Author's Notes:

This fanfic is based on "Silent Horse", by MZephyr. While I definately recommend reading that fanfic, just because it is that good, I think I have covered enough of the backstory here that you should not need to have read it first. This story does spoiler some details of "Silent Horse", including the main plotline, so if you'd rather not know those details you should read "Silent Horse" first.

The Ranma of "Silent Horse" is quite different from the canon, more thoughtful and accepting of Akane and his female form. Akane is different as well. It should be obvious why partway in, but if you aren't expecting this, they may seem out of character. My use of pronouns when referring to Ranma can also be more fluid than usual, again because both Ranma and Akane have come to think of it that way.

The whole idea of this fanfic came about because of a picture in my head, of Nodoka talking to Akane with a sleeping Ranma-chan in her lap. I'm not really sure where the picture came from, but it led to this. I had noticed that MZephyr's fanfic did not reach the point in the canon where Ranma finally got to meet his mother, and perhaps I just wanted to see that plotline come up, since MZephyr had managed to resolve all of the others.

The "steel" of the title refers to Nodoka's katana, but it is also a comparison between Ranma's female side, and the strength of her mother.

"Silent Steel"

by Richard Ryley

based on "Silent Horse" by MZephyr

Chapter 1

Akane sat watching TV in the family room, when she heard Ranma come in. "Tadaima..." she called out half-heartedly, her voice the soprano of her female form. Akane immediately noticed the sense of depression and resignation in her tone.

"Ranma... are you okay?"

As she came into the dining room, Akane immediately noticed Ranma was wet. Not that she wouldn't expect that, given her current form, but she was soaking wet, her red hair clinging to her face. It wasn't raining, so that was somewhat surprising.

"The ladle lady got me again," Ranma said with a long-suffering sigh. "Then I slipped on the fence and fell into the canal. I feel like an idiot. I knew my feet were wet, I should have been able to compensate..."

"Oh, Ranma, come here." Akane patted the place next to her, at the low table. Even though she had started to think of Ranma as a boyfriend, she still knew he was in need of comforting sometimes.

Ranma looked down at her boy's school uniform. "Give me a minute to change. Don' wanna get you all wet..."

A few minutes later, she came back downstairs from her bedroom. She was still in female form, but had changed into a tank top, and her usual black pants. Akane could see the haunted look in her eyes, as she walked over to the table. She sat down and folded her hands in her lap, looking thoughtful.

Akane shuffled over, and took Ranma's hand, leaning against her shoulder. Ranma hesitated only a second, but then she put her arm around her girlfriend, drawing her closer. Akane waited, silently, knowing something else was bothering her, but letting Ranma decide whether she wanted to talk.

"I ran into a couple of the boys from school," she said finally. "Just jerks, a couple of them, no one I knew. But... they whistled and stared at me. 'Cause... I was... wet... y'know..."

Akane nodded. When wet, the white shirt of the Furinkan boy's uniform became almost transparent. All right for a boy, but not for a girl. Particularly not a girl as well endowed as Ranma's female form. Akane had noticed it herself, as Ranma came in.

Ranma's voice was kind of quiet, though, not angry or frightened. Ranma was always quiet, really, after being mute for so long, but this was different. She seemed sort of... accepting. Akane wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. "What did you do?" she asked.

"Well, at first I was going to clobber 'em. I read 'em the riot act about oglin' me, like I always do. But then..." she paused, her expression far away. "Suddenly... it just didn't seem to matter any more. They had this look on their faces... like they were scared an'..."

She sighed. "Eh... all of a sudden I wasn't mad any more. It just... didn't seem worth it."

Akane ran her hand over Ranma's hands, comfortingly. Then she looked into her blue eyes. She loved those eyes, they were so expressive, in both of his forms. "I remember, you were pretty upset, the first time it happened... your shirt got wet like that. I was surprised you took it as well as you did, but I know it still hit you pretty hard."

Ranma nodded. "I felt a lot more scared on the inside that I was on the outside," she said, in that quiet voice. "I wished I could talk to you about it. But just having you there made me a little less scared."

Akane hugged her a little closer. She loved that voice, too. Both of Ranma's voices, she had gone for so long hoping one day to hear them, and it was still a bit new to her. Ranma's male voice was very nice, very soothing, although it wasn't really very deep. The way he spoke to her, though, so slowly and thoughtfully, it somehow made her feel warm inside.

Ranma's female voice, though, there was something about it that spoke to her own strong, feminine personality. She got the impression that at one time that voice had been tough, independent, filled with confidence and disdain for those who were not so skilled as her. The night in which she had nearly been raped had shattered that confidence, but it had left her voice soft and gentle, throaty and yet with an edge of steel underneath it. She felt things deeply, happiness, rage, shame, and fear, and it all came through loud and clear in her female voice.

"It just suddenly hit me, they weren't the monsters I was seeing in my mind. Sure, they're perverts, but that's just the way guys think. Believe me, I know, although I would never say anything like that to you, or do that to you, Akane." She looked into her eyes, and she saw the man behind the female face, studying hers. "But they're just boys. They don't know any better."

The look in his eyes made Akane's heart beat faster, and she hugged him, as much for that as to offer her friend comfort. Ranma looked down, though, her thoughts still somber.

She was quiet for a few more moments. When she finally spoke, it was with a harsh finality. "I guess I finally realized that like it or not, this is the way I am now. Pops pretty much proved that the Nannichuan isn't a cure. I'll be lucky if I don't end up even worse of a freak than I am now. At least as a man, I am a man, and as a woman, I am a woman."

It took Akane a few moments to work though the apparent change of subject. "Are you sure? Your father jumped in the Nannichuan in panda form. Maybe if you're in your natural form you'll be cured."

"I don't dare take that chance." Ranma shook her head firmly. "I could end up... well, you saw Pop. I don't want to think about all the ways my male and female parts could mix up, but..." She sighed. "None of it would be pretty."

Akane put an arm around Ranma's back, leaning against her shoulder again. "I'd still be there for you. Even if you did... end up like that. You're still you, no matter what you look like. But you're probably right. I know I wouldn't want it to be any worse for you..."

Ranma wrapped both arms around Akane, pulling her closer. Akane smiled from the warm familiarity of it. They'd only held each other a couple of times like this, since she and Ranma had begun dating. But long before that, it was Akane that was holding Ranma through the night.

When she had first come to the Tendo home, traumatized and tortured with nightmares of her rape, Akane had shoved her fears of sleeping with a boy aside and stayed with her. It hadn't been easy, of course, but it had built a trust between them, stronger than Akane had ever thought possible. Later, their nights together had been limited to once a week, but they were still important to her. It was a way of reaffirming their friendship and reliance on each other, not in a romantic way, but something deeper and, Akane hoped, more enduring.

"Are you... well, are you comfortable being a girl, Ranma? I mean, I know you've said you hated your curse."

"Yeah, but..." Ranma's voice turned thoughtful. "I hate what happened to me, of course. And I hate some of the things I've had to face because of it. But I think I'm starting to realize the curse isn't so bad. It's like Mitaka-sensei said... well, she didn't say so in so many words, but it's normal to have both...a masculine side and a feminine side. I guess the curse just lets me get in better touch with it."

Akane was silent a moment, a bit shocked by this admission. Then again, despite the fact that Ranma insisted that he was a boy, and Akane thought of him as a boy, he really showed a very soft, vulnerable side, without even thinking about it. From time to time, Akane could see the echoes of what was probably a pretty arrogant jerk behind his words and actions, but for the most part, that part of him seemed to be in the past.

"At first, I hated the curse. The curse made me weak, it made me vulnerable. It made me able to be... well, raped. It's still hard to say. Part of me just wanted to turn back into a guy and forget the whole thing happened. Being a girl reminded me of what happened, and if I hadn't met you... I probably would have come to totally hate my girl side. I would probably freak out every time I became a girl."

"But the curse also brought me to you." Ranma looked into Akane's eyes, and she felt her breath catch in her throat. "It allowed you to trust me, let me... let you comfort me... in... in your bed." Ranma swallowed. "It allowed me to... to accept that... um... comfort... To not think it made me... weak."

Her voice had become very quiet, now. "I don't think I could have... opened up to you... like that, if I hadn't been a girl. You trusted me, of course, and I felt I could trust myself. And even though being a girl made me think about what happened to me, it also helped me confront it. With your help... I was able to go to Mitaka-sensei, and confront the N-Neko-ken, and deal with Pop, and all of it..."

Ranma fell silent, then, and she was silent for a long moment. "I'm... I'm not sure what to think of all this, though. I... I don't know the first thing about being a girl, and I'm NOT a girl. When... when those guys were whistling at me, my first thought was to be sick, you know, disgusted about the idea of me being with a guy. But this is a girl's body, and... well... a fairly attractive girl's body at that." She smiled a little, self consciously, but with a hint of pride. "It's not so surprising that boys would want to look at it."

"Maybe, but..." Akane thought for a moment. "... it really doesn't mean anything without respect. I mean, a girl wants to feel pretty... *I* want to feel pretty, but I don't want boys leering at me like the perverts they are. I want them to... I dunno, show me a little appreciation."

She squeezed Ranma's body a little tighter, not minding its softness. "Y'know, like you do..."

"Thanks, Akane." She hugged her back. Akane snuggled a little closer. They fell silent again, and in the momentary pause, they heard the sound of the front door opening. "Tadaima!" came Kasumi's pleasant voice.

"We're in here!" Akane called back.

Kasumi joined the two in the family room, only to smile broadly at the two teenagers snuggling up to each other. "Oh, my. How sweet."

They both blushed, but did not move apart. "Ranma had a bit of trouble on the way home," Akane said, by way of explanation. "Some boys were giving him a hard time." She said the word 'boys' with her usual grumbling emphasis.

"Are you all right, Ranma-kun?" Kasumi was all concern.

"I'm fine. Actually, I think that's what's bothering me, that it's not bothering me so much. I think I'm realizing that there's a difference between... being 'interested'... and wanting to FORCE someone to do something..."

Akane nodded, looking a little thoughtful herself.

"Anyway, I was also saying I'm a little more comfortable being a girl. Even though it still feels wierd, it's doesn't feel as wrong as it used to. It has its good sides, though." She grinned at Akane.

"Well, that's nice, Ranma...-chan." Kasumi grinned widely. "Why don't I make some tea?"

Ranma and Akane nodded at her question, and so Kasumi headed for the kitchen. There was yet another long moment of silence, and then when Ranma again spoke, her voice was hesitant.

"Um... Akane? What do you think of my girl side?"

"I told you, you are who you are. It doesn't matter to me." She snuggled a little closer again.

"No, but... I mean, what about... you know... dating and all that stuff. Me being a..." she swallowed. "Boyfriend. I, uh, am a boyfriend, right?"

Akane chuckled lightly. "Of course you are."

"But... I mean, what do you think of the way I am, right now? Does it... bother you?"

Realizing Ranma was serious, Akane looked up into her eyes. There was a very old pain there, one she had seen since the very beginning. "What do you mean?" Akane asked, knowing full well what he meant.

Ranma sighed deeply. When she spoke, her voice was almost too quiet to hear. "How can you want a freak like me? I'm not even... I'm not even. I'm not either. Aren't you worried that... you..." She fell silent, blushing deeply. There was no way she could finish that thought.

Akane almost just hugged Ranma and dismissed his fears. But something made her stop. She looked into those blue eyes, the darker blue of his female form, yet still with that male spirit inside them, and thought about her answer. Finally, she asked, "Ranma Saotome, which do you feel you are?"

"I'm a man, I know that. I always have been. Or at least..." She paused a moment.

Akane waited for her to say something, but she didn't. Finally, she offered, "Well, *I* think of you as a guy. But maybe... maybe that part of you that I was afraid for, the part that made me think about how I felt about boys, and whether I was being fair to you, maybe that part WAS more like a girl. I mean... I did say that if you were a girl, I wouldn't hesitate to... well, to hold you through the night, to keep away the nightmares." She blushed a bit.

Kasumi came in with the tea, and Akane took one of the cups, without letting go of Ranma. "Maybe it was because I was able to see you as a girl, that I was able to accept you as a guy. To realize that a guy... well, that you weren't that different, and maybe I could trust you."

"And I think of you as a man as well, Ranma-kun," Kasumi added, with her supportive smile. "Just because your body changes, that doesn't change the core of who you are. But if that's what you're afraid of, I don't think exploring some of these thoughts makes you... less a man."

Ranma was thoughtful for a second. Akane could almost see her running through what she was going to say, as if she was going to write it down. "I don't think that really bothers me any more. I mean, Pops always said that I had to be a man in all things, and insulted me by calling me a girl. So of course whatever Pops said, the truth must be the exact opposite. I've decided I... well, I HAVE a female side, and I've decided that's okay."

"It's what you think that matters most to me, though." Ranma looked up into Akane's eyes. "If it makes you... um... uncomfortable..."

Akane thought for a moment. She was, again, about to say that it didn't make her uncomfortable, but she had to admit it did. Her first thought was to kiss Ranma, to show her that it wasn't a bother, but then the thought of Kasumi sitting there watching them made her balk. She probably would have hesitated anyway, she told herself, but she also had to admit Ranma being female did make a difference.

After a few moments, though, thinking about it, feeling Ranma's arms around her, and how he made her feel, she suddenly realized what she had to do.

Akane sat up. "Ranma, come here. I want to show you something."

The redhead flinched a bit, not sure what Akane was suggesting. Akane patted her lap, though, and with confusion in her blue eyes, Ranma edged closer. Akane took her hand, and gently guided Ranma to sit in her lap, her long legs extended out across the floor, her body pressed against Akane's chest.

Gently, Akane wrapped her arms around Ranma's smaller form, drawing her into a warm embrace. Ranma stiffened a bit, but Akane put a hand to her red hair, encouraging her to lay her head against her chest. Ranma's face was glowing red with embarrassment now, but she slowly began to relax into it.

Akane stroked Ranma's hair, speaking to her quietly and soothingly. This was like when she comforted her in the night, she thought, especially at first, but then they were laying down. There was something different about this embrace, it was how Ranma held her, at times. How he... she had held her when they had been attacked by Ryoga, and Ranma was protecting her. The warmth of that memory was something she always cherished.

"This is how you hold me sometimes. It feels good, doesn't it? I can protect you, too, you know? I've got no problem letting that part of myself out. So I've got no problem with this side of you. And if that's what you want... I can hold you like this anytime you want."

She caught a glance at Kasumi out of the corner of her eye, but still didn't hesitate. As Ranma looked up at her, her female face shy and uncomfortable in her arms, Akane bent down and gently kissed those soft lips. It was a different kind of kiss, not that they had kissed that many times, but it was different enough that Akane felt the effect of Ranma's change on her, the surrender that she felt in her female form. The last of the tension faded from her body, and Ranma seemed to mold herself to Akane's own softness.

Her own face was blazing with heat as she ended the kiss, and she risked a look at Kasumi out of the corner of her eye, but Akane was glad to see she was smiling. She looked back at Ranma, to see her eyes closed.

"You're you, Ranma, no matter what body you're in. And you know... well, I am a bit of a tomboy, myself." Akane grinned a bit, her voice mischievous. "So yeah, I'm a little uncomfortable with this, but not so much I can't handle it. I... I... you're my friend, Ranma. A... a lot more than a friend. If I can't accept all of who you are, then I'm not much of a friend."

Ranma leaned her head against her, smiling. "Thank you, Akane. I... this is nice."

Akane chuckled. Kasumi muttered an, "Oh, my," which caused Ranma, who had forgotten she was there, to blush. But she smiled. "I think that we have all enjoyed seeing the two of you get along so well. I do hope that the two of you take your time at such things, and behave properly, of course. But there is no need to think about such things just yet." She was quick to add that, to forestall their blushing protests.

She stroked Ranma's red hair. "We all feel that way, Ranma. We're your friends... your family, and if this is something you want to explore, then we are happy for you. You have..." her eyes became misty. "You have both made each other so happy. I only hope it gets even better."

"Now, I'm sure you two want your privacy. Although I will be watching over you, of course." Her eyes twinkled as their blushes deepened. "But I accept you too, Ranma, and Akane's feelings about all this as well."

She paused a moment, then smiled again. "And Ranma... if you have any questions or worries about your female form, you can ask me anything. I suspect you would probably rather talk to Akane or Mitaka-sensei about it instead, but just remember, I'm here for you. I would be happy to help you find out more about this side of yourself."

She got up to walk to the kitchen. Just before she left the room, she paused a moment, as if debating whether to say something. Finally, with a hint of mischief altogether out of the ordinary for her, she commented, "For one thing, Ranma-chan, you may wish to consider... proper support. There is the question of the boys teasing you, of course, but also... if you intend to spend any time in that form, if you do not start wearing a bra you may... well... come to regret it."

Kasumi left the room, but Ranma had become beet red. "No way..." She muttered. "I'm not doin' that."

Akane hesitated a moment. "Well, it is true, what she said... if you had been wearing one... the boys wouldn't have seen as much."

Ranma shuddered. "I'm not sure that would be any better. No... No, I'm not gonna."

She had become tense again, and buried her face into Akane's chest. Akane rubbed her back, reassuring her. She didn't want to lose the mood they had gained. "It's all right, Ranma. We'll take it a step at a time. If you're not ready for that, you're not ready for that..."

There was a moment of silence as Akane thought a bit more. "You might start taking to wearing, like, a tank top under your uniform. You've got plenty, and it would keep the boys from seeing... you... when you get wet."

"Yeah, I guess that could work." Ranma relaxed again, and Akane pulled her closer.

Blushing a little, Akane continued. "You know... when you get wet... um... you know... parts of you become more visible. When you get... cold. Wearing something under your shirt should hide that."

Ranma grew warmer against her. "Yeah... I know..."

"And... uh..." She wasn't sure she wanted to say this. "Well, Kasumi is right. There's... um... gravity, and stuff. If you don't... support yourself... as you get older..."

Ranma looked up at her. "Eh?" Akane snickered a little that she didn't get it.

"They don't stay like that forever, Ranma. Eventually, they... sag."

"Oh..." She looked a little stunned, and confused.

Akane hugged her. "Don't worry about it, though. You probably don't have to worry about it as much, since you only spend part of your time as a girl. Gravity isn't... you know... pulling at you... all the time. And a bra doesn't have to be a frilly, girly thing. There are probably some sports bras you wouldn't mind wearing, maybe even as a guy. Or maybe you could... like combine one with a tight t-shirt so no one would know..."

"I don't usually use sports bras myself, but I could pick some up if you want to try them. And they would... well, they'd hold you pretty tightly. They'd make you look a bit... flatter."

Ranma looked up at her, and she saw the glimmer of a teasing insult in her eyes. She didn't say anything, though, and Akane could almost hear the wheels turning, as Ranma considered whether to say it. She managed a silent count of five before Ranma finally spoke.

"I can see why you wouldn't wear those. You wouldn't want to be any flatter."

Akane grinned widely at the mischievous smirk on Ranma's face. She punched her lightly on the arm. "Oh, you." Then she drew her in tight for an embrace, which Ranma returned, with a contented sigh.

After half a second, though, Ranma realized she was pressing her face against Akane's breasts. She almost jerked back, but then suppressed the reaction with just the slightest twitch to show her discomfort. "Um..." she began. "You don't mind... um... me... here... leaning... um... against..."

Her soft voice trailed off, as embarassment closed up her throat completely. Akane found her own heart start to pound, her face growing hot. But she managed a smile. "Well, if you're gonna insult them..."

Ranma giggled. "They're pretty, then," she said, dreamily, her voice growing quiet. Then her blush got even deeper, if that was possible. "Um... I mean... if you don't mind my saying so..."

"No, baka. I don't mind." Akane found herself somehow relieved. She pulled the redhead closer, letting her cradle her head against her breasts. She was intensely aware of how intimate the embrace was, but somehow that was all right.

Ranma relaxed again, and Akane stroked her hair, savoring the contact. Ranma began to breathe softly against her, and muttered, "You're right. This is... wonderful." There was a slight pause, and then a wistful question, shaky and insecure. "Do I... do I make you feel... like this?"

"Yes, Ranma."

"I'm glad..." Her voice was almost a whisper now, and Akane held her tightly, listening to Ranma's gentle breathing. After a few moments, even before she began to snore softly, Akane realized she had a sleeping redhead in her lap.

"Honestly," she muttered, with a hint of amusement. "He can fall asleep anywhere."