Matchmaking (and Moneymaking)

The Letter (Day 6)

As Nabiki entered her room, Ranma grabbed the door before she could close it, saying, "Wait, but ain't there a kissing scene in this play? I can't kiss a guy!"

"Then just fake it with tape over your mouth like you did last year." Nabiki said with a shrug before adding, "Of course, if you really don't want to, I can give the part to Akane, and she can kiss Ryoga instead…"

At the thought of those two kissing, Ranma burst out indignantly, "Forget it! I ain't about ta let that happen!"

"Alright, if that's how you feel," Grinning Nabiki said, "I'm glad that's all settled then." Without further ado, she closed the door.

"Wait, WHAT ABOUT RYOGA?!" Came Ranma's shocked cry a few moments later, as she realized whose name Nabiki had just mentioned. 'So, if Akane would have ta kiss Ryoga as the princess, then that means he's the Prince… WAIT, but that means I'm gonna have ta…' Ranma's thought trailed off as she remembered the first dream she had the night previous. The feeling of Ryoga's arms circling around her, the look in his eyes as she turned her head to face him, the taste of his lips as he-

Suddenly Ranma was brought back to the present by the very person she was thinking about. "Hey, Ranma, why are you yelling for me?" Ryoga asked as he topped the stairs.

"Uh, it's nothing! Nevermind!" Ranma cried hastily, as she turned away to hide the blush that had spread across her face after such a memory.

Ryoga stared at the redhead's odd reaction in confusion for a moment, before shrugging it off. "Whatever. Anyway, Kasumi said dinner's almost ready, so let's head back downstairs."

Not wanting to be around him until she had a chance to calm down, Ranma made a tough decision. "Ya guys go ahead and start without me," Ranma said, as she started to head back to her room. "I'm not hungry right now."

Ryoga, having started to head back towards the stairs, whirled back around in shock at hearing that. 'Ranma NEVER turns down food!' He thought in surprise. Catching up with her, Ryoga grabbed Ranma by the shoulder, turning her around as he asked, "Ranma, are you feeling alright?"

Slapping his hand away, Ranma snapped back a short, "I'm fine!"

Scowling at her reaction, Ryoga snapped, "What the Hell's your problem?"

"None of your business, Pork Breath!" Ranma shot back, focusing on her anger to block out the unpleasant (or rather, too pleasant) memories.

"Do you enjoy being an ass?" Ryoga growled. Suddenly, he smirked at a more amusing (for him) possibility, "Or is it just that time of the month?"

As the redhead attacked him in a rage, Ryoga knew his earlier guess was correct; there was definitely something wrong with his rival. Normally, it would have taken more than just a few teasing comments to make Ranma lose her cool.

A few moments later, he frowned, dodging yet another sloppy blow from his rival. Ryoga had still taken a few hits, thanks to Ranma's speed, but the fact that she was attacking with anger, rather than technique, gave him the advantage. Knowing that he wouldn't get much satisfaction from beating Ranma when she was like this, Ryoga looked for an opportunity to end the fight.

It came in the form of a particularly violent punch, that left Ranma overextended. Grabbing Ranma's wrist, Ryoga used Ranma's momentum against her, spinning her around so that her back slammed against his chest. Without letting go of her wrist, Ryoga put his other arm around her before she could react, pinning Ranma's free hand, and holding her in place with his superior strength. "Give up, Ranma." Ryoga growled. "I've won."

Refusing to surrender, Ranma futilely tried to twist free of his powerful grip. Twisting to glare at him over her shoulder, she shot back, "This ain't over! I'm still gonna kick your ass!"

"Hmm, sounds like you need some more convincing." Ryoga said, grinning at the knowledge that, for once, he was the one controlling the fight. However, before he could decide his next move, he noticed his opponent's reaction.

As soon as she heard Ryoga, Ranma froze, her expression a mix of shock and confusion. Ryoga's words. His deep brown eyes and fanged grin. The strong arms around her, and the muscular chest against her back. The adrenaline coursing through her, and the stench of sweat from their fight.

The dream.

The similarity between the dream that haunted her and her current situation was uncanny. Ranma's anger was supplanted by surprise, and a desire to get away from the guy that made her react that way, making it hard to think. It didn't help that her heart was racing from the exertion of their fight.

Or, at least, she told herself that was what caused it.

Confused by her reaction, Ryoga asked again, "You sure you're alright?"

"I'm fine…" Ranma mumbled, as she tried to shake off the haunting memories.

However, seeing his rivals flushed expression, Ryoga refused to believe it. Releasing her wrist, he brushed his palm against Ranma's forehead, and frowned at the heat of her skin. "You feel kind of warm. Maybe you should go lay down." Realizing he sounded a little too concerned for her, he quickly added, "Uh, I mean, it wouldn't feel right to kick your ass when you're sick, after all."

Resisting the urge to punch Ryoga for his action, Ranma scoffed, "Sure, like ya could beat me any other time." Still, she wasn't about to pass up the opportunity to get away that he had presented her with. "I guess you're right about lying down, though." Without giving him a chance to reply, she quickly retreated to her room.

Quickly closing the door behind her, Ranma fell back against it, sliding down into a sitting position. Letting out a ragged breath, Ranma forced herself to calm down, thinking, 'It was only a dream, the play's just a coincidence, he's just a dumb pig. It was only a dream, the play's just a coincidence, he's just a dumb pig…' Moving over to her futon, Ranma silently repeated this like a mantra as she tried to meditate, even going so far as to sink into the Soul of Ice until her body had calmed down.

As Nabiki entered the room for dinner, she noticed Ryoga staring at his fist with a contemplative expression on his face. Sitting at her usual place at the table, she inquired, "Something on your mind, Hibiki?"

Ryoga's head jerk up in surprise, as he had not even noticed her enter the room, having been distracted by his thoughts. Scratching the back of his neck in embarrassment, Ryoga replied, "Sorry, I just had a fight with Ranma, and it got me thinking…"

"Oh, about what?" Nabiki prompted, having heard the scuffle from her room, but curious about the details.

"Well," Ryoga said, a contemplative look on his face, "Ranma was really mad when she was fighting, and it seemed to make it really easy to read her attacks. I was just wondering if maybe that's why Ranma always acts so annoying, just to make it easier to win fights."

Seeing opportunity before her, Nabiki chose her words carefully. "I don't think you're far off with that, Hibiki. Ranma's no saint, but she's hardly as bad as you seemed to think when you first showed up here."

Chuckling at that, Ryoga said, "I suppose you've got a point there. Lately, Ranma hasn't been that bad. It's almost like something's changed, but I'm not sure what…"

Glad that he had yet to figure out her own part in things, Nabiki nonetheless decided to push things along a bit further. "It's a shame I couldn't get some pictures of Ranma like that, though…"

"Huh? Why's that?" Ryoga wondered.

Suppressing a grin, Nabiki said offhandedly, "Ranma doesn't get angry often, but I can think of a few people who would pay a lot for such photos. After all, she's pretty cute when she's angry."

Remembering Ranma's flushed face and glaring blue eyes, Ryoga could not help the blush that testified his agreement to that sentiment.

"Dinner is served!" Kasumi announced happily, as she emerged from the kitchen, momentarily cutting off further conversation. Behind her, Akane followed with a pot, revealing where she had been until now, and making both teens sitting at the table suddenly lose their appetites.

Before either had a chance to escape, the sound of the front door signaled the return Genma, Soun, and Happosai. As the latter strolled past with a sack of 'loot' over his shoulder, Genma and Soun practically collapsed into the room.

"Oh my, are you two okay?" Kasumi asked with concern.

Groaning, Soun replied, "The Master's training was even more brutal than usual."

"How about some stew to help you feel better?" Akane asked, as she began serving the food.

Genma quickly took his place at the table. "That sounds like a wonderful… idea…" Genma started to say cheerfully, only to trail off as the viscous, black 'stew' was set in front of him. Silence reigned over the room for a moment, as no one wanted to be the first to risk their health testing the 'food'.

"Oh," Suddenly, Kasumi perked up, pulling out an envelope, as she said, "I just remembered! A letter came for you in the mail yesterday, Father."

"Oh, who is it from?" Soun asked as he took it.

"It says it's from Auntie Hana." Kasumi said with a smile.

"Auntie Hana?" Nabiki asked. The name sounded familiar, but she couldn't place it. A glance at Akane showed that she was just as confused.

As Soun opened the letter with a smile, he explained. "Hana is my sister. I'm not surprised you don't remember her, though, since she hasn't been back here since your mother's funeral. Last I heard, she was traveling with her husband…" Soun trailed off as he began reading the letter. A few moments later, he spoke up again. "It says here she's going to be passing through Nerima, and will stop by for a visit, and even has a surprise in store."

"That's wonderful news!" Kasumi said cheerfully. "When will she get here?"

"Well, according to the letter… this morning." Soun replied. "Judging by the date, the letter's arrival must have been delayed by something."

"Shouldn't we be worried that she's not here yet, then?" Akane asked.

"No need for that," Soun said. "Hana has been on the road for years, she can take care of herself. Besides, she's always been easily distracted, so I'm not surprised she's late."

"Sounds like someone else we know," Nabiki said taunting as she glanced at Ryoga, unable to pass up such an easy jibe.

Ryoga glowered, but had no comeback to that. "That reminds me," He muttered, "I should head home to see how Checkers is doing, and see if either of my parents have stopped by since I was last there."

"It's getting late, so you should probably wait until tomorrow," Nabiki commented. "Plus, Ranma will probably be feeling better by then and help get you there."

"Well, if that's all settled, then let's eat!" Akane said cheerfully.

'Of all the times to get sick,' Ryoga thought, 'Ranma managed to luck out!'

As the sun set, a woman walked down the street, a large pack on her back and a blanket wrapped bundle in her arms. Stopping in front a two story house, she smiled, happy to finally return.

Looking down at the sleeping baby she was carrying, the woman whispered, "You're finally about to see your home for the first time. Are you as excited about it as me, Yoiko?" Giggling like a girl half her age, the woman headed inside.

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