The path he walked along led into a valley, framed on one side by craggy-peaked mountains and by trees on the other. Irregularly-sized pools of water, dotted with occasional patches of weeds, covered most of the ground ahead. Two or three bamboo poles jutted out from each of them, standing as bolt upright as the most finely disciplined army, pointing upward toward the heavens. The early evening sun hung low in the sky, its light reflecting from the pools in a brilliant glare.

The Japanese name for the place was Jusenkyo, its Chinese name Zhouquanshan. The cursed springs. It was exactly as the young Amazon who had led him here had described. She had refused to travel the last few kilometers with him, being understandably fearful of the dangers that lay therein. She had known nothing as to what sort of perils he might face here, and had given him only one piece of advice: Don't fall in the springs. Even that was only something which she had heard from her Amazon elders, and she had had no idea as to the reason behind it.

No matter. His quest was clear. The woman he loved had to be freed from the evil influence of this place. As a true warrior, he would carry out that mission, or perish in the attempt. With stance firm, he raised his weapon high and called out in the loudest voice he could muster.

"Hear me, guardians of this malignant wasteland! I, Kuno Tatewaki, demand that you face me!"

Tatewaki stepped a single pace forward as his shout echoed through the valley. He could hear the steady, monotonous chirpings of birds and insects behind him, and, from ahead, the barely audible burbling of the water in the springs.

"I come to free the Pig-Tailed Girl from your foul bewitchment! Release her without delay from whatever maledictions you have imprecated upon her, or you shall suffer my wrath! So swears the Blue Thunder, erstwhile of Furinkan!"

There was no answer. He stepped forward again, looking around cautiously in all directions. It would not do to be ambushed. Whoever, whatever the power that controlled this place was, it was obviously too cowardly to fight him in an honorable battle. That was not surprising, considering that it was evil enough to have used an innocent like the Pig-Tailed Girl for its own twisted ends.

Closer, ever closer he inched, until he stood at the edge of one of the springs. He looked down; a reflection stared back up at him. He dipped his bokken into the water, causing ripples to spread outward, distorting the image of himself. He could feel the bottom of the pool, but nothing else seemed to be contained within. Perhaps he had to check each pool to find the one beneath which the guardian of the place lay hidden.

Leaves rustled from the trees behind him. He whirled around, jerking his weapon back into his hands. Some small animal darted out of the foliage, quickly scampering out of sight. For long minutes Tatewaki peered towards the location from which it had come, all the while keeping himself alert for attacks from any other direction, until he had satisfied himself that there was nothing else there.

Tatewaki felt a tightness in his throat and chest. He noticed the intensity with which his heart pounded. It was not fear he felt. Such cowardice would mark him as unworthy of his noble samurai heritage. No, it was a feeling of... destiny. It felt as though he were approaching a critical moment in history, upon which depended not only his fate, not only that of the Pig-Tailed Girl, but much, much more that he was yet to be aware of.

He turned and stepped up to another pool. The guardians had to be hiding somewhere nearby. He would find them.


Ranma 1/2 manga fanfiction
by Gary Kleppe

The characters of Ranma 1/2 are the creation of and rightful property of Rumiko Takahashi. They are used here without permission. This story may be freely redistributed, but it should not be altered substantially or used for profit in any way.


"Sir? Sir?"

"Wha--" The desolate landscape of Jusenkyo dissolved into the brightly-lit interior of an airplane, as Tatewaki felt himself jostled awake. A flight attendant stood beside his chair; all the other seats were empty.

"I'm sorry to wake you, sir, but we've landed in Tokyo."

"I see. Thank you." Tatewaki stood. After pausing for a second to clear his head, he walked forward through the large cabin, soon arriving at the exit doorway. Another attendant bid him goodbye, as he stepped onto the covered ramp towards the terminal.

The dream had been very vivid. The images of Jusenkyo were still fresh in his mind, as if he had actually been there. Which he had -- but not since several years ago. It had been a different time, a different Kuno Tatewaki.

He made his way through the crowded corridors. It would be a few minutes before the luggage would be unloaded from the plane and Tatewaki would need to go through customs. He went to a pay phone and called the number for the Hotel Angui of Beijing. The situation there being what it was, he knew that he would be lucky to get through.

A voice answered. Tatewaki requested a certain room number and was transferred.

A familiar voice came through the phone. "Nihao, Tatewaki!"

"Greetings, fair Shan Pu. I have arrived at Tokyo airport without incident. What news of your meeting in Beijing?"

"News is not good. They will no help us. They not admit so, but I can tell."

"What then do we do next?"

"I just finish speak with Aunt Lan. She say we go ahead with plan. Tell me tell you get anyone we can from Nerima to help."

Lan Zhilei was the Amazon tribe's current Chief Elder. It was she who had sent Tatewaki and Shan Pu on their mission. A few years ago, Tatewaki would have reacted hostilely. How dare anyone give orders to the Blue Thunder?

"I shall do what I can," he said.

Even now part of him was quite uncomfortable with being told what to do. But, he reminded himself, he was not merely following commands like some servant. Rather, he was deferring to Lan's experience and wisdom.

"I get on next flight and be there soon as I can," Shan Pu said. "Good luck, Tatewaki, and thank you." She hung up the phone.

In his youth, Tatewaki had arrogantly pursued both Akane Tendo and "the Pig-Tailed Girl," simply because they were the most beautiful women at his school. A great and noble warrior, he thought, ought naturally to be entitled to those women who are worthy of him. Now he had come to admire Shan Pu, not only for her beauty, but for her iron determination and fiery spirit as well. He hoped that one day she would find him worthy of her.

He found his luggage and proceeded to the customs check-in. He remembered a phrase from his younger days. You can't go home again. A trite old saying, perhaps, but some profound truth underlay it.

True, he had arrived at the airport of Tokyo, the city where he had been born and had grown to manhood. It seemed that very little had changed, apart from the addition of a new snack bar. But he knew that the similarities between present and past were only superficial. As he had changed and grown over the past seven years, no doubt so too had the people whom he had known in his youth. It was now his task to bring as many of them as he could together into a fighting force. It would not be an easy task.

As he stood in the long customs line, he thought back to those last few days he had spent in Japan....


The classroom was silent save for the scratching of pens against paper. The teacher sat flipping idly through a magazine. Students filled page after page with writing, and the air with the fetid odor of human perspiration. It was the last day of the school year at Furinkan. The school authority had just overruled the Principal's imposition of additional graduation requirements, which meant that the senior class would be graduating. As a way of retaliating, the Principal had had the furnace turned on, making an already hot day even less bearable.

Tatewaki was not particularly bothered by the heat, being accustomed to walking around in his bulky kendo gi. His attention was fixed on the sheet of paper that lay in front of him. The empty sheet of paper. It was frustrating. Kuno Tatewaki was well known as one who could expound on any subject. True, the instructors often returned his essays with comments such as *Too long* or Please stick to the topic, but that merely reflected their own inability to appreciate his insights. He had never been unable to complete an assignment. Yet he simply could not come up with an adequate response to the assignment written across the blackboard:

Write a paragraph or two telling your plans after graduation.

Of course, there were answers that he could give. I, Kuno Tatewaki, shall perform mighty and heroic deeds that will be immortalized in story and legend. But, as his teachers had told him many times, an essay of this sort needed to be specific. He needed a quest to undertake, some set of tasks by which to prove his courage and battle skills. Try as he might, he could not come up with anything worthy enough.

The final bell sounded. The other students jumped up from their chairs and stampeded for the exit door. Tatewaki stood, taking in hand his books and other possessions, and approached the teacher.

The teacher smiled. "Goodbye, Kuno. Best of luck to you."

Tatewaki held up his paper, which was still blank. "Sir, about this final assignment..."

"I'm not collecting those. I asked you all to do it for your own benefit, but there's no way I could critique it and get it back to you anyway."

"Yes, sir." Tatewaki bowed respectfully, then exited the room. He walked down the stairs to the ground floor as he continued to ruminate on his future. There seemed to be no place for a samurai warrior in this modern world; battles were fewer and farther between, and those who did fight them used technological weapons of destruction, not honorable person-to-person combat.

He pushed open the large main door to the school. Outside, the temperature dropped to a level that was merely slightly uncomfortable. Tendo Nabiki stood near the school gate. She beckoned Tatewaki towards her; no doubt she wished to say to him some sentimental words of farewell.

"You owe me fifteen hundred yen, Kuno-chan."

Tatewaki stood confused for a moment, then recalled the request that he had made of Nabiki earlier that day. "You have delivered my message to Saotome Ranma instructing him to meet me at your place of residence today?"

"Yep. I left him a note."

"You specified the time as four o'clock precisely?"

"Yes, Kuno-chan." She rolled her eyes. "Four o'clock on the dot." She held out a hand. "Pay up."

"Have I ever failed to pay you for your services?" He handed over a few bills. "I bid you farewell until we meet again, Tendo Nabiki."

Tatewaki walked away from the school, not bothering to glance back toward Nabiki. It was obvious that she thought him a fool. Yet giving out the small amounts of cash that she asked for was no great inconvenience to him; and because of them she did what he wanted. Who was the fool?

Nabiki was a woman of questionable honor. Saotome Ranma kept the Pig-Tailed Girl under his thrall through some sort of illicit means. Nabiki clearly knew this, and yet did nothing to help free her. She, at the very least, turned a blind eye to the girl's peril. Perhaps she even willingly abetted Saotome in his foul deeds; Tatewaki had no idea how far she would go to earn money.

Tatewaki strode toward home with a renewed certitude. Freeing the Pig-Tailed Girl -- that would be his first priority.


Nabiki watched idly as Kuno-chan receded down the block. They would probably run into each other a few times during the summer, but after that she might not see him again. She couldn't honestly say that she'd miss him. Then again, he had been her best customer, and he had taught her a valuable skill -- how to deal with an idiot. If the world outside Nerima was anything like she expected, that would come in very useful indeed.

Nabiki turned as she heard two of her classmates approach her. "So, what did Kuno ask you, Nabiki?" one of them said playfully.

"Just a little business, nothing more."

"We thought... you know," the other one said, "it being the last day of classes and all... he might... you know..."

"Spit it out, ladies."

"We thought," the first one said, "he might have popped the question. You know, proposed."

"Me and... Kuno? Married?" Nabiki's eyes went wild as this possibility went through her mind. Then she burst out hysterically. "Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!!!!"


"I'm home!" Nabiki entered the Tendo home amidst the sounds of repair work. Her father could be heard crying in the background, while Ranma and Akane argued. Just a typical day.

"Hello, Nabiki!" Kasumi said enthusiastically, as she always did. "This was your last day of classes, wasn't it? Congratulations!"

"Thanks, sis." Nabiki looked around the room. "I see the house is almost fixed. Now aren't you all glad I invited all of those guests to the wedding? The money they paid for admission will be more than enough to pay for the repairs." Of course, the repairs might not have been necessary if those guests hadn't been there, but Nabiki didn't feel obligated to mention this.

Soun held up a folded piece of paper. "Nabiki! Isn't it wonderful?"

"Well, *I* think so. I mean, frankly, that school is a lunatic asylum. I can make good money there, but I'm glad to be leaving."

"I don't mean that. Look at this!" He showed Nabiki the paper.

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Saotome,

Congratulations on your recent wedding! As our gift to you, you are invited to enjoy a free dinner for two at the Cupid Cafe, Nerima's finest restaurant catering to young couples as well as the young at heart. Please call 555-5683 at your earliest convenience to make reservations.

"A lovers' cafe?" Ranma asked. "US?!"

"If Ranma doesn't want to go with me, that's okay," Akane said to no one in particular. "There are plenty of other people I could go with."

"Akane!" A brownish blur suddenly zipped through the room. All heads turned to see Happosai clinging to Akane's bosom. "I'll go with you!!"

"Get off!" She struck the old pervert with the back of her hand, swatting him through a wall. Nabiki mentally calculated how much the new damage would add to the repair bill.

"I've had guys take me to this place before." Nabiki handed the paper over to Ranma. "The food is pretty good."

Ranma stared at the letter. "Don't you think it's kinda weird, us gettin' this for nothing?"

"The restaurant owner probably saw your wedding announcement in the newspaper. They give out free dinners to selected newlyweds, in hopes that you'll tell your friends how nice it was. Evidently the fact that you didn't actually end up married didn't disqualify you. It's a legitimate promotion. But," she added, knowing full well that it was a warning that would be ignored, "it doesn't mean you shouldn't be careful."

Kasumi suddenly spoke up. "Oh my, I almost forgot. You got a letter today too, Nabiki!" She handed her sister a sealed envelope. It was an international letter, return-addressed from the University of Pennsylvania Office of Financial Aid. Nabiki's pulse quickened as she greedily tore the envelope open. It was the letter she had been waiting for.

Dear Ms. Tendo Nabiki,

We are pleased to inform you that you have been awarded a scholarship by the Felgercarb Foundation. These grants cover the full University tuition and fees for four years.

"YES!" Nabiki jumped nearly five feet into the air. "Kasumi, do you know what this is?"

"Goodness, of course not, Nabiki!" Kasumi wore her usual calm smile. "It's your letter, not mine!"

"Kasumi, they're paying my tuition! I can go to the university in the US for free!"

"Tuition and fees," Kasumi corrected. "That's wonderful!" The others offered various shouts of congratulations. "They must really think you're something special, to pay all your tuition and expenses."

"I guess so." Nabiki smiled as she looked over the letter again, savoring every word. "And after that, it's on to Wharton. It's one of the best schools of business anywhere!"

Ranma smirked. "Business school? I thought you knew it all already."

"I do, Saotome." Nabiki smiled self-approvingly. "You can bet your life on it. I know business like you know martial arts. And what I don't know, I can learn myself faster than these people can teach it to me."

"Then why go to school?"

"Connections. I need to meet the right people, and they need to know who I am. That's what it's all about. The degree itself doesn't mean anything."

Ranma looked thoughtful for a moment. "Yeah, whatever. Anyway, as far as this dinner thing, if the food's good, I'll go. I just hope Akane don't get all mushy and stuff."

Akane snorted. "You wish, Ranma."

"That's the spirit!" A teary-eyed Soun abruptly hugged both Ranma and Akane. "I'll call in the reservations for tonight! I'm so happy!"


Genma, in panda form, grunted in approval as he watched Soun embrace the two children. He held out a sign that read, *Young love: Ain't it wonderful?* Unnoticed by the others, he was sweating, and not just because of the weather.

Mousse had come to the dojo the previous day.

"Mr. Tendo. Mr. Saotome. I've come here to help you." The boy gazed ahead with eyes resolute. His voice was firm, confident. "All of us want the same thing -- for Ranma and Akane to be happily married, so that my darling Shampoo will be left for me. Do we see eye-to-eye on this?"

"Over here, son," Soun called. "That's a floor fan."

Mousse scrambled over to the source of the voice, and offered a small tablet. "Here! I want you to use this!"

Soun examined the object. "This is..."

"It's the last of the three love pills that Happosai stole from Cologne nearly a hundred years ago. All you need to do is give this to Ranma while he's looking at Akane. This one only lasts one day, but that'll be time enough for them to get married."

Genma raised an eyebrow. "Are you suggesting that I'd stoop so low as to drug my own son?" Obviously, Mousse was more perceptive than he seemed.

"Er, well... they love each other anyway," Mousse stammered. "Everybody knows it. They're just too stubborn to admit it."

"How did you come by this, boy?" Genma asked. "And why haven't you just used it on Shampoo yourself?"

"I found it in the back room of the Nekohanten. And I tried, but there was no way I could give it to Shampoo without getting caught. If I had tried, Cologne would've figured out what happened and just kept me away from Shampoo for the whole day. Then the two of them might... ah, might have decided to make me into Beijing duck. This way, at least, the finger won't point to me."

Soun looked at his old friend with a serious expression. "Desperate times call for desperate measures, Saotome. Perhaps we ought to put this in your son's food."

"Let us consider our course of action carefully, Tendo. Is this an honorable thing to do? Can we truly say that the end justifies the means? And won't the finger just point to us? And is there a recipe for Beijing Panda?"

Soun thought for a moment. "You know, Saotome, I happen to have a friend named Guzen Noichi. He's a chef at a restaurant for young lovers called the Cupid Cafe. Suppose that a certain two young lovers were invited for dinner there..."

"Excellent idea, Tendo! The romantic atmosphere will make my son realize his true feelings! With a little help from your friend and this pill, of course."

"Agreed, Saotome. It's all for the best. Like the young man here said, they love each other anyway."

Despite the confidence Genma projected, he knew all too well how easily the plan could go wrong. By the end of the day, his son might well end up married to one of the cafe's waitresses. More likely, Ranma might find out who was responsible for drugging him -- and the boy didn't exactly seem pleased with his father as things already were.

On the other hand, Ranma had never been the type to hold a serious grudge against anyone. Shampoo and Ukyo had thrown bombs at him during his wedding, but he didn't seem to think any worse of them afterwards. Genma couldn't think of a time when he'd seen his son angry -- not really angry. He had seen Akane like that, but it never seemed to last; she'd always let it out by hitting something — or someone — and then pretty much forget about it.

In the final analysis, those consequences didn't matter anyway. There was more at stake than the security of a couple of old men. More even than the futures of their children. The Anything Goes school had to be preserved. It was a martial artist's first and most important duty to make certain that his Art would be passed on to the next generation, and the next. Whether it required a magical love pill, or a bargain with the dark gods, Saotome Genma would carry out this responsibility.


Kuno Tatewaki entered the Tendo residence at precisely four P.M. Saotome Ranma immediately leapt over to stand with his feet planted firmly on top of the kendoist's head.

"Saotome!" Kuno bellowed as he tried to push Ranma off. "What do you think you are doing!?"

Ranma showed him a handwritten note:

Kuno-chan wants you to meet him here this afternoon. Four o'clock on the head.


"Aaaaarg!!" The True Blunder righted himself as Ranma jumped back to the ground. "This is no laughing matter, you insolent dog!"

Ranma assumed a combat-ready stance. "So what is it this time, Kuno? Another challenge? Okay, let's get it over with."

Kuno casually ran a hand through his hair. "I would love to smite thee, but I have more pressing concerns at present. Though the idea pains me, I am prepared to negotiate with you over the Pig-Tailed Girl."


"You will release your hold over she who is my love. I shall thereafter pay a ransom to you, the amount of which will be negotiated between the two of us. Do you agree?"

"What?!?" Ranma couldn't believe what he was hearing. "You want to *buy* the 'Pig-Tailed Girl'?"

"Make no mistake, Saotome, I relish not the thought of giving in to your villainy. But you have left me no other choice. I will see my love freed, one way or another."

"Kuno, get it through your thick head. The 'Pig-Tailed Girl' thinks you're a stupid jerk. She does not love you. She will never love you. Understand? And she ain't for sale."

Kuno sneered. "You would be surprised, Saotome, at just how many things are for sale when the right price is offered."

"Yeah? Does that include your mom?" Okay, it was a third-grade kid's insult, but this idiot didn't deserve any better.

Kuno's response was to charge at Ranma with his bokken. At that moment, Ranma decided that he had had enough.


Moments later, Tatewaki lay face down in the local garbage collection site.

This would not deter him, he swore to himself as he struggled to his feet. The Pig-Tailed Girl would be freed to express her feelings toward him, one way or another. For was it not always so in all the tales and legends that the hero is wed to the most beautiful of women?

He walked toward home. This approach had failed. He would have to find another.


"Man, what a dork. 'I would love to smite thee,'" Ranma said to himself, in an absurdly effeminate parody of Tatewaki's voice. "What the heck is his problem?" Until he had become a girl and met Kuno, Ranma had never really understood what sexism was. Kuno treated him completely differently as a girl than as a boy, even though he was exactly the same person.

A voice came from behind. "Good evening, Ranma."

Ranma turned and was face-to-face with his mother. With apprehension, he recalled his father's promise that the two of them should commit seppuku if he were found to be unmanly. "Uh... Mom... I wasn't...."

"I have no quarrel with your behavior tonight, Ranma. You were clearly provoked into fighting that young man, and you handled yourself with dignity as a true man should. But I am curious as to who the 'Pig-Tailed Girl' your classmate referred to is."

Ranma suppressed a sigh of relief. "She's me, Mom. Kuno's seen me as a girl and doesn't understand that it's the same person. We've explained it to him time and time again, and he's even seen me change right in front of him, but he still just doesn't get it."

"Most unusual." Nodoka's expression was unreadable. Ranma wondered whether she was going to blame him for leading Kuno on, or something like that.

"It runs in the family. His sister and his dad are even crazier than he is."

"Indeed? What of his mother?"

"I dunno nothin' about her. Uh, I gotta go get ready for dinner at that restaurant, Mom." Ranma climbed quickly up the stairs toward his room.

His mother's interrogation had made him quite uncomfortable. It was true that he didn't have to pretend to be Akane's cousin any more, and he was glad for that. But Pop's promise was still hanging over his head. His own mother could decide he should die anytime she decided he didn't live up to her expectations as a "real man among men" -- expectations which he didn't completely understand. He no longer needed to be "Ranko" around her, but he couldn't really be himself either.

Maybe that was why he liked fighting better than anything else. During a fight, he was the one who decided what to do. He didn't have to worry about what anyone else thought. There were very few other things in his life like that.


Nodoka watched her son climb the stairs. How lucky she was to have such a fine son, not an ill-mannered fool like the Kuno boy.

She felt pride in knowing that her own influence had guided him towards the straight and narrow. Not directly; Genma had taken him away from her as a baby. But she had forced her husband to pledge that their son would be raised as a man among men. Surely it was that promise that had forced Genma to give the boy a proper upbringing.

On the other hand, it pained Nodoka to see the way Ranma reacted to her. He seemed nervous and anxious around her most of the time, and often made excuses to get away from her as he had just done. That saddened her. Like any mother, she wanted to be close to her son. Couldn't he see that she was only trying to lead him down the path of honor and uprightness? Wasn't it obvious that she was trying to keep him from becoming like the Kuno boy?

There was no answer, so Nodoka put the thought out of her mind. She couldn't change Ranma's attitude towards her, at least not at that moment. She could, however, do something about the young Kuno. His father was the Principal at Ranma's high school. She would speak with him. She would demand that he take some responsibility towards properly disciplining his son.


In the Kuno mansion, the dinner conversation took a rare turn in that the three participants were actually listening to each other. The subject turned to Tatewaki's plans for the future. "In truth, I know not what course I will take," he said.

"'Ey, Tatchi," the Principal said between mouthfuls of food, "I know what yo' oughtta do."

"And what is that, Father?" Tatewaki asked, mildly curious. Perhaps the Principal actually had something useful to say.

"You goan' get one o' dem new haircuts! De ones wit' de sides shaved and de top long. Hoohah!!"

"You are as helpful as ever, father. What think you, sister?"

"To be honest, brother dear, I think that those haircuts are quite ugly. Your hair looks fine as is." Kodachi smiled patronizingly. "Oh, yes I know what you meant to ask, but there really is no question
as to your future."


"No. For you have no imagination, brother. You'll go to college to train for some dull but secure employment. You'll find some traditional girl to marry who will smile at you as you rant on about how wonderful you are. You'll raise a litter of children who also have no imagination, who will grow to adulthood and repeat the cycle over again. Does not that sound like a good life? You must be *so* looking forward to it!"

Tatewaki knew that his sister was insane, but her words still stung. Did he really have no imagination? He tried to think of what it would be like to have imagination, but for some reason could not form a mental image of it.

"Uhh..." the Principal groaned, as his head abruptly fell forward into his plate of noodle casserole.

Tatewaki examined his father and found him to be sound asleep. He glared at Kodachi.

"Merely trying out a new recipe, brother. It seems you were not affected. Perhaps you should have eaten more."

"And what reason have you for wanting to drug the other members of your family?"

"Why, brother. Who needs reason when one has imagination? Ohohohohohoho!!!!"


The last few customers had just left the Nekohanten. After having quickly cleared off the table they had used, Mousse stood behind the cash register. It was still twenty minutes before closing time, and he had to wait in case anyone else were to come in.

He could hear the voices of Cologne and Shampoo from the back room, and strained to make out what they were saying. He hoped they hadn't discovered that the love pill was missing; if they had, they'd surely guess that he had been the one to take it. Then Shampoo would hate him, if she didn't already.

"You may have gone too far this time, Shampoo." Cologne said sternly. "Throwing exploding food at Ranma and Akane may have been satisfying, but did you consider the consequences? An Amazon should not let her personal feelings interfere with her duty to her people."

"I sorry, great-grandmother," Shampoo replied.

"Is that all you have to say?"

It took several moments before Shampoo answered. "Yes."

Cologne's tone softened slightly. "Do you still love him? Even after all that's happened?"

"Yes. No." There was so much pain in Shampoo's voice. Pain that made Mousse want to run over to her and comfort her. "Love Ranma, also hate him."


"I many times prove to Ranma that I much more suitable for him than Akane. I stronger, cook better, prettier, and what what else. Why he not see that? Why he not see I love him more than anyone else? So many times I show him and he still decide to marry Akane instead me. Maybe he always decided this from beginning, and everything I do not matter at all. Sometimes I think I waste my whole life chasing Ranma. What if I get to be old woman and still not successful?"

Mousse felt a pang of guilt. He was plotting behind the back of the woman he loved to deny her what she wanted most. Then he dismissed the feeling as pure nonsense. The more Shampoo interacted with Ranma, the more pain he visited on her. He was trying to protect her from being hurt. How could someone truly in love do otherwise?

Cologne spoke again, her voice calm and even. "So you were angry with him for not choosing to marry you?"

"Yes. That part of it. Also, I just tired. I want it finally over. I want Ranma know that decision is final. He no can choose Akane and still expect Shampoo still be waiting for him to change mind."

The tinkling of the door chime interrupted Mousse's listening. Kuno Tatewaki entered. "Good evening. My sister has unfortunately drugged the dinner that I was to eat, so I have come to purchase some substitute comestibles."

Mousse handed Tatewaki a menu. He concentrated on listening to Cologne and Shampoo as the kendoist scanned over the choices. Fortunately, being unable to depend on his eyesight had caused him to develop keener hearing.

Cologne's voice. "You do realize the consequences of giving up on Ranma."

Shampoo. "Yes. Law say I can not be given cure until I marry Ranma. I not care. I stay cursed to turn into cat forever. What choice I have anyway?"

"Curse the fates!" Tatewaki slammed his fist down on the table. "I find myself unable to decide between ramen with pork, and ramen with shrimp!"

"You can get ramen with pork *and* shrimp if you like," Mousse said, hoping that Tatewaki would shut up so he could listen to Shampoo.

Tatewaki nodded. "Excellent suggestion. So be it then! I shall have them both!"

"Yes, sir." Mousse scribbled the order onto a notepad. "Carry-out or dine in?" Tatewaki's eyes narrowed as he pondered this new choice.

Mousse continued to listen to Cologne's voice. "Since you already carry your punishment for your failure, whether or not you continue to pursue Ranma is your own choice, Shampoo. However, I am worried about us losing Ranma's good will. Up until now he has been very forgiving of the various sorts of mischief we've played on him, but he won't necessarily continue to be. You know as well as anyone why it would be disastrous for us for him to turn hostile."

"What you want me do, Great-grandmother?"

"You will promise on the honor of the Amazons never again to interfere between Ranma and Akane. You will write a statement of that promise, and an apology for your behavior at the wedding; I will have Mousse deliver it to the Tendos."

"Yes, great-grandmother. I promise," Shampoo said flatly.

Mousse let out the breath he realized he'd been holding in. "That's a relief. Shampoo could have ruined Ranma and Akane's date at the Cupid Cafe."

He put a hand to his mouth as he realized that he'd just spoken out loud. Fortunately, Cologne and Shampoo couldn't possibly have heard him.

"What?" Tatewaki quickly came to his feet. "Akane Tendo is at the Cupid Cafe?"

"Er... uh..." Mousse stammered.

"She surely awaits the presence of her own true love! Be brave, Akane Tendo! I come anon!" The kendoist strode purposefully out the front door.

Mousse tore Tatewaki's order from his pad, crumpled it up, and threw it in the garbage. He prayed to any gods that might be listening that he hadn't just blown it.


"Welcome to the Cupid Cafe." Atama Kukiko had what she thought was the best job in the whole world, waitress at the Cafe. Seeing so many young lovers every day was just wonderful! "Do you have a

"Yes," the short-haired woman in the pretty dress replied. "Tendo Akane and Saotome Ranma."

"Oh yes. Someone made a mistake, I see. You're listed here as a man and a woman."

"Blame that little old lady who throws water outside all the time," the woman in the 1970's Chinese-style jacket said. "One of these days I oughtta..."

"Why don't you just take a different route?" her companion said, sounding a little annoyed. The pig-tailed girl didn't seem to have a good answer.

"That's all right. This way, please." Kukiko picked up two menus and led the two customers to their candle-lit table in the back, as they kept arguing all the while. She smiled to herself, thinking about how young love was. Man-woman, man-man, or woman-woman, it was always the same. They were a little upset with each other right now; that meant that later they would be making up.


The waitress set two plates of food on the table. "Pork fried rice for the lady, and teriyaki eel for... the other lady."

"Could we have some hot water, please?" Akane asked her.

"Skp 't, Akne," Ranma said through a mouthful of food. "I'll stay like this." It wasn't worth the trouble of explaining to the waitress why one of her customers had been replaced by a man. Besides, the curse seemed to attract cold water when it wanted to.

Akane finished chewing before replying. "How do you think that makes me feel, Ranma? To be at a lovers' cafe with another girl?"

"Oh, you're embarrassed to be seen with me, is that it?" Ranma wasn't any more happy about being a girl than anyone else. But at least for now, there was nothing that could be done about it. It was a part of what Saotome Ranma was, and Akane was going to have to accept it if they were going to be married.

"That's not what I..."

"And I suppose you think I like being with a girl as unfeminine as you?"

"What did you say?!" Akane snatched Ranma's now empty plate and lifted it, about to bash it into her fiance's skull.

She then gave a tired sigh and set the plate back down noisily on the table. "Maybe you and I are just wrong for each other," she said, exasperated. "Are we going to be doing this the rest of our lives? Insulting and hitting each other? Is that the kind of life we want?"

"I dunno." Ranma couldn't think of a good answer. "I been pushed around and told what to do so much, I don't even know what I want anymore."

"I guess I can understand that", Akane said. "Sometimes it seems like I've been fighting back because I didn't want to be controlled by other people, that I don't know what I do want. Does that make any sense?"


The two edged closer, each looking at the other's face in the soft lighting. Could it be that they both felt the same way... ?

A voice came from the front of the restaurant. "Tendo Akane! Whither art thou, my love?"

"Kuno." Ranma said the name as if it were something to be scraped from the bottom of a shoe. Damn it, they were so close... to what? "I've had it. I'm gonna put that moron in the hospital."

"No." Akane's emotions clearly matched Ranma's. "He called for me. That means *I* get to put him in the hospital." She took a quick drink from her glass of water.

Tatewaki burst into view. "Tendo Akane!" He turned to notice Ranma. "And the Pig-Tailed Girl!"

Ranma stared wide-eyed at the kendoist. "Kuno!" Suddenly, everything was clear. Akane didn't matter anymore. Neither did Shampoo, Ukyo, or Kodachi. Not when the most wonderful person in the world was standing right there. "Kuno darling!"

Water sprayed from Akane's mouth. "What?"


"Is everything all right here?" the waitress asked.

"Hot. Water. Now!" Akane said through clenched teeth. No, as it happened, everything was *not* all right. Her fiance, her date for the evening, held Kuno in a tight embrace, cooing happily, ignoring her as if she no longer existed. She was being made a fool of once again. Some part of her told her that it might not be Ranma's fault; she ignored it.

"Pig-Tailed Girl!" Kuno exclaimed. "At last you have cast off the foul influence that bound you to that dog Saotome!"

"I belong to no one but you, darling! Let's run away together!" Ranma's hand reached up, pulling Kuno's face near. Their lips met in a long, slow kiss. Akane gaped at the sight, unable to form words. She tried to pull Ranma away, but the two held together as if superglued to each other.

In her heart, Akane was more than ready to believe that Ranma would leave her for someone else. But Kuno? That just didn't make any sense. Maybe it was some sort of con game to get something from him. Or it was Ranma's way of showing his real feelings for her. I'd rather French-kiss a brain-dead kendoist than go out on a date with you, Akane.

No. If it were Shampoo, or even Kodachi, Akane would have believed it. But not Kuno. Kissing him was something Ranma just wouldn't do voluntarily under any circumstances. She knew her fiance that well, at least.

The waitress re-entered with a kettle of steaming water. Akane quickly snatched it and doused Ranma, turning him male. "There," she said snidely. "Kiss all you want now!"

"Huh?" Ranma gaped as he saw who he was hugging. "What the..." He shoved Kuno aside forcefully. "I kissed... Kuno?!" His hands went to his mouth as he emitted a muffled gagging sound. The dinner he had just eaten seemed about to come up.

Akane fought the urge to believe that all of this was Ranma's fault. Maybe Kuno had found some magical super-pheromone that made him irresistible to women. Then why wasn't she affected? Was she as unfeminine as Ranma always said? She didn't want to think about that.

"Saotome? What trickery..." Tatewaki turned to Akane. "Akane Tendo, be not jealous! My fire burns for you as well!"

"Jealous?!" Akane angrily kicked the table towards Kuno, knocking him down. The water glass from the table fell off, and splashed onto Ranma.

Akane paused on seeing that Ranma was again a woman. What would he do now?

Ranma looked at Kuno with big tearful eyes. "Oh, Upperclassman Kuno, our love cannot be. For I am cursed by the pools of Jusenkyo!"

Tatewaki struggled to push the table off of him so that he could get up. "Pools... of Jusenkyo?"

"Yes. My father carelessly brought me to that place during our trip to China. Since then I have been cursed. That is why you see me as you do now. Dear, dear Tatewaki, you must find another, a real woman who can return your love all of the time."

"At last!!" Kuno stood and struck a proud pose. "This is the quest for which I was born!"

"Huh?" Akane's mind boggled.

"I will travel to Jusenkyo, China, to free the Pig-Tailed Girl from her curse!" Kuno strode toward the exit. "Be brave, my love, until my return!"

"Have a nice trip," Akane said sourly as she poured more hot water onto Ranma. Kuno going to Jusenkyo? She wondered what he might come back as. It would serve him right, whatever it was.


"A... Akane?" Ranma turned slowly, hesitantly. "I... I..." For a moment, as he looked at her he felt himself about to lose control again. Then the influence abruptly faded, and he was back to normal. He felt the same way about Akane that he always had.

"Ranma?" Akane gazed back at him softly. "Are— are you okay now?"

"Akane, I— I—" For a moment Ranma stood paralyzed, barely even breathing. He felt as if moving even an inch might make him lose his mind again, chase after Kuno and surrender his body. A martial artist isn't supposed to be afraid, he told himself. Pop had always told him that; and, except when cats had been involved, he had always lived up to it.

But there was nothing to fight here. Whatever had attacked him had been intangible, invisible; it had slipped inside him, giving no warning, and completely taken over his mind. As far as he knew, it could do the same thing again any time it wanted, and there was no way he could defend himself. And it had made him kiss Kuno. It had made him want to kiss Kuno.

Leaning over the upturned table, Ranma held onto Akane desperately. She was a life preserver, the only thing keeping him from drowning in a sea of emotion. And for once, she didn't pull back, didn't hit him. "It's okay, Ranma. It's okay." She was as steady and solid as a mountain as she hung onto him with all of her strength. That tomboy brute strength. How could he ever have thought it was a bad thing?

Tomorrow, maybe he'd go back to insulting her, and she'd go back to hitting him. But for now, none of that mattered. At that moment, he'd happily put up with the arguments, her cooking, and all the other annoyances forever if it meant that he didn't have to lose her.


Kukiko watched her two customers as they hugged. Finally, they had made up. How wonderful young love was!


Shampoo slid the door open far enough to peer through. "I sorry. Nekohanten closed for tonight. You come back tomorrow, OK?"

"I am not seeking food, good lady. I would have words with the owner of this establishment."

"Great-grandmother!" Shampoo called out. She opened the door all the way. "You come in, please?"

"Thank you." Kuno Tatewaki stepped through the doorway.

Cologne walked in from the kitchen. "Can I help you, young man?"

Fiery determination burned in Tatewaki's eyes. "It is my quest to free the Pig-Tailed Girl from the curse of Jusenkyo. I require your assistance in getting to that location."

Cologne did a slight double-take at this odd request. "You realize that Jusenkyo is a dangerous place? And your 'Pig-Tailed Girl'..."

"I will not be deterred. Should you be unwilling to help me, I shall look for assistance elsewhere."

"Very well. Make arrangements to travel to Xi Ning in the Qinghai province of China. Inform me as to your scheduled date and time of arrival. I will contact my Amazon sisters and have them meet you there. They will then guide you to Jusenkyo. What happens to you once there is your own responsibility."

"Agreed. I shall be in touch." Tatewaki turned and strode toward the exit.

Shampoo slid the door back open. She started to speak, but nothing came out. What could she tell him? He surely wouldn't listen to her if she tried to explain Jusenkyo.

She knew that Tatewaki was deluded, totally unable to understand who his "Pig-Tailed Girl" really was. Still, she couldn't help feeling a twinge of admiration and respect for his dedication and persistence. Though the object of his love was a fantasy, it seemed that his love itself was very real. Quite unlike Ranma, who only seemed to care for Shampoo as a friend no matter what she did. And Mousse, who constantly showered her with affection -- but, she was sure, not due to any real deep-down love for her. Mousse didn't know what love was. He acted nice to her simply because he wanted her to be his wife.

Tatewaki turned and bowed. Shampoo smiled at him. "Good luck." She hoped he would be all right.


He saw nothing.

Tatewaki had managed to make the arduous journey to Jusenkyo. Two flights, a rail trip, a bus ride over a road that barely existed, and a long trek on foot had brought him to his destination. He had come expecting to fight the guardians of the place; creatures of evil, or perhaps human servants of some dark power. He could defeat them and force them to reverse their malevolent bewitchment of the Pig-Tailed Girl.

But there were no guardians. There were merely a hundred pools of water with bamboo poles protruding upward.

"Attend me, you craven dogs!" Tatewaki cried. "I, Kuno Tatewaki, have come to challenge you for the freedom of the Pig-Tailed Girl! Show yourselves, cowards!!"

"You shout into empty air."

Tatewaki turned to see Lan, the aged Amazon with whom he had spoken back in the village. "Where are the keepers of this place?" he asked her.

"There are none. There is nothing for you to fight here."

"Do not trifle with me, woman!" Tatewaki raised his bokken threateningly.

"Oh, you could fight with me, and you would surely win, for my health is poor. Time has not treated this old woman well. Defeating me, however, would gain you nothing. Your 'Pig-Tailed Girl' would still be as she now is."

Tatewaki looked around. The old woman had to be lying! There had to be some foe here for him to attack! Perhaps they were concealed beneath the waters of the pools? He moved slowly over towards one of them for a closer look. It appeared to be empty.

"But," the old woman continued, "I can do something to help you. I can offer you training. Training of the body, of the mind, and of the spirit."

"Why do you offer this?"

"Someday soon, our village is likely to face a crisis. We will be in need of as many warriors as we can find. I know that your battle skills are considerable."

"And your training will enable me to break the hold that this place has over the Pig-Tailed Girl?"

"I do not guarantee that. But it will make you a better fighter, and it will help you in understanding your opposition. You may learn just what it is that keeps you from achieving your goals; this might give you a chance of getting what you seek."

The afternoon sunlight glistened off the surface of the pool. It beckoned to Tatewaki, a siren call inside his mind. It was offering him a choice. Perhaps the Pig-Tailed girl had faced the same set of alternatives?

Accepting assistance was a sign of weakness; nevertheless, he could see no other road to take. Nothing in his mind told him any way he could deal with this situation himself. And if it had been merely his own life at stake, he could have stayed and fought with shadows. But the Pig-Tailed Girl was depending on him. To save her, he was honor-bound to attempt any avenue by which he might be successful -- even if it meant practicing one of the most difficult virtues of all: patience.

He stepped back, slowly and carefully. Saying nothing, he followed the old woman away from the area. He would later learn that in so doing, Kuno Tatewaki became one of the few outsiders ever to leave Jusenkyo *without* having been transformed by one of the place's cursed springs.

Tatewaki undertook his Amazon training. Initially, it went very poorly. He had difficulty mastering the simplest Amazon stick fighting techniques, and each of his instructors was able to defeat him easily. He fared no better with his study of Chinese, or of meditation, or of Amazon thought and philosophy. By all reckonings, he was a failure.

And they didn't mind.

Lan-sensei and Tatewaki's other Amazon teachers did not punish or cast out Tatewaki for his shortcomings. They simply treated his failures as difficulties to be overcome, giving him more instruction and letting him try again and again until he got it right.

And he had been wrong about so many things.

As time passed, Tatewaki realized that this had to be what a family was like. The Amazons were his family now, not the man and the girl who happened to be related to him by blood. When the time came to help defend the village, he would be ready.


You can't go home again.

As Tatewaki exited the train station and walked down the once-familiar streets of Nerima, he now knew that this place he grew up in was not his true home. That lay elsewhere, in the remoteness of China. He only hoped that it would still be there for him after the current crisis was over.

He let his gaze travel from building to building as he passed by them, searching for any familiar sights, all the while musing on the irony of the situation. He had been searching for so very long for a quest. Now he had one. But it was not one that he could succeed at alone.

He stopped at one particular establishment upon reading its sign. Yes, it would be quite appropriate. His previous life here had ended at a restaurant. It would begin again at another.

Tatewaki opened the door and stepped into Okonomiyaki Ucchan's.


AUTHOR'S POST-IT NOTES: Many thanks to all those who read the earlier drafts of this and offered opinions and suggestions. All of you really helped to make this much better than it would've been.

I took the "on the head" joke from a scene in manga vol. 5 -- Viz translated it in a way that wasn't funny and I wanted to try to do better. For those who are wondering where the Jusenkyo Guide was in that last scene, he got out of there as soon as the Amazons tipped him off as to who was coming and why.

A lot of readers on the Fanfiction Mailing list wanted to know more about the training and character development that Kuno went through during his seven years with the Amazons. I might cover this in a side story when I get the chance.

-Gary Kleppe