The original idea of these forwards was to get a wee bit of fic promotion going, having some of my prereaders saying a few words about why they enjoyed the fic. Then Flashman/Christian Rogers, sent this to me. Sigh, I was having one of those days, you know... smiling on the inside, bleeding on the outside kind of day. Then, I got this... some spiritual salve at just the right moment. I promised him that I'd use them from my next fic. I SWEAR no money exchanged hands for these wonderfully kind words. ^_^;; Oh and sorry about having to split the fic up like this. My composer just couldn't handle it in the full size. Forward by Flashman- Keener... how can I describe thee? Let me count the ways. Seriously though, I've got something really nice to say about Keener- sensei (I'm a Parrot Prince In Training for the Revenge Wars) and I'm damn well gonna say it, so know your role and shut your mouth! (To borrow a phrase ^_^) Once upon a time, there was a very sad and lonely fanfic writter. Nothing he was writting was coming out very good and he kept erasing and rewritting the same things over and over again. His unofficial girlfriend had unofficially dumped him. Collage was going badly. One of the mailing lists he was on seemed to ostricizing him. He was depressed. Then, he read some posts from Keener. He laughed at Keener's brand of unique humor. He marveled at how well Keener could set a scene and mood. He was humbled by how well Keener's works could make people FEEL something... on any part of the emotional scale, everytime. He was out of his depression, determined to someday reach the lofty goal of writing even half as well as Keener could... even though he knew that it was almost impossible. Keener, from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you for being you... and hope you stay your completly loopy self for the rest of your days. Oh, by the way... here's the next chapter of Suicide Blast. Disclaimer: Ranma 1/2 belongs to Rumiko Takahashi for creating it, Shogunakate for publishing it, Viz for bringing it here, and finaly, though by no means, leastly... the fans, your love makes it grow. Special thanks: Gary Kleppe, JD Farber, Switch, Cindy Toler, Duece, K-chan, Nuitira, Ronny Hedin, TJ Hamilton, Matthew Lewis, Andrew Petalik, and Zen for prereading for me... without them, well, I guess I wouldn't have an audience, now would I? BTW, if you have the Ruoroni Kenshin sound track at home, play the Theme for the Darkside of Your Soul whenever Ryouga uses the Jisatsu Bakuha. OtakuNXS Presents... The dolls sat there, waiting. Things do that; inanimate and empty, they wait to be filled. Their existence is less one of experience or philosophy, and more one of interpretation. Knives stab, slice, cut... and spread butter, lethality not so much a matter of tissue disruption and penetration, but more of the whimsies of their users. Anthropomorphication, soul to the soulless, and always a reflection of ourselves. The young woman picked up one of the more fragile dolls, remembrance tracing its intricate form with thousands of times the sensitivity of fingertips. Cracks, almost invisible to the closest of inspections, made their existence known. A better time, a better state of mind, she would have thought of them fondly, nicks and chips giving character that a factory or designing staff could never muster. But times were different, and all she could feel was their corruption. She had been so young when it had broken. A rather cheap relic from a too long trip. In the olden days, before they had T-shirts, people used to buy one another little knick-knacks when out and about the world at large. They said, I had a wonderful time, I really wish you had been there, want something to clutter up your shelves and make it impossible to dust properly? Akari allowed herself a tiny smile, My husband went off to see exotic sites, eat exotic food, and use exotic pay toilets. All I got was a stinking figurine. But her mother had loved it, opening the package with an eagerness that would have set a child to thoughts of large bearded men with twinkling eyes and jelly-like bellies. Completely ignoring the small sticker on the bottom that foretold of the doll's actual origins, she held it close to her heart, then, with a small contented sigh, she'd place it on the mantel, beside a dozen other remembrances of trips long past. If anyone had asked how could such a small token could make up for missing out on the wonders the outside had to offer, she'd simply smile and point to one of them fondly. "That one is when he decided he liked the way I cook Mongolian beef better then they do in Mongolia." After absorbing the confused stares, she'd sigh wistfully. "They're not there to remind me of the trip, but of the return." Fruit spoiled, spoons bent, and photo books became less coffee table and more coffee sponge, but little ceramic miniatures? They were forever. Forever is such a short increment of time when one has children. Sure, you could tell your child that riding bareback on a large sumo pig inside the living room was generally a bad idea, right up there with running around with scissors. Either one was a recipe for disaster. But, as any chef will tell you, simply reading a cook book will not give you a dish's flavor. For that, you had to make it yourself... most kids agree. Her mother had come home to find a rather small girl huddling behind a rather large swine, who was sitting on the bits of a rather broken ballerina made of china. Another one of her smiles, she had a rather large supply (people suspected her of being a dealer) was produced from seemingly nowhere as she gathered the pieces. "Things break, Akari-chan, that's why you fill them up with memories." After placing the fragments on the table, she reached down and gave her daughter a hug, something else she had a seeming surplus of. "Things break, little one, memories don't." A bottle of glue, a few freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, and some grade A pig-slop later, everything was fixed, right as rain. Except, you could never fix those things exactly right. A perfectness of form, even that brought about by machinery, was inevitably lost. What had been a graceful dancer, a look of mystery on her delicate face, had become somewhat of a cockeyed expression. Cracks made eyebrows tilt and lips curve just so. She made a face at the tiny woman in her hands. The memories were different too. A space sat beside the various dancers and women in waiting. A space that loomed larger then the rest, twisting the remembrance of a man who came back with the reminder of one who did not. Carefully, she placed the figure back where it belonged. Memories cannot be broken, but they can be replaced. One metaphor gave way to another, sweet dreams for nightmares. "Akari-chan? What did the doctor say?" A Mad Bad Bishonen Lad Production... Lieutenant Hiromi had joined the force for many reasons. A bit of tradition, a dash of self respect and just a pinch of television inspired glorification. Yep, that had been the formula all right, a desire for boredom, the inherent need to punish traffic violators and taste of jam buns had not factored in, he was sure of it. Not that there was no excitement to be had aplenty in the Nerima district. Things exploded in tremendous showers of energy and debris, fights raged on rooftops between warriors of skill and strength to pale even the most outlandish of computer rendered combatants... but none of that was his affair. They had no weapons, and could therefore not be shot, and were rarely at ground zero for long. Catching them had become an assumed impossibility for the past year or two. There you'd be, sipping tea and wondering if you had gotten shorted on strawberries in your bun, when suddenly a building crumbled in bright lights and screams detailing ancient Chinese secrets. Looking to the chief, he'd shrug and turn the page in his newspaper while you poured yourself another cup. Your job was to evacuate when possible, and call in the emergency crews when not. Thank the gods, none of these guys drove. He shuddered to think of what a simple parking violation could do to a careless officer. He parked underneath the scene of the disturbance, glanced up, then looked to the growing crowd of onlookers. "This is Car 54. I've got confirmation on that report of a jumper up on the Matsudera building. I need some crowd control and rescue vehicles, copy?" After receiving confirmation, he walked toward the door. Mentally he was rereading his suicide-prevention manual. First and foremost was to make contact, second was to not shoot said contact. This was especially stressed as the premature termination of a suicidee would gum up the entire works. The man sighed; it was a pretty stupid manual. He never noticed the glass door as it hit him going sixty miles an hour. "Oh my god, are you okay?" A gentle hand carefully picked him off the ground. "What the hell were you doing just standing there, you moron?" He stood there for a second, trying to reconcile the two voices as coming from the same individual. The first was one hundred percent mother, with all the kisses for boo-boos and cartoon encrusted band-aids that implied. The second voice was all big sister, just before she pounded you for reading her diary and posting the juicier bits on the school bulletin board. Shaking some sense back into his brain, he took the young lady in. She was soft and hard all at once; eye's that were beautiful, yet fierce like a firestorm. Her body was well rounded, but obviously taut to the point of snapping. Had he been more of an intellectual, he could have spent days just digesting the dichotomy. Still, he was a police officer and therefore not paid to be observant. The young man's thoughts consisted of: she's cute and she's in my way. "So-sorry miss. I've got to go save a suicidee." He saluted smartly, and continued past men's wear, women's wear, and some rather dainty bits of hardware, making his way to the emergency stairs. "A what?" Ukyo asked, bewildered. Continuing forward, she walked into the throng of gawkers. To be fair, some of them might have actually been worried that the guy above would get hurt. The immoral majority, on the other hand, just wanted to see if road pizza looked the same in real life as it did in the movies. Squinting up the ten stories of clothing, food courts and power tools, she got as good a look as possible at the young man atop the building. Was that a bandanna he was wearing? It couldn't be... Suicide Blast part 3 "Don't do it." Sure, it was straight from the guide book, but it was as sound a statement as any. "Why not?" The young man asked coolly. Either nervousness or panic the book had said the guy should be experiencing was not reaching him or he hadn't read the same text. "Because... because, there are so many things to live for." The officer took a second to catch his breath. The guy was not going to take a leap of faithlessness just yet, and there were a lot of stairs leading up to the roof. "Like...?" "Ummm," he searched his brain, there were supposed to be three things. Two of which would comfort the suicidee and the other one would probably be whatever it was that was bugging him. A sound theory, only he couldn't remember them all. "Love, and ummm, new episodes of Hyper Police," which he happened to be missing at the moment, "...and... oh yes, and strawberry buns, very good things. You can't eat those when you're dead." Okay, so only one of those was on the list. Still, it had been his experience that most of these things revolved, one way or another, around love issues. Ryouga smiled. "I like those." "Good, aren't they." The Lieutenant smiled. Maybe he'd get back in time to catch the last few minutes or so. "But... love..." Hiromi sighed. oh well, maybe Captain Yotsuya would tape it. Ryouga scanned the city before him, a thousand points of lights, all representing life in one way or another, at least half of them were in love, the other half? Probably faking it. It was like a double edged weapon. Most things were in life... if you didn't feel pain when experiencing them, you hardly credited them with existing. Love was different though, you were expected to hold it by the blade, while you offered the pummel to another. Sometimes they even accepted, your wounds regulated to just how tightly you held on as they took possession. Most times though, they simply smiled, and thrust into your chest. They couldn't possibly be blamed; you were holding it weren't you? The fault must lie with you. Let's just be friends. "Why did she have to do that? I mean, I wasn't there to ask for her love. I- I gave up on that along time ago. I just needed one tiny favor. Not even a hard one. I mean it's not like I was looking for something as impossible as forgiveness or understanding. All I wanted was a little bit of hatred. Is that so much to ask?" "You-you're just a little lost, that's all. Why don't you come with me? We can talk about it over some soup. I'll even buy you a bun if you like." He smiled as best he could, there was nothing in the manual about any of this. Maybe he'd do a rewrite, assuming he was successful; failures made for good novels but horrid How To books. "Lost? I used to be lost. But I found out something, you're never lost when you've got the light to guide your way. No matter where you are, having a clear purpose can orient you, like one of those compasses on a survival knife. Except, of course, these work. Where am I?" He seemed to ask his palm, before clenching it into a fist. "I'm heading toward my goal... and I mustn't stop; that's all that matters." He smiled as a random thought wandered its way into his brain. "Want to see my light?" "Sure, I'd love to." Perfect. Somehow or another, he had gotten the guy's trust. He reached out, expecting some kind of wallet with a bad snap shot of a girl. Maybe there would be a strip of them, like those you get in photo booths. Or, if the boy was more of a romantic, as most jumpers tend to be, just a lock of hair. If the young man handed his guiding light over, he might could get the boy to see himself as the end of the tunnel. It would be one step closer to being out of it. Ryouga smiled and held out his own fist, closing his eyes, he summoned a small portion of himself to it. Strands of black hair began to mill about his head as though some winter's gale had roared to life. A faint blue glow made its way through small gaps between his fingers and a force from within his palm slowly pushed them apart. When his hand opened fully, a shard of blue danced and shuddered, illuminating his face. The speed and untammed nature of the spin put out its own force and the officer had to grab at his cap to keep it from being blown off. He gaped in awe; his badge and clothing was being whipped about... by a snowflake. Gingerly he looked to the young man's eyes. They seemed to be swallowed by the fragment of light, his orbs reflecting the bluish illuminatination eerily. Suddenly, he realized, this young man was one of them, one of those people who could leap buildings or run faster then bullets, things like that. It was like being beside an angel. With a thought, his current night-time companion could wipe away a lifetime's worth of hopes and dreams, and not break a sweat. But, if this guy was an angel, he was looking at that glowing piece of power like it was God. "Heh, I'm sorry," the young man broke from his absorption with the light. "Just like a moth, huh?" Ryouga scratched the back of his head with his other hand, embarrassed. "You- you..." He could scarcely get it out. Where were the anemic mecha when you needed them? Stepping away slowly he pulled out his walkie talkie; suddenly back up seemed like a good idea. Of course, right now, so did jumping. "Ummm, is that building over there abandoned?" Ryouga asked. pointing to a desolate pile of bricks and glass. "What? Oh yes, sir." What's wrong with them, why don't they answer? "Thanks." The martial artist pointed the empowered palm toward the structure and released the energy. It screamed through the air. Even the officer, as close as he was, could hardly follow the actual source of the power, it's existence little more then a speck. Those below had even less warning, but all of them could defiantly tell when it hit. The impact point vaporized metal and rock alike. What had been, simply was not, not any more. The area above and beneath crumbled and shook, coming apart at the very seams as the blast undid what little integrity it had. The explosion, as the abandoned dwelling did a fine impersonation of a kicked sandcastle, scattered several of the gathered mob. Screams of "Oh my gods," were intermingled with "What the hell," as people leapt for cover. A few, more or less stubborn spectators remained. They hadn't come for a boom, they wanted a splat. Ukyo was immobile as well, other thoughts on the young woman's mind. Of the crowd, only her eyes had followed the tiny piece of soul, and only she had any idea whose soul it had been. "He's going to use... THAT on... Ran-chan?" ...oooOOO( )( )( ) Horror turning blood to ice gripped the policeman. He pulled out his side arm frantically, holding it less like a gun and more like a ward against evil. "All right, put the weapon down. Hands over your head!" The boy seemed a bit busy at the moment. Falling to one knee, he placed a hand over his mouth. Coughing, a strange gurgling noise made its way up his throat. Slowly, he removed his hand from his mouth and looked at it, carefully standing on shaky legs. "Not bad, I must be getting used to it." He wiped the blood from his palm unto his shirt in a grimy stain. Then he noticed the officer, cocking his head to the side he smiled soothingly. "I'm sorry, did I startle you? Look." He gestured with his hands. "I'm unarmed, no gun or anything." The Lieutenant's eyes never left the young man, fear paralyzing anything but raw instinct. "Just don't come any closer. Please, just stay right there." "Are all those people down there waiting to see if I jump? Heh, I bet if Ranma were here he'd say it'd be no use. I'd just get lost on the way down." A smile went from loose and jovial to tight and grim with one smooth motion. Then, it became almost sinister. "Still, it seems a shame to disappoint them. See ya officer. I had a great time. Look me up next time you're in the cemetery." With that, he stood on the edge, hand to each side and back to the crowd. He gave the policeman one final wink, and leapt, like some tea drinker who had found a rather refreshing brand. Cries, both shocked and encouraging were obscured strangely as the roof sped away from him. His thoughts came amazingly quick, the brain enjoying these moments of accelerated working right before the inevitable. You know, he mused, I'm not going to die or anything, but this is really going to hur... WHAM! Ukyo ran to the landing zone, if you could call it that. It looked as though some contest of wills had been played out, and the concrete had lost. Carefully, not sure what to expect, she approached his body. "Ry-Ryouga?" "I was right... that hurt like all hell." He chuckled, spitting up more blood to add to his growing collection. He was starting to feel like a vampire, he sure knew what it would taste like. "Oh, hi there Ukyo... fancy meeting you here. Hope you don't mind if I... take a nap." Ryouga slowly closed his eyes, where most would find the empty darkness and dreams, he found only the light... waiting for him. ...oooOOO( )( )( ) Akane looked down at the tray she was carrying. She was bringing out lemonade, one for her, another for the company. The third, well the third was most definitely not for anyone she might be engaged to. And if it was, so what? Was there anything wrong with a little courtesy? Of course not. As to how the flower's had made their way onto the pallet, she had no idea. As she approached the dojo, she heard the sounds of combat, as she had come to know it. Silly names were added to punches to throw the opponent off guard, possibly with laughter. Grunts were heard as bone contacted with muscle. Meaty impact was made, when kicks were projected accurately, whishes and "damnits" when they were not. And, as always, the sounds of a wooden building, fastly approaching splinters. She stood at the door, half opened, and watched the two young men dance. "You still leave too many openings." Mousse commented, hands closing in on Ranma's abdomen. "Whatdya mean?" His attacker's hands were pushed downwards and the pigtailed martial artist used them to springboard a kick to Mousse's face. The lunge was sidestepped, but then so was the counter as Ranma deftly touched the ground. "I've hit ya ten times to your one." "Ranma, you keep thinking of fights as endurance contests." Punch, block, riposte, miss. "Something for testosterone laden meat heads to keep knocking each other..." Jump kick, sidestep, grab, headlock, slip out, "...across the room until one of them cries..." Spinning into a kick, Mousse came at Ranma full tilt. Slipping under and going for the foot sweep garnered nothing but air for the pigtailed boy, the supposedly vulnerable left leg had taken to the air. The Chinese youth had rolled over and landed on his palms, switching his momentum like a rubber band. Then, he propelled himself back towards his opponent. "...Uncle." Even with his rather unorthodox training, the move had been almost impossible to read. Mousse's foot made contact across the young man's face. He stepped back and shook his head, "Not a bad move, but most of your force got lost in pushing off the ground, I barely felt it." "And if I had used my right foot instead, you would have never felt anything ever again." Mousse gestured with his other leg, a blade silently passing judgment where it protruded from his shoe. "One hit, if it's a good one, and the end. You can't go into this like your other fights. You might be there to save a life, but he's there to end one... maybe two." He shook his head and pushed his glasses up. "You're tough, but he's strong, and don't even think you can take a shot from that chi blast he's using. However, using it also drains him. He's not quite at top form physically. A single, well timed and perfectly controlled hit could take him out." Mousse had appeared a few days ago, a gym bag in hand and a solemn expression on his face. "I come to repay Ranma Saotome." Akane never did get the full story about the events that had occurred a couple of weeks prior, but Ranma had simply grinned and started warming up. The two had been at it every day, replacing the usual regimen of father, son, koi picnics. It was a bit odd, though, Shampoo was nowhere to be found and all the young Chinese man would say was that she was... preparing. That's all they needed, especially with the wedding coming up. Honestly, you'd think someone had it in for them. It was as though some great epic, crafted by a goddess of wit and merriment, had been handed off to a clinically depressed madman. Still, it was nice to have the Amazons at least partially on their side. Mousse in the morning for practice, Cologne at night for technique, Ranma couldn't possible wish for better training. "Humph, well you could teach me that trick you used a few days ag..." Ranma cut off as his train of thought derailed itself on Mousse's stare. "No." He slaughtered any rebuttal with the steel in his voice. Then he softened, ever so slightly. "For two reasons. The first is its a killing technique, and if that's all your after, we can settle this a lot easier..." Something lethal began to spin about Mousse's fingers. At the sound of clattering glasses and a faint gasp from behind the paper wall, he let the weapon disappear. Ranma was too focused on the task at hand to notice the unintentional spy. The long haired male allowed himself a quick smile, it was nice being the observant one for a change. "...and second because it wouldn't work. The technique focuses on Yang, using the lighter side of chi to track movements and see power flows. Ryouga's too full of Yin, he'd be virtually invisible. Now then, I'd appreciate if we didn't mention it again, okay?" "Yeah sure." Ranma sighed, then he smiled wryly, "So whatever happened to that psycho duck I used to know?" Mousse returned the smile, grimly, "He had a scary dream. Isn't that tray getting heavy, Akane?" Ranma turned, a pair of eyes met, an unresolved issue leapt about between the distance and he looked away first. Gathering what composure was left her, Akane walked in gracefully; she still couldn't managed that gliding thing Kasumi did, but she at least she didn't spill anything. Setting the tray down, she hand a glass to Mousse and took one for herself. The Amazon watched the silent interplay while sipping the liquid, it definitely had a tang to it, a taste only an astronaut could love, but not really requiring any reconstructive throat surgery like he was expecting. She really was getting better. Ranma took a cup and stared into it, not saying anything. Akane drank and looked at something obviously very interesting on the opposite wall, saying nothing. Mousse just sat and waited, being decidedly non-vocular. Time passed, its own peculiar form of silence, deafening. "You're not coming." With finality he placed his cup down, cutting Akane off before she even had chance to gather breath. Then he walked off, stepping from the dojo and into the house. Mousse simply found what peace could be had, contemplating the many odd textures and tartness to be found within his lemonade. He knew his existence was a non-issue at the moment. "He- he's my friend too." Akane said softly. ...oooOOO( )( )( ) "Doesn't he look so peaceful, Ukyo? It's just like he was asleep, don't you agree?" "No." "Yes, the weight of the world gone from his shoulders. See how he smiles, only happy dreams for him." "Wake up, Uncle. Wake up." "Awww, giving him a final kiss goodnight?" "Mommy, he won't wake up. Wake him up." "Now then, go and act respectable to your Aunt, tell her how much happy you are that his soul is finally at ease. Such a contented slumber." "Uncle?" ...oooOOO( )( )( ) Ukyo swatted the annoying memory aside, pulverizing the flashback gnat with a rolled up page of the here and now. Childhood was full of memories like that. Most often they were recalled while you were lounging on a sofa, being interrogated by a man and a notepad. Of course, there were so many quite naturally horrible things that happened during the "wonder years". There were monsters and fairies, strange, misunderstood processes of the body, to say nothing of the immense joy laughing at something caused, coupled with the incredible pain being laughed at garnered. Then there was broken engagements and stolen okonomiyaki carts. Witnessing a dead loved one and being lied to about his wakefulness was just part and parcel of the whole kiddy combo, best tossed aside when adulthood made its thunderous approach. After all, whole new problems have suddenly sprung to life, demanding your undivided attention. All of this had nothing to do with the here and now though. He sure looked dead. People shouldn't sleep that peacefully. Night-time a time of going over past horrors and past shopping lists with equal fuzzy logic and floating bunnies, the mind's vast storehouse of thoughts being dutifully filed away for next week's scheduled nervous breakdown. Covers should be sweated in, names should be moaned and fevered dreams should be tossing pillows to the four corners... of the bed. Ukyo sighed, you could bury him right now, and not skip a beat. This was just not healthy, you couldn't possibly be this content and still remain above ground. Ukyo considered the sleeping boy. You know, curled up like that, when he wasn't shouting epithets, he was kind of cu- she shock her head violently. Whatever he was, he was also planning on annihilating the only person the young woman had ever truly loved, feelings mutual or not. Besides, he was an idiot. Even worse, he was an idiot with a tac. nuke in the palm of his hands. She could end it, though; all the worrying, the preparation, the eventual ending that seemed less and less likely to be a happy one. Just one swift motion and it'd be done with. He'd probably thank her, not that he'd ever be able to. Ukyo examined her combat spatula, the chef's reflection staring back. Boy, did she look tired. Angrily, she grabbed the tanto at her belt. It was a better choice for this sort of thing anyway. Caving a skull in, especially one as thick as Ryouga's was a daunting, to say nothing of messy, task. Just one little incision and; she might as well take her own life afterwards. One night of salvation, dipped in the acid of a single act of damnation. No, don't think about that, think about what you saw, think about what that technique of his would do if it hit, even came in close contact with Ran-chan. Carefully, she opened the tanto and glared at her image on its reflective surface, daring it to comment. The blade had all the look of death, sleek and oh so lethal. Then there was the smell, that unmistakable smell of bl- sniff, of bloo- sniff, sniff, sigh, of onions. To say nothing of poultry, bell peppers, shrimp and... it smelled of a meal, not a murder. Sighing, she took the "weapon" out, walked to the kitchen, and butchered what life was to be had from a peacefully sleeping piece of raw pork. Effigies aren't really that effective, but they make for great stress relief. ...oooOOO( )( )( ) Ryouga woke up. The bandanna clad boy should have been in a cold sweat. Some loved one's name, preferably beginning with an "A" should have been on his lips. He sighed and filled his nostrils with the smell and sound of sizzling bacon. That should have done it, a slumbering mind being reminded of a dozen mornings past, awakening to the shining smile of a loved one as they cheerfully took part in a ritual massacre. There was nothing like the slaughtering of farm animals, beating of their unborn, unshelled zygotes and the strangling of pesticided produce, all so that you could have a break from the night's fast. That or the unique panic one felt at the thought of sizzling pork if one were in his rather peculiar position. If only he had experienced a troubled nights sleep. If only he had mistaken the humming woman in the front of the store for a girlfriend in the kitchen. If only he could have blamed everything that had happened the past few days on some horrible nightmare. If only he hadn't spent the night in the all encompassing silence of a quiet mind. He tossed the blankets aside and walked to the front. It just wasn't possible, not for him, not anymore. Dead men just don't dream. Sitting down heavily on a spare stool, he watched Ukyo make parts of a well balanced, and well greased, breakfast dance about the grill. She didn't say anything, letting the whisk of spatulas and the pop of meat gristle fill the up the void. A moment later, a meal landed in front of Ryouga, still sizzling. He looked at it and then back to her. "I don't have any actual mone-" "Eat it," she commanded. Shrugging, the lost boy tore in, letting the eggy, meaty goodness work some trickle of life back into his body. "S'good," he grunted. "That's nice," she smiled, making another one. Not looking up from his meal, Ryouga shrugged his shoulders and continued munching. Neither looked up from their respective meals, both giving the morning sustenance their full attention. A sacred silence fell upon them both. You could almost hear Buddha, asking for an okonomiyaki of his own. "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU THINKING?" Ukyo cried, stabbing the remains of her food with a mini-spat. "You've got everyone scared out of their minds, wondering just what's going through that empty head of yours!" "You talk like this to all your customers?" Ryouga asked, a bitefull poised a inch from his mouth. "You didn't pay, so don't try and change the subject," Ukyo countered. "Look, I know you're upset about this whole wedding thing. But it was bound to happen, Ryouga, sooner or later." Ryouga let his gaze wander about the shop. "You going to bomb this one too?" "Actually, I think Akane wants me for a bridesmaid." Ukyo shook her head, obviously not sure what to make of the whole affair. "Always a bridesmaid, never a bri-" "Don't," Ukyo glared at the martial artist. "You're not the only one hurting over this whole thing. I mean, really Ryouga, even I- I almost... I..." Unsure of how to begin, or where to start she looked to the young man for some support. Feelings shared are easier to... well, to share, or so they say. Unfortunately, they say nothing about what to do when the sympathetic ear is currently snagging the last bits of food from your own plate. "You know, you're not really facilitating the whole heartfelt dialogue process." She glared. "Give me a break, Ukyo. I haven't eaten well the past few days and being the villain is hungry work." After shoving the last morsel down his waiting mouth, he looked up to the currently seething chef. "Yeah, I noticed the new weaponry, a tanto... not really kosher though, is it?" "It has a history in my family, and quite a few uses." "Including suicide I take it? Man, you come up with an original idea and all the sudden everyone leaps on it." Though his face broke into a smile, his eyes were barely holding back the screams. "Poor pitiful bit players, no one to turn to when the final chapter comes to a close." "You should talk, you got your pig far..." Ukyo's words died a particularly gruesome death on her tongue. Mentally, she made a note not to look into his eyes... ever again. "Look, I've been thinking about seeing someone, you know just to discuss things, get them out of my head and off my chest." And I'm not a dangerous psychopath with a loaded chi attack, she added mentally, "Maybe you should think about it too." "You've gotta be kidding. Besides, who would I call?" Ukyo smiled, she had been waiting for this. "Actually, your officer friend...." "The guy on the roof?" "Yeah, that's the one, he left you something... just a sec, I put it in your pack." Ukyo hurried off to the back. The sound of conversation alerted Ryouga to the newcomers. Turning, he watched the young men walk inside, take seemingly reserved seats in a booth behind him and continue to chat. Girls were being discussed in that anatomical metaphorical way that only two young hormonal boys could. He watched them, fascinated that somewhere, for some people, life was still going on. It wouldn't matter what sort of demon waltzed in or what new technique some newcomer martial artist brought into their city, there would always be girls, always be a new game system to buy, always be a new movie to see. Daisuke was the first to notice they were being watched. It took his brain all of a nano-second to take in the bandanna, well worn clothing and well trained body. Of course, he knew he shouldn't be staring, but you feel yourself not staring, so you look and then you're staring and yadda yadda, big bar of soap. Besides, it was only fair, as Ryouga was currently eyeballing him as well. Hiroshi just continued on, his momentum having nothing to do with whether or not he was being listened to. Still, his friend was obviously stuck on something. He turned to see what the fuss was about, maybe Ukyo had finally discovered Chinese dresses. Where Daisuke had had the good fortune to see the bandanna first, his friend got caught up straight into Ryouga's quietly raging gaze. Had he been of the four legged variety, he would have most likely ended up as roadkill. "Ry- ou- ga..." he mouthed. Ryouga thought for a moment, then smiled and snapped his fingers. "Oh yeah, Hiroshimi and Daisucky, Ranma's friends, right? You guys were at the field the other day." "Yeah," squeaked Hiroshi, "I mean, yeah, we were there." "We'll leave now as my companion has apparently been scared beyond all puberty and the only rational thought I can come up with is diving head first through a window." Face full of grins, they both began to stand, Daisuke pulling his friend up by the sleeve. "But you guys haven't had anything to eat. Come on, I know she's not that good a cook but growing boys need to keep their strength up." Ryouga gave them a broad grin that might as well have held dozens of rows of nasty pointy teeth, as opposed to his two simple fangs. Looking to one another, a touching, "I love you, man" passing between them silently, they sat back down. Their nerves nearly reached the breaking point when a menu smacked their current tormentor in the head. "Who's not that good of a cook?" Ukyo huffed as she laid the menu down and struggled to place Ryouga's pack on the seat next to him. "Freaking pack, thing must weigh a couple of tons." She turned to her new customers. "And what can I get you guys?" Hiroshi and Daisuke looked to one another, then to Ryouga who was currently busy opening his pack. "Ummm, the usual." "You guys don't have a breakfast usual. You're normally ogling the Amazon on Saturdays." "One of those flat things, you know, made from egg and ummm shrimp and..." Hiroshi fumbled, begging Daisuke to recover. "An okonomiyaki?" Ukyo prodded. "Yeah, one of those." Daisuke smiled brightly. Sighing, she turned to her griddle, and went to work. "I just kinda slipped it in under the flap. It's a card with his number and department on it. He said he could get you in touch with people who could help." Ryouga looked inside his pack. There it was, right on top of something wrapped in white silk, tied in a bow. He really wished he hadn't seen that. Taking the card out and laying it to the side, he carefully withdrew the package and gently unwrapped it. "How cute, a little china doll. Who's that for?" Ukyo asked. She had a fifty shot on this one and she was more then past due for a bit of luck. "Akari... she has this silly thing about... about china dolls." He rolled the slight peasant woman figurine in his arms. Something about the rugged, simple beauty had called out to him, while a shelf full of princesses and ballerinas had not. He carefully wiped a bit of dirt that was not really there, from its face. Then, a memory settling in, he carefully set it in his palm, and waited. Ukyo hummed a bit to herself, something soothing that augmented the rhythm of spatulas on grill nicely. The chef had gotten lucky; maybe things were going to work out after all. I mean, how much bad could happen in one's lifetime before the universe cut you a karmic check? "Ryouga, I meant what I said. You have someone, someone special in your life. Not something easy to find. For a guy who's hardly able to find his boxer shorts on his own butt, you've really hit the jackpot." "Did you know I can't hold this thing for more then a minute?" Ryouga looked up to the young woman as she tossed soon to be ignored munchies toward her patrons. A small trickle of moisture gathered about the young man's eye. "I've got to keep my hand perfectly still or I risk fracturing it. You see, my hands are so strong, you see," he continued a bit less unsure of every word. The last was barely audible. "The simplest spasm... and she'll- it'll break." Ukyo stood there unsure, watching the young man pray silently to himself. Daisuke picked idly at his food while Hiroshi, who had forgotten to be scared (one of those things your learn at Funrinkan) was already into his third bite. Inwardly, Ryouga focused on the small figurine in hand, a small mantra dancing about his brain. I mustn't stop, I must follow the light, the light that leads me out of the darkness... I mustn't stop, I must follow the light, the light that leads me out of the darkness... I mustn't stop... "Ukyo?" The sudden word broke the silence as chef jumped and young men choked on poorly swallowed morsels. "Do you have a phone?" "YES! Ahem, I mean, yes, I got one. Just a sec, I'll get it for ya." Waiting until after the cook had left, Ryouga snagged a pen and order sheet from under the counter and wrote on it hurriedly. He had just finished stuffing the note into his pack when Ukyo returned, her step more then a few inches bouncier. She set the black rotary dial next to the young man and smiled at him appreciatively. "Thanks, now then, I assume you have a safe. Mind putting this in there for the here and now?" Ryouga gestured with his newly closed pack, extended by one arm. Ukyo's grin melted. "And this little nugget of joy couldn't have been delivered when I was on my way to the back a second ago?" Still, she grabbed the offered travel gear with both hands... and promptly hit the ground. "Do you need any help with that?" Hiroshi and Daisuke asked silmultaneously with a frantic sort of eagerness. "I'm sure she can manage, can't you, Ukyo, or do you still need a man around the house?" He didn't waste time hating himself for his tone. He'd have more then enough reason to curse his very being soon enough. Besides, it garnered the intended effect. After giving him a glower that would have set the average male on fire, she harumphed and pulled the weight up on her shoulder. "No thanks, I've had enough guy help to last me a lifetime, thank you very much." With that, she stormed to the back. Well, limped and dragged, but it was like a storm of sorts. ...oooOOO( )( )( ) Lieutenant Hiromi flipped another page in his book, doing that reading with his lips moving that tended to drive his partners insane. "Listen to this, this is all really fascinating... Hume believed that suicide only limits one's abilities to do good for society, but being as your only responsibility toward doing good is the reciprocate for your benefit from being part of society, and those being dead receive no benefit, you're under no obligation to do good... ergo, to live." He smiled to his current audience. His audience grunted and consumed another strawberry bun. "However, Donagan argues that this creed would logically lead to a societal push toward eliminating people who play no role in said society." Hiromi paused to snag a pastry for himself "Not a bad idea," mused his partner in bun consumption. "We could start with the captain, then maybe my wife." "Ah, but then Beauchamp says that..." "Why are you wasting your time in all this philosophical jibber jabber? I mean, this is all just western hooey. It's turning your brain to goo. It's obvious this is a case of honor." The older man sipped on his tea, noting that it just didn't taste like it used to. Anyone over forty would have said the same... even had said liquid been brought forth on a Tardis tea set. "So you think that boy is offing himself over some misplaced notion of honor? He's ending his life to regain his dignity? I just don't buy that." "That's because, you're an idiot and letting those books do your thinking. A Samurai never committed seppukku for his own honor's sake. His life was his family's, his daimyo's... he died for the sake of their honor, not his..." A phone stopped him short, grumbling about how phones never interrupted you back in his day, he snagged the line. "Hello?" Hiromi snagged the opportunity to consider the older man's suggestion. If not for his own sake, then who? He looked up and saw his companion gesturing for him. "Hey kid, why you going to off yourself? I got a bet with Hiromi." "Give me that!" The young officer snagged the phone. "Ryouga? Hi, oh I'm SO glad you called. I've been doing some research and I think... what?" "I said I don't have a lot of friends, it has something to do with me being the gruff and unfriendly type. Now shut the hell up so I can ask my new friend, being you, a favor." Ryouga sighed on the other end of the line. "Oh, okay, uh-huh... uh-huh... oh... okay. I get you." Carefully, he placed the receiver down and looked to the other officer. "So, what'd he say? It's all about bushi, isn't it?" "We gotta go. We're going to need some rescue vehicles and a lot more men. I'm afraid we have a shopping plaza to evacuate. Thank gods it's early. Let's move." Grabbing his coat, the younger officer made for the door. Not doing it for himself huh? Then who is he doing it for? ...oooOOO( )( )( ) A yellow car sped along the highway, an empty silence pervading its interior, only a single rhythmic sound, repeating endlessly. Click click. Click click. Click click. Click cli... "Miss, would you please stop playing with the door locks. You're driving me nuts." "I'm sorry, I'm used to traveling by giant sumo pig." The driver paused. Adopt, adapt and improve. "Ahem, that's all right, you just hang tight. We'll getcha to Nerima, don't you worry." He smiled at the petite young girl. She was really far too pretty to be this nervous. Akari gave a slight smile, and then looked out the window, lost in thought. ...oooOOO( )( )( ) Ryouga placed the receiver gently down and then looked to the two young men currently watching him, eyes wide in terror. "Now then, I want you to go and tell Ranma I'm here. You understand me? Tell him I'm waiting for him, got that?" After receiving their nervous yawn, he motioned toward the door. Had they been able, they would have gone through the wall, anything to get away from that chilly expression. Ukyo rubbed a few sudden goosebumps from her forearms and walked back into the room. "Hiroshi and Daisuke find a skirt to chase?" The young man turned to her, and the temperature dropped a few more degrees. His gaze freezing her to the spot, she wasn't sure, but she thought her heart had stopped beating. "Ukyo, let me explain what's about to happen to you." A faint blue aura began to hazily drift about his body. ...oooOOO( )( )( ) "Shouldn't we wait for Mousse to get Cologne?" Akane cried, desperately trying to keep up with Ranma's leaping form. "No time. She's going to do something stupid, I just know it. She'll hit him with that spatula of hers or call him a jackass and that's going to be it." And besides, Akane, he thought, you didn't see Hiroshi and Daisuke's face. "What the...?" Skidding to a halt, the young martial artist scanned the scene in front of him. There were ambulances, fire trucks, police cars, men in uniforms and sirens flashing about. There were also people, a multitude of them, all being moved about, herded somewhere, or, more importantly, away from somewhere. Turning, he looked to Akane, "You stay here. I'm going to..." "No!" "But Akane..." "Look, if something has happened, you're going to be too busy fighting to help out Ukyo, you NEED me Ranma. Sooner or later, you're going to have to accept that." She crossed her arms in that feminine bit of parental command that she knew so well. "Fine, hold on then." Grabbing the young woman, Ranma leapt above the onlooking crowd, coming to rest on an ambulance. Another jump and they were on top of a police car. The vehicle's inhabitants barely had time for comment before the couple was off again. Please be okay, the pigtailed youth pleaded mentally, this is all my fault. ...oooOOO( )( )( ) She could certainly never say she hadn't known what hit her. The maneuver had been explained in finite detail and her assailant had even given her a head start. It hadn't mattered. Sadly, Ukyo was not even afforded a last thought before the blackness took hold. Ryouga winced as she made harsh contact with an unforgiving ground. Placing both palms on the ground, he bowed low, asking once again for forgiveness that he would neither receive nor in fact deserve. Shaking his head, he walked over to her body. "I'm sorry, Ukyo. You were just in the way, and I can't have anyone standing in my light." I mustn't stop... looking down one final time, the chef's tanto caught his eye, the light reflecting of its golden tassel. Carefully, he bent down and slid the weapon from her sash. "After all, you're not going to be needing this anymore, are you?" The noise of the door made him look up. "Oh, it's you. You know, your timing could have been better. I mean, in this sort of thing, you really want the hero to catch the maiden just as she falls, her name on his quivering lips. Now here you've gone and ruined the drama of the moment. Guess she never could count on you, could she... Ranma?" "Akane, please take Ukyo out of here." Akane could almost hear the cup slamming down on the table again. "Ryouga, what's..." "Akane!" It wasn't a manly howl of anger and rage. In fact, his voice had cracked, putting a tearful desperation on the whole affair. Suddenly, the boy was very small, and Ryouga was awfully big. The hopeless void of Ranma's voice seeped into the very fiber of the young girl's being, but she clung to her unshakable faith in her fiance. Dutifully, she picked Ukyo up and walked out the door, closing it behind her. Then, away from the horror of that room... she ran as fast as she could with the young chef's body in tow. ...oooOOO( )( )( ) "So, finally ready to fight me?" Ryouga taunted, face ever mirthful, eyes ever mournful. Ranma just screamed. Suddenly a hundred punches came from seemingly nowhere as chairs and tables, booths and counter tops flew in every direction. Another hand grabbed clawing at Ryouga's eyes, determined to tear them from their very sockets. He dodged the sudden assault and watched as his opponent collided with, and then through, the main grill. Then, a blur of motion later and a kick made its way to his mid section. It had been a mistake, taking the leg motion and wrapping his body around the limb, Ryouga forced Ranma's body to the ground. There, speed was less a factor, and strength, more of one. Only this wasn't quite working. His assailant was nothing but jabs and punches, kicks and spins, talons and teeth. The stronger youth blocked what he was able and withstood what he could not but he was already starting to feel his flesh burn under the assault. Ranma's breath was hot on the lost boy's back. A driving punch from Ryouga separated the two, but not for long. He had just enough time to stand when he almost went down again, under a new wave of fists and feet. And his aura, it flickered and danced about the fem-boy like a wild fire, out of control. This wasn't the sort of flame you roasted chestnuts with, this was the sort that would melt them. No, gotta concentrate, don't get caught up in the rage, he thought to himself. Slowly, he began to dodge more hits then he blocked, and blocked more hits then he took. A calmness overtook him, something he had rarely known. Yes, this was it, this was the coolness that the light offered. This was the soothe, the icy breeze that could smother his own infernal heat. It wasn't really that hard, Ranma wasn't that used to the berserker's way of fighting. Sure he threw several hundred punches at once, but all at the same target. If you dodged the blow, you dodged it all. Ryouga could hardly feel the pigtailed warrior's battle aura now. His cold protected him from the hot of... wait a sec, cold and hot... the lost boy smiled. A step at a time, he and Ranma fell into a rather familiar dance. But this time, Ryouga was leading. ...oooOOO( )( )( ) Akane stumbled out of U-chan's, Ukyo's limp form held with quivering fingers. Her eyes told of a mind trying to process, trying to make sense. When one's heart denies what the brain tells it, there's nothing to be done but wait, and pray one of them is wrong. They both can't be right... can they? "Child, what is the matter? What's wrong with your friend? Where's Ranma?" Cologne approached the young woman, just as she began to fall to the ground. "Mousse, catch her!" The young man caught hold of the two martial artists, gently supporting Akane and Ukyo, concern on his face. "I think she's in shock." "I can see that very well, thank you." The old crone caught a hold of Akane's face and turned it toward her own, "Ranma, child, where... is... Ranma?" That much she knew, that much she could reach out to, catch hold of. Slowly, carefully the young girl let that one fact she did know guide her from the internal turmoil. A war was being waged between heart and soul, and no one was winning. "He's... he's in U-chan's... with... with Ryouga." Cologne looked to the shop. Reality has a way of silencing itself, giving you time to listen to your own ragged breath, letting you get acquainted with your own heartbeat. Maybe it was holding its own breath, maybe it was simply clearing the way for the din to come, maybe it had its own dramatic sensibility... whatever. All the ancient Amazon heard was the faint rumbling of a coming storm. Then... The glass pressed against the panes, the door sheet rippled and strained against its holdings, and chairs began to dance about the interior. Someone had opened up a tempest in a tea shop, and it was paying the price. Bits of furniture shot from the open door, crashing into a heap of rubble outside the shop, the windows began to crack from the pressure and the storm raged on. Finally, structural integrity could hold the raging wind back no more. Shards of building, rubble of what was once a place of business, bits and pieces of what could have been a life all exploded at once, hurtling through the air, destroying anything unfortunate enough to be in their path. When a home blows like this, there's nothing to do but take cover and pray it'll be over soon. Memories make for interesting shrapnel. Carried by the force of the cataclysm, a human body flew from the blast point. A faint red aura could be detected as it made rather harsh contact with the wall opposite the shop, imbedding itself deep in the concrete mesh. Cologne sheilded Akane's head from behind their makeshift cover. She knew well the aura, knew even more what the torrent had heralded... the boy had lost his control, lost his cool, and had paid the price. Please Goddess, let that price not be too steep. "Well, Ranma, I have to say, that was awfully therapeutic. Care for another go?" Ryouga smiled, dusting himself off of ruined plaster and bits of okonomiyaki. His smile only broadened as a faint rumbling made its presence known. Ranma slowly stepped from the crash zone, his aura throbbing as he slowly turned to his attacker. The white concrete mixed oddly with the reddish blood and purple welts that seeped through broken bits of skin. But pain was somebody's else's problem. Red flared again, dancing about his body like a bonfire. His own private ritual to the carnage about to take place. "Shut up and fight." Chuckling, Ryouga removed his over shirt and adjusted his bandanna. A chilling blue aura set his hair to fly about in wild, unkempt wisps. "Now that's the way to do it." Knuckles cracked, muscles flexed and stances were adopted. The lost boy paused, an old manga line tickling the back of his memory. "Why don't you an' me go at it like wild men until we make it rain blood?" He could feel the light now, and it vividly approved. "Aaaaahhhhh!" Like a ball of pure rage, the fireball of Ranma's form lunged at his tormentor, only to be met by an icy blast of blue as Ryouga collided with him in mid clash. BOOM! The End of Part Three To be continued of course... Ending song: "M.A.S.H." Theme song, "Suicide is Painless" Suicide is painless, It brings so many changes And I can take or leave it if I please, Paraphrased Neitszche (I think) "the thought of suicide is a great comfort, it has kept many a man company through many a long dark night."