Title: A trip to self

Author name: Trugeta

Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by Rumiko Takahashi and VIZ as well as Kajishima Masaki and many others. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. Note further that I don't own any of the trademarks mentioned in this story. Also, the OCs used in this story are a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead is not intended and purely coincidental.

The story focuses on Ranma and Kasumi and is set after Volume 38 of the Manga. It's an AU and Reviews are welcome and appreciated.


Chapter 32: The schools - united at last?

The sun was just setting when a group of three teenagers could be seen walking up from the lake towards the Masaki residence. It was quite apparent that none of the group of two young women and one young man walking at a leisurely pace were paying any heed to the encroaching evening that brought with it milder and thus more enjoyable temperatures.

The local wildlife that was usually so active around this time of the day was unusually silent, but this silence suited the de facto leader of the group, one Ranma Saotome, quite well, as it gave her some much needed time to recompose herself. she was inwardly grateful that neither Ayeka nor Tenchi made any attempts at instigating a conversation, be it small talk or a serious discussion pertaining to what had just happened, for she wasn't entirely certain she wouldn't snap at them. which was something neither of her friends deserved.

Ranma suppressed a fierce scowl with difficulty as her thoughts involuntarily returned to the cause of her ire, her efforts at trying to distract herself with going through the arsenal of techniques under her belt proving utterly futile. 'Just why the fuck did Ryoga have to be such a jerk?' she thought angrily, her eyes narrowing.

The redhead didn't even notice that her feet led her automatically up the path that led up to the Masaki residence without conscious thought, her current home away from home, well, as much of a home as the Tendo Dojo had become in the last two years, so lost was she in her thoughts of why Ryoga Hibiki, one of her oldest rivals and sometimes friends had, after mysteriously appearing on the scene as he was wont to, resorted to using a lethal attack in what she had treated as one of their usual spars. A lethal attack Ryoga had vowed would never see the light of day again, to boot.

Grumbling to herself and muttering curses under her breath, Ranma absently pushed open the front door, only to be startled out of her dark musings by the unexpected presence of an older auburn-haired woman who was waiting for them in the entrance hall. Ranma was half-tempted to curse the Gods for bestowing upon her yet another headache, but the worried expression prevalent on her mother's face gave reason to hope that maybe, just maybe she wouldn't add fuel to the fire.

"Ranma, what happened? I heard explosions, but Washu-chan assured me that everything was alright. I'm not sure I should believe it, though. Should I, dear?" Nodoka asked with her hands planted on her hips, a suspicious look adorning her face.

Ranma stopped her face from falling seeing as it seemed her hopes were about to be shattered, and the frown prevalent on her face deepened. a deep sigh escaped the younger redhead and she rubbed her temples, closing her eyes briefly before looking up at Nodoka. "Mind if we sit down in the living room first, mom? I could really do with a bit of sitting down," she muttered in hopes of delaying her likely fate, that being a stern talking-to and yet more evidence that everyone, even her mother, believed the worst of her.

Nodoka considered her son-turned-daughter's words for a moment before inclining her head. "Not at all, dear, so as long as I get to know what just happened."

"Promise, mom," Ranma agreed in a tone that hid her relief, her face relaxing a bit, and led her mother into the living room whence she plopped down on one of the many chairs. Ayeka, who was following as moral support, mirrored Ranma's actions, choosing to sit down next to her friend while Nodoka took a seat across from her daughter.

Once comfortably seated Ranma steepled her fingers and looked her mother in the eyes, yet a renewed twinge of pain from behind her eyes caused her to scrunch up her face in discomfort. "Before I give you an explanation you probably won't like, do you have some Midol on you, mom? My head's killing me," she muttered, having spontaneously decided to give Ayeka's suggestion a shot seeing as it could hardly get any worse.

Nodoka nodded. She'd indeed had the foresight to stash a small package of the painkillers due to the fact that she had anticipated how her son-turned-daughter had to be feeling seeing as it was her first menarche and produced the requested item, popped two pills into her palm and held her right hand out to her daughter. "I figured you'd need them at some point, dear," the older redhead commented with a knowing look, incidentally explaining why she had the painkillers on her.

Ranma took the proffered pills gratefully and helped herself to one of the bottles of water some thoughtful individual - likely Sasami - had placed on the table and gulped down the Midol, her face briefly scrunching up at the foreign taste of the medication. Looking at the large pot of tea and the china Ayeka's little sister had also placed on the table Ranma resolved to wash away the medication's taste as soon as was opportune.

A frown briefly played on her face as the thought crossed Ranma's mind that she, a master level martial artist with supreme control over her body was forced to resort to such means to reach a somewhat normal state of mind, but she knew full well that the alternative - her having a splitting headache and being moodier than Nabiki without her morning coffee - was less than desirable.

Sighing deeply Ranma leant back and briefly closed her eyes, hoping that her headache would soon be history. "That should hopefully do the trick, as bad as that stuff tastes it can only be good for me," she muttered and both Ayeka and Nodoka looked sympathetic. "You wanted to know what happened, mom? Well, I blew my top, completely. That happened."

A disapproving frown settled on Nodoka's face and she met her daughter's irritated gaze with a stern look. "The explosions and noises I heard made me think a war was being waged outside, and if this... occurrence was you expressing your displeasure at something I certainly hope you had a good reason," she said gravely.

"Mrs. Saotome, trust me when I say that Ranma had every reason to act as she did. I don't know if I'd shown as much restraint as she has," Ayeka spoke up, her posture regal and serious.

Nodoka, who'd turned to look at Ayeka as soon as the Crown Princess had begun to speak didn't miss the brief flicker of disbelief in her daughter's eyes, and it was like a stab through the heart. her child's reaction indicated that Ranma still operated under the assumption that next to no one believed a word she said and that everybody thought the worst of her, and she, her own mother, had just added to it.

The elder Saotome quickly inclined her head and swallowed her pride for Ranma's sake. "I didn't mean to imply that my daughter might not have had a just reason, Ayeka-san," she replied, turning her head to regard her son-turned-daughter who was unsuccessfully trying to mask her emotions with a small smile, "But ever since what happened... I'm worried. Gomen na-"

Nodoka didn't manage to finish the sentence seeing as a redheaded missile hugging the living daylights out of her interrupted her, Ranma's weight pressing the Saotome matriarch into the chair she was sitting in. The older redhead quickly pulled her daughter fully into her lap and enveloped her in a loose hug, completely aware of just how emotionally fragile Ranma was due to her menarche and certain other circumstances like what happened to Kasumi which only served to compound the situation.

A smile settled on Nodoka's face as she stroked her child's hair and muttered soothing words of comfort. A wistful sigh almost escaped her seeing as comforting Ranma like this brought home on just how much she'd missed out in her child's life. 'Never again,' Nodoka vowed to herself, 'and come there hell or high water, I'll be there for Ranma, my daughter, and my son.'

Soon Ranma had calmed down, and the redhead blushed to her roots when she realised just how embarrassing her position looked. an eighteen year old sitting in her mother's lap, cuddled up to her like a five year old girl. Ayeka whereas just smiled, and as if sensing Ranma's thoughts waved her right hand airily. "It's alright to let out your feelings, Ranma-chan, and we're all friends here, so think nothing of it," she assured the younger girl with a smile.

Ranma returned a smile of her own that conveyed her gratefulness. "Thanks, Ayeka-chan. For understanding, and for being my friend," she replied with a smile that was returned by the Juraian teen, and Ranma turned her head to look up at her smiling mother, "Thank you as well, mom. It's nice to know that you care about me, that you're there for me."

"Always, Ranma-chan," Nodoka said instantly and so solemnly that Ranma couldn't help but smile at her mother's sincerity. it was almost enough to wash away the constant worry she felt for her love, almost.

Having recomposed herself Ranma retired almost reluctantly from her comfortable position in her mother's lap and reclaimed her chair. Taking a deep breath she pasted a serious expression on her face and quickly launched into an explanation of what had happened. "The four of us, Ryoko, Ayeka, Tenchi and me were training when Ryoga suddenly appeared. I could tell right away he wanted to vent some steam, so we fought. Business as usual, nothing special, really. Then something happened, and my mood suddenly changed and I became so angry that I... turned him into a human pretzel. He made me so mad!"

Nodoka looked from her daughter to Ayeka, whose facial expression conveyed a message every female understood. Ryoga had done something incredibly stupid, Ranma's hormones had cooked over as a result and Ryoga had paid the price for not running away fast enough. "I see. Considering your situation I understand, dear. The next time someone makes you mad during your time please refrain from blowing them up or turning them into shapes they're not meant to be, though," she scolded, her tone of voice dry enough to peel paint.

"Yes, mother," Ranma muttered softly and bowed her head while thinking, 'Just why the heck are mothers so damn good at making their children feel like scolded five year olds?'

"In Ranma's defence, I have to add that the attack was wholly unprovoked," Ayeka remarked, a frown adorning her face. "Ranma assured us that it was just a 'friendly spar', but it looked very differently. An objective observer would have concluded that this Ryoga was trying to kill Ranma."

"Is this true?" Nodoka asked sternly, her attention returning to her daughter.

Ranma was playing with her fingers for a few moments, but then she finally looked up, meeting her mother's eyes. "It might've looked like, mom, but Ryoga... he wouldn't do that. Something's happened and he needed a sparring-match to vent, is all," she mused almost to herself, her forehead crinkling in thought. "But something was... wrong. He used the Shi Shi Hokodan, which was what made me so mad, for he had he sworn he'd gotten rid of that accursed technique."

At seeing the puzzled looks of the other women Ranma explained Ryoga's technique based on depression-ki, eliciting understanding looks. "And ever since he got together with Akari we thought his depression was cured. That he used this attack means something Bad has to have happened," the redhead concluded, worry tingeing her voice.

"You could say that, Ranma," came a sheepish male voice from the door. Ryoga's voice.

All heads whipped towards him and Nodoka noticed that her daughter still seemed to be quite cross with him, seeing as she was giving him the evil eye. The Saotome matriarch was impressed that Ranma had perfected the technique so quickly, and there couldn't be a doubt about its effectivity, for Ryoga seemed to be suitably cowed and remained rooted to the spot in the doorframe.

"A tough friend you got there, Ranma-chan," Washu piped up, emerging from behind Ryoga, who noticeably tried to unobtrusively inch away from the diminutive scientist. "Just a broken hand, arm, several bruises and a cracked ankle. Impressive after hearing what you did to him. Needless to say, healing him was no challenge at all for a genius like me. Do you think he'd mind coming to my lab for some exams after he has explained why he's here?" she asked in a mischievous tone of voice.

"That's solely up to him, Washu-chan," Ranma replied with an undertone that conveyed she'd not really mind if Washu incarcerated him in her lab for some lengthy and thorough examinations.

"Mother," Ryoko interrupted sternly before Washu could begin to talk Ryoga into something he'd regret later, "Not now."

"Spoilsport," Washu grumbled and smacked her left hand into her right palm, muttering about 'ungrateful, interfering children' under her breath.

"Hey Ryoko," Ranma called, inwardly amused at the childish pout the genius scientist was displaying at having had her fun busted by her daughter, "Where'd you disappear to?"

"I accompanied mom to the lab in case he," she pointed her thumb at Ryoga, "tried something. Friend or not, someone who fires an energy blast like that is on my shit list."

Ayeka inclined her head, "For once I agree with the mon… with Ryoko," she agreed and caught herself just in time, noticing the surprised and then pleased look on Ryoko's face while simultaneously fixing Ryoga with a stern look, "Your behaviour went well beyond the pale."

Ryoga's reaction to that consisted of him lowering his head in embarrassment and shame. "Gomen nasai. I... lost it."

"Yeah. At me, who hadn't done a thing to merit being on the receiving end of a blasted Shi Shi Hokodan," Ranma grumbled, making Ryoga sigh deeply.

"Can say that again, Red," Ryoko muttered and turned her head to look at Ryoga, her glance steely, "So, if you 'n' Red are sparring partners, why did you attack her with an attack like that?" she asked the lost boy. "Not even I'd try to blast Princess here," she jabbed her thumb in Ayeka's direction, "to pieces in one of our sparring matches. So what the hell's wrong with ya?"

Ryoga, well aware that everybody was looking at him, and disapprovingly at that, sighed deeply and plopped down into an empty seat. Ryoko, awaiting her answer, did the same for a change instead of floating up to her usual place on the beam, and even Washu sat down. Tenchi, who'd thought it wiser to stay well clear of the women until things had calmed down somewhat, arrived from the kitchen sipping from a coke bottle and sat down in one of the empty chairs as well.

"That's everyone for now, and you heard what Ryoko said. Start explaining yourself," Ayeka said in her most regal attitude.

"Before you start, though," Washu interrupted with a look at Ryoga that stopped him dead in his tracks and caused annoyed looks from the others, "I have something for you, Ranma. My sensors told me you're having a rather… difficult time. Take one of these pills twice a day, it should help," the diminutive scientist said with a knowing look.

Ranma searched Washu's eyes for a few moments before bowing and gulped down a pill with some water right away. at the same time she sent a glare Ryoga's way. "Now kindly explain yourself, Ryoga. What crawled up your ass and died and made you decide to attack me?"

Ryoga gulped, sighed and managed to look embarrassed all at once. "You know I'm not good at this, and I'm sure you know how hard this is on me," he sighed, "but… for all it's worth, I'm sorry if I did something that offended you, Ranma."

"You mean aside from firing off that lethal attack at Red?" Ryoko asked sarcastically.

"Err, yeah. The attack and our matches are normal for us..." Ryoga answered, sheepishly scratching the back of his head.

"How so, young man? I don't approve of you or anyone attacking my only daughter," Nodoka interjected with a stern look.

This comment courtesy of Ranma's mother threw Ryoga completely for a loop, and sighing softly he came to the conclusion that his unique sense of direction or rather the lack thereof might just have finally done it, after all this time. It had apparently landed him in a bizarre parallel dimension. "Excuse me Saotome-san, did you just say 'daughter'?"

"Why yes. Ranma is my daughter just as much as she is my son," Nodoka stated in the breast-tone of conviction.

Ryoga was slowly but surely becoming more and more convinced that his off-shoot theory of having ended up in a parallel dimension might have some merit after all. "What? Your daughter just as much as your son? Ranma?"

"Anything wrong with that?" Ranma asked a bit crossly, and although she'd calmed down somewhat she was not willing to let Ryoga off the hook just yet. "Never saw a mother call her daughter 'daughter'?" she demanded, making Ryoga splutter.

"Ranma, using that tone of voice was not nice. Please behave like the young lady you are," Nodoka scolded, catching onto what Ranma had in mind.

"Yes, mother, I'm sorry," Ranma replied and bowed her head.

Both women had to hide their smirks at seeing the completely flabbergasted look on Ryoga's face. "Err… err…" was all he managed to utter.

The redhead raised her head, looked calmly at her mother and ignored the amused looks her friends were displaying with some difficulty. "Do you think he's broke?" she asked in a mildly curious tone of voice.

Nodoka surveyed the catatonic Hibiki youth for a few moments, the mildly curious expression she'd pasted on her own face coming much easier to her due to her greater experience. "It sure looks this way. Pass me the tea, dear?"

"Sure, mother," Ranma said and did just that, exhibiting perfect table manners and feminine grace.

"Thank you, dear," Nodoka replied with an inclination of her head as she accepted the pot, and the older redhead was inwardly proud of the acting skills and adaptability her child was displaying.


"Now, now, young man, there is no need to yell," Nodoka calmly said and placed the cup of tea she'd just helped herself to on the table. "I'm happy you see my child as a friend, but I fear I'll have to insist that you stop attacking my daughter like you did recently. You will be happy to hear that you are still in your… what would you call it, Washu-chan?"

"Home dimension, Nodoka-san. A look at his quantum-signature should easily prove... Wait a sec..." she said and pulled one of her gadgets out of thin air, scanning Ryoga with an intrigued expression, "What's that?" she muttered to herself, her eyebrows shooting up.

"What is what?" everyone seemed to ask at the same time with bated breaths.

"Oh, nothing to worry about, it's just some dirt on the display, everything's okay. Apparently forgot to clean it," Washu said too innocently, causing everyone to face-vault.

"Suuuure, Washu-chan," Ranma exclaimed with a half-lidded stare, "Tell us another one."

"Thank you, Washu-chan," Nodoka interjected before things could spiral out of control. "You see, you're still in your home dimension, young man. Whatever gave you the idea it could be otherwise?"

"Err, mom, that would be because of his sense of direction. Or the lack thereof. Don't take this the wrong way, Ryoga," Ranma explained in Ryoga's stead, half-surprised that she'd matured as much as that she was able to consider Ryoga's feelings, "but he has absolutely no sense of direction. He can literally get lost in a closet, and I wouldn't put it past him to be able to cross dimensions like other people cross streets."

"Hey!" Ryoga exclaimed in a miffed tone, but a lidded stare from Ranma and the fact that she hadn't insulted him over it made him sigh. "What Ranma just said is true, Saotome-san. My lousy sense of direction is a family curse, and unfortunately it makes us Hibikis get lost, and by lost I mean that we can literally pop up on a completely different continent from one moment to the next. Sadly my parents have it too, both of then, seeing as they're distant cousins, and I got a double dose. It's been over half a year since I've last seen my folks," he said sadly and hung his head.

The sadness in his voice left nobody untouched, and the occupants of the room tried to imagine what it would be like if you could be ripped away from your familiar surroundings at any given moment, only to reappear in a completely alien part of the world without knowing when you'd be back. it had to be unsettling and depressing, and almost explained why he'd attacked Ranma, because of their history and due to the fact that she could take anything he threw at her.

Ranma sighed and looked at her mother. "I was the one who always led him to and fro school in our junior high time, every day. It's nothing to get embarrassed over, Ryoga," she said empathically with a reassuring look at a quite ashamed looking Hibiki youth, "you can't help it."

Ryoga still had the feeling that he had entered another dimension. "Who are you and what have you done with the real Ranma Saotome? The Ranma I know would never be so… so considerate!"

Ranma was hard pressed to hide her amusement at Ryoga's reaction and just barely managed to turn her giggle into a cough. Deciding not to overly torment Ryoga she took pity on him, and quickly brought him up to speed.

The lost boy was understandably relieved once everything had been explained, and he slowly shook his head when everything had sunken in, a low whistle escaping him. "Damn, that happened to Kasumi? Poor Akane must really feel bad," he muttered with a sigh, "But Kasumi... She... he, whatever is really brave to handle the situation this well. I always thought there was more to her but that... she must really love you, Ranma."

"He too," Ranma mused with a smile that reached her eyes. "It was really weird at first but now I don't mind being his girlfriend any longer when I'm a girl. That I nearly lost him forever changed a lot of my views, that I can tell ya. I love him as much as I love her. And I'm not afraid of showing my feelings any longer."

"Wow," was all Ryoga could think to say while Nodoka literally beamed. Her child had grown up so much!

"You can say that again," Ranma mused with a smile, glad that her relationship with Ryoga had changed. in former times he'd not have hesitated to taunt her endlessly. It was good that this was in the past. "A lot has happened, and I've changed, Ryoga."

"Sure seems that way. And here I go and dump my problems on you," he said with a sigh.

"You can say that again, bub," Ryoko exclaimed with a snort.

"Indeed," Ayeka said, frowning at Ryoga, "So tell me, how can it be normal behaviour to yell a battle-cry and attack someone?"

"It's not his fault. Ryoga and I have a rocky past and our usual way of meeting is what you just witnessed," Ranma explained in Ryoga's stead and tried to make herself as comfortable as possible.

Ryoga saw her squirm and thought this a good opportunity to confirm his suspicions. "Everything okay, Ranma?"

The redhead glared. "You try having your innards scraped out by a giant cheese-grater and see how you bloody like it!" she snapped irritably.

"Ranma!" Nodoka chastised, "Watch your language or I'll wash out that mouth of yours. You may be my eighteen years old daughter but so Kami-sama help me, I'll do it!"

"Sorry, mom," Ranma mumbled, not sounding apologetic in the least.

"So it's true. You're on your period, aren't you?" Ryoga asked, grimacing.

"Yeah," Ranma growled out. "But don't try to distract us. Why did you need to vent?"

"I made a mistake, Ranma. A big one," the lost boy sighed and dropped his head in his hands.

"And what did you do? Maybe I can help," the redhead suggested, her bad mood forgotten.

Ryoga chuckled despite the serious situation. Prior to Jusendo he had never noticed that Ranma was always willing to offer help if one really needed it, even if his/her efforts often ended up making things worse. or maybe he had not wanted to notice, so that his former world-view could remain intact. A world view that had been shattered nicely today. "Why the heck not? But would you mind if I told you in private? It's embarrassing."

Ryoko was tempted to demand he tell them here and now but a look and a shake of the head from Tenchi stopped her. "Okay. We can talk in the kitchen," Ranma said and got up.

Ryoga followed suit but Nodoka clearing her throat stopped them. "You'll not remain in a room together without supervision. You have already attacked my daughter once today, young man, who tells me you're not going to do it again?"

The younger redhead tried to explain to her mother that Ryoga would never do that but Nodoka remained stern. Little did Ranma and Ryoga know that Nodoka knew the whole history between the two and that she was curious to know what had happened now.

"Fine, mother," Ranma relented with a sigh and led the way.


While the usual residents of the Masaki house had busied themselves - Washu had returned to her lab and the three teens had gone outside to practice the moves Ranma had taught them - two Saotomes and one Hibiki were seated in the kitchen, Ranma and Nodoka watching Ryoga with expectant faces.

The lost boy sighed once more. "I really screwed up this time, Ranma. It... It was Akari. She... She asked me to marry her."

Ranma's face lit up despite the discomfort that was her constant companion. "But that's wonderful news, Ryoga!"

"But it's not! I… I totally lost my head, Ranma! I didn't know how to react, my mind closed down and I ran away. Right through a wall or three. The next thing I knew was that I was staring at these giant falls. And it was hot, very hot. Ever since then I stumbled around until my sense of direction led me here. What can I do, Ranma? I can't face Akari! I'm totally and utterly dishonoured! I chickened out!" he exclaimed in despair, looking ready to rip out his hair.

The redhead looked at her sometimes rival/sometimes friend with compassion. "You're not dishonoured, Ryoga. Look at me," she commanded, and a still downcast looking Ryoga did. "Good. Do you love Akari?"

Ryoga was surprised by this simple question but nodded nevertheless. "Yes. More than my life."

Ranma smiled knowingly, well knowing how that felt. "I thought so. Ryoga, I think I know why you 'chickened out', and it's not just 'cause you had a serious bout of cold feet. You're afraid that you'll have to settle down if you marry her, aren't you? You're afraid you'll be chained to the farm once you're married to Akari, doncha?" she asked, her tone soft.

Ryoga bowed his head and engaged in some serious soul-searching before suddenly looking up at Ranma, surprise prevalent on his face. "Yeah, you're right, that's the feeling I couldn't put my finger on," he said in a thoughtful tone, "But how did you know?"

"Because I know exactly how you feel," Ranma replied solemnly, "That's exactly what Mr. Tendo and pops wanted to pressure me and Akane into. They wanted to chain me to the Tendo dojo, and maybe they still do," the redhead mused with a thoughtful expression on her face. "But people like us don't like to be chained to a place. We need our freedom every now and then, even if we should decide to settle down one day. I know that I want it for me, and I'm fairly certain you want that too."

The lost boy surveyed Ranma with obvious surprise on his face while Nodoka was looking thoughtful herself. "When did you become so… wise, Ranma?" Ryoga finally asked, his dark eyes intently curious.

"I've just begun to use my brain for more than martial arts, Ryoga. Ka-kun helped a lot in that regard," she answered and looked momentarily sad.

"He'll be up and about soon, dear," Nodoka assured and laid a hand on her daughter's arm.

Ranma smiled at her mother, grasped the hand and squeezed softly before letting go. "Thanks, mom. Ryoga," she said, looking back at him, "why don't you go back to Akari's farm and have a talk with her? Tell her that you love her and that you would gladly marry her, but that you need your freedom from time to time, just to get out of the house."

"Yes, I'm sure your fiancée can respect this, young man," Nodoka added, "If you were chained to one place you would grow dissatisfied rather sooner than later. I know this all too well from my husband. That is why I allowed him to go on those training trips of his. Although the one he took Ranma on was a big mistake…"

Now it was Ranma's turn to lay a hand on her mothers' arm. "But some good things did come out of it, mother. So don't dwell on it. It wasn't your fault," she said softly, and smiled when a grateful looking Nodoka repeated her actions from a few moments ago.

While Ryoga asked himself ever since when Ranma had gotten so good with words Nodoka smiled thankfully at her daughter and let go of her hand. "Thanks, dear. I needed that," she said and recomposed herself. With determination shining brightly in her eyes she looked at Ryoga. "Even if it's not always easy for the partners in a marriage, each partner needs time to their own. I'm sure your fiancée will understand if you tell her that you need to dedicate time and occasion to your own training trips. As long as you do not get carried away like my husband, everything should be fine."

Ranma grinned, and even Ryoga managed a smile. He wouldn't have believed it but it seemed as if Ranma had really been able to help him. and here he'd only wanted to vent his frustration. "Thank you, Ranma, Mrs. Saotome. You've really helped me and I apologise once more for my actions."

The redhead grinned at him. "Aww, think nothing of it. Whenever you want to spar just stop by."

"Ranma!" Nodoka exclaimed. "It's not lady-like to get involved in brawls!"

"Aww mom! I ain't no lady! I'm a tomboy at best. 'sides, Ryoga and me have sparred for as long as I can remember."

"That's right, Mrs. Saotome. We… err…" Ryoga trailed off, seeing the dark and disapproving look on Nodoka Saotome's face.

Ranma didn't give up however, as giving up was simply not part of her vocabulary. "Momma, I need my training. It's not different from sparring with Tenchi, Ayeka and Ryoko. 'sides, if Ryoga and me stopped sparring he'd slack off!"

"Yeah!" Ryoga exclaimed before stopping to think. "What?"

The redhead waved his protests away. "Ryoga must be capable of defending Akari at all events, and we can assure that through our sparring, mom. Just because it ain't ladylike it doesn't mean it ain't necessary."

Nodoka thought her daughter's words over and could not deny their logic. "I see your point, dear. I will allow it as long as your fights don't escalate. And watch your language, young lady. Understood?"

"Yes, ma'am!" two voices chorused, even if for different reasons.

The Saotome matriarch smiled inwardly. Even though her daughter still displayed rough manners from time to time she had improved over-all. A month ago she would have been hopelessly lost in an argument like the one they had just had as well but now that Ranma had started to use her brain for things aside from martial arts she was displaying an intellect that shouldn't be underestimated. 'Good. It's high time she started thinking things through for herself,' Nodoka thought.

"Err, Ranma," Ryoga began, looking at the redhead, "could you help me to get to Akari's farm? I've been gone for over a day now and surely she's worried… at least I hope so."

Ranma nodded immediately. "Sure. I'll ask Washu-chan if she can help us. She's a real genius, so if anyone can get you there in no time it's her. See you later, mom," she said with a smile and waved at her mother before getting to her feet and walking out of the kitchen.

"Yes, thank you, Mrs. Saotome. I'll follow your advice," he said and bowed.

Nodoka got up from her chair and bowed back. "I wish you the best of luck, young man, and I hope you give your mother some cute grandchildren," she teased.

"Moooom! Isn't it enough that you're always embarrassing poor ole me?" Ranma exclaimed from the doorframe with her hands planted on her hips as she waited for a blushing Ryoga. "Honestly."


Due to the fact that Ranma knew how to get into the lab and seeing as she had been cleared to enter at any given time, it took only five minutes to corner Washu and explain the situation to her. A situation that left the resident genius scientist intrigued. "So you're saying that he has a family curse that makes him get lost? Intriguing. Would you like me to check if I can get rid of it?"

To Ranma's surprise Ryoga shook his head. "I have to get back to my girlfriend as soon as possible before she thinks I've gotten lost for good. If I don't return soon she might think I won't return and even if I do she'll probably dump me," Ryoga rambled.

"Another time," Ranma mouthed to Washu who shrugged her shoulders. Who was she to force her scientific genius on others?

"So… how about a GPS-unit? Ever tried one of those?" Washu asked.

"Yes," Ryoga admitted disgruntled. "Bloody things won't work because of my family curse. Every damn GPS unit in a radius of two miles of a Hibiki gets confused. Low quality models even blow up."

The redheaded scientist rose a delicate brow before smirking broadly. "Then I have just the thing for you. This GPS unit is so heavily shielded against undesirable outside influence not even an atomic explosion could confuse it. Here, give it a try. Just push this button here," she pointed at said button to indicate it, "and it will activate."

An unconvinced Ryoga took the device and looked at it, obviously expecting the thing to disintegrate the instant he actually activated it. Finally, hesitantly, he did push the button and held the device at arms-length, only to receive a pleasant surprise as the GPS unit beeped once and announced its operational status.

Washu smirked. "See? Works perfectly. Oh yeh unfaithful, simple minded people…" she muttered and threw her hands into the air in a gesture of exasperation before returning her attention to her tinker toys.

Ryoga looked at Ranma and arched a brow, conveying the message 'Is that normal?' upon which Ranma shrugged and nodded. "Err, thanks Miss Washu."

The muttering scientist turned towards him and smiled sweetly. "You're welcome. And puu-leaze, call me Washu-chan," she said in a tone that indicated it was no suggestion.

"Sure… err, Washu-chan," Ryoga stuttered, who had always had problems with imposing women.

"Washu-chan, could you add the detailed coordinates of Nerima and the other wards of Tokyo into the GPS unit?" Ranma asked. "On second thought, a detailed map of the world would probably be a good idea, too."

"Hey!" Ryoga exclaimed in an irritated tone of voice.

Washu simply nodded. "Sure, Ranma-chan. I have a direct satellite-uplink to my own private satellite, so that would be too easy. Don't you have anything more challenging?" she asked with a grin.

Ranma grinned back. "If you want a challenge, you can add the coordinates of the Tendo Dojo, the Unryuu farm, this house, Ryoga's home address, Furinkan High and my address in Nerima into it. And a detailed map of Japan, all the islands, prefectures, cities, the works. That enough of a challenge?"

Washu's grin deepened as she jumped up into the air and was soon seated in her spectral chair. seconds later her spectral keyboard appeared and Ryoga's eyes got as wide as saucer plates. "Not even close, Ranma-chan. There, all done," she said smirking just a few seconds later, and handed the GPS unit to an astonished Hibiki youth.

The said lost boy just couldn't believe it. This GPS unit in his hand should now hold the coordinates of all these addresses, and a map of Japan and the world to boot? Without noticing it the lost boy applied pressure to the GPS unit. "Ryoga… don't destroy that thing before you've even used it," warned Ranma.

The other redhead jumped to the ground and waved that away. "Not going to happen. Considering what I'm dealing with on a daily basis I made it almost indestructible. You'll enjoy its uses for a long time to come, Mr. Hibiki, if you don't place it at ground zero of an atomic explosion, that is."

The lost boy looked at the solution to his one major problem in wonder. Not only would it lead him to where he wanted to go at all times, but it would be nearly impossible to destroy! Considering his usual luck that was an awesome present. Tears of joy leaked into his eyes, eyes that exuded immense gratefulness. "Thank you, Washu-chan, thank you! You have no idea how much you've helped me."

Washu presented warding signs and shot Ryoga a stern look. "If you try to hug me I'll have to kill you."

Ryoga, who'd been carried away by his happiness and been about to do just that stopped dead in his tracks. "Err… right. Thank you for your help, Washu-chan," he said with a nervous chuckle and bowed formally, ignoring the muffled giggles of amusement emanating from Ranma who apparently found his reaction quite amusing.

"You're welcome. If you ever want to have your family curse looked at, you now know where you can find us. As for that, Ranma, do you think it wise that the coordinates of this house are stored in his GPS unit while you're here?" Washu asked with a frown.

Ranma grimaced. "I've seen the problem this poses as well but Ryoga needs to know where we live in case he wants to spar, or in case something else comes up. And I trust Ryoga. Is there no way to modify that thingy so that he'd be the only one able to access the data?"

Washu inclined her head and placed her left index finger on her chin in a thoughtful gesture. "There are ways, several in fact, but they could all be overcome by a person who is determined enough," she mused. "The safest method would be to integrate a finger-print and retina-scanner as well as an aura scanner. Hand me the device, Mr. Hibiki."

Ryoga did just that and Washu disappeared into another section of her lab, only to return two minutes later. Holding the GPS unit thusly so that Ryoga and Ranma could see it she pressed a newly added button. "This will activate the retina- and finger print scanner. They're so small that they take up hardly any space, and they are reliable to a fault. Press your finger on the surface here, Mr. Hibiki," she explained and Ryoga did just that. "Good. And now hold it thusly… yes, like that… and the scanner will be tuned to your iris. Very good.

"Now press this button here- yeah, that one. It scans and records your aura, adding additional safety to the package. Good, it's complete. Any time you want to use it you have to follow this procedure, and you can rest assured that no one aside from you will be able to use it. A satisfying solution, I'd say."

Ranma and Ryoga easily agreed. "Very impressive, Washu-chan. Thank you once more. I have to take my leave now. Fate doesn't wait for anyone one or something like that," the lost boy mused idly.

"But Mr. Hibiki, you haven't seen the rest of my lab yet. Are you sure you want to leave already?" Washu-chan asked in a cute voice.

"Yes, Washu-chan, we are sure," Ranma answered for a flustered Ryoga.

"Spoilsport," Washu retorted with a huff.

Ranma simply winked at her. "See you later, Washu-chan."

"Yeah, yeah. Just steal my fun, will ya…" came the grumbled reply.

The redhead shook her head in amusement at Washu's antics and led an unresisting Ryoga out of the lab. She had learned her lesson in the meantime. As thankful as she was that Washu had saved her love and was practically the guarantor of his recovery she had no intention to become a guinea pig for the little scientist. and Ryoga had just no time to become one, and that probably a lot more literally than her.


Once they'd exited the lab the two teens went outside to where Tenchi, Ayeka and Ryoko were sparring and came to a stop a good distance away, neither even stopping to cherish the wonderful weather as their complete attention was focussed on the sparring teens right away. Ryoga observed them critically and was impressed by what he saw. "They're pretty good, Ranma, surprisingly so. How long have they been training?"

"Ever since yesterday, in the Anything Goes style, at least," she answered calmly, and seeing his dumbstruck look she elaborated, her expression serious and solemn, "Those three are warriors, Ryoga. They've fought battles neither of us could even begin to imagine, and I'm learning as much as I'm teaching here. Which is good, for somehow I've got the feeling that we'll need all the skill and power we can get in the future. I don't know why I got that feeling, but my inner voice is screaming at me to drive the others and myself to our limits and beyond to be prepared for anything. After what happened to Kasumi I'd be stupid to ignore my gut feeling."

Ryoga nodded, understanding showing in his brown eyes. "Trust your instincts, Ranma. They've always been good. I'll try to stop by as often as possible so we can spar. Take care, and thanks for everything," he said and waved. "I'll try to keep you up to date."

Then, how so often, Ryoga Hibiki was gone.


As soon as Ryoga had disappeared Ranma rejoined the three other teens, enthusiasm welling up inside of her as she watched the three spar. She knew then more than ever that she had a lot to teach as well as a lot to learn, just as she'd told Ryoga a few minutes ago. "Hey guys," she called after she had watched Ayeka and Ryoko battle it out. Tenchi had been doing the kata she had shown them and the redhead was satisfied with what she had seen. "Good form, Tenchi. Just raise your arms a tad more while performing the eighth move. And you two, well done. But remember to look more actively for holes in the defences of your opponent. In a battle every advantage has to be used. Now have another go at it."

Her students nodded obediently and Ranma smiled. It was fun to instruct them as they were so adaptive and willing to learn and had lots and lots of skill to contribute. that and they were trusting her, which was still a new experience for the redhead seeing as no one else beside Kasumi and in recent times her mother had ever put any trust in her. The smile slowly faded off her face to be replaced by a solemn expression, and Ranma vowed to never ever abuse that trust.

To be trusted felt good, and now she really knew what she'd been missing out on up till now. No one had really ever trusted her, neither her father nor her mother, although the latter had made an amazing turn around lately. And her friends... Well, the others in Nerima had only ever trusted her to bring trouble along, even if it was not by her own making half of the time.

Not that that had ever stopped them from blaming her for everything that went wrong, and they had expected that she'd always save the day despite everything nonetheless. Trust being placed in her had been an alien concept not too long ago. Which was particularly due to one person. 'Akane... no, don't even go there, Saotome. It's over and done with. I only hope she can ever trust me enough to become friends. But now I gotta concentrate. They're trusting me here, so I don't gotta botch it up.'

Pasting what she'd dubbed her sensei-face onto her face Ranma clapped her hands, making the combatants stop in their tracks and turning to face her, expectant and attentive expressions on their faces. "Good attack, Ayeka. Use a leg-sweep in ways of a follow-up next time. Ryoko, next time keep better track of your opponent's movements. You can't always assume that your toughness will protect you. So don't forget your deff."

The two, having listened to Ranma's 'words of wisdom' in rapt attention, nodded as one and immediately resumed their spar, looks of intense concentration on their faces. Ranma, seeing this devotion, smiled proudly and turned her attention to her third student, Tenchi, and proceeded to occasionally correct his moves.

All things considered she was very pleased with the progress her students were making. Due to the fact that they'd already garnered experience in battle it was easy to teach them.

Ranma had just corrected one of Tenchi's moves when she watched a rather spectacular exchange of blows between Ryoko and Ayeka. The latter had launched a high kick at Ryoko's head which was blocked by the cyan-haired woman's left arm. Just as she had advised Ayeka followed up with a leg-sweep but Ryoko had heeded her advice too. She had watched Ayeka's movements and was prepared.

The alien girl jumped up and used her ability of flight to somersault high over Ayeka's head, and still in mid-jump she fired an energy-blast. Ayeka, who had whirled around and jumped upwards had had the same idea, and the blasts hit each other and cancelled the other out in a cacophony of sound and brilliant lights. The girls landed both at the same time in defensive stances round about ten metres apart and were grinning at each other, ready to go at it again when they heard clapping.

Ranma had a big smile on her face as she walked closer. "Not bad, you two, not bad at all. Granted, there's still room for loads of improvement, but..."

"Slave driver," Ryoko interjected playfully. Ayeka nodded in acquiescence and managed to keep her face regal, only her twinkling eyes giving away that she wasn't serious.

"That she is," agreed Tenchi with a smile. "But a good sensei she is too."

Ranma inclined her head and smirked. "I'm the best. Hey look, there's Sasami and Mihoshi! I see the chance to get some food here..."

Her friends and students groaned in unison and rolled their eyes in mock-disbelief. "How can you be hungry again?" asked Tenchi in exasperation. "Breakfast wasn't that long ago."

"Yes, and where do you keep it? There doesn't seem to be an ounce of fat on you," Ayeka interjected, sounding slightly envious.

Ranma grinned and put her hands behind her head, saying, "Good genes, lots of exercise and a bowl of cereals each morning," while Ryoko mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like "cereals my ass". "Seriously, that's one of the benefits of training so much. You develop one hell of an appetite but you won't get fat. Wait until we start on the ki-building exercises. You'll love it!"

"About that," Tenchi interjected, his gaze eager, "when do you think we can start on them?"

The redhead thought for a moment. "We should be able to start on the really advanced stuff in about four weeks. Then we can incorporate it. But I'll show you the basic ki-building exercises today. They're easy and you can practise them throughout the whole day. Even when you're doing everyday stuff."

"Wicked," was Tenchi's opinion and the girls easily agreed.

"Hey," Ryoko interjected as she remembered something that could be of use to further their training, "We could ask Washu if she has finished assembling the artificial koi yet. Would be cool."

Tenchi and Ayeka nodded in agreement, but all three of Ranma's students grew apprehensive when they saw the unholy light shining in the redhead's eyes. "Capital idea, Ryoko. Oh, the fun training I'm gonna put you through," she trailed off, and just barely resisted the urge to cackle madly.

Ryoko sweatdropped, but put on the spot she had no choice but to see her suggestion through. "I'm on it," she said and concentrated. "Okay," she said ten seconds later, carefully hiding the relief she was feeling, "Washu just told me she had an unexpected drawback. The koi won't be ready for a few days yet."

Ranma grumbled, her face set in a frown. "Meh, and here I was looking forward to seeing you three sweat. Okay, that means more hand-to-hand in the next few days."

Groans were her answer, but her students accepted their fate albeit grumbling seeing as Ranma's training was doing wonders for their hand-to-hand skills. The redhead grinned, and drove her students all the harder.


In the next few days nothing major happened as training continued. Ranma got used to having her time, and the redhead had researched several topics that had piqued her interest in her free time, most of them pertaining to the female body, and her situation. Her mother had begun her girl-training in earnest as well, including how to speak and behave properly, and, of course, everything that pertained to being a girl in general. It was also a time of bonding between a mother who'd never considered it possible to have a daughter and a daughter who'd never expected to be a daughter.

Due to Ranma experiencing a biological process that was as feminine as they came the younger redhead was much more open to what her mother had to teach her, and the nagging voice in the back of her head that insisted she should cling to her manliness at all events despite everything grew progressively more silent. that was not lest due to the fact that Ranma had found out that embracing her femininity didn't mean she had to give up who she was inside, Ranma Saotome, a boy when a boy and a girl when a girl.

To Ranma's immense relief she had managed to stay well clear of dresses and skirts seeing as her mother had finally accepted that while female she, Ranma, still strived to be the young woman she wanted to be, and wearing frilly dresses and skirts just wasn't her. Nodoka had been saddened thereby and had bemoaned that she wouldn't have a chance to see her daughter pose in lots of elegant dresses.

Yet, her mother had recovered quickly and had promised her one heck of a shopping trip once Kasumi came out of the tank, and her mother, persistent as she was, had somehow talked her into acquiring at least some skirts and summer dresses - all of her, Ranma's, choosing - as well. Boy, was she looking forward to that. Not.


The week flew by and before anyone knew it was Wednesday evening. No one expected this particular Wednesday evening to be any different from the previous evenings, and the four teens were engrossed in an intense two-on-two fight as they were wont to in an effort to increase their team-work skills.

Ryoko and Ranma were double-teaming Tenchi and Ayeka, and Ryoko had just blocked a volley of blasts from Ayeka when her face suddenly scrunched up. The battle halted instantly, seeing that everyone knew that Ryoko had just received a telepathic message. "Washu," she said unsurprisingly. "She said we should meet her in the lab, not more."

"Damn," Ranma muttered, feeling a bit dejected at having to postpone a fight that had been great fun. "And here I was looking forward to cleaning both of your clocks with Ryoko here. Not to mention having another opportunity to enjoy Sasami's heavenly food afterwards," she trailed off, a dreamy look on her face.

The others rolled their eyes in unified amusement. "If there ever was a walking stomach, then it's gotta be her," Ryoko stated, amusement tingeing her voice.

"Hey, you're supposed to be on my side!" Ranma exclaimed indignantly, her hands planted on her hips. "Besides, that's sooo not true!"

Tenchi grinned impishly. "Ryoko's right, Ranma, you eat more than all of us put together," he teased, and turned to look at the former space pirate, completely ignoring Ranma's pout. "How about you teleport us in?"

"Sure," the cyan-haired girl answered. "You know the drill. Just hold on to me."

The three other teens did and seconds later they were gone.


Ryoko had teleported them straight into the main-lab area seeing as she had received knowledge of her mother's location from their telepathic conversation. Washu was seated in her spectral chair as so often, typing away on an equally spectral keyboard. "Ah, there you are. And just in time."

"What do you have for us, Washu-chan?" a curious Tenchi asked, acting as a spokesman for the girls.

The diminutive scientist leant back in her spectral chair, a self-satisfied look adorning her face. "First off, the artificial koi you wanted are ready. Secondly, I've already taken it upon myself to create a training room for your usage. the door to the room is right next to the one that leads to the entrance level of my lab. I figured a room in close proximity to the kitchen would come in handy considering the training you're facing," she said with a smirk at Ranma.

"Heh heh heh, how thoughtful of you, Washu-chan," the redhead chuckled, deviousness tingeing her voice.

"You know me," the redheaded scientist retorted mock-modestly. "I..."

Whatever Washu wanted to say was drowned out by a sudden acoustic signal emanating from a device to her right. by the looks of it the diminutive scientist was as surprised as the rest. "The hell!" she cursed very unladylike. "He wasn't even due for at least two more days!"

A sudden suspicion dawned on Ranma. "He? You can't mean... can you?" she asked incredulously, hope flaring up in her eyes.

The look on Washu's face told her everything she needed to know. In an instant the Saotome girl had sprinted out of the main-lab leaving after-images in her wake, completely ignoring the shouts from the others. Ranma unconsciously used her ki and began to run ever faster until everything turned into a blur, and not five seconds after she'd started running she came to a skidding stop in front of the door that held the reg-tank where he healed.

Taking a second to recompose herself Ranma finally stepped into the range-scope of the sensors, and the door obediently swished open. The redhead tentatively stepped into the room, unsure of what to expect. Her eyes scanned the room, and for a second or two she had the absurd hope that he had already exited the tank on his own. However, one look at the said tank told her that he was still inside, in all his glory. Ranma stepped closer, and a blinking computer-message drew her attention. DRAINING NUTRIENT FLUID, it read. The redhead had spent enough time with Washu during her stay to know what this meant. The regeneration was complete! Her love was finally, finally coming out of the tank after all this time!

Ranma barely registered someone teleporting in, she just remained standing in front of the tank like a child in front of the window of a sweets-store, a look of longing and happy expectation intermixed on her face.

Washu on her part suppressed the smirk that would've split her face in two with difficulty. Ranma's reaction was just too cute, but who could really fault her in a situation like this? Stepping in front of the console she double-checked everything, but the result remained the same: Kasumi Tendo was healed, two days earlier than even her most optimistic prognosis had predicted at that.

She'd love to uncover the reasons why, but that was for later. First of all she had a patient to take care of, find out what made him tick she could later.


Kasumi slowly drifted in and out of consciousness. It almost felt as if something... or someone was calling him. Then it came to him with sudden, overwhelming clarity, and he remembered everything. The fight. Him throwing himself in front of Ranma. Pain, lots of it. Ranma. How she'd yelled that she loved him. Had that been real? Had his emotionally crippled girlfriend, and for some reason this term sounded right, really called to the heavens that she loved him? He had to know. And there was only one way to find out: he had to fight to stay conscious.

His outer awareness returned bit by bit, and he could feel that he was surrounded by some kind of fluid that gave him the feeling of floating gently. But this feeling was subsiding more and more, and he forced himself to open his eyes to learn what was going on around him. Pouring every ounce of strength he possessed into it he finally managed to open his eyes, and at first everything was nothing more than a blur, prompting him to close his eyes again.

Moments later he came to the conclusion that this had nothing to do with his eyes and everything with the green fluid he was immersed in, and this realisation calmed him considerably. When he opened his eyes again the fluid had been drained sufficiently to allow him full sight of everything that was happening outside, and he took a deep breathe on reflex.

The first thing he saw outside the tank was fiery red hair and the most beautiful face he'd ever seen. In this moment she was his angel, a being of divine beauty that had called him back from the land of Morpheus, and the one single being he loved more than anything else in his life. When he saw her happy and excited face he made the vow to never let her go, to make Ranma his and his alone.


Ranma saw the happy smile that graced the face of her boyfriend, and true to what she'd told Ryoga a few days back, the term 'boyfriend' felt oddly appropriate. A few weeks ago she'd have punted anyone who'd have dared to utter something even remotely like that to the moon, but now, strangely, she didn't care.

Maybe it was due to the sudden clarity that had been brought about by Kasumi almost dying, which had in turn bestowed upon her the realisation that gender mattered little in the grand scheme of things (especially where gender-changing individuals such as them were concerned), maybe it had been some other factor she couldn't quite fathom, but Ranma didn't care either way.

The redhead simply mirrored Kasumi's smile, and suddenly found herself being hugged from behind. She craned her neck and looked up into the smiling face of her mother and saw the same elation there she herself was feeling. "He has woken up, mom! He's finally woken up!" she exclaimed, bouncing on the spot.

"I know, dear," Nodoka said softly, her smile broadening. "Washu-chan told Soun and me a minute ago and brought us here."

Ranma leant backwards into the comforting embrace. she might be one of the strongest on this planet, but it did a world of good to know that she had people who supported her, whom she could draw strength from when needed. A soft smile played on Ranma's lips as the tension that had been eating away at her drained away, and she allowed her thoughts to wander as she watched the love of her life.

Said thoughts strayed from Kasumi to the fantastic friends she'd made, Tenchi, Ryoko and Ayeka, as well as Sasami, Katsuhito and Washu, and finally stopped at the person holding her, her mother. The older redhead had undergone the most mind-boggling change of all from a source of constant discord to someone she could trust blindly. Her mother had come to accept her as she was, and that had made accepting herself so much easier.

"Washu-chan," she heard Soun ask, "How is my son?"

All heads, unsurprisingly Ranma's too, turned to look at the diminutive scientist. A scientist who was smiling broadly. "He's completely healed. Kami-sama knows how and why earlier than scheduled, but I'm sure you don't mind."

"What's the world coming to? You acting sensible, Washu-chan? No impromptu exams, no important scientific research to conduct to determine the cause of this?" Ranma teased good-naturedly.

The other redhead smiled softly, much to Ranma's surprise. "There're things more important than exams, Ranma-chan."

"I... I'm touched, Washu-chan," Ranma uttered softly, and meant it.

Washu waved it away. "Aww, don't get all soppy on me, or I might just have to give you an exam," the scientist teased, prompting Ranma to present warding signs, which caused everyone to laugh, "Besides, I got all relevant data on data crystal," she said with a smirk.

Ranma face-vaulted rather spectacularly and painfully. "Tenchi was right, some things never change..." she muttered, shaking her head.

"Can we get my son out of that thing now?" Soun interjected, impatience tingeing his voice.

"Yeah, I second that notion, Washu-chan. I want my Ka-kun out of there and here with me," Ranma agreed, only to realise a second later what she'd said. 'Stupid hormones,' she thought a bit disgruntled, but refused to blush even as the others nodded knowingly.

"As you wish," Washu replied with a mock-curtsy.

Her spectral chair appeared thirty centimetres above the ground and the scientist plopped into it. Ranma just wanted to exclaim that this was no time for getting comfy, but chose to close her mouth when a spectral keyboard appeared from thin air. Washu instantly began typing away at super-sonic-speeds, and seconds later the door of the reg-tank swung open. seeing that the nutrient fluid had been drained already the tank would've opened in a minute anyway, but Washu didn't feel inclined to tell a certain love-struck redhead to wait for another minute. She had originally just included this minute for the patient to get fully re-accommodated with the outside world, but seeing as that had apparently happened anyway it was a moot point.

They watched as Kasumi removed the breathing-mask from his face, and seeing that the contacts had already been retracted into the tank the oldest Tendo child could step out. Which he did, and quiet wobbly at that. Ranma on her part reacted in a flash and had his balance re-established in a moments notice. The way she did it was apparently greatly appreciated, gauging from his bodily reaction.

Next to none of the observers noticed it, but when Ranma had shot forward and stabilised Kasumi by embracing him her very female figure had unexpected effects on Kasumi. The poor woman-turned-man looked very embarrassed at his instinctive physical reaction, and Nodoka, who'd always been good at reading people read the situation correctly when her daughter squeaked, "Oh my!"

'Kami-sama above, this could really mean grandchildren!' she thought, and looked at Soun to gauge if he'd observed anything, but aside from her and apparently Washu no one seemed to have noticed.

Ranma for her part was frozen to the spot, her mind blank as she felt something press into her abdomen. But instead of shrieking "Gross!" like the small voice in the back of her head demanded the redhead felt compelled to look into Kasumi's eyes by a stronger yet gentler voice. Finding nothing but unconditional love and embarrassment soothed her frayed nerves and prompted Ranma to think rationally.

With her mind having kicked back into gear Ranma easily came to the conclusion that the instinctive reaction of Kasumi-otoko's anatomy was quite understandable, and instead of being scared out of her mind Ranma understood. The dreams she'd been having about Kasumi and herself in certain situations as well as the information she had acquired on the net and elsewhere had eased a lot of her fears, but it was her love for this woman-turned-man, this person who was both sides of the coin just as much as her that didn't allow a knee-jerk reaction to push him away.

The one holding her and reacting so strongly to her was Kasumi, the person she loved in both forms, regardless of the outer package. They'd have their other forms for the rest of their lives, and she'd meanwhile gotten used to the idea that she'd always be half-and-half. which wasn't lest due to the fact that the one she loved shared her 'fate' and always would.

Leaning in closer so that only he could hear her, which teased Kasumi's male body in ways he'd never known, she whispered teasingly, "If you had your pants on I'd ask if you have a stone in your trouser pocket or if you like me. But this is way too easy."

The woman-turned-man blushed deeply and whispered, "I can't help it, it just happened!"

Ranma smiled, her surroundings completely forgotten. "Think nothing of it, Ka-kun, it's normal. But don't you think I'm anywhere near ready to even consider letting you put that thing into me," she said sternly, holding him at arms length until he'd nodded, only to pull him close again, "But I'm glad that you love me. I love you more than anything in the world. Promise me that you'll never leave me again," she whispered and strengthened the hug to where it became almost painful, tears glistening in the corners of her eyes.

Kasumi marvelled at how emotional Ranma was, how open, how vulnerable. gone was the Ranma of old who used to hide behind a mask of unflappable machoness, leaving in her place someone who wasn't afraid to show her feelings and act on them. Not that he minded the change in the least, rather the contrary. Softly stroking his girlfriend's hair he looked down at her. "I love you too, Ra-chan. More than words could ever convey," he whispered, and captured her lips in a soulful kiss that nearly caused Soun and Nodoka to go catatonic with happiness.

Soun, feeling happier than ever before in his life, threw a bundle at his son. "Catch, Kasumi!"

Kasumi did just that, and everyone got an involuntary glimpse upon what Ranma's presence had caused. Soun's and Nodoka's eyes nearly fell out of their sockets (Nodoka's for different reasons than Soun's), whereas Washu smirked and nodded knowingly to herself. The Saotome matriarch made a fast recovery, and was quite surprised that Ranma had not freaked. 'Maybe she's even more my daughter than I'd thought,' the Saotome matriarch thought to herself.

All the more surprising was that Kasumi had only faintly blushed, and re-established his modesty in a matter of seconds. Once done the girl-turned-boy smiled lovingly at his girlfriend. "You know that I can't promise to never leave you again, but I'll try my best not to, my Ra-chan."

Soulful blue eyes looked up at him. "I'd even fight Death itself to stay united with you," she exclaimed defiantly. "We'll be together forever."

Love-filled brown eyes locked on soulful blue ones. "Together forever, my love," he agreed and kissed her fully again. Suddenly an idea formed in his mind, and he acted on it without hesitation. He had very nearly lost his life, and the love of his life would have been left behind, all alone, grieving. This incident had taught him an important lesson as he remembered a saying he'd learned in the English lessons at school: carpe diem, seize the day. And that he would. He'd live life to the fullest in both forms, and he was determined to enjoy life together with Ranma. Together forever.

Swallowing his nervousness and getting his act together he looked intently at his gorgeous girlfriend, his expression solemn and serious. "Ranma, you have helped me so much in these past weeks it's incredible. Without you I'd never have come this far, and words can hardly express my feelings for you.

"Ranma, you're the love of my life, and I'll set heaven and hell in motion that nothing will do us part," he vowed solemnly and knelt down on one knee, to the surprise of everyone. "Will you marry me, Ranma Saotome?"

to be continued...

Hard to believe (even for me), but after years on life support this story has revived itself.

I hope this new chapter turned out to be interesting and managed to hook old and new readers alike. Personally I like the twists the story takes here, and writing this chapter was fun. Anywho, until next time (which won't take nearly as long).