~~~~~ Chapter 4: Training ~~~~~
The key concept of training is reinforcement. The equestrian must make every effort to consistently reward a desired behavior and to punish inappropriate behavior. Inconsistency leads to confusion and eventually obstinacy... If the rider does not have a clear idea of which behaviors are desired and which are not, the results will be unpredictable at best...
The Taming of the Horse: An Equestrian's Guide
"Oh, hello, Akane. Another chat?"
Akane nodded and closed the door. "I was thinking about Shampoo," she began, sitting by her sister. "We beat the depression-tsubo... well, partly; I'm still feeling low. But she beat me in the fight, too. She really is much better than I am, and I don't like that." She sighed. "I remember back when I was the best around, before Ranma came and brought all his friends and enemies."
"Well, you can't be the best all the time," Kasumi pointed out. "Even Ranma meets opponents who are better than he is in some way from time to time."
"Sure. And like he said, he trains, or he 'gets serious', or he tricks them, and he wins." Akane brooded. "He's good, and he's lucky, and he's... crafty. I'm not lucky, and I'm not crafty, so that just leaves training." She looked up. "Do you suppose Father could...?"
Kasumi looked dubious. "You could ask, but I'm afraid that he'll try even if he can't, and he'll end up worse than he is. I'd prefer that you don't."
"I sure don't want to train under Saotome-no-ojisan... or Happosai," Akane said, shuddering. "Cologne's a great sensei, but she has no reason to teach me and lots not to. Ryoga's been gone for weeks. Do we know anyone else?"
"Akane, why are you avoiding the obvious?" Kasumi asked gently.
"What, obvious?" Akane said, but her voice betrayed her.
"Why, Ranma, of course. No, listen for a moment," Kasumi said. "If no. When you two marry, he'll be teaching here. Shouldn't you be his first student? You can help him learn how to teach. You can learn, oh, so very much from him. You'll have the perfect excuse to spend a lot of time together. The formality of the teacher-student relationship might be good for both of you. You just have to admit to him that he's good enough to teach you. You admitted it to me. Would it be so hard?"
Akane nodded glumly. "I can't possibly ask him to teach me, Kasumi."
Ranma stopped abusing the punching-dummy and turned to see Akane standing in the doorway to the dojo, one hand on each shoji. "Hey, Akane."
"May I speak to you for a moment, Ranma-kun?"
Uh-oh. Ranma's tactical analyser went to Red Alert. She don't look mad... I ain't done nothin'... that I know of... but that never stopped her before... and she's talkin' formal ... which has gotta mean I'm in really, really big trouble. At this point the TA tried to wedge Akane into the "threat" category, failed spectacularly due to opposition from other parts of Ranma, and quit in a huff. "Uh, sure," he said immediately. In a transparent attempt to appear casual, he continued, "What's on your mind?"
Akane stepped through the doors, turned to face them, and slid them shut. Gulp. Still moving with as much grace and precision as she could manage, she turned again, crossed the floor, and stopped squarely in front of him. Double gulp. Ranma caught a glimpse of her expression, controlled and serious, before she lowered her head. "Ranma... sensei... I... I ask you to do me the favor of accepting me as a student." ACK!
Akane was keeping a tight lid on a boiling kettle. If he humiliates me, I'll... I'll make him wish he'd never been born. She watched through her eyelashes as Ranma cringed away from her with a horrified expression on his face and his first and fourth fingers extended, concentrated on suppressing the urge to send him through the floor, and waited.
Ranma recovered in time for his eyes to meet hers as she raised her head. He expected the fury of restrained pride, and saw it, and started to open his mouth for a wisecrack, but two things stopped him. The first was the sheer range of possible wisecracks to choose from. The second was the hint of desperate desire in her eyes, which turned him into putty the way the girls always did. "Me? Uh, I guess I could... if you really oof! Hey, leggo!"
Akane unwound her arms from around Ranma and stepped back. "Oh, Ranma! You won't regret this, I promise you!" She cavorted once around the dojo and out the doors, leaving one askew in its track.
Ranma stood, stunned. What the hell was that? An unaccustomed smile crept across his face. I dunno, but I hope it comes back....
A sudden rumble approached the dojo, the remaining shoji burst from its track, and Soun and Genma thundered in, shouting something about the joining of the schools. For the second time in five minutes, Ranma cringed in horror, but it was too late. Akane was jumping up and down in the doorway with her hands clasped in front of her throat. Ranma essayed a sickly smile and waved at her as his father and hers vented their elation on him. Then Kasumi and Nabiki appeared in the doorway, and it was just too much. Ranma sprang straight up and clung to the ceiling.
Genma and Soun picked themselves up and looked up at Ranma. "Get down here, you ungrateful boy," Genma commanded. "We're not through celebrating yet."
Ranma, upside-down, shook his head. "Nuh-uh," he emphasized.
Soun took a turn. "Now, Ranma-kun, a true martial artist faces joyous occasions with the same fortitude as he does the direst combat."
Ranma restated his position: "I like it up here and I'm stayin' up here."
Soun and Genma traded exasperated looks. Genma addressed the ceiling once more. "Well, if you're going to be that way about it, we'll just celebrate right here and wait for your grip to give out."
Put that way, his was not a good tactical position. Ranma thought rapidly. If I could scare them off... but what are Pops and Tendo-san afraid of? An idea occurred. "Mrrrow? Ffft?" he hazarded.
Genma and Soun glanced at each other and shook their heads. "Give it up, boy," Genma advised. "There are no cats in here, and if you'd managed to access the Neko-ken without one, I'd know about it."
Ranma tried again. "Sweeto?" He grimaced as his audience broke up laughing. That was dumb.... Hey! An opening! Ranma dropped from the ceiling, springboarded off the top of his father's head, bounced over the convulsing Tendo sisters, and was out the door before anyone could stop him.
Ranma sat on a rock by the pond, looking at the fish nosing around in it without really seeing them. Genma and Soun had gone off to celebrate somewhere else, and Kasumi and Nabiki had gone off to do whatever it was they did when he wasn't looking. He sensed someone approaching.
"Koi circle slowly
Under floating autumn leaves
Hoping to be fed."
Ranma didn't turn. "Hey, Akane."
"So... about training...."
"Yeah. I was thinkin' about that." He turned to look at her. She was standing a couple of yards away, wearing her gi, watching him. "Why?"
"Why what? You're not trying to wiggle out of it, are you? You promised!" Akane took a step toward Ranma, clenching her fists.
Ranma held up a hand in a gesture so unlike his usual one of warding or placation that Akane was stopped in her tracks. "Nah, ya got me fair and square this time. An' I know why ya picked me after all, I'm the best." He paused, smirking, to see if she'd pound him for that. She didn't, but looked like she was thinking about it. "I'm askin' why YOU want me ta train ya."
Akane gritted her teeth. "Shampoo."
Ranma studied her sidelong. "Yeah, I thought so. If I was you, I'd be trainin' to get even, all right."
"And Do-chan," Akane added suddenly.
Ranma looked baffled. "Hanh?"
"Well, when I wore the enchanted do-gi, I felt so fast and skilled. It was like being a whole other person." And I liked her better than me. "If what that old monk said is true, I could be that good naturally if I trained hard enough."
"Ya wanna be better'n me, is that it?"
Akane's temper got loose. "Why is that such a problem for you? Do-chan, the strength soba, the moxibustion of weakness every time I was better than you, you just couldn't stand it! You just wouldn't rest until you were better than me again!"
"That's WHY I'm the best." Ranma's eyes and voice were, for once, completely serious. Once again, her anger was derailed as the implications of what he'd said struck her.
He turned back to the pond. "I was thinkin' about how to train ya. I dunno from trainin' someone else, but I'm sure I'll figure it out." He snorted. "Damn sure I'm not gonna try mosta the stuff my crazy ol' man put me through."
"Glad to hear it." Akane's voice was quite dry.
"Yeah, we can forget about the pit of ca, ca, uh, felines, you've already been to Jusenkyo, and I ain't about to strap a ball an' chain to your ankle." He turned back to face her. "Lessee. You're already as strong as an ox an' almost as cute...." He stopped again to see if she would hit him, but she just frowned impatiently, so he continued. "You hit like a piledriver when you connect, so ya don't need to work on strength much. But you're too slow, too clumsy, ya spend too much time on the ground, your defense is fulla holes, and ya could be tougher."
Akane slumped and stared at her feet, devastated. He's right. Every word he said was true. I'll never be any good.
She didn't notice Ranma flinch violently and punch himself in the head. She didn't notice him hop off the rock and hesitate for a moment. She didn't notice his hand flick out.
She did notice it when he slapped her.
It wasn't much of a slap; it barely stung, and didn't redden her cheek. But it turned her world upside down. She looked up, and read regret and shame on his face. "Ranma," she whispered. "You... hit me. You... NEVER hit me."
"I'm sorry, Akane," Ranma started. "I had ta see if I could" He finally noticed her brilliant smile and stopped, taken aback. She's happy?!
"Oh, Ranma! I thought you'd never take me seriously! You wouldn't spar with me, and you wouldn't hit girls, and"
"now when Shampoo grabs you you'll smack her flat, and"
She stopped. "Yes?"
Ranma dithered a bit, then forged ahead. "Look, I didn't wanna hit ya, I didn't like hittin' ya, an' I don't really wanna hit ya again." He watched as her happy expression crumpled and sagged. Shit. This is just too weird. "All right, all right, I'll hit you!" He waited for her face to reach perplexed, sighed heavily, and sat on the rock again.
"But... why, Ranma? You can't train me without hitting me!"
"I know. That's what I was thinkin' about." He looked frustrated. "Pops was real clear about me not hittin' girls for as long as I can remember."
"I thought you hit Ukyo when you were children."
"I thought she was a guy!"
"You hit Shampoo at least twice."
"I, uh, I was a bit crazy from Jusenkyo. Yeah, that's it. And look how much trouble it got me into!"
"You hit Kodachi"
"with a pig! That don't count! I won the match by hittin' the post!"
"You hit Rouge"
"THAT WAS A MASSAGE!!"
"ARGH!" Ranma looked like he was about to pull his hair out.
"So, it's just ME you won't hit. How do you think that makes me feel?!" By this time Akane had her fists clenched by her sides.
"I CAN'T STAND SEEIN' YOU GET HURT! I'D RATHER GET HIT MYSELF THAN LET ANYTHIN' HIT YOU!" Ranma's shout echoed in the garden. He looked astonished at what he'd just admitted.
Akane controlled both the warmth and the urge to accuse Ranma of hurting her feelings hundreds of times, and spoke while he was still off-balance. "You said your father told you not to hit girls." She waited for his nod. "You said your father had some crazy ideas about training." She ignored his snort. "Did you ever suppose that maybe not hitting girls is one of his crazier ideas?" She watched this notion hit Ranma like a ton of bricks.
"Uh...." He rallied. "Well, my momma says hittin' girls is unmanly!"
Akane rolled her eyes. "Oh, please. I like your mother, but you can't tell me she doesn't get crazy ideas too."
Ranma crossed his arms and looked stubborn. "It just ain't right. Even when I do it, I don't feel good about it."
Akane glared at him. "I'll spell it out for you, Ranma." Her voice became a sing-song: "You don't hit girls because it makes you look bad. If a guy fights a girl and wins, he looks bad. If a guy fights a girl and loses, he looks worse." Suddenly her glare changed to a hard smile. "We know the answer to that, don't we?" Her hand darted out to shove him hard in the chest. He fell backward off the rock.
Ranma surfaced, spluttering, and wiped the wet hair out of her eyes. "What kinda answer is that?!"
Akane folded her arms. "Now you look like a girl. You won't look bad if you hit a girl. Everyone who knows you're a boy will know you're training me."
Ranma climbed out of the pond and sat atop the rock, dripping. She muttered something Akane couldn't hear.
Akane was shocked by the haunted look in Ranma's eyes when they finally met hers. "What if I make a mistake and really hurt you? Or even...." Ranma stopped, unable to continue.
"Ranma, I keep telling you I'm a martial artist, too. That means I take the risks because I think it's worth it. Just like you do."
Ranma sighed and dropped her eyes. "Tendo-san would just kill me."
"I won't let him."
Ranma sighed again, then nodded once decisively. "All right. I'll hit you."
"Thanks, Ranma. This really means a lot to me."
Ranma shook her head. Too weird. I hope nobody normal heard any of that. She hopped off the rock and headed for the dojo. Akane followed her.
"Um... I guess we start with katas. You know this one." Ranma tested the finish on the smooth wood floor with a foot and assumed the initial stance of Crane at Sunrise. Akane hastily matched her. They began. Akane started out watching Ranma, but the other girl drifted around so that Akane could only see her during turns, and she had to concentrate on what she was doing. She could hear the faint squeaks of her bare feet and Ranma's on the floor, and became aware that they were almost exactly in unison. She tried to keep them in unison, and almost lost her balance. Ranma's feet stopped, and she stopped, fuming.
"Don't force it," Ranma's voice said behind her. "That's what makes you clumsy. Just do what you do, not what I do."
She heard Ranma's feet again, and knew that she'd assumed the initial position again, and was waiting for her to begin. She sighed and started over. This time it felt better. She finished and stopped.
"Well, I guess ya can do simple stuff, after all," Ranma said, walking around in front of her. Akane glared at her. Ranma smiled on one side of her mouth and struck like lightning. Akane's reflexes took over and blocked and countered for her; she took a solid hit in the forearm, but landed one on Ranma's shoulder. Ranma flipped away and stopped, smiling on both sides now and rubbing her shoulder.
Akane looked at her hand. That felt good. He didn't block or evade, though. She felt her forearm. That feels good too. It'll bruise. But he pulled it. She looked at Ranma.
Ranma nodded. "Of course I pulled it. You're not Ryoga." Ignoring Akane's impatient frown, she came halfway back and assumed Crane at Sunrise again, this time in front of Akane, facing her, and left-handed.
Akane mirrored her. They began. Akane tried to watch Ranma's whole body and almost lost control of her own. She focused on Ranma's eyes and tried to just let the kata happen. This is almost like dancing.... Ranma rolled her eyes theatrically and Akane steered her mind away from that avenue. They finished.
Ranma assumed Flying Hedgehog. Akane stared at her in surprise, then took the corresponding stance. If he does this right, this is going to hurt.... Ranma started with a high spin kick; Akane ducked and deflected it over her. Flying Hedgehog was an advanced defense drill, a sequence of sixty attacks to be evaded or blocked in a specific sequence of defensive moves. Akane missed a third of them, and Ranma wasn't pulling her strikes enough to make the hits painless. When it was over, she was panting. Ow. Ow. Ow. Wonderful!
Ranma did not look happy. She looked at her hands with revulsion, then turned away and raked them through her hair violently. "I hate this," Akane heard her say.
"Well, if it bothers you that much, let me hit you some."
Ranma spun back with a very strange expression on her face. "Yeah. Yeah, I think so. Flying Hedgehog again?"
Akane let her teeth show. "Tree on the Mountain." Ranma groaned and planted herself in front of Akane. Akane had selected a static defense exercise that negated Ranma's phenomenal agility. She had to stand there and take it, blocking but not evading... and she did, giving ground when she had to, until Akane's last kick sent her flying into the wall.
Ranma got to her feet, sporting a full set of lumps, and was almost knocked down again when Akane embraced her. "Oh, Ranma," Akane said over Ranma's shoulder, "thank you! I've wanted this for so long!"
Ranma hesitantly raised her arms and patted the taller girl's shoulders. "Sure. No problem." Much too weird.
Akane let go and stepped back. "Feel better now?"
"Heh. Better some ways. Ya weren't pullin' those much, tomboy."
"You don't have to pull yours so much, either. I'm tougher than you think."
Ranma looked away, then back. "You better be." Akane knew the pain in Ranma's eyes was caused by the bruises the pigtailed girl had inflicted, not the ones she'd received. "This is gonna take some gettin' used to."
Ranma looked at her sharply, but she seemed to mean it. Huh. That, I could get used to pretty easy.
Ranma was waiting outside the dojo when Akane came out the next morning. His eyes scanned her; satisfied that the bruising was minimal, he nodded to himself. "How ya feelin'?"
"Fine. Just a bit sore, but the furo took care of that, and my morning run took care of the stiffness."
"'Morning run'? Hell, ya oughta be runnin' all the time, not just in the mornin'."
"I don't want to go to school all sweaty. Unlike some people."
Ranma shrugged. "You're too formal. Trainin's all the time, not just in the dojo an' wearin' a gi." He started to pick up the pace. "There just ain't enough time to train if ya do it by appointment, so ya do it whenever ya get a chance." By now they were trotting. "'Sides, once you're in condition you can run like this without gettin' sweaty."
Ranma leapt to the top of the fence. He stopped when Akane stayed on the street. "Get up here," he said mildly.
Akane put her fists on her hips. "I'm not doing that! People will see up my skirt!"
Ranma looked disgusted. "Like anyone cares." A wolf- whistle from their audience promptly proved him wrong. He glared at the offending youth and stalked along the top of the fence with his hands jammed in his pockets. Akane smirked and followed on the ground.
"I'll wear gym shorts or something underneath tomorrow," she said when she caught up to him.
Ranma grunted. "Whatever. Ya can't do Musabetsu Kakuto if yer worried about yer skirt."
"I've been doing Musabetsu Kakuto all my life, and I've never had to worry about my skirt," Akane pointed out.
"Tendo-ryu, maybe. If you're gonna do Saotome-ryu, you're gonna worry about your skirt, I just know it. Why d'ya think I wear this alla time?" Ranma indicated his loose shirt, drawstring pants, and slippers. "'Cause I can fight in it, and I gotta fight alla time."
Akane dodged Shampoo's bicycle as the amazon executed a flying dismount with Ranma as the landing pad. She glared at Ranma as Shampoo rubbed up against him affectionately no, that's a lot more than affectionately. Damn her.
Shampoo looked cutely disappointed when Ranma made the usual complaints and feeble attempts to pry her off, rather than breaking out into a nosebleed or any of the other signs of enthusiasm. She turned her head to Akane without letting go of Ranma and winked. "Just checking. Still not ready yet. How about you? You ready for rematch? No?"
Shampoo turned back to Ranma. "Got delivery, sorry. See soon!" She dropped Ranma, straightened her clothing, retrieved her bicycle, and was off.
"Ranma, you baka, why didn't you hit her?! If you hit her as hard as you hit me, she'd... be...." Akane trailed off and looked around at their fellow students, who were listening intently with their jaws hanging. She flushed.
Ranma was on his feet by this time. "Are you nuts?! That's how I got inta this mess with her in the first place! And it's not like I'm wearin' a sign sayin' 'Please Grope' in Chinese! It's not my fault! She just does that! Ow!" The crowd lost interest when Akane clouted Ranma over the head with her bookbag and he didn't deck her, and wandered off. Akane stomped away, fuming.
"Say, Akane, what'd Shampoo mean, 'not ready yet'? Ow! Cut it out, you overmuscled twit! Ow! Dammit, that was a compliment!"
"Kasumi, I need to ask you about something."
Kasumi put her book down and gestured for Akane to close the door. "What is it, Akane?"
Akane came over and sat down next to her. "This one's not in my book, but it might be in one of yours." She looked down at her hands. "Ranma... well, sometimes it almost seems he likes it when I hit him."
"Oh, dear," Kasumi said. "I hope he's not a masochist. That can result in some... how shall I put it delicately... behavioral problems."
Akane's imagination ran away with her for a moment:
Ranma lay face-down on her ordinary bed, stripped to the waist and tied at wrists and ankles to her bedframe. The light of the torches on the walls of her typical teenaged girl's room glistened off his sweaty skin as he moaned her name. Akane stepped forward. Her black high- heeled boots creaked ominously. Whatever she was wearing seemed to be awfully drafty. She raised the riding crop....
"No, no, no, no way," she muttered, shaking her head violently to purge the image from her mind. He's the pervert. I'm not a pervert. Really, I'm not. I'm not! Oh, no....
Kasumi looked at her with concern. "'No' what, Akane?"
"Um, nothing, never mind... if not a masochist, then what?"
"Well... you said sometimes he likes being hit; when, exactly?"
"I'm not sure. I noticed it after the first time he really hit me when we were sparring. He seemed to be really upset about it until I hit him twice as much, and then he seemed to feel better. But when I think about it, it occurs to me that when I'm mad at him and hit him, he complains a lot, but the look in his eyes...." She ran down.
"Oh. Well, that seems straightforward enough." Kasumi reached unerringly to her left, took a book from the shelf, and paged through it. She breathed a relieved sigh. "Oh, yes, it's all here. Guilt."
"Guilt," Kasumi repeated. "If it's what I think it is, he feels guilty when he hits you, until you punish him by hitting him. It's the same when he does something to make you mad; once you hit him, he doesn't feel as guilty."
Akane digested this. "Eeew," she said finally. "That fits, though."
"Well, you'll have to be careful. After all, you don't want him to think of you as a mother figure. That would be... a whole other set of problems."
Akane glanced into Kasumi's carefully straight face. "Yes. Right. Of course it would be. Thanks, Kasumi." She got up and left her sister's room, wobbling only a little.
Ranma lounged on the grass at Furinkan chatting with Ukyo after finishing the lunch Akane had brought for him and two okonomiyaki. Akane finished her bento and wiped her chopsticks. Ranma sat up suddenly. "Hey, Akane, let's play a game."
Akane looked at him. Her brow creased. "Game?"
"Sure." Ranma scooted over until he was sitting facing Akane a couple of yards away. He held up his chopsticks, one vertical in each hand. Akane hesitantly held up her chopsticks the same way. Ranma put his sticks down and held his open hands up again. "Throw the right one." Akane shrugged and flipped her stick to him; he caught it deftly. He threw it back; it turned over twice and slapped right into her hand. "Now the left one." Akane threw again; he caught it, paused, and threw it back. Again, it slapped into her hand, but she dropped it. Ranma sighed. Ukyo snickered. Akane growled under her breath and picked the stick up.
Ranma held his right hand up expectantly; Akane threw, he caught, returned. Left, throw, catch, return. This time Akane caught it. Right, throw, catch, return, 3 flips. Left, throw, return, 3 flips. Then Ranma held up both hands. Akane threw both sticks. They collided in midair, but Ranma caught them anyway, paused, and threw both. His throws didn't collide. Akane caught one and dropped the other.
"Jeez, Akane, this is a kid's game," Ranma said reproachfully. Akane threw both sticks at his face, but he caught them with a sweep of his left hand and threw them back. Akane raised her hands automatically and a stick slapped precisely into each palm.
She stared down at them. Wow. I wish I could do that. She looked at Ranma. Ranma raised his hands, grinned, and wiggled his fingers. Akane threw. Left, return, right, return, both, return Got 'em!, left, return high, right, return low, both.... Ranma caught the sticks and stopped.
"Right. Now I lead and you follow," Ranma said. Akane gulped and nodded. He slapped his thighs twice and threw, left to right. Akane caught. Slap, slap, right, return, slap, slap, left, return, slap, slap, both, return, slap, slap, high-low, return.... Akane started slapping her thighs too, and the sticks flew back and forth, on the beat.
Other students stopped their conversations and turned to watch. Ukyo sat with her eyes wide and her jaw hanging a little. Akane ignored them. Her whole world was the chopsticks twirling in the air and slapping into her fingers. Ranma's throws were becoming more and more complex, but it was getting easier for her to anticipate the way he would throw with each pass. Suddenly she realized: He's telegraphing his throws! And I'm reading them!
Akane caught the sticks and stopped, and looked at Ranma in wonder. He grinned and held up his hands, and only then did she realize that he held chopsticks too, and that they'd been playing with FOUR for the last few passes. She dropped her sticks.
"Clumsy tomboy," Ranma said, but his eyes held a hint of pride. "Don't think about it, just do it."
Ukyo cleared her throat. "Say, Ran-chan, can I play too?"
"Sure," Ranma said cheerfully. "Not with spatulas, though!" Ukyo laughed, removed her bandolier, and sat down, forming a triangle with Ranma and Akane.
Akane frowned. I was having fun with Ranma. Why does she have to butt in? She glared at Ranma, but he caught her eye and shook his head slightly. She subsided.
"Ready?" Ranma held his sticks up, slapped his thighs twice, and threw his left stick to Ukyo. She caught it and returned it. Slap, slap, left to Akane, return. Slap, slap, right to Ukyo, return. Slap, slap, right to Akane, return. Both to Ukyo, both to Akane... and Akane took lead and threw left to Ukyo, return, right to Ukyo, return, both.... The sticks wove patterns across the triangle. Ranma slipped a third stick into the game, then a fourth. Then both girls threw both sticks at him on the same beat; he caught them and stopped.
Akane blinked and looked at her hands. Ukyo tossed her head back and whooped. Their audience burst into applause. Ranma smiled sheepishly and scratched his head with the chopsticks, then realized what he was doing and hastily put them down. Akane and Ukyo looked at each other. They looked at Ranma. More, their eyes said in unison. Ranma cringed, picked up the sticks obediently, slapped his thighs, and threw.
On the way home, Akane finally had a chance to ask what she'd been wondering since lunchtime. "Ranma... that throwing game...."
"I learned it from an old monk name of Cherry when I was a kid. Pops never liked to play it, though. Said it was too wimpy."
"It's not, though," Akane said. "Throwing, catching, reflexes, control... and it teaches you to read your opponent, doesn't it? And... to read your allies, too."
Ranma frowned. "It's fun. You're thinkin' too much again." He broke into a run.
Akane grimaced. "Honestly...." She ran after him.
Ranma jumped from the ground to the dojo roof, waved at Akane, and jumped down. "Just like that. Now do it."
Akane eyed the jump. It was at least twelve feet, well over twice her height. She shook her head. "I can't do that."
"Don't give me that," Ranma snorted. He jumped to the roof and down again for emphasis. "I can do it. Ryoga and Mousse and Shampoo can do it. Cologne does it on a stick! Ukyo can do it! Hell, even Kodachi does it all the time! You gotta be able to do it!"
Akane gritted her teeth and jumped. She didn't come close. Ranma shook his head. "Well, how high CAN you jump?" he asked. He jumped to the top of the rock by the fishpond and down again. "Like that?"
"Don't be silly," Akane said. She ran over to the wall around the compound and jumped to the top, skidding a little on the tiles. Ranma applauded sarcastically. She glared at him and jumped down.
Ranma jumped to the dojo roof again. "Get up here." She sighed, jumped again, and again she fell short.
Ranma peered down over the edge. "Oho. I see what your problem is."
"What?" Akane asked excitedly.
"You need to lose about ten pounds. No, make that twenty"
"RANMA!!!" The shout was still echoing when Akane landed on the roof beside Ranma and struck. Ranma dodged.
"Hold it, Akane," he said cheerfully, and pointed down.
Akane froze. "I'm on the roof. How did I get on the roof?"
Ranma looked disgusted. "Well, how do you think you got on the roof, baka?" He jumped down. "Get down here."
Akane swallowed hard and jumped. Ranma caught her. "You were gonna hurt your ankles," he told her, putting her down. "Gotta work on landings. I forgot, up's always easier than down." He looked embarrassed by his oversight rather than the body contact.
Akane looked up at the roof again. "How did...?"
Ranma sighed. "Look, if ya just gotta think, think about how it FELT to jump to the roof. You got mad, you felt the power, you jumped, you made it, right?" Akane nodded. "You just gotta get the power without gettin' mad all the time. You wanna try it again, or shall I taunt ya some more?"
Akane favored him with a grim stare, looked up, tried to feel the ki, and jumped. She landed on the roof. Ranma landed next to her. "See?" he said. "No problem. Ya ready for down?"
Akane looked down. "Once more up, I think," she told Ranma. Besides, this way I get you to hold me....
Ranma scooped her up and jumped off the roof. Akane enjoyed the trip, but it was over too soon. Ranma put her down. She jumped again, and made it again. "Gettin' easier, ain't it?" Ranma said as he arrived beside her.
Akane jumped down. "Oof!" She felt her ankles, but they seemed to be undamaged. She watched Ranma's light landing carefully.
Ranma shrugged. "Just keep jumpin' up and down until ya get tired," he told her. "Then we'll try somethin' a bit more interesting." He sniffed. "While you're doin' that, I'm gonna go see Kasumi. I think she just pulled cookies out of the oven. Hey, get back here! Ya need ta watch your weight, remember?!"
Ranma looked at the bowl of nuts on the table and cried "Special training!" His hands darted for the bowl. Peanuts bounced off Akane's nose and chin before she realized what was happening, but she ate the third one, then caught the fourth and flicked it into Ranma's waiting mouth. Ranma grinned noisily and picked up the pace. Akane was starting to get the rhythm of it, until Ranma made a face at her while chewing. She laughed at the wrong time, choked on a half-chewed peanut, and turned red.
Ranma waited for her to stop making odd noises, then surveyed the nuts scattered across the floor behind Akane and shook his head. "All that wasted food," he said mournfully. Akane started laughing again and slugged him.
"Oh, Ranma-kun! You have visitors!"
Ranma backed away from Akane, hoping she'd try a parting shot anyway... Nope. Damn. He turned toward the dojo doors and Kasumi's voice, and his jaw dropped. Shampoo was wearing her combat garb and a secretive smile. Ukyo was wearing her usual okonomiyaki-chef suit and her cutest grin. Both had their hands clasped formally in front of them. Kasumi was wearing an immaculate new gi, and had one hand on each girl's shoulder. "We hear you're accepting students," Kasumi said mischievously.
"Wha... where'd ya hear that?" All three pointed left, to where Nabiki was counting a sheaf of bills. Akane stomped over to her sister, arms stiff at her sides. "Nabiki!"
A voice drifted through the dojo doors. "Oh-ho-ho-ho-ho! Ranma-sama, I'm here for my lesson!"
Ranma looked around the dojo desperately. His eyes, the eyes of a trapped animal, fastened onto the bucket of water.
Splash! "Aiya!" "Oh, dear." "Rats!"
~~~~~ end of Training ~~~~~
|BACK to chapter 3||UP to Index||FORWARD to chapter 5|