Ranma alternative fan fiction

Started - 1 September 2000                   Completed – 2 October 2000

Last revised - 10 May 2004                    Reason - typos

Disclaimer:  Ranma ½ and all associated characters are the property of Rumiko Takahashi.  This fan-fiction isn't intended for commercial use but is rather a tribute to the 'Ranma-universe' idea.

This is continuation fanfic that begins where the last manga ends, after the failed wedding.

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Kikuko                          by Cloud Dreamer

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          Tofu suddenly woke.  Something wasn't right.  He strained and then he heard the soft crying of his only patient.  He rarely had patients stay at his clinic but this was a special case, a friend in dire striates.

          He softly padded toward the room and peered past the doorway.  He sighed as he saw the petite redhead curled up into a ball and attempting to muffle her tears with a pillow.  Apparently she'd spilled the glass of drinking water he'd left beside her too.

          He laid a hand on the girl's shoulder, "Ranma, what's wrong."

          Ranma jerked as she felt his hand touch her but other than that gave no sign to acknowledge his presence or question.

          Tofu sighed and pulled a chair around to face where she lay on the bed.  "No Ranma, neither I nor your problems are going to go away just because you ignore them."

          The girl continued to sob as he patiently waited.  It was several long minutes before she began to mumble past her broken jaw, "I . . . I wish I was dead.  I'd be better off the way everybody treats me."  She sobbed "My life is hell, no friends, no control and no choices."

          "Sounds like life as usual for you.  'Sigh' Ranma you have my sympathies, nobody should have to put up with the things that happen to you on a daily basis.  Well, nobody knows you're here so you have some space for awhile to sort things out a bit."  Tofu looked thoughtful for a moment.  "Why did you change into a girl?  Until your jaw heals, changing is not a good thing."

          Ranma blushed, "Guys don't cry.  I couldn't stop crying so I changed.  It just made it worse though."  As Tofu arched an eyebrow in question Ranma continued, "I mean I felt better . . . I mean it was easier, more comfortable to cry as a girl, but I also had even less control.  I just cried harder as a girl."

          Tofu looked at his young patient and read the body language.  The strain she was under to just have this conversation was obvious.  "Ranma, sometimes, 'I' cry too." He sighed to himself at the girl's look of incredulous disbelief.  Shaking his head, he tried another tact and swept his hand out so his gesture encompassed the empty clinic.  "Ranma, it's just you and me . . . and I'm a doctor and sworn to keep my patient's confidences."  He rose, sat on the bed and drew Ranma into a loose hug.  "Now tell me what's wrong?"

          Ranma initially struggled slightly but then turned to look into his eyes.  Whatever she saw seemed to convince her that she was safe because she said nothing but buried her head in his shoulder and cried again.  Tofu stroked her hair as he rocked her.  She cried herself to sleep not saying another word.

          Tofu carefully laid her back on the bed and tucked a blanket about her.  He shook his head sadly as he left her.

          =  =  =  =  =  =  =  Tendou dojo . . . . . .

          Nabiki's eyes were teary as she struggled for composure while she watched her younger sister lie on her bed, both wrists heavily bandaged.  "How could you be so stupid?" she whispered.

          "Which one of us do you mean?  You for nearly destroying my life like you did with the wedding disaster and the rest, or me for finishing the job by letting Ryouga seduce me and then getting caught by Ranma?" quietly responded Akane, eyes still closed and face averted.

          Nabiki walked around the bed.  She saw the steady stream of falling tears.  "Actually I meant the suicide attempt.  No guy is worth that, life only comes around once, so don't just throw it away."

          Akane slowly opened her eyes.  "You're wrong, but I don't know how to convince you."  She lifted up one of her wrists and looked at the bandages.  "As for this, it was an attempt to regain my honor."  She sighed, "As if I had any honor left to regain."  She paused and then asked, "Nabiki, how long have you known about Ryouga's curse?"

          Nabiki sighed, she really hated admitting this.  "Sorry to disappoint you, but I was in the dark too.  I feel really, really dumb too considering all the clues Ranma tried to give us.  Apparently both daddy and Kasumi knew though."  She continued, "I found out that Ranma was the one that knocked Ryouga into the cursed spring.  He swore to keep Ryouga's curse a secret as an honor debt.  At least until he found the two of you in bed together.  I guess tossing cold water on the two of you might not have been the best thing to do in hindsight.  But that's Ranma."

          Akane looked up at the makeshift patch in the ceiling of her room.  "I found I was being screwed by an honorless lying hateful pig.  So what do I do?  Instead of nailing him, I pound the man that I wanted to marry; the same man that once gave up his cure for me.  How many times did he defend me, rescue me?  I wanted so much to have him tell me that he loved me, yet somehow it never occurred to me that I could tell him instead.  I was so upset after the wedding disaster . . . then Ryouga whispered that 'he' loved me.  I wanted so much to hear those words.  Even as he held me, I was dreaming that it was really Ranma, Kami, I wanted it so much to be Ranma.  And that is impossible now."

          Nabiki grimaced, "Akane, Ranma really doesn't deserve you.  I mean you call him a baka and a pervert and he just made your life miserable.  But if you really do want him, well you know how Raman is.  He'll forgive you, he's kind of clueless that way."

          "Really?" whispered Akane as she continued to gaze up at the patch.  "Then he's come back home?"

          Nabiki sighed in defeat, "No, no he hasn't come back.  After you launched him into orbit, nobody has seen him since."  She admitted, "I was worried about him.  You've never hit him so hard before, so I actually went out and looked for him.  Nobody knows where he landed; nobody has seen him at all these past five days.  It's like he vanished from the face of the earth."

          "Nabiki?" softly asked Akane, "Why do you hate me so much?  You did so much to keep Ranma and I apart even to destroying our wedding.  I could have been on my honeymoon instead of wishing I were dead.  Did I offend you somehow?  Or is this just how you are, anything for fun and profit; even if it destroys your family?"

          Sobbing, Nabiki fled the room.

          =  =  =  =  =  =  =  Tofu's clinic . . . . . .

          It was barely sunup.  Tofu stood at the edge of his back porch watching Ranma go through several of his martial arts kata.  To the untrained eye, his performance would have been amazing, even outstanding.  But to Tofu's experienced gaze, Ranma was obviously lethargic and his timing was off as well.

          Tofu sighed to himself, Ranma was NOT going to be a very good patient, he was not supposed to be doing any exercises yet.  Oh, well, best just grin and bear it.  "Ranma, mind if I join you?"

          Ranma turned his head and managed a smile past his damaged jaw as he nodded.  He then turned, faced Tofu and waited for him to assume a starting position.  Ranma then mimicked it and they began a basic kata together with Tofu setting the pace.

          As they sat eating breakfast together, (Ranma using a straw to drink his puree) Tofu thought back.  It had been a week since a couple of worried delivery drivers had discovered Ranma in the back of a truck they thought was empty until they started to clean it up after the day's work.  The large hole in the roof showed how he had gotten there.  They guessed it had happened while they were having supper at a restaurant after their last late delivery in Nerima.  In any case, they had brought him here since his office was next door when they saw how badly injured the boy was.  Ranma had been in a coma for two days afterwards and it was time for some answers.  "Ranma, are you ready to talk to me yet?"

          Ranma hesitantly smiled at Tofu and nodded.  Despite his injuries he was feeling a lot better.  No school, no hassles, no demands, he could sleep as much as he wanted and he got to eat as much as he wanted.  Of course there was the slight problem that there wasn't a whole lot he 'could' eat but he got as much of that as he wanted.  He slurred, "Yeah doc, I guess I do owe you some answers."

          With that Ranma began to fill Tofu in on the happenings of his life that had occurred after Tofu had left Nerima a year ago.  "Well doc, after you left . . . then I heard this moaning from Akane's room.  I thought she was sick or something, so I barged in and found that bastard Ryouga screwing her.  I had a glass of drinking water and I just reflexively threw it on them.  As Ryouga changed into his cursed form, Akane yelled like her soul had been ripped out and the next thing I knew, I woke up here.  I think she nailed me with an uppercut.

          Tofu shook his head in disbelief.  This could only happen to Ranma.  "I guess that explains why you haven't been too eager to leave."  Seeing the apprehension on the boy's face he added, "Understand Ranma, you're welcome to stay as long as you like."

          Ranma smiled his thanks.  "Thanks doc, ah . . . where is here?"

          "On the other side of Tokyo from Nerima."  Seeing the unasked question on Ranma's face he continued, "I left Nerima because I fell in love with someone else.  It was hopeless though, so I 'cut my losses' and left without ever telling her."

          "Ah doc, you should have told her."

          "Yeah, just like you told 'your' girls how you felt?"

          Ranma sighed, "I did tell them all except Akane.  Not that it did any good, none of them listened to me and Akane didn't want me in any case."

          "So Ranma, now what?"

          Ranma glanced helplessly at Tofu.  "Don't know.  Don't want to think about it either."  His eyes seemed to turn inward, "Pain, so much pain around me, because of me.  I, they . . . we'd all be better off if I was dead."

          Tofu saw the sadness wash over the young man's face.  "Ranma, dead is dead and it happens too soon to everybody.  Besides, you 'do' have a lot going for you, a lot to live for.  It's just that your immediate personal problems tend to overshadow them so much that you can't see them."  At Ranma's look of disbelief he continued, "Ranma, you are a 'very' likeable person.  I mean, you've got 'four' girls wanting to marry you and willing to fight each other for you.  Yeah, I know you seem to be the battleground as well usually but . . . anyway, trust me on this.  And look at your martial arts.  You're barely 18 and already as skilled as most grandmasters.  That's something you've earned and should be proud of."

          "Yeah doc, and what's it worth?  What does it get me in terms of some sort of a future?  I don't see any happiness on the horizon of my life."

          "Ranma, if you can't see it, it's because you aren't looking, not because it's not there.  Ranma, you have more options in your life, more than any other person I know.  Not only do you have all the traditional male roles open, but you have all the female roles as well.  You are the only guy I know who could be a mother if you chose to."

          "WHAT!? NO way in  . . ."

          Tofu cut him off with a raised hand, "I didn't say you should, I just pointed out that you 'could'.  Ranma, you can change who you are, you can chose what you want to do.  It's even your choice if you let others chose for you."

          Ranma settled back onto his seat on the floor.  "Yeah, I see what you mean.  I was letting those two old fools chose my life for me I guess, wasn't I?  In the bottom line, I'm not really responsible for my father's honor or anyone else's except my own.  But I've been letting others manipulate me using 'honor', even when they seem to have none themselves."

          "So Ranma, what do you choose?"

          "Doc, you trying to manipulate me too?"

          "Nope, but I am trying to help you see your choices.  Tell you what Ranma, let's brainstorm, think about ideas, even crazy ideas and talk seriously about each one of them.  Maybe, just maybe we will come across an idea that isn't so crazy."

          "Doc, you want crazy ideas?  How about this one then: I go back to the dojo, marry the tomboy tomorrow, then while on the honeymoon, tell Ukyou, Shampoo and Kodachi that they can become my mistresses."  Ranma started laughing, "THEN, I know, I'll change to girl form and seduce both Kuno and Ryouga."  Ranma's laughter bordered on hysteria, less controlled, "Kami, I wonder if I would survive the wedding night let alone the honeymoon."

          Tofu smiled, laughter was good, hysteria was not.  "You know, I heard once that Ranma Saotome doesn't lose."  Ranma's laughter stopped suddenly as he narrowly watched Tofu.  "Seems to me like he's on the verge of surrendering . . . again."

          "What do you mean surrendering again?  No way have I ever surrendered even once."  Ranma snarled.

          "Ranma, your wish for suicide is surrender.  So is the idea you just expressed."  Tofu grimaced, "Both of them basically lead to the death of who you are and destroys all the potential for who you could be."  He paused for a few moments, "Ranma, if you can't decide who you want to be, how about we filter out some of the options of who or what you DON'T want to be."

          Ranma sighed, "That's easy, I don't want to be me anymore."

          "Huh, ah, Ranma, could you elaborate a bit please.  What exactly about yourself are you rejecting.  For instance are you saying you don't want to be a martial artist anymore?"

          Instead of replying immediately, Ranma paused with a rare thoughtful look on his face.  "Martial arts has been the whole sum and center of my life.  While it has saved my bacon more than once, I wouldn't have needed it if I wasn't a martial artist in the first place."  He turned pensive eyes to the doctor, "Sort of, I still want to practice martial arts, but not to the exclusion of other things, not anymore."

          Ranma idly drummed his fingers on the table where they were sitting.  "What do I not want to be anymore?"  Ranma let out a long sigh, "I guess I don't want to be Ranma Saotome anymore.  I don't want to try to live up my mother's crazy idea of 'man among men', don't want to be engaged to girls I never proposed to or hunted by girls as a trophy prize.  I want some friends instead a lot of guys and girls out to pound me for things that they think I've done wrong.  I hate being every body's scapegoat.  I hate being me."

          Tofu looked at the broken young man sitting before him.  He noted the unchecked tears gliding down the sad face.  "Ok, then let's start at the basics and rebuild somebody for you to be instead of Ranma Saotome."

          At Ranma's quizzical expression he explained, "First question, most basic determiner of all, one that the rest of us have no choice on."  He paused to make sure he had Ranma's attention.  "What gender is this new person to be . . . and why?"

          Ranma opened his mouth to protest and stopped.  "Damn you doc, I didn't want to even think about that."  He laid his head on the table and remained that way for several long minutes before finally looking up.  "Doc, if I stay a guy, then I'm still Ranma Saotome.  The way my dad raised me, the two are inseparable in my mind; a man among men, a man . . . that's Ranma Saotome."

          Tofu shrugged, "Maybe, but I could envision Ranma the doctor or the teacher or the idol star or . . . well you get the idea.  Ranma, be very careful here.  Choices are like doorways.  Right now there are literally thousands of such 'doorways' open to you.  But each time you make a choice, some of the doors close.  Sometimes other doors open as well.  Doors that you couldn't believe existed until you made a choice that revealed their presence to you.  Some doorways you can go back out off, some are one way – like suicide."

          Tofu leaned over and placed a hand on Ranma's shoulder.  "Ranma, it's your future, your life.  What gender gives you the best chance of succeeding, of being happy?"

          Tears streaming down his face, Ranma shakily replied.  "Don't know; just know that being a guy is the same as choosing to stay like I am; choosing to have all the same problems and craziness."  Ranma got up from the table, closed the door of his bedroom behind him and lay down.  He was asleep in moments.  He slept for nearly a full day and his slumber was troubled by memories that endlessly replayed.

          The following week was troubled as well as Tofu deliberately stirred Ranma's memories more than once.  As they relaxed on the porch watching the fading sunlight, he asked "Ranma, how much do you recall of that time Akane knocked you silly and you actually thought you were a girl?"

          "Aww doc, don't even want to think about that time."


          Sigh, "Nope, embarrassed.  I never told anybody else but eventually I did remember everything that happened.  I can actually remember how logical and right it felt to be a girl, weird."

          "I'm curious Ranma, were you still 'you' even then."

          Ranma's face drained of color, "Yeah doc, that's the biggest part of what scares me about the whole episode.  I can remember in detail who I was back then and I was still me.  I had a different viewpoint about a lot of things, but I was still me even then."

          The next morning, Ranma casually cleaned up the house where he lived with Tofu above the clinic.  He smiled to himself recalling times that he had helped Kasumi when nobody else was around to see him.  That had actually been sort of pleasant.

          As school let out for the day, Ranma enviously watched the bevy of schoolgirls enter the ice cream shop across the street.  Kami, but he craved ice cream just now.  He was almost willing to eat it as a guy, too bad that Tofu had forbidden both hot and cold foods for now.  And he was getting so damned tired of that straw.

          The morning was bright as they finished up the kata together, "Ranma, tell me how this man among men thing was supposed to work out," idly asked Tofu.

          Ranma narrowed his eyes in suspicion, paused but then answered.  "The only way my mom would let my dad take me on that training trip was if he promised to raise me to be a 'man among men'.  Mom never meant for him to include me in the agreement but she was kind of stuck when the old man had me put my handprint on it too.  Anyway, she's got this weird sort of picture in her mind that a man among men is a sort of like an honorable version of Happosai.  Now there's a contradiction.  The good news is that she sort of let up on the idea after she met the old letch.  The bad news is that I can still see the disappointment in her eyes."

          At lunch that day Tofu asked, "Ranma, I was updating your medical records, ah well . . . are you still a virgin?"


          Tofu merely sipped his tea and waited.  He didn't really need this information, but he did want to see how Ranma responded.

          Ranma blushed deeply, "Yeah doc.  Ain't for lack of opportunities though."  A sad whimsical look came over his face.  "Didn't have a lot of entertainment on the road.  Got a few books and built a few daydreams around them to entertain myself during those long hours we walked in between training spells."

          Ranma's eyes were unfocused as he continued, "Always dreamt that the first time would be really, really special.  Not just a casual hop in the sack, something used to claim a prize or trophy.  Especially never thought I would be the one that somebody was attempting to claim.  Kind of tended to destroy my dreams that way.  Almost don't care if I ever do anymore."

          "Humm, what about your girl side.  Any action there?"

          Ranma silently glared at his new friend.

          "I guess that means 'no'."  Tofu paused a moment, "Weren't you ever curious?"  Tofu's brow furrowed as he thought furiously, "Ranma, have you ever 'explored' your female body?"

          As Ranma's face blushed red, Tofu smiled and said, "Oh, I guess that's a 'yes'.  Pretty nifty body, very sensitive to the touch in certain areas, don't you think?"  He grinned as Ranma's blush deepened and snickered to himself as Ranma stalked off.

          The next day, Ranma faced the morning sun and stretched in sheer enjoyment at the returning health he felt.  He closed his eyes and began a gentle kata.  Finishing it, he moved on to more strenuous exercises.  As he wound down and began the cooling off phase he opened his eyes to find Tofu moving in concert with him.  Not the same tune but a variation on it.  He watched the older martial artist as he moved and began incorporating some of the other's moves into his kata as Ranma moved into a freeform version of his school's kata.  Tofu smiled at him and demonstrated other moves; moves that Ranma instantly copied and used.  Finally they finished, grinning at each other.  Ranma hesitantly asked, "Doc, that was kinda fun.  Wo . . . would you be willing to teach me your school?  You seem to have some pretty good moves there."

          Tofu smiled, "Ranma, I'd be pleased to teach you.  One day I'll have to teach my own kids, so maybe practicing on you would prepare me for that chore."  Thereafter, nearly every morning, Tofu and Ranma practiced together, exchanging moves from both their respective schools.

          It was a weekend and the two men were idly watching television.  The program was troubling, it was about spousal abuse.  Ranma was fuming with the injustice of it as the saw the scenes of battered women, but his face blanched as the program explored patterns where the woman was the aggressor. 

          Afterwards Tofu sighed, "That is a potential part of the hidden trap for martial arts for both men and women.  Most avoid it, but a few get caught up in the power of the Art, such that the ability to abuse and be abused becomes overlooked as a part of either training or a natural lifestyle."  Tofu sadly shook his head,  "The really sad part is that both they and their victims both begin to think that it's normal."

          Ranma whispered, "Akane, I'm so sorry."

          =  =  =  =  =  =  =   Tendou dojo  . . . . .

          It was two weeks after the failed wedding.  Akane looked at her wrists and noted that the slashes had healed well.  The stitches came out yesterday but there would always be scars; scars on her wrists, scars on her soul. 

          Akane made her way down the stairs and sat with her family for breakfast. 

          Soun glanced over his paper at his younger daughter and sighed.  "Akane, we'll arrange a wedding for you as soon as we can find Ryouga."  He was startled at the feral grin she responded with.

          "Ok, as long as you don't expect grandkids from me."  She continued after a short pause, "As soon as I find 'P-chan' again, I'm taking him to the vet to be neutered.  That bastard is never going to sleep in my bed again.  He got his revenge on Ranma at the cost of my honor and life.  I hate him more than anybody else in the world.  If I can marry him, I can make his life miserable and he's all I deserve anyway."

          In the kitchen Kasumi opened a window and dropped a quivering piglet out on the ground below.  "Ryouga, I would suggest that you run and stay lost."

          Somewhat later, in Kyoto, "Damn you Ranma Saotome.  This is all your fault, if you had only taken your defeat like a man instead of throwing that water.  I will kill you!"  Ryouga looked around, "As soon as I figure out where I am and can find you."

          =  =  =  =  =  =  =   Tofu's clinic  . . . . .

          Ranma's jaw had healed sufficiently that Tofu was allowing him to eat some soft foods.  They ate in companionable silence.  Finally, Tofu looked over at his houseguest.  "So, ready yet to finish our conversation from last week?"

          Ranma paused and then uncharacteristically pushed the remaining food away from himself.  "Not really, but to be honest I doubt that I'll ever be ready.  So we may as well get it done with.  I've been thinking a lot about it since then and . . . well, I think I'm starting to go in circles."

          Tofu nodded, "Yeah, been there myself."

          Ranma noticed that Tofu's glasses had fogged over and he was apparently lost in thought, unaware of his surroundings.  "Doc, when was that and what did you do?"

          Tofu blushed, embarrassed, "Back when I finally decided to leave Nerima.  Took me months to wrestle with my feelings for Kasumi, to acknowledge that a relationship with her was hopeless since I couldn't control myself around her and then to realize that this other girl I had fallen in love with could never be mine either.  That it would have been a crime to even confess my feelings for her since she was even younger.  I went 'round 'n 'round for week after week before I decided that leaving was the only solution open to me."

          "Doc, would it help to talk about it?  I know I'm still a kid and I'm not very good at listening, but I'll try if you think it'll help."

          Tofu smiled but shook his head, "Maybe sometime in the future Ranma, but for now, I think your problems are more than enough for us to try to deal with."  He smiled disarmingly at the young man. "So, shall we start at the beginning?  Ranma, this new you that's going to replace Ranma Saotome, what is that person's gender?"

          Ranma blanched but answered, "Ah, he  . . . she ain't a guy."  He sighed, reached over to a glass of water on the table and poured it on himself.  "From now on, I'm a girl doc.  It's either be a girl or suicide.  As a guy, I'll be hunted, I'll either be trapped into a miserable life or I'll be running, even if nobody is pursuing.  That will kill my soul, lead to my death as surely as a tanto in the stomach.  So, if I want to live, I'm a girl from now on.  Don't like it, but it's my best option."

          "What kind of girl Ranma? Normal, lesbian or what?" quietly asked Tofu.

          Ranma grimaced, "Don't know that I have much choice there either, since I was raised a guy, then I guess I'll like girls.  Makes me a lesbian don't it?"

          Tofu shook his head in denial, "No, not so Ranma.  Medical research in the states back in the early '90's found that the structure and chemistry of a man and a woman's brain were different.  Gays and lesbian's tended to have the brain characteristics of the other gender.  Not exclusively, you're right in that environment also plays a role.  But this means that if your change is as complete as it seems to be, then your girl side's basic brain programming would gradually tend you toward being a normal girl.  Becoming a 'normal' girl would be the natural result of you staying a girl long enough for your thought patterns to be influenced by the new brain chemistry but there would also have to be a willingness to change.  But Ranma, if you chose, I think you can be a 'normal' girl.  Once again, Ranma, it's your choice, another doorway."

          "Damn" softly whispered Ranma.  She looked up at his friend.  "Tofu, this is what I was most afraid of about being a girl.  I was afraid of becoming a 'normal' girl."  She shivered, "Me, Ranma Saotome, man among men 'wanting' to kiss a guy.  No way!"

          Tofu chuckled, "But this isn't about Ranma Saotome.  This is about a redheaded young lady who is sitting in front of me without a name, deciding what sort of future she 'wants' to try for.  Ranma Saotome and all his wants, all his father's programming are irrelevant.  Only the future of this nameless girl is important."

          Ranma turned away from the table, strolled part way onto the porch and gazed up at the floating clouds.  She was silent for nearly an hour, contemplating the clouds and her future. 

          Tofu respected her mood and silently cleaned the table and kitchen.  Just before he had to open the clinic, she answered.  "I like kids.  I'd like to have some to raise, some of my own.  Ranma Saotome is dead, I am a girl, a normal girl I hope, don't know for sure but I'll let that be a possibility."

          =  =  =  =  =  =   Furinkan  . . . . . .

          "Finally, I have made a choice; there is only one goddess good enough for me."  Kuno smirked at Akane, "Come tarnished maiden, surely the pigtailed girl yet retains her honor.  Do you know where she is?"

          Akane snarled, maybe her hands were still injured, but . . . she sent Kuno into the school wall with a roundhouse kick.

          "NABIKI! ! ! ! ! !" she screamed in fury.

          "Sorry Akane, not me this time." answered her sister.

          Ukyou snickered from just inside the door as she obviously counted a wad of yen bills.  "Well, what do you know!  I sure made a tidy sum with that bit of gossip I heard from Ryouga as he moaned about how Ranma had destroyed his happiness."  She smiled grimly at the sisters, "Ranma honey's mine now."  Her chuckles echoed down the halls as she walked calmly to her class.

          Later that week, Nabiki walked toward the office of a trucking company that she knew delivered supplies to Ucchan's every three weeks.  Noting the nameplate on the desk, she smiled and said, "Hello Tanaka-san, my boss Ukyou Kuonji sent me by with a revised supply list.  She said it was an emergency."  With that she handed the list to him.  He looked it over, noted Ukyou's letterhead and nodded, "Yeah, we can handle this, let's you and me go and talk to the driver for this delivery tonight."  Nabiki followed the graying man into the loading yard.

          As they made their way, she noticed one of the trucks was being repaired for a large hole in the roof.  Noticing her interest, Tanaka sighed, "Yeah that happened the last time we delivered to Nerima.  About 3 weeks ago, some kid dropped out of the sky and right into the truck.  We didn't find him until they got back here.

          Quivering with barely suppressed excitement, Nabiki asked, "Do you know his name?  What happened to him, do you know where he is?"

          Tanaka shook his head, "Seems they said he was hurt pretty bad and they got medical help for him.  Don't know his name but . . ." he realized he was talking to thin air as Nabiki had left the yard at a dead run.  Sighing, he gave the drivers' the changed order and went back to his office.

          At the front office, Nabiki paused as she realized she didn't know where to go.  She was also a bit self embarrassed, as such spontaneous action was rare for her.  She asked the receptionist, "Excuse me, could you give me directions to the nearest hospital?"

          "Certainly, it's just two blocks up the main street from here."  With that answer, Nabiki left and quickly made her way there.

          Nabiki hurried to the admissions desk at the hospital, "Hello, I'm looking for a family member that has been missing for the last three weeks.  His name is Ranma Saotome and he would have been brought in injured about three weeks ago, probably by a truck driver.  He's medium height, black hair, blue eyes and about 18.  Was he admitted here?"

          The clerk's face paled as she accessed the records from the specified evening, "Ah, maybe.  There was a young man brought in who fits that description, but he never regained consciousness and we never identified the body.  Humm, Ranma Saotome you say.  I'll pass the information on to the coroner and see if that helps identify him.  I'm sorry, but that's all I can do for you here.  You'll have to go to the morgue for additional information."

          "Thank you" Nabiki stuttered as she left the hospital in a daze.  Ranma was dead?  Tears dribbled down her face as she made her way to the train station and home.

          =  =  =  =  =  =  =   Tofu's clinic  . . . . . .

          'Kikuko', the petite redheaded girl repeated the name to herself a few more times.  That was her name now.  Tofu had suggested it and she had chosen it, no more Ranma anymore.

          She stood at the window of her bedroom on the second floor of Tofu's clinic and watched the activity in the trucking yard below her.  Suddenly she froze and hissed "No!  Not her, not now!"

          Tofu silently glided up beside her and she wordlessly pointed to the familiar figure of Nabiki Tendou.  Both watchers were surprised when Nabiki suddenly sprinted out of sight. 

          Tofu looked thoughtful for a moment, "Ra . . . ah, Kikuko, please watch the clinic for a few moments while I go talk with Tanaka-san please."

          An hour later Tofu and Kikuko sat down to supper and Tofu explained.  "Tanaka-san thinks that Nabiki went to the hospital to look for you.  If she comes back, he's not going to help or tell her anything.  Seems she was trying to pull a fast one and mess up Ukyou's supply order.  I explained that Nabiki didn't work for her and after he confirmed that fact with a phone call to Ukyou, well, pissed is putting it lightly."

          Sigh, "That won't help in the long run.  You know how Nabiki is," said Kikuko wistfully.  Tofu grimaced and nodded in agreement.

          The next morning Tofu received a puzzling call.  He asked Kikuko to watch the clinic briefly while he responded to the unusual medical request.  He arrived back in time for the lunch that Kikuko had prepared but blanched and pushed the food away.   Seeing the frown on Kikuko's face, he explained.  "Nabiki did visit the hospital as we guessed.  But it's going a lot different than we surmised."  He paused and looked at the 'new' girl before continuing.  "Kikuko, just how . . . ah, determined are you for 'Ranma' to die?"

          Kikuko arched an eyebrow and glanced down at herself.  "Tofu, I've made my choice . . . my choice.  I've been in this form voluntarily for the last week.  I am a girl named Kikuko, Ranma Saotome no longer exists.  Why?"

          Tofu flushed and responded, "The hospital told Nabiki that someone matching your description had been brought in but had later died.  That body has not yet been identified but the hospital clerk passed the name 'Ranma Saotome' on to the coroner.  He checked the medical database and found that I was listed as medical contact for you."  Tofu took a deep breath and continued, "I looked at the body, the face was almost destroyed and neither it nor you have fingerprints on file.  Tell me, do I identify this body as 'Ranma' or not.  It's your call.  On one hand, saying yes will hurt a lot of people, but on the other hand, they are going to be hurt anyway when you don't come back.  If I do say that this is your body, at least they will have some sort of closure and stop hunting for you."

          Kikuko closed her eyes, but the tears edged out anyway, "Yes, let 'Ranma' die.  At least let my mother have some ashes she can bury."  She sobbed, "I thank this unknown one for the gift of a body to be used."

          Tofu placed an arm around her shoulders, "He may be misnamed and misplaced, but it beats a potter's grave."  He sighed, "Ok, I'll take care of it.  I'm sorry Ranma, I never thought you'd have to go this far on this journey."

          =  =  =  =  =  =  =  Nerima, two days later  . . . . .

          The courier was respectful as he delivered the package.  Nodoka Saotome was curious as she opened it.  She blanched as she saw the small can of ashes and fainted when she read the name on the death certificate.

          Anonymous letters each containing only a copy of the death certificate were also sent to Genma, Soun, Kasumi, Nabiki, Akane, Ukyou, Shampoo, Cologne, Kuno and Kodachi as well as Furinkan High School.  Kuno laughed until Kodachi noticed and took what she felt was appropriate action.

          The Tendou home was quiet.  Kasumi had refused to make supper and was sitting quietly before the family shrine.  Nabiki and Akane were crying in their rooms alone and the two fathers were passed out drunk in the dojo.

          Both Ucchan's and the Cat Cafe closed permanently a week later as Ukyou returned to her father and the Amazon's returned to China, both nominally with honor restored.

          =  =  =  =  =  =  =   Tofu's clinic  . . . . . .

          Kikuko studied the document before her and pondered the lie it contained and the chance for her rebirth that it represented.  She then carefully folded the death certificate and put it into a small pocket on the back cover of the new journal she had started barely 10 days ago. 

          She opened the journal and began to write.  "Tofu offered to get me a new wardrobe today.  I had been wearing a couple of his old oversized castoffs and my one set that I arrived with, so I was pleased at the chance to get some new clothes.  It was a strange experience.  Before we left, he took me by the shoulders and bade me look into the hall mirror.  He then asked me what I saw.  I was confused and said 'me'.  He nodded and then asked again what I saw.  This time I said I saw a girl.  He nodded and said, 'Yeah, and SHE needs some girl clothes, Ok?'  Yeah, I got the message.  Just stuff like bras, panties and dresses, that's all he would buy me, no slacks or shorts.  Told me I would have to earn my own money to buy those if I wanted them.  Well, I can do that now that he's offered me a job as his receptionist.  The pay may be low but the free room and board at the clinic makes up for it."

          Kikuko sighed to herself as she continued.  "I hate to admit it, but the girl's underwear actually feels better.  I don't know about the dress though, that breezy feeling takes getting used to."  With that she got into one of her new nightgowns and went to bed.

          Breakfast dishes were put away, she had abandoned school and Tofu didn't need her help until lunchtime.  She was bored.  Kikuko looked at a few of the new magazines that Tofu received that were destined for the waiting room below.  She idly turned the pages and looked at the pictures of the women.  After about ten minutes, she froze as she realized what she was really doing.  She wasn't looking at the women!  She was studying how they wore their hair and what they were wearing!

          Aggg, she was becoming a . . . 'sigh' girl.  Resignedly, she opened the magazine again as she began to undo her braid.  Yes, she needed a new style.  But it was probably too soon to decide, maybe if she just wore it in a loose ponytail at first until she decided.  Yeah, that would work, for now at least.

          Tofu was distracted at lunch and he had mixed feelings about the whole thing.  On one hand, he wasn't clinically dead so he had to admit what was happening to him was both normal and expected.  On the other hand, Kikuko did not need for him to make her feel flustered so he was doing his best to not embarrass her.  But Kami, she was incredible.  She had washed and brushed out her fiery hair so that it fell loosely to her waist.  Her dress was almost translucent and a pastel green that contrasted with her hair perfectly.  His heart raced every time he saw her.

          Kikuko was puzzled and a bit disappointed.  She had spent her free time getting ready for her noontime job as his receptionist and he had merely inhaled his lunch and fled back to the clinic.  He had barely noticed she was around and not said even hello.  She sighed, Tofu must be really busy, she'd best hurry up and get downstairs to help him.

          Downstairs, the local bridge quartet had accompanied one of their members in mass.  Identical frowns creased their elderly faces as the young girl entered the office.

          "H . . . hello?" quavered Kikuko under their obvious disapproval.  "May I help you?  Do you have an appointment?"

          "Yes girl, I am Mrs. Tanaka, I have an appointment."

          Kikuko blushed, but she didn't quite know why.  "Yes ma'am, the doctor can see you now, if you'll come this way," as she lead the limping woman to the examining room.

          Upon returning to the waiting room, she noticed the continuing frowns.  She smiled, "Your friend is in good hands, Doctor Tofu is the best!"

          The remaining three ladies could not help their answering smiles, but one of them said, "Girl, did your mother teach you nothing?"

          Kikuko blushed and softly answered, "I was raised by my dad, I . . . I'm not very good at girl things."  She swallowed, "I'm sorry if I offended you, I didn't mean too."

          The three elderly ladies exchanged looks and then made a place on the couch between two of them and patted it.  "Miss ah . . ."

          "Kikuko" she smiled as she hesitantly sat between them.

          "Kikuko, you are exceptionally pretty and polite too.  But your dress . . ."

          "Is . . . is something wrong with it?" asked Kikuko with a puzzled expression.

          "Yes and no," said the shortest of the three.  "It's a very lovely dress, it's just that it's a bit scandalous the way you are wearing it.  You really should have a slip on underneath it."

          "A slip?  What's a . . . oh wait, I think I know.  So that's what those things are for.  I wondered why the dress was so thin."  Kikuko paused and asked, "I don't have one, do you think I should go change into another dress?"

          The three elderly ladies exchanged looks for a moment and seemed to come to a decision without words.  "Bernice, you stay here and tell the young doctor that Clara and I are taking his receptionist shopping."

          "Bu, but I can't.  I have to work and I don't have any money either," Kikuko said with panic edging her voice.

          Clara smiled, "Not to worry Kikuko, this will be my treat.  And Tofu won't mind, trust me, he'll appreciate being able to keep his mind on his work."  At that comment all three elderly ladies snickered as Kikuko belatedly blushed.

          An hour later they returned, Kikuko clutching a large bag of various clothes, little of it outerwear except the very revealing swimsuits, her mind awhirl with feminine knowledge and advice both common and esoteric.

          Tofu sighed with both relief and disappointment as he noticed the barely perceptible slip she now wore.  "Kikuko, it's ok, Bernice explained it."

          Kikuko blushed and nodded her head.  She smiled at her new mentors, and told him, "They've said that they would be willing to teach me what I missed growing up with pop, isn't that nice of them?"  She grinned, "Tomorrow morning, about nine, ok?"

          All four of the elderly ladies hugged her and said that that would be fine.

          The lessons were held three mornings a week and had something of a party atmosphere.  Usually, one day a week was a shopping expedition.  So far they had not repeated any stores.  One week it was how to shop for groceries, another week they looked over the herbal stores.  Usually one of the self-designated teachers and Kikuko ended up making lunch together for all five of them and a picnic lunch for Tofu as well.  These four elderly ladies were obviously bored out of their minds and thoroughly enjoyed teaching Kikuko how to cook and shop among other things.

          If they were amazed at her naiveté, she was amazed at how much she didn't know about how to function effectively as a girl; though the teasing about cute guys and babies really did get to her all too easily.

          Clara smiled speculatively as she watched Kikuko serve the lunch.  Ah to be so young again.  "Kikuko, I haven't seen you dating, I was wondering, well, I have this grandson and  . . ."

          "Clara-san," interposed Kikuko, "please don't go there.  My parents decided to arrange a marriage for me, but they totally managed to mess it up.   At one time I had no less than four fiancées, all of them martial artists and fighting over me and blaming me for the others.  In desperation, I finally fled and disowned my family.  That's why I cannot claim a family name.  So . . . please don't go there.  My life is mine now.  It cost me a lot to be able to say that."

          Tears in her eyes, Clara nodded and said, "Sorry Kikuko-chan, sounds like you have all the training you'll ever need about that topic.  We'll respect your wishes in that area."  Sigh, "But my grandson is sooo neat," she added plaintively.

          Tofu and Kikuko shared the picnic lunch together in the back yard of the clinic/home.  It was an innovation fostered by Kikuko's mentors and something both were beginning to look forward too.  Even on the days she didn't have class with her mentors, Kikuko frequently made a picnic lunch anyway.

          "Kikuko, you really seem to enjoy these picnics," commented Tofu one day.

          Kikuko turned from watching the birds in the nearby tree and smiled at her friend, "Yes, in a way it brings back memories of the years training with pops.  Not all of it was training or miserable.  There were a lot of beautiful and peaceful days and nights in the backcountry; just him and me and nature."  She sighed wistfully, "These lunches help me put aside the bad times on that trip and recall all the good things that came out of it."

          "So, you've been Kikuko for nearly five months now.  Any regrets or other comments?" inquired Tofu.

          Kikuko paused and smiled momentarily before continuing to eat carefully.  "Regrets?  No, not really.  I guess I regret not being able to 'make it' as a guy, but almost all of that was out of my control.  There is a bit of pride that I really did finally manage to take control over my life.  Some sadness that it came at such a high price to both me and everybody I knew."  She whispered sadly, "To all intents and purposes, I really did commit suicide as far as everybody who knew me is concerned.  Even though they think Ranma's death was accidental, I know it was intentional because 'I' was the one who made that decision."

          "Humm you do realize that you didn't answer my question, don't you?"  At her puzzled expression, Tofu continued, "You told me how you felt about not being Ranma but you didn't say anything about Kikuko."

          Nodding in understanding, she replied, "Sorry, didn't realize that."  She paused in thought for several moments and just as he was about to say something, she continued.  "I guess the bottom line is that becoming Kikuko has to be one of the best things that has ever happened to me."  She looked around at her surroundings, smoothed her dress out where it was spread out fan wise about her, then gestured about her.  "I have a home, a job, a future, friends and I'm content with who I am."  She grinned, "I never thought it could ever happen, but I'm actually beginning to notice boys and it doesn't bother me in the least anymore.  Scares me yes; but then that is normal for a 'normal' girl," she giggled.

  =  =  =  =  =  Six months later . . . .

          Kikuko was major bored.  Tofu was gone for a couple of days to a medical training conference, her elderly mentors were in Tokyo for a bridge marathon and to make it worse, it was raining.  She wandered through the house.  She had already done more martial arts practice than she wanted, even including the new moves that Tofu had been teaching her.  In fact, she had almost mastered his whole school in the eleven months he had been teaching it to her.

          Oh, well, there was no help for it.  She'd just have to 'deep-clean' the living quarters the same way that Tofu had her periodically do the clinic.  She started with the worst room, hers.  Odd, how in the world did her panties get up there?

          She was nearly done, only a few trivial tasks to do, such as matching and sorting Tofu's socks.  She took the basket of mismatched socks and Tofu's sock drawer and dumped them both in the middle of the floor.  She sat on the tatami and began to check that each sock was correctly matched and rolled together before she returned it to the drawer beside her on the floor.   She had barely gotten started when she discovered the picture frame beside a small box buried in the midst of the socks.  The picture frame was of the folding type that contained a picture on each side.  Curious, she opened the picture frame and saw that it contained pictures of two girls.  On the left side was Kasumi and on the right side was . . .

          She slammed the frame closed and blushed.  It couldn't be.  No . . . not that girl.  Not way back then, over two years ago.  No wonder he had left.  She peeked again to make sure, blushed and placed the photo frame back in the bottom of the sock drawer and carefully covered it again.  She looked at the small box pensively.  She studied it in silence for long moments before sighing resignedly and opening it.  She smiled; even better than she had expected.  She sat the small box in her lap and resumed sorting socks, except now she chuckled every once in a while as she hummed a merry tune.  Periodically she would pause and peek into the box again.  Her response was always the same.  A wide grin and another merry tune soon followed.  No way was she bored anymore.

          Tofu was worried, something was going on and Kikuko was not giving any hints.  She had surprised him with a nice supper and an immaculate house on his return last night but had then announced that she was going to take today off and spend it with her mentors. 

He had casually passed by their house several times today.  After all, it was only five houses down and he had to pass it on the way to the pharmacy, the bookstore and  . . . oh, yeah the park and the grocery store.   Every time he had passed, he had heard the sound of old ladies giggling like little girls.  He strongly suspected that they were laughing at him.

          He was surprised when one of them, Clara, who lived a few houses in the opposite direction, called him and asked him to make a house call late in the afternoon.  He sighed but agreed. 

          Tofu entered the darkened clinic and placed his bag on the table as he locked up.  He shook his head in confusion.  Clara certainly had a minor complaint, nothing that really required a house call.  He started toward the back of the clinic where the lower portions of the living quarters were only to be stopped by Bernice.  He started to speak but she schussed him and pointed him to the bathroom where a formal kimono of his was hanging on the back of the door.

          Confused, he allowed her to push him into the bathroom and close the door.  He started to open the door to protest only to have it closed again sharply in his face.  Perplexed, he decided to go with the flow, quickly bathed and dressed in the clean kimono.

          As he exited, he was surprised to find all four of Kikuko's elderly mentors gathered at the foot of the stairs, all dressed in formal kimonos.  One of them handed him a lit candle and wordlessly pointed up the darkened stairs.

          Apprehensive, Tofu took the candle and made his way up the stairs.  All the doors upstairs were closed except the one to the large recreational room that took up much of the upper floor.  He took the candle and slowly made his way toward it and peered into the room.  He noticed that the room was softly illuminated with a small lamp in each corner.

          In the center of the room, there was Kikuko, dressed in a beautiful formal kimono, the implements of a formal tea ceremony arrayed about her.  She ignored him and patiently waited.  His was the opening move should he chose to accept it.

          Shaking, Tofu set the candle in the holder he now noticed that was sitting in the middle of the hall.  He racked his brain trying to recall the details of this ceremony; took several deep breaths and pulled himself together.  Then with measured steps he entered the room, once so familiar, now unknown and challenging territory.

          Both performed their parts nearly flawlessly until the very end when Kikuko abruptly terminated it with a question. "Tofu-san, who was she?  Who was the girl that you loved so much that you had to flee Nerima?"

          "Ka, Kasumi," he stuttered.

          He noted the tear that made its way down her cheek as she spoke, "Alright, if that is the doorway you choose.  Kami knows I have no right to say otherwise."

          She sat there, tears streaming but silent, waiting for him to leave so that she could complete the last of the ceremony.

          In silent agony, Tofu sat there.  It was a lie and they both knew it.  He hesitantly started to rise and then sat down again.

          "No, that isn't the doorway I want to walk through.  It's just; it's just that I'm terrified that the other doorway is only a mirage.  I don't want to find out that it really was only a mirage, that way I still have the dream."

          Kikuko took a deep breath and said, "Either way, it is a choice that you 'are' making tonight."  She looked into his eyes and smiled, "All mirages have some element of truth, some more than others.  But one never can tell from a distance."

          Tofu's hands shook with nervousness, "When I was in Nerima, I was attracted to this beautiful redheaded girl I met almost three years ago.  Then I found out she didn't really exist, she was the cursed form of a proud young man named Ranma.  So I put her from my mind, but it seems my mind had an agenda of its own.  I noticed how caring this person was despite trying to hide it behind a macho facade.  I noticed how honorable this person was even in the midst of others dishonor.  I noticed how this person tried to be a friend even as friendship was rejected.  Against my will, I fell in love with this person despite his gender."  Tofu stuttered, "I fell in love with you, I'm sorry to shame you like that."

          Kikuko's smile was bright even as it was tender.  She waited until he raised his eyes to hers, then she placed a small box on the table between them and softly said, "I accept your proposal."  She held out her hand and waited.

          Disbelieving, Tofu fumbled with the box, and then he seemed to gather strength from the caring he saw in her eyes and confidently withdrew the ring from the box and placed it on her finger.

          Kikuko carelessly swept the tea implements aside and scooted next to Tofu.  "I love you," she said as she hugged him and then gazed at her ring happily, gold with a large bright blue opal that was nearly the same color as her eyes.

          Tofu sighed, "I've loved you for almost three years now, almost from the day I met you in my office as you waited for hot water."

          Unable to wait any longer, the privacy of the newly engaged couple was invaded by a quartet of elderly ladies bubbling with schoolgirl delight.  They gushed over the ring and had endless suggestions for how the wedding ceremony should go.  It should be noted that each considered herself to be a surrogate mother for Kikuko with every right to become involved.  And they did.  It was a lovely Shinto ceremony attended by most of the people for several blocks around.  The honeymoon itself was a gift and a dream come true.

          =  =  =  =  =  =  =   Saotome home . . . . .

          Nodoka sat quietly in the darkened house before the Saotome family shrine.  A few sad tears dripping from her face as she marked the second anniversary of her son's death.  Vaguely annoyed she stiffly rose from her kneeling position and went to answer the door.  The young man looked familiar.

          "Hello, I'm Dr. Tofu Ono and I was looking for Nodoka Saotome," he asked.

          "Oh, I recall you now, it's been, what, three years since you left Nerima," sadly responded Nodoka.  She pulled herself together, "Pardon me, I'm sorry, won't you come in."

          She led him into the main room and gestured for him to sit as she sat as well.  "Well, Doctor Tofu, what can I do for you?"

          "Well, when I was in Nerima, I became interested in Jusenkyo curses and I was doing some follow-up work.  I realize that Ranma passed away a few years ago and I apologize for bringing up old pain, but I was wondering if you would be willing to provide me with some information regarding how such curses affected the lives of those with them and those around them?"

          Nodoka initially stiffened but then relaxed a bit, "Perhaps, but not today."

          Tofu held out a business card, "This is also my home address.  You know, I do have some photographs and stories of Ranma that I would be willing to share with you.  It's a poor substitute for the real thing, but . . . How about supper at my home with my wife and I, say about 4 p.m. this Saturday.  Would that be suitable?"

          "Your wife, she won't mind?"

          Tofu shook his head, "No it's fine, she's the one asking actually."  With that he rose and made his way to the door.  "Again, my apologies for disturbing you."

          "It's alright, and yes, I'll be there.  I so rarely get out anymore; it would be nice for a change."

          =  =  =  =  =  =  Ono home . . . .

          "Kikuko, slow down, sit down and for pity's sake calm down." protested Tofu helplessly.

          Kikuko stopped, turned to her husband where he was sitting at the table, sat on his lap and whispered, "I'm afraid, hold me please."

          Tofu put his arms around her and rocked her as he replied, "It's going to be ok.  She was in mourning on your death day.  She misses you still.  It'll be ok."

          Nodoka knocked hesitantly on the door of the home.  She was surprised to notice that it had a sizeable yard at the back.  She was curious to note that a rather large dojo was being constructed there.  She entered when Tofu opened the door and led her into the home's main room where a stack of photo albums was already set out on a table on the porch.  At her inquiring gaze, Tofu smiled and said, "My wife will be down shortly, she asked us to begin without her."

          They opened the first album and Nodoka smiled at the picture of Ranma walking on the fence.  She smiled but the tears began to flow freely.  Tofu said nothing, but merely placed an unopened box of tissue next to her.

          She smiled timorously, "I guess you were prepared for that reaction."

          "Yes, Ranma always did have a strong effect on people.  They either loved him or hated him, but they were never indifferent to him."  He paused and steeled himself, "I'm curious, what were your feelings toward him . . ." he raised a hand to forestall her protests, "I asked only because of the seppuku agreement.  It does confuse the issue, especially with Ranma's particular curse."

          She paused and regained control of her outrage.  She had to admit that the question was deserved.  "I can not think of anything that my child could have done short of outright rape and murder that I would have felt seppuku was necessary."

          "Really," mused Tofu, "Given his curse, what about living as a girl.  How would you have felt about that?"

          Sigh, "I loved Ranko before I knew she was really my son.  If he chose such a life style, I would have accepted it and hoped she would have allowed me to help her to be a woman among women."

          A pair of soft arms slipped around her neck from behind as a soft voice she thought she'd never hear again whispered, "How about, just a woman, a wife and a future mother, mom?  Could you help me do that, just that?"

          Startled, Nodoka came to her feet and turned abruptly to stand terrified several feet away, a hand to her mouth as she struggled not to scream.  Tofu crossed quickly to stand between the two women and say, "Nodoka Saotome, this is my wife, Kikuko Ono."

          "Kikuko?" Nodoka's voice quavered the question.

          "Yes, I am Kikuko, ever since a poor dead nameless boy was deliberately miscalled Ranma that 'I' might have rebirth in this form, I am Kikuko, I am a woman Mrs. Saotome.

          Kikuko gestured at her swollen tummy, "I am a number of other things as well.  I am an orphan now, a wife and in another three months I'll be a mother as well."  She smiled hopefully, "I'm kind of scared about all this.  I don't need anybody to run my life but I sure could use a mother about now."

          "I'd really like to try out for the job," Nodoka quavered as she carefully hugged her daughter.

          "Deal, as long as you never tell dad or the Tendous."

          "Deal, for now," at the Ono's frown she clarified, "Circumstances change, I want to leave us all an out should we have future cause to change our minds.  But for now and the foreseeable future, I completely agree."  She sighed, "How do we do this, I really don't want to move in with you unless I have to but it's a long commute . . ."

          She saw Kikuko grin at her husband, and then smile at her and say, "As Nabiki used to say 'have I got a deal for you'.  It seems that one of my elderly friends is preparing to sell her home and move in with her grandson and his family.  I think she might be willing to give my mother a really fair price!"  She paused, "Do you play bridge?"

          =  =  =  =  =  =  A small unnamed park on the edge of Tokyo  . . . . .

          Kasumi tiredly sat back against the bench as she watched her son toddle toward the sandbox.  She smiled; he looked so much like his father, Mousse.  She giggled, it was to her advantage that the amazons had finally tired of his antics around Shampoo and kicked him out of the tribe.  He made a good living as a professional magician.

          Kasumi leaned back and watched the other people even as she kept one eye on her son.  She noticed a middle aged lady with very dark red hair enter the park with a five year old girl beside her and a pair of two or three year old twins in a double stroller.  Their eyes met and mutual recognition was immediate.

          With obvious reluctance, Nodoka sat next to Kasumi, "Hello Kasumi, I didn't expect to find you here."

          Ignoring the implied question Kasumi asked, "Auntie, ah, whose kids are these?  Did you adopt or become a nanny?  And why didn't you tell us where you moved when you sold your house and left five years ago?  What's going on?"

          With a helpless sigh, Nodoka surrendered, "These are my grandchildren, the eldest is Ukyou and the twins are Ranma and Ranko."  She gestured toward the pregnant redhead that was approaching them, "I believe you already know my daughter Kikuko, though not by that name."

          Kasumi's eyes rolled up as she fainted.

          She woke to the familiar sound of her son's challenging voice.  "My daddy's a martial artist and he can beat your daddy.  Someday I'm going to be the bestest martial artist in the world."

          "Yeah! Well my mommy is a sensei at our dojo and SHE can beat your daddy," smirked a child's voice that was oddly familiar.

          She looked to see her son facing off against another boy who was slightly older and definitely better trained.  He seemed to be a 2 and a half year old version of Ranma.  Wait a moment, this was Ranma, another one, but still Ranma, her son would soon find out what that meant.  She chuckled and took in the rest of her surroundings.

          "Hello Kasumi," came the soft greetings beside her. 

          Kasumi turned to take in the vibrant red hair, brilliant blue eyes that were laughing with the pleasure of life and the trim but slightly bulging figure.  With a sob she buried her face in the other woman's shoulder and carefully hugged her.  "Oh, Ranma, you're alive, you're alive!  I'm so glad."  She became incoherent at that point for awhile.

          "No, not Ranma; Ranma died and I was reborn as a girl, a normal girl named Kikuko," she answered as she returned the other girls hug.


          "I got tired of getting all the blame and none of the fun.  In the end, I had the choice of faking my death and living as a girl or committing seppuku.  It was a close choice."  She smiled happily, "I think I made the right choice, what do you think?"

          Kasumi laughed gaily, perhaps for the first time in decades.  "Absolutely no doubt in my mind."  She patted the other girl's belly, "So who did you land?"

          Kikuko grinned, "Tofu, how about you?"

          "Silly Tofu?  Really!  That's grand.  I caught Mousse on the rebound.  I told Nabiki that I wanted him so she arranged for him to get a visa and then eye surgery.   I'm really happy now."

          "Wow, Nabiki did all that?  Must have cost you a bundle!" wondered the redhead.

          Kasumi's smile faded a bit, "No, your death was rebirth for us too.  Nabiki doesn't hurt people anymore.  She cares and is getting quite a reputation as both a busybody and a matchmaker.  She finished up her doctorate in psychology and is volunteering in social work too.  Kuno started to chase her but she ignored him.  He tried his usual tricks but she swore out an arrest warrant against him for molesting her.  Of course, being Kuno, he resisted and both he and his sister are in a mental institution now."

She paused for a few moments and then began again, "Without an heir anymore, daddy began to teach again.  Uncle Genma helped and both of them taught Akane.  She's really good now; maybe as good as you were back then.  It helps that she almost never loses her temper anymore.  She's going to take over the dojo and she's finally started to date again.  I don't like that Taro fellow but she seems to get along with him OK."

          "Wow, I'm glad that things seemed to turn out alright Kasumi."

          "Why did you name your eldest Ukyou?  And how on earth did you manage to avoid hot water long enough to have so many kids?" asked Kasumi.

          Kikuko replied with a small laugh, "The hot water was easy, we went to china on our honeymoon.  I taunted Herb while in my male form so he 'punished' me by locking me in my cursed form.  Tofu and I laughed for days afterward.  As for Ukyou, well, when we were little, we were friends.  Neither of us were to blame for what happened to her, but I figured I owed her something.  It was the best I could do."

          "That's sweet" replied Kasumi

          "Kasumi," hesitantly asked Kikuko, "could I ask you to keep me a secret?  I'm happy; I don't need that kind of hell to become part of my life again."

          Kasumi thought for several minutes before replying sadly, "I'm sorry, Kikuko, but my obligation to my sisters outweighs my obligation to you.  And I do acknowledge that I owe you a large obligation.  But the news of your successful life may be the key to my sisters' happiness elsewhere.  They both have a huge guilt burden that even now comes close to overwhelming them."

          Sigh, "Can't argue with that logic.  Caring never comes easy but is always worth the cost."  Kikuko looked pensive, "Please, pretty please though, don't tell our dads.  I can see it now if they found out.  My little Ranko engaged to your son and little Ranma gone one morning on a decade long training trip.  At least that's what they would want, not that I or Tofu would even come close to agreeing to their schemes.  Thank Kami he's the head of the Ono clan so he has legal control there."

          Kasumi giggled again, "I promise.  And I can guarantee that Akane and Nabiki will wholeheartedly agree as well."

Later that evening, Kikuko carefully brushed out her hair as she contemplated the book on the table before her.  She sighed as she looked in the mirror, she never did get it styled, but she really preferred to wear it long and in a loose ponytail anyway.  She giggled as she admired the color, it already starting to darken like her mother's did.  Already her kids were being teased about their fiery hair; even Ranma had red hair, not as bright as his twin sister's but a dark red nonetheless.

          She pulled the journal to herself and began to write as she had nearly every night since she had declared herself to be a girl.  "I saw Ryouga again today.  He wanders by every couple of months it seems.  It's strange how someone who is so lost all the time, can find places that are meant to be hidden.  So far, he hasn't identified me and Tofu is careful to avoid him as well.  Kasumi told me that he finally found out about Ranma's death five years ago so I don't expect him to be looking for me anyway.  I heard he took it pretty hard, depressed that he would never get the chance to kill me.  I met Mousse again today, first time in almost 7 and a half years.  Kasumi brought him over for lunch without warning him, just to see his reaction.  He surprised us all.  He turned when he heard my voice, stared at me a few moments and then began laughing.  He eventually said that he was glad to know that I had beaten the 'old ghoul', even if she never found out about it.  We get along well now.  He said that he intends to have his son attend my dojo when he's old enough.  To quote him, 'might as well learn from the best'.  Can't argue with that!  Told him he'd better make reservations, my classes are filling up fast.  So he did!  That was sweet of him."

          =  =  =  =  =  =  =   Tofu and Kikuko's home  . . . . . .

          Nodoka looked quietly around; Kasumi was watching the children that were outside playing except for baby Nodoka who was asleep on a blanket on the floor.  Yes, things were ready.  It had taken six months of careful negotiation on her and Kasumi's part with Kikuko to get ready for this day.  The knock on the door startled her even though it was expected.

          Nodoka led her daughter's visitors into the main room where Kikuko sat.  Kikuko's face was white, she was clearly nervous about this. 

          Akane and Nabiki stared at the ghost that up until two days ago, they had once thought eight years dead.  They gaped at Kikuko as she nervously rose to greet them.  In unrehearsed motion, both Tendous, knelt and placed their foreheads on the floor.  Neither could say a word for the flow of tears that choked their voices.

          As all of her caring nature flooded to the fore, Kikuko knelt between them, raised their faces to her breasts in a warm hug and whispered "I forgive you, be happy."

          Both girls desperately embraced her like a lifesaver, perhaps to them she was, now, again.


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Author's note: Additional Ranma fan-fiction can be found on my Web Pages.

C & C to cloud (underscore) dreamer2000 (at) yahoo.com

Web-page  - www.geocities.com (slash) cloud (underscore) dreamer2000

          And  - mysite.verizon.net (slash) cloud-dreamer/index.html

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