Ryoga Hibiki was in the United States. He didn't want to be there.

He had come as part of Akane's group to look for Ranma. Nabiki had found information that suggested that he might have come to Los Angeles. How he could've gotten there no one knew, least of all Ryoga. But if there was the possibility, then they had to check.

Ryoga was one of the many who had volunteered to go look for Ranma. After all, what had happened was his fault as much as anyone's. The first time there had been a possible clue to Ranma's whereabouts, everyone wanted to go and look. Nabiki, ever the pragmatist, suggested they split into two teams. In case of a false lead (as the first one in fact turned out to be), that would leave another group in reserve to go check out the next possibility.

This time it was Ryoga's turn to go. He was there along with Akane, Doctor Tofu, and Tatewaki Kuno.

Kuno had dressed to fit the place they were going, in a sportcoat and tie. He had been uncharacteristically quiet since leaving home. He had spent most of the travel time across the ocean meditating. Ryoga had never known the upperclassman to speak so little. Kuno did have the advantage of being fluent in English, a legacy of a father with an insane fixation on the American island Hawaii.

Doctor Tofu wore a simple sweater that he said had been given to him by Kasumi. Tofu's usefulness to the group was obvious; not only were his medical skills the best in the business, but he was able to keep a clear head about him as long as Kasumi wasn't nearby. He could be counted on to keep his temper; the others in the entourage couldn't.

Ryoga's reason for being there was less clear. He could fight, but that was about it. If he ever got even slightly separated from the group, they would have to search for him as well. More likely they might just leave him behind, he thought. Not only that, but he was always a splash of water away from turning into P-chan. If Akane met her pet here, surely she would finally realize the truth.

Still, the whole mess was as much his responsibility as anybody's...

It was several weeks ago. A triumphant shout issued forth from the chemistry laboratory at Furinkan High School.

Shirai Satoru, the president of Furinkan's chemistry club, smiled with glee. "At long last! Combining the wonders of modern chemistry with ancient Chinese techniques, I have finally succeeded in synthesizing the legendary Compound X! With this, the chemistry club can..."

"Ancient Chinese secret, huh? What is Compound X, anyway?" Fuji Seiji was another club member, the club's notorious food mooch. He started to chow down on some rice dish that was obviously Satoru's while he awaited an explanation. What Satoru's experiments usually succeeded at doing was blowing up the laboratory, often taking out the entire wing of the school as well.

Before an explanation could be given, Ryoga entered. "Uh... sorry, wrong room," he said. He had blundered across Furinkan by chance, and had decided to stop to use the facilities. This room obviously wasn't the one he was looking for, but it was less embarrassing than the times he had walked into the ladies'.

Satoru ignored the Lost Boy for the moment. "That'll be eight hundred yen for the food, Seiji."

Seiji pulled out his wallet and handed over the requested amount of money. A moment later, he realized what he'd done. "HEY!"

"Hahaha! Such is the power of compound X! Just a small vial like this one makes its imbiber momentarily susceptible to verbal suggestions! With this, the chem club can..."

"You mean... I could tell Ranma to say he loves Shampoo? Or Kodachi? And he'd do it?"

"Simply pour the contents of this vial into his food!" Satoru said. Ryoga took the vial and found his way out of the room. The door closed behind him, then burst open again as a Chinese amazon in a waitress uniform appeared.

"Aiyaa!! Is true? You got Compound X?? Shampoo so happy! You give to Shampoo? Shampoo give boys delicious ramen dinner at restaurant tonight!" The boys handed over another vial. It was hard for a guy like Satoru to say no to a girl with a body like Shampoo's; Seiji just wanted the free meal.

"No matter!" Satoru struck a determined pose. "With what remains of our supply of Compound X, the chem club will..."

A voice from the window interrupted. "HOHOHOHOHOHOHOHOHO!!!!!!!"

And so it went. There was Happosai, hoping to get Ranma to model some of his lingere collection; Mousse; Gosunkugi; and probably several others that Ryoga didn't know about. If Ryoga had not been part of it, if he hadn't added his own contribution to Ranma's food, it probably wouldn't have made any difference. But "probably" wasn't good enough to ease Ryoga's conscience. His actions had hurt Akane. He had to try to make up for that.

Ryoga didn't want to be there. But he had to be.

Since the full story had become known, Akane had been obsessed with trying to find Ranma. At first Ryoga had thought that she was merely feeling guilty. She had, after all, been the one who made him leave. The time on the plane made him think differently...

They had been sitting with Tofu and Kuno. The flight attendant was offering them a choice of meals. Suddenly the old lecher, Happosai, jumped out of the bathroom. No one was sure how he had gotten on board; Ryoga thought he might have stolen Mousse's ticket. The old man landed on the attendant's chest, saying something to her about getting into an upright locked position.

Akane grabbed him by his shirt. Ryoga had never seen her move so quickly.

"I'm going to find Ranma," she said to Happosai emphatically, paralyzing him with a cold glare. "You can either help, or stay out of the way. But if you get in my way I will *kill you*."

It might have been almost laughable. Happosai was a nearly unbeatable martial arts master, and Akane had a reputation as one of the school's weakest students. But he looked into her eyes...

She was not exaggerating.

She was not bluffing.

The old man faded back to his seat and sat quietly for the rest of the flight.

That was when Ryoga knew that it was more than guilt that was driving Akane onward.

And Ryoga realized something else...

This was the first time Ranma had been lost, and Akane was searching the world over. She was not going to rest until he was found.

Ryoga had been lost hundreds of times. Nobody had ever come looking for him. Akane had never come looking for him.

Ryoga didn't want to be there.


An angry cry filled the air at the clinic. The non-Japanese speaking patients and staff could not understand it, but from the tone and volume, it sounded to them like the speaker was threatening murder.


"Akane, please," Doctor Yafuso said. For the past several weeks his houseguest had said very little. Something had happened to her when she had been missing, something that she couldn't talk about.

Then Sumiko called. It was the call that Yafuso had been expecting for quite some time. She was terribly sorry, she still cared for him and all, but she could not continue the engagement.

Yafuso told his guest about how he had met Sumiko, about everything they used to do, about how wonderful it used to be between them. One topic led to another, and the girl called Akane cried as the horrible story of her rape at the hands of the two thugs came pouring out. Depression soon turned into pure anger.

Now they were at the clinic. "Those two are DEAD for what they did to me!!"

"We haven't gotten the results of your gynecological tests back yet. There could be complications. People like that don't tend to be very careful about social diseases. Besides, you don't even know where to find them."

The girl called Akane stood up. "I'll see you later, Doc," she said, walking out.

She was gone again. Yafuso didn't know where she'd be, or when or *if* she'd be back, or what kind of trouble she'd get into this time.

He wondered if this was what it was like to be a parent.


Tendo Akane wondered, why would anyone want to come to a place like this?

This was the third one of these places that they'd been to. Akane would probably have to burn her clothes when all this was over; the awful smoke smell was so strong that it wasn't going to come out. The music was so loud in this one that you had to shout to be heard. And some of the people... Akane had known how to say "No" in English already, but she had had to have Tofu teach her to say "Touch me again and I'll rip your arm off!" as people didn't seem to understand the former response. If she had to say it again, she might just do it instead.

Tofu spoke to a bartender. "We'd like to know how to contact a local crime boss by the name of Mr. Hill. We want to meet with him." That was the information that had brought them here. Nabiki had found out through some of her contacts that this boss Hill was supposedly having trouble, caused by some strange unknown woman who was fantastically good at fighting.

"Be careful what you ask for," the bartender said, "you might get it."

"We just want to talk to him. A few words can't cause any harm, can they?"

The bartender looked away. "Well, I'll tellya, my memory's not what it used to be..."

"Kuno," Akane prompted in a low voice after Tofu explained what had been said. "He wants us to give him money. A bribe."

"Very well, sir. Do you prefer Visa card or check?"

"Dolt." Akane pulled out an American hundred-dollar bill from her own wallet and handed it to the bartender.

"Little lady's a big spender!" The bartender wrote a phone number on the back of a business card and handed it to Akane.

No harm in a few words... Akane knew how terribly wrong that was.

Akane and Ranma were sitting on the lawn behind Furinkan High School, about to eat their lunches. It had been a strange day, even by their standards. Their various friends and acquaintances kept showing up, saying hello, and leaving right away. Akane wasn't paying too much attention to them; she was absorbed in a discussion with Ranma.

"I ate that chocolate from Ucchan just 'cause I was hungry. How was I supposed to know she'd make such a big deal about it?"

"I'm really tired of this, Ranma. We're supposed to be engaged! I'm tired of you letting all those other girls chase after you."

"Hey, it ain't *my* idea! I never asked for any of them to be after me! Ucchan, Shampoo, Kodachi... they don't care what I think. Nobody does. I ain't got no control over nothin'!"

Akane's instinctive reaction would have been to scream at him, maybe belt him across the room. But that would have made things much worse. Instead, she took his hand in hers. She spoke forcefully but without anger. "Then *take* control, Ranma. What do *you* want to do? How do you really feel about Ucchan?"

"She's a friend... one of my best friends... but no... not like that. She and I could never be..."

"Then tell her. Don't keep her hanging on. That's not good for you, for her, or for anyone else."

Ranma gripped Akane's hand tightly, as if letting go would mean falling to his death. "... I'll try..."

A voice came over the school loudspeaker. "Paging Tendo Akane! There's a phone call for you in the main office! Tendo Akane!"

"Damn. I'll be right back," she said. She put her other hand on Ranma's, then left him with a smile.

Ranma settled down to eat his lunch.

The caller had hung up by the time Akane got to the school office. She wasn't as annoyed as she might have been. All she could think about was getting back to Ranma and picking up where she had left off. They were getting through to one another, and maybe, just maybe, all the arguing and fighting could finally give way to something better.

A look back at Ranma cruelly dispelled that idea.

It had been just a joke. More fun at the expense of the uncute girl. She fell for it, isn't she stupid! How could she have been blind enough, foolish enough, to believe in him? She had only been gone for a few minutes. Now, there on the lawn...

Ranma was kissing Shampoo.

Akane marched over and grabbed him.


Surprisingly, Ranma said nothing. With a blank look in his eyes, he simply stood up. Everyone watched as he swiftly jumped over the school wall, and ran out of sight.

He had done what he was told to do.

Be careful what you ask for, you might get it.

That was a truth that Tendo Akane knew only too well.


"I don't think I can do anything to help you," Hill said. He had to tread carefully. If these four people were anything close to as tough as the friend they were looking for, and if they found out that he had been responsible for her death... "There was such a person, but she hasn't been seen recently. No one seems to know where she is now. Perhaps she's moved on to a different city?"

"We'll keep looking," the man in the glasses said.

Dana came in and handed Hill some papers. He read the first of them. Damn! The girl was alive, and tearing up the town looking for those two idiot employees of his! No doubt she'd be coming for him next, and now she had four friends to help her. Hill wondered when the next flight was leaving for Argentina.

He looked at the next message. Well, well. Maybe there was a way out of this after all...

"It seems I was mistaken. I can tell you where you will be able to find your friend. You will all then take your friend back to wherever it is that you came from, leaving me and my business operations alone. Do we have an agreement?"

The four spoke among themselves in Japanese momentarily and then

Now Hill was going to deal with his two employees. They needed to be terminated.


"Why we here?" Burt asked, looking at the street corner filled with gang members.

"You got a hole in yer head? I 'ready tol' ya," Travis took a drag on his cigarette. "Bitch lookin' for us. We tell everybody tell her we be here at noon. She be here, she gotta fight Dukes, gotta fight Rascals."

"Bitch already beat all of 'em."

"Yeah. But when she beatin' 'em, we be hidin'. We shoot her by surprise, homes."

"What that shit you smokin?"

"Secret blend. Eleven herbs and spices, man."

"Gimme some." Burt smoked some of the cigarette. "Now why we here?"

Abruptly, a car came around the corner. The screech of tires, and the sound of two silenced gunshots were heard.

The two thugs had holes in their heads.


Doctor Yafuso looked at the gynecologist's report on the girl called Akane. The result wasn't what he expected to see.

There was a... complication.


They were challenging her. That was obvious.

Everyone the girl called Akane met now knew who she was looking for and where they could be found. Many of them even had maps drawn out for her to use to get there. It was an obvious trap. That didn't matter; she wasn't going to refuse. She might end up dead before this was over, but so would they.

Still, it was best to approach the area cautiously. She peered around the corner of a building. There was a man there, dressed like the ones she'd fought before. He was lying unconscious, bruised but not bleeding. Could those two have done this, she wondered? And why would they?

Another quick look revealed more gang members, all beaten senseless. A thought crossed the girl's mind. Had they found someone else who could fight the way she did? An ultimate opponent? She jumped up to the roof of the building. From there she would be able to get a closer look.

The street below was littered with more battered gang members. A short-haired asian girl in a martial arts gi stood in the center of the carnage. That had to be the one. The amnesiac girl had to meet the challenge. She jumped from the roof intending to strike. Something made her abort the attack and merely land. She stood, tensed for battle.

The short-haired girl turned to see the new arrival. A tear of joy welled in her eye. "Ranma?"

The amnesiac girl approached, not understanding the emotions that were going on inside her. The short-haired girl spoke some words to her.

She didn't know the name this girl was calling her,

or remember what was meant by the words,

But she threw herself into the embrace of the short-haired girl;

And for the first time, she could go home,

And she *was* home, there in this girl's arms;

Everything she'd been through didn't matter at that moment;

The pain that had been in her heart for so long was gone,

Fading away with this girl's words.

"Ranma, I didn't mean it."