Copyright, rah rah: Ranma 1/2 is the property of Rumiko Takahashi and her various media distributors. This is a fan work with no intent beyond entertainment of the writer's audience, no infringement is intended.

Have you ever felt that impending sense of dread?

The lingering tremor of knowing something was just wrong?

I had slept very well. I was warm and comfortable. Shampoo gave a murmuring coo as she turned over, then glomped on tight when her body felt mine. Reminding me we were both topless. It should have been a perfect morning and I'd just continue sleeping, until the panda decided to begin making an ass of himself at least.

Yet, my eye cracked open and I scanned the bedroom slowly. Nothing in here was out of place, so why was I feeling sudden worry? I couldn't explain it but my danger alarms were going off. Something was about to happen. Something very bad.

My ears finally told me what my eyes were failing to:

"Oh Akane, that's sweet of you, but it's alright … "

"No, I insist Kasumi. You go sit down and enjoy some tea, I'll take care of breakfast."

There was a moment of silence, and even the normally serene voice of the Tendo homemaker carried a deepening level of strain. "Akane, are you sure … I mean … you really don't have to force an apology to Shampoo and .."

"This doesn't have anything to do with Ranma!" She didn't growl it out, but her voice, already tense was building up anger as she spoke.

{Is she still upset about last night? ...Wait a minute … Akane? Breakfast …?}

My worries suddenly manifested themselves with startling clarity. The thing of the utmost dread. Akane's cooking. The universe had been playing itself close enough to form that this was an ominous sign. My imagination was inventing horrors and making a panicked tremor run up my spine.

"Akane, it's very nice of you want to cook for us all, but it's alright … "

Kasumi was beginning to sound desperate to contain her sister's intended kindness upon us all. I tuned the conversation out. There was very little time to take a course of action. Flight seemed reasonable in this instance. I gave Shampoo gentle shake. Which just earned me a grumble and she clung tighter.

"Sham Pu, get up, we need to get out house awhile."

She gave an annoyed grunt as she was rudely pulled from sleep. Rubbing on her lids and cracking them open. Bleary eyes and an expression bordering on anger greeted me. Her voice broke a bit before she coughed a couple times, swallowed and forced her throat clear.

"Airen, too early, let me sleep."

Her face promptly buried itself back into my chest and she snatched the covers over her head once more. Her breath tickled and sent a shiver up my spine. How I wish I could let her sleep a bit more. Just hold her and enjoy this close contact. Still there as a potentially bad situation developing and I needed her up if we were going to escape.

My eyes rolled and I had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from grunting in reply. Being roused from a good sleep I imagine set her on the edge of a bad mood, know I would be if the roles were reversed. Wouldn't do myself any favors by giving her a reason to fall into it though, so no sounds of annoyance lest I rouse her wrath.

Now how was I going to get her up, and us out of here before we were trapped? The sounds from the kitchen were soon telling. There was no gentle thumping of a knife working a cutting board. No soft scraping of a whisk across a bowl, or even the sudden clatter of pans being shifted through.

The domain of Kasumi Tendo had suddenly become Battle Ground Tendo. Where Akane meant to attack everything about the concept of breakfast like she was going to weed a garden. I could only wince at the thought of what she was trying to make. She did, however, solve my problem for me.

"No, Akane, not that much oil!"

There was a sudden and loud WHOOMF! Screaming and a loud bang as something hit the floor, then the smoke alarm going off. Then two clamouring women trying to stop the mess that sounded as though it had become an outright fire fight.

"Owww! Water water … "

"No Akane, the extinguisher!"

"I can stop this, I can stop this!"

Shampoo snapped awake in alarm. Her head whipping back and forth as if she were expecting an attack. I didn't waste time with words, quickly bouncing out of the futon and snatching clothes. I almost jumped into my pants, and tossed whatever I could find at her. She blinked in confusion but didn't let it stall her. One thing I can say for her, among many, she took action swiftly when needed.

A pair of running shorts quickly glided up her legs and she yanked on a sports bra. Seeing that, I was reminded of my own shirtless, and frontal female problem. Thank kami for sport tops. We bolted out the side door and around the hall. We were the only ones to arrive to partake the chaos in the kitchen. I cannot begin to figure how the mess could possibly have gotten as bad as it did. Was the girl cooking with vegetable oil or gasoline?

Kasumi's favorite deep pan was sitting in the floor, blazing away like a mini-bonfire. The oil had spread in a large puddle all over the floor and was merrily licking flames at tile and the counters. The girls had been backed away from either door and were in a panic. I didn't blame them, wouldn't want to risk setting my clothes on fire either.

I nodded to Shampoo and we just moved, dashing through the room and quickly getting the pair out of trouble. Quickly scooping Kasumi into my arms and getting out the back. My amazon warrior took hold of Akane, and despite her protests followed me outside.

"Shampoo, I'm fine, I'm a martial artist too!"

We just ignored her and went back into the room to control the problem. I wasn't thinking about it, just doing it, but in hindsight we were quite a team. Almost no words, just glance and action. I snatched the extinguisher while she snatched up pot lids and flung them. This would seem to be a bad idea, but her aim was impeccable and her control refined to a thing of beauty. She rang the burning skillet perfectly. A few others softly glided right ontop of some isolated flames to contain them.

I just went to work squeezing the trigger on the extinguisher and choking off the largest bits around the room before moving in toward the center. Just a few minutes and a potential disaster was diverted. Sinking into a wall, the adrenaline rush finally drained out of my body and I let out a long breath.

Shampoo scooped up the formerly burning pot when it was cool enough and began scraping the bits out into the sink. It mostly broke loose as large chunks of burnt, whatever it had been. Kasumi was quick to take charge of her kitchen again. Shooing away my girlfriend gently, though she did ask for the junk to be put out in the trash.

Nabiki was the only other resident who turned up to behold the after party. Hair in disarray and jammies wrinkled, and looking none too pleased about having been pulled from whatever dreams she had been enjoying. Safe bet it was either large piles of yen, or successful schemes to acquire same.

Half-lidded and blurry eyes swept the room and its condition. Then, without any pithy comment on her part the girl just grunted and ambled her way back toward the stairs. Kasumi gave it no mind, just dedicated to the task of restoring her now scorched cookware to pristine form. Three of us blinked and then shrugged and returned to cleaning.

Akane was quiet through the whole affair, looking ready to pout. Ugh it hit me in the gut. I think I'm even weaker to people's upset as I am, than I was in a past life. Poor Akane, yeah it hit me hard. We were only just friends of a few days, but I didn't like seeing her sad.

"Hey, 'kane, why don't we go get something to eat in neighborhood? Then maybe hit a bath house?"

Now, how I was going to pay for this, given a certain Panda now had most of the remains of my allowance? I dunno, I was just flying by the seat of my pants.

She shot me a skeptical glance, but it seemed to mollify her a bit.

"No, my treat, for … " She let it just hang in the air for a minute that the current missing breakfast was missing, and her face fell again.

"Okay!" Grinning and trying to quickly keep her depression from returning in force. Grabbing Shampoo's hand and pulling her out of the room, and gently pushing Akane along by the narrow of her back. The kitchen was clean enough for now and Kasumi would probably prefer no more trouble.

At thought of her, I paused and glanced back, "'sumi, anything we can get for you in town?"

She smiled her ever present little expression, then brightened a bit at the expression. "Actually, Ranma, if you wouldn't mind, could you pick up these groceries while you're out?" Quickly retrieving her shopping list and her change purse. She went down the list and summed up the expectation and dropped it into my hands.

"Sure thing" Carefully folding the money into the list and holding it firmly in hand. Okay, there was a tempting impulse to place it into the bra I was currently wearing, but I shrugged off that thought quickly as it came. God, I really need to start getting a handle on some of these weird things that flit through my head.

"Hey, where's Ryoga?"

"Oh, he took Checkers out for walk, and they haven't come back yet. Father and Mr. Saotome went out early as well. They were saying something about a bath, and then 'training trips.' They said they would be back by lunch." She smiled and went back to finishing up restoring her pot.

I palmed my face and grunted, while the other two girls glanced to me a moment. I didn't even notice as sudden dark worries began to storm through my brain.

{Okay, if I'm lucky, they're just going to get some sake or beer. If I'm not lucky, they're plotting something. They did give up the fiancee fight a little too easily.}

"Ranma? Are you okay?"

Akane's question pulled me back to the hallway and I just offered her the best grin I could. "Yeah, just hoping your dad isn't influenced by my old man … he can be kinda stupid."

"Ranma! That's mean, he's your dad!" Punching me in the arm and earning a wince.

Shampoo gave a soft sound in her lips as she sucked in a breath. Giving a soft look to the Tendo daughter and shook her head. "Is true Akane, Saotome-Papa is much … err … thick skull. Think up all kinds dumb idea."

All I could do was nod, giving a sigh while the girl looked between the two of us, and her expression was still radiating disbelief. "He was pretty set on this engagement between me and one of you girls, 'kane. I think I rattled him out of it, for now, but, just trust me. You'll see. We need to be ready if they pull somethin'. But you know your dad better'n I do. Just sayin' trust me."

All she could do was nod and suck on her bottom lip. "If you say so, I'm going to go get changed. See you girls at the front door." She darted up stairs with a giggle.

It took a minute before I frowned and hollered after her, "Hey, I ain't a girl …"

"Ranma, if you no girl, what these?" While Shampoo poked me in the chest a few times. A grin on her lips as she did. Then both hand cupped and bounced the ladies a few times. Giggling as she seemed to be having entirely too much fun. Thinking on the matter, now she'd gotten used to my curse, she did enjoy being able to explore some of her curiosities.

Not many people could say they had the opportunities to test their enjoyment with boys AND girls, and all with the same person. My cheeks got flush despite myself and sighed.

"Alright, you got me there, now let's go get changed and then something to eat." My stomach voiced its agreement quite sharply and I blushed all the more. Groaning a bit before I was yanked along by my laughing girlfriend.

Now, I don't mean to be superstitious, or some kind of kind of doom speaker. However, in my experience trouble always comes in threes, and the third one is always the BIG trouble. I had tried to play it off so far. Akane's little experiment with fire and oil was just a fluke.

Breakfast was a nice, I took an omelet, bacon, and misou. It was almost a flashback of bliss. How many wonderful mornings I had enjoyed such fair and it was still my favorite breakfast of all time. Apart from a special pancake recipe my grandmother had given me, those were fluffy cloud of delight. I'd have to make them sometime for everyone. It was a nice meal, all the same. The day was looking up.

Till we got to the bath house. I was just in the process of parting from the girls and slipping into the men's side when the boiler promptly broke. Well more like it just kind of exploded. There was a low THUMFF through the building and the fire alarm promptly went off.

The hostess didn't give us any reason, just quickly banished the few of us from the building. The trio of us just sighed, so much for a hot soak. And in my case return to proper form. I don't hate this body, it's just nice to be in the proper one from time to time. Most of the previous month in China had been spent as a girl.

I will hand it some friends of mine, from the past anyway, being shorter than everyone else, completely sucks. Oh it wasn't by more than a few inches, and it wasn't a complete inconvenience but it was still a pain. Still, it hadn't hurt me so far, I'd get over it.

We were in the midst of deciding what to do, since bathing wasn't an option now. When my danger senses went off. A terrible tremble climbed up my spine, just like this morning. Couldn't I have a nice morning in peace?

"Ranma, you okay?" Shampoo queried, seeing my tense posture and leaned her face in close. That drew in Akane's attention as well. Trying to just wave them off with a forced chuckle, we didn't notice the instrument of Fate's fickle challenge to my wish for a nice morning.

"Excuse me, would you ladies happen to know the direction to the Tendo training hall? Wait, did you say Ranma?"

There it was!

A lightning bolt ran up my spine and my ponytail stood immediately on edge. Muscles wanting to arrest at the shock as the three of us turned.

{Oh no no no! Too soon, it's too soon! Got to be someone else … got to be someone else …}

Standing there was a tall woman in a very lovely, cream kimono. It was fairly plain, without much adornment. The obi was the most intricately decorated part of the whole ensemble. My eyes travelled up. Her hair was dark, the exact same shade as my own, and formed up in a very near bun behind her head.

In her arms was a wrapped bundle, long and thin. The center of all the terror running up my spine. Now, I can't explain precisely why this panic attack was sweeping over me. I didn't know this woman, sadly. As much as I should have loved to. Her voice was a stranger's. Nothing about her was more than the most distantly familiar. A vague ghost of a shadow.

The realization of what she was expected to be like was a far off cloud from another life. The kind of weird eccentricities of just another member of the cast. I had pondered this moment, distantly, but never given it much real thought. So many other things to contend with, it was all in the back of my mind and often just ignored.

Confronted with the reality of it right now, however, Akane might as well have shoved one of those foul, furry demons in my face. The horror was that real, and gripped my heart that tightly. Fear I hadn't experienced in years squeezed my lungs and made everything just hard.

She looked to us expectantly, a look of worried hope in her eyes. And here I couldn't find the remote force of will to try and interject myself into the conversation.

Akane bowed formally at the hip, and even laughed a little. "Actually, it's kind of funny, ma'am. We do know the way. I'm Akane Tendo."

The woman's face lit up instantly. "Oh, you're one of Soun's daughters? How wonderful to meet you. Akane … Akane." Testing the name on her memory, "You must be the baby, am I right?"

"You know my father?" Shocked and blinking.

"Oh, it's been a very long time since I've met him. I'm only a loose acquaintance at best. Your father used to be a student under the same master, with my husband. Oh and listen to me just ramble on."

She giggled, a rich and refined sound. My heart twisted in pain even amidst the fear. Here I hadn't even done anything yet, and I was ashamed. Distraught over the very fact I was standing here in complete terror of this woman. Deserved or not. Explained or not.

She bowed low to Akane in return of the gesture. "I'm Nodoka Saotome."

{Yup, that's it … I'm doomed … Well it's been an interesting month and a half … }

That instantly put both girls upon the woman in shock. And she backed up a step at their sudden animated questions.

"You're Mr. Saotome's wife? "

"You is Ranma mother?"

"Oh my, yes, I'm Ranma's mother. You both know my son? Oh, Akane dear, does that mean they're at the dojo? They must have arrived early." She clasped her hands together and beamed. The terror lessened, but the pain my heart tightened twice over.

"Yes, they've been with us about a week. Although, Mr Saotome was running around with Dad this morning. Ranma though, he's … umm … "

"Oh, is he home, Akane dear? No wait, I'm being rude, who are these two friends of your's, Akane?" She smiled and remembering her manners turned to regard us. My brain continued to fight for traction against the sudden onset of unexpected plot developments. Shampoo was not so derailed.

The girl called up her deepest Amazon training and bowed deeply at the hip. She was, for her expectations, standing before her future mother-in-law. A woman deserving of the utmost respect and approval.

She spoke slowly and commanded her best Japanese for the effort of making a good impression. Which had improved by leaps and bounds, she was halting, but making herself speak clearly and not in the quick, pigin form she usually did. "I am Sham Pu, proud member of the Joketsuzoku tribe of Brave Warrior Women, of China. It is an honor to meet you, respected Matriarch."

A look was shot to me under the curtain of her hair before she continued. "I am humbled to meet my future Mother, I am Ranma's fiancee."

A hand rose to her lips and there was a flash of both pride and a bit of curious worry in the woman's eyes as she hid the smile curling on her lips. "Ranma's fiancee, dear? What about the agreement with the Tendos?"

Akane filled the space with a nervous laugh, "Ah, we kind of, put that to the side. Ms Saotome, I hope you're not offended. Ranma was really brave standing up to our fathers like he did. He doesn't want to hurt Shampoo's honor, or their relationship. And he wants to respect my sisters and me too by not just forcing himself on one of us."

The mixture of worry and pride magnified all the more and she looked almost like she was going to turn to pink with her blush. Or break into a dance. "Oh, well, it's not what I was expecting. There is honor at stake, but I think we can work something out between our families. Akane dear. And it's very nice to meet you, Shampoo." Sounding out her name carefully.

Finally, she turned her attention to me and now it was make or break time. I had made a solid promise, when I got the chance, I was not to going to lie but be forthright with her. My stomach was turning knots and my heart wanted to jump out of my chest. To tell her the truth, but what if she …

I sighed and forced my body to move. Stiffly. Mechanically I managed a bow. "Umm, I'm … this is going to be really hard to explain. Maybe we should go back to the dojo and I promise I'll lay out everything."

Confusion filled her eyes as she nodded, "Alright dear. Oh is my son there? I so hope he is home. It's been so long since I've seen him."

All I could do was swallow and give a jerky nod. "I promise, ma'am. You'll meet your son at the dojo."

She took that for what it was and just smiled, letting Akane lead on while I trailed behind. Getting a nudge in my ribs. Shampoo giving me a concerned look. Quickly she was in whispered Chinese.

"Ranma, what's wrong? I know your curse will be a shock, but you look like Death is hanging over your head."

"Sham Pu, trust me, complicated. I explain soon."

A frown creased her lips, but she took hold of my hand and squeezed it tight. We didn't let go the whole trip back. Not concerned what anyone around us thought. Her acceptance and comfort was a lifeline right now. I needed it to pull my head together.

{The truth, no backing down … ugh, what if she … I'll deal with it when we get there.}

So, as if I was walking to my execution, which I might well be, I moved along behind the pair as my mother chatted eagerly with Akane for every bit of information she could get. Never knowing her child was hovering right on her heels.

The next hour was going to be hell.

And might be my last.

Kasumi beamed when we arrived, warmly greeting Nodoka and got some some tea started. Although, her unspoken question about our return with bathing supplies in hand and my still being a female just hung in the air unanswered.

Nabiki had dashed off with friends. For the better, I didn't want her, or the old men complicating this anymore than it had to be. The eldest daughter served drinks and snack cakes and I had to summon up my courage.

"Umm, could I have a few moments alone with … Ms Saotome? I need to explain myself to her."

Shampoo and Akane both gave me sympathetic looks. They understood what I wanted. If only they knew how hard this was going to be. And how dangerous. Kasumi probably thought she understood, I'm sure, but with her ever oblivious manner just gave a smile to how wonderful for me to be able to catch up with this woman.

Nodoka was peacefully quiet, though her curiosity was written on her face almost like a big, neon sign. Waiting for me to give up what she wanted, and who I was. I moved around the table and sat before her, bowing slowly. I could hear her worried hum at the odd formality, but otherwise she continued to be patient.

"This is going to seem unreal, I know, but uhh, Ranma and his old man … I mean, father were roaming around in China continuing their training trip. It was before he met Shampoo. They found this place. Jusenkyo, and picked up some, ah, curses."

I didn't look at her, I couldn't meet her eyes as I went about the story. Surely she was having her chain pulled and about to look offended at the craziness I was telling her. If she pulled out that wrapped item and smacked me with it for the offense, I can't say I'd blame her. A month ago I'd have thought it was crazy too. If I didn't know better from the beginning, at least.

"I know it's like a fairytale, but … I'm Ranma … Mom." I proceeded to dump my tea over my head. Still warm enough, and sat up. Letting her watch in abject shock. The cute little girl who had been sitting before her was quite absent.

And I almost fell on my ass as she was suddenly in my face. Hands patting across my chest and stomach. There was nothing soft there, I might proudly say. Not a girl's anything on this body. Just well trained, firm tone. When she was satisfied of that, her hands grabbed my cheeks and pulled me into her eyes.

I was expecting her to faint, but instead she looked me over like she was inspecting an expensive antique for signs of authenticity. To tell the real thing from a fraud. My face she examined in detail, giving a slow nod. Then rolled back my sleeves and my hair, confirming something for herself.

"Ranma … it's really you." She whispered, seeing the truth for herself. A few childhood scars she knew about, that I couldn't even remember getting. To say nothing of the face looking right at her. She seem to be able to pick out the details between herself and Genma almost instantly.

"Yeah, it's really me, Mom." I swallowed a bit and took a breath. "Umm, I'm sorry we had to meet this way. I know about .. the agreement you have with me and Pop. I was working out what I'd say and what I'd do, when we met … but oh well. Cats out of the bag now." Giving a weak laugh.

I slowly bowed to her again, assuming the old man's Crouch of the Tiger.

"This ain't how I wanted it to happen, but … if this is somethin' you know, makes me unmanly … then. I … I'll accept your judgement … and all of it." Soon I was trailing off and mumbling. There was silence as the room's clock just quietly ticked from where it hung over the door. A soft breeze gently caught the good luck charm in the wind chime and caused it to jingle. And I felt like my heart was going to run out of my chest, or I might choke on the tension in the room.

Now, for the uninitiated I need to explain something very serious. My life was literally hanging on a thread, and only the two of us in the room knew it. This was the penultimate example of my father's impulsive stupidity. Long before I can even remember, to get me out of my mother's loving arms, he had us both sign a pact with Mom.

She was less than enthusiastic about letting her only child go, can't say I blame her. I'd probably have diced the moron into a filet for asking, but that's me, and I've never been in love with an idiot before. So, as a compromise, Genma promised to make his son a 'man among men' in his wife's eyes.

The failure to produce a son who lived up to her expectations was practically Biblical, straight up Old Testament. Certainly hard core ideals of Bushido and Honor.


Now I was facing mine head on.

"Oh Ranma get real." I hear some of you say. "The woman wouldn't do something so insane." To which I remind you, routine logic doesn't apply to my current life. And if you can think that, you haven't encountered Nodoka Saotome before.

She was ready and willing for our entire family to take a quick trip to the afterlife for failing to live up to our if I was an unwilling participant all of two years old, incapable of giving consent to something so stupid ...

But I digress. My stomach was tied in knots and breathing was a forced act of labor. I could probably taste my own heart in my throat if I tried.

Finally, after several aching minutes she spoke, voice no louder a whisper than mine. "Oh sit up, Ranma."

Carefully I righted myself and stared into her eyes, only to suddenly be greeted with her version of the Amazon glomp attack. Arms pinned to my sides as my mother demonstrated that not every bit of strength I inherited came from the old man. She could probably do Akane proud with the pressure she put on my ribs.

"You were brave enough to tell me the truth, even though you knew about that … that stupid pledge. That's manly enough for me, sweet heart."

The breath blasted out of my lungs in relief, although breathing was a bit difficult until she released enough. Her hand moving on my chest and she glanced up into my eyes with a mild frown. "Although, dear, wearing a bra isn't very manly."

If she weren't holding me up, I would have face planted right there.

"Mom, I turn into a girl. And you saw, I'm not exactly lacking for certain talents. Besides it's a sports top, not a bra." It was a lame justification, but I had to give her something for her old fashioned sensibilities. "Not easy to fight with all that flopping around." I groused.

She frowned thoughtfully and stroked on her chin, giving a soft sigh. "Well, I guess I can make some exceptions for you, given the circumstances."

In that same kind of frightening manner which Shampoo displayed, her mood switched on a dime and she beamed. Pulling me into a smothering hug again and kissed my forehead.

"Oh, my baby has gotten so big and handsome." She cooed and leaned back to just do as mothers were wont. Speaking of all kind of things which just put a flush in my cheeks and I might as well be a tomato.

"Mom .. " Was all I could mutter. What person isn't embarrassed by their mother when she became all gushy and sentimental. However, I didn't push her off or many any move to stop her. She had her rights in the matter, and we hadn't seen one another in more than a decade.

Soon I could hear giggles from the door, which turned into full blown laughter. The sounds of female laughter at that. From more than one person.

"Figures, if you're gonna chuckle, ya might as well do it in here to my face." I growled at the door. Which slid open and admitted my girlfriend, my would be fiancee, and the homemaker. The first two trying to contain their snickers and failing. While Kasumi was just Kasumi, hiding her smile behind her hand as she tittered some.

"Oh Ranma, I'm so happy for you. Getting to meet your mother again after so long. This calls for a celebration, I should make us something special for lunch. Although, we'll still need some groceries for dinner."

"Kasumi dear, that's a splendid idea. I'll help. Then Ranma, you can come with me and help pick up something nice for us to make for dinner. It'll be nice to spend some time catching up." Kissing my forehead again as she rose smoothly and went to join Kasumi in the kitchen.

All I could do was let out a long breath, banishing the tension like dust. Head sinking to my arms on the low table and sighing in relief. Thank the kami, that had gone so much better than I was afraid it might.

A hand rubbed on my back and then kissed my neck. Shivers rumbling down my spine.

"Shampoo so happy, Airen. Meet honorable mother. Ooo, Shampoo full of energy now." She squeezed up a fist and raised it into the air. "Show Mother that Shampoo is right girl for Ranma. She give many blessings for marriage."

Squealing a bit in her thoughts as she gave me another rib crunching hug and then bounced up with a gleeful cry and flew into the room we were using. Tying her hair back and then darting to the kitchen herself.

"Saotome-Mama, Shampoo come help!"

"That's very nice of you, dear. The more the merrier. Gives us time to talk."

My head tracked toward the kitchen and a frown creased my lips. "Why do I get the feelin' that implies some kind of danger in my future … " I mused to no one, then blinked when I heard a snicker. I had forgotten Akane. Turning my head toward her.

She was smiling, but there was that pained longing behind her eyes again. She could be so happy for others, but things I might take for granted she was without. A fresh tinge of guilt ran through my heart. By changing things so drastically, just what kind of hurts had I caused her? I had a relationship, she didn't. Where it would otherwise have been with me.

Now this new pain. Both of our mothers had been lost to us from about the same age. However, mine was not dead, just absent thanks to a panda I know. Akane's was never coming back. Some friend I am.

Reaching over, I gave her shoulder a squeeze. "Hey, why don't you and I go to the dojo and practice?"

Her face perked up, but there was a skeptical line on her forehead. "You promise you'll take me seriously?"

"Yes, not much of a friend if I can't respect you enough to take you seriously and help you push yourself and improve." She nodded and took my hand, pulling herself up. She dashed off to the stairs for her gi, and went and changed quietly myself.

Well, it was a tense end to the morning, but it hadn't been the disaster I feared. For now.

Akane was better than I thought. Her basics are sharp and well honed. Now she needs to learn how to avoid telegraphing her movements about a split second before she launches them. Some polish and some tougher training and she could be good. Not to my level, of course, but good.

Ugh, there was that pride flaring up again. I just stroked my ego a little to keep it satisfied and put it aside soon after. Trying to suppress who I was, could be a bad idea. Didn't mean I couldn't school my output at least. We were both doing a cooldown lap of the dojo right before lunch.

I tried not to show her up, too badly, or poke at her warrior spirit. Did she like having someone her age better than her? Didn't seem like it. But after giving her an intense workout and providing diplomatic critique of her form, she was almost glowing. Through a halo of sweat, but still glowing. Guess no one had taken her seriously in a long time, and she was very happy for it to change.

Walking to the backyard quietly and we filled a bucket with some clean water. Then a couple clothes and we were scrubbing off the sweat. I quickly turned my back to her while sliding my top off.

"Ranma, are you always going to walk around with that … athletic top on? You're a boy right now, there's nothing to bounce." Her voice carried a little giggle to it.

"'kane, by now you know this is just a sensible precaution."

"Oh come on, it's not that bad … "

Water came flying out the kitchen window then. It wasn't much, but it was enough. I just turned my head in her direction while she stared. Blinking in disbelief.

"Okay, point taken."

"Better getting used to this thing than just running around the house flashing my goods." I grunted, giving the elastic a soft pop. Not bothering to be discouraged enough to complain. Kasumi's head popped out the window a second later.

"Oh, Ranma I'm sorry, I didn't see you there. I was just trying to flush the line of air." The girl covering her mouth and a blushing red for her accident.

"Don't worry about it 'sumi. It happens."

We had to avoid bath as some contractors were currently at work in the room. Repairing the damage done the previous day. I shall diplomatically call it 'our' accident. Many of Akane's anger kerfluffles would have involved Ranma in some way, shape or form, so might as well accept some kind of indirect culpability. As it was, they were busy replacing tiles, the bricks around the bath, and the broken handle. Hopefully, they would be done before the day was up.

In the meantime, a bucket in the backyard would have to do. Was pretty warm anyway, and it was cleaner than trying to take a dive in the koi pond. Akane didn't seem to bothered about being seen in her sports bra either. Guess she was loosening up, a little.

"Akane, Ranma, lunch will be done in a moment, why don't you two get changed?" Kasumi merrily announced from the window again.

Tops back on we headed into the house to change into something else than training gear. I just went with one of my regular shirts. Butting it up quietly before hopping into a pair of pants. The smell of food on the other side of the door was quickly calling my attention. Breakfast had been nice, but now it was time for replenishment.

Shampoo was helping Mom lay out the table and both looked to me, one grinning and the other sighing.

"Ranma dear, does this happen, often?"

"Yes, ma'am." Old force of habit from the previous life. She was my Mom, going to be polite. "Sometimes there's no helping but walking around as a girl."

Shampoo nodded, "Is too too true. Airen sometimes girl all day. Sometimes many day straight."

Nodoka sighed and shook her head. Finishing setting out plates and sat down at the head quietly. While I sat beside Shampoo. Akane and Kasumi took the other two sides. The others were still gone, so no point in waiting. There were plenty of leftovers anyway.

The peace of the moment was not to last.

"We're home."

"Boy, I hope you're ready to train hard. Girl or not, you've slacked off enough today."

Well, those two had picked the perfect moment to come back. This ought to be interesting. I just continued to eat peacefully while Mom's face quickly perked up. Her mood seemed to take a very serious, and dread I say frightening glow.

"Welcome home." Kasumi called through the shoji, but stayed put at Nodoka's motion to sit.

"Something smells good, Saotome why don't you go ahead and sit down for lunch, I'll put this sake in the fridge."

"Why thank you Tendo, don't mind if I do."

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes, figured. Still, Mom might not take it too well if I went acting out in a 'disrespectful manner.' Even though that was par for the course. We all just continued to eat quietly as the door slid open.

"Kasumi dear, what's for lunch." The fatman ambled into the room, taking a deep whiff if the aroma and promptly sat himself beside Kasumi. "It smells divine, why it's almost like my wife's homemade … "

Realization began to creep across his face when he noticed we had a guest. I bit the inside of my cheek. Keep the laughter down, keep it down. While Soun appeared in the room, laughing merrily as he did so.

"Kasumi dear that smells wonderful. Oh, hello, we have a guest I see." Without missing a beat he occupied the space beside Akane with a happy smile.

"Hello, Akane, how has your morning been?" The man was in good spirits indeed. And he didn't stink of spirits, surprising. Whatever they had been out doing, it put him almost on the edge of dancing.

Cordial exchanges of greetings and our well beings before he finally noticed Genma was just staring. His body arrested while staring across the table at the attractive woman in the kimono. Tendo's face quickly fell to a thoughtful frown as he glanced between the two and then smiled to Mom.

"Well, hello, I am Soun Tendo, this is my home and training hall. I take it you've already been introduced to my daughters, and our … house guests."

{Smooth Mr T. Smooth.} Just grinning at his pause to consider us. Well, in the defense of myself and my betrothed, we actually did housework and other chores. Unlike the panda.

"It's very nice to meet you, Soun. And yes, I've enjoyed a very lovely morning with your family. They're all so well behaved and helpful. Akane dear even showed me the way here." Smiling brilliantly to our host.

"No .. do .. ka … " Came the strangled reply from the old man. His brain was finally getting some traction.

"Oh, Saotome, you know this lovely woman?"

"Yes, he is my husband." A bolt of shock seemed to down across Tendo's spine at that revelation, glancing between the three of us in sudden worry.

We didn't pause in our eating, while Mom bowed her head and spoke in a formal, very polite tone. "I want to thank you for taking such good care of my husband, and my son."

"Oh, it's no trouble at all." He chuckled nervously, glancing between me and the lady now.

"Don't worry, Mr Tendo, I told Mom the whole truth this morning. She already knows." I said with a soft smile, pausing just long enough to relieve his worry and then went back to my lunch.

The man relaxed with a soft sigh and nodded. He certainly didn't know the whole strain I had been under earlier. That my mother was accepting of my curse seemed to be enough. Meanwhile, you could almost hear the horrid rippling of my father's tense muscles as his face turned to me.

"Ranma … you told her … everything?"

"Yup, why shouldn't I? It's wrong to lie, especially my own mother." If it was possible, he tensed even more. While I played ignorant of what he was so concerned over. I was biting my cheek particularly hard to keep from laughing aloud at his fright.

"Yes dear, my son told me everything. Genma, you should eat. We need to have a talk later." Her voice was chipper through the whole exchange. Serving up a portion of the food and passing it down the table to the statue playing the standin for my father.

His eyes moved to the corner of the room and the wrapped bundle standing there. The threat behind her words. It was only with great effort he managed to pick up his chopsticks. Then with the slowest pace I have ever witnessed, he more forced food down his throat than actually tried to eat. As if his last meal and he was dragging it out for as long as possible.

I made the mistake of chuckling only once. Couldn't help it, watching the old man in such terror was both humorous and fitting. About time someone could put the fear of god in the man, to steal a phrase.

"Ranma, dear, it's not polite to laugh at your father while he's having a panic attack." She sounded so sincere, I couldn't tell if she was cracking a joke or not. For my own protection I just polite forced it all inside.

"Sorry, Mom." Taking a deep, cooling breath I preempted her further rebuke. "Pop, try to relax, ma...sir. Isn't it great, Mom is back in our lives."

I got a smile of approval for me, admittedly forced, politeness, and a look of utter horror from the person to whom I was apologising. He was still utterly horrified, and I take it clueless that Mom wasn't going to enforce our pact.

For the time being, at least.

I take it back, partially. This was going to be a headache after all. Not in the, 'Oh she's going to be Mom' kind of way either. Currently three of us occupied the room I was sharing with Shampoo. The two occupants, and my mother.

"Mooommm … this is completely unmanly, right?" My eyes were pinched closed while I fought to keep my voice level and not give into the tick developing in my eye. The two females were fawning all over me.

I had become a life sized dress up doll for their amusement it seemed. Currently wearing one of Shampoo's longest cheongsams, which meant it actually went about half down my thighs. Which was probably more a result of me being a good four inches shorter than my lover at the moment, then it was a 'modest' dress by her standards.

"Ranma, yes it would normally be very unmanly for you to be wearing your fiancee's clothes. However, as you have admitted yourself, this body is one you wear frequently. Now, think about this seriously. You want to keep this curse a secret from everyone at school, yes?"

Somehow that didn't sound like a question, more of a vaguely covered 'this will embarrass you, your father, me, AND our good family name if it gets out and widely known in the district.' "If are you going to wind up being a girl, you need to look the part."

"Mom, I ain't a girl!" I growled, and quickly snapped my teeth closed with an audible click as she shot me a disapproving look. I could only mutter my apology. "Sorry, but I ain't."

She just brushed that aside and began to instead forcefully enunciated: "I am sorry Mother, but I am not a girl." She bent down into the collection Shampoo's clothing and was going through her socks quietly. "You need to look the part, and sound the part dear. A lady doesn't talk like a country bumpkin."

My dear, sweet Airen was red in the cheeks. Not in anger, but from fighting so hard in keeping her laughter as soft as possible. My misery was her dose of sunshine today. She did shoot me an occasional, apologetic look, but otherwise was likely rolling on the mental floor in her mind's eye. Pounding the floorboards as she laughed.

"Oh these are pretty." She turned and smiled to Shampoo, "You have such lovely tastes, Shampoo, but dear, don't you think some of these are a bit … immodest?" Motioning her hand to the bright pink dress, more of a long, tight shirt than anything.

{Well if it ain't proper, why the hell am I wearin' it?! Uggggggg.} At least I could storm and fume peacefully in my own mind. Except when it obviously showed on my face, but Nodoka never said anything of it.

"Oh, Shampoo village fairly ah … loose dress code? Summers get very hot, sometime. Leave lots of leg open, fight good and stay cool." She nodded and blushed a bit. "Mother no like?"

"Oh dear, heavens no, that dress is just beautiful. You and Ranma fill it out so well."

Simultaneously she stabbed me in the masculine pride and stroked my vanity all at once. That's a very strange feeling.

{Well, I do look good .. Damnit, stop that! … I do have the body for this though.}

Shampoo bit on her bottom lip, trying to keep from breaking out into a cackle. She too had just been hit slightly in the gut. The man she was dating looked good in one of her own dresses, but at the same time.

{Well, her legs do look good in this too, and how it curves to her butt.}

I had to keep myself from drooling at the prospect. I was going to get her to wear this for me someday soon. Mark my words.

Mom wasted no time in promptly helping correct Shampoo's diction as well. To which the girl went very serious as she concentrated and sounded out the words carefully. Even trying the phrases a few times so they rolled out of her mouth more naturally.

"Well, I suppose stockings will have to wait for another lesson. You can just wear your slippers for now, Ranma. But, while we're in town, we'll need to get you fitted for a dress."

Somewhere inside I felt something crack, my face screwing up as it did. "Dress?" I said in a slow drawl, "Mom … is that a joke? Please tell me that's a joke."

Deep chocolate eyes the same color as my own gave me the most level, patient look. As if she was addressing the two year old I had been, not the sixteen year old I was. "Yes, Ranma. A dress. Well, a skirt really. You certainly can't go to school like that, in a boy's uniform. Can you?"

If it were possible for me to hyperventilate, I was about to try. Lungs working like a bellows as something deep inside me was trying to rip its way out and send me into a screaming fit. Hormones. Teenager. Rebellion. Yep, all right there ready to break free of the chains I so tightly tried to hold them back with.

The fire in my eyes was quickly extinguished just as quickly by the cool look it met in turn. We'd been reaquainted a whole few hours and my mother had promptly set herself up as family matriarch and to be unchallenged by me, at the moment.

"Ranma, I thought we agreed, you want to keep this curse as much a secret as you can. Switching back and two in a boy's uniform isn't going to help you do that. Now, I don't want to argue, dear. We'll try it out, just for a couple weeks. If we can't control it, we'll figure something else out."

Oh how I wanted to argue. I could bring up Ukyo! No, she had no idea who what was. The former friend of mine, a girl who dresses like a boy. She'd be along soon enough. I'd give it a month, assuming the timeline was even predictable anymore. But worse, who knows what I'd be risking by spilling some of my early knowledge. Time paradox? Complete collapse of the universe? Just a general pain the ass?

Yeah, scratch that idea. I'd been accepting of having to wear a boy's outfit anyway, but this was just going too far.

"What about gym? I'm still a guy! Akane would kill me for being a perv, and Shampoo certainly don't want me staring at abundant, female flesh." Fair points all, and the latter gave a firm nod and shot me a hard look to emphasis I was dead on.

"Oh don't worry about that, you simply suffer from a rare condition and need to take care when showering and changing clothes. Problem solved. And, 'I am still a guy … Shampoo certainly doesn't want me ...female flesh.'" Calmly correcting my grammar again.

{Damnit, she's good.} I just hung my head in defeat and sighed. There was no winning with this woman. I'd almost swear she'd been preparing for these moment for years. Or had she read ahead in the script somewhere? Even I couldn't predict where things were going at times!

"I guess you can change out of that, and just wear your usual clothes, for now. We'll address that wardrobe problem while we're shopping." She scratched her chin while I changed, neither of them bothering to leave the room. Oh well, we're all girls right now.

"Now, to the matter of your sleeping arrangements."

I winced. She was going to have to go there, wasn't she?

Shampoo sucked in a slow hiss. Her hackles rising, but she kept her mouth pinned shut as she waited to see what was going to tumble out.

"I understand that both of you have been like this almost since you met. You are also dating, and I suppose I can accept engaged. However," She held up her finger and spoke with the weirdest mix of calm, worry, and authority. "You are both still teenagers, and I know how hormones can be. I was your age once.

"I would prefer if you wait till you are married, but I won't delude myself. I know what it's like to be young. You get impatient, sucked up in the moment, and then there's no turning back. In any case, promise me, when that moment comes, you will take care and use protection."

Her finger pointing right off the end of my nose, "And Shampoo, you will have to care as well. It takes two to tango, as they say. I don't want the two of you getting in a situation you aren't ready for. Take all possible precautions, up to and including birth control, I'll help if I'm able. And plan for your children before the fact, not after."

She held our gazes for a long minute, all we could do was nod in tandem as she kept us pinned and demanding our word on the matter. When she was satisfied, she sighed and smiled once more. "Besides, I am still much too young to be a grandmother."

Giggling to herself as she turned and moved out of the room. "Now, come along dears, as have a lot to do and collect before dinner! Onward, to the market!"

Suddenly fired up, I was just yanked along, riding on my mother's metaphorical obi. I was elated to have her back, and now dreading what kind of new headaches were going to be waiting for me.

I know I shouldn't ask the question, but if Mom turned up this early, who was next?

Oh how I wish I didn't even think it, but my plot railroad had just careened wildly onto another new track and I don't know where the route winds anymore.

A/N: Okay, so this one went careening a bit wildly to the left than I originally thought it might. Yet, I think it works, and how it will influence the future chapters, I dunno yet. Some of your comments have given me some ideas and thoughts to ponder on in the future. Relations certainly probably shouldn't follow traditional fanon norms, I agree. I'll just have to see what comes about from it as I write it.

And a note that gort420 pointed out in the previous chapter, no Shampoo does not have purple hair, my brain just decided to go on holiday for that, I think. I missed it when I put it in, and I missed it when I was going back over the chapter. I've got a new beta who's helping me do editing to catch my grammar, and some of my mistakes. As I catch things I'll probably go back and reupload some corrected chapters, but that's a sideline thing compared to other bits.

Hope this one is fun to read.

Thanks again, and see you next chapter.