This work is rated R. Please see the Fanfiction.net ratings for age appropriateness. If you are not of sufficient age to be reading R-rated fanfiction, please hit your browser's BACK button and choose another story to read.


Chrysalides

A Ranma ½ Fanfiction
by
Sinom Bre

Disclaimer and Acknowledgments at the end.

I have little time to respond to email, but if you have constructive criticisms of substance, I may be reached at sinom_bre@yahoo.com. Otherwise, please make use of the Review function at Fanfiction.net—I will see your general comments there. Inanity, grousing, flames, and statements of purely personal Ranma ½ character and characterization bias will be ignored.

----------==========----------

Chapter Two — A Single Migration

----------==========----------

The train ride to Yokohama had been long and annoying, by virtue of the confusing number of changes he'd had to make, but now Ranma stood in front of Toufuu's clinic, yet further confused. It didn't look like a clinic at all but a large house, just another in a row of large houses. But the sign in front was quite clear, so he shrugged, opened the door, and stepped into the carpeted foyer. An older girl sat behind a small reception desk, equipped with a computer, phone, and assorted other desk items. A glossy magazine lay open in front of her. Still filing her garishly pink nails, she lifted a bored gaze to him.

"Can I help you?"

"Um, I'm here to see Toufuu-sensei."

"Do you have an appointment?"

"Um... no."

She rolled her eyes, as she put down her emery board. "You have to have an appointment." She flipped open her appointment book. "I have an opening in... three weeks, Wednesday, two o'clock."

Ranma scowled. "I came a long way."

She smiled sweetly, although it didn't reach her eyes. "Three weeks, Wednesday, two—"

The interior door opened, and a conversation bubbled out to cut off the receptionist. "See you next month, Kanzaki-san." An old lady hobbled by, smiling at Ranma in passing.

Toufuu's head stuck out of the opened door. "Kimiko, who is—" He noticed someone standing in the foyer and looked. "... Ranma?" he said in disbelief.

Ranma grinned. "Heya, Sensei. How's business?"

The older man burst out of the door and quickly walked up, slapping Ranma on both shoulders. He still sported a dark gray gi and a ponytail, along with his ever-present glasses. "Good to see you! You've grown a little!" Toufuu was all smiles.

"Heh! Well..."

"What brings you out this way?"

"Um..."

"Is something wrong?" His face went immediately to caring and concerned.

Ranma sighed. "I think I might have a problem... Guy side. Not sure, though, but I don't trust nobody but you for the weird stuff."

"Hmmm. Come on inside and we'll talk." He turned and ushered Ranma towards the door. "Kimiko, who do I have this afternoon?"

"Just Yamamoto-san at five," she said sourly.

Unseen by Toufuu, Ranma pulled down one eyelid and stuck out his tongue. The receptionist barely contained a growl, but if her eyes had been lasers, Ranma would've been divided into several discreet parts.

Toufuu sighed. "Very well. I'll be with Saotome-san if there are any walk-ins." He continued ushering Ranma along, frowning.

"Problems?"

"I can't seem to keep a full schedule. Most peculiar."

The door clicked shut behind them. "Uh, Sensei? Kimiko out there tried to give me an appointment three weeks from now... Wednesday, two o'clock."

Toufuu stopped. "What?! I've got open slots all over the place!"

Ranma just shrugged.

"Right. Time to find another receptionist; I've gone through five since I've been here, and I've already had to call Kimiko down for talking endlessly on the phone and having a parade of young men through the office. People probably thought this was a private love hotel or something."

"Sorry."

The older man grinned. "Not to worry. It'll work out in the end."

They entered his office, and Ranma took note of a number of items he'd seen in Toufuu's office in the Nerima clinic. "Man, Sensei, we all miss you. What gives?"

Toufuu chuckled. "Blunt as always, I see."

Ranma scratched the back of his head, one eye closed.

"Ah, well, as to that..." He motioned Ranma to a seat, and he sat in his own chair behind the desk. "Someone pointed out to me that I might accidentally hurt someone, what with... her and all, so I decided that I'd better move along. I sincerely apologize for not letting anyone know, but it was... embarrassing."

"Yeah... I guess I can understand that."

Toufuu rubbed his eyes underneath his glasses and softly sighed before shooting Ranma a genuine smile, obviously pleased to see him again. "Well, enough about that. What can this humble moxibustionist do for Saotome Ranma, martial artist supreme?"

"Doc!" They both chuckled, but Ranma quickly turned serious. "Ya wanna talk about embarrassin'... Um..."

"Nothing leaves this room. You know that."

"Yeah, I know." He blew out a breath. "My girl side... is really, er, growin' up, ahem. It doesn't take much to get her, um, excited, if you follow me..." Ranma had a brief flash of herself and a naked Nabiki, moving rhythmically together, and he was annoyed when it didn't make him feel what his girl side would feel about it.

Toufuu slowly nodded his comprehension.

"But... my guy side... just doesn't seem interested. I still embarrassed and stuff when I got girls jumpin' into the furo and whatnot, but I don't think about it anywhere close to as much as my girl half does... if at all if I ain't got it stuck in my face. I talked it over with someone, and they said that I should get checked out. Somethin' about boys gettin', um, excited sooner than girls do, and it wasn't natural."

"I agree that it's odd," Toufuu commented, "although I'm not ready to commit to any diagnosis just from that. It could be some aspect of the Jusenkyou curse I'm unaware of, or it could be something entirely different."

Ranma nodded.

"We'll start with a general examination. If that doesn't show anything, we'll move on to more esoteric tests."

"Okay, Doc. You're the Doc."

Toufuu had examined Ranma's male body while the martial artist related all the goings-on since they'd last seen each other. Toufuu found himself laughing frequently, and he was nearing completion of the examination of Ranma's female body... almost.

"—and then Akane gets herself kidnapped by a buncha birds, and—"

"Ranma?" the doctor interrupted.

"Yeah?"

"I've got one more examination I'd like to make."

"Okay."

He paused for a second. "It's, ah... your female genitalia."

Ranma blinked at the term, and then realized what he meant. She blushed. "Um, okay... I understand."

Toufuu grabbed some plastic implements. "Usually, I have a mother or friend of the patient in the room to make sure no improprieties take place, but I'm hoping we trust each other enough."

"No problem, Doc."

"Very well..."

As Toufuu probed Ranma's vagina, Ranma tried not to squirm on the table. Toufuu was a very handsome fellow, and it was hard for a body not to— She mentally slapped her forehead. Damn girl brain...

Toufuu sat back and blinked. "Ranma, have you, ah, had sex as a girl... with a man?"

"Uh... What?! No!"

"Do you masturbate with, um, sexual aids?"

"... ... No."

He crossed his arms, looking slightly stern. "Ranma, something rather large was inserted into your body and recently, too. Is there something I should know?"

Ranma flamed red and covered her face with her hands. "Oh, Doc... I really messed up, maybe." She let her hands fall to her sides. "Okay, look, I'm gonna hafta tell somethin' that ain't my place to tell, but I figure I can trust you, if anybody." She sighed. "Can I get dressed? Having a nice lookin' guy with his head between my legs isn't doing my blood pressure any... ..." She slapped her forehead in fact. "Crap. I can't believe I just said that with a straight face. I swear, Doc, if Nabiki hadn't told me that girl brains are wired to like guys, I'd really be freaking right now."

Toufuu stuffed down his discomfort and laughed. "Sure. We're done. Put your clothes on and come to my office."

Sitting behind his desk, Toufuu engaged in a little meditative calming. It was often an issue to watch for with women, especially lonely women, when being given a gynecological exam by a man. One had to keep a professional distance, but that certainly didn't keep the women from sometimes acting suggestive afterwards. He supposed those women found something titillating about being strung up with their legs forced apart while a man poked around in usually hidden areas.

Ranma was an entirely more formidable problem, however. He, or she, was so outgoing and personable that he eroded professional distance effortlessly, and it didn't help that "she" was an absolutely stunning woman. And then she had to go and make that comment about having a man between her legs. He'd almost instantly started having an erection and got out of there fast.

A knock at his door preceded Ranma's return, now dressed. Hell, he thought, even in male clothes she's still stunning and acting more female than I've ever seen.

"Heya, Doc."

Although she still talks like a man. Not much, but it helps, he considered. "Have a seat, Ranma. I must say, I'm impressed with how well you're handling your girl side's, um, natural urges."

"Well... I still like girls, ya know. As for guys... It's hard to explain why it ain't buggin' me like it might, but I guess knowin' that a girl," she tapped her head, "can't help it makes it a lot better for some reason."

"Ah. But you feel very little of any urges when a guy."

"Right."

"I understand. I think the fact that you've had your curse for a while now is probably easing any difficulties in adjusting to your girl form's instinctive attraction to males. You've probably feared just that development from the curse, and whether you were aware of it or not, thinking on the possibility has prepared you for it."

Toufuu tapped his chin while Ranma considered that aspect of his situation. "Actually, I think your strong female sex drive is a good sign that your girl form is generally healthy and a good argument that your male's disinterest is being induced in some manner. If you were suffering from a pathological condition, I would expect both forms to exhibit the same symptoms. Hmmm... I suppose the next order of business, then, will be an examination of your ki paths. It occurs to me that I've never had a chance to do more than a cursory examination of you in that respect."

"Heh! Always too much goin' on to stick around long."

"True... So circling back around," he adjusted his glasses, "what's the story?"

"Huh? Oh... That." Ranma fidgeted and looked out the window for a second. "Um, right. Ya see, I was out for a stroll, and the old lady just down from your old clinic was wettin' down the sidewalk, and she got me again, heh. I swear, she pops up everywhere."

Toufuu chuckled but didn't interrupt.

"Well, like I've been sayin', it ain't no big deal no more, so I just kept on walkin'. And then my stomach's growlin', like that's anything new, so I see this takoyaki cart, which is really weird, since you don't usually see those outside of Kansai or thereabouts, but anyway, I put on the cute act and get me a free sample or four. So there I am, talking with the guy runnin' the cart, and he's in pretty good shape. Clear skin, nice hair, clean fingernails, white smile, big hands and all—"

The doctor raised an eyebrow, realizing that Ranma was ticking off the same points as any normal girl would.

"—and then he smiles at me in a really, uh, nice way, and suddenly, my girl parts start actin' up, if ya follow me, and I got this ache low in my stomach except it's not a bellyache, and I... I..." Ranma wiped at her suddenly moist eyes. "I don't think I could tell anybody this but you, Doc... Well, and Nabiki now... I wanted this guy, Doc. I wanted to feel him inside me. Crap! It was powerful stuff! I even dropped my food. I never do that!"

"Take your time, Ranma."

"Heh," she laughed weakly. "Of course, I didn't really realize about girl brains then, so I'm really freaking and I run off and run back home and hide in the doujou until I felt better. Well, after a little while, Nabiki walks in.

"I really didn't want to see her right then, but she's acting all weird and stuff and comes in, and then I smell it. She was afraid, or had been just a bit back. I mean, you know how someone's smell changes. It's kind of rancid and sweet at the same time?"

Toufuu nodded.

"Well, I finally get out of her that some asshole at Furinkan that owed Nabiki some money for a long time tried to, ah... tried to... er... r-r-rape her."

The good doctor grimaced. "Oh, no... Is she all right?"

"Yeah, he got spooked and ran off.... Well, anyway, he won't be buggin' nobody for a good long time."

Toufuu's mouth drew a line. "What did you do, Ranma?"

"I hurt him... a lot." Ranma caught Toufuu's look. "Nothin' serious, Doc."

"Tell me."

"Um... Broke his jaw and nose and blacked his eyes. Dislocated his shoulders. Beat every big muscle on his body until he bruised up real good. Oh, and I kicked him in the family jewels. Like I said, nothin' permanent; just a lot of pain... for weeks. They'll probably have to spoon feed him— No, wait, his jaw'll be wired shut. Poor baby." She snickered.

Toufuu's mouth twitched. "You realize that I can't condone what you did..."

Ranma grinned nastily. "Wasn't askin' for your approval, Doc... Now, a real girl woulda cut off his wanker and thrown it in a food disposal."

He finally laughed. "Yes, one might, and I probably wouldn't blame her, not that I could condone that either, of course."

"You're just too nice a guy, Doc."

"Thanks... I think. Anyway..."

"Right. After Nabiki has herself a good cry, I tell her what's buggin' me, and she tells me about girl brains and stuff, but she gets worried about the guy side thing. She tells me to see a doctor and tells me that she knows where you are."

Ranma sighed, and her eyes took on a faraway cast. "We go up to her room, and she gives me the address, and then... she thanks me for listening, and me feeling all girly, I give her a hug, and then... she kissed me..." Her voice becomes quiet. "And before you know it, we're sweatin' on her bed." A deep red blush rose from her chest and covered her face. "Nabiki's got thin fingers and a narrow hand. Not like mine." She held up a broad palm with average fingers. "Somehow, she got alla that hand, er... up there."

The redhead shivered and crossed her legs. "It was one of the most incredible things I've ever felt, Doc, and I don't have any idea what to do about it."

They sat silently while the clock on the wall ticked off two minutes. Toufuu briefly wondered if Nabiki preferred female partners, but it could easily have just been the moment, and she had, on more than one occasion, looked himself over with, dare he say, an appreciative eye?

He shifted in his seat, finally breaking the quiet. "Sounds like a delayed stress reaction to me." At Ranma's curious look, he elaborated. "Both of you were suffering mild pyschological trauma, so you worked it out of your systems with, ah, sex."

"Huh. I woulda figured she'd shy away from that sorta thing."

"She needed to re-establish her control in that area, and initiating sex with you did it for her."

"Okay. I understand." However, Ranma looked as if she'd just lost something important.

"On the other hand," Toufuu hastily temporized, "it could be something else. Had the two of you developed feelings for each other before this?"

"Um... I don't think so, although... She's been friendlier with me. Sometimes we talk without money ever coming up." The hurt look resurfaced on Ranma's face.

"Hmmm. Hard to judge anything from that, and Nabiki-san has always kept her cards close-to-the-chest."

"You got that right..."

"How's your relationship with Akane, Ranma?"

Ranma went from hurt to guilty and uncomfortable. "Um, hot and cold, Doc. Hot and cold... Cold, right now."

"Any idea why?"

"Not a clue. Suddenly, everything I do is perverted." She studied her fingernails without really seeing them. "I figure somethin' set her off, but she ain't talkin', and these 'perverted' streaks of hers last weeks. Ever since that stupid wedding, she's been goin' on these jags..." Ranma rested her elbow on the chair arm and covered her eyes with the hand she'd been studying. "Yesterday, I tried to hold her hand while I was a girl, and I ended up in the koi pond. It's funny." She laughed a humorless laugh. "I didn't even realize I was a girl at the time, but Akane was lookin' cute, and I got excited, which shoulda tipped me off, and I tried to hold her hand."

Toufuu sighed. "Akane has always been insecure about her sexuality." He shifted uncomfortably himself for a few seconds, causing Ranma to look up at him. "She doesn't trust people her own age easily and looks up to older men as examples of gentleness and proper sexuality."

Ranma blinked. "You knew, didn't you... That she had a really bad crush on you?"

"It was hard to miss, Ranma. For almost a year before you arrived, she'd come into the clinic for the flimsiest of reasons. I had to be extraordinarily careful with her."

"Yeah, I can believe that. She idolized you."

He gave her a sympathetic look. "Sorry, Ranma."

"No worries, Doc. I... ... I l-love her. I have for a long time... I guess, but lately... I dunno... I don't know much about how love is supposed ta work, but I'm beginnin' to wonder if what we got is enough." She coughed another laugh. "Funny how now that somethin's happened... in that way, it's not so hard to say that... or worry that it's not enough."

Toufuu thought Ranma had just admitted something far more profound about the reality of her situation and of love and life than she understood at the moment, but he declined to bring attention to it. "Akane's not ready to explore more than very traditional, very restrained male-female roles in a relationship, I think. It may be another year or so before she matures enough emotionally to handle anything more."

"Yeah, that sounds about right."

"And something else occurs to me for which you should be preparing yourself. If there is something suppressing your male sexuality, you're probably going to snap forward fairly quickly and come even with your female sexuality once it's dealt with. In other words, otoko-Ranma is going to discover girls in a very big way. This is imminently healthier than not, but it's going to exacerbate your problems with Akane and your other suitors."

"Crap... Talk about a recipe for disaster."

Toufuu leaned back in his chair and laced his fingers together. "We don't have to continue... I don't think it's healthy, but it's your choice."

"No... No, I have to go forward, Doc. Going back ain't gonna solve nothin'. And who knows if there ain't other surprises waitin' for me? Better find out now."

"I agree. And on that note, let's take a look at your ki paths."

Both of them got to their feet. "You want I should change?" Ranma asked.

"Mmmm, no. And since your girl form is acting normal, I can use that as a baseline for your male form."

"Gotcha."

By the time the gentle doctor had finished poking, prodding, and hovering over the girl, Ranma's nipples were as hard as stones, great patches of blushing red covered her body, and her vagina virtually wept.

Toufuu finally straightened, wiping sweat from his forehead. "Okay. That's enough of that!"

"Sorry, Doc." Ranma sat up from the examination table, feeling light-headed.

"Perfectly normal, Ranma. Don't give it another thought," he said a bit stiffly.

"Uh... Right. Be back in a minute." Ranma minced into the bathroom, still blushing.

Toufuu sat on a stool and massaged his temples, trying to ignore the sweet musk of Ranma's femininity hanging in the air. Damn the girl's ability to disarm him with a look and a laugh. It was a decided relief when male Ranma walked out, looking thoroughly embarrassed.

"Sorry again, Doc. I ain't makin' this easy for ya."

The doctor sighed and rose. "It's part of the job, Ranma. You're going through some difficulties, and I'm here to help you through it."

"Um... Okay. Thanks, Doc. I don't know anybody else I coulda gone to about this kinda stuff."

Toufuu motioned him up on the table after pulling down a clean paper cover. A conspicuous wet spot adorned the old one, and Ranma silently swore before climbing on the table again.

"So was the girl half okay?" Ranma asked.

"I didn't notice any problems other than a couple of areas where the ki paths lost a little definition, but that's not uncommon. Bodies go through cycles on a daily basis, and things ebb and flow."

"Oh."

"Now! Let's see what's going on."

Toufuu started at what Ranma remembered to be a chakra point near the solar plexus, and he mentally nodded to himself. He'd learned a thing or two from just hanging around Toufuu and Cologne, and Ranma recognized that Toufuu began from his "core" of sorts and moved outward, first up his torso and out along his arms, ending with his head. Toufuu paused there and held still with his eyes closed. After he let go, he stood back and adjusted his glasses.

"Interesting."

"What?"

"To be honest, I haven't the foggiest, but it feels like the ki paths in your head have been adjusted, but it's very, very subtle, and I don't have any idea what that might do."

Toufuu scratched his head and made a few inarticulate noises while he thought. "I think there's someone I should call in on your case, Ranma," he eventually said. "A yoga grand master is currently filling a teaching vacancy at the moxibustion and acupressure college nearby, and I've visited with him on several occasions. His knowledge of pressure points, both general, esoteric, and just downright bizarre, and their effects is... phenomenal."

"Whatever you think, Doc."

"Yes, I think as soon as we're finished here, I'll give him a call." He looked Ranma in the face. "How long do you have before you have to be back?"

"Um... I didn't make any promises, so I'm here as long as I need to be."

"Excellent! Now, let's finish this up! I'm hungry, and there's a great crab place down at the docks."

"Sweet!"

Toufuu chuckled, remembering Ranma's voracious appetite. Starting again near the solar plexus, he moved down to either side of the stomach. "You know, I always enjoy doing this kind of examination on quality martial artists."

"Why's that?"

"On a normal person, usually only the primary ki paths are easily detected, but on someone like you, secondary and tertiary paths are as plain as day, and your primary paths are like... grabbing hold of downed power lines. I don't even have to touch you to feel them."

Ranma chuckled. "I'll have to show you a few tricks I've picked up."

"I look forward to it. I can tell your ki is far stronger than the last time I saw you." Toufuu had leaned Ranma onto his side and felt of his lower back. "Say... If you're still around, feel like giving me a hand at the school later this week?"

"Sure. My pleasure, Doc. Least I can do."

"I'd like to have some of the advanced students practice reading ki paths on you. It's not often that they'll come across someone with such clearly defined secondary and tertiary paths. You're like a walking teaching aid in that respect."

The fact that he could be of such important use to Toufuu-sensei made Ranma's heart swell with a strange emotion. "Th-Thanks, Doc. Sounds fun... Uh... Do I hafta be naked?"

"Ha! No, swim trunks or something like that will be fine."

"Whew!"

Toufuu shot him a grin. "Okay, on your back again." This time, he moved from the core straight down the stomach, but he stopped halfway and blinked. Backtracking to almost the core point again, he then moved forward slowly, carefully tracking, and both of his hands veered off to the sides, joining areas he'd previously examined.

"Good heavens!"

"What?!" Ranma said nervously.

"Um, Ranma, I need to examine your genitalia again."

"I figured you'd need to. Go ahead."

"Right." He poked, prodded, and waited for impressions. Poor boy is going to have women camped on his doorstep when he regains a healthy sex drive with that set of equipment, he thought in amusement before chiding himself for being unprofessional. Besides, for all intents and purposes, he already has them camped on his doorstep.

He moved back up the stomach about three-quarters of the way. "Well, I'll be damned."

"Doc? I'm getting' a little antsy here..."

Toufuu crossed his arms and frowned. "Ranma, there is an important first-level ki path that should be dipping down into your male genitals, but instead, both sides of the loop have been diverted off to join the major lines going down to your legs." He touched two points high on Ranma's stomach. "The points of disruption are well established, probably by constant application, but I can't imagine anyone doing that to you so regularly without you knowing it. I wonder if—"

He never completed the sentence because Ranma erupted, an angry blue battle aura snapping into place around him and expanding out to nearly fill the room. Toufuu was awestruck. "A ki adept," he mumbled to himself. "Not just advanced martial arts, but a natural adept. Incredible." Then, he could only stare in shock as ice began to form on the table and build outward. Super-cooled air fogged on the ground, and ice snapped and crackled into existence on the floor.

"POPS!!" Ranma yelled in a ki-enhanced voice, making the room shake.

"RANMA!! DON'T BRING DOWN MY CLINIC!!"

The aura snapped off, and Ranma blinked around him. "Aw, JEEZ, Doc, I'm sorry! Just Pops... DAMN IT!!"

"Calm down, Ranma, and tell me what this is about."

During his explosion, Ranma had sat up and clenched his fists. He now relaxed a little, but didn't lie back down. "Pops... Pops is always tryin' ta gut punch me there with his middle knuckle stuck out. I always figured he was tryin' to hack me off or somethin'. I never figured..." His eyes sparkled like cold, hard diamond. "I am SO going to dish out some pain when I get back," he growled.

"But why would he do such a thing?"

Ranma snorted in disgust. "Because girls are weak. Because girls detract from the Art. Girls'll make ya soft. Feh!"

"I see... Yes, I seem to recall something like that coming out of his mouth at one time." He shook his head. "Well, the good news is that it's easily fixed. In fact, it would tend to degrade on its own over time."

"How long?"

"Well... that's hard to say. A few months, maybe, but if he's been doing it a long time, it would take longer."

Ranma's fists clenched again. "Easy to fix, huh? So what's the bad news?"

"Your lower torso is going to hurt—a lot—for a few days."

"Why's that?"

"Because your body has become accustomed to the new paths. It's not going to like being moved again, and the parts that haven't had it are going to ache until they adjust. But without it, your male side's interest in sex is going to be very low. Like it is now."

"Why didn't it affect my girl side?"

"The paths shift enough that they were only disturbed a little, and the paths reformed just past the disruption points."

"Damn..."

"Ranma, if it's all right with you, I'd like Samul to have a look at that too before I get rid of it."

"Who?"

"The yoga grand master I mentioned."

"Oh... Right... Can ya get him over here quick?"

Toufuu chuckled. "I think, since tomorrow is Sunday, it's probably likely."

"Whew! Thanks, Doc."

"Now! You're going to clean up this ice before we go feast on crab."

Embarrassed, Ranma scratched the back of his head. "I hear ya..."

Toufuu checked his shirt and slacks in the closet mirror and found it satisfactory for eating out. On the phone, he had discussed a few inconsequentials with Samul, and afterwards, the yoga grand master had been intensely interested in what Toufuu had related regarding Ranma's ki disturbances and had eagerly agreed to an 8:30 AM appointment at Toufuu's clinic the next day. Toufuu picked up his shoes for the evening in his hand.

"And now... crab." His stomach grumbled in agreement.

He found Ranma idling on one of the waiting room chairs in the foyer, thumbing through one of the various magazines scattered on the end table.

"I reached Samul, and he'll be coming by at 8:30 tomorrow morning."

Ranma looked up, brushing at her startling red bangs, and smiled. "Great!"

"Why are you a girl?" Toufuu asked rather abruptly.

She hesitated and then turned back to her magazine, letting the pages slowly flip past. "Oh... Got wet cleanin' up the ice," she said too offhandedly. "You know..."

Toufuu sat down next to her. "Is that the only reason?" he asked, quietly.

Her blue eyes flicked up and searched the empty room for a second. "Well... Knowin' that somethin's wrong with my guy side makes me feel weird about bein' a guy right now." She stopped and looked at a clothing ad. A rather voluptuous Japanese woman stared out from the page, dressed in fishnet and little else. Ranma shot Toufuu a quick grin. "I'm also thinkin' mean thoughts, like maybe when I go home, I go home just as girly as I can make myself. I can already hear Pops sputterin' and yellin' at me about family honor and all that. Maybe I'll just sashay up and give him a kiss on the cheek 'r somethin'... although I'll probably barf right after. Heh! I could show up wearin' somethin' like this." She brandished the magazine ad again.

Toufuu chuckled. "I think that might be overkill. Besides, I see you more in a painted-on Chinese mini."

Ranma giggled. "Not a bad idea, Doc! I'll keep my eyes open."

"Er, I was joking, actually." He sweat-dropped.

"But I'm not. Besides, it's fun, steppin' outta who you are once in a while." She paused, thoughtful. "The curse is good for that, at least." That mischievous grin flashed over her face again, and she tossed the magazine on top of the pile. "C'mon, Doc! Them crabs 'r callin' my name!"

They enjoyed their conversation during the walk to the docks, regaling each other with stories, and Toufuu was in the middle of describing a rather strange case he'd run into some little while back when he realized he was alone. He stopped and looked back to find Ranma staring rather intently into a shop window. He strolled up to her, looked in the window, and slapped a hand over his face.

"Ranma, really... I was only joking."

"And I really wasn't. Let's go inside!"

He'd been forced to uncomfortably peruse the assorted lines of women's wear for some twenty minutes while a cluster of sales ladies hovered around Ranma. Then they disappeared into the dressing room, leaving Toufuu all alone. He looked around again and discovered he'd been standing next to a D-cup bra display. Glancing at the ceiling, he decided that watching passersby was far less incriminating, or at least until the tenth strange look made him turn his attention back inside the store. He spotted a magazine lying on the sales counter, and he blessed his ancestors in relief. He never made it.

"So, Sensei, what do you think?" a sultry, slightly rough alto crooned.

"Eh?" Toufuu turned, stared, and then his nose reddened alarmingly. "Ah... Uh..."

While the sales ladies whispered and giggled from behind, a fan snapped open and swept up to cover Ranma's face except for her eyes. The large and liquid blue orbs gazed over the folded paper with a steamy look that could melt stone. And as for the rest... 'Dressed to kill' echoed in Toufuu's mind. The emerald-green Chinese mini was tight enough to illustrate just how fit Ranma was. Large muscle groups were smoothly outlined, and there was just a hint of washboard on Ranma's stomach. One of the sales ladies had obviously done a little spot work on Ranma's hair, taking it out of its pigtail, teasing the top up somewhat, and letting the rest cascade down her back in scarlet waves. Her full and high bosom bounced slightly as she shifted position, which movement emphasized her nicely narrow waist that widened out to her perfectly proportioned hips. Of course, he'd seen every bit of that in the buff in a professional capacity, but clothed in the flattering mini and with herself done up a bit just made it all... better for some reason his mind couldn't lock onto at that exact instant.

"Sensei?" Ranma prodded.

"Um..." He'd already used the only word that came to mind several times in his own head, so it seemed appropriate that he finally utter it aloud. "Stunning."

She lowered the fan, revealing a gamin grin, and then snapped it shut and gestured with it sticking up in the air. "Ring it up, girls. I'll wear it out of the store... Oh, and throw in the other things, too."

The staff went into action like a well-oiled machine, and in short order, Ranma walked down the street with Toufuu again, a large shopping bag adorning one arm. She garnered all manner of lecherous stares, as she 'sashayed' down the sidewalk.

"That was a fair amount of money you just spent, Ranma," Toufuu observed.

"Ah, well, been savin' up."

"To buy a Chinese mini?" he asked, incredulous.

Ranma laughed. "Nah. Just to spend however I want. Been doin' odd jobs and stuff."

"Stuff? Stuff pays pretty well, then."

"Well..."

"Yes?"

"Um... Don't get mad or nothin', but I traveled out of Tokyo a few times and entered pit fights. Got a pretty good chunk 'a change holed away, but don't tell Pops!"

"Ranma..." Toufuu adjusted his glasses. "Pit fights are dangerous, and that kind of trouble can follow you around."

"Meanin' yakuza... I know. I always used a false name and colored my hair or somethin'. Don't need that crap comin' down on Tendou-ke or Momma. Pops can handle himself, of course."

"Hmmm, well, I'm glad for that. Still... Yakuza don't care much for hustlers or ringers. I'm surprised you walked away with the purse for all of them. Those fights are usually nicely 'planned' out, if you follow me."

"Heh. Yeah. Buncha losers. Not a decent challenge one." She turned grim. "They didn't always wanna pony up the prize money, but I... made 'em see reason."

"Even so, I'd rather you didn't do that anymore. It's begging for trouble."

Ranma sighed. "I hear ya... and you're right. I'll figure somethin' else out."

"Glad to hear it. Now, lets put that topic aside. We're here..."

Ranma looked up at the building. A large sign over the noren proclaimed the establishment to be 'Jiro's Crabs', and she couldn't help but laugh. "Oh, real nice name for an eatin' joint, HAHAHA!"

"Jiro-san has a fine appreciation for the joke."

"Cool. Let's eat! I'm starved."

Shaking his head and laughing, Toufuu automatically held the noren up out of the way for her and then stopped, surprised. "Um..."

The fan put in another appearance and waved lazily a couple of times before leaving only her eyes as it covered her face. "Such a gentleman, Sensei..."

Toufuu rolled his eyes. "Ranma..."

Giggling, Ranma pranced into the eatery, and Toufuu entered behind her only to stop. Every man in the establishment had paused in their dining and now gazed with wide-eyed appreciation at Ranma and the look she presented. Unfortunately, it was a tad more than Ranma was prepared to accept. She leaned forward in a threatening posture, one fist raised to eye level.

"What're you lugs lookin' at?!" she half-yelled, and then growled audibly. Said lugs immediately turned back to their meals, sweating. "Gah!"

"You didn't exactly dress to blend in," Toufuu said wryly, chivvying Ranma further in to stand behind two people still ordering.

Ranma huffed. "I guess not... But still."

"Let's, uh... concentrate on the menu."

They perused the line of vertical placards on the wall, but Ranma saw a large placard at the end and started to drool. It showed a cartoonish drawing of a galvanized tub, overflowing with bright red crabs, and the caption read: '40 Crab Challenge. Eat them all, and they're free!'

"All right! I'm havin' that!"

By now, he'd been back around Ranma enough to know better, but he couldn't help himself. "Um, are you sure? That's a lot of crab."

"Feh. When me and Pops made land in China after swimmin' across, the crabs were everywhere. We gathered up about 150 or so and had us a major bake, and those beauties were as big as a platter. Didn't leave no leftovers, either... That was a good time."

"Sounds like that trip wasn't all misery."

"Nah. Of course not! We saw a lotta interestin', and really weird, stuff, met lotsa cool folks, and had a lotta good times." Ranma sighed. "Stuff like the Nekoken and Jusenkyou aside, Pops pulled some major boners on that trip, but nothin' like when we got to Nerima, seems like. I swear, I think his and Tendou-san's brains turn ta mush over that shogi board. He wasn't that, er, consistently bad before." She frowned. "Well, maybe he was, now that I know what I know."

Their turn came at the counter, and Ranma stepped up and gave the large man behind the register a beady glare. "I'll take that Crab Challenge! You Jiro-san?"

The man nodded, leaned over the counter, and got in Ranma's face. "Bit small, you are," he grumbled. "Don't wanna take your money, girl."

Ranma jerked a thumb back at herself and grinned. "Just gimme those crabs, and we'll see who's small."

Jiro leaned back and guffawed before looking at Toufuu. "Your friend's got spunk, Sensei." He turned and bellowed to the back. "CRAB CHALLENGE!"

"CRAB CHALLENGE!!" echoed back from several voices.

"Your usual, Sensei?"

"That'll be fine, Jiro-san. Arigatou."

Jiro eyed Ranma again. "That'll be 25,000 yen, up front, in case you don't eat 'em all. I'll be keepin' my eye on ya, little missy. No cheatin'!"

"No problem! You just keep that twenty-five warm for me."

"Ha!"

Money exchanged hands, and Toufuu and Ranma found an empty table. A waitress brought out a tea service and poured for them both, and she found time and opportunity to flirt rather boldly with Toufuu, in spite of Ranma's presence. She finally walked away, giving them both a fine view of swinging hips. Toufuu ignored it as best he could, but Ranma had to giggle.

"'The path of doctorin' is fraught with peril,'" she paraphrased. "A fine cut of a man such as yourself must get all sorts of... 'opportunities'."

"Ranma..."

She giggled again. "What? C'mon, Doc! Don't tell me they ain't linin' up at the door!"

He smiled slightly, although Ranma could tell it was a little strained. "Trust me when I say that it's far more of a problem than a pleasure. You, of anybody, should understand that."

Ranma winced. "Okay, okay. Point made." She sipped her tea. "But seriously, no keepers?"

"Not yet."

"Hmmm."

"What?"

"Well... I was just wonderin' somethin', but I'd be pryin' into your life."

Toufuu shrugged. "To be honest, I don't have much of one in that sense. Ask."

"Did ya ever try to get help for your problem with, er, her?"

He slumped a little. "Yes... Some... but it didn't help."

"Oh."

Their food arrived, interrupting their conversational silence, and two of the cooks carried out a galvanized tub, just like in the drawing, full of cooked crabs.

"All right!"

----------==========----------

"--and did you know that that Yagi Miyuki has been dating Misato Oto on the sly? Kami, who would've figured those two for a pair? Ne, Akane? ... Akane?"

"Eh? Oh... Yes, it's... odd. I didn't know they knew each other."

"You're telling me?" Sayuri paused for a heartbeat. "Akane-chan, Yuka and I are worried about you. Is everything all right?" Akane had already wandered off again, and Sayuri had to raise her voice. "Akane!"

"Ah!" Akane almost dropped the portable handset. "What?!"

Sayuri sighed over the phone. "That! That's what!"

"What?"

"What is wrong with you lately? Yuka and I are worried."

"Oh... Um, nothing really, Sayuri-chan. You girls shouldn't worry."

"Oh, Akane... You always try to do this. You've been out of sorts for weeks and jumpy even when it's just us girls."

Akane wanted to cry—she hadn't realized she'd been hurting her friends over what Ura had tried to do to her in the girls' showers. "I'm sorry, Sayuri-chan. I've just... had a lot on my mind recently. Some things to work through, you know?"

"I suppose... We're here for you, Akane, but you have to let us in. Should one of us come over tonight?"

"NO! I mean... No, not tonight, thanks. Maybe... another time. I'm not, er... ready to talk about it yet." If ever, she thought to herself.

"Well... If you're sure..."

"Quite sure, Sayuri-chan. Listen, I've got to go to bed. The three of us are going to Mother's grave early in the morning to tidy up and stuff."

"All right, Akane-chan. If I don't talk to you tomorrow, I'll see you at school, Monday. Ja ne!"

"Ja ne."

Sayuri rang off, and Akane thumbed the off button on the handset and flopped back onto her bed to stare at the ceiling. She was hurting her friends... and hurting Ranma. She rolled onto her side and curled up. Akane was not oblivious to the fact that she'd been treating onna-Ranma poorly lately, but it was a reaction she couldn't seem to control. It had all started after that wedding her and Ranma's father had cooked up after Jusendou. It wasn't even the wedding itself that was the problem; it was everybody else.

Denied the prospect of teasing Akane for her wedding night, her assorted friends and acquaintances had taken to speculating about the one in the future. As the talk went on and Akane seemed to not mind listening, if one could excuse the nuclear blush such discussion gave her, the numerous imaginations involved took the probably inevitable turn towards the perverted, and Ranma's girl form was at the center of it all. For Akane, the red of happy embarrassment went quickly to the red of true embarrassment with anger hot on its heels. Anger she took out on her fiancé, as often as not, especially when he was a she.

Fortunately, she'd been able to work herself out of those two or three stretches of discomfort. It had helped that she'd realized that at some point, after she and Ranma were married, her curiosity would probably get the better of her inhibitions and she would have, er, relations with Ranma's girl form, but admitting to it in the deepest part of her private thoughts was one thing—the idea of it still made her squirm from a whole host of confusing emotions—but talking about it in public with her friends wasn't even on the map, as far as she was concerned. How some of those otherwise normal people could be so enthusiastic about the prospect and consider Akane so lucky for having it both ways was, for the moment, completely beyond her. It truly was a pervert's world, a fact brought home rather forcefully by Sakimano Ura. Akane curled into her fetal position on the bed more tightly.

To the embarrassment Akane had for the idea of sex with onna-Ranma, Ura had not so helpfully added revulsion. To now have another woman touch her anywhere with any sort of intimacy made her stomach churn, and to have onna-Ranma do so with obvious excitement in her eyes had made her want to retch. And this was not a thing she was having any luck working through.

Akane remembered the day before when Ranma, trembling slightly, had reached over and taken her hand. Akane had looked and then looked again. Ranma had been breathing a little rapidly, her eyes had dilated, and her nipples had been as hard as rocks underneath that wet shirt. Her little hand had been hot to the touch, and the tips of her fingers had danced a suggestive jig on Akane's palm. The wave of revulsion that had swept over Akane made the bile rise in her throat and made her stand and toss the quivering redhead into the koi pond. It had hurt Ranma, that was plain, but Akane didn't have the slightest idea what to do about it. It had been weeks since the incident with Ura, but the twisting in her gut was still just as fresh, and she felt that she could no more stop her reaction than she could a two hundred-meter tsunami.

She forced herself to uncurl and roll over onto her back, to not cower into herself. The answer was fairly simple: she needed to talk this out with someone before she crushed whatever love Ranma had left for her. The problom was that she didn't feel she could trust anyone with the why of it all. The shame of having been overpowered and molested by another girl kept Akane silent, and because of that shame, she punished onna-Ranma for being attracted to her.

"I'm not stupid!" she said to the ceiling. "I hurt the girl side, I hurt the boy side." She sighed. "Oh, Ranma, why can't anything with you be normal?"

Her mind running in circles, Akane eventually fell into an exhausted sleep.

----------==========----------

"GO! GO! GO! GO!"

The "lugs" at Jiro's Crabs crowded around Ranma and cheered, as she scarfed the sole remaining crab. In seconds, she'd devoured the unfortunate crustacean, let out a loud, long, and very unfeminine belch, and then threw up her hands in victory. Someone snapped a photo.

Back behind the counter, several of the staff consoled a weeping Jiro, but he sucked back his tears, firmed his resolve, and strode around and approached Ranma. She looked up and smiled.

"Here's your money, little miss. Congratulations." He immediately fell to weeping again.

Feeling a little sorry for him, Ranma stuffed a 10,000-yen bill in his apron pocket. "The crabs were super, Jiro-san. Great food."

"Thank you, thank you!" He was escorted back to his position of authority by the waitresses.

"That was nice of you, Ranma."

"Ah, well, anybody that can stuff me fulla crab deserves somethin', heh!" She patted her bulging stomach, which stretched the Chinese mini even tighter than it had been.

He wondered if she realized how that made her look. "Shall we go?"

Ranma nodded and rose, and she waved to the restaurant as they went out the door. Several of the men cheered and waved back.

"Heh! That was fun!"

"Toufuu-sensei!" a woman's voice called, and both Ranma and Toufuu turned to see a woman in her late thirties or so, carrying one child while holding the hand of another. "How nice to see you out of your office. Why, I was just telling my sister the other day that... that..." The woman took in Ranma, and her eyes tracked down to the bulge in the redhead's midsection. "Oh, my! Won't you introduce us?"

"Ah, good evening, Suzuki-san. This is Saotome Ranma. He, ERRR, she—"

During the introduction, the woman hadn't really listened, and she now fretted to herself and couldn't contain it any longer. "My dear, while I applaud the fact that you aren't wearing heels while pregnant—they really made my back hurt when I was carrying Ichiro—I don't know about those flats. Are they supporting your arches properly?" She looked a little indignant. "Sensei! How could you let your new wife walk around in such things?! And you a chiropractor and all!" She clucked. "My, she's a pretty little thing and healthy-looking, too! I'm sure you two will have many fine, strong sons and beautiful daughters. Why, I was just telling my sister the other day that— ICHIRO! Don't play in that dirty water!" She hauled her oldest son up by the elbow out of the street gutter. "Excuse my rudeness, Sensei, but I must get home, or Ichiro will have his entire outfit covered in mud." She walked away, her voice fading. "How children can manage to get so dirty I'll never know! Why, just yesterday..."

Ranma and Toufuu had just stared during Suzuki-san's prattling, and after she'd left, they turned and blinked at each other for several seconds before they both burst into laughter. Ranma laughed until tears ran from her eyes. "Oh, brother!" she chuckled. "I guess all that crab in my belly does look that way. Now, if I only had a sister to tell all about it." She erupted in laughter again.

Still chortling, Toufuu motioned them forward, and they began the walk back to the clinic. It was several minutes before they calmed down enough to notice the odd looks the two of them received from other passersby.

"Oh, boy... The rumor mill is going to thrive on this for a few months."

Ranma giggled and patted her rounded tummy. "So what shall we name her? Or him?"

"Um..."

"Makoto. Works either way. Or maybe Tsubasa." Ranma laughed at her private joke.

They arrived at the clinic. "Come on in, Madam Saotome," Toufuu said, "and I'll show you to your room." He opened the door for her and pointedly bowed.

"Why, thank you, Sensei..." The fan put in its third and final appearance for the evening, and they both entered, laughing.

----------==========----------

Nabiki closed her textbook, having finished her Saturday homework. One thing or another had forced her to put it off until late, and now she was grumpy and out-of-sorts. She hated not having her homework done as soon as possible. Tapping the tip of a pencil on the closed cover of the book, she stared out of the window into the black night, wondering for the thousandth time how Ranma was doing with Toufuu. Also for the thousandth time, her mind wandered back to the night before. Her bed had suddenly taken on a presence that she could sense, regardless of whether she could actually see it or not.

At first, she'd blown off the feeling, putting it down as just another experience to be filed away, but it had been persistent. She now had the sinking belief that something important had happened, but what did it mean? Just the slightest allowance from her mind, and she could once again feel Ranma's soft mouth on her body, the touch of her calloused hands, and the thrill as their torsos joined and ground together.

She knew herself very well, Nabiki thought, and she was not disposed towards lesbianism or even bisexuality. On the other hand, she didn't have a lot of the same hang-ups that most people did. She was willing to give new, or unexpected, experiences a healthy go, and she didn't have any worries about needing to re-examine her sexual preferences. No, this wasn't about discovering one's self; this was discovering that emotions she'd stuffed down and hidden away since the death of her mother were now out and trying to run rampant, despite her best attempts to corral them.

The pencil stopped tapping. "Oh, no... I am not falling for him. No, I am not. I am not joining that gaggle of hormone-crazed women, throwing themselves at his feet. I'm not even going to start that long slide down."

No, but you'll throw yourself at her feet, won't you? a little voice whispered in her head.

"Oh, shut up. There's still a guy in there..." I hope. "I am not going to let this happen to me. It's post-traumatic stress syndrome or something."

That's for war veterans. You don't have a thousand-yard stare, girlfriend.

"It was the heat of the moment."

Don't some people call you the Ice Queen?

"Shut up."

And oh, my, didn't he defend your honor without you even asking? Without even a tiny little prod? No crocodile tears?

Nabiki slumped over, her hand making a fist around her pencil before it relaxed and the writing implement fell out of her hand. "Tea... I'm going downstairs and fix a cup of chamomile, and then I'm going to sleep this nonsense off."

Mmm-hmmm.

Almost growling, she stomped out of her room but stopped when she noticed Akane's door still slightly open. Now worried that she might have been overheard while talking to herself, she walked softly to the crack and peeked in—Akane lay sprawled in bed, lightly snoring. Sighing in relief, Nabiki silently opened the door, walked in, picked up the portable phone handset off the bed where it threatened to fall to the floor, and pulled the blanket over her sleeping sister. She stood for a few moments, watching her sleep, before shaking her head and making her escape. When she reached the top of the stairway, she absently registered the buzzing of panda snores but paid it no mind, moving down the stairs, through the hallway, replacing the portable into its station, and into the kitchen, where another surprise awaited her.

"Kasumi-oneechan!" Nabiki exclaimed, nearly jumping out of her skin—Kasumi was an early-to-bed-early-to-rise type and should've long since been cleaning house and doing laundry in dreamland. Her nose then registered the smell of the very same tea of which she'd come in search. "Having trouble going to sleep?"

"Yes, Nabiki-chan. A little..."

A second cup sat on the side of the table opposite Kasumi, and it appeared the older daughter had anticipated Nabiki's arrival. "I swear, Oneechan, I sometimes think you're telepathic." The middle daughter served herself.

"I know my family... and this house," Kasumi added a bit cryptically.

Nabiki's eyes flicked up over the rim of the teacup to study her sister. "What's on your mind, Oneechan?"

Kasumi bit her lip, her gaze lowering. "Nabiki, I try not to interfere in my sisters' personal lives—the kami know Father and Ojisama do that enough for ten people—but sometimes I worry all the same."

Slowly lowering her cup, Nabiki braced for the worst. "Go on."

The older girl paused, bit her lip again, and then finally looked up. "Ranma spent all night with you last night... Why?"

Leaning back into her chair and closing her eyes, Nabiki rubbed the lids with thumb and middle finger of her free hand. She should've known better than to think no one had noticed. The hand fell away. "Does Akane know?"

Kasumi shook her head. "There would've been an explosion if she did."

"True. Daddy? Ojisama?"

"They gave no indication." Kasumi hesitated then went on. "I noticed a strange smell in your bedroom this morning. It took me a while to figure out what it was." Two beats of pause. "And I noticed that Ranma-kun was a girl when I woke him for school."

Game. Set. Match. Nabiki felt like crying, but this wasn't the time or place. Well, yes, it was, but she didn't want to right now. She'd far rather be calm and collected. "A fluke, Oneechan. That's all it was. We were both, um... needy last night, and one thing led to another."

"Needy for what? Sex? That hardly seems like you or Ranma-kun, Nabiki." Kasumi was becoming strident in her tone, causing Nabiki to wince—her sister was obviously upset about this turn of events.

She reached across the table and held Kasumi's hand. "No, Oneechan. We'd both had... a bad experience earlier on yesterday, and what we were needy for was comfort. The, ah, other just sort of happened."

"Bad experience? What kind would lead to that?" she asked querulously.

Oh, crap, she really didn't want to get into this again. Nabiki took a deep breath, squeezed Kasumi's hand a little harder, and then gulped greedily at her tea before trying to say this thing. "Oneechan, yesterday... I had to meet a delinquent loan... late in the evening... He, ah... He tried to..." She took another breath and closed her eyes. "He tried to... er... take advantage of me... in that way."

Kasumi's jaw hung open, and then tears pricked in her eyes, and then anger, so uncharacteristic of the oldest daughter, rose. Kasumi jerked her hand out of Nabiki's and got to her feet. "I'm going to get Father, right now!"

"No!" Nabiki shot to her feet and grabbed Kasumi's arm, dragging her to a stop.

"NABIKI!"

"Please, Oneechan! It's been taken care of!" Tears threatened in Nabiki's eyes, as well.

"What?!"

"Please, come sit back down." Her control all but shot, Nabiki struggled to keep from breaking down. It would be so easy to let Kasumi and her father pamper her and so gratifying to see them become angry over the matter, but if that came out, so would the rest, and that she could not allow to happen. "Ranma-kun took care of it. Please, Oneechan! Don't even go there with Daddy. He'll embarrass us in front of the whole ward. It's been taken care of!"

Uncertain, Kasumi allowed herself to be led back to the table to her seat. "What did Ranma-kun do?"

"Well, I don't have any details, really, but one of my people called to say that the, ah, fellow had been severely beaten and that a sign naming him a rapist had been hung on his neck." Nabiki forced a chuckle. "My guess is that Ranma-kun made an anonymous call to the new doctor, and when they hauled him to the clinic they made sure the sign was there where Kamisama and everyone could see it."

Kasumi sighed and put her head in her hands. "That sounds very discreet... from our end, I mean."

"It was. Ranma-kun handled that very well, I thought. Everyone knows Ranma-kun did it—he wasn't very discreet at all about hauling the guy out of Furinkan this morning—but no one knows for whom he did it."

Nabiki had a passing thought: once everyone had digested the fact that Ranma had defended an unknown person's honor in the traditional, more desirable manner by way of avoiding involvement of the authorities, his popularity would skyrocket, even among the parents. First step to becoming a pillar of the community, she thought smugly to herself. Yes, the community would start to expect great things from her Ranma as a result of— She almost choked, realizing that she'd just laid claim to him in her own mind. Her hand shook when she grabbed her tea and slogged the remaining contents before pouring herself another cup. I am not falling for him! she shouted in her head.

Kasumi smiled a little and spoke, breaking into Nabiki's internal dialogue and using the earlier words of her inner voice almost verbatim. "He defended your honor, Nabiki-chan." She sighed girlishly. "It's very romantic."

Nabiki felt sick to her stomach. "Um... Yeah."

The happy mood didn't last long for Kasumi. "What about Akane, Nabiki?"

Her eyes drifted closed again in pain, but she evaded the thrust of the issue. "That's a damn good question, Oneechan. What about Akane? What's wrong with her lately? Did you know Ranma tried to hold her hand yesterday, and she knocked him into the pond just because he happened to be a girl at the time?!" She forced herself to calm a little; her own voice had now become strident.

"I don't know what's wrong with her, Nabiki... It worries me."

"Something had to have set her off—she was never this bad before. I'll make some inquiries on Monday, but I usually hear about this kind of thing right away, so I don't know..."

"So are you going to step into Akane's place?"

It was the question Nabiki had hoped to avoid. She sighed. "I have no plans to, Oneechan. I'd rather see those two work things out." It was the truth, as far as it went, but Nabiki mentally winced, realizing she hadn't strictly denied the possibility.

But it seemed to appease Kasumi... mostly. The older girl nodded. "I think I'll go to bed now. Please put away the tea things when you're finished."

"Good night, Oneechan."

"Sweet dreams, Nabiki-chan."

Sweet dreams... Fat chance, Nabiki thought. If her state of mind were any indication, it would be torrid dreams of Ranma in either form or both forms. Groaning at the prospect, she downed the last of her tea, put away the cups and the teapot, and sauntered upstairs. Perhaps she'd yank her sketchbooks out of hiding and spend a few minutes drawing. It usually calmed her down at least somewhat. No ecchi pictures! she commanded herself, making a mental note to be sure to open the yellow sketchbook and to definitely not open the green one. The latter wouldn't calm her at all, although it would generate an entirely different sort of agitation than what she'd just gone through with Kasumi.

On that note, she limited herself to a pleasant shiver, as she walked into her room and shut the door.

----------==========----------

Ranma had been stepping into Toufuu's furo for a late soak when the change from female to male ripped through him. He'd paused, cocking his head one way and then the other, and then sat back down on the bathing stool. Alternately scooping water from the furo and a rinsing bucket, he doused himself, trying to grasp the intangible, over and over.

End Chapter Two


Ranma ½ is the property of Takahashi Rumiko and her corporate affiliates: Kitty TV, Fuji, Shounen Sunday, and Shogakukan in Japan, and Viz Communications in North America. This work of fanfiction is for free entertainment purposes only. No compensation has been or will be received for its composition.

Appreciation goes to Latin_D, MageOhki, and Rakhal Stormwarden for comments and spot reading along the way.

Chrysalides owes its inspiration to a number of Ranma fanfics that have gone before. Here is a list of those I can think of off the top of my head, although the influence of some of these won't be apparent until later chapters:

1. Always The Taming of the Horse and Centaur, by Vincent Seifert, whose knowledge, insights, and views on the Ranma universe continue to shape my own writing. He has my eternal thanks and my deepest respect. Ribbit!
2. newRanma, by Chris Jones
3. Kikuko, by Cloud Dreamer
4. Comes the Cold Dragon and Spreading Wings, by Donald Granberry
5. Cat Scratch Fever and Source of Pride, by Metroanime, AKA Gregg Sharp
6. A Deft Touch, by John Morales

More to this list as they occur to me.