Previous Engagement

Mirror and Image

Author's Note: There is a TINY little bit of citrus in this story. You have been warned. (And we can't BELIEVE we're publishing it...)

Shinichi held an arm rather possessively around Ran, resting his chin on her head as they waited for someone to open the door. He had promised Ran, after they had found out about this nightmare, that he'd let her handle it. That didn't mean he wasn't going to be with her every step of the way. And a little bit of help with first impressions would most likely go a long way. Ran seemed to understand that, and she leaned into him, wrapping one arm around his waist and lightly holding his hand with her free one. The image of a cute couple.

After a moment of listening to all sorts of sounds coming from inside the traditional home they stood in front of, Ran let go of Shinichi's hand to ring the bell again.

"Hang on a minute!" came a voice from deeper in the house.

The door finally opened to a girl about their age, with short, black hair, warm brown eyes, and a training gi. "Hello," she greeted, bowing. "I'm Tendo Akane. How can I help you?"

Shinichi glanced at Ran and gave an encouraging smile, letting her take the lead as she wanted.

Smiling back at him, Ran left his arms enough to bow politely, which Shinichi did as well, before putting his arm around her again. "Hello, Tendo-san. I'm Mouri Ran and this is Kudo Shinichi. I understand that there is a Saotome Ranma staying here?"

Akane's face registered surprise before her eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Yes, the idiot is staying here. Come on in."

Blinking, both Shinichi and Ran looked at each other, shrugged, and started to toe out of their shoes. As Akane led them to the living room, where a huge panda and middle-aged man appeared to be playing shogi, she called out, "Ranma! Someone's here to see you!"

To Shinichi's surprise, what both he and Ran had predicted to be a quick, informal meeting to solve their dilemma wasn't a quick, informal meeting. At Akane's announcement that someone was there to see Ranma, several people came into the living room. Everyone was introduced as they sat down. The man who had been playing shogi with the panda was introduced as Tendo Soun, the father of all the girls that had appeared. Of the girls, Akane was the youngest and most unhappy looking. Nabiki, the middle daughter, was looking around with sharp-eyed interest that made Shinichi feel a shiver of caution run down his spine. And Kasumi, the eldest, looked more like a young housewife than a daughter, especially with the apron and ponytail to the side.

"What now," a grumble came as a young man, easily the same age as Ran, Akane, and Shinichi, entered from the engawa, dressed in Chinese clothes.

Upon seeing the large family meeting, the pigtailed boy seemed to grow nervous, carefully taking a seat. "Um, yeah, I'm Saotome Ranma. What's up?"

Ran and Shinichi glanced at each other, nervous with all the extra eyes and feeling undercurrents of something going on that neither of them seemed to know about. Almost instinctively, Ran reached out and grasped Shinichi's hand in an iron grip. Not that he minded. She needed the support and he squeezed back with what little feeling he had. It had been bad enough when they discovered their little problem. To be discussing it in front of this many people was quite awkward.

Shinichi cleared his throat, not liking the undercurrent of something that he was feeling in the room. "Ran, I promised you'd handle this. But seeing all these people, do you want me to...?"

Ran shook her head. "Thank you for the support, Shinichi, but my father created this mess. I'll take care of it."

Nodding, Shinichi merely placed his free hand over their linked hands.

Deep breath.

"Hello, everyone. I am Mouri Ran. This is Kudo Shinichi and we would like to discuss-"

"Mouri? Kudo?" Nabiki interrupted, her eyes alight with recollection. "My, such large names in our humble home."

Ranma and Akane blinked, Tendo raised his eyebrows as he put the names together with articles he'd read in the paper, and Kasumi calmly served tea. On the engawa, the panda started to sweat.

"An honor indeed," Tendo agreed. He bowed to Ran. "I've read about your father, the Great Sleeping Kogoro, often in the paper. His detective prowess is something to be quite proud of, given the number of criminals he has brought down due to pure wit and planning."

Shinichi twitched, but then, he was used to Ran's father getting credit for all of his work.

"And Kudo-kun! The Savior of the Japanese Police Force! I remember reading articles about you as well. But not in the last year or so. Still, it is a privilege to have you both here."

"Thank you," Ran bowed.

"Thank you," Shinichi echoed.

Another deep breath. "Saotome-kun, I wished to speak to you about something I have only recently learned of."

Ranma looked like a strange cross between nervous and suspicious. Shinichi raised an eyebrow, cataloging the unusual reaction.

"Yes. Please, allow me to start from the beginning." Ran took another deep breath, and Shinichi squeezed both of her hands. "You see, apparently your father and my father knew each other for a brief while."

Several heated looks were almost immediately directed to the panda on the engawa, who glanced around and quickly grabbed some bamboo to munch on. Shinichi again wondered at the unusual response.

Ran faltered a moment and continued. "It seems one night they were out drinking and the two of them made a promise." The young karate practitioner by Shinichi's side scowled. Shinichi automatically shifted, putting his arm around her again once he had eased it out of her iron grip.

The panda seemed to be sweating.

"My father only barely remembers it, seeing how drunk he was at the time, but when I went to talk to him about something... very important to me," both Ran and Shinichi blushed, "well, he seemed to remember this promise. Even went digging through his files."

Shinichi blinked, starting to see the reactions and his deductive brain piecing together various relationships or feelings amongst those gathered in front of them. Everyone was showing extreme dislike for the panda that was currently turned around and playing with a giant ball. Kasumi, who seemed the oblivious type, seemed to be calculating things and not liking whatever conclusions she was reaching. Nabiki appeared to be doing calculations as well, but given the ledger she had been holding when she'd come in and some of the writing he'd glanced at before she put it down, he suspected that her calculations were far more monetary, though he felt there was some honest displeasure being thrown at the panda. Tendo looked like a cross between angry and disappointed. But the interesting reactions were from Ranma and Akane. Ranma seemed to be coming to conclusions like everyone else was and was positively shaking with fury; if he wasn't careful, his hot tea was going to spill. Akane was almost matching him in fury, but her anger seemed directed at both the panda and at Ranma. Maybe her conclusions were different than the rest?

"Well," Ran continued, glancing at the angry faces and the panda that was shivering under all the gazes. "Um, my father found a napkin with a written promise. My mother, an experienced lawyer, has looked at it. It has both blood and seals on it." Shinichi grimaced. When Kisaki Eri had found out about this little disaster, she had immediately gone about looking for ways to get out of it. But without being able to contact the other party, she was hitting a brick wall. Sure, the promise could be nullified if they couldn't find the Saotomes in a set amount of time, but Shinichi and Ran had been patient long enough.

Another deep breath. "Saotome-kun, it would appear that your father and mine drunkenly agreed that we should marry and I-" Ran got no further.

Ranma surged to his feet, anger, fury, and rage pulsing off of him in waves. "You sick old bastard!" he shouted at the panda. "Having three fiancées isn't enough! How many more fiancées am I going to have coming out of the woodwork!" the pigtailed young man yelled, storming towards the panda.

Shinichi and Ran were still stuck on the fact that this Ranma person had more than one fiancée.

The tea that Ranma had been holding splashed onto the panda and both Beika residents gasped as the giant panda shifted form to a middle-aged, bald man.

"Boy!" he shouted at Ranma. "I did what was necessary to train you to be a man. You will not dishonor our name by-"

The man got no further as Ranma, with one furious kick (one Shinichi was pretty sure he could imitate with his soccer skills, save for the strength of it), sent the old man flying off into the distance.

"Another fiancée?" Akane growled, standing. "What kind of pervert are you?"

"Ranma! Sweetums!" came a gravely cry as a water vase struck Ranma, dousing him in cold water. Both Shinichi and Ran stood, stepping back as Ranma changed from a black-haired, handsome, young man to a cute, very buxom, young, redheaded girl. And some sort of midget was snuggling himself between her... Shinichi blushed... ample bosom. Good god, the little devil was molesting her!

"You old pervert!" the female Ranma shouted, trying to grab the tiny molester, who...

Ack! He went under the female Ranma's shirt!

Shinichi pulled out his phone and recorded it. He would show it to Megure-keibu when the got back to Beika. And in his amazement, the tiny midget jumped out of female Ranma's shirt and started snuggling up to Akane's assets.

His phone beeped that it had recorded its maximum amount of footage as everyone was shouting and yelling. Putting the phone away, Shinichi pulled Ran close, not wanting her to be noticed by the assaulter.

"Ahh!" The midget cried in pleasure, jumping away from Akane, just as female Ranma tried to grab the old midget, only to grab Akane's breast instead.

Akane turned furious eyes to Ranma and the two of them descended into argument while Nabiki took photos of the two. Kasumi calmly retreated to the kitchen while Soun seemed to beg the midget, his "master", to leave the girls alone.

Finally, the midget spied Ran, "My what a pretty new girl!" and bounced over.

Shinichi shoved Ran behind him, "You're under citizen's arrest for sexual assault!"

Or rather, that's what Shinichi wanted to say. Instead, the tiny man with an almost beak-like mouth somehow hit him in his side, sending the detective flying through the shoji screen and tumbling into the yard.

"Shinichi!" Ran cried out, no doubt worried about his well-being, especially after everything they'd been through recently. The young detective still wasn't back up to full strength. "Ah!"

"Ran!" Shinichi shouted, righting himself and grimacing as he struggled to stand. Damn it. My side's bleeding again...

Given everything that had occurred recently, Shinichi decided he needed to use something that he hoped he'd never have to use again. He was a detective because he used his brain to put criminals away. His soccer skills were a pleasurable pastime, but it kept him in shape if he ever needed to defend himself. But after all that time being stuck in the form of a child... Well, he was licensed and a damn good shot.

The shot in the air got everyone's attention, and the miniscule old man dropped off of Ran's chest, where all her karate attempts to remove him had failed.

"Old man," Shinichi growled, ignoring the ache in his back from going through the shoji-screen. "I don't give a damn how good a martial artist you are. A bullet can travel at around 340 meters per second. I doubt you're that fast at such a short range. And I have very good aim."

"You think the great master Happosai could ever-"

Shinichi's shot grazed the tiny man's hair. "I'll reimburse you later, Tendo-san. But Ran and I came here for a quick meeting to-"

The detective got no farther, as the ring of a bell was his only warning before a bicycle bowled him over. "Airen! Shampoo come help remove rotten old man! As reward, please do take Shampoo on date!"

"Shinichi!" Ran swiftly ran over, jumping off the engawa with grace to where he was lying, breathing heavily.

"Hey!" shouted another voice. "I'll help Ran-chan too! Then he'll take me out instead!"

"Ukyo..." Akane growled.

"Spatula-girl no help husband, is job of Shampoo, husband's wife."

"Argh!" female Ranma cried out.

The mini Happosai seemed enthralled that so many pretty girls had shown up and proceeded to fondle, grope, grasp, and all around molest every girl present.

"You goddamned old fool!" female Ranma finally managed to land a kick that sent the tiny criminal soaring off even farther than the elder Saotome panda.

It took a moment, but female Ranma soon noticed that Happosai had let himself be kicked because he was currently soaring off with this female Ranma's shirt, leaving a lot exposed.

Not that Shinichi was in any place to appreciate the view. He preferred Ran, thank you very much, and female Ranma was a little... too buxom for his taste. Besides, Ran was currently helping him up.

"Shinichi! Shinichi! You're bleeding again!"

"Sorry, Ran," he mumbled. "I know I said I'd let you handle this, but..."

She lightly cuffed him on the head. "You dummy. Given everything that's happened since we got here, you have no idea how glad I am that you're by my side." Now let's get you inside so I can look at this."

He nodded, knowing better than to argue. Kasumi had reappeared with a first-aide kit, which to Shinichi's eye looked a bit better stocked than most emergency rooms.

A kettle was given to Ranma and with a quick splash, he was male once more. Huh, Shinichi thought to himself, I wouldn't have minded being a girl instead of a child. At least then I could spend time with Ran as a peer. He shook his head. I don't even want to know how he can do that, do I?

People were once again shouting at each other, arguing about fiancées, claims, and privileges. Kasumi quietly knelt with Ran, Nabiki soon following as the four of them were forgotten by the heated argument.

Kasumi and Ran both eased Shinichi out of his jacket and shirt as he spoke to Nabiki. "Nabiki-san. I know a few people in the police force. If I might have some of the pictures you took of that Happosai assaulting everyone, we'll have a strong case to put him in jail for the rest of his life."

Nabiki looked at him with calculation, handing over whatever Kasumi asked for to treat his bleeding. "How much are you willing to pay for the pictures?"

"... Excuse me?" Shinichi demanded. "That little monster just committed sexual assault! On several of you, including your sisters! He should be locked up! Put on the sex offenders list!"

"Oh my," Kasumi said placidly. "I believe that would be a very good idea if anyone could ever catch him. But he is very skilled. No normal policeman has ever been able to arrest him, though all policemen here in Nerima know of his existence and try their hardest."

Shinichi and Ran both balked. "You've got to be kidding me!" they said in unison.

Kasumi nodded, a pleasant, if strained smile on her face. "Ranma will usually remove him in a similar manner to what you just saw. Or my father and Saotome-san will get him drunk enough to ship somewhere. But I doubt any jail could actually hold him."

Both Beika residents looked at each other, appalled at this. "You should have just shot him when you had the chance," Ran growled, a hand protectively covering herself. "I despise violence just as much as you. But I think we certainly could have made the claim of self-defense. I mean look at you! It's reopened! When we get you home we'll have to get you to the hospital so they can check your stitches! I think one of them has already broken. He threw you through the screen! You could have been seriously injured!"

"Oh don't worry about that," Kasumi said pleasantly. "Nabiki has already called Dr. Tofu. He's been our family doctor for years. He should be able to help you out in no time."

Shinichi gave a small bow, grimacing as it pulled at things. "Thank you, Kasumi-san."

Together they all glanced at the shouting that was still going on in the living room.

"Any idea when they'll settle down?" he asked.

"Yes," Ran agreed. "I want to nullify this silly engagement as quickly as possible."

That got everyone's attention.

"Wait, back up," Ranma said, stepping forward. "You really didn't come here to fulfill some sort of obligation honor thing to marry me?"

"Oh, I came because of honor and obligation," Ran replied, "but I've already found the man I love. I want to marry him," Shinichi blushed brightly, "so I need to get rid of this preposterous little blockage."

"Of cou-"

"Prepare to die, Ranma!"

Shinichi and Ran both groaned. Was it ever possible to have a conversation and not be interrupted?

"Ryoga!" Ranma shouted, dodging a blow that put a massive hole in the wall, "Can't you just wait five minutes!"

"Because of you I've seen hell!"

"Not now, pig-boy!"

And the dodging continued. Ranma at least seemed to have the sense to draw Ryoga out into the yard so that no more of the Tendo home would be damaged.

"Oh," Ran whispered beside Shinichi. "They're good."

"Good?" he asked.

"Yes. Both of them are very good martial artists. I don't recognize the styles, though. There's some basic karate in there, and some judo. I think I see a little akido as well. Ah, kenpo and... kickboxing? Mixed martial arts?"

"The Anything Goes Style," Kasumi said beside them, packing up the first-aide kit.

Shinichi and Ran looked at each other. Who would be stupid enough to label their style as "Anything Goes"? That was an open invitation to dirty, underhanded cheating.

"Nabiki? Would you be so kind as to help me put this away?"

"Of course, onee-chan," the middle Tendo girl replied. Both headed to the kitchen.

Shinichi looked at the fight going on between Ranma and this Ryoga person, then glanced at all the girls who seemed to be arguing over the fact that Ranma had a new fiancée. Shinichi narrowed his eyes as he caught Shampoo talking about actually killing Ran to remove the competition over Ranma. Did the foreigner not hear Ran clearly say she wanted the engagement nullified? Ran was already walking over to calmly explain things, no doubt hearing the threats and seeking to nip them in the bud.

The detective nodded to himself as he eased his shirt back on. Ran would probably be able to handle the arguing fiancées quite well. After all, she wasn't trying to encroach on their territory, she just wanted out of it and surely they'd understand that.

"Crap, look out!"

Whipping his head back to see what was going on between Ryoga and Ranma, Shinichi scrambled as a yellow body came hurling in his direction. The warning shout had been Ranma's; no doubt an intended throw had shifted in midair, going in a different direction than intended.

Just barely up to his knees to move, Shinichi watched in dread and slow motion as Ryoga righted himself, eyes only focused on Ranma as yellow-socked feet were aimed right at Shinichi.

"Aaagrhaa!" Shinichi cried out as Ryoga used his injured side as a springboard to head back into the brawl with Ranma, sending the young detective flying back to the solid plaster wall of the Tendo home.


He tried to take stock of his body. It felt like more stitches had been pulled out, his side was bleeding again despite the fresh bandage that Kasumi had applied, and the crack against the wall was not helping Shinichi's focus. He could hear Ran slipping into her righteous karate fury and, knowing she could defend herself and handle things after everything they'd gone through, Shinichi let himself slip into unconsciousness.

To say Ran was furious would be an understatement. She'd come here to get out of this stupid engagement, none of the other "fiancées" she spoke with seemed to understand that, Shinichi, who was still recovering, had ripped a stitch, people kept coming out of the woodwork to interrupt them whenever they actually got somewhere, and it was so incredibly frustrating.


Ran turned to see Shinichi be slammed by this strange Ryoga person (who didn't even seem to notice what he'd done!) into a wall and pass out.


Her beloved detective had been through enough! He didn't need this on top of the healing that he was still doing! Well if no one was willing to listen to her, she was going to make herself heard!

Grateful she had decided to wear slacks that day, Ran easily slipped in between the fight between Ranma and Ryoga. The yellow-clad boy didn't seem to notice, every fiber of his focus on the pigtailed man. That was fine for Ran as she gave a perfectly formed karate kick right into Ryoga's midsection.

Completely caught off guard, Ryoga staggered back, but didn't even get a chance to recover as Ran was sliding around him with punches and kicks that her opponent didn't even seem to feel. Frustrated that this person just wasn't going down, Ran stopped holding back and used a roundhouse kick to send Ryoga slamming into the compound wall.

"Wh-what?" Ryoga stammered, easing himself off and brushing off bits of dust that had showered down on him.

Ran slammed her foot into his chest, pushing him down again, her fury radiating around her.

"You!" she growled. "You don't want to know what I'm going to do to you if Shinichi's ripped out any more stitches because of you!" She slammed her foot onto his ribcage again. "He's finally healed enough to get up and move around and you," another slam of her foot, "a well trained martial artist are so," Slam! "unaware of your surroundings that you don't even notice," Slam! "that you did even more," Slam! "injury to an innocent," Slam! "bystander," Slam! "who has nothing," Slam! "to do with what-" Slam! "-ever" Slam! "your fight with Ranma-san is!" Taking a deep breath, she stepped back. "Now you are going to get Shinichi and properly lay him out so that I can get a better look at whatever injuries you caused while we wait for this Dr. Tofu person to arrive. Am I clear?"

Ryoga, who was rubbing a currently very tender ribcage and blushing furiously at his atrocious behavior in front of his beloved Akane, nodded vigorously with a very obedient "Yes ma'am!"

Ran's surprisingly violent outburst had, naturally, caught everyone's attention. Ranma was grateful this girl didn't want to be his fiancée, Shampoo and Ukyo both ignored the fact that Ran wanted her engagement nullified and were looking at fresh competition that was powerful, and Akane was jealous that there was another fiancée who was still better than her at martial arts. Kasumi had come in with the first-aide kit again and Nabiki followed with a fresh tray of snacks (seeing how the old set had been up-ended in battle) with a calculating grin on her face as she assessed the situation.

Turning her fierce eyes around, Ran took a deep breath and let out her anger with a long sigh. "Ranma-san? Would you please help with Shinichi? I don't know if he-" she jerked a thumb at the Ryoga lump behind her that was still getting up, "-can be trusted to not jostle any more of Shinichi's injury. Perhaps then we could get something in writing that will formally dissolve this stupid engagement?"

Ranma shrugged. "Works for me. I got enough fiancées as it is; I don't mind losin' one I never knew I had."

"Thank you," Ran bowed low. Glad that, to her at least, the issue had been settled, she turned.

"Kasumi-san? Shinichi has been on a specific diet since coming out of the hospital. Would you mind if I were to use your kitchen to whip something up for him?"

"Oh my," the eldest Tendo girl put a hand to her cheek. "I wouldn't mind at all. Please, come with me. I'll show you where everything is."

Ran bowed again, "Thank you," and followed Kasumi into the kitchen.

Left behind, and knowing there would finally be some peace for a while as Kasumi and Ran were in the kitchen and Ranma would be looking after this Shinichi person until Dr. Tofu arrived (and likely booting Ryoga to the sky), Akane took the opportunity to head upstairs for some privacy and actually get some homework done, seeing how training was now out the window. Soun retreated to his own room, newspaper in hand, and Nabiki went to her ledgers to see how much she could charge the newcomers for either information or repairs to the house compared to what her family might be required to pay for injuring (or re-injuring, apparently) the famous Kudo Shinichi.

That left Ukyo and Shampoo.

While both were looking at each other with rivalry, there was no denying a temporary truce as a new competitor had arrived to the field.

"Do you think she really wants the engagement nullified?" Ukyo cautiously asked.

"Violent Girl forced into fiancée, but protesting hides Violent Girl's schemes to get Airen." Shampoo's eyes narrowed. "Might protest but want."

Ukyo wasn't completely convinced. "I don't know. She clearly cares about that Kudo guy."

"Bah," Shampoo waved it away. "Shampoo can make like care for stupid Duck Boy to get Airen to come to Shampoo. Ploy to make jealous easy on men."

"But if Ranma goes through with canceling the engagement, then we don't really have to worry, do we?"

"May be trick. Men easy to dupe. Might be to see how honorable Husband is."

"And then pounce on him when he proves he's up to her standards?" Ukyo could picture it all too easily. After all, Ranma was highly desirable. Strong, manly, protective, tender, and so very shy. No girl in her right mind would turn down an engagement with Ranma, and if this hussy thought she could somehow ensnare her darling Ranma-chan, then she had another thing coming.



"We'll make sure she doesn't stay engaged to Ran-chan."

"Shampoo agree."

"Whoa, look at that."

"Yeah, he's a mess."

"What d'ya think happened to him?"

"It that a... bullet scar?"

"Yeah, ya missed that part; he pulled a gun on the old letch."

"Really? Then at least he's a brave warrior."

Shinichi groaned, pulling a hand to his burning eyes. "I'm not a warrior," he groaned, tired of listening to the two boys above him. Once he'd pulled enough of his thoughts together to realize a: he was awake, b: there were two foreign voices over his head and giving him cause for great panic, c: the voices weren't unfamiliar because one of them was that weird boy, Saotome Ranma, and d: it therefore must be (relatively) safe enough for him to let the world know he was awake. He remembered all too well what happened the last time, and he wasn't about to go through that again.

His side was killing him, and he smelled blood - aw, he'd popped more stitches! Ran was going to kill him.

"So, who are you, anyway?"

Shinichi cracked his eyes open and took a moment to focus. Ranma, in his red Chinese shirt, was crouched on his toes at the young detective's head, leaning over and giving him an upside-down once over. Down and to his left was another boy. Now that he was up close, Shinichi at first thought the boy was very similar to Ranma. But the shoulders were broader, the hair courser, and the eyes greyer.

"I'm the guy you tried to use as a springboard," Shinichi replied with a dark undercurrent in his voice.

To his surprise, the other boy flushed bright pink and put a hand behind the back of his head. "Er, yeah. About that..."

"Just hurry up and apologize, P-chan," Ranma intoned in flat impatience.

"This is all your fault, Ranma!" the boy, P-chan - no, Ryoga, now Shinichi remembered - started shouting.

"Excuse me, could we not get into another life or death battle?" the young detective said quickly. He couldn't see battle auras but he could certainly feel it, and he really didn't want to upset Ran more than she already was.

"Ranma? Are you bothering Kudo-san?" came a girl's voice through the door. It was the only warning given as the door slid open, and the youngest Tendo girl, Akane, stepped into the room, battle aura of her own weighing down on Shinichi's senses. His eyes started to water and he put his hands up to them to hide the weakness. He couldn't gulp down the groan, though.

To his supreme luck, all the pressure died away, and when he glanced out from under the curtain of his hand he saw all three of them looking at him.

"Hey, Ryoga? How long has it been since you've been to school? Maybe I can catch up on your homework."

Ryoga turned bright red again, and he mumbled something incomprehensible as he accepted Akane's hand and was led out of the room.

"... You lead a complicated life," Shinichi said to Ranma.

A flat gaze fell over the teen's features, the look of one who knew the world would never understand him. "Ya think?"

Shinichi rolled his eyes. One of those. "All right, let's start with the basics. That panda that turned into a person, your father, has most likely been taking you over the world - for years, I'd say your whole life - training in martial arts. He's likely unscrupulous given your equally unscrupulous reaction to the discovery of your engagement. And given some of the statements you've let slip he's promised you to multiple women - I assume the ladies that were downstairs just moments ago. The one that everyone seems to agree on is the one that girl, Akane, given that you live here and that her father seemed very friendly with the panda until Ran's engagement to you became clear. Given the evidence it's safe to assume that the girl with the spatula was also promised to you by him. The girl with the Chinese accent, however, doesn't fit the pattern. Given the style of martial arts that Ran observed and the regionalization of her accent I'd assume she's from rural China - and from there it's not much of a leap to assume that she's an Amazon, and their customs are obscure enough that you probably promised yourself to her without even realizing it. Am I right so far?"

Ranma was openly staring at him. "What do you mean 'so far'?"

Shinichi allowed himself a cocky grin. "Oh? You didn't want me to go on?"

The other teen rolled his eyes. "No wonder Nabiki called you the savior of the police."

"What I don't understand is the panda and the girl."

"Cursed Springs of Jusenkyo," Ranma replied. "Fall into a cursed spring and you take the form of whatever died there when splashed with cold water."

"Interesting," Shinichi offered. He tried to get an elbow under him to sit up, but his side protested too much. Just how many stitches had he popped?

"That's sure different from what I usually get," Ranma said slowly, an eyebrow raising.

Shinichi smiled, still prone on the floor. His best guess was that this was the room Ranma shared with the panda. "Compared to some of the things I've seen, that's relatively light."

The gaze Ranma offered was skeptical, but finally he shrugged. He was about to open his mouth to say something else when the door slid open again, and a man in his thirties came in, hair pulled back in a small tail and glasses framing his eyes.

"Doctor Tofu!" Ranma said.

The doctor blinked, his eyes focusing on Shinichi. "I thought I was called in about you," Tofu said quickly, snapping his gaze back to the teen he knew. "But I guess I was wrong. Could you step out for a minute?"

"Sure," the martial artist said, standing up gracefully and hopping over Shinichi with ease before sidestepping out the door. "Give a shout when you're done so I can hide Kasumi!"

The reaction Dr. Tofu gave was most interesting, and Shinichi felt mildly glad he hadn't started the examination yet. It passed however (cueing a silent sigh of relief). "Er, well, let's get started, shall we?" he asked, pulling himself together. "Where do you want me to start first? The popped stitches or the unusual collection of chi around your stomach?"

Shinichi gulped, feeling his blood pressure raise and his heart rate speed up and sweat accumulate on his brow.

"And that's interesting, too," the doctor said. "All right, let's get to work."

A dozen pressure points and a pinch of the nose later Shinichi was completely numb, and his head was immobile. That scared him even more than being numb, but Tofu outlined in detail what he was doing and when. Every pressure he felt the doctor explained in clinical tones, trying to reassure his patient. "All right, the stitches are fixed. Here," and with a poke to the forehead Shinichi had movement, which he quickly (and irrationally, he did admit) took advantage of to sit up and rub his side. It was tender, but he could feel the workmanship and knew it was good.

"That takes care of the immediate needs," Tofu said, "But I have a few questions, the first of which has to do with why your ki was shrunken for so long."

Shinichi paled.

"I don't think it was Jusenkyo," he continued, frowning as the teen detective chewed on the inside of his cheek. "Ranma and the others, when they change, nothing happens to their ki other than a rearrangement to accommodate their new forms. Yours... yours was shrunk, compacted almost beyond endurance - I'm surprised you survived it." Shinichi started backing up, glancing at the door and hoping the pony-tailed doctor didn't ask any questions. "I was curious though," Tofu continued, "if you knew the side-effects of your ki for being constrained for so long."


The question must have shown on his face, because the smile that Tofu offered was gentle. "I didn't think so. If you did you'd be fighting the urge to run for the high hills. You see, ki isn't meant to be constrained like that. Controlled, moved, but never constrained. Whenever ki is repressed it causes adrenaline and endorphins to be released into the blood stream - as can be expected, because any situation I can think of where ki has to be openly constrained is a life-or-death situation."

Shinichi couldn't repress the snort as he thought about Conan and the extended nightmare therein.

"As you can imagine, when in that kind of state for a prolonged amount of time, certain side effects start to occur. For ki like yours, it looks as though all those adrenals were funneled to certain nerve terminals in your brain. You're currently suffering from tachycardia, hypertension, dilated pupils, and adrenal fight-flight response. In other words, you're feeling paranoid. Because of your suppressed ki, it's become oversensitive to conflict - or even negative feelings."

All of the sudden, without realizing that he had even been holding a breath, he released it, and he felt his shoulders drop and he felt his muscles loosen.

"There, you see? Now that you recognize it, you can fight it. It's a very hard impulse to negate. It's a moderately simple fix, however."

And at last, the point had arrived. Dr. Tofu was offering to alleviate (at least in part) the spike of paranoia that Shinichi had perpetually felt since... he could no longer remember ever not feeling paranoid. The merit of it was tempting; oh, so tempting. Just the idea of not living in constant fear... It was like a dream come true. But then, the memories of taking down the Organization, and how he survived it in those last weeks, survived and kept Ran and Hattori safe.

"I appreciate the offer," Shinichi said slowly, rubbing his side, "But I think I'd rather keep it as is. Given my profession of choice, it will only help me."

Tofu nodded. "I understand."

Shinichi smiled.

"Well, at the very least could you let me fix what's wrong with your stomach? I can't even imagine how you did that."

Shinichi knew damn well what happened with his stomach, even if the scar for it was nowhere on his torso. "Will it affect the, er, constraint of my ki? Will it... shrink again?"

Tofu blinked. "Good gracious no, I would never do that to a patient."

Shinichi allowed himself a grin. "Then have at it, doctor."

Ran was very, very grateful to be in the kitchen. A kitchen was her haven and a place to calm down. A place in any home where she could rule and control everything with ease. Especially since, for a long time, there was very little in her life, particularly with Shinichi's situation, that was in her control. She quietly asked Kasumi for specific ingredients that the older girl had no problems pulling out with a quiet smile. Together they bustled about the kitchen, Ran quickly learning where everything was as the two discussed cooking and just how good they discovered each other to be as they debated various spices and techniques.

While Ran stirred a pot with her chopsticks, she turned to Kasumi with a smile. "Kasumi-san-"

"Oh please, Ran-chan. I don't think either of us need formalities, do you?"

Her smile widening, Ran gave a small bow of her head. "I agree, Kasumi-chan. I was wondering if you had any coffee? Shinichi's had such a rough day and his diet is rather strict at the moment. I thought some of his favorite drink to go with this meal would be a good idea."

Kasumi brought a hand to her face. "Oh my. I'm afraid that everyone in this house likes tea, not coffee. Especially as incidents with water seem to occur so regularly, tea is always a better solution to have on hand."

"Oh, of course," Ran replied, not quite sure what "water incidents" had to do with anything beyond the strange fact that Ranma had - briefly - become a girl. And his father was apparently a panda. Or something.

"Oh no, you needn't worry," Kasumi was already pulling off her apron. "The market isn't far from here. Is there a particular coffee that Kudo-san enjoys?"

The karate practitioner bowed her thanks. "Frankly, the coffee he usually has is the sludge that a police station offers." Grabbing a piece of paper off a small pad on the fridge and pulling out a pen, she quickly scribbled down a brand name and flavor. "I usually make this with smidge of cinnamon. Are you sure this isn't a problem?"

"Oh of course not," the eldest Tendo daughter replied. "You are our guests and we haven't been treating you very well. Besides, Nerima... is a little unusual to people not from the area. I'll be able to pick this up and come back without any incidents."

To that, at least, Ran couldn't hold back a small chuckle. "Oh, I doubt it's any worse than Shinichi's tendency to trip over corpses."

Kasumi paled. "Corpses?"

Ran gave a small, semi-sad smile. "Yes. He's a detective, and a very good one. The murders he's solved are often seemingly impossible. It seems like he's the only one who can solve them, so he keeps finding them. Even when he tries to avoid them and spend time with me." She gave another chuckle. "It's even worse, when Hattori-kun is around. Hattori-kun doesn't just stumble across dead bodies, they fall out of the sky for him."

"Oh my!"

"..." Ran trailed off, wondering what this mild-mannered girl was wondering about the life Shinichi led. "Ah... um, coffee?"

"Oh! Oh yes of course." Kasmui gave another pleasant smile before walking out to the hall.

"I'll be at the market for a few minutes!" she called to the inhabitants of the house, before heading to the back door in the kitchen. "I really won't be long," Kasumi assured Ran. "Things should remain peaceful while I'm out. But as a word of caution, don't let Akane do any cooking for Kudo-san. If he really is on a strict diet, anything she does will be the absolute worst for him, good intentions or not."

Ran blinked. "Um, alright. Thank you so much, Kasumi-chan."

"Oh, it's no problem, Ran-chan." Pausing, the eldest Tendo girl gave a small grin. "Ran-chan. That's exactly what Ukyo calls Ranma. My, this might be confusing."

The karate practitioner gave a small chuckle. "Given the negative feelings that several people here seem to have for me, I suspect I'll just be Mouri-san to them."

"Well. I'll be off."

Nodding, Ran went back to her items on the stove, already adding some seasonings that would be closer to Shinichi's pallet, but still within the requirements of his diet.

Moments after Kasumi had left, Ran could hear the middle Tendo girl, Nabiki, speaking to a Dr. Tofu at the door. What an odd name. A moment later, Ranma walked by the door.

"Hey, where's Kasumi?"

"At the market, getting something for Shinichi, since it looks like we'll be staying for dinner in order to remove this stupid engagement."

The martial artist nodded. "Sorry 'bout all this." He glanced down the hall. "Shit, Ucchan and Shampoo are still here. I'll be hiding in the dojo."

Ran shrugged, not really caring one way or another, her focus drifting back to the food she was preparing. It wasn't long before another boy walked by the kitchen door. And then walked by again. And again. And once more.

Annoyed, especially considering who it was, Ran stepped away from the food for a moment and blocked the way as Ryoga walked by yet again. "Ryoga-san?" she asked with a hint of frost in her voice. "Can I help you with anything?"

"Ah! Umm, ah..." The boy turned unbearably red. "I'm, um, that is, I, er..." More stuttering.

"Yes? Is there something you wanted to say?" she offered a particular edge in her voice that was always good to make her father do what she needed him to do.

"I'M SORRY!" Ryoga shouted before taking off down the hall at top speed.

Ran scowled. She wasn't the one who needed the apology. She hoped that the boy had at least apologized to Shinichi before bolting.

"Oh well, I think he's officially lost again," Akane grumbled from the bottom of the stairs.


"Yeah," Akane replied with a sigh. "He has the absolute worst sense of direction. He gets lost in a house. I think he just ran out into the city. He'll wander by in another month or so."

Blink. "He must be so lonely."

The youngest Tendo shrugged. "Do you need some help in the kitchen?"

Ran gave a smile. "I'd love that. Though you'll have to forgive me, Shinichi's diet at the moment is very specific. I'll have to handle that."

"No problem! I hardly ever get the chance to cook!"

Ran saw why very quickly. She was immensely grateful she'd taken Kasumi's advice and cooked Shinichi's dinner herself. In fact, she started to make extra portions for herself.

"So," she said after a moment, "I'm guessing you're one of Ranma-san's fiancées?"

Akane scowled at the charred mess she was frying. "Yeah," was all she said.

Ran shrugged and tried to make conversation. "I can only imagine how interesting life must be around here."

Akane snorted and mashed vegetables with her knife, turning them to mush. "It's all a big headache! Ranma's a jerk and a pervert; he loves lording up over all us girls and loves all the attention Ukyo and Shampoo pour over him."

"Oh, I don't know," Ran said lightly, wording it carefully, "He didn't seem very happy to find out he had another fiancée. As I recall he called the panda a 'sick old bastard,' and I get the feeling he wants this silly thing annulled as soon as possible."

Akane paused, her face clouding, vinegar now being dumped instead of splashed over the mashed-and-shredded vegetables. Ran let her have her thoughts and tried to subtly pull out the vegetables that were remotely salvageable; at least until Akane slammed her knife into the cutting board. "It doesn't matter anyway," she mumbled, her eyes bright.

That made Ran arc an eyebrow in interest. "Really? Why doesn't it matter? Do you not care about what happens to Ranma-san?"

"NO!" Akane openly growled, grabbing for the knife. "Why should I give a damn about what happens to that over-sexed, insensitive, perverted jerk? Stupid Ranma, stupid, stupid Ranma!"

Ah. Well, that explained a few things. Ran wondered if Ranma felt the same way or not. She smiled and tossed the vegetables some more before mixing them into the pot and adding the rice. "You know, I used to get jealous all the time," she said, giving a side-glance to her fellow cook.

Akane looked up. "What?"

"He was gone for a long time, you know. He said it was for a case, but he was gone for so, so long, and I couldn't help but doubt. One day there was this one girl, she just appeared and claimed to be his girlfriend. It wasn't until much, much later that I learned that the girl actually didn't know him at all, had used him as a ruse to find her kidnapped sister. It took even longer to learn that he wouldn't even blink at something like that, because all he saw was me. Throughout the entire case, as dangerous as it got, all he could think about was me. He did a lot of stupid things..." Conan, for starters. "A lot of very stupid things," she repeated, her voice dropping in pitch and the grip of the ladle tightening. "But when all was said and done, everything he did - no matter how misguided or stupid - he did for me."

Akane blinked. "So, this guy, you're really close to him?"

The smile she gave was radiant. "Yes, I am."

Shinichi decided that dinner was going to be interesting when Dr. Tofu eased him down to the traditional low table. All Ranma's fiancées were vying for who would sit by him, and even the fathers (when had Ranma's father returned?) were trying to push the pigtailed martial artist to sit by Akane. It was all very polite and cold, but there was no denying that there was a conflict about it.

Not liking how long just sitting arrangements was taking, especially since his stomach was rumbling after whatever the good doctor had done, Shinichi calmly reached out, grabbed Ranma's wrist and pulled down, putting him between Shinichi and the Tendo father. Problem solved. Soun looked like he was going to get up to give the seat to Akane, but Shinichi and Ran both gave a very piercing glare. They both wanted to eat and settle things. The mustached man bowed his head and people began to take their seats with a great deal less polite arguing.

"Now Shinichi-kun," Dr. Tofu said, "I want you to continue with the diet your doctor laid out for another week or so. I'll be back in a few hours for the next treatment. Make sure you eat plenty. You're going to use up a lot of energy with all of this."

Shinichi nodded in return. "Thank you, Dr. Tofu. You don't know how much this is appreciated."

"Are you sure you don't want me to address that other problem?"

"Quite certain." There was no way Shinichi was willing to reduce his paranoia. After all, one never knew who might still be lurking around in shadows and black coats.

"Very well. I'll be back in a few hours."

Dr. Tofu left, his glasses fogging as he saw Kasumi come in with dinner before he quickly bolted.

"Treatments?" Ran asked quietly by his ear.

Shinichi nodded. "He'll be able to fix my stomach a lot faster that my doctor was prognosticating. He needs to do some sort of pressure-point thing every four hours."

Ran practically beamed. "And this other problem?"

"Conan related. I'll explain later."

A small nod and a hand squeezing his knee in reassurance.

Kasumi dished out dinner and a fresh round of introductions were made for Ukyo and Shampoo, who had missed Ran and Shinichi's arrival. And of course, the two girls had to introduce themselves properly as well.

"I am Kunoji Ukyo. Ranma and I were engaged when we were little children. Needless to say, I've been very patient with this long engagement of ours." She glanced at Ranma, who was focused on his food. "I'm sure we'll be quite happy together."

Not one to be outdone, Shampoo gave a polite bow. "Shampoo is already married to Airen by law. Am trying obliging Husband by staying here. But has been too, too long from home and Husband will bring Shampoo home one day."

"Of course," Soun stated calmly, "Saotome and I had agreed to join our schools long before either of us were married, and my daughter Akane, as a martial artist, is well suited for Ranma-kun here."

Shinichi could feel tempers flaring all around him, but no one said a thing and politely continued with their meals.

Ran gave a small glance to him with a gesture to indicate exactly what she thought of this whole situation. Shinichi agreed whole-heartedly. This is insane! He'd already deducted all of this, and a fair bit of other things that seemed to be going on in Ranma's life, but to actually watch the reactions as things were discussed calm-as-you-please… Well. Shinichi hoped that Dr. Tofu would hurry with the treatments. He wasn't sure if staying here was a good idea for his health.

"Bwee?" came a confused oink out in the yard.

"Oh!" Akane smiled. "P-chan!" Beside him, Ranma scowled angrily and Shinichi glanced over to where Akane was pulling up a small black piglet from the yard and into the house.

Shinichi had just been drinking his coffee (Thank you, Ran!) when he looked at the pig, his brain started putting things together, and he choked. Spitting out his coffee to the girl across from him (Shampoo), he coughed, hacked, and struck his chest to get some breath back into his lungs.

A hand gently reached for his back, rubbing lightly. "Shinichi?" Ran asked quietly.

Taking a moment to breath, Shinichi whirled his head to Ranma. "Hey, this Jusenkyo curse. It can be animals as well as buxom redheads, right?"

Blinking, Ranma gave a nod.

Shinichi turned to the little P-chan with the same bandana as Ryoga had been wearing earlier. The little P-chan that was currently nuzzling Akane's bosom, nose pressed into the cleavage and hooves poking and holding the breasts. The little P-chan was glaring at Ranma with the same focus that ignored all else in the room the same way Ryoga had earlier that afternoon.

Ran gave a small gasp beside him as she, too, picked up on the bandana. "No," she whispered.

Ranma chuckled. "You two are good."

"She doesn't know, does she?" Shinichi quietly stated.

"Nope. I've dropped enough hints, but I-"

Anything else Ranma was going to say was cut off as Shampoo leaned into Shinichi's personal space, face still dripping coffee.

"Stupid man!" she growled. "You no purpose to be here! This between Airen and fiancées!"

Shinichi gave her a cool look. Frankly the tempers of any of these people wouldn't faze him in the slightest after everything he'd survived. But her statement needed to be addressed. Because hell yes, he had a right to be there! There were so few times he could be there for Ran as himself, that there was no way in hell a love polygon would make him shy away.

But he never got the chance. Ran gave a polite smile and said in frigid tones, "He's here because he asked to marry me and I said yes."

Silence fell on the table. It seemed to just dawn on several of these people that they had shown up as a couple, that they were always close, that Shinichi had tried to defend Ran and Ran had defended Shinichi.

Shinichi flushed, but held Ran's hand. "I'm here because I support Ran. She was nervous coming here to nullify her engagement with Ranma-san, so I decided to stay by her side."

The pig looked up at hearing about an engagement with Ranma, glared at Ranma, and starting growling and trying to get out of Akane's hands as she finally came back to the table.

"Quiet, P-chan!" she said with exasperation.

Shinichi, not really caring to have the little pig go ballistic, focused his gaze on it. P-chan seemed to notice this and turned to glare at Shinichi.

"P-chan? Is it?" Shinichi offered politely. "I can't tell if you're just starved for affection or just trying to create jealously, but I'd appreciate it if you stayed quiet."

"Unless," Ran added beside him, "you're going to get lost again?"

The tiny pig seemed to pale, going completely still. Ranma was trying, and failing, to hold in laughter at the pig.

The detective continued to glare, letting a small smirk hook onto the corner of his mouth in a look that Ran would have easily recognized whenever he'd finally caught a murderer, but she was too busy providing her own glare, one that matched what she had done to Ryoga earlier when he'd hurt Shinichi.

"So New Girl want Detective Boy-" Shinichi and Ran both chuckled despite themselves "-for marriage? That why engagement be canceled?"

"I believe I've been saying that all afternoon," Ran replied with a smile.

Shampoo and Ukyo still looked suspicious.

"Ne, Akane-san?" Shinichi changed topic. "If you don't mind, would you put P-chan somewhere other than the table? I know pigs are relatively clean animals, but they'll still eat anything and I don't want him getting into my meal while I'm still recuperating."

Ranma smiled wickedly to Shinichi's side and Ran at least looked with a little pity. P-chan merely hung his head in shame as Akane agreed. "Of course. I'll lock him in the bathroom.

The "bwee..." that the pig responded with was utterly defeated.

They almost made it through dinner without incident, "incident" being defined as someone upending the table; breaking it in half; throwing food, plates, or eating utensils; punches, kicks; and martial arts in general. However, if "incident" was defined as "not fighting," well, that could hardly be construed as the case.

Shinichi quickly decided that he needed a scorecard to keep track of it all. He understood the relations and by-plays of everyone at the table well enough, but when more names started being thrown out, like Kuno, Kodachi, Gosunkugi, Mousse, Cologne, Pantyhose Taro (? Shinichi wisely decided not to ask) just to name a few, the teen detective eyed the Tendo and Saotome families plus fiancées with an expression that was quickly becoming harder and harder to school. When he wasn't holding hands with Ran under the table he was writing down what he could to process at a later date.

Ran finally asked, "Is there something in the water that makes people prone to misunderstandings?"

When everyone mutely shook their heads in confusion at the very idea, Shinichi and Ran decided not to press the matter, and the teen detective decided to go over what he'd learned about each suspect.

First on the list was Kunogi Ukyo, the cross dresser. Though her hair was long and her face very feminine, her small bust was wrapped and all but disappeared in her workman's restaurant gi and her ammo belt filled with spatulas. She fiercely claimed how the Saotome patriarch had stolen not only her okonomiyaki cart but also her honor and, subsequently, her womanhood as a result of the instantaneous pariah status the jilting had bestowed upon her. Given how old she was at the time, Shinichi had a very hard time believing that a child could so easily transplant all that anger and negative energy she bestowed - not without proper coaching, which pointed towards her father, which implied that he was petty and held grudges - though that much was obvious considering that he'd betrothed his daughter with a stick-at-naught stranger with no more dowry than his food cart. If a traveling cart was all he had to bargain with, it was relatively safe to assume that they were poor to begin with, and the poverty that she knew most likely caused Ukyo to cross dress as opposed to a fanciful idea about being jilted. Boys generally were construed to have more power, and growing up in a poor (and subsequently powerless) house it was perhaps the only way should could give herself power and feel satisfied, further encouraged by her love of martial arts and supposed loss of purity from her father. She was also, though Shinichi doubted she realized it, the least invested in the engagement. Ukyo liked the life she was living, the restaurant she was running, and the business she was making. Being Ranma's friend was something she also enjoyed - Shinichi surmised that her wanting more was an aftereffect of her decision (re: rationale) to cross dress that she clung to more out of habit than any sincere desire for a true relationship. The fantasies she had were just that, fantasies, and she only became an active contestant for Ranma's affections when it was convenient for her.

Then there were the Tendos; their personalities made much more sense once it was passed on that the matriarch was dead. Given Suon's apparent tendency to burst into tears at the drop of a hat, it was a likely deduction that he fell to pieces when his wife died, incoherent and unable to carry on with life; not all that hard to imagine, really, given how close Shinichi came to that level of depression whenever he thought Ran was in danger, or worse, those tumultuous six hours when he thought she was dead. It was up to the daughters to carry on, and from there it was obvious who took over what. The most immediate concern was their welfare - getting food and clean clothes and overall maintenance of the house, Kasumi took up this position, becoming the first half of the substitute wife of the Tendo household. She also, perhaps by nature of her personality, repressed all her guilt and anxiety in order to be the center of calm in the household, becoming incapable of sending her father or anyone else to tears because of how even her own countenance was. Shinichi gave her about three ulcers, on the outside, that had developed in her and that she didn't tell anyone about in order to keep an even keel.

The next concern once the essentials were taken care of was the monetary. Shinichi wondered how many late notices they received before the middle daughter Nabiki took over the job, becoming the second half of the substitute wife. She probably just brought the bill in to get signed at first, but Shinichi held absolutely no doubt that nowadays she was completely in charge of the Tendo family accounts, making her own deposits, withdrawals, investments, and the like. The teen detective wondered if Suon even knew how much he was worth at this point - but given how quickly the house was destroyed and repaired on a daily basis, Nabiki was clearly doing her job efficiently. Like Kasumi, she had cut off her emotions, but perhaps not as completely; she tried to help when she could, she just wanted to make sure she got something out of it too, to protect her own heart.

This left Akane to become the substitute father of the family; while Suon grieved Akane tried to buck up and take it like a man, continue on with the dojo (most likely without any instruction) and show the world that the Tendo family was doing just fine. She, like her sisters, was emotionally stunted without their mother's (or, for an undetermined amount of time, their father's) influence. The youngest daughter didn't know how to deal with frustration and was enormously prone to jumping to conclusions (a district trait, as far as Shinichi was discovering). Though sincerely nice, she was exceedingly judgmental - especially of Ranma, though Shinichi had no idea what happened to make that catastrophe and he'd rather not find out. She was easily hurt and didn't have the coping mechanisms to handle the pain, and the best she could do was release her negative feelings through aggression, her physical prowess making her more like a tomboy than a girl (in keeping with the role she had given herself). She knew her shortcomings very well, though, and was overly sensitive to any comment (however indirect) that addressed them.

Suon himself had, over time, reconciled with his grief and found his house had done - on the surface at least - just fine without him. He didn't completely leave the loss, however, because now he was fiercely defensive of his girls - as was evident when the Amazon Shampoo made a particularly vicious comment towards Akane and the Tendo father suddenly turned into a giant demon head, spitting out fire and retribution if Shampoo did not rescind the comment.

Shampoo was the dangerous one. Shinichi never took his eyes off her for very long. Shinichi's knowledge base of the obscure customs of rural China was broad at best, and his less than acceptable knowledge of the Amazon made him nervous. He was able to glean that she came from a matriarchal society; she spoke often of a grandmother and a mother and showed nothing but contempt for Soun and Genma and himself - the only males present sans Ranma. There was a brief mention of any man that could defeat an Amazon was one that would marry her - giving Shampoo the notion that Ranma (who had obviously defeated her) was hers for the taking. Insofar as he could tell, Shampoo only thought of Ranma as a prize she had won, a thing to viciously fight over and manipulate in whatever way she desired. Shinichi wasn't completely sure he believed the menagerie of objects that she had employed to submit Ranma to her will or subdue anything she thought of as competition, but the others clearly took stock in the devious tricks she had to offer, and Shinichi's paranoia radar made sure he never let his guard down around her.

The next most dangerous on the list was the Saotome father, Genma, if for different reasons. Shinichi had never met anyone so inherently selfish, self-serving, and lazy all rolled into one. He perhaps knew the least about the panda (though why he chose to eat as a panda was anyone's guess) but what he did know he didn't like. Inherently lazy, wanting an easy life without working for it, petty and prone to grudges - especially over food - and willing to stoop to anything to get what he wanted. It was a small wonder that Ranma was as mal-adjusted as he was.

Having said that, Ranma's issues, for want of a better word, were surprisingly simple. After a life of training, he was truly gifted in the art from Ran's observations. Not only that, he had a devout love for it, claiming more than once that he never lost at anything with the phrase "martial arts" in it - which of course led to one of his great downfalls: pride. He did not bow to defeat easily, let alone gracefully. As soon as there was even a hint of a wound to his beloved pride he turned into some kind of facsimile of his father: willing to do anything to get what he wanted (which was always a rematch so that he could win and heal his injured pride). His second great fault was simply stunted social development. Having been whisked off from one place to the next he never had the chance to learn how to properly interact with people. Given that his father was the only constant in his life, it was easy to see that Ranma had, like his patriarch, become petty and poorly mannered, but he also earned the title of Poor Communicator. His way of responding to something that hurt him emotionally was to either deeply insult the person involved or simply shrug it off, pretending his didn't care but in fact nursing the wound and turning it into a grudge until he was satisfied at a later date. Shinichi saw both variations of this poor communication most with Akane - and shared many a look with Ran when he realized what a disaster the relationship had turned into.

Akane, who jumped to conclusions and was exceedingly sensitive to her own shortcomings, was engaged to Ranma, a boy who didn't know how to give a compliment without insulting someone and who held grudges until he felt vindicated and was exceedingly sensitive in his own right over the things he thought he was supposed to be good at.

It was a match made in hell.

Or at least, it was until Shinichi watched as Ranma gave Akane a much softer gaze when sipping his tea when he thought that no one was looking; and he saw Akane glance over at him and blush. When the teen detective saw this he threw a look at Ran, and she only grinned, mouthing "I already know," before going back to her rice.

How did she do that?

Never mind.

The wild card, per se, was the pig Ryouga. He didn't even want to get into the litany of things that were wrong with a boy who turned into a pig and slept in a girl's bed. What he didn't know was how aware of it the pig-boy was. He hardly had the chance to properly speak with him before he disappeared and P-chan arrived. There were the odd comments about him getting lost, but he was hard pressed to believe it - until he remembered that this was Nerima, the district where people turned into animals with just a splash of cold water, and martial artists of Ran's caliber were common. He reserved judgment on the boy until he knew more about him.

Once dinner was over, Shinichi had gathered his information. Now the question was what the hell to do with it, since everyone involved was so prone to misunderstandings. He'd need to talk to Ran. From their clasped hands, he made a small gesture, one Ran had come to be very familiar with. Once they got a private moment, the two of them would talk. Of course, in a house that normally held six people, he wondered when they'd get such a chance, but they'd both be on the lookout for it.

Of course, after dinner was when the two fiancées who didn't live in the home started to get stubborn on a few things.

"Ran-chan is a fine catch," Ukyo insisted. "Any girl would be thrilled to have such a man as a fiancée," insert covert glance at Akane. Shinichi rolled his eyes. "I don't want anything... untoward to happen to him. I shall stay and make sure nothing happens."

"Shampoo agree."

"The stupid pervert probably would try something," Akane growled.

"Hey! I ain't never done something like that! I wouldn't!"

Ran was, quite understandably, furious. "Just what sort of person do you think I am?" She turned to the young man who was trying to defend his reputation from perversion. "And just when will we get around to removing this silly engagement?"

Things started to degenerate from there with more yelling, Ranma trying to even get a piece of paper to formally nullify the engagement, all the other fiancées squabbling over their own rights of being there, and all around chaos. Ran, bless her beautiful heart, was trying to stay calm and rational about this, but was getting frustrated that Ranma kept getting distracted.

Soun and Genma merely played their shogi, as if this was a common everyday occurrence, while Kasumi went back to bustling in the kitchen and Nabiki went back to her books.

With a sigh, Shinichi eased himself up and headed down to the toilet. On his way back, a pitiful sounding "bweeeee," came from the bathing room. The young detective sighed, looking up to the ceiling and considered his options. Shrugging, he went back out to the engawa and picked up the pack that Ryoga had discarded when he started his fight earlier that afternoon.

Arck! That thing ways a ton! Shinichi winced, grasping his recently re-stitched side. No way was he going to lift that. A hand at his aching side, he slumped back to sit down and reconsider his options. But a strong arm reached down and lifted the back like it was nothing.

"I take it you wanna help the pig?" Ranma asked.

Shinichi shrugged. "I just want to speak with him. Find out a few things." Like where exactly he fit in this bizarre district of craziness.

"That shouldn't be a problem. I'll just drop off his pack and head back to the dojo, though. Don't wanna 'nother fight that gets you hurt."

The young detective nodded, easing up to his feet.

Ranma looked out to the yard and gave a soft sigh. "You really okay? I was aiming Ryoga for the wall, but he twisted just as I was shifting my weight and I couldn't stop it."

Shinichi smiled and put a hand on Ranma's shoulder. "Really, I'm fine. I probably would have been able to evade it if it weren't for my-" he trailed off, gesturing to his side.

A small nod and a shrug.

Together, they entered the bathing room. "I'll let everyone know you're soaking after everything you've been through today."

The young detective gave a wry grin. "Probably a good idea, even after I talk to Ryoga-san."

Ranma smiled. "I'll get you some supplies. You don't mind a yukata do ya?"

"That'll be fine."

Together they entered the furoba. Ranma dropped off the pack with a quiet "Good luck," and left without a word to the tiny pig that was poking his head forlornly into a vanity.

Shinichi waited a moment, but P-chan didn't seem to notice his presence. After a beat, the young detective cleared his throat.

The piglet spun swiftly with a growl, before paling and backing away until he was stuck in a corner.

"Ryoga-san," the detective gave a small bow. "I realize that this pack of yours must basically have everything you need. So forgive me a little intrusion into your privacy while I pull out some clothes for you. Then I'll give you some hot water and I'd like to talk. No fighting please, just talk."

The pig nodded warily.

Clothing was right on top, though proper underwear was buried. Once he pulled them out, he placed them nearly in front of the pig, a distance from any diameter of splash. A double handful of hot water, and Shinichi turned politely while the naked young man started to change.

"What... What did you want to know?" Ryoga asked. Shinichi took that as his cue to turn around. The boy was once again clad in black training slacks and a yellow, vaguely Chinese shirt. His face, now that it wasn't twisted in anger, was actually quite handsome, and Shinichi wondered dimly if any of the women in this district were dumb enough to miss out on him.

"We'll start with the basics," Shinichi answered, putting on the hot water for his own bath. "Do you really get as lost as the people in this house say you do?"

The other boy turning beet red was all the answer he needed.

"Right, and how long has that been going on?"

Ryouga coughed. "Er, well, they say my grandfather got lost in the Bermuda Triangle; and my great grandmother was supposed to have gotten lost on a mountain and wandered into the world of the gods, but I'm not too sure about that; it seems a little far fetched."

Shinichi whistled. "So you've been, in effect, alone your whole life?" Great, another socially and emotionally stunted member of this district; was there anyone here that had a healthy upbringing?

"It's not so bad. I have times where I can stay pretty localized in one place. Sometimes Mom and Dad do to, and we get to have some time together. I'd be doing a lot better if it wasn't for that damn Ranma."

Shinichi raised his eyebrow, motioning for Ryouga to continue. What followed was a litany of offenses that Ranma had ever done to one Hibiki Ryouga. It started with the failure to arrive at a duel (even though Ryouga himself was four days late), the Jusenkyo curse (which slated another tick against Saotome Genma), the Volume of Offenses known as "Ranma Hurts Akane" (which meant that at least one person saw a little of what went on between those two), the many times Ranma, in his girl state, pretended to be a fiancée or a sister or some other person of interest to horn in on Ryouga's precious time with Akane (leaving Shinichi wondering just how unscrupulous Genma was that his son had turned out that way), and a ten minute iteration of every insult, jibe, threat, and verbal assault that Ranma had ever performed. Shinichi revised his opinion on how Ranma held petty grudges. Ryouga far outshined him on that score.

"You don't live a happy life, do you?" Shinichi asked slowly. His bath was finally full, and the room was full of steam. It was tempting him, but he wanted to get information on his last suspect before he truly tried to relax (or at least as much as possible with the Amazon setting off his paranoia every chance she got).

The look on Ryouga's face was one of unfettered, unhidden, and raw pain, the type that gave Shinichi a very different insight into this Lost Boy. He very quickly realized that, if it weren't for his anger at Ranma and his fixation on Akane, the boy would likely have killed himself months, even years ago. What was it that was mentioned at dinner? Shishi Hokudan? It all clicked heavily into place in Shinichi's head, and he wondered briefly if he should quit the detective business and become a psychologist - except no one needed a degree to figure out a person's problems, they needed a degree to fix them, and this was one case Shinichi was pretty sure he wouldn't take.

"You do realize that sleeping with Akane in that other form is-"

"I can't stop it," Ryouga muttered, sitting on the bathroom floor and clutching his knees to himself, his pack in front of him in a vain attempt at a shield. "When it first happened, I was just so happy that she showed me kindness, and I couldn't get away - she's very strong. And every time I try to get away and I can't. It's actually worse when she's asleep, because she tosses and turns and all that strength isn't controlled anymore and I get all these bruises... I should just tell her... but it would hurt her, and I don't want to hurt her and..."

"And you don't want her to hate you," Shinichi finished up, seeing it all a little too clearly. In proof, Ryouga was not a threat; if anything, if it made Akane happy he would be a very good ally - except that was how everyone in this damn district thought. Sighing, Shinichi kept to the facts. "I don't know how much you know, so I'll keep simple. Ran discovered that she was engaged to Ranma through their fathers. How it came about is irrelevant, the point is that she wants it cancelled and I'm here for support. That's all we want; we're a momentary bump that wants to leave as quick as possible. Make of that what you will, but for Ran's sake and, frankly, for yours, I wouldn't recommend making any more trouble while you're here. We don't want Ran breaking your ribs, do we?"

Ryouga nodded, dimly, not completely listening, lost in his own misery.

Shinichi sighed again, realizing how easily the teen got lost in his thoughts, it wasn't much to believe how lost he got in the real world. "Anyway," he said a little louder. "I'd like to take my bath now, please?"

Ryouga blinked and looked up, nodding and getting up. "Hey, about before... I'm... I'm sorry."

Shinichi took a deep breath and smiled. "It's already forgotten," he said evenly. "So long as it doesn't happen again. Agreed?"


Ran let out a soft sigh. Honestly, these people were so obtuse sometimes. It was no wonder everyone misunderstood everything about anything. Akane had disappeared back to her room since she hadn't finished her homework earlier. Ranma had come in briefly to say that Shinichi was taking a bath (which meant he was in the same room as P-chan, so Ran could safely assume that he was taking the opportunity to talk to Ryoga) before heading off to the dojo, his father sneaking off after him. No doubt for sparring.

That left her with the two other fiancées. Ran really didn't know how she felt about that. She'd seen Shinichi almost constantly keeping an eye on the Amazon Shampoo and given some of the stories, she could understand why. Ukyo at least seemed reasonable, if a little possessive of Ranma.

"Really," Ran said quietly from where she sat, "I don't see what all the fuss is. I don't want to be engaged to Ranma-san. He doesn't want to be engaged to me. It means less competition for you. So why are we taking so long in getting on with it?"

"Want no smear on Husband's honor," Shampoo stated as if that explained everything.

Another sigh. "I don't see how my wanting to be free of him is a stain on his personal honor. He doesn't seem to mind being rid of me. No harm."

Ukyo shook her head. "But Ranma has a very strong sense of personal honor. And as his fiancée, I understand that and am trying to be considerate of it."

"Shampoo's job to make Airen happy, so no let New Girl stain Husband's honor."

They were going round in circles. "How many times to I have to say that I love Shinichi? I've loved him for a very, very long time." Really, it was none of their business how she'd met Shinichi and the long time it took for them to fall in love. That was their business. Besides, neither she nor Shinichi wanted to mention his long time stuck in the form of a child. That hedged on too many recent and painful memories.

"Shampoo!" a voice called out in the yard.

The Amazon girl muttered a brief, "Stupid Duck Boy," before glaring at the new visitor who had apparently dropped down from the rooftops.

"Shampoo, my darling!" the newcomer called, his long hair falling neatly down his back as he squinted at everything, apparently unmindful of the glasses perched atop his head.

Ah. Ran sat back. So this was the boy hopelessly hovering around the Amazon girl. From what Ran could see, he was a skilled martial artist in his own right, given how he carried himself.

Ran figured polite would be the best way to handle this. (Or handle anything for that manner.)


The elegant-looking young man paused, and after a brief moment's hesitation, brought down his glasses. "Yes?" he said carefully, "Do I know you?"

"Not at all," Ran replied. "I've only just arrived in Nerima today on some personal business and you've been mentioned in some of the stories I've been hearing. It's a pleasure to meet you." She gave a small bow.

"Uh, likewise?" he said slowly, suspiciously.

Ran kept her polite smile on full blast. "Was there something you needed?" she asked.

"Oh! Yes! Shampoo, my love!" He spun around, his glasses slipping off his nose and he wrapped his arms around - of all people - Ukyo.

"Argh! Let go of me, you blind jackass!" The giant spatula came out all too quickly and, like the okinomiyaki of her restaurant, Mousse was flipped, flattened, and pounded into readiness for sizzling. Panting from either exertion or embarrassment, Ukyo backpedaled away from the male Amazon. Mousse's suffering was not over, however, because Shampoo quickly added in a few vicious punches of her own, demanded to know why he had dared glomp another woman.

Ran sat perfectly still and hoped no one would notice her.

"B-but Shampoo," the boy whimpered. "The old, er, I mean, your grandmother wants to speak with you."

"About what? She know not interrupt date with Airen."

"And just where is he if this is a date?" Mousse demanded with a hiss of bitterness. This earned him a punch to the temple and a prolonged nap.

"I be back," Shampoo said in low dangerous tones, her eyes glaring at Ran. "This not settled."

Ran rose to the challenge, her back straightening and her own eyes hardening. "It will be soon, though," she replied in formal tones.

Shampoo nodded and leapt off the engawa, Mousse in tow.

"Whew," Ukyo said softly. "The hussy is gone at last."

Ran, too, took a deep breath and ran her fingers through her long hair. Now, at least, she was alone with the more rational of the two. "Now explain this to me again," she said slowly. "How Ranma-san and I canceling our engagement - in spite of it being what we want - shouldn't be what we want."

Ukyo frowned, sitting down cross-legged with her arms quickly following suit. "I don't want what happened to me to happen to him," she said softly. "When I was left behind, everyone was so mean to me; the other girls were so visceral in what they said, and I don't think they even realized how cruel they were being. We're all a little older now, and we know how to hurt people a lot better. I don't want Ran-chan to go through that. He's already got a reputation for having three fiancées to begin with, then with Nabiki selling her photos and Kodachi doctoring them and all the other stuff he goes through, I just want to spare him this one loss of honor."

"Even though that means giving him another?" Ran pressed, leaning forward slightly and putting a hand to the floor.

Ukyo's face dipped down further, her brown mass of hair trying to hide her face.

"It's the lesser of two evils, Ukyo-san," she said gently, trying to get the other girl to see reason. "Keep the engagement and have his reputation further ruined for having a fourth fiancée, or cancel it quickly and quietly and no one will know it ever happened."

"You think I don't know what you're doing?" Ukyo said, snapping her face up and standing up with ferocity. "This is a test!" she shouted, pointing with flare at Ran. "If Ranma is man enough to cancel the engagement then he passes and you press him into keeping it! You're just as conniving as that hussy! I won't let you corner him!"

She stomped out of the room, giant spatula in hand, and Ran was left staring after her.

"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard!" she cried out. Offended to the extreme, she got up and stomped out of the living room, glowing in her own anger as she looked for and found the bathroom. She took a deep breath before knocking on the door. Shinichi stepped out in a yukata, his chest peeking through and blessedly distracting her from the frustration she was feeling.

"Ran?" he asked, uncertain how to take her shift in moods.

Ran could only say: "These people are all idiots!"

Dr. Tofu arrived later to give Shinichi another treatment. The two quietly retreated to the guest room, Ran following after them, insisting she had the right to be there. Not that Shinichi would object, not in the least. He laid down and Ran reached out to hold his hand as the gentle doctor started touching pressure points. And tweaking his nose. That annoyed Shinichi considerably... and made Ran giggle, so he couldn't be too angry. Annoyed, but not angry. As no one else was present, Shinichi took a moment to ask Dr. Tofu to explain to his beloved karate practitioner about the "constrained ki" problem.

Ran, naturally, was somewhat appalled. "You mean aside from what happened to you, being stuck like that for so long, it also damaged your very soul?" Her fists tightened. "Are you certain you don't want me to talk with Haibara-san?"

Dr. Tofu glanced between them in askance, but Shinichi ignored the silent question, not wishing to explain anything regarding the whole Conan disaster. "Quite certain. If paranoia is my only side-effect, then I don't mind. My paranoia has been a good thing if you recall."

Ran winced, no doubt remembering the three-day chase through darkened allies and dodging bullets. The young detective's plans to escape may have been insane and eccentric, but after one too many close calls, she had stopped questioning his paranoia and started listening.

"But Shinichi, they're in jail, it's safe now..."

"No, Ran," he replied, glancing at the well-meaning doctor poking into his side and deciding how to word things without giving away too much. "Most of Them have been jailed. They won't be so organized again. But I doubt we got all of Them."

She made a small sound of disbelief. "I know, I know... But..." she sighed. "You're right, of course."

Shinichi would have liked to have nodded if it weren't for Dr. Tofu's finger jabbing into his knee that locked him from moving. Ran gave his hand a gentle squeeze before turning to the bespectacled physician.

"So, Doctor, how is Shinichi's health aside from constrained ki, a stomach issue, and healing stitches?"

The young doctor gave a polite smile and started explaining what Shinichi had heard earlier.

"Now, if you don't mind my asking," Dr. Tofu smiled. "What is it that put Kudo-san here into such a rough state of health?"

"Criminals," Shinichi replied flatly. And that was all he'd say on the matter.

"That would make you a hero," came a voice at the door.

"Nabiki-san," Ran greeted. "Is there something we could do?"

The middle Tendo girl gave a great big smile. "Well, it seems to me like we could make a proper business deal. And especially given Kudo-kun's resources, I think we'll be able to make it quite profitable on both sides."

"Nabiki-chan," Tofu chided, "I don't really think that Kudo-san should be..."

"It's quite alright," Shinichi gave a small sigh. He understood Nabiki's place in the family, and that she unquestionably had many yen-signs in her eyes. He was a new resource for her, one with a fair bit of wealth given his father's success in writing and his mother's success in acting before retiring. She was here to capitalize on an opportunity, and Shinichi was pretty sure that he and Ran could handle her without much problems.

"However," Ran added, "we won't be talking to you, Nabiki-san, until Dr. Tofu here has finished his treatment on Shinichi."

"That's not a problem," the middle daughter smiled, slipping into the guest room and shutting the door behind her.

The young doctor let out a small sigh, his only sign of displeasure, before applying gentle pressure to the corner of Shinichi's shoulder, making the detective let out a sigh of unexpected relief. God, he didn't even know he had that much tension building up in his abdomen. "I'd recommend getting something to eat within the hour, Kudo-san. This treatment is using up a lot of your energy, and as your stomach heals, it's going to want to stretch itself by actually being used."

"Not a problem, doc," Shinichi replied, sitting back up. Ran put a hand on his shoulder, but the young detective smiled, feeling much better than he expected. His only reason for slow and careful movements was his re-stitched side.

"I'll go down and let the family know that I'll be coming back at around midnight for your next treatment." Dr. Tofu looked Shinichi directly in the eyes. "You should sleep downstairs so that we don't disturb the family. The next treatment will be a little rougher than this one was."

Both Beika residents nodded.

"After the midnight treatment, I'll wait till six a.m. By all rights it should be every four hours, but you'll need your sleep."

"Thank you, doctor," both said gave small bows.

Tofu gave a furtive glance to Nabiki before packing up his bag and leaving.

"So," Nabiki gave a sly grin. "I think I can provide you some information."

Shinichi gave a flat stare and a wry grin that Ran couldn't help but smile at as well.

"Quite frankly, Nabiki-san," Shinichi said with the same cock-sure voice he used whenever he placed the final stake in a murderer, "I doubt you could provide any information that I haven't already surmised and deduced."

The middle Tendo gave a grin. "Maybe, in so far as background. But you shot a hole into the wall of my home and you promised compensation."

"I did. And especially given my line of work, I know quite a few things about bullets. I can tell you exactly where the hole is, how big it is, and how deep. I know exactly how many yen it would take to replace the wood beam that my bullet is embedded in. As far as the damage to the shoji that I was thrown through, you might want to take that up with that tiny little Happosai character, seeing as how you're lucky I won't be suing the little sex offender for the damages he caused to me, which, given that little Happosai's personality and state of dress, means your father would most likely have to pay the resulting settlement since Saotome-san looks quite penniless."

Nabiki's eyebrow twitched and Ran just couldn't stop grinning beside him.

"As for the good doctor," the middle Tendo started to say, but Ran interrupted her.

"Shinichi, have you already paid that kind Dr. Tofu?"

The detective grinned. "I gave him the first payment after the first treatment. He's already given me his address and I'll be sending him a check once we get home." His smile widened. "In fact, depending on how well he did, I might decide to include a bonus for his good and swift work. It's certainly better than the recuperation we thought I was going to go through."

Another twitch by the eye before Nabiki settled back looking unaffected. "And how much would you pay to ensure that Ranma actually signs an agreement to cancel the engagement?"

"Not one single sen," Shinichi replied, all humor and smiles gone.

"I agree," Ran added. "I came here to cancel it. I don't need any help in doing so. We appreciate your offer, Nabiki-san, but you're not going to extort money out of us like a low-level yakuza." The karate practitioner turned to the detective. "I think I'll head back to the kitchen, Shinichi. I should have something to eat for you in a few moments and I'm sure Kasumi-chan wouldn't mind helping me out."

"Thank you," he said, leaning over and kissing the corner of her mouth. "I really haven't said 'thank you' enough lately for everything you've done."

"No more than I need to thank you for everything you've done," was her warm reply. She gracefully stood and left the room.

Nabiki was looking at Shinichi, calculation in her eyes. Aside from the growing hunger that Tofu had warned him about, Shinichi was getting a little tired of the bull-headed stubbornness which seemed to almost be an epidemic here in Nerima. Or at least in this particular dojo.

"Nabiki-san," he said quietly. "I think at this point, based off of what I've seen and heard, particularly over dinner, I probably know more about what goes on in this home than you do." Because Shinichi was fairly certain that she didn't know about Ryoga being P-chan, nor did she seem to know just how dangerous the Amazon girl was. It was all fun and games and a chance to make money for Nabiki. Granted, most of that money undoubtedly went to repairing the house, feeding the bottomless pits of the Saotome men, and who knew what other expenses kept cropping up, but the middle Tendo daughter wasn't looking at the big picture yet. Not really. "And no, you won't know what I know. You can go ahead and think that I can't possibly know as much as you do about this family, and frankly, I don't care. I've faced off with people who were far more clever and sly than you are. And I've faced off with them with my life on the line." He opened his shirt and pointed to fresh bandages on his stitched side. "Nothing you do or say can intimidate me. I want to marry Ran. I have for a very long time and we're both tired of waiting. We'll make our own path. It's just a choice on if you're going to be in the way or not."

"You're hardly being fair, Kudo-san," Nabiki replied. "And I rather doubt you're being honest. After all, you haven't been heard from in almost a year. And there's been no report about any face-off you had that caused your injury." She arched an eyebrow. "You wouldn't be the first person to try and lie to get what you want. Nor would you be the last."

Shinichi laughed outright, despite how it pulled at his stitches. "You can dig around my life all you want. You won't find anything." Because there was no evidence left of him being Conan. Nothing that she could access outside of visiting Professor Agasa and Haibara. Even Their files had been erased on that score. Shinichi had made sure of it. And anything he missed, Kuroba took care of. The two of them were remarkably complimentary in that regard. "Not for the past year. And not without great expense to yourself in the searching. And like a yakuza thug, all you care about is money in the end."

Real anger flashed in Nabiki's eyes. "Oh, so maybe your family matters to you as well. Though that doesn't show very well." And Shinichi slipped into what he was good at. Facts. "First, there's the ledgers you had brought down with you when Ran and I had first arrived. Ledgers that held many financial accounts, including a list of accounts payable to various contractors, no doubt to repair the damage often done to this home or as a result of the occupants. Including a list of income from certain people, mainly members of the chaos that seems to follow Ranma-san, for what was listed as 'information'. From what was passed around the dinner table in arguments and discussions, you sell pictures of Akane-san and borderline pictures of Ranma-san's girl form in many states of undress. While you won't do anything further for Akane-san, showing that you do have some respect for your family, you have no problem renting out Ranma-san, extorting money from him, or exchanging money to either keep or divulge secrets. I won't even mention you turning subtly to that Shampoo during dinner to offer information that you'd already learned about me from the newspaper for one thousand yen. Or the same offer to Ukyo-san just before dessert."

Shinichi leaned back, his confident grin in full force. "Or maybe I should mention your taking pictures of Ranma-san shirtless in his girl form after that little monster Happosai had torn through the house? I bet you also have surveillance around the house in some way to keep your information brokerage running at peak capacity."

Nabiki stared at him flatly.

The detective shrugged. "Surely, Nabiki-san, you knew that I was once known as the 'Savior of the Japanese Police Force'? I assure you, those skills haven't dulled, even with the worst of the injuries I've had over the past year. If anything, they've sharpened." Mostly due to his paranoia, but there was no need to mention that.

Finally, a small grin. "It seems, Kudo-san, that you have me completely outclassed. A very rare event indeed."

Shinichi returned the small grin. "If I have to face off against anyone on a field of intellect, I can only think of three people who could match me outright."

Nabiki let out a sigh. "Well, I doubt any of those intellects are located here in Nerima." A small chuckle. "In fact, I could probably guarantee it. Ranma may be very adaptable and clever in battle, but put him in anything that really requires brainpower and he's hopeless."

The young detective shrugged. Privately, he thought Ranma, if given things in the right context, might do well if it weren't for his splotchy education. But that was just a feeling. He didn't have enough evidence to back that up, so he didn't say anything.

Ran reentered the room with a tray full of food, all of which looked like they followed Shinichi's strict diet. And a cup of coffee. Real coffee. Once the tray was down, he grabbed her hand and kissed the knuckles. Then his stomach growled and he started to eat.

"Well," Nabiki turned away. "I still have homework to do."

Sleeping arrangements were interesting in the Tendo home that evening. Shinichi, as prescribed by Dr. Tofu, was to stay downstairs so that his midnight treatment wouldn't disturb others. Ran would have been fine sharing a room with Kasumi, as offered and things would have been settled without an issue except for Ukyo. She insisted on spending the night, which started to switch things around. She couldn't very well stay with Akane (no one would sleep) or Nabiki (as both refused this as a matter of principal) and Kasumi's room was too small to accommodate two guests.

This, unsurprising by now to the two Beika residents, lead to a loud and prolonged argument/discussion on who was sleeping where. It was finally decided that Ran and Ukyo would share the guestroom that the two Saotome men shared, and the Saotome men would sleep in the living room. Shinichi, to help ensure no incursion of the families' sleep, would be in the dojo.

Ran, quite frankly, was fed up and frustrated with how much arguing it took just to settle such a small matter of who slept where. She wanted Ranma to sign a cancellation of their engagement and she and Shinichi would happily be on their way. Although, she had to admit to herself, she was grateful that Shampoo hadn't insisted on staying earlier. After she'd left to go see her grandmother, she hadn't returned, which was fine as far as Ran was concerned. One less person to try and argue about who was to sleep with whom. Of course, Ran didn't know that currently Shampoo was plotting with Cologne about this new girl who was upsetting the playing field, but that was probably for the best.

So it was just shortly after midnight that Ran woke up, wide-eyed, with no visual or audible reason for the disturbance. She had gotten used to waking up fully aware for no good reason as Shinichi's justified paranoia had rubbed off on her. She had always been something of a heavy sleeper, but waking up to see Conan squirming in the hold of someone intent on stabbing her as she slept had quickly rid her of the trait. She could still sleep deeply, but waking up in an instant was something that happened when her body needed it.

Ukyo was still sound asleep beside her and after glancing at the clock, Ran realized that Shinichi was probably having his next treatment. It was probably what woke her up, some sense that there was another person in the home. Sighing, she readjusted the yukata that had been leant to her and silently left the guestroom, heading to the dojo.

As she expected, the lights were on and Shinichi was on his futon, Dr. Tofu explaining what this treatment would likely entail.

"This one won't be as pleasant," the bespectacled doctor was saying. "I'll be releasing a lot of the negative ki that's been settling in your stomach. You'll probably feel a fair bit of nausea an even some level of pain. My previous sessions have been restoring some ki flow so that when the negative ki is released, it will have an easier time being absorbed into something healthier."

Shinichi gave a serious nod. "I doubt it'll be any worse than being shot in the stomach, Dr. Tofu," he grinned as Ran knelt beside him, grasping his hand.

The doctor gave a wry grin. "You're barely older than Ranma-kun is, but it sounds like you've probably had just an interesting a life."

Ran smiled as Shinichi gave a flat stare. "I think I could probably beat him in terms of 'interesting', but probably not by much."

"Forgive me if I disagree."

The karate practitioner gave a small chuckle. "I'd imagine it's about the same, just different categories," she offered.

They all gave wry chuckles. "Alright, Kudo-kun. Let's get started."

She watched as Dr. Tofu poked and pinched and tweaked almost random parts of Shinichi's body, especially in the stomach area. And to her distress, she was yet again completely helpless as her brilliant detective's face contorted in pain, yet never did a sound come out. It reminded her far too much of when he'd received the wound to his side that required stitches. He hadn't uttered a sound of pain then either, as she screamed and screamed for Them to just stop. Ran squeezed his hand, probably her only means of giving him comfort. And through his obvious pain, he looked to her and smiled. A gentle warm smile that let Ran relax her shoulders when she hadn't even been aware they'd been stiffening.

As the pain eased off Shinichi's face, Ran giggled as Dr. Tofu tweaked her detective's nose.

Rolling his eyes, he asked, "So, Doctor, how well acquainted are you with the insanity that seems to follow this house?"

Tofu gave a soft chuckle. "Enough to know what's going on after the fact."

"Is Shampoo as dangerous as she seems?"

Ran stiffened. While she certainly picked up that Shampoo was definitely a fighter in the fiancée battle that was going on, she didn't find her any more dangerous than Ukyo or Akane. Shinichi's paranoia, which never failed him, had clearly picked up on something else and Ran was suddenly very worried. Shampoo hadn't returned. Did that mean something?

The young doctor let out a sigh. "I'm not sure if dangerous is the right word. She just follows a different set of rules. Men are second class at best from what I've been able to discern; the girl shows nothing but contempt for poor Mousse, and she's quite the bully."


"Yes," Tofu said. "I had to treat a pair of twins once. Pink and Link, if I recall. They spoke like they were on shortwave radio, but that's neither here nor there. They did some childish trick when they were little, and ever since Shampoo would beat them up whenever she saw them - tricked them into causing all kinds of trouble for Ranma a few months back. Her grandmother has all kinds of old Amazon trinkets and items and potions and techniques, and she's not shy about using them. A lot of them seem to be centered around mood alteration or physical discomfort. When Cologne first arrived she placed Ranma under a technique that made him sensitive to hot water - making him unable to change back into a boy for a time; or there was that pin Shampoo wore for a while that, depending on how it was worn, made your love for someone more intense or invert to abject hatred. Oh, and there was-"

"Yes, yes, we get the point," Shinichi said.

"Oh dear," Ran squeezed his hand tightly. Things have just got a lot more complicated.

After the good doctor had left, the two were silent for a while.

"Great," Shinichi mumbled. "Just great." He sat up, a grimace of pain flitting across his features. "If that Shampoo is working under the same misunderstanding that Ukyo-san is, getting Ranma-san to sign something tomorrow is going to be hell."

"I know," Ran moaned in agreement. "The only way we'll get anything done is to plot something and then we're no better than the rest of the crazies around here."

An arm wrapped around her shoulders and she readily snuggled into the supportive embrace that Shinichi was offering.

"We'll think of something," the young detective murmured. "You called your mother to let her know we were staying over, right?"

"Yes; and knowing her, she'll probably have the papers set over at some time tomorrow."

"And, still knowing your mother, they'll be ironclad and permanent."

"Thank heavens."

The two chuckled.

"I'm sure we'll get a quiet moment with Ranma-san at some point," Shinichi said, though he looked doubtful. He hugged her a little tighter.

"Oh! I just realized!" Ran pulled slightly back from the hug and gave a very sly smile. "I think this is the first time we've been properly alone since that time my father interrupted us."

The detective's face turned scarlet. "Ah, why yes, I believe you're right. But, uh, we agreed to wait for our wedding night... right?"

The karate practitioner slid a hand along him, pulling, stroking and lightly squeezing. "Yes we did," Ran replied. "And we won't go that far." A gentle brush of fingers along a sensitive spot. "But today has been very... frustrating." She leaned forward and whispered, her lips brushing his ear, "You'll help me relieve some of that frustration, won't you, dearest?"

Shinichi let out a low moan as she slowly pulled. "Can't argue with logic like that," he replied with a husky voice. He opened her yukata as he kissed her and a hand wound down her to start stroking with the same sweet, gentle and delicious slowness that Ran was providing him.

"Oh, Shin-ichi!"

Kisses became more heated. His fingers started to feel dampness that they were desperate to explore and Ran's fingers felt swelling beneath their sensitive pads.

"Ran," Shinichi moaned as he started to kiss mounds of softness. Slowly his fingers started to slide into warmth, making his lovely karate master give a soft mewl and a sharp gasp as he found a particular sensitive spot. At her gasp, she gave a sharp squeeze of her own that made the detective gasp in turn.

Relieving of frustrations continued and, unbeknownst to the two participants, there was an observer.

Ukyo's face was positively burning. She had woken up to see that the new girl Ran was missing and had jumped to some conclusions on what the hussy was doing. But when she'd found Ranma and his father still sound asleep in the living room, she wondered where the other girl had gone. She checked everything in the house and had finally concluded that Ran was probably checking in on the Kudo guy. She wasn't expecting to slide the door open for a quick peek to get the eyeful that she did.

They were... They were... Ukyo's brain was about two short-circuits away from completely frying. She quietly returned to the guest room, all her previous conclusions on what Ran had wanted from Ranma completely blown out of the water. If Ran was doing... doing... well, that hadn't been a light peck on the cheek or even a hot kiss! That was! Gyahh! There was no doubt in Ukyo's mind whatsoever that Ran wanted to marry Shinichi. Not even the hussy Shampoo would make out with Mousse like... that... to get Ranma jealous. Girls had certain standards.

Her mind (still frying) made up, Ukyo knew she'd leave in the morning. As quickly as possible, to avoid melting if she had to face Kudo or Ran again. She wouldn't interfere. Ran would get the engagement nullified and leave, so Ukyo would have no more excuse to blush as if she was on her own grill.

Six o'clock that morning found the house in the thralls of early morning activity. Akane puttered around, doing last minute things before staring her morning jog. Ranma and Genma were already trying to kill each other on the roof. Kasumi was cooking breakfast while Tendo spent his time at his wife's memorial table. Nabiki, perhaps the only person not that much of a morning person, was left to open the door to Dr. Tofu and let him in for his next treatment of the Dojo's latest guest: Kudo Shinichi.

Shinichi didn't particularly look forward to the visit, the releasing of the negative energy hurt and hurt badly. Even as the doctor set him down and started poking and prodding, he could already feel the nausea sweep across him. The pain arrived, but this time instead of invading every crevice of his body, it settled around his stomach and just hovered, and he could feel it leaking out with every twitch and motion the doctor did to him.

Twenty minutes later it was over, and he let out a sigh of relief as he sat up and Dr. Tofu packed up his kit. Ranma, red-headed and busty, watched from the hall until the pony-tailed man left. "Ya alright?" she asked, eyeing the grimace Shinichi wore as he tugged on his shirt.

"As well as can be expected," Shinichi replied.

Ryouga appeared, his face bewildered and his pack on his back. "Where am I now?"

"Yer back at the dojo, stupid," Ranma sighed, rolling his eyes in annoyance.

Ryouga turned, ready to make a retort or throw a punch, but he glanced at the flat stare of Shinichi and just growled instead. "Leave me alone," he mumbled, stomping down the hall, leaving dents where his feet fell.

The other two teens shrugged their shoulders, Shinichi because he simply didn't care and Ranma because he didn't get why he'd dodged the bullet, as it were. At the breakfast table Ukyo quickly explained that she would be leaving and therefore be removing one headache. She turned to Shinichi and Ran and turned bright red before wishing them both happiness and then, hyperventilating, jumped over the wall of the compound and disappeared.

"Geez, what was up with her?" Ranma asked.

Neither Shinichi nor Ran knew.

There was the sound of bike bells, and then, "Nihao, Ranma!"

Shampoo had, apparently, returned, landing her bike on the Tendo father and leveling a superior glare at Shinichi's beloved Ran.

"Shampoo challenge you!"

Shinichi watched in horror as Ran stood to her full height, the fiery determination that she was so known for blossoming on her face. "I accept; it's time you learned to listen to others. Even Ukyo-san has figured out what I've been saying since the moment I came here, and you need to listen to it, too."

Shinichi was already up to his knees. "Ran, I don't think that's a good-"

"Detective Boy stay out of this," Shampoo said with venom. "This is woman's fight."

The two eyed each other, but only for a moment as the Amazon snapped her attention back to Ran. They circled each other around the kotatsu wearily before slowly walking out to the yard.

"Hm, this will be good," Nabiki said, chopsticks still in her mouth as she eyed the impending fight. Shinichi couldn't contain his growl of disgust as he stood and marched out to the engawa.

"Ran, stop, this isn't worth-"

"Stupid Detective Boy!" Shampoo said, throwing something in his direction. His eyes widened and he stepped back quickly and with agility, but then the thing turned in midair and followed him, smacking him on the top of the head and gluing itself there. A jolt of electricity shivered down his back, and the next thing he knew he was sinking to his knees.

"Shinichi!" Ran cried out, horrified to watch her lover crumple to the floor.

"Now he not interfere," Shampoo said, as if it was the most unremarkable thing in the world. "He wear Hairpin of No Chi."

Shinichi, after his conversations with Dr. Tofu, had a good idea what the hairpin did, and as his heart jumped up into this throat and threatened to burst from his chest with a painful familiarity, he knew immediately what was happening. The others in the house did not; he could hear Ranma demanding Shampoo explain herself.

A shriveled old voice answered in her stead; a tiny, old woman on a giant walking stick with stark white hair had appeared on the engawa. "The Hairpin of No Chi is an old heirloom of mine," she started. "It takes the chi of the user and compacts it to about half its original strength, usually rendering them immobile for a time. The ancients would use it to hide captives in plain sight because they didn't need bonds or chains. In fact-"

"TAKE IT OFF!" Ran threw an unhampered chop at the old woman, the ghoul using her staff as a pogo stick and hopping away. "TAKE IT OFF RIGHT NOW!"

"My dear child, it will be as soon as you finish the match with my granddaughter and you prove yourself worthy to be my son-in-law's fiancée."

Everyone watched as Ran's battle aura doubled in size, white-green energy rippling off her in waves as she glared at both of the Amazon women. "You wanted a fight?" she asked in low, dangerous tones. "You've got one!" And she launched into her attack.

Shinichi was oblivious to all of this; all he could do was remember to breath; in, out, in, out, one second at a time before he choked on the pain that he knew all too well, as steam poured off him in thick clouds and his heart pounded against his ribcage, trying to break his sternum, pain searing her nerve endings as his bones shrunk in his skin and his clothes began to grow in size. Just when he thought he was about to die it stopped, and he collapsed onto the engawa, still remembering to breath; in, out, in, out.

When he had enough sense to look up, he saw Ran in midair, kicking at the Amazon Shampoo furiously as the other woman dodged and parried with moves of her own. He stood up and realized that his perspective was too small, and he had a brief moment of unfettered anguish as Conan realized just what had happened. He reached up to whatever had hit his head, but a small electric shock prevented him from actually touching the object, and he frowned. One problem at a time.

"Saotome," he said. Ranma didn't hear him, however, as he eyed the match between the two girls with narrow eyes, assessing the battle.

Conan would have none of that, however, and kicked the other teen in the shin. "Hey, listen to a guy when he's talking to you!"

"Not now, kid!" Ranma replied, only glancing at Conan long enough to aim a fist to the top of his head. It ground the hairpin into his scalp and the teen-turned-boy grimaced but said nothing, having been far too used to such behavior from those considered adults. He spared a glance at Ran and wished her the best, trusting her to hold out before he figured out what to do. There was absolutely no shortage of kickable objects in and about the house, but he no longer had his sneakers to stimulate his feet and make him kick like the teenager that he was. He'd have to ad-hock something to give him the extra power.

Frowning, he considered his options. There were martial artists aplenty, and they certainly had the ability to kick something into the fray, but he was coming to doubt that any of them had the intelligence to understand that Shinichi had shrunk into Conan and to help a teen detective out. How could he power up his kick? Centrifugal force was his first thought, gravity following with a close second. He shied away from gravity for several reasons; Ran killing him would be the first, but there were a lot of risks involved given the height he would need to generate the force necessary for a standard kick. What could he do for centrifugal force?

He padded over the engawa behind the legs of the other fighters - only Akane turned to look and widened her eyes as she watched a small boy in a giant shirt walk towards the dojo. Shinichi knew she followed and thoroughly ignored her as he slid open the dojo.

Yep, there they were: uneven bars of gymnastics. The dojo practically doubled as a gym with the weights and other tidbits; Shinichi had categorized everything the night before when it had been decided that he would sleep there. He rubbed his side and his fresh stitches. It would hurt, but they were low enough that he doubted he'd rip them (again).

"... But how do I get them out in view of the yard so I can use it?"

"What's going on?"

Shinichi rolled his eyes and turned to Akane. "I'm trying to stop a pointless fight," he said.

Akane stared as the boy as he pulled and tugged the uneven bars, cursing creatively as it only moved by inches. He groaned, muttering, "I hope Ran's doing okay."

Her eyes widened as she finally realized, "You're Kudo-kun!"

Shinichi, not feeling overly forgiving, turned his blue eyes to the other girl and snapped, "Of course I am!"

"But... what..."

"This damn thing!" he growled, pointing to the stupid pin in his hair. It gave him another shock and he yanked his hand back. "Now will you help me or not?"

Akane frowned but grabbed the gymnast equipment and easily heft it over her head. "Where to you want it?" she asked.

Outside Ran was holding her own against the Amazon. She didn't recognize the style at all, and the chui she wielded were weighted, making them very dangerous. Her karate was not to be outmatched, however, as she dodged under a surprisingly fast swipe and threw her leg up in a kick before her back folded completely in half and she planted her hands in the grass and completed a back flip. Feet touching the earth, she lifted herself up to see Shampoo rubbing her chin. Good.

She'd lost track of Shinichi, but that didn't bother her as much as it used to; she knew he was doing everything he could under the circumstances, and in return she would do everything she could - including giving this Chinese bitch a lesson and making her take that damn hairpin off her lover.

Shampoo leapt up into the air, hoping to use gravity with her heavy chui and making a devastating hit. Ran wouldn't allow it, however, and borrowed a page from Kazuha's akido book and with a grab and a twist and a step, forced Shampoo's blow deep into the yard, making a sizable crater. A quick stomp and Shampoo found herself forced into letting go of the weapon or having her wrist broken. Ran grabbed the object instead and with a hefty swing sent it flying into the air and away from all participants. The swing gave her momentum and she used it to spin out a roundhouse kick; Ran hopped up into the air and added a second kick immediately after the first before she landed. The Amazon was quick; she dodged the second kick, but not the first, and she skid across the lawn before stopping in front of the koi pond.

"You worthy opponent," she said, rubbing her chin.

"I don't care!" Ran shouted, taking a stance again. "Just take that pin off of Shinichi! You don't know what constraining his ki will do to him! It could kill him!"

"Not before I defeat you!"

Ran burst forward with a well-placed punch, but Shampoo spun around it and turned into a kick of her own. Ran deflected it with her arm and then locked the leg against her ribs, using her free arm to land another punch that was deflected by her opponent. The pair broke off and circled each other around the pond.

"You prove to be worthy, not like Violent Girl and Spatula Girl. But now Shampoo defeat you and make you break claim."

Ran had had enough. "HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU?" she roared, leaping across the pond with enhanced speed as fury fueled her. The outburst surprised Shampoo and she quickly stepped back to prevent a crack on her head. "SHINICHI-" she grabbed the Amazon's wrist holding the second chui, "-IS THE ONLY-" she slammed her palm into Shampoo's elbow, using her other hand to grab the chui out of the Amazon's startled fist and in one fluid motion threw it aside, "-MAN-" Ran spun around and kneed Shampoo on in the ribs, "-I-" an elbow to the chin, "-WANT-" an uppercut, "-TO-" a kick, "-MARRY!"

She finished with the most vicious jab to the collarbone she could muster, sending Shampoo flying through the air and splashing into the koi pond. A small, calm breath and Ran relaxed her stance as a humiliated cat stepped out of the pond, shaking off her wet fur and hissing at the victorious martial artists.

"You truly are a worthy opponent," Cologne said from the engawa where everyone had been watching the battle. She pulled out a small object from her sleeve. "Perhaps a Hairpin of No Chi will settle you down enough for Shampoo to kill you."

"Not while I'm here!" a little child's voice shouted, and Ran spun around in pained recognition as she saw Conan, practically swimming in Shinichi's much bigger shirt, spinning on a set of uneven bars before snapping his legs out and kicking a... was that a bocce ball? The green ball sailed through the air with surprising speed - not what it would have been without his old sneakers, but sufficient enough to give everyone a start. It was all the prompting Ran needed, she locked her eyes on Cologne as the tiny old witch hopped on her stick to avoid the projectile - the moment's distraction was just enough for Ran to sneak in and snap her leg out, intending to break the stick into several pieces with her well placed kick. But the crone was faster than Ran anticipated and easily bounced away from the strike.

The cat hissed and yowled, the transformed Shampoo dashing up to do something to keep her away from her great-grandmother - perhaps to bite Ran. Ranma took one look at the encroaching feline and, to Ran and Shinichi's surprise, shrieked in terror and all but disappeared, only a dust cloud to indicate the direction he went. Shinichi got over the surprise first and grabbed another bocce ball. He didn't use the uneven bars, just tossed it and kicked it with all his might. His aim was true, and it bounced off the cat's head with a resounding thunk and the cat was suddenly eating wood as it dragged to a stop.

Akane padded over and picked the cat up by the scruff of the neck. "Well, it's good to know you can be put in your place."

"Take that hairpin off of Shinichi now!" Ran demanded of the old woman. "It's beyond cruel turning him into a child like that!"

Cologne looked up. "A child?" She looked at the boy Conan, as he walked up behind Akane with narrow eyes that scrutinized her, and studied him with squinted eyes. They widened very suddenly. "The chances of this are one in two hundred thousand!" the shriveled old woman said in surprised. "I've never seen it myself."

"And just how many times have you used this torture device to know the odds that accurately?" Conan said with a flat face. He reached up to grab the hairpin and quickly jerked it back when a spurt of electricity erupted from the pin. "Do you mind?" he asked in low tones.

The old woman narrowed her eyes. "What reason do I have to do anything for you?" she demanded.

Nabiki, hidden up to now, breathed through her nose. "I don't think she seems to get it, does she?"

Conan stood to his full (if smaller) height, his face flat with edges of darkness. "A trait I've been noticing about this district," he began slowly, "is that people don't listen. Since your granddaughter is a cat and in Akane's hands and Ran is ready to attack you and you have nothing but contempt for the male member of your entourage, hopefully you are at least vaguely aware of how cornered you are right now. So I'm going to get to the point. I have friends in high places and not just here in Japan. One word from me and they can and will investigate every facet of your life. Every aspect, including where your finances are coming from, how you're spending it, and the tax credit you're evading with all those antiques you haven't claimed - including this stupid ornament. Or maybe where you go to get your potions and other concoctions that this household has told me about. It wouldn't take long to find three or more ways to get you deported, and then where would your precious claim to that cat-o-phobe get you if you couldn't even get into the country to see him?"

The old woman was openly glaring at him.

Conan - Shinichi - gave a cocky grin that was too old for his face. "I had also surmised that blackmail would be about the only thing you listen to. Was I right?"

"Shampoo will place the kiss of death on you," Cologne spat.

"Now, now," Ran said. "I wouldn't recommend that. There's no reason to kill us since we have no claim on anyone in this house. Oh, wait, we do," she added in overdramatic thought. "Now why is that I wonder? Oh, yes, now I remember! A pair of people from China keeps preventing me from nullifying my stupid and nonsensical engagement with Ranma-san. How odd that I forgot that!"

Cologne's eyes narrowed and she threw a glance at the cat Shampoo.

Everyone nodded in understanding. "Did Shampoo forget to tell you that little detail?" Akane asked, bending down and leveling a flat glare at the squirming little feline. "Probably because she didn't listen the first hundred times you said it."

"Alright," Cologne ground out. "We will leave."

Nabiki whistled. "I think that's the first time I've ever seen this." She snapped her camera. "I need this for prosperity."

Kasumi had badgered her father into calling Dr. Tofu to come over immediately. With him watching, the old crone finally removed the Hairpin of No Chi from Conan in the privacy of Ranma and Genma's room. (Conan did NOT want everyone in the damn house to see his transformation thankyouverymuch.)

The shift from small to big was just as painful as it was from big to small and all the previous times it had occurred, but when Shinichi wasn't focused on breathing he was grateful that he was actually in such pain, because he had harbored a very tiny fear that the hairpin's damn magic would stick him into Conan mode more permanently. Thankfully, this did not occur, and after a lot of bitten down screams, Shinichi lay on the floor in his boxers and shirt, exhausted to the extreme for two transformations in the span of about as many hours.

The good doctor was extremely curious and fascinated with watching the transformation, his eyes practically brimming with questions once Shinichi was himself again.

The young detective let out a long breath as Ran wiped sweat from his brow. "I won't answer any questions, doc. So don't bother asking."

"Ah," Dr. Tofu looked away, blushing lightly. "I suppose it was too much to hope for, regardless."

Cologne said nothing, slipping the hairpin into a sleeve before settling onto her staff.

"Thank you," Ran said sweetly. "You can leave now." For all the sugar in her voice, one could tell quite easily that it was way beyond frosty.

"I think not," the elder said. "I will send Shampoo back to the restaurant, but I will stay. After all, you wish to nullify the engagement, and I would like to see that."

"We'll fax you a copy," Shinichi's voice was raspy as he sat up. Ran handed him a cold glass of water as Dr. Tofu opened Shinichi's shirt to double check his stitches. Modesty had not been a part of Shinichi's life as a living pincushion for some time. "Now get out."

"I am afraid that neither of you are the owners of this house. You can not remove me until my son-in-law wishes it."

Shinichi ground his teeth.

Ran was about to say something when her phone beeped. "Well, it would seem the papers are on their way now. My mother is delivering them personally and will be here this afternoon."

To that, Shinichi gave a wide grin. "An excellent bit of news," he said, leaning over, despite Dr. Tofu's protests, to kiss Ran. "While she's here we can talk to her about some possible civil suites."

The young karate practitioner offered a glowing smile. "Yes, I wonder what 'intent to harm' would garner? Especially with so many witnesses available? A few million yet to cover medical costs, certainly."

"Why not do like the Americans and sue for emotional damage as well?"

"I like the way you're thinking, Shinichi," Ran replied, grabbing her own kiss.

The old woman scowled. She hopped to the door and only offered, "I'll be close by," before leaving.

Dr. Tofu cleared his throat. "Now that you've put her in her place, may I continue my examination?"

"Fine by me," Shinichi replied, lying back down with a small groan. His joints always ached after transformations.

Ran held his hand as Tofu went about his work, poking, prodding, and tweaking. One particularly painful poke to the bottom of his knee made Shinichi let out an explosive sigh as something felt like it slid into its proper place (not that Shinichi knew anything was out of place) and the aches immediately lessoned.

"There. You should be back to where you were before this morning's excitement," Tofu explained. "Your next treatment should be right after lunch, and you should be set. Despite the re-constraining of your chi, it seems you're quite ready for me to get rid of that knot of negative ki in your stomach. I'd recommend eating a lot at lunch. You used up a lot of energy this morning and I want to make sure you'll have what it takes for the final treatment."

"That won't be a problem, Doctor," Ran smiled. "I'll make sure to do the cooking. Shinichi can never have enough of my cooking." She aimed an amused grin and raised eyebrow at him and Shinichi knew she was referencing his appetite as Conan.

Tofu nodded, packing up his bag. "I suppose it would be pointless to tell you to avoid stress?"

Both Shinichi and Ran rolled their eyes.

"Right. Well, do the best you can."

Ran kept to her word and was cooking in the kitchen with Kasumi for most of the morning, picking out what was appropriate for Shinichi's diet, yet still something he wouldn't be able to get enough of. The eldest Tendo daughter was a wonderful help, offering insights to her own food preparations, especially since the Saotome men had the bizarre ritual of fighting over their food. She was always making larger plates for them and had, over time, designated certain areas of the table that were to be Saotome-Free if anyone wanted to get some honest eating done at the table. Ranma honored such restrictions, finding them an added challenge. Getting Genma to comply was more difficult. Ran would keep an eye on the elder Saotome to ensure that he didn't take anything meant for Shinichi.

Akane had offered to help once, but Ran had politely turned her down, saying she had a lot of specific recipes that Shinichi needed and Kasumi had pointed out that the girl hadn't finished her homework yet. Shinichi stayed nearby. He was either helping her in the kitchen (read: stealing kisses and caresses) or sitting by the table with a clear view of the kitchen (read: admiring her). Or rather, that's what everyone who looked at Shinichi and Ran thought. And, given the relieved grins that Soun, Genma, and even Akane (when she thought no one was looking) were giving, they believed they were looking at a young couple in love who would be glad to get married.

Granted, all of that was true.

But Ran knew Shinichi, and there was another, underlying reason. One that she believed Ranma could see given the almost approving glance the young martial artist would throw at her detective once in a while. Shinichi wasn't taking any chances. After Shampoo and Cologne's attack that morning, he was making sure that he was nearby in case anything else happened. (And given how INSANE this district seemed to be, she couldn't blame him in the slightest.) His caution and care for her were very much appreciated after everything that happened. Ran knew that a lot of it stemmed from hiding from Them for so long that he couldn't stop the urge to protect her from anything and everything. It could be quite annoying. But at that particular moment, she was glad. Because if she'd come here alone like she'd initially been planning, who knew what would have happened. His support of her, love of her, protection of her, in all the chaos that this house seemed to thrive in, was a wonderful beacon of calm.

So she cooked the best meal she could for him, occasionally leaving Kasumi for a brief moment to just hold Shinichi, her own thanks that he was well and acknowledgement that she understood and appreciated what he was doing.

Shinichi grinned as Ran glanced back at him from the kitchen and turned with an almost seductive sway of her hips. She knew exactly what he was doing and she was playing to keep him entertained. Otherwise, the boredom was going to kill him. Genma and Soun were behind him, cheating horribly at shogi (Shinichi had been disgusted when he'd realized the point of the game wasn't to win, but to cheat. Really, one would think Kuroba had been involved, but Shinichi was absolutely certain that the Shounen Tantei could beat those two senseless in cheating.) Akane was upstairs, doing homework that had been neglected in the previous day's excitement, Nabiki had left with a camera, no doubt to develop the photos she had taken the previous day, and Ranma was, unsurprisingly, training in the dojo.

Needless to say, there wasn't much for Shinichi to do. He had thought this would be a quick meeting. If he'd known he'd even be staying overnight, he would have at least brought a good book with him. But Ran swaying her hips, brushing a hand through her hair just so... Especially after the previous night... Well, Shinichi was a bright boy with a clever and adept mind and a lot of free time at the moment. He was really and truly looking forward to being married. For many, many reasons.

"Where am I now?" came an upset voice.

"You're on the engawa, P-chan," was a cheerful response. "Come on."

Shinichi could hear Ryoga's gritting of teeth, even from this distance. It seemed Ryoga's promise not to do something that might injure him was keeping the lost boy from fighting back at Ranma's callous comments, which Shinichi appreciated. But leaving Ryoga to stew was probably not a very good idea. He wanted to go and take care of it, but leaving Ran, after the chaotic morning, was just not something Shinichi was all that willing to do at the moment.

The lost boy meandered into the kitchen, catching sight of Shinichi and Ran and the detective watched as the other boy's jaw wired shut, his eyes narrowing. "You're still here?" he asked slowly.

"Oh," Shinichi said lightly, half-eyeing the sway on Ran's hips as she shifted her weight, "we'll be gone by this afternoon. Ran's mother is coming with papers to nullify the engagement now."

Ryoga pouted but otherwise did nothing. Ranma appeared with an empty cup and tossed it with skill precision into the sink. "Come on, porky," he said brightly, "I've got some chips, ya want some?"

"Just who's porky?" Ryoga demanded, fire burning in his eyes.

"Relax, P-chan," Ranma said lightly, "You know, you've really gotta learn to lighten up."

"Do you ever stop making fun of me?" The punch he threw broke into the wall, wood splinters flying everywhere, as Ranma easily dodged it and landed on the other boy's head.

"What's your problem?" he asked, looking down at Ryoga in honest confusion.

Shinichi and Ran, as one, put their heads in their hands.

"Did you ever consider," Shinichi said slowly, as if speaking to a child, "That calling him all those names might hurt his feelings?"

Ranma actually blinked. "He's got tougher skin than that, don'cha Ryoga?"

"GET OFF ME, YOU BASTARD!" The pig-tailed Ranma flew down the hall and the following crashes sounded vaguely like that of one flying through a wall and out into the yard. Ryoga took a deep, shaking breath before his gaze fell on the half standing Shinichi, ready to jump in front of his beloved Ran if the fight entered the kitchen. The lost boy quickly straightened out of his martial stance, and dropped his hands to his sides. "Not causing trouble!" he said awkwardly, his voice a little too loud. "Er, definitely not causing trouble!" He grinned weakly, his shoulders shaking in a half-felt giggle of anxiety. "Leaving now!" He turned around one hundred eighty degrees and plowed through the wall, oblivious to it.

Ran and Shinichi looked at each other. "Well that went well," the young detective said in a flat voice.

"I think this is beyond our abilities," Ran said with a fatalistic sigh. "I'm just waiting for mother."

Lunch was as chaotic as the previous meals in the Tendo home had been, with Akane and Ranma degrading into bickering as Ranma tried to save his plate from his father and Nabiki took odds from both the elder Saotome and the elder Tendo on who would win this confrontation. (Shinichi said, flat out, that neither of them were winning anything and just making each other miserable. The two in question had the grace to look chastised and blushed at each other before sniffing and looking away.)

The meal was delicious, as Shinichi expected whenever Ran was left in the kitchen, and she really did make his favorites. Yum. The Tendo family also complimented Ran on her culinary skills and there was a lot of praise thrown towards both Ran and Kasumi. (Akane looked extremely jealous, but said nothing.)

Dr. Tofu arrived just as the dishes were being cleared for Shinichi's final treatment. They retreated up to the Saotome room again and Ran held his hand.

Of course, the final treatment couldn't go smoothly. Oh no. Not in this home in this district.

They were about halfway through when Ranma came crashing through the window, almost landing directly on Shinichi if it weren't for Ran's fast reaction of using the momentum to adjust Ranma's flight path to the door instead.

"Ow," Ranma grumbled. "Didja have to aim me for the door?"

"You act like Ran had time to plan where to send you," Shinichi groused back, then hissed as Tofu (whose concentration hadn't broken at all with the sudden and loud interruption) poked his sternum.

"Sorry," the martial artist mumbled, straightening himself with a simple flip.

The light from the window was blocked by a panda, holding a sign that said, "Worthless son! You'd be dead three times over if this was real!" A flip of the sign and, "Pay attention to your enemy, even the one hidden in the weak female body that sits at the sideline!"

Ranma didn't even have time to do anything since Ran easily punted Genma away from the window and off into the skyline. "Women are not weak," she growled, "and I do not sit on the sideline!"

"And if it weren't for you, I wouldn't be alive today," Shinichi stated. Genma had messed up views of the world, and he felt he needed to remind his karate practitioner that he didn't follow the same line of thinking. Sometimes Japan's subtle chauvinism just chaffed and assurances that not all were like that were very welcome.

Ran turned to him with a bright smile, leaned over, and kissed him.

Ranma politely coughed. "Guess I'll go see if Ryoga's still wanderin' round the house."

Dr. Tofu kept poking Shinichi's abdomen.

"Hello? Is anybody home?"

That authoritative voice couldn't be mistaken for anything. Kisaki Eri had arrived. Ran and Shinichi got up anxiously, navigating the debris of Ryoga's departure and all but dashing to the font door. "Mother!" Ran cried, throwing her arms around her mother. "At last, a bit of sanity! Do you have the papers?"

The confident smile brightened both of their moods considerably. The older woman opened up her briefcase and pulled out a manila folder. "All we need is the proverbial John Hancock."

"Oh, good," Ran replied, sighing in relief, clasping her hands to her chest. "The sooner this is over with, the better."

Eri raised an eyebrow. "You said that when you left yesterday. Have you been having trouble convincing him?"

"Him, no," Shinichi said simply. "The rest of this district? That's another matter entirely."

"Dare I ask?"

"It would take too long to explain, and at this point I want Shinichi home," Ran said. "Shall I go get him?"

Shinichi's ears picked up a splash. "I hope it's a 'him' and not a 'her.'"

Eri's frown continued to deepen as the teens led her to the sitting room and Ran stepped out to the engawa. Shinichi knelt down with some discomfort but settled very quickly, Eri following suit as she pulled out a pen and a notepad. She was nothing if not efficient as she started taking notes. Ran returned with the shorter, bustier Ranma, looking wet and miserable and cursing a blue streak.

The lawyer looked over her glasses and leveled a flat glare at the redhead. "That's no way for a lady to behave, miss," she said in crisp tones. "Are you a resident of this house? I'm looking for Saotome Ranma so he can sign some papers. Since you're not him, can you dig him up for us and save my poor Ran from trying to look for him?"

Shinichi pursed his lips to prevent the smile that was tugging at them.

"Kisaki Eri, meet Saotome Ranma. Saotome Ranma, meet Kisaki Eri, Ran's mother and lawyer who drew up the papers for you to sign."

"Oh, right," Ranma said, blinking. "Just let me get a kettle and I'll sign them."

"What on earth to you need a kettle for?" Eri asked. "And if you're Saotome Ranma then this will be easier than I thought."

Nabiki wandered in, munching on a sandwich and holding a kettle. "So many possibilities," she sighed, reaching over her head and pouring water on the redhead. Eri gasped as she watched Ranma change into a guy. "Good thing I know when to hedge my bets," she muttered, eyeing Shinichi. She wandered out as lazily as she came in.

Shinichi snorted. "I'm willing to lay money this whole conversation is being video taped; I guess it's another way to make this iron clad."

Eri narrowed her eyes, still staring at the male Ranma. "I'm beginning to see why you might have had some problems. Regardless," she slapped a pen on the folder and slid it over the low table to Ranma. "Priorities, you understand."

"Right, right," Ranma said, kneeling down and picking up the utensil. "So, I don't have to worry about having a fourth after I sign this, right?"

"Right," Ran and Shinichi said in perfect unison.

"Then I'm all over it," he said, scribbling on every line he could find of the document.

"Ran, if you please," Eri said softly. Her daughter didn't need any prompting, however, and was already reaching for the pen as Ranma finished up.

"And we're set," Eri said after taking several minutes to read over the papers for anything that was missed. "Congratulations on your prenuptial annulment."

"Hey, I gotta question," Ranma said as a thought came to him. "Is this thing a one-of-a-kind document, or can it be used in other circumstances?"

"Like what?"

"Like 'nulling other engagements?"

Ran and Shinichi smiled with knowledge. "Even if it isn't, my mother can tweak the language to make it so."

"Something to keep in mind when you've finally made up your mind," Shinichi added. "Or at least," he added, "when you've finally decided how to let the other two down."

Ranma turned beet red but said nothing.

"I will not allow it!"

The three non-Nerima residents startled while Ranma's face flattened in resignation.

"I, the Blue Thunder of Furinkan High, Kuno Tatewaki, shall not allow this travesty upon visage of Tendo Akane and the Pig-Tailed Girl! Foul sorcerer wretch, prepare to defend yourself from the mighty righteous sword of the Blue Thunder and be defeated! For the honor of Tendo Akane and the Pig-Tailed Girl!"

The feet that connected to Kuno's face were the following: Ranma's, Akane's (who had appeared from nowhere), Ryoga's (who also appeared from nowhere), Ran's, and Shinichi's (who was very impressed he was able to manage it in spite of his stitches).

He went flying up and into the air and Ran and Shinichi quickly grabbed the paperwork, Eri, and tossed a hurried, "We'll fax you a copy!" before running out the door before something else happened.