I don't own any of these characters or situations. They belong to someone else. Also this is done purely for fun, not profit. Any resemblance to persons living, dead, yet to be born, or visiting from other dimensions is purely coincidental. I'm doing this for fun.
Constructive criticism is always welcome.
I would like to thank the following people from Fukuficsdotcom for looking this over and giving me their feedback, comments, and checking my spelling/grammar: WarGiver, CyberSkaarj, S. Hitarumonwa, Stratagemini, McClown, Gate, J. St.C. Patrick, gsteemso, AnimeFreak317, Lerris, AshK, Munchkin, Babs Yerunkle, and Alathon.
If I missed anyone or misspelled their name, I apologize.
Boldly going where others had gone before and meekly going where few have been.
Final Approach Ranma
Chapter Nine and Epilogue
Ranma shifted from one foot to the other as she waited for the door to open. She was nervous, but felt strangely nostalgic about being there. "This was the first place I called home after my training trip," she thought as a sense of regret filtered through her. "If I told Akane about my curse straight up instead of letting her find out in such an... embarrassing way, I wonder... could've worked out?"
The door swung open soundlessly and Kasumi greeted Ranma with a warm smile. "Ranma!" Kasumi merrily said as she ushered the redhead in. "I'm so happy you made it. You look wonderful."
"Thanks, Kasumi," Ranma said just as merrily. She was amazed at how much of Kasumi good nature could rub off on another in so little time. "How are you doing?"
"I'm fine," Kasumi replied before her voice lowered. "Look out. The fathers are up to something. They didn't take you being adopted out very well."
Ranma nodded as she toed off her shoes. "I didn't expect them to," she said in a equally low voice. "But thanks for the warning."
Kasumi lead Ranma into the hallway and paused at the kitchen door. "I'll only be a moment. I have to get the tea."
Ranma nodded as she looked around the hall and its well cared for hardwood floors and walls. Everything was as it was when she first showed up, flung over the shoulder of a panda. The sense of nostalgia started to creep into her gut, but it was quickly pushed out as Kasumi's warning reentered her mind. Ranma moved towards the family room.
"Akane was mad and upset that night. She probably felt betrayed and I didn't help by being such a jerk. We both were acting like a couple of kids instead of... okay, both of us were kids...," Ranma thoughts trailed off for a few heart beats. "Okay - still kids... If only I could get another chance... knowing what I know now. I wonder if I could have made it better?"
Ranma sighed. "Why am I thinking about this now?"
Ranma mentally prepared for combat as she made her way deeper into the Tendo home. Along the way she was having some second thoughts. "Why did I bother to come?" she thought. "Would it be so bad if I go back on my word - just once?"She stopped in the hallway and shook her head. "What the hell am I thinking?" she harshly scolded herself. "Of course it would be bad. The next thing you know I'll be making and breaking promises - like pop does."Sighing to herself, Ranma continued on her way to the family room. Stopping just outside the doorway, she spied in on the scene, using her unnoticed presence to study her opponents.
Soun and Genma were at their traditional spot on either side of the game board, but this time neither one of them were playing. Genma's arms folded in almost a self-satisfying way and Soun looking about as serious as he could muster. Akane sat in her usual place wearing a look of slight nervousness. "No, not nervous," Ranma thought. "It's like she is unsure about something."
Beside Akane sat Nabiki with a ill-concealed smirk on her face. Ranma was still unnoticed and she used that to carefully scrutinized Nabiki, watching as she bushed her bangs to one side. "She's up to something," Ranma concluded. "She wouldn't be wearing a look that smug unless she thought she was going to be in for some money... most likely mine. Watch that smirk disappear the moment I step into the room."
Ranma's eye traced further down until it reached her mother. Nodoka sat next to Genma with an unreadable expression on her face. For once, the Saotome honor blade was not beside her but propped up against the wall behind her, safely in its wrappings.
Sensing Kasumi coming up behind her, Ranma decided that it was time for her to make an entrance. "Hi guys," Ranma said to the seated Tendo girls as she entered. "Hello mother, father, Mister Tendo," she added as she greeted the elders in the room. She also noted that Nabiki's smirk quickly changed into a neutral expression.
Kasumi immediately entered the room, as if on cue, stepping around Ranma to reach the table. She carefully placed the tea service that she had been carrying in the middle of the table and beckoned Ranma to enter the room further. Ranma nodded in acknowledgment and sat down across from her parents. Kasumi then sat down next to Ranma and began serving the tea.
"How have you all been?" Ranma asked, beginning the traditional small talk and pleasantries. "You're looking well father, mother."
"Thank you," Nodoka said formally as Genma just grunted. "As are you."
"You are looking very well yourself," commented Kasumi as she finished serving the tea to everyone. "How is everything with you?"
"Fine, just fine," Ranma answered after taking a sip of tea. "Though I like where I'm at, I do look forward to these visits," Ranma lied. Pausing to take another sip, Ranma then addressed Akane. "How are you doing Akane? Have you been keeping up with your practice?"
Akane blinked at Ranma in uncertainty. She opened her mouth - closed it, blinked once, then answered. "Fine. I'm fine," she said in a tone that matched her behavior.
"Something is up with Akane," Ranma thought as she lifted the cup to her lips. "I wonder what it is?"
After a few more exchanges of unimportant small talk, Nodoka cleared her throat just loud enough to draw attention to herself.
"Ranma, we need to discuss something important with you," Nodoka said in an wary tone. "It seems that there has been some kind of... clerical error. You have been accidentally removed from the Saotome clan. I'm sure that, together, we can correct this."
Ranma responded with a shrug to the three adults. "That wasn't a clerical error," Ranma said calmly as she held up her cup for a refill. "I was offered the opportunity to have myself removed from yours and pops custody, and I took it."
There was silence for a few heartbeats as the others in the room realized the importance of Ranma's statement.
"YOU decided to forsake your family?" Nodoka said incredulously. "Why have you done this?"
Ranma took the offered tea from Kasumi and thanked her with a smile. She took a sip, looking rather dainty as she did so. After placing the cup on its saucer, Ranma's eyes narrowed as they focused on her mother and father. "After the wreck that you and pops turned my life into, you have to ask?" Ranma said in a very even, but hard tone. "When I was offered a chance to escape anymore dishonor that pops stupidity may bring, I took it."
"How can you say that?" Genma asked in a put upon way. "After all I did for you?"
Ranma looked genuinely puzzled for a split second. "All you done for me?" she said, letting her rising ire leaked into her voice. "All you done for me! What exactly did you do for me?"
"I gave the last ten years of my life to make you the best martial artist of your generation," Genma spoke in, what was to Ranma, an irritating oh-so-wise voice. "The sacrifices that I made on your behalf... and this, THIS is how you thank me."
"Sacrifices? What sacrifices?" Ranma asked.
"All the years hardship that I endured for yo-"
"And I endure even more for you," Ranma interrupted sharply. "As far as I'm concerned, you telling me how bad you had it is laughable. You have created more problems for me than should be legal. Now that I think about it, most of the problems you created were illegal. How many people did you steal from? How many people did you betroth me to? How many lives did you ruin?"
Genma opened his mouth to say something, only to be cut off by Ranma. "Don't say another word old man. I know about you and Kuno."
Genma's mouth immediately snapped shut. There was a silence that lasted a few moments before Ranma continued. "All you were there for was yourself," Ranma said before taking another claiming sip of her tea. "When it came to sacrifices and hardships, it was me that bore the brunt of your dishonor and stupidity."
Genma's eyes narrowed, but he controlled his own rising ire. His first instinct was to challenge his child physically and beat some sense into him, but he was enough of a scammer to know when a deal needs to be made with words - something he was sure that Ranma was not good at. He chose to ignore Ranma's accusations, even if there were some truth to them, and decided to forge ahead.
Unfortunately, his wife was there. "What are you talking about?" Nodoka asked of Ranma. "Your father doesn't know a Kuno."
Genma started to sweat slightly as Ranma turned all her attention to Nodoka. "You mean you don't know? It was in the binder that was sent over with the copy of the forms."
"I haven't had time to go through all of it yet," Nodoka said as she eyed her husband.
"Oh," Ranma responded with a blink-blink of her eyes. "Well it seems that the panda here has accepted a large amount of money for Kuno-"
"Ranma!" Genma admonished. "That is not important right now. What is important is the future of the schools."
"Like hell it ain't," Ranma shot back at her father. "This is one of the reasons why I choose to get out. Because with you selling me off at the drop of a hat, there's no way for me to keep my honor intact."
Nodoka's eyes shifted between her child and her husband a few times before settling on Genma. "Husband," she said in an even harder tone than Ranma managed. "You had better not have done anything foolish."
Genma's expression filled with panic for a moments. Running was not an option at the moment so he did the second best thing: Ignore the problem and press on with what he wanted. "That's not important right now," he insisted with a dismissive wave of his hand. "We have more important things to discuss."
"Genma-" Nodoka began dangerously.
"I come to find that you are seriously considering becoming Cologne's heir," Genma continued, back in the same oh-so-wise tone he used earlier. "This is not acceptable and I forbid it."
"Genma-" Nodoka began again, this time her voice having a more dangerous edge.
"You lost the right to tell me what's acceptable and what's not a long time ago, old man," Ranma shot back at her father. "And you have also lost the right to forbid me from doing anything."
"Genma, you better not have-," Nodoka grounded out.
"Very well, you leave me no choice," Genma said in a commanding voice. "I hereby declare you no longer a student of Anything Goes. You are forbidden by honor not to practice it until you agree to come back on our terms."
Soun nodded in agreement with his training partner. "Quite right," he said sagely. "We cannot have someone with questionable honor using the tenants of Anything Goes. It is far too dangerous."
The silence that fell in the room was absolute.
Ranma weighed Genma's words, blinked, and then bursted into a small fit of giggles. "That's the lamest threat I've ever heard," she said once she stopped giggling. "Everything I learned on my training trip came from a dojo, a shrine, or a school that we were visiting," Ranma said evenly, with just a hint of danger in her voice. "I learned to combined what I learned to make it unique on my own."
The two masters of Anything Goes blinked back at the redheads unexpected reaction. "So, if you intend to contact everyone that you stole from old man, I suggest you shut up," Ranma said sternly. "Also I think Master Happosai would have something to say about this as well."
"What does the Master have to do with this? And who is this Kuno boy?" Nodoka asked, surprised at Ranma's reaction to what should have been a devastating proclamation.
Ranma's smirk grew slightly. "Master Happosai has offered to train me seriously as his heir," Ranma answered. "In fact we're getting together with Cologne to work something out. I hope by the end of the day to be both their heirs." Ranma then cocked her head toward her mother. "Kuno is some rich idiot that pops here is trying to-"
"Ranma," Genma said, cutting her off. "What nonsense are you talking about? There is no way that the Master would deal with the Amazons."
"Well he didn't seem to have a problem with it when I suggested it," Ranma said rather pointedly. "They both want me and I hope to work it out so that they get what they want."
"We did not know of this...," Soun whispered as the room fell into another bout of uncomfortable silence.
"You know what the problem really is?" Ranma said conversationally. "The problem is with you two," she said as she motioned to her parents, "You only care about what you can get out of me, and you're not afraid using 'family honor' to get it.
"That's not true!" Nodoka defended. "You have to understand that we had always had your best interests in-"
"Grandkids for you and someone to dump all his shortcomings on for pops," Ranma interrupted, tiring of the discussion. "Tell me mom, how many illegitimate kids were you expecting me to have by the time I got back from the training trip? How many girls whose honor you want me to ruin, all so you could have grand kids? Three? Four?"
Nodoka pursed her lips, but remain silent.
"You know what's really messed up? I'll tell you," Ranma continued without leaving any room for her mother to comment. "You think it's perfectly okay for me to screw around in my guy form, but oh-no, not my girl form. I gotta conform to your double standard."
"Ranma, you're really a man," Nodoka said pointedly. "Your girl side is just a curse, so that really doesn't matter - and besides that's the way it always been."
"That's the way it's always been?" Ranma echoed incredulously. "That's the way it's always been? Has it ever occurred to you that 'the way it's always been' has been wrong?"
Ranma paused a moment to rethink her last statement to see if it made any sense. Once satisfied, she continued. "How come it's perfectly fine for a 'man among men' to have mistresses and not pops? Are you making him unmanly?" No one said anything as Ranma wound down. "My personal honor will not allow me to dishonor anyone else, especially for such a selfish reason as giving you grandkids."
There was a moment of silence, during which, emotions cooled slightly.
"You talk about honor, boy," Genma said haughtily, "but yours is questionable."
Ranma raised an eyebrow, but didn't respond.
"We have discovered that you have cheated on your fiancee - cavorting with another man behind his back," Genma said. "You have broken the agreement - an agreement that you swore to."
Ranma remained silent for a moment as Genma's word slowly sunk in. "What are you talking about ya' old fool?" Ranma asked irritably. "I haven't broken anything!"
"Yes you have," Genma said firmly. "You agreed to be Futaba's fiancee. Tendo and I saw you with a blond haired boy the other day - and being very friendly with him."
Ranma blinked at that and tried to think of what her father was talking abut. "Huh? Where?"
"You were just coming out of the Tarento building when we saw you kiss that boy," Genma all but shouted and then added with obvious false disgust, "and in public! Disgraceful."
Ranma pondered over this for a few seconds. "What in the hell is he talking about? I've only been downtown once and that was the photo shoot and after that Futana and I..." That was when she realized what was her father talking about. "Crap! He's right," she thought as the cold feeling of being caught shot through her spine. "Oh man," she thought in control panic. "I really screwed up."
Ranma took another sip of her tea to cover her panic. Then a realization came to mind. "Why in the hell am I panicking? I did nothing wrong, all I did was tease Futana."
"Let's see if I understand this...," Ranma drawled out while gathering her wits. "You think I'm cheating on my fiancee because I kissed my fiance's cousin?"
"Your fiance's cousin!" Genma said in mock horror. "What kind of family are you staying with?"
"Get your mind out of the gutter, old man!" Ranma shot back. "I was just teasing him... it was nothing serious. Besides, it's not up to you to decide what's proper or dishonorable for me anymore. That's my guardian's job."
Ranma sat and engaged in a staring contest with her father with expressionless eyes for several moments. She used the time to further gather herself together, then something else occurred to her. "Wait a minute! I made sure that there was no one around before I kissed Futana. How did-" She eyes narrowed in anger as she came to the obvious conclusion. "You were spying on me," Ranma stated cooly to her father.
"Just to be sure that you were acting in a honorable way," Genma said. "Like your mother said, we do have your best interests in heart."
Ranma snorted at this. "Yeah right," she retorted. "You judging what is honorable and what isn't is laughable; and the only best interest you are looking out for is the one that involves you."
"Selfish boy!" Genma roared. "I've given you the best training that anyone could wish for and this is how you thank me? All that hard work I put into making you the best there is, wasted because of your selfishness? Oh, what have I done to be cursed with such a thoughtless son?"
Ranma was at the point that she had enough of Genma's rant. "Cut the crap pops. No one here believes you."
This brought Genma and everyone who witnessed it up short.
"It's true, I am as good as I am due to the training trip and your daily sparring sessions. But you know, as well as I do, that it was more the monks at their shrines and the masters at their dojos that we had visited that had taught me the skills that were worth while. It was also MY hard work, not yours, that made me what I am today."
"Ungrateful child!" Genma roared. "If it wasn't for me, you wouldn't have-"
"Been tortured by the Cat Fist!" Ranma pointed out rather loudly. "Or any other short-cut you ran across! How about all the fiancees?" Ranma's voice started low but was now getting louder as she went on. "How about people I don't know hunting ME down for debts YOU owe? And that's on top of almost every other insane technique that crippled me more than helped me! Anything that you knew that was worthwhile to teach me, you never bothered to pass on unless you absolutely had to - and only then to save your own skin!"
"What is the Cat fist? And who is Kuno?" Nodoka asked, as she looked back and forth between her husband and child. "What is he talking about?"
Genma, remembering that Nodoka was there, paled. "Er... It's nothing. It's-"
"Yes Pops," Ranma interrupted harshly. "Why don't you tell mom about the Cat Fist? I'm sure she would be very interested in what that involves."
Nodoka mouth opened to say something, but she was cut off by Genma. "Ranma!" he shouted angrily. "Stop this foolishness and quit acting like a girl!"
"You idiot! Unless you've gone blind, I am a girl!" Ranma shouted back.
There was a heavy and deafening silence.
"WHAT!" Genma exclaimed, afraid that Nodoka may decide to take Ranma's lack of manliness on him. "Quit fooling around boy! You know that it's just the curse! You're really a boy!"
"You're an idiot, pops. My 'curse' as you call it is part of me - whether you like it or not," Ranma shot back. "It has been since Jusenkyo. I've just been too stupid to realize it until recently. Thanks to you and Jusenkyo, I'm just as much girl as I am boy. And you know what? I'm just fine with that."
Genma looked absolutely lost. His eyes shifted to the left and right. "I've had enough of this," Genma said sharply as he threw the contents of the teapot onto Ranma. "Let's see... how... much...," his voice trailed off as he saw that his son was still his daughter.
"What ja do that for!" Ranma shrieked as she suddenly stood and looked down on her wet clothes. "You idiot!"
Ranma, in her anger, moved faster than the untrained eye could follow. She was suddenly over the table and delivered a flying kick that connected to the stunned older man's chest. The force of the kick sent Genma flying through the open back doors and into the backyard where he bounced once, just short of the pond and the momentum took him over the small body of water. With a comical 'splat' he flattened out against the wall that surrounded the Tendo compound, hitting it with enough force to shake it. He stuck to the barrier and hung there for a few heartbeats before sliding down and coming to rest in a heap at the wall's base.
The rest of the room had fallen into a stunned silence as they all noticed a very important fact. "You didn't change," Nodoka whispered as she stared, wide-eyed, in shock.
Ranma stood there, ignoring the others. She was wet with tea - hot tea, and very, very pissed. After taking a few deep, calming breaths, Ranma remembered her manners and turned to face Kasumi. "I'm very sorry for the disharmony I have brought to your house," Ranma sincerely said as she bowed at Kasumi. "I should have exercised more restraint with your other guest."
Kasumi came out of the shock of Ranma not transforming and smiled at the still bowing redhead. "That's alright Ranma," Kasumi said merrily as Ranma rose from her bow. "Mr. Saotome was behaving rather badly... and he did attack you with hot tea. Please," Kasumi bowed at Ranma, "let me help you get cleaned up and offer you a change of clothing."
"Thank you for your forgiveness," Ranma said, bowing again. "But I wouldn't like to impose on you."
"No, that's quite alright," Kasumi said as she smiled a certain smile that Ranma caught and bowed at Ranma again. "It would be an honor to aid you."
"Why thank you, Kasumi," Ranma said returning the knowing, mischievous smile to Kasumi as she bowed once again. "You are too kind."
"Why thank you, Ranma!" Kasumi said merrily and with just a hint of mirth. "I must say that I'm so happy to have you as a guest. Please allow me to help you clean up," she offered again with a bow.
"I am very honored to be here," Ranma said, bowing. "I do appreciate your assistance and accept your offer of a change of clothing."
"Thank you for your appreciation," Kasumi said, bowing. "You know the way to the furo, I'll met you there with a change of clothing shortly."
"I thank you Kasumi." Bow.
"And I you." Bow.
Soon the two women were gone leaving a very confused group on people in their wake. Seconds stretched into minutes as each person looked at one another. Nodoka was still standing with wide eyes and in obvious shock, Soun sat speechless with a twitch in one eye, Akane was confused, and Nabiki, for once, didn't know what to make of this latest development.
"What just happened?" Akane asked, very confused as to what transpired.
Nabiki blink-blinked before answering. "You got me. I got lost after the third set of bows."
Ranma had removed her damp, tea-stained clothing and just finished washing the tea from her hair when Kasumi entered the bathing room. Kasumi was carrying the cute, navy blue outfit that Nodoka had bought for Ranma when she thought she was "Ranko" and set them down on the shelf. Kasumi looked at Ranma and smiled as Ranma return her smile with a bright one of her own. Giggles escaped Ranma as she enjoyed the memory of the little jest that they just pulled off.
"Hey ya' Kasumi," Ranma said with much amusement in her voice as she slipped into the fresh cloths. "Do you think they'll ever forgive you?"
Kasumi smiled brightly at Ranma. "Why of course they will," she answered. "After all, I'm so oblivious I couldn't possibly understand what was really going on."
Ranma stopped dressing for a few seconds and regarded Kasumi. She then began lightly giggled again.
Kasumi covered her mouth daintily with one hand. "Oh my," she said in a mock surprised tone. This had the effect of making Ranma commit to a full blown laughter.
"Oh Kasumi," Ranma said, settling down and wiping a tear from her eye. "You hide it so well. I need to learn how to do that."
"Whatever do you mean?" Kasumi asked in a self-mocking, air-headed way.
Ranma answered with a renewed fit of giggles and was soon joined by Kasumi.
"He didn't change." Nodoka said softly after the two women exited the room. "Husband," she then said sternly. "What does this mean?"
Genma had managed to drag himself back inside and was seated at the table, leaning heavily on it for support. Still recovering from having just been kicked into a very solid object, mainly the wall, Genma was too incoherent to understand the question. So he just sat there, weaving a bit in his seat while he collected himself.
Nodoka sighed. It would be a while before she could get anything intelligent out of her husband. "Has this ever happened before?" She asked openly to all in the room.
"Yes," Akane answered, "a few times before. There was the 'Cat's Tongue'..."
"But Ranma didn't react badly to the hot water," Nabiki pointed out., "other than get mad."
"... and then there was the locking ladle that Herb used."
"Both of those are back in China," Nabiki said.
"I can't think of anything really other than the ladle that would keep Ranma in his cursed form," Genma managed to say after quickly catching up to what he missed. "Whatever it is, we must get the boy to reverse it."
"Yes," Mr. Tendo agreed sagely. "The future of the schools is at stake."
"Ranma? May I ask you something?" Kasumi said after both had stopped their giggling. Ranma nodded in consent. "Why didn't you change?"
Gathering and bundling her soiled clothes, Ranma smiled as she straightened up. She looked around and put a finger up to her lips. Creeping over to the changing room door, Ranma opened it a crack and peeked out into the hallway. Assuring that they had privacy, Ranma turned to the eldest Tendo girl.
"I can't change because I'm... doing female stuff," Ranma explained in a hushed voice.
Kasumi blink-blinked at the young redhead. She seemed to mentally pause as she added two and two together. "You mean...," Kasumi said carefully as she motioned to the lower half of Ranma's body. "Er... Biology?"
"Yup," Ranma confirmed with a nod of the head. "I am one hundred percent women and the moment. I should be able to change back when I'm through."
"I never thought the curse would be so... complete," Kasumi said hesitantly. "I mean, I always knew that you changed, but I always assumed that it was... well, not quite so deep."
Ranma cocked her head to one side. "Well, you didn't know this, but my gynecologist had confirmed that my female body is very, very real."
Kasumi stared at the redhead for a few heartbeats. "So, how are you... handing this?"
Ranma shrugged her shoulders. "It's no big deal for me, as least not anymore. I mean... I was surprised the first time, but it's okay now." Ranma cocked her head. "The biggest problem with my condition was how other people treated me. Ya know: Freak, pervert, unmanly..."
"And how do they treat you where you're at?"
"They treat me like a human being," Ranma said with a smile. "My guardian, she knows about my condition and doesn't care." Ranma smile disappeared into a small, sad frown. "It's really kinda of sad isn't it? That people that I met only two months ago treat me more like family than my mom or pops ever did."
A heavy silence was shared by both girls as each was lost in their own thoughts.
Kasumi sighed. "Ranma, I know I haven't been-"
Ranma stopped Kasumi from continuing with an upturned hand. In that moment of silence, Ranma took Kasumi by the hands. "Kasumi, we've already talked about this," Ranma said. "I know the curse scares you, but even then you have treated me nicer than a lot of people I've known. You're closest I've had to a friend in quite sometime. Can you be still my friend?"
Kasumi beamed a smile at Ranma. "Yes, Ranma, I would love to be your friend."
Ranma met Kasumi's smile with one of her own. Both women stood there, holding each others hands, and feeling very comfortable about it. Kasumi then dropped one hand and raised it to her mouth as she began giggling softly.
"What?" A confused Ranma asked, backing away slightly to look at the taller woman.
"On nothing," Kasumi answered through light giggles and waving her free hand around.
"C'mon, what?" Ranma insisted.
Kasumi waved her hands around in a dismissive way. "I'm sorry Ranma," she said mirthfully. "I just thought of a little joke that we could play on your mother."
Ranma straightened the hem of the skirt she had just donned and looked at Kasumi with a raised eyebrow. "What do you have in mind?"
Kasumi smiled broadly and moved closer to the other girl. Cupping her hands over her mouth, Kasumi began whispering into Ranma's ear. A look of concentration dominated Ranma's features as she listened to Kasumi's whispered plan. Kasumi finished and backed away slightly from the shorter girl who was standing and blinking in uncertainty.
Ranma stared at Kasumi in the eye with a questioning look and asked, "Do you really think that would work?"
Kasumi looked back at Ranma with half-lidded eyes. "With the way your mother thinks, how can it not?"
Ranma pondered that of a second. A grin slowly grew on her face as she pointed to the eldest Tendo child. "Kasumi, you are evil," Ranma commented to the older girl.
Kasumi put a hand over her chest and gave Ranma a look of mock horror. "Oh my," she said dramatically then in an oblivious way. "You really think so?"
Ranma answered by grinning broadly and nodding her head rapidly.
Things were calmed down somewhat by the time the two women returned to the Tendo family room. Genma had manage to recover almost completely from his offspring's ire and was sitting slightly groggily at the table. Nodoka was beside him and looking very unsure, Akane was studying Ranma as she entered with a quizzical expression and Nabiki wore a cool look of indifference that was betrayed by a subtle keen gleam of interest in her eyes.
"I'll set these by the front door," Kasumi said as she carried the neat bundle of clothing in said direction. "I'll be just a moment."
"Ranma, I need to speak with you," Nodoka said in a very even tone from her seat. "I want to know why you remained in your cursed form after you were hit with hot water."
Ranma blinked at her mother in a very innocent way. "Oh that," Ranma said in the same even tone her mother had used. "That's easy, I'm doing... something - so I can't change."
Silence fell in the room. During the silence, Kasumi made her reappearance, once again as if on cue. Ranma's words got everyone in the room's attention. Nodoka blinked at her currently female child. "What exactly do you mean by 'something'?" She asked as she raised an eyebrow.
"Oh you know," Ranma said conversationally before leaning over Nodoka and dropping into a false hushed tone that was heard by all. "You know - girl stuff."
Nodoka's mouth opened and closed several times before she found her voice. "Ranma's curse is a fully functioning girl," Nodoka thought. "Maybe she's menstruating. But why would that keep him from changing?... and he's handling it well - too well."
Meanwhile Genma looked uncertain where the conversation was going and Soun stared off into space, also trying to figure out what this meant. Nabiki raised an eyebrow and tried to make sense of what she heard and Akane looked on in a puzzled way. During this moment, a strange silence fell over the room.
"It's okay mom," Ranma continued in the same false-hushed tone. "My fiancee was very patient and understanding with me - after all, it was my first time."
Nodoka's eyes looked puzzled as she tried to fantom Ranma's words. Then her eyes widened to a point that they looked as if they threatened to come out of their sockets as another idea as to why Ranma remained female seeped into her brain. Kasumi held her hand up to her mouth and gave a small "Oh my," in a way that just added the right kind of effect. The result was that Nodoka was mentally pushed toward a predicable path.
Nodoka's mouth opened as if to ask something, but froze in mid question. The seed had been planted and the suggestion was bearing fruit. Nodoka shut her mouth with a audible snap as the gears in her head turned. All was quiet for a moment as Nodoka fumbled mentally about. "Ranma," Nodoka began. "You didn't... did you?"
"Of course I did," Ranma answered the vague question. "Why shouldn't I?"
Silence once again visited the room as mother and neo-daughter face each other.
"Ranma I thought we talked about this," Nodoka said in a stern manner. "How could you have let this happen?"
"I didn't let nothing happen," Ranma said defensively. "It just happened, okay? It's supposed to be normal, so what's the big deal?"
"Ranma it is a big deal!" Nodoka replied sharply. "Do you realize what this means?"
Ranma blink-blinked at her mother. "Man," Ranma thought with internal glee while fighting the urge to giggle. "She's as easy as Kasumi said... this is fun!"
"Mrs. Saotome," Kasumi interrupted in a voice laced with the right amount of scandal. "I'm sure that Ranma understands, she picks up things so fast - she always has."
"I... see," Nodoka finally said. She was now fairly certain as to why Ranma remained female. "Of course... I was just... being sure. That's all."
Silence revisited the room. Kasumi remained by the entrance of the room, one hand over her mouth and wearing a stunned look that did not go unnoticed. Ranma had switched her blank look for one a great confusion as Nodoka's imagination ran away with her and and everyone else just wore looks of complete confusion.
By concentrating on relaxing her facial muscles, Ranma manage to stare blankly at her mother, adding a blink-blink for effect. Secretly Ranma was proud of the fact that she was able to hold a straight face. "I can get used to this," Ranma thought as she looked upon the face of a very unsure and agitated Nodoka. "Very used to this."
Nodoka's mind was running along the predictable routes just as Kasumi had figured it would. "Pregnant!" Nodoka's mind screamed in happiness. "Ranma might be pregnant! Grandchildren!" Then a maternal part of her mind kicked in. "Oh no! She's not married yet," she thought. "I have to get her to do the right thing - it doesn't matter if I'm not legally her parent. I will not have Ranma be an unmarried mother!"
During her runaway and erroneous thoughts, Nodoka had collected enough of herself to speak in a weird soft, authoritative, and slightly shaky voice. "R...ranma, we will need to s...speak about this."
"About what?" Ranma asked cluelessly while thinking in secret delight: "Man this is fun!"
"About your... your...," Nodoka floundered about. It wasn't everyday that you find that your son might be pregnant. It staggered the mind.
"Maybe about your... condition," Kasumi offered while waving a hand at Ranma's abdomen. "It hasn't been that long, but you really should take it easy Ranma."
"Yeah... maybe you're right, Kasumi" Ranma conceded while wearing a thoughtful expression. She then added with a shrug of the shoulders. "But I still don't see what the big deal is. I hear it happens to girls all the time."
The room fell into silence as various people tried to figure out what was going on and giving the one person who thought she knew time to collect herself.
"Ranma!" Nodoka admonished, coming out of her befuddlement. "This is serious! Do you understand what this could mean?"
Ranma blink-blinked at her mother, hiding any and all urges to break into a betraying smile. "Yes I do," she answered with a shrug. "I still don't know what the big deal is. I went to the school nurse, she just suggested staying warm and eating better."
Silence once again visited the room.
"How... long have you been...?" Nodoka asked carefully before her voice falling trailed off.
Ranma cocked her head in thought, then shrugged. "Since about last month," Ranma replied oh-so-innocently. "Why?"
In spite of the self control she had spent years developing, Nabiki did a spit take when it dawned on her what they could be talking about. "No frickin' way," Nabiki's mind howled. "There's is no way that mister 'man among men' would get herself - himself, whatever - knocked up."
"Oh my, I nearly forgot," Kasumi exclaimed before the situation could get any weirder for everyone but two of the occupants of the room. "Akane..."
Akane broke from whatever thoughts she was having on the conversation. She was about to reach the same conclusion as the other women had when she was interrupted. She looked up at her standing sister, who was giving her a knowing look, and swallowed.
"Um, Ranma? Do you have a moment?" Akane asked almost timidly.
Ranma turned away from Nodoka and looked at the unsure Tendo girl who was rising from her seat. Ranma blinked at Akane, shrugged her shoulders, and nodded. "Sure. What's up?"
"Not here," Akane said as she glanced at the others in the room. "Let's go to the dojo."
Ranma followed the youngest Tendo girl into the dojo; once inside, Akane quietly shut the door behind them. Ranma looked around and noticed that not much had changed in the few months that she had been away. The polished floor reflected the light that leaked through the shuttered door and windows. Ranma inhaled deeply, capturing the aged smell of the wooden structure. Mixed in with the musty smell of age was a sweeter scent of flowers. Looking about, Ranma spotted the flowers in two vases on either side of the small, well tended family shrine that was at its usual place, high up on the wall.
Everything was where it should be.
"Kasumi takes real good care of this place," Ranma thought absently as Akane peeked outside through a small crack she had left in the door. After waiting a few moments to be sure that they weren't followed by any eavesdroppers, Akane turned to her guest.
"Ranma," she began, "I'd like to apologize for my behavior at the store. I assumed the worse and shouldn't have. I'm sorry." She finished her apology with a formal bow.
Ranma stared at the youngest Tendo girl, wondering what she was talking about before in dawned on her. Her mouth dropped open when she did. "Wh-what?"
Akane sighed. "I said, I'm sorry. I acted badly toward you at the store and I shouldn't have."
Ranma stared at the Tendo girl with suspicion running through her mind. "Could this be a ploy to get me to come back?" Ranma thought. "Wait - I shouldn't jump to conclusions. I'd be no better than Akane if I did."
"Akane, what brought this on?" Ranma asked carefully.
Akane looked at Ranma with uncertainty in her eyes and sighed. "I, um, talked it over with Kasumi. I know that I... have a tendency to, well, to make assumptions. I shouldn't do that, especially as well as I know you."
Ranma cocked her head and studied Akane's ki. "She serious! Oh man, what do I do?"
Akane caught Ranma's head movement and took it to mean disbelief. "Ranma I'm serious here," she insisted. "I know I made some mistakes in the past and I sorry about those too."
"Oh man," Ranma thought. "If I say the wrong thing she might... hell, if I say the right thing taken wrongly I'll be... wait! I'll just be polite - that's always a safe bet."
"I accept you apology," Ranma said evenly, "and I thank you for it."
Akane seem to relax at Ranma's words. A comfortable silence fell between the two.
"Well... since we're in an apologizing mood," Ranma said softly. "I would like to say I'm sorry for not taking you seriously in the Art." Akane's look of surprise was priceless. "I promise in the future to try and spar with you - for real," Ranma said with a bow toward Akane.
Akane stared at Ranma that mimicked Ranma's expression a few minutes ago.
"Oh my," Nodoka said in a voice that was laced with an odd mixture of befuddlement, worry, and happiness. "Kasumi did Ranma tell you anything while you were helping her clean up?"
"Why yes, Mrs. Saotome, she did mention something," Kasumi answered in her oblivious way while she cleaned up the spilled tea from earlier since no one else had bothered to. "She is surprisingly accepting of the situation considering that it really hasn't been that long." She then added thoughtfully, "But then again, Ranma does adapt rather quickly."
Nodoka's mind wandered back to the "training" that she had given Ranma before meeting Ranma's fiancee. The video 'The City Nights' came strongly into mind. "Oh my," Nodoka said in a stunned voice. "Ranma really does take to his... training... doesn't... she?"
"I have always noticed that Ranma has been a quick learner," Kasumi said absently while wiping the table down, taking extra care to look preoccupied. "She picks techniques and skills after being shown only once. - and she is always eager to try them out."
"Oh dear," Nodoka said. She fell into silence again as her mind raced. "I wanted to use all this to pressure Ranma into marrying Akane, hopefully Kasumi, but now... oh dear..."
"What's going on?" Asked a completely lost Genma. "Is there something the matter with the boy?"
"Dear," Nodoka said evenly. "Our... I think our... daughter... is pregnant."
Genma's eyes got large, very large before narrowing. "Impossible!" He declared before verbally stumbling about. "There's no way that the boy would... would... be... no... he wouldn't be like that."
"It has to be a misunderstanding," Nabiki interjected calmly. "There is no way that Ranma would let a guy touch him like that."
"How about earlier this week?" Nodoka point out. "Ranma was acting intimate with a man... even to the point of kissing in a public place - a very passionate kiss according to these two." She added a wave to the seated men.
Everyone in the room took the time to digest that tidbit.
"If Ranma is behaving... behaving...
"Manly as a woman?" Kasumi suggested helpfully.
"... loose in public," Nodoka continued while shooting a questioning look at the elder Tendo sister. "Who can tell what she does in private."
The room one again fell to silence as everyone tried to wrap their minds around the possibility that Ranma might be pregnant.
"Saotome, something must be done!" Soun said in shocked aspiration. "Our dreams of joining the schools will be lost."
"I know Tendo, I know," Genma said while wincing at Soun's loud proclamation. The headache he had acquired from his meeting of the hard wall was returning with a vengeance. "I'm trying to think of a way to use this in our favor."
"You will do nothing - yet," Nodoka commanded. "We have to find out Ranma's plans are."
"But the schools...," Genma started to complain and quickly shut up as soon as he saw that Nodoka was in no mood to debate.
"Ranma? Why didn't you change?" Akane asked, breaking the comfortable silence that had fallen between them.
"Huh? Oh that. I'm just on my period and can't change back until I'm through," Ranma said nonchalantly.
Akane's eyes grew slightly larger. "You mean... you mean that you... you...," she finished the question by motioning to her own lower regions.
"Yep," Ranma answered the unfinished question. "I'm just as much a girl at the moment as you are." She paused and looked at Akane with a guarded expression. "You're not going to hold that against me - are you?"
Akane shook her head. "No. No, of course not. It's just... a surprise. That's all." She then echoed the word of Kasumi. "I never thought that the curse would be so complete."
Ranma cocked her head to one side and smile. "Akane, it's only a curse if you let it get to you."
Akane looked quizzically at the boy turned girl. "What do you mean? You've always said that-"
"I was wrong," Ranma said interrupting Akane. "I now know that the problem wasn't my condition, it was the way other people reacted to it."
Akane stared dumbly at the redhead.
Ranma sighed, but she felt she had to say what she thought was the truth. "Well, for starters, just because I can change sexes doesn't make me a pervert..."
Akane continued to look at Ranma, the corner of her mouth twitched slightly, but she didn't say anything.
"... a freak..."
Akane's shoulders drooped.
"... or less of a person."
Akane stared at Ranma in silence, then looked away. "I see...," she said faintly as an uncertain and uncomfortable silence fell between them.
"You know?" Ranma said suddenly, startling Akane a bit. "Two, three months ago I would have given almost anything to get rid of my girl side, now I can't imagine life without it."
Akane did a double blink-blink on Ranma's words. "You've changed," she said.
Ranma nodded. "Yes - for the better. I feel that I have found some peace for the first time in my life. All the... well most of the craziness in my life seems to have faded into the background."
"Are you happy?"
Ranma smiled as she nodded. "Yeah, I'm happy. I was upset when I found out that there wasn't really a cure, but once I accepted that... and other things that had happened, I made my... condition part of my life. Also it helps that I'm now surrounded by people who know about it and don't think less of me for it."
Akane wore an uncomfortable look on her face. A look that Ranma noted.
"What?" Ranma asked.
"Do you...," Akane's voice trailed off. She then had a thoughtful look on her face, cleared her throat and asked, "Do you like... boys?"
Ranma smiled, thought of how she felt around Futana, boy or girl. "I like people," she answered cryptically.
"What does that mean?" Akane asked, confused by Ranma's answer.
"It means it doesn't matter to me as long as it's a person I like and they respect me."
"Does that mean you like boys?" Akane asked warily.
"Does it really matter?" Ranma answered with a question.
"To some people it might," Akane answered plainly.
Ranma shrugged her shoulders. "Then that's their problem," she said. "I can't live just to satisfy other people's ideas."
"You really have changed," Akane said wide-eyed.
Ranma responded with a smile and a shrug as more silence feel between the two. Ranma felt she had to do something or the gulf between her and Akane may grow to the point of being irreparable. "Akane, do you like me?"
"What!" Akane said loudly. "Why of course no-"
"Please be honest with me," Ranma interrupted gently.
Akane stopped in mid-denial and stared at Ranma for a few heartbeats. She sighed heavily and lowered her eyes so she was staring at the floor. "I don't know," came a soft answer. "Sometimes... I think I might, other times I... I get frustrated... or see the other girls hang on you... then I get angry... or you say something that hurts me... and... I don't know."
Ranma nodded. "Yeah... I'm not exactly... polite, am I?"
Akane sighed. "I'm not any better...," she admitted.
Silence fell between the two.
Ranma looked thoughtful for a moment, then nervous. "Look," Ranma said breaking the silence between them. "It's... well, I like you. I really do. But I think our major problem outside our fathers is that we're too much alike - you know what I mean?"
Akane cocked her head before shaking it.
"I mean we've both have pride... maybe too much pride," Ranma explained while motioning with her hands. "We're both stubborn and... let's face it, we both do stupid things. You jumping to conclusions and me being... well, a jerk at times doesn't help."
If Akane felt insulted, she didn't show it.
"But we also have our good points," continued Ranma quickly. "We've helped each other out a lot and always seem to be there for the other when we really needed it. With idiots for fathers, always trying to push us together, I don't think we had any really time to get to know one another."
Akane nodded her head jerkily in affirmation.
"Things are different now," Ranma continued. "My guardian won't marry me off or allow my parents to."
"Where does that leave us?" Akane asked, with a touch of pain in her voice.
"It means that right now, I would like to be your friend more than anything else," Ranma answered. "It wasn't until I left here that I realized how little in the way of friends I really have. I asked Kasumi if she'll be my friend when she was helping me clean up, and she agreed - can you be my friend too?"
Akane blinked her eyes in thought before smiling back at Ranma and giving a nod. "I think I can do that."
Ranma smiled back at Akane as a comfortable silence fell between them. The mood shifted from clumsy uncertainty to warm, almost fuzzy feeling. "Gah," Ranma suddenly thought. "I better do something before I get all mushy and junk."
"So, what do you want to do?" Ranma asked.
Akane blinked at the sudden change of topic, but thought for a moment before smiling and suggesting, "You want to spar? I have an extra gi you could barrow."
Ranma thought about it for a moment and shook her head. "I gotta meeting to go to after I'm through here," she responded, but noticed the slightly hurt look on Akane's face. "But I'll tell you what," Ranma continued as she dug through her small purse. "Let me give you my cellphone number-"
"YOU have a cellphone?" Akane interrupted in surprise.
"Yeah," Ranma answered as she looked back up at Akane. "My guardian insisted that I have one." Ranma then looked a little sheepish. "I'm still trying to figure out how to use half of the stuff on it. Took me half a morning to learn how to use the basics on the thing. After that, it got easier." She then added proudly: "I now can program phone numbers into it."
"Wow, it even has a camera built in," Akane said as she examined the small flip phone.
Ranma shrugged her shoulders. "Don't know how to use it yet or what's it good for, but it came with the phone."
Akane handed the small device back to Ranma.
"Where were we?" Ranma asked, a little lost after the interruption. "Oh yeah, sparing. Let me give you my cell phone number and make a date to get together. Is that all right with you?"
Akane smiled in response.
When the pair reentered the house they were greeted by absolute silence. Genma and Soun were sitting in their spots by the game board, Kasumi was sitting by Nabiki, who was eying Ranma in a very close and scrutinizing way.
"Ranma," Nodoka said. "I need to... discuss something with you... privately."
Ranma gave her mother a puzzled look before recalling what state of mind she had left Nodoka in. Nodding her head in consent, Ranma followed her mother into the guest room. Once inside, Nodoka gently closed the door and turned and faced her offspring.
"Ranma... I need to know," Nodoka said in half dread, half hope. "Are you expecting?"
Ranma remained silent as she seemingly pondered the question. Taking a page from Kasumi's book, Ranma decided to play it oblivious. "Expecting what?"
Nodoka blink-blinked at her daughter. She didn't want and come out and say it, but she had to know. Unfortunately, she chose the 'beat around the bush method'. "Your condition, is it related to... sex?"
"Yeah," Ranma answered. "You know it was really surprising was how much blood was involved. For a while there I thought it would never stop."
Nodoka buried her face in her hands, lamenting her child's lost innocence. "It's all my fault!" she thought. "If I didn't try to use this to push Ranma into marriage, she wouldn't have lost her virginity." After several long moments of silence Nodoka looked up from her hands to Ranma, who was looking at her with curious eyes. "Ranma," Nodoka said. "You are going to do the right thing? You are going to marry your fiancee?"
Ranma shrugged her shoulders. "I think he's okay and all, but I don't think we're going to get married or anything."
"Ranma!" Nodoka said loudly, before calming herself with a deep breath. "You can't have your child without it's father. It's not right. It's not proper."
Silence fell between the two. Ranma considered several avenues of action before deciding on one. "Mom, are we talking about the same thing?" Ranma asked, secretly proud of the straight face she was holding.
"We're talking about your... condition," Nodoka said in a manner that was suppose to clarify, but didn't.
"Which condition are we talking about here?" Ranma asked. "Yes," she thought. "If I keep my facial muscles relaxed, I won't crack."
"Ranma, you know what I'm talking about," Nodoka said exasperatedly. "Let me put it this way: Are you pregnant?"
Ranma blink-blinked. "What gave you the idea that I might be pregnant?" Ranma asked with a good imitation of confusion on her face.
Nodoka wore a genuine look of confusion as she floundered about some. "But... you said... and Kasumi... ah... you said first time... your fiancee..."
"Mom," Ranma said plainly, "I'm on my period." She then blink-blinked again at the older woman and put her hands on hips. "You really have a dirty mind."
"You're... you're not pregnant?" Nodoka asked, still unbalanced by Ranma's revelation.
"No. Why? Should I be?" Ranma asked, her emotions swinging from the amusement of fooling her mother to annoyance.
"Er... no. Of course not," Nodoka verbally backpedaled. "I didn't think you'd do something improper."
"But it would be proper for me to get a girlfriend pregnant, right?" Ranma asked sharply.
Nodoka opened her mouth to say something, but it died on her lips before she could get it out. "I'm not sure," she finally managed to say.
"Now we're getting somewhere," Ranma thought in triumph.
"But I've always tried to look out for your well being," Nodoka added. "Won't you please consider coming back into the family, I'm sure whatever problems that you think we have can be worked out."
"Spoke to soon," Ranma now thought with frustration. "And how can I hope to retain what little honor I have left if pops keeps selling me off?" Ranma pointedly asked her mother.
"Ranma, I will deal with your father," Nodoka said firmly. "I assure you that if you come-"
"Ranma please," Nodoka was imploring. "Why forsake your family? After all that we did to assure that you were-"
"Mom," Ranma interrupted in an even voice. "You're really pushing it."
"Ranma, please and try to understand our point of view," Nodoka said. "Everything that we have strived for, before you were even born, was-"
"No," Ranma interrupted again in a stern tone.
"But Ranma," Nodoka began imploringly only to be stopped by Ranma's upheld hand.
"No," Ranma repeated firmly with finality. "I can't live for yours or anyone else's dreams. I have my own life to live and my own dreams to live for - not ones that someone else picked, plan out, or decided for me. You do understand what the real problem is don't you mother?"
Nodoka stared blankly at her offspring, confusion on her face.
Ranma waved her hands around at nothing in particular. "The problem is that everyone, and I mean everyone, wants and expects me to make their dreams come true - regardless of my own wants or needs."
"Ranma, that's not exactly true," Nodoka objected in a quiet voice. "We all had you best interests in mind when we-"
"Planned out my life for me?" Ranma interrupted Nodoka once again, this time irritation and frustration leaking into her voice. "What about what I want? When do I get a say on how my life goes? For god's sake mom, you want me to marry someone I barely know, so YOU can get grandkids. Mom, that's not in my best interest, that's your selfishness."
Nodoka wanted to object, but it died on her lips when she couldn't find fault with Ranma's reasoning.
"While I do plan on settling down and starting a family someday," continued Ranma. "I'm not going to do that just yet. I have a lot I want to do before that happens."
A solid wall of silence fell enveloped mother and daughter as the chasm between them grew ever wider. "But I waited so long...," Nodoka said quietly and depressingly.
"You can wait a little longer," Ranma said evenly. Then after a few heartbeats of silence, she continued. "Mom, I don't want to be mean, I don't want to be cruel, but if you push me, you'll never see me - or any child of mine - ever," Ranma said as plainly as if she were commenting on the weather.
Nodoka's eyes widened at the proclamation. "Y-you wouldn't," Nodoka said, trying to hide the shakiness in her voice. "I'm your mother!"
Ranma's eyes narrowed on the taller woman before her. "Yes I would," Ranma said sharply. "As far as being my mother... you're not my mother. You're just someone gave birth to me and then gave me away when I was six."
"B-but I was only doing-"
Ranma didn't want to hear any excuses and cut Nodoka off sharply this time. "You should have been more concerned with what was right for your child, not what an idiot like pops wanted. You had to have known what kind of person pop's was."
The silence of before had returned, this time heavy and depressing.
Nodoka reluctantly nodded in agreement. "Will... will you give me another chance to be your mother?"
Ranma thought for a moment. "The smart thing to do would be to say 'Hell no!'," she thought as she looked at the sad eyes of the woman who gave her birth. "But... I can't. Maybe I'm just stupid that way, but I gotta give her another chance."
The silence dragged out for a few more seconds before Ranma answered. "Yes mom, I will. But you have to understand because of what pop's has done... and is still doing, I won't be coming back. Ask him about Kuno."
Nodoka's looked changed to one of remembrance. "I will... I've forgotten with all that has happened. I'll have to ask him about the Cat Fist as well."
Ranma smiled. "I'm sure you can get the truth out of him. In the meantime, I would like to get to know you better," she then added in a lighter tone, - "maybe you can teach me some of that kendo style you mastered."
Nodoka smiled a small smile, beads of tears forming at the outer corners of her eyes.
"Oh man, why do girls have ta cry when they're happy?" Ranma lamented to herself as she wiped the 'sweat' from her own eyes. "I gave my cellphone number to Akane," Ranma continued quickly before the situation got too mushy for her to handle, "you can get it from her. Give me a call and we'll work on setting up a date and get together."
Genma watched Ranma until she disappeared around a corner, heading in the direction of the Cat Cafe. A hollow feeling crept into his gut. "My son," he thought with a sense of emptiness that he couldn't define. "I've lost my son..."
A pang of regret started to flow through him, but Genma quickly suppressed it. "I did what was necessary," he thought convincingly to himself. "If I didn't Ranma and I wouldn't be here today."
He continued to stare at the corner that Ranma had just rounded many moments after she had disappeared.
"If I didn't do all those things to get here, my son wouldn't be walking away from me now," Genma thought as the feeling of loss increased slightly. Shaking his head clear as he reentered the Tendo's, he banished the troubling thoughts. "Must be getting soft in my old age," he concluded.
On that thought, Genma entered the dojo where he caught the tail end of a conversation between Nabiki and Nodoka.
"Nabiki? You know that plan that you came up with, the one about using the photos of my daughter to blackmail her?"
"But we had a deal," Nabiki said in an almost whiney way.
"The situation has changed," Nodoka said as sharply as her katana. "I have realized that I have lost my child in more ways than one, but she has decided to be merciful and give me another chance. I will not risk losing Ranma completely." Her eyes then narrowed into an extremely dangerous look. "If you do anything on your own that will drive Ranma away from me, you'll only live long enough to regret it - and not much longer. Do I make myself clear?"
Nabiki could only gulp loudly and nod. "Nodoka is scary," she thought as Genma sat in his traditional spot across from Soun, ignoring the conversation. He studied the game board before him and contemplated a move. Reaching out he fingered a piece before relocating it in a different place.
Nodoka then turned her attention from the middle Tendo girl and faced her husband who was starting a game of Go with Soun. "Genma!" she said loudly, drawing the attention of everyone in the house. "I would like to talk to you about our child," she drew her sword and pointed it at Genma's throat, "a boy named Kuno," she then pressed the tip against her husbands neck, "and something called the Cat Fist."
"Well that went well," Ranma thought as she headed toward the Cat Cafe. "Things are turning out better than I hoped."
"Halt, evil enemy of woman!" a voice called from behind.
Ranma sighed. "I have a habit of speaking to soon," she muttered under her breath.
Turning she faced Ryoga. He stood there, carrying his oversized backpack, his umbrella in one hand, and a rose in the other. To most people Ryoga would have looked all right, but Ranma saw right though the rough exterior and what she saw alarmed her.
"Man, when was the last time you ate?" Ranma asked of Ryoga.
"When one is on a mission from the gods, one doesn't stop to think of such mundane things as food and drink," Ryoga answered in a mockery of how Tatewaki Kuno would sound.
Ranma rubbed her temples with her free hand. "Great," she thought. "He's still on the 'Kuno' jag. Well, I can't let him starve." Ranma sighed as she looked at the lost boy. "C'mon," Ranma said while grabbing Ryoga's hand and ignoring what he had just said. "I'm heading to the Cat Cafe. Let's get you fed."
"Unhand me you villainous villain," Ryoga objected as he was being involuntarily pulled along by the redhead. "I have no need of your assistance."
Ranma stopped and faced her sometime friend and rival. "Your hungry and you'll never find the Cat Cafe by yourself. C'mon, let me help you," Ranma insisted.
"I have no need of your help," Ryoga shot back. "I'm sure that this is all some elaborate scheme to keep me away from my dear Akane."
Ranma's left eyebrow twitched. "Look man, I'm trying to help you here," she said in a tired voice. "I'm not trying to keep you away from anyone." Ranma then wore a thoughtful look just as a grin spread over her face. "Look man," Ranma purred into Ryoga's ear as she brushed up against him in a slightly suggestive way. "It's not like I'm trying to drag you into an alley, tear off your clothes, and have hot, passionate sex with you. I'm trying to get you some food - unless it's me you want to eat."
Ryoga's eyes widened as his brain shorted out at Ranma sudden change of tack. "Ah-ah... huh?" Was all he managed to get out before he found himself being dragged along, unresisting this time, stopping just outside the entrance of the Cat Cafe.
"Here we are," Ranma announced sunnily as she released Ryoga, bringing Ryoga out of his stunned state.
"I didn't need your help," Ryoga objected.
"Well it doesn't matter," Ranma said patiently. "We're here," She said with a wave of her hand as she turned and faced Ryoga. "You are hungry, aren't you?" Ranma asked pointedly.
"Of course not!" Ryoga snapped in a loud voice.
The silence that fell between the two was interrupted by a loud howling noise, not too unlike the call of a lonely dog. Ryoga held his stomach and gave Ranma an embarrassed look. "Heh," he added sheepishly.
Ranma rolled her eyes and shook her head, making her hair move counter to the motion. Ryoga noted that Ranma looked incredibly feminine doing that and it had the effect of throwing him off mentally. Seeing Ryoga off in lah-lah land again, Ranma reached out and grabbed Ryoga by the hand once again and dragged him, this time uncomplaining, into the Cat Cafe.
Ranma looked at the time and sighed. "This is taking far longer than I thought," she thought. "I guess making it to the beach ain't gonna happen."
They had been talking for about two hours
Ranma was getting a little frazzled at the two masters as each tried to sway her to their side. Each citing the benefits of their particular style. Ryoga, long getting bored with what was going on, snored softly with his head resting on the table. Next to his head were three large empty ramen bowels.
"Look," Ranma said, frustration leaking into her voice. "I'm getting tired of everyone thinking that they know what's best for me. I just had this discussion with my mom, and I'm getting really tired of it. We're here to see if we can work something out, I'm not going to be stuck in a bidding war between you."
The two elderly masters looked at the redhead for a moment. Cologne sighed. "Very well," she said gravally. "What are you proposing?"
Ranma thought a bit. "I really wouldn't mind being heir to both of your styles. Isn't there anyway we can work toward that?"
Happosai and Cologne looked at Ranma and then at each other. It was like they were talking without using any words. All was silent as Happosai and Cologne continued to stare at one another for several moments, but there was an undercurrent of tension that was building. After a short while, the tension evaporated and both masters nodded at each other.
"Very well," Cologne said, speaking for both of them. "How about this: Shampoo administers the Kiss of Blood Sisterhood. This will retain her honor and make you a member of the tribe."
Ranma nodded. "Okay, I can agree to that, but do I have to go to China?"
Cologne shook her head. "No. Once I name you the heir to my martial arts style, any students will be sent to you. Seeing what the political situation is back home, it may be safer for you to stay here."
Ranma looked confused at that, not really understanding, but didn't ask any questions. Seeing the look on the young girls face, Cologne felt obligated to clarify.
"If the PRC ever decides to "rein in" our little corner of China, the tribe would feel better knowing that one of it's greatest treasures was in a safe place."
"Treasure?" Ranma asked.
Cologne smiled. "Knowledge is a treasure - one that is priceless and many sell cheaply. The martial arts that you will learn under me will be priceless treasure that must be preserved."
Ranma blink-blinked at Cologne, thought a moment on her words, then nodded.
"You'll be my heir as well," Happosai spoke up before mumbling something inaudible.
"What?" Ranma asked.
"I said: I'll be good. No more panty raids."
Ranma nodded approvingly as Happosai continued more jovially, "Besides, I can get all the silky darlings I want from vending machines!"
Ranma grabbed the edge of the table as she hauled herself up from the painful face-fault she just did. "They have those!" she asked incredulously.
Happosai nodded sagely. "Of course they do my boy," he cheerfully answered, then cocked one head to one side as Ranma reseated herself. "All worn by beautiful high school girls, oh how lucky I am to live in these times!" He said as he looked at Ranma with wide doe-like eyes.
"I don't believe it," Ranma muttered.
"You don't get out much, do you?" Happosai snorted.
Ranma opened her mouth to say something about being on the road ten years, but thought better of it. She sighed. "I do need to get out more," she concluded to herself.
Cologne let a small cackle escape as she noted Ranma's reaction.
"Tell me, my boy," Happosai asked jovially as Ranma mulled over her ignorance. "What are you going to do with the dojo?"
"The dojo? Nothing. Why?" she replied, genuinely confused.
"Well the dojo belongs to the school of Anything Goes and is passed on to the Grandmaster of the school," Happosai explained. "As the future Grandmaster, you will own it someday."
Ranma blinked. "You mean to tell me that the Tendos don't own it?" Ranma asked in surprise.
"Nope," Happosai answered. "Tendo took it over after your father and him sealed me that cave. Why do you think he had no choice but to let me stay there. After all, as Grandmaster, I technically own it."
Ranma blinked again. "So that's why..."
"They probably figured that you would be the next Grand-master," Cologne said sagely. "That way the Tendos will keep their home as well as the joining the schools."
"Not to mention secure their retirement...," Ranma muttered. "But what would have happened if Happosai named someone else?" Ranma pointed out. "All their planning would go up in smoke."
"True," Happosai said. "But they were banking on me being sealed away forever."
Ranma weighed that thought.
"So what are you going to do with it?" Happosai asked, bring Ranma out of her thoughts.
"Nothing - yet," Ranma answered with a shake of her head. "I still gotta be the Grand-master first - not just an heir."
Happosai nodded approvingly at Ranma. "Good boy! Not putting the cart before the horse."
Ranma sighed. She was getting very weary and tired and was ready to go home. "Let's get the formalities over with," she said, letting her weariness leak into her voice.
Cologne nodded, seeing how drained Ranma was. "Shampoo!" She called out to the kitchen area. "Come here and greet your blood sister."
Ranma walked out the front of the "Cat Cafe' with her purse slung over her shoulder and her soiled clothes bundled under one arm. She looked to the sky and at the receding sun. "No beach today," she thought somewhat disappointed. "Maybe next time."
She sighed as she began her journey to the bus stop. "I can't believe Ryoga got lost between the table and the bathroom," she thought in exasperation. "That idiot!"
Ranma stopped long enough to let out another sigh.
Shaking her head, Ranma resumed walking into what was left of the day. A feeling of melancholia began to fill her as she paused again for a moment to examined this strange feeling. "My life has changed. Changed so quickly," she thought as the melancholy feeling change to uncertain fear. "Changed because I made it change, not because someone wanted something out of me."
Ranma paused again and stood on the sidewalk, watching as the sun hid behind a tall building. A chill came over her as she realized that any mistakes or successes that she has in her life from here on out will depend on what she does. It was a slightly lost and scary feeling.
"Can't blame the panda anymore," Ranma thought as she resumed her walk. "Any mistakes I make will be all mine."
Ranma finally reached the bus-stop and took a seat on the long, narrow bench as she waited for the right bus. The stop area was relatively uncrowded as it was past the time for office workers to head home. An empty feeling filled her. Sitting and considering her situation, Ranma firmed up her resolve and pushed the uncomfortable feelings away.
"I'll have help, that's for sure," Ranma thought, for she knew that the Shimeru's would be there for her. "But I'll be calling the shots in my life... that's... that's... scary."
Ranma sighed. It was exciting and scary and unknown, but she was determined to face it. With that, she boarded the bus and headed home.
Sun, sand, and water.
Three things to enjoy in the waning days of summer.
Ranma kicked up some of the sand using his toes as he relaxed and enjoyed the sensation of the ocean breeze as it caressed his body. He sat on a low retaining wall about fifty feet from the surf, watching as Futaba and Misaki frolicked in the waves, playing a game of tag. Each were in their 'other bodies' and looked upon being in a very public place as a challenge of control. So far neither one of them had slipped. The experiment that had brought Ranma to the Shimeru's had ended and Ranma and Futaba's participation had been noted as a failure. How the whole experiment ended nationwide was not revealed and Ranma wasn't particularly interested in knowing.
Seated next to Ranma was Futana, also watching the two love birds as they played at the ocean's edge.
"Not going to swim today?" Futana asked the pigtailed boy.
Ranma slightly cocked his head to the side in thought. "Haven't decided yet," he answered. "I brought my swimsuit just in case though."
"Oooo - is it the new one you were looking at two weeks ago?"
Ranma shook his head. "No - but it's something like that, my old one was starting to wear."
"Is it anything like the the one you wore for the Kobushi shoot last month?" Futana asked in a hopeful way.
Ranma shook his head again. "Nah. I wanted something that would stay on me when I hit the water, not fall off."
"Shoot. I thought it was cute," Futana said.
"I did look good in it," Ranma agreed.
"Too bad," she commented with a wag of her eyebrows. "I was kinda hoping to see more of you."
"Well, you been gone for two weeks to your 'Student Teacher Seminar'," Ranma pointed out. "You haven't missed much - and besides, I've been busy."
"I see," Futana said as she shot a sidelong glance at the pigtailed boy. Silence fell between them and only the sounds of water, wind, and people playing in the surf filled the void.
"So... how did your date with Akane go?" Futana while trying not to look too interested in the answer.
"It wasn't a date," Ranma said firmly. "We entered a Kobushi sponsored martial arts competition."
"It still counts as a date, you know," Futana said slyly.
Ranma rolled his eyes before continuing. "Well anyway, I did pretty good and so did Akane."
"How did you place?"
"Second in women's," Ranma answered. "I would've placed first, except the old ghoul - I mean, my teacher, Cologne, entered at the last minute using her status as a Grand-master to do so and took first."
"Why'd she do that?"
"Because she said I got too cocky earlier," Ranma answered with slight embarrassment. "My... er, ego gets me in trouble, so she entered to make sure I learned that."
"She beat you that badly?"
Ranma nodded and unconsciously rubbed a still sore spot.
"What does Kobushi think of you coming in second?"
"They weren't too sure until they found out that Cologne was my teacher and I was the heir to her style. After that, they thought it was great," Ranma answered. "They thought it added to the mystery of their spokesmodel - you know 'the Kobushi girl: heir to a obscure, but powerful martial arts form' kind-of-thing."
"How did you do in the men's?" Futana asked. "I know you must have entered."
Ranma stared off into the ocean and mumbled something.
"Excuse me, I didn't quiet catch that," prodded Futana.
"I came in third," Ranma finally admitted, facing Futana.
"Third? Who came in first?"
"Happosai," Ranma plainly answered. "He entered using the same method as Cologne did."
"Who took second?"
Ranma looked back to the ocean and its churning waves. After a moment of silence, Ranma spoke in the same plain voice. "Some old guy named Chiun."
"Chiun? Chiun? Who's he?"
Ranma shrugged his shoulders.
"How? I thought you said you don't lose. How did he beat you?"
"I got cocky and underestimated him," Ranma said with slight annoyance. "I didn't think a..., er cocky guy like that be as good as he was. He kinda took me by surprise."
"I bet you caught hell for that," Futana said.
Ranma nodded again while rubbing another sore spot. "Yeah. That's why Cologne entered. Happosai entered just to show up Chiun. After the tournament, the Freak, that is, Happosai, and Cologne really worked me over big time. They said it was shameful that I underestimated Chiun so badly, considering the fact that Chiun made all the way into the finials."
A momentary silence fell between the two.
"How did Akane do?" Futana asked.
"She came in twelfth in women's," Ranma said. "She's gotten much better, but she still has problems with her confidence."
"Confidence? What do you mean?"
"Well, she's good and all, but she questions herself too damn much in a fight, ya know what I mean?" Ranma responded. "When you are in a fight, you have to decide and commit to a course of action and Akane keeps second guessing herself or worse, doesn't think and acts on impulse with the first option that presents itself without considering other alternatives."
"You been helping her with that?"
"Yup," Ranma answered as he nodded. "I've been sparing with her about twice a week."
"So that's where you go on Tuesday and Thursday nights."
Ranma nodded in response, but didn't say anything. Silence revisited the two as they watched the male Misaki dunk the female Futaba under a wave. She came up laughing and splashed Misaki with a handful of water.
"How about your date with Kasumi?" Futana pried. "Did that go better than the one with Akane?"
Ranma rolled his eyes again, adding a shake of his head this time. "It wasn't a date. We went to see the 'Iron Chief'. She's a fan and had always wanted to go, so I used my position as the Kobushi spokes girl to score some tickets."
"You took your date to a cooking show?" Futana asked incredulously.
"It wasn't a date," Ranma insisted. "We're just friends and we like to cook. Besides, we were both girls at the time - and it did give us some ideas. You didn't seem to mind the Teriyaki Octopus I cooked up the other night for your homecoming."
"Yeah," Futana responded as she patted her belly. "That was good."
"Damn," Ranma said suddenly.
"What?" Futana asked with slight concern.
"I almost forgot, I gotta test coming up next week in history," Ranma explained. "If I screw that up, your pops is going to read me the riot act."
"Relax," Futana chided. "I'll help you study. Besides, you need a break."
"Yeah..., but I'd feel much better if I didn't mess up the last test so badly," Ranma lamented.
"I'll help you with it," Futana insisted. Ranma responded by nodding and staring out at the ocean.
"So, what else is new?" Futana asked tonelessly.
"Well, Nabiki tried to blackmail me about a week and a half ago," Ranma answered as he looked at Futana's profile. "She had some pictures of me in the furo that my mom missed when she took all her stuff away. She didn't get very far and after the lawyers got through with her she was just glad not to be in jail."
Futana shook her head. "What is the matter with that girl?"
"She thinks of money too damn much," Ranma snorted. "Or, she thinks of getting other people's money too damn much. Just the idea of getting her hands on my money made her careless."
"The lawyers cleaned her out, eh?"
Ranma nodded. "And we got enough evidence to put her away if she tries anything in the future," Ranma said. "She's real brave when she thinks other people are going to get in trouble for her crap, but when she's the one that finally gets caught, she cries like a baby. It's kinda neat having her under my thumb, instead of the other way around. I'm glad my mom tipped me off."
"She did?" Futana commented with a raised eyebrow. "Good. There may be some hope for her yet. Did I miss any new developments about your mother?"
Ranma sighed. "No - she's still about the same. It's weird being around her now though. We been getting along all right now that I don't have to worry about her forcing some weird-ass sense of honor or manliness on me. But she's been... I don't know, either acting relaxed and happy or clinging around me."
"She's just scared that you'll leave her for good, she'll be all right. How about your dad?"
"We haven't... spoken much," Ranma answered. "It's like... he's... I don't know. The times we've gotten together and spared, he's not into it like he was... like his drive is gone or something."
The couple fell silent and watched the waves come and go. Ranma felt a certain depression creep up on him.
"The water looks nice," Futana commented.
"Yeah...," Ranma said, pulling himself out of the funk he was starting to fall into. "Ya know? I think a swim would be good right now." He then took a side long glance at the young woman sitting next to him. "You better go change too."
Futana looked at Ranma in confusion. "What do you mean? I already have my swimsuit on."
"I know," Ranma said slyly. "But after you see me in my new swimsuit, you won't be able to stay a girl."
"Is that a challenge?" Futana dared.
Ranma gave her a look that was half smirk and half smile before sliding off the low wall. He grabbed his bag, that had a bottle of water to change and a swimsuit to change into, and headed in the direction of where individual changing tents were lined up, high on the beach. Futana stared after the pigtailed boy, thought a moment, then headed for another changing room.
Soon Futana arrived back to where he and Ranma were sitting. He was decked out in yellow swim trunks with a red stripe down the side. Looking around for the redhead, he felt a pang of disappointment that she wasn't already there. "Damn, what can be taking her so long?" he thought impatiently.
He had just let out a sigh when two thin arms encircled him from behind.
"Waiting for someone handsome?" a mirthful voice asked that Futana recognized.
"Well I was waiting-" Futana started to say as he turned to face Ranma, only to be cut off at the sight before him.
Ranma was in a very nice, one-piece white swimsuit - very nice close-fitting swimsuit. Ranma's breasts were held in formfitting cups that just molded to her like a second skin without revealing anything. The straps that held up the top crossed over above Ranma's breasts and hooked behind her neck. The lower straps of the top went down her sides, accentuating her curves and angled downward until they met the material from the high cut bottoms. Ranma's back was totally exposed.
Ranma's hair was taken out of the pigtail and was hanging loose around her shoulders as it cascaded down her back. Smirking, Ranma placed a hand on one of her hips and cocked an eyebrow. "What do you think?" She asked in a husky manner.
Futana opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out. He tried again with the same results. Ranma stood and watched in amusement as Futana did a good imitation of a fish. "Man, he's so easy," Ranma thought with a shake of her head and a soft giggle.
Taking action, Ranma reached out and grabbed Futana by the hand and dragged him toward the surf. Once in knee deep water, Ranma used her strength to spin Futana around once before releasing him, sending him skipping over the waters surface. Ranma watched with much mirth as Futana skipped three times, spinning on his bottom as he did so. On the last skip, Futana hit the water at such an angle that the waves caught his swim trunks and what was seen of him before being swallowed by the waves were two legs sticking straight up with yellow swim trunks at the ankles.
Futana resurfaced in the waist deep water with a scowl on his face and a mock look of anger in his eyes. Pulling up his swim trunks, he stalked toward the giggling redhead as she quickly backpedaled away from the approaching Futana.
But not too fast...
... while the chase may be fun, getting caught is more fun.
Soon a kicking and shrieking Ranma was being carried into the surf, being held like a bride crossing the threshold by Futana. Using his upper body strength, Futana tossed Ranma into an oncoming wave. Ranma emerged smiling, laughing and splashing.