Ranma's engagement to Nabiki would be tough enough without her tomboy sister Akane. Unfortunately the two girls are literally inseparable…they're conjoined twins!

Two for the price of one

A work of-fan fiction by Dan Stickney.

Ranma ½ is the property of Rumiko Takahashi.

Chapter 3


"…ood morning, Tokyo! It looks like it's going to be a…"

Kasumi groaned, rolling over and slapping the off button on her clock radio. Oh my. She blinked for a moment, trying to get her eyes to focus, as her highly-attuned senses detected a slight disturbance in the wa--the spirit--of her house. Two more blinks and she remembered: Visitors...right. She threw back her covers and swung her feet to the floor, her sensitive ears already detecting the sounds of heavy sparring emanating from the back yard. Time to get breakfast going. Standing, she crossed to her closet, yawning and stretching as she went. Then she stood there for a moment, absently scratching her crotch in a most unladylike manner (even Kasumi found it tough to be prim at 5:00 in the morning) as she considered what to wear. A casual observer, had any been present, would have noticed that the only options available appeared to be dresses, blouses, dresses, skirts, and still more dresses, her last pair of slacks having apparently died of loneliness years ago.

Sighing, she picked out the dress she would be wearing if it wasn't a school day (magenta, off one shoulder) before she grabbed her uniform and turned to her dresser for fresh underclothes, stepping out of her underwear even as she crossed her arms above her head to remove her nightgown. Four quick pulls, one dip (to don her bra), three hooks, six buttons, one zip and one bow knot later she was crossing back to her vanity, picking up her hairbrush with one hand even as she tossed the nightgown onto the bed with the other. Touching up her luxuriant hair--her one vanity--and gathering it into a loose ponytail was but the work of moments because she always did her real brushing (100 strokes--and yes, she did count them) at bedtime. She smiled briefly at herself in the mirror before she glanced at the clock. It was barely 5:03 and she was already set to meet the day, instantly transformed from a teenaged girl sleepily scratching her genitals to a young woman so demure that one would hardly suspect she even had genitals, let alone any reason to scratch them.

Not lingering to admire her reflection, the willowy girl headed directly for the kitchen, intent on putting the kettle on before she even visited the bathroom. In a way her morning routine served as a metaphor for her entire life, for Kasumi dressing was Kasumi at her essence: spare, economical, and not one move wasted. It was the way she did everything from housework to homework, an efficiency born of necessity during the years since mother died, years in which she'd been forced to refine the art of getting dressed -- among other things -- so she'd have time to get the things she needed to do finished before she got herself and her little sisters off to school.

If only others could be as efficient she thought to herself as she headed for the stairs -- knocking softly on Akane and Nabiki's door as she went by -- though she didn't really mean it. Kasumi firmly believed that it had been worth sacrificing some of her own childhood to make the twins' own necessarily unique girlhoods as close to normal as possible. Let them be girls as long as they could: Childhood gave them a certain degree of protection against uncivil behavior -- at least from adults -- and God only knew what the conjoined girls would have to face when they were finally forced to grow up and become women.

Besides, if they got up any earlier, they might actually take a notion to help her in the kitchen, if only out of guilt, and God also only knew what sort of disaster that might prove to be. For Nabiki had so far proven completely disinterested in cooking while Akane was all too eager, and the combination of indifference on the one hand (literally) and impatience on the other (again, literally) had produced truly spectacular results, and not in any good sense of the word, either. Much as she prized harmony in her family, all in all Kasumi was happy to know that there was at least one thing her little sisters couldn't agree on.


Ironically, Akane was actually fully awake as Kasumi passed by: Fully awake, and contemplating the bane of her existence, at least until Ranma had shown up: Nabiki was not a morning person.

"Come on, sis." She pleaded for perhaps the fourth time.

'Lea'me 'lone, 'kane." Nabiki mumbled, rolling over and burying her head in their pillow. The fact that she couldn't do that without Akane's acquiescence --indeed, assistance-- went unremarked -- unnoticed, in fact -- by either of them. "lemme sleep."

Akane, on the other hand, had her head on top of the pillow, her hand tucked under her chin. (Given the way that they were put together, one of them always had to be 'on the other hand' as it were, though it was usually Nabiki because Akane, being more impulsive, typically acted first, leaving Nabiki to be 'on the other hand' by default. But I digress.)

"Get up, Nabiki. The early bird gets the worm."

Nabiki came up for air. "Yeah, but the early worm gets eaten."

Akane rolled her eyes. "Your point, sis?"

Nabiki went back under. "Always determine if you're the bird or the worm before you stick your head up."

"All right 'worm', you asked for it." Akane muttered, aiming a poke at a particularly sensitive part of Nabiki's anatomy, causing the girl to practically levitate out of the pillow with a jerk.

"Ow, sis. I'm up, I'm up." Nabiki muttered, rubbing at her nipple even as she helped Akane lever their conjoined body upright. "I'd almost forgotten how much that smarts. Remind me to apologize to Ranma later."

"Apologize to Ranma? Why?"

"For poking her in the boob when she got here."

"Don't you mean 'him'?"

"Well, yeah, but it feels really funny saying 'poking him in the boob', doesn't it?"

"You sure got that right."


Kasumi looked up from her miso soup as the twins appeared in their running clothes at the kitchen doorway. "Don't take too long, OK?" she nodded at the two men sparring in the garden outside the window behind her. "There's liable to be a line for the furo." (Kasumi herself had long since become resigned to limiting her own baths to the evening, there simply wasn't time.)

The conjoined girls barely stopped to nod as they headed for the door. "'kay sis…

"…Love you…""


Kasumi shook her head and smiled after them, then assumed a more thoughtful expression as she returned her attention to the Saotome men's antics outside. Even though she had never practiced martial arts herself beyond basic kata for exercise (both her mother and father seemed to understand almost from birth that she was temperamentally unsuited to it) she had grown up in this dojo and thought she had a pretty good idea of what the art entailed, and so she always felt a vague sense of unreality watching Ranma and his father spar. Surely their blurring exchanges of blows faster than the eye could follow and roof-high leaps were all… illusion somehow. It was almost like watching a movie sometimes, except that no self-respecting director would ever film a fight scene using moves too fast for the audience to actually see.

Other than that, though, she was generally happy with the way things were turning out. Mr. Saotome, while gruff, treated her respectfully and expressed genuine appreciation for her cooking. Ranma, while perhaps a bit more loutish than most young men his age, was actually proving to be quite trainable -- given the proper stimuli, anyway. If only he didn't talk like a dockworker. Still, Kasumi was optimistic. With enough time and patience they might even be trained to pick up after themselves. It was no more than one could expect from men, really.


Genma squinted into the sunrise from his position atop the ridge of the Dojo roof. "Are you ready, Boy?"

Ranma smirked back from his position atop the walkway. "Heh. Bring it on, old man."

And so another day began, as they almost always did, in love and combat.

People who don't like Genma Saotome (and there's more than a few of them) often accuse him of being greedy, abusive, fat and lazy, but nothing could be further from the truth. Well, okay, so maybe it's not all that far from the truth, but you have to admit that the characterization is exaggerated.

...Somewhat, anyway.

Sure he was beefy. But under what little flab he had was an even heavier layer of solid muscle. Genma was one of those people who somehow managed to be both fit and fat at the same time, like a sumo wrestler, or a football player. Think I'm joking? Let's see you maintain a crane stance atop a three-meter bamboo pole. Stout Genma was, flabby he was not. One could speculate on what he might have accomplished if his ethics had been nearly as well developed as his physique. He may not have looked like much but he went toe-to-toe with Ranma on a daily basis and he usually came out on top. You try it sometime.

As for the charge of laziness, no one who is truly lazy could ever become a high caliber martial artist, and even Genma's most serious detractors (and there's more than a few of those, too) had to admit that he was indeed talented in the art. (Besides, you don't see any of them getting up before dawn every day to spar with the boy, do you?) Genma didn't see himself as lazy so much as 'focused' -- he didn't like to waste much energy on anything other than martial arts. In fact, he liked to think of himself as somewhat akin to a lion, snoozing to conserve his resources when he wasn't actually battling for supremacy. (Finished choking yet? To be honest, I don't buy it either, but hey, this is Genma we're talking about.)

The truth was a little more prosaic, if less complimentary: Genma was sort of an idiot savant. A near genius when it came to the martial arts, but a total screwup otherwise. Since the art was pretty much the only thing he was actually good at, he just didn't bother doing much else. Any time not spent actually sparring was usually spent diligently thinking up new forms of training for the boy, a pursuit that could only be interrupted by the most pressing business, like breakfast, lunch, dinner, tea, snacks, shogi games with Soun, Go games with Soun, and his mid-morning and mid-afternoon naps.

As for abusive, you try to come up with ever more advanced training regimes capable of challenging a martial arts prodigy like Ranma and see how abusive you get. To give him his due, Genma honestly believed that he had Ranma's best interests at heart. He really and truly wanted Ranma to be the very best. So he worked very hard to make him the very best. Unfortunately for Ranma, Genma was also an idiot, and hard work plus incompetence always accomplishes far more damage than mere incompetence on its own. (Fear energetic stupidity: it's capable of doing a lot more harm than evil ever could.)

As for greedy…Well, there you have me. Genma was greedy. So sue me. But as a life-long piker he was only greedy in little ways: otherwise he never would have been happy with the hand-to-mouth existence of an itinerant martial artist. But he was, mainly because (again) he wasn't much good at--or much interested in--anything else.

However, despite his manifold faults (Most of which his friends and his enemies were in full agreement on) Genma was not an evil man. No, what Genma was truly guilty of (besides the occasional larceny, burglary, forgery, and/or theft by illegal conversion) was being a little bit selfish and more than a little bit foolish (And who isn't guilty of that every now and then?) in his single-minded (if occasionally half-witted) pursuit of his ultimate goal: forging his son into the ultimate martial artist and a true man among men.

So no one could argue that Genma didn't love his son, albeit in his own myopic fashion, though he sure picked some decidedly odd ways of showing it sometimes. But not this time: Today, as they squared off to begin sparring, Genma kept himself focused on his current goal: ensuring that his son didn't get too close to Tendo's freakish two-headed daughter. He had to do anything necessary prevent this wedding. It was for the boy's own good.

(Trust me on this: when someone like Genma Saotome wants to do something 'for your own good', run. Good intentions plus energetic stupidity can do so much damage that evil ain't even in the running.)

For his part, Ranma was suspicious this morning: why was the old man being so buddy-buddy all of a sudden? It just wasn't like him. They'd had a very close relationship when he was little, but as Ranma had gotten older Genma had come to prefer his 'noble, stoic sensei' act to more effusive shows of affection. Ranma preferred it too, since it spared him a lot of--in his opinion anyway--unnecessary mushy stuff. He felt a lot more comfortable when they were just beating on each other.

It would be far too easy to make too much out of Ranma's conflicts with his father, but that would obscure the central point of their relationship, the one essential point that Genma's harshest critics invariably missed: For all of their apparent differences, (hair for one) Ranma and his father did share one thing in common: a love of the art -- a love that Genma had somehow (against all odds) managed to instill in his son.

And that mutual love of the art (and, it must be admitted, a certain degree of sheer, bloody-minded stubbornness) was what got Ranma up every morning before dawn to participate in his father's sometimes brutal, often bizarre and frequently harebrained training routines. Ranma really, truly did want to be the best, if only to beat his father at his own game. If that meant putting up with his old man's idiotic schemes, then so be it.

As for their other conflicts, a large part of it could be pegged to simple disappointment. Six-year-old Ranma had idolized his father; nine-year-old Ranma had started to notice his flaws. At thirteen Ranma had come to suspect (strongly) that his father had feet of clay. By the time he was fifteen he wondered if there was enough clay in the whole universe to account for his father's shortcomings. It's always tough to come to grips with the realization that your father is faking it half the time, but we all do eventually. Ranma hadn't quite gotten there yet so a very strong streak of "How can you let me down like this when I love you" was still coloring their relationship.

Love, you say? Yes, love. Surprisingly enough, Ranma actually loved his dad, even though that only served to make him that much more irritating. Sure, Ranma thought his old man was an idiot, but show me a sixteen-year-old boy who isn't convinced his old man is an idiot (though Ranma admittedly had more cause than most). Still, no one was forcing him to participate in his father's weird training regimens; given the state of his skills it was likely that nobody could. Ranma participated because he loved his art and he loved his dad, even though at this point in his life he'd rather have been boiled in oil than admit it.

So with all that said, on this morning Ranma thought he was prepared for anything his father might do, except for what actually happened: Genma… talked to him: a good, old-fashioned, heartfelt, father-to-son talk.

Somehow a beating would have almost been kinder.


It's amazing how quickly the bizarre can become routine, given enough repetition.

"Mr. Saotome…Ranma… Breakfast!"

"Thank you, dear Kasumi."


For instance, Kasumi didn't even blink at the redheaded girl and panda climbing out of her koi pond. Though she did resolve to have a private word with both of them later -- koi were expensive.

"Oh, man." Ranma muttered as she emerged from the water, though "Oh, woman" might have been more appropriate. "Why'd 'ya hafta go and do that for, Pop?"

Her father shook like a dog, largely negating Ranma's futile attempts at wringing out the hem of her shirt, and produced another one of his idiot signs. Ranma didn't bother reading past 'A true martial artist…'

"…'A true martial artist' can't go to school soaking wet, Pop. Or did you forget about that?" Giving up on her wringing, she yanked her shirt off over her head in order to do a more thorough job. "Man…"

"RANMA!" Akane's voice snapped behind her an instant before she felt the flat of the girl's hand strike the back of her head. "Don't you have any feminine modesty?"

Ranma grimaced in frustration even as she turned to confront her accuser. The twins were fresh from the bath, and smelled like it: intriguing hints of soap, perfume, shampoo, and talcum powder...in short, all girl. Ranma wished desperately--and not for the first time--that her stupid subconscious would just shut the hell up and stop noticing things like that.

Nabiki, on the other hand (because she had to be, if Akane was… oh, never mind) felt that a more subtle disciplinary approach was called for. "Nice pair you got there, Saotome."

"You really think so?" Ranma responded automatically before she could catch herself. Then, flushing red with embarrassment, she turned back to Akane, hoping to cover her lapse with anger. "Why should I have feminine modesty? I'm not a girl."

"Could've fooled me, Saotome." Nabiki drawled, amused by his discomfort.

"He did fool you. And me. And Kuno too, for that matter." Akane smirked, catching on to Nabiki's game.

Ranma shuddered, too appalled by the very thought of Kuno to even consider a snappy comeback.

"Here you go, Ranma." Kasumi poured some warm water on him, effectively ending the argument.

"Thanks" Ranma muttered, sincerely grateful that it was Kasumi supplying the water and not her father. Unlike Mr. Tendo she never scalded him by heating it near to boiling.

Kasumi smiled. His manners were improving already. "You're welcome. Shall we eat?"


For once Ranma was happy that the canal fence was stout, because this morning his thoughts were elsewhere, even as he walked to school beside his conjoined fiancée.

Stupid Pop. I shoulda known he was up to something.

Ranma didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. Pop had got him into this in the first place and now he was getting cold feet? Pop doesn't want me to marry a freak? Well Duh. Unfortunately, much as he hated to admit it, his father's openly expressed revulsion was far too close to Ranma's own feelings on the matter for comfort.

Funny thing was, three days ago Ranma might have wholeheartedly agreed with him. Three weeks ago he definitely would have agreed with him, because the word 'freak' didn't hit quite so close to home back then. But now that he'd gotten to know the twins a little better he'd been forced to admit that they weren't freaks: freaky, certainly, but not freaks, if that made any sense. Heck, the freakiest thing about them was how normal they acted. Though, to be fair, that was probably due to the relatively normal lives they'd led so far. Hell, I bet my life was freakier then theirs even before Jusenkyo. It ain't fair. They're the freaks, not me; so why is my life more like a circus? It just didn't make sense. Worse, the better he got to know them, the less he understood.

For one thing, how the heck could two people who shared a common body possibly be so different from each other? True, their faces were nearly perfect mirror images of each other, but once you looked past that -- and the fact that both of their heads sprang out of the same pair of shoulders -- the differences were what struck you the most. And it wasn't just that Nabiki was actually one centimeter taller, either. Heck, even their voices sounded totally different -- at least when they weren't speaking in that spooky unison, of course -- though that was more of a difference of inflection than anything else.

It was easy to see why Kuno picked Akane to get hung up on, because Akane was the perky, outgoing one. Unfortunately, she was also the hotheaded, angry one. Ranma couldn't even spell 'mercurial', but it would have been an understatement anyway. The girl cycled through her emotions so fast that it was hard to keep up. On the bright side, as easily as she got angry, she never stayed angry, and she seemed entirely incapable of holding a grudge. When she smiled, it was open, honest, and genuine, entire unshaded by any past (or future, unfortunately) resentment. And ironically enough, despite her tomboy ways, Akane had a pronounced preference for feminine clothing--the girlier, the better. Only her passion for sports and her sister's influence seemed sufficient to pry her out of her beloved tennis skirts and flouncy dresses.

Nabiki on the other hand, was more laid back. She tended to be laconic, analytical, and perfectly content to let her more outgoing sister do most of the talking. Left to her own devices, Nabiki contributed maybe one word in ten, but when she did speak she betrayed acute powers of observation. Interestingly, Nabiki was also the mischievous one, constantly teasing, and she always seemed to know exactly where to stick the needle. She also didn't seem to be the sort to forget a slight, either. Nabiki's smile was more calculating. And her fashion sense was very different, with her taste running more towards blouses, slacks, shorts, and overalls. Still feminine, but casual: kicking around clothes. Just how the two of them ever came to a mutual agreement on what to wear was still a mystery to him -- especially since they were so passionate about being seen as individuals, as their radically different haircuts clearly showed.

But that was just the most obvious outward sign. Their clothes were another. Kasumi spent a lot of time customizing them, particularly their bizarre, two-collared shirts. (Ranma still hadn't figured out how they buttoned them.) Separate neck opening seemed to be very important to them, and Ranma couldn't help but notice that Kasumi even gave them different buttons and used subtly different detailing on the collars. Then there was their school jumper, with its seemingly redundant middle strap. At first he'd assumed that it was just there to help camouflage that third breast that they were so good at hiding (he still hadn't figured that one out, either) but now he wasn't so sure: Now it seemed more like a statement of: "I'm here, she's there" then anything else, as if a strip of cloth barely 25 millimeters wide was all it took to confer individuality. About the only clothing they wore that didn't have separate collars was their favorite yellow gi, and that seemed to be as much a statement about their mutual devotion to martial arts as it was a nod to practicality since a two-collared gi seemed beyond even Kasumi's ingenuity. The same thing went for their bathrobe. Ranma still hadn't seen them in a bathing suit, and wasn't sure he wanted to. He was willing to be friends, but the thought of marrying either of them still creeped him out big-time.

"Earth to Ranma," Nabiki muttered. "Why are you so preoccupied this morning?"

Ranma winced. He really didn't want to talk about this with the girls. He briefly considered fobbing them off with some story, and just as quickly discarded the idea because he was a lousy liar and he knew it. He hopped down off the fence. "It's Pop."

"Let me guess: He's been ragging on you for turning into a girl again." Akane responded.

Ranma blinked, then took the escape route she'd offered him. "Well, yeah." It wasn't even a lie, really: Pop was always harassing him about that…just not this morning…much.

Nabiki cocked her head -- more than it was cocked already, anyway: the girls' diverging necks meant their heads were always cocked slightly, lending them an air of permanent bemusement -- "Ranma… that isn't anything you have any control over. So why do you let it bug you?"

Ranma squirmed. He feared for his manhood too much to be willing to admit that he feared for his manhood. Not yet, anyway. "'Cause I hate turning into a girl. It…it just ain't right."

Akane's lips flattened in annoyance. "What's so bad about being a girl? We're girls, aren't we? Half of the people in the world are girls, for Pete's sake."

Ranma colored. "It ain't that… it's um…" He faltered, struggling to find a way to express his feelings that wouldn't get him in any deeper.

"There's nothing wrong with being a girl if that's what you are, Akane." Nabiki responded quietly, unexpectedly bailing him out. "But Ranma isn't a girl. How would you like it if we were suddenly turned into boys?"

Akane shuddered. Boys were such perverts. Would turning into a boy make her a pervert too? "I don't even want to think about that."

I don't wanna think about it, either Ranma thought quietly. But it looks like I'm gonna have to.


Ranma's second experience with the pervert brigade was about as distressing as the first. His rather odd upbringing had left him quite naïve about some things, the teenage male libido being one of them. Unlike most boys his age, most of his excess energy had gone into exercise and martial arts. Unfocussed horniness was outside of his experience. And the thought that he himself might become a target of said horniness if his curse became generally known made him feel somewhat ill.

Fortunately, he didn't have much time to think about it because Kuno was on him almost immediately. Not wanting to get bucket duty on his second day of school too Ranma just dodged him by using his head for an impromptu handstand. The last thing he wanted was to be branded a troublemaker. In his experience, trouble would find him anyway, but he didn't want to be seen as the cause if he could avoid it. Besides, given his curse, buckets of water were just too dangerous, and it looked like it was about to rain any second. He bounded up the steps alongside the twins and made it inside just as the clouds broke and thoroughly soaked the assembled perverts and the befuddled Samarai wannabe, thankful for his close escape.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be a day full of close escapes. Just because he didn't receive bucket duty didn't mean nobody else did, and his fellow students all seemed to develop a severe case of butterfingers this morning. Water came at him from all directions: Glasses were spilled. Soda cans sprayed when opened. Buckets were either dropped or tripped over. And always, always, the splash seemed to come directly at him. The water fountain breaking just as he happened to be walking past it was just about the last straw. All told, the day turned out to be a real ordeal for Ranma. Avoiding getting splashed took every last ounce of his skill. At least it was a Saturday. Saturday meant that he only had a half-day of school to deal with this. The second the bell rang he was out the door and gone, leaping straight over the wall to avoid the crowd at the gate.

"Hey Ranma! Wait up!" the twins called to him in surprise as they jogged along behind, but he was nowhere to be found. They finally caught up with him -- check that, they finally caught up with her -- about a block short of home. Ranma was shaking water out of her bangs and muttering dark imprecations about the sort of person who tossed mop water out of upper story windows as she adjusted the waistband of her trousers

"Jeez Ranma." Akane smirked as the came up to him. "I swear you're some kind of water magnet."

"Yeah, right. Laugh it up why don'cha." Ranma muttered disconsolately. "Stupid curse."

Akane and Nabiki blinked in unison. "You mean…" Akane queried.

…you really are a water magnet?" Nabiki finished, tapping her lips thoughtfully.

"Yeah, I think so." Ranma muttered dispiritedly. "Ever since I got cursed, anyway. I always seem to get splashed."

"Always?" Akane asked, drawn despite herself.

Ranma thought about that. "Nah, not always. Just when it's gonna be dangerous… or embarrassin'."

"Like just before you're due to meet your fiancée, perhaps?" Nabiki asked innocently. Akane scowled at the reminder.

"Yeah, Maybe." Ranma looked enlightened. Maybe that's it.

"So today was…" Nabiki continued leadingly.

"Well, I ain't been splashed in a while. Maybe I'm just overdue." Ranma thought aloud.

"Hey, if that's all it is, how about if you just turn yourself into a girl every night before you go to bed?" Akane piped up unexpectedly.

Nabiki blinked. Akane had actually taken her by surprise for once. "Huh? Do you want to run that by us again, sis?"

Akane smiled sunnily, clearly impressed by her own brilliance. "Don't you get it? Maybe it's cumulative. The more time Ranma spends as a girl, the less chance there is he'll get splashed. And if he's asleep, being a girl won't bother him."

"Nuh-uh. No way." Ranma shuddered. You mean sleep as a girl? Ugh. "It don't work that way. I hadda spend almost a whole week as a girl right after I got cursed cause we were... um...camping out and I couldn't get hot water. I still got splashed. A whole week. In the woods, no less. "

What a baby Akane subvocalized to her twin, guessing the real reason for Ranma's discomfort. So what if we can't write our names in the sand. It's not like it's an art! Boys may act tough, but they're just big sissies when it comes to the stuff we girls have to do every day.

Give him a break, Akane. Just imagine having to learn how girls pee in the woods at our age -- with only Uncle Saotome there to help, no less.

Eeewwww. Forget I said anything.

Privately, Nabiki wondered why Ranma had no access to hot water. Couldn't he have just built a fire? Aloud, she responded. "We don't know if it works that way, Akane. Magic doesn't have to make sense, you know."

Akane scuffed her foot, annoyed at having her bubble burst. "I'm only trying to help."

"Yeah, right…" Ranma started, only to bite off the rest of her snappish reply unspoken. Y'know, I think she really is trying to help. Man. Half the time she's nice to me, and half the time I think she hates me. I don't think I'm ever going to figure her out. "Um, I mean, yeah, thanks." She continued in a quieter voice.

Ranma breathed a sigh of relief when they re-entered the Tendo compound. It didn't matter if he got splashed here where no one could see him. That didn't save him from the unpleasant surprise that Kasumi had for him when he and the twins got home.

"A challenge letter?" Ranma asked in surprise.

"From Kuno. To the 'tree-borne kettle girl', he said." Kasumi blinked. "I don't think he's quite figured out that you're the same person."

Ranma blinked too. Considering that he'd practically changed in Kuno's arms when they'd fallen into the pool he couldn't imagine why Kuno hadn't figured it out. But somehow he hadn't. Of course, Kuno had been stunned when they'd hit the water and must have missed seeing the actual change itself.

"Kuno-chan just hates to lose." Nabiki muttered

"Vengeful, hmmm?" Akane added.

"You do realize that you have to fight him as a girl, don't you?" Kasumi said thoughtfully, tapping her lips. Apparently it was a family gesture.

"Huh? Why?" Ranma, as ever a bit obtuse, asked in confusion.

"Because if you don't…" Akane began

"…you'll have to explain why the 'tree-borne kettle girl' didn't show up." Nabiki finished.

Ranma shuddered. Great. Just Great.

"So it's a good thing you're a girl right now." Nabiki was continuing.

"Huh? Why?" Ranma asked, startled. The truth was he'd forgotten again. Now that was truly frightening

Akane and Nabiki shared one of their patented sidelong looks. "Because it won't do you any good to train for this fight as a boy now, would it?" They asked in unison, turning towards the dojo. "Come on."

"Urrggg." Ranma groaned, slapping her forehead. I hate this.

Girl or not, Ranma trained hard -- almost too hard. Nabiki and Akane were a little puzzled by her vehemence. Perhaps they would have been more understanding if they'd known that this was the very first time she'd ever voluntarily trained as a girl.

Nabiki felt a little put out when Ranma didn't come see her that night, but she put it down to pre-fight jitters.


Nabiki and Akane looked up at the sound of the gate as Ranma slogged in quietly. The young martial artist was still in girl form, and appeared uninjured. At least, the twins couldn't see anything that would explain the thousand-meter stare in her blue eyes -- or the well-crumpled bouquet of roses in her hands.

"Ranma? Are you OK?" Nabiki asked her worriedly.

The petite redhead's eyes focused, and she looked at them. "I -uh…" she muttered. "uh…I…um?" She continued, gesturing vaguely with the hand that held the roses. The bouquet brushed against the gate, and she looked at the flowers curiously, as if she'd never seen them before. Then she seemed to snap back to reality. "It's nothing!" She said a bit too loudly, tossing the much-abused flowers over her shoulder against the wall.

Akane started giggling. "He made a pass at you, didn't he?"

Ranma blanched, then colored. "It's not funny, you stupid Tomboy!"

"Oh, my god...He did make a pass at you." Nabiki chortled. This was just too much...Kuno had always been a bit oblivious, but this...

Ranma scowled angrily at the two of them briefly, then before he stalked past them, angered beyond words. I gotta be a man again, Dammit. But the girls laughter seemed to ring mockingly in his ears all the way to the bath.

And that was the last that any of the Tendos saw of him for a while. The twins went looking for Ranma later, but he was nowhere to be found for the rest of the day and he proved to be singularly uncommunicative at dinner, answering all queries with monosyllabic grunts. Then he disappeared like smoke virtually the instant dinner was over.

Kasumi blinked for a moment at the dust trail of his passage before she turned to her younger sisters. "Is... Ranma upset about something?"

The twins shared a guilty, sidelong glance. They knew full well what was bothering Ranma, but they both knew better than to mention it in front of Mr. Saotome.


The twins didn't talk about it until after they were in bed. They lay there in silence for a while, each doing her best to ignore the elephant in the corner.

"Akane… do you think we really hurt Ranma's feelings today?" Nabiki finally asked guiltily.

"Him? Naaahhhh." Akane countered dismissively, not wanting to think about it. "He'll get over it."

Nabiki pondered that for a moment. "Y'know, Akane... I think Ranma's really lonely."

Akane blinked, startled. "What makes you say that?"

"Something he said, that first night." Nabiki sighed. "Well, it wasn't what he said, so much as the way he said it."

"Really?" Akane asked, curious despite himself.

"Ever notice he never talks about himself?" Nabiki yawned. "He's never mentioned where he's from or where he went to middle school or even named a single friend. Doesn't that seem a little odd to you?"

"Maybe he just doesn't care. Who knows how boys think, anyway?" Akane shuddered slightly with distaste. Why would anyone even want to know how boys thought? The very notion of understanding the morning pervert brigade, for example, made her feel vaguely slimy. "I don't think we'll ever understand boys, Sis. I don't think any girl ever really does."

"No, maybe not." Nabiki mumbled sleepily as she drifted off. "Wouldn't mind figuring one out, though. G'night…love…"

Akane stared at the ceiling for a long time after Nabiki's breathing became deep and regular.


Akane looked up in surprise as a familiar, tentative tapping came from their window. "Ranma?"

"Hey." The petite redhead muttered through her wet bangs.

Akane set her teeth, as always annoyed at the implications. I'm not a lesbian! Then guilt quickly set in. I guess Ranma's trying to be nice, even though he isn't very good at it. He really must be lonely. Aloud, she muttered. "I thought you wouldn't want to talk to me."

Ranma looled generally surprised. "Huh? Me? Why?"

"Because you got so mad when I teased you this afternoon." You really do hate turning into a girl, don't you? And I hate that, because it makes me feel inferior.

"Oh, that." Ranma replied with poorly feigned nonchalance. "Well, who else am I gonna talk to? After all, we're still on the same side, ain't we?"

Akane swallowed. It was true. They were on the same side. Which meant she wasn't on Nabiki's side. Which was impossible, because she was always on Nabiki's side: she was on Nabiki's side by definition...except now, apparently. She swallowed again, trying to quell the sudden ache in her throat. Relax. It's for her own good, remember? But Ranma seemed to require some kind of answer. "We're not ready to get married."

"That's for sure. Fiancée. Hell, I ain't even been on a real date yet." Ranma muttered, looking at her hands. Then her head shot up as she realized that she'd said too much. "Er, I... I mean..."

"Me neither." Akane muttered disconsolately, not really paying much attention to him. And I probably never will, either.

"Well, I expected that." Ranma responded, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

Akane's internal conflict suddenly found an external focus. "Because we're freaks, right?" She growled, her fist clenching.

"Huh?" Ranma looked up and recoiled, belated recognizing her danger. But Akane wasn't in any position to actually hit him, and in any case she looked more hurt than angry. Then, to his horror, her face crumpled and she burst into tears. "Akane, I..."

"Leave me alone." Akane gasped, pulling a pillow over her head and wishing she could roll over.


"Go away, Ranma! Just go away!"

Ranma tried to swallow the lump in her throat as she listened to the other girl sob. Finally, she could stand it no longer. "I... I'm sorry." she muttered at last as she slipped away from the window.

Akane paid no attention as she sobbed. Why does this have to be so hard?


Monday morning, both Ranma and Nabiki woke up screaming. Given the events of Ranma's first morning at the Tendo home, the commotion that ensued before the cause was determined to be coincidental nightmares is best left to the imagination, though Ranma tended to flinch reflexively whenever Kasumi looked at him for the next two days.

All of which meant that nobody took much notice when Ranma proved to be uncharacteristically sullen and uncommunicative during breakfast: they all just assumed that he was angry over being unfairly accused of something he didn't do. And they might have been right, too, if Ranma hadn't had something much worse to occupy his mind: Kuno.

For the erstwhile 'Blue Thunder' had been a major feature of his dream, along with a hot spring and a body that had remained resolutely female despite said hot spring. All of which had disturbed him mightily.

Ranma didn't even bother with the fence that morning. Instead, he sulked along the ground, hands jammed in his pockets and kicking at the occasional pebble. Man, I hafta stop thinking about this before I go crazy!

Fortunately, the girls provided him with a distraction. They were blinking and twitching again, deep in a conversation that only they could hear, though he strongly suspected that he was the subject. It had freaked him out a little at first, but he'd soon realized that there was nothing spooky about it: They were merely speaking so softly that no one outside their conjoined body could hear it. But the very thought that they could be talking behind his back-- right in front of his face, no less! -- really, really annoyed him. Finally, he could stand it no longer.

"Somethin' you two wanna share?" he grumbled querulously.

Akane blinked, coming out of her seeming trance. "It's a girl thing, Ranma."

"Maybe we should include you Ranma," Nabiki smirked. "After all, you're half-girl aren't you?"

"I'm a guy." Ranma protested automatically.

"Oh, really?" Nabiki grinned wickedly, lifting the sports bottle she was carrying suggestively.

"Leave him alone, Nabiki." Akane said unexpectedly.

"Huh?" Ranma and Nabiki responded simultaneously, both amazed that Akane would come to his defense.

Akane was looking the other way, and her ears were very red. "Just drop it, all right?"

Nabiki turned back to Ranma and gave him one of her bizarre looking one-sided shrugs, as if to say Hey, I don't understand her either.

Ranma blinked in puzzlement -- the twin's movements were getting jerky again. They walked on in silence for a moment. "Honestly, Nabiki." Akane growled after a moment. "Don't you have any shame at all?"

"What?" Nabiki asked, clearly puzzled.

"We'd barely met Ranma and you… you used the c-c-c w-w-word." Akane complained, flushing heavily and stuttering from embarrassment. She swallowed, clearly unwilling to elaborate further but too angry to keep silent. "Some things are just t-t-t-too personal to talk about." She spat finally.

Nabiki rolled her eyes. "Don't be such a prude, sis." She huffed back at her twin.

Ranma looked on in slack-jawed amazement as the twin's movements became so disjointed that they were barely making any forward progress at all. Compared to this their argument after the bath incident barely qualified as a debate. An older, wiser man might have known enough to keep his mouth shut, but Ranma was still very much on the steep part of the learning curve when it came to girls. "What's the c-word?"

That brought the two of them up short. Suddenly, Nabiki was blushing just as fiercely as her sister. "Never you mind, Ranma."

Fortunately for all of them, they arrived at the gate and its waiting crowd of boys and the twins abandoned their argument to face the common threat. Their body language re-synchronized so quickly that Ranma could have sworn he'd heard an audible snap. Ranma almost winced at the grim set of their expressions: Some poor suckers were going to get an extra beating today. Hopefully the girls would feel better after they'd had a chance to work out their frustrations a little.

Hey, that's not such a bad idea… Ranma cracked his knuckles as he eyed the pervert brigade ahead of them, last night's dream still fresh on his mind. Nabiki and Akane weren't the only ones with frustrations to work out this morning.


The twins were quite surprised when Ranma charged right into the waiting crowd of perverts alongside them. With Ranma's unexpected aid they plowed through the hentai horde without even breaking step, moving so fast that they came upon Kuno before he was ready for them. Ranma and Nabiki planted simultaneous kicks on his chin before he even got the first word of his speech out.

"Hey, don't interfere in our fight!" Akane objected automatically.

"Shaddup!" Ranma growled back with a shiver of disgust. Perverted bastard.

Nabiki blinked, a little surprised by his vehemence. The twins would have exchanged a significant look had they been physically capable of doing so. Fortunately, their intrinsic sister-sense made such overt gestures unnecessary.

By now school had fallen into a sort of a routine: Show up late, clobber perverts, beat up Kuno, buckets. Or, if they were lucky, show up on time, clobber perverts, beat up Kuno, no buckets. Only today, during lunch period, there was a difference: Kasumi flashed the twins a smile as she stuck her head into their classroom during the afternoon break. "Ranma? Tatewaki-kun would like to have a word with you." She looked back at her sisters. "Alone."

Akane and Nabiki exchanged one of their patented sidelong glances. Nothing good could come of this. Nabiki dropped her chopsticks.

"C'mon, Akane. I want to see what's going on."

Akane raised another bite to her mouth. "Ranma can take care of himself."

"Akane, Kuno's crazy. What if he's finally gotten his hands on a real sword?" Nabiki hissed, a little desperately

"Kasumi said alone. If we try to follow, they'll spot us for sure." Akane objected

"We'll just follow from a discreet distance and they'll never notice." Nabiki asserted, trying to push her half of their body away from the table.

"Sure, we'll just blend in with all of the other two-headed girls in the crowd." Akane complained, tossing her chopsticks down as she gave in.

Unfortunately, by that time the trail had gone quite cold, and their quick search of the corridors came to an abrupt ending in a first-floor restroom.

"Dammit," Nabiki muttered as she tapped her foot impatiently. "The heroine never stops to pee in the movies."

"Fine." Akane huffed in exasperation. "You figure out a way to make sure it will only run down your leg, and I'll happily run around with you until we pop." She scowled at their dim reflection in the stall door, a little miffed by her twin's apparent concern for her fiancé. I can't be…jealous…can I? Impossible. "Relax, Sis. He'll be fine. He beat Kuno the last two times he faced him."

"But what if Kuno was holding back because Ranma was a girl …" Nabiki began, only to be cut off by Akane suddenly clapping her hand over her mouth. Nabiki was about to object when she clearly heard Ranma's annoyed voice drifting in through the open window.

"…don't worry, you'll never see her again…"

Nabiki and Akane paused briefly to share one of their patented sidelong glances before they hopped up and started frantically restoring their clothing.


Ranma growled. He'd had just about as much of this Kuno jerk as he could take. He'd tried, he'd honestly tried, to explain his curse to the idiot, but it hadn't worked. Time to show the pretentious samurai wannabe just what masubetsu kakuto could do. He ducked under Kuno's next wild blow, catching the boken on the backswing and vaulting over it to plant a double-footed kick to his opponent's sternum. "And if I beat you, you'll forget about her, right?" He shouted before he noticed something fluttering up into the air from the gap in Kuno's gi-style top, apparently dislodged by the force of his blow. Curious, he couldn't help snagging it between two fingers…

It was a photograph... of his female form... topless.


By the time the twins got outside, Ranma's conversation with Kuno had apparently dissolved into a melee. Ranma was wet, but male. From the water on the ground and the kettle in Kasumi's hands, it was fairly easy to decipher what had happened: Kuno had apparently found out about Ranma's secret, and wasn't particularly happy about it. He was making his displeasure known with vicious sweeps of his boken. Off to the side Kasumi was glowering at the battle but, as is often the case, Kasumi's once much-feared displeasure had lost most of its deterrent effect once it had finally been revealed.

From here it was hard to see what was happening, but it didn't look good. Ranma had his back to them, but wary of the reach of Kuno's weapon they didn't dare get closer or maneuver for a better position. They instinctively took cover next to a statue in case the battle moved their way. At first it seemed like Ranma had the upper hand, and Akane and Nabiki tensed happily as Ranma got in a really good kick, only to clap their hands over their mouths in horror a moment later as he seemed to lose concentration and took a hard shot in the ribs. Wobbling for just a moment, Ranma shifted to ducking and dodging as Kuno renewed his assault, but his mind seemed elsewhere, and he made no move to press his earlier advantage.

"What's the matter with him?" Akane growled. "Kuno'll kill him if he doesn't wise up."

Nabiki didn't respond, even though she wanted to strangle her fiancé for screwing around like this in a potentially deadly situation.

Kuno's opinion seemed to mirror Nabiki's, and he said as much, shouting an enraged "Fool, you look elsewhere in the midst of battle!" even as he lunged forward at full extension, a vicious strike that Ranma only barely avoided by throwing himself into a backwards summersault.

Ranma rolled to a stop at someone's feet. Specifically, a girl's feet, still clad in her ubwaki indoor shoes. Whoever it was had been in a really big rush to get outside. After what seemed like long moment, he looked up. Akane and Nabiki were glaring back down at him, hands on their hips, apparently annoyed at his antics.

"I suppose we should tell you…" Nabiki growled

"…when upper-classman Kuno fights a man, he is very skilled." Akane glared.

"Um, yeah, thanks." Ranma blinked back at their upside-down faces, before some perverse impulse caused him look at Nabiki. "Akane picked out your clothes this morning, didn't she?"

"Um…Yeah. How'd you know?" Naibiki blinked, puzzled.

Ranma smirked. "I didn't think polka-dots were your style."

Polka-dots? The conjoined girls briefly tilted their heads in confusion before they suddenly realized that Ranma's inverted position gave him a perfect view up their skirt, and they turned red as beets.

"Go back and die!" Akane yelled as they booted him back into the fray.

The twin girls stood there watching him sail back towards Kuno. "Akane?" Nabiki asked after a long moment.

"Yeah sis?"

"The polka-dotted panties go."

Akane wilted a little. But they were so cute! She would have protested, but her sister-sense was warning her that Nabiki would brook no disagreement this time. "Yes, sis."

Then their attention was wrenched back to the fight. Kuno smirked upward at the approaching martial artist, judging his trajectory. "Now it ends!" he shouted, and released a flurry of strikes faster than the untrained eye could follow. "Dadadadadadadada…"

"Yow!" Ranma shouted, caught off guard. He couldn't help but be distracted as the statue the girls were hiding behind began to crumble from the sheer air pressure of the blows. "Get away, you idiots!" he yelled at them as he threw himself backward to avoid the deadly wooden sword.

"Look out!" screamed Nabiki as Kuno raised his boken overhead for the final blow.

"Eyes front, stupid!' yelled Akane

Ranma returned his attention to his opponent as he expertly converted his fall into a single-handed handspring, seemingly giving Kuno a casual wave with his foot as it arced past. Kuno muttered "heh" in apparent contempt as Ranma landed lightly on his feet, smirking arrogantly at the twins. The girls were drawing breath to scream at him for turning his back on his opponent again when Kuno suddenly collapsed.

The conjoined girls slowly approached the unconscious kendoist and carefully rolled him over onto his back. Incredibly, the front of his body was covered in dirty footprints. "You kicked him?…" Akane asked, incredulous.

"…I never even saw it." Nabiki whispered in stunned amazement, even though she could see clear evidence of at least seven strikes to vital areas. She'd always considered herself and Akane to be top-notch martial artists, but Ranma, it seemed, was in another league entirely.

"So that's the mighty Blue Thunder, huh?" Ranma smirked arrogantly as he worked the kinks out of his neck. "Didn't have much, did he?"

"What do you mean? You took a hit, didn't you?" Akane asked, poking him in the side where Kuno's bokken had impacted.

Blinding pain, no longer masked by adrenaline, caused him to drop to his knees. "Owww!"

The girls were leaning over him when he could see again. "Ranma?" Nabiki asked, curious. "What distracted you during the fight?"

Wordlessly, Ranma straightened and handed her one of the photographs he'd collected. Nabiki took one look at it and gave a strangled gasp. Ranma looked on in astonishment as the conjoined girls fell to their knees just as he had, hugging themselves tightly. Nabiki's chin dropped to their chest, as-yet unshed tears standing in her eyes.

Curious, Ranma picked up the fallen photograph. It appeared to be innocent enough: an innocuous snapshot of Akane and Nabiki in their favorite yellow gi, though something didn't seem quite right about it. Then he did a double-take and looked closer. It was picture of Akane…and only Akane. Somehow Nabiki's head had been erased and their extra-wide shoulders reduced to a more normal width. The picture showed Akane as she probably would have looked if she hadn't been conjoined. She looks really cute like that he couldn't help thinking guiltily.

"It's all right, Sis." Akane was murmuring in Nabiki's ear, even as she tried to rub her twin's shoulder comfortingly. Nabiki sniffed loudly, shaking her head, though she wasn't quite crying…yet.

"That's easy for you to say." Nabiki wailed "You aren't the one he wants to erase!"

Kasumi plucked the photo from Ranma's unresisting hand and frowned at it. "How awful." She scowled at Ranma. Somehow, gentle Kasumi scowling seemed way more scary than a dozen sword wielding Kunos. "Where did you get this?"

Ranma gestured vaguely with the hand holding the other photographs. "Kuno had them."

Kasumi frowned at the unconscious kendoist. "Did he now..." She held out her hand for the remaining photos and Ranma handed the stack over automatically without even thinking about it. Kasumi flipped through them quickly -- from what Ranma could see they mostly seemed to be similarly modified pictures of Akane -- until she came to one in particular and froze. Her gaze slowly rose to meet his, and Ranma froze too. Was that…pity… in her gaze?

"Oh, Ranma." She murmured. "I'm so sorry."

"What?" Akane asked sharply from her position by Kasumi's knee. Even Nabiki seemed distracted from her anguish. Kasumi wordlessly handed them the photograph before the mortified boy could move to take it back.

"Oh." The twins shared a sidelong, discomfited glance. Then they gave him the same sort of pitying look he'd just got from Kasumi. "Maybe you should develop a sense of feminine modesty after all, Ranma." Nabiki muttered after a long moment.

That broke the spell. Ranma was not going to accept pity, from them or anyone else. Moving faster than they could see, he snatched the photograph back and jammed it deep into his pocket. "It don't mean nothin'" he growled, pivoting on his heel. "It don't mean nothin'!" he repeated, a little more forcefully.

"But…" Kasumi objected faintly, a little puzzled by his reaction. "How can you even say that?"

"Cause it don't." Ranma responded gruffly, wincing in pain as he shouldered his schoolbag. "Cause that ain't really me."

The three girls shared a look. Finally, Nabiki broke the silence.

"Come on, Ranma…."

"…I think we should go have Doctor Tofu check out your ribs." Akane finished as they got to their feet.

"I'm fine, I tell ya." Ranma grumbled, windmilling his elbow to show that it didn't really hurt any more, though the effect was totally ruined by his pained grimace.

"Don't argue, Baka." Nabiki chided him gently, grabbing his free hand as Akane assured Kasumi that they'd be home for dinner.

Ranma muttered one more "don't mean nothin'" as they pulled him through the gate. Kasumi watched them leave in silence. Ranma seemed quite intent on making that point, but who was he really trying to convince?


Doctor Tofu seemed a little surprised to see them back so soon after yesterday. "Akane, Nabiki." He greeted the twins cheerily. "I haven't seen this much of you two in quite a while. Is your back bothering you again?"

The twins blushed and looked down. "It's fine, Doctor." Nabiki muttered, blushing.

"Yeah, I mean..." Akane took up the conversation "we haven't really done anything that would..."

Interesting Ranma thought, distracted from his pain for a moment. What's with the sweet, innocent bit?

Finally the genial chiropractor ended his gentle interrogation of the blushing twins and looked their companion over curiously. "Have... have I met you?"

Of course you did, you idiot Ranma thought, and opened his mouth to say so. "Of course you... Owww!"

"Of course not, Tofu-sensei" Nabiki chirped a bit too brightly, hastily retracting finger she'd just jabbed into Ranma's injured side. "Though um, I... um, I..."

"...I think you might have, um, met his sister yesterday!" Akane interjected, obviously sounding as if she'd just thought of it.

"Huh?" Ranma blinked "What the heck are you two..." talking about, he might have said if Nabiki hadn't threatened to poke him again. Then it finally dawned on him: Shoot, they're right! I was a girl when I met Dr. Tofu yesterday. "Uh, right. Uh..." Ranma blinked, trying to remember if he'd given Dr. Tofu his name yesterday morning. "Er, um..." he bowed hastily. "P-p-pleased to meet you Tofu-sensei, I'm Ranma... Ranma Saotome."

"Er... right." Doctor Tofu returned the bow cautiously, eyeing the three of them suspiciously. The girls promptly adopted exaggerated expressions of innocence. Akane even looked like she was about to start whistling, "I must say, the resemblance is quite remarkable."

"That's because they're twins!" Akane piped up

"Yeah, right." Nabiki nodded hastily, following her lead. "They're... identical twins." Ranma winced, wishing they'd just shut up and let it go already.

The Doctor raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Another set of twins, huh?" He looked Ranma over carefully, then turned back to the girls. "There's just one problem with that." The Doctor went on, looking over his glasses at them. "If they were identical, Ranma here would be a girl too. And Ranma here obviously isn't a girl, now is he?"

"Not now, no." Akane admitted before Nabiki could shush her.

"O-kay..." the Doctor responded after a long moment of silence. "Now just what seems to be your problem, Saotome-kun?"

Fortunately, the young Doctor chose to drop this line of questioning and they managed to make it through the rest of the visit without any more embarrassing or awkward moments. Dr. Tofu was quickly able to determine that no ribs were broken, and he quickly sent them on their way after some quick jabs to a couple of Ranma's shiatsu points, declaring that a hot soak, a little ice and aspirin would soon have the young martial artist feeling just as good as new.

Ranma was thoughtful as they headed back to the Dojo. "You two really like Dr, Tofu, don't you?" He asked after a while.

"Yeah." the two girls sighed in unison. Then Akane pouted. "But we're still just a couple of little girls as far as he's concerned."

Ranma took one look at their wistful expression and filed some thoughts away for future consideration. "Why was he asking about your back?"

"None of your..." Nabiki huffed, the mood clearly broken

...business." Akane growled.

"Jeeze, excuse me for caring." Ranma puffed back.

"Oh, all right!" Nabiki snapped ""The human pelvis wasn't designed for two spines, OK?"

"Oh." Ranma responded, a bit startled by her frankness. "I can see that."

"Yeah, right." they groused in unison. Then Nabiki looked over at him curiously. "Can you really?"

Ranma shrugged. "You sure don't move like nobody else."

The conjoined girls stopped in their tracks and turned to stare at him, obviously unsure just how to take that. "What's that supposed to mean?" Akane asked, finally.

"It's not supposed to mean anything," Ranma shrugged, puzzled. "It's the truth."

The three of them just stood there regarding each other for a long moment. Finally, Ranma cleared his throat. "Um... thanks, you two."

"What for?" The responded in unison, raising mirror-imaged eyebrows,

"For coverin' for me back there. Or tryin' to, anyway."

The two girls exchanged one of their sidelong looks, and assumed lopsided grins before they turned and resumed walking. Then Akane snorted. "Don't mention it, Ranma, after all...

"...we wouldn't want Dr, Tofu to think we're weird... now would we?" Nabiki finished for her, her eyes dancing.


Ranma actually ate dinner at a civilized pace that evening, looking for all the world like a young man with a quite a lot on his mind. Since he didn't exactly know what to do with it there, he excused himself as soon as possible afterwards and headed straight out to the Dojo and didn't stop training until he'd driven all of the thoughts out of his mind, good or bad, until the only thing left in his awareness was the speed and flow of his body as he drove himself through kata after kata, drill after drill.

Finished with his exertions at last, Ranma left the dojo and went to the garden pump, intent on rinsing off the sweat. He threw his shirt over the rail, filled a bucket, and dumped it over his head -- only to realize his error the instant the tingle of the change washed over him. Moving with all of the speed he could muster Ranma snatched the shirt off of the washstand and clutched it over his… no, her breasts before he vaulted up back into the dojo and yanked the shoji closed with a moan of anguish. He crouched there for a long moment, pressing the wadded tang to his chest as he tried to get his breathing back under control. Then he quickly thrust his hands through the sleeves and yanked the shirt over his head before he buried his head in his knees.

Except it wasn't'his' headat the momentOr 'his' knees. Or even 'his' chest for that matter. Man I hate this… he thought, quailing a little at the still unaccustomed sensations of his breasts pressing into his thighs. Why did this have to happen to me? Maybe she was overreacting -- surely it was too dark for photography out there now -- but that didn't matter. What mattered was that he could never, ever take something as simple as taking his shirt off in public for granted again, because 'bare-chested' could suddenly become 'topless' with a little splash of water. Even if he didn't really care if anyone ogled 'her' body, suddenly and visibly growing boobs would make it totally impossible for him to even try to conceal his curse. Apparently, he actually was going to have to develop some form of "feminine modesty" like it or not.

Great. I've got to be the only friggin' boy in the whole friggin' world for whom the word 'topless' has any real meaning.

Stupid Kuno. This was the second time he'd made Ranma feel violated in a way that could only happen to a girl. Ranma felt a sudden impulse to massage the breast that Kuno had so viciously squeezed and ruthlessly quashed it. I am not a girl no matter what my body looks like.

After a while though his hand slowly moved, seemingly of it's own accord, to gently probe the gland in question, …Yeah, but can I honestly say that I'm not a girl no matter what my body feels like?

Dammit, why me?

Signing, Ranma pulled out the crumpled photograph. Ironically enough, it wasn't even all that explicit, just a three-quarter shot of a pretty young woman removing her shirt to bathe at a garden pump, revealing nothing more than one breast in profile with just a hint of the nipple. It wasn't anything worse than a calendar-girl pose, really: a picture that promised a lot more than it actually delivered. In fact, it was less revealing than a lot of stuff you saw on television these days. If it had been any other girl, Ranma would have said she looked hot.

But it isn't any other girl. It's me, dammit. Actually, this was the first time that Ranma had ever seen a photograph of his female form, and he had to admit that 'she' did look hot. In fact, looking at it, Ranma couldn't help but feel a little aroused, a feeling that died instantly when his new "equipment" started reporting back in unaccustomed ways.

Maybe Akane's right: Maybe I am a pervert. Then he discarded that though with a snap of his head. I ain't no pervert. A pervert would be enjoyin' this.


Above him in their bedroom, Akane and Nabiki were having problems of their own. Somehow, their usual automatic coordination was a little more difficult tonight. They sat at their vanity table for a long time, ostensibly brushing Akane's hair, but Nabiki seemed distant, preoccupied. Finally Akane could bear it no longer. "What's wrong, Sis?"

"We'll never be in Ranma's league, Akane." Nabiki sighed quietly. "No matter how much we practice."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Akane responded querulously

"Akane, didn't you count the footprints? Ranma kicked Kuno at least seven times! Seven times, so fast that we couldn't even see it." Nabiki sighed. "We'll never be that fast. It's impossible."

Akane looked into the mirror stolidly, still brushing. "Nothing's impossible, Nabiki. What makes you say that?"

"We have to coordinate with each other, and Ranma's just… coordinated"

Akane found herself getting extremely angry. While that in itself was nothing new, the target for her anger was. "Oh no. No way! I'm not going to give up our dream just so you can play damsel in distress for your new boyfriend!"

Nabiki couldn't help responding in kind. "He's not my boyfriend, he's my fiancé!"

"Same difference!"

Nabiki stared at her sister's set expression in the mirror for a long moment -- she'd never seen her directly, only in the mirror -- and then her eyes flashed angrily. "Fine. Be that way. Just don't talk to me."

"What?" Akane asked, startled right out her anger.

"I said don't talk to me! I don't want to hear it!"

"O...okay." Akane whispered, shocked. The two of them averted their gaze from the mirror, neither daring to look at the other for the moment. Then they got to their feet and clambered into bed unsteadily, their usual seamless coordination noticeably absent.

Nabiki tried to swallow the lump in her throat as she stared at the ceiling. She as much felt as heard the tiny sniff from the right side of the bed. She heaved a sigh, feeling near tears herself. "This is what you were afraid of, isn't it?"

There was a pregnant pause as Akane held their breaths. "Uh-huh." she whispered at last.

Nabiki thought about that for a while, then heaved a sigh for both of them. Then she threw her arm over their chest and squeezed, giving her sister what passed for a kiss between them, turning her head as far as she could until her lips just barely grazed Akane's cheek. Funny... we're probably the two closest people on earth but there are some ways we can't get close at all. I wonder why I've never thought of that before? "We're going to get through this, Akane, I just know we will," she whispered, "the same way we get through everything: together."

Akane silently returned the hug, wishing she could share her sister's confidence.


Nabiki looked up at the tentative knock on their bedroom door. "It's open."

Ranma poked his head in cautiously. "You wanna to talk to me?"

"Of course I do." Nabiki smiled, patting the bed in invitation. "How's it going? Feeling any better about the Kuno thing?"

"Huh?" He couldn't help responding, startled. It was that or panic. "About what?" How much does she know?

Nabiki squinted at him curiously. "You know -- your side?

Oh, yeah, right: the bokken hit. He took a deep breath, and tried to relax. "Oh, that. I'm still kinda sore, but I'm gettin' better. I've taken worse hits than that." I gotta play this cool and just hope she's convinced enough to let this line of questioning drop he thought, trying to feign a nonchalance that he certainly didn't feel. Hopefully he sounded a lot more convincing to her than it did to himself.

Nabiki just looked at him for a long moment. Then she unexpectedly changed tacks. "So... what was your nightmare about this morning?"

Oh shit. Different tack or not, Nabiki was still sailing too close for comfort. He decided to play dumb -- it always seemed to work for his old man. "Who me? A nightmare?"

Nabiki rolled her eyes expressively. "Come off it, Ranma. Everyone has nightmares. I had one too, remember? Or do you mean to tell me that you wake up screaming every morning?" Nabiki smiled gently into his sheepishness. "Come on. You tell me about your nightmare, and I'll tell you about mine, OK?"

Ranma looked stubbornly off into space. For a moment Nabiki was sure he'd just leave. Finally he looked down at his hands. "It seems kinda silly now. I...I dreamed I was sitting in a hot spring, as...as a girl."

Nabiki looked puzzled. "So what's so bad about that?"

Ranma looked up at her. "There was a boy." He said simply.

"Oh." That gave Nabiki pause. "Oh..." she repeated wonderingly, as enlightenment dawned. "Oh Ranma, that's awful."

"Yeah." Ranma nodded, secretly pleased that she'd understood without his having to spell it out. "What about yours?"

"What about my what?"

"What about your nightmare? You said you'd tell me about it too."

"Oh, that." Nabiki gave him a wry look. "Well, it was one I have a lot, actually: I dreamed I woke up alone."

"That's it?" Ranma asked, puzzled. What could be so frightening about that?

"Alone." Nabiki elaborated carefully. "You know...with half of my body missing?"

Unbidden, Ranma's gaze shifted from Nabiki to Akane's sleeping face. She looks so cute like that...then he mentally kicked himself for noticing. "You two really don't want to be separated, do you?" he whispered softly, as it really, really struck home for the first time.

"Of course not, Ranma. Now do you get it? We can't be cured--we're not sick! We don't want to be 'fixed' because we're not broken! We don't ever want to be separated, because there is nothing wrong with us!" Nabiki looked away, a lone tear streaking down her cheek. "There's just always been something wrong with other people."

Ranma gulped. As epiphanies go, this was a particularly hard one to swallow. They actually wanted to be freaks? Still, he couldn't help respond to the raw hurt in the conjoined girl's voice. "Nabiki?"

She looked up warily, clearly tensing herself for his response

Ranma took a deep breath. "If it helps..." he hesitated, surprised to find himself smiling. "I...I can't imagine you two any other way."

Nabiki smiled back at him, visibly relaxing. "Thanks, Ranma. It does help... a lot."

They sat in companionable silence for a while. Unfortunately, silence wasn't something he was good at. Besides, there was something that he was just dying to know. "Nabiki... can you, um... please tell me what got up Akane's ass this afternoon?"

Nabiki snorted. "You mean our ass, Saotome. We have to share one, remember?" Ranma flinched, and she unbent a little. "But that's… kind of the point, actually."

"I don't get it."

"Ranma, it wasn't girl talk. I mean, it was, but it wasn't just girl talk, OK?" She looked at him. He still didn't get it. Sigh. "Ranma, there's girl stuff, and then there's girl stuff. The kind of girl stuff that girls really don't like to talk about, even with other girls. Well, Akane and I have to talk about it. Because of… because of our common anatomy."

"Oh." Ranma swallowed. That certainly made sense, and he decided that he definitely didn't want to pursue this any further. Except for one little thing that kept nagging him. "Ummm, Nabiki?"


"Just what is the c-word, anyway?"

Nabiki colored. "Oh jeez, Ranma." Just how naïve are you? After a moment she sighed. "Come off it, Ranma, think! It's a slang word for a certain part of the female anatomy." Nabiki looked up and saw no visible understanding in his eyes. She sighed again at his apparent cluelessness. "You know...the part that makes us girls?"

"Oh." Ranma muttered, enlightenment dawning at last. "That c-word."

Nabiki flushed. "Yeah, that c-word. I only said it because I knew it would really jerk Akane's chain. I just hate it when she gets all prissy like that. But I never should have used that word."


"It's not just a dirty word, it's an ugly, hateful degrading word. Worse, it's a man's word. Men use it when they're talking about us. We don't use it to talk about ourselves." She examined him carefully. "You really don't know any of this, do you?"

Ranma flushed angrily. "Why should I know? I ain't no girl."

Not right at the moment, no, Nabiki thought, though she didn't say it. "But you must have spent some time with girls, haven't you?"

Ranma tensed. Then he relaxed, and shrugged. "I mostly went to boy's schools and studied martial arts at monasteries. You don't get to meet many girls that way."

"What about your mom?"

That brought him up short. "I… I don't really remember my mom. It's just been me and Pops for as long as I can remember."

"I'm sorry."

"No reason you should be. You don't have a mom either, do you?"

"No, but at least I can remember her." Nabiki sighed, her eyes going vacant in reminiscence. This time Ranma kept his mouth shut. After a while she focused on him again. "So... how are things going between you and Akane?"

Ranma winced, reminded that he'd left her in tears last night. "Umm... not so hot, I'm afraid."

"I was afraid of that." Ranma twitched as Nabiki grabbed his hand. "Just don't quit, Okay?"

"Quit? me?" Ranma responded as if he hadn't been thinking of doing exactly that. "Feh" he huffed. "I don't even know the meaning of the word 'quit'".

"Good. I'm glad." Nabiki smiled. "I want us to all be friends even if this fiancé thing doesn't work out." Then she looked serious. "Just keep trying, okay? I'm sure Akane will come around to our side eventually."

"Er...okay." Ranma agreed reluctantly, aware that he'd just committed himself to another indefinite round of these little nightly chats. "Er... I probably oughta let you get some sleep. Goodnight."

"Goodnight, Ranma." Nabiki responded quietly, letting go of his hand to adjust her covers "Oh, and Ranma?"

He turned back at the door. "Yeah?"

Nabiki smiled. "I'm really glad you're on my side."

Ranma gulped guiltily. "Er... yeah. 'night."


Nabiki smiled softly as she quickly joined her conjoined sister in slumber, lulled by as always by the gentle rhythm of their permanently synchronized breathing. Kasumi glanced in on them on her own way to bed and smiled: sleep had once again lent her conjoined sisters the innocence of childhood, if only until tomorrow.


Midnight, and the waxing moon once again smiled gently down upon the Tendo Dojo, illuminating the lone holdout remaining from the gently snoring household as he hugged his knees on roofing tiles long since cooled from the afternoon's sun.

Oh man, how do I get myself into these things? Ranma thought guiltily. Now Nabiki thinks I'm on her side... and Akane already thinks I'm on her side. How the heck can two people who share the same body be on different sides? And why isn't anybody on my side, for cripes sakes? I mean, I think I like 'em both, kinda. Nabiki anyway. I still don't want to marry them, but I don't want to hurt 'em either.

Ranma spent a long time staring into the vastness of space as he waited for his inner turmoil to subside, wondering what he should do. Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, the stars kept their own counsel as always.

So... just whose side am I on anyway?


Somehow things always seem just a little bit brighter in the morning.

Ranma was grinning like a madman as he delivered his finishing move, a roundhouse kick that sent his old man spiraling towards another watery flirtation with panda-hood. Maybe it was the beautiful sunrise just peeking over the horizon. Maybe it was because Ranma's sleep -- once he'd finally gotten to sleep, anyway -- had been blissfully undisturbed by either nightmares or idiots for a change. Maybe it was because he'd just nailed Pop a good one while managing to stay out of the splash radius himself. Maybe it was the prospect of another Kasumi breakfast in the near future. Or maybe it was just his fundamentally happy-go-lucky nature reasserting himself. In any event Ranma was actually feeling pretty good about himself this morning, for perhaps the first time since Jusenkyo.

Kasumi couldn't help smiling at his enthusiasm as Ranma related his victory over the breakfast table, making the twins giggle with his dead-on impression of his father transforming into a panda in mid-lecture mode.

"Man, I wish you coulda seen it," Ranma was chortling, He wagged his finger sternly. "Ranma my boy, a true martial artist... gawar-grrrr-growf-moof..."

Nabiki laughed in delight as she reached for their rice bowl. "You're right, Ranma, I wish we had seen that."

Akane was grinning as she readied her chopsticks. "Yeah, your father can get a little pompous sometimes." She began shoveling clumps of the sticky rice alternatively into her and Nabiki's mouths.

Ranma smiled back as he raised his own rice bowl. The sight of the twins eating no longer seemed odd to him. Like everything else about them, though, their table setting --not to mention their table manners -- were a unique mix of the bizarre and the mundane, with separate little plates for their dainty little portions (They each only ate half of their combined bodily needs) and a single rice bowl (which they used in the traditional two-handed Japanese fashion) as well as individual tea cups and a glass for Akane's grapefruit juice (which Nabiki swore she couldn't stand; the two half-girl's tastes in food being just as divergent as their tastes in clothing.) And, as always there was the remarkable way they automatically shifted between joint and independent action without any hesitation or communication between them, just another aspect of the elaborate dance they'd led their entire lives.

"My, you certainly seem cheery this morning, Ranma." Kasumi remarked as she refilled his rice bowl for the third time.

The pigtailed martial artist shrugged. "Well, I just figure my life's gotta be lookin' up. I mean, hey, over the last month I've been cursed, chased halfway across China, darn near killed a buncha' times, and engaged against my will to some girl I never met...who seemed no more thrilled about it than I was," This last following a belated glance at the twins, who'd bristled but seemed to be holding their peace. "And my life ain't exactly been what you'd call normal before that. But at least I got a nice place to sleep and a roof over my head...I ain't had that in a while. And you're a great cook," He blushed, ducking his head "and I ain't never had that ever. So things just gotta be looking up. I mean, how much crazier could my life possibly get? Maybe things are finally gonna get back to normal."

Hmmm. Kasumi blinked even as she blushed from the praise Chased out of China? Almost killed? That doesn't sound good. For the first time she started having second thoughts about her little sister's engagement to this boy they actually knew very little about.

"I wouldn't say that if I were you, Ranma." Akane smirked, pleased that Ranma seemed to be willing to include them in his definition of normal, "That's as good as tempting fate."

"You sure it isn't who you're engaged to that you're objecting to?" Nabiki asked quietly.

Ranma didn't even look up from his rice bowl. "Naaah." It wasn't even a lie, really. After all,there's no way in hell I'm gonna marry anyone my idiot old man picked for me, conjoined twin or not.

Nabiki relaxed visibly. "You're probably right, sis."

"Of course I'm right. I'm always right." Akane announced smugly, wiggling her fingers to make the point.

"Oh you... It's not my fault the whole world is a conspiracy against us lefties." Nabiki growled back playfully.

Kasumi smiled gently as she sipped her tea. It seemed the wa of her house was going to recover after all.


Nabiki crossed her arm with Akane's, tapping her foot for good measure as she stared at guy who looked like a refugee from a cheesy Hong Kong action flick--complete with props-- who was blocking their way home. "Back to normal, huh?" She muttered sarcastically as she watched the umbrella slice a chunk out of the concrete gate post as it spun back to its owner. Saotome you jerk, you think this is normal?

Ryoga snatched the deadly umbrella out of the air like it was nothing. "If it's the last thing I do, Ranma, I swear I will des..." Ryoga's voice trailed off in shock as he noticed the twins standing behind Ranma for the first time. He stood there for a moment, his jaw working silently, before he finally got his voice working again

"Ruh-Ruh-Ranma?" he asked in a plaintive voice completely at odds with his prior demeanor. "Is that a t-t-two headed girl?"

Ranma looked where Ryoga was pointing. Akane glowered back.

"Nope." Ranma responded casually, earning himself a couple of surprised, but grateful, looks from the twins.

"But what about her?" Ryoga asked, shifting his trembling finger slightly to the left.

Ranma blinked and turned his gaze to where Nabiki tilted her head in puzzlement. Then he turned back to Ryoga. "Nabiki doesn't have two heads either."

"They don't?" Ryoga responded in a dazed, but slightly hopeful voice. Clearly, he was hoping that this would all have a perfectly rational explanation.

Ranma sighed and pulled the other martial artist aside. "Listen up, jerk. Akane and Nabiki ain't a two-headed girl, OK? They're two girls with one body. An' they're kinda sensitive about it, so watch your mouth. You'll hurt their feelings."

"Oh...Okay." Ryoga muttered dazedly. "Um... I... I gotta go now...bye!"

Ranma stood there shaking his head as the perennially lost martial artist drifted off out of sight. The twins stepped up beside him, their hands on their hips

"So..." Akane began speculatively.

"...who was that?" Nabiki finished for her.

Ranma shook his head. "Some nutcase from my old school."

"I hope you don't have to fight him, Ranma." Nabiki said suddenly. "He's gotta be tougher then you are."

Ranma rounded on them, irked beyond measure. "What makes you say that?"

The twins shared one of their sidelong glances before Akane smirked back at him. "He didn't faint."



"Ooo-ooooh," James caroled in that distinctive way of his as he -- ever the gadget freak -- leaned out of the balloon basket to get a closer look at their intended victims. "Look you two; the little twerp's actually got a gun. What do you suppose it shoots? A grappling hook? A net? a..."


"Eeep!" The dark-haired would-be super villain squealed in falsetto as the equipment console next to his elbow suddenly exploded, showering the three of them with shattered chips and mutilated circuitry. Meowth screamed in horror as the three of them dove for the illusory security provided by the bottom of the wicker basket.

"How about lead slugs, you idiot?" Jessie growled hysterically.

"A Fist-full of Pokemon", Chapter 6


"Prepare for trouble!"

"And make it..."



"Nice shot." Brock commented mildly. "But it looked a little low and to the left."

"Errr.." Ash responded, unable to think of anything better to say.

"Hmmmph." sniffed Misty, thumbing the safety on the 10 millimeter Combat Commander she'd snatched out of her younger companion's bandolier. "I always wanted to do that."

"A Fist-full of Pokemon", Chapter 7


Author's note:

No, I am not dead. It's just that between work, school, my family, my remodeling projects and my horse farm I'm lucky if I get more than an hour's writing time a week. Incidentally, I do most of my plotting while I do any of the vast number of the myriad little jobs a horse farm requires. So each scene represents a ditch dug or a fence post set or a section of pasture mowed.

Hopefully this will be the last installment of this story that is going to follow strict manga continuity. I felt it was necessary to introduce the characters. I will be sticking largely with the manga, but I'll be skipping ahead and trying to write the "scenes between the scenes" as much as possible.

Finally, "A Fist-full of Pokemon" (Yes, the misspelling was deliberate) seems to have taken on a life if its own. Pretty funny for something that was never intended to be anything more than a very esoteric one-shot gag in the first place. ("John Moses Browning, I choose you!" I mean... how many people these days even know who John Moses Browning actually was? Go figure.) I've actually gotten several requests to expand into a full-blown story in its own right, but I hesitate. Yes, the idea of re-envisioning Pokémon clichés with good 'ol American firepower is amusing, but I'm not sure such a one-note concept would work at story length.