Flames on the surface
Fiery tempest held within
Smiling child, graced with beauty
Answering troubles with feral grin
Ranma couldn't help but smile as he looked around the delivery room at the clinic. Normally the clinic made him a touch nervous, but this time it seemed to calm him. Even the constant beeping of the few machines they had strapped Makoto to wasn't bothering him.
"And to think, Nabiki thought Doc was nuts for putting in a delivery room with the hospital so close by." He couldn't help but chuckle as he recalled the argument, since Nabiki helped run all the finances in the house. Both Kasumi and Tofu had put their foot down and thrown out every piece of advice Nabiki had against it, resulting in the younger Tendo being quite vexed with them for almost a month.
"I'm beginning to think you're enjoying this." Mako muttered irritably from her bed, as Ranma continued to smile at her through her pains. She was comfortable for the time being, but was getting used enough to the contractions that she could almost time them without thinking.
"Not really, I'm just happy for you. Looking forward to when you'll be able to be comfortable again."
"You're carrying the next one. I don't know how yet, but you're definitely carrying the next one." Ranma's face instantly took on a worried look.
"Please tell me you're kidding." Ranma panicked slightly as it occurred to him that he was probably the one guy that threat could be actually used against. As he knelt down and gave Mako a short kiss, she wrapped her arms around him, holding him down a moment.
"Nope, not kidding. I'll figure out a way. Or I'll have Ami figure out a way." Ranma looked up at the doorway in time to see Kasumi walk in, dressed in full medical scrubs.
"Let's see how close you are to the main event, shall we?" The cheerful remark from Kasumi seemed almost out of place to Ranma.
"I don't suppose we can just skip to the finish?" Mako asked, earning a chuckle from Kasumi as she disappeared from Mako's view on the other side of her belly. A few moments later, with several flinches from Mako as cold medical tools went to places she felt nothing cold should ever be, and Kasumi reappeared, her smile even brighter.
"Good news, you should have a fairly easy delivery. You can start pushing whenever you feel ready. I'll go let Tofu and Ami know." As Kasumi turned to leave, Ranma reached out and put a hand on her shoulder, stopping her.
"Everything is okay, right, Kasumi?" Ranma's sudden serious tone confused Kasumi, until she saw him glance at the table with the sharper medical implements. Her smile returned once more.
"Those are just there in case, Ran-chan. Sometimes things don't always go the way we plan, and it's best to be prepared. But everything seems to be going just fine." His hand fell from her shoulder as he turned and walked back to the bed, sitting down on the empty portion next to Makoto.
"So tell me again why I decided to do this the normal way and without the medication?" Mako asked as she relaxed from another contraction.
"Because you said you didn't want to feel like it was just a dream, and you didn't want a scar from a c-section. Not like your Senshi powers would let you keep something so unsightly as a scar anyway," Ranma replied in a matter-of-fact tone, lifting Mako up a little bit and rubbing on her back. "Come on, you can do this. Not that you have much of an option at this point, but still."
"Easy for you to say, I feel like I wanna explode with every contraction. At least we're down to the 'fun' part. I guess," Makoto smiled in spite of her complaints, earning her a chuckle from Ranma.
"Hey, you're making it look easy. And just think, after it's all over, you can hold our kid, instead of just yelling at it to quit kicking you in the guts."
"Hello, Na-chan. Yes, it's time, so get everything moved in. Yes, she's in the delivery room here at the clinic now. Yes, they're both here, so you won't have to worry about sneaking it all in to the house. Get Auntie to help you out, or get her to put Genma to use. You have quite a few hours I'd guess. Alright, love you too, Sis." Kasumi hung up the phone, turning around and smiliing at Ami. "There, takes care of getting the house ready for them."
"I still can't believe you never told her she's having twins. That seems almost mean." Ami finished sorting the papers she had in her hands before getting up from the desk.
"Well, she was such a ball of nervousness for a long time there. I didn't want to send her into any more of a panic than she was already, and after that, I think it just became a matter of seeing if her or Ranma would notice. And then there was that attack at the park. I'm surprised they don't seem to even suspect it. But then, Makoto has surprised me on a lot of scores. She may have just never let on that she's aware." Kasumi kept talking as they walked back towards the delivery room.
"She's always been a very natural sort of person. It probably didn't even occur to her to worry about any of it, other than what you made a point to sit down and talk to her about. She likes to rely on her instincts."
"Her and Ranma definitely share that trait." Kasumi responded, as they neared the delivery room.
"Oh! I need to send the other girls a message, let them know this is happening. I promised I would." Ami commented as she turned around to run back to the front desk.
"That's fine, Tofu's already in there, and we already rescheduled the appointments for today, so no need to rush things."
"Like that ever worked with childbirth anyway." Ami remarked over her shoulder, earning her a chuckle from Kasumi.
Ranma sat for the next couple hours, amazed as he watched Makoto deal with the labor.
"Oh, come on, I can feel the kid slip back in just a little each time!" Mako commented in tired frustration after one particularly long push.
"That's normal, Mako, two steps forward, and one back." Kasumi replied reasonably. Makoto just growled at her. "Come on, you're already crowning, a few more good pushes and we might just have this one over with."
"So help me, I'm gonna give this kid a horrible name for making me put up with this." Mako's irritation caused Ranma to bend over and rub her shoulders, making her look up at him in appreciation. "Thank you."
"Come on, you're almost there. Just a bit more." Ranma encouraged her, offering one of his hands as she began to push once more.
"I don't feel like I'm even near done yet." Mako's off-hand comment as the contraction subsided gave Tofu and Kasumi a small laugh between them.
"You're actually doing beautifully, Miss Kino, even if you don't feel like it. Not even so much as a hiccup yet." Tofu said gently after a few more contractions. Makoto looked up at Ranma with a pleading look as Tofu concentrated on the task at hand. "Now come on, let's see if we can get one more good push out of you to get this one taken care of."
"You can't stop now, can ya?" Ranma asked gently as he placed his hands in both of Mako's, his head beside hers. "Time to meet our kid, don't ya think?"
Mako tucked her head down and gritted her teeth, trying to concentrate on anything but the pain as she felt the child move further out with each moment, the sensation of pushing seeming to last forever before she felt a loss of pressure, relaxing as Tofu and Kasumi gently pulled the small being the rest of the way out from her weary body. Kasumi's towels quickly went to work drying the child off as Makoto tried to regain her breath and energy.
"And there you go, Mako-chan. Your first little girl." Kasumi commented as she kept checking over the baby, watching Makoto's face. Her eyes welled up with tears as Kasumi set the child on her chest, small motions giving assurance to Makoto and Ranma that their newborn was well and alive. A single small wail echoed through the room as their daughter made her presence known, a small smile seeming to appear on the little one's face.
"Well then, that's one down," Kasumi said to herself as she suctioned small bits of fluid from the baby's mouth and nose. She reached up and patted Mako's shoulder, looking her directly in the eyes. "Take a few minutes to rest before you work on number two, okay?"
"Wait, what?" Ranma spoke first. Makoto's face went blank for a moment as Ranma attempted to pull his jaw back into place. "So she is actually having twins?"
"Of course. She'd have never been able to birth a child if it were just one making her stomach as big as it was. I don't think I'd want to even have thought about that." Kasumi said plainly as she walked back down to the end of the bed. "You should have been able to tell from looking at her aura, Ranma. She might not have been able to tell for certain either, but I'm pretty sure she had a suspicion."
"That's why you panicked so hard earlier when I said that, wasn't it?" Ranma asked, looking down at Makoto. She had her eyes closed for a moment, her hands holding her first child.
"Emiko." Makoto finally remarked, catching Ranma off guard, though he was quick to catch on. She softly ran her fingertips over the small patch of black hair on the baby's head. "This one is Emiko."
"Alright, let's get Emiko over to Ami so she can get her weighed and measured, and let's see about getting her sibling out to meet us too, shall we?" Kasumi smiled to she gently picked up the newborn after a few minutes, gingerly handing her over to Ami. The blue-haired girl carefully moved over to the side of the room with the first-born. "Just start working on this one the same as you did with Emiko. Whenever you're ready. And don't worry, the second one is always easier in a twin birth."
"Sometimes I really wish I wasn't right about my suspicions." Makoto groaned as Kasumi continued to smile at her. She didn't have to wait long as her body seemed intent on getting the second child out in quick order. Ranma frowned as he could feel the weariness in Makoto as she began pushing once again.
"Just a little longer, Mako-chan." He spoke quietly in her ear as she relaxed. She smiled up at him in spite of her exhaustion.
"I know, I'm just so tired." She looked down again at her belly, and very gently patted at it. "Come on number two, let's get this show on the road, 'kay?" Ranma forced himself to supress a chuckle as Mako's joke was quickly answered with another contraction.
"Oh my, this one will be quick. You made a lot of progress with that push." Kasumi remarked from the foot of the bed excitedly. Ranma patted Mako's arms before setting his hands back in her's.
"You heard her, just a little more." He spoke excitedly, just as eager to get the ordeal over with as he figured she was. He was tired of seeing her in pain.
"I'm working on it!" She exclaimed in frustration. Her grip on Ranma's hands intensified as her womb tightened up once more. She let out a yell of frustration as she relaxed a minute later. "Come ooooon!"
"Calm down, Mako. It's no different from the first. I know you're tired, but you can do it." Ranma's words had the desired effect as Makoto let herself lean back against him.
"I just want this part to be over with." She replied after a moment.
"I know. I want it to be over with too. But you can only do so much at one time. Don't try so hard to force it. You just wanna push the kid out, not launch it at Tofu and Kasumi." Ranma grinned as he got a small smile out of Makoto.
"I'm punching you for that later." Her smile didn't fade this time as another contraction hit, forcing her to stop talking as she concentrated. Ranma could tell from watching Tofu and Kasumi's faces that this one was just about at an end.
"Keep pushing, Mako, alllllmost...and there, done!" Kasumi exclaimed. Makoto relaxed finally, leaning back against Ranma who wiped off her forehead and kissed her soundly.
"Beautiful." He commented as he leaned back, watching as Kasumi toweled the mess off of the second child. This one wasted no time in screaming it's defiance at the bright world it had been thrust into.
"Good lungs on this one. And Ranma's family showing through in the hair once again. She's gonna be your rough one of the two I bet," Tofu commented as he reeled back slightly from the sudden wail in one of his ears. Kasumi repeated her earlier actions, bringing the child up to rest on Makoto as she finished cleaning it off. Ranma resisted the urge to bury his face in his hands as he noticed the touch of red hair on the child's head that had prompted Tofu's comment.
"Kokoro. That's who you are little one." Mako said as she held her second child. Kasumi had brought Emiko back over to Ranma, who held her down close to her mother and sister. He found himself blinking a moment later as a flash went off from Kasumi's hastily acquired camera.
"And that is going to be one for the photo album I'm thinking." Kasumi chirped happily as she put the camera back down. Mako fussed a little but finally relenquished Kokoro over to Kasumi so she could get the measurements done. Meanwhile, Ranma handed their first daughter back to her, smiling happily as he watched Makoto's weariness turn to joy the longer she held either of the girls. It did take all of his willpower not to panic and turn around when Makoto unthinkingly moved her cover off of her chest and lifted Emiko up to breastfeed. A momentary look of frustration passed over Mako's face as first Emiko did nothing, but it was quickly wiped away as she latched on and started feeding hungrily.
"Well, I was getting ready to ask if you'd bothered to think about that matter, but it looks like you're a step ahead of me for once," Kasumi mentioned as she brought Kokoro back over. "Now for the fun part, see if you can manage to feed them both at once."
"I don't think I'm that talented! It's probably just gonna have to be one at a time." Mako replied, laughing lightly. She switched kids with Ranma a few minutes later as Emiko apparently had her fill. Kasumi smiled to herself as she watched them. She mentally frowned for a moment after realizing that there was, of course, still clean-up to do. She brightened considerably as she remembered that with Ami helping it should be easily done in half the time the last few births had taken.
Nabiki huffed for a moment as she fussed over where to put everything in the nursery.
"I'm really not sure why Kasumi left this to me of all people, it's not like I'm a mother."
"I think she suspected I'd spill the beans, and I fear she's probably correct," Nodoka commented from behind Nabiki as she and Genma carried in the second crib. "Although I'm also curious how Kasumi knew, but apparently my child and Miss Kino didn't."
"Simply put, Ranma wasn't paying any attention to it, near as we can tell. As for Makoto, I'm really not sure if she knew or not. She's very open, but seems to just shrug some things off as unimportant."
"A lot like my child then." Nodoka commented as she waved Genma out with a flip of the hand, smiling as he looked thankful to get away from the manual labor.
"When did he stop being your manly son?" Nabiki asked after a few moments of silence while the two of them assembled the various pieces of furniture.
"About the same time I realized I don't have a son anymore. I mean, I do, but I don't. My child is just as much a daughter as a son, at least to me, so to call him by either feels as if I'm shoving aside the other aspect. For someone as well balanced as he is, I feel I would be disrespecting his strides at maintaining that balance." Nodoka smiled as she finished up the second crib, testing it's sturdiness. Nabiki blinked as she realized just how fast Nodoka had done so.
"So, why exactly did Genma take Ranma away from you for that training trip?"
"Because my husband's an idiot." Nodoka's quick answer caused a smirk from Nabiki, even as Nodoka smiled herself. "And I was just as much of one, too."
"Whatever, as Ranma likes to say, no use regretting the past."
Several hours later found Ranma walking through the front door with one of the babies in his arms, followed by a weary Makoto, and then Kasumi with the other child. Tofu brought up the rear of the line. Nodoka gave in to her urge to squeal like a schoolgirl as she saw them come around the corner. Nabiki was content to just smile and stay in her chair.
"Hold on a sec, Mom. Let us get everything put down before we start passing the babies around." Ranma commented as he worked on setting down the bags he had in his free hand.
"Ohhh, you're no fun. Making me wait." Nodoka's impatience was quickly wiped away by her enthusiasm. Ranma smiled after a moment as he gently handed the child from his arms to her.
"This one is Kokoro. Emiko is the other one." He turned and helped Makoto down to the couch, wincing in sympathy as she shifted several times in her attempts to get comfortable.
"Oh my, you can definitely see this one has our blood!" Nodoka enthused, looking at Kokoro's small shock of red hair.
"I'm gonna be hearing that for the rest of my life, aren't I?" Ranma mumbled to himself, smiling in spite of his grumbling.
"Ranma, come with me." Kasumi stated after she handed Emiko over to Makoto. Ranma shrugged his shoulders at Mako as she looked at him with curiosity, before following Kasumi down the hall to the nursery. He smiled as he opened the door to see the room more full than it had been prior to their leaving.
"Well then, I see someone was prepared for this. I'm guessing I owe you and Nabiki some thanks. I was a bit worried about that." Kasumi smiled as Ranma wrapped her in a hug.
"Someone has to help watch out for you. Besides, you were a bit sidetracked. Not that I blame you for that. Besides, we're still family, and family cover's each other's rears." Kasumi smiled as she stepped back from him.
"Strange how I used to wonder about that. Never really had a clue till after Pops brought me here. Now look at all this. Wonder what Akane would think." Ranma mused as he walked around the room a moment.
"I think she'd be too busy playing with the babies to care about this room. Now, I need you to try and help Makoto get any rest she can for the next few days. That was a relatively easy birth, but twins still tend to take a lot out of the mother." Kasumi looked at Ranma, making sure she had his attention. "She's probably going to surprise me again, but I want you to keep a close eye on her, and try to keep her from worrying too much over the girls. Nodoka and I can help watch them too, if it comes down to it."
"Yeah, I get ya. I'm just afraid it's gonna be a pain and a half to convince her to rest. But I'll do what I can. She's probably gonna feel like she has to feed them constantly, if nothing else." Ranma fiddled with the base of his ponytail, frowning slightly.
"Well, the first few days she'll feel like that. But they'll slow down eventually. Now, I need to go get dinner ready, as late as it is. You make sure to pamper her as much as you can so she can heal." Ranma nodded as Kasumi walked out of the room. He glanced around and smiled appreciatively before turning off the lights and heading back out to the living room to see that the majority of the Senshi had managed to show up en masse while he'd been out of the room.
"Welcome, ladies. Anyone need any drinks?" Ranma asked as he stepped out from the hall, smirking as he realized his words had fallen on deaf ears. The girls were all concentrated on the babies, except for Setsuna who leaned against the opposite wall. She gave a warm smile as Ranma walked over to lean against the wall next to her. "So, decided to stay out of the mob there?"
"I've seen several thousand babies over the years. At that age they tend to look very similar. I'll have plenty of time to see them later. How are you and Makoto?" Setsuna replied.
"I'm fine for now, will be for a day or two if necessary, although Doc will probably tear a strip off of me if I collapse again. Makoto on the other hand is tired, but she's being stubborn. Managed to convince her to take a small nap at the clinic, but that's been about it. Once the girls are gone for the night I'll see if I can convince her to get some more sleep."
"I see. More thoughtful than I'd counted on once again." The all-knowing smile slowly appeared on Setsuna's face as they spoke.
"Nah, that's mostly Kasumi." Ranma waved a hand dismissively.
"I don't think nearly as much of your kindness is Kasumi as you'd like others to think." Setsuna's smile never moved, unnerving Ranma a little. Sometimes she made him wonder just how much she actually did know. At least she was on his side of everything.
"Perhaps. I'm gonna go get drinks, pretty sure they're all gonna need one the way they keep talking over there." Ranma turned the corner just in time for Kasumi to come through the door with a tray of drinks, barely managing to avoid bumping into her. It was a testament to Kasumi's control that only one glass spilled any water at all, but still enough to splash Ranma and trigger the transformation. Ranma sighed as she shook herself slightly, smiling ruefully. "Ya know, I can tell where everyone is in the house at all times, and I know you can too. So how do we manage to do this?'
"Kami decided you needed to have boobs tonite, I guess. Now go dry off." Kasumi smiled as she continued into the living room. Ranma walked down the hall to the bedroom, muttering under her breath.
"Oh my gosh, the hair on that one, it's so bright! So cute!" Usagi squealed as she got her first good look at Kokoro. "Is it going to stay like that?"
"As far as I know, yes, her hair color will stay like that. Or it may change as she gets older. Mine certainly went closer to red as I got older, but it was a much darker brown when I was little." Mako answered, smiling as she watched the all the girls around her. She was silently thankful as the other Senshi fussed over the babies, giving her a chance to sit and relax. As the rabble continued on for a small while, she began to realize she was missing someone. "Kasumi?"
"Hmmm. He got splashed a little bit ago and went to dry off I thought. I'll go check on him."
Kasumi worried slightly as she approached Ranma's room. Her own thoughts were thrown out of order for a moment as she felt confusion from inside the room. Knocking lightly before letting herself in, she found Ranma staring at several of her dress-shirts before looking at the mirror and back at the shirts.
"Ranma? Is something wrong?" Kasumi asked as she moved closer.
"Yeah...but I don't know what exactly."
"Then why the pile of shirts?"
"Oh, I was trying to decide which one I wanted to wear. But they're all really snug in the bust right now. Like, really snug. Worse than last night. Then I got sidetracked trying to pin down what it is that feels so off right now."
"Do I need to adjust them?" Kasumi focused on the one problem she knew she could fix immediately if she needed to.
"No, I think my breasts need to adjust back down to normal size. Seriously, these things have never felt so heavy. And they were starting to hurt from how tight my shirt was before I got it off." Ranma's exasperated sigh as she cupped her chest in both hands worried Kasumi enough to step over and look closer.
"Looks like I was right. Good thing I've had you both on the same diet. Your female form must have connected quickly with Makoto. I recall you were doing that with Akane's periods for the last several months as well once you two stopped fighting, no matter how long you were actually in female form." Kasumi pursed her lips for a moment as she mulled the facts over, more and more sure what she was dealing with.
"So in other words, I'm doomed."
"Well, I'm not sure I would look at it as being quite that bad, but it appears you are pretty much stuck with dealing with a lot of the same changes she is. Makes me wonder if you would have felt her contractions had you been female at the time." Kasumi stood back up straight and walked over to a dresser that Ranma was pretty sure contained only Makoto's clothes. "Here, I picked up a couple of spares just in case of this, after our conversation last night."
"Nursing bras? I didn't even realize they make such a thing. Or why I'd want one." Ranma commented as she was handed the new garment.
"It will be more comfortable for you whether you nurse or not. And don't let Nodoka hear you say that or she will drag you down to the lingerie store for a proper education." Kasumi's quip had it's desired effect of getting a giggle out of Ranma. She stepped forward and wrapped the smaller girl in a hug. She was caught off-guard as she heard sniffles lightly in the quiet room.
"I can't help but think that this shouldn't be happening to me, Kasumi. Is that wrong?"
"It's not wrong. It's just a natural fear I would think for someone thrust into your position. But what exactly are you scared of? Are you scared of being both a mother and a father? Just scared to be a little more 'womanly' than you originally thought you'd ever be? Is that just a little of the old Ranma showing through? Or is it just the fear of being a new parent?" Kasumi asked, stepping back and leading Ranma over to the edge of the bed where she sat down heavily.
"I'm scared of being me anymore, Kasumi. I'm a real unknown in our world. As far as I know I'm the only one in recent history to fall prey to a gender changing curse, other than Herb, and he doesn't really count since his society is so blasted weird. It was so easy before, just being a guy who happened to grow boobs on occasion with a good splash. I never made it anywhere far enough with Akane to even think this far ahead." Ranma buried her head in her hands. "What's appropriate now? Do I try to remain a father to these kids? Do I try to just be a second mother? Something in the middle? Do I even know enough to be either one?"
"Back up and slow down, Ranma. Think for a few moments. What do you know about being a parent?"
"Not a damned thing?" Ranma responded glumly. Kasumi watched as muscles seemed to randomly tighten across the surface of Ranma's body, a testament to just how tightly wound the sometimes-girl was, how close to breaking her control and lash out in confusion. Kasumi remained silent, unsure of what was the 'correct' answer, or if there even was one. "Let's face it Kasumi, I've gotten better, but I still barely know a damned thing about being anything close to normal. I'm great for fights, rescuing people, and decent at helping people outside of all that. Beyond that, I'm really nothing, a nobody."
"You are hardly a nobody. What is it that you do best, Ranma?" Kasumi asked, kneeling in front of the distressed redhead and pulling her hands down. Just like Ranma and the others had never found themselves capable of saying no to Kasumi, Kasumi couldn't stand to see them hurting mentally. The lost look in Ranma's eyes tore at her.
"Pound people who deserve it?"
"Related, but not quite what I'm talking about. What is it that you truly excel at?" Kasumi hated having to draw out the answer, but it always seemed to work best for dealing with Ranma.
"Think a little more broad." Kasumi felt a slight urge to smack herself in the forehead for taking the long way around to the answer. She quickly squashed the idea.
"...I give up?" Ranma replied, her shoulders slumping just a bit more.
"What do you do every time you run into something you've never seen before?" Kasumi could only smile, knowing how frustrating this was to Ranma.
"Adapt?" Ranma felt like she was taking shots in the dark now, wildly guessing at Kasumi's intentions.
"And what do you think being a parent is really about?"
"Knowing how to raise a kid?" Kasumi sighed and smiled.
"No, baka. It's about being quick to adapt to your children and all the surprising things they'll do to keep you on your toes. This is nothing you can't handle, Ranma. Just do what comes naturally to you. And that includes whatever you choose to do with the extra accessories that came with your curse." Kasumi waited for a few minutes as understanding slowly drug Ranma's mood back up out of the pit she had worked herself into.
"I get so worked up over the dumbest things sometimes, don't I?" Ranma smiled for the first time since Kasumi had entered the room, chuckling lightly at her own antics. She threw her arms around the taller brunette. "What would I do without you, Kasumi?"
"Good thing we don't have to find out, ne? Now get a top on, you shameless harlot, and get back out in the main room. You were gone long enough that Makoto noticed you were missing." Ranma stuck her tongue out at Kasumi as the door closed behind the elder Tendo. She then immediately looked at the garment that would have once made her cringe and run. She held it up and stared at it while grumbling under her breath.
"Alright, bra. You keep these things from making me feel like I've installed extra weights in my chest, and I won't call you a piece of crap like I do the rest of your frilly kind. Do we have a deal?"
"Everything okay?" Mako asked as Ranma came out wearing a simple red blouse with a black mid-length skirt. "That's not one of your normal shirts."
"No, I couldn't squeeze into those at the moment. This is one Nabiki bought me before I got my dress-shirts." Ranma's simple answer left Mako in confusion for a moment as the redhead squeezed through the throng of Senshi and sat down next to her.
"But, I thought they adjusted?"
"They do. We'll talk about it later, 'kay?" Ranma glanced around the room at the other Senshi, Mako giving her a 'oh' look before letting the subject drop. Then she grinned.
"And the skirt?"
"I honestly have no clue what made me decide to wear that instead of pants. It just felt right with the shirt, I guess." Ranma smiled as she looked around the room, checking on the babies. Kokoro was being held by Minako, and being fussed over by Usagi. No huge surprise there, Usagi seemed to go straight into hyper mode when kids were present. Michiru and Haruka had apparently had other plans already for the evening, but Hotaru had come with Setsuna, and was currently seated with Emiko. Rei and Ami were nearby as well. Ranma was startled out of her momentary distraction as Mako leaned over and wrapped her arms around the smaller girl.
"I'm glad that's over." Mako spoke quietly, trying to make sure not to disturb the peace of the room.
"I can imagine. So, was it worth it?"
"Worth the pregnancy and the birth? Totally. I can definitely think of better ways to end up pregnant, though." The immediate frown on Mako's face worried Ranma. Not that she blamed the taller girl. Time enough to work on that after she recovered physically, after all.
"Can't change the past, now can we?"
"No, but I can't help but wish that there had been some way for me to end up here without going through that." Mako's face hardened a little more.
"What was it you said the other night? Better us than the people who can't handle it?" Ranma pulled Mako's hands down, wrapping them in her smaller fingers.
"Not in those words, but I guess that is what I was getting at, wasn't it?" Ranma relaxed as Mako's gentle smile finally came to light once more.
"It's either that, or I suck at philosophical discussions. Which may be the case, anyway, but whatever."
"Either way, I'm glad at least that they're your girls." Mako leaned her head over, giggling as she realized that her head was now on top of Ranma's.
"Our girls. They're definitely not just mine. If not for you and that stubborn streak of yours, they wouldn't even be here." Ranma argued. She looked up to see Kasumi walking in with a tray laden with food. "Looks like it's dinner time, I'll bring you a plate."
"You don't need to, I can come-" Mako began to protest but was quieted by Ranma's finger on her lips.
"Stay. Be comfortable. You just got done having twins, and if what I noticed earlier was any indication, you're still gonna be really sore for a while. Rest for a few days before you start trying to be a super hero again. Give yourself that much at least, okay?" Ranma finally took her finger off of Mako's mouth as the she received a nod and a smile. Kasumi handed Ranma a couple plates as she approached the table, having already anticipated the situation. "Quit reading my mind, Kasumi."
"Quit doing what makes the most sense."
"Yeah, right. Then you'd just yell at me for that." Ranma turned to walk back to the couch, dodging around the girls who weren't currently holding babies. She handed one of the plates to Mako, setting her own on the couch for a moment and walking away. She quickly returned with two drinks, handing both of them to Mako as she picked up her own food and sat down.
"This is too peaceful." Mako blurted out after a few minutes of eating.
"I thought I was supposed to be the paranoid one?" Ranma replied after another bite.
"You might be rubbing off on me. I honestly expected them to attack while I was having the kids." Makoto frowned as she took another bite.
"Yeah, I'd said the same to Kasumi last night."
"I'm going to be a little disappointed if not. End of the week at the latest I'd say."
"I don't think I'll have my powers back that soon."
"Doesn't matter, I'll take care of it."
"If you say so."
Ranma blinked after a moment, stopping mid-bite. "We did not just do that."
"Do what?" Mako asked, stopping for a moment as well.
"Have an entire conversation like that."
"Yep." Mako calmly returned to eating her dinner.
"How?" Ranma sat for a moment, an irritated look on her face. Makoto grinned as she leaned over and planted a kiss on Ranma's cheek.
"Because I'm in your head." Ranma's irritation dissolved with the kiss, and left her confused instead.
"Well crap." Ranma finally blurted out half a minute later. Mako giggled as Ranma went back to eating her dinner.
Ranma stood up a few minutes later as she felt something odd in the air. Moving to the door into the back yard, she stopped as she opened it.
"Something wrong?" Mako asked, picking up on the sudden change in Ranma's mood.
"Youma portal in about three, two, one." Ranma counted down the seconds till the portal intruded on everyone else's senses, bringing the Senshi to their feet. Ranma held one hand out behind her and waved them back.
"Let me take care of this one. I need a good stretch anyway." Ranma's grin was feral as she flipped the mental switch to flash into her Knight form while hopping down into the yard. The sky darkened in answer to the gaping void of the portal as the youma emerged. As the large beast started to step out, lightning crashed down and surrounded Ranma, forcing everyone to avert their eyes at the bright flash. As they looked forward, Ranma stood once again clad in the silver armor pieces, though this time the outfit changed instead to a black mini-skirt similar to the rest of the Senshi. Her hair was unbraided, but tied together with the silver and green ribbons at even intervals as it fell behind her. The redhead frowned as she looked down at the skirt, fuming as she felt her hair moving against her back. She lifted the skirt to see a pair of solid black panties covering her shapely rear. "Really? I couldn't have at least kept the pants as a girl? And that is totally not the underwear I was wearing." A resigned sigh echoed across the yard as she waited for the youma to fully emerge from the portal. "Well at least I've got the legs for this. "
"Okay, which one of you is responsible for all the fashion changes in your transformations?" Nabiki asked as she quickly noted all the changes from inside the house. "Seriously, it's not that it looks bad, but come on, even Ranma has more logical sense than that for combat wear. I mean, that's not quite a fuku, but damn it's close."
"At least she looks good in it." Minako piped up.
This youma wasted no time charging forward to meet Ranma head-on, stopping in confusion as it met with empty air.
"Hey, bone head, may wanna check where you're aiming." Ranma stood on top of the outer wall of the Tendo home, behind the creature. She glanced over it, noticing that it was as big as the larger ones had been before, but was hunched over, more bestial. Humanoid still, but definitely more beast than man in this one. The claws that they had all been equipped with were still present however, in spite of the change in the creature's design. A small hop landed Ranma next to the wall, grinning as the creature immediately took off full-sprint towards her. "Too easy."
A quick leap upwards took her out of the creature's path, causing it to go crashing through the wall that had been behind her. She smirked as the dust settled, landing softly.
"All right, time to see just how much of an impact I can make in you." The smirk turned back into the grin as Ranma blurred into motion.
"Something's different tonite." Tofu noted from behind Kasumi. The Senshi had gathered at the doorway to watch, in case something happened, leaving the babies with Makoto who was still seated on the couch, and with Kasumi who stood in the doorway to the kitchen.
"Not just that. He was able to sense the portal before it even started to open. And that creature out there, no ki from it, at all. On top of that, watch Ranma. He's not toying with this creature at all. He's systematically dismantling it, one limb at a time." Kasumi narrowed her eyes, watching as she realized Tofu was right. Ranma would wait for the creature to lash out, dodging around the attacking limb and twisting to swing all the energy from the movement into a devastating punch or kick, leaving the limb shattered and useless.
"But it's healing the limbs anyway." Kasumi brought her free hand up to her chin for a moment, her brow furrowing as she puzzled through it all.
"Yes, but he's broken that arm three times now. It's healing noticeably slower each time. I think somehow Ranma's done it again. He's instinctively adapted to his new abilities, and is already using them in fashions he doesn't even realize. Now he's just testing how much he has to break before these creatures can't regenerate. Or at least I think that's what he's doing."
Ranma frowned as the creature kept healing broken limbs.
"Ugh, seriously, how many times can you do that? Or do I just have to break all of you at once to keep you down?" She hopped back as the creature stopped to heal a leg that Ranma had shattered just as a stalling maneuver. A quick Mouko Takabisha flew from her hands, but impacted on an energy shield. Ranma growled as the shield appeared, wondering if there was something specific about the blue hexagon patterns she noticed. "Okay, so you've got some sort of barrier against ki attacks. So why just ki? Why not use that to stop my physical attacks? They should be the same basic energy."
A little bit of concentration left her with a hand full of lightning which she threw in the creature's face, grinning as it exploded in a shower of burnt flesh.
"Oh, good. So you're immune to my ki attacks, but not the magic. Good thing I've gotten better with that here lately." The air began to crackle as Ranma began forcing as much energy as she could into the air around her hands. She blinked as she remembered her katana, reaching around to her back and pulling it from it's sheath at her belt. All the energy she had worked up immediately focused on the razor sharp edge of the blade, leaving a glowing line in the air behind it's movements. She looked up in the regenerating face of the creature, an almost sadistic smile on her face. The youma backed up slowly. "Ooooh, lightsaber. Didn't know I could do that. So, how much energy do you think there actually is in that edge right now?"
"You feel it now?" Tofu asked, more and more agitated as the one-sided fight calmed down for a moment.
"I do. I've never felt that from Ranma. Even in her less controlled moments, nothing close to such an angry force."
"It's not just anger. If it was just that, Ranma would have already just blasted that thing into bits with the force she's throwing around and it would've been over. It's something more."
"Wait...no, I think I know what it is." Kasumi sighed as she heard an explosion from the backyard, looking up to see a limb completely severed where Ranma had finally struck out at the creature. "It's Ranma trying to balance out again."
"Come again, dear?" Tofu winced as he watched Ranma fly back from a sudden strike, impacting with the compound wall.
"Remember how his female form started lining up with Akane after they started getting along?" Tofu nodded at his wife, still watching out the open back door as Ranma flipped back to her feet from the wall, slowly walking back towards the apprehensive youma.
"As I recall he accused Akane of poisoning him the first time they had their time together. He's done the same with his new lady?" He grinned as he remembered that episode. Baka was one of the nicer things Akane had called him.
"Yes. Except it's gone a step further, and has mirrored her current condition."
"And knowing Ranma like we do, it's stepped him over into mental territory he may or may not have been ready to accept." Tofu frowned. He didn't like where this was going.
"Yes. I thought he was accepting it, with the way she came back out dressed tonite. If what we're feeling is any indication, he's still fighting it subconciously. It feels like a mother's protective instinct, and it's being crossed with his usual confidence."
"Dangerous combination. A mother who's protecting her young and knows she can destroy you at any point in time."
"Yes. At least I think that's what it is."
"You've always been better at pinning down specific emotions. It's making me uncomfortable, that's all I know. And Ranma has never put out an aura that's unsettled me before."
"I'm not worried about the aura. It's disquieting, yes, but I don't think that's a real cause for worry. That should change as soon as the creature's gone. I'm worried about Ranma once this fight is over and his concentration is broken."
"You're worried that once he's not fighting, he'll go back to thinking about it." Kasumi nodded. "I'll leave that to you then. You're far better at dealing with him than I am."
"Of course, I'm a woman after all." Kasumi flashed Tofu a playful grin.
"Are you sure that's what he needs?"
"No, but I do know he reacts better to me than he does to you, because of the conditioning of his idiot father."
"True enough. Watch it, looks like the party's about to end out there. Ranma's mood just shifted."
"Alright. I think I've figured out enough about you. That shield of yours only works against my ki, but doesn't work against physical attacks, and won't block magic either. Don't know what dimension you got pulled from, but I hope for your sake she sends any of you she has left back to your home." Ranma stood firmly in front of the now bleeding and broken creature, eyes closed for a moment as she breathed in deeply before slowly exhaling. She opened her eyes once more, all of the seeming playfullness draining from her face as her eyes began to exhibit their colorful shine once more. In place of the previous energy, her face showed sadness. "Last warning. Go back to where you came from, or you're dust. Even an animal like you can understand how little of a chance you have here."
The creature roared it's inhuman defiance, a hellish scream that was cut short as Ranma blurred. The trail of lightning on her glowing blade left an arc as it went up then came back down in one smooth motion, cleanly going through the neck of the youma and silencing it's voice.
"I had hoped perhaps she would allow you to just go back where you came from. I'm sure you didn't want to be attacking me." Ranma sighed as she cleaned her blade on the body just before it started to scatter into dust. A quick flip of her wrist and the blade slid home, catching her attention as she looked at the handle. "Oh, great, you turned red in this form, did you? Wonderful, something else to tell Mom about I guess. I wonder if you did that the first time I changed into this. Oh well."
"Amazing. My master said to expect you to break anything I send at you, but I was determined to test it anyway. It's only too bad I can't really adjust that shield they have." Ranma snapped around to find Voidling seated on an unbroken piece of the compound wall.
"You've got less than thirty seconds before I destroy you." All hints of Ranma's previous sadness was gone now, nor did her playfulness from before show again as she narrowed her eyes on the white-clad darkling.
"You say that as if you can touch me." A sneer crossed Voidling's face as she hopped down off of the wall.
"I seem to recall knocking you on your ass before. And that was when I was still very new to focusing this magic I have now. Tell me, does your little cloud work when I blanket an entire area in lightning?" Ranma asked, her eyes still glowing as she let her power reside just beneath the surface.
"I made a mistake in estimating just how much power you had. Actually made that mistake twice, I'll admit. But let's not be hasty, after all, I'm not dumb enough to keep making the same mistakes. Join me-"
"Stuff it. If you're even half as smart as you claim, you know there's no chance of me ever joining you." Voidling's smile broke for an instant as she was interrupted.
"But you already did." The smile returned as Voidling's voice dropped to just above a whisper.
"Do what?" Ranma reached back for the handle of her katana, preparing to snap forward with another arcing lightning attack as Voidling began to dissolve.
"You'll see." Voidling's giggle faded into the air around them as she dissipated into smoke once again.
"Well...that's just great." Ranma groused to herself as she allowed her power to settle back to regular eyes faded back to their normal unlit blue as she stood for a moment, reaching out with all of her senses for any sign that Voidling hadn't left. After finding nothing for several minutes, she began walking back towards the house.
"What was that all about?" Setsuna asked as the redhead neared the porch.
"Usual super-villain nonsense. 'Join me, rule the world, blah blah.' You know how that gets." Ranma waved her hand flippantly. "Are the kids alright?"
"They didn't even bat an eye through all that. I suspect they're going to have a very strange sense of what passes for normal. At least they will if this keeps up through their lives." Setsuna replied as the other girls scattered back into the living room at the mention of the babies. Ranma frowned as they all turned, mulling over the events in her mind, Setsuna noticing quickly. "There was more to that little chat, wasn't there?"
"Yeah. Can someone go back in time and alter thoughts?" Ranma answered, shifting back to her civilian guise. She quickly twirled in place, watching her skirt spin around. Kasumi watched from the doorway of the kitchen, unnoticed by the seemingly distracted redhead.
"No, not without you remembering them doing so. Unless you were brainwashed to forget about it." Setsuna quirked an eyebrow watching the redhead's antics, wondering for just a moment if perhaps Voidling had done something after all.
"Doesn't seem to be Voidling's strong point. Brainwashing, that is. I think she'd send someone a little more intelligent after us if she could manage that." Ranma continued to look over her skirt, holding it out from her legs.
"Don't count it out yet. Enough of these villains always try to slowly ramp things up. It's possible she's making the same mistake."
"Yeah, they do seem to do that, don't they? Are they all just afraid to go all out right off the bat?"
"Distrust, greed, pride, fear. It's always something different that drives them all." Setsuna paused to think on the matter. "You think she's up to something specific?"
"I know she's up to something, and it has to do with me now. She asked me to join her, I told her to stuff it, and she told me I already did." Setsuna's eyes widened at Ranma's confession. "Yeah, confuses me too."
"That...makes no sense. They couldn't have pulled you out of time, or you wouldn't be here now."
"What about you?" Ranma arched an eyebrow.
"No, I can't do that either. It's like trying to pull from other dimensions, the moment I try I get destroyed." Ranma's eyes bugged out for a moment.
"Yes, It's pretty much instantaneous backlash from my powers for me to tamper directly with time or the different dimensions. I'm free to watch, to guide, and to alter only minor details. The trick has been learning over the years what small details I can change that can have lasting impact."
"But I thought you could travel through time?"
"There are a lot of limitations to it. Suffice to say I've learned how to sidestep the majority of them as the years have slid by, but, I'm still bound by them in the end. It's a matter of knowing just how far I can push the limits."
"Wait...you said you can't pull from other dimensions? What if they can?"
"They can't...or they shouldn't be able to. Unless they're blatantly ignoring the rules."
"Voidling's been sending stuff at us that isn't available in our timeline. And she was clouding the Gates from you before if I remember right."
"Which is exactly why I'm concerned. I'm going to go see what I can find out. I'll let you know." Ranma nodded as Setsuna opened a portal and stepped through it, disappearing from sight as it closed around her. Kasumi chose that moment to step forward from the kitchen, handing off Kokoro to Nabiki who looked mildly irritated before looking down at the child and softening her expression.
"Ranma, come with me, please?" Kasumi asked, walking down the hell towards the nursery.
"Something up, Ka-chan?" Ranma asked as they walked back into his and Makoto's bedroom.
"Are you alright?" Kasumi asked, wondering how best to approach the matter.
"I think I'm losing my mind, but other than that I'm okay, I think," Ranma answered, looking at the floor.
"Don't try to force yourself to be something else, Ranma. That's not what I was trying to suggest to you earlier."
"I know, Kasumi. I think this is just one of those things that I'm going to be on the fence about for a good while."
"Stay back here and think about it for a while if you think it will help. Seeing the kids is only going to serve to confuse you even more, until you've pinned down your own expectations."
"Yeah. That's probably not a bad idea, honestly. Last thing I need is one of the girls trying to prod at me when I'm irritated with this. They mean well, but it's not something I really need help with, I think."
"Very well. Let me know if you need anything." Ranma waved in thanks at Kasumi as the taller girl walked out the door, slowly closing it behind her. After a moment, Ranma sat down on the edge of the bed, folding her knees to her chest and wrapping her arms around them.
The Senshi went their seperate ways a short while later, leaving Makoto to completely relax finally. She smiled as she finished feeding Kokoro, picking up Emiko and starting again with the process as Kasumi took Kokoro for her.
"I swear, you two are going to drain me dry if we keep up this pace." Makoto commented quietly.
"I think they'll get full faster than you'll run out." Kasumi commented as she smiled while setting a towel on her shoulder. She lifted Kokoro up and gently began patting on her back.
"So how is it you don't have any kids of your own yet anyway, Kasumi?"
"We've never felt that it was a good time to do so just yet, and apparently nature hasn't felt it to be a good idea to override my birth control."
"Could have fooled me with how you handle everything around here. You're like the culmination of what every good mother strives for."
"Oh my, I'm nowhere near that great. I just try to do my best is all. I never really have tried to do anything else, except for finally going to school."
"And you have NO idea how long it took me to finally convince her to do that. I'd been arguing with her to do that since before Ranma showed up." Nabiki commented as she walked down the stairs.
"I wanted to make sure everyone else in the family was taken care of first." Kasumi protested. Nabiki was content to merely roll her eyes while smiling in understanding.
"Where is Ranma? I haven't seen him since before the girls left." Makoto asked, now that her mind wasn't completely focused on feeding the children.
"I think he's in your room." Kasumi responded, watching as Makoto immediately got up and walked down the hall, seemingly oblivious to the child in her arm that was still feeding at her breast.
"Talk about taking to it like a duck to water," Nabiki said quietly to Kasumi as they watched her walk away.
"Well, I guess there is no worry about her feeling reserved when it comes to feeding them." Kasumi replied, laughing lightly as Kokoro noisily burped in her ear. "I take it you agree, little one."
Makoto opened the door to the room quietly, stepping in to find Ranma in a similar spot as Kasumi had found her earlier in the day, inspecting herself in the mirror sans shirt.
"Ranma?" Makoto asked quietly as she closed the door behind her.
"Oh, hey Mako." Ranma replied morosely, not bothering to turn around.
"What's wrong?" Green eyes met blue in the mirror, Makoto quickly crossing the distance of the room. "You've been back here since you came back to talk to Kasumi."
"I'm...not sure I can explain well."
"Then at least try. I'm not going to run, I'm not going to beat on you. I'm not going to try and turn you into something you don't want to be." Mako's free hand came up to pull Ranma's face around to look at her. "You've told me you'd be by my side enough times. I'll be by yours as well. You just have to let me."
"But what is it you expect me to be?" Dejection crept through, Ranma tearing her face away to look into the mirror once more at her topless form. "What kind of a father am I supposed to be when I look like this?"
"You're not supposed to be a father. You're supposed to be a parent." Makoto's firm words pulled Ranma's attention back. Confusion replaced the previous depression for a moment.
"Isn't that the same thing?"
"No, it isn't. When someone calls you a father, you feel as if certain things are expected of you. Certain manly things. The same if someone calls you a mother. You expect more womanly things. But if someone calls you a parent, it gets rid of the gender. You're just someone who's taking care of their child. Or children as the case is with us." Makoto's spirited explanation finally gained enough momentum to shake her child's grasp on her breast loose, sidelining her concentration as Emiko squalled for just a moment. Ranma giggled as Makoto looked down in a slight panic, apologizing to the child. Makoto glanced up at the clock on the wall, smiling lightly. "Oh well, was about time to stop feeding her anyway, before she explodes. Here, take her while I stuff myself back in my shirt and go get a towel to burp her." Ranma smiled as she took the child, carefully holding her as Makoto made good on her word, closing her shirt and walking out down the hallway. She made it out to the living room, intending to bring Kokoro back with her, getting near Kasumi before she was stopped.
"Heeeeeeeelp!" Kasumi and Makoto both looked at each other with wide eyes hearing Ranma's slightly distressed yell from the bedroom. Mako quickly grabbed a spare towel as Kasumi stood up and followed her with Kokoro. They rounded the corner to find Ranma with Emiko having latched onto her breast, and a thoroughly freaked out look on the redhead's face. Both girls tried to contain their chuckles. "Quit laughing, this is freaking weird even for me!" Neither normal girl could contain themselves as they burst out laughing finally. Kasumi was the first to recover.
"Well, I see you figured out how those work," Kasumi quipped, earning her a glare from a certain redhead.
"I was just holding her, and next thing I know she twists just a little and bam, she's latched on like a suction cup! That's what I get for forgetting I was topless for a moment."
"Welcome to what I've been dealing with since they came out." Makoto finally got her breath back, wincing as sore muscles complained about the extended bout of mirth. "Oh jeez, a laugh like that feels good, but owwwww."
"Well, what do you think of them now, Ranma?" Kasumi asked, wondering to herself if she should maybe get a picture of this for them to laugh at later.
"I think this one got Pops' appetite. She was already feeding when Mako came back, and she's still going."
"Sometimes they're like that. Kokoro was apparently full before. But they weren't what I was talking about." Kasumi's reference brought a full blush to Ranma's face, in spite of having not been bothered before.
"It's...hard to explain. I feel..." Ranma stopped, a wide smile on her face as she looked down at Emiko as the newborn stopped feeding, opening her eyes for a moment to look directly up into Ranma's own. "Yes...I think...I feel like this happened for a reason. Makoto was right. I'm not a mother. I'm not a father. I'm a parent. It doesn't matter which gender I am. Just like it didn't change who I am to begin with. And a baka be me, for not realizing that any sooner."
Kasumi smiled as she felt Ranma's aura balance back out as she spoke. "Good, perhaps she needed this more than I thought possible. The final push to achieve true balance, as it were."
AN: TY readers for sticking it out and being patient. My apologies, as this chapter just REFUSED to write itself out for the longest time, even though I had a good idea of where it was going. So aggravating.