Chapter Eight: The Kids Aren't All RightEdit
"What's taking them so long?" Aizen muttered, glancing at the clock on the wall. "Saotome should have been out at least by now."
Aizen looked around the restaurant. There was only one thing she could do.
"Hey, I'm gonna go see what's keeping Ranko, okay?" She told Akane, and then looked over towards Ryouga. "Why don't you see what's keeping YOUR friend?"
Ryouga snapped out of his reverie for a moment, and then nodded. He got up and then bounded off the bathroom.
"I'll be back in a minute, Akane," Aizen said, trotting happily towards the bathroom.
Akane sighed. She had no idea that Aizen was going to be there, or even that Hibiki guy. Akane wasn't sure she was very comfortable there by herself.
But it would be rude to just get up and leave. She couldn't do that. If things got too out of hand, she'd just tell them politely that she had to go. That was all she needed to do.
She looked up over towards the far side of the shoppe and noticed two boys looking at her strangely.
Shaking it off, she looked out the window near her booth.
And let her jaw drop. Why was Yuka gawking at her from across the street?
And most of all, why was she dressed up in a trenchcoat, hat and sunglasses, holding up a newspaper like the protagonist in old 1950 spy movies usually did?
Akane glared across the street. Yuka quickly noticed it, and covered her face with the newspaper, as if she was trying to read it.
Akane's face went stale. The newspaper was upside down.
The yell from the bathroom clenched it. She HAD to get out of there.
"Hey, Ranma," Ryouga called, entering the bathroom. "You in there?"
There was no answer. He looked under the stalls. No feet.
There was a shadow, however.
"Come on, buddy. I know you're in there. I can see your shadow."
Ryouga walked over to the stall and pushed it open.
Nobody there. Ryouga blinked in confusion. He was certain he could see a shadow. But there was nothing there, just an odd chill up his spine.
He turned around and regarded the open window.
"Oh, man, you didn't," he said. "You can't bail on me now, Ranma!"
Ryouga ran to the window and looked out. Nobody in the alley. Maybe he was just imagining things.
Then, Ryouga heard a sound. He spun around, searching for the source and--
Saw nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Shaking his head, he walked over to the sink. "I need to lay off of the caffeine," he said to himself as he placed his hands under the faucet, turning the water on and splashing some in his face.
He looked into the mirror for a moment, and paused.
A dark shape on the ceiling, moving silently towards him.
Ryouga spun around, took one look at the form on the ceiling, and screamed at the top of his lungs.
"Hello?" Aizen called, walking into the womens room. "Hey, Saotome, you here?"
No answer. Aizen bent over and saw two feet in one of the stalls.
"Come on, Saotome, Akane's waiting for us. You wanna get this over with or what?"
No answer. Aizen walked over to the stall.
"Saotome, come on, you can't get cold feet now. We've got too much riding on this setup."
Again, no reply.
Aizen was getting frustrated. "Come ON, Saotome!" She said, kicking the door open.
Aizen's jaw dropped open.
"You might try knocking first," the girl said, glaring at Aizen.
"You're... not Saotome," was Aizen's only reply.
The girl smiled sarcastically. "What was your first guess?"
A moment later, Aizen heard the scream.
"Oh no," she said, running out of the bathroom.
Not good. Definitely NOT good.
Takao dropped from the ceiling and rushed towards Ryouga.
Here goes nothing.
"Shhh," he said, clamping his hands over Ryouga's mouth. "Ryouga, it's me!"
Ryouga's eyes narrowed. "Ranma?"
Ryouga shook his head. "What happened to you?"
Takao's jaw dropped.
"I mean, how did you get up there?! And how did you get so... BIG?!"
No. There was too much riding on this. Yuka knew, he didn't need Ryouga to know. Ryouga would let it slip somehow.
"Inflatable muscles," he beamed.
Ryouga's jaw dropped. "Inflatable? But then.. how did you--"
"Oh, up there? Helium!"
Ryouga nodded as if it had just dawned on him. "Well, you should get back out there. Akane Tendo is here now, and Ranko just walked in."
Takao nodded. "Sure."
"And take that stuff off. You look ridiculous!" he added. "Besides, I can see the seam!"
Takao grit his teeth and continued to nod.
Just then, Aizen hopped into the room, looking around frantically.
Ryouga went into stutter mode immediately. "Uhh, hi Aizen! What... ah, brings you here?"
"I heard someone scream," she replied, looking at the two of them. "Have you guys seen Ranko any where?"
Ryouga shook his head.
"I think she, ah... changed," Takao said.
Aizen shook her head. "No, she changed at home."
Takao sighed. "No, I mean she got a little HOT, and CHANGED."
Aizen blinked. "She didn't look that hot to me," she replied.
"I think she had a little JUSENKYO in her system."
"Is that a type of food or something?" Aizen asked.
"Oh for crying out loud!" Takao yelled. It was a good thing Ryouga was in a daze, or else he would have actually noticed Takao's gestures.
"What are you doing?" Aizen asked.
Takao just pointed at himself, then to the taps.
"Ooh, charades? I know, I know..."
Takao let his shoulders droop.
Shaking his head, he decided to play along. He pointed at himself.
"You," Aizen said.
Takao nodded, and then started to rub his hands as though he were trying to wash them.
"You've become a massage therapist?"
Takao shot a venomous glare at Aizen.
"You've become a door-to-door massage therapist?"
Takao dropped his shoulders again. "Oh for crying out loud, Aizen!"
"Is that it? Did I win?"
Takao just looked at her. "How was your date with Anuket?"
Aizen's eyes shot open. "OH! Ranko CHANGED! I understand!"
She looked down for a moment. "Ryouga, would you wait in the booth for a minute, I've just got to talk with Ranma here for a moment."
Ryouga nodded, stuttered something, and then walked out of the restroom.
Aizen looked towards Takao and sighed. "So, she told you, then eh?"
Takao blinked. "Huh?"
"It puts a lot of this in jeopardy, but you've got to understand our situation. Both of us wanna go home, and you and Ak--"
"No, let me finish. I don't wanna mess with your--"
"Shut up, Aizen! I _AM_ Ranma!"
"I know, I was talking about the other--... Oh."
Takao shook his head.
"So you're... Saotome from..."
"Yes," he said, shaking his head sadly. "The new Ranma skipped out on us. I don't have any cold water to change back."
Aizen nodded. "Ahh, I see."
"What do we do?"
Aizen sighed. "How about this?"
"I dunno, they've been in there a little bit too long if you ask me. This isn't a good thing," Kire muttered.
Masa shook his head. "We can't risk being discovered by those evil cultists right now."
Kire sighed and just kept staring. The girl they had been charged with watching closely was looking around in discomfort, staring across the street like she knew someone over there and being generally suspicious.
But as for Kire and Masa, they had come to the final conclusion that they were to prevent Akane Tendo and Ranma Saotome from getting with each other, for fear of some global, perhaps universal apocalypse that would destroy all known life should the evil cultists succeed.
The evil cultists, of course, being the two girls who were trying to set Saotome and Tendo up with each other.
Of course, less important possibilities never even penetrated their train of thought.
The two of them kept staring at Akane, even as someone came out of one of the bathrooms.
It was the other boy, who had been sitting by himself.
"He looks like he's preoccupied," Masa pointed out.
"Maybe he's been brainwashed," Kire said, looking at Masa. "Evil cultists can do that, you know!"
Masa's jaw dropped. "You think they would stoop to brainwashing?"
Kire shrugged. "Look at them, they're trying to initiate Armageddon. I don't think brainwashing is above them."
Masa just shook his head and kept watching.
"Oh," Akane said, just as she was about to get up to leave, watching Ryouga walk towards her table. "I was, umm... Just going to ah... stretch. That's all!"
Ryouga just nodded and slumped down at the table.
"What was that yell I heard?"
Ryouga looked over at Akane for a moment and sighed. "Oh, uhh. That was just Ranma. He was floating around the bathroom."
Akane's eyes narrowed. "Floating?"
Ryouga nodded. "Yeah, he just dropped in on me, that's all."
Akane shook her head in confusion, and then once again started to get up. She didn't care if Ryouga was right there. She HAD to leave.
And then the bathroom door swung open. If Akane was to leave, she'd have to do it now.
"All right, all right, I'm going," the voice called, audibly annoyed.
Akane paused. The voice sounded familiar.
Of course it does! It's Ranma Saotome! He's in her class, for goodness sake!
She let her eyes wander over to the door, and immediately dropped herself into her chair.
It wasn't in fact, Ranma Saotome. She hadn't actually memorized the way he looked, but he sure wasn't THAT big.
She did, however, have Takao Satohara's face burned into memory.
"Uhh, hi there, Akane," Takao spit out, placing on arm behind his head.
Akane's mind reeled. What was she going to do? This was the only man who had ever turned down a fight with her. By that event alone, she should have been done with him, chalking it up to simple fear.
But deep inside, she knew. It wasn't fear of losing that caused Takao to decline the fight, and there was no cockiness of knowing he'd be able to win.
He had just declined because he didn't WANT to fight her.
Akane's mind was a total blank. She didn't know whether to offer him a place to sit, or try and fight him then and there.
So she did the first thing that popped into her mind. She stood up, looked at him, then bowed.
"Ready to fight?" she asked.
"Umm... wha?" Takao said, dumbfounded.
"Ditto," Aizen said. "How... wha?"
"Come on, you ran away from me last night," Akane said. "You afraid to fight me or what?"
Takao looked around the restaurant. "In here?"
"So much for THAT idea," Aizen said. "You never told me you met Akane, as... ummm... well, yourself."
"Did I forget to mention that?"
Akane let the conversation go through one ear and out there other. She just stared Takao straight in the eye and kept her stance up.
"Well, are we gonna fight, or are you a scaredy cat?"
Takao flinched. "A... what?"
"You heard me!" Akane shot back.
Takao flinched again. "I am NOT a.... cat," he said with a shudder.
"Prove it," she smiled.
Aizen just shook her head. "Ra--- uhhh... Hey, you," she tapped Takao on the shoulder.
"What?" he shot a look at her like a venomous glare.
Aizen shrunk back and just shook her head.
Now, of all times, was the time that Ryouga snapped back into reality. He stood up and looked at Takao and Akane. Ryouga, still as dense as ever, decided to speak.
"Uhhh... What's going on?"
Takao's eyes narrowed. "Nothing Ryouga, sit down."
"S... Ra... umm... Whatever you're called, are you sure this is really wise? I mean, think about it a second."
The aura began to glow between the two of them. Akane shrunk back for a moment, not expecting to see Takao's battle aura flare up, but then let hers grow along with it.
Ryouga, for once, got smart and shrunk back. "I... uhhh... Ranma? What's goin on?"
Akane didn't let the name register until a few moments later.
After she had launched her attack.
"Come on, guys! This is a restaurant!"
Masa and Kire just stared, and broke out in laughter.
"Look at them! I can't BELIEVE we were worried about THOSE two getting together. This assignment's gonna be a breeze!" Kire said as Akane launched her attack, a short aerial kick, which the Saotome guy dodged with amazing ease.
"Yeah, that's amazing. We should still keep an eye on them, though."
Kire nodded. "Well, of course. But I can't believe these cultists actually think they're going to be able to DO this. It's... IMPOSSIBLE!"
Akane launched another kick, and Saotome avoided that one just as easily, by sidestepping it and letting her leg hit the table across from them. There was a crowd beginning to grow.
"Guys, it's a restaurant! I don't know much about this plane, but I do know the word POLICE! We'll be arrested!"
Akane didn't care, and neither did Takao. Ryouga just stared in amazement, as his friend for years, who had never shown so much as a passing interest in the martial arts, was now, stylishly, dodging every single one of Akane's moves.
Some moves, Ryouga told himself, even HE would have trouble blocking or dodging. Not only was his friend dodging the attacks completely, he was doing it with style. AND he seemed to be ENJOYING it.
It couldn't have been that his friend has been practicing the art behind his back. There was no way. Ryouga remembered getting his friend out of SEVERAL sticky situations.
Ryouga's mind was blown. What he was seeing was impossible.
"Let's take this outside, shall we?" Takao suggested, and he did a side leap over Akane's head.
Which, incidentally, only succeeded in making her more angry.
"Stand still and FIGHT!" Akane bellowed, chasing Takao out the door.
Ryouga did the only thing his feeble mind could even consider at the moment.
It was the... cat comment. Everyone was playing on his fear, and for once, Ranma was sick of it.
Sure, he realized afterward that there was no possible way for THIS Akane to know, but that didn't excuse her from challenging him in the first place.
He had never meant to get into a challenge, back at that particular moment, he was out of options. Once out on the sidewalk, he could really let loose. Perhaps even subdue her.
Maybe a little bit of humiliation would be in order.
"Why won't you FIGHT?! Are you scared of me?"
"Nope," Takao said as he leapt up over her head and executed a somersault, landing directly behind her.
With missing a beat, he poked her in the back on the head. Takao smirked at the irony of the whole situation.
Oh well, no time for nostalgia. Takao rolled on the ground, dodging another of Akane's kicks. He was wearing her out, soon she would be too tired to fight any longer, and that would be when--
Wait. Takao put that thought on hold. If he humiliates her, or even beats her, that would mean the chances of getting her with THIS worlds Ranma would be even harder.
No. He couldn't do that. But he couldn't just lose... that would be... wrong!
Wrong to who? There's nobody else from his own world on this world. Nobody would know. Except for Aizen, and he'd understand.
So throw the fight, then?
No. Right now it would be too obvious, to just stop moving and let Akane hit him like a training dummy. He had to think of something.
Thinking quickly was one of his specialties. And a moment later, he had the plan all figured out.
Playing the klutz would hurt his pride, so he couldn't do that. He had to somehow give Akane an opening she'd take advantage of. He had to let her kick him at the side of the head. Sure.
He'd studied the Akane on his own world fight enough, he knew exactly how to do it. He left his opening by standing in one spot, and spreading his legs apart. He began to block, rather than dodge.
He could see Akane's renewed fervor into the fight after that point. It meant that she was wearing him down.
Or so she thought. Takao chose the exact moment to leave the opening.
He closed his eyes, preparing for the impact.
It never came. Instead, Akane hadn't used the opening. She had come up with her alternate leg and hit the other side.
That's fine. Even Ranma could be well into a move and not pick up the opening. That's fine. He'd just have to leave another one for her. Something subtle.
"Hey, look out!" Someone called from behind him.
Takao smiled. Perfect for subtlety, he let his guard down again for a moment.
But Akane still didn't take the opening. Something was up. She was still fighting him. Maybe getting a little worn out, but she was still fighting quite well.
"It's the evil cultists!" another voice called.
Takao didn't care this time. He just left another opening.
Akane still didn't take it.
What was going on? This Akane was just as good as the other Akane. He knew both styles of attack like the back of his hand. They were exactly the same.
As Takao got sincerely distracted, Akane took her chance. She brought up a powerhouse kick.
And it landed Takao directly in the groin.
He doubled over, groaning.
Maybe he didn't know this Akane's fighting style as well as he thought.
A moment later, Takao lost consciousness.
"Oh, this ain't good," Aizen said, looking down.
Akane rested her hands on her knees, trying to catch her breath.
"I.. I did it," she said, wheezing.
Aizen nodded. "I'll say. You sacked him right good there, Akane."
"Hmph!" Akane said. "Serves him right! Pervert!"
Aizen blinked in shock. "Pervert? What'd he do?"
"He wouldn't fight me last night!" she accused.
"Wait. Ranma was going to fight you last night?" Ryouga asked, his jaw dropped open.
Akane looked at Ryouga confusedly. "R... Ranma?"
Aizen swallowed her breath. She had to think of something fast.
Ryouga nodded. "Yeah, Ranma Saotome. You know, he's in our class?"
She looked down at him, half shocked. "I... He IS Ranma. Oh my God! I thought he was someone else!"
Ryouga bent over to the crumpled form of his friend and checked him out. "I guess it was the inflatable muscles."
Akane blinked. "Inflatable? They sure didn't feel inflatable to me!"
Ryouga narrowed his eyes as he checked it out for himself.
No, Ranma's muscles sure weren't inflatable. Then who...
"Okay, I'll admit it. I'm lost."
Aizen let out an unintended chuckle.
"Aizen? What's going on?" Akane looked up and asked.
Aizen needed to think of something. She needed to...
Oh hell... Here goes nothing.
"Really?!" Ryouga exclaimed. "I had no idea! I didn't think Ranma's parents were the type to--"
"Well, his parents don't really know yet. Ranko is staying there, and they haven't made the connection, which is why Takao is kind of shying away from the place."
"But how come he acted like Ranma when I saw him? I mean, he could have told me!"
"Because Ranma himself doesn't know yet. And they're not supposed to know. Not for a while."
Ryouga shook his head. "Why not? I mean, if he's Ranma's brother, then he has a right to know!"
Aizen looked down. It wasn't the most creative of excuses, but anything would work out. She just had to...
That's it. Her recollections from another reality. She's just use the name of that top secret organization... what was it? Oh yeah.
Both Akane and Ryouga blinked, moving in to listen closer.
"MERV. Takao and I work for a top secret organization called MERV."
"Really? Then why...?" Akane began.
"Are we here? We're tracking down two dangerous international criminals, that we believe may be using a cover of two Furinkan High School students. We've already spoken to a friend of yours, Akane. Yuka is in on this with us."
Akane nodded. "That explains a lot, actually."
Ryouga backed away from the table. I'm sorry, I'm just having some trouble believing this."
Aizen shrugged. "That's your perogative. But if you say anything to anyone on this, we'll hafta kill you."
Ryouga blinked in shock. "Well, I didn't say you couldn't convince me! I mean, come on now!"
Aizen swore inwardly. How could she...
She looked over towards the still unconscious form of Takao.
"I'll prove it to you, but you've got to take things the way I say it."
Akane nodded. She was more curious than anyone about it.
"Yeah, I guess," Ryouga said, trying not to show how intrigued her was.
Aizen walked over to the Tendo kitchen. "There's nobody home, right?"
Akane shook her head from the tea room, where the three of them were sitting. Somehow, Ryouga had managed to carry Takao all the way to the Tendo home.
Aizen took a glass of cold water, and poured it over Takao.
Ryouga stared for a moment, and then realization began to dawn.
Akane just stared in total disbelief and shock.
"How... It's Ranko!"
"Yes, you see, Takao IS Ranko. Ranko IS Takao. The bigwigs at MERV signed us up for a highly advanced human disguise technology. My unit is broken, but I'm really a guy."
Ryouga shied away a bit at that.
"Takao's unit is still working though."
"So, it's only a hologram?"
"Not really, it's more of a mini gene-splicer. Like, Y chromosome in a bottle type thing. Cold water will soak into his skin, and cause a body-wide chain reaction, changing his whole appearance. Shrinking him down, and making him female."
"But, what about--"
"Well, I'm kinda stuck like this until I can get fixed, and it'll be a couple of weeks."
"So, then.... How?"
"How does it work? Do I look like one of the scientist guys? I've got no clue."
Ryouga stared in disbelief. "So, why are they... he... she.... umm... THAT, why is... it staying at Ranma's place?"
"Part of a memory erasure system. He's there in girl form to keep an eye on things. He's also going to help his brother out just a tad."
"With what?" Akane asked.
"That's top secret, Akane. I'm afraid I can't divulge that information."
A groan from the corner resounded, and the three of them looked over to the stirring form of Ranko.
"Are you all right, Takao? If I had known, I wouldn't have--" Akane began, frantic for an apology.
Ranko sat up and felt her forehead. She checked her nether regions a moment later, to ensure they were still attached.
She let out an ear piercing scream. "You CUT 'em OFF!"
"Relax, Saotome!" Aizen yelled. "You're in girl form!"
Ranko calmed down a moment later, and checked herself.
True enough, she was in girl form. But then--
She looked up. Akane had called her Takao. Did that mean--?
"I told them, Takao," she said.
Ranko got extremely dizzy for a moment, and then slumped back to the floor.
"Well," Aizen said as Ranko lost consciousness. "She took that well."