Obligations-Start             Obligations-Ch02            Obligations-Ch04

Obligations: Chapter 3

 

When Akane and Miyuki headed into breakfast the next morning, Akane was shocked to see Ranma there before them. He was shoveling rice into his mouth with one hand and writing frantically in his notebook with the other. Nabiki and P-chan were sitting at the table, staring at Ranma, but they looked up as the girls came in. P-chan squealed and ran to Akane, who picked him up, "Good morning, P-chan." She then addressed Ranma, "What on Earth are you doing?"

Ranma glanced up, "I forgot totally about my Geography homework." He ducked a paper plane thrown by the panda, "Cut that out, Pop. I've got to get this done!"

The panda held up a sign, 'Training is more important!' The next plane hit Ranma in the face.

"Cut it out, Pop!" Ranma jumped up and launched a kick at his dad, who bounced back out of reach, holding up a sign, 'That's my boy!'

Ranma drove his dad back with a rain of blows, "I've… got… to do… my homework!" They took the battle out to the yard.

Sitting down and picking up a bowl of rice, Akane sniffed, "Typical."

Miyuki knelt by Ranma's abandoned place and flipped through the textbook. Then she picked up the pen and wrote down an answer.

"Hey, hey," Nabiki scolded. Miyuki's eyes widened. Nabiki grinned, "Never, give something for nothing."

About this point, Ranma came back in, furious at his dad for distracting him. He stopped short as he saw Miyuki sitting in his spot. She grinned at him. Blinking a couple of times, he asked, "You know geography?" She nodded and he exclaimed, "Great! Can you help me out?"

P-chan snorted in disgust. Ranma glanced over, "Look who's talking – Eternally Lost Pig! You wouldn't even be able to find Japan on a map!!" P-chan jumped out of Akane's arms, snarling with bared teeth. Ranma crouched in a fighting stance. The pig bounced from the floor to the wall then slammed into Ranma, who fell back with a grunt. P-chan landed on the table and stuck his tongue out at Ranma.

Nabiki watched with interest, but chose to intervene after glancing at the clock, "Ranma-kun, Miyuki will do your homework for 500 yen."

Miyuki made a sound of protest. Nabiki uncrossed her arms, "Hey, you can't blame me for trying." She studied Miyuki, then Ranma. Suddenly she grinned, "Okay, she'll do it if you'll tell her about China." Miyuki clapped her hands in delight, eyes gleaming with enthusiasm. Ranma hesitated, but couldn't resist Miyuki's silent plea, "Oh, all right." Grinning, Miyuki settled herself down, pulling the book to her and writing the answers quickly.

'No Excuse Now!' The sign slammed into Ranma, knocking him flat. "Why, you…!" Ranma bounced up and launched himself feet-first at his dad.

The sisters quietly ate their breakfasts. Akane also put a small bowl down for P-chan. When Nabiki was finished, she picked up her school case and started to head out. Then she looked back, "Miyuki," and waited until she had her attention, "Don't let him forget he owes you."

Miyuki grinned, "If I did'd, you'd rem'mem'ember."

"Hey," Nabiki's eyes shaded, "Never rely on someone else."

Miyuki put down the pen, "On'nly when they're're trustworthy." The two girls' eyes met.

Nabiki opened her mouth. After a moment, she closed it again and left the house without saying a word. Miyuki watched her go, her eyes sad.

Rubbing his hand, Ranma sauntered back in. "Time to get going, Akane."

"Aaa, yeah." Akane stood up. 

Miyuki handed Ranma his papers. "Are you okay, Miyuki?" She grinned at him, but it was fainter than normal. Akane grabbed Ranma's arm, "Let's go, already," and dragged him out the door.

Kasumi walked into the room, "It's okay, Miyuki. Nabiki… Well, she's been like that since Mother died." The eldest of the Tendo sisters looked out into the garden. Finally she turned back, "Are you ready to go?" Miyuki nodded and stood up.

From around the corner, Mr. Tendo came out, "Where are you going, Kasumi?"

"Why Father, didn't I say? Miyuki and I are going to spend the day at Ju'ubian Open Lands." Kasumi smiled at her dad.

Her dad frowned, "Now Kasumi, you know I don't like you going there by yourself – it can be a dangerous area."

"Oh, but Papa," Kasumi blinked, "We won't be alone," she turned to the table, "P-chan is coming with us."

"P-chan." Mr. Tendo's eyes wandered to the pig, who was staring blankly at Kasumi. "Well, that's all right then. Have a fun time, dear." He walked out of the room.

Kasumi raised a hand to her mouth, "Oh, P-chan! Didn't I already ask you? You don't mind, do you?"

The pig shrugged. He really hadn't had anything planned for the day. Not that planning ever helped any… He wasn't so sure about spending a day with that strange girl, but Kasumi was always nice. And if her dad was right, they might actually need him.

Handing Miyuki an empty basket, Kasumi arranged her sun bonnet. "Let's be off, then."

Miyuki stared at the pig for a moment, then shrugged. She held out a hand to P-chan, who approached her cautiously. Grinning, Miyuki instead lowered the basket down. Finding that a better alternative, P-chan hopped in. Then the two of them followed Kasumi.

 

That was the start of the strangest morning Ryoga had ever spent – in pig form or out of it. The walk to the park seemed normal enough. The two young women were dressed similarly, with long skirts and flowing blouses. Kasumi's outfit was highlighted with accents of yellow. Miyuki's with lavender. Miyuki wore her hair loose today, and its length matched Kasumi's. They chatted about plants and herbs as they walked to the park. Ryoga was bored out of his mind. But when they finally got to the park, that's when the strangest thing happened: They stopped talking. As the girls strolled from one plant to another, occasionally clipping a branch or uprooting a small mint, they would smile and laugh, and look at each other to trade glances. But neither spoke. 

The small black pig followed them at a distance, on his short little pig feet, and started wondering what it would be like if he and Akane would stroll in the park together, hand in hand, admiring the flowers. Ryoga picked one and handed it to her. Akane accepted with a smile that was just for him alone. Their hands entwined around the flower, and Ryoga thought his heart would stop. Akane, I l'l'l… I lo'o'o… Akane! I lov

"Hey there, lonely girls – like some company?"

Ryoga jerked his attention to reality. Three rough looking guys were standing in front of Kasumi and Miyuki, hands in their pockets, looking the girls up and down. They spread out slightly to block the obvious path.

Kasumi raised a hand to her mouth, "Oh dear." She spoke with a resigned but slightly worried voice. The expression on her face was more anxious. Miyuki crossed her arms across her chest and looked bored. But her eyes located a long stick on the ground near her.

Jumping forward, the pig placed himself between the girls and their would-be attackers. He bared his teeth and growled.

"What do we have here?" The ruffian in the front leaned over to look at the small, almost runty, solid black piglet. The one to his left started laughing. The one on the right grinned, "Hey! It's an attack pig!" The leader returned his gaze to Kasumi, "You'd do better to get yourself a Chihuahua – it'd be a better protector." The three guys laughed loudly at the joke.

"Oh, P-chan," Kasumi sounded sad, and Ryoga risked a quick glance back at her. Kasumi's eyes were pleading, "Please don't hurt them too much."

The guy in the front stepped forward, "We just want a kiss. Give us one and we won't hurt your little pig."

Miyuki rolled her eyes, "Oh, p'please. Melod'drama."

"Hey, now we know why they're in the woods alone – one's a simpleton and the other's brain-damaged."

"This'll be easy."

Ryoga had had enough, but he waited until they made the first move. When they stepped forward again, so did he. The first guy had only a glimpse of teeth and hooves before he was bouncing off the ground. The one next to him had a bit more warning, but barely managed to turn before the pig bowled him off his feet. The last one was the one who had made the crack about the girls, and Ryoga was saving something special for him. He focused his attention and his mind onto one spot. He couldn't use a 'breaking point' on a human being, but he could focus all of his power and strength into one spot.

"P-chan!"

He heard Kasumi's voice and remembered her words. With an extreme effort, he pulled himself back, mentally and physically, from the attack. He slammed into the guy with barely a tenth of the power that he'd started with. The crack could be heard thoughout the park.

Miyuki walked up and knelt down beside them. She rested a hand fondly on P-chan's head, scratching that special point behind his ears. She placed the other hand on the man's chest.

"How bad is it?" Kasumi stayed where she was. The other two ruffians were groaning and starting to sit up.

"Two broken ribs, bruised spleen," Miyuki shrugged, "He'll live." She withdrew her hand from P-chan and pulled off the belt sash she was wearing, turning it into a very effective arm and body soft splint. Turning to the others, who by this time had stood up, she said, "Y'you'dd bett'tt'er get him to a h'hospital. And'd get you'r'r'r gashs's looked'd at also." The last was mostly directed to the guy P-chan had hit in the face. There were only a few cuts that were bleeding, but the swelling and contusions made the guy look horrible. The other was limping so badly he couldn't help get his partner up.

"An'dd I wouldn't mak'k'ke any future rem'marks about 'att'ttack pigs'," Miyuki called after their retreating figures. As they disappeared in the distance, she laughed.

"Thank you, P-chan," Kasumi knelt briefly before the small pig, before turning to retrieve the branches that had fallen out of her basket.

Miyuki picked up P-chan and held him close to her. Ryoga looked up into her adoring eyes and froze. He tried to keep his thoughts on Akane, but it was hard. Akane protected him. And looked at him in sympathy. This girl was looking at him as if he was a hero.

"You'rre as m'much a hero as the one y'you remind me of." Miyuki fingered his bandanna gently, smiling still.

Ryoga, in his P-chan form, shrugged mentally and abandoned his thoughts. I'm still just a pig. He looked thoughtfully at her face above him as she picked up her basket with the hand not holding him, I wonder who I remind her of?

 

The rest of the day was more normal. The girls moved out to the open hills and picked the wildflowers, talking as they did so. They wandered from place to place and from topic to topic. Ryoga wasn't really interested when they talked of cooking or flowers, but his ears and attention focused when the discussion turned to themselves.

"By the way, Miyuki – Dr. Tofu has tickets for an Orchestra Concert on Wednesday, and invited you and me. Would you like to go?"

Ryoga found that one particularly interesting for the catch in Kasumi's voice as she mentioned Dr. Tofu's name. It was barely noticeable, but still there.

A different conversation:

"N'no," Miyuki laughed, "I'm not the on'nly Healer apprenti'c'ce. Junko was Sensei's fir'st, and she wil'l'l be the village's Healer. I'm in train'ning for a Traveler. Suits me bett'tter. Junko and I are b'best friend'ds, but as opp'posite as day and nig'ght."

And another time:

"Before Mama died, the dojo was full of young trainees. I remember them all standing around, waiting eager and respectfully for the next lesson. And Akane running gleefully among them. She always loved to watch, even when she was only three years old. She'd sit on the sidelines where Papa would put her, and she'd quietly watch for the whole time they'd practice."

They stopped on a hill for lunch. Kasumi had even packed an extra one for P-chan. The girls laid back and watched the clouds, making shapes out of them. Ryoga watched for the ones that looked like Akane, or things he could get for Akane, things that would make her smile, things that would make her look at Ryoga as she looked at P-chan – with those happy, caring eyes. He looked at one cloud that the girls were comparing to a tulip, flowers are all well and fine, but they always wilt before I get where I'm going… The poem he'd quoted at Ranma last night came to mind, 'Flowers falling even as we turn our admiring gaze, / While weeds keep springing up despite our chagrin.' Yeah. It describes my life fairly accurately.

The clouds drifted by.

"Your'r'r mother was a Healer, w'wasn't she?"

Kasumi laughed, "Well, no. But close."

P-chan sat up and looked around, ears twitching.

"She was a Shinto Shrine Maiden."

Miyuki sat up and stared at Kasumi, who continued to watch the clouds. Miyuki laid back again as Kasumi continued in her soft voice, "Her eldest brother was to inherit the Shrine, so she and her sister didn't train as rigorously as he. They went to normal schools. And she met my dad." A gentle smile drew across Kasumi's face, "Mother used to tell me about it. She loved to talk about how handsome and sweet and powerful Papa was. They quite fell in love. For them, High School was almost a dream. But then Papa left. He and Mr. Saotome went on a training trip for Martial Arts. But her heart was given. She stayed in the Shrine until he came back ten years later. Mama didn't talk about that part much, but I understand that both men were badly hurt. When they recovered, Papa married Mama, and Mr. Saotome left again. He used to come back once a year or so to teach Papa what he'd learned. I actually remember some of those visits. But I was only three when he and his wife stopped coming." Kasumi sighed, "I think she died."

"Ranma's mom?"

"Oh yes." Kasumi sat up, a smile on her lips, "Mr. Saotome would never have looked at another woman. I only have the faintest of memories, but she was a wonderful person. Truly as wild and free as the Amazons of China. She and Mama used to have so much fun together."

The conversation lapsed as they thought their own thoughts.

"Ssso you have an uncle?" Miyuki reverted to earlier point after several minutes of silence.

Kasumi shrugged, ruining the daisy chain she was making, "Yes. And multitudes of cousins. But we don't see them much. We're the Black Sheep of that family." She stood up, scattering the flowers around.

The girls continued their rambling journey across the open lands. Miyuki told of her journey from the village to Tokyo. Ryoga was skeptical about much of what she said, but she had a matter-of-fact way about her that he was forced to believe it. If it was all true though… The sheer number of things that happened to her, good and bad, tended to push the window of normality. Oh, yeah. Like I'm one to talk of 'normal'. The small pig sighed, and wished he was in human form so he could ask some questions.

 

"The Sh'hrine was Fire, of'ff course."

Kasumi laughed, "I guess it is pretty obvious."

Miyuki grinned, and knelt down to pick a golden yellow flower. "You'v've got Life. Nabiki has Truth. Both parts of Fire."

"But not the whole. It was Akane who inherited Mother's Flame as pure Fire. She also inherited Father's Ability."

"She b'burns b'bright."

Sighing, Kasumi settled down, arranging her skirts around her. "I fear too bright."

Miyuki sat down next to her, holding out her hands for P-chan. Kasumi watched as the pig curled up in Miyuki's lap, tilting his head for the ear-scratch. Miyuki glanced at her, surprised at the silence.

Still watching P-chan, Kasumi finally shrugged, "Akane's flame has always burned fiercely. It is of the type that will burn until there is no more. I used to worry about that, but not now that Ranma is here." Her gentle eyes never left the small pig, who didn't notice as his closed eyes showed his contentment at being petted by Miyuki. Kasumi smiled, and turned her attention to her friend.

Miyuki was trying to figure out Kasumi's statement. Her face cleared, "Of course – Air."

Kasumi nodded, "The only other Element that will support and nurture Fire. Another Fire would put both out. Earth would smother, and Water quench. Fire burns Wood and Gold is indifferent."

The pig finally opened his eyes, his ears swiveling around to catch Kasumi's words. But Kasumi was watching the clouds and didn't look over.

"Ranma is nearly as pure an Element assss—" Miyuki choked. She waited a moment before continuing, "as Akane. So the strength of his Air will augment her Fire."

Kasumi looked around at her friend, "Miyuki-chan, are you all right?"

Miyuki grimaced, a hand at her throat. Kasumi put an arm around her, "That's enough talking. We have plenty of other ways." Grinning faintly, Miyuki obediently didn't try a verbal answer. The pig twisted his head around to look up at her, surprised and concerned by how pale she was looking. The two girls sat there for a long time, leaning against each other, watching the grass ripple in the breeze and the clouds floating by.

Eventually, they started heading back. They stopped again at the field of daisies, and both immediately put down their baskets.

Uh, oh. Ryoga, in small, adorable, pig form, started backing away. Miyuki saw him and laughed. Her laugh hadn't been affected by the tiredness of her voice. It was as musical and delightful as ever. He stopped and resigned himself to the inevitable.

 

"Aww, lookathat – a pig in posies."

Miyuki quickly snatched all the daisy chains off of P-chan, but it was too late. Once having seen it, Ranma wasn't about to let it go that easily.

"The cute wittle one, wrapped around in flowers," he spoke in a sickenly sweet voice. Then he grinned and went back to his normal, "They suit you really well, Mr. P – but maybe daffodils instead. Or how about a picture framed in scarlet gladiolas? We can buy some at the market for you if you want – it's just that you looked so cute!!!"

"Ranma, stop picking on P-chan," Akane was exasperated.

The pig looked at her, mortified. Then he launched himself at Ranma.

Standing up, Kasumi and Miyuki brushed off their skirts. Kasumi walked over to Akane and placed a daisy crown on her. Akane tilted her head and grinned at her sister who smiled fondly down at her. Miyuki watched the fight with interest.

That is, she watched with interest until P-chan bounced off the ground, turned instantly around and barreled towards Ranma in a blur. Miyuki recognized the attack and the power behind it. Quickly snatching her headband off and leaving another in its place, she snapped it into a whirl and started to throw it between the two combatants. Kasumi's hand on her arm stopped her. Freeing herself in a moment, Miyuki realized that it was now to late for intervention. She watched helplessly as P-chan slammed into Ranma's side.

Ranma grunted… And kicked P-chan so hard the pig went flying back through the air faster than he'd came. He smacked headfirst into a rock on the other side of the field so hard that the rock fractured into pieces.

Miyuki raised a hand to her lips. And lowered it again as P-chan shook himself and came running towards Ranma, who was already crouched, ready for him. Miyuki blinked. Then she shook her head and snapped loose the circle of cloth she held in her hand. The blue and purple ring whizzed an inch in front of P-chan's face, curved around in a circle, and came back to slice a centimeter off of Ranma's bangs, before returning to her hand.

P-chan skidded to a halt. Ranma looked over, "What the…"

Miyuki walked over to him and put a hand over his ribs.

"Ow!"

"Bab'b'y," she said, giving him a glance of disgust.

"Is he okay?" Akane stepped forward. She hadn't been worried about the fight until she saw Miyuki's concern.

"B'bruised rib." Miyuki shoved her bandanna over her wrist where it fitted snugly. Then she held out her hands for P-chan, who launched himself from where he was, jumping into her arms.

Akane stared in surprise: P-chan had never done that to anyone besides herself before.

Running a finger along his jaw, Miyuki looked down at the pig she held with a tender expression. P-chan blushed furiously.

"And P-chan?" Kasumi asked.

Miyuki gestured, "The rockkk's in worse shaape. That bum'mp didn't even ratt't', shake his brains."

"That's because he doesn't have any." Ranma commented, fingering his hair cautiously.

Miyuki ignored him, though P-chan growled. Instead, she turned to Kasumi, "Explain."

Kasumi blinked, "I thought you'd noticed."

Ranma, Akane, and the pig all got very worried looks on their faces.

"He's Earth." Kasumi smiled at P-chan, though a bit sadly.

Miyuki blinked. Then she looked more closely at the pig she held. "Of cour'rse." She looked to Ranma, "Equal Elements. They can'n'n't hurt each oth'her."

Ranma and the pig had identical shocked expressions, "We can't what?"

Running her finger lightly over P-chan's head, Miyuki explained, "You two are ma'at'tched in chi power, an'nd your Elements of Air and Earth ab'bsorb the rest. Of all the Elements, Earth an'nd Air are the most't…" she paused to consider her wording.

"Opposite," Ranma put in.

Miyuki wrinkled her nose, "N'no. I was go'oing to say, Balanced. The t'two that are the most Harm'm'monious, wor'kking together in per'fect sync."

Akane fell over laughing. Even Kasumi had a smile on her face. Ranma and P-chan's astonished looks changed to irritation as they glared at the sisters. Miyuki grinned, "Th'hat's the Elements – not the people. But it exp'lains why you w'weren't hurt't, even though P-ch—" she grimaced, "Mr. P used twenty time'ss the power he put't into the blow'w agains't't the other guy."

Ranma blinked and Akane sat up, "What other guy?"

Miyuki looked to Kasumi, who answered, "Oh, it was nothing. Earlier in the day, we were attacked by three," she glanced at Miyuki, "ruffians. P-chan protected us."

"Sen'nt 'em all to the h'hospit'tal," Miyuki added proudly, grinning as she scratched behind P-chan's ears. He preened himself smugly as he stuck his tongue out at Ranma, who was rather shaken. Kasumi and Miyuki could have been hurt and I would have not been able to do a damn thing about it. How can I protect them if I'm not there? Ryoga… Thank you. Ranma looked directly at the small pig being held by Miyuki. The pig met his eyes, but looked away after seeing the real gratitude in Ranma's eyes. Ranma's lips curved up on one side, what, Ryoga? You can take insults but not praise?

Kasumi turned to Akane, "But what are you two doing here? Did you skip your afternoon classes?"

Akane and Ranma looked at each other. Akane started, "We came looking for you," and Ranma finished, "School's been out for three hours."

Involuntarily, Miyuki, Kasumi, and Ryoga all looked up to see where the sun was. Kasumi raised a hand to her mouth, "Oh my. And I hadn't left anything for you to eat for dinner."


 
 

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