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Chapter 2, Life As A Teacher

Ryoga swatted flies from his face and looked at the guy on the dusty farm. It was a good thing that his travels had left him good at languages because wherever he was; someone there spoke English. "Can you tell me how to get to the Tanaka Dojo in Hokkaido?"

The man facing him looked blank for a moment. Looking at the sheep that surrounded him, he scratched his head. "Well, Jim lives about 300 kays north of here. But I don't know anyone called Tanaka there. You got the address?"

Ryoga brought out a piece of paper that was covered with soy sauce stains and drawings that looked like a toddler drew them with a piece of charcoal and read the address to him. The flies here really were terrible and Ryoga swatted one with his map, adding to it another little dot to go with all the other dots. "Well, mate. I'd say you're only a few thousand kays off. Try heading northwest for about eight or ten thousand kays, should be about right."

The farmer watched the black haired Japanese boy headed east. Good idea, really. He could go to town and catch a plane or something.

Two days later Ranma looked at Akane as they began their morning spar and shook his head. Mr. Miyagi had been trying to get him to train with Akane properly for almost a week now, and Ranma still had not landed one blow. As to be expected, Akane was getting madder and madder every day. Yesterday morning, Mr. Miyagi had said that they needed to work out their problems, and he would return when they needed his teaching; then he went back to bed.

Each morning they would spend two hours working out. To be more precise, Akane would spend two hours punching and kicking at Ranma - but never hitting - and Ranma would spend two hours dodging. It was shaping up to be another morning like the others when, fifteen minutes into the session, Ranma held up a hand for a break. Akane was a bit surprised. She knew that Ranma had been out last night, probably fighting judging by the way he was favoring his left side this morning. "Are you all right, Ranma? You look a bit stiff."

Ranma brushed aside the comment and looked at her sternly. "Akane, you know why I don't hit you whenever we train, don't you?"

She scowled fiercely at him. "Yeah, I know. You don't like to hit girls. But, Ranma! I'm not some piece of china. I'm a Martial Artist too. I managed to protect myself just fine before you turned up. I think I can handle a couple of hits in training."

"Akane... Akane... I don't know how to say this, but... But I don't want you to get hurt‚"

"I'm not a baby, Ranma! I can take care of myself, you jerk!"

"That's not what I meant, you uncute tomboy! Hey! Wait! Put that hammer down! OW! STOP!"

When Ranma pulled himself out of the ground he looked up at the angry Akane and tried again. "Please don't hit me this time, I just need to... to talk for a bit. Akane, I ... I... I really don't want to see you getting hurt. It's a rough world out there. You and I both know that I'm a better fighter that you. Put down that mallet! I'm not trying to insult you; it's just the truth. But Akane, when I was out last night, I got into a bit of a fight, and well, take a look."

Ranma pulled up his shirt and turned so that she could get a good look at his left side. From just above the hip to almost his armpit there was one big bruise. Ranma was glad that Akane had not received his crash course in youma. If she had, she may have realized just what sort of fight he must have been in to receive the injury. What was more incredible to Ranma was just how little injury there was. When the beast had hit him (her), he had been pounded straight into the ground. He knew that at least two of his ribs had been broken. It was only his own incredible healing combined with the magic of the Sailor Senshi powers that had allowed him to get off so lightly.

When Akane had finished going 'Ohhh' and trying to mother him, he pulled his shirt down. "It's just a bruise. It's not that bad, I've had worse before. But when this happened to me, I swore that nothing like this would ever happen to you if I could help it."

Akane growled "I just told you, Ranma: you can't protect me all the time. I can fight too, you know!"

He nodded and dropped his head. "You're right. I... I also realized that I couldn't be there for you all the time. I also know that there's only one way that I can stop you from having this happen to you. I don't like it, and I... I need you to tell me it's OK. Akane, I care, I really do. That's why I need to hurt you. It's the only way I can feel safe about you."

Akane looked at him in shock. She always thought he was a bit of a pervert, but now the truth was out. He really was worse than Happosai. Well, if Ranma thought he could get to play his sick little games of torture with her just because he said he cared, he had another thing coming! "You're sick, Ranma. Really sick! If you want to play you're little S&M games, go see Shampoo, she's probably right into it. Anything for her husband! But if you every try and lay one perverted finger on me, I WILL KILL YOU!"

Ranma stood back stunned. After a moment he started to race after her into the house. "No! Wait! It's not like that! It's what Mr. Miyagi said. The only way I can stop you from getting hurt badly is to hurt you now. Akane... Akane, I really care. I mean I lo... Oh, I mean I need to train with you. If I don't, then what happened to me might happen to you, and I don't think I could really cope with that. Please."

Akane had stopped part way through his tirade. When he was finished she turned around and looked into his eyes. Placing one hand gently on his cheek, she looked up into his big blue eyes. Those blue eyes looked back at her with concern, fear, and perhaps, perhaps even something else. "Oh, Ranma. Do you mean it? You really want to train with me? Properly? So I'll actually learn something?"

Ranma nodded his head. "But, Akane, I have to warn you. Your defense sucks. Honestly. And there's only one way to improve it. Look at me. My defense is great. Ryoga can almost never hit me. Do you know why? Because when he does, it really hurts. It's the only way to learn. We could stand outside and do Kata all day, all year, and your defense will hardly improve. But... but if I hit you, and it hurts, then in a week's time, I have you defending twice as well as you do now. Akane, I would do anything to prevent this. I never want to hurt you, ever! But I can't be with you all the time. And I can't protect you like I want to. I know you don't want to be protected, but at the moment, you need to be. Please, Akane, say it's OK. Say you won't mind, because I can't live in fear for you."

Akane was touched. He had said everything for almost exactly the wrong reasons. She was a Martial Artist, and while she wasn't as good as Shampoo or Ukyo, she knew she was one of the best. As Ranma said, her defense could be much better, and he was right about how he could make her better. What it amounted to was that Ranma was offering her one of the few things he had always refused: respect for her abilities. He was willing to treat her as a Martial Artist, not his equal (Ranma never treated anyone that way), but as a proper training partner.

Despite what he had said, she knew he also did it for the best reason: he cared about her. He even said it. Finally she knew he had some feelings. Not love, probably never that, not when he had Ukyo and Shampoo to choose from. But now she knew she had his respect and friendship, and that was worth a lot to her. She finally looked back into his eyes. She saw the fear that he had overstepped the line. They might be engaged, but Akane could hardly remember the times when they had said something nice to each other. Well, actually, she could remember them perfectly, every single instance. But for him to say something unprompted, and meaningful, this was new.

"Oh, Ranma. Of course I want to do this. I've always wanted to do this. You just... never mind. Thank you."

Ranma took her out into the yard again and warned her that while he would be going easy, she was still going to get hit, and he didn't want her to go easy. If she did, then he would just hit her again until she took it seriously.

Akane nodded and the fight began. She had hardly taken a defensive stance when she was on the ground, her left shoulder hurting. "You're slow getting your guard up. Always pay attention to you opponent. Try again."

Ranma backed off to let her stand. When she was on her feet, she put her hands up. SMACK! Her eyeballs rattled from the blow to the side of the head. After a moment Ranma and the garden stopped spinning and she could hear him speaking. "Keep your arms up. If they're up, you can block a blow to the head, or drop them to block a blow to the body. Stay ready."

They only trained for an hour that morning. Akane didn't launch a single attack, and by the end, she was feeling like a punching bag. When Ranma signaled an early break, she slumped and agreed. "Oh, I hurt all over."

Ranma was immediately by her side and full of concern. She waved him away, insisting all she needed was a hot bath. When they were inside, Akane headed toward the bathroom with the furo, and Ranma walked to the kitchen to see about breakfast. Much to his surprise, Mr. Miyagi was already there, and had a full breakfast waiting.

"Hmm, You did well this morning. I think that we should skip your lessons on woodwork for today. I have an important technique from Miyagi-do to teach you."

Ranma's eyes immediately lit up. It hurt him terribly every time he hit Akane, but now Mr. Miyagi was apparently going to finally respect him enough to teach him to be a sensei! After breakfast, Mr. Miyagi led the two teenagers into the living room, and had Akane lie face down on the floor. Kneeling beside her, Mr. Miyagi pointed out various vulnerable spots on her back and legs to Ranma. He already knew these, but repetition never hurt... much.

"Now, must know this. No student ever learn if too injured to practice. No fighter ever win if too injured to fight. You watch and learn: Special Miyagi-do Massage Technique!" Ranma was just stunned as Mr. Miyagi began to teach some of the techniques, which made Dr Tofu so renowned in Nerima.

Things rapidly went from bad to worse in the youma department. Attacks were occurring at least once a day, and generally at night. In many ways it was fortunate that they were happening at night. It was much easier to explain that you were tired at school than to say that you had to leave class because you were one of the Sailor Suited defenders of love and justice... especially when you were a guy.

What worried the Senshi even more than the number of youma attacks was their level of success. Rather than being able to win all of the fights, the Senshi were winning only one in three. Certainly, they would often be able to kill one of the demons, but these days, that was not assured. Often when the Senshi arrived, the youma would simply turn tail and run, eventually being sucked back through whatever dimensional gate they used. Other times, the youma would have come, attacked and left before the Senshi could wake up and get to the scene.

Given that most of the time it only took three or four Senshi to defeat a youma (without unnecessary risk) they tried to hold a staggered roster. Two days after they tried this, it all fell apart. Sailors Uranus, Neptune, Mars and Venus had headed out to battle one of the youma, which had attacked a movie theater. When they arrived, they found almost everyone in the cinema drained of their energy. The Senshi spotted the youma and gave chase.

Just when they had it cornered, they were ambushed. A full dozen youma burst from the surrounding buildings. The Senshi immediately called for reinforcements, and prepared for battle. The battle was long and hard, with the outnumbered Sailors taking the brunt of the punishment. By the time the remaining Senshi arrived, only Sailor Uranus was on her feet. The rescuer's combined assault managed to destroy one of the youma outright, and dispersed the remainder. Unfortunately their need to defend their fellows prevented the Senshi from pressing the attack. By the time they reached their wounded, the youma had vanished.

It was the first true defeat that the Senshi had faced in a long time. Three of their number were struck down and in need of serious rest for several days while everyone else was injured. The youma had also escaped with their haul of stolen energy completely intact, and all at the cost of only one of their number.

The days wore on, and somehow, the Sailor Senshi felt that this time they were losing the battle.

Ryoga wasn't sure where he was, but at least it was back in Japan. "RANMA, THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT!!!"

If Ranma had not stolen Akane, then he wouldn't be wandering around looking for her. He would kill Ranma when he found him. Then he would give the presents he had collected in his travels to Akane, even though most of the foodstuffs had passed their expiration dates. He looked around at the moderately deserted street. Eventually, he spotted a policeman and made his inquiry. "Do you know where the Tanaka Dojo in Hokkaido is?"

The policeman looked at him with sympathy. "It can be a bit hard to find can't it? Tucked away like that. Tsk, Tsk, Tsk. Just go up two streets, and then left one. You can't miss it."

Akane flipped up from her back, and launched forward. Her blow caught Ranma under his arm, and he paled when she struck. Backing up, she waited for his strike. But Ranma simply stood there, gasping. After a few moments, she called 'break', and came in to help him. He backed up, not wanting to admit pain, but when he tripped over the stairs to the house and landed heavily, he almost passed out.

Akane let out a short scream and then called for Mr. Miyagi. He might not be as good as Dr. Tofu, but in his own way he was superb at the healing arts. Akane laid Ranma on the porch and lifted his shirt. Gasping, she held her hands to her mouth. Ranma showed an assortment of bruises and injuries, minor cuts and grazes. "Oh, Ranma."

When Mr. Miyagi joined them, he took one look at Ranma and began to inspect his ribs. Even Ranma's control could not stop him from wincing when Mr. Miyagi prodded one of his ribs. "Hmm, Ranma, this rib is broken. You no fight. You no train. Ranma, you stay home and let this heal. I cannot let you go to school like this. Akane, go and get bandages."

Mr. Miyagi looked at Ranma with concern in his eyes. He had been training Akane, so he knew that her skills were improving. He also knew that Ranma was far better than her. All he needed to do was watch when they trained. Akane could leap and strike, and the only time she ever hit was when Ranma let her. Mr. Miyagi was surprised the first couple of times he saw Akane hit him. Then he watched more carefully. Each time Akane executed a good defense / attack combination, or if he wanted to make a point about her vulnerability if he sacrificed himself for a hit, Ranma would take a blow.

But it was not a blow that could ever hurt the boy, Mr. Miyagi was sure. Ranma always moved with the blow, cushioning the impact. Sometimes he would allow her a moderately solid strike, but it was always to a carefully prepared location, which Ranma had (almost) obviously provided as the target. Mr. Miyagi was honestly impressed with Ranma's abilities. What still impressed him was the damage Ranma could take when he invariably upset his fiancee. Day after day, Akane would thump him through a wall, or belt him with a mallet, which would hospitalize lesser men. All this did to Ranma was stun him briefly.

Mr. Miyagi was not sure he ever wanted meet the person or people that could cause injuries like these to Ranma.

Akane returned with the bandages, and Mr. Miyagi bound him up. With the support of the two of them Ranma was taken to his room. On the way, Mr. Miyagi tried a few gentle questions, trying to see who had hurt his student. Ranma was evasive, and said that it was just some fights he had been getting into with some friends from school. After admonishing Ranma for fighting, he ordered him to stay in bed, Mr. Miyagi departed, leaving him to Akane's ministrations.

"Ranma. How could you do this to yourself? Couldn't you at least tell me? We don't need to train if you're hurt."

"Oh, Akane, it ain't nothing. Don't worry, I'll be right as rain before you know it."

"Don't be an idiot, Ranma! You've broken one rib and fractured two others. It's going to take weeks to heal. Why, Ranma, why? Who have you been fighting that did this to you? Is it Ryoga? Who could hurt you like this?"

Ranma looked sheepish. "No, it's not Ryoga. I could clean the floor with him any day of the week. I just... got clumsy, OK? I really didn't think anyone would notice. Besides, there isn't anyone in Tokyo that could hurt me. You know that, Akane."

"Then who..." Akane paled. A dreadful suspicion formed in her mind.

"You haven't been fighting those youma, have you? I told you, that's a job for the Senshi. Oh, Ranma. It's awfully kind and noble of you to try. I know you feel Martial Artists are supposed to protect the weak, and I know you like to protect girls. It's one of your most endearing features. But this is work for the Senshi. They have the sort of magic to deal with these demons. If you keep going out there every night, then, then some night you might not come back. And I don't want that."

Ranma held Akane as she knelt by his bed and sobbed. He felt so bad doing this to her. But he could not tell her that he was one of the Senshi that was fighting the demons, and even with his skills and Sailor magic, they were fairly even. He could not lie to Akane, but he could hide the truth a little. "Akane, I'll tell you what. I won't go looking for them. If one of those things ever attacks you, or me I'll grind it into dust. Otherwise, only the Senshi will fight them, OK?"

Akane perked up. She was surprised that she would get such an offer out of him. "Oh, thank you, Ranma. I just worry about you sometimes. But don't worry about the Senshi. I know you like to watch them on the news, but they're strong. They can take care of themselves and Tokyo. Oh, Ranma can't you just imagine what it must be like to be one of those magical girls, able to defeat monsters for love and justice?"

Ranma blushed and looked nervous, really nervous. "Um... well... sort of..."

Akane had her turn at blushing. "Sorry, Ranma. Sometimes I forget that while you look like a girl sometimes, you're really a guy through and through. Of course you couldn't be a Sailor Senshi: only girls can be."

Ranma whispered so low that Akane couldn't hear his reply, "They made an exception."

Ranma went to his tutorial with Ami that night. He was not sure how she did it, but both he and Akane acknowledged that Ami managed to teach him more in two hours than the teachers could all day. Ranma was not only starting to catch up; he was even beginning to show real academic progress.

They were delving into modern history when they both felt slight tingles from their communicators. Ranma ignored his. While he knew who Ami was, she did not know Ranma's curse. The Senshi were still upset with their new teammate. Whenever trouble struck, she would be there. Any other time and she was impossible to find. None of the girls knew about her, no one knew where she lived. When Ami had tried to subtly pump Akane for information on her cousin, she froze up. Even Ranma only mentioned that he and Ranko had similar training, but that was all. All that knew was that she must still live in the Tokyo area, since occasionally she would be spotted at school or walking around town.

Ranma was hardly surprised when part way through a question, Ami mentioned that she had to go to the bathroom. Excusing herself, Ami moved to the toilet and activated her communicator. As soon as she was out of sight, Ranma activated the communicator and signaled his presence - indicating that he (or as they thought, Ranko) was in a public place and could listen but not speak.

It was a youma alert, naturally, two youma at a train station. This was a job for the Sailor Senshi!

Ranma killed his communicator. There were advantages to knowing Ami was one of the Senshi, when she did not know he was. He knew in a moment that she would return and break off the tutoring early. All he had to do was wait. Lo, and behold: Ami returned from the bathroom feeling unwell. Could they make up the time some other night? Certainly.

Outside her house, and hidden down a street, Ranma pulled out the transformation stick and cried out: "Sun Star Power, Make Up!" He realized his mistake instantly. His face grimaced in anticipation at just how stupid he was going to look in a few seconds. The power of the Sailor magic surrounded him. As the transformation sequence begun, there was a short cloud of water, obscuring him, and changing him to her and then the blinding light, the spinning and the itty-bitty skirt. Sailor Sun looked down at herself with relief. A chill ran down her spine at the very idea of her being male in this outfit. Now I know what happens when I'm too dumb and forget to have a cold shower first! Whew!

Ranma still did not like the Sailor clothes. He felt like an idiot and a pervert wearing girl's clothes. But the Senshi had been right. The disguise field worked well. As Sailor Sun, she had bumped into several people from school, and none had shown the faintest recognition. As far as Ranko was concerned, the best thing about the Sailor suits was the incredible healing that they offered. Even as she ran to the battle, Ranko could feel her ribs healing.

Despite the healing, Ranko tried to stay to the back in this fight. Outnumbered nine to two, and apparently unable to reach their portal, the Senshi scored a stunning success. As usual, when the battle was done, Ranko disappeared as thoroughly and quickly as possible. The girls grumbled a bit. It was hard to trust someone who obviously did not trust you enough to describe themselves. For this reason, it was still only Rei and Ami that Ranko had been officially introduced to. The Senshi had offered. They had asked several times to meet at Ranko's place, and let everyone meet informally, but she always refused.

Ranko agreed to be a Senshi to fight the youma. That was all.

In the morning, Ranma dragged Akane out of bed, bright and early.

"Ranma, go back to bed! You can't train when you've got a broken rib."

Ranma rubbed his jaw indecisively then pulled her onto the floor. Holding up his shirt, he showed his undamaged chest. "You're right. But since it's not broken, get moving. I'm going to give you a lump for every minute you're late."

Akane stared at his firm muscled chest. Gone was the massive bruising. Gone was the slightly dented look that his ribs had shown. It was smooth and perfect, just the rippling muscles of a master Martial Artist in his prime. "What? But, how?"

Ranma nodded and touched his nose. "I'm just a quick healer... or would you believe a secret Sailor Senshi speed healing magic?"

Akane threw a pillow at him.

Ranma, Akane, Ami and a pair of her friends - Usagi and Makoto - were having lunch together. It was beautiful day, and everyone was enjoying their lunch. Ranma was particularly happy. He had managed to keep Akane training long enough this morning that she did not have time to prepare lunch. That meant cafeteria food: it was bad, but it was still better than Akane's cooking. Showing his newfound wisdom, Ranma carefully avoided mentioning this to Akane.

It was part way through lunch when the subject of why Akane and Ranma had transferred there for the semester raised itself. When Makoto found out that they were Martial Artists, she immediately wanted to have a little match. Naturally, Ranma balked. He hated fighting girls. Fighting Akane was bad enough each morning, and that was just training.

Akane on the other hand had no such compulsions. She immediately took up Makoto's challenge, while the rest of the girls needled Ranma for not being as good as his fiancée. Ranma fumed and protested and made a rude comment that earned him a blow to the head. Seeing how easily Akane was able to strike him, the girls were convinced that Akane was better.

When the fight started, everyone was impressed. Makoto was the best fighter that they knew, other than Ranko. Makoto was fast and strong, and she easily could beat up everyone at the school. Actually, she had beaten up most of the students at several previous schools, which was why she was now at Juuban High. Akane was a different matter.

Makoto started out with a high kick to the head. It was designed to be a simple win, or something easily dodged if the opponent had any skill. Unfortunately, Akane possessed lots of skill. She immediately moved under the leg. With one arm, she lifted the attacking leg, while turning and sweeping Makoto's supporting leg. In a flash, Makoto was on the ground, and Akane was backing up for the next exchange. Ranma yelled support. "Well done! Don't forget to keep your right arm up. Defense and attack are the same thing!"

Makoto regained her feet and circled her opponent with renewed caution. Obviously Akane had not been boasting when she said she was training hard these days. With a flurry of punches, both girls closed. Only a few got past either defense, but again it was Akane, which emerged triumphant. While Makoto concentrated on the upper torso, Akane snaked out one leg and neatly flipped her onto her back.

The third round went slightly slower. Makoto spent more effort on defense. As a result, she only hit Akane once. But Akane eventually moved in, locking the girl's left arm in a pain hold. When Makoto dropped to her knees and offered to yield, Akane released her. Immediately, Ranma was there, picking her up and spinning her around. "WOO HOO! Well done, Akane! That was beautiful! You've really learnt a lot in the last few weeks!"

It was in the excitement of the moment that he leaned in, and kissed her. It just seemed so natural, so normal that neither noticed in their excitement. It was not until Usagi coughed that they realized what they were doing, and with whom. Instantly they were two meters apart, looking completely innocent and on guard for the inevitable pummeling from one of their respective potential suitors. A moment of awkward silence went by and the expected pummeling didn't happen. With a great show of casualness, they returned to the lunch table and sat a few meters apart, where a surprised Makoto was waiting.

Usagi watched them and thought of her beautiful boyfriend. She sighed. It was so beautiful watching people in love. "Gee, you guys act as though you'd never kissed before."

Akane and Ranma immediately found something, anything interesting to look at. Usagi continued, genuinely intrigued at some juicy gossip. "Um, you guys have kissed before, haven't you? You've been engaged for a year now, haven't you?"

"I never wanted..."

"It was our parents..."

They both looked incredibly sheepish. So much so, that even Makoto decided to take pity on the girl that just beat her. "Akane, that was incredible. I don't think I've ever fought anyone that good. As a matter of fact, the only person I can think of who might give you a run for your money would be your cousin, Ranko."

"Blah!" Ranma was coughing and choking on his drink. After a few solid thumps on his back, he recovered. Akane decided to take pity on him; after all, he had said such nice things after she won.

"Err, that doesn't matter. I don't think you'll see her much. She's pretty shy. So you don't need to worry."

The Senshi eyed each other curiously. Usagi suddenly had an inspired idea. "Say, Akane. Where did you learn to fight? It would just be so nice to defend ourselves as well as you do!"

Once again Ranma nearly choked on his drink. While he coughed and spluttered off the end of the table, Akane gave them a new shock. "Well, Dad taught me initially, but now Ranma is studying to take over the dojo, so he's teaching me some of the things he knows."

"RANMA is teaching you?"

"Err, yes."

"Wow. So, is this just tutoring what you know or is he actually better than you?"

"Um, better. Lots better actually."

Ranma could barely believe his ears. Someone was actually accepting he was good without this absurd need to try and beat the life out of him or marry him. What a pleasant experience.

Makoto decided to follow up with Usagi's idea. "Well then, Ranma. Would you be interested in some students?"

"Well, I don't know. I'd have to ask Mr. Miyagi if I can use the dojo, but I don't think he'd mind. Would it be OK with you, Akane?"

When Akane agreed, Ranma promised to ask Mr. Miyagi, and try to start teaching as soon as possible. Ami offered to stop charging for the tutoring in exchange for the lessons. Ranma initially objected since he was not qualified, but soon relented. Maybe it was living with Nabiki, but Ranma was beginning to see the advantage of charging for some things. Even so, he would have taught for free if they wanted. Over the next few days, Ranma made arrangements. Soon his day was more packed than ever.

In the mornings, he would wake early and train with Akane. Then he would show Mr. Miyagi the finer points of Dojo repair. School, then tutoring with Ami. After that, the two would walk to Mr. Miyagi's dojo, where Ranma would train the three girls from Juuban High, Akane, and five of their friends. Ranma managed to hide his surprise at seeing Rei and Ami, since he knew they were both Sailors. However, Usagi introduced Rei as a friend of theirs from Junior High school. It was a rough world, and even being a Shinto priestess did not guarantee protection. After training and dinner, Ranma would turn in early. Most nights, he would awaken to his communicator, leave the house and fight demons for a few hours.

Kasumi smiled as a visitor entered though the door. He was covered in dirt and smelled like, well, a pig. "Hello, Ryoga-kun. Have you managed to find Ranma and Akane yet?"

Ryoga wanted to snarl, but couldn't in the presence of the eldest Tendo sister. "No, Kasumi. Not yet. I almost had them. I was this close, but they must have moved the dojo. Do you mind if I have a quick bath, then I have to head out again."

"Certainly, I shall prepare some tea while you have a bath. Just follow me, and I'll show you where you can put your bag. It's been so quiet without those two, I hardly know what to do with my time any more."

Kasumi smiled. It was nice to have a guest in the house again.

Two weeks passed quickly. Most of the Senshi picked up the techniques that Ranma taught with amazing speed. Most that was except for one. It soon became obvious that trying to teach Usagi to kick (or anything which required balance) would be an uphill task.

Akane continued to improve. The morning sparring sessions quickly became time where Ranma was able to expand his teaching skills. He would show Akane a technique, then watch her use it against him. She was good, no doubt about it. Next time Shampoo decided to challenge this girl, she would have a surprise.

Mr. Miyagi proved to be a very indifferent student of woodwork. No matter how basic a level Ranma went to, there was always something left unexplained. He soon found that anger or shouting had no effect on how fast Mr. Miyagi learned. But sometimes, he would see Mr. Miyagi finally mastered something, be it how to select wood, or how to hammer, and he felt a surge of hope. His hopes were always dashed. The next day, Mr. Miyagi would refuse to teach him the techniques of being a Sensei, saying he would when Ranma showed how to fix the dojo.

Ranma also learned more about the youma. He learned that they were smarter than the Senshi had described. They plotted. They planned. They also hurt when an attack got through. It was an unusual day when Ranma did not have some injury.

"Oh my, Ryoga-kun! I didn't realize you were still here." Kasumi said in surprise as Ryoga walked past the kitchen window. He was bathed, groomed and for some reason still had a faint smell of a pig.

He stopped and rubbed the back of his head with an embarrassed smile. "Sorry, Kasumi. I just can't seem to find the front gate. I need to find Akane before Ranma does anything. Um... I don't suppose you could show me the way to the gate?"

"I would be glad to."

When Ryoga reached the gate, he turned south and walked with a determined stride. "Hokkaido, here I come."

Sunday was a lazy day. No school, no training, and no tutoring. Akane sighed as she lay in a chair and read a newspaper in her bedroom. She had actually been hoping that Ranma and her might go for a walk today. Things had been going so well for them; they hardly even fought these days. No, going for a romantic walk was too much to expect of Ranma.

Just then a knock sounded on her door. When she responded Ranma came in and sat by her feet, holding a piece of paper. He looked sheepish again. As though he was going to say something significant. Akane felt her heart surge. Maybe he did want to go for a walk. She blinked her eyes and tried to look as cute as possible. Let's make things easy for him.

Ranma looked at her, and felt a pang of guilt over what he was going to do. He knew Akane's Martial skills as well as his own. There was one main technique she had not mastered. For that technique she just did not have the focus normally. He had pondered on it for several days, and figured out the only way he could do this.

"You know, Akane, you're doing really well these days. You fight better than Ukyo every day now."

Akane almost fell off of her chair. Ranma actually though she was better than one of his fiancées at something. She couldn't cook, she wasn't cute, but she could now fight better than Ukyo!

"But there's something really important for you to master. When Ryoga or I use a Shishi Hokodan or Moko Takabisha, or even the Breaking Point, it's a matter of ki manipulation. Now, I know you've got a good ki, God knows I've seen your battle aura often enough. Well, I was wondering if you're ready to learn a special technique."

Her eyes lit up. Few warriors could do ki attacks, and Ranma thought she was ready to learn. Even Shampoo could not regularly do ki attacks. "Oh, Ranma. Do you think I'm ready?"

"To be honest... I'm not sure. But I think so. I hope so. What I want to do is teach you to do a new attack. I designed it especially for you. It suits your strength, your personality. Do you want to learn it?"

Ranma looked at her with hope in his eyes. The youma attacks had been getting worse, not better. The Senshi had caused them casualties, but according to Sailor Mercury's best guess, the youma were stealing more energy than they were losing. He figured it was only time until one of them attacked Akane when she was alone. Maybe not now, maybe not for another month, but it would surely happen someday. If he did not do everything in his power to prepare her for that day, he would be as much to blame for her death as if he had stuck a knife in her.

He knew what he needed to do to teach her, and it hurt him just to think about it. But if he hurt her now, it might keep her alive later. Any sacrifice was worth that, even losing her.

"Oh, please, Ranma. Yes!"

"OK, but there are few things you need to agree to first:"

"One: I think I can teach it to you this morning. So remember, anything I say or do before midday is just part of the training."

"Two: No matter what I tell you to do, you do. It may seem strange, it may seem silly, but do it."

"Three: I'm going to leave this note in your room. Don't read it now, but read it after we finish training. Only afterwards, understand?"

"If you promise to do these three things, let's get changed and get started."

Akane promised, so he left the note while she changed. Akane wondered what was in the note that she could not read it until after training. No matter. Ranma trusted her, so she would fulfill that trust. They met outside and did some quick warm ups and a little light sparing.

After that, they sat down on some rocks and he explained about focus, and how to source the ki, which she would use. To Akane, it did not always make sense. But Ranma kept explaining patiently until she could almost envision the well of power within herself. After that he explained her attack.

As he had said, it was finely crafted to her. The Thunder Hammer Strike was something he had designed for her, and her alone. Ranma had studied her, she realized. He knew her better than she knew herself. What he described seemed so natural, so simple. She would stand upright, and gather the energy in her raised hands. Above her head, she would form her Thunder Hammer. When she felt it was ready, she would bring her hands in front, 'swinging' the Hammer, and 'releasing' the Hammer at its target.

As far as ki attacks went, it was quite simple. It was also fairly weak. But that was only compared to ki attacks. Compared to a punch or kick, it was much stronger; it also gave you the range advantage over almost every opponent.

Without summoning the energy, Ranma had her walk through the motions and thoughts needed for the Thunder Hammer Strike. It was half past eleven before he was satisfied with her technique. Finally he decided it was time for her to put things into practice. Setting up a target at the side of the garden, he stood beside her and coached her to raise her aura, and strike.

Breathing deeply, Akane concentrated. Raising her hands above her head, she felt the power funneling into them. After minutes of this, she felt the strain and brought her arms down. Glaring at the target, she screamed and released. "THUNDER HAMMER STRIKE!"

A dim light flew from her palms and vaguely lit up the target.

"Oh, good try there, really Akane. But I honestly think it should have been more like this:" Ranma negligently gathered a ball of ki in his palm, then sent it flying into the target, burning a small hole in the center.

Akane turned at him and snapped. "Hey, back off! This is my first time, remember."

"Sure, sure. Try again."

Try she did, but with little more success. They kept trying for twenty minutes. Each time she failed, Akane became more frustrated. Each time she failed, he insulted her more. By the end of that time, he yelled at her for being a stupid girl, and stalked to the end of the firing range, where the almost undamaged target stood. "Well, I think I should be safe enough here, what do you think, Akane?"

"Shut up, Ranma. I'm trying the best that I can!"

"Oh, sure you're trying! You're really trying. I don't know why I bothered! You don't care. You can't even be bothered with the effort. This is why I have to run around looking after an uncute tomboy like you. You couldn't protect yourself from a mosquito!"

"Ranma, you jerk! I'm trying!"

"Tell it to someone who cares. God! Why did I waste my time trying to teach you? I knew we should have brought Shampoo along!"

Akane's battle aura went up, as did her blood pressure. "WHAT did you say?!?"

"I said we should have brought Shampoo! She can cook, she can fight, she's cute, and she could have mastered this in her sleep."


"Hey, at least I have a fiancée I didn't need daddy to trap for me! Shampoo could have done this technique without even trying. You're an uncute violent macho tomboy!"

Akane's battle aura flared, and she screamed at the top of her lungs: "RANMA, YOU JERK! I HATE YOU! GO TO SHAMPOO FOR ALL I CARE! I NEVER WANT TO SEE YOU AGAIN! THUNDER HAMMER STRIKE!!"

Akane summoned a massive blue ball into her raised hands, and then flung it down range at him. Although he was expecting it, it still smashed him through the wall around the yard. Lying on the street amid the rubble he heard Akane yell. "And don't come back!"

When he heard her run off in tears, he crawled out of the rubble. Gods, that hurt more than he thought it could. And it wasn't the ki blast that hurt.

Back in the house, Akane threw herself onto her bed and cried. In the distance she heard the clock strike twelve. Oh, Ranma. How could you? How could you?

Akane's pillow was quickly soaked from her free flowing tears.

It was around four o'clock by the time Akane left her room. Her face was red and puffy, and her eyes hurt from crying. I thought he cared. I really did. How could that idiot have fooled me? I'm such an idiot. Heading to the bathroom, she washed her face, and tried to clean up a bit. She didn't want Mr. Miyagi to see her like this. Perhaps in a few days she could explain why Ranma was not around any more.

As she returned to her room she saw the note that he had left that morning. Grabbing it angrily, she was about to tear it up, unread. Hesitating just before she did she remembered, I promised I would read it, Ranma, you jerk. I keep my promises. I care enough for that. I'll read it and get you out of my system forever. Akane suddenly realized she would not need to explain to Mr. Miyagi why Ranma was not there: she would go back to Nerima tomorrow. At least her family cared.

Dear Akane,

I hope you are reading this today. If not, then things may be too late, but please try. Firstly, I want you to remember rule one from this morning. Do you? I wrote these down just a few minutes ago, so I do. Here's the rule I am about to tell you:

'Anything I say or do before midday is just part of the training.' Trust me, Akane. I timed it carefully. Everything should have happened before midday. Even if not, please allow me a few minutes grace.

Secondly, I need to say what I did. I know you well, Akane. You're really a nice person on the inside. I can see that these days. Even when I call you a macho uncute tomboy, you're still not really mad. But I know when you do get mad; your battle aura is huge. You glow like a street lamp, honestly.

All that power is what is needed for a ki attack. I know you can do a ki attack, but inside, fundamentally, you don't. You resist every effort I have made to introduce it subtly. There was only one option left. I teach you the technique, and turn you into a loaded gun. But you could never do it when you needed it if you did not believe you could. So I needed all the power of your anger.

I know what I said hurt you, it was meant to. It hurt me to say it, and I never meant a word. But the first is always the hardest. So I gave you the technique, then I gave you the power and motivation to use it. I expect that by the time you are reading this, you have blasted me through a wall and said you never want to see me again.

Here's why I did it. The world is a dangerous place, and it's getting worse. The demons the Senshi are fighting are getting bigger, nastier and more numerous. You couldn't hurt them with just Martial Arts. Even I can't. The only hope you have if one those things attack would be to use ki against it. I realize I can't be there to protect you all the time. I want to be, but I can't. This is the only way I could think to allow you to protect yourself.

Keeping you safe means more to me than anything. If making you hate me for the rest of you life will keep you alive for a long time, then I'm willing to pay that price. I don't know whether this makes sense to you, but if you want to see me again, I am going to be at Ami's for a while.

I like honor I respect I lo lov.. l

I love you.

Now and always,

Ranma Saotome.

By the time she finished the note, Akane was crying again. He knew. All that time he knew what he said, what it meant, and what it would do. He knew I would blast him with everything I had, and he stood there and took it. Oh, Ranma, you sweet idiot!

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