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The Unbroken Circle: Chapter one

Fukanshou / Kanshou

Part A

Disclaimer: Takahashi provided the paints, I'm just working on my own easel.

This is a fic based on Ranma and the gang that takes place about the middle of the series. It's more of an altaverse fic than anything else, but... Here's the run-down: Ryugenzawa happened, but Herb has not. Nodoka does not know that Ranma and 'Ranko' are the same person, but she has visited the Tendos and met 'Ranko'. Otherwise... it's sticking pretty closely to manga events. Except... I'm keeping the anime hair colors. I love the hair colors.

Other chapters for The Unbroken Circle can be found here: http://ranma.stassen.com/uc/

(Thanks to Chris Stassen for hosting!)

 

Brief key, trying to stay simple.

<> frame thoughts.

"" frame speech

"{}" frame speech in Mandarin

 

"Therefore-

The plans of the wise necessarily include advantage and harm.

They include advantage. Thus one's service can be trusted.

They include harm. Thus adversity can be undone."

Sun Tzu - from Chapter 8 of 'The Art of War'

 

The dream again. Always the same, never revealing the secrets it held before waking. He was in the dragon's mouth. No, _she_ was in the dragon's mouth again. There was surprise, but no fear, and a certain sense of calmness. The inevitable was coming, as the teeth drew together, shutting out the light. The end would come soon.

***

Waking with a gasp, Ranma sat up, clutching his head, and peered around the clearing warily.

A girl sat up in a bedroll near him, eyeing him blearily. After a moment of hesitation, she asked, "Ranma? What's wrong?"

He shook his head, lying back down again. "Nothing, Chame... just a bad dream, I guess."

She nodded, and mumbled, "Okay... try and get some rest. Ryugenzawa is really close. You'll need your strength."

Ranma said nothing, merely staring at the stars and remembering the events that had led to this.

***

The rain pattered against the roof of the dojo, tapping out a rhythm that Ranma could almost feel resonating through some inner part of him. His eyes were unfocused as he woke from his light nap, and stared out into the yard. Barely recognizable droplets of water streamed past the open door of the dojo, facing the koi pond. Light spilled from the opening, dimly illuminating a small section of the yard.

He meditated on the rain, the dream already forgotten. Ever since Jusenkyou, water always seemed to have some strange, nearly mystical attraction to him. No normal person had gotten wet that much. Sighing, he let a small frown crease his face while he thought about it. Perhaps the storm was trying to punish him for avoiding his curse for nearly two weeks.

A thump and a skittering noise interrupted his ruminations. To his surprise, the Tendo dojo sign was sliding across the floor, coming to rest a few feet from him. Ranma stared at the sign for a moment before comprehending, and raised his head to peer into the darkness beyond the faint pool of light.

A figure emerged from the darkness, rain droplets bouncing off a cloak and giving it a faint, ominous halo.

Ranma scowled, idly wondering who it was, but decided to say nothing until he knew more. The figure halted briefly under the dry awning leading to the door, and began removing its shoes. After that, the figure set aside a long staff. Ranma stared, gauging. The figure was bowed low, so he couldn't make out a face, yet. Red hair. A pair of braids.

The figure stood up, and glanced at him appraisingly. He did the same. She had a face that seemed vaguely familiar, similar to Ranma's own girl form, and a nearly identical hair color. The pair of braids reached midway down her back.

Removing her cloak revealed a soaked, red, karate gi. She dropped a large backpack next to her shoes, and raised an eyebrow expectantly. Ranma observed that she was smaller than his girl form, as well. <Probably barely four foot nine inches tall.>

Ranma cleared his throat and glanced at the sign at his feet. "I suppose this is a challenge?"

The girl shook her head, "Broke off in the wind. Mind if I come in?"

Ranma nodded, and she entered, bowing briefly to the shrine. He stared at her for a moment before speaking. "What are you doing here at this hour?"

She glanced back at him, calculating, then smiled disarmingly. "I'm just passing through. I found the sign and wondered if I could challenge someone for a place to stay the night, maybe some warm food."

Ranma considered this briefly, then shrugged. "I dunno. I guess the Tendos probably won't mind you staying in the dojo tonight... I can probably scrounge something up for you."

She shook her head, her voice carrying irritation, "No, I will challenge someone for it. Do you accept?"

Ranma grinned, his own tone mocking, "I don't fight girls."

The redhead's eyes narrowed, as she stared at him. "I'm a woman. Not a girl."

Ranma rolled his eyes. "Whatever, I won't fight you."

She smiled slowly. "I understand then. I accept your offering, and your forfeit."

The pigtailed martial artist frowned, getting annoyed. "I didn't forfeit!"

"Then you'll fight me?"

Ranma scowled, sulking. "Fine. But don't say I didn't warn you."

She smiled, and retrieved the staff she had been carrying previously. "Do you use a weapon?"

Ranma scoffed, "Weapons are a crutch. I'll fight you bare-handed, but I'll let you use your weapon. Won't help you much."

Her smile faded. "So be it. Are you ready?"

Ranma walked to a position a short distance away, and bowed, almost mockingly. She returned the bow, and the fight began.

He decided to start out on the defensive. His opposition to hurting women led him to believe that he could disable her with defensive moves and throws, thus satisfying his honor by not harming her. She eyed him warily, slipping into a stance that Ranma didn't recognize. He grimaced, as a stray thought occurred to him, and he asked, "I don't have to marry you if you win, do I?"

She looked somewhat amused at the thought. "No. Why?"

Relief showing on his face, he smiled. "Ah... never mind. I'll tell you later." He shrugged, still waiting for her to make the first move.

The girl smirked, and rushed at him, feigning a sweeping blow with the staff, then trying to kick Ranma's chest. Ranma blocked with one arm, relying on his strength to block her attack with one hand, while he attempted to grapple her for a throw with his other.

Seeming to read his move, she slipped outside of his reach, and landed a blow to his wrist with her staff.

Scowling, Ranma decided to rush as she retreated, but she disappeared as he reached her. Wheeling around in surprise, he found her a few steps away to his left. He frowned. <Speed is my strongest point, how can she be this much faster than me?>

She cocked a head at him. "Stop holding back."

He raised an eyebrow. "I don't want to hurt you."

She scowled at him. "I've had about enough of that attitude."

Ranma took a defensive stance, but the woman moved too fast for him again, and was behind him before he could react. He staggered at a blow from behind, and whirled around. The woman was waiting for him, staff at the ready. He glared, and muttered, "Alright then. Let's go." He unleashed a flurry of blows, intending to knock her over but not hurt her. The punches were not quite as fierce at the tenshin amaguri-ken, but almost. The woman deflected each one with a casual detachment.

Ranma edged back a step, wincing at his hands. The staff she carried was _hard_. He stepped around, warily. This woman was more skilled than he would have suspected. Much more skilled. <If I can get that staff away from her, then maybe I can win.>

She shifted from one defensive stance to another. Instead of being held along her body, she held the staff out at a low angle. "Is that it?"

He glared again, and leapt towards her, expecting to pass over her range before she could ready her staff. She dropped the staff before Ranma reached her, and pivoted on one foot, extending the other to catch Ranma full in the chest. He staggered again, and fell to the ground. As he rolled away, he made a swipe at the staff, and knocked it across the dojo floor.

Mid somersault, he used a handspring to escape away from the woman. <What's going on here? She's even smaller than my cursed form. How is she strong enough to do that?> His chest was bruised, but he'd had worse. He analyzed his options. She simply stood in another defensive form, not moving towards the discarded staff, and Ranma paused, <Maybe I should use a chi attack... She's fighting defensively. No, I don't need to go all out against her, the tenshin amaguri-ken should get through.>

He nodded to himself, and charged again, crying out, "Tenshin amaguri-ken!!" She danced back through the rain of blows, deflecting, blocking, or dodging them all. He stepped back, gasping, "How...?"

She just smiled. "Clever. I've faced the Joketsuzoku before. They don't part with their techniques easily."

He backed off a little further. She was still in a defensive stance, while he considered, <She knows of Joketsuzoku techniques. She's not going to let me use a hiryuu shouten-ha, and I'd trash the dojo anyway.> He shook his head, wondering, <What am I thinking? Hiryuu shouten-ha, in a sparring match? That's not right. Maybe a mouko takabisha...?> He nodded to himself. <A weak one. Just enough to get her attention.>

He took a deep breath, gathering himself and his ki, and smiled at the girl. "I think I've got a few tricks of my own..." Lashing out suddenly, he lobbed a bolt at her, shouting, "Mouko takabisha!"

The bolt of force flew out towards the woman, who raised her arms, crying out something Ranma didn't recognize, and then everything turned black.

***

Ranma opened his eyes, groaning and blinking groggily. "What... What happened?" His head felt muddled, as though he had been woken with too little sleep. Shaking his head in an attempt to clear it, he eyed his surroundings.

The woman was peering down at him, in one corner of the dojo. She smiled at him apologetically. "Sorry. I thought you were being serious. Guess I overreacted."

He sat up slowly, noting that his Chinese clothing was singed and torn. The beginnings of a faint, buzzing headache were starting from the base of his skull. "What did you do?"

She shrugged, and explained offhandedly, "A kind of deflector. I sent the attack back at you, redoubled."

He shook his head again, trying to clear it of the odd sensation. "You beat me?"

Her braids had slipped over her shoulders, and bobbed as she nodded. "I am afraid so."

Ranma blinked, mouth wide open, and momentarily forgetting his headache. "But... how?!"

She looked irate, and helped him to his feet. "I already told you. Now that I won, I want some warm food. We'll talk about it over dinner."

Ranma sighed, and headed towards the house. "Yeah, yeah... Follow me." He led her into the house, motioning her to pick up her pack and shoes before entering. He noticed that she had already retrieved her staff before they reached the house. He sighed and looked into the yard. The wind had lessened a little, but the rain seemed to intensify, if anything. He silently thanked whoever thought it was a good idea to install a covered walkway between the house and the dojo as he entered the living room.

He pointed at the table, after turning on a light and closing the door. "Have a seat. Um... do you mind leftover miso soup?"

She grinned. "I mostly live on the road, sounds great."

He nodded, and headed into the kitchen. "It'll only take a minute or two, then." Ranma retrieved some leftover miso soup from the fridge, and put a large bowl of it in the microwave. <Normally it's a breakfast food, but...> He stared at the microwave for a long moment, trying to remember how long it would take. He sighed, and turned a dial on the microwave to three minutes.

Leaning against the counter, he stared at the dial and thought back to the match. <How the heck did I lose? She's fast, that's for sure. I guess using the mouko takabisha was a bit much, but nothing else was getting through. Hmm... I have to ask her about that.> The microwave made a piercing wail until he opened its door. He paused after opening it, hearing a soft thump from the living room.

Shaking his head, he brought the bowl to the table. The girl was holding her head in her hands, wincing and rubbing her temples. Ranma set the bowl and a spoon in front of her. "You okay?"

She nodded, wiping the wince from her face. "Yeah... I don't like certain tones, that's all."

Ranma blinked, confused. "Uh... huh. Anyway, dig in."

The woman ate in silence, looking at nothing in particular. After an uncomfortable minute, Ranma turned on the TV. Almost nothing was on at this hour. He glanced at the clock, seeing that it was already 11:12. After a few more awkward minutes, the woman pushed the bowl away, sighing contentedly.

Ranma turned back to her. "Erm. Sorry, I didn't ask you yet, what's your name?"

She regarded him levelly for a moment. "You can call me Chame."

Ranma blinked. "No last name?" She said nothing. Ranma cleared his throat, "Right. I'm Ranma. Saotome Ranma."

She nodded. "I see. Pleased to meet you. You have a lot more potential than most fighters I come across."

Ranma frowned. "Huh... I'm not much used to losing. How long have you been practicing, anyway?"

She stared at him guardedly. "All my life."

Ranma nodded slowly. "Ah, I've been training since I was about 4, so that's been the last 13 years."

She nodded. "You're pretty good for someone that new to the art."

Ranma stared, wide-eyed. "What do you mean, 'that new'?"

Chame frowned, thinking. "I'll tell you. But you must respect my privacy in this and not tell anyone else."

Ranma blinked again. <Who would know you? You don't even have a last name!> "Alright, I give you my word of honor as a martial artist."

She nodded, a slight smile forming on her lips. "I've been facing martial artists for some time. You are still young, but I've fought people with decades of experience. Lets just say I'm a little older than I look."

Ranma shrugged. "Happosai says he's over a hundred, and Cologne says so too. I've fought with them."

Chame frowned thoughtfully. "Happosai, eh? I wonder what he's been up to. Cologne, too? I've been away too long. I've fought both of them before."

"I... see. How old are you, anyway?"

Chame glanced up at Ranma sharply. "It's rude to ask a lady her age."

Ranma shook his head. "Right. Sorry."

Chame frowned. "Well, can you do me a favor, then?"

He eyed her warily, then mumbled, "Depends."

"Tell me about yourself?"

Ranma blinked, taken aback. "Ah, right. Lemme think about this, then... I been practicing martial arts for the last 13 years, and except for the year in this house, I spent most of my time on the road. Dad traveled a lot. Learned a lot of techniques. Uh, let's see... I spent a couple months training in China, recently. For the most part, my life was actually pretty dull. Not too much excitement."

She stared at him for a minute. "You've fought both Cologne and Happosai, and you say it isn't exciting?"

He frowned, the admitted, "Well, you're right. Things got a lot more interesting after those two showed up."

Chame smiled slightly. "You said you don't lose much. You won against them?"

Ranma frowned. "Well... yes. The old ghoul is dangerous, though. Happosai's not normally as big a threat. He's got an exploitable weakness."

"That's true. How did you learn the tenshin amaguri-ken?"

"Well, I learned it from the old ghoul. Only way she'd let me have, ah, something I needed at the time."

Chame nodded slowly. "How did you beat her?"

Ranma frowned. "Well... Are you familiar with neko-ken?"

Chame sighed, another look of irritation crossing her face. "I suppose that might work. Yes, I'm familiar with it."

"That's funny, it's not exactly well known."

"You learn a lot when you travel."

"I guess so... when you fought them, how'd you win?"

Chame shrugged, "I fought Cologne once. Only once, and that was after... well. It was over fifty years ago. That's another story. Shiatsu paralysis points. Happosai was much more dangerous. I fought him a few times. Most fights were draws, but the times I beat him were... actually, worry about that later."

Ranma nodded slowly, digesting the information. "Yeah, that works..." <How old _is_ she?>

Chame shook her head. "I'm letting myself be distracted, though. What was that about marrying me?"

Ranma blushed slightly. "Ah, well... I have these problems with my fiancees..."

Chame raised an eyebrow. "Oh? You have more than one?"

His face colored angrily. "Well... I have three, really. First, I have Akane. Pop said that it was arranged to have me married to her family first, before I was born. But he engaged me to another girl before I met Akane. He accepted her dowry, too. Then he... he lost it." Ranma sighed, troubled, "But he accepted the dowry, so she expects me to marry her, too."

She interrupted him, "What's her name?"

"Kuonji Ukyou. The other fiancee is Shampoo."

"Joketsuzoku?" she asked. He nodded glumly in response. "Beat her in a fight, did you?"

Ranma nodded again, then continued, "Yep. It's an accident, really. Pop and I kind of... ate the prize at a tournament, and she won, so I fought her. I figured if I beat her, then the prize would be ours, and then it would be no harm done." He sighed again. "And then there's Kodachi. She's just a psycho that wants me. Really scary woman." He shivered.

Chame paused thoughtfully. "That's a lot of trouble. Which one do you want to marry?"

Ranma frowned, considering. He wasn't certain how to answer a question from a stranger that he couldn't even answer for himself. "Well... I like Akane, but we don't always get along so well. I like Ukyou, too, but really, I'm not sure I like her as more than a friend. Shampoo, well... she's cute, and a good fighter, but I'm not sure that I care for her that way. Kodachi's just not worth considering." Ranma shook his head, wondering at the situation that his life had turned into.

Chame smiled sympathetically. "Well, things could be worse. I have a question for you, though. If your name is Saotome, why does the dojo sign say Tendo?"

Ranma started, then offered, "This is the Tendos' house."

Chame frowned, then asked, "Who are they?"

"Akane's family."

"Ahhh... I see. You have to live with a fiancee you aren't sure you want to marry."

Ranma nodded. "Yeah... Pop and Mr. Tendo are trying to push us together a lot."

Chame frowned, narrowing her eyes slightly. "Who else lives here?"

Ranma paused for a moment, then shrugged. "Ah, well, Akane, Nabiki, Kasumi, and Mr. Tendo. Me and Pop are sharing a guest bedroom. Oh yeah, Happosai's got a room upstairs, too."

"You live with Happosai?" Ranma nodded, and Chame looked troubled, "I see. Do you have a history textbook?"

"Uh, I guess... hold on a minute." Ranma scrambled up the stairs, and crept into his room. Genma was gone, leaving the room empty. <Probably out drinking with Mr. Tendo. Now, the history book.> He searched through his schoolbag. <Why am I doing this? I hardly even know her! And what does she want with a history book?> Despite his reluctance, he found himself retrieving the book, and bringing it back downstairs.

When he returned to the living room, the woman was studying a trophy on a bookshelf. The TV had been turned off, and the dishes cleared. He shook his head. "Uh, here's the book."

She smiled at him, and took the book, flipping through it. "You go to Furinkan High?"

"Yeah, me, Akane, and Nabiki. She's graduating soon."

Chame murmured something, and stopped to read a particular page. After a few moments, she closed the book, and set it on the table. She shook her head, and sat back down. Ranma joined her, asking, "So... What did you need the history book for?"

"Just wanted to see something. You'd be surprised how much things change, no matter how much you try to keep them from it."

Ranma frowned, bewildered. "What are you talking about?"

"You know the saying 'history repeats itself?'"

Ranma furrowed his brows in thought. "Uh, yeah, something like that. Sure, why?"

Chame shrugged. "Well, it does. I've tried everything to change it, but it's very hard. Some things changed easily, but almost never the way I wanted."

He shook his head slowly. "I don't think I understand what you're talking about."

She sighed. "Well, that doesn't matter right now. What does matter is your training. Do you think you can get away with a training mission for a month?"

Ranma paused, then shrugged. "Probably, but I don't know if Pop will want you along."

The redhead smirked. "No, Ranma, you'd be traveling with me. I doubt your father has much left to teach you."

He balked at the prospect. "Well, I don't think my other fiancees would approve of that. I mean, I don't want 'em angrier at me than they need to be..."

She pursed her lips thoughtfully, then gave a slight nod and offered, "Okay, then try this. We have to leave in the morning, two days from now. You have tomorrow to tie up any loose ends, and then we'll leave the morning of the next day." A gentle pressure towards his mind met with a stern resistance, but the redhead continued plying Ranma's mind carefully, pushing with her own until his began to give.

He shook his head. "I don't know..."

"Wouldn't you like to learn to move as fast as I do?" A little more pressure, at least enough to make Ranma think that he was making this choice willingly...

He considered, then nodded. "Yeah, actually, I would like that. But I'm still not so sure about this... I mean, at least one of my fiancees is going to insist on coming with me."

"Then don't let them know." Again the pressure was increased, as his mental barriers weakened.

"Yeah, but... uh... I guess that would work, actually. I don't know, though..."

She frowned. "What could I do to convince you?"

He eyed her speculatively. "Well... you gotta promise me that you aren't going to try and marry me."

She rolled her eyes at that, holding the pressure steady. "That was painless. Okay, I promise. Now, I'll go ahead and sleep in the dojo. Tomorrow, I'll tell your family I was another fiancee abandoned by the side of the road when you were younger. I'll tell them my family has collapsed, and isn't interested in forming a marriage, and I was just hoping for some shelter before I moved through to my grandmother."

Ranma blinked, then shut his mouth with an audible 'clack.' "Uh... right. That might work."

She nodded, smiling. "Right. I'll see you in the morning."

He returned the nod, and went upstairs, to his room, trying to puzzle over events, <No matter how this works out, they're going to know that I left about the same time as her. They'll suspect I'm with her. Akane will never forgive me. Damn it. I'll ask Chame in the morning, maybe she'll have an idea.> And with that, Ranma let himself drift to sleep. The last thought he had before it claimed him was, <Why do I trust her?>

Chame smiled to herself as Ranma walked up the stairs. She wasn't planning on getting much sleep tonight. She had a lot of work ahead of her, and precious little time to do it. She had probed Ranma's mind gently, and gotten a bit of information, but after he was knocked out, it was simple for her to delve more deeply. Still, he had a mind that refused to reveal certain information, even to her skills. The other minds in the house weren't as protected, already in dream. She could glean a bit more information from them before morning. Enough to formulate a plan, at least.

***

Kasumi woke early the next morning. She yawned, and stretched. Her alarm had not gone off. She studied it for a moment. It was only two minutes after it should have gone off anyway. She glanced around the room. Everything was in place. She retrieved a spare robe and towel from the closet, and headed towards the bathroom. Shaking her head, she muttered, "I thought I turned the alarm on last night..."

Kasumi knocked at the door, not expecting a reply, and an unfamiliar voice called back, "Just a minute!" Chame probed the mind at the door briefly, <Oops, you weren't supposed to wake up yet... I can still cover.>

Kasumi paused for a moment. Was that voice... "Ranma?"

"No, one moment." The shower turned off, and Kasumi considered. It was a feminine voice, certainly. She heard rustling behind the door for a moment, and then it opened, revealing a diminutive redhead with her hair down, still wet. She was wearing a brown skirt with a white blouse, "Sorry about that, uh... Akane?"

Kasumi blinked, and shook her head slowly, "No... I'm Kasumi. Who are you?"

She smiled, and Kasumi felt her worries begin to fade. The diminutive redhead seemed friendly enough. "I'm Chame!"

Kasumi nodded. "Are you one of Ranma's fiancees?"

Chame nodded back. "Well, kind of... it's a long story."

"That's nice! I'll just make you something to eat after I wash. Is that okay?"

Chame beamed at the taller woman. "Sure! What are you making?"

Kasumi paused, studying, <How old is this girl? She looks kind of young...> "I haven't decided yet, maybe you can help me."

"Sure! But for now, your bath is waiting."

Kasumi nodded, and let herself be herded into the bathroom. She thought about this as she washed her hair. <Another fiancee. Oh, Ranma, your father is so bad about that. If only he had been more responsible.> Once her hair was done, she climbed into the furo, letting the hot water soak her. <Of course, with all of those girls, I suppose one more won't make much of a difference.>

After toweling herself off, she returned to her room, dressed, and prepared for another day in the kitchen, cleaning, and so forth.

She stopped in the entrance to the kitchen, blinked, and turned around. The living room was the same as it was yesterday. It was definitely the same house. She blinked once more, turned around, and looked into the kitchen again.

It was clean. No, that was an understatement. It was shining, practically glowing. The rice cooker was busy, and a fresh pot of miso soup was heating. Six bento boxes were stacked near the sink. Kasumi checked the cooking meal, but everything seemed to be in order.

She checked again. Nothing was out of place, and everything seemed clean. She put a finger to her lips, thinking, but couldn't think of anything to say. Actually she could think of a few things to say, but the only one she would _let_ herself say, was, "Oh."

Chame walked into the room, arms burdened with grocery bags. "Hello, Kasumi. Sorry about taking so long to get back."

Kasumi paused, then asked, "Did you go shopping?"

Chame nodded, and began putting groceries away. "Yep."

Kasumi nodded, thinking, <How long was I in the bath?> She looked at the stack of bento boxes, then asked, "Ah, who are all the bentos for?"

Chame looked surprised briefly. "Oh, right. Um, one each for Ranma, Akane, Nabiki, me, you, and... Dr. Tofu."

Kasumi looked askance at Chame. "Dr. Tofu?"

"Ranma said you were going to be having lunch with him today, something about talking about medicine. I thought I could make the two of you a lunch, so you could spend more time worrying about, um, whatever you're talking to him about."

Kasumi nodded slowly, as Chame began preparing breakfast. "Oh. I see." Kasumi shook her head. "Wait, I don't have time to visit Dr. Tofu today. I have to go to the grocer."

Chame smiled at her. "Already taken care of."

Kasumi paused. "Oh. Right. Um, I need to make lunch for Mr. Saotome and Father, though."

Chame shook her head. "Ranma said they were out drinking VERY late last night. They shouldn't be up for a while, and I doubt that they'll be in the mood for anything to eat until later."

The taller girl paused, and protested, "But-"

Chame put a finger to Kasumi's lips, and gave her a stern look. "No buts. Ranma tells me that you don't spend enough time worrying about yourself." Kasumi flushed slightly, but Chame continued, "He says he thinks that if you wanted to, you could become a doctor, and you shouldn't have to put your dreams on hold for your family. It was his idea, to get you a surprise date with Dr. Tofu. He's not a very open person, but he does care about you." The truth of the matter was that it had never occurred to Ranma, but Chame was satisfied that the small lie would suit her purposes.

Kasumi nodded, practically on the verge of tears. "Right. I'll just-"

"Take a day to relax, and think about what you want to do with your life? That's a good idea. I'll take care of the cleaning before I go to school. I'll give you a word of advice with Dr. Tofu. When you see him... tell him you already know, and acting silly won't help."

Kasumi looked startled, absorbing the message. "Know what? Wait, you mean, he's not normally that way?"

Chame looked evasive. "Ah... no. He's not. He's actually much nicer. It might take a minute or two of keeping him from eating the lunchbox, but he'll listen. It you're interested, he can also tell you a lot about medical schools. Ranma seems to think that you might be interested, since you read so many of Dr. Tofu's medical journals"

Kasumi froze, thinking about it, while Chame led her to the table. Hearing other family members begin shuffling down the stairs, Kasumi sighed, and whispered, ""I never realized Ranma could be so thoughtful..."

The first one down was Nabiki. She sat at the table, dishes already set, food ready to be served, and Kasumi looking like she was still asleep. A huge grin was plastered on Kasumi's face, and she idly twirled designs on her plate with one finger. She looked off into the distance, at nothing in particular.

Nabiki raised an eyebrow, but served herself anyway. She didn't normally get up this early, but she was busy today. <If this works, I might just be able to keep the dojo afloat for a whole year. Then I won't have to sell pictures to Kuno.> She didn't _dislike_ selling pictures of Akane or Ranma's girl form, but really wanted more from her life than that. She had greater aspirations.

She paused in her eating, as a perky redhead in a skirt swept into the room, and set a bento box in front of her. Nabiki glanced at the box, then up at the girl. "Who are you?"

Chame shrugged, offering a good-natured smile. "I'm Chame. You must be Akane!"

Nabiki shook her head. "No, I'm Nabiki. Akane's probably still asleep."

Chame shrugged again. "Oh, I'm sorry. Well, nice to meet you!" She stuck a hand out to shake with Nabiki. Nabiki eyed the hand warily for a moment, the same way she might regard a venomous snake, but accepted and shook after a moment.

"Uh, right. Well, I guess you're another fiancee, right?"


Chame shook her head. "I was, but he's got a prior claim, so I'll be leaving tomorrow."

Nabiki blinked, taken aback. <One of Ranma's fiancees giving up that easily? That's not normal. I need info on this girl.> "So, ah, Chame. What's your last name, and where do you live?"

Chame simpered cutely, and Nabiki felt something in her heart, even though it was something she would never admit to. "Oh, you know, around." Then she looked into Nabiki's eyes, her own blue eyes big and round, like a puppy's. "But, I have no last name, now." She sniffled, carefully activating mental centers in Nabiki's mind to stimulate trust, speaking at the same time, "For you see, when I was abandoned by the side of the road by my fiance as a child, my family stripped me of my name. Now I live wandering from relative to relative, hoping to survive long enough to find someone willing to marry a girl with no name." She sniffled again, eyes watering. Internally, Chame rolled her eyes. <This is too damn easy. I expected it to be a lot harder to charm this one.> "But I heard from Ranma that he already has a fiancee. Well, more than one, actually. I can't add to his burden, and I have nothing to offer him that they don't." She sniffled again for good measure, then sank to her knees, hiding her face in her hands to cover her smile, and pretending to sob.

Nabiki blinked again, completely bewildered. <This is not normal at _all_.> She shook her head, wondering what this girl had that let her through Nabiki's layers of emotional barriers. <I will find out what's going on here if it's the last thing I do,> Nabiki vowed internally.

Kasumi moved swiftly around the table and embraced the small girl. "There, there, Chame... It's not that bad."

Chame bawled, face now hidden in Kasumi's shoulder. "But I don't have a last name! How can I go on!" A few moments of mental probing towards Nabiki helped strengthen the small bit of sympathy already there, though the scene alone would have been enough for most people.

Kasumi wracked her mind, "Well, you could stay with us. Right, Nabiki?"

Nabiki blinked, "Well, I suppose-" < It _would_ give me a chance to keep an eye on her and figure out what's going on...>

Kasumi cut her off, "See then? You can stay with us!"

Chame brought the sniffling and sobbing to a dramatic end, and sighed, looking into Kasumi's eyes wistfully. "I wish I could. But I can't. Ranma's already told me about everything else you've been through, and I can't add to the burden. But maybe, for just one day, I can be a part of your family."

Kasumi brightened. "See? It won't be that bad. And maybe you can come visit us!"

Chame nodded. <Ah... no. Not if I can help it. Guess I might have played that point a little too well. And I only just barely managed to get to the middle sister, too.> "You mean it!? Really?"

Kasumi shot Nabiki a look, and Nabiki's expression cracked momentarily. "Sure! We'd love it!"

Chame scampered away to a place at the table, as the next casualty of the morning stomped down the stairs. Akane approached the table, looking clean and well dressed, if displeased. She glanced around, eyes settling on Chame. She blinked, pausing for a moment to consider, then asked, "Who are you?"

Chame repeated her tragic story, hoping to inspire compassion in the youngest Tendo daughter. She just looked angry, "Damn that Ranma! Abandoning you like that!"

Ranma chose that moment to come down the stairs, not hearing anything but what Akane had said. He replied with an intelligent, "Huh?" Growling, Akane reached behind her to seize the table.

Chame reacted swiftly, interposing herself between Akane and the table, so that Akane grabbed her arm tightly. Chame screamed in feigned pain, then pretended to faint.

She was aware of the people around her, even though she couldn't see them. Kasumi spoke with somewhat less than her normal endearing calm, "Akane, that wasn't very kind to our guest."

Akane sputtered, but couldn't say anything comprehensible. Nabiki just observed, slowly edging away from Akane.

Ranma sighed, "Jeez, Akane, what did you go and do that for?"

Chame moaned softly. <No good. Better head things off at the pass.> "R-Ranma? Is that you?" The room temperature lowered from Akane's gaze, as Chame slowly opened her eyes. <Okay, bad move. Let's try this again.> She sat up, looking around in feigned confusion. "What happened?"

Akane's face bore a combination of anger and guilt. "Uh, sorry. I guess I wasn't being careful."

Chame shook her head. "Huh?"

Ranma sighed again, "Sorry, Chame, guess the violent tomboy was thinking of me and attacked you instead."

Akane lunged towards Ranma with malicious intent, but found her movements hampered by the girl clinging to her. She settled for glaring. "At least I'm not a pervert!"

Chame sighed internally. <That boy is not helping matters any.> "What do you mean?"

Akane snorted, "Ranma's a pervert. A sick and twisted pervert. You can marry him, for all I care."

Chame sighed, externally this time. "No, I can't. My family will never accept me back in, and I have no name of my own."

Akane paused at this, and softened a little. "Well... Uh..."

Chame took advantage of the momentary lapse. "It doesn't matter. You shouldn't worry about me. But we should be getting ready to go to school, shouldn't we?"

Akane blinked, and glanced at the clock. "Uh, well, I guess." She sighed, grabbed a bento box from the stack in the kitchen and walked through the door. Ranma scratched his head and shrugged. Nabiki got up and left for school as well. It didn't occur to any of them why someone who was only staying one day was already going to school.

Chame shrugged, and smiled weakly. "Sorry about that, Ranma."

He returned the shrug, gulping down his breakfast. "I didn't get hit this time, so no problem." He eyed the clock, then mused, "They left a little early..."

Chame frowned thoughtfully. "Probably just want to be on time. I guess things aren't working out too well with her, eh?"

He sighed, retrieving another of the bento boxes. "I don't know. I should probably try and catch up with her."

Kasumi and Chame watched for a moment, as Ranma jogged out the door. Chame shrugged, and went to the bathroom to change again. This time, she retrieved a high-school uniform from her backpack, and donned it. She sighed wistfully, and fled out the door. On her way out, she'd tossed her backpack into Ranma's room; for now, the panda wouldn't pay attention to it.

She paused at the front gate, and ran back into the house. "Kasumi!" she shouted, in a commanding tone. Kasumi flinched, and shied away from the plates she was about to collect. "Don't do that! Call Dr. Tofu. I'll clean for you later." Kasumi blinked, noticing that Chame was wearing a Furinkan high uniform, and nodded obediently. Chame flashed Kasumi her most winning smile, and dashed out the door at top speed.

Chame's top speed was actually quite fast. She avoided rooftops and the long arcing leaps that Ranma enjoyed, knowing that being closer to the ground would give her an advantage in speed, lower wind resistance, and traction. <Lets see... an alley about... here?>

Chame slid to a halt, and peeked into the alley. It was empty. She moved to the next one, and peeked again. Nabiki was conferring with some smartly dressed gentlemen in low tones not far from her. Chame scowled. <Too late again? Maybe not.> She listened closely.

Nabiki's voice stood out from the rumblings of the men, "Well, that's the offer. If you think that it's... agreeable, I'll see what I can do."

One of the men spoke then, "You're asking a lot of money. If he can't do it, we can't promise... a pleasant ending."

Nabiki's voice again, "I know him. He's good for it."

Chame swore under her breath. <Damn it. I'm going to be forced back into my contingency plan anyway. I hate that.> One of the suits shifted something. <Probably a briefcase.> A moment later, clinking sounds, and a soft 'whoosh' sounded. <Yep, it's a briefcase.>

Chame didn't need to hear the rest. She vaulted up onto an awning, and waited for the suits to leave. They did. Black sedan. Looked American. Then again, so did they. Nabiki came out a moment later, and shoved the briefcase into a nearby trashcan. Chame sighed, guessing that the money was already in her book bag.

She leapt down onto the ground, pacing Nabiki from about two steps behind her.

Nabiki turned around and blinked three times. Chame glared at her. On anyone else, Nabiki's reaction was the equivalent of wetting oneself. Nabiki regained her composure, and quirked an eyebrow at Chame. "Ah, what's up? Nice uniform."

Chame removed her scowl, and smiled at Nabiki cheerfully. "Not much. We have to hurry, I've got another appointment. That's why you're not going to scream."

Before Nabiki could say anything, Chame swept her off her feet, and began running again. Chame spoke to Nabiki, her voice somehow not being blown away by the wind. "Nabiki, you will back out of that deal tomorrow. If you don't, then you will die."

Nabiki stared, trying not to be frightened. "Are you threatening me?"

Chame didn't even blink. "Nope. I'm not the one who's going to be doing it. The suits are. There's a limit to how far someone can be pushed, and you're about to cross it. He's going to back down, they'll get mad, and someone's going to die. I've got an obligation to him, and I am going to do everything in my power to protect him. You can return the money, apologize, and go after another project. Otherwise, the one person who _might_ have been able to protect you from them will be gone, and you will belong to them. I'm not talking about owing favors, I'm talking about living the rest of your life chained to a bed, running one of their spy outposts. They won't hesitate to sell you like a pound of beef. Don't screw this up."

Nabiki had turned white as a sheet. Chame dropped her at a cafe a block from the school, and tossed someone a few bills to see that she had coffee and would be pushed towards school before the bell.

Chame idly wondered if the warning would work, but had to rush to her next stop. She reached the school gates about a minute before Akane and Ranma. She had waited for him, apparently. Chame smirked to herself. <Maybe things _aren't_ that hopeless.>

She glanced at the 'art deco' monstrosity that was Furinkan high, before turning to her next task. Sighing, as she entered the gates; she knew what was going to happen next.

A large man carrying a bokken slung over one shoulder spied her. "Oh, it is my pigtailed goddess- But wait! Who are you? You are not my goddess." The man seemed confused, and eyed her with a determining gaze.

Chame smiled weakly, tossing her braids behind her shoulders and blushing. "Oh no, what man such as this towers before me, a giant among men, that makes a maiden's heart beat all the quicker. How great a man, wielding such a mighty weapon, to bring thoughts of love, of sharing an embrace, a life of passion, oh, but how sweet-" Kuno was swelling with each word, his ego building up more and more intensely. She paused. <Akane and Ranma should be entering earshot about... now.> "Uh, you have a really big booger hanging out of your nose." Kuno's raging ego flared brightly for a moment, then guttered out, aided by a forceful push from Chame's mind. <He's awfully eager to accept impressions... I wonder...> Then he ran screaming, weeping, and wiping his face furiously until he slammed into the side of school building. There, he collapsed into a sitting position and wept, sobbing loudly about how this new goddess despised him.

Ranma blinked, and Akane's jaw dropped. Chame smiled at them, feigning innocence. "Better get to class. I'll see you guys at lunch, got a few loose ends to tie up."

Ranma nodded slowly, turning to Akane. "Did you see that? That was amazing!" He thought to himself, <Whatever she can teach me on this training trip is going to be worth it!>

Chame smiled weakly, a sick feeling in her stomach. Nabiki staggered onto the grounds at that point, holding a coffee cup in one hand. Chame took her hand, and led her to her class. "Look," Chame whispered to her, "keep up the front. Today, you can't afford to be seen as weak. I'll talk about this with you later. Start taking bets about Kuno giving up his sword. He will in a few days. And he'll turn to something else for a week or two, but he'll go back. Make what you can off of that."

The businesswoman in Nabiki snapped to attention, and left the rest of her to agonize over what she had been told before. Chame shook her head. <This is going to get very ugly soon.>

She trudged into the school registrar's office. Everyone was bustling around, but soon, the majority of them would clear out and head to their classes.

She loitered for a moment, unnoticed, until the bell rang. Three teachers were still left, chatting idly.

Chame sighed, <Nothing for it.> Gathering her will briefly, she whispered, and faded from sight. She shook her head, as the teachers' gazes swept across and through her. While invisible, she collected all of the records concerning Ranma, and removed them. There was no computer to worry about, only the papers. There would be more in the classroom, of course, but those could be dealt with later today.

Clutching the papers, she returned to visibility. <Time to visit the old woman.> The teachers in the room didn't notice as she left.

***

The Nekohanten wasn't open yet. Chame considered, then decided that this should be dealt with politely. She sighed, and banged on the door a few times, loudly, resisting the urge to simply smash the door down.

A myopic boy answered the door, and peered out at her from behind a pair of giant lenses, "I'm sorry, we're not open yet."

Chame nodded. "Thanks." She pushed past him into the restaurant's interior. The old woman and a younger purple-haired woman stared at her from a table covered with herbs and baubles.

Mousse blinked a few times. "I just told you, we aren't open yet!"

Chame sidestepped, bowing gracefully to the old woman as a number of chains flew past her.

The old woman deflected the chains with her staff, seeming almost negligent about it. "Mousse, clean the back." Mousse glared, mumbling something, but obliged after closing the door.

Once he was gone, the purple-haired woman peered at her. "What you want?"

The old woman hopped towards her on her staff, "I could ask the same. You move with a grace few people possess. Something about you seems familiar..."

Chame fought back the urge to attack the woman. Barely. If the younger woman hadn't been with her, she might not have. "Honored Elder, I need to talk to you about a few things."

Cologne blinked a few times at this, then shook her head. "Why should I help you?"

Chame sighed, "{Because if you don't, then Ranma will die.}"

Before Cologne could say anything, Shampoo had readied a pair of bonbori. "{Who would dare to try and hurt my husband?}"

Cologne nodded. "Yes, who?"

Chame sighed, muttering, "Right now, quite a few people that I know of."

Cologne motioned to a seat at the table, forgetting the herbs and trinkets littering the surface. "Let's talk about this, then. Mousse, I've already warned you about eavesdropping. Make yourself useful and make some ramen for us."

Chame smiled, and took a seat. Shampoo sat to her right, and Cologne to her left. "I'm not sure I can finish a whole bowl, but thanks. What I know of so far, ah... Both of the younger Tendo sisters are a risk to him right now. He's got someone in American organized crime after him, though they don't know it yet, Kuno is becoming less stable day by day, and Ryouga has been given something dangerous. The next time they fight, Ranma will almost definitely die."

Shampoo shook her head, doubtful. "How Tendo sisters dangerous?"

Chame nodded slightly. "Well, first off, Akane is violent. Carelessly so. Ranma is entering a vulnerable period where an otherwise 'normal' attack could permanently injure him. That's the biggest threat."

Shampoo glared. "Violent girl no good for airen."

Chame continued blithely, ignoring Shampoo. "Nabiki got Ranma in a deal over her head. Remember the American crime people? She's made a deal with them to use Ranma. If Ranma's injured, he won't perform well enough. They'll kill him. Even if he wasn't injured, I doubt he'd go along with their plans."

Cologne prompted Chame to continue, "And the rest?"

"Well, Ryouga's gotten a tool. I'm not familiar with it, but it makes the shishi houkodan pale in comparison. I know that it's dangerous. Too much use makes it bond with the user in an unhealthy fashion. The resulting backlash is not much, but it's enough to kill him, and anyone close."

Shampoo handed Chame a glass of water, and she smiled gratefully, "Thanks, Shampoo. Kuno thinks that he is seeing Ranma act worse and worse towards Akane, and he's seeing his 'pigtailed goddess' a lot less. Soon, he'll snap, and attack Ranma outright. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but Kuno's got a knack for attacking at just the wrong time. Ryouga herding Ranma into an angry Kuno, or Kuno and a group of crime lords. On his own, he's not _that_ dangerous, but with the others..."

She took a sip from the glass. "Happosai is probably the least dangerous, right now, but he could surprise us. He's been quiet for a while, and that's not like him." The other two nodded, and Mousse came out with several bowls of ramen. He set one in front of each of the women, then returned to the kitchen. Chame waited until he was gone to continue, "I don't think Mousse is dangerous right now, since he doesn't want Ranma dead, just out of the way."

Shampoo looked after the departing boy thoughtfully.

Chame swirled the water around in the glass idly, then picked up her thread of speech again, "Kodachi is a slight danger. If she gets to Ranma, she could kill him with an overdose before anyone can save him. I don't see that as a huge problem, but Akane might misunderstand, even if he escapes, and hurt him badly. Am I forgetting anyone?"

Cologne was quiet for a moment, then suggested, "His father?"

Chame frowned. "He's stupid, but he's not a huge danger to Ranma."

Shampoo nodded. "Spatula girl."

Chame sighed. "I should have started sooner. I know I can trust you somewhat, because you want him alive and able to breed. Ukyou's trustworthy, too; but she's not nearly as powerful as you are, right now. Look, I want to meet you here later, with Ukyou and tell you what I've managed so far. I want to get back and keep an eye on Ranma. I've done what I can, so far. Dr. Tofu should no longer be a danger to Ranma after this afternoon. I'll have Kasumi take care of that. Nabiki's American business partners are probably not going to change their minds at this point, though I think she's going to give them back their money and try and talk them down."

Shampoo spoke after Chame finally gave in, and started eating the ramen, "What you want with Airen?"

Chame just shrugged. "He's too important to lose. I don't have any involvement or attachment to which of you he chooses. All I can say for certain is that I don't think Akane is good for him right now, and Kodachi's dangerous. You or Ukyou would probably be the best choices."

Cologne spoke while Shampoo was quiet, "How do you know so much about everything? I've not heard of you before."

Chame sighed, and pushed her bowl away. "You may not remember, but we've fought before, earlier this century. More importantly, is the fact that your tribe, in its younger days, attacked a land rich with magic."

Cologne narrowed her eyes, suspicion in her gaze. "And what do you know about our history?"

Chame glared, then snapped out, "That your people wiped mine out. I've struggled for all that time, one of the last survivors of an unrighteous massacre, and now that I've found someone with enough blood to continue the line, I don't intend to let him die." <There's more to it than that, but _you_ don't need to know about it.>

Shampoo just looked confused, while Cologne stared. Collecting herself, the old woman asked, "You mean, you are of the Machin?"

Chame nodded. "Yes. The few that survived the massacre swore someday we'd see you humbled, but time has done that better than we ever could have." She narrowed her eyes, then muttered, "Not that that lessens the anger."

Shampoo boggled, and Cologne bowed her head. "I was not proud of all of our ancestor's actions."

The Machin woman shook her head. "It doesn't matter any more. My people are three thousand years gone and more. I'm not the only survivor. There were a few others. Of course, none ever tried to reestablish our land, but now, I've found someone who does have that potential. Ranma can bring the strength of our blood back. I don't care who he chooses, as long as he lives. And I intend to train him in our ways. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to remove his existence from certain records, and make sure nothing happens to him."

Shampoo turned to Cologne, as Chame stormed out the door. "Great-grandmother, what that about?"

Cologne sighed, and began putting the collection of herbs and trinkets away. "Something more dangerous than you might think. And someone we owe a lot to."

Shampoo narrowed her eyes, calculating. "How much? Owe Airen?"

Cologne nodded. "If she asked, then we would have to give him. She's older than any of our laws, and we owe her people everything. Without them..." The old woman sighed once more. "Never mind about that now. Let's get this put away, and prepare for the meeting later."

As Shampoo worked, Cologne turned to look at the empty doorway. <Let you have him, perhaps. Keeping him is another matter entirely. I remember you now, you called yourself a different name then... I'll not let you win this match.>

***

Chame stormed off across the street, breathing hard and barely containing her anger. She needed an outlet. She sighed, and sank to her knees, frantically searching her mind, <Where can I go now?> She concentrated, trying to remember something close by, and then she recalled, <Kasumi! If I catch her before lunch, then I can talk to her. Yes.>

Resolute, she began walking, until someone called out to her, "Saotome! Prepare to die!"

Chame froze, calculating. When he got closer he would realize his mistake. <If I hide, for a moment, I can disguise myself...> She darted into an alley, and quickly re-braided her hair into a single tail. She focused herself for a moment, drawing on her resources, to appear a tad taller, and as an afterthought, reached... _somewhere_... and pulled her staff out of it.

She darted back out of the alley, prepared to face Ryouga. He was there, looking around for Ranma. He saw her, then paused. "Ranma? Wearing a dress again, I see."

She nodded grimly, searching the carefully collected memories. "Yeah, pig-boy? What's it to ya? You wish your other form was human, too?"

Ryouga's face contorted with rage, but he restrained himself. "Ranma. You will die today."

Chame blinked. "Why?"

He glowered at her, his voice quavering with barely restrained violence, "For your crimes against Akane!"

Chame frowned. <That's the best reason? Either this guy is challenged, or totally driven by rage. Maybe angering him isn't the best idea. I'll try a different approach.> "So, ah, you want to talk this out?"

Ryouga paused, taken aback. "What?"

Chame shrugged, feigning indifference. "You got a crush on Akane, right?" His face turned red from a combination of anger and embarrassment. "Okay, then this is pretty simple. You want to date Akane, and I see her more like a little sister."

Ryouga stared for a moment, confusion and anger warring for control before settling on the familiar anger. "You're stalling. No more!" He pulled something from his belt, resembling the handle for a Spanish sword, with no blade. A small steel basket covered his hand, and he gestured menacingly.

Chame studied him and the weapon. <What the hell is this? I can't tell if he's honestly that unbalanced, or something's doing it to him.> "Uh, right. What doctor do you want me to drop you off at when we're done?"

Ryouga's face darkened, embarrassment gone. There was nothing but rage there now. "You die now, Saotome."

He charged, swinging a haymaker with the fist holding the artifact. She dove underneath him, sliding between his legs, and spinning over onto her back. She raised her staff for a vicious strike to his groin, then pulled her staff against her and rolled back, using the staff to vault to a standing position behind him. Or at least, that was her intent. After the strike to his groin, Ryouga had doubled over, and drove his fist into the ground. The explosion knocked both of them flying.

Chame raised herself to her feet, unbalanced and wary. <What the hell _is_ that?> She cursed her sources for not being able to tell her more. <Whatever it is, it's making him much, _much_ more dangerous than Ranma's memories of him. Faster, too.> Well, there were a few options. She hadn't been hit yet, though she suspected her blow didn't do much aside from angering him.

She charged him as he was recovering, and spun the staff around in a wicked arc. There was a brief crack, as it struck his head and knocked him across the street into a construction site. The workers milled around, shouting, and Chame decided that would be a good time to leave.

 

------

Author's notes:

01/24/2001

As always, thanks to Druid and Chris for their excelent C&C, and thanks especcially to Carlos, since without him, the fic would not exist in the first place. I don't want to get too long winded with my notes, but a few explanations might be needed at this point. The title for this chapter is Fukanshou / Kanshou, which should translate literaly to 'Nonintervention / Intervention.' I will keep the use of Japanese words to a minmum, since this is intended for a western audience, and is written from a western viewpoint. The few exceptions to this rule are the names of the attacks and such that the character use, since they are intended to be somewhat exotic. I also use 'furo', instead of bathtub, but that's because a furo is substantially larger than a bathtub, so there's a difference.


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