I claim no ownership rights to any of the works of Rumiko Takahashi or Naoko Takeuchi.

Warning: high citrus content.

Several weeks later:

Ikari Gendo leaned back in his office chair, fingers steepled, as Katsuragi Misato stood before his desk in a pose of semi-attention that her time in the military made impossible to eradicate. The chief of Clan Ikari's black operations hadn't had an appointment. Normally that would have been a cause for concern, but there was one case where that could be good news instead, and he found himself having to work to keep the flickers of hope her presence evoked off his face. "So, Misato-san, what do you have for me?" he asked, voice steady.

Misato took a deep breath. "Very little," she replied. "We were able to locate Konishi through the bank account he thought we didn't know about. We caught up with him in Hawaii and 'debriefed' him. Unfortunately, he didn't have anything to add to what we'd already learned from the video the terrorists released and the official report of the Shogun's investigators. Thanks to the way that the assault occurred at least a year before our own plan called for a similar event, we were unable to steer those investigators to any of the conclusions we wanted. An Emperor's Hand was involved as we wanted, but was brought in by Meioh-dono herself to 'clarify what an expert geneticist was doing in the jungles of Daerah Selatan', as her publicist put it. We don't know what the Hand reported, of course, but I very much doubt he drew the conclusions we were aiming for there, either. Our hunters are still searching for the one piece that might have led him to that conclusion, but the terrorists have hidden themselves — and her — well. We have a general area, but it's a big jungle and the terrorists are better trained than your usual runaway slave. The hunters are either coming up empty or not coming back at all, and we can't send saturate the area without alerting everyone that someone else is involved. The Army is also looking and we have an ear on anything they find, but at this point we don't want them finding our missing piece first. I've tried triangulating from the locations of the losses we and the Army have suffered, but we're having difficulty picking out which ones are relevant and which are simply encounters with the bandits and smugglers that infest the region.

"On the bright side, now that Konishi has been accounted for, all links that lead back to us have been eliminated."

She fell silent, and Gendo sat and gazed at her impassively as second after second ticked by. Finally, when he had his disappointment under control, he said, "That wasn't much of a report."

Misato shrugged. "There wasn't much to report, and you said you wanted continual updates. Though I suppose I could waste your time by piling on inconsequential details?"

As tense as she was, her attempt at being nonchalant fell well short of convincing. But Gendo chalked up another point for his subordinate for the attempt as she passed another of his little tests — there were few subordinates that wouldn't try to sugarcoat bad news when reporting to him, much less throw his own words back in his teeth (however lightly she'd done it), and he treasured the few he'd found.

After a long moment of singing tension, Gendo said, "Very well. Pull out our hunters; we'll let the Army do the searching for us; but make plans for acquiring Miiko from the Army if they find her. Have the range of options available tomorrow morning for my approval. And pre-position some agents to shadow anyone … unusual … that Meioh-dono sends that way."

Katsuragi acknowledged her new orders and dismissal, and as the office's door closed behind her Gendo rose to his feet and strode over to his one-way window. Again staring out over his wife's ancestral estate, he chuckled grimly to himself. This was getting to be something of a habit — though at least this time he wasn't beating on the glass. Of course, that might be because you are getting accustomed to disappointment when it comes to you maneuvers against the Kunos, whatever their assumed name might be. And really, this isn't that much of a setback. True, you'll have one less weapon to your hand when the time comes. But however adroitly Meioh-dono has been maneuvering to position herself as the Commoners' Lady, she has had to greatly reduce the resources available to her new Family as she consolidated over the past year. So that tool's loss is meaningless—the economic chaos caused by bringing her down is nowhere near what it would have been before.

He snorted as he considered the nickname bestowed by the underground newsfeeds springing up lately on the 'net — the Commoners' Lady, indeed! Certainly, the Empire's newest reigning Lady had managed to gain an unparalleled reputation with the mob, what with her efforts to find all the Juuban residents that Kuno the Elder had sold into slavery and bring them home. Not even the abuses brought to light by the recent terrorist raid on one of the Kuno plantations she'd acquired in Daerah Selatan had dampened the mob's enthusiasm — those abuses had clearly pre-dated her ascension to noble status, and the investigation she'd immediately ordered into the management of all of her plantations in the province had actually made her even more popular with the common rabble than she'd been before. But so what? When the Sultan made his move in a year or two and Gendo used the chaos to make his own bid for ultimate power, the love of the mob would not save her — or her adopted daughter, the last living person sharing the blood of the man responsible for the death of Gendo's children and his wife's ... melancholia.

But daydreaming won't make that day more likely, so back to work. Gendo turned from the window and returned to his seat, bringing up his spies' latest reports of the continuing fortification of Dar al-Islam's western borders, and the reaction of the European Union and the British Empire to said activity.


Ranma's body, naked except for her slave chain and her red hair in a short ponytail, lay stretched out along her long, smoothly muscled lover, her head bobbing in time to her pumping hand. The redhead smiled around her mouth- and handful as her master groaned — from the way that Tatewaki's hips were flexing beneath her as he fought to keep from disturbing her rhythm, it wouldn't be long now. He'd even stopped probing into her with his fingers. (Not his tongue, alas, but she'd learned that it wasn't true that everyone was the same height lying down, not if the height differential was extreme enough.) Instead, his hands had shifted to grip her butt cheeks as he approached his climax. And I think I know just how to finish him off, the redhead thought. She'd been practicing, and it was time to see if her latest technique would work as she thought it should. She lifted her head, readied herself to suppress her gag reflex, then plunged downward until her chin was tickled by Tatewaki's pubic hairs, and she hummed.

Her master shouted as he lost control, and his abruptly upthrusting hips actually bounced Ranma up off of him, spattering her face before she got her lips back down to catch the rest. Suppressing a sigh, she swung a leg over her still-panting master and sat on the bed. She grabbed a damp cloth from the bed's sidetable and wiped off her cheeks and forehead and jaw, then sipped from the glass of lemon-flavored water to clean out her mouth.

By now, Tatewaki had realized that she didn't care for being spattered. "My deepest apologies for so besmirching your fair features," he murmured, shamefaced.

She asked, "Ya didn't get any in my hair, did ya? It's a pain ta get out an' Usagi won't let me wash it myself. Not fair ta her"

"Nay, that at least I avoided."

Ranma shrugged. "Then no harm done."

"Truly, your concern for your handmaiden does you honor," Tatewaki intoned as he sat up beside her. Rising, he swept her up in his arms and laid her back down, stretched out where he had been lying. "Now come, mistress of my heart, let me wipe away my transgression and prove again my mastery of this Art!"

"I keep tellin' ya, I'm not yer mistress," Ranma said as he spread her legs and leaned down, "I'm yer oooooh!" She lost the last of her thought — your slave — as his lips gently kissed her between her legs. Her hands clutched at her breasts and her legs spread wider as his eager tongue proved again that his claim of mastery in the arts of the bedroom was no idle boast.

For long minutes the room was silent except for Ranma's moaning gasps at the pleasure washing through her from the eager attentions of her lover's lips and fingers. Then Tatewaki broke off to rise upright and scooted forward, and Ranma grinned in anticipation even before his hips pushed her legs even farther apart. She barely noticed as Tatewaki lay down across her, his arms pushing her legs back until her knees were almost pressed against her shoulders. But she did notice when he didn't push into. He murmured, "Tell me, light of my universe, do I bring you pleasure? Do you wish me to fill you as nothing and no one else can?"

In the back of her mind, it seemed as if a voice was screaming that she was a man, that the Adjustment of her sexual leanings was broken, that he shouldn't be wanting, needing her master to stop teasing her and do it. But that night Tatewaki was in a playful mood, and as a result had been expertly playing her body like the finely-tuned instrument it was ... and not once had he allowed her to get off! "Yes, yes, yes!" she shouted. "Now shut up and fill me! Do it!"

He chuckled warmly in her ear, then with one hard thrust of his hips, he did.


Ranma shot bolt-upright in the bed he shared with his wife, gasping for breath. He wasn't locked in his female form, wasn't a slave, wasn't in the bedroom she had shared with the last Kuno lord, and it wasn't their last night together ... the night before the Nerima Blowout, when she had killed the man that had so obsessively loved the twisted product of his delusions that he saw when he looked at her.

And the cooling coating of sweat that had him beginning to shiver in the cool air of a Japanese winter night wasn't from fear. Neither was the tent in his blanket, or the need filling him as he remembered the lithely muscled body and handsome face of the man that for some weeks had owned her, and what he had done to her that night. The Mentalist's mind games during the Nerima Blowout had fucked him up but good — at least, Ranma thought they had. He didn't think he had found Tatewaki attractive at the time, just like he was sure he hadn't found men sexually attractive before that night the same way he had after — to the point that after the first walk about town after the curse was unlocked he'd refused to leave the dojo with its all-female occupants except in his redheaded female form. But his mind insisted on remembering it differently.

Regardless, that didn't change what he needed now if he wasn't to spend the rest of the night frustrated and sleepless, and he rolled out of the bed, made sure that the blankets were tucked around his still-sleeping wife, and shrugged on his robe. He quietly padded over to the crib in the corner of the room and smiled down at the tiny form of his and Akane's sleeping baby daughter. He reached down to run a gentle finger along little Ukyo's cheek before turning for the door. He failed to notice the way his wife's cracked-open eyes tracked him as he silently slipped out.


In the first floor inner bath with its furo, an again naked Ranma dumped a bucket of cool water down his chest, transforming himself once again from his smooth-muscled, raven-haired male form into the girl of his dream. She shivered slightly, but only for a moment — within a few weeks of his return to the dojo (or rather, her return, with the curse still locked) Kasumi had taken to keeping the furo full and hot except when she gave it her regular scrubbing, and with the coming of winter that heat made the room the warmest nighttime place in the house. The eldest still-living Tendo hadn't said anything, so Ranma had been free to pretend that it was because they suddenly had more money than they'd ever need and not because of Ranma's uneasy nights.

The petite redhead stepped in front of the mirror, looking over the body of her dream — sleek muscles, firm breasts that proportionately would have suited a body inches taller than her own. And she could feel her body responding to the fresh memory of his dream. But he'd figured out a way to banish the Mentalist-corrupted memories, at least for awhile.

She sat on the floor with her back against the wall, closed her eyes as one hand played with a taut nipple while the fingers of the other moved lower over the red bush of her mound to slip and probe between her legs. She moaned at the sensations as she brought new images to mind for her mental counterburn, of a very female lover ... but not of her wife. Once, months after Xian Pu had left and they had begun to wonder if she was ever coming back with the necessary ritual components to unlock the curse, Akane had insisted that they try more than just sharing a bed for sleep, hoping that it wouldn't matter if the curse wasn't unlocked. It had not gone well — as Ranma had feared, Akane felt no more real sexual attraction to her husband's female form than she ever had before, Ranma lacked the practice needed to compensate through sheer skill (it turned out there were real differences between being the one giving pleasure instead of receiving), and Akane hadn't been a good enough actress to fake it however hard she'd tried. So Ranma had no memories of girl sex with her wife, her attempts to replace the lack with imagination were tainted by her memory of their dismal flop, and the memories of their nights of hot heterosexual sex together making up for lost time once the curse had been unlocked just morphed into Tatewaki and 'Ranko'.

So instead, she imagined a might-have-been, an opportunity she'd missed at the time but had recognized later while she'd been making herself and Akane miserable by torturing herself with what she could have done differently, before Kasumi had sat her down and given her a stern lecture on accepting the past so she could deal with the future. A memory that proved she hadn't always been attracted to men, however her memories lied now.

Ranma, naked except for her slave chain and coated with sweat and the leavings of the evening's lovemaking with her master, flowed to the end of yet another kata and immediately into another, trying to calm her mind's turmoil with her body's grace. Her Adjustment was gone. Not just the block on aggressive violence that she had felt break under the pressure of dealing with the slavers that day, but the Adjustment of her sexual preferences, that had allowed her to perform with her male master in spite of her exclusive attraction to girls — and that had faded away without her noticing its absence until that night.

Then there came the sound of something hitting the hallway floor, and a familiar "Ow!" Ranma broke off the kata and turned to find the young blonde slave that her master had assigned as her body-slave, dressed in a lacy black teddy, sitting up and rubbing the side of her head. Usagi pulled herself to her feet, her eyes widening. "Ranko, what's wrong?"

"Wh-what makes ya think anything's wrong?" Ranma retorted.

"You're in the dojo at three in the morning, from the amount of sweat have been here awhile, you're completely naked, and you obviously didn't bathe after your time with Kuno-dono. Something is wrong, what is it?"

Ranma had been so caught up in her shock and fear that she had forgotten her physical state, and now she felt the heat of a furious blush flashing across her face and down her upper chest even as an arm flew up to cover her breasts and she whirled away from the younger girl. "Sorry 'bout that," she muttered.

Usagi walked up to Ranma and hesitantly placed a hand on her shoulder. "Ranko, you didn't have a nightmare about yesterday?"

Ranm shook her head, back still to Usagi. "No, I haven't been asleep. Usagi, I ... I ... M-My Adjustment, it's g-g-gone!" she half-sobbed in a rush.

"You're a lesbian?" her bodyservant gasped. "You ... you had to force yourself to ... to pleasure our master without the Adjustment to protect you?"

But Ranma shook her head. "No, I enjoyed it! And the Adjustment was gone, it was ... was me!"

"Oh." Ranma felt Usagi's arms circle her shoulders and stomach to pull her back against the younger girl — in spite of the two year difference in their ages, the two girls were the same height. For awhile, Ranma simply relaxed, taking comfort from the offered support.

Finally, Usagi murmured in her ear, "Ranko, you've seen our master naked any number of times, think of one of them, picture it. Does he thrill you, make you shiver, want to caress him, want him to caress you?"

Ranma thought about it, thought back to what she'd felt even that very night, and felt hope begin to blossom. Her body slave had a definite point. "No ... no, he doesn't," she said after a moment. "But —" She broke off as Usagi broke off her hug to place a hand on her shoulder and turn her around. The blonde placed a hand on either side of her mistress's head and leaned in to kiss her on the lips. For a moment Ranma froze in shock, and then one arm circled Usagi's back as the other fell to grip a buttock firming with exercise. She pulled her servant against her as the kiss deepened, her tongue pushing against her inexperienced companion's mouth, slipping in when the lips parted.

After several minutes the two girls broke apart, gasping for breath, Usagi blushing. "D-D-Did ..." she started in a quavery voice, broke off, cleared her throat, and tried again. "Did you enjoy that?"

Ranma nodded shakily. "Yeah ... yeah, I did."

"Good." Usagi grinned even as her blush deepened. She stepped back and reached up to her shoulders to slip her teddie's shoulder strips off. Slipping them down her arms, she slid her only piece of clothing down her torso, her legs, stepped out of it and left the tiny pile of black fabric on the floor as she straightened to face a once again stunned Ranma. Spreading her legs slightly and pushing her chest forward as she crossed her arms behind her back and her blush spread down her neck and across her upper chest, she tried to smile saucily at her mistress. "Like what you see?" she asked in a tone that completely failed at being smoky or sultry.

Ranma blushed even as her eyes roamed over the marvelous body on display before her: shiny blond hair, smooth skin, breasts not as large as her own (few women's were, especially when height was factored in) but firm, her stomach firming up from exercise, her mound shaved bare, long legs also firming up... Her eyes snapped back up to the clear signs of her body servant's arousal. In her own inept, clueless way, was Usagi really offering what Ranma thought she was?

The redhead stepped forward, a hand cupping the back of the other girl's head, again pulling her servant against her, her mouth seeking Usagi's — but this time she lifted her other hand to caress the satin skin of a breast, and exulted as the younger girl's lips fell open with a soft moan, again giving her mistress's tongue access to her warm mouth. Ranma dropped her hand down to cup Usagi's mound, feeling the way Usagi shifted to press against her hand. She pulled back slightly to look her servant in the eye. "Usagi, you told me once that you wished that Kuno-dono would make a woman outta you ... 'bend you over the dining room table', I think ya said. Would you like me to, instead? Tonight? Now?"

Usagi gazed back for a long moment before jerkily nodding, whispering, "Please, yes..."

"Usagi-chan..." Ranma breathed out as her fingers probed deeper, then clenched her jaws to hold in a room-shaking shriek fit to wake the house as her suddenly exploding orgasm tightened every muscle until finally releasing her, leaving her limp and gasping on the cool tile floor.

Eventually, Ranma rolled over and forced herself to her feet. That should have done it ... get cleaned up, a bit of a hot soak in the furo, and he'd be able to snuggle back into bed next to his wife and actually sleep through the rest of the night. With luck, he might have as long as a week before he next dreamed of Kuno.

As she filled the rinse bucket before sitting on the stool, she didn't notice the door to the outer bath silently slide shut.

The chapter title comes from the song by the same name by Barbara Striesand. Not an exact match, but kinda...