisted me. I nearly broke her, Ranma… My jealous fit over Kodachi made me do something I regret now. I would undo the hurt I did to her if I could. But I can't. I'm just glad she's forgiven me." Her eyes came up to look into Ranma's. "And I have to ask you to forgive me too… I'm sorry. I love you and I regret what I tried to do with Zhu Shu. I… I was jealous… I'm sorry."

"Is that what you meant when you said I didn't realize what kind of friend she was to me?" Ranma asked.

Akane nodded. "In part… whether you realize it of not, she's taught you a lot about how to love as well."

"I-I just wish you both had trusted me enough to tell me."

Akane gave him a sad smile. "I wish I had too. I'm sorry. I… I…" She gave the red head a rueful grin. "Would you accept that I was stark raving insane as a defense?"

Ranma smiled. "Only if you can accept my being a blind idiotic jerk for ever calling you a sexless tomboy."

Akane smiled and licked his still hard nipple. "Still think I'm sexless?"

Ranma shuddered "No." he pulled his shirt back over his breast. "I must say that sexless was probably the stupidest name I ever called you. Though I had no idea you'd ever do anything like this."

"Get over it. Nabiki was being mean when she said your being half girl was perfect for me, but she was absolutely correct. I like you being both. I can't do anything with you as a boy until we get married, but damn it, Ranma, I want you! And as a girl, I can have you, without the fear of pregnancy or anything else. Get used to the thought, Ranma. I won't say I won't get mad, or even that we may do anything like this very often, but the possibility of this happening again is there. I also plan to try and teach you a lot more about being female, because I think the better you understand women, the fewer mistakes you'll make." She gave her a near smirk. "And it'll make you a better lover too. As well as give me an excuse for stuff like this…" Ranma didn't react in time to stop Akane from swiping her shorts.

"Hey!" He stopped when Akane captured first one leg, then the other. He stared down at Akane's face over a tangle of red curls. Akane was grinning evilly. "What are you doing? This is embarrassing. You have me displayed like an oyster! And why are you grinning like that?"

Akane looked her over carefully. "Hmm… an oyster? You really don't look anything like one, but now that you mentioned it; well, what does one do to oysters?"

"Well, you—" Ranma couldn't finish the thought, and had to grab a pillow to smother the moans….

"That was mean…" Ranma said when Akane got back from the bathroom. "I had no idea girls could come that hard. I mean I've certainly never been able to make myself orgasm like that." She was still curled up in a ball and shivering.

Akane smiled. "Obviously, you have no real idea how to make yourself climax as a girl."

"First time I tried, I started bleeding everywhere. I've only tried a few times since…" She whimpered as Akane sat down by her legs again. "Please, not again… I couldn't take that again… not right now."

"Relax, silly. I'm going to clean up the blood and apply some salve. You probably haven't noticed the tear yet with the nerve overload."

"You tore me? D-does t-that mean—"

"You're not in danger of being hauled off for a virgin sacrifice? Yes."

Ranma blushed crimson down to her toes. She watched Akane in silence for a few moments before she spoke again. "I don't get you. You've called me a pervert and slapped me silly for even looking at you crosseyed, and now you do this…"

Akane laughed. "Don't get used to it. I suspect that whatever Kodachi gave me put me in this playful mood. It had some weird effects."

"I'll say. You cut off Kodachi's leotard and whipped her to an orgasm while yelling at her about trying to steal me. She passed out." She gave a sheepish smile at Akane's raised eyebrow. "Nabiki made a tape."

"Hmm… really… I'll have to ask Nabiki for a copy. I don't remember much past entering the dressing room."

A light knock on the door announced Kasumi's arrival. She looked at the two girls and gave an "Oh, my!" before slipping in quickly and shutting the door. "Zhu Shu said she thought the drugs would have worn off by now and that you'd be waking soon. She was apparently a little off."

Ranma had frantically tried to cover herself until Akane had smacked her on the rump. She gave Kasumi a sheepish grin. "Ah… Umm… You're probably wondering what I'm doing to your sister," she said lamely.

"Oh my, no. I'd say rather it's what she's doing to you. And to that, I'll say I'm relieved that if she's finally decided to play with you, at least she's playing with you as a girl."

"Kasumi!" Akane rolled her eyes.

"Well, it is sensible, Akane. It would cause ever so many complications if you got yourself pregnant," Kasumi chided.

"I know that! No boy-girl stuff until I'm married. Right, Ranma?"

Ranma looked from one to girl to the other, wide eyed in shock. "Uh… I guess so…" was all she could say.

Kasumi laughed. "Poor Ranma. Yes, I am the real Kasumi. I'm sorry if I embarrassed you, but I happen to agree with Zhu Shu about treating you as just another girl when you're female. So you're like another little sister. I've got quite a collection now, you know." She went to sit on Akane's bed in a swirl of skirts. "And you're going to be my sister by marriage, too, so get used to me being a big sister. And like I told Akane a few days ago, big sisters are supposed to guide younger sisters in all kinds of things… sex among them. I don't mean to be embarrassing, but I'm not shocked by any of this either. You're both engaged, and hopefully mature enough to make your own decisions about this."

"I hope so. Took me by surprise, though," Ranma muttered.

"And besides…" Kasumi continued. "It wouldn't hurt you try and treat me like a big sister. I know you've been raised by your father to be tough and strong, but you're not alone anymore. And… well… until you find a cure, you are going to be my sister half the time." She took in the look that passed between Ranma and Akane at her mention of a cure. "That is… If you still want one."

Ranma looked at Akane's face, the gentle smile she had, and thought about what had passed in the last half hour and about what Belldandy had said about love. She had fought this curse tooth and nail, but really, what could she truly say was different about her? She was still Ranma, in either form. Zhu Shu had told her that there were times to accept what couldn't be changed, to save your strength for fights that can be won. If he was truly to believe Akane, this was a fight he might be better off not fighting at all.

Was it truly so bad to be a girl half the time? A sudden thought occurred to her that made her smile softly back at Akane. Akane's happiness seemed to matter more than the curse. Was that what Belldandy had meant by her heart telling her what she really felt?

"I'm starting to think it might not be so bad a curse after all," she said quietly.

Akane's eyes met hers and for once, no words were needed. Akane's eyes said volumes. Ranma smiled as Akane finished applying the salve and patted her legs as she sat back. Ranma made no further move to cover her or uncurl, her eyes never leaving Akane's. "I'm actually starting to think that being a girl part time might be a good thing…" Akane smiled shyly. "In fact… it probably wouldn't hurt if I maybe learned a little about being female, since I'm going to be spending at least half my life as one."

Some people just have a longwinded way of saying three little words…

Zhu Shu sat on her rock in the garden, her legs crossed into the lotus position and her hands resting on her knees. She hadn't moved since she'd finished her kata that morning, even when she had sensed Akane had woken a few hours ago. Listening, she had heard when Kasumi had finished the breakfast dishes and had gone to check on Akane, and when she had come back downstairs twenty minutes later humming merrily. She'd been pleased about something. Zhu Shu suspected she knew what. She had sensed Akane was very pleased about something too.

She had to fight the wave of jealousy that that realization had brought, something she thought she'd never feel, but Akane's emotions had made her own hard to control. In fact, Akane's emotions made everything hard to control. She had had to struggle for the last five days against the tidal surges of Akane's emotional roller coaster. All of her years of mental discipline had barely kept her functional amidst the chaos her heart had become.

It hadn't been easy… and… Ranma was going to be the hardest part of it all. She could tell he had come to terms with what had happened, had been waiting for them to come home. Only Akane's condition had kept him from confronting her yesterday. And if what she was feeling through her chi link with Akane was what she thought it was, then he would be coming soon. Akane was radiating a rather contented feeling that Zhu Shu had learned to recognize from Sarhia and Ying Ying.

So… she sat and she waited, praying to the Dragon for strength, knowing that sooner or later, Ranma was going to think he had found the perfect solution, hoping that he'd realize it's impossibility and spare her, but knowing it was inevitable.

Ranma sat down in front of her, copying her meditation pose.

Zhu Shu opened her eyes, and the sight she saw made her smile. Ranma sat across from her in nothing but one of Akane's oversized sweaters, and from where she was sitting….

Ranma followed her gaze and blushed. "The heart was Akane's idea… she insisted it looked 'cute'."

"It does," Zhu Shu replied. She closed her eyes again. "Something significant has happened between you two. Your aura has changed." She strained to keep the jealously from ripping free, danced across a razor's edge to maintain her calm and be happy for the two of them.

Ranma blushed. "Umm…"

Zhu Shu gave him a half-lidded gaze. "Akane seduced the right person this time."

"Huh? How'd ya know that?"

Zhu Shu sighed and repressed the urge to strangle him. "Your aura has changed, you are wounded, Akane has trimmed your hair to suit her whim, your skin is still slightly flushed, your chi is jittery, your chakras are disarrayed, you smell of sex… and perhaps most important… you seem to have an air of peace with being female at the moment… You finally seem comfortable in your body." Because you have been together, in each others embraces, and I envy you, she admitted to herself. Ice seemed to creep across her soul.

"I keep forgetting you don't miss much." Ranma said ruefully. "Yeah, Akane had her way with me while I was too shocked to do more than enjoy it. W-we had a long talk too. She said a few things that made me rethink some things."

"Like your curse."

"Yeah. I think maybe… well… I think I can live with it. It just doesn't seem so bad anymore." She shrugged. "Maybe I should learn a little more about how to be a female."

"You have picked up a fair amount from observation, though you should learn to flirt less obviously." Because it makes me want to show you all the reasons I can for why I wish you would never change back, her mind added. Savagely, she repressed the images her wayward heart fed her.

"Uh…yeah" Ranma blushed brightly and put her hands into the sweater, pushing it down to cover her curly red heart. "Anyway, I-I came down here to apologize… for a lot of stuff…"

"I have already forgiven you, Ran-chan. There is no need for further apology," she said quietly, dread quieting her rampaging emotions

"Yes, there is. I need to apologize for being a jerk and for being afraid you were after Akane… and… well… for not realizing how much you love me…" She stood silently for several long moments as if summoning her courage to speak. "And… I wanted to ask you… to… marry me. I mean, if you marry me, you can fulfill your quest and you can be free to have Akane and…"

And there it was. A tornado tore at her soul as ice wormed it way through her body. So much worse than it had been when Ke Lun had offered the same solution… Her heart and Akane's emotions screamed out their acceptance, but she knew what her answer had to be. In agony, she gave it.


Ranma stopped… and a tear rolled down her cheek. "B-but why?" she whispered.

Zhu Shu sighed. Now that the answer had been given, her inner turmoil stilled, leaving her as frozen and alone as a statue on a mountaintop, despair all that she could feel… She stood and held out her hand to Ranma. They stood eye to eye for a second before Zhu Shu stepped forward to embrace Ranma and to lay her head on her shoulder, Ranma's warmth not even touching the ice within her.

"Were you a woman who had fallen into the spring of drowned man, I would be the happiest woman in the world. But you are Ranma Saotome… and you are who you are, and all my wishing will not change that. You could fulfill my quest, for I cannot fight you, and I have all the proof of your love I need; but always, in the back of my mind, you will always be Ranma Saotome, the man. Even were you to never come to me as a man save for those times needed to fulfill my duties and produce an heir, it would still prey on me. I cannot make you pay for a failure within myself. My destiny is unhappiness, Ranma. I cannot bring that despair on you… Because I love you too much." She sobbed until Ranma's shoulder was soaked. "I love you… and I hate myself for my weakness… for my failure… Part of me wants to say yes, to let you take me and love me and do with me as you will; to give myself to you and Akane and surrender for all time my honor, my duties, my hopeless destiny. Let love conquer all… let passion rule… But my training and my wisdom reveal the hollowness of the lie and the misery it will bring… Yet even so, were you to ask me again… I could not deny you twice…" Her voice broke. "You could take me and have your way with me as male or female and I would not be able to resist you… So much of me wants you to do just that…" she whispered.

They stood there for a long eternity while Ranma stroked her hair and she cried. Zhu Shu clung to Ranma like a drowning victim as she shook with sobs. Ranma held her till the tears were out, and finally spoke.

"I'm sorry, Zhu Shu. I-I came to apologize and to try and make you happy, because… because I finally realized how much you mean to me… and now all I've done is caused you further pain. I'm sorry." She stroked Zhu Shu's hair again. "I-I'd like to argue with you, tell you you're wrong, that we could find a way to work it out, but you've never been wrong in these things. You see so much more than anyone I've ever known… How could I tell you you're wrong this time? I trust you too much to doubt you, no matter how much I want to…"

"I am sorry, Ranma-sama… I am a failure as a woman…." Zhu Shu whispered

"How can you say that? You are not! Not to me, not to anyone who knows you. You are the nicest woman I know, and none of its artistry!"

"Yet I am a failure in the most basic thing a woman can be…"

"Oh, Zhu Shu. You're not… Akane told me about what happened in the dojo, and I know that your emotions are all confused. Akane is acting like you, you're acting like Akane… Zhu Shu… You are not a failure in anything! You are one of the most wonderful people I have ever known…"

Guilt mixed with the despair and cut through her soul. "Don't say that! You don't know the truth! You don't know what I've kept from you!"

"No. And I don't need to know to know that you care for me and would do nothing to hurt me or Akane."

She tried to run from Ranma then, but blinded by tears, she stumbled and fell. Ranma knelt and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Zhu Shu, whatever it is, it can't be as bad as all that," Ranma said encouragingly.

Zhu Shu shook her head and whispered "Shan Pu…"

Ranma started, and took a deep breath. "What about Shampoo? Did she hurt you when we left the Amazon village?"

Zhu Shu couldn't look at Ranma. "She knows you're not a girl…" she whispered.

Ranma stared. "I don't get it. If she knows I'm a guy, why'd she chase me all over China trying to kill me? I thought the law only applied to females?"

Zhu Shu whispered something Ranma couldn't hear. Ranma took her in her arms and lifted her face to see her eyes. "Whatever it is, Zhu Shu… I'll understand."

"What my great-granddaughter is trying to tell you, Son-in-law, is that she led Shan Pu on that chase, so that Shan Pu could wed you as the Law requires."

Ranma looked up in shock at the new voice, and scrambled backwards in surprise. An old, old woman with long white hair stood before them on the path. Beside her stood the only girl Ranma had ever feared, but beside her…

Ranma blinked at the woman who stood beside Shampoo, carrying a long, cloth-wrapped bundle. She was staring at him with utter wonder on her face, and a broad smile. She hoped it wasn't in anticipation of her eminent death.

Zhu Shu collapsed into renewed tears as Shan Pu looked at Ranma with narrowed eyes. "Ranma should not make sister cry!"

Ranma paled further. "S-s-sister?!!!" She looked in horror from Shan Pu to Zhu Shu.

"Yes, son," the woman with the bundle said quietly. "The young lady who has just so ardently refused to marry you, despite her obvious love for you, is the Blood-Sister of Shan Pu, your second fiancée…"

Ranma blinked. "Son?"

"Yes. You may not remember me, Ranma, but I'm Nodoka Saotome. Your mother…"

Ranma's knees gave way… and she fainted…


To be continued.

Chapter 10
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