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The Unbroken Circle: Chapter four

Ikken'ya

Part B

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

What has gone before:

After Tarou returned to Nerima, Tofu helped the boy's mind heal from the nastiness that Ukyou accidentally inflicted. In an attempt to become Ranma's equal, Akane changed her wardrobe, and many of her personal habits. Tarou reluctantly agreed to train her to fight, and Tofu agreed to teach her to work magic, after she caught the good doctor working spells with the eldest Tendo sister. Meanwhile, Ranma is trying to put the matter of who he truly loves to rest, as the devil-slaying trio works their way towards Chame's house. Happosai remains intent on getting Ranma back, though with the loss of Tarou he's left unsure how to proceed.

 

Previous chapters are archived at: http://ranma.stassen.com/uc/

Brief key, trying to stay simple.

<> frame thoughts.

"" frame speech

"{}" frame speech in Mandarin

 

"...Six at the top means:

His house is in a state of abundance.

He screens off his family.

He peers through the gate

And no longer perceives anyone.

For three years he sees nothing.

Misfortune..."

I Ching - The Book of Change

 

"A proper house exhibits harmony, and that harmony reflects upon the tribe as a whole."

Unknown

 

Ranma stared at the compound that stood before them. She shook her head, expecting it to fade, or shimmer like a mirage. It didn't. He continued standing there. Ukyou dealt with it in a similar manner, not saying anything, but practically drooling over the structure.

Chame nodded at them, and let them admire her house for a moment.

It was built in a style, externally, similar to a proper castle from five or six hundred years ago. Of course, it wasn't a castle; it was a house. A very _large_ house. Stone walls composed the first two floors, and the tower that rose from one corner. The topmost story was wooden, with a blue tile roof, which was broken only in a few places to allow the number of chimneys to poke towards the sky.

The rather strong enchantment on it to make anyone who wasn't accustomed to it stop and stare didn't hurt either.

Clearing her throat, Chame spoke about the house. Anything else she said would probably be lost on anyone who wasn't acclimated. "I had this built a few hundred years ago. Designed it myself. Earlier in the century I had windows put in. The stone is original."

Ukyou nodded, eyes wide. Still staring at the house, she let herself blink, then mumbled. "It must have a great kitchen."

Ranma stared in a similar fashion, and finally let herself speak, "You... designed this yourself?"

Chame smiled, trying not to let her pride show too much. "Yep. It's actually a bit more impressive inside. I keep all my things there." Seeing as the young couple didn't want to budge yet, she smirked, and continued, "Well. Let me tell you a little more about it. I have twenty bedrooms, most of which, ironically enough, have never been used. And yes, it has a great kitchen, which I'm sure you will both enjoy... I think you'll also like the room I have set aside for painting. You can't see it from here, but the dojo is behind the house. So. Welcome to your new home."

Leading the stumbling pair towards the house, Chame produced a heavy iron key from a sleeve, and opened the door. As the solid wooden panels swung open, they shuffled in, and glanced around. The front room seemed ordinary enough. The three kicked off their shoes, and donned house slippers.

Blinking, Ranma stared at the floor, surprised at how clean it appeared. "Uh... how long has it been since you've been here?"

Chame shrugged, not thinking about it. "Um... something like five years. It's not dusty because it's spelled. You think I could keep this clean on my own?"

Ukyou giggled, "I guess not. It is awfully big. Can you turn on a light?"

Chame absently gestured, summoning a ball of light into her palm. The light poured into the room, spreading to cover the living area beyond.

Ranma walked across the floor in a practically dream-like state, approaching a display case. With reverence she raised a hand to the case. Her voice was faint, though the respect in her tone was audible, "Is... is that... What is that?"

Chame and Ukyou walked over, to glance over Ranma's shoulder. The display case held a katana on its stand. Nodding, Chame opened the case, and removed the weapon. With a small show of reverence, Chame drew the blade, showing it to the couple.

A glance revealed that it was a carefully crafted weapon. When a piece of equipment is well designed, any student of its art can tell that a master made it. A true master's weapons speak for themselves, and even someone who has only a passing familiarity with the styles of a weapon can look at it and read 'this is a masterpiece.'

This sword, however, did not just say, 'I am a masterpiece.' This weapon said great many things. Things like 'I am very sharp,' and 'if you do not respect me, I will _bite_ you.'

Ranma and Ukyou reflexively stepped back, admiring the naked blade as Chame turned it in the light. The polished metal shone a uniform white. With a sigh, Chame stared at the blade for a long moment, "My father made this weapon for me. I... lost it when the amazons attacked us. When I found it again, a swordsman in ancient China had retrieved it... I'm not sure how. I'd guess the amazons took it. I can't begin to guess how he got it. I challenged him for the blade, since it was rightfully mine. I suppose he might have had some skill, but I fought, and I won it from him..." She closed her eyes briefly, remembering something, then shook her head abruptly.

Turning the blade to catch the light again, a faintly glowing script appeared on the side of the blade. Chame read the text, in a language Ukyou could not recognize, and Ranma could not understand how he knew. "'This sword, a gift for my daughter...'"

Ranma spoke, not even realizing as she did so, "'...Bears the name of the bearer's temperament. "Soyokaze."' The gentle breeze."

For a long moment, Chame stared at the blade, then released a sigh and sheathed it. "Quite right. It's one of two gifts from my father."

Ukyou stared at Ranma for a moment, then shook her head, looking back to the shorter redhead. "Uh... what was the other gift?"

Startled, Chame replaced the weapon on its rack, and lowered the glass lid on the display case. "Um... my hair changes color in warm water. It turns the same color as my mother's. When it's splashed with cold water it's the same color as my father's hair." Sighing, she shook her head. "It's much easier to just always rinse my hair with cold water. Otherwise it looks splotchy when it gets hit with cold water."

Ranma blinked, then frowned thoughtfully. "That... that sounds interesting. Is it related to Jusenkyou some way?"

Brow furrowed in thought, Chame shook her head. "Uh... can't remember. I think a lot of people in the tribe displayed... at least a few. They would change with water. It's something from the god that created us."

Ukyou nodded slowly. "Wow. That must have been interesting... still, instant color change, just add water. That must be neat."

Ranma snorted, "Better than instant gender change. Which reminds me... I thought Jusenkyou didn't curse Machin, so how did I get cursed?"

Chame bit her lip before she answered, "Actually... I'm still not sure about that. I'll look into it, though. I suppose you're looking for a cure?"

Ranma nodded, saying nothing.

Grimacing, Chame shook her head. "I can't promise anything. However, there is a bath. I'll show you to it, then we can relax for a day. Tomorrow, we start the real training."

Tearing her eyes from the sword, Ukyou blinked. "Real training?"

Chame replaced her grimace with a smile. "Oh, yes. Real training. Everything before was just what we could get away with on the road. Tomorrow..."

***

Tarou sighed, "Nope. Try again."

Akane managed a fierce blow to his shoulder, which he shrugged off effortlessly. "Ugh!" Sinking to her knees and gasping for breath, she tried to cool down.

The boy took a few steps away, and knelt. "Okay then. You got me. Not hard enough to amount to anything, but that's a point for your coordination. You need to build strength some more. How did you manage to survive with such weak skills?"

Feeling her control over her temper waver for a moment, Akane snarled. Rather than cling to control, she forcefully shoved it away, embracing the tantrum. "Tarou no baka!" Summoning the hammer, she leapt at him, and brought it crashing towards him.

Tarou raised a hand absently, as though warding off a fly, and the mallet shattered into shards of ki. The force of the deflection sent Akane careening across the dojo, until she slumped to the floor. Groaning, she rolled onto her back. For a moment, Tarou stared at his hand, then sighed, "That was almost respectable."

Akane gasped for breath, and managed to say, "I... hit Ranma... like that... all the time..."

Staring in disbelief for a long moment, Tarou threw back his head and laughed. "You... heh... he... heh... Fem-boy heh... he LET you hit him!" Collapsing to the floor from laughter, he rolled back and forth, clutching his side. Tears were working their way from underneath his closed eyes. "And you! HAHA! He... heh... oh... heh..." Straightening himself up, he finally let his laughter fade. "Oh... man. He must have liked you a lot. Did he use his ki to soften the blow, or did he let it hurt him?" His grin said that anything could send him into another fit at any moment.

The girl could only stare at him for a long moment. <He... _let_ me hit him?> "That... that's not right. I smacked him hard, usually sending him flying. Why do you think he _let_ me hit him?" She sat up and shook her head dumbly, not understanding.

Tarou shook his head, holding back another bout of laughter. "Akane... look... Ranma's a martial artist, right?" She nodded slowly. "Okay. Have you seen Ranma dodge when he was in danger?" She nodded again. "Haven't you seen him take blows that can shatter rocks, and keep on fighting?" Akane nodded minutely once more, as realization began to set in. "So... why couldn't he shrug off, or block, or dodge you hitting him?"

Akane let herself collapse for a moment. Staring at the ceiling, she idly wondered why her vision was becoming distorted. A moment later, understanding reached her, and she climbed to her feet. Her uncooperative tongue managed to work out a few syllables that Tarou interpreted as a request to leave. He said something that sounded like assent, and then Akane's world became a jumbled blur.

The occasional worried face flashed before her every few moments. Her father, on the verge of tears again. Nodoka, asking what was troubling her. Kasumi, looking concerned.

Staring at the ceiling, Akane found herself in bed. The blur of whatever had happened that led her here had faded into a distant tumultuous fringe on the edges of her vision. Her bruises cried out for attention with all of the enthusiasm they could muster, but their pleas fell on deaf synapses. After a moment, Akane curled into a ball, trying to shut out the world.

Sobbing, she climbed to her feet. If anyone could explain this to her, it was Nabiki. The blur occupied her world for a moment, then left her staring at a door. Detachedly, she watched her hand strike the door three times. A moment later, and the older sister who generally occupied the room poked her head out, saying, "Yeah, Aka- Oh geez. Come on in."

After Nabiki led her to her bed, and sat Akane down, Nabiki invoked the silence spell again. Shaking her head, she looked at younger sister. "So. You figured it out?"

Akane nodded dumbly. "I... He... and... oh, god. Why didn't I see it before?"

Nabiki sighed, and put an arm around Akane. "Well... it... I don't really know what to say. I'm sorry. But... you have to admit, it shows devotion that he cared to stay around despite that."

Letting herself dissolve into a fit of sobbing, Akane asked, "What... I..." Pulling herself back from the brink, she sniffled. "What... tell me. I need to hear it."

Nabiki nodded, letting out a sigh. "The thing I said you weren't ready for before?" At Akane's nod, she explained, "Well... after Ranma had been here for a while, I snuck into his room while he and his father were gone. I thought it would be nice to see what they had, try and get some dirt on them or something. I didn't find much..." She paused for a moment. "This was before Ranma became so damn good... I think he never found out. Anyway. I went through their stuff, and I found out that Ranma kept a journal."

Akane could only stare. "He... oh. What did it say?"

Nabiki shrugged, not looking at anything in particular. "Well... he'd been here a few weeks, and he wrote a few things down. The first day...

 

"Well, today Pop took me to some friends of his, the Tendos. I figured that this was just his normal scam, move in for a while, mooch, then move on. I didn't like the idea, since I want to go back to China and get a cure for this damn curse. But we went anyway. The bastard knocked me out and carried me there.

I was a girl at the time, when I met them. Their dad fainted when he saw it... I didn't know why. Things were getting pretty annoying for me. The older sister, Kasumi seemed nice enough. I don't like the middle sister much, she liked grabbing me. Maybe it's just the new body, but it _hurt_.

Of course, as lousy as that might have seemed, her youngest sister was the worst by far. She asked if we could spar, and I said sure. It would get me away from Nabiki's groping, and I could have fun. Of course, I thought Akane was a nice girl. Then she said she wanted to be friends. I thought that would be nice, I haven't had a friend in a _long_ time. But that isn't going to happen now. She's got potential, but she hadn't studied nearly enough to catch up to me any time soon, since I had about ten years of experience on her... anyway, we sparred, and I won. No big deal. Then she makes some remark about "It's a good thing I'm not a boy."

Well. I wasn't exactly feeling on top of the world after that, but whatever. I figure she's probably not going to be my friend after that. So Kasumi tells me to take a bath, and I figure that's probably a good idea. They got a nice bath. So after I set up their little 'occupied' sign, I climb in and change back. I was thinking of coming out as a girl, but I figure that would really only work so well anyway... so I decided to go out and try and explain things as is.

Akane walks in on me. I guess she's kind of cute, but what happened next didn't help. She left, then, saying nothing. I got dressed really quick because I had to explain things before they get out of hand. Of course, the next thing I know the crazy girl is trying to kill me with a statue from the back yard. Great. Her sisters calm her down, and we explain things.

No one seems to react much except for Kasumi. And Mr. Tendo. He says something about how it's not a problem. Right. Like I can inflict myself on someone like this? Jeez. Of course I can't choose one of them. If I had to, it would have been Kasumi, she seemed the most calm about things. Wrong. She foists me off on the psycho. So does Nabiki, but then, I'm not too keen on her, either.

Anyway, she yells and tells the world that she's not marrying a pervert. Try to remember, _she_ walked in on _me_. So I lose my temper and tell her I'm better built. Maybe that was a bit much, but then she over-reacts _again_ and smashes me with the table. I figure avoiding it will just piss her off more, and not passing out won't help either, so I let her get me.

When I wake up, her sisters tell me she's not all bad. I'd rather be engaged to Kasumi, but I'll take their word for it. It's family honor, so I don't really have a choice in the matter. It's going to be Akane. She's kind of cute, but she's got an attitude and a nasty temper. Anyway, after that I accidentally walked in on her in the bath. Whatever. She left the 'occupied' sign off, it's _not_ my fault. Of course, she didn't see it that way.

So. Now she doesn't like me, doesn't want to be my friend, and none of the other two sisters want me. Since none of them want to marry me, I still got to stick to my honor, right? I'll stay with Akane. With an attitude like that, it's not like anyone else ever will. Oh well. Maybe if I let her hit me more she'll calm down. It's something to think about."

 

Akane stared slack-jawed. "Uh... and... uh... what else?"

Nabiki shrugged, explaining offhandedly, "That's the part I remember the best. The rest of it is basically... he thought he understood you better after the initial Kuno fiasco, and despite everything, he wrote that he was starting to get to like you. I think... before he left, he really _did_ love you... but..."

Slumping forward, Akane sobbed, "Oh... I screwed up, didn't I? I thought I screwed up a little before, but... oh, my god... I can't believe it!" Tears streaming from her eyes, she screamed, "I WISH I WERE DEAD!"

Nabiki flinched from the shout, and embraced her sister again. "Hey... hey... calm down, Akane... It's okay... you know... uh... you have to forgive yourself before he can forgive you... I mean... you can still... become more patient, right?"

Akane shook her head violently, sending a few salty tears flying. "No! It's too late! I screwed up and he's never coming back to me! Ukyou got him! Ukyou DESERVES him! I deserve nothing! I don't even deserve Kuno!"

Suppressing a shudder, Nabiki shook her head. "Uh-uh. Don't go there. The only girl who deserves Kuno is Mariko, and you know it. Now... calm down. Maybe... maybe you can't have Ranma. And that's a regret I have to share... I kind of liked him too."

The tears were broken by an expression of shock. "What?"

Nabiki shrugged uncomfortably. "I saw how you cared for him, and he did things to help you out. He rescued you when you were in trouble... and he might have been a brother-in-law someday." She winced slightly, adding, "I wish I had trusted him more, but... well. He made you happy. Why wouldn't I like him after that?"

Akane sniffled. "Oh... what... what do I do now?"

The middle sister shrugged, sighing, "I Don't know. Uncle Saotome went to the Joketsuzoku to try and find Ranma. He says. Ranma's not there, so it isn't going to happen, but... anyway. I figure he'll come back, after he's found a cure, and probably cook up a story for Auntie Saotome. After that, who can say? If he's smart, he'll say that he believes that Ranma died. I can't think he'd be stupid enough to tell the truth."

Akane shook her head, snorting, "But that won't work, will it? She already knows the truth."

"Yep. I figure he's in for the beating of his life, if not seppuku." She paused for a moment, staring out the window. "You think she'll make him commit seppuku?"

Akane shrugged disinterestedly. "I don't know. If she finds out everything... I don't know her that well."

Nabiki heaved a sigh. "Well... anyway. I'm going to grab a futon. You want to sleep in here, or you want me to sleep in your room?"

Blinking, Akane turned to Nabiki. "What... what are you talking about?"

Staring at her younger sister with a level gaze, she stated, "I'm not stupid. No way am I leaving you alone until I know you've calmed down." <You just don't go through that much emotional trauma and forget about it. Until I'm sure you aren't going to kill yourself over this...>

***

Days blended into weeks, until a month had passed. In this time, a young couple trained under a master of magic and weapons.

A girl who shared a house with a man who was sometimes a pig began to fall in love, while the man who was sometimes a pig tried to understand his feelings for the girl.

A young woman, who shared a home and trained with a man who was sometimes a monster, healed herself a little and learned to fight. An old man in that same house tried in vain to make a plan between frequent panty raids. The eldest daughter practiced her magic. The middle daughter tried to protect her sisters, but found herself working harder and harder just to get the family by. A doctor who was more than he seemed taught the sisters more of the ways of magic.

And their father? Well... we know how he is. He just cried over every little thing.

Across the sea, a woman who had once been a man summoned her retainers; it was time to search for something in Japan, and if they had any luck, they would find it. A man who was sometimes a panda struggled to cross China, searching for his son. And in the village that they both strove to reach, an old woman and her descendant plotted together.

***

Genma trudged into the village wearily. It had been a long trip, not aided by the fact that he frequently turned into a panda. The fact that a few villagers thought he might make a valuable acquisition in some form or another as a panda did not help matters. Still, he had reached the Joketsuzoku village.

Exhausted, he managed to ask the way to the elder's hut, and stumbled to it to knock on the door.

The young girl who answered the door seemed surprised to see him. "What panda man want?"

Genma managed a weak smile. "Hello, Shampoo... I came to look for your husband."

She studied him for a moment, then nodded. "Come in. Great grandmother! Ranma father here. "

Cologne pogoed towards him as he entered, grateful for the shade. Eyeing him, she asked, "What are you here for?"

Genma smiled sickly, then explained, "I've come to visit my son. Is he here?"

The old woman smirked. "Don't know what you're talking about. Sorry."

His face falling, he sighed, "Do you have any idea where he is?"

Cheerfully, the old woman shook her head. "Nope! None whatsoever."

He sighed, slumping to a kneeling position. "Oh... okay. I... Can I stay here tonight? I'd like to rest before I go back to Japan."

The two women shrugged after considering it, and led him to a room.

Shampoo hissed to Cologne, "{Is he a remote threat?}"

Cologne smirked. "{Not in the slightest. Don't let him hear us, he might have learned a little Chinese. He'll leave tomorrow. I doubt he's a threat. He'll probably go to Jusenkyou, and then go home.}"

Sagging in relief, Shampoo nodded. "{Okay. I'm glad.}"

***

Alone in his room after the sun had set, Genma frowned. Something was very wrong here, and he didn't understand it at all. Sighing, he mumbled a brief prayer under his breath, "Revered Ancestors, please forgive me for what I'm about to do."

With trepidation, he drew himself up into an odd stance, then embraced the rest of the mastery of the Umisen-ken.

***

Cologne woke with a start. Someone's ki had just disappeared. Either someone had died, or someone was a lot more dangerous than she had thought. Narrowing her eyes, she touched the ki of everyone near her, trying to isolate who was missing.

With a note of irritation tinged with fear, she realized that she couldn't. <Whoever she is, she removed her presence so completely, that I can't isolate her at all. Damnation. I'm going to have to find out sooner or later.>

Genma was well outside of the village by the time his presence returned, and too far away for Cologne to notice.

***

Trembling the man, let his presence return to the world, a few miles outside of the village. The sun would rise shortly, and he planned on getting to Jusenkyou quickly. The secrets of the Umisen-ken had let him explore the village at no risk to himself, but he had not found any trace of his son, aside from letters in the old woman's study.

The lock had proven to be complex, and it had taken him a frightening thirty seconds to unlock it. For a master thief such as himself, those thirty seconds had stretched into a nightmarish eternity. When he had sprung it, he found a number of letters. According to his findings, Nabiki was in communication with Cologne, who was writing to Ranma.

He reflected on his discoveries before beginning his walk. Chame had apparently taken Ranma, and Ukyou as well. The three were training together, and seemed to be happy. He couldn't understand how Chame would be satisfied with sharing Ranma, but she seemed to be. Struggling failed to produce any clear memories of Chame, though she could easily be any number of Ranma's jilted fiancees.

Smiling briefly, he let a wave of relief pass through him at the fact that none of the others had caught up with him. Frowning again, he tried to focus on how to find Ranma. He had already copied down the address that the letters were being sent to. A cask of water from the spring of drowned man should woo Ranma back, once Genma found him.

***

Cologne received more guests the next day. Genma had slipped away in the night, to no one's surprise, though the old woman was both astonished and relieved to note that nothing had gone missing. Even better, nothing seemed to have been touched or otherwise interfered with.

But her new guests worried her greatly. A figure wrapped in a cloak that concealed almost everything, and a pair of somewhat animalistic men. Certainly men of the Musk tribe. Trying to smile, Cologne looked up at the cloaked figure. "Herb, I presume?"

The cloaked figure nodded, and she gestured it inside. "Indeed. I have... something I need to discuss with you."

***

Ranma grunted sourly, "Yeah, yeah... I'll go to town and get the mail. Anything else?"

Chame nodded, and handed a sheet of paper to him. "Yes, Ukyou wanted you to pick up everything on this list."

Glancing over the list, Ranma rolled his eyes. "Oh man. She's in on this, right?"

As she rummaged through a box, she answered, "Ah... in on what? Also, I'd like you to carry this with you as part of your weight training."

Ranma boggled at the thickness of the length of chain she handed to him. The inch thick links of chain made it apparent that only a short length would weigh entirely too much to be running around with. The links made solid 'clanks' instead of the tiny 'clinks' that a chain like Mousse had tossed around would make. "Eh? This thing has got to weigh a ton!"

She shrugged as she wound the thick links around his torso, and twice over his shoulders like a clumsy chain-mail vest. "No... It's only four hundred pounds. And you're being timed."

Wilting under the daunting task, Ranma groaned. Ukyou peeked into the dojo. "Ranchan? You think you can handle it?"

He managed a sickly smile. "Uh... Yeah! This is nothing!"

Ukyou crept into the room, while Chame busied herself in the far corner. In a sultry voice, Ukyou whispered, "If you can get back before sunset tonight, I promise that you'll get more than just a kiss when you get home."

Ranma's mind instantly went into overdrive, examining the possibilities. <More than just a kiss? More than... oh boy oh boy oh boy! Wait... what is there more than kissing?> Steam might have drifted from his collar, though his face reddened as he tried to guess. <Damn. I wish I had paid more attention when Hiroshi and Daisuke were talking about that. Um... think Ranma, think.> "Uh. Ranma go get groceries."

He dashed out the door, note in hand, at top speed. A moment of silence fell across the dojo before the two girls burst out in laughter. Ukyou recovered her composure first. Smiling softly, she shook her head. "I wonder what he thinks I meant."

Chame smirked, suggesting, "If you really want to know, you can check."

Blushing, Ukyou nodded, and cast her mind out carefully. Ranma was distracted and not trying to shield himself properly. In fact, to someone who could read minds, he was broadcasting.

Ukyou's jaw dropped, and she turned to stare at Chame. The redhead looked back for a moment, vaguely concerned. "What?"

Blinking, Ukyou made a gesture towards the door Ranma had left through. "Uh."

Chame rolled her eyes, and cast her own mind out briefly. When she returned, her face was a mask of shock. She could only stare at Ukyou for a moment before she recovered, sputtering, "You mean... he doesn't know?? How... how... HOW?! He _dreamt_ about it! How can he dream about it and not know? He took a cold shower after he kissed you!"

Ukyou shrugged, partially at a loss for words. "Uh... maybe you can check while he's distracted."

Nodding quickly, Chame did so. After a long minute, she slumped to the floor. "Oh. Oh dear. Well. The cold water thing was something he overheard from someone at school. Apparently he thought that it was supposed to help with confusion. Heh... oh my. As far as the dreaming goes, he doesn't remember those dreams..."

Shaking her head, Ukyou pondered, "How can he have them if he doesn't know what it's about?"

Chame shook her head. "Well... human nature? I guess it's a subconscious thing, which is why he doesn't understand or remember. That's the best I can figure of it."

Ukyou took a deep breath. "Looks like we've got a lot of explaining to do when he gets back." She frowned for a moment. "He seemed awfully exuberant when he ran off."

Trying to hold back laughter, Chame explained, "Uh... he's expecting you to show him. You could tell him that the next step is embroidery, and he'll probably believe you."

Smirking, Ukyou shook her head. "Uh... I think we need to explain things to him. Do you... have any books or anything on the subject?"

Chame shook her head slowly. "No... but what do you mean 'we?'"

***

The village that Ranma was headed towards was fairly secluded, and lay in a different direction from the town with the nearest train station. Ranma silently thanked whoever had seen to it that a village lay this close, since the small town they had left to walk to Chame's was a greater distance away.

Still swathed in chain, sweating profusely, and turned female by a brief spate of rain the last mile before the village, Ranma slid to a halt.

Unfortunately, the effect of carrying more than twice her weight on her back while running at nearly forty miles per hour made stopping difficult. With her arms windmilling, Ranma came to an abrupt halt by way of cement pole.

Once there, she made the observation that lengths of chain don't help much with sudden impacts with blunt objects, and that certain portions of one's anatomy can catch painfully between large links such as the links on this chain.

Her reaction however, was not to scream in pain, or claw at the chains. Instead, she decided to cut to the simplest solution. Chain still wrapped around her body, she stomped to the store. The floor creaked alarmingly under her weight, but held, as she asked called out, "Hot water, please."

Blinking, the old man behind the counter retrieved some warm water in a suspiciously familiar brass kettle. With a grateful expression, Ranma poured it over her head. Sighing in relief, he handed the kettle to the man, who had seen this particular spectacle before. "So, what do you need this time, Ranma?"

Shrugging, he handed the old man the sheet of paper, saying, "Everything on the list. Um... while you're working on this, I have to check the mail. I'll give you the money when I get back. Can you add an umbrella to that?"

The old man nodded. "Sure thing." Shaking his head at some of the requests, he set to work, while Ranma left the building.

Once he was on the street, a few of the villagers waved at him. He returned the wave, but kept a polite distance away. The sweat from his exertions would not encourage close range contact. With a sigh of relief, he entered the post office, and collected a large bundle of mail. He smiled at the clerk, who was staring at him with mingled fascination and fear, and returned to the old man's store.

The old man glanced up from the back room. "It's going to be a good thirty minutes before I have everything bundled and gathered. If you want to take off your chains, there's the public bath around the corner."

Ranma nodded, suspecting that his muscles would ache horribly soon. "Good idea. I think I could use that." After carefully uncoiling the length of chain, he set it on the counter, along with the bundle of mail. When the surface gave an alarming shriek, he snatched the chain away, and set it on the ground outside. "Feh. No one's going to steal that. Um... Jiro? Do you have some cleaning supplies?"

Jiro smirked, and retrieved a bucket and towel from the back room. "Here you go. Try not to raise too much of a ruckus this time."

Nodding, Ranma headed to the public bath.

The matronly woman attending the public baths gave him a warm smile. "You're here early today, Ranma! No one's in right now, so you won't have to worry about the same thing as last time..."

Shuddering, Ranma shook his head. "That's good... I'm _really_ sorry about the nosebleeds."

She laughed a little, slapping him on the shoulder companionably. "Well... things happen. Don't worry about it. But you'd better hurry before someone else comes in."

Ranma entered with a nod, looking forward to a nice scrubbing and a brief soak.

***

Ryouga wiped his forehead. The work was nothing he considered remotely tiring, but the sun was hot. Smiling, he turned to head back to the house. <On days like this, Akari usually has a pitcher of lemonade ready for me.> He paused for a moment, wondering if he was in love with Akari. Sighing softly, he smiled. <I am... she's so wonderful... but... I need to protect Akane from Ranma. I must... I can't leave Akari yet, though... Akari keeps the rage at bay...>

Akari peeked at Ryouga from behind the barn. Smiling sweetly, she watched him trip over his umbrella, which she had left lying in the field. <I know grandfather wouldn't approve... and I'm sure that Ryouga will survive. Even if he doesn't... well, then he'll have to stay and recover longer!> She smiled dreamily at the thought, until she realized that it would involve hurting Ryouga. Her face fell slightly, and she shook her head. Whispering softly, she felt a tear trickle down her face, "I'm doing this for _love_! Ryouga will be okay. He'll be okay." Turning to the giant pig next to her, her expression became stern, though she still spoke quietly, "Katsunishiki! Attack!"

The pig nodded, and squealed a challenge as it charged at Ryouga.

Ryouga instantly raised the umbrella in a defensive stance. When he saw the huge pig bearing down at him, he snarled in rage, and fought back against it. But when he struck the boar and flipped it over, he nearly lost the battle. Flinging the umbrella away, he sank to his knees, groaning. <Happy thoughts... Happy thoughts... can't give in... can't give in...> The now familiar pain of the rage and the headaches that preceded it flooded his head.

Akari dashed to him from the barn. Ryouga's vision wavered in and out of focus. She paused briefly to examine the pig, then rushed to the lost boy's side, calling out, "Ryouga! Ryouga! Are you okay?"

Shaking his head to clear it, he tentatively reached a hand towards Akari's shoulder, still struggling for control. Eyes closing briefly to gather his willpower, his hand did not reach its intended target, and instead felt something... soft. And squishy. <That's... that's... that must be...> He opened his eyes to examine it, and felt the familiar rush in his head that heralded a horrific nosebleed.

He grew angry for a moment, before the blood flowed. <This is what Ranma does to Akane! That BASTARD! I can't lower myself to his level!> With horror, he felt the blood trickle down his face, and the loss of control his moment of anger gave to the rage.

As he felt himself slide, a booming laugh echoed deeply in his head, leaving him to rail uselessly against his lack of control, and sink deeper into the black morass of despair. He struggled briefly to resist, but knew all too well how little he could do.

***

With a jerk, Ranma leapt out of the bath, and into a ready stance. He glanced around quickly, then shook his head. "What the hell was that..." Still shaking his head, he walked over to his towel, muttering, "Falling asleep in a public bath... at least it wasn't for very long."

He shuddered at the half-remembered nightmare as he dressed. Sniffing carefully, he made a face at the clothing. Images of... anger? Forcing something? He struggled to make sense of the dream, <What was being forced? I don't understand...>

Sighing, he left the upper-most ties on the silk shirt open, and made another face at the smell. <I should have washed these in the sink before I got in. I should be used to wet clothing by now.>

The woman at the counter waved cheerfully at him as he departed, and he smiled at her, saying something inconsequential.

After the bathhouse, he hurried to the store. The chain was where he had left it, unsurprisingly. With another sigh, he took a deep breath and wound it around himself again, muttering, "Damn women. Never satisfied. Ucchan doesn't have to do this."

Jiro poked his head out the door and smiled brightly, "Hey, Ranma. Thought you might have fallen asleep for a moment there. I have the packages... why don't you stand there, and I'll help you get loaded up?"

Ranma nodded thankfully. "That would be good. I'm not sure your floor can handle me and all the supplies."

The old man disappeared for a moment, and returned carrying a huge load of boxes. After securing them to the chain and testing the rope, he grinned. "Okay. That's everything. I added the mail you left behind to one of the crates. Can you handle this all the way into the mountains?"

After taking a few experimental steps, Ranma nodded. "Yeah. I have to try and get back by sunset. Thanks a lot Jiro. Oops..." He stopped himself suddenly, embarrassed. "Almost forgot to pay." He retrieved a wad of bills, and handed it to the man, apologizing, "Sorry, I don't have time to count... just put the change on our tab, okay?"

Jiro nodded good-naturedly, calling out, "Okay! Good luck, Ranma!"

Ranma grunted, and took off at a severely diminished top speed. Through clenched teeth, he swore, "I _will_ get home by sunset, even if it's for nothing else than to find out what's 'next.'"

Smiling grimly, Ranma's strides ate the ground between the village and Chame's house. It was almost eighty miles either way, and a real testament to Ranma's endurance that he could make the run in a single day. Hoping that he could make it twice with the load he was bearing, he paced himself. The breathing techniques he had learned were helping a _lot_. Even Ukyou could make the run.

He shook his head, using his ki to focus and keep the wind pressure off of him. When questioned, Chame evasively mentioned something about breaking the sound barrier in an adrenaline rush. He hadn't believed her at first, until she explained a few things about kinetic energy and physics. Normally, things like that went right over his head, but martial arts were involved, so they discussed it until Ranma came to some kind of understanding.

Ranma glanced at the sun briefly; he wasn't making good time, but if he could maintain the pace, then he would reach the house before sunset. Or die of exhaustion. Though he had firm suspicions that Chame would find a way past that _minor_ obstacle, and train him further _anyway_.

He tried not to think about it, and avoided using the Breath of the Earth to lengthen his stride. Chame had said this was training, so he was not to use any techniques except some ki for wind resistance.

Gasping for breath, he stumbled up to the house moments before the edge of the sun touched the distant mountains. He unburdened himself of the crates, and walked to the dojo. If he stopped walking right away, he would cramp up. After returning the chain to the crate in the dojo, he took a leisurely stroll around the perimeter of the house, unknotting his muscles.

He let himself wander in circles until only a sliver of the sun was visible, then loaded up the crates and walked across the threshold, shouting, "I'm home!"

Ukyou glanced up from the table, where she had been busy scribing wards. "Ranchan! You made it! Let me help you." She took the crates from him, grunting slightly, and deposited them in the kitchen.

Ranma cracked a few odd joints, and stretched a bit, as he called out to Ukyou, "I'm going to take a bath. I have a feeling I'm going to ache tomorrow."

She said something he couldn't quite make out, as he moved towards the bathroom.

Of course, Ranma was too exhausted to notice the 'occupied' sign on the bathroom door. Luckily for Ranma, a veteran of days like this, he heard soft splashing before he opened the door. Taking a moment to focus on the sign that struggled so hard not to be seen, he shook his head, "Hello? Chame?"

There was another muffled splash, "Ranma? Er... I'll be out in a moment."

He nodded, too exhausted to realize that she couldn't see the gesture, and stepped outside of the changing room. A moment later, Chame emerged, still toweling her hair. He blinked for a moment, absorbing her new hair color. A dark, almost purplish, blue.

Needing the facilities to bathe, Ranma found it took little effort to focus on the tile floor, and not pay attention to Chame's hair. "Ugh. I made it."

Chame smiled at him encouragingly, "Good job! Go ahead and soak... I'll have Ukyou get you when dinner's ready."

Ranma nodded and trudged into the bathroom. He barely managed to finish the second scrub of the day before succumbing to the furo. Letting out an exultant sigh, he passed.

***

Ukyou sorted through the crates and put away all of the food-related items, leaving the rest for Chame to deal with. She eyed the pile of letters, and let out a low whistle, commenting, "Wow. Lots of mail this time."

Chame entered the kitchen then, and aided Ukyou with the unpacking. "Yes... good... did you find the invoice yet?"

Nodding, Ukyou handed a slip of paper to Chame, before performing a double take. "Uh? Oh, right. You said your hair changed color. That's cool! Nice color."

Busy scanning the list, Chame nodded absently. "Yeah... I don't normally leave it in the warm water color, but sometimes I have to. Didn't want to make poor Ranma wait any longer than he had to for his bath. Honestly, I'm surprised he made it. He pushed himself pretty hard."

Ukyou bit her lip, "Um... good point. You think that I should make him a special dinner?"

Chame made a face at an entry. "Damn. Maybe next time." Turning her attention back to Ukyou for a moment, she said, "Actually, no. He's so tired, he wouldn't notice. I'll leave off the training for tomorrow, so he can recover a little, and let the two of you... do whatever he manages to figure out. Unless you think you can explain it to him."

Blushing, Ukyou finished stowing the last of the perishable items, then sighed. "I... I should. He needs to know, after all."

Mumbling, Chame folded the invoice, and tossed it into a fireplace. "I suppose. I'll leave that to you. I need to put the rest of these away... I think Ranma's probably going to sleep in the furo. You might want to wake him once you're done with dinner."

***

Waking suddenly, Ranma leapt out of the furo. Someone was calling him from the other side of the divider. Shaking his head and grabbing a towel, he answered, "Um... Ucchan?"

"Yeah... Ranchan, dinner's ready. I brought you a clean change of clothes, okay? I'll leave them here for you and meet you in the dining room."

He nodded, knuckling back a yawn. "Thanks. I'll be right out."

***

Dinner was oddly subdued, with Ranma dozing off every couple of bites. Chame smiled at Ukyou sympathetically. "You have to admit, he really pushed himself for you, didn't he?"

Ukyou grinned acknowledgement as she poked Ranma with a chopstick to rouse him. "Yeah... I just wish he was awake to take advantage of me. Er... it."

Chame snickered, managing not to choke on a morsel of chicken. "Well, there's always tomorrow."

***

After waking, Ranma was pleased to note none of the aching and bruising he had expected. In fact, he felt just fine. He glanced around the room that Chame had set aside for him. His few possessions were scattered about. He hadn't carried much aside from clothing and food, but he did have some things.

A stuffed animal -- a small dog given to him just after the neko-ken training -- was hidden in a drawer, since no one was allowed to know he had it. He checked on it once in a while to make sure it was safe, but so far, no threats had befallen it. He smirked at it briefly, then closed the drawer and turned to a picture of himself and his father, taken on a training trip at some point.

The only other possessions were pictures as well, with the exception of his Caravan Kidd manga. He had finally decided that the picture of Akane would go up after all, though he spent more time reflecting on the picture of himself and Ukyou as children. Fortunately, Ukyou had gotten over her funk enough to not mind the picture of Akane, though he made a point of not looking at it when she was around.

Yawning, he glanced at the wall clock, and headed down the stairs to the dining room. According to the schedule they had hammered out, it was his turn to cook today, which suited him, since he didn't feel up to the harsh training regime that Chame enforced. To be fair, she didn't complain when he or Ukyou insisted that she work alongside them, proving she was easily capable of the tasks that she required of them.

Ranma, for the first time in his life, found himself wanting to be as good as a girl at something. The effect was profound, and for him, very confusing. Very few women could command his respect. Kasumi was one, because she demonstrated remarkable calm in the face of almost any situation. Ukyou was another, for her determination. The third was his own mother, for various reasons, though one of them was withstanding Genma. The fourth was Cologne, but it was only a begrudging respect, since she was about the only person he couldn't beat without resorting to something like the neko-ken. Of course, Chame was the most recent one, and the one time he had really _tried_ to beat her, she gave him a sound drubbing, barely even breaking a sweat. Still, he had managed to hit her once, and they both knew that counted for a lot.

So he found himself confused at his respect for a woman's skill in martial arts. Shaking his head, he entered the kitchen, only to find himself being dragged to the dining room table by Ukyou.

***

Ukyou glanced around apprehensively, then managed, "Um... Ranchan... I think it's time we had a talk about... the facts of life. How much do you know?"

He blinked at her for a moment, then frowned. "Uh... what do you mean?"

In a small voice, Ukyou managed to ask, "Do you know where babies come from?"

Scratching the back of his pigtail he shrugged, then offered, "Well... Let me see... from what I can tell, two people... er... of the correct genders get together and... well... something about the guy taking the woman's virtue. Then the woman gets pregnant, right?"

Ukyou managed a soft 'eep', and flushed darkly. "Um... close. There's more to this, though..."

A look of horror cross Ranma's face. "Oh no! I screwed up! Did I do something wrong?"

Combating a combination of nervous fear and utter embarrassment, Ukyou shook her head. "Nuh... you haven't... you haven't done anything to me, yet."

In his relief, the 'yet' managed to escape Ranma's notice. "Oh... okay, I was worried about that for a moment. Um... why are you bringing this up?"

Ukyou flushed even more darkly. "Um... this is difficult... but bear with me. This is something that your father really ought to have explained to you better... erg... Um... you're in a unique position, right? You can be both a guy and a girl. So... you've seen, the, ah... differences, right?"

Ranma nodded slowly, flushing slightly on his own. "Well... yeah... I try not to look... you know... it's, I mean... uh..."

Swallowing, Ukyou attempted an encouraging smile. "Okay... you've noticed, the, uh... differences down... there, right?"

Ranma nodded slowly again, a wild and confused look in his eyes. "Yeah..."

Ukyou spent a long moment focusing herself. <Damn. I wish I could use that calmness trick on myself. Or him. Damn.> Of course, she was _far_ too nervous to manage that spell now. Ranma hadn't even thought of it, and even if he had, he was nervous as well. One of the Great Mysteries of Life was being explained to him, and he was more confused and on edge about this than he had ever imagined possible.

After a sufficient amount of time had passed to make the pair of teens even more edgy, Ukyou spoke again, "Okay. Um... when a guy and a girl are together... the guy, uh... erk." She blushed solidly, and covered her face with her hands. "I don't know if I can explain this!"

Ranma was at her side in a second, confused and flustered. "Explain what?"

Ukyou swallowed nervously as an idea occurred to her. "Um... I have an idea. Ah... come with me."

Obediently, Ranma followed Ukyou to her room.

***

Chame leapt out of her chair at the sound of a horrified shriek. She was somewhat used to horrified shrieks, since she had heard a great many in the course of her years. Of course, in her home, noises of any kind were fairly rare. She had her staff in hand and was halfway down the hall before the tone and length of the shriek were registered.

It flashed through her mind something like this:

Shriek duration eighty-two point sixty-seven seconds, tone is three octaves above high C. Quavers at intervals twelve seconds, seventeen point fifty-six and seventy-three point forty-two respectively, masculine in origin. This is a variant of the 'Oh my god I've just done something incredibly stupid, and her father is going to KILL me, and oh damn is it going to hurt!' shriek.

The last time she had heard one this clearly, it had woken her up from a sound sleep some time during the beginning of the Meiji Restoration. She had hunted down the youth just to ask him what he was screaming for, and named the shriek in honor of the only words he could stammer for the next few hours. Of course, this being a slightly more... civilized... period, Chame was treated to a rather interesting variant of the traditional 'shotgun wedding.'

The poor groom was gibbering in fear, since he had snuck into the wrong room, but the woman who had accepted his affections did not mind in the least. The sister who he _had_ intended to visit was _most_ unhappy. The father was clear on the point that any transgressions or shortcomings had a good chance of causing the blushing bride becoming a blushing widow.

However, she turned her attention to the present:

As she shook her head, she was treated to an entirely new spectacle, Ranma running full tilt down the corridor towards his room, eyes wildly casting about for an escape route. He had remembered his pants, which he held in one hand, and his boxers, which he had either actually managed to don before he fled, or not even bothered to remove.

A quick motion with the quarterstaff induced the next phase of the panic. Collapsing into a boneless mass, and whimpering. Chame idly noted that Ranma seemed to be quite true to form, despite it being rather obvious that he couldn't have had time to actually commit the act, unless he recovered in a manner of seconds, which Chame doubted.

She shuffled the boy around like a hockey puck, banking him off a wall and sending him careening into her room before following. Once she was in her room again, she glanced at the quivering, huddling mass of fear-ridden teenager, asking, "So. Want to talk about it?"

***

After a few hours, countless false starts, and a great deal of patience on Chame's part, Ranma managed to sputter out his story.

Chame stared at him for a very long moment. Then she rolled her eyes, commanding, "Ranma... go to your room and take a nap. I think you two need to talk about this a bit more. In the meantime, I'm going to talk to Ukyou, since she's probably convinced herself that you hate her."

Ranma shook his had vigorously, denying the statement, "I don't hate her! I lo-" His eyes widened in shock. "Eep!"

Trying to remain stern while resisting laughter was difficult, but she managed. "She's the one who needs to hear that. Okay, Ranma. Go. Room. Now."

He nodded obediently and fled to the relative safety of his room.

Chame tossed her staff in the corner and decided to see how much damage Ukyou had taken from the scene. Three possible scenarios unfolded in her mind.

Scenario one featured Ukyou, a huge grin plastered across the room walking about absently and mumbling to herself contentedly. And horribly mussed bed sheets, a great deal of scattered clothing, and of course, even more so than the sheets, mussed hair.

Scenario two featured a largely indifferent Ukyou pretending nothing had happened. Clothing would have been changed, bedding would be straightened or replaced, and hair would be tucked in where it belonged.

Scenario three centered around a panic-stricken or heartbroken Ukyou that blamed herself for what had happened, and a great deal of messiness all around. On top of tangled bed sheets, there would be mussed hair, scattered clothing, and tracks from tears marring Ukyou's face.

Readying herself to deal with these scenarios, Chame entered without knocking, and assessed the state of affairs. Indeed, everything seemed in place. The bed sheets were only slightly rumpled, and only a few articles of clothing were lying on the floor. Ranma's shirt, tank top, and Ukyou's vest.

To be fair, her hair was mussed, but not much, and the ribbon Ukyou wore in her hair was even mostly intact. The tear marks were there to be certain, and she looked about as heartbroken as a girl can, but something didn't quite match. Sighing, Chame threw Ranma's explanation out the window. "So. Want to talk about it?"

***

Ukyou stared dumbly as Chame entered the room, unable to respond until she spoke. Then she broke down again, and sobbed, "I... I pushed him too far! He wasn't ready! I shouldn't have!"

After glancing again at the pile of clothes, Chame gave a slight shrug. "Well, it looks like you removed more of his clothing than he got off you, so I'd say you were winning. What went wrong?"

Sniffling, Ukyou scrunched up her face, trying to remember. "Uh... I... managed to explain things to him mostly, and... uh... he seemed to be happy with things, but then... I screwed everything up!"

Chame smirked, and shook her head. "Cheer up. He ran in fear because he thought he 'took your virtue.' I'm guessing that didn't happen, right?"

Ukyou snorted, "No. Things hadn't gotten that far. What did I do wrong?"

"Nothing. Ranma's just afraid, as far as I can tell. He doesn't want to do anything like that until he's married, probably. He's got quite a sense of honor." Chame sighed, patting Ukyou consolingly. "He's probably afraid he'll sully you or something. He was gibbering in terror of you after he ran out of your room."

Ukyou managed a weak laugh, "Oh... when he remembers how Shampoo used to glomp him, he's going to freak out even worse!"

As if on cue, another scream of terror (Chame quickly identified it as an 'Oh my god, so _that's_ what that was!') rang out. Chame heaved another sigh. "Lock yourself in his room with him. Talk to him, I'm sure you can come to some kind of understanding."

Nodding, Ukyou gathered her vest and Ranma's shirt and tank top.

***

Ranma hid underneath the covers, peeking out when the door opened, and letting out an 'Eep!' as Ukyou closed, then locked the door behind her. Unable to see anything, he was frighteningly aware of the sounds of cloth being shifted. Gulping, he tried not to flinch from the weight of someone sitting on the edge of the bed.

Ukyou's hand pulled back the covers. Ranma found, with a mix of relief and disappointment, that she was fully clothed. She smiled at him. "Ranchan... you want to talk about it?"

Swallowing, Ranma nodded. "Ucchan... I... I'm _really_ sorry about taking your virtue. Can... can I do anything to make up for it?"

Sputtering, Ukyou sighed, and shook her head. "Dummy. You haven't taken it yet."

Ranma visibly wilted as the stress that was holding him together leaked out. "Oh... oh good. I didn't want to do that until - er... right. Um... so what else did you want to talk about?"

Ukyou smiled a little, her confidence slightly renewed. "Ranchan, there are things that couples can do together without... er... doing that. And... um... well. When couples care about each other, they can fool around a little."

He stared, not quite understanding. "Uh... Um... Okay..."

Ukyou almost screamed at his obvious total lack of understanding, but at the same time, his total innocence was both endearing and... a little exciting to her. Restraining a laugh, she smiled. "Here... what we're going to do is, ah... safe. So. Just... stay calm, and remember, when you run away from a girl like that you hurt her feelings."

A shred of understanding reached into the dim recesses of Ranma's mind. "Um... okay... now... there's something I need to tell you first, Ucchan... Um... I know I'm not good at this stuff, but you put up with me really well... so I think you deserve to know."

A flash of fear crossed her face. "Uh... what's that, Ranchan?"

He smiled nervously, glancing around as though someone would burst in and ruin the scene. "Um... Ucchan... I... I..." Swallowing, he finally blurted out, "I love you!"

She grinned, eyes tearing. "I love you too, Ranchan. Now try not to panic..."

Ranma nodded as Ukyou's hands guided them into whole new levels of their relationship. At Ukyou's tentative touch, Ranma's eyes glazed over, and he managed a muffled, "Urk."

Suppressing a giggle Ukyou asked, "What's wrong, Ranchan?"

He swallowed, wondering why he was breathing so hard. "Uh... never... felt that before..."

Ukyou stared for a long moment, shocked. "You mean... you've never done this for yourself before?"

A gasp of air escaped his lips, and one of Ranma's eyelids twitched slightly. "Uh... uh... n... n... no... never... uh... tried something... uh... like this... uh..."

Giggling, Ukyou continued her gentle attentions. "I see... do you know... do you know what do to for me?" <Of course you don't.>

He shook his head, eyes crossed as he fought the new, unfamiliar sensations. "Uh.... Er... Uh... nu... n... no... how... ah..."

Swallowing her own nervousness away, Ukyou took one of Ranma's twitching hands, and guided it through a few layers of cloth. "Just... explore, and be gentle..."

Nodding, he closed his eyes as their lips met.

The combined feelings of Ukyou's touch, the sensations of what his hands were exploring... Certainly he had seen it before when he was a girl, but had tried very hard not to pay attention, and not ever touched it except when absolutely necessary... but those sensations, and Ukyou's quickening breath had an effect on him. A definite effect. His eyelids fluttered as entirely new sensations overtook him.

Ukyou made muted noises that seemed to communicate that yes, he was doing something _very_ right, and no, he'd _better_ not stop yet. The sensations he was enjoying flooded him completely, and it seemed Ukyou as well. Before he slipped into a white hot, blinding, bright point of pleasure, he felt something from Ukyou that told him, yes, Ukyou as well.

***

Chame glanced up from the mail she was leafing through as a dual wave of completely unfocused ki and assorted mystical energy swept through the room. Smirking, she shook her head. "Guess she explained something to him."

 

------

Author's notes: This chapter helps to explore some of the changes that the rest of the cast is going through, without devoting all the attention to Ranma. The world is changing, and many are blind to the intents of others. This is what happens when you have intrigue and back stabbing, but no one knows what's going on with anyone else.

As always, thanks to Chris Stassen and Druid for their advice.


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