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The Unbroken Circle: Chapter one

Fukanshou / Kanshou

Part B

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

What has gone before. Chame was attacked by Ryouga, after arranging to spirit Ranma away from Nerima. Various members of the Nerima Crew can tell that something is strange, but no one can tell what, yet.

Previous chapters can be found here: http://ranma.stassen.com/uc/

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'

 

Chame arrived at the Tendo home, and dropped her illusion. After pausing to fix her hair, she staggered inside. Kasumi was lounging in the living room, watching TV, while the two old men played their game and traded nervous glances between Kasumi and the table.

The plates were still there. Chame smiled a little, and tossed the staff into a corner, announcing, "I'm back."

Kasumi looked up from her show, then smiled at the redhead. "Hello, Chame! Are you okay?"

Chame looked down. Her uniform was a bit tattered from the explosion. She imagined she was probably a little scuffed and bruised, as well. "Ah, I'm fine." She glanced at the two men, and grinned. "Nice to meet you two."

They smiled guardedly, and the thin one asked, "Kasumi, who is this?"

Kasumi waved a negligent hand at him as she walked over to Chame. "A friend of mine, another of Ranma's fiancees."

The fat, older man ran into the yard, and was replaced a moment later by a panda. The panda sat unobtrusively in a corner, watching Chame.

Kasumi fretted over Chame. Sighing, she murmured, "Let's get you into the bath, shall we? Do you have an extra uniform?"

Chame let herself be fretted over. Being three thousand years old and not looking it had advantages, and being fretted over was almost always enjoyable. <Thank god for Kasumi. After I get cleaned up, I'll take her to Sir Ono's for her lunch, and get back to school.> "Um, sorry, I'm afraid this is the only one I have."

Chame soaked in the tub, while Kasumi busied herself finding another uniform. Maybe Akane had a spare. The woman sighed, and climbed out of the tub. <A splash of cold water, a towel, and...>

She smiled brightly as Kasumi entered the room. Kasumi offered an apologetic grin. "I'm sorry, I hope this fits you..."

Chame put on the outfit. The hem of the uniform was low, since she was shorter than Akane, but it could work. "Sure. Do you have any safety pins? I can use a few to bring the hem up to a level I won't trip over."

Kasumi nodded, and within a few minutes, it was more acceptable. Not perfect, but it should suffice. Chame turned her attention to the eldest Tendo sister and announced, "Well, let's get you ready for your lunch with Dr. Tofu."

Kasumi smiled dreamily, as Chame led her into her own room, and pawed through the closet. She glanced at the clock. Chame had eaten some ramen from the Nekohanten earlier, and it was only shortly after eleven in the morning.

After finding something she decided was appropriate, she held it towards Kasumi. "Here, try this on."

Kasumi blushed at it. It was a simple knee-length skirt and a creme colored blouse. It wasn't daring, but it was a far cry from her normal outfits. Finally, she agreed to put it on, and Chame watched critically while she showed it off. <Why does she blush, if she's got the outfit in her closet anyway? She must have been planning on using it at _some_ point.>

Kasumi giggled. "Do you think he'll like it?"

Chame shrugged. "Well, I think he'll like you no matter what, but it's a reasonable outfit. It's not one that says anything other than 'I am in control of my life,' but that's good! Anyway, we should probably get ready. Did you already call him?"

The taller girl grinned, her dreamy smile returning. "Yes, he's expecting us at twelve-thirty."

Chame checked the clock again. "Well, why don't you watch TV? I'll feed the men, er... your father, I suppose, and clear off the dishes."

Kasumi frowned, pulling herself out of her daydream. "Are you sure you don't want any help?"

Chame turned to face her. "Kasumi, you've already helped me clean up and adjust this uniform. You've done all the work I'm going to let you do today."

Kasumi smiled. "I won't fight you. It's actually kind of nice."

Chame returned the smile, and led her down the stairs. <I need Sir Ono, and she's too important to the plan to lose. He'd be a powerful ally.> She shook her head, chastising herself as she cleared the table. <Bah. She's more than just a tool. It makes people happy, and helps me keep Ranma alive.>

Soun blinked, as Chame resumed Kasumi's normal duties, clearing away dishes and a newspaper. The panda was playing Shogi with him. Finally, he got enough nerve to speak, "Shouldn't you be in school?"

She shrugged, and explained offhandedly, "Yes, but I had to come home and get a clean uniform."

He nodded knowingly. "Another fiancee attacked you?"

Chame paused, considering. <What would be the best way to answer this? Oh yes, this will work.> "Yes, but I told her I didn't want to marry Ranma, and she left me alone after that. I'll be leaving tomorrow or later today."

The panda perked up at this. Chame felt sick. <He actually thinks that I am one of his son's fiancees? That means that there's enough out there for him to not be certain. I had hoped that was only in his dream...>

Chame retreated to the kitchen and whipped up a quick lunch. A simple ramen using the leftover miso as soup base. She made enough for one person, and cleaned up the kitchen. When she returned, she gave the bowl and a drink to Soun. "Here's your lunch, Mr. Tendo."

He ate it swiftly, defending it from the panda. "So, ah, why are you leaving so soon?"

She shrugged, and nonchalantly twirled her staff. "I have to find Ranma's father."

The panda stopped trying to grab the bowl away from Soun, and paid attention. Soun swallowed nervously, and asked, "Ah, why is that?"

"Well, you see, Ranma's father abandoned me as a child. My family was trusting that he would take care of me. When I was abandoned, they disowned me. So, I lost my name, and the only way my family will accept me back in is if I marry Ranma, or kill his father."

Soun blinked, slurping some soup and regaining his composure. "And if you don't?"

She sighed, bringing the staff to a ready position. The panda was slowly wilting, and trying to slip away unobtrusively. She shot a glance at is as she explained, "Then there's no life for me. I can't marry Ranma because he already told me that he has fiancees. I'll accede to their claims. He said that I could kill his father, but that he was on a training trip for a while. By the way, who was the man who was playing with you earlier?"

Soun glanced at the panda, setting the soup bowl on the table. "Uh, just a friend."

Chame nodded, and turned her attention to Kasumi again. "Well, let's go, Kasumi."

Kasumi rose from her seat and followed Chame to the door. After collecting their bento boxes, they waved to Soun, and left the Tendo home. As they were walking down the path, Kasumi spoke, "Chame."

Chame sighed inwardly. <Damn.> "Yes, Kasumi?"

Kasumi shot her a stern glance. "It's not nice to lie," she admonished.

Chame considered this for a moment, then sated, "I'm sorry, but I think he deserves that considering some of the things he's done to Ranma."

Kasumi shook her head, but didn't say anything for a while. When she spoke again, her voice was thoughtful, "Chame, who are you really?"

Chame sighed, not disguising it this time. "A three thousand year old woman who's planning on kidnapping Ranma and not marrying him."

Kasumi giggled at that. "That's funny, but who are you really?"

Chame pondered for a moment. "Sometimes, I don't know that, myself. Dr. Tofu will know more, and I should be there for this. Damn it! I didn't want this to happen." She scowled, frustrated.

Kasumi's step faltered for a moment at the expletive. "What do you mean?"

She just shook her head. "In a few minutes, Kasumi."

Shortly after that, they reached the doctor's office. Chame repressed a shudder, and entered behind Kasumi.

Dr. Tofu's glasses fogged over as soon as he saw Kasumi. "Ka-ka-kasumi?" He grinned from ear to ear. Luckily, the office was empty. Chame closed the door and flipped the sign to 'closed.'

The doctor made a spectacle of himself for a bit, then Kasumi spoke, remembering Chame's words from earlier. "Dr. Tofu, I already know, you can stop acting silly."

Kasumi winced, as his smile faded and he lowered his head. His glasses were no longer fogged, and he sighed. "Well, I guess that's that, eh? What now?"

The tall woman had no idea what was going on, but tried to play it by ear. "We could have lunch." She offered one of the bentos to him.

His face lit up again, as he stared into her glowing visage. "You mean it? Really?"

Chame interrupted, "Sir Ono?" Tofu looked at her, and froze, his face a mask of confusion and fear. "Now that we've got you roughly back to normal, I'd like a few brief words with you."

He nodded slowly, confusion giving way to fear. "Of course. Whatever you command."

Chame rolled her eyes. "There's no time for that now. Ranma is in critical danger, and I need you on your best behavior. I'm sorry about this. I'm not planning on seeking retribution, but I need you to watch out for the Tendos for a while."

Tofu nodded slowly, while Kasumi simply looked bewildered. "Yes, Chame, I can do that. Are you sure you don't want retribution after-"

Chame sighed, closing her eyes. She could feel tears coming, and this wasn't the time for them. "No. I don't want to talk about that. Talk about it with Kasumi, enjoy yourself, and have fun." Chame turned to Kasumi, and opened her eyes. "Kasumi, take good care of Dr. Tofu, you two can help each other a lot more than you think, and you're going to need that soon. I'm really sorry for pushing you two like this, but I have to run. Ryouga's on the loose, and might hurt Ranma. Akane could be in danger, too."

Kasumi finally found her voice, though she was still uncertain of what was going on. "What are you going to do?"

Chame shook her head, frowning. "Right now, I have to go back to school. When school lets out, I'll be meeting Ukyou at the Nekohanten. Sir Ono, I'd like it if you could meet us there as well. Kasumi, I know you'd like to come, but I'd rather you stayed home and kept Akane and Ranma apart as much as possible. Ask Ranma for help with a chore, send Akane shopping for something you don't need, do whatever. Make sure there's no violence between the two of them. Hopefully this is needless worrying. I'll see you both later tonight. Why don't you invite Sir Ono to dinner?"

Kasumi nodded, a slight smile evident on her features. "Okay. Good luck, then."

Chame smiled. "Sir Ono, please answer any questions that she might have. I'll leave the two of you the extra bento; I'm not hungry. I will see you later."

Dr. Tofu smiled. "Good luck!"

Chame ran out the door.

Kasumi turned to Dr. Tofu. "Now, then. Can you tell me what's going on? Why is Ranma in danger? Who is Chame, and how does she know so much?"

Tofu smiled slightly, remembering. "Well, I can answer some things. I don't know _why_ Ranma is in danger, but if she says so, I believe her. Chame was a good friend of mine when I was younger. She taught me a lot, and we were friends when…" Dr. Tofu frowned, plucking at the cloth wrapping his lunch. "Well. This is going to be hard to believe. I'm much older than you probably think."

Kasumi smiled, and encouraged the doctor to continue, "Three thousand years?"

Tofu looked up sharply. "How did you know?"

Kasumi shrugged. "I thought she was joking."

He managed a weak laugh, and explained, "We were children together. We were to be married, at one point. But, in the last days of our village… we were attacked."

Kasumi held his hand reassuringly, and he smiled at her, thought it was a slightly strained expression. "You can tell me about it, Dr. Tofu."

"Well… as far as that goes, we were attacked by the Joketsuzoku. Chinese amazons. Actually, that's not entirely true. It was the ancestry of the current tribe, but they bore the same name, and upheld the same ideals. I remember, I was living in what's now India at the time the original tribe fell. I cheered, and celebrated. They reformed very quickly right after that, of course, but that's not what's important.

"We were a fairly secluded people. Very magical in nature. We aged slowly, lived long lives, and avoided the most of the outside world. We were afraid that people would covet our powers. So we hid.

"I remember dancing with Chame in the moonlight. It was beautiful, like the night was made just for us. The flowers were in a circle around us, glowing, and we laughed, twirled." Tofu sighed, removing his glasses and rubbing his eyes. "We hadn't before, but I suspected that we would have our first kiss that night. Maybe we would have. Chame drew near me, and my heart nearly stopped.

"I had never been so happy before in my life. We were young... We drew closer together, then we heard a cry from the side of the hill. Chame, ever the wary one, went to investigate. I followed, worrying about leaving her alone.

"We found Chame's younger sister. She was only a child, but they… they tore her apart. She crawled to where she knew Chame was hoping that Chame was okay. Or maybe she was trying to warn us, and wanted us to flee.

"Chame wrapped her in her arms, and held her sister, and sang her to sleep while she bled to death. I didn't know anything about healing, then." Tofu's eyes squeezed shut, and a tear trickled out. "Chame was the most beautiful singer of our generation. I still cry when I remember her song. Even the Joketsuzoku that followed her sister were swept away in the beauty of that song. As her sister died, and the song ended, I took Chame, I grabbed her in my arms, and I ran.

"I ran to the village, Chame screamed at me to take her back, but the Joketsuzoku were already chasing after us. I couldn't; I knew if I did, she would fall to them too. I did the only thing I could do well. I ran." Tofu let out a ragged breath, trying to restrain the emotion. "The village… when we got there, our small and peaceful village was overrun. Our families, our friends, everyone we knew. The ground was thick with blood.

"I don't exaggerate about this, either. We lived in a small valley, and the bottom was pooled with blood. I saw an amazon grab a friend and drown him in the blood of his family. I saw them commit every atrocity that a man can commit to another. They held a sword to my father's neck, and-" His voice turned hoarse. He stared at the backs of his hands for a moment, collecting himself. "They gave him a knife. They told him they would kill him if he didn't kill my mother with it."

Kasumi gasped in response to the story. She carefully pushed the bento boxes aside, and grabbed Dr. Tofu in an embrace. "Dr. Tofu... let it all out." Kasumi gave him a shoulder to cry on, and for a moment, he did.

He sighed, not letting go of Kasumi, and not moving, before he began again. "My father took the knife, and did the only thing he could think of in that situation. He knew what would happen." He raised his head to stare into Kasumi's eyes. "He took his own life. But in the few seconds it took for his life to completely ebb away, he looked at me. Standing there with Chame in my arms, somehow untouched by the chaos. He looked at me, and he looked into my eyes from across the village, and he looked _triumphant_. His gaze looked _proud_. And then it was over. They didn't stop there, and I didn't stay any longer. Joketsuzoku were all around, Chame still fought me, and-"

Dr. Tofu swallowed nervously before continuing, "And I dropped her. I left her there. And ran." He cried again, "I abandoned her, leaving her there to die.

"I didn't see her for two hundred years. When I did, she carried a staff from our village. You've seen it. The red is the blood of all our slain people... When she saw me, I died and was reborn again. I hoped that she would forgive me, and feared that she wouldn't.

"I surrendered myself to her. She didn't recognize me. She had lost her memory." Dr. Tofu laughed sardonically. "I helped her get it back. It took a long time. When she had her memory back, she looked at me, a look that saw deep into my soul, and she told me-" He swallowed again, trying to collect himself. "She told me 'I never sang again. And I don't think I ever will.'

"And then she left, taking her staff with her. I saw her occasionally, after that. In the Americas when they were new, and a few times before that. I stayed out of her way. I never imagined that she would forgive me. She's not the only survivor I've run into; there are a few. But not many."

Kasumi sniffled, feeling sorry for him. "Oh, Dr. Tofu... I wish I knew, I'm so sorry."

He enjoyed the comforting embrace for a moment, then straightened up. "And now you know why I act so silly around you." She looked up at him, uncomprehending. He smiled at her, explaining, "Well, after Chame, I had a lot of fear of the same thing happening. I make a fool out of myself around women I like, to scare them away and to avoid getting close. Chame saw through it, but she didn't want me anymore. I can't blame her. Even after three thousand years, the memory of that night still haunts me."

Kasumi patted Dr. Tofu on the head as she consoled him, "There, there, it's okay. I'm here, and I want to be with you."

He smiled into her eyes, his gratitude practically overflowing. "Thank you, Kasumi. Thank you."

Kasumi smiled at him, then asked, "Where was your village?"

Dr. Tofu frowned. "It's Jusenkyou, now. The curse of our people."

Kasumi nodded slowly. "That's amazing... Is there anything else you want to talk about?"

The doctor let himself relax somewhat. "Well, actually, yes..."

***

Chame rushed through the streets of Nerima. They left early, but she had stayed talking to Tofu longer than she had meant to. There wouldn't be much time left for lunch. Hopefully nothing had happened to Ranma while she was away.

When she reached the school, lunch was halfway over. She looked around, trying to find out where Ranma was. Her search was interrupted by a call, louder than the normal bustle of students chatting at lunch. "Ah, my beloved goddess!"

Chame smiled sweetly, inwardly ready to seriously harm the boy. Pretending happiness at the sight of the boy, she exclaimed, "Why, it is none other than the Adonis of my dreams! That man who shines a shining example of all that men can aspire to be! Please good sir, tell me thy name, that my heart can tie a name to the one who has claimed it!" She batted her eyelashes at him, holding her staff in front of her, parallel to the ground.

Kuno blinked, taken aback. "Of course, fair maiden! I am Kuno, upperclassmen. My associates call me-" Kuno drew up to his full height, as lightning crackled in the distance, and he proclaimed, "The Blue Thunder, of Furinkan High!"

Chame stared for a moment. <Lightning, eh? Nice trick.> "Oh, no. What's your first name, then?"

Kuno paused, confused. "My first name is Tatewaki, fair maiden-"

Chame interrupted him, "No more. Allow me to introduce myself." A crowd was gathering, normally the scenes were all in the morning, long before lunch. "I am Chame. Grandmaster 7 times in the annual combat championships of my village." Kuno had a distinctly more confused look as she continued, "Born of a noble family, lost in the jungle and raised by savages, I've come to claim vengeance on the fiance that never searched for me! Tatewaki Kuno! Prepare to die!"

Kuno stared for a moment, as Chame held her staff in a combat ready position. It only took a touch against the trigger that his mind had built earlier that morning to set him off. Then he ran, screaming. This time, he made it to the front door and disappeared. Chame flourished the staff and bowed to the collected students.

There was a smattering of applause as she walked over to where Ranma was eating his lunch. Ranma and Akane were staring at her, with Akane's mallet held mid-swing between them.

Chame smiled innocently, and took the mallet from Akane. "Is this a trophy? Thanks!"

Ranma blinked, obviously impressed. "Ah, what was that?"

"If you know how to play someone, you can turn them against themselves. It's not hard. Play on a mix of emotions. He's pretty easy to read." <I just hope he doesn't remember the 'fiance' bit. Hmm. Maybe I should make him forget...> The mallet she held behind her popped out of existence, as the creator's focus vanished.

Akane shook her head, regaining her composure. "That was... interesting."

Chame bobbed a nod towards Akane. "Thanks. By the way... do you know someone named Ryouga?"

Akane nodded, and Ranma just rolled his eyes. Akane spoke first, "Yes, he's a friend of Ranma's. Why?"

Chame paused, considering, <How to play this off?> "Oh, he saw me in the street, screamed that I was Ranma, and that he was going to kill me. He tried pretty hard, too. I got away but my uniform was ruined. I had to stop by and borrow one of yours. I hope you don't mind."

Akane seemed stunned, while Ranma shrugged. "Nothing new about him trying to kill me."

She rounded on Ranma, accusing, "Ranma! You're always starting things with him! You're the one who makes him so mad!"

Ranma 'hmph'ed, and looked away. Chame rolled her eyes. "Well, maybe he's in a bad mood. Try and keep him and Ranma apart. I wouldn't like to see him hurt." She scanned the yard, searching for someone.

"Nihao!" Shampoo landed her bike in the yard near Ranma.

Chame seethed internally, <Of course,> and grabbed Shampoo by the arm. Shampoo blinked in surprise, and then allowed herself to be hauled away by an angry Chame. As soon as they were hidden behind a small cluster of trees, the redhead rounded on Shampoo. "What are you doing here?"

Shampoo tried to look haughty, but failed under the intense gaze. "Want to keep violent girl from hurting Ranma."

Chame pursed her lips. "What did you put in the lunch you brought him?"

Shampoo's expression became confused at the accusation. "Nothing!"

Chame rolled her eyes, casting out with her mind. "Of course." If there was anything, odds were that the elder Amazon wouldn't have let the younger know of it. What she didn't know, couldn't be revealed. Weak traces of some residual magic shone to her, revealing what it was. A minor charm, suitable for a fixation of some sort.

The purple-haired girl's eyes narrowed in annoyance. "What you think you doing? You not stop Shampoo from being with Airen."

Chame nodded thoughtfully, then grumbled, "Okay. Fine. How about you give the meal to Akane, by way of apology? Maybe it will overcome her violent aspects long enough... I intend to-" She broke off as she saw someone out of the corner of her eye. Growling, she spat, "Damn it. Again. Okay, try and get Akane to eat it. I know you can be clever, so do what you have to without using force. I'll see you later." Chame dashed off to pursue who she had seen, and turned Shampoo loose.

Shampoo sat near a suspicious looking Akane and a wary Ranma. She turned to Akane, and apologized, "Shampoo sorry. Short girl tell Shampoo give violent- uh, Akane lunch to apologize." She smiled to herself, Chame was right, though. She was cleverer than she let on.

***

Chame cornered her quarry. "Excuse me!"

The girl turned to face her, looking irate and rushed, in her oddly well fitting boy's uniform. "Yes? I have to hurry."

She sighed, facing the new girl. "My name is Chame. I need your help to protect someone."

The girl eyed her for a few minutes, then asked, "Who?"

She smiled up into the new girl's eyes hopefully. "His name is Ranma, do you know him?"

Chame suddenly found herself pinned against a wall, held there by an angry Ukyou. The okonomiyaki chef hissed, "What do you want with him?"

"I need help to protect him. He's in danger." She felt herself being lowered to the ground. "I don't want to steal him from you, I swear that... but I could use your help." <Hmm... she looks suitable. Certainly respects him more than herself... but other than that she's got a good protective instinct towards him. Excellent.>

Ukyou nodded slowly. "What do you need me to do?"

Chame sighed in relief, and brushed the hands away from the collar of her borrowed uniform as she explained, "I need you to go to Ranma. Akane and Shampoo are there. Akane just took a bit of love potion, so Shampoo's going to be busy keeping Akane off of Ranma."

Ukyou's eyes lit up thoughtfully. "I see..."

Chame scowled, taking a moment to admonish the taller girl, "You can't take advantage of that to steal him. He needs you as a friend for now." Ukyou glared at her, and Chame continued, "Besides, after it's over, won't he respect you more for not taking advantage of the situation? Look, hurry and keep an eye on him, stay a friend, and help him avoid Shampoo, Akane, and Kodachi. If they used the love potion I think they did, Akane will only hesitate a moment to offer to share Ranma with Shampoo, and then there's going to be _real_ trouble."

Ukyou nodded, eager to move on. "Anything else?"

Chame grinned. "Escort Ranma and Akane home. If you see Ryouga, or anyone else who wants to hurt Ranma, keep them away from him. After that, Kasumi will take care of the rest. Meet with me at the Nekohanten later. There will be a few others there, and I'll explain the rest. Now hurry!"

Ukyou eagerly trotted off, not even questioning the orders.

Chame sighed. <Okay. I'll watch from the roof for a bit. This shouldn't be too much of a problem.>

She leaned against the railing on the roof, and looked down into the yard. Shampoo was holding Akane down, and Ranma was edging away nervously. Ukyou looked like she was behaving herself.

She heard a slight noise behind her. Chame didn't look up, already sensing the presence as it approached. "Yes?"

Someone cleared a throat, from behind her. "Uh, Chame?"

Chame blinked. <Nabiki?> She turned around, to face the short-haired girl. "Yes, Nabiki?"

Nabiki frowned. "What's going on? You make me nervous, and my spies can't find anything about you. You don't seem dangerous to us, but I need to know what's going on." <Why am I talking to you about this, anyway? What _is_ it about you that makes me care?>

Chame stared at her for a moment, then smiled slightly. "You don't like being in the dark on anything, do you?"

Nabiki shook her head, confused. <I hardly know you, why am I telling you this?> "I'll admit to that. I was also impressed by what you did with Kuno."

Chame grinned, and slumped to the ground. "I have my vices. Okay then... Go home with Ranma and Akane. Help Ukyou out. When you get home, Ukyou will leave for a meeting with me. I'd like it if you can come up with something to keep Akane and Ranma apart for the rest of the day. Try and avoid any of Ranma's enemies. Once you do that, there's a pack in Ranma's room. Looks like his, but it's got a dress on the top."

Nabiki nodded. "Okay. You want me to take it somewhere?"

"Yes, take it and meet me at the Nekohanten. I'll explain the rest there. Don't look through my stuff, please. I know that today is going to get really weird, but we'll talk about the rest later." She smiled at Nabiki encouragingly. "Good luck. I hope the bets I gave you help you out."

Nabiki nodded again. "Right. I'll see you later." Chame just nodded back, as Nabiki entered the stairwell and the bell rang.

Chame sighed, "So tired. Soon now, I can rest. Soon."

She glanced over the side of the building again, at the students heading back in, and managed a weak, but sincere smile.

***

Ranma reflected on the day after he reached his class, <Good thing that Ucchan is in this class too. Akane is behaving more, now. Maybe we can get through the day without too much trouble.> He glanced at Ukyou, considering, <I'm so glad she's not trying to get me right now. It's a good thing that I'm going on a training trip tomorrow, too. I don't think I could handle much more of this, and some of the things I've seen Chame do are awesome. What she did to Kuno... amazing! I can't wait to learn that.>

He smiled at Ukyou, and she smiled back. He barely avoided a piece of flung chalk from the teacher. "Sorry, Mrs. Hinako." The teacher glared at him, and he focused on the board. <I can't afford to be sent to the hall now; who knows what will happen.> He repressed a shudder at the idea of Akane getting sent out with him, and all that would entail, at this point.

The rest of the class passed without event, and it was time to go home. Ranma sighed, and set about collecting his things. Akane was giggling, and latched onto his arm. Ukyou pried her away, but not before Akane slipped a note into Ranma's bag. He decided to ignore it for the time being. "Ah, thanks Ucchan. C'mon Akane, we should head home."

Akane nodded, and waited for him in the hall. He turned to Ukyou. "Um, thanks for your help today. I'm just not sure where I would be without a friend like you."

Ukyou's heart skipped a beat. She wanted to hug him, but remembered the advice from earlier. "Think nothing of it, Ranchan! We should get you home, though. I'll escort you and Akane." She smiled, inwardly cursing herself, <Why, Ranchan? Why can't you like _me_?>

Ranma grinned, relief evident on his face. "Great!"

The trio bumped into Nabiki on the way out of the school, and she grabbed Ranma's shoulder. "Hey you guys, wait up for me."

Ranma paused, confused. <What's going on here?> "Ah, sure..."

Nabiki grabbed her sister's hand, and generally kept herself between Akane and Ranma. Ukyou walked by Ranma's side, not reaching for his hand, while helping Nabiki run interference. Ranma heaved a sigh, then muttered, "I guess you heard about it, huh?"

Nabiki looked up to Ranma and asked, "Heard about what?"

Ranma sighed. "Shampoo tried to slip me some love potion. For some reason, she gave it to Akane instead of me."

Nabiki nodded. "That's interesting. Hey, Akane?"

Akane blinked herself out of her daydreams. "Huh?"

Nabiki rolled her eyes. "Can you help me with something?" Akane frowned, and Nabiki leaned in close, whispering to her, "You think you want to get a new dress? I've got a suspicion Ranma's going to ask you out on a date soon, and you'll want to look the part."

Akane nodded eagerly, exclaiming, "Yes! That would be great!"

Nabiki glanced around. Ranma and Ukyou were eyeing her suspiciously. "Once we get home, change, and I'll give you some money. I'll get Ranma to stay home, so he won't see you, and we'll hide it from everyone else. That way, Father and Mr. Saotome won't be able to mess things up."

Akane nodded again, her eyes bright with anticipation. Nabiki grinned reassuringly, thinking to herself, <This love potion may make things easier than I thought.>

Ranma looked about ready to bolt, but no one said anything until they reached the house. "Well, I'll see you later, Ranchan. I have to go get the restaurant set up," she called out as he walked away.

Akane sauntered into the house without saying anything. Nabiki handed Ukyou a note while Ranma was passing through the doorway, then followed him through.

Ukyou paused, and unfolded the note. It was covered in Nabiki's business-like hand:

 

Ukyou,

Wait for me, I have to go to the Nekohanten as well.

-Nabiki

 

She nodded, folded the note away, and waited just out of sight. A moment later, she heard a familiar voice, "Ranma's going to love _this_!" Akane fled out into the street giggling and running like mad.

Ukyou cringed. <I don't like the looks of this.> After a minute, she heard another familiar voice from down the street. The color slowly drained from her face. <Oh no. Not-> she glanced around the corner worriedly, as realization stuck her, <It is. Oh damn.>

Ryouga rounded the corner, his face a mask of barely restrained rage. He turned to Ukyou, who was trying to look inconspicuous. After a moment of staring, he asked, "Ukyou?"

Ukyou glanced around, standing in front of the Tendo Dojo sign. Someone had polished it recently, and it gleamed in the sunlight behind her. "Yeah?"

"Can you direct me to the Tendo dojo?"

Ukyou breathed a sigh of relief. "Sure, follow me." She seized his arm and began forcefully leading him away. Nabiki chose that moment to emerge from the house, carrying a large backpack. Ukyou glanced back, and saw her, as the okonomiyaki chef struggled to drag the confused Ryouga away.

Nabiki paused, considering, <What can I do here? Damn it. I can't think of anything that will help matters.> With a sigh, Nabiki tailed the couple.

After a few blocks, Ukyou dropped Ryouga off at a train, and made sure he was on it when it left.

Nabiki met up with her, and the two jogged for the Nekohanten. Ukyou noticed Nabiki flagging, and took the pack from her. Nabiki smiled gratefully. "Thanks, Ukyou. Where did you send him?"

Ukyou grinned as she explained, "I told him that Ranma and his father were in Okinawa." Her smile faded as she added, "With his luck, he'll end up back at your place within a week, though."

Nabiki nodded thoughtfully, but didn't say anything until they reached the restaurant.

She knocked on the door as they reached it, only slightly winded. A sign said that it would be closed for the day.

Mousse answered the door, peered at the pair, and motioned them in. After the two were in, Ukyou set the pack on a table. "Uh, Nabiki? What's the bag for, anyway?"

Nabiki shrugged, scanning the room. "It's Chame's. She asked me to bring it here."

Ukyou nodded; Mousse was the only other person in the room, and he busied himself with some sweeping. She took a seat, and Nabiki sat next to her. Trying to break the silence, she said, "So, Nabiki. What do you know about that girl? I hardly even know her, and I'm going out of my way to help her."

Nabiki frowned, mulling it over. "I don't know much more than you, I'm afraid."

Mousse answered another knock at the door, and a taller gentleman entered the room. He glanced around, smiling at the girls. "Hello there, Nabiki."

Startled, Nabiki flinched. "Ah, hi, Dr. Tofu. What brings you here?"

He smirked, and sat down opposite her. "Chame."

Nabiki nodded slowly. "What can you tell me about her?"

The doctor shook his head, his smile fading slightly. "I'm sorry, I respect her privacy too much to talk about that." His face brightened, as he asked, "How is your older sister doing?"

The middle Tendo sister paused. Thinking about it for a moment, she explained, "Uh, kind of, odd, actually. She was watching TV and not doing her chores. She looked like she was in a dream, or something. She mentioned you were stopping by for dinner later, though."

The doctor smiled, a dreamy expression dominating his face. "Yes. Yes I am."

There was another knock at the door, and Mousse let Chame in, not disguising the daggers he was glaring at her. She ignored him, and slumped to a seat between Ukyou and the doctor. The uniform she was wearing looked disheveled, as she apologized, "Sorry I'm late. Is everyone here yet?"

Doctor Tofu shook his head. "Not yet."

She shrugged. "Nabiki? Did you bring my stuff?" Nabiki nodded, and pointed to the pack. Chame rifled through the pack for a moment, grabbed a bundle, and headed towards the restroom, calling out over her shoulder, "Thanks. I'll be right back."

The people at the table exchanged a three-way glance and shrug. Chame emerged from the bathroom a few minutes later, wearing a pair of loose black pants and a green silk shirt with a dragon embroidered on each sleeve. She sat at the table and groused, "Ugh. I am so tired. Mousse, get Shampoo and Cologne down here."

Mousse grumbled something, but retreated upstairs. A few minutes later, Cologne and her great granddaughter emerged from the stairway, and joined the group at the table.

Chame cleared her throat and jerked her head at Mousse. Cologne nodded, calling into the back room, "Mousse, why don't you come here for a minute?" Mousse approached, confused, and Cologne paralyzed him with quick jabs at his shiatsu paralysis points. "Shampoo, take him to the back room. He won't hear us there, and it won't wear off for a few hours." He may not have been able to speak, but his venomous glare said all it needed to.

Chame pursed her lips. "We can try to avoid making him any angrier than we need."

Cologne shrugged. "I'll deal with him. In the meantime, there are a lot of questions we need to ask."

Ukyou nodded. "Who are you, and how do you know Ranma is in danger?"

Nabiki added her own two cents, "How do you know so much about us?"

Shampoo chimed in, "What you going to do with Airen?"

Dr. Tofu said nothing, glancing at Cologne uneasily. Chame sighed, the offered, "Well, why don't we just say I can read minds, and see a little into the future." The younger women at the table gasped, but Chame raised a hand, continuing, "Anyway. Right now, Ranma is in danger. I need to keep him safe. I need all of your help to do this."

She furrowed her brow in thought, then declared, "There are a few things we can do to make things easier. First of all, Sir Ono, I want you to start spending as much time with the Tendos as you can. No buts, taking care of them where you failed with me will absolve you, so do your best.

"Nabiki, you're the second biggest threat right now. Those friends of yours aren't likely to accept the change in plans, even if you give the money back. Lay low, keep the family as together as possible. I'll be using you as a secondary contact.

"Cologne, I want you and your great granddaughter to go back to China. Spread rumors that Ranma ran away with you, since your village can defend itself from about any attack that tries to follow those rumors."

The old woman shook her head, irritation carrying in her voice, "Why not take him with us? He would be safe, and could marry Shampoo-"

Surprisingly, it was not Chame who interrupted, but Dr. Tofu. He slammed a fist on the table to get attention, then his voice filled the small restaurant, "No! I don't know why Chame says it should be done this way, but she's right. Your tribe owes us this."

Cologne gasped at the doctor, "You- you are Machin, as well?"

The doctor nodded. "Yes, I am. Chame and I were both there for the massacre. Shall I take you into my mind, and make you relive my memories of that night?"

Chame shuddered, and put a hand on Dr. Tofu's fist. "No, I don't think that will be necessary. Cologne, just accept it. Maybe Ranma will choose on his own to come back to you, and maybe he won't. It's his choice. For now, I want you to go back to China as soon as possible. Spread rumors."

Cologne nodded obediently. "And if Ryouga shows up looking for him? He's probably dangerous enough to kill a few of us if what you say is true."

Chame frowned. "That shouldn't be a problem. It's right next to Jusenkyou. Lead him to the spring of drowned boy, and half of his hatred for Ranma should go away. There might be other problems, though. His anger doesn't seem... natural."

Ukyou interjected, "Ryouga has a Jusenkyou curse?" Nabiki looked curious as well.

Chame shrugged. "I recognize the mark of my people's curse. I see it on him, Ranma, Mousse, and her," she said, as she pointed at Shampoo.

Curious, Nabiki asked, "What does he turn into?"

"I couldn't look too closely; his mind was clouded. Ranma knew, but those memories were locked away. Based on what he remembers saying to Ryouga, I think it's a pig."

Ukyou blinked, and stared at Nabiki. Nabiki's eyes just widened, and the two spoke in unison, "P-chan."

Cologne nodded. "Yes. The little black piglet."

Nabiki sighed, "Well, I'll be damned. Next time I see him as a pig, I'm showing that to Akane."

Chame shrugged again. "I'm not so sure about that. If it's something he's been hiding from her, it could get ugly. If Akane strikes him, or hurts him enough, he might blame it on Ranma and shishi houkodan the whole house as soon as he's human again. Like I said, something seems odd about him."

Nabiki nodded thoughtfully. "He's more dangerous than I realized."

Ukyou shook her head. "What do you want me to do?"

Chame regarded her thoughtfully. "Ranma's leaving with me on a training trip. Things are heating up, and it'd be best if we could make ourselves scarce." The assembled people at the table nodded. "With Ranma gone with me, the rumors about him leaving with Cologne for China will be more believable. With Cologne and Shampoo gone, the only way to verify will be to ask them."

Ukyou frowned. "But that still doesn't tell me-"

"Patience, child. Cologne, I'll be using you as a primary contact. I'll send you packages, letters, and anything else that needs to be sent. You'll repackage what I specify, and send it to Nabiki. She'll distribute it as necessary, either to Sir Ono, Akane, or whoever. The biggest problem here is Mousse. He could give things away."

Cologne nodded. "What do you suggest?"

Chame paused, then admitted, "I'm not certain what the best thing to do is. Bringing him to the spring of drowned boy would probably be a good way to keep him quiet for a while. Threatening to take him to another spring might help the rest of the time."

Cologne nodded again. "I'll come up with something. In the meantime, that should work. What else?"

Chame turned to Ukyou. "Ukyou, your role in this is important too. Just a little more patience." She flashed Ukyou her most winning smile, one that had seen a lot of use already that day, then turned to the middle Tendo sister. "Nabiki. I'd like you to keep these papers safe, they're going to be important for a while."

She handed a manila folder full of papers to Nabiki. Nabiki examined it closely without opening it. "What is it?"

Chame shrugged. "All of the official paperwork concerning Ranma. School transcripts, birth certificates, medical records, everything." She shot a meaningful glance at Dr. Tofu. "Almost all of them."

He nodded. "I'll bring all of the papers I have on him over when I come for dinner tonight."

The redhead frowned again. "I can't remove his records from computers, I'll admit I'm not familiar with those. Since this is his birth city, the majority of the paperwork is here. There's other schools he attended that I can't reach, I suspect that it's a little beyond our power to deal with that right now, but this will slow down anyone who tries to use those records. Nabiki's American friends, and the government, for example. When he returns, he might need these things, so keep them safe."

Nabiki lowered her head, feeling ashamed. Dr. Tofu reassured her. "What's done is done. Worry more about setting things straight."

Shampoo shook her head, looking irate. "Shampoo want to stay with Airen."

Chame shook her head. "Sorry. I'd like to bring someone with us, but it should be someone used to being subtle. Someone who knows disguises, if necessary. And I need you with your great grandmother to help spread rumors. If they follow the rumors, and then find the truth, they'll have lost time, and Cologne can contact us to tell us who's been looking. Nabiki can tell her whoever has been poking around for us here."

Ukyou flushed slightly, already guessing her role. "You want me to come with you, don't you?"

Chame nodded. "Yes." Shampoo glared, and looked ready to attack. "Ranma will need a friend, since this is likely to take a lot longer than a month. Stay home from school tomorrow. Ranma and I will stop by early in the morning, probably about five or so. We'll hide there while I explain things. After we've been there a day or two, Akane will probably stop by. Nabiki can help encourage that... When she does, she'll tell you that Ranma's left for China. You'll have to act shocked, and close down the restaurant. After that, you can join us. Of course, if you don't want to, you don't have to. This is just what I think would work best."

Ukyou nodded eagerly. "Yes, I'll do it."

Chame looked her in the eye. "This is going to be dangerous. Are you sure?"

The girl nodded again. "Yes!"

Chame sighed, "Okay. We've all got our roles, then. Sir Ono, please escort Nabiki home, Cologne, get Mousse and start packing. Shampoo can start spreading rumors while you're doing that. Can you be out of here by tomorrow?"

Cologne nodded, wearing an irritated expression. "Easily. And we will be. Great granddaughter, get to work." Any thoughts she had, she kept to herself.

Shampoo left sullenly, to start spreading rumors. Cologne walked towards the back room to rouse Mousse.

Chame sighed again. "I am so tired. Ukyou, mind if I accompany you?" Ukyou nodded, and Chame shouldered her pack. "Nabiki, Sir Ono, I'll see you later today." Nabiki and the doctor left.

Ukyou offered to take Chame's pack, and she was too tired to refuse. "I'm so excited! I'm going to travel with Ranchan!"

Chame nodded, leaning on her staff. "Well, don't get too eager. You know how important it is that we keep it a secret."

***

After a short walk, they arrived at Ucchan's. Ukyou let the two of them in. Chame sighed wearily, "Do you mind if we stay with you? Is that alright?"

Ukyou paused, considering. "No problem. I've got an empty room you can use."

Chame frowned. "I'd rather share a room with you. Ranma might like a little privacy."

Ukyou blushed, looking slightly nervous. "Well, ah, I was hoping..."

Chame rolled her eyes. "Patience, child. He needs a little time. He doesn't even know half of what we're doing right now. He's going to need you as a friend. Be his friend. If anything is going to happen, let it happen, but don't push too hard, or you'll scare him, and leave him short of the one friend he could have talked to."

Ukyou nodded slowly, letting it sink in. <She's right. I want Ranchan, but he's going to be very alone soon.> She sighed, "I need to get ready for work."

Chame shrugged, and hefted her pack. "Is it okay for me to put this in your room?" Ukyou nodded. "Thanks. I'd help you out, but I need to be at the Tendos' house for dinner tonight. I'll try to help you out tomorrow, okay?"

Ukyou smiled. "No problem."

Chame smiled again, and allowed herself a short nap upstairs before heading to the Tendo household.

***

Chame arrived at the house tired, carrying the bundled uniform she had borrowed. She knocked on the door, and Kasumi answered, "Oh! Chame! I was worried about you."

She grinned. "Nothing to worry about. Let me start dinner. Do you know when the doctor will be here?"

Kasumi put a finger to her lips, smiling slightly. "Not for another hour."

The redhead sighed in relief, "Oh good. I have enough time then. By the way, have you seen Ranma's father around?" There was a distant splash from the backyard.

Kasumi tried to keep a straight face, but couldn't hide the laughter in her eyes. "I'm afraid I haven't seen him."

Chame's grin widened. "Guess I won't be cooking for him then." An agonized panda wail rang out from the back yard. "Is your panda sick? Maybe it needs to see a vet." The noise cut off. "Well, I'm going to start on the dinner, then."

Soun was in the living room, playing another game of Shogi with the panda. The panda cast mournful glances towards the kitchen.

Chame let her mind wander as she worked in the kitchen.

As the allotted time drew to a close, she finished the last of her preparations, and slumped against a counter. She shook her head, mentally berating herself, <Not as young as I used to be. Oh well. Maybe I can get some real sleep tonight.>

She smiled cheerfully, gathered up the dishes, and served them to the assembled family. Akane was staring at Ranma with wide eyes, a slight blush coloring her face. Nabiki sat between them, trying to be subtle. Soun beamed at Akane and Ranma, and Kasumi and Tofu were lost in each other's eyes. The panda sat at the table as well, its mouth watering. Ranma eyed Akane warily.

Chame set the dishes down. "Okay, here we go... Wait! Pandas shouldn't eat things like this." Chame herded the panda outside, and closed the door.

Smiling politely, and nodding throughout the meal whenever someone spoke to her, Chame went over the steps in her plan. Nabiki was practically the only one able to speak, and there wasn't much they could talk about in front of Akane. Akane just stared at Ranma longingly. Soun seemed oblivious to Ranma's obvious discomfort, and Dr. Tofu and Kasumi were too busy staring at each other to comment.

Ranma finally broke the silence, "That was really good, Chame. Thanks."

She smiled, nodding. "No problem. I'm glad to cook."

Ranma edged away from Akane. "Um, can I talk to you for a moment?"

Chame nodded. "Sure, just let put this away and clean up." She gathered up the leftovers and the dirty dishes, and whisked them into the kitchen. It took her less than a minute to package everything away and clean all of the dishes.

She walked back into the living room. Akane was standing about a foot away from Ranma, the same dreamy expression on her face. The youngest Tendo finally got the courage up to break the uncomfortable silence, and asked, "Ranma?"

Ranma backed away, nervously. "Uh, yeah?"

Akane stepped closer to him, breathing on his neck. "Is there... something you want to ask me?"

Ranma gulped nervously, and looked around, Nabiki seemed at a loss, and Soun wasn't about to interfere. The panda wasn't likely to be much assistance either. Chame intervened at the last moment, "Akane?"

Akane blinked, and looked at Chame, irritation evident on her features. "Yes?"

Chame smiled, and led her up the stairs. "I need to talk to you for a moment or two."

Akane allowed herself to be led up to her room. "What's so important? I have to get back down to Ranma, he's waiting for me."

Chame nodded. "Uh, right. One quick thing, though."

Akane glanced at her expectantly. "Yes?"

Chame smiled, and asked, "Do you know what a shiatsu paralysis point is?"

A few minutes later, Chame descended the stairs, alone. Ranma looked at her quizzically, and Chame offered, "She's asleep."

He nodded. "Oh good. I was getting kind of nervous about that."

She smiled at him. "Don't worry. Now, what did you want to talk about?"

"Uh, things have been getting kind of weird today, do you know anything about it?"

Chame looked him over. "A little. I'll tell you the rest later. Do you think you can have your things packed and ready to go tonight?"

He nodded. "Yeah, after Akane acting like that, I could sure use a break. This is confusing me."

She shrugged. "Okay. About an hour after everyone else is asleep. Meet me by the dojo with your things. Can you see to it that the panda is asleep then?"

Ranma's eyes widened, alarmed. "Uh, yeah. I can do that."

She smiled at him, and said nothing as she walked back to join the rest of the family.

***

Dr. Tofu and Chame left together. Chame bowed deeply to Soun. "I'm sorry I have to leave, but I can't impose on you any longer. Thank you for your hospitality."

Soun nodded politely. "Of course. I suppose we'll be seeing you more soon as well?"

Chame smiled. "Well, we'll see. I do have to keep an eye out for Ranma's father. I'm still honor-bound to kill him to reclaim my name."

Ranma blinked at this, a smile slowly spreading across his face. Kasumi said nothing, and hid her own smile, while Nabiki did the same. Chame was certain that Akane wouldn't be awake for a few hours, and they would be gone by then.

As Chame stood on the doorstep, Kasumi gave Dr. Tofu a hug. Soun froze, watching. Kasumi smiled wickedly, and leaned in to kiss the doctor. He didn't resist. Chame turned her back and admired the stars for a while, until the telltale gasp for breath signified the doctor's release.

He smiled, though it was harder to guess which of the two had a bigger grin plastered across their faces. Chame gently led the doctor away, as he waved goodbye.

After they were out of sight of the house, the doctor exhaled again, sighing. Chame smirked at his expression. "So. Is she the one for you Sir Ono?"

He smiled. "Chame, I stopped being Sir Ono the day we left the village. Just call me Tofu."

She nodded. "Okay. I hate to bother you, but I've got a premonition that something will happen tonight. Something bad. Meditate when you get home, and if you hear me, I need your help."

The doctor sobered at this. "Very well. Should I be ready to summon assistance?"

Chame was quiet for a moment as they walked, considering, then said, "No. We have no real allies this close."

He nodded. "Do you know anything more?"

She shook her head. "Blood. A lot of it. That's all. There's going to be some violence tonight." She twirled her staff. "I'd rather make sure that Ranma is not on the receiving end of it."

Dr. Tofu nodded again. "Okay. Good luck to you then. I hope I don't see you again tonight."

Chame laughed. "So do I, Dr. Tofu. Good luck to you as well, you need to protect the Tendos."

He nodded a final time, and they parted ways.

Chame reached Ucchan's shortly after. It was busy, but Ukyou was glowing. Chame paused for a moment, then went behind the counter and upstairs. She had debated helping Ukyou, but decided to allow herself to continue the nap from earlier. All too soon, she slipped into the embrace of sleep.

***

Someone moving near her woke Chame. She sat up, wearily, and looked around.

Ukyou hummed to herself as she put on some pajamas. Chame yawned, "Ukyou?"

The girl looked at her, smiling. "Yes?"

Chame shook her head to clear it. "What time is it?"

After a pause, Ukyou answered, "A little after eleven. Why?"

Chame stood up, and stretched. "Okay. Why don't we go pick up Ranma?"

Ukyou blinked, and scurried to get re-dressed. "Sure! Just give me a moment."

Chame headed downstairs, and helped herself to a glass of water. Ukyou came down shortly, dressed in her standard battle garb. Chame smiled approvingly. "Okay. Let's be on our way."

The two headed through the streets. It was about eleven-thirty when they reached the Tendo household. Chame shushed Ukyou, and motioned for her to wait outside. A few minutes later, Nabiki and Ranma followed her out. Chame whispered something to Nabiki, who nodded, and went back to the house.

Ranma looked very nervous, but Ukyou flashed him a reassuring smile. Chame glanced at the two briefly, and they set out together.

They were quiet for the most part, wary of making noise this late at night. As they were passing through a street of abandoned buildings and empty lots, Chame froze. Ranma and Ukyou did the same. After a moment, Chame shuddered, and motioned for them to resume.

Ranma listened, but could only hear a train moving in the distance. He shook his head, and moved on. Suddenly, he halted, standing stock-still. Chame had already stopped, and Ukyou slowed when she saw the two of them. A low, almost feral laugh taunted them from behind.

He spun around, suspecting who was there, but wanting to see. A figure emerged from the darkness, laughing. Ranma swallowed. He knew that laugh. And that outline. It could only be Ryouga.

He stepped out of the shadow of a derelict building, and into the moonlight. He paused there, and laughed again. A dry, hollow sound. Ranma swallowed again, nervously. Ryouga wasn't looking at him; he was looking at Ukyou.

Ranma blinked. "Ucchan? What's going on here?"

Ukyou shivered nervously, but readied her giant spatula. "I, uh, tried to send him to Okinawa, and said that's where you were."

Ryouga just stared at her, his expression completely feral. "You lieeeeed to me, Ukyou." Ryouga snapped his umbrella into his hand, and giggled hysterically, "Oh yes. You lied." His eyes shot to Chame, darting across Ranma briefly. "You." His eyes narrowed, and his feral expression became even more fearsome. "You struck me. Twice. And you lied as well. Which one first, hmm? Which one?"

He gazed between the two of them, calculating, and Ranma stepped forward. "Ryouga! I don't know what's going on here, but you aren't getting in my way any more. You aren't going to hurt either of them if I can help it!"

Ryouga tore his attention from the women, and stared into Ranma's eyes. He laughed again, voice filled with contempt, "You aren't dangerous to me. You can't even slow me down." Another giggle sounded from the boy, and held his umbrella in a ready stance. "Once I take care of your friends, I'll give you a slow and painful death."

Chame leapt between the two of them, twirling her staff around her forearm. It spun in a cone shape, one end pointed towards Ryouga, Chame looked grim. "Ranma. Get ready to run, this isn't the Ryouga you know."

Ryouga's laugh rang out once more. "You! You shall be the first to die!"

Chame focused her ki for a moment, crying out, "Ichijin-dan!" The air moved by the staff formed a jet, knocking Ryouga back at least thirty feet. He fell onto his back. Chame spun towards Ranma, then her eyes widened.

Ranma opened his mouth to say something, then he heard it. The train. It was braking, somewhere. The faint, piercing wail sounded clearly through the night. Chame clung to her staff, and sunk to one knee. Her face was a mask of pain, and she whimpered, "R-Ranma! R-run!"

Ranma froze, unable to move, remembering what had happened, only one night before. The microwave. It made a piercing noise like that, and Chame had said- "Oh no, Chame-"

A sickening squishing noise covered the wail, and Ranma stared, eyes widening. Chame looked down, dumbfounded. Ryouga had gotten up behind her, and taken advantage of her weakness. Chame gasped as Ryouga forced the umbrella further, and it erupted from her abdomen. She pawed at it, uncomprehending. The black, dull tip protruded, dripping blood onto the ground, and she stared at it, blinking.

Then Ranma heard it again. That hollow, dry laugh. "Ranma. She was the most dangerous one. And now..." His laugh cut through the stillness of the night again, "It's over! So fragile…"

Ukyou gasped as she saw was Ryouga intended to do next. He slid one hand to the base of the umbrella, grabbed firmly, and… Ukyou covered her eyes, pleading, "Oh, please, gods... no!"

Ranma didn't think; he had no time for that. He knew what was going to happen, and more importantly, what he had to do. In a single, fluid movement, he dashed forward, and snapped a kick into the umbrella's tip. Ryouga grunted, as it flew free of Chame's body before he could open it. Chame slumped into Ranma's arms, shivering, and Ryouga fell backwards. The umbrella opened, and obscured his vision.

Ranma didn't waste any more time, and leapt up onto one of the derelict buildings. Once his feet found purchase, he began to run like hell. Chame clung to him weakly, mumbling. He tried not to pay attention to the warm wetness spreading from where his hand supported her, under her back. He just ran.

Ukyou followed him, then pointed to a street below them and cried out, "Ranchan! Stop! Down there!"

Ranma jumped to the ground obediently, and set Chame down. Ukyou grabbed Chame's hand, after landing near her. "Chame! Are you going to be okay?"

Chame shook her head slowly, and fumbled at Ukyou's chest. "B-binding. Sir Ono." Then, spent, she collapsed.

Ukyou tore her shirt off, and removed the bindings across her chest as quickly as possible. Ranma nodded, and grabbed an extra shirt from his pack. After a moment, they had a makeshift compress, and Ukyou bound it to the prone woman tightly. Ranma touched the cloth gently, and it instantly reddened beneath his hand.

He looked up into Ukyou's eyes, fearful. "This... this isn't supposed to happen."

Ukyou shook her head, shrugging back into the tatters of her shirt. "We need to get her to a doctor."

Ranma nodded, numb. "Right." There was a movement, nearby. He spun to face it, fearful that it was the lost boy again.

It wasn't.

Dr. Tofu landed next to them, and hurriedly examined Chame. "Damn it! Chame? Chame! Okay. Ranma, tell me what happened."

Ranma babbled the story briefly, while Tofu considered the wound. He sighed, "Okay Ranma, I might be able to slow this down, but she's lost a lot of blood."

He stared into the doctor's eyes. "Please, Dr. Tofu."

Dr. Tofu carefully removed the bandages, muttering, "You don't have to ask me twice." He lay his hands against Chame's wound, and his palms began to glow gently, as he mumbled softly to himself. After a moment, the wound sealed, leaving a pink scar. He nodded, and rolled Chame carefully onto her side to do the same to her back.

He drew breath in, as he looked at the other side of the wound. The umbrella was quite large, and Chame was a small woman. He shook his head, and covered the gaping wound with both hands. A glow suffused them as he chanted in a thick, alien tongue. After a few minutes of chanting, the blood stopped, and he pulled his hands away. This time, there was no scar, only a nasty looking bruise.

Ukyou sighed. "So, she's going to be okay, right?"

Tofu wrapped her carefully back up in her tattered clothing. "No. Where are you staying?"

Ukyou shook her head. "Take her to my place." The doctor nodded, and picked up the limp redhead. Ranma and Ukyou followed in a mad rooftop course to Ucchan's. Ukyou fumbled with the door before it opened, and led the three up the stairs to her room.

Dr. Tofu lay Chame gently on Ukyou's bed. He closed all the windows. "She's going to need a lot of warmth. Ranma, go downstairs and heat some water." After Ranma was gone, Tofu stripped Chame's clothes off, and slid the covers over her.

Ukyou fretted, "Well?"

Dr. Tofu sighed, "She lost too much blood. It's only a matter of time. I can fix the damage, and repair the tissue, but I can't make her more blood. I could give her some of mine, but I might end up killing both of us."

Ukyou didn't hesitate. "Take some of mine!" She offered a wrist to the doctor.

He shook his head. "It wouldn't work. She needs Machin blood. And Chame and I are the only Machin I know of right now." He bit his lip, comprehension dawning. "Ranma!"

Ranma scurried up the stairs. "Yeah? The water's not ready yet."

Tofu shook his head. "Not important. Chame needs blood, are you willing to help her?"

Ranma nodded eagerly, nearly shouting, "Yes! If that will save her, yes!"

Tofu sighed in relief. "Okay. Ukyou, do you have a thick piece of cloth?"

She nodded, and gave the doctor the sash to a robe. After that, she shucked the torn remnants of her shirt, and slipped on a new one. The men were too intent on Chame, and this was no time for real modesty.

Tofu folded the cloth a few times, "Ranma, put this in your mouth and bite down hard. This is going to hurt. A lot."

Ranma nodded, and did as told. Tofu closed his eyes, and placed a hand against Chame's chest. He grabbed Ranma's hand in the other, and began chanting something softly. A warm red glow formed, first, between Chame and the doctor, then between Ranma and Tofu. Ranma's eyes widened, and he made a muffled choking noise through the cloth in his mouth, as the redness began flowing across the space between Tofu's hands, arcing upward slightly.

Ukyou grabbed his other hand reassuringly, and he clenched it tightly. He made a sobbing noise, and sank to his knees, eyes focused on the arch that began at his linked hand, and terminated on Chame's chest. Tears streamed down his face, but he didn't pull back the hand that the doctor held.

After an indeterminable length of time, it was over. Ranma sighed, and passed out on the floor. The doctor looked vaguely surprised, then shook his head, dismissing a stray thought. "Ukyou? Could you please get me a rag? The water Ranma was heating should be done now."

Ukyou ran down the stairs, and turned the stove off. The water in the kettle was boiling. She gambled that it would be too hot, poured some out, and added some cold water.

She hauled the kettle upstairs and the doctor thanked her. He wet the rag, and scrubbed at his hands with it, then he cleaned Ranma's hand, and gave the rag to Ukyou. "I'm going to set Ranma in the next room. He's fine, but he gave up a lot of blood for Chame. Do you mind if I stay here with him tonight?"

Ukyou shook her head. "No, that's fine." The doctor smiled, and carried Ranma away. She looked at the cloth in her hands, and noticed the stains on it. Red. Bloodstains. She shook her head, and wiped the blood off of Chame's chest and back gently.

After a moment, the doctor returned. He turned the heater up, and sighed, "Ukyou, this is going to be a close thing. Are you still willing to help?"

Ukyou nodded again. "Of course!"

The doctor smiled. "Okay, you might not like this part. I'm going to close the door so no heat escapes. I need you to share your body heat with Chame." Ukyou nodded, "It will work better if you take your Characters codes for the Microsoft Windows fonts in the range 128 - 159 may not be recognized on other platforms. You are instead recommended to use named entities, e.g. ™ rather than Windows character code 153 (0x2122 in Unicode). Note that as of February 1998 few browsers support the new entities. clothes off."

Ukyou blushed, but nodded. "I can do that. Now go, you're letting heat out."

The doctor smiled, and let himself out. Ukyou stared at Chame for a moment, then shook her head. <Nothing for it.> She stripped down to her underwear, sighed, and discarded that too. She climbed into the bed near Chame nervously.

The smaller woman stirred weakly, and Ukyou nervously edged towards her. After a moment Ukyou touched her. She gasped, and drew away. <So cold!> She sighed, gathering her confidence, and slid towards Chame.

The diminutive redhead stirred again, as their legs touched, and Ukyou suddenly realized why. She smiled, and embraced the small girl, adjusting the blankets to cover everything but their faces.

Ukyou shivered, but noticed Chame slowly warming. The doctor knew best. She sighed again, and let herself drift to sleep as she wondered what it would be like to share a bed with Ranma.

------

Author's note:

I know I promised to use as little japanese text as possible, so an apology is in order. 'Ichijin-dan' should translate to 'gust of wind shot'. As Chame observed, Ryouga's been boosted by his weapon, which is why he was able to do so much damage. There's little to explain in this chapter other than that. So, I would like to thank (as always) Chris and Druid for their excelent C&C, for without them, this story wouldn't be half of what it is now.


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