A Ranma 1/2 alternate universe mini-series. Genma and Ranma go to China after Ukyo's father files charges against Genma for running off with his yatai. A PG-13 rating for language and situations.

This story and a few others can be found on my web page at
http://www.geocities.com/jlfenton65/
jlfenton65@yahoo.com

Ranma 1/2 is a trademark of Viz Communications, Inc. and was created by Rumiko Takahashi.
This story is of my own derivation and is not intended for commercial purposes, so please don't sue me.

Author's Notes: Another alternative universe story. They're just so darn fun to write. :^} Chi is the term many Westerners use for the body's life force. The word is qi in Chinese, and ki in Japanese. They are all the same. I just switch between qi and ki depending on who is using the term. Yes, Shampoo doesn't speak in broken sentences here, but that's because all her conversations here are in her native tongue. Ranma is always referred to in the masculine because he believes himself to be male regardless of his body. You'll just have to keep an eye out for all the references to which form he is currently in. This is deliberately different than in most my other stories where Ranma's sex is referred to explicitly unless someone is speaking about him.

Growing Up the Half Way

by Joe Fenton

Chapter 1: Stupid Is As Stupid Does

Jiro Kuonji listened to his daughter crying in her room. She hadn't stopped since those bastards had left her behind and run off with his yatai. He frowned; he had come up to tell her that she would now have to be his son since his daughter had been disgraced. Pausing at the door, he had listened to the muffled sobs for a time. What was he thinking? How could he do this to his little girl? It wasn't her fault, it was those two bastards, Ranma and Genma... his frown deepened. No, he was doing it again. How could he blame the little boy? He knew from his interactions with Ranma just what the six year-old boy was like; he wouldn't have agreed to the engagement if Ranma hadn't impressed him so much. No, the only one to blame here was Genma... and maybe himself. If he hadn't had been so eager to have Ranma in his family, he wouldn't have overlooked Genma's less-than-honorable actions. Now was the time to make up for his lack of judgment, not to compound the error. He picked up the phone extension in the hall and dialed the district police substation; he had a theft to report - and maybe a case of possible child-abuse. His frown lessened just a little.

****

Genma cursed as he took the pack from Ranma. He figured the boy was just too young to swim all the way to China with the heavy pack; without it, all he had to do was just tread water. He had done that much before as training. Damn that Kuonji! All this trouble for a yatai. If he had thought there would be this much fuss, he would have never have agreed to the engagement. He sighed in frustration; he hadn't even been able to enjoy it - once Kuonji-san filed that report with the police, he had been forced to abandon the bulky cart. It was time to leave the country until things cooled off. China sounded nice right now; plenty of temples and old training grounds for the boy.

****

"Here, sir. Is legendary 'Training Ground of Accursed Springs.'" Their guide gestured at the pools. Genma nodded; a little balance practice for the boy would stop his whining. He had listened to the boy cry about leaving 'Uc-chan' behind since before they left Japan. If he heard any more, he was going to increase the intensity of their daily sparring matches.

He gestured for Ranma to follow. "Come on, boy! It's just like walking on a picket fence." He leapt to the closest bamboo pole, then to the next. The little boy was right behind him.

The guide shouted after them. "Wait, sirs! Very bad if fall in spring!" The pair continued hopping from pole to pole across the pools. He shrugged; at least they were using the training ground properly. Some folks were actually stupid enough to try to fight on the poles; the only ones with that level of skill were the Amazons. After watching for several minutes, he shrugged again and left for his small hut nearby. He'd put on the kettle and wait to see if they needed it. Maybe the kami would be merciful on the idiot and his poor child.

The sunlight was just fading when he heard voices approaching the hut. He opened the door and looked over his customers; well, they looked okay. The child seemed damp, but otherwise unchanged. He breathed a sigh of relief and thanked the spirits that watched over fools.

"You very lucky, sirs! Very bad to fall in spring."

Genma waved him off. "Bah! Nothing for a True Master of The Art."

The guide smiled at Ranma. "Yes, young one much skilled for age."

Genma wasn't sure if he had been insulted, or his boy complimented. He shrugged. "Any other places around here that might be worth checking?"

The guide thought a moment. "Is 'Village of Amazons.' Great women warriors -"

Genma interrupted him. "I don't think so. Women distract from The Art. The last thing I need is some weak woman giving the boy strange ideas."

The guide boggled as Genma shouldered his pack and walked off with the boy in tow. He had never heard anyone talk about the Amazons that way; he shook his head, hoping the fool didn't say such things where it would get back to them. They took great pride in their warrior skills and heritage. "Customers much strange." He muttered quietly. Well, at least these managed to avoid being cursed.

****

Genma waited until night was well along before stopping. He soon had a fire going and the rice cooking in a pot over it. He frowned as Ranma came running back to camp in tears.

"I-i-it's gone! I lost it somewhere..."

Genma cut him off with a blow to the head. "Whatever it was you lost is your own fault, boy. Maybe you'll learn to be more careful. Now quit crying; only weak little girls cry."

"B-b-but..."

"Not one more word! If I hear one more thing about this, I'll give you a real reason to cry."

He watched the boy slowly choke down his sobs. Good; better the boy learn to deal with a little pain now. He'd be a better fighter for it. After all, the path of a True Martial Artist was ever fraught with peril. Besides, he couldn't listen to anymore complaints today.

****

The lady behind the counter looked up as a boy, maybe eight or nine, slipped into the small general store. At least, she thought it was a boy from the way he dressed and the messy appearance. He was rather cute with a tangled mop of red hair tied back in a sloppy pig-tail. She smiled at him.

"Can I help you, honored customer?"

Ranma frowned a moment as he translated the Chinese, then replied in a moderate accent. "I need somethin' to make my hair black." He was glad he had bothered to learn the language; his pop still couldn't, even after two years in the country.

She looked over the child. "Are you sure? That's such a lovely shade."

The boy sighed. "My pop don't like it. If I don't change it, he'll hit me again."

She frowned at this. "Well, let me find something, then I'll show you how to apply it."

The boy nodded and followed her back into the store. Soon, he was headed back to their camp, black hair restored once more and a few extra bottles to stash in his pack. He wondered why his hair changed color the way it did. He still hadn't figured out how that happened, just that it was sometimes red and sometimes black. It was red more often when they were traveling; maybe it was being outside. He shrugged; with the hair dye, he wouldn't need to worry about it anymore.

He joined his pop at the public bath. After a couple weeks on the road, he was looking forward to a long soak in the hot water. He was glad he insisted on a dye that didn't run in water; as much as they were on the road in the rain, he didn't need it washing out. He scrubbed clean, wrapped himself in a towel and went to the large bath. He sighed as the hot water enveloped him; this made the time on the road almost worth it. He looked down - hm - it was back. He really should keep better track of it. Maybe he'd even figure out where it went and why. His thoughts were interrupted as his pop settled into the bath.

"Ah! That's more like it. Nothing like a hot bath, eh boy?" He looked over his son with pride. The boy had washed that ugly red dye out of his hair finally. That last beating must have convinced the boy to quit playing around; they had more important things to do. The boy certainly was turning out to be all he hoped; he had good definition and tone from all the training. A few scars here and there, but that was to be expected. They would also give the boy something to brag about to other guys later in life. Kami knows, Genma bragged enough about his owns scars and how he supposedly came by them. Yes, no problem with that pesky contract he'd made with Nodoka; she wouldn't find anything wrong with his boy.

****

Shan Pu walked through the small Amazon village. Her great-grandmother had sent her for more herbs. She sighed; this was the part of being Great-Grandmother's chosen successor she hated the most. The ten year-old girl appreciated the extra martial arts training, but all these lessons on herbs and such... what possible use would they be? Why did you need a shampoo that made you forget? She followed that thought further... well, if she could use it on Mu Su, maybe it would be worth the trouble. Somehow, she didn't think Great-Grandmother would let her use it on Mu Su, no matter how much he deserved it.

She was so intent on her thoughts, she almost missed the large man barreling down the village street. She was shocked - an outsider male running through the village! Where were the guards? The stranger ran towards the village square and leapt onto one of the large poles used to suspend the challenge log during the village tournament. She had to admit, that was quite a leap for a male. Maybe one of the older village warriors would challenge him. Speaking of which, where were they?

A commotion in the outer part of the village caught her attention. The village guards seemed to be chasing a child about her own age. The strange part was that the child was running on all fours like an animal. How could anyone outrun Amazon warriors on all fours that way? Shan Pu moved closer.

The child bounced from building to building, rebounding from walls, trees, and occasionally off one warrior or another. Upon reaching the village square, the child noticed the fat man atop the pole. It hissed like a cat and swiped with one hand at the pole. Shan Pu face-faulted as the pole fell in several pieces. The child had just sliced through the solid, hardened log as if it were rice paper!

The strange man jumped from the pole just as it was sliced to pieces, then tried to fight the crazed child. The fight was rather one sided - the stranger was being batted around with little effort. It looked like there wouldn't be a chance to find out who this stranger was when a small blur separated the two combatants; the man fell unconscious to one side as Ko Lon faced off against the child.

Ko Lon noticed Shan Pu approaching the square. "Stay back. The child is beyond reach in this state. All we can do is try to drive him off."

She parried several swipes with her staff. Only her ability to channel her qi into it kept it intact. She used the staff to toss the child away; the child rebounded several times between a house, a tree, and one large boulder before arrowing at the shrunken old woman. She waited for the child to close, then gathered her qi into a ball, sending it straight at the child. 'Spirits forgive me.' She thought. 'I can't let the village down again.' The last person trained in the Cat-Fist to come to the village had caused great sorrow before Ko Lon brought him down. She would end this quickly.

Shan Pu stared in shock as her great-grandmother threw the qi attack. She never realized just how powerful the old woman truly was. Then gasped as the child twisted in mid-air to avoid the attack. She stepped back as her great-grandmother gathered her qi for another attack, but held it as the child came flying Shan Pu's way.

"Shan Pu! Run!"

Shan Pu stumbled, unable to get her legs to function as the crazed child came right at her. She opened her mouth to scream, but held it when she realized she wasn't being attacked. The child was rubbing against her legs and - and purring of all things. She reached down hesitantly. "N-n-nice kitty." she rubbed the child's head. The purring got louder and he leaned into the strokes. Shan Pu watched as her great-grandmother carefully approached the pair.

"Stay just where you are child, and don't spook him. I think we might just live through this after all." Ko Lon stopped moving when the child growled at her. Shan Pu continued to pet the boy and he eventually forgot about Ko Lon. She looked closer at the child. The clothes were old and dirty; they had hundreds of small cuts and stains, some being blood and others being fish oil. The boy had only just undergone the Cat-Fist training, she realized. Then looking carefully with her qi, she corrected herself - the girl had only just undergone the training. Being young and dirty, it had been hard to tell exactly which sex the child was, but qi signatures could not be faked and the child's qi was clearly feminine.

Shan Pu slowly sat down; the strange child climbed into her lap and settled down, eventually drifting off to sleep. She spoke softly to her great-grandmother. "Now what do we do?"

Ko Lon gestured to the gathered warriors. "Lock the fool there in a cell." She pointed to the unconscious outsider male. She then approached Shan Pu. "Let the girl sleep. When she awakens, she should be back in her right mind once more." She hugged her great-granddaughter. "I'm glad you are unharmed, but you should not have been here. A Cat-Fist fighter is unpredictable; you could have wound up like the support pole." She gestured to the slices of pole lying nearby.

Shan Pu waved at the sleeping girl. "What is the Cat-Fist? Why is she like this?"

Ko Lon looked upset, something that Shan Pu could not remember seeing before. "It is a martial arts technique that has been banned for hundreds of years. The last time I saw this was decades ago." She was lost in the memories for a moment, then shook herself. "One takes the trainee, wraps them in meat, fish usually, then tosses them into a pit of starving cats." She looked at Shan Pu's shocked face and gave a small nod. "Yes, that is what that fat fool of a man did. It makes one nearly invincible, but completely insane while under it's influence." She frowned. "To do that to a child is an unforgivable crime. The council will need to deliberate on his punishment."

****

Genma woke abruptly and looked around. He appeared to be in a cell. Looking through the bars, he noticed a shriveled old mummy of a woman. He shuddered at her resemblance to The Master. "Where am I, old hag? Why am I in here?" He tried to keep his voice from quivering.

The old woman just smiled, a smile that sent shivers up his spine. She responded in flawless Japanese. "You are a prisoner of the Amazons. If you are the one who trained the child in the Cat-Fist, you are also in a tremendous amount of trouble."

Genma tried to look as innocent as possible - that he did so well was surprising, unless you knew that Genma had many years of practice lying and trying to appear guiltless. "Cat-Fist? What's that?"

Ko Lon laughed. "Don't try that with me. You're a hundred years too young to fool me." Genma shuddered again as she laughed. Definitely like The Master.

"Is - is Ranma okay?"

"Finally, some concern for someone else... I take it you are the child's father." Genma nodded. "The child will be fine. You are another matter." Her eyes narrowed. "If I have my way - and I usually do - you will be very very far from fine shortly." She disappeared abruptly.

Genma shuddered again and sat on the floor. Ranma was fine; he knew the boy would be. He now knew the Cat-Fist after all. Genma looked proud for a moment - his boy would be the best martial artist of his generation; after all, his father was the best of his own generation. Genma promptly forgot Ranma as he thought about how to get out of this mess. He had no doubts the old ghoul would do everything she said.

****

Genma stood in front of the Council of Elders; a line of warriors held swords at ready behind him. Ranma sat to the side, watching the proceedings with an anxious look. The old hag was just finishing her narration of the events from the previous day to the council members arranged on either side of her. She spoke to Genma in his own tongue.

"So, Outsider, have you anything you wish to say in your own defense? Not that I think it will make any difference, but you have the chance to beg for your miserable life."

He smiled. His time in the cell had given him the chance to recall the Saotome Forbidden Techniques, and the will to use them. He had no compunction after hearing what was in store for him. "You'll have to catch me first." The assembled people looked confused; they had caught him, right? Genma pulled in his aura and vanished from sight; he grabbed his son and ran. He laughed as he saw the confusion on the warrior's faces. He knew he'd be fine; after all, they were only women. Then he shuddered as he thought of Ko Lon. Best to get well away. Oh well, he was sure things had cooled off in Japan by now anyway.

Back in the Amazon village, Ko Lon was berating herself. She should have known the sneaky bastard would try something like that. By the time she recovered from her surprise and tried looking for the child's and man's qi signatures, they were long gone.

"Spread the patrols as thin as possible. Don't try looking for them directly, check with the locals for anything unusual, such as stolen food."

She sighed as the warriors left. Damn it all! The girl would have been an excellent addition to the tribe. Well, they'd keep looking. No one stayed hidden from the Amazons for long.

****

Genma cursed as he and Ranma prepared to cross back to Japan. Those damn Amazons had been chasing them for the last month. He had no doubt about what they'd do to him if they caught him. He fervently prayed things really had quieted down in Japan as he had no choice but to return to avoid the women warriors. He glanced at his son. At least the boy could take his own pack this time. Genma thought of making the boy take his pack as well - strictly as training of course.

****

Ranma walked along the fence top on his way home from school. At thirteen, his two forms were no longer nearly indistinguishable from each other; he now had a few inches height and reach advantage in his cold water form over his hot water form. His cold water form - that was how he thought of it now. He had figured out what caused the change a couple of years back. His cold water form was also starting to grow larger in certain areas; he wasn't quite sure what to think, but he liked the extra reach, so he spent most of his time in that form. It was fortunate that it was his cold water form as he seemed to be prone to getting splashed: if it rained, he was out without any cover; if the roof leaked, it was over him; if an automatic sprinkler went off, he was standing next to it. That was one of the reasons he stayed up on the fence top - he was less likely to be splashed by passing cars striking puddles. That always irritated him; he could be standing in a crowd of over a dozen people waiting to cross the street and be the only one hit by the spraying water. By staying in his cold water form, he could avoid the funny looks people gave him when he grew several inches when splashed. He remembered the first time his pop had noticed; he had managed to put him off by stating that he had just been slouching before getting splashed. Fortunately, his old man bought it. Ranma wasn't sure how long he could keep it up; if his two forms got any more different, he would have real trouble.

Ranma grimaced as another spasm hit. They had been bothering him for most of the day. He didn't think Pop had hit him that hard in practice. He knew better than to say anything; his pop would yell about what a soft little girl he was becoming and be that much tougher in their next sparring session. Ranma just wanted to curl up and sleep. Pop had got him up at dawn to spar before he left for his part-time job, then these strange muscle spasms had started during school, and now he was feeling queasy. Some rest would take care of it. He reached the apartment complex he and Pop were staying at and went up to their place. He tossed his book bag on the table, went into the bedroom, and stretched out on his futon; in moments, he was asleep.

His pop rattling around in the kitchen woke him. He felt bad; maybe he was getting sick. His head ached, the muscle spasms were worse, and now he was feeling some dampness between his legs. Muttering deprecations at the world in general and his pop specifically, he ducked into the little bathroom. Maybe a bath before dinner would ease the spasms. He slipped out of his clothes, noting that if his chest got any bigger, he'd need to start binding it like the fat kid at school. His muttering got a little darker as he started the bath running.

His pop's voice drifted back to him from the kitchen. "Don't use all the hot water, boy! I need a good soak myself after working hard all day."

Ranma made a few choice comments in a voice Genma couldn't hear, then a little louder. "Yeah, yeah! I hear ya!" He shut off the water and slipped off his boxers. And looked at the blood soaking them. Feeling lightheaded, Ranma slowly reached down between his legs, then looked at his hand.

Genma was dumping the rice into bowls when Ranma yelled from the bathroom. He had heard his son yell before; what made this different was that this yell wasn't pain, or anger, or triumph. It was fear. He dropped the pot on the table and ran for the bathroom, sliding open the door. Ranma stood yelling, looking at a hand coated in blood. All he could see was the blood, then something occurred to him - since when did his son have breasts? And no penis? Genma did the only sensible thing possible, he fainted.

When he came around, he was lying on his futon in the bedroom. Ranma was sitting next to him in a pair of boxers and a tee shirt. It was obvious that the boy had breasts. He sat up and seized Ranma by the shoulders. "What the hell's going on! Why aren't you a boy!"

Ranma blinked. He still looked scared, but he was no longer hysterical like earlier in the bathroom. "Whatta you mean, Pop? I am a boy."

Genma shook his head. "Two months ago at the public bath, you were a boy. You didn't have breasts and you definitely had a - a - you know."

Ranma looked at him blankly, then responded. "Oh! Well, that was my hot water form."

It was Genma's turn to look blank. "What the hell do you mean, 'hot water form'?"

Ranma sighed, disengaged from his pop's hold, and went into the kitchen. He returned with the tea kettle. "My hot water form." He poured the hot tea over his head, shrinking a few inches and losing a few more around the chest. He briefly noticed his muscle spasms ease and the queasy feeling dissipate. Well, that was sure good to know!

Genma looked at him dumbly, then reached out and patted his chest. His eyes rolled up and he passed out again.

When he came around the next time, Ranma was no longer in the room. He jumped to his feet and rushed into the kitchen. Ranma was busy devouring his bowl of rice.

"Hey, Pop. Gonna faint again?"

He drew himself to his full height and confronted his son. "Boy, I want a straight answer! Since when have you been girl!"

Ranma spit out the mouthful of rice he was chewing. "What? I ain't never been a girl!"

Genma put his hand over his face. "When I woke the first time, before you poured the tea over your head. You - were a - a - a girl." He could barely bring himself to spit it out.

Ranma looked at him funny. "No way! You always said girls were weak."

Genma looked at him blankly. "So?"

Ranma pulled back a fist and pounded Genma back into the bedroom. "Does that seem weak, old man?"

Genma came back into the kitchen. He looked at the boy closely. Sure enough, he was taller and a little larger in the chest again. "Dammit, boy! You're a girl again!"

"What?!"

Genma gestured at him. "The breasts, the lack of - that thing down there." Another gesture, lower this time. "That's a girl's body, not a boy's."

Ranma thought about it a moment. "Wow! That explains a lot."

Genma fought to control his emotions. "How the hell could you not know that?! When the hell did this start?!"

"Well, we ain't never been around girls that much. Been you and me on the road for the last seven years with little time in school. How am I supposed to know things like that?"

Genma slapped a hand back over his face. "Well, what about my second question? When did this start?"

Ranma shrugged. "Beats me."

Genma clenched his fists. "Surely you have some idea? If we are to figure out what happened and straighten it out, we have to know when it occurred."

Ranma shrugged again. "I don't know... maybe - a few years?"

"A few years?!!" Genma shrieked. "Ah man! Nodoka's gonna kill me!" He turned back to Ranma. "Was this before or after coming back from China?"

Ranma thought about it. "Before. I definitely remember it before leaving China."

Genma narrowed his eyes. "The old mummy! I knew she was evil, just like The Master. This is her punishment for the Cat-Fist training." He neglected the fact that it was Ranma that was afflicted, only thinking of himself again; in his mind, the old mummy somehow knew what would happen to Genma if Nodoka saw her boy this way. But how was he to handle this? He couldn't confront the old ghoul directly. He knew he was no match for her.

Well, if you can't confront the source, try to treat the symptoms. "So cold water makes you a girl, and hot water changes you back?"

Ranma nodded, back to eating his dinner.

Genma sat quietly, trying to think. It was quite a change and Ranma was impressed; he'd never thought his pop capable of that. Eventually he arrived at a thought.

"If all it takes is hot water to keep you a boy, you should be able to use your ki to heat any water that you come in contact with." He looked proud of his deduction.

"I thought a that after the sessions on ki control I took with the monk at that shrine in Juban. The problem is that there's an awful lot a cold water, and it takes a lotta ki to heat it. I tried it and about passed out after the first few minutes. It's much easier to use my ki to cool the water to stay in my cold water form; hot water naturally wants to cool off, making it that much easier."

Genma thought a moment. "Your cold water form? That's the girl form - dammit boy! I didn't raise you to be a weak little girl -"

Ranma jumped up. His fist flashed and Genma was back in the bedroom again. "Weak little girl?! Who's weak, old man?"

Genma came back in the kitchen. "You know what I mean, boy." He gestured at him. "You're a girl right now because you don't have the strength to stay a boy. Well, we'll work on building up that strength so you can stay male longer than just a few minutes." 'And I can stay alive longer than a few minutes.' He thought. 'If I can get the boy to hold his form, no one need ever find out. Especially Nodoka.'

****

Ranma sat under the flow of frigid water from the falls. It was the latest way his pop had come up with for increasing his ki reserves and control. Ranma had to sit under the falls and stay male as long as possible. He was up to over an hour now - far better than the few minutes he could maintain against a simple rainfall two years ago. His pop would never be satisfied; an hour under the deluge of near freezing water was not good enough for him. Ranma had gone along with everything his pop had suggested since finding out about his problem. They sought every temple and training ground the length and breath of Japan seeking ki exercises and techniques. Ranma's exercises, like the one he was doing today, had strengthened his ki reserves to ridiculous proportions. When not trying to use that ki to shield himself from cold water, Ranma had used some of the ki techniques to improve his martial arts. He could use that ki to increase his speed to unheard of levels; unless the rain was coming down in solid sheets, he could actually dodge the rain drops - in fact, it was much easier than trying to use his ki to shield against the cold water. Ranma could complete his complex katas in seconds, and once broke the sound barrier punching a training dummy. The sonic boom had left his ears ringing for an hour. The last temple they had trained at had taught Ranma how to project his ki; he had developed a couple of different ki attacks.

None of this seemed to impress his father as much as the first time he was able to sit under these damn falls for more than an hour; his pop had been making him catch the train out to this area each weekend since they discovered the falls. He sighed as his ki reserves finally gave out and the cold water changed him. The girl that came out from the water was much more clearly feminine than two years ago. Much to Ranma's chagrin, he had developed quite the figure; even he could tell his cold water form was a girl. Not that he minded too much; he had had this body as long as he could remember and was secretly quite proud of it. He had trained in it for years, making it a powerhouse that no man Ranma had ever come across could match, his pop included. Genma gave Ranma plenty of chances and incentive to demonstrate this; he couldn't bring himself to stop ragging on his son anytime he noticed he had changed to his girl form. Except for Genma's incessant nagging, Ranma couldn't see anything wrong with it. Ranma only kept up these idiotic exercises to make his pop happy. He tried to stay male any time he was around his pop, and spent the rest of the time mostly female. It was still much easier to stay female; this also left his ki reserves free for other purposes. Ranma still laughed when he remembered the first time some guy tried to hit on him while he was female. The poor sap lost all control of his bodily functions when the girl he propositioned manifested a ball of energy the size of a beachball. Ranma wouldn't actually use it on a pervert, but the look on their faces when he summoned the power made it all worthwhile. Ranma looked around as he got off the train; the perverts seemed to gravitate to the rail stations.

While he cared little for which form he was in, he still only liked girls. The time he spent in girl form left him confident about his own preferences; he held no concern that he would actually ever think of himself as a girl, despite his body. His pop, on the other hand, seemed to be obsessed; when he wasn't making Ranma engage in another exercise that was supposed to build his ki, he was trying to force his boy onto a date with some hapless girl. This excessive concern over his masculinity was starting to get to Ranma. He suspected some ulterior motive, but had yet to weasel it out of his old man.

Ranma sighed as he walked home. He was still wet and female; he liked to wait until he was home, then use his ki to both dry his clothes and return to male form. He used to change as soon after the exercise as possible, but found he was much more likely to be splashed on the way home if he did. He turned a corner and almost ran into a boy he knew.

"Hey, Ryoga. Having trouble getting home again?"

Ryoga looked over at the girl and blushed. "Um - I, uh, I guess." He laughed lightly and rubbed the back of his head.

Ranma sighed. The boy had it bad. No matter how many times Ranma told him he wasn't interested, the boy still persevered in his efforts to date the elusive girl of his dreams. Ranma hadn't the heart to actually show the boy his problem; he had enough heartache as it was. The boy could get lost going out to check the mail. Ranma ran into Ryoga all over Japan, always while in girl form. At first, he had suspected Ryoga of following him around, but soon learned of his strange family problem. The boy literally hadn't seen either parent in months; the two were always lost themselves. The family dog did a good job of leading them back home, but only if they managed to get within a few blocks of the house.

"Come on. I'll make sure you get home tonight." The boy followed Ranma with a worshipful expression. Ranma sighed again. He couldn't pound on Ryoga because he never forced his attentions. He was simply there any time he turned around.

Ryoga followed her silently for awhile, then noticed the girl was soaked. "Um, Ranma? Why are you all wet?"

Ranma replied without thinking. "I've been sittin' under a waterfall all evening." Then he noticed Ryoga's expression. 'Whoops! Better think of something.' "Um, it's a Shinto ritual. My pop makes me follow a lotta crazy rituals 'cause a all the temples I go to for trainin'." He breathed a sigh of relief as Ryoga nodded. The boy had a tendency to get all spastic if he thought Ranma was being abused in some manner. Ranma didn't need any help, but Ryoga felt it necessary to show his protective urges any time he was around.

A black and white dog appeared, hopping up against Ryoga. The boy bent down to pet the dog. "Good girl, Shirokuro!" Ranma smiled at the display. Ryoga was a nice enough guy. He'd feel guilty if he had to pound the boy for getting fresh. They soon reached his house; Ranma bid him good night and headed home.

****

"We're goin' back to China?! Are you nuts, Pop?! I thought the Amazons were after you."

Genma looked at his son. "Well, I've been watching your progress, boy. You still can't stay male for much more than an hour, but you're plenty strong enough to challenge the old ghoul for the cure to your condition." He puffed himself up. "And while we're on the way, I'll teach you the Forbidden Techniques. Between those and your ki attacks and all your training in 'Anything Goes', you'll have no trouble keeping me - er, us safe."

Ranma didn't believe for a moment that Ko Lon was responsible for his condition, but knew better than to argue with his pop. He sighed. "When do we leave?"

****

Ryoga stood at the door to the empty apartment. He was sure that this was where Ranma lived. Was he lost again?

The old lady next door noticed the boy. "They're gone. Left a few days back."

"What?! Where'd they go?" He looked devastated.

The old lady looked at him sympathetically. "I seem to remember hearing something about China."

Ryoga struck a determined posed. "I'll find you, Ranma. Even if I have to follow you halfway around the world." Then promptly headed east toward the Pacific.

****

Genma looked over at his son and frowned. "Why are you a girl, boy?"

Ranma rolled his eyes. "Well, it takes all my ki to protect against cold water. Do you want me spendin' it all that way, or keepin' your hide intact?"

"When you put it that way..."

****

Ranma couldn't believe how easy the Forbidden Techniques were. With all his training in ki control and manipulation, they were child's play. Naturally, Genma assumed his son's ability to learn the techniques so quickly were due to his training. He was insufferable for days afterwards. The two made good time heading back using the 'Silent Thief' technique. After just a couple weeks, the two found themselves on a hill overlooking the Amazon village.

"Okay, boy. Go down there and get your cure!"

Ranma rolled his eyes, then disappeared. He headed down to the village, but stopped just outside the village proper, and dropped his invisibility. He was in his girl form; with just a little ki, he could stay that way. He remembered this being a village of women warriors and thought they would feel better if he appeared as one too. He casually strolled into the small village, headed toward a house he remembered vaguely from almost six years ago. He made it about halfway there when he spotted a familiar face, framed by some familiar purple hair.

"Shan Pu!"

The girl in question looked at him blankly for a moment, then with mounting recognition. "Ranma?" At the girl's nod, Shan Pu rushed over to embrace her. "It's been so long! We looked for you for a long time. We were sure that horrid man did something awful to you."

"Well, no worse than normal." He smiled at the girl. They had only talked for one evening and the next morning, but had formed an instant friendship. He would try to stay around a bit longer this time, regardless of what his old man wished.

"Come on! Let's go see Great-Grandmother. She'll be so relieved that you are safe."

As they entered the house, Ko Lon looked over to see who was accompanying her great-granddaughter. She took one look at the qi signature and fell off her staff. The strength of the girl's qi was unbelievable! Then she realized that she recognized that signature, one she thought lost years ago. "Ranma?"

Ranma rushed over to give the old woman a hug. "It is great to see you again, Elder Ko Lon."

Ko Lon tried to hold back tears. "And you as well, child. My, you've grown up well." The power rolling off the girl was almost blinding to one who knew what to look for. This time, the girl wasn't going to be taken from them.

"I've never forgotten how well you treated me after that trouble with the Cat-Fist."

"It makes my heart ache to hear you speak so of simple kindness. Was your life always so hard?"

Ranma blinked at that. "Um, it never seemed that way."

Ko Lon's eyes narrowed. "Where is that beast of a father? If you're here, I can't imagine that he's too far behind."

Ranma looked embarrassed. "He's, uh, hiding somewhere nearby. He thinks you're responsible for something he considers a problem and sent me here to confront you." He gave Ko Lon his best, 'what a dolt' look. "Look, I know you don't particularly like him, but he is my father and I do love him. Do you think you can go easy on him? For me?"

Ko Lon looked at the girl and sighed. "Well, if you feel that strongly, we will show him mercy, but he must still face punishment for his actions." She tried to reassure the girl. "I'll make sure it won't bring him too much harm."

Ranma smiled at the old woman. "Thank you. Just don't go too easy on him. He still has much to answer for." He gave Ko Lon a sly look. "Your guards won't be able to see him where he's hiding, but the fat slob has been out there all day without eating, so they should be able to hear him, no trouble."

Ko Lon laughed at this, motioned two guards over, and spoke with them briefly. They hurried away with wide smiles. Time to regain a little lost honor over a past slight.

****

The guards returned later dragging an unconscious man between them. They dragged him to a cell and dumped him unceremoniously inside.

Ko Lon watched dispassionately. "So, we have you again. You won't escape your punishment this time." She nodded to one of the warriors who came up to the cell holding a bucket of water very carefully. The guard splashed the man with the water; this had two effects: first, the man was shocked into consciousness; second, he abruptly changed into a large panda. He looked at his hairy arms in shock, then noticed Ko Lon and backed against the back wall of the cell.

She addressed him in Japanese. "I guess we caught you, didn't we. How do you like your punishment? Seems fitting somehow."

She turned away from the roaring panda and spoke to the guards. "Make sure he stays this time, and keep him away from hot water. Maybe a few weeks as a panda will teach him something.

Genma watched the old mummy leave. Damn it all! Now the old ghoul had cursed him too, just like his son! If they had him, they might have Ranma too. If they did, who knows what they might do to the boy next. He had to escape and save his boy from these awful women.

****

Ranma was in heaven. The last several weeks had been an eye-opener to the boy. The Amazons had adopted him into the tribe; now he had friends and family who actually cared about him, good food on a regular basis, and all the martial arts training he could handle. Ko Lon had taken over Ranma's training and he and Shan Pu sparred regularly. The 'Chestnuts Roasting Over an Open Fire' technique had refined his own ki-enhanced speed, and when the old woman demonstrated the 'Rising Dragon Ascension', Ranma had used his well exercised ability to generate warm and cold auras to duplicate the maneuver without an opponent. Ko Lon had demonstrated several ki exercises that were safer and more reasonable than the ones Ranma had learned under his father.

Ko Lon watched as Ranma helped Shan Pu in one of the ki-building exercises; her great-granddaughter was slowly improving with Ranma's help. If the adopted Amazon had been born here, she would have been the clear choice for taking over as Matriarch after Ko Lon passed on. As it was, the girl was helping push her heir further than she'd been willing to go earlier. A little competition provided all the incentive to improve that she could hope for. Thankfully, Ranma show no indications of wanting the heir's position for herself. Life in the village would have been vastly different if the girl had sought the highest position for herself. Ko Lon did all she could to assure the pair remained friends. With Shan Pu's own abilities backed by a friend of Ranma's abilities, no one would threaten the village for the next generation or two. That could be extended by assuring the pair's children had the proper guidance. Ko Lon sometimes wondered what their children would have been like had Ranma been male; the combination of the two would have borne children of great power. She shrugged internally. Just as well; a male with that kind of power would have been a threat to the matriarchal society.

Ranma left Shan Pu to the exercise and came over to Ko Lon.

"Good afternoon, Great-Grandmother. Is everything all right?"

"Good afternoon, child. Yes, everything is fine." Perhaps now she might try steering the girl the way she wished. A few gentle hints now and hopefully she wouldn't have to worry about Ranma falling for a fool like Mu Su. "Shan Pu seems to be doing better with you here to push her along." Ranma blushed a little at the praise. "Even the men are trying harder; with another beautiful maiden to vie for, they strive to make as good an impression as possible. Paan Keik seems particularly smitten. A girl could definitely do worse; he'll make someone a fine husband."

Ranma went completely pale; he might have been mostly clueless, but not completely clueless. Perhaps it was about time to bring up his condition. He wanted a fine wife, not to be one. He'd tell Shan Pu first; he owed his friend that much.

****

Ranma approached his friend after dinner; he found her on the hill looking out over the lands stretching away from the village. "Hey, Shan Pu. I was talking to Ko Lon earlier; it seemed like she was hinting about who would make a good husband."

Shan Pu gave an exasperated sigh. "Yes, Great-Grandmother has been dropping hints on me for the last two years. She wishes to be sure I make the proper choice; I wish she'd just trust my judgment." She glanced at her friend. "So now she's started on you?"

Ranma rubbed the back of his head and laughed. "Yeah. Um, about that... the guys here are all nice and such, but..." He trailed off, unsure about how to say it.

Shan Pu nodded sadly. "Yes, the men here are not as strong as they used to be. Many of the best leave, unable to accept the role they have to play here."

Ranma stared. "What role?"

"This is a matriarchal society; the women hold the power here." She put a hand on the other girl's shoulder. "While that is good for us, it's not so good for the men. They sometimes rebel at being the ones to take care of the house and family. They cannot accept that the women are the warriors and leaders." She looked over the land before them. "Sometimes, we must venture into the lands beyond to find a suitable husband. Perhaps I shall have to leave to find my husband."

Ranma looked at his hands, unable to look at his friend. Did he want to stay at home and take care of the kids? He liked Shan Pu a lot, but was he ready to give up The Art for her? He had dedicated his life to The Art. To turn from it now was to deny who he was. He suddenly understood the men a lot better. He thought of all they had taught him; would they have done so if they knew he was a guy? Somehow, he didn't think so.

****

For once, Ranma believed he had a good plan. He sought out Ko Lon.

"Honorable elder, I have a request."

Ko Lon looked at the girl closely. She knew it must be big, considering how the normally brash young girl addressed her. "You may ask."

"I have not seen my birth mother in nearly eleven years. I wish to seek for her. She should at least know her child is alive and well."

Ko Lon gave her a knowing look. "And?"

Ranma looked sheepish. "And I am not ready to settle down yet. I am not ready to consider marrying anyone at this time." This was all part of her plan. She could not hope to fool the old woman, so she told her the absolute truth... just not all of the truth.

Ko Lon laughed. "I know child. You and Shan Pu are alike in that respect. I imagine that she will also ask to leave the village for a time. A leader must have many experiences under her belt. Perhaps your leaving will encourage her to take the risk. Remind me later to tell you how I chased a thieving male outsider all the way back to your homeland. I suppose you will want to take the panda with you?"

Ranma nodded. "He has the knowledge I need. Plus, it would make everyone happy to get him out of the village." She took a breath and spelled out the rest of her plan. "It might encourage him to never return if it appeared that we 'escaped.' I pretend to break him out one night, maybe have a few of the trainees chase us a bit - he'll be less likely to bother you later."

"That's a good idea, child. We'll set it up for two nights from now. Tomorrow night, we will have a feast in honor of your journey. You will write us about how it goes?"

Ranma was starting to feel guilty. "Of course, Great-Grandmother."

****

Ranma approached the cell holding a bucket of hot water. Genma was asleep in one corner, still munching on a bamboo stalk - until a stream of hot water awoke him. He was about to retort angrily when he realized he was human again. Ranma hushed him before he could start celebrating.

"We have to go... quietly."

He gave his son an angry look. "I thought you had gone native. What changed your mind, boy?"

Ranma shuddered. "They were tryin' to get me to marry some guy."

Genma snickered at Ranma's predicament. "Well, boy. Let's get out of here."

The pair vanished. It would be a long journey back to Japan.

End Chapter 1

More author's notes: For the main Chinese characters, I use the katakana forms of their names from Takahashi. These are Shan Puu, Ko Lon, and Muu Su. Long vowels are usually written by doubling the vowel: 'uu' is a long 'u', and 'oo' is a long 'o'; a long 'o' can also be written as 'ou'. This is why you sometimes see Ranma fanfics where the author writes Ryouga instead of Ryoga. While it is technically accurate, the usual convention when Romanizing names is to drop the extra vowel unless it causes confusion. So, Ryouga becomes Ryoga, Shan Puu becomes Shan Pu, and Tookyoo becomes Tokyo. With any word that ends in u, the u is (virtually) silent unless it is a long u; that is why Muu Su really is pronounced mousse. Note that long and short vowels are pronounced the same, only the duration is different; a long vowel is literally longer in duration. One last thing: any time you see 'np', it is actually pronounced 'mp'; sempai is actually spelled senpai, kempo is spelled kenpo, and kampai (cheers or bottoms up) is spelled kanpai. For any more Japanese, go buy a book.