[FFML] [Ranma][NGE][HPL][AMG][Fusion][Fanfic] Sic Semper Morituri Chapter 57 - The Price of Victory Part 2 of 3

Daniel Jess Gibson dan_s.comments at att.net
Sun Dec 28 07:29:20 PST 2008


[Ranma][NGE][HPL][AMG][Fusion][Fanfic] Sic Semper Morituri Chapter 57
- The Price of Victory

Disclaimer:
I do not own any of the characters from Ranma 1 / 2, Neon Genesis
Evangelion, Ah My Goddess, or the Lovecraft Cycle involved in these
stories.

[Note to Moderators, this is part 2 of a 3 part posting.
Please combine with parts 1 and 3 for archiving.]


  . . . Nabiki heard the laughter in the other room, Ranko snuggled
closer and made frightened noises in response.  Nabiki considered her
`victory`, ~Most of the Fianc‚(e) brigade would kill to be in my
place: Ranma in their bed, holding on for dear life.~  She sighed
hopelessly.  ~Except with Ranma using her as a pillow, Akane would
belt him for being a pervert, Ukyo and Shampoo would break loose and
be dancing that 'Ranma's going to marry me!'  Instead of trying to
comfort him, for what drove him to this,~ Nabiki thought, ~Instead,
by doing nothing, I lay the ground work for later.  Maybe there is
something to this Zen stuff.~  She smiled at that, stroking Ranko's
hair.  ~And thinking about what he actually needs, instead of what
_I_ want.  In the process, I even get what I need,~ she thought as
she hugged the girl tighter, ~Don't leave me, don't let me fade away,
please.~  She forced back the tears she felt coming.
  . . . "It's all right," she murmured as she stroked the soft, red
hair, "You're safe.  I'm here."  Provoking another snuggle, and more
tears, although Ranko stayed asleep.  ~I wish I knew the cause of
this, beyond what Ranma told us.  Even Sammi's death shouldn't make
Ranma react like this,~ she thought, ~But I've learned patience.  I
can wait, I can guess, and with the skills I learned from Raccoon, I
can go in and look.  The days after seeing Hiroko were the darkest in
my life.  _I_ had passed sentence.  While my mother just disappeared,
and never returned, Hiroko . . . I saw the body and confirmed the
death with my own hands.  Ranma had the woman die in his arms, and
her being die within his mind.  The effect, I can only guess at.~
  . . . She wondered, ~What can we do to help him?  I want to, I came
here to protect him, and it is about time I start taking my 'job'
more seriously.~  She thought of all the stupid things she could tell
Ranma at a time like this, and how little any of it mattered.  ~The
words hadn't helped, in that, Ranma had always been right, words
couldn't encompass or erase feelings that strong and deep,~ she
thought.
----------------------------------------
  . . . "What should we do?" Maya asked, she was worried about the
silence coming from the room.
  . . . "Tea and sympathy, Shinji, Rei and I just sat there and said
little to nothing, unless spoken too," Jeff told Maya.  Despite the
earliness of the hour, he looked ready to fall asleep himself.
  . . . "I was afraid they might - " Maya blushed, glanced at Ritsuko
and blushed again.
  . . . "Oh, you're jealous," Jeff said and grinned, "Well - "  He
took Ritsuko's hand. "I'm willing to share if you are."
  . . . Maya turned purple, at `Raccoon's` twin suggestions.  "That -
I mean - it just that I - "
  . . . Sempai saved her by covering her mouth with her hand.  "We
just go in there, and do what Ranko needs."  She glared sternly at
Jeff.  "Not what we think she needs, and no teasing."
  . . . "Yes, mighty one," Jeff said as he clasped his hands and
bowed.  He glared sideways at Maya.  "Perfect chance and you mess it
up."
  . . . Ritsuko saw Jeff almost nod off.  "Okay, you go to bed too.  I
think that any party is canceled and the baggage can be handled by
the two of us."  Ritsuko waited for Jeff to form a protest before
continuing, "Besides, you can do more good for Ranko and Nabiki
asleep than you can awake."  She enjoyed his look of frustration, but
he bowed his head and went to what had been 'his' and Ranma's room.
  . . . "What are we going to do about the sleeping arrangements?"
Maya asked, "Long term?"
  . . . "This place was ignored, and they never got into Sammi's
place, so I think that one is safe.  Besides, Jeff can check it out
mystically, and I can search physically.  I think we move in there.
It will let me keep an eye on the pilots, and still maintain my own
privacy."
  . . . "There are four bedrooms _up_ stairs as well," Maya pointed
out.
  . . . "Keeping an eye on me too, Lieutenant?  Poor civilians can't
protect themselves without a military hero?"
  . . . Maya sputtered several attempts at denial, then gave up.
  . . . "I appreciate the offer, but with the kids in the place, it
isn't going to be a good trysting place."
  . . . "I . . . I want to look after all of you," Maya said shyly,
gripping her cup with both hands and staring into it, "That's all."
  . . . Ritsuko laid her hand on Maya's.  "Thank you."
----------------------------------------
  . . . Sleep came easily.
  . . . "Okay," Jeff said to himself, "Let's find Nabiki and then I
know where Ranma will be."
  . . . He headed off.
  . . . "Losing her grandparents must have been a shock.  I wonder,
why no one in Nerima went to find Mirei in 1992?  She still would
have been alive, she couldn't have been 60 and could have
straightened things out.  Family, especially elder family is supposed
to guide and be supported by the younger.  I wonder why they never
did, heck I wonder why _I_ never did."
----------------------------------------
  . . . Ranma knew he was dreaming, he desperately hoped he was
dreaming.  He was standing in his dream dojo in Ranko's form, and
dripping.  Not that water or blood were falling off her to the floor
below, but that pieces of her were spontaneously liquefying, body and
clothes, then falling to the ground with a splash.  Then the drop
would slither back to rejoin the rest of her.  Despite all that had
happened to him in the past months, Ranma screamed in horror and
agony.  Nothing she tried, no discipline or trick held her together.
She screamed for aid, from the gods, from someone.
  . . . "No one can help you with this."
  . . . At Raccoon's voice, she turned slowly, so as not to
disintegrate faster.  Raccoon and Nab-chan stood a short distance
away.  They wore matching yukatas.
  . . . "Don't look at me!" she shouted tried to cover herself, her
desperation just accelerated the process of disintegrating.
  . . . "This isn't new," Nab-chan told her as she approached, "And it
isn't horrible."  She took Ranma's chin and didn't flinch as part of
it ran over her fingers.  "It's natural, the rest of us change.  This
is just an art you have to master."
  . . . "There's nothing to master!" Ranma shouted, tears dropped,
mixing with the other liquid.  "There is nothing good or useful about
this!"
  . . . "If you trust us, I can show you one, right now.  All you have
to do is relax," Raccoon told her quietly.
  . . . "If I relax I'll - "
  . . . "Do you trust us?" Nab-chan asked and rested a hand on her
liquidizing shoulder.
  . . . Ranma looked at Nab-chan, and saw none of the calculation that
often meant there was a trick coming, Raccoon was the same, he was
expectant, but there were none of the subtle cues that this was some
trick.
  . . . "Yes, I do trust you," Ranma admitted.  She knew she had
little choice, and that was one thing she'd learned about all the
pilots.  Once they'd won, they rarely pushed.
  . . . "So."  Raccoon made a complex pass with his hands, saying
words that gave Ranma shivers as they echoed eerily among the walls.
Then Ranma felt betrayed as her entire body fell to liquid and didn't
resolidify no matter what she did or tried.  She wanted to cry, or
scream, but she couldn't.  She flowed out like a great lake, her
panic subsided as she felt the solidity and containment of the banks
and bed of the pool she had become.  What happened next was the
biggest shock of the night.
  . . . Raccoon dropped his robe, revealing the pair of shorts and
T-shirt he wore. He took three running steps and dove in.  Nab-chan
dropped her robe, then screamed and covered herself.
  . . . Lake Ranma turned bright red.
  . . . Raccoon instantly conjured a swimsuit for her, and Nab-chan
adjusted her suit, before gingerly wading in.
  . . . Ranma was amazed.  ~I can feel them moving through me, and not
just as shapes or bodies, but other things: scents, textures.  I can
_see_ them, not just from one side, or one perspective, as if I was
watching from the lake's edge, or with my nose pressed up against
their skin,~ he thought and then was further stunned by realizing, ~I
can sense the blood flow - . . . that's not blood, that's like Chi
and . . . electricity?  They change and flow as their muscles move
and they look around the depths.  When did I become a _lake!?_~  He
examined Raccoon swimming in the depths, and Nab-chan slowly working
her way into deeper `waters`.  He could feel the play of their
muscles against the resistance, and `saw` the myriad signals their
brains generated themselves and dispatched to other parts of their
bodies.
  . . . ~Then there are the other energies, energies I don't
recognize.  Raccoon's practically fizzing with it,~ he thought then
looked closely at Nab-chan, ~I can't see much, then I can only see
her legs, and there's practically none in there.
  . . . ~_WHAT the ?!_~ Ranma failed to exclaim, as Raccoon, deep in
the pool, inhaled.  Down into the lungs and into thousands of tiny
pipes and sacks.  Ranma stared in amazement at the seemingly
thousands of views that revealed themselves from inside Raccoon's
lungs and at the same time he watched Raccoon from the outside, still
submerged, closing in on Nab-chan as she tentatively waded deeper and
looked around in concern.
  . . . ~She's worried,~ he thought despondently, ~Not about me, but
whether I ate Raccoon, since he hasn't surfaced.~
  . . . Then his martial arts skills told him the truth.  ~No!  Don't
_DO THAT!_~ Ranma wanted to scream at Raccoon as he circled unseen
around behind Nab-chan, and made his fingers incredibly cold.
~_STOP!_~ he tried and failed to yell at Raccoon.
  . . . Raccoon `attacked` the back's of Nab-chan's knees with his icy
fingers.
  . . . Ranma felt his surface rippling from the force of Nab-chan's
screech, as she jumped seemingly miles into the air.  ~Sound-powered
rocket,~ he thought, ~ Who knew?  She is going to make you pay for
_that_, Raccoon.~
  . . . When she came back down, with murder in her eyes, she executed
a splashless dive and started swimming around looking for Raccoon.
  . . . ~I would laugh myself sick, if I could laugh,~ he thought as
he watched Raccoon avoid Nab-chan, ~You wait in the depths, and
breathe . . . me.  Until she tires herself out, runs low on air, and
surfaces.~
  . . . As she gasped lungfuls of air, Ranma watched Raccoon creep up,
and poke her somewhere ticklish.  Then he silently laughed as she put
up a frenzied and useless defense, until she calmed down, breathed
enough to dive again.  ~Too late, he's long gone,~ Ranma thought as
he watched her search for someone Ranma knew was no where near her.
He watched them repeat this exact process twice more before it dawned
on Nab-chan that something was amiss.  As Ranma watched her face,
body and spirit, ~She's realizing he's breathing the liquid, just
like L.C.L.,~ he thought, ~I wish I could tell her its safe.  It - I
- won't hurt her.  Neither will Raccoon.~
  . . . ~He will of course act like a little kid tormenting his older
sister,~ Ranma thought as Raccoon again poked Nab-chan and raced
away, ~Com'on!  Play nice!~
  . . . Raccoon, fortunately, realized her dilemma when she didn't
pursue him this time.  Ranma watched him swim close enough to let
Nab-chan see he was easily breathing in and out, yet his nose and
mouth remained submerged.
  . . . ~Please, Nab-chan, trust me,~ he silently implored, then
wondered, ~Why is that so important?  But I know it is.~  He braced
himself, trying to figure out a way to make sure it wasn't a little
she inhaled.  ~She'd choke on a little, like my first experiences
with L.C.L.~
  . . . When Nab-chan exhaled her air and sank deeper into the liquid,
the bubbles tickled Ranma as they headed up, and Nab-chan looked
forlornly at them and the surface.  Ranma waited for the inhale.
Raccoon had followed Nab-chan down, a hand resting on her shoulder to
reassure her.
  . . . When she inhaled, Ranma raced in, scavenging any bubbles that
might cause her a problem, while outside, Raccoon held her as she
reacted with some of the gag reflex and convulsions that L.C.L.
produced.
  . . . ~It's all right,~ he wanted to tell her as she struggled
against herself and Raccoon, ~We all do it in the EVAs.~
  . . . After a moment she stopped, and setting into breathing easily.
  . . . Raccoon spoiled the moment by poking her somewhere ticklish,
and racing off. Nab-chan let out a silent scream of rage as she raced
after him.
  . . . ~She'd make me pay dearly,~ Ranma thought, ~If she could hear
me laughing at her expression.~
  . . . Nab-chan relaxed slightly, as she finally realized it was a
game, not a contest, or a war.  Ranma delighted in feeling their
bodies sliding through his substance, smelling the sweat that washed
away, seeing the muscles move, and seeing the interplay on not only a
physical, but a biological, even a spiritual level, between the two.
~Say, I do feel better about this!~ he realized, ~I guess it's
whether you have control . . . whether you _want_ control, or if you
can live without it.  Like my curse, if I can live with it, it stops
being a curse.~
  . . . He simply let himself relax, and watch them play.  Raccoon's
speed and sneakiness, versus Nab-chan's grace and cunning.  ~Except
Nab-chan seems to be ticklish, and Raccoon doesn't, so he's got the
advantage,~ Ranma thought, then fell back on analyzing the very
different `fighting-styles` of the pair, ~Raccoon is always careful
where he touches, and Nab-chan grapples in a way that some guys at
school would love to have a pretty girl tackle them, but then they'd
take it the wrong way.  Only, Raccoon never takes advantage, he seems
to like the `fight`.  I guess we are kinda alike.~
  . . . Eventually, Nab-chan got too tired to continue.  Raccoon
helped her to the surface.  When she tried to spit Ranma out of her
lungs, Ranma left quickly, intentionally leaving air in his wake.
Raccoon carried her into the shallows and found a shoal place where
they could lie with their heads out of the liquid, and their bodies
submerged within it.  Nab-chan snuggled against Raccoon, with her
head on his shoulder.
  . . . Ranma felt a twinge of jealousy, then realized, ~Hey!  I was a
good-sized pond while they were swimming around every whichway in my
depths.  Now I'm just about the size of a furo!  They can stretch
out, but I'm not deep enough to let them drown.  Not that they could.
I guess I do know what I'm doing.  I just can't consciously control
what I'm doing,~ he thought as Nab-chan fell asleep on Raccoon's
shoulder as Ranma surrounded and lapped over them.
----------------------------------------
  . . . Ranma wakened slightly, took a moment to analyze where and who
he was.  A moment later, he realized he was a she, and solid as well.
Ranma hadn't opened her eyes yet, but Ranma's hands told her some
very strange things.  She thought for an instant that one breast had
swelled immensely, and her shirt had grown hairy, then she put the
pressure, size and hairiness together and realized she had her
fingers entwined in short hair and the cheek attached firmly pressed
against her rather intimately.  ~That's worrying enough, especially
because there is only one person in the apartment with hair that
short.~  Her legs were tightly wrapped around someone else's leg and
had it firmly held against her.  Someone's hand had migrated beneath
the waist band of her boxers.  ~Nothing perverted, but somehow I
arranged myself and them like this,~ she thought as she continued to
hold Raccoon and Nab-chan against her, both in a very intimate way.
~Raccoon's arm is over both me and Nab-chan, holding us tight.  It's
Nab-chan's hand at the waistband of my boxers, the other cradled her
head.  So she gets to get grabby and I don't, that's not fair.~
  . . . Ranma decided, ~I'm not going to finish waking up, skipping
one day's practice, the others will understand.~  She settled in a
little, Nab-chan's hand tickled spider-like, then drew Ranma closer
to her.  Ranma felt their six legs tangle further.  Ranma forced
herself to relax.  ~Despite every instinct telling me different, I'm
not really in danger.~  The ki of the other two people pressed up
against had slowed, the pulse and sizzle of the two bodies warmed
her, her own ki sang a duet in response.  She also noted, ~The drive,
the nervous energy to '_Do!_' is muted.  The wheels turn, but without
the frantic restlessness I normally feel in them.  Still like being
in a whirlpool or a hurricane, but like this is being in the eye.
The vast energy circling, circling, circling won't hurt me, and it
blots out all other concerns and forces.~
  . . . It lulled her back to sleep, she didn't care how they had
arranged themselves, she needed the support, the certainty that they
were there.
  . . . ~Usagi had asked what I wanted, this was what I thought of,
now I worry they'll discover what's happening.  But even I couldn't
disentangle myself without waking them.  Maybe they won't clobber me
if I'm asleep when they wake up,~ she thought as she relaxed into the
refugee of sleep again.
----------------------------------------
  . . . Some instinct told Ranma he needed to be awake _RIGHT NOW!_
He woke suddenly.  ~I'm out of the embarrassing situation I was in,
the dream.  Or was it a dream?~ he wondered, ~Okay, I'm a 'he' again,
and considering any and all threats . . . No movement, no sound of
fire - the situation has not improved!  I'm alone with Nab-chan,
lying on top of her!~  His mind froze as he realized where his head
was, and more importantly, where his hand was.  ~Up Nabiki's shirt!
Okay, Nab-chan has no misgivings about grabbing parts of Ranma or
Ranko, I think the chances that turnabout is fair play are about
equal to my chances I'll survive if Nab-chan realizes what I've been
holding while we were asleep.  Calm down, reduce the pressure on
Nab-chan's anatomy, in preparation to withdraw the hand, and -~  His
instant plan to flee immediately was interrupted by the arrival of
doom as certain as the sound of an executioner sharpening her axe.
Nab-chan's eyes snapped open and locked with hers, and Nabiki's hand
striking like a snake to grab hold of his pigtail sealed his doom.
  . . . Ranma felt a dread fill him,  ~Okay, now I get the beating,
one I deserve, this time.  Nabiki's eyes and expression give no clue.
Her ki gives no clue.  She is either calm, or so angry she gone past
the screaming rage and all the way to lethal revenge.~
  . . . "Saotome," Nabiki said, almost sweetly, "I'd like you to tell
me just _what_ you think you were doing.  This isn't to inform me,
since I already know.  I just want to see if you'll try to lie to me,
when you know I'll hurt you in direct proportion to the lie."
  . . . Ranma could only gulp and consider how painful his death was
going to be. ~Would it be better to lie, and be killed for that, or
admit I haven't the faintest idea, and be killed for that?
Decisions, decisions.  Funny, you had your hands on me, and I didn't
hit _you!_~
  . . . "Since you seem a little addled.  I'll give you an order,"
Nabiki said, with the sweetness of a pineapple-scented breeze,
blowing over an active volcano, "_Slowly_ pull your hand out, and put
it behind my head.  Your arm around my waist can stay there."
  . . . Ranma did as instructed, hoping something _anything_ would
intervene. ~Why can't Asuka walk in, or an Angel attack when it might
actually help?~ he wondered, ~Why hasn't she taken my head off?
Figuratively, or literally?~  He didn't have an answer.
  . . . Now Ranma could sense the agitation.  ~I thought doing exactly
what she told me would reduce Nabiki's anger.  I guess I was wrong.~
He considered trying to explain, ~No, remember the admonition to
remain silent when I gave Nabiki the quilt.  Silence might not get me
out of this, but speaking only when spoken to might keep it from
getting worse.~
  . . . "Close your eyes."
  . . . Ranma instantly did as ordered.  Now he waited, he could hear
the rustling of cloth as Nabiki rearranged her clothing.  ~She's
content to make me wait for whatever happens.  Maybe jumping up and
running away?  But that would just get me in deeper,~ he thought,
~How about jumping up, and running away, with her in my arms?  At
least I could claim insanity as a defense.~
  . . . As he lay there, he could imagine what Nabiki was planning.
~There are a lot of places a girl could hit, or twist or pinch or
bite that would hurt a lot more than an ordinary punch, kick or
slap.~  As the seconds crawled by Ranma, he felt his fear increase,
his heart rate and breathing speed up, along with his fear.  ~Once
the pain starts, it'll be easier, the anticipation and uncertainty
that made it worse, you knew where a punch or kick was likely to
land, so you prepared.  I can't really prepare for anything Nabiki
does, and an ordinary punch, kick or slap isn't Nabiki's style.~  All
his imaginings tightened his guts, he felt himself start to tremble.
~Here it comes, and I don't have any real defense.~
  . . . "Now, Saotome, talk."
----------------------------------------
  . . . When Nabiki had awakened to being gripped/fondled and drooled
on by an obviously _male_ Ranma, her first instinct had been to tear
him to pieces.  ~I guess I owe Coffee a debt,~ she thought as she
half-listened to Ranma's stammered explanations, ~If Coffee hadn't
used the winds to keep me from a 'pulverize by reflex' reaction and
told me to look at what Ranma was dreaming, this would have been an
'Akane-at-her-worst' moment, instead a time to point out our
differences.~
  . . . Nabiki glanced up at Ranma, she'd waited until he'd woken up
more before deciding what to do.  ~I'd been shocked originally, but
considering where my hands keep winding up, Coffee didn't see I had
much room to complain.  That Ranma, even sound asleep, had groped me
was shocking, but not offensive.~  She stared at the shivering
martial artist.  ~He hit the important high points in his explanation
and admitted he's sorry, better I don't listen too closely to his
explanations.  Just staring at him in silence has all the effect I
need,~ she thought and considered the vagaries of life and existence,
~I always tried to be harder, more frightening than the martial
artists of Nerima.  It struck me, that after the dreams, Asuka had
dubbed them 'The Nerima Wrecking Crew', and Raccoon called them the
'Nerimaniacs', yet I was able to skate among them without martial
arts, instilling fear to gain their grudging respect.  Whatever they
thought of me, I was someone who had to be considered, no one dared
ignore me, and none of them dared attack me.~
  . . . ~But it was empty,~ she admitted to herself, ~I was safe, I
was even bringing home some money to the family.  But I was feared
far too much for anyone to even consider getting close to me.~  She
laughed mirthlessly at that, causing Ranma to freeze in place.
  . . . She smiled at him.  "Stay on topic please," she reminded him.
He nodded and continued to blather.
  . . . ~Even my own family feared me,~ she lamented, ~If it got me
respect, I didn't argue.~  It suddenly struck her, as she stared at
the mightiest martial artist on the planet, ~He still trembles at my
touch, but none of that is necessary now.  I still like people being
a little off their feet around me, but being an EVA pilot
accomplishes that, even among other pilots.  We're all nervous about
what we do, and what we may become.  No less than Douglas MacArthur
had asked for Asuka's autograph, when Asuka had asked for his.  Any
of the pilots could write a letter to President Truman or the
Emperor, and expect some action to take place.  I like being
respected better than I like being feared, being part of NERV SAR . .
. and surviving that terrible day had done that.~
  . . . ~I have what I always thought I wanted, and it doesn't just
frighten me, it terrifies me.  I'm tired of fear, I wanted respect, I
have it.  I especially don't want Ranma afraid of me.~
  . . . She took Ranma's chin and tightened her grip on it a little.
Ranma fell silent and she felt a bit of triumph.  ~I can do whatever
I wanted to Ranma.  The poor baby will neither argue nor protest . .
. ~  She rolled him over, so she lay a top him.  She let Ranma stare
up at her, while she looked down and examined him.
  . . . ~And all I really want is him to stop worrying,~ Nabiki
thought about the irony, ~All I want is him to relax because I'm
here.~  She knew part of the boy's fear was fear of the unknown.
~Ranma and Ranko were so cute when they were flustered!  But Ranma
isn't flustered, he's terrified.  There's something not right,
something crossways with reality about Ranma being afraid of
anything, except cats, everybody needed a weakness.~
  . . . She looked down at the boy.  ~Even with the memories erased,
he still thinks that any gesture even remotely amorous would earn her
or him a pulverizing, whether the action was voluntary, involuntary
or accidental.  I'm going to put a stop to it.  It's unlikely that
Ranma is ever going to get beaten up with the regularity he did in
Nerima, but he still needs to be 'trained' not to expect it.  There
are other more effective ways to punish and discipline him, and her,
than physical violence.~
  . . . Nabiki glided down atop the hyperventilating boy.  Ranma froze
up as if he'd been hit by a lightning bolt.  The sudden interaction
of their bodies and Ranma's blush and hidden glance gave Nabiki all
sorts of thoughts.  ~To pursue later!~ she admonished herself, but it
was difficult.  She pinched Ranma's nose closed then covered her
mouth with her own.  Ranma's eyes shot wide open at the impossibility
his body was reporting.
  . . . Nabiki released his nose, and cradled his head with both arms
so he couldn't break off the kiss.  Now Ranma started to relax again.
Nabiki spent a delightful interval, her lips playing the 'Game of the
Oni' with Ranma's. ~Depressingly, it was more hide than seek on
Ranma's part, but he didn't break away either,~ Nabiki thought,
~Maybe releasing Ranma's head and moving his hands some place more
interesting and intimate . . . be patient!  You have time, have some
patience, that was what none of the other fiancees did, let Ranma
take time to absorb.~
  . . . She broke off the kiss and was pleased there was
disappointment laced into the confusion and relief, she didn't take
the last personally, she'd pushed him well beyond the expected and
just outside his comfort zone.  "Thank you for not lying to me," she
told him, "Maybe I should . . . reward you."  She licked her lips
hungrily and Ranma squirmed delightfully beneath her, uncertainty,
but no fear.
  . . . ~Exactly as I want it.~
  . . . "I woke, and saw what you were doing.  And I was angry, but
then I thought about it, since you were asleep.  So I entered your
dream, and saw you were dreaming of suckling at Ritsuko's breast, a
baby only seeking comfort from his mother.  That's what you were
acting out, with me." She kissed him again to prevent a series of
half-hearted denials, and only stopped when he showed no evidence of
further attempts to make a fool of himself, but he was still filled
with a delightful uncertainty.  She satisfied herself by giving him a
series of little cat licks and gentle bites across his throat from
the hollow of his throat to his chin.  Ranma shivered the entire
time, gripping the floor and arching his throat towards Nabiki,
verifying he wanted the contact.
  . . . As Nabiki sat up staring at her, ~ . . . friend, lover?  I'm
not going to even _think_ 'fiancee', there's no legal bond, and I'm
trying to build an emotional one.~
  . . . Nabiki settled beside Ranma into the crook of his arm, laying
her head on the boy's shoulder.  "You are allowed to touch back,"
Nabiki gently combed her fingers through his soft hair.  "As long as
you're doing it to tell me how you feel, and not just to prove you
can."
  . . . ~Like I did for too long,~ she had to admit to herself.
  . . . "Do you understand the difference?" she asked.
  . . . Ranma stared into her eyes and nodded slowly, gathering Nabiki
tighter against him.
  . . . Nabiki preferred doing this with his male form.  ~But being a
girl is part of what and who he is, and there are worse things to
have to overcome.  She is nice to be with too.~
  . . . "You're allowed to do more."  Nabiki stroked the underside of
Ranma's pectoral muscles, felt him stiffen then relax a bit.  "Not
necessarily right now, but you should start."  Nabiki reached over,
taking Ranma's opposite arm and placing the boy's hand on her arms.
"I won't promise I won't hit you, I won't promise I won't hurt you,"
she chuckled, "I have a temper, and I refuse to be ignored.  But I
will control myself.  I do insist that you stop hurting me."  She put
her hand over Ranma's mouth, stared at his shocked expression.  "When
you act like your life isn't important, like getting hurt is . . . "
her voice broke, she felt fear and fury building up as her gut
tightened at the memory, "That bastard ran off to fight her all
alone, he nearly died, and you're the same all the time!" she shouted
at Ranma then buried her face in his shoulder and held on.
----------------------------------------
  . . . Ranma stared across at the sobbing girl in his arms, then
glanced up at Rit-chan who'd come through the door at Nab-chan's
angry shout.  Ranma gave her a bewildered look, Rit-chan nodded and
closed the door quietly behind her, leaving Ranma unsure how to
react.  He wanted to say something, ~But my mouth seems to exist just
to get me into trouble.  But I don't have to _say_ things to
communicate,~ he remembered the lessons he'd gotten pounded into his
head from Raccoon and the Meliorist, and the permission he'd just
gotten from Nab-chan herself.  He started stroking Nab-chan's back as
the two of them held each other.
  . . . Nab-chan didn't react much to the touch, good or bad, but
Ranma felt the ki flows slow and alter slightly, the rate of change
increased slowly.  Ranma pulled Nab-chan up so her head rested on his
chest, where she could feel his heartbeat, instead of on his
shoulder.  That increased the rate that calmed Nab-chan down.  ~I
wish I knew why, but I don't care right now.  Nab-chan and Raccoon,
and Asuka will all _love_ to explain it later, and Ranma or Ranko
will have to keep from falling asleep then.~
  . . . He felt the other girl's tears stop, and her breathing became
more regular.  Ranma stroked Nab-chan's  hair.  ~I'm glad she let it
grow out a little.  She is prettier with it this way.~
  . . . "I'll try, I seem to need a lot of help with that," he told
Nab-chan who sniffled and nodded.  Ranma decided, ~I can take a
chance, I, Ranma, felt jealous when Nab-chan got mad about Raccoon.
He's the only one stupid enough to . . . charge into a fight like I
always do.  Cripes, no wonder we hate each other, switch a university
education and a gun, for a life on the road and martial arts skills,
and all the other differences are cosmetic.  It wasn't just that I
was jealous that Raccoon was stealing Nab-chan from Ranma, but the
insanity that Nab-chan was stealing Raccoon from Ranma and Ranko.
It's completely stupid, and impossible, but I can't ignore it.  It is
unworthy, I have Nab-chan in my arms right now, and Raccoon isn't
here.  Yet, the jealousy is still there.  It doesn't make sense.~
  . . . ~I'm a guy, why should I be jealous that another guy isn't
spending time with me, is having fun with another girl?~ Ranma
wondered as he lay there.
  . . . ~I wonder when breakfast is, or is it lunch, or dinner?  I
have no idea what time it is, and aside from food, no real interest.
Rit-chan had been dressed, but I don't remember how she'd been
dressed at the dock, so I don't know if Rit-chan hadn't gotten
undressed or if she'd dressed for a new day.~
  . . . ~What about the funeral . . . funerals: Mirei's, Sammi's,
Tomiyo's?  Are they all together or separate?  Mirei had family,
Nab-chan and his dad might have been Tomiyo's only family.  Sammi
didn't, except the pilots . . . that's something else I don't want to
think about, but I also know I can't, I shouldn't, keep it from
Nab-chan.  I don't know exactly what to do.~
  . . . ~Another reason to wait for Raccoon to come back,~ he thought,
~The three of us can talk, or is it the four of us?~  He chuckled
mirthlessly at that.
----------------------------------------
Won't you help me, if you can, to shake this anger,
  . . . Jeff looked at the destroyed door, the shattered parapet of
the building across the way, and the damaged to the walls and floor
of the walkway.  He closely examined where the fragments of the rifle
grenades' casings dug holes in the concrete walls.  The polite cough
from one of the half-dozen Marines `escorting` him brought him out of
his considerations.  "Whoever walked into this, walked into a real
mother of an ambush," he said as he showed his NERV ID card to the
Marine guards on the door, "Always take time to enjoy and learn from
true craftsmanship."
  . . . ~The Marines aren't letting the FUBENS anywhere _near_ the
pilots,~ Jeff thought as his escorts peeled off and waited for him to
return, ~I don't think they would have let _me_ in here, if they
didn't know me on sight, and that I arrived with a vetted security
force.~
  . . . A chalk outline marked where each of the attackers had
fallen.  It didn't take an intense amount of imagination to picture
the sequence of events.  ~It is obvious the sniper was Rei, almost no
one else at NERV is that good with a rifle,~ he thought, ~The action
cleared the upper level, then bought time for Langley to escape,
simple and to the point.  Very much like Rei.~
  . . . Langley was in her room, sitting alone on a bed that hadn't
been slept in.  The enemy hadn't reached here, so no forensic
investigator came this far.
  . . . "Langley?" Jeff asked quietly as he entered, she looked at him
dully, as if she didn't recognize him for a moment.
  . . . "Oh, it's you."
  . . . ~Anticlimactic,~ he thought, ~I was warned about her hair, it
still jars me.  Langley and the Meliorist were always characterized
by their long hair.  Now her hair is longer than mine or Shinji's,
but both Rei and Saotome wear it longer, and Nabiki's `tail` is
longer still.~
  . . . "Are you alive?" he asked as he sat on the bed beside her.
She automatically leaned against him.
  . . . "One of the few.  Somehow, you managed to bring all yours home
safe, I always envied that about you.  Erin, Tomiyo, Sammi, Mirei,
Hiro," she chuckled once and closed her eyes, "And Tomoe, Usagi, and
Yuki, maybe a couple of dozen more."
  . . . "You feel you've betrayed them by being alive?"
  . . . She pulled back and glared at him, then her expression
softened and she bowed her head, "Yeah.  I guess, I mean how many
people are worth one pilot's life?"
  . . . "Honestly," Jeff said gently, "Sammi, Erin, Tomiyo and Hiro
were all volunteers, they'd say a bunch, or at least what a pilot
represents, is worth a bunch of lives.  You and I don't get a vote in
the matter."
  . . . "It isn't fair," Langley said, flopping back on the bed,
staring up at the ceiling, "Why them, and not others?  I even heard
rumors that Hiro wasn't human."
  . . . "I seem to remember someone whose two most loyal bodyguards
are werewolves," Jeff commented, Langley's listlessness worried him.
  . . . ~She's holding things in, holding things off.  In our
`business` that's a bad decision, too much happens too fast, the time
you have to sit and relax is too short to dig up old hurts and give
them a proper airing.  Says the pot calling the kettle black.~
  . . . "Misato's got to be devastated," Langley said, in a tone that
wouldn't have been out of place from Rei, "That's why Spineless and
Wondergirl are over there."
  . . . ~Awfully charitable of you,~ Jeff thought, ~You probably sent
them off, after assuring them endlessly that you'd be okay.
Considering how Major Katsuragi reacted to the attack on you,
extremely charitable.~
  . . . "So do you want to come back to Ritsuko's with me?  I assure
you, any tears you shed can be put down to solidarity with the - your
fellow pilots."
  . . . "No," Langley said, not rising to the bait.  "You aren't there
for some reason.  Let Ice Princess and Horseface have their reunion,
before reality reasserts itself."
  . . . "You don't mind me staying here?" Jeff asked.
  . . . Langley raised her arm and waved her hand languidly.  "One
does what one must, possessed of such intelligence, talent and
beauty, I find that interjecting myself into places causes others to
make me the highlight."
  . . . "As is your due," Jeff agreed, seemingly wholeheartedly as he
laid down beside her.
  . . . "Then I must remain here, and accept worship from a smaller
circle, to allow others to get on with their lives."
  . . . "I assure you, what I lack in quantity, I make up for in
quality."  He bowed gravely.
  . . . "I would expect, and accept, no less."  Langley lowered her
hand, patting his knee as it passed.
----------------------------------------
  . . . Ranko heard Raccoon enter with - ~_Food!_  And she stifles the
urge to leap on him, get the tray and devour it all at once.  Who
says I'm not civilized?  I'm  still not sure what hour it is, Ranma
had fallen asleep again with Nab-chan in his arms.  And I wake up,
Ranko body and mind, and the tangle of arms and legs and hair gets no
comment from Raccoon, not even a raised eyebrow,~ Ranko worried, ~It
also worries me that I've, we've, slept more since Nab-chan and
Raccoon brought me home from the carrier yesterday, or the day before
yesterday, than I ever have before, that I can remember.~  Nab-chan
fidgeted in her arms, reacting to the smell of food.
  . . . "She's pleasant to wake up to," Raccoon said.  Ranko wasn't
sure if she or Nab-chan blushed more.  "She wasn't happy when I told
her that."
  . . . Nab-chan suddenly crawled over Ranko to attack the food or
Raccoon, Ranko grabbed her around the waist to hold her back and
prevent bloodshed.  "Right after you told me I was tone-deaf!"
Nab-chan shouted at him, and struggled to get loose.
  . . . "What does that have to do with anything?" Ranko asked as she
struggled to restrain Nab-chan.
  . . . "I said you don't sing well," Raccoon replied, took advantage
of his longer reach to pat Nab-chan on the head.  It was all Ranko
could do to keep Nab-chan from advancing.  "And you got the same
expression as you've got now, it's so cuuutee!" Raccoon teased.
  . . . Ranko wondered, ~Is Raccoon is just suicidal or is he luring
Nab-chan into some kind of trap?~
  . . . ~Nab-chan's fingers curled into claws,~ Ranko vaguely
wondered, ~Has she been infected by the other?~  Ranko rolled
suddenly, toppling Nab-chan and trapping her beneath, holding her
arms with her own.
  . . . "What are you doing?" Nab-chan shouted as she wriggled,
setting off all kinds of reactions in Ranko.
  . . . "You want to know how ticklish you are?  Again!?" Ranko asked,
nodding her head towards the grinning Raccoon and the chopsticks he
held so innocently.  Tick, tick, tick they clacked, Nab-chan gulped
in response, and tried to get out of Raccoon's reach as he sat and
smiled, idly clicking them as if he hadn't a care or thought at all.
Then he moved suddenly closer.
  . . . Nab-chan squeaked and tried to interpose Ranko between her
more vulnerable areas and those clicking chopsticks.
  . . . "You wouldn't dare - !" Nab-chan threatened, but was laughing
too hard and yelping when Raccoon `shot` at her.
  . . . Ranko noticed his speed and precision had increased, ~Nab-chan
has probably been training him.  And Nab-chan is going to keep
dodging around me, while Raccoon circles and searches for an
opening.~
  . . . "Enough!" Ranko announced.
  . . . "Thank you," Nab-chan whispered, gave her a kiss, "My hero."
  . . . "No," Ranko said firmly, "The villain.  With permission!"
  . . . Nab-chan shrieked, "Traitor!" as she desperately tried to
protect herself from Ranko's `attack`.  Ranko noted all she had to do
was get her fingers close, and Nab-chan would react, she didn't even
have to make contact.  ~That's better.~
  . . . Nab-chan immediately retreated behind Raccoon.
  . . . ~She must think that his larger size will make him a better
block,~ Ranko noted and smiled evilly, ~It is a _bad_ idea, because
Raccoon is covertly striking at Nab-chan, and at me when either of us
overcommits to an attack or defense.~  Ranko watched Raccoon's attack
on her exposed flank throw off her aim, and his other hand carried
off the attack on Nab-chan Ranko had planned, all the while looking
as if he were defending Nab-chan, and of course wearing an expression
of total innocence.
  . . . "He's pitting us against each other!" Ranko accused, catching
Raccoon's hands while he was making a simultaneous attack on her and
Nab-chan.
  . . . "Would I do something as sneaky and deceitful as that?"
Raccoon asked in a tone of aggrieved righteousness.
  . . . ~'Are you going to believe me, or your own eyes?'~ Ranko
mentally translated.  She and Nab-chan exchanged glances.  With
Nab-chan's nod, Ranko released the grip she had on Raccoon's hands,
and smiiillled.
  . . . "Oh look, I've got food."  Raccoon scrambled over and
displayed the tray to them.
  . . . Slowly they turned, step by step.
  . . . "Look!  A cat made out of money!"  He pointed behind them.
  . . . Inch by inch.
  . . . "Hold it right there!" he commanded as he took a combat pose,
an interesting combination of Karate and MacBane's hanging guard, "I
know . . . MacArthur."
  . . . "So do we," Nab-chan reminded him as she advanced, slowly.
  . . . "Oh, good point!"  He dashed for the door, yanked on it.
  . . . "Take your medicine like a good boy," came Rit-chan's voice
from the other side of the fastened door.
  . . . "But I'm not a good boy!" he wailed over the maniacal laughter
of the two girls.
  . . . "Rosebud!" Raccoon screamed.
----------------------------------------
  . . . Ranko sat in the bathroom, both doors locked.  Raccoon looked
her over very carefully, occasionally rubbing an oil or powder on her
skin.  Sometimes looking at her through a crystal of some kind.
Despite the clothes she wore, she still felt a little naked under his
gaze.  Her occasional glances outside told her that night had finally
fallen.  ~Somehow I know things are going to get worse, rather than
better,~ Ranko thought as she waited.
  . . . Finally, he shrugged and sat down to face her.  "I'm sorry
Ranko, I don't see anything."
  . . . "But why am I stuck as a girl?" Ranko wailed.
  . . . "First of all, let's test something."  He dipped her hand in a
glass of hot water, while watching her intently.  Ranko didn't notice
any change.  Then he dipped her hand in a glass of cold water, and
again, nothing changed.
  . . . "So?!" Ranko asked impatiently.
  . . . "Your transformation is normal."
  . . . "That's impossible!" Ranko complained, "I didn't change!"
  . . . "Didn't you?" he asked then rapidly dipped her hand in hot,
then cold, then hot, repeating it until Ranko reeled, feeling sick.
  . . . "Oh . . . I don't feel good."  Ranko nearly fell forward onto
him.
  . . . "You're still transforming," he told her as he held her
upright, "There's a second transformation overlying and negating the
first.  Congratulations, you've mastered very basic shapechanging."
  . . . "_WHAT!?_"  Ranko's cry attracted a call from outside both
doors asking if she was all right.
  . . . "I was teasing her that she actually was Ranma, trapped in a
female body," Raccoon called back, then put his hand to his ear, "Ah,
frustrated muttering, such a delightful sound."
  . . . Ranko frowned at that, and waved her fist at her friend.
  . . . "Your transformation proceeds normally, then you change to
Ranko.  That's how come you changed without water, when you were
asleep."
  . . . "Why would I want to be stuck as a girl?  Most of the time,
and a boy at the worst possible time to be one?" Ranko asked
desperately.
  . . . "Well, why would you want to be `stuck` as a girl, why would
you _choose_ to be a girl?  I don't think it's some deep secret, it's
just something simple, or several somethings, you haven't
considered."
  . . . "Gee, thanks.  I did it to myself."
  . . . "After absorbing Nyogtha in Unit 01, then absorbing a
proto-shoggoth directly, your ability to adjust your body as you will
is fully available to you."
  . . . "You knew she was a . . . " Ranko whispered the rest, "That
Sammi wasn't like us?  Before I told you?  How?"
  . . . "I'd be a pretty lousy wizard if I couldn't detect something
like that," Raccoon explained, "Let's take this step by step.  No
offense, but despite how sneaky and manipulative you try to be,
you're still frank and simple, so I doubt the reasons are complex."
  . . . Ranko frowned at the implied insult.
  . . . "I just want you to say the first thing that comes to your
mind."
  . . . "When's lunching?"  Ranko smiled as Raccoon frowned.
  . . . "Okay, one point to Ranko.  I'm going to ask some questions,
and you answer, whatever comes first, even if it's a whole bunch of
things, just say them."
  . . . "Okay."
  . . . "What advantages are there to being a girl?"
  . . . "Going places, expectations," Ranko said.
  . . . "Okay.  What are the most important things that happened while
Brown Bess and I were gone?"
  . . . "Sammi died, Tomiyo and Mirei died, Asuka got attacked."
  . . . "You realized you didn't mention the EVA battle, going to a
new school or anything else?"
  . . . "Yeah, who's Brown Bess?"
  . . . Raccoon recited what was probably a poem in English.
  . . . "So Nab-chan is . . . what's a Brown Bess?"
  . . . ~Bess-chan,~ Ranko thought, ~Or Burawan-san.  She's going to
kill me.~  She smiled at that thought.
  . . . "A musket, an English musket.  Let's take those answers one at
a time, why would Tomiyo and Mirei's death make you want to be a
girl?"
  . . . "They wouldn't!" she shouted.
  . . . Ranko felt traitorous saying that, ~As if their deaths weren't
important enough.~
  . . . "All right, what about Asuka getting ambushed, what about the
_aftermath_ of Asuka getting attacked would make you want to be a
girl?"
  . . . Ranko thought about that.  "Following . . . " She held up a
hand, so he'd let her finish the thought as it slowly crystallized.
"I could go more places she could.  I could go places and she
wouldn't object so much."  She smiled.  "But she still objected, but
I could say 'I'm a girl too'."
  . . . "Okay, and why would Sammi's murder and you absorbing her, why
would you want to stay as a girl?"
  . . . Ranko felt the horrible feeling as Sammi's mind and spirit
disintegrating her, she felt tears forming as she remembered the
desperation and loss on Sammi's face as she died and ran through his
fingers.
  . . . Raccoon leaned close, letting her rest her hand on his
shoulder and wrap her arms around him.  Then she let the tears fall.
  . . . He didn't berate or hurry her along.
  . . . "Sorry," she snuffled, then blew her nose on a tissue.  "It
was terrible, watching, feeling her die.  I . . . I can't . . . I
can't . . . "
  . . . "You want to remember her.  Your job is to protect the people
around you."
  . . . "Yeah."
  . . . "Could you do that better as a boy or a girl?" Raccoon let the
question hang in the air.
  . . . Ranko considered deeply, mentally listing all the combat
advantages as well as how close and consistent the protection could
be.  "A girl.  I guess."
  . . . "That's why you're a girl," Raccoon said, "As you convince
yourself being a girl isn't mandatory, you'll probably be able to
switch back and forth.  Eventually, you'll be able to transform as
you wish, and as long as you do spend time as each, the curse should
be appeased."
  . . . "That's too easy," Ranko said.
  . . . "Not when you consider I was 19 years in that dream, studying.
I know you, how you were expected to think and react.  That's
different from being you, but I do have some experience."
  . . . "Okay, so what do I do about . . . ?"  she almost couldn't
bear to think about the name, she knew she couldn't say it.
  . . . "Accept that she died to protect Shinji.  Accept that her
memories and abilities are the legacy she bequeathed you.  Accept you
did everything you could."
  . . . "Like Nab-chan after Cthugha," Ranko said, "You two worked so
hard, and Hiroko still died."
  . . . "She was dead before anyone brought her to us.  That doesn't
mean we don't miss her, that doesn't mean we just go as if nothing
happened, as if nothing changed, but we do have to go on.  Hiroko
wouldn't have wanted 'the Boss' to stop, and Sammi wouldn't want you
to curl up and die either."
  . . . Ranko nodded.  "How do . . . how do I tell her about Tomiyo
and Mirei?  How they died . . . I mean."
  . . . "_We'll_ tell her," Raccoon said as he stood up.
  . . . "Did you check with Asuka, is she really okay?" Ranko asked.
  . . . "No, but she'll survive, with the rest of us here, and Rei
recovering, she'll be better."


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