Oyu no Ranma

A Ranma 1/2 fanfiction by Zorknot

Chapter 16: Threads

[EDIT 9/18/18 I added a section in this chapter covering Kasumi's reaction to spoilerific events. The addition occurs toward the end of the section that starts with Ranma cleaning off tables at the restaurant.]

In this chapter, Akane manages to cook something edible, Ryoga becomes a witch's familiar, and Ranma almost quits his her job…again.

Disclaimer: "Punch out!" Aradek barked the order to his navigation coordinator, Freelix and the short, dark skinned man pushed the big green button that brought the Wounded Whale out of hyperspace. What the crew of the Wounded Whale saw through the viewscreen once they arrived was gut wrenching. Partek station, once a bustling metropolis of interstellar travelers and savvy merchants, now seemed to be nothing more than a rotating mass of incoherent debris. "Sir," Karda, the communications officer addressed Aradek, "We're receiving a message." "Well?" Aradek asked impatiently "What does it say?" Karda swallowed and frowned, her smooth forehead crinkling in consternation. She made a few hand motions and the message started playing out of the ship's speakers. Aradek's heart sank when he heard it. He had suspected all along, but to have it confirmed was just too much. "Many of these characters and some situations are the property of Takahashi Rumiko and affiliated companies," the toneless voice said through the intercom "If you like this story please consider purchasing something from the original creators"

~~~~~Chapter 16: Threads~~~~~

~~~~~Ryoga~~~~~

As a man who got lost a lot, Ryoga was rather familiar with the unfamiliar. But being asked by a girl with an eyepatch to be a familiar, wasn't just unfamiliar, it was downright bizarre. "Bwee?" he asked, eloquently.

"He has a lot of will," the old lady noted.

"Really?" Nabiki asked, giving Ryoga another quick look. "Isn't that bad?"

The panda in the doorway started snoring. He must be a Jusenkyo curse victim too, Ryoga supposed.

The old lady drew closer. She shook her head. "You're safe." Ryoga squirmed and tried to get out of Nabiki's grip, but she held firm.

Nabiki nodded slowly, taking Ryoga inside and leaving the door open for the old lady until she turned around three times and backed into the house. Closing the door, Nabiki said, "Alright, you old fox. What aren't you telling me?"

The old lady smiled widely, showing all of the places where there should have been teeth. "It will cost you, dearie."

It was Nabiki's turn to smile. "All the best things do. What do you want, Grandmother Shiratori?"

Shiratori turned around. "My niece is visiting this weekend."

"Asuza?"

Shiratori nodded.

"So you want me to baby sit, is that it?"

Shiratori faced Nabiki again. "Don't be absurd, child, she's nearly as old as you are."

"So you're saying I should accept her tendency to rob people and name the things she steals as a lifestyle choice and leave it at that?" Nabiki squeezed Ryoga under her arm so she could put her other hand on her hip.

"I'm asking you to be a guiding influence. She's an only child, and she could use a strong female presence to…"

"How is this not babysitting again?"

Shiratori threw up her hands. "Fine. Yes, I want you to babysit for me. Will you do it?"

Nabiki held up a finger with her free hand, "Only in exchange for the information you're hiding from me about this ritual."

"I agree. You have my word." Strangely, Shiratori's words seemed to echo slightly when she said this. The small, old lady stepped closer. Her eyes were almost level with Ryoga's. "Do you want your mother to be free again? Do you want to be able to embrace her and her alone once more?"

"Yes, you know I do," Nabiki said with impatience and steely resolve.

Shiratori looked up at Nabiki. "Then you must perform the ritual with him, even though he is a Jusenkyo-cursed human."

There was a moment of stunned silence. Then Nabiki said, "Ew, " and dropped Ryoga.

"Why did you do that?" Shiratori asked.

"He's naked!"

Not wanting to miss an opportunity, Ryoga darted away to try to find a way out of the house, but he encountered some difficulty. What kind of house has five kitchens anyway?

~~~~~Ranma~~~~~

There were three people in the waiting room at Tofu's clinic. An elderly man, a young mother, and her son. The son was maybe ten years old and was squirming around in his chair, not wanting to play with the baby toys in the corner, and not being at all interested in the magazines either.

"Maybe we should just go in," Ranma suggested, empathizing with the kid. He and Akane had only been sitting for five minutes, but it felt like five hours.

"I don't think this is that urgent, Ranma. Besides it would be rude."

Ranma studied Akane's face trying to decide if that was something she would normally say or not. "Can you tell me what happened again?"

"Not really. There was this giant ball of light that said it was Jusenkyo. It used the old way of saying 'we' to reference itself. It grabbed hold of me somehow, of my soul, and it was pulling me toward it. Then it accused me of being overly judgmental, and I said I was working on that. It said it could help, and I said I didn't want its help. Then it tore something away from me anyway."

Ranma grimaced. "Uh… Akane? Are you sure that's exactly how it happened?" Ranma didn't have much experience with demons and spirits, but the last day or so had been enough to tell him that spirits take contracts very seriously. If Akane didn't want to make a pact, Jusenkyo shouldn't have been able to do anything.

"Yes." Akane looked away. "Basically. I said that if I was going to get rid of something I would get rid of the part of me that could only see things in black and white and was hung up on sexuality. Apparently that was enough."

"So you don't have any sexual hang ups any more?" Ranma asked.

"I'm not going to start flirting with every guy I see if that's what you're asking. It's just…it seems clearer what I feel. Like with Kuno earlier. Usually I push him away, but I halfway think 'Hey, he's attractive. He's strong. Maybe I shouldn't push him away.' But now I know that I'm not attracted to him at all."

"Isn't that seeing things as black and white, though?"

"Not exactly. I don't think Kuno is evil or anything. I just think he's pathetic. I'm usually so angry at him…but now he just disgusts me."

Ranma noticed the kid was staring at them. How much did he understand? How much did the mother and the old man pretend not to hear? The older people were being very Japanese, giving Akane and Ranma their privacy by not acknowledging them, but the kid was too young to be polite. Ranma smiled at him. Then Ranma remembered he was a guy. Then he frowned, wondering why that should matter. "It must be nice," he said to Akane.

"Hmm?"

"Not having any hang-ups about…things." Ranma was too aware of the kid now to say "sex."

"It's like something has cut through all the webbing. I just know what I want now. Not just about sex, but about a lot of things I wouldn't have thought were related."

"Like what?"

"Like you. " Akane's face was pensive, her head tilted to one side. "We're still friends, I think, but we're a little scared of each other too. I think it's because we both know we could be more than friends."

Ranma swallowed and found his hands suddenly very interesting.

"Don't worry, Ranma. I'm okay with how things are…mostly. I'm just saying the potential is there. Or at least it was."

"Was?"

"I remember last night I cried in bed, thinking about you. I was agonizing over how we seemed to be drifting apart, wondering whether the way I cared about you was just as a friend et cetera," Akane talked almost as if she were bored. "But now that seems like something someone else would do. Now I just realize that I enjoy your company and I find you attractive. I think it's safe to say you're my best friend, but that was true of most of my good friends before."

"You mean like…Yuki and Sayuri?"

"Yes," Akane said evenly.

"So, you're a lesbian then?"

Akane narrowed her eyes as if seeing something far off. "Not exactly. It's complicated. But I'm definitely not a normal girl. And before you ask, I see you as a girl and honestly, you being a guy right now makes me a little uncomfortable."

For some reason, Akane talking like this was making Ranma uncomfortable too, in a different and decidedly masculine way. Stop it! He admonished himself, It doesn't even make sense to do that now! He hated not being in control he…

Ranma turned away. He looked at the door to Tofu's office. "You don't want to get the rest of your soul back, do you? That's why you've been dragging your heels all this time."

"I feel sane, Ranma. I didn't even know how insane I felt until now. I might be missing something. in fact, I know I am, but I just want some time to appreciate this."

Ranma nodded. "You know sometimes, when I'm training, and I go all out, when I execute a perfect form, all my doubts and worries just fall away, and it's like I'm seeing the universe the way it really is."

"I've never been able to feel that way, Ranma. Never. The most I'm able to accomplish is to forget for a little while what's bothering me. "

Tofu slid open the door to his office, letting an elderly lady out. Ranma saw Tofu frown for a fraction of a second upon seeing Ranma, and then his usual good-natured smile returned. "Is this something urgent, Ranma? I do have other patients, you know."

Ranma regarded Akane. "It's up to you."

Akane returned Ranma's gaze, and then looked down. "I need to tell Tofu, but I can wait until he sees his other patients." Akane gave a deferential nod to Tofu as she said this. "I have some thinking to do, Ranma. You should go to work."

"Work is going to be murder without you," Ranma grimaced looking at the clock, "But, I guess someone's got to man the fort."

"You mean woman the fort, don't you?" Akane hinted.

"Oh. Right." Ranma turned , "Tofu? Could I borrow some hot water. I've got to go to work."

"Certainly. Come right in."

Ranma did so and got his water quietly while Tofu began with the elderly man.

"Thanks for the water, doc," Ranma called out once she was herself again. " See you later!" She stopped outside of the office and shuddered. Once she was herself

"What's wrong, Ranma?" Akane asked, "Is he doing something gross in there?"

"No, I just…" Ranma swallowed. "I can't get into it now. I've…uh…I've got to go."

"Ranma?" Akane spoke, stopping Ranma in the doorway.

"Yeah?"

"I love you." Akane's expression held no desperation. It wasn't some confession of romantic interest. It had the air of a stated fact.

Ranma smiled. "Yeah, Akane, I love you too." Damned if it wasn't true too.

Ranma walked through the waiting room, past the girl dressed in boy's clothes sitting next to her mother. Looking out at the rain, Ranma took out two 100 yen notes and put them on the umbrella stand. Then she took one of the umbrellas and opened it up as she went outside. She would have to be careful not to get splashed, but she should be able to make it.

She paused. Was there something weird about the waiting room? That little girl…She shook her head. "It's probably nothing." She was still feeling good from telling Akane she loved her. It was the same precious feeling she had been experiencing more and more recently. That feeling of being filled by something beautiful. Of being part of something instead of just a visitor. If only she could be sure she wasn't going to screw everything up.

Ranma stepped gingerly around a puddle as she rushed through the rain under the umbrella. She almost wished she had Tasuke's curse back again. She wondered idly of what became of the vial the curse came in. Was it still in that bathroom? Ranma's pace slowed as she frowned. There was something she was missing. What was it? Shrugging, Ranma decided she would figure it out later when she wasn't in a rush.

What with the restaurant being short-staffed, Ranma found she was in a rush the rest of the night.

~~~~~Ryoga~~~~~

Nabiki advanced on Ryoga, looming over him, a menacing expression on her face. There was a tinge of humor to the expression as well though. Ryoga found an opening and darted through past Nabiki.

"Gods, he's like a missile going off or something!"

Ryoga had gone through all the rooms in the house and they all seemed to be the same kitchen. At this point he was just avoiding Nabiki so he could try to think of some way to escape.

Shiratori had long since given up trying to catch him. She was sitting on a stool with her arms folded. "He has the same amount of energy he has as a human, but in the curse what was strength becomes speed."

"Well, that's nice for him. How am I supposed to catch him?"

Shiratori shrugged. "He's your familiar."

"If he was already my familiar, I wouldn't have to catch him for this stupid ceremony!"

Shiratori shrugged again, this time so severely that Ryoga could hear her bones popping. "Well, this isn't always true, but it's said that often the form of a witch's familiar is something that the witch has an affinity for, something that she is able to influence more than other creatures."

"I don't have much experience with pigs. Unless you count some of the men I've dated." Nabiki blinked slowly. Then she moved to the sink and started to fill a tea kettle with water.

Ryoga moved cautiously closer.

"Oh, you want to be human again?" Nabiki cooed. "Well, guess what? I can do that for you." She put the kettle on a burner and turned it on. She crouched down in front of Ryoga, pulling back a strand of hair, still wet from the rain. "I just want you to do something for me."

Ryoga wondered if Nabiki knew he could see her bra under her shirt.

Nabiki got on her knees and elbows, her breasts seemed to push into Ryoga's face.

He wondered if he should say something. "Bw- Bwee? "

"You see my mother, whom I love dearly, has been trapped in some kind of limbo for more than a decade and the only way I can save her is by becoming a witch and binding myself to a familiar. Now all I need is a very tiny amount of your blood and for you to hold my hand while I perform some silly ritual. It's really not so much to ask, is it? I mean," Nabiki's eyes welled up with tears. "This is my mom! I miss her so much!"

Ryoga nodded. "Bwee!" he said in a tone that he hoped came across as comforting. He hated it when girls cried.

"So you'll help me?"

Ryoga nodded again.

"You're so sweet!" Nabiki kissed him on the snout.

As Ryoga felt heat in his cheeks, she stood up and checked the heat of the kettle.

"Are you okay, dear?" Shiratori asked

Nabiki startled slightly, then she smiled, wiping the moisture from her eyes. "I'm fine, Grandmother. I was just…"

"You've been through a lot. It's okay for you to slip."

Nabiki frowned. "I'm not sure I know what you mean, Grandmother." Sensing that the water inside was warm enough, Nabiki took the kettle to Ryoga, and poured it on him.

Ryoga rose up to his human height in more ways than one. Nabiki's eyes did not shy away, she smirked as she took in the sight and then eyes reached Ryoga's face. "Ryoga!" She put her hand on her hip "How nice to see you again," she drawled.

Ryoga covered himself. He should have known Nabiki was lying about her mother. "You were just pretending earlier, weren't you?"

"Ryoga-baby, I promise you, it was as good for me as it was for you."

"What? Wait no, that's not what I'm saying…" Ryoga wasn't even sure if what Nabiki said made sense, but the sexual undertones threw him off completely.

"Do we have everything ready?" Nabiki asked Shiratori, pointedly ignoring Ryoga.

Shiratori nodded, gesturing toward an ordinary looking pot. "Alright Ryoga, give Grandmother Shiratori your finger," Nabiki ordered.

Ryoga extended his finger tentatively. The old woman snatched it, and pricked it with a sewing needle before Ryoga could react. The old lady is fast, he thought, she isn't all that she seems. And then he remembered what they were about to do.

As he watched his blood drip into the water inside the pot followed by a drop of Nabiki's, he wondered just what he was getting himself into.

Nabiki grabbed his left hand, leaving Ryoga to cover himself with his right. Nabiki had her eyes closed as she concentrated. She looked beautiful like that. She took a breath. "Ryoga?" Her hand was thin, and feminine, yet firm. Warm, almost too warm, yet dry, calm.

"Yeah?"

"After this you'll be like the rest, and you won't trust me. Still, for the moment…Thanks."

"Um…okay?" Ryoga wasn't sure he trusted the girl now, but he was willing to go with it for the moment.

"Grandmother, some help please?"

Suddenly Ryoga felt a sensation similar to having the wind knocked out of him, except that not only did he have trouble taking a breath, he had trouble forming a complete thought. He didn't have much time to analyze the sensation though, because shortly after that he felt a sensation that was more or less exactly like passing out.

~~~~~Entaro~~~~~

Entaro was sure that the redheaded girl knew. The way she paused for a moment before leaving..no one else had suspected anything, but that red-head knew. Doctor Tofu was examining Entaro's mother. She had been having back problems recently and Grandma always said Tofu was the best. He seemed like a nice doctor. He was very patient with Mom, and even made a few jokes, though he seemed a little sad as well.

Maybe Entaro should talk to him? Halfway deciding to ask, Entaro waited for a good time to interrupt doctor Tofu's chat with Mom, but there didn't seem to be a good time. Mom thanked Tofu and got off of the bench. Doctor Tofu wrote something on a slip of paper and handed it to Mom. Mom holds out her hand for Entaro to grab.

"D..Dr. Tofu!" Entaro asked, eyes clenched shut with the effort.

"Yes?" He bends down, smiling slightly, and Entaro could tell he would understand. More than that he would probably be able to help. But asking him for help would mean letting Mom know.

Entaro looked down. "Nothing."

Mom took Entaro out of the examination room and back into the waiting room where the girl with the long black hair sat.

"Okay, I'm all yours now, Akane," Dr. Tofu said.

Akane gave a surprised chuckle as she stood.

"Oh, before we get started, I've been expecting a call from Ka…from your older sister. Do you know what she's doing?"

Akane shook her head.

Mom pulled on Entaro's hand, not noticing that it was different than before. Not noticing that anything had changed. Not knowing that Entaro was now a girl. After sipping the water from the vial, Entaro had noticed her fingers were different lengths. She hadn't known girls had different fingers before.

"Come on, we don't want to be late for dinner do we?" Mom took Entaro out of Tofu's clinic and into the rain. "Oh no! I forgot to bring an umbrella!" Mom started running through the rain, letting go of Entaro and urging her on when she dragged her heels.

Entaro touched the vial in her pocket. How long would it be before Mom found out?

How long could she hide the fact that she had somehow turned herself into…a girl?

"M…Mom?" She asked once they were both under the awning of a bus stop.

"Yes? Hon?"

But again Entaro didn't know what to say. She knew she should say something. But what? And how? And what if she told her she was a girl and she yelled at her? What if it was permanent and Mom didn't want a girl? Maybe it would all go away on its own. There was a chance this was some sort of dream and Entaro would wake up laughing about it. Entaro checked her fingers. Her pointy finger was still longer than her ring finger. It was supposed to be the other way round.

"Did you hurt your hand?"

"I…" Entaro faltered again. "I love you, Mom."

"Oh, you silly boy!" Mom embraced her. Entaro stiffened. She wasn't a boy anymore, would Mom notice?

But she didn't.

No one had noticed except for the red-headed girl. Maybe Entaro would be able to talk to her. Until then, she'd try to keep her change a secret.

~~~~~Ryoga~~~~~

Ryoga's father was rarely ever home. His mother only stayed around by keeping the house always in sight and calling a friend to "accompany" her whenever she had to run an errand. For Mom, the curse was barely a problem at all, just an excuse to stay in touch with friends.

It was never much of a problem for Ryoga either, when he was younger. He was usually fine with following other people around who he was pretty sure knew where they were going. All that changed when Ranma showed up. He had never gotten so mad at someone before. The piece of bread that Ranma filched during lunch was just the first of an exponentially expanding litany of annoyances. All of which Ryoga might have been able to ignore, if Ranma hadn't been so damn eager to help all the time.

He would walk with him to his home after school almost everyday, but always with a fresh observation on how completely inane it was that Ryoga couldn't find his way on his own. He wasn't even trying to be insulting, but that just made it that much worse. Soon, not only Ranma, but any helpful people started to rankle Ryoga. He didn't need to be helped. He didn't have a problem. He could handle himself just fine. The challenge with Ranma was supposed to prove that. But the challenge never happened.

So he learned how to handle himself, and he traveled the world, alone.

In all that time that Ranma had been walking him home though, and insulting him, Ryoga did not once suspect that Ranma was a girl. He was physically a boy after all and didn't act girly. Ryoga hadn't known about Jusenkyo back then, so even if he had suspected something he could have never guessed. And yet, when he finally met Ranma after years of searching, it was after cold rain water fell on "Megumi's" head.

Cold water is the curse, not the original body. So Ranma was a girl. And really didn't that make sense? Aren't girls helpful, but irritating? Don't they have a maddening way of getting under one's skin? Ryoga's mother sure had that quality. And he had met one or two other girls like that. As for men, his father had always been a little aloof, and Ranma had been the first and last male friend Ryoga had ever made. Except apparently that didn't count.

Ryoga's mother was a good mom. She asked about Ryoga's day, she gave him advice. One of the irritating things she did was to ask if he had any girlfriends. He'd always blush and say no. There were one or two times, when Ryoga had a crush though, and his mom would get a little serious. "Be careful," she told him, "Make sure she knows about us before you go too far."

Ryoga's mom got the curse from his father. It wasn't after they were married. It wasn't after they had sex. It happened before then. At the end of their first date. As his mother told it, she and Dad kissed, and for a moment their souls seemed to touch. And they must have touched, because after that, Mom had lost her sense of direction. It had been love at first sight for both of them. If either of them hadn't loved the other it wouldn't have worked. There souls were bonded with true love's kiss.

But apparently that wasn't the only way for souls to touch…

Ryoga's eyes snapped open. He sat up and found Nabiki sitting up as well, her jaw slack, an enlarged canine protruding cutely from her upper lip.

"You have got to be shitting me," she said.

~~~~~Ranma~~~~~

Ranma was cleaning off her last table when she heard one of the other waitresses say "Hey, Red, we're all going for karaoke, to celebrate surviving customergeddon, you want to come?"

Was it wrong that she kind of wanted to? "Uh, sorry, but I've got to check on Akane, make sure she's alright."

"You mean your retarded friend? Ditch the bitch already, girl. She ditched us after all."

It was amazing how in the span of half a second you could go from wanting to go karaoke with someone to wanting to uppercut them into the ceiling. She managed to stifle herself and to just respond with words. "She isn't retarded, and she's not a bitch. She's my friend."

"Whatever. Look, do you want to come or not? "

Ranma regarded the taller girl dispassionately. The offer was still somehow tempting. She could hang out with Riko and Eiko and sing a few songs, maybe try a cigarette while she was at it. She could forget Akane and Mom and Dad and Kumon and all of her other problems and just lose herself in this life of waiting tables and complaining about people.

"No." she said, "I don't want to come."

"Fine," Riko said holding up her hands, "be that way."

"I'll lock up if you want. I need to talk to the boss."

"Nishikigi's gone home already, Red. But thanks for locking up!" With that, Riko left before Ranma could protest. Ranma was going to tell Nishikigi she was quitting. She wasn't even going to bother with a two week notice. But now she'd either have to come back tomorrow or go back to work Wednesday. Why couldn't she have stuck to her guns when she first asked to quit?

She checked on everything that needed checking. The chef had left the gas on again, so she turned that off, and checked Nishikigi's door to make sure he wasn't there. He wasn't. Cursing mildly, Ranma changed into her Chinese outfit, got her things together, locked the door and left the building.

It had stopped raining, but she had the umbrella she borrowed in her school satchel just in case. She paused below the awning. "I just don't want to get wet," she told herself. But shouldn't being a man calm her down? Center her? Wasn't that her birth form? It wasn't like things were any easier as a girl. If she were a man she wouldn't feel the chill of the wind so much for one thing. She shivered, swallowed and moved on. Then why? She yawned. "I should just admit it," she told herself, wearily.

As crappy as she was feeling right now, the last thing she wanted was to have to be a man on top of it. A man would have to go face her family instead of going to the Tendos. A man wouldn't have left Akane even if she was fine on her own, even if he could sense that she would rather be alone. A man would have to be Akane's fiancé, instead of just a friend that loves her. A man couldn't be a waitress or have any other job really, because all a man was supposed to do was follow the art and chase after women.

And maybe men didn't have to do those things. Maybe it was just how Ranma was raised and she could learn to be more than that. But ever since she was able to turn back into her guy form again, crappy things kept happening whenever she did. More than that, she just felt constricted, trapped.

She just wanted to let all of that go.

And suddenly she felt like she couldn't move forward unless she did.

She took two breaths. She yawned again. She looked up at the sky. She stretched, popping the tendons in her shoulders and back. She looked at the ground ahead of her and smirked. "Screw it," she said. "I'm a girl."

There were several frantic moments of panic. How could she say that? How could she disappoint her father and mother? What would she do? What if this was part of Tasuke's curse?

Ranma shrugged. Maybe she'd reconsider it in the morning, but right now she was too tired to care.

She reached the Tendo residence through the main entrance way. The streetlights glinted off the water of the koi pond and the lights inside the main building looked warm and inviting.

Soun, Genma, Nabiki, and Akane were sitting around the dining table, but oddly, Ryoga was there too, and Kasumi wasn't hovering nearby. Ryoga stood as soon as he saw Ranma.

"M-Megumi! You're back!"

"What are you doing here?" Ranma asked the bandana-clad lad reasonably.

"That's kind of a long story," Nabiki said, still sitting down eyeing the food she held in her chopsticks.

"Nabiki and Ryoga are now engaged. Nabiki lost her sense of direction as a result. Your dad had to escort them back here," Akane explained with a slight smile.

"We're not engaged!" Ryoga protested.

"Eh, tomato tomahto," Nabiki allowed. "We're spiritually bonded to each other. He's my familiar. Ryoga's convinced you are a girl by the way. And I can sort of feel what he's feeling so, no pressure, but if you're ever interested in a three way?"

"You think she's a girl too," Ryoga pointed out.

"Yes, well, that's because I've never seen her as a boy. Different thing."

Ranma yawned. "Where's Kasumi?"

Everyone looked at Nabiki.

"She and I had a fight," she said, all the playfulness leaving her voice.

"What about?" Ranma asked.

"About mom. She spoke with her today. Through Akane."

"Yeah?" Ranma frowned looking at Akane who seemed to be finding the floor positively enthralling.

Soun spoke up. "My wife..." he took a breath. "Is dead. We buried her. We mourned. As much as I want her back. As much as I sometimes feel as though I need her back...Kasumi is right I think. She needs to move on, keeping her here with us..."

"I don't get it," Ranma said fighting the cobwebs in her brain. "If she's still here, isn't that a good thing?"

"That's what I'm saying!" Nabiki said. "And we don't know what an exorcist would do to her! I have a plan on how we can let her live again. We can have her back!"

"No, Nabiki." Soun said somberly. "I'm sorry, Ranma. I knew this was happening, but I hadn't observed it directly. I...chose to ignore it because it's something...I miss her so much. I miss her, but...to see her speak from my daughter's mouth. There is something profane to this business. I am glad to have spoken with her once more. To say goodbye one last time. But we must say goodbye. We can't keep her here. Not in my daughter's body. Not in some other daughter's body. I don't think Kasumi should have run as she did, but I understand why. I... I don't know what's right here. Akane, Nabiki, and even you Ranma, you all have a say in this as well. Part of me wants to agree with you, to try to make her live again. I can't forbid it. But I will not condone it either." Soun stood up. "I hope you all make the right decision." Soun turned and left, heading to his room.

Ranma blinked. "Wha...Nabiki, you have a way to let her live again?"

"Yes!" Nabiki said. "Yes! All the pieces are in place now. If you and Akane hadn't munged things up it would have been perfect."

"How did we mung things up?" Ranma asked.

Nabiki grimaced. "It was spooky, okay? Seeing her in Akane. With you...I didn't know you before so I didn't see the differences so much, but... Kasumi went nuts. I think she was only holding on by a thread anyway, but seeing Akane like that. All her blades started coming out and she just started screaming."

"But...why?" Ranma asked.

"Don't look at me, I don't remember any of it," Akane said.

Nabiki folded her arms. She looked down. "Akane...she's a little shorter, but...she looks so much like her…" When Nabiki looked back up her visible eye was bright and intense. "Mom is alive. We need to save her. She can't stay in Akane's body, though. That's not going to work."

"Okay…so... what's the plan?" Ranma asked.

Nabiki took a breath. "We need to find her a new body."

Ranma blinked, trying to take in this information. A furious yawn that she had been suppressing broke out on her face. "Is this something that can wait till tomorrow?"

Nabiki fell over in exaggerated disbelief at Ranma's lack of excitement. "Yeah, Ranma. It can wait until after your beauty sleep. Are you in though? You're kind of the deciding vote."

"Help her live or let her die? Well, that's a no-brainer right?" Ranma said squinting.

"Yeah?" Nabiki said pressing.

Ranma realized her answer wasn't obvious yet. "Live! We gotta do it! Whatever it is. Gods! Is it settled now? 'Cause...Sleep!"

"Why are you a girl, Ranma?" Genma asked, point blank.

"I don't know, Pops, why are you a Panda?" Ranma snapped. She started toward her bedroom.

"I'm not a Panda at this moment, Ranma," Genma said, blocking her way, "And you know full well why I'm asking you."

"I just came off work. I have to be a girl there. I need sleep. Let me pass."

Genma continued to stare Ranma down.

"I just didn't feel like changing, okay?"

"It would be extremely easy for you to change…"

Ranma tried to push her father out the way. "Stop trying to make me into something I'm not! I don't feel like a man right now so I don't want to be. That's it. If you don't like that, why don't you go back home to your fake son?"

"Ranma, son, I've been trying to talk with you about that all day. I'm sorry we didn't consult with you first, but Ryu is in a bad situation. He needs some support right now."

"Kumon is just an arrogant prick and he deserves everything bad that happens to him."

Genma folded his arms. "Ryu is a very angry, very powerful young man, but he isn't evil…yet. Maybe your mother and I can keep him from going down that road. Maybe you can help us."

"Maybe you can go screw yourself!" Ranma stomped out of the dining room and into her room. She slammed the door, hearing the little wooden placard that Kasumi had made for her clack against the front. Ranma was exhausted. Not just from working all night with the restaurant understaffed thanks to Akane bailing out on her. Not just from having to weigh letting a nice lady who had helped her die versus upsetting some arcane natural order. Not only because one of the few people she knew before the curse now thought of her as a girl. Not only because she was starting to think of herself as one too. Not only because her father wanted her to be okay with being replaced. Not only because her best friend was missing part of her soul. Not only because she was hearing the voices of dead people telling her to do things. It was also because it was eleven at night and it had been a long, strenuous day.

She stripped to her underwear and flopped onto the bed and fell almost instantly asleep.

She didn't wake up until she heard Akane screaming.

~~~~~Ryoga~~~~~

Ryoga listened to Nabiki breathing above him in her bed. She didn't feel like a fiancée. Neither did she feel like his master. What Ryoga felt when he thought of Nabiki, laying awake on the floor of her room, trying to work out what happened to him in the last twenty-four hours, was a closeness that was more intimate than a sibling's closeness, but not exactly sexual either. It was as if Nabiki were a fraternal twin. He knew her, and she him, as if they had grown up together and yet at the same time they had been apart. He and she both had felt loneliness, and he and she both were somehow glad of their current situation, even though by any practical or logical assessment they were worse off.

Or at least Nabiki was worse off. Ryoga felt that being a familiar should have drawbacks, but he hadn't found any yet. Even his lack of direction was helped by being Nabiki's familiar. Although he still had no idea where he was in relation to his home or anything else, he was always acutely aware now of where he was in relation to Nabiki. Nabiki was above him, and to his left.

Nabiki was sleeping soundly, peacefully. As they had followed a grumbling Genma from Grandmother Shiratori's house, Nabiki seemed to grow happier and happier with her situation, until by the time they were at the Tendo's she was laughing. "What is it?" Ryoga asked

"The knot," she said, "It isn't there anymore."

Ryoga became aware of what she meant as if he were remembering a memory of his own. He remembered Nabiki explaining to Ranma why she did what she did to Akane. Of all the little threads of people's lives that she saw in her mind's eye tangled in a gigantic knot that only she could unravel. That she HAD to unravel or else…

And there wasn't a memory to fill in the blank. Just a feeling of pain, panic, sorrow, and helplessness. Ryoga remembered how angry Nabiki was at Ranma for interfering with the knot, because she didn't know what she was doing. She was messing everything up. But then slowly, the knot became simpler, smaller. Less of an incoherent ball than a snaggle. Whatever Ranma did, just by dumb luck it seemed, made it easier for Nabiki to see the bigger picture, and she began to see Ranma''s thread as inextricable from all the others.

Nabiki had a goal. To save her mother. And even as she told herself she'd kill Ranma if she had to to do it, she began to feel gratitude to the redhead for making it clear what she had to do.

And now, there was no knot. Not even a snaggle. Nabiki could see all the threads, and they were woven together intricately, but they made sense now. They were a tapestry.

"What happened?" Ryoga had asked then. "What changed for you?"

Nabiki smiled, "I have no idea where I am. I had to rely on Uncle Saotome to get me home or you and I could have been lost forever. "

Ryoga didn't like this stark description of their predicament, but he had to admit its accuracy. "So? How does that help you?"

"I'm one of the threads, Ryoga-baby. When I made you my familiar, I didn't just pull you, you pulled me." And somehow that made perfect sense.

At the time. But now, laying on the floor of Nabiki's room, looking at Nabiki's ceiling, Ryoga wasn't sure. Granted, it was all very zen, but Ryoga had always found zen to be devastatingly depressing. Feeling part of some larger cosmic whole was great as far as it went, but at the end of the day it meant you weren't important, that nothing you did mattered, because ultimately you were just part of some larger whole, so why bother?

As Ryoga contemplated Nabiki's vision, he imagined himself and Nabiki and everyone they knew as threads, writhing and squirming against each other, wormlike, each struggling to understand the larger pattern. It was not an image that agreed with him.

He rather preferred it when he was sure his world was Hell and he could blame Ranma for putting him there. Except Ranma didn't exist. There was only ever Megumi. Irritatingly helpful Megumi, who just happened to be a boy when Ryoga first knew her. Even after figuring out that Ranma had some compounded version of the curse, and that she hadn't really been female when Ryoga had known her in junior high, still the notion wouldn't go away. Every maddening quip, every arrogant gesture, was transubstantiated into something beautiful. If Megumi had done those things as a girl, Ryoga would have realized how great she was then. And now, thinking of Megumi as a guy, as Ranma…the idea no longer seemed to fit.

Nabiki, for one, never really saw Ranma as guy, even when she called her "jockstrap girl." And after only two weeks, Ranma was wearing dresses and calling herself Megumi? Saying just a few hours ago that she didn't feel like being a guy? Ryoga hated his pig form. Whenever he was a pig his first thought was almost always how he could get to hot water.

No, Ryoga, concluded. Jusenkyo was just a lucky accident. Ranma had always been Megumi, had always been a girl.

When Ryoga heard the scream, because of the train of his thoughts, he first thought it had been Megumi. He bolted to his feet and out of the door before he was fully aware of what he was doing. Then at the second scream he realized it was Akane. "Little sister!" he cried, confusing Nabiki's feelings for Akane, for his own. The sound wasn't coming from her room, but from the furo downstairs, a fact that Ryoga was only aware of, because when he burst through the door he saw Akane naked in the furo, wide-eyed, with a razor in her hand.

Through gritted teeth she said, "She was going to hurt herself. I had to…get Ranma. Get Ranma!"

But before Ryoga could move Megumi was in the room, wearing only her boxers and a tank top. She pushed Ryoga away violently enough that if Ryoga hadn't braced himself, his head might have cracked the tile on the opposite wall. She kicked the razor out of Akane's hand and jumped into the furo, wrapping her arms around Akane. "I'm here, Akane. I'm not going to let you do this to yourself. I'm here."

Ryoga turned away. The sight of a naked girl being embraced from behind by Megumi was a little too much for his libido to take. He could sense Nabiki descending, coming closer. She would have stopped Akane too. But he had hesitated even though, in the moment, he felt Akane to be as much his sister as Nabiki's.

Ryoga stole a glance to see that Megumi was rocking Akane now. Akane was staring blankly at her hands. Megumi came to Akane's aid right away. Of course she did. Ryoga left the room to give the girls, both of them, some privacy.

"What happened," Megumi asked Akane behind the door, "I thought you were happy. I thought Jusenkyo taking what it took made you all zen and stuff?"

Ryoga chuckled mirthlessly. Sure, it made sense. What did it all matter in the overall scheme of things? But then, the next thought after that is that nothing matters in the overall scheme. And if that's the case, then why should you have to deal with so much pain? If it weren't for his anger, for his mindless quest to find and have his revenge on Ranma, Ryoga would have tried to kill himself so many times. He had certainly thought about it. And now what did he have to focus on? To distract him from the cruelty inherent in existence?

Nabiki put a light hand on Ryoga's shoulder and he lifted his head to see her face, lit by the yellow glow of the light from the furo. "You've got me, Ryoga-baby. Now buck up. We've got to save my mother tomorrow."

Nabiki's eyes focused on the sliding door, and she kept her attention on it until she slid it open and was inside. She was already finding ways around the lack of direction sense. Ryoga had to admit he kind of loved her in that moment. Maybe life was worth living.

At least as long as there was someone to pull his thread.

~~~~~Ranma~~~~~

She just reacted. She was on autopilot. Knocking the razor out of Akane's hand, jumping in the furo with her, embracing her. It isn't until Nabiki comes in wearing her pajamas, her hair in disarray, that Ranma realizes how strangely she's acting. Strange for a guy. Strange for a stranger on one of many stops on a years-long training mission. Strange for someone who isn't family. Ranma releases Akane awkardly. Almost immediately she puts her arm around her friend again. Not a full embrace, but enough so that there's contact, support.

"Akane, are you okay?" Nabiki asks. Her eyes linger on the razor on the floor. "I mean, aside from the obvious? It seems like Megumi is taking care of things but I'm your older sister so I have to ask."

Akane sighs, and Ranma can feel the air leave her lungs through her back. "Aside from the obvious, yes, I'm okay."

There is the slightest quaver to Akane's voice that says that "the obvious" isn't going to go away anytime soon.

"You want some tea or something?" Nabiki asks, "I won't be as quick as Kasumi with it, but I think I can figure it out."

"I don't want anything right now, Nabiki." Akane's tone makes it seem like she's talking about more than just tea.

"Megumi? You need anything? Change of clothes maybe?"

Ranma looks down. She's, completely soaked in the furo water. "Maybe a change of clothes," Ranma allows.

Nabiki nods. Then, staring at the floor she asks, "Is mom…okay?"

Akane takes a breath. "Mom's inside me now. She's the one that screamed. She's trying not to change me too much. Like she changed Ranma." Ranma can hear bitterness in Akane's words. As if she wants to be changed.

Nabiki lifts her head frowning at this information. "Can she move back to Ranma?"

"No," Akane says. "Ranma has a name or something. She can't stay intact inside her anymore."

Nabiki blinks. "Megumi, you're a witch?"

It takes Ranma some time to make sense of the question. "Uh…your mom? She had me perform a ritual, so…maybe? I've got a Name. "

"Mom's a witch?" Nabiki shakes her head. "No, nevermind. I should have realized. She wouldn't have been able to survive this long otherwise. Akane, stop trying to…hurt yourself. Especially with mom in there with you. You need to come with Ryoga and me to the hospital tomorrow, we're going to find a body for mom, okay?"

Akane nods her head.

"Megumi, I want you ask Kuno to take you and Akane to Jusenkyo. Unless you find some other way to get answers on Akane's condition." Nabiki pauses for a long awkward moment. "Akane?"

"Yes?"

"Just in case you aren't clear on this, I want you to stop thinking that this attitude of yours is okay. You are going to get your soul fragment back from Jusenkyo, and you are going to fight for it, and I don't want to hear that you can't, because fighting for things you believe in is something that's in every fiber of your being, not just in some little fragment of you. You get me?"

"If you say so."

"No, not because…" Ranma sees Akane's slight smile after noticing Nabiki's change of expression. Akane is making a joke. "Right. I'll get you that change of clothes, Megumi." Nabiki leaves, focusing on the door and then stalking toward it deliberately before going through it.

Ranma is now in the furo with a naked Akane for a reason that is no longer relevant. "So, um… you want to tell me what happened?"

"It's stupid," Akane protests.

"You just tried to kill yourself. It's not stupid."

"Are you saying there's a reasonable and intelligent reason to kill yourself?" Akane asks pointedly. She gets out of the furo and Ranma stands as well. her wet underclothing almost immediately cooling in the air.

"Could you put a towel around yourself?" Ranma asks, "I'm probably going to turn into a boy in a moment."

"Of course you are. Good for you." Akane wraps a towel around herself anyway despite her bitterness.

Ranma grew taller and manlier in the next moment, glad Akane was covered. "Akane I can't help you if you don't tell me what's wrong."

"Are you going to ask Kuno to take us to Jusenkyo?"

"Yeah. That sounded like a pretty good idea."

"Do you think I could get a curse? Or do you think that because Jusenkyo already cursed me, I'm immune?"

"We'll be very careful, Akane. We might not even have to get close to the springs."

Akane nodded. Her eyes found the razor. In a quick motion, she picked it up.

"Akane, what are you doing!"

"I gave it a good try, you know. Long hair, dresses, talking differently. I followed Kasumi as a model, and even when she turned out to be faking it I still kept trying."

Ranma stepped out of the furo. "Akane, you said you wouldn't try to hurt yourself again. Your mother's in your body too now, remember?"

"I'm not trying to hurt myself!" Akane blinked. "Not now, anyway. I probably wouldn't have hurt myself anyway. I was just thinking about it, and Mom got upset."

"Then give me the razor. You're making me nervous."

"Everyone knew. They called me names in school. Made me play Romeo in the school plays. It took me a year to grow out my hair this long. I became the most popular girl in school. I have friends who hang around me merely because I'm popular. But then there was Kuno's proclamation and of course you showed up."

"I don't know what you're talking about yet, Akane."

"I like being strong, Ranma. I like fighting. And It's not something I'm growing out of or something that I can meld into some kind of feminine mystique like Kasumi has." Akane grabbed her hair and lifted it above her head.

"You're not going to cut your hair are you?"

"Yes. That's what I'm going to do."

"With a straight razor?"

Akane hesitated.

"Akane, I get it, you're a tomboy. One of the things I like about you is that you aren't as prissy as a lot of girls. But for gods' sake at least use a pair of scissors!"

"Ranma, you don't get it. I'm not a tomboy. I'm a boy, and I've just been trapped inside this girl's body for sixteen years."

Ranma sat on the lip of the furo frowning at this. "I don't know, Akane. Most boys I know don't have quite the flair for drama that you do."

"Ranma, I'm serious. I'm a transsexual. It's why I don't find boys or girls attractive. I'd find girls attractive, but I don't have the right equipment. For me it's like some part of me expects something to happen that never does."

"I thought you said you found boys attractive? What about Tofu?"

"I said that, yes. I'm sorry, I was lying. To you and to myself at the time. As for Tofu, that attraction wasn't exactly sexual. I admire him a lot, but there's a difference between admiration and lust. I've tried looking at porn, Ranma. It doesn't do anything for me. Just makes me feel perverted. Or at least it used to, before I got rid of the part of me that cared about that stuff."

"Well, okay, but, well. A girl can just, you know, take it, right?"

"You think I should let someone rape me?"

"It wouldn't be rape if it was consensual would it?"

"It wouldn't be consensual! That's the point! I wouldn't enjoy it."

Ranma stood. "Akane, I…"

Akane looked Ranma over as if seeing him for the first time. It was dark but he could see enough of her expression and the scrutiny was a little… alluring.

"Dammit!" he said, and turned away from his friend, "I hate this freaking body!" His eyes went wide "I mean…"

"Ranma?"

Ranma closed his eyes. There was an irritation behind them. Tears were threatening to come. But he wouldn't let them out because he was in his guy form now. Guys couldn't…"Gods! Damn it all!" he half growled, half gasped.

"Ranma, if you want me to pretend I didn't hear that from you, I can do that. It was just a slip up. It doesn't have to mean anything."

He thought about it for a moment. He felt like he was dangling from a cliff or something, only he wasn't sure whether he should climb back up or take his chances on the fall. "I guess it's better that I have a choice," he said softly. "But it doesn't feel better."

~~~~~Entaro~~~~

In most cases it isn't that easy for a ten-year-old to find someone in Tokyo. Even someone as hard to miss as Ranma Saotome. Entaro had stumbled into this search, though, much as she had stumbled into being a girl.

It started when she ran away from school. The last night and the morning before reaching school had been eerie in how normal they were. She had even forgotten what had happened before she had gone to bed, only to be reminded when she changed into her pajamas. Waking up she'd had breakfast and gone out of the house and she'd gone several blocks before the true magnitude of what she had somehow done to herself hit her. She had gym class today. Even if she managed to avoid changing in front of any of the boys in school, there'd be other ways they could find out. What if someone spilled something on her in the cafeteria? What if Sado kicked her in the groin today before stuffing her in her locker? And all those people…someone would know. Someone would be able to tell. And so instead of going to her school, she kept going.

A block away from her school a police officer had stopped her and asked where she was going. Stories about Ranma had reached her school and needing the name of a high school that might hold a redhead, Entaro remembered them. It wasn't likely that there were two red-headed Japanese girls in the area. The police officer asked her why she was going there. She said she needed to see her "big sister," something which was true enough, because in Japanese any girl who is still fairly young is called a big sister. Satisfied by this, the police officer escorted her the rest of the way to the high school.

When she arrived, classes had already started. She went down the halls, looking from room to room. On the walls was a poster of a round blue arm band. "Know a FuMa member by their blue within blue sashes," it read. Another poster read "Violence is not the answer…except when it is." This one had a picture of redhead and a blue-haired girl standing with arms folded and a blue within blue sash on their arms. The redhead was the one from last night! And the blue-haired girl had been with her. Of course the redhead was Ranma, Entaro realized this on some level, but hadn't quite matched up the celebrity she'd heard about in school with the girl she had seen at Tofu's. Now she was nervous again. Maybe she didn't have to talk to Ranma. Maybe just one of the people with the sashes?

She waited until classes let out. She found a mousy girl with long hair that had a sash on her arm. She seemed approachable, so Entaro tried. "Um…excuse me?"

The girl turned her head, and her approachability seemed to vanish like sunshine behind a cloud. The girl thinned her eyes as she looked down at her. "Why are you here? Why are you wearing a boy's uniform?"

"I'm a…I'm" Entaro wanted to protest that she was a boy, but she knew that wasn't true right now and she always had a terrible time of lying. "How did you?…"

"Your skull is sloped the wrong way for a boy." The girl looked around, "Is your mother or father around?"

"N-no…"

"Do they know you're here?"

Entaro shook her head.

"Okay. I'm going to take you over to the assistant principal's office and you can explain what you're doing here along the way." The girl grabbed her hand and led her down the hallway. "Well?" she asked after they had gone past the doors of two classrooms.

"I…I'm looking for Ranma."

"For help or to issue a challenge?"

"H-help."

The girl stopped abruptly and Entaro stopped with her. "Okay. That's what I thought, but I don't like to assume. My name is Tomo Hoko. I take care of contracts while Tendo Nabiki is away. Before I bring you to our acting leader, I need to know your business."

"I…um…I saw her at Doctor Tofu's? And…"

"Hmm… you're scared of me. Let me try something…" Hoko concentrated for a moment and then smiled widely "You poor thing! WherEVer did you COME from?" She spoke in a high pitched voice that was inflected as if Hoko were talking to a baby…and on psychotropic substances.

Entaro backed away, "It was…um…better before?"

Hoko frowned. "I don't get it. Children are supposed to find higher pitched voices soothing…"

"I need to talk with Ranma about…something. It's…um…personal?"

Hoko nodded. "I don't think you're a secret assassin. I suppose it will be okay. Just let me know one thing. Two things. Let me know two things."

"Yes?"

"What's your greatest strength and your greatest weakness?"

"I don't know?"

Hoko considered this for a moment, then she shook her head, "No that doesn't quite cover it. Let's start with your weakness. That's usually easier."

"I…uh…I'm afraid…I…" Entaro had meant to add more but Hoko nodded as if she had answered her..

"That's good enough for now. Now for the strength. What brought you here. Why aren't you sniveling in bed, like a coward?"

"I just…I need to…I need to know…"

"Curiosity! Excellent! That's the best strength there is! If I need information from your school, do you think you could find it out for me?"

"Maybe?"

"Let me rephrase that. I will take you to Ranma, give you my endorsement and, by connection, the protection of FuMa IF you can provide me information about what is going on in your school. Are these acceptable terms?" Hoko held out her hand

"Y-yes." Entaro said and shook the older girl's hand. It was surprisingly warm.

"Now, tell me your name."

"Futamori Entaro," she said.

"A boy's name," Hoko noted, "Interesting. Follow me, Entaro-chan."

Hoko took her to a classroom where Ranma stood talking to two other girls and the black-haired girl from Doctor Tofu's, the one who had blue hair in the poster. "Acting boss Ranma?"

Ranma looked a little irritated. "Yeah?"

"We have some official FuMa business. This kid is named Futamori Entaro. He used to be a boy but got into something she shouldn't have and now he's a girl. She thinks you might be able to help him."

Entaro blinked. "How…?"

Hoko smiled, "When you know transformation curses exist, it becomes the simplest explanation for why you're here." Entaro felt a wave of gratitude. She wasn't sure if she would have been able to get all that out if Hoko hadn't pieced it together.

"Hey you're that kid from Tofu's" Ranma said. "You have a Jusenkyo curse?"

"I don't know," Entaro said. She dug in her pocket for the vial and showed it to Ranma. "I just filled this with water and and drank it."

"What?" Ranma snatched the vial from Entaro's hand. "Why?"

"I don't…"Entaro stammered. Curiosity. Hoko had called it a strength. Entaro swallowed. "I wanted to know what would happen."

Ranma regarded her for a moment. Then she shrugged. "Better than my excuse." Entaro must have looked curious, because Ranma elaborated. "Thought I couldn't have a friend unless I was a girl. Turns out it was true. Doesn't make it less stupid, though." Ranma idly reached for a thermos of water and poured it into the plastic cup lid and handed it to Entaro. "Drink it. My guess is it'll cure you. At least if you drank cold water the first time."

Entaro took a sip, felt the change almost immediately. He was a boy again, simple as that.

"I don't think you'll have to worry any more. Tofu said the vial's curse is temporary . I wouldn't mess with this stuff any more though." Ranma held the vial up to her eye. The flourescent lights glinted off its pearlescent surface.

"M…may I h-have it back please?" Entaro asked

Ranma thinned her eyes at him. She smiled slowly, and held it out for him.

"Thanks," he said as he took it.

"I'm serious, kid, don't push your luck. Believe me, one body is more than enough to deal with."

Entaro nodded as he put the vial back in his pocket. "Thank you, big sister Ranma," he said with a deep bow.

"Sure. Don't mention it."

Hoko guided him out of the high school and reminded him about his part of the arrangement before saying goodbye. Entaro was actually looking forward to the mission. He had always wanted a mission.

Entaro's hand gripped the vial as she went back inside. There were so many questions in his mind. In some ways everything had seemed so normal and yet…It hadn't really hit him until now. Magic existed.

He would follow Ranma's advice for a while. He was still scared of what had happened. But he was always the kind of kid who wanted to see how magic tricks worked, and this was the biggest trick he'd ever seen.

~~~~~End of Chapter 16~~~~~

~~~~~A.N.~~~~~

First off thanks as always for the reviews, follows, favorites and whatever other ways you have shown interest. Reviews are still by far my favorite, but the other things make me feel good too.

The rest of this stuff is a little like DVD commentary with spoilers and whatnot so I'm giving you a chance to ignore it…

—ignore this message—

—this space intentionally left blank—

— these are not the droids you're looking for—

—I did not say this; I was not here—

Sorry for the long update time this go round. This chapter had a lot of revelatory stuff though, and as it is I'm only halfway sure that it all makes sense. I love me the hell out of some revelations, but I think I love them a little too much. Akane kind of surprised me. I didn't really want to go where I went, and I'm still not entirely sure if it really fits, but well, I wanted to try to figure out just what her problem really was, because figuring out that stuff is one of the reasons why I enjoy writing, and this is a possibility I haven't seen considered seriously in many fanfics. Many of you might argue that Akane doesn't have a problem, or that Akane's problem is something completely different and how dare I suggest that she…. Fair enough. It's true that I've read a lot of fanfics which have colored my opinion of her, but my main feeling on Akane is that she is a good person, but that she is a person who is trying to be something she isn't almost all the time, and that the struggle she wages against herself tends to drive her a little insane. To me, that's an interesting character, regardless of what it is she's avoiding or what it is she's trying to achieve, or whether or not she actually achieves it. The problem for her relationship with Ranma that I've been having is that at some point anybody that knows Akane would almost have to get a little sick of dealing with her. At that point the other person has to make a choice. Deal with the hassle for the sake of the friendship, or abandon ship. The choice is a little easier for Ranma, because Akane is pretty much his her only friend, but it's still there.

As for the suicide attempt…well, I can't speak for everyone, but I know I've had some dark thoughts a few times and if my mother was in my head at that time there might have been one or two over reactions.

Akane's worser half will get some time in the next chapter. I haven't just forgotten about that.

I might return to Entaro or not. Depends on how things go. I like the character, but he'll have to interact with the main characters again or else most people aren't going to care.

As for everyone, including Ranma, thinking he's a girl, and furthermore that he may have been a girl from the beginning, well, that's another thing I'm not sure about. I kind of wanted at the beginning of the fic for Ranma to be an equal opportunity owner of both halves, but the story is kind of pushing that idea back. I blame Genma. Its kind of become Ranma's way to rebel, but there's a point where something stops being a phase and starts becoming who you are. Ranma has to deal with that. As for Ryoga, you can chalk that up to rationalization if you want. Or you might agree with him. It seems to me that the only thing the bread feud needs is for someone to switch genders and you've got a classic RomCom meet cute. (yaoi fans might not need the gender switch, but I still have to work a little too hard to be okay with that sort of thing).

In my continual struggle to represent Japanese accurately while not actually using Japanese words, I had Akane make reference to "the old way of saying 'we.'" For those of you who are interested this would be "wari wari." More of you are probably aware that "big sister" is "Oneesan" in Japanese, and that it's used similarly to senorita in spanish, referencing any youngish, yet somewhat older female. I have a harder time with cursing. I don't see Ranma as being all that religious, but in the West of course, we've got to stick our gods everywhere. I only know just enough Japanese to get me in trouble, so I'm not sure how often they actually reference gods or spirits, but whenever I watch anime it seems that they don't use "kami" unless it's a Christian character or they're saying a spell or something. At any rate, in case anyone else is as nitpicky as I am about this sort of thing (or worse) just know that Ranma is not evoking spirits or gods in any seriously religious sense here, but just cursing emphatically, and I'm not sure how to represent that without getting needlessly crude or just having him speak Japanese, and I would probably get that wrong, and alienate both the people who just want to read a story in English AND the people who are fluent speakers.

I welcome any criticism on this issue or anything else that niggles your noggin.

One last thing, I'm going to separate Oyu into another book I think. The last chapter might be this one or the next. This chapter kind of has a nice return to the beginning feel, but there are a lot of things unresolved, so I'm going to go ahead and write the next one to see how that goes. Either way, I'm not done with this yet, I just think the focus is about to shift (or has already shifted) away from the original premise and having too many chapters might scare off new readers.

[EDIT 9/18/18 In my mind I had a very intense scene of Kasumi leaving. But as it turns out, it was a scene that I had never actually written. By this time several chapters down, I can no longer use the scene I originally thought of for continuity reasons. Kasumi will come back in chapter 20, but my little edit should at least partially explain why she doesn't show up until then. Sorry for any confusion]