Ranma Saotome sat on the roof of the Tendo-ke, looking up at the heavens and contemplating which god or goddess would start tormenting him the next day. He sighed forlornly and lowered his gaze to the small bundle in his arms.
A cute nose poked out of the blanket keeping the child warm in the cool evening air, and along with that cute nose could be seen sparkling green eyes and blond hair with a few dark 'spots' scattered throughout the golden tresses. The child let out a yawn and wiggled closer against him, prompting Ranma to cover the child up a bit more snugly before carefully slipping inside the Tendo-ke to his room.
The guest room that Ranma and his father, Genma, normally shared was fairly spartan in its simplicity and the absence of anything to show that the room had been occupied for any real length of time. There were no photographs, no posters, no knick-knacks, and thanks to Kasumi's diligence, no dirty clothes strewn about, nothing at all to give the room a lived in feel. Aside from two futons, which were stored away in a small closet when not in use, and a low chest of drawers, which his father had all but claimed for himself, the only other items in the room were their backpacks, which Ranma was still living out of even after all this time. At least, that was the rooms normal appearance. Tonight, however, something new had been added; a baby's crib now sat in one corner of the room ready for use.
'Kasumi must have gotten this from somewhere. I'll have ta thank her properly in the morning,' he thought, walking to the crib and gently laying the baby within it, tucking her in comfortably beneath a light blanket. His countenance slowly changed, as he watched her sleep, from the sad visage that he had worn on the roof to a warmer expression as he began remembering the baby's parents.
The woman sat across from him as he shivered and meowed during one of the treatments to cure him of the Neko-ken. Neko-Ranma scratched at the cage keeping him in and saw that he wasn't able to go anywhere. A few calm meows escaped Neko-Ranma's lips before he started curling up. It was nearing noon anyway so Neko-Ranma thought that a nap was in order. The woman frowned and sighed as she looked up at the man standing next to her, who looked like he was in deep concentration with his hand extended towards Ranma. She watched him for a time, before feeling a kick from within her belly; her right hand lovingly rubbed her enlarged abdomen with a gentle smile, knowing that it was time to feed herself and her baby.
"Dear, I'll be right back, the baby is hungry,' the woman said as she carefully stood up from the chair beside her husband.
The man nodded with a soft grunt to acknowledge his wife while he and two other mages continued their work to contain and help Ranma overcome the Neko-ken. After a few more hours of strenuous, if silent, effort, the man stopped and slumped down into the chair his wife had previously occupied. The other two mages dropped, as well, into chairs that had been provided for them. Ranma let out a yawn as he woke up from his proverbial "cat-nap".
"Is that it for today, Charon?" Ranma asked as he looked up at the man. He was getting used to being curled up or laying like a c-c-ca-... feline more and more. It wouldn't surprise him if, once he was free of the Neko-ken, he began to instinctively lay down like that someday.
"Yes, young Ranma," Charon responded wearily. Charon was a tall man, his skin tanned a warm brown from being in the sun most of his life on the plains of Africa, with dirty-blond hair that reached to his mid back. His hair was his most striking feature, as it was with everyone else in the village, being various shades of blond, but with dark patches, or 'spots', scattered throughout. He was slender, but muscular under the tank top and shorts he wore, like a runner. "Xeris will be in the hut if you're hungry, I'm sure she can fix something up for you." He got up and walked to Ranma, extending his hand out to him to help him up. Ranma grasped the offered hand and allowed himself to be pulled to his feet before dusting himself off and following Charon to his small family's hut.
Xeris also possessed a slender, yet muscular build, but at the moment she was also quite pregnant with her and Charon's first child. Xeris had gotten to know Ranma fairly well before he started the 'treatments' to remove his fear of cats and bring the Neko-ken under control. In that time, Ranma had explained and discussed with her many of the various problems that were causing such distress in his life. She had talked with him about his so-called 'friends' and they had discussed a few ideas to help with his fiancees, most of which, unfortunately, he'd had to turn down due to their consequences to his or their honor.
When they entered the small hut, where Charon and Xeris lived, Ranma was discussing with Charon his mage abilities versus martial arts prowess.
"So you're saying that a mage, with time, could stop even my Moko Takabisha?"
"Yes. Our fundamental principles are to help individuals who are in need of defending. Just like your code of Budo."
"Could anyone be a mage?" Ranma asked, displaying unusual interest in something that wasn't directly martial arts related.
"We could see if that's possible, young Ranma," Charon said, patting him on the shoulder as he led him towards the modest kitchen. Xeris stepped away from the stove to kiss her husband on the cheek before going back to her cooking.
"Dinner will be ready soon. And tonight, I'd like to hear more about those Tendo sisters you seem to like so much, Ranma," Xeris stated, grinning at the light blush that appeared on Ranma's face.
Ranma remembered that discussion, Xeris had tried to get him to admit to liking the two elder Tendo sisters more than he'd already claimed and to more than 'liking' one in particular, yet he didn't think that Nabiki had as much interest in him. He sighed, shaking his head and put aside his romantic problems for another day. He smiled warmly down at the baby, before turning towards his own futon.
The warm smiled faded from his expression, however, as thoughts of what the morning would bring intruded upon his thoughts. Neither Akane, nor their parents had been present when Xeris had suddenly appeared at the Dojo with the baby. Akane was spending the day with her friends, and wasn't expected back until late as they had some kind of 'girls only' party, or so Akane had claimed when their fathers had suggested that Ranma go with her, and his curse didn't count. And the Dimwitted Duo of Genma and Soun were spending the day and evening running up their bar tabs to even greater heights.
Ranma's expression saddened further as he recalled his friend's last moments...
Ranma sighed, gazing up into the afternoon sky, as he lay upon the roof of the Tendo-ke. It wasn't as if he'd wanted to hang around with a bunch of girls, especially if he had to be a girl himself, but Akane... He let out another sigh. How their parents could possibly believe that he and Akane could ever have any kind of a successful relationship, when Akane always behaved as if his mere presence was the gravest of personal insults, was beyond his understanding.
"Coming!" He heard Kasumi call out from the kitchen in response to a suprisingly loud knocking from the front entrance, and for just a moment Ranma felt a strange chill flow through his body. Ranma knew that feeling well as it often appeared just before his life was about to become even more complicated than it already was, usually with another fight to occur shortly thereafter. Not sensing any hostility in the area, however, Ranma didn't react and just hoped that whatever it was would pass quickly leaving him undisturbed for once.
"Ranma! Come quick!" He heard Kasumi yell, her voice having a frightened and frantic tone. "Nabiki! Call Doctor Tofu to come here! NOW!"
Ranma wasted no time in jumping down from the roof and rushing towards the front of the house. If the normally serene Kasumi was frantically yelling, then something truly drastic was occurring and speed was of the utmost importance. Skidding around the corner of the house, Ranma paused in shock at the sight before him. Xeris, in her hybrid form, was slumped down in the entranceway, her clothing torn, charred and blood-soaked, with an ashen Kasumi kneeling beside her and holding her folded apron against Xeris' side as a makeshift pressure-bandage.
"Xeris!" he cried out, rushing to kneel beside her. "What happened?" he asked, then repeated his question, in English, when she didn't immediately respond.
While staying at her village, Ranma had learned of the lycanthropes' remarkable healing abilities, being able to fully recover from injuries that would easily kill a human being, even regrowing severed limbs, in a remarkably short period of time. Injuries given them by their own kind, however, healed at a more normal 'human' rate, while magical injury or wounds inflicted by silver... Seeing the charred flesh about several of her still bleeding wounds, Ranma assumed that she had been attacked by someone using a magical or silver weapon. Which meant that her injuries were truly life-threatening.
"Ranma..." Xeris breathed out, turning pain-filled eyes to him, before pressing a blanket-wrapped bundle into his arms. A bundle which Ranma quickly discovered to be a newborn baby. "We were... attacked by the beasts..." Xeris gasped out, grimacing in pain. "The village was destroyed..."
"Doctor Tofu's on his way, Kasumi," Nabiki said as she ran up to them, skidding to a halt and staring at the strange cat-woman on their doorstep.
Xeris turned her head to look at Nabiki, then Kasumi, before a small smile formed on her face. "They are both just as beautiful... as you said they were..." Xeris said, causing one of Nabiki's eyebrows to arch up. Majoring in Business, Nabiki had naturally taken her studies of the English language seriously and was quite proficient, so she had no difficulty in understanding what Xeris had said.
Ranma tried not to blush as he felt Nabiki's curious gaze swing in his direction, and he self-consciously shifted the baby in his arms to a more comfortable position. Not unexpectedly, this resulted in the baby making a few gurgling noises as it was shifted about, which in turn caused Nabiki to want a better look at what he held. This time Ranma couldn't suppress the flush that rose on his cheeks as Nabiki pressed herself against his back to peer over his shoulder at the baby, only to find wide, inquisitive, emerald-green eyes peering back up at her from beneath a halo of blond hair.
Xeris saw what was happening and smiled up at Ranma, her hand reaching up to touch his face lightly before lowering to caress the face of her child. "Please... take care of... our young one... Ranma..." she breathed out with difficulty, blood appearing on her lips, as her arm fell to her side. Her eyes, locked onto the face of her child, dimmed as her heartbeat slowly came to a stop. She never heard the promise that Ranma made to her, as Dr. Tofu finally ran through the gates of the compound and up to them.
Despite Tofu's best efforts, and remarkable control of himself in Kasumi's presence, Xeris' injuries were simply too numerous and severe for him to revive her. Reluctantly, he ceased his efforts after a few minutes and sadly pronounced her departure from the world of the living. He readily agreed to see to the disposal of Xeris' remains, with some help from Nabiki, and they departed soon after with Xeris' body to his clinic to make the arrangements for a small, private, funeral.
It was only a few moments after Nabiki's return to the house that Ranma had had some yen slapped into his palm, was shoved out the door with the baby, and given instructions to buy the 'necessities' for said baby. In his confused and depressed state over recent events, Ranma hadn't even thought of questioning Nabiki's unusual generosity, he'd simply begun walking towards the marketplace.
It was the sudden giggling of a couple girls he'd walked past that caused Ranma to fully realize what he was carrying, where he was going and why, and that he didn't have the foggiest notion of what the 'necessities' for a baby were. Naturally, this caused him to stop dead in his tracks while he tried to figure out what he was going to do.
"Well, well, well, so you finally sired a child of your own, eh Saotome-san?" someone asked with obvious good humor. "Who was the lucky girl to finally catch you?"
Pulling himself from his thoughts, Ranma looked about and found Mr. Tanaka leaning over the short wall about his house watching him with a smile. Ranma had only met the man a few times, usually when he came by the Tendo-ke to discuss some Council business with Mr. Tendo, but he'd always seemed a fairly approachable man and, if Ranma remembered correctly, the father of several children himself. Of course, he wasn't the least bit surprised that Mr. Tanaka was aware of his 'fiancee' problems, or the lengths to which said fiancees would go to get him... they were practically an urban legend in Nerima.
"Um... Not really, Tanaka-san," Ranma responded, walking over to him. "I'm not the baby's father." Then, seeing the mischievous glint in Mr. Tanaka's eyes, he quickly added with a reproachful glare, "And I'm not her mother, either."
Mr. Tanaka held his hands up, placatingly, but still smirked humorously. Leaning further over the wall, Mr. Tanaka took a closer look at the baby in Ranma's arms, noting the unusually 'spotted' blond hair and the light emerald-green eyes peering back at him. "She's going to be a real cutie when she's older. So, how'd you come to be carrying a baby around, Saotome-san? This isn't one of your father's 'training' ideas, is it?"
"No!" Ranma immediately blurted. "No, this hasn't got anything to do with Pop." While it wasn't all that widespread, yet, some stories of what Genma had put Ranma through in the name of martial arts 'training' had managed to circulate around the neighborhood and were frowned upon. Needless to say, anything involving Genma was viewed with suspicion by those that had met the man and heard the stories.
Haltingly, Ranma told Mr. Tanaka about his friendship with Xeris, her husband, and their recent deaths. Of course, he editted out a lot of things in his story, such as their being werecheetahs and exactly how they'd passed away, but that it had been Xeris' dying wish that he raise their daughter for them. Reluctantly, as he was never one to admit a failing in anything, Ranma also admitted that he didn't have the slightest clue as to how to care for a baby.
"Well now, caring for and raising a child is a great responsibility," Mr. Tanaka said seriously. "One I would hope that you take far more seriously than your own father has. That you can admit that you don't know what to do and need help, is a very good start. And the best advice I can give you from the start is, don't even try to do everything on your own! If you need help or advice, don't hesitate to ask for it! A parent's pride in raising a child on their own, without the help of others, is no comfort at all, for parent or child, if that child gets in trouble, falls ill or, at the very worst, dies, because the parent's pride wouldn't allow them to seek aide or advice when it was needed."
Ranma had been looking at the baby as Mr. Tanaka spoke, listening to his words and realizing just how great his new responsibility truly was. In his arms was a life, a life that would forever more be effected by the decisions 'he' would be making for her for years to come. Just as he, himself, had been, and still was, effected by his own parents decisions.
With that final thought, about how his own life had been effected by the decisions, good or ill, of his own parents, Ranma made his very first decision as the parent of his own child.
"I would appreciate any help or advice you'd be willing to share with me, Tanaka-san."
Ranma remembered much of his discussion with Mr. Tanaka, about how to care for and nurture a young baby. It had been a very humbling experience, especially the lesson on how to change a baby's diaper and given him a deeper respect for parents everywhere. One needed a cast-iron stomach and nerves of steel to deal with those biological disasters. Good thing Akane's cooking had already hardened him to such things to some extent, or he was sure he would have fainted otherwise and embarrassed himself.
He'd never known that there was so much to learn and understand about taking care of a new life, and he'd decided that he would learn as much as he could so he could be the best parent possible for his new daughter. He'd already resolved not to make the same mistakes his own parents had made with him. No, his daughter wouldn't have shackles placed upon her from the very beginning. No arranged marriages. No seppuku pledges. Not even the Art, if it wasn't what she wanted. Although, Ranma hoped that she would want to learn the last.
No, Ranma had decided. As much as possible, Ranma intended for his new daughter to have as much freedom as he could possibly give her as a parent. Life itself would shackle her enough without his adding to it.
With those thoughts, Ranma allowed himself to fall into a light sleep, unlike his usual heavy slumber, in case the baby should awaken and need him for any reason.
The next day came early for Ranma as he was awakened by the baby's crying. Groggily he rose and stumbled over to the crib, trying to remember a bit of what Mr. Tanaka had told him about why babies cried; needing a diaper changed, wanting to be fed or to take a nap. As it turned out, she needed changing.
"I'm glad Mr. Tanaka had some extra diapers," Ranma quietly said to himself. He grabbed one from the knapsack, along with some wipes, also given to him by Mr. Tanaka, and followed the instructions to change a diaper that he was shown. After a few minutes the baby calmed down, but the damage had already been done.
Just outside the room, a dark-haired girl had stormed to the door having heard the unknown sound coming from her fiance's room at the earliest time in the morning. She harshly slammed the door to the room open and glared at the raven-haired boy inside who was holding a blond baby.
"And just what is making all that noise?" Akane yelled, her voice resounding throughout house, waking up Kasumi and Nabiki in the process.
Ranma winced at the volume of Akane's voice, which easily rivaled any noise that the baby had been making previously, then winced again as Akane's yelling caused the baby to start crying again. "Would you keep it down, you tomboy," he said in hushed tones, as he tried to calm the child. The baby, not Akane.
"You... You JERK!" Akane snarled, cocking her arm back in preparation to deliver another lesson to her unwanted fiance in how to show her the proper respect she felt she deserved, when a hand suddenly caught her arm and another came down firmly on her shoulder restraining her.
"No, Akane," Kasumi firmly stated, shaking her head when Akane spun to face her. "You might hurt the baby."
"Who wouldn't be crying again, if you hadn't frightened her after Ranma calmed her down the first time," Nabiki muttered sleepily as she slipped past her sisters and into the room.
"What's Ranma doing with a baby in his room in the first place?" Akane demanded, loudly, and gritting her teeth at the infant's incessant cry. "And would someone SHUT THE DAMN THING UP ALREADY!"
"Well yelling about it isn't going to help any, Akane," Nabiki stated, motioning for Ranma to hand the baby to her. If Nabiki had been more fully awake, she would have known better than to say what she did next. "And where else would he keep his newborn daughter? The dojo?"
"WHAT?" Akane screamed, setting off renewed wailing from the frightened child as Ranma reluctantly passed her to Nabiki who proceeded to rock and softly croon at the baby trying to calm her. Akane, meanwhile, was putting two and two together and, as usual, coming up with a sum somewhere in the triple digits. "I knew it! I knew he was messing around behind my back! So, the dishonorable perverted freak knocked up some gaijin whore and she dumped their bastard child on him, huh? Serves him right! As far as I'm concerned, our engagement never happened! The sooner he and his bastard child are out of my house the better!" And with that, Akane spun about and stomped back to her room.
For his own part, Ranma could only stare in shock after Akane. Sure, Akane had accused him of things he hadn't done before, but never with the amount of venom and pure hatred as she'd displayed just now. And based on nothing more than a slip of Nabiki's tongue which, while true in one respect, wasn't true in another, and her own over-active imagination. A gentle shaking of his shoulder brought him out of his shock and he turned to face Nabiki who continued to gently rock the baby in one arm.
"Ranma, you should go downstairs and prepare some of that baby formula you got yesterday," Nabiki said, as the baby began to calm down. "She's going to be hungry and if she isn't fed soon, she'll start crying again."
"Okay, Nabiki," he said, and reached for the baby. He was surprised when Nabiki backed away, out of his reach.
"Just go fix her breakfast, Ranma," Nabiki instructed. "I'll keep her occupied until it's ready. It'll be faster that way, and quieter."
Ranma eyed her and the baby a little worriedly, expecting her to ask for payment of some kind at any moment. When no such request made itself known, however, he quietly followed Kasumi out of the guest room and down to the kitchen.
With Kasumi's help, and by following the directions included on the package of baby formula to the letter, Ranma soon had the baby-bottle the Tanaka's had given him sterilized, filled and warmed. Stepping back out of the kitchen with the filled bottle, and once again stepping over the passed-out-drunk duo of Genma and Soun, who were sleeping it off in the doorway, Ranma found Nabiki sitting at the table playing with the baby.
When he reached for the baby, however, Nabiki again stopped him. Then taking the bottle of formula from him, she shook a little of it out onto her wrist and instructed him to do the same and to remember how it felt, so he could always have it at the correct temperature. Unfortunately, when Nabiki attempted to get the baby to accept the bottle, the baby refused.
"Isn't she hungry?" Ranma asked. "It's got to have been a long time since she last ate."
"Oh, she's hungry alright," Nabiki grumped, scowling. "Unfortunately, I'd guess she's been breast-fed up till now, and that presents a bit of a problem."
"So... what are we going to do?" Ranma asked worriedly, as the baby was obviously growing more irritable.
Nabiki seemed to think for a bit, but Ranma was getting the impression that she already had an answer to the problem. She was just weighing the pros and cons of applying it. He saw her look back at their unconscious fathers, before turning her gaze onto him, speculatively, which almost caused him to place a hand over his wallet. Then she reached out to pick up a glass of water from the table, turned, and dumped it over his head.
"Whatcha do that for?" Ranma-chan asked irritably.
"Because I'll only do this in front of another girl," Nabiki said, reaching up and beginning to undo the buttons of her blouse, "or my husband, once I'm married. And don't you dare turn away, or close your eyes, Saotome! You pay attention! Besides, I'm not going to be around all of the time, and you'll probably have to do this yourself for a while, just to get her to eat. And if you tell anyone about this..."
Ranma-chan could only watch, wide-eyed, as Nabiki opened up her blouse and, blushing furiously, free one of her breasts from her bra. Picking up the bottle of formula she applied some of the liquid to her nipple before lifting the baby up to suckle at her breast. The baby seemed to calm immediately, and after a few more applications of the formula to her nipple and gentle coaxing with the bottle, the baby was soon nursing away at the bottle contentedly. At which point, Nabiki gently passed the baby over to Ranma-chan.
"Remember, Saotome," Nabiki said with a growl of warning as she rose from the table, "not a word about this to anyone, or else!" With that parting shot Nabiki made her way quickly into the kitchen, just as Kasumi was coming out with some tea.
"Oh my!" Kasumi said, noting Nabiki's rather 'exposed' state of undress, before turning to face Ranma-chan. "Did something happen?"
"Um... the baby wouldn't accept the bottle," Ranma-chan said, her own face rather flushed with embarrassment. Then looked down at the contentedly nursing baby. "Well, she wouldn't accept it right off, anyway. Nabiki had to... umm..."
"Oh, she was breast-fed then," Kasumi said, as if that explained everything and all was right with the world once again. "I've often heard from other mothers about how difficult it can be to get their babies to accept a bottle instead of their own mother's breast."
"How come Nabiki knows so much about taking care of babies?" Ranma-chan asked, whispering. "I would never have thought of her as... well... the motherly type."
"Oh, when we were younger Nabiki used to do a lot of babysitting for the neighborhood," Kasumi said. "She was very popular among the new mothers, especially, who all said she was a natural around newborns and young children. I don't know why she stopped, though. She was always so happy when she was surrounded by young children."
"Have you done any babysitting, Kasumi?" Ranma-chan asked, absorbing this new information about the 'Ice Queen of Nerima'.
"Oh my, no," Kasumi answered. "I never really had the time, what with taking care of the house, Father and my sisters. I'm afraid that all I know about taking care of very young children I learned from reading books I borrowed from Doctor Tofu and what I've been told by the mothers I meet in the marketplace."
Ranma-chan absorbed that information as well, but thought she detected a definite note of longing in the older girl's voice. Kasumi may not have the experience of caring for a young child, but she certainly seemed to want such an opportunity... probably with a young child, or two, of her own, most likely.
"Do you know the baby's name, Ranma?" Kasumi suddenly asked.
Ranma-chan just stared at her mutely for a moment, before dropping her gaze to the baby. With everything that been happening, she had never even thought of what the baby's name might have been. Try as she might, she couldn't remember hearing Charon or Xeris ever discussing what their child would be called once it was born, and she hadn't even thought to ask as Xeris lay dying. "I... I left their village before she was born..." she stated truthfully.
"How about Machiko, then?" Kasumi suggested, as Nabiki rejoined them at the table her clothing once more in proper order.
"She is fortunate, because of her mother..." Nabiki responded.
"Yes. That's true," Ranma-chan agreed.
"Nyoko?" Kasumi suggested this time. "Her eyes do look like little gems when they're open."
"Emerald-like, too," Ranma-chan agreed, remembering that most of the werecheetahs in the village had had different shades of green, gold, or brown in their eyes.
"So, Midori Nyoko?" Nabiki asked, reaching over to lightly run a finger up and down the baby's arm. Noticing that she had stopping nursing on the bottle, Nabiki took it and set it aside before producing a small towel from seemingly nowhere, which she draped over Ranma-chan's shoulder.
Ranma-chan gave the name some thought before voicing her opinion on it, while Nabiki guided her and the baby thru the time honored practice of 'burping'. "Okay, we have her adopted under Midori Nyoko Saotome, and use Nyoko," she said, grinning as the newly dubbed 'Nyoko' let out a loud burp in seeming agreement.
Nabiki nodded as she thought of what would be needed for Ranma to have Nyoko legally adopted. "Ranma, we only have a couple more hours before school starts," she said as got up from the table, "but I really think you should skip school today and spend the time getting to know Nyoko better."
"I'm not sure that would be such a good idea, Nabiki," Ranma-chan said, looking towards their fathers. "Not that I want to go to school or nothin'."
"So go out, and take Nyoko with you."
"Where would we go?" Ranma-chan asked, not having a clue as to what one did with a baby. Then she blanched at the positively evil smirk that Nabiki turned her way.
"Why, where every other new mother takes their babies... to the park, of course," Nabiki responded, before turning about and heading for the furo. She wouldn't normally be up this early, but since she was, she fully intended to take full advantage of the fact by indulging in a good long soak.
Breakfast was, surprisingly, a quiet affair that morning. The fathers were still out cold, fortunately, although Kasumi had taken the time to lay some blankets over them. And Akane... well, Akane seemed to have cooled down considerably from her initial tantrum earlier that morning. This was not to say that she wasn't sending Ranma murderous glares, but her gaze would soften considerably when it fell upon Nyoko, gaining an almost wistful look. Even so, Akane finished her meal in record time before rushing out the door to school, certain to be among the first students to arrive at Furinkan High School that day.
Kasumi and Nabiki watched their younger sister rush off to school, without even sparing a glance in Ranma's direction, and sighed. "Later, Sis," Nabiki said as she rose from the table to retrieve her schoolbag. "Ranma, try to stay in girl-form today while you're out, okay."
"Do I hav' ta?" Ranma lightly whined, not that he really cared all that much anymore, but he had to maintain appearances after all.
"Well, it's your choice really, but I should warn you that few things are more attractive to desperate single girls looking for a husband than a single father with a baby," Nabiki said, smirking humorously. "If you think you've got 'girl troubles' now..."
"Ha ha. Very funny, Nabiki," Ranma responded, shifting Nyoko into a more comfortable position in his arms as he followed Nabiki outside.
"Here," Nabiki suddenly said, turning to grab his free hand and slap something into it. Looking at it, Ranma was surprised to see that she'd handed him a fair amount of money.
"What's this for?" he asked.
"I'm lending this to you, so you can get some stuff for Nyoko, okay?" She glared at him, seemingly daring him to question her decision. "Don't worry, it's not charity. You will be paying me back, later. If you don't know what to get, ask some of the neighbors that have children." And with that said, she turned and headed of to the subway station, hoping she wouldn't be groped too much on her way to Todai.
Ranma watched her walk away until she rounded a corner, then slowly turned about and walked back inside the house, absently pocketing the money she'd given him in the process. It would be best to pretend that the money didn't even exist until he needed it, or his good-for-nothing father would surely attempt to take it to buy more sake or food.
Returning to the table in the living room, he was pleasantly surprised to see that Kasumi had left out the tea things for him, as she began her daily routine of household chores. Pouring himself a cup of tea, after comfortably settling Nyoko in his lap, he contemplated on what he should do now. Normally, when he wasn't attending school, he'd spend the day training in the dojo, or head out to see about scamming some 'free eats' in his girl-form. A gurgling coo from his lap pretty much reminded him that those days were over and gone. It wouldn't do to set a bad example for his daughter, after all. Well, training all day in the dojo, at least, as he didn't really think it would hurt anything if he taught his daughter the fine art of scamming free eats. Needless to say, a decade of near-starvation with his father had left a lasting mark upon him where food was concerned.
Still, Ranma had the need to be doing something, to be in motion. Sure, he could sit around and vegetate with the best of them, and he was more than willing to do so after a period of high activity, but... Things had been fairly quiet and laid back recently, yesterday being a notable exception, so Ranma was feeling more than a little antsy to get out and about, to do something, anything other than just sitting. And yet, he now had to consider Nyoko...
The Tanakas had been quite adamant about not leaving Nyoko alone for at least the first few years, and had fallen to the floor laughing hysterically when he'd innocently asked just how much trouble a baby could get into if left alone for a bit. Their gasping response of "You'll learn, poor boy, you'll learn," had not been all that reassuring. Still, their response to his question had been sufficient warning that he was more than a little hesitant to have Nyoko out of his sight for a while yet. But he couldn't stay with her constantly, or carry her everywhere he went, it just wasn't possible. Sure, he could pull the crib down to the dojo when he wanted to train, but then he'd have to haul it back upstairs again at night, and what about when he went out, not to mention school?
Ranma sighed as the questions whirled around inside his head. There was no question that he needed help, and he had already vowed that he would be a 'good' parent for Nyoko. It was time to ask the experts... just as Nabiki had suggested.
"Kasumi, I'll be goin' out for a bit," he announced, rising from the table and adjusting Nyoko in his arms.
Kasumi paused in her cleaning and was about to say something, when she suddenly remembered a conversation she'd had with Nabiki earlier that morning. "Just a moment, Ranma-kun," she said and ducked into her kitchen. She emerged a few moments later with a small knapsack into which he could see her placing a full bottle of prepared baby formula. "Take this, Ranma-kun. Nabiki said that babies get hungry a lot and may need diaper changes at any time. She told me to tell you, where the baby goes the knapsack goes, and to be sure it's always fully stocked with everything you might need for the baby."
"Thanks, Kasumi," Ranma nodded, taking the knapsack and slinging it onto one shoulder. Nabiki hadn't steered him wrong yet on caring for Nyoko, so he wasn't going to argue. He had just turned to head for the front door when he suddenly felt cold water being poured onto the arm he wasn't using to hold Nyoko, activating his curse and returning him to being a short, buxom, redheaded girl. "Now what did ya do that for, Kasumi?"
"Nabiki wasn't joking about girls flocking to you, Ranma-chan, if they see you as an unmarried father with a baby. Having a lot of friends is nice, but let's not overdo it, shall we?" Kasumi said with a humorous, if unusal for her, smirk on her face, as she dried Ranma-chan's arm off before shooing her off and out the door. "And don't forget to see Doctor Tofu to make sure Nyoko is in good health."
Ranma-chan nodded and waved as she stepped through the gate and into the street. Turning towards the marketplace once again, she headed off for the Tanaka residence, hopeful that they could help her with the many new questions she'd come up with since their last meeting. Strangely, though, she had an odd feeling of impending doom, but for the life of her she couldn't figure out what might be causing it.
Tatewaki Kuno, the Thunderous Roar of Todai, stood before the gates of Furinkan High School awaiting his early-morning battle with the vile sorceror, Ranma Saotome. In the depths of his very soul he knew that today was the day that he would finally overcome the sorceror's dark magicks and free his two loves from the foul miscreant's unholy grasp... That, or Sasuke had failed in his duties to his master and his twisted sister, Kodachi, had managed to slip something into his breakfast again.
Stoicly he stood, standing proud and ready to face any challenge the gods may choose to send against him, as he gazed down the street in the direction from whence his loves oft appeared. And in time, his patience was rewarded with the appearance of none other than his fierce tigress, Akane Tendo. Alone. Oh how his heart sang that today may well be the very day that his spirited Pigtailed Girl or Akane Tendo would swoon in his arms that he might shower them with his love.
"Hark," he started, noting how his love's face twisted in pain as she struggled to break the sorcerous spells the vile cur had placed upon her to keep her from her proper place at his side, "Akane Tendo, to whence has the foul sorceror Saotome fled that you should appear before me, unescorted and alone? Is his hold upon you weakening, my love? Are his powers at last weakening before my holy might? Quickly, my love, tell me where he hides that I, Tatewaki Kuno, the Thunderous Roar of Todai, may hunt him down as the lowly dog he is, and vanquish him back to the dark pits that spawned him!"
Akane, already in an unusually foul mood that morning, was ready to vent her anger and frustrations on the first target of opportunity. Normally, this would have been Ranma himself, as he was invariably the cause, directly or otherwise, but Kasumi, without saying a word, had made it clear that she wouldn't be allowed to 'vent' on Ranma as long as the baby was anywhere about... and, of course, the coward had kept the baby around him at all times. Kuno, a long time irritant in her life, was another matter entirely. Akane's face twisted into a grimace of anger, frustration, and sadistic glee as Kuno ranted. She'd needed something, or someone, to vent on... and the Kami had provided.
"Ranma?" she sneered, her knuckles popping as her fists clenched even tighter. "Why, Ranma's at the Dojo, of course... with the 'bastard' child he's fathered with some GAIJIN WHORE!" And with those words, Akane exploded into action and... vented, drawing out the punishment she wanted to inflict. There would be no escape into LEO for Kuno this morning, Akane wanted to vent her frustrations and by the Kami she was going to vent them.
Numerous gasps were heard among the students about the gate and several began scrabbling into their schoolbags, pulling out markers they'd gotten from Nabiki or her assistants. Cries of elation and sorrow began to sweep through the throng as memories were refreshed as to bets made. Inside the school building, several girls from the senior class had witnessed and heard what had just occurred, Akane having made no effort to keep her voice down, and after exchanging some silent looks, one of them pulled out a cellphone and began dialing.
"I... fight... on..." Kuno gasped out, before a final blow from Akane sent him crashing into the wall surrounding the school and into blessed unconsciousness. Akane sighed and dusted her hands off, before retrieving her schoolbag and heading onto the school grounds, her head held high and a small grin of satisfaction on her face. She wouldn't be smiling for long, however, as the events that she had set into motion that morning, with her ill-thought-out accusations, would come to haunt her for years to come.
Once everyone had entered the school grounds, Sasuke, the Kuno family ninja retainer, emerged from beneath a slab of concrete in the sidewalk. Shaking his head sadly as he walked over to his 'master', he began the laborious task of getting Kuno back to the mansion and patched up. If things went well, Sasuke should be able to deliver his master at the university just as classes were about to start. It hadn't been easy for Sasuke to get his master that 'Kendo Scholarship', and if he was late for class too often or, as was more often the case, missed his classes entirely, the scholarship would be withdrawn for the next semester.
'Akane, you idiot!' Nabiki mentally growled as she slumped onto her desk. It was one thing for her little sister to make such unfounded accusations about Ranma and his daughter in the privacy of their home, quite another to yell them to the public at large. Fortunately, one of her proteges at Furinkan High had called her to confirm or deny Akane's accusations, as there had been quite a number of wagers placed on when Ranma would 'father' a child... and with whom. Fortunately for Nabiki's organization, 'adopting' a child was not considered the same as actually 'fathering' a child. So, none of the markers had to be paid off, since Ranma had yet to actually father a child of his own. Still, the potential damage to Ranma's honor, not to mention to the Tendo Clan when it became clear that the accusations had been false, was enormous.
Nabiki just hoped that Ranma would be okay for the day without her assistance. A small, hidden smile appeared on her downturned face at the thought Ranma being a father already. And Nyoko was such a cute little baby, too.
Her smile slipped a bit as her thoughts went back to just shortly after the failed wedding attempt, about a week before Ranma had disappeared on a three-month long 'training trip'. He'd been more than a little upset with her, 'accidentally' allowing his and Akane's rivals and suitors to know about the planned wedding. Her excuse of not wanting to see either of them forced into a loveless marriage, and that they were still not ready yet for marriage, had been met with the surprising response of Ranma agreeing her. But, as he'd continued, that was still no excuse for what she had done, as a simple 'no' from him at the appropriate time would have stopped the whole thing. Their parents' wishes otherwise, be damned.
It had also been during that week, and after many more private conversations with Ranma, that she had come to the conclusion that he was far more intelligent than anyone, including her, had given him credit for. Oh, he was no genius or anything, at least not when it came to anything other than martial arts, but... he'd had a far better understanding of people and their motivations than would be considered common. She wasn't entirely certain that her own ability to understand what motivated people to behave in certain ways was superior. Still, her opinion of Ranma had been altered during that week, and more than once she'd found herself regretting having passed him off to her little sister.
"Nabiki Tendo," the voice of Kuno drawled as he dropped into the seat beside her, "I've heard words from my fierce tigress that the vile cur, Saotome, has begat a child upon a gaijin woman of ill-repute. Is this true?"
Nabiki lifted her head to look at him, taking note of the fresh bandages and numerous bruises he was sporting this morning. 'Looks like Akane took her time this morning,' she thought, 'rather than just simply punting him into Lower Earth Orbit.'
"Well, yes, Ranma is a father now, but--" Nabiki stopped talking as she realized that she was addressing an empty chair. Spinning to face the classroom exit, she was just in time to see the door just beginning to close after Kuno had made his hasty exit. 'Oh shit! I've got to warn Ranma!' she thought, desperately grabbing for the cellphone in her bag to call the Dojo, hoping Ranma hadn't left the house yet. 'Why the hell can't any of these idiots ever get all the facts before jumping to conclusions?'
Ranma-chan stepped out of yet another 'baby store' with Mrs. Tanaka and a few of her friends, all of whom were mothers in their own right or soon would be. At the moment, she was sporting an atomic blush at some of the quite frank discussions that had taken place with and around her. Not all of the women surrounding her were aware that she was really a boy cursed to often be a girl, so some of the topics that had arisen had been concerning things that they would normally never even mention in the presence of a guy... At least, she hoped they wouldn't. Mrs. Tanaka, who knew her real gender, certainly hadn't attempted to dissuade her friends from talking about anything they wanted to. But did they really have to talk about the best positions to have sex with their husbands while pregnant, or how soon they could have sex again after having their babies? And some of the discussions concerning what changes and problems they could expect during their pregnancies just made Ranma-chan shudder in horror.
Before her, Ranma-chan now pushed a stroller she'd just purchased, in which Nyoko was sleeping comfortably after a mid-morning feeding and diaper change. That had been a novel experience, to say the least. As before, Nyoko had initially refused the bottle, and Ranma-chan had been forced to duplicate Nabiki's earlier actions... A shiver passed through her body at the memory of Nyoko suckling at her breast. It hadn't felt bad, really, just... weird. And somehow... pleasant. Still, she'd feel a lot better once Nyoko stopped refusing the bottle. She'd been thankful that Mrs. Tanaka hadn't gone into the virtues of breast-feeding as opposed to the bottle, as some of her friends had, but chose instead to relate some of her more humorous memories of trying to feed her own children in awkward circumstances, which had elicited laughter from everyone and other such stories all around.
Suddenly, Ranma-chan's senses began screaming at her of an approaching danger, prompting her to stop mid-stride and startle those walking with her. But before anyone could ask why she'd suddenly stopped, a loud groan of dismay escaped the little redhead's lips as Tatewaki Kuno came charging around a corner at the end of the block heading right for her.
"Pigtailed Girl!" Kuno cried out, rushing up to the group, stopping, and clearly looking upon Nyoko with evident disgust. "Pigtailed Girl, say it isn't so! Tell me that mine eyes deceive me, that that foul sorceror hasn't corrupted your purity and forced you to give birth to this disgusting demon-spawn!"
There's an old saying that goes, "Never underestimate the power of a Japanese housewife!" But there's another, even older, saying, that is more universal and one Tatewaki Kuno was about to learn of, firsthand. This saying? "Never, ever, ever direct a disparaging remark as to the origins, goodness of behavior, or beauty, about a baby in the presence of it's mother!" You're very likely to receive a extremely violent and very painful response.
A/N: I'd like to thank Tai Khan for helping me get these scenes out properly.
Yes this is a re-make of Love of a Cheetah, a little better done I think.