"I'm tired of it, Nabiki!"

"Deal, Saotome! You're the one living here free. You've got no room to complain."

"Like I got a choice?"

"It's hardly my fault, but sacrifices must be made I'm afraid, for the peace of the household and our daily bread." Nabiki assumed as pious an expression as she could manage, which wasn't very. Still, it wasn't like Ranma would notice. Heck, she was surprised he had managed to bring it up in the first place.

"Yeah, right," Ranma scoffed. Crossing his arms over his chest, he leaned back against the wall, his shoulder brushing against the school uniform hanging on the wall. "As if you really take what you earn and just hand it over to your Pop."

Nabiki responded with a secretive smile, wagging a finger at Ranma from her position seated cross legged upon the bed. Holding up the family ledger, carefully written up in her own little code, she waved it at her potential brother-in-law. "Well, you've got no proof one way or another, whereas I can say definitively that you don't put a dime into the family budget and you don't lift a finger on chores. Poor Kasumi. The least you can do is let me take a few pictures in return."

"I'm not seeing how that helps 'Poor Kasumi'. You know what-" Ranma smirked, a confident expression crossing his face as he seized on Nabiki's argument. "-if I need to help out around the house, I'll do that. In return, you," he pointed at the middle Tendo sister, "won't be taking pictures of me any day I can prove I've helped out Kasumi. Or blackmailin' me."

"Right, like that will last long. House Hubby Ranma? Mr. Domestic? You won't last a week." Particularly after your Dad gets wind of your little bout with domesticity, she thought, a smile crossing her lips. And then she would have implied permission for her little photo shoots.

"Will too, fact I'll start right now, just you wait."

"Yo, Akane!"

Looking up from her homework at her fiance, Akane asked, "What is it, Ranma?"

Leaning forward, hands resting on either side of the door, Ranma asked, "You know where Kasumi is?"

"Umm, doing the laundry I think, why?"

"No reason, just prov'in something to Nabiki." Waving briefly at his confused fiancee, Ranma walked down the hall and vaulted over the railing rather than bothering with the stairs since he was in a hurry.

Grinning to himself, Ranma jogged the rest of the distance to the laundry and bathroom, barely paying attention to his surroundings as he thought about finally getting Nabiki back. Well, getting her to stop anyway which would be almost as impressive when he told Hiroshi and Daisuke.

Striding in to the room, the locked door resisted for only a moment before the bolt snapped and the door swung open onto the laundry and changing room. Ranma got only as far as, "Hey, Kasumi, I want-" before the scene in front of him registered along with the force he had just needed to open the door, his brain finally catching up to his eyes.

Trying to make sense of what he was seeing, Ranma let his brain "rewind" and noted the little wooden stand-alone sign that people had begun putting up outside the family room to note that someone was in the furo, the larger curtain that was only drawn across the hall when privacy was needed, and finally the Kasumi only "Occupied" placard that absolutely no-one in the house ignored.

The little recap didn't help much, other than to let him know that what he was seeing was his own fault.

Approaching the sight cautiously in his own mind, Ranma first noted that Kasumi was in the room. This was good, because he had been looking for her. She was currently in nothing but a pair of panties and a bra. He was pretty sure that was bad. What was worse, however, was that his mind was informing him it wasn't the really horrifying part of what he was seeing.

Tentatively giving his mind permission to continue, it noted that Kasumi was currently holding a pair of his own boxers. This wasn't necessarily a bad thing, as she was doing the laundry. However, the fact that she was currently rubbing it against her cheek... probably fell into the bad category.

At this point, he decided to pull off the band-aid and informed his mind to just get it over with- piles of panties, bras, and boxers were again expected though perhaps not in the quantities he was seeing. Kasumi lying in them with enough scattered over her own body to make it clear she had been nearly burying herself in the undergarments... not so good.

A pair of panties sliding off her head as she stared at him with a wide-eyed, guilty expression and others scattered across the occasional shelf and the washing machine also indicated they might have been airborne shortly before he arrived.

Asking his brain if it had anything else it wanted to inform him of, it noted that conclusions and comparisons to other residents in the house were all that were left. Giving this some thought, Ranma decided that he wanted to hold off on this. He would put a little distance between himself and the current situation before dealing with that information.

Forcing a smile onto his face, Ranma said, "I'll just... let you get... that is..." He thought for a moment, decided that this sentence was just not going to be finished without the conclusions he was keeping buried in the back of his mind and simply pulled the door shut.


Perhaps an hour later, Ranma finished the last kata in the most strenuous routine he knew. He had noticed Kasumi spying on him ten minutes into the workout and he had finally thought about what he had walked in on and noted certain similarities to an ancient, perverted martial arts master perhaps twenty minutes ago.

Toweling off as he walked out of the dojo, he paused, considering just heading into the house, then shook his head and made his way around the large building, nearly walking into Kasumi as she began sneaking around the corner. While she was dressed in her normal clothing, which was in no way suitable for it, she was quite clearly sneaking. She appeared to have taken the worst of Genma's lessons to heart and was so focused on "fading into the woodwork" that Ranma's sudden appearance elicited a small scream of surprise, quickly cut off as her hands clapped over her mouth.

As she stared at him, he looked around to make sure they weren't being observed, then grabbed the elder Tendo sister's hand and quickly dragged her back behind the Dojo. Another moment or two saw them ensconced in the equipment shed, safely tucked behind a large pile of mats. As private as it was likely to get on the Tendo compound.

Letting a breath out, he stared at Kasumi for a moment as she began calming herself. He opened his mouth a few times to ask a question or make a comment, then finally asked, "I don't suppose you've been possessed by an oni or demon?"

A short, sharp shake of the head.

"Had a pair of cursed panties slipped into your underwear drawer?"

Another shake of the head- though he was disturbed to note her breathing quicken at the suggestion.

"You're really Happosai with an incredibly creepy cloning technique?"

A final shake of the head.

"Then... you were..."

Kasumi appeared to consider for a moment, then said, "Umm, washing... well... caring for, my collection."

"Your collection."


"As in..."

Blushing furiously, Kasumi whispered, "My sil... sil... just my collection." The odd difficulty she had with the words she started to say almost reminded him of when he tried to say the C-word, but her eyes were locking on to what he was pretty sure was the laundry room like a lodestone and a hint of longing was easily discernible in her voice. Definitely nothing approaching the Pantiken or something.

"And this... collection... includes my own underwear?"

Shaking her head reprovingly, much as she did when he called Akane a tomboy, Kasumi corrected gently, "Mine."

"And Akane's? I'm pretty sure I saw some pig print panties in that pile." Not that he would ever let Akane know he knew what her panties looked like, but it wasn't like he hadn't seen them inadvertently a time or two.

"Also mine." Kasumi said firmly, without a trace of hesitation.

"Right..." Pausing, Ranma looked back at the house, then turned to Kasumi and looked her over, paying careful attention to her forehead in case he had missed any horns.

He wasn't really prone to them, but this was beginning to give him a bigger headache than Akane beating him over the head with a shinai. "I don't suppose... you could just tell me that you were possessed by Happosai, but it's all over now and I could just go beat him up a time or two then we could forget this ever happened?"

"Oh my, I couldn't do that. That would be fibbing." The idea seemed to horrify the homemaker.

He thought for a moment about asking about the underwear he was wearing right now, but swiftly shook his head. He was pretty sure he didn't want the answer to that question. He needed a little bit more information though. The fact that Kasumi had been keeping a secret this large and still considered lying a little an issue was tagged for later consideration.

"So, umm, when exactly did this start? When Happosai got back, did he do something or...?"

"Oh, no... Grandfather has been a perfect gentleman since he returned." That statement nearly caused Ranma's brain to crash again, but he recalled that Happosai never really did target Kasumi. No one did, she was... well, had been, the most saintly and inviolable person Ranma had ever met.

"Though, to be fair, I suppose he did encourage my interest in my lov, err, in undergarments. I don't know if you remember Grandfather from before Father and Mister Saotome sealed him away since you were so young, but I was around 8 the last time I saw him and he frequently played with me when I was little. I don't remember much before I was 3 or 4, but he stands out even now..."

"Kasumi! Where are you, Kasumi!"

Giggling, the child in question wiggled further back under the bush she was hiding under as her mother continued to call for her. Kasumi had been promised a special treat for her fourth birthday by Granpa Happi if she could hide from him for longer than five minutes.

She was sure it had been at least as long as that, but she wasn't going to take any chances on a special present.

As her mother walked by she clapped her hands over her mouth to stifle the giggles. However, when she saw Granpa clinging to her back, they overcame her and her mother immediately turned, with Happosai dropping to the floor behind her and holding up a finger to his lips before darting away.

After her mother dragged her out from under the bush, scolding her for the twigs and leaves in her hair and the dirt all over her new dress, she was forced to take a bath, then sent to her room as punishment.

Within moments of entering her room, however, Granpa Happi popped through the window, mouth wide in a mischievous grin that Kasumi emulated. Bounding over excitedly, the little girl asked, "Did I do it? Did I do it? I was hidin' for at least 5 hours!" holding up all of her fingers to show how extremely long that had been.

"Well, then, as long as that, you say?" The old man assumed a cross-legged position on the little girl's bed, one hand stroking his white mustache. "That would be worth a very special present then, wouldn't it?"

Holding her breath, Kasumi nodded enthusiastically.

"Well, then, I suppose I'll need to give you- this!" Holding out a hand, the old man appeared to make no move whatsoever, then there was suddenly a box in his hand. Elaborately wrapped with an enormous pink ribbon and sparkly wrapping paper, it was the bestest looking present she had gotten this year.

Reaching for it, she was temporarily unable to grasp it as Granpa held it up and away. For a time, they played like that, the little girl jumping after the present while it remained tantalizingly out of reach. Her anticipation rising with every passing moment, she finally got a hold of the present, coming to a bouncing rest on her bed.

Moments later, her Mother said from the other side of the door, "Kasumi Tendo! You are not to bounce on your bed! You are going to wake your sisters!"

Breathless, Kasumi responded immediately, before her Mother could enter the room and see her present, "Yes, Mommy, I'll be good!"

Looking back over at her Granpa, she asked, "Can I open it now? Can I?" Receiving a waved permission from the old man, she immediately tore into the present and found a long, elaborate box of carved wood. Turning it over again and again, she finally found that pieces of it moved when she pulled on them or were able to be pushed in. However, try as she might, nothing happened when they were moved.

Curious and puzzled, she turned back to her grandfather and asked, "What is it?"

"Ahh, now that's the secret," he said, his voice low and conspiratorial. "When I was a young lad, I ran across a box much like this and was told a tale by the man who owned it."

"Deep in the depths of Japan, there lived three great priestesses. Each priestess could... well, it's not really important to the story right now. But anyway, the three priestesses had a magic box that held the three greatest treasures the world has ever known. Made by a nine-tailed fox spirit, it seemed to have no openings, hinges, or locks and was impossible to break. However, for those who could figure out the puzzle inscribed upon its surface, it would open, revealing the secret treasure."

Eyes wide, Kasumi listened to the story and looked down at her box. Turning it over again, she asked, "Is my box like that? Does it have a great, secret treasure inside of it?"

"It does," Granpa Happi confirmed, then leaned forward conspiratorially, "In fact, it has one of the original treasures locked away in the legend."

Eyes widening even further, Kasumi looked at the box with awe. "That's the bestest gift _ever_. How did you get it, Granpa?"

Smiling fondly, the old man patted her on the head and said, "That is a story for another day, but as one of the heirs of Anything Goes, you deserve it. If you can figure out that puzzle, you'll find a treasure beyond imagining. But!" Holding up a finger, Granpa Happi pointed to the box. "This is our secret, so you have to promise you'll keep it to yourself. I'll make you a little hiding space to help with that."

With that, the little man jumped down from the bed, examining the floor and walking around the room. As Kasumi watched him curiously, he stopped just behind her bed and lifted the corner of the rug, striking the floor once with a sharp crack. Picking up the piece of floorboard he had just broken, he beckoned for the little girl and showed her how to hide the little box in the alcove revealed in the floor.

"I'll be back in two weeks to give you a hint if you haven't gotten it yet. You're a smart girl though, I'm sure you'll manage."

For the next two weeks, Kasumi stayed all but confined to her room, trying to figure out how to open the box. She dragged in her little sister Nabiki and even snuck in with little baby Akane at one point, thinking that Granpa Happi wouldn't mind them since they were littler than her even.

When her father and grandfather returned though, she still hadn't figured out the box, so Granpa Happi gave her a clue and went off on another training trip not long after. Thinking about the contents of the box became her very favorite thing to do, the mystery almost unbearable. She liked to listen to the sound whatever was in the box made when she turned it, a soft, whispery sound that made her think of soft things.

It ultimately took two clues from Granpa Happi before she figured out the puzzle, the box folding open a couple days after he had left again. Reaching inside almost hesitantly, she felt the shimmering, ruffled fabric inside and slowly stroked it, marveling at how soft and nice it felt. Smiling, she decided she couldn't wait to talk to Granpa about it.

Smiling happily as she finished the story of receiving the first pair of panties she ever added to her collection, Kasumi added, "It was my favorite gift that year, possibly because of how hard I had to work for it. I only wish I still had them, Mother took them away when I was six and I've never been able to find them again though I'm sure she didn't throw them away."

"I was heartbroken when it happened, wouldn't come out of my room for a week." Smiling fondly, Kasumi shook her head, pulling her hair over one shoulder and fingering the scrunchie that bound it.

Blinking, his tone incredulous, Ranma said, "Your _Mother_?" He paused to wrap his head around that for a minute. He wasn't sure whether to be thankful or not that the mats were behind him and thus banging his head against the "wall" wasn't going to do any damage. "Your mother knew about this and you're still... like you are?"

"Yes, well..." the mention of her mother seemed to damper Kasumi's spirits a little, but she continued on, "it was something that we disagreed about from time to time. I can't really say we agreed to disagree since I was so young when we lost her, but I like to think we would have eventually. I think it might have been why Mother said I couldn't continue studying martial arts with Daddy."

"Dr. Tanaka agreed with me on that, but Sensei Ito said it was because I had a gentle soul and Mother didn't want me taking up a life of violence."

"Keep in mind, I was a very young child, it was inevitable that Mother would find out really."

Those short sentences prompted so many questions for Ranma that he held up a hand again, gesturing for Kasumi to stop. He wasn't even sure where to begin- Kasumi of all people had studied Anything Goes. He had no idea who Dr. Tanaka and Sensei Ito were. Kasumi had actually disagreed with her mother of all people. He hadn't thought she was capable of disagreeing with anyone.

Ultimately though, he had to know how- or perhaps why. Kasumi couldn't lie if she tried, couldn't think of lying from her earlier reaction, and yet she had managed to keep this secret for...15 years?

"You're being pretty, well, open about all this, aren't ya, Kasumi?"

"Well, it is ever so nice to have someone to talk to about it. I thought about approaching Happosai, but I don't think that would be in keeping with my promise to Mother."

"Your promise?" Ranma asked weakly, wondering what on earth Mrs. Tendo had been thinking. If you're extracting promises, why not a promise to stop?

"When Mother found out she absolutely forbade me from mentioning my si- my collection to anyone, though Father in particular. Something about how she wasn't ready to lose him yet, though I'm not certain why she might have thought that."

Ranma on the other hand, was pretty certain that finding out Kasumi was a Happosai in the making would have given the younger Soun a heart attack. Mrs. Tendo might have been wiser than he was giving her credit for in all this.

"She was ever so upset, though..."

Hanging over the edge of her bed on her stomach, Kasumi's legs kicked absently in the air as she opened her special place. Inside were her greatest treasures. A few were items that any child might have valued- a shiny shell picked up at the beach on a family trip, her favorite book, and a small stuffed animal that her Daddy had won for her at the fair last year. The vast majority, however, were her silky friends. The lovely panties and bras that Grandpa Happi had given her since her birthday two years ago and one or two that she had liberated from her mother's drawers.

She felt a touch guilty about that, since she was adding a third and fourth of her mother's belongings to her collection, but she felt that Kimiko Tendo didn't really value them enough. Why, they hadn't been in the laundry for two whole months before last night and they were ever so lovely. A blue almost the same color as her mother's hair, they were made of satin with delicate lace borders and shimmered slightly in the light from her window. The light caught a very light pattern woven into the fabric and Kasumi held her breath for a moment as she examined it.

Glancing back at the closed door for a moment, she listened intently for any sign of someone upstairs, but all she heard were the sounds of Akane and Nabiki yelling in the backyard as the former no doubt chased the latter around the koi pond despite her younger age. Her mother should be watching the babies to make sure they didn't fall in.

Convinced she was safe, Kasumi gradually brought the brassier from the set of lingerie up to her cheek, blushing a little as she slowly moved her head back and forth against the slick fabric. Just like Grandpa Happi had taught her, she concentrated and extended her 'cheek' senses into the fabric and smiled happily at the sense of 'Mommy' that flooded through her. For a little while, she just enjoyed that- it was almost as good as a hug from her mother- but eventually she took some of her own 'cheek power' and pushed it into the bra. Just enough to let it know that it was loved unconditionally and was hers without pushing Mommy out.

Assuming that she was safe, she reverently placed her mother's bra into the little alcove that was now lined in dark velvet as another gift from Grandpa Happi, then picked up her mother's panties after giving the others in the alcove a quick pat to let them know she wouldn't ignore them in favor of her new acquisition.

Quickly dropping into an almost meditative state again, she was startled out of it and nearly her skin as she heard a voice exclaim, "Kasumi Tendo! What are you doing!" Landing on the headboard of her bed after her startled leap, she panted for a moment, her heart hammering in her chest.

One arm wrapped around a bed post, the little girl looked at her mother wide-eyed and instinctively pushed her other arm behind her, the pair of panties clutched tightly in her small hand.

A touch more calmly, Kimiko Tendo said, "Kasumi, show me what you have in your hand."

However, all Kasumi did at that was shake her head, the words of Grandpa emphasizing that this was their secret running through her mind. He had said that Daddy didn't like secret treasures for some reason and while she didn't think that applied to Mommy, since she had so many of them it still wouldn't be secret if she found out. Having a _secret_ treasure was half of the fun, though she would love her silky friends even if they weren't secrets.

Asking a third time, her mother said, "Kasumi, your hand, now."

At this, Kasumi abruptly smiled and feeling very tricky indeed, opened her hand, letting the pair of panties slide down the wall and behind the headboard before pulling her hand out and displaying it to her mother empty. "I don't have anything in my hand, Mommy."

Unfortunately, this didn't seem to please the older woman and she strode forward with a stern expression on her face. This caused her daughter to glance down to where her mother would end up and she abruptly panicked. Jumping forward, she took two steps on her bed and launched herself at her mother, her arms wrapping around Kimiko's head and her legs around her chest. The abrupt impact made her mother stagger and she probably would have fallen if she hadn't backed into a dresser.

Hands reaching up to her daughter, Kimiko pulled on her and Kasumi responded by hugging her even more tightly. The little girl's gaze turned back to her alcove, sitting wide open for anyone to see and she whimpered slightly, scared of what would happen if her Mommy saw it. Her reaction to one of her silky friends hadn't been encouraging.

Still, while her father called Kasumi his 'little prodigy' and Grandpa Happi said she would be a true heir of Anything Goes one day, she was still only six years old and it was little more than a few minutes before Kimiko finally wrenched her daughter off of her head.

Holding the defeated girl out at arm's length, though she was really getting a bit too old for that, she just shook her head at first. Her breath was ragged after the unexpected exercise. "What in the world has gotten into you, Kasumi. You've always been a bit rambunctious, but this is a bit beyond the..."

Screwing her eyes shut, Kasumi hoped that the reason her mother had trailed off wasn't that she had seen what was behind the pair, but the next few words out of Kimiko dashed that hope.

"Kasumi, why do you have adult panties in your room? I am not sure whether the fact that some of them are mine is worse or the fact that some of them _aren't_ mine!"

As her mother set her back on the bed, she tried to look away, but her mother gently pushed her chin until she could meet Kasumi's eyes again. "From the beginning, Kasumi. And no lies or leaving anything out to protect the guilty."

So Kasumi told her, a bit hesitantly at first, but then more openly and happily. She really had wanted to have someone else to talk to about her silky friends since Grandpa wasn't around very often, but the secret had been very exciting. She had thought about telling Nabiki, but she wasn't very good at keeping secrets at all. She always blabbed to prove she knew it and impress everyone around her. Akane was still almost a baby, so wouldn't work either. Mommy would be good though, since she had her own collection already even if she didn't care for it as well as she should. Kasumi could help her with that though.

Unfortunately, lost in her stories, she didn't look up at her mother to gauge her reaction until nearly the end and when Kasumi did glance up at her mother, the expression of absolute rage in her eyes stopped her cold. Shrinking away from her, the only thought on her mind was that she hadn't seen her mother this angry since Daddy had destroyed almost an entire wall of the dojo practicing a new, really scary attack.

Even with that, she wasn't really expecting it when her mother took her friends without so much as asking her, locking her in her room as she left despite Kasumi's pounding on the door and desperate wailing. It was an hour later that the door finally clicked open and Kimiko strode back in, this time with a hammer and nails, closing Kasumi's secret hiding place permanently.

Having done this, Kimiko turned to her daughter and said, "You will not call panties, bras, or any other lingerie 'silky friends' or 'lovelies' or anything else like that in front of me or anyone else from now on, Kasumi Tendo. If you do, I will give you something to really cry about. It will hurt me as much as you, but I won't let Happosai corrupt my precious daughter."

"You will also no longer be taking lessons with your father in Anything Goes. I will not have that degenerate school taught to my daughters. I don't expect I can convince your father to stop practicing it entirely without revealing this and we will not be talking about this with anyone. I do not want to lose him." Standing up, she closed her eyes, her expression pained, but eventually firm. "I expect you down to dinner shortly, daughter."

Tears streaming down her cheeks as she sobbed incoherently, Kasumi simply ignored her mother, curled up on her bed. When she didn't come up to force her down and her crying had calmed, leaving her little hiccupping coughs and watery eyes, she did climb down from her bed though. Moving across her room, she locked her door, then moved over to the edge of her bed and reached behind the headboard as far as she could, finally just barely snagging the bit of fabric that was lying there.

Crawling back into bed, she hugged the satin cloth to her chest and sniffled, her mother's presence in the cloth not quite as comforting as it had been just a few hours earlier, but better than not having any of her friends at all.

"Mother said I wasn't to see Grandfather again after that, but he still showed up with presents for me from time to time, at least until Father and Uncle Saotome sealed him away. Hiding places were quite a bit harder to find, though." Looking fond, Kasumi reminisced for a few minutes about the "games" of "hide the lingerie" that she inadvertently played with her mother while Ranma just twitched. "I did miss practicing Anything Goes quite a bit, of course, but Mother found me other things to do to keep my mind off of it."

"Like...?" Ranma was kind of wondering how you went from a panty-loving hyperactive martial artist child to a... well, Kasumi.

"I did eventually forgive her and she would bring me along as she did the chores, everything except for the laundry since I wasn't allowed to touch that."

"She also arranged tea parties with Dr. Tanaka, of course. Those were ever so much fun and we spoke about all sorts of things. Panties and bras, as well as some about pantyhose, though those aren't quite so nice, of course. For some reason, those stopped shortly after Dr. Tanaka finally saw that he should actually start his own collection, rather than convincing me to give up mine." Kasumi looked a little sad about this, but she brightened a little as she continued.

"After that, of course, was the Zen monastery that she signed me up for when I was almost seven. I would go there every day after school and while at first I wasn't very into it, tending the garden and meditating became very peaceful." She smiled. "That was when I learned to be quiet enough to hear the calls of neglected lov-err, panties just like Granpa said I could. I was ever so proud of that, but for some reason Mother decided it was time for a change again after I told her."

Holding up her hand, she ticked off her fingers slowly and said, "I think we went back to tea parties and play dates at that point with Dr. Smith, then Dr. Fujioka, and finally Mr. Hashimoto, who was ever so good with horses. He was the gentlest person I think I ever met. Dr. Fujioka was also the one who pointed out that I was being very biased in only loving female undergarments, but for some reason when I thanked him for his insight a few days later he turned around and told Mother that he gave up. I was very disappointed, but he never came back."

"After that was Sensei Ito's Buddhist temple and the Shinto shrine where I was signed up as a miko for a time. The Temple of the Way was very nice, unfortunately, Sensei Ito said I couldn't stay when I wouldn't give up my collection to the poor. He was very nice about it though. I didn't get to stay at the Shinto shrine for very long at all, unfortunately. Mother said that Master Hino was a bad influence when I said he reminded me of Grandfather Happosai. It was very instructional though and he had the cutest grandchild who used to follow me around."

"I think the last place Mother sent me to was a Taoist Temple, by that time I was nearly 10 though and was beginning to catch on to the fact that she was looking for someone to stop me from rescuing the poor, mistreated undergarments of the world..."

As Ranma listened, he noted Kasumi fiddling with her hair tie, twisting it around, stroking it and it slowly dawned on him that despite the calm, slightly upbeat tone in which she was telling her story and answering his questions that she was nervous, possibly more nervous than he was right now. This was the longest conversation he could remember having with Kasumi or for that matter could remember even seeing her family have with her.

"...of course, that was also when Mother started showing me how to cook-"

"Ya know," he finally said, interrupting her bluntly, "you don't need to worry about me tellin' people." Not that he was sure how he would even bring the subject up. 'Hey, Akane, did you know your sister sleeps with your panties?' He was pretty sure that would be a guaranteed beating if anything would.

Blinking, Kasumi trailed off and her fidgeting slowed. "Really? But... aren't you, umm... well, upset with me?"

Taking a moment of his own in silence, Ranma finally replied, "I'm not even sure I know how to respond to that, Kasumi. Not sure I could get mad at ya if I tried. I don't think anyone could. Little, umm, startled, I'll admit and not sure what to think about all this, but I'm not mad."

"I'm done with questions fer now though. I was originally findin' you to offer to help out around the house. That still stands. Whatever you want, just ask and I'll do what I can."

Her forefingers pressed together, Kasumi asked hesitantly, "Could we... talk as part of that? It's been an awfully long time since I could talk to anyone about my, umm, hobby."

"Uhh..." Ranma looked at the big, doe-eyed expression that Kasumi was giving him, then sighed and said, "I'm not very good with words, but sure, why not. Just... no more for today, 'kay?"

Nodding quickly, Kasumi smiled happily, her eyes actually tearing up a bit. It was definitely enough to push Ranma way beyond his comfort zone, so he grabbed her hand without another word and started pulling her out of the equipment shed.

As he slid open the door, nearly charging out of the little stand alone building beside the dojo in his haste to get back to situations he understood he had a brief flash of impending doom, then noticed most of the rest of the Tendos scattered across the yard or on the balcony calling Kasumi's name. Glancing back at the still sniffling Kasumi, her clothes a little mussed and dirty from the two quick trips through the shed, he turned slowly and saw the eyes of Soun and Akane resting on him.

Looking back once more, he hastily let go of Kasumi's hand and started to say something, when Soun spoke in a very reasonable, calm, and thus utterly terrifying voice. "Ranma, my boy, we were just looking for you. You see, we needed an explanation for something. The bathroom door has been forced open and Kasumi's occupied placard was lying on the ground with my daughter missing. You can understand if I was quite distraught and so I turned to Akane, who said that you had, in fact just been asking about my daughter's whereabouts."

"I, of course, would not have dreamed of accusing you of anything coarse, however, Akane-" At this point, Ranma managed to barely turn his gaze away from the insanely disturbing tableau of a stoic, unemotional Soun Tendo, shifting his eyes a hair to the right, just barely enough to see his fiancee. If that was actually foam near her mouth like it appeared, that meant she was literally frothing at the lips. He wondered absently if that level of anger was actually communicable.

"Ahem." Ranma's gaze snapped back to Soun like a rabbit watching a snake about to strike. "As I was saying, Akane was a bit less trusting. I reassured her though. Your fiancee is no doubt looking for Kasumi's attacker as we speak, I said. So tell me son, will I find whoever assaulted her unconscious in the shed behind you?"

Ranma considered his answer for a moment. Thought about the likelihood of his surviving Akane and Soun inside closed confines. Thought about how often anyone had ever believed anything he had to say when a woman was involved. And then he did what any red-blooded scion of the Saotome clan would.

He ran like he had never run before.

At the sound of the camera shutter and the burst of light from the flash going off, Ranma must have jumped a good twenty feet in the air. Nabiki grinned wickedly as he crashed back to the earth in a tangle of twitching limbs.

"Not feeling quite up to par, Saotome?"

Shaking the polaroid in her hand, she examined it for a moment as her sister's fiance groaned inarticulately in response to her question. Caught in the act of sneaking back into the Tendo compound, Ranma's shirt and pants were shredded to the point that they looked like an exotic dancer's outfit- covering only the naughtiest portions of his anatomy all the while disguising the full body bruising that was more obvious now that he was spread out on the ground.

Shaking her head in regret, she flicked the photo at the nearly unconscious boy and said, "That one's all yours, Saotome. My sister said you helped out while she was doing the laundry, so you're off the hook for today. From Daddy and Akane as well, incidentally- Kasumi said that she had been lying on the ground in an odd position and you rushed in apparently to save her."

"I look forward to hearing about your exploits tomorrow, though. If they're anywhere near as amusing as today's then this may almost be worth the lost revenue just in amusement value."

"I would tiptoe around Daddy and Akane though- all Kasumi would do is blush when they asked about the shed."

Ranma just groaned in response, but his hand snaked out to grab the photo nonetheless.

Her job done, Nabiki turned and walked back inside, whistling to herself. At this rate, she likely wouldn't even need to talk to Uncle Saotome. Ranma wouldn't survive too many more 'help sessions' with Kasumi.

Author Notes: Not sure if it is ever stated in the Manga or Anime as to how long ago Happosai was sealed, but I typically go with about a decade which puts Kasumi at about 8 or 9 when he would have dissappeared from her life. Timing for this story will be fairly apparent next chapter I think.