Chapter One: Passing Through
"Hey buddy, what'll ya have?"
The bartender nodded, accepting the bills and pouring a glass. "Y'look a little young, pal...you sure you should be in here?"
The young man shrugged, tossing back the drink and motioning for another. "Nothin' stoppin' me. 'Sides, I been needin' t' get wasted for a looooong time."
The person sitting next to him at the bar snorted. "I hear ya, kid." A gloved hand raised a glass that was already half-empty. "Here's to numbness."
The bartender shook his head in amusement at his patrons, and began cleaning a glass. "You look like hell, y'know?" he addressed the new arrival, who was nursing his second drink slowly, bleary eyes gazing into the liquor sullenly.
"I been on th' road 'bout two days without much sleep," the younger man said. "Hadda put as much distance 'tween me an' my life as possible before it caught up t' me."
The other patron chuckled. "Funny how life has a habit of that, isn't it?"
"Tell me about it," the kid replied, slamming back his drink. The bartender poured him another, knowing this customer would be here for a while. "It never ends, man. It never fuckin' ends."
"Where ya from, kid?" the bartender asked.
"Tokyo," the younger man said, shrugging. "I guess, anyway. I spent so mucha my life on th' road, ain't no place really feels like home. Only home I got's what I'm tryin' t' get away from...it's drivin' me up th' wall."
"So you came out here to breathe some of our country air, hmm?"
The kid chuckled. "Hey, I'd breathe raw sewage if it meant gettin' outta th' hell I was in."
"I wish I could get away from my hell that easily," the other customer said. "Mine follows me everywhere I go. There's no escape."
"I can relate...this's th' longest I been free in months. I keep lookin' over my shoulder wonderin' which one's gonna find me first...with my luck, any minute now they'll bust down that door an' start a fight with me." The bartender looked a trifle nervous at that.
"Bet you've never had your house blown up over something that didn't even have anything to do with you," the other patron commented, motioning the bartender for another refill.
The young man snorted. "Several times. They always blame it on me, too, even if it ain't my fault. I'm just glad I never get stuck with th' repair bills..." This comment made the bartender a good deal more unsettled, but a paying customer was a paying customer.
"So who're you on the run from, anyway?" the other patron asked, brushing aside a stray lock of teal hair.
"Pop, fiancees, an' a buncha idiots out t' kill me or kiss me or both."
A snort. "Yeah. My idiot pop engaged me to a few different girls, an' then I got...che, it doesn't matter. How 'bout you?"
The teal-haired woman shrugged. "My partner."
A blush. "No, I don't have either...never had the time or the chance. I mean my partner...I'm a detective."
"Ahh, I see. Partner's a real pain in th' ass then, huh?"
"My life's been hell ever since I was assigned to her," the young policewoman replied miserably. "She's a walking disaster, a major screw-up, and there's just no relief from her."
"Damn. Must be tough."
"Yeah...my career's gone down the toilet."
"So why don'tcha transfer someplace else?"
A pause. "It's...not that simple, really. Besides, even if I did, she'd just follow me, and it'd start all over again."
"Yikes. Real obsessive type...I can relate. I've got one girl that followed me all the way from China t' try an' force me t' marry 'er."
"From China to Tokyo? She sounds really devoted..."
"Heh...not hardly. Just hardheaded...she's a Chinese Amazon, an' they never give up when they're after somethin'."
"I take it there's no mutual attraction, then."
"Well, she's cute'n'all, but..." A sigh. "I just ain't interested in 'er that way. I wouldn't mind bein' friends with 'er, but..."
"So why don't you just tell her that, friend?" the bartender asked.
A frustrated sigh. "It ain't that easy. I hate hurtin' people's feelins...I mean, I know I'm rude t' people a lot an' it ain't nice, but...I don't wanna really hurt 'em, y'know? 'Sides, she'd just keep tryin' anyway. All of 'em are like that, 'cept..."
"Except?" The detective asked.
"'Cept my real fiancee. I mean, th' one that's...well...th' first one they forced on me. She's as mad about th' whole thing as I am, but I think sometimes..." He shook his head. "Nah, I know it ain't gonna work out. It just ain't meant t' be. We can't even manage t' be nice t' each other."
"I think I'm beginning to see why you got out of there," the young woman said. She turned to get a better look at the boy she was conversing with. He looked to be seventeen, maybe eighteen years of age, dressed in rumpled Chinese clothes. His black hair hung in a tight braid almost to his shoulderblades, and bleary, red-rimmed blue-grey eyes peered out of a face that had developed a respectable amount of stubble. Despite being halfway to drunk and filthy from two days on the road, he was, to her somewhat blurred vision, ruggedly handsome.
"I'm tired'a talkin' 'bout it, though," the young man said. "So back t' you an' yer partner...what's her deal? She a dyke or somethin'?"
The detective blinked. "You know...I never even thought about that..." She shuddered. "God, I hope not. The last thing I want..."
The somewhat drunk young man gave her a quick once-over, hindered a bit by his bleary vision. She was wearing a long, drab tan trenchcoat which concealed her figure and to an extent her identity. He decided she'd probably been wearing a hat at some point too, as evidenced by the somewhat mussed state of her long teal hair, tied back at the nape of her neck and tucked haphazardly into the collar of her coat. An orange headband kept her bangs mostly clear of her smooth, pale forehead. Her hazel eyes matched her delicate, graceful features. He gave her a grin. "Good t' hear...shame t' waste a hot girl like you on another girl."
The young policewoman blushed at the compliment. "So is that how you get all those women falling all over you?" she asked.
"Hey, just bein' honest."
The bartender had a faint idea about where this was going, and quietly slipped over to the phone to dial up a business acquaintance. Meanwhile, the young woman shrugged. "Well, I appreciate the compliment. And return it in kind. Here's to honesty." The two of them laughed and drained their glasses again, not noticing the disappearance of the bartender. The detective extended her hand. "Makibi Kiyone."
The young man shook it firmly. "Saotome Ranma. Nice t'meetcha."
The bartender reappeared to refill their drinks just as they reached for their glasses again. After a moment of drinking in silence, Kiyone commented, "I bet those girlfriends of yours keep you awfully busy."
Ranma rolled his eyes. "Fightin' all th' time, gettin' caught up in th' middle o' their fights, gettin' hit by 'em for one thing or another, savin' 'em when they get kidnapped every so often..."
The teal-haired woman blinked, then shook her head. "I meant..." She blushed. "Well, you know."
It took Ranma a moment to catch her meaning, then he blushed as well. "Hell no! I mean, no...I ain't done...y'know...nuthin' like that with any of 'em."
Kiyone stared at him. "Oh, come on...you can't be serious."
He nodded. "I am. I just...that stuff ain't that important t' me. I got enough t' worry about without that."
"Well, I guess I can understand that."
Ranma peered at her. "Why'd ya ask, anyway? I mean, no offense, but that's awful personal."
Kiyone blushed. "Sorry. I guess...I don't know." She sighed. "I don't get many chances to talk to cute guys, engaged or not...or do anything else for that matter..."
The young martial artist nodded. "I thought it was guys that usually think about that stuff all th' time, but I guess girls have needs too, huh?"
The detective chuckled ruefully. "I've always been too focused on my career to think about it, and now I'm stuck here, with her...I've thrown away any chance I might have had at a love life...or a sex life, for that matter."
Ranma snorted. "Bullshit. You're pretty, you're still young...y'got time." He slammed back another shot. "At least you ain't gotta worry about bein' forced t' marry th' first person you sleep with, or get beat up by th' ones you didn't..."
The policewoman's eyes widened in understanding. "So that's why..."
"One o' th' reasons, yeah. That an' it just ain't somethin' I think about much."
Kiyone sat silently for a minute, eyeing the younger man thoughtfully. Part of her knew that the alcohol was putting ideas in her head that normally had no place there, but as she contemplated it, she realized she didn't really care. Logic be damned...tonight was supposed to be an escape. "Say, Ranma..." she drawled.
The pigtailed boy turned to respond, but stopped short when he felt a warm rush of air on his ear. The hot, heavy sensation was followed by a few whispered words which caused him to spit sake all over the bartop. "What th' hell!?"
Kiyone flashed her best smile at him. "Don't you think it'd be fun? Don't you think it'd do you some good? I know it'd sure be good for me..."
Ranma flushed, and found himself unable to speak for a moment. He then felt a card pressed into his hand, and glanced down at it. The bartender, who had slipped him the card, nonchalantly began cleaning the counter. The young man glanced from the card, up to the woman who was smiling at him, and back again. Finally, he gulped nervously.
"Well...ah hell, why not..."
As they left, the bartender casually put away the little dropper bottle he'd been using to doctor their last couple rounds. "Damn, I'm good," he said to himself.
* * * * *
A muffled crash.
Ryoko groaned. "She's not here, Mihoshi! How many times do I have to tell you?"
The ditzy blond skidded to a stop in the middle of the Masaki living room, eyes brimming with tears. "But...but she's gotta be here! She's not at the apartment, she's not on the Yagami, where else could she be?"
"Maybe she decided to run away from home," Ryoko said, shrugging. Then, she smirked. "Hell, maybe she met a man, and that's why she never came home last night."
Mihoshi blinked. "Kiyone?" Gears turned in her head for a moment...then she began wailing. "WAAAAH! She should've CALLED me!"
Ryoko sighed in disgust, and phased down off the rafter she'd been sleeping on. There'd be no going back to sleep with this going on. Besides, she thought with a smirk, it was just about time to wake up Tenchi...
* * * * *
Dim sunlight filtered through the slightly grungy windows of the shabby hotel room, stabbing the eyes of two people who were rather not in the mood to greet the new day.
First awoke the woman. After a moment of groaning and wincing from the sunlight, she rolled over and felt a body next to her. Briefly, she wondered when Mihoshi had crawled into bed with her. After a few moments of letting the fog clear from her mind, using long-drilled mental disciplines to clear the stupor from her sleepy brain, and discovering that the chest her hand laid upon was rather firm, hard, and masculine, she sighed contentedly and curled a bit closer.
Memories of the previous night stirred in her brain, pushing aside the agony of the roaring hangover. Kiyone smiled. She hadn't had a night like that since right after she graduated from the Academy. Her last lover hadn't been nearly as attentive, either...
Pity this one was engaged. The detective sighed wistfully as she turned her bleary, dilated gaze upon the scruffy young man sleeping beside her. Gods, he was cute. A few years younger than her, to be sure, but when you were used to seeing thousand-year old women chasing after sixteen-year-old boys, a few years didn't seem that important.
A loud, obnoxious beeping got her attention, causing her to wince; she was still just hung over enough that her head hurt like hell. Glancing at her wrist, she caught sight of her emergency call alarm beeping, and sighed. Planting a kiss on Ranma's cheek, she roused him. "Ranma-kun," she said softly.
"Mmm? Wuzza?" the boy asked sleepily, then groaned. *Must be his first hangover...*
She smiled apologetically at him. "I want to thank you...for last night. It meant so much to me. But I have to go now. I'm on call, and there's an emergency." She embraced her lover. "I hope we meet again..."
He didn't reply, but she didn't expect him to. After all, Earthlings weren't as adept at dispelling the aftereffects of intoxication as many races were. Gathering up her clothes, throwing on her trenchcoat, and walking out onto the fire escape, Kiyone took a moment to look around, made sure nobody was watching, then hit the recall switch on her wrist comm.
By the time Ranma was fully awake and aware, Kiyone was gone.
* * * * *
Mihoshi blinked as Kiyone shambled out of the transporter pod and into the main corridor of the Yagami, naked save for a tan coat, bleary-eyed, and thoroughly dissheveled. "Kiyone?"
"I'll be right there, Mihoshi," her partner grunted. "You go on and get us headed wherever we're supposed to be, alright?"
Ten minutes later, the teal-haired detective walked onto the bridge of the cruiser, hair still damp from a quick shower, uniform slightly rumpled as she tossed it on hastily. "What's the situation?" she asked.
Mihoshi smiled. "It's all taken care of, Kiyone!" she bubbled enthusiastically.
Kiyone frowned, her mind still trying to catch up. "Huh?"
The blond pointed to the viewscreen. "That ship out there went off-course when their engines messed up, and they're fixing the problem but kinda got stalled, and there was a big meteor coming right at them!" She beamed sunnily. "But I destroyed the meteor, so everything's okay now."
The teal-haired woman frowned, and settled at the controls, calling up sensor logs and examining the situation outside Yagami. One eye twitched. "Uhhh...Mihoshi..."
"That meteor you destroyed..."
Kiyone massaged her temples. She really didn't need this, with the headache from her hangover. "Was one of the smaller moons of Saturn."
Mihoshi blinked. "Ummm...oops? I'm sorry...I didn't know...is that bad?"
The teal-haired woman fought down her temper, and sighed. "You'll have to report it to headquarters. I don't think it's that big a problem, though. It's not like any of those moons are inhabited or anything." She stood and stretched. "Call me if anything happens. I'm gonna get some coffee."
* * * * *
A black piglet seethed.
Akane was quite upset. Ranma had been missing for days, and nobody had any idea where he could be. Of course, speculation had arisen that he'd started a return trip to China, but everyone agreed that after everything that had happened recently, Ranma wouldn't be so eager to return to Jusenkyo.
After inadvertently leaving the Tendou residence and finding himself in Kyoto, Ryouga had decided to try to track down Ranma on his own. He figured if nothing else, he could find the bastard's hiding place, beat the living hell out of him, then send a letter to Akane letting her know where he was.
Last night, Ryouga had been wandering the streets of a smaller, quieter town, when he'd seen two people come out of a bar, walk down the street, and go into a hotel. A love hotel, no less.
The woman had been unfamiliar. The man had, without question, been Ranma.
He'd been prepared to barge in angrily, demanding to know why Ranma was with a strange woman, when he'd been caught unaware by a splash of cold water. The thoroughly irritated piglet had tried to find a way to sneak into the hotel, and had naturally gotten lost and wandered out of town entirely.
As soon as he got his bearings, though, Ryouga vowed he was going to find and tail Ranma.
And as soon as he got some hot water, he'd send a letter to Akane...
* * * * *
Ranma sat on the edge of an unfamiliar bed, head in his hands, trying to force away the horrendous headache.
It had taken him a bit longer than usual to reach full awareness, but years of ingrained instincts, keen senses, and training to be instantly alert upon rising had quickly cut through most of the haze in his brain caused by last night's drinking binge.
Realizing he was naked, sweaty, and bearing evidence of...rather intense activities...had snapped him the rest of the way awake with a jerk.
"That's th' last time I get drunk like that," he moaned softly to himself. The events of last night were still largely a blur to him, but based on what he'd woken up to, and the hazy recollection he could muster through the fog in his mind, he knew exactly what he'd done.
A small smile touched his unshaven, bleary face. Oh yeah, he knew what he'd done alright. And he'd enjoyed the hell out of it.
And now, she was gone. He dimly remembered her saying something before she gathered up her clothes and left. He hadn't been awake yet, so he wasn't sure what. He sighed. Maybe she'd regretted what had happened, or maybe he'd proven a disappointment to her, and she'd wanted to make a hasty retreat before he woke up.
With as little fanfare as possible, and taking great care not to aggravate his headache, Ranma showered, dressed, grabbed his pack, and left the hotel, dropping the key at the front desk. He then set out to find a decent place to have breakfast.
After last night's little workout, he was starving.
* * * * *
Kiyone dropped lazily back into her control chair, balancing a tray of croissants on a console and holding a steaming cup of coffee in one hand. She offered Mihoshi a croissant and an uncharacteristic smile as the blond dug into the buttery treat with her usual enthusiasm.
After a couple croissants each, and once Kiyone had drained half her cup, Mihoshi asked, "Kiyone? Why were you, um..." She blushed. "Well, that is, I mean..." She glanced at her partner, cheeks tinged. "You were kinda naked when you came aboard..."
Kiyone reddened. "Ah...heheh...well," she coughed. "I kinda spent the night with a man."
Mihoshi's eyes widened. "Oooh! Wow, Kiyone! So that's where you were! I was so worried..." She giggled. "Anyone I know?"
"Nope," Kiyone said, leaning back. "Just a ship I passed in the night." *While dead drunk and trying to avoid you for a few hours,* she didn't add.
The blond nodded. That was hardly uncommon. Well, except that as far as she knew, it was the first time Kiyone had gotten laid since she'd known her, but... "So, was he cute?"
A blissful smile crossed Kiyone's face. "Adorable," she said happily. "Oh, Mihoshi, he was an absolute god. Really well built, killer smile...a bit young, but damn he was good..." She practically glowed in remembrance of the passionate encounter.
Mihoshi giggled. "So, are you seeing him again?" she asked.
Kiyone sighed. "Probably not."
"Aww, how come?"
The teal-haired woman shrugged. "He was just passing through," she said. "Said he had a whole mess of problems he was getting away from at home. From the way he was talking, I'd be surprised if he even stayed in Japan."
"Sounds pretty bad," Mihoshi agreed. "Hmm, well, we'd better hurry up back ourselves, or we're gonna be late for work."
Kiyone blinked, then glanced at her watch. "AHHHHH!"
Yagami was just tearing through Earth's atmosphere at speeds that made the hull shudder when Mihoshi blinked.
"Oh, wait...it's Sunday!"
Can a whole spaceship facefault?
* * * * *
Ranma, currently female, sat at a small table at a cozy little outdoor cafe. She sipped at her tea, nibbled a pastry, and watched the world go by. It was Sunday, so everything was a bit sleepy, and that suited the cursed martial artist just fine. It gave her time to think about what had happened last night, what she was running from, and where she could go next.
Truthfully, Ranma had no idea where to go. She couldn't run from her problems forever. On the other hand, she wasn't really willing to go back and deal with the bullshit that was her life.
As the tea and some aspirin had soothed her aching head, and her mind had shaken off the aftereffects of the sake, she'd begun to more fully remember the details of last night. Ranma smiled. Kiyone...
"What'm I thinkin'?" she groaned. "How could I do somethin' so stupid?" As if she didn't have enough troubles, she'd gone and gotten drunk and had s— had s— done that with a woman she didn't even know. When Akane found out, not to mention Shampoo and Ucchan...
"What? What about when they find out? What're they gonna do, kill me? Kill her? Kill us both?" she ranted to herself, unmindful of some of the odd looks she was getting from the few other patrons. "They don't own me, I can do what I want. Ain't that why I left?"
The more she thought about it, the more Ranma began to realize that there was nothing wrong with what had happened last night. Kiyone was a nice, attractive, and very lonely young woman. She had problems, just like Ranma. She wanted companionship, and didn't attach any strings to it. Ranma had given her companionship, and received it in return, and they'd parted ways.
She kinda hoped she'd meet her again, though.
"Gah, I must be losin' it," she muttered. As the waitress came around to freshen her tea, Ranma asked, "Say...y' happen t' know anyplace around here I could stay for a few days, til I work some stuff out? Maybe somewhere I can work off a room til I get ready t' move on?"
The pretty young waitress frowned. "Well, we've got enough help here, though there's plenty of other places that could use cute waitresses..."
Ranma grimaced. "I'd really prefer something a little more outta th' way. Y'know, somethin' more quiet an' less open."
"Well, there's an old shrine up in the hills near here. I'm sure they could put you up for a bit..."
The pigtailed girl smiled. "Thanks!"
* * * * *
Ryoko smirked as she hung up the phone and sat down at the table. "Well, it looks like Mihoshi found Kiyone alright."
"Oh?" Sasami asked perkily as she served breakfast to the family.
"You have an evil look on your face again, Ryoko-san," Ayeka commented. "Isn't it too early in the morning for demonic shenanigans?"
The pirate snorted. "Actually, it's just that Mihoshi told me something funny." Sipping her miso, she looked slyly around the table. "Seems Kiyone got some last night."
Tenchi spluttered, nearly choking on his rice.
Sasami blinked. "Got some what?"
Ayeka turned red. "You...Ryoko-san, you shouldn't talk about such things at the breakfast table!"
Nobuyuki grinned. "Well, I always wondered when that girl was gonna settle down. Who's the lucky guy?"
The young blue-haired girl observed the reactions of those at the table, blinked...then blushed furiously. "Oh, she got some..."
Ryoko nodded. "Yup. I always said that girl needed to get laid before she blew a fuse..."
"Could we please drop this subject?" Ayeka practically shouted. "Besides," she said more calmly after a moment, "Kiyone-san's err...personal life is hardly any of our business."
"Yeah, Ryoko, don't you have any shame?" Tenchi complained.
Ryoko laughed. "I just hope Kiyone isn't the last person to get lucky around here for a while..." She leaned into Tenchi and purred seductively. "Say Tenchi...it's Sunday...nothing to do allllll day..."
Tenchi slammed down his chopsticks across his bowl. "Heheheh...actually, I promised some guys from school I'd help them out with a project." He glanced at his watch, and stood. "In fact, I'd best get going."
"Have fun, Tenchi-niichan!" Sasami called after the rapidly vanishing dustcloud.
Ryoko pouted. "Awww..."
Ayeka laughed, covering her mouth with her hand. "What a pity...the demon woman is rejected again. Of course...what do you expect, when Tenchi-sama clearly prefers a more subtle, demure woman. Like, for instance, me."
* * * * *
Ranma trekked up the tree-lined path, the brisk air doing his body, mind, and spirit a world of good. He even began to whistle a happy little tune as he strolled, pack slung over his shoulder, toward the Masaki Shrine. Getting directions and finding the right bus had been easy enough, though it'd seemed a bit odd to him that the bus stop was placed so far from the shrine itself.
He was glad of it, though. Just walking through the woods like this was very relaxing.
All too soon, he was confronted by a daunting set of stone steps. Well, daunting to a normal person. Ranma set up the steps at a brisk pace, taking them three at a time.
As he neared the top, he caught sight of a young woman with thick, dark plum-colored hair and red-violet eyes sweeping the steps. He paused for a moment at the hair, afraid he was about to have an unwanted encounter. Then, he took a better look at the girl, and relaxed.
Noticing him, the young lady bowed formally, unconsciously straightening her pink kimono. "Welcome," she said primly.
Ranma bowed as well, reminding himself to be polite at places like this. "Hiya," he greeted. "Is th' priest of th' shrine in?"
"He is meditating right now, I'm afraid," the purple-haired girl said. "May I help you?"
"I was kinda hopin' I could spend a few days here," Ranma said. "I'm kinda on th' road, an' I don't got a place t' stay, an' can't really afford to stay at a hotel." He paused. "I can make myself useful, I don't mind chores at all. I just need a place t' crash til I figure out where I'm gonna go."
Ayeka frowned thoughtfully, sizing up the young man before her. He did indeed look like he'd been on the road for some time, judging by his rather dirty clothes, the stubble on his face, and his apparent lack of recent sleep. "Well..." She leaned on her broom. "It's not really my place to say, of course. Still..." She smiled. "I suppose you can at least stay the day, until Katsuhito-sama is available." She bowed again. "My name is Ayeka."
Ranma bowed. "Thanks, I appreciate it. I'm Saotome Ranma."
The hairs on the back of Ranma's neck suddenly rose, and he whirled. A woman with spiky cyan hair seemed to have appeared out of nowhere, a mischevious smirk on her face. "Well well, looks like the princess has a new boyfriend. Does this mean you're giving up on Tenchi, Ayeka?"
Ayeka turned red, glaring at the newcomer. "Ryoko-san, please do not behave so crudely in front of our guest!" Composing herself, she continued, "Saotome-san came looking for temporary lodging here, and it would do you and the reputation of the shrine a world of good to be polite for once."
"Man, another one? Ain't this place crowded enough already?" Ryoko complained.
Ranma looked between the two women, sensing something familiar here. He'd been caught in the middle of an impending catfight often enough to tell the signs. "Look...if it's really a bother, I can go someplace else."
"Please pay Ryoko-san no attention, Saotome-san," Ayeka said. "She is a freeloader who does not even pull her share of the load around here, and has no place to say anything about who comes and goes. Though I would not mind if SHE GOES," the purple-haired girl hissed through clenched teeth.
*Oh shit,* Ranma thought.
Ryoko seemed on the verge of a retort, then snorted and shrugged. "Heh." She was at Ranma's side before he registered her movement. "C'mon then...I'll show you to the house. You look like hell, y'know, kid?"
"Yeah, thanks," Ranma smirked, rolling his eyes. He turned and bowed once more to Ayeka. "Thank you for your hospitality," he said.
* * * * *
"So what was your name again?" Ryoko asked.
"Saotome Ranma." The pigtailed boy looked at his guide. "An' you're Ryoko, right?"
After an uncomfortable pause, Ranma asked, "So...what's the deal with you an' that Ayeka girl? Fightin' over the same guy or somethin'?"
Ryoko blinked at him. "How'd you know that?"
Ranma shrugged. "I've seen it before. A lot." He smirked. "It's nice not t' be th' guy caught in th' middle for once."
The blue-haired woman snorted. "You've got quite an ego, Ranma." After a moment, she smiled. "I think we're gonna get along just fine."
A few moments later, they entered a rather large house with a red roof. "Oi, Sasami!" Ryoko called.
A young girl with hair the color of the summer sky emerged into the main room. "What is it Ryoko?" she asked, then noticed Ranma. "Oh, hello! Are you a friend of Tenchi's?"
"This is Ranma," Ryoko said. "He's gonna be stayin' a while."
The girl bowed to Ranma. "Hello! I'm Sasami!"
Ranma smiled and bowed. "Saotome Ranma."
Sasami took in the state of Ranma's clothes and face, and clucked. "Why don't you have a bath while I finish making lunch...if all your clothes are dirty, you can borrow some of Tenchi-niichan's clothes, and I'll wash yours after lunch, okay?"
"Um, okay," Ranma said sheepishly. "Sorry to be a burden."
The girl smiled. "Oh, it's no trouble at all! Now off to the bath with you," she clucked in a mock-stern, motherly tone.
As Sasami retreated to the kitchen, Ryoko led Ranma over to the bath. "Cute kid," Ranma remarked.
Ryoko chuckled. "Yeah, Sasami loves everybody, and everybody loves Sasami. And she's a damn good cook."
*Sounds like she's a miniature Kasumi,* Ranma thought, with a slight pang of homesickness. The pang passed as he remembered the reasons he left.
"Well, here we are," Ryoko said. With a mischevious smirk, she added, "If you need some help, just let me know, okay?"
Ranma made a strangled sound, his eyes widening. Ryoko laughed loudly. "Lighten up, kid, I'm just jokin' with ya." She patted him on the shoulder and waved. "I'll bring down some clean clothes and put 'em in the change room."
* * * * *
Moments before Sasami's lunch was ready to be served, the front door opened, admitting Mihoshi. "Hi everyone!" she called cheerfully.
Sasami poked her head out of the kitchen, and smiled at the detective. "Hi! You're just in time for lunch, it's almost ready!"
"Yay! I'm sooo hungry!" The blond clapped her hands together, bright blue eyes shining.
The blue-haired girl paused. "Where's Kiyone?" she asked, frowning slightly.
"Oh, she's still asleep," Mihoshi said. "She got really drunk last night, and then didn't get a lot of sleep because she slept with some guy she met at a bar, and we had an early emergency call so she was really tired and hung over, and then I blew up a moon and she was mad, then she was mad because it was Sunday and we weren't late for work, so then she went to bed and I got bored so I decided to come over here."
"..." Sasami replied eloquently. After taking a moment to wonder how someone could say so much (and so thoroughly embarrass someone who wasn't even around) in one breath, she smiled. "Well then, I'll have lunch out in a minute."
* * * * *
Ranma examined himself in the mirror after his bath. He'd been surprised to note the unruly growth on his face, and having no shaving gear of his own, he'd found a pack of disposable razors and some shaving cream and set about the task of tidying himself up.
Once that was done, he stepped out of the bath in his boxers, finding a set of clothes laid out for him in the change room as promised, a pair of faded jeans and a black silk wraparound tunic with a crimson sash. He quickly dressed, noting with gratitude that the clothes were just about the right size for him. Catching the unmistakable scent of delicious food, he stepped out to get to know his hosts better, and find out if Sasami was as good a cook as Kasumi.
* * * * *
"Oh, hello," the blond at the table said, noting the boy coming out of the bath. "Who are you?"
"Saotome Ranma," he said, taking in the girl's foreign appearance.
She smiled. "I'm Mihoshi! Pleased to meet you."
Sasami looked up from where she was scooping rice into bowls. "Much better," she said with approval. "You clean up nicely, Saotome-san."
Ranma blushed. "Please, just call me Ranma," he insisted. "I don't got much use for formality."
The blue-haired girl giggled. "Okay, Ranma-niichan. Come on, you must be hungry!"
The room slowly began to fill with people as lunch was served. Ryoko and Ayeka appeared at the table, sitting a good distance from one another. An elderly gentleman with long hair and glasses entered with the purple-haired girl, and paused only a moment as he noticed Ranma. He inclined his head to the unfamiliar boy. "Well now, who's this then?" he asked.
Ranma stood and bowed. "Saotome Ranma," he said.
"Ah, yes, Ayeka mentioned you." The old man bowed. "I'm Masaki Katsuhito, the priest of the shrine here. Ayeka tells me you've been travelling for a while. Are you in some sort of trouble?"
The pigtailed boy frowned. "Not really," he said after a moment. "I just got issues back home...family an' stuff. I kinda got fed up with it all an' decided t' leave."
The old man nodded, carefully masking the glimmer in his eyes that said he could very well relate to the young man's plight. "Well then, you're welcome to stay for as long as you like."
Ranma bowed again. "Thank you. I promise to try not to be a burden."
With that, everyone settled down to eat. "So, Saotome-san," Ayeka said after a moment, "Please tell us a bit about yourself."
"Eh?" Ranma blinked. "Not much t' tell. I'm seventeen, I'm a martial artist, an' right now I'm just tryin' t' figure out my life, an' what I wanna do about it."
"Come now, Saotome-kun," Katsuhito said. "If you intend to stay here while you sort out your problems, it would probably be beneficial for you to talk about what troubles you so." He smiled. "Besides, we all love a good story at mealtime."
"Yes, Saotome-san," Ayeka said again, with a reassuring smile. "You needn't worry. You can trust us." She shot a glance at Ryoko. "Most of us, anyway."
Ranma swallowed a bite of pickle, taking care to eat at a more sedate pace around his hosts. *Don't wanna make a bad impression,* he told himself inwardly. *Bad impressions get me into lots of messes I can't get back out of.* "Please, call me Ranma," he said. He paused for a moment. "I'm heir t' th' Saotome school of Anything-Goes Martial Arts. I been on th' road most'a my life with my old man, trainin' all over Japan an' China. Th' last year or so's been pretty rough, with some trouble we ran into in China, an' me findin' out about a coupla marriages Pop arranged. About a week ago, I finally got fed up with it all, an' split."
The old priest raised an eyebrow. "A couple of arranged marriages, you say?"
Ranma grimaced. "Yeah. My pop made a promise with his old trainin' partner before I was born. Then, when we were on th' road, he made a few more arrangements, usually t' fill his belly. He sold me as a baby for rice an' pickles, then stole me back from th' guy." Ranma paused to sip his tea. "Then, when I was a little older, he engaged me off t' a friend who I thought was a boy at th' time, just so he could steal th' family yatai."
The others blinked.
Sasami's eyes widened in shock. "He...sold you!?"
Ryoko grinned. "Sounds like your old man is a grade-A swindler," she said.
"Such dishonorable behavior," Ayeka murmured, disapproval in her voice.
"Indeed," Katsuhito said, frowning. "Your father sounds like a rather disreputable character."
Ranma snorted. "Tell me about it. My pop don't got a shred o' real honor in 'im, an' he's always bitchin' me out about honor an' duty..." He paused. "Err, pardon my language."
"Your language? But if you weren't speaking Japanese, how could we understand you?" Mihoshi asked. Ranma stared at her.
"Err, yes." Ayeka coughed. "So, your father placed you in a number of untenable situations out of his own personal greed."
"Yeah," Ranma said, scowling. "Not t' mention a buncha other sh—tuff he put me through." He paused. "Well, after we came back t' Japan from China, he took me t' his old trainin' partner's place in Tokyo t' make good on th' first engagement." He was quiet for a long moment, frowning.
"I take it this was not well-received," Katsuhito said.
Ranma snorted. "That's an understatement. Back then, I was still pretty pis—ticked about somethin' that happened in China, an' didn't want any more trouble than I already had. He sprang th' whole engagement thing on me outta nowhere, so of course I was dead set against it.
"Well, things really didn't go too well, an' outta Tendou-san's three daughters, I ended up engaged t' th' most violent, ill-tempered one, who hated boys and thought all boys're perverts. A little run-in in th' bath didn't help matters much.
"Then this crazy Chinese chick showed up. She'd chased us halfway across China tryin' t' kill me, then when she caught up with us in Japan, she suddenly wanted t' marry me. All over a stupid law her village has about bein' beaten by an outsider in combat." He ate some more of his rice before continuing. "Well, th' other fiancees Pop arranged for me over th' years started showin' up, includin' Ucchan, my buddy who I thought was a guy until she came lookin' for revenge. An' some other crazy people decided they had a claim on me, or wanted t' kill me, includin' a guy I'd thought was a friend but who decided I'd made his life hell an' wanted revenge.
"An' that's just th' normal stuff," Ranma concluded.
Everyone stared, trying to cope with the fact that the young man sitting at the table eating lunch considered any of that normal. Even with the histories and origins of the bunch seated around the table, Ranma's life seemed a bit extreme.
Katsuhito frowned as something in Ranma's story sent up a red flag in his mind. "Ranma-kun," he began. "This Chinese girl who you say wants to marry you. You said she wanted to kill you as well?"
"At first, yeah," Ranma said.
The old man frowned. "Was this girl from a village called Niichieju?"
"Hey, yeah. How'd you know?"
"I've heard of many strange things in my lifetime," Katsuhito hedged. Then he frowned. "If I'm not mistaken, is not their law regarding outsiders that the kiss of death only applies to a female challenger?"
Ranma's sudden discomfort was hard to miss. After a moment, he sighed. "I guess I'd better get it over with," he said. "Sasami-chan? Could you get me a glass'a cold water an' a glass'a hot water, please?"
"Um...okay," Sasami said.
Katsuhito fought to keep his expression neutral as he heard Ranma's strange request. *Jusenkyo. Poor boy, you HAVE lived in interesting times...*
* * * * *
Everyone except Katsuhito stared at the slightly damp boy as he concluded his tale of the fated training trip through China.
"You poor, poor man," Ayeka said.
"Well, at least you got a good-lookin' enough body out of it," Ryoko said.
"Ara ara," Mihoshi supplied.
"Ranma-niichan...does it hurt? When you change?" Sasami asked fearfully.
Ranma shook his head. "Nah, it don't hurt. Mosta th' time, I barely even notice when it happens." He sighed. "I've had this stupid curse so long I've gotten use'ta it."
"And this...Jusenkyo...holds no hope for a cure?" Ayeka asked.
The cursed boy sighed. "It might. It might not. Sometimes I wonder...I've had th' Nanniichuan in my grasp so many times...or any number a' things that mighta gotten rid o' th' curse...but somethin' always went wrong. An'..." He frowned. "I ain't even sure th' Nanniichuan woulda cured it. Th' guide sent us a barrel o' water from that spring as a weddin' present for when my pop an' Tendou-san tried t' force me an' Akane t' marry. But their stupid master thought it was sake an' drank it." He paused. "But after that, I got t' thinkin' about that stuff. There's this other freak I know, name's Pantyhose. He's Chinese, an' he got cursed in th' Spring of Drowned Yeti Ridin' Bull Carryin' Crane an' Eel..." Noticing the expressions of disbelief, he grinned. "Yeah, it's just as weird as it sounds." He sipped his tea again; all the talking was making him thirsty. "Anyway, after th' first time he came around, Pantyhose went back t' Jusenkyo, an' poured some Spring o' Drowned Octopus on his back. So th' next time he showed up, his weird-lookin' cursed form had tentacles." He paused. "That got me thinkin'...what if Nanniichuan wouldn'ta cured me at all? What if I'd used it, and insteada bein' cured, I ended up even more of a freak than I already was?" He shuddered.
"And there's no way to test that and see what would happen?" Ryoko asked. "I mean, you couldn't find a bug or something and drop it in both springs and see what'd happen?"
Ranma shook his head. "I ain't gonna do that to any livin' thing. Not even a bug."
Katsuhito drank his tea, and frowned. "You have been through much, young man, in your short life. It's a credit to your willpower and the strength of your character that you've managed to stay alive, much less sane, through all of this."
At that precise moment, Ryo-oh-ki phased through the wall, and gave a happy "Myaa!"
Ranma, naturally, freaked.
* * * * *
Rain fell gently from iron-grey skies in Nerima.
Tendou Akane sat by the doorway, looking out into the yard, watching the droplets splash and ripple in the koi pond. Her knees were drawn up to her chest, and her eyes were slightly red.
Not that she had been crying, of course. Not that she missed the stupid jerk. Not that she cared where he'd run off to, or who he'd run off with.
That pervert didn't matter to Akane at all. He could dry up and die for all she cared, or marry Kunou and have his idiot babies. Or any number of other equally gruesome fates.
Thunder rolled, covering the soft, trembling murmur that passed Akane's lips.
* * * * *
The residents of the Masaki household watched in varying degrees of shock, concern, and fascination as Ranma clung to the ceiling, shuddering in terror. "C-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-"
"Miya?" Ryo-oh-ki mewed inquisitively up at the boy.
"KYAAAAAAAAAA!" Ranma screamed, skittering across the ceiling like a demented spider. "Keepitaway!"
Sasami frowned, picking up the tiny creature. "Ranma-niichan, Ryo-oh-ki isn't dangerous. She's very friendly."
"C-c-c-c-c-c-c-caaaaaaaat..." Ranma whimpered.
"Oh, I get it!" Mihoshi said. "Ranma's afraid of cats!" She smiled. "I had a friend at the police academy who was like that!"
Sasami blinked. "Ranma-niichan? Ryo-oh-ki isn't a cat..."
Ranma stopped shuddering for a moment, and looked down. "N-not a cat?"
"Mya..." The sound made Ranma shiver, but he released his hold on the ceiling and dropped, landing on his feet a meter away from Sasami. He leaned tentatively forward, peering at the creature which had scampered up to perch on her head.
"H...hey, you're right. It ain't a cat. Huh. Sure sounds like one, though." Ranma shuddered. "What is it?"
"She's Ryo-oh-ki!" Sasami said brightly. "She's...umm..." The blue-haired girl frowned. "You know, I'm not really sure WHAT she is!"
"Cabbit," Ryoko said absently. "That's what Washuu calls 'em, anyway."
"Mya-mya-mya!" Ryo-oh-ki mewed in a singsong voice, looking up at Ranma with big, shiny, cute eyes.
The pigtailed boy chuckled. "H-heh...I guess it's a pretty cute critter an' all..."
With the situation resolved, everyone settled back down to finish lunch. Katsuhito made a mental note to further question the boy about his ailurophobia later. *Something isn't quite right...*
As Ranma finished, he sat back with a contended sigh. "Arigatou, Sasami-chan. You're a wonderful cook."
Sasami blushed. "I'm glad you liked it, Ranma-niichan."
"Oh, and uh...I'm sorry I freaked you all out there," the cursed boy said. "Th' thing with me an' cats is a long story." He shuddered. Then, he seemed to remember something, and blinked at Ryo-oh-ki. "Uhhh...did that critter come through th' wall!?"
The others shifted nervously.
"Eh...heheh...why, Ranma-san, that's just silly," Ayeka said.
Ranma frowned. "I coulda sworn..."
Further pursuit of that line of inquiry was cut off by a call of "Tadaima!" from the front door.
"Tenchi-niichan!" Sasami exclaimed. "Oh, I didn't think he'd be back so soon..."
"Tenchi!" Ryoko exclaimed, dashing away from the table toward the front door.
Two men walked into the room a moment later. Ranma noticed Ayeka tense slightly, her eyes narrowed at the cyan-haired woman, who was hanging all over the younger of the two men. Ranma figured him to be about his age. The other was older, halfway between the boy's age and the old priest's.
"Oh? We have a guest?" the middle-aged man asked, looking at Ranma.
Katsuhito smiled. "Tenchi, Nobuyuki, this is Saotome Ranma. He'll be staying with us for a while. He's had a rather rough time of it at home, and is trying to distance himself from some of his...family problems."
Ranma stood and bowed. "Sorry to be a bother."
"Oh, it's no bother at all," Nobuyuki said, smiling. "After all, Tenchi here could use all the help with these lovely ladies he can get. Right, Tenchi?"
Tenchi and Ranma both made identical strangled sounds at that. Rubbing the back of his head, Tenchi laughed nervously. "Ignore him, Saotome-san," he said. "So, how long are you planning to stay?"
Ranma shrugged. "I'm not sure, but I won't overstay my welcome, and I'll do what I can t' pull my own weight. I just gotta figure some stuff out." He paused. "Uh, these must be your clothes, huh? Sorry 'bout that, Sasami let me borrow 'em cause all my clothes are kinda messy from bein' on th' road."
"Oh, that's perfectly fine," Tenchi said. "I don't mind a bit."
"Ranma-kun was telling us something of himself and his troubles during lunch," Katsuhito said. "I'm sure he'll be willing to tell his story again for the two of you later, once he's had a bit of time to recover from his long journey here."
"Lunch!" Sasami gasped. "I don't know if I have enough left for you two," she said, tears brimming in her eyes.
Tenchi smiled. "It's okay, Sasami-chan, we ate before we came home. We figured lunch was over by now here." He was silent for a moment. "Ah...Ryoko...could you show a bit of restraint in front of our guest, please?"
Ryoko pouted, but eased up on her display of affection for Tenchi. Stretching, she wandered off to the living room and flicked on the TV. Ayeka began helping Sasami clear the table, politely refusing an offer from Ranma to help.
Katsuhito continued to sip his tea at the table. "Tenchi," he began, "Ranma-kun here is a martial artist."
"Is that so?" Tenchi asked. "What style?"
"My family's school, Anything-Goes," Ranma replied. He eyed Tenchi. "How 'bout you? I can tell you've got some trainin'."
Tenchi smiled. "Well, Grandpa trains me in our family's sword art. I don't think I'm all that good, though."
"He does need quite a bit of improvement," the old priest said. "Perhaps a vigorous sparring partner is just what the boy needs."
Tenchi sweatdropped. *Grandpa isn't vigorous enough as it is?*
Ranma shrugged. "Sure, I gotta keep myself in top shape. It'll be a change from poundin' the heck outta my old man, anyway."
"Once you've had a chance to rest," Katsuhito said to Ranma, "I'd love to see a demonstration of your skills."
The cursed boy hopped to his feet. "Heck, I'm rested enough now. I don't like sittin' around doin' nothin' much." He frowned. "Got some older, looser clothes I can spar in, though? I'd hate t' mess these up when I just put 'em on."
"I have training clothes up at the shrine," the priest assured him. "Tenchi? You coming?"
* * * * *
Ranma wore a somewhat loose set of Shinto priest's robes and stood on a short wooden post, balancing easily. Katsuhito stood across from him, also balancing easily, bokuto in hand.
Tenchi gave the signal to start.
Ranma leapt forward across two posts, then went for a somersaulting axe kick at the older man's head. Katsuhito moved to strike at the blatant opening, intent on taking the boy down fast for starting with such a flashy move, but found himself blinking in surprise when Ranma simply stood easily on the end of his sword, balanced on his toes. With a slightly cocky smirk, he dropped from his perch, snagged the bokuto between his ankles, and twisted to the side, flinging the weapon toward the shrine steps. He then flipped back, landing on a post on one hand, and sprang forward, his body horizontal to the ground as he swept the surprised priest's foot out from under him.
By the time Katsuhito caught himself on the ground, Ranma was already three posts away, in a crane stance.
Tenchi stared. "What the...!?"
The old priest stood, brushing off his robes. "I am impressed, Ranma-kun. Your hardships aside, your training has left you with a level of skill many people never realize in a full lifetime of dedication to the Art."
"I have dedicated my life to the Art," Ranma said, shrugging. "Everythin's trainin', an' the true martial artist keeps one goal in mind: get good, or get dead."
"Some of your father's wisdom?" Katsuhito asked, frowning.
The boy sighed. "Yeah, but it's kept me on my toes." He flipped effortlessly upside down, balancing on a finger. "An' on my hands."
The old priest smiled. "Well, Tenchi...it seems your training is going to become more rigorous, at least for the duration of Ranma's stay with us."
The boy's laughter died abruptly. "Huh?"
"Ranma-kun," Katsuhito began. "Would you be willing to assist in the training of my grandson?"
"Sure," Ranma said. "If I ever go back home, I'm supposed t' take over th' dojo, so I need t' get some experience teachin'." He paused. "I didn't mean that t' sound like I'm plannin' t' stay here forever," he added with a pained grimace.
"Quite understood," the old man said. "With our combined training, I'm sure Tenchi will become a worthy successor to the Masaki way of the sword."
"An' a good bit of unarmed skills, if I have anythin' t' say about it," Ranma said.
Tenchi gulped. *This...is gonna suck.*
* * * * *
The two boys walked back up to the house, talking a bit, getting acquainted. "So those girls," Ranma asked. "Ayeka an' Ryoko...fightin' over you all th' time, huh?"
Tenchi blinked. "Yeah. How'd you know?"
"They nearly got into it up at th' shrine when I first got here," Ranma said. "I know th' signs of a catfight over a guy. Heck, I've been in th' middle of it enough."
"You too, huh?" Tenchi shook his head. "I never will figure out women."
"You an' me both, man. So what's their deal any—HEY!" The boys had just walked through the door, and Ranma had been greeted by a splash of cold water on the head. "Alright, who's the wiseguy?" the boy-turned-girl asked.
Tenchi stared, eyes wide in shock and horror.
Ryoko dropped into view in front of the two, laughing. "Sorry," she said. "I just had to see it again." Then she frowned. "Don't get any ideas about Tenchi, though," she warned Ranma, shaking a finger at the redhead.
"I'm a guy, dammit!" Ranma complained.
"Wh—what the...what just happened!?" Tenchi shouted.
Even as Ryoko wandered off again, Sasami ran into the living room with a glass. "Here, Ranma-neechan," she said. "I heard the splash and figured out what happened, so I brought you some hot water."
"Arigatou, Sasami-chan," Ranma said as she took the glass and poured it on her head, reverting to male form. He handed the glass back to Sasami with a smile.
Tenchi's eyes were the size of dinner plates. "R-ranma? What...?"
"C'mon, I'll explain while you show me where I'm sleepin'," Ranma said, giving Tenchi a push toward the stairs.
* * * * *
Ranma explained the curse as Tenchi hunted up a futon and some spare bedding.
"So that's it," Tenchi said. "Wow."
"Look, man, I'm sorry Ryoko did that to you..."
Ranma shrugged. "It's no big deal, really. I'm use'ta it. Th' curse makes ya a water magnet." He chuckled. "Heck, one o' my fiancees spent a half hour just pourin' hot 'n' cold water on me when she found out, just like I was a new toy or somethin'."
Tenchi blinked. "ONE of your fiancees!?"
Ranma laughed. "Hey, I toldja I got girl problems." He grimaced. "And guy problems too, but at least those ain't somethin' I gotta deal with too much."
"This one idiot that can't get it through his head me an' my girl side are the same person. Total pervert."
"Ah." Tenchi tried to find an intelligent way to respond to that, but failed, so simply proceeded to lead Ranma to the guest room. "Well, it's not much," he said.
"Bout what I had at the Tendou place," Ranma said. "I don't need much, just somewhere t' sleep."
"Well, it's certainly good for that," Tenchi said. He paused. "How'd you beat my grandpa?" he asked.
The cursed boy blinked. "Huh? You saw, didn't you?"
"Well, yeah," Tenchi said. "It's just...I know he wasn't going all out, but you knocked him down effortlessly."
Ranma shrugged. "He didn't even have his guard up. If he'd been goin' all out, I mighta had t' work up a sweat t' put him down." He grinned. "I'm gonna hafta ask him t' fight me without holdin' back sometime, t' see how good he really is."
"You're...really devoted to it, aren't you?" Tenchi asked.
"Th' Art's my life," Ranma said. "Has been since I was old enough t' walk. Oh, it ain't been easy, but nothin' worth havin' ever is. An' even with all the hell my pop put me through, I dunno if I'd change any of it."
"Even the curse?" Tenchi asked.
The pigtailed boy hesitated. "I used t' think th' curse was th' worst thing in my life," he said. "Sometimes I still do. But y'know? I've gotten a lotta good out of it."
"Really? How so?"
"Well..." Ranma paused, then walked over to his pack. Rummaging through it, he took out a small bag of sunflower seeds, and handed it to Tenchi. "Here, take these an' throw 'em up in th' air." At the other boy's apprehensive look, Ranma grinned. "Trust me."
"Okay, if you say so." Tenchi took a large handful of seeds from the bag, and tossed them straight up, not looking forward to cleaning up the mess.
Three seconds later, he blinked. The seeds were all gone. "What the...?"
Ranma grinned, and held out his hands, which were full of sunflower seeds. Not even a one had touched the ground.
Tenchi stared. "How'd you—? I never even saw you move..."
"It's a trick I picked up from an old Chinese woman," the cursed boy explained. "An' if it hadn't been for my curse, I'd'a never had a reason t' learn it." Replacing them in the bag and putting it back in his pack, he continued, "Th' old bat hit me with a shiatsu technique that made even lukewarm water scald me. I couldn't change back because th' water was too hot for me. In order t' get th' cure away from her, I hadda master that trick."
"...wow," Tenchi said. "So is that how you learned it, grabbing things out of the air, or what?"
"Nope," Ranma grinned. "Pullin' chestnuts out of a fire without gettin' burned." He paused. "Well, until I figured out a less painful way, anyway."
"..." Tenchi replied, staring at Ranma. "Y'know, Ranma, your life almost makes this house seem normal."
"Almost?" Ranma grinned. "I can't wait t' hear some'a th' stories you have."
"Heh...heh." Tenchi sweated nervously. "Maybe later," he offered.
* * * * *
After Ranma's bedroom was established, he decided to spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing with his hosts and getting to know them better. Much of this involved sitting in the living room, watching television, idle chit-chat, and watching Mihoshi and Sasami play with Ryo-oh-ki.
Near dinnertime, Ranma was beginning to feel a bit like he was intruding, especially after a person he had yet to meet emerged from somewhere in the house and headed for the bath. "Who was that?" Ranma asked Tenchi.
"Huh? Oh, that was Washuu."
"Ah." Ranma frowned. "Oi, Tenchi, are you sure it's okay for me t' stay here? I mean, this house seems awful full already. I really don't wanna be a bother."
Tenchi chuckled. "You're no bother, believe me."
"Yeah, but..." Ranma indicated the group in the room with a nod of his head. "Like I said, it looks like a lot of people live here."
"Well, the place is a bit crowded at times," Tenchi said. "But it's a big house, so there's plenty of room. Me and Dad have our rooms, Ayeka and Sasami have their room, Ryoko...more often than not ends up sleeping wherever she passes out after getting drunk," Tenchi grimaced; that wasn't entirely untrue, but he wasn't up to explaining that she generally slept up in the rafters. "Grandpa stays up in the shrine most of the time, and Washuu has her little nook." He paused. "Oh, and Mihoshi doesn't live here. She just comes over to visit a lot. You'll probably see a lot of her roommate too."
"And I thought the Tendou place was full," Ranma said with a chuckle.
Tenchi grinned. "What can I say? It's like a carnival. It never gets dull, that's for sure."
"Well, if you're sure I won't be a bother, I really appreciate it. I will do what I can t' hold my own, though."
* * * * *
Mihoshi breezed into the apartment as Kiyone was sitting down with a cup of instant ramen. "Hi Kiyone!" she chirped merrily.
"Hey Mihoshi. Have fun over at Tenchi's place?"
"Yeah! Guess what? There's a new guy staying there! He just moved in today!"
"Gee, another new person living at the Masaki house. There's a surprise," Kiyone said dryly. Then she blinked. "It's a guy and not a girl?"
Mihoshi nodded. "Uh-huh! He's about Tenchi's age and he's really cute!"
"Heh. Well, there's a new one for you."
"And he has this weird curse or something...when you pour cold water on him he turns into a girl. And hot water turns him back!"
Kiyone stared at Mihoshi. "Uhh..Mihoshi. Did you hit your head again or something?"
"No..." The blond frowned. "Why?"
"...no reason." The teal-haired detective frowned. It was normal for the abnormal to show up at Tenchi's place, but that sounded a little weird even for this neck of the woods. Shrugging and slurping her ramen, she decided to find out more. "So, what's his deal? Another alien? What?"
"No, he's an Earthling. He's a martial artist, and Tenchi's grandpa says he's really good. I didn't see him fight though." She paused. "Oh, and his name's Ranma."
Noodles and broth flew across the room, with Kiyone sputtering and choking. "Ranma!? Saotome Ranma!?"
"Uhh..yeah, that's him." Mihoshi blinked. "What's wrong, Kiyone?"
Gulping her tea and cleaning herself up a bit, Kiyone looked up at her partner. "That's...that's the guy. The guy I was with last night."
The blond blinked once, then twice. Then her eyes widened in understanding. "Ohhh! You slept with Ranma-kun then! Wow, you're so lucky Kiyone!" She put a finger to her cheek. "Maybe I should sleep with him too. You think he would?"
Kiyone slapped her palms on the table. "NO!" Then she flushed, embarrassed and slightly angry. "I mean..."
"Oh, that's okay, Kiyone. You saw him first, I was just joking." Mihoshi yawned. "Well, I'm really tired, so I'm gonna go to bed. G'nite Kiyone!"
As the ditzy detective stripped and crashed on her futon, Kiyone sat at the table, mind whirling. *Ranma...I didn't expect to ever see you again after last night. Now...it looks like I'll probably be seeing you again after all.* She looked down at her ramen cup. *Do I want to? Would he want to see me? Oh...what am I gonna do about this?*
* * * * *
Clad simply in a T-shirt and boxers, Ranma lay in his futon, arms crossed behind his head, staring up at the ceiling he'd likely be seeing for some time to come.
*These people are really nice,* he thought, smiling. *A little weird, but nice. I think I'm gonna like it here.*
Not for the first time, his mind wandered across the distance, back to the old home and dojo in Tokyo, back to the people that lived there, back to the others nearby who had been such an integral part of his life for the past year.
*Pity I won't be stayin' here too long. It won't take those jerks long t' find me, an' they'll trash this place, an' that'll be the end of it.*
He forced his thoughts away from the life he'd left behind, and started thinking about the people he'd be living with for a while. Tenchi, a seemingly normal guy his age, a bit on the wimpy side, but there seemed to be something more under the surface he couldn't quite put his finger on. Katsuhito, the old priest who was obviously far more than he appeared. Ranma looked forward to drawing out whatever the old man was hiding; he could use a good challenge. Tenchi's father Nobuyuki, who he'd learned was an architect and had designed the Masaki house.
He briefly thought about mothers, as learning Tenchi's had passed away some time ago made him think about the woman he'd never known, the wife of Tendou Soun, and the woman he'd come to know and be unnerved by for all her ideals about manliness and honor, Saotome Nodoka, his own mother. A mother he'd ached desperately to have, but now, even with the curse revealed, felt so horribly uneasy around...
He then thought of Sasami. So cheerful, so nice, so cute, so intelligent, such a wonderful cook. Very Kasumi-like...Ranma smiled. Sasami would make some man very happy one day. And she called him 'niichan'. Big brother. Nobody had ever called him that before, as he had no brothers or sisters of his own. He found that the notion of having someone look up to him as a big brother was...pleasant. Warm.
Her pet still gave him the shivers, though. But seeing as Ryo-oh-ki wasn't an actual cat, he figured he could get used to her...whatever she was.
Ayeka, very polite and reserved. Dignified. Regal, even. She carried herself in a manner that was so traditional, so formal, so Japanese...but there was something else to her, too. Ranma had developed an innate sense for the unusual. He just didn't know what was unusual about Ayeka yet...
Ryoko. Heh, there was a wild one. She reminded him a bit of Shampoo, with her unrestrained and affectionate behavior, and a little bit of himself, with her brash, sassy attitude and easy confidence. She also moved with disturbing silence. Sometimes Ranma wondered if she even walked; for all the sound she made when she moved, she might as well be floating off the ground. A definite fighter, that one.
Mihoshi. She didn't live in the house, but she was obviously a frequent visitor, and felt completely at ease around everyone. Then again, Ranma mused, he doubted the blond ever felt uneasy around anyone. She was completely scatterbrained, and cheerful to the point of obliviousness. For all her bouncy, boisterous maturity, she acted more like a little girl Sasami's age.
Lastly, there was the one resident of the house he'd had yet to actually meet, as she never turned up for dinner. Her name was Washuu, and Ranma had gathered that something about her made the others (well, Tenchi at any rate) a bit nervous. He'd made an inquiry, and had been told simply that Washuu got absorbed in her work, whatever that was. He'd have tried to introduce himself to her, but couldn't for the life of him remember where in the house she'd retreated to after her brief sojourn into the bath.
Ranma yawned and closed his eyes. His last thought before sleep overtook him was that it was nice to play at someone else's carnival for once.
* * * * *
In another room of the Masaki house, a strange encounter was taking place.
"Mya...miya mya myaaa..."
Chapter Two: Settling In
Reflexes honed over a long period of time kicked in as the man awoke. Instantly, silently, he reached out, grabbed the boy, and flung him out the window.
Except the boy wasn't there. Hadn't been for days.
"Stupid ingrate son," Genma growled. How dare he? How dare he run off, leaving behind his father and his fiancee? How dare he turn his back on honor? Who did the boy think he was?
It wouldn't be long, he knew, before Souun, not to mention his wife, made him go look for the boy. He had no desire to be on the road now, but there would be no arguing with the two of them, and he knew it.
Maybe he could talk Akane into coming with him, try to turn her into a properly respectful young woman and make her see that her duty to marry the boy must be fulfilled.
Yes, perhaps this could work out after all. Just needed to find the boy.
After all, the duty and honor of a martial artist are not trifling things to be run away from.
The boy would just have to be retaught that lesson.
* * * * *
Ryo-oh-ki had a new friend. That made Sasami happy. Sasami liked being happy. She tried to be happy all the time.
So it was that as everyone piled in for breakfast, and Sasami served the morning meal with her usual cheer and precision, she had a black piglet perched on one shoulder, and a cabbit on her head. "Good morning everyone!" she called.
"Mornin' Sasami," Ryoko said. "Hey, what's with the pig?"
"Isn't he cute? He was in my room when I woke up this morning, curled up next to me and Ryo-oh-ki! Do you think he belongs to someone?"
Ranma chose that moment to walk in, heard what Sasami was saying, saw what sat on her shoulder, and scowled.
"Oh, hi Ranma-niichan!" Sasami called.
"Buii..." the pig said.
Ranma's scowl deepened.
"Anou...what's wrong, Ranma-niichan?" Sasami asked, thinking Ranma was scowling at her. This made Sasami sad.
Ranma walked over to her, and plucked the pig from her shoulder. "Ryouga," he said in a low, dangerous tone.
"Hey, don't be mean to that poor piggy..." Sasami protested.
"We ain't gonna have this crap again, pig," Ranma said. He picked up the cup of tea Sasami had set on the table for him, and poured it on the struggling piglet.
Sasami gasped. Ryoko raised an eyebrow.
"Ranma..." Ryouga growled, only to be cut off as Ranma clamped a hand around his windpipe.
"You sleepin' with Akane like that was bad enough, Ryouga," Ranma said. "I knew you were sick, but I didn't think you were that sick." He pushed the rather naked lost boy toward the door. "Leave."
Ryouga started to make an issue of it, then noticed the rather angry stares directed at him, and the shocked, red-faced look of the young, innocent, blue-haired girl. "...right." With no further ado, he got lost.
Once he was gone, Ranma sighed. "Jeez...I'm awful sorry about that. You okay, Sasami-chan?"
Sasami blinked. "H-hai...I'm fine." She turned a sad look up at Ranma. "It really wasn't his fault, Ranma-niichan."
"Yeah, but it woulda been th' second time, an' th' third, an' so on." Ranma said. "He's pulled this stunt before." He sat down at the table. "He'll probably show up again tryin' ta kill me, but at least now you all know about his curse so we won't have any problems with that."
Everyone settled down, a bit distractedly, and Sasami finished serving breakfast. She wasn't very happy anymore, though.
* * * * *
Genma set his chopsticks down across his empty bowl. "I'm leaving," he announced. "I'm going to find Ranma."
"Bless you, Saotome!" Tendou Souun wailed. "The schools have a hope of being united!"
"Akane-kun, I would like you to accompany me," the bald man said.
Akane blinked. "Me? Why would I want to go looking for that pervert?"
"Because he's your fiance, and therefore it is your duty to bring him home so you can marry him."
The youngest Tendou growled. "This fiance business isn't even my idea! I want nothing to do with it!" She glared at the two fathers. "Besides, I can't afford to take the time off school. I do plan on going to university, you know."
"And you don't even know where Ranma went, do you?" Nabiki pointed out to Genma.
"Well, that's true..." The older man coughed. "I'm certain I can find him, though."
Akane snorted. "I won't waste my time running around looking for that idiot. Besides, he'll show up back here eventually. Where else could he go?"
Where else could he go?
* * * * *
After breakfast, Ayeka confronted Ranma, bowing formally. "Ranma-san...I wish to thank you for preventing that ruffian from molesting my sister."
"He wouldn'ta done nothin' like that, Ayeka." Ranma shrugged. "It's just, he don't deal well with girls bein' nice to 'im. It kinda messes with his head. He's been sleepin' with my fiancee as a pig for nearly a year." Ranma clenched his fists at that.
Ayeka arched an eyebrow. "Why do you allow him to persist in this dishonorable behavior?"
The pigtailed boy looked down and to the side. "Cuz'a my honor. I'm th' reason he's cursed. I kinda accidentally knocked him inta that spring at Jusenkyo while I was chasin' my old man around tryin' t' beat th' hell outta him right after we got cursed. I didn't even see Ryouga there, and didn't know about th' whole thing until I was back in Japan." He frowned. "Stupid pig...I made a promise on my honor, when I realized he'd been cursed, that I'd keep his secret. That was before I found out he was cuddlin' up t' Akane as her pet P-chan."
"And yet, you felt bound by your honor to keep his secret, even then." Ayeka nodded in understanding. "It must have been very trying."
Ranma snorted. "Doesn't help that Akane's dumb as they come. I dropped hints left an' right, day after day. I did everything but spell it out for her, and she STILL ain't figured it out. She's seen Jusenkyo left an' right an' up an' down an' sideways, knows everything I know about th' damn curses, an' she still ain't figured it out."
Ayeka sighed. "Sometimes, we blind ourselves to truths we do not wish to see." Her eyes looked distant and glazed for a moment, then she snapped back to reality. "Yet your honor did not seem to prevent you from revealing his curse to us."
Ranma scowled. "Honor be damned, I wasn't gonna let him pull that shit on Sasami-chan. Akane was one thing, she'd'a killed him an' me both if she ever found out. Sasami-chan's just a little girl. That's just disgusting."
Ayeka nodded. "You acted appropriately, of course, and again I thank you." She paused. "Are there any other animals we should be on the lookout for? I would not wish to see this incident repeated."
"Well, Ryouga's th' only one who pulls crap like that," Ranma said. "Other'n him, if y' see a pink an' white c...cat," he shuddered, "Or a white duck with glasses, or a fat, stupid lookin' panda, they're more'n likely Shampoo, Mousse, an' my old man." He chuckled. "An' th' only other one I know with an animal curse...you'll KNOW when he's comin'."
"Thank you very much, Ranma-san." Ayeka bowed again. "I must attend to something, but I will wish to speak with you again later."
As Ayeka left, Ranma couldn't help but wonder what made a girl her age so intense and serious.
* * * * *
Washuu watched the screen in front of her as it played Ryoko's memories from the previous day. Initially, she'd begun this study simply as a way to familiarize herself with the newest resident, not that she expected to need to interact much with him, but it was always useful to know about the people you (more or less) live with.
Then the transformative condition which he called a 'curse' was demonstrated, and that had gotten the scientist's undivided attention.
She looked forward, very much so, to studying this Saotome Ranma, and finding out how his condition operated. A million possibilities already raced through her mind, but she'd need some...samples before she could draw any conclusive analysis.
Besides, Washuu thought with a grin, he was awfully cute.
* * * * *
"Azaka, Kamidake," Ayeka spoke as she stepped through the front gate.
"Hai, Ayeka-sama?" The two towering logs rumbled in their deep, resonant voices.
"If a small black piglet, a pink and white cat, a white duck with glasses, or an overweight panda approach the residence, please prevent them from entering, and alert me to their presence. The same goes for the unclothed young man that left here earlier. He transforms into the black piglet. As for the others, I will try to get descriptions of their human forms for you later."
"Oh, and if a petite red-haired girl should come up here at any time after Ranma-san has departed, and is wearing the same clothing as he wore when he left, she is to be allowed in unchallenged. She is also Ranma-san."
As Ayeka turned and walked toward the shrine, Azaka turned to his fellow guardian. "What do you suppose that was about?"
"Around here? More of the usual."
* * * * *
Ranma was rather surprised to learn that Tenchi was the only one in the house who went to school.
Ayeka and Sasami claimed to have been privately tutored since they were very young, and had already earned certificates to that effect. Ryoko...well, she was an adult, he reasoned. And Washuu, who he'd been fairly sure was younger than he was, was said by the others to be a genius who had already finished college.
Nobuyuki had left for work, and Tenchi for school. Ayeka had taken a breakfast tray for Katsuhito up to the shrine, and would begin her chores for the day there. Sasami had already cleaned up everything from breakfast, and was busy with the laundry. Ryoko had mysteriously vanished, and Ryo-oh-ki was curled up in a sunbeam, blissfully dozing after a carrot binge.
So it was that, with everyone otherwise occupied, Ranma began doing his part to help out. To that end, he was currently embroiled in the task of dusting and sweeping. Housework wasn't terribly interesting, but he'd promised to pull his weight, and was determined to live up to that promise. Besides, like everything else in life, he made simple housekeeping into a complex training exercise.
Not many people can claim to be able to dust by hand-walking across a surface on dustrags while sweeping the floor with the broom grasped between their feet.
He'd finished most of the rooms downstairs, and was about to venture upstairs, when he noticed something he hadn't seen earlier.
A door, set into the side of the stairwell, with a little round portal in it.
"A broom closet?" he wondered. Figuring it might be handy to know what was in there, and straighten it up if it needed straightening, Ranma set aside his broom and opened the door...
...and stepped into a whole other dimension.
* * * * *
Ryouga didn't allow himself to slow down and relax until he was in a city.
Inwardly, he felt sick...horribly sick...at what had happened that morning.
What had he been THINKING? Pulling the P-chan act with such a young, innocent girl? The looks of disgust, distaste, and shock he'd received in that room had hit him harder than any punch Ranma had ever thrown, or any eighteen-wheeler that had ever run him over on the road.
His mind then latched onto the one who had caused him that hurt, that humiliation...the one who had saved him from doing something truly despicable. Ranma. What was he doing here, with those people? Who were they? Was one of them yet another fiancee? Or maybe all of them?
Settling into more familiar anger at his accursed nemesis, and the duty and love he felt for Tendou Akane, Ryouga sat down beside a post box, pulled out a sheet of paper, a pen, an envelope, and a book of stamps, and began to write.
After all, now he knew where Ranma was. He even knew what city he was in, for once. All that was left, was to tell Akane.
* * * * *
"What the...what IS this place?"
Ranma briefly wondered if he'd suddenly picked up Ryouga's directional impotence. He'd just been standing in the Masaki house, then walked through a door, and now...
Now he was in some cavernous place full of stuff right out of a host of science-fiction movies. While on the whole the place was dark, there were pockets of light, telltale glows from machines, a screen flickering strangely, some glowing tube full of liquid along a wall...
But mostly, there were rows upon rows upon rows upon rows of machines. Cold, bulky, chunky hunks of metal that either sat doing nothing, or hummed with power as they went about some unknowable task.
He looked behind him at the doorway, and opened it a crack. Through it he could still see the Masaki living room. He looked behind him again, and still saw the vast expanse of machines and things that completely defied definition by his technology-illiterate mind.
"Well hello there, Saotome Ranma!" A voice called out cheerfully. Ranma looked up to see a platform descending toward him, upon which stood a girl, no taller than his cursed form and apparently no older than Sasami, with a wild mane of red hair and a predatory gleam in her eyes.
"Errr...hi," he said nervously. "Hey, you're...Washuu, right?"
"That's right! But you must call me...WASHUU-CHAN!"
"Uhh...okay." *What the heck is this girl on?* Ranma wondered. "So uh...what is this place?"
"This? Oh, this is just my Washuu-chan Super Economy Home Laboratory, Mark III! It's really something, isn't it? A laboratory truly befitting the greatest scientific genius in the entire universe!"
Two Washuu puppets, labelled A and B, popped up over the girl's shoulders. "You're the best, Washuu-chan!" "You can do it, Washuu-chan!"
Ranma began edging back toward the door, nervously, as the redhead laughed. *Scary,* he thought.
"Well now, Mister Ranma," Washuu said, looking him up and down. "I'm most fascinated by this sex-changing condition of yours. I'm quite curious to learn everything about how it works." In the blink of an eye, she'd changed into a nurse uniform, and gotten...quite...taller. And considerably more...endowed. "So just be a good boy, lie down, and let Nurse Washuu take some...samples." She pulled on a latex surgical glove with a loud snap, and wheeled into view a tray of instruments which looked rather daunting and unhealthy.
Ranma bolted, slamming the lab door behind him.
Washuu sighed. "Ah well. It wouldn't be nearly as much fun if they didn't struggle."
* * * * *
"Sasami! You gotta hide me!" Ranma yelped breathlessly as he dashed into the kitchen, where the blue-haired girl was just beginning to slice vegetables for lunch.
Sasami blinked. "Ranma-niichan, what's wrong?"
"Girl...woman...nurse...lab...samples..." Ranma stammered between gasps for air.
Sasami blinked in confusion for a moment. Her eyes widened as she figured out what the pigtailed boy was trying to say. "Ooooh! So you met Washuu-chan, huh?"
Ranma nodded. "S-scary..."
Sasami giggled. "Don't be scared. She's not that bad. She's just a little eccentric, and playful."
The pigtailed boy eyed the younger girl warily, but deflated. "Well, she creeps me out. And what's with that lab? How th' heck does somethin' that big fit inside this house?"
"Ummm..." *Oh great, how do I explain THAT?* Sasami wondered. Deciding to change the subject, she asked, "Ne, Ranma-niichan, would you go up to the shrine and tell Ojiisama and Oneesama that lunch will be ready in about an hour?"
Ranma nearly protested in shock, demanded an answer to his question. But the look on Sasami's face, so cute, cheerful...so Kasumi-like...quickly disarmed him. "Sure, Sasami-chan," he said.
As he left, Sasami returned to her cooking, frowning slightly. *We're not gonna be able to keep hiding things from him for long. I hope he doesn't think we're all freaks and leave, I want him to stay.*
* * * * *
Word had gotten around that Ranma had disappeared.
Akane arrived at Fuurinkan High to discover the crowd of boys waiting for her, as they had before Ranma came into her life.
She dispatched the horny horde easily, then went after their ringleader. "Kunou," she growled.
"Ah, the fair and vibrant Tendou Akane. How rapturous it is to gaze upon thy lovely countenance and bask in thine radiance without enduring the pugnacious, nauseating visage of the accursed fiend Saotome. Come, my love...let us away from this institution this very day, and follow our hearts' path to love's sweet embrace!"
"Go away and leave me alone, Kunou," Akane said in a dangerous tone.
"Ah, but the tigress is spirited today! A contest is what you seek before we ignite our passions? Then so be it. Defeat me and I shall allow you to—urk"
Akane's hand closed around Kunou's throat, and she lifted him off the ground. "I said..." She began slamming the back of his head against the trunk of the tree he'd been leaning against. "LEAVE!" *THUNK!* "ME!" *THUNK!* "ALONE!!" With that, she hauled him up as high as she could, took two steps back, and slammed his head into the ground, hard. With that, she smoothed out her skirt and stormed off into the building.
"Nice chokeslam," Hiroshi commented from where he and Daisuke had been watching. "A perfect ten, easy."
"Eh, I give it a nine," Daisuke replied.
"Work with me here, Daisuke."
* * * * *
Ranma entered the shrine to find Ayeka and the old priest having tea. "Ranma-kun, come, sit with us."
"Well, I dunno. Sasami could still use some help, I'm sure. I just came t' tell ya lunch'll be ready in an hour."
"Thank you. Now, you've been working hard all morning, right? So come join us for tea."
The pigtailed boy shrugged. "If you insist." Taking a seat, he took the cup Ayeka poured for him, sipping quietly for a moment. "Say, I wanna ask...that lab..."
Ayeka stiffened, but Katsuhito merely smiled. "Ah, you've discovered Washuu's little laboratory, I see."
"Yeah," Ranma said with a frown. "I dunno what t' make o' that. I mean, that place is bigger than th' whole house, an' I'm pretty sure it ain't underground 'cuz th' floor inside was level with th' floor outside. So uh..."
The priest chuckled. "Ranma, my boy, none of us are quite sure what to make of Washuu's lab. We've long since stopped trying to figure it out, and simply accepted the fact that it's there, it hasn't destroyed the house—"
"—more than a dozen times—" Ayeka put in.
"—and she's soundproofed it, so her experiments never disturb the rest of us. Usually."
Ranma shrugged. "Well, okay, if you say so." Finishing his tea, he decided to ask about something else. "So, ojiisan, sometime I'd like t' have a real sparrin' match with you."
"Oh?" Katsuhito raised an eyebrow.
"Yeah. I know you weren't even tryin' yesterday, and I couldn'ta beatcha that easy if you were goin' all out. I wanna see just how much you were holdin' back, is all."
The priest nodded, a small smile forming on his wizened features. "An all-out match. It has been a while since I've really cut loose. Of course, I won't use a live blade, you understand."
"O' course. Friendly sparrin'."
Katsuhito chuckled. "Alright, how does this afternoon sound? We'll wait until Tenchi is home from school, so he can watch."
"Sounds good t' me. Thanks for th' tea." Ranma stood and waved. "Remember, Sasami'll have lunch ready soon!"
Once he was gone, Ayeka set aside her teacup and frowned. "Oniisama, are you sure this is such a good idea?"
The old Juraian prince's glasses gleamed. "Ayeka, I don't think I could seriously hurt Ranma with anything short of the Tenchi-ken. When we sparred yesterday, he was holding back as much, if not more, than I was."
The princess' eyes widened. "Really? Do you think he's that powerful?"
"Well, there's only one way to find out, isn't there?"
* * * * *
Tenchi was met halfway between the bus stop and the house by a very unusual sight.
Ayeka, Sasami, Ryoko, and Washuu were all sitting alongside the path on folding chairs, drinking lemonade. By the trees on the opposite side of the path stood his grandfather and Ranma. They noticed him, and waved. "Ah, Tenchi," the priest said. "You're just in time."
"Just in time? What's goin' on, Grandpa?"
"Ranma and the old man are gonna fight," Ryoko said. "Come on, sit over here with me, Tenchi!"
"Here, Tenchi, there's a seat for you," Washuu said, handing Tenchi a chair.
"Umm...okay." Tenchi frowned as he sat down. "Why're you guys gonna fight?"
"Ranma-kun asked me to spar with him, and not hold back like I did yesterday. Likewise, I want to see what he is capable of as well. And of course, this should also serve as a lesson for you, Tenchi, to see the level of skill you should strive to attain."
"Yeah," Ranma said with a cocky grin. "Don't blink, wouldn't want ya t' miss nothin'."
"Ready...and begin!" Washuu called.
The older man faced the boy, bokuto held ready, stance firm. Ranma stood in a loose, easy stance, one that didn't look very defensible, but belied the speed and readiness with which he could move.
Eyes locked. A soft wind stirred clothes and leaves. Mouths tightened.
A bird cawed overhead.
The two men on the path seemed to vanish.
"Wow..." Ryoko said. "They're fast!"
"What's going on? Where are they?" Sasami asked.
"East five meters...ten...fifteen...moving north..." Washuu said, fingers flying over her shadow console. "Coming back this way..."
The branches of the trees overhead stirred, and suddenly the two combatants sailed over the onlookers, landing nimbly on the path, exchanging a flurry of blows, then leaping away into the trees on the other side. They paused briefly on the lower branches.
"Pretty fast, old man," Ranma said with a grin.
"I'm slowing down a bit in my old age," Katsuhito shrugged. "Well then, enough of a breather? Shall we continue?"
Ranma replied by leaping toward the old man in a blindingly fast, and alarmingly horizontal, kick. The priest nimbly leapt to a higher branch, but Ranma hooked the limb he'd stood on with his toes, flipped up, and sailed higher, snapping his other foot at his opponent's back. Katsuhito made a most undignified squawk as he toppled toward the ground, barely catching himself with his blade and his right leg. Ranma dropped down on top of him, planting a foot on his head which staggered him, then leapt off, twisting in mid-air to face his opponent.
"That's the third time Ranma's gotten in a good hit on Grandpa since he's been here, and I haven't seen Grandpa get him once yet!" Tenchi said with amazement.
"Yosho still isn't using the Power of Jurai, though," Ryoko pointed out. "If he were, this would have been over before it started."
"I'm not so sure about that," Washuu said. "Ranma's life energy is incredibly high. If I didn't already know better, I'd swear he couldn't be a normal Earthling."
As the two fighters disappeared into the trees again, Tenchi commented, "Trust me, Washuu, there's nothing normal about that."
There was a sudden loud *thwack* from above, and Ranma dropped onto the path, faceplanting in the dirt. Katsuhito landed nimbly across from him, smirking. "I owed you that one, Ranma-kun."
Ranma picked himself up, wiped a bit of blood from a scrape on his cheek, and chuckled. "Nice one." He then blurred into motion, charging the priest with a cry of "KACHUU TENSHIN AMAGURIKEN!" The pigtailed boy's arms began to blur as he threw hundreds of punches at the older fighter in the span of a few seconds. To his surprise, Katsuhito almost lazily deflected every single punch with his bokuto, before tagging Ranma across both wrists and poking him lightly in the chest.
"Not fast enough," he said.
Ryoko took a long gulp from her lemonade and let out a whooping laugh. "Now this is the best fight I've seen in ages!"
"I hope they don't hurt each other," Sasami said fretfully.
"Don't worry, Sasami-chan," Tenchi said. "You know how tough Grandpa is, and I have a feeling Ranma's at least as tough."
Ranma circled his opponent warily. As he'd suspected, the old man was a lot more than he seemed. He'd easily matched Ranma punch for punch during that last exchange, and while the cursed boy hadn't used nearly the full speed of the Amaguriken, anyone he'd ever fought before, with the exception of Cologne and Happousai, would have been hard-pressed to block those punches.
He wasn't anywhere near out of tricks, of course, but this was going to be a much tougher fight than he'd anticipated. The Hiryuu Shouten Ha would be useless here; Katsuhito was the perfect picture of calm and focus. Moko Takabisha wouldn't be fast enough, and he wouldn't use that in a sparring match in any case.
The old man's sword blurred into motion, breaking Ranma's analysis of the fight. The tight, spiral movement of the wooden blade confused the pigtailed boy at first, until he felt the telltale prickles of ki being used, and then the early warning signs that Katsuhito was about to use an air pressure technique.
One that was very likely to hurt.
Ranma leapt high into the air as a miniature whirlwind ripped through the space he'd been standing in, scattering leaves and dust in its wake. His attention was focused on the old man, who had abruptly jerked his bokuto sharply upward, so he didn't see the ki-infused tornado change course to intercept him until it was too late.
"Ranma-niichan!" Sasami cried in alarm. The cursed martial artist was swept up in the whirlwind, which flung him high into the air, then dissipated, leaving him to slam face-first into the ground below.
"Grandpa! You shouldn't have done that!" Tenchi shouted.
"Why not?" Ranma ground out through a mouthful of dirt. He pushed himself up shakily, spitting it out, and glanced curiously at Tenchi. "I told 'im t' go all out."
Everyone stared at Ranma.
"Are you ready to call it quits for the day?" Katsuhito asked, sword slung over one shoulder.
"Yeah," Ranma said. "I could keep goin', but it'd be pointless. I don't wanna pull out any desperation moves, they're too dangerous t' use in a sparrin' match." He grinned. "You're pretty good, old man. You gotta teach me how t' do that tornado thing."
"We'll see," the priest chuckled, a twinkle in his eye. "But for now, I think a bath and a good hot meal are in order, don't you agree?"
The chairs were packed up, the lemonade glasses collected, and the group moved toward the household, Ranma occasionally grimacing at the bruises from that last attack. Somehow, he couldn't quite shake the feeling that he still hadn't seen everything the old man had...
* * * * *
Tenchi and Ranma reclined in the furo. Ranma sighed as the hot water soothed his aching muscles.
"You sure you're okay, Ranma? You hit the ground awful hard there."
Ranma snorted. "That was nothin'. I've taken lots worse than that. May bruise a little, but that's life, y'know?"
"If you say so." Tenchi eyed the pigtailed boy. "How the heck did you get so fast, anyway? Is that all from the Amaguriken training, or what?"
"Nope," Ranma shook his head. "I've always been fast. When we were trainin', me an' Pop never took th' easy road anywhere. It was always hikin' or runnin' or swimmin'. Builds up your muscles an' your stamina, an' makes you helluva lot faster." He grinned. "Th' only time we ever took an easier route was comin' back from China. We had Shampoo on our butts, an' wet panda fur stinks like shit, so we took a ship insteada swimmin' like we did th' first time."
Tenchi stared at Ranma. "You...swam. From Japan to China."
"SO!?" Tenchi turned to face Ranma directly. "You and your father just up and decided to swim to CHINA!?"
"Hey, it's not that big a deal," the pigtailed boy replied with a casual shrug. "It's good endurance trainin'."
After a moment, Tenchi laughed quietly. "No wonder you're not broken in two from that fall. You're tough as a monster."
Ranma grinned. "Nah, you wanna know who's really tough like a monster? Ryouga."
"Ryouga? That boy with the pig curse from this morning?"
Ranma nodded. "I've seen mountains less solid than that idiot. He was already inhumanly strong and tough when he followed us back from China, but then..."
"But then?" Tenchi prompted.
"Well, th' ol' ghoul who taught me th' Amaguriken decided t' train Ryouga, too. Only she taught him a different technique entirely, the Bakusai Tenketsu."
"Yeah. I can do it too, kinda, but not near as good as th' pig. I've only figured out how t' do it on small things. See, it's a technique that lets you find a weak spot on somethin' like a rock, a tree, whatever, and blow it up with a touch." He chuckled. "Freaked me out when he learned it, because me an' my old man thought it'd work on anything, includin' an' especially me. But, turns out, it's just an old construction technique, an' don't work on people an' animals."
"So...what was the point of learning it then?" Tenchi asked.
"Wasn't th' technique itself, it was th' trainin'," Ranma replied. "That's why I ain't in no particular hurry t' learn it right. Th' way I hear it, th' ol' ghoul was swingin' big boulders at Ryouga, an' he was all tied up except for one hand." The pigtailed boy grinned. "It took him a lotta tries t' get it right, too."
"Yep. Splat, face full o' boulder, ten or twenty times a day."
"And he survived that?"
"Hell yeah he survived it. An' ever since then, tryin' t' hit him with any one punch or kick is a waste'a energy. He don't even feel my strongest punches unless I rain a couple hundred in one spot all at once. An' even then he just barely feels it."
"So how do you beat him?" Tenchi asked.
Ranma shrugged. "I don't, really. With his sense o' direction, he usually ends up gettin' lost in th' middle'a th' fight. An' even when he don't, we usually get interrupted by someone else, or by cold water. So I just stay outta his way until he gets lost or turned into a pig, or until I figure out somethin' t' do that he'll feel without hurtin' 'im too bad. He has th' strength advantage, but I've got th' speed advantage. I don't take our little fights seriously unless he issues a formal challenge, an' he hardly ever does that. Usually he just stumbles inta town, shoutin' about killin' me for makin' his life hell. I hate t' admit it, but he's probably one'a th' few people in th' world who could ever take me in a serious fight." Glancing at Tenchi, he added, "An' if you EVER tell anyone I said that, I'll break both your arms."
* * * * *
"I think I heard a sneeze," Mihoshi said, glancing around. "Oh, look, Kiyone!"
Kiyone turned, slightly annoyed, to see her partner holding a small black piglet. "Mihoshi, put that pig down, it probably belongs to somebody."
"Oh...yeah, I guess you're right. It has a collar and everything." The blond put the animal down on the sidewalk, and frowned. "I hope its owner comes for it soon, though. It sneezed...it might be sick."
Ryouga trotted sullenly away as the two women continued on their way.
* * * * *
Sasami smiled as Ranma stood beside her, rapidly cutting ingredients for the sukiyaki the blue-haired girl had decided to prepare for dinner. "You're pretty good in the kitchen, Ranma-niichan!"
Ranma smiled. "Thanks, I useta do all th' cookin' on th' road. I don't do it as much now, cuz back at th' Tendou place, th' kitchen was Kasumi's." He chuckled. "You'd like Kasumi. You remind me'a her in a lotta ways." He paused, a small frown crossing his face. "Y'know, though, this is th' first time I've worked in th' kitchen as a guy in forever."
"Well, it just ain't a manly thing t' do, y'know? Cookin' an' stuff. An' likin' doin' it. That ain't somethin' guys do."
Sasami blinked. "Really? I didn't know that." She paused. "But what about the Metal Cooks?"
"Th' who?" Ranma asked.
"Metal Cook. It's a show on television. Top chefs from everywhere compete to cook a five-star meal before the other chefs knock them out. It's one of my favorite shows." She put a finger to her chin. "Funny, all the chefs on the show are men. They hardly ever have any women on there, except as tasters."
The pigtailed boy blinked. "Really? Hmm...I gotta see that sometime. Hey, y'want me t' cut up some'a this?"
"Sure, that'll be really good!"
The two worked in silence for a few moments. At length, as things began to simmer and delicious aromas began wafting gently from the pans and pots on the stove, Sasami hummed thoughtfully. "I wonder if Mihoshi and Kiyone will come over for dinner tonight."
Ranma's knife thunked loudly into the cutting board.
"Did you say...Kiyone?" he asked.
"Yeah...why?" Sasami blinked up at him.
"About in her early twenties, long greenish hair, policewoman?"
"Yeah, that's her. You know Kiyone, niichan?"
Ranma made a strangled sound.
"What's wrong, Ranma-niichan?" Sasami asked with concern. "Is something wrong with Kiyone?"
The pigtailed boy turned very red. "No, nothing wrong with Kiyone at all..." Noticing the questioning look the younger girl was giving him, he cleared his throat noisily. "Ah...nevermind, Sasami. I just...well, I kinda met Kiyone th' other night, before I came here."
Sasami blinked owlishly at him. Then her eyes widened. "OHHH! So it was you!"
The girl giggled. "So you're the guy Kiyone slept with, Ranma-niichan? Wow..."
Ranma very nearly fell over in shock. "SASAMI!" his blush deepened. "An' how th' heck do you know about that, anyway?"
"Mihoshi told us Kiyone met a guy, and..." Sasami blushed.
The cursed boy groaned. "No matter where you go, people gossipin' never changes." Sasami giggled, and Ranma smiled and helped her finish dinner.
* * * * *
"So, are we going over to Tenchi's place for dinner?" Mihoshi asked.
Kiyone groaned. "Come on, Mihoshi, we can't just go over there any old time we feel like it."
"Sure we can! You know Sasami likes us to come over for dinner." She paused. "Besides, don't you want to see Ranma again?"
The teal-haired detective blushed furiously. "Mihoshi!" she snapped. "The last thing I want to do is walk right into an embarrassing situation with a guy I had a one-night stand with! A guy who's engaged, yet!" She sighed. "Besides, we were both so drunk I bet he doesn't even remember my name, much less what we did."
"You were drunk, and you remember," Mihoshi pointed out.
"Yeah, well...I learned how to fight it off in the Galaxy Police Academy," Kiyone shrugged. "Besides, he's an Earthling...they don't deal with intoxication nearly as well here."
"Well, you can't avoid him forever," Mihoshi said in a tone Kiyone rarely heard from the blond ditz. "He's going to be staying with Tenchi for a while, and maybe even for good. You just want to avoid all your friends forever because you're afraid of being in the same room with a guy you had sex with?"
Kiyone paused and looked at her partner. The vapidness in the other woman was utterly gone, and her bright blue eyes pierced Kiyone's own. She could count the number of times she'd seen Mihoshi like this on both hands, and it never failed to unnerve her. The blond's serious side, rarely brought out from hiding beneath layers of silly airhead, had an edge of iron that made even Kiyone flinch. Right now, that edge was directed at her personal life, and the teal-haired woman quickly found herself wilting under the scrutiny. "Well, when you put it that way..." She sighed. "Alright, let's get changed and go over there tonight."
Instantly, the airhead was back. "Hooray! I wonder what Sasami's making for dinner tonight." A stream of speculative food-related babble issued forth from the blond, and Kiyone found herself actually listening to Mihoshi's droning for a change to distract herself from her own churning thoughts.
Thoughts of a cute young guy with a pigtail, and a night of unbridled passion.
* * * * *
Ranma fidgeted nervously in the living room. Earlier, a phone call had confirmed that tonight would be the night he'd have to own up for his drunken sexploits. He'd quickly run up to the guest room, gone through the laundry Sasami had placed in his closet, and selected his black silk pants and the sleeveless white Chinese shirt he saved for occasional wear because he'd been told it looked particularly good on him once and didn't want to chance messing it up on an average day.
Not that he'd admit to being vain about something as silly as clothing. That wouldn't be manly.
"Ranma, you're wound tighter than a spring," Tenchi said. "What's wrong? You should relax."
"Y'know Mihoshi and Kiyone are comin' over tonight, right?"
Ranma quickly explained what had happened, his face turning progressively redder as he finished his tale. By the time he was done, Tenchi was quite red himself.
"I don't think you should be so nervous, Ranma," he finally said. "I mean, I've known Kiyone for a while now...she's really quite a nice person. You'll get along well." He paused, and blushed again. "I mean, you already got along well with her, but..."
"It's just that I don't know nuthin' about her, man," Ranma sighed. "All I know is she was gettin' drunk cuz'a Mihoshi...I didn't think she was that bad, but I've only known her one day...an' that she's some kind'a cop, an' kinda lonely. An' real good-lookin'..."
"Well, that's a start," Tenchi offered optimistically.
"Man, this is stupid," Ranma almost shouted. "What th' hell am I thinkin'? I already got enough girl problems without makin' this mess even worse! Maybe I should just split..."
"Too late for that," Tenchi said, cocking his head toward the front door. "They're already here."
* * * * *
"It's nice of you to let us come over for dinner," Kiyone said, bowing to Sasami.
The blue-haired girl giggled. "You know you're welcome anytime, Kiyone," she smiled.
The detective fidgeted a bit nervously. "Is...is it true, what Mihoshi said? A boy named Saotome Ranma is staying here?"
"Mm-hmm. I've heard you two get along really well."
Kiyone made a strangled sound. "He's...been talking about it?"
"Oh, no! When I mentioned your name, he was a bit surprised that we knew you, is all. After what Mihoshi told us yesterday, I figured out why."
"I see." She was about to say more, when a motion from behind Sasami drew her attention. She looked up to see...HIM. He was walking slowly forward, hands jammed in his pockets, his muscular biceps fully exposed by the sleeveless white silk shirt he wore. He'd shaved since that night, and looked much cleaner and healthier...not that he'd looked unhealthy to begin with.
"Yo, Kiyone," he said. "Umm...nice t' see you again."
"Umm...good to see you again too, Ranma," the teal-haired woman said, reddening slightly. "You shaved, I see."
"Yeah, I looked like hell by the time I got here. You look even prettier than I remember."
There was an awkward pause, which Mihoshi broke with a loud rumbling of her stomach. "Oh, sorry, I'm just so hungry," she said sheepishly.
"Well, why don't we all go sit down for dinner?" Sasami suggested. "We made sukiyaki!"
"Yay! I love sukiyaki!" Mihoshi cheered, bouncing happily into the dining room. Sasami followed, bound for the kitchen, and Kiyone and Ranma trailed at a more sedate pace, casting glances at one another and blushing.
* * * * *
Dinner wasn't exactly awkward, though some of the sly glances Ryoko was giving the new houseguest and the teal-haired detective were causing a palpable aura of nervous embarrassment. The only source of distraction was Ranma recounting his life story for Nobuyuki, who had yet to hear any of it, and Kiyone, who only knew the broad strokes.
"So you have four fiancees, eh Ranma-kun?" Nobuyuki asked, glasses gleaming. "Lucky dog..."
"Actually, three—well, actually, I ain't sure how many Pop set me up with," the pigtailed boy shrugged. "He only bothered settin' one of 'em up proper...that's th' one with his old trainin' partner Tendou. On th' road, he sold me off a few times for food or whatever, an' then skipped out on it...I was too little t' know what th' heck was goin' on. Then there's th' Chinese girl, Shampoo. She ain't exactly my fiancee, she just thinks I hafta marry her 'cuz I beat her in a fight, an' her village has these crazy laws about outsiders beatin' their women. There's a couple crazies after me too, but I don't want nuthin' t' do with them, not even as friends."
"Hmm. Still, for a healthy and vigorous young man such as yourself, it can't be all bad, hmm?" Tenchi's father had a decidedly lecherous gleam in his eyes.
"Hey now, I ain't like that!" Ranma protested.
"Really? That's not what we heard," Ryoko purred. Ranma and Kiyone both turned crimson.
"Ryoko-san!" Ayeka snapped. "Please, pay her no attention, Ranma-san."
"Oh, come on, I'm just teasing. Don't be so uptight, Ayeka!" The cyan-haired woman poured some sake into a glass and bolted it back, then let out a loud whoop.
"Ill-mannered..." Ayeka growled.
"Ranma-niichan, are you sure you're okay? I mean, from earlier..." Sasami looked at Ranma worriedly.
Ranma smiled. "Eh, I'm fine, Sasami-chan."
"What happened?" Kiyone asked.
"Oh, you two missed the coolest fight!" Ryoko said, exhaling breath that could run a Toyota. "Ranma an' Gramps here put on quite a show this afternoon."
"Really? Wow..." Mihoshi looked excited.
Kiyone, meanwhile, looked confused. "You two..." she gestured at Katsuhito and Ranma. "Fought? Why?"
"Just a friendly sparring match," the old priest replied, sipping his tea calmly. "Ranma-kun is quite the skilled martial artist. He certainly gave me a run for my money."
Ranma chuckled. "Yer still holdin' out on me, Jiisan. One o' these days, I'm gonna getcha t' really cut loose on me."
Katsuhito smiled. "Really, now? Hmm...perhaps. We shall see."
"It didn't look like Grandpa was holding back when he did that tornado thing," Tenchi said.
The pigtailed boy shook his head. "If it'd been a real fight an' not a sparrin' match, that wouldn't'a been nuthin'. But most'a th' ways I coulda countered that're just too dangerous t' use just for sparrin'. After he pulled that one, I figured it'd be good t' quit before things got too rough..." Sipping his tea, he continued, "Next time, though, without an audience, I'll put you in th' dirt, jiisan." He grinned.
The priest chuckled. "You thrive on challenges, I see."
"How d'you think I got as good as I am?"
"Heh," Katsuhito replied. "Most people would call that attitude arrogance, Ranma-kun."
"I call it confidence," the cursed boy said, digging into his rice.
"I liked the bit where you did all those punches, myself," Ryoko said.
"You could see that?" Tenchi asked. "All I saw was a blur."
"I have fast eyes," the cyan-haired woman shrugged.
"Pity they're connected to such a slow brain," Ayeka mumbled.
"What was that?"
"Thank you for the excellent meal as always, Sasami," the princess covered.
"Ranma-niichan helped!" the blue-haired girl chirped.
"Wow, he can fight and cook and looks like that? No wonder you have all those girls fighting over you," Ryoko said.
"Perhaps you would prefer him to Tenchi-sama, Ryoko-san?" Ayeka suggested.
People began to drift away from the table at that point. As Kiyone finished eating at a rather sedate pace, she studied the boy in the white Chinese shirt, and felt a million and one questions and thoughts whirling through her head.
* * * * *
After dinner, Kiyone had availed herself of the restroom to freshen up. When she'd come back, Ranma was nowhere to be found. "Sasami, where's...?"
"He stepped outside for some fresh air," the younger girl said with a smile, inclining her head toward the door. "Why don't you go talk to him?"
"Yeah, I think I will...thanks."
Kiyone stepped out onto the veranda, shivering a bit as the slight chill in the evening air caught her. She looked around, but couldn't see any sign of the pigtailed boy. Of course, the Masaki property was rather large; he could be up at the shrine, or in the fields, or by the lake, or...
...or up on the roof. Kiyone stared up at the teenager who was perched effortlessly on the edge of the slanted red roof, staring off over the trees into the star-studded sky.
"God I missed bein' out in th' country," Ranma said. "Didn't realize it till I came out here. You don't see th' stars like this in Tokyo, even in th' less crowded places. Too many lights an' too much crap in th' air."
"It is nice out here," Kiyone said distractedly. Her eyes widened as Ranma suddenly stood up, and vaulted off the roof. *Oh gods, is he crazy? Is he trying to kill himself?* She froze for a second, trying to figure out what to do, when suddenly Ranma touched down perfectly on the toes of one foot in front of her, grinning.
"Yeah...c'mon, let's go sit on the shrine steps, okay? Things're gettin' noisy in th' house."
The detective stared at the younger man. "Wha—how did you?" She gestured at the roof.
Ranma laughed. "Th' day I can't jump a little roof like that is th' day I'm tryin' t' jump it from th' grave."
Kiyone recalled some of the things she'd heard about the young man over dinner. He seemed to be a favorite topic of conversation in the house tonight; now she was beginning to see why. "You do things like that often then?"
"Yeah, th' specialty o' th' Saotome school is midair combat." He smirked. "A roof like this ain't nothin'."
"I'm gettin' kinda tired o' talkin' about myself so much, though," Ranma said, sighing. "You'd think nothin' excitin' ever goes on around here, th' way everyone keeps askin' me stuff over an' over again." He chuckled. "It's kinda fun talkin' about it sometimes, but..."
"Well, you are a rather unique person, Ranma-kun," Kiyone said, blushing.
"Heh." They reached the shrine steps, and sat down. "So, Mihoshi's that crazy partner o' yours, huh? I guess she is a bit of a ditz..."
"You have no idea, trust me."
"If you say so." He shrugged.
"And she comes up with the weirdest notions, like you being able to turn into a girl..." Her laughter trailed off as she noticed the expression on Ranma's face. "Uhh...?"
"With cold water, yeah. I'm amazed I went through most of a day without gettin' splashed..."
"Really?" Kiyone asked, fascinated, trying to picture the handsome young warrior as a woman.
"Yeah. I'll show ya later. I don't like it much, but I'm stuck with it."
"I'll tellya all about it later," he promised. He then fidgeted nervously. "Ummm...about th' other night."
The teal-haired woman blushed. "Yeah, about that."
"Look, I'm sorry...I mean, if you're upset about what happened."
"Upset? It was my idea, remember?"
"Yeah, but neither of us..."
"Look, Ranma," Kiyone said, taking the boy's hands and staring straight into his eyes. "I for one do not regret what happened that night. You shouldn't either. Regardless of whether or not we were drunk, we're adults and we both made the decision to sleep together. The only thing I regret is having had to leave when I did, but I was on call."
Ranma nodded, looking relieved. "O-okay then. I just was worried maybe..." He shrugged. "Anyway, so what happens now?"
"What happens now is nothing, unless you want something to happen now," the detective replied. "We can be friends, since you're staying around for a while. We can go out once in a while if you want to, I'd be happy to have someone to hang out with other than Mihoshi for a change, and I haven't been on an actual date in forever. We can even..." She blushed. "Well, if you wanted to again, I wouldn't mind a bit."
The pigtailed boy turned beet red.
"But I'm not going to try to force you to do anything," she told him. "Sounds to me like you've had enough of that already. And...I do feel a little silly getting involved with someone who's already engaged."
Ranma shrugged. "Th' engagement thing ain't my idea. If it had been, I wouldn't be here now, I'd be back in Tokyo with my fiancee. But like I said, that just ain't workin' out." He sighed, and looked at Kiyone. "I can't even make up my mind about th' whole mess because I don't really get t' know any of 'em that well. There's always some crap or other goin' on that screws everything up. It gets old. It got old."
"Yeah, I can imagine." Kiyone watched her breath fog up in front of her for a moment. "Can they really make you do anything you don't want to do, Ranma?" He opened his mouth, but she stopped him. "Be honest. If these people tried to come in here and drag you kicking and screaming back to Tokyo, could they?"
The boy was silent for a moment. "I don't really wanna hurt anyone, Kiyone."
"But could you get rid of them without hurting them?"
"Sure, I guess," Ranma shrugged. "Th' only ones that can outfight me are th' ghoul, th' ol' pervert, an' maybe Ryouga."
"Then I'd say it's a matter of deciding to live your life for yourself, instead of letting all these people run your life for you," Kiyone pointed out. "And you know it, or else you'd never have run away."
The pigtailed boy blinked...then smiled. "Yeah, I guess you're right. I could tell 'em all t' go t' hell, an' they couldn't do nuthin' about it. I just don't wanna hurt nobody's feelins..."
"What about your feelings though, Ranma?"
"I..." He paused. "I don't even know what my feelins are, Kiyone."
"Well then, that's what you'll have to figure out while you're here, isn't it?" she asked. Then, with a small smile, she added, "And I'll be here to help you. I want to be your friend, Ranma...and maybe more, but we both need to get to know each other better first before we see what happens. But definitely friends, right?"
"Yeah, definitely." He put an arm around the detective and hugged her close. "Thanks, Kiyone."
"Anytime, Ranma." She leaned into his shoulder and smiled.
* * * * *
Half an hour later, the two began making their way back to the house. As they walked, there was a sudden loud shout and a splash, which sent a titanic column of water from the lake into the air.
Naturally, a sizable amount of it ended up on Ranma. "Crap," the redhead said, blowing futilely on her dripping bangs in irritation.
Kiyone's eyes widened. "Wow...you weren't kidding..."
Ranma glanced at her, shrugged, and gave a wry smile. "Toldja so."
Kiyone tilted her head and eyed the boy-turned-girl for a long moment.
"Um...?" Ranma began to fidget under the scrutiny, cheeks reddening.
"I thought you'd be taller."
Halfway back to the house, another small redhead suddenly appeared in their path. "Hiiiiii!" Washuu enthused.
Ranma tensed. "Hi, Washuu," Kiyone said.
Washuu walked up to Ranma. "So, Saotome-chan, we meet again..." The spiky-haired scientist leaned left and right, looking Ranma over from head to toe. She leaned forward and poked at Ranma's chest with a finger, then made an unsolicited grope of said chest.
"Washuu!" Kiyone snapped.
"Oi, cut that out," Ranma growled, cheeks flaming red.
"Hmm. Well, they're definitely real..."
"OF COURSE THEY'RE REAL!" the martial artist bellowed, then smacked her forehead. "Shimatta, what a thing for me to say..."
"And you say you acquired this...condition by falling into a pool of water in China?" the scientist queried.
"That's right," Ranma said.
"Fascinating." She reached up and plucked one of Ranma's hairs out at the root.
"Pardon me, I must get back to my lab to analyze this," Washuu said with a wave before rushing off.
"Geez...what th' hell was THAT for?" Ranma grumped, rubbing at her head.
"That's just Washuu for you," Kiyone said, sighing. "She does that to everybody, for the most part. Science and manners don't mix, I suppose."
"Sheesh." Then Ranma paused, blinking at a sudden thought. "Hey, you don't suppose that crazy girl might actually be able t' cure me, do ya?"
Kiyone shrugged. "It's possible. Eccentric as she is, she is a scientific genius. I wouldn't put anything past her."
"Hmmm..." The martial artist pondered silently as they continued toward the house. Near the porch, the pair ran into a sopping wet Ayeka, whose violet locks were in severe disarray, and whose kimono had come as close to being utterly destroyed as possible without compromising her modesty.
"Ah, Ranma-san!" Ayeka bowed.
"Yo, Ayeka. Um, what happened...?"
The princess growled. "This is all that demon woman's fault."
"What's that?" Ryoko asked as she appeared from seemingly thin air. "You said you were gonna take a bath, so I gave you a bath."
"You...INSUFFERABLE CREATURE!" Ayeka glowered at Ryoko, who merely crossed her arms and smirked.
Kiyone rolled her eyes. "This happens practically every day," she whispered aside to Ranma.
"I...see," the redhead replied, blinking.
The situation was defused by Sasami appearing at the door. "Oneesama! Ranma-neechan! You could catch a cold like that!" Sighing, she adjusted the tray she had in her hands. "Anyway, if you and Ryoko are done fighting," she addressed her sister, "I'm taking some sake to the bath for you." Then she glanced at Ranma. "Ah! Ranma-neechan, you should take a bath too."
Ranma waved her off. "I'll wait until the others are finished. I didn't get soaked as bad as Ayeka did."
Of course, everyone but Ranma knew that in this house, men had a different bathroom entirely from the women, courtesy of Washuu. But nobody wanted to let on about that just yet.
"Okay then. The rest of you, don't keep Ranma-neechan waiting for the bath too long! And no falling asleep drunk in the bath this time, Ryoko!" With that, Sasami retreated into the house.
"Well, I should probably collect Mihoshi and head home, but knowing her, she's gonna be in the bath getting drunk too," Kiyone sighed.
"Why don't you go ahead an' join 'em in th' bath," Ranma suggested. "I gotta grab some hot water an' a dry shirt an' see if Sasami-chan needs any help cleanin' up."
Kiyone considered that, then nodded. "Yeah, that's probably a good idea." Leaning over, she kissed the redhead on the cheek, then smiled. "You know you're cute in both forms?"
"So I've been told," the smaller girl replied with a blush.
The detective chuckled softly. "Mata ne, Ranma-kun."
* * * * *
"So, Kiyone, you and Ranma really did the old mattress mambo, huh?"
The various women of the house, save Sasami and Washuu, were soaking in the pocket-dimension springs, drinking sake, and engaging in a little girl talk—much to Kiyone's chagrin.
"You don't have to be so vulgar about it, Ryoko," Kiyone muttered, cheeks flaming from embarrassment as opposed to drink. "But yes, we did do...it together."
"What was he like? Details, girl!"
"Ryoko-san! Please do not harass Kiyone-san about her personal affairs!"
"Oh come on, Ayeka, you know you're curious too."
"I most certainly am! Not. Most certainly not." The princess gave a small hiccup, and reached for the sake.
Kiyone reddened even further, and also helped herself to some sake. Taking a long sip, she began, "Well..."
* * * * *
"So, Ranma-kun, you and Kiyone really did it together, eh?" Nobuyuki asked, grinning slyly at the teen.
"Um, yeah, we did..."
"So, boy, what was she like? Come on, man to man, tell me all about it."
Ranma flushed. "That's kinda personal, dontcha think?"
"Dad! Cut it out!" Tenchi complained. "Geez, do you have to be such a perv all the time?"
"Well this is a special occa—" He caught the glance his son was giving him, and sighed. "Okay, okay, I'll stop. I guess I'll just go have a bath instead."
"Hey, wait, the girls are—" Ranma blinked as the middle-aged man slid open the door to the bathroom, revealing it to be utterly empty on the other side.
"You two wanna join me?" Nobuyuki asked.
"No thanks, Dad," Tenchi replied. "And that goes for Ranma too—I know what you're thinking," he warned.
"Fine, fine..." The door slid shut. Ranma continued to stare at it for a long moment.
"I coulda sworn..."
"Just so you know," Tenchi cautioned Ranma, "Don't let your guard down around my dad. He's liable to try to peep on you in your cursed form."
The pigtailed boy shrugged. "I'm used enough t' that. I know how t' handle perverts." As he headed for the kitchen to see if Sasami needed any help, Ranma continued to ponder the empty bath.
*I coulda SWORN...!*
* * * * *
Later that evening, Ranma shambled wearily out of the bath. As he headed for the stairs, he caught sight of Ryoko, passed out on the sofa in an ultra-short yukata that afforded quite a spectacular view; a sake bottle lay on the floor next to one splayed-out hand. Shaking his head, he moved on.
Flashes of light lit the portal in Washuu's door; Ranma shuddered for a moment before moving on to the stairway.
Reaching the guest room, he found his futon already rolled out for him, and Sasami standing there with a cheerful smile. "Sasami-chan?" he asked.
"Just wanted to say goodnight, Ranma-niichan," the blue-haired girl said.
Ranma chuckled, and patted her on the head. "Goodnight, Sasami-chan."
Once the young girl had left, and Ranma had settled down to sleep, he thought back over the day. There were definitely some things going on in this house he couldn't make sense of, but everyone here was really nice...not nearly as quick to jump to unreasonable conclusions as the people he'd left behind in Nerima. And there was Kiyone...
For some reason, thinking of Kiyone gave the pigtailed boy a really good feeling.
* * * * *
Far to the east of Okayama, sleep did not come easily for three girls. Despite their rivalries, all of them were thinking variations on the same thought as they drifted off into fitful slumber:
*Ranma, where ARE you?*
Chapter Three: Unexpected Company
Mid-morning of his second full day at the Masaki residence found Ranma in an unaccustomed situation.
"I just...it's giri, see. You know..."
"I...wish I could say I understand. I just...I can't! I'm sorry, I know it's selfish of me, but why can't you love me? Only me?"
"I do...you know I love you. Only you. But...I can't...I have to marry her. I don't have any choice."
Sasami and Ayeka sniffled. Even Ryoko looked a little misty-eyed.
For Ranma, though, the movie was hitting a little too close to home.
The girl, in tears, took one last look at the man she would never have as her own, then ran crying into the night. He started to follow her, hand stretched out...then sighed, slumped his shoulders, and turned away, disappearing down the darkened street. The words "The End" flashed on the screen.
"That's it?" Ranma shouted. "What th' heck kinda crappy ending is that?"
"Don't you see? They both want the one thing they can never have, but they don't have the strength to overcome the obstacles between them, so they both left in defeat."
"Yeah, but ain't there usually, I dunno, a lover's suicide, or they run away together, or somethin' other than that?" Shaking his head, Ranma muttered, "I don't get these chick flicks."
He then spluttered angrily as a faceful of Ryoko's beer turned him into a girl.
"Get 'em now?" she asked, smirking.
"Ryoko-san!" Ayeka snapped.
"I'll get you some hot water and a towel, neechan!" Sasami said, popping up off the sofa and glaring at Ryoko.
"Look, just cuz I turn inta a girl don't mean I REALLY turn inta one!" Ranma complained. "Jeez..."
"Heh. Okay, okay, then why don't you pick something to watch?" Ryoko suggested, handing over the remote.
"Hmm...okay, let's see..." Ranma began flicking through the channels. She paused to towel herself off as Sasami returned, setting the hot water aside.
"You're not gonna change back?" Ryoko asked.
"Why bother?" the redhead replied, shrugging. "I'll need a bath later anyway—no thanks to you—so I might as well just wait."
The television now showed two hideous, drooling, multi-tentacled, fanged creatures standing on a pile of skulls, bopping each other on the head with big pink squeaky mallets.
The others glanced at each other and sweated nervously.
Ranma shook her head. "Man, they can do all this crazy stuff with computers nowadays, an' they come up with this kinda thing." She clicked the remote again.
The others let out a collective breath.
The next show featured two oversized jellyfish against a background of floating red bubbles, hitting each other with starfish that let out unintelligible but undeniably angry shouts with each hit.
Another click, and the jellyfish were replaced by naked zombie women hitting each other with mouldering bones in a graveyard.
The next click revealed something that looked like demonic orange Smurfs wearing penis-shaped black hats and firing laser pistols at a small-mouthed, bulging-eyed creature which was rather obviously a woman's nude torso painted to look like a small-mouthed, bulging-eyed creature.
One more click later, and Crayon Shin-chan was doing the elephant dance.
Ranma shook her head and sighed. "Man, there's never anythin' good on TV anymore." She handed Sasami the remote, and stood up. "Think I'm gonna go have that bath now."
As she left, the trio sighed heavily. "Man, that was close," Ryoko said, taking a swig of beer.
"Ryoko-san, it would behoove you to be more well-mannered while our guest remains within this house."
"Yeah, whatever." She stood and stretched. "A bath sounds pretty good right now, come to think of it. And some warm sake."
"You should also stop drinking so much."
Sasami's eyes suddenly widened. "The bath! Ranma's a girl right now!"
"Yeah, so? Why would—" Ryoko trailed off. "Ah, shit." She picked up the hot water and started to phase—but they heard the door to the bathroom slide shut.
"This won't be pretty," she decided.
* * * * *
Ranma stripped off her beer-stained clothes, grimacing at the smell, then slid the door to the furo open with a toe. She stepped through...and dropped her washbucket.
"What th' HELL?!"
* * * * *
Washuu hummed merrily as she entered the bath. Things had certainly been very interesting the last few days. On her way to the cold water spring, she passed a buxom, naked redhead who was gaping at the furo like a fish. "Heya Ranma-chan," she said.
Ranma blinked, then stared at Washuu—and quickly averted her gaze. "GAH! W-Washuu—what th'—" She gestured around at the spacious bath and the dome enclosing it. "What th' hell's goin' on here?!"
Washuu grinned. "Like it? This is just a little addition I made to the house after I moved in. It's a separate dimension, see. It's just for the girls, though—the door only lets girls in here, and guys get sent through to the regular bath."
Ranma stared. "But how th'—I mean—" She gulped. "What kinda kid ARE you?!"
"I'm not a kid," Washuu said rather huffily. She frowned. "Hmm. I'd better reprogram the door to recognize your DNA so it sends you to the regular bath even if you're in girl form. Unless...you WANT to sneak in here and peek while we're all bathing." She winked playfully.
Ranma made a strange squeaking noise. "No! No, no peeking..."
"You sure? Kiyone comes in here, you know. Then again, you've already seen—"
Ranma rushed to the edge of the large furo, splashed herself with hot water, grabbed her bath supplies, and rushed back out.
Washuu giggled. "The shy ones are so much fun to play with."
* * * * *
Sasami gave Ranma a look of concern when the pigtailed boy emerged from the bath, wearing only a towel and looking rather shaken. "Are you okay, Ranma-niichan?" she asked.
Ranma shook his head. "I think I'm crackin' up. Washuu...baths..."
The blue-haired girl sighed. "I'm sorry, we should've warned you..."
"Sasami-chan," Ranma cut across her, "what kinda nutball house IS this?"
Sasami looked down, tears brimming in her eyes. "Ranma-niichan..."
Ranma sighed. "Gomen, Sasami-chan. You've been nothin' but kind t' me an' I'm complainin' about..." He shook his head. "It'll be safe if I go back in there now, right?"
Sasami nodded. "You'll see the same bath you usually see."
Nodding, Ranma turned and strode back into the bathroom.
Sasami sighed. "Ranma-niichan...he'll leave for sure now..."
* * * * *
* * * * *
Ranma spent the morning training by the shrine, heading back down to the house a little past noon, only to find Sasami standing by the door fretting.
"What's wrong, Sasami-chan?" he asked.
"Ah, Ranma-niichan," the girl wailed, "it's terrible! Washuu did something to all the rice and it...it..." She shook her head. "We're all out of rice, and I used up the last of the soy sauce at breakfast and didn't know I didn't have another bottle, and Ryoko's really drunk and trying to pick a fight with my sister, and I'm afraid if I leave the house for even a minute they're gonna...I mean, I know ways to stop them from fighting, but..."
Ranma shook his head. "I'll go t' town an' get rice an' soy sauce. An' anythin' else ya need."
"Really? You will?"
"Sure. Just gimme th' list an' th' money, an' I'll be back in two shakes."
Sasami beamed. "Arigatou, Ranma-niichan!"
* * * * *
Ranma barely reached the bus stop in time to miss the explosion that rocked the Masaki house.
* * * * *
* * * * *
"I do suppose we owe you a few explanations, Ranma-kun."
Ranma nodded, a bit shaken. He'd known something was bizarre around here, but the last bizarre thing he'd seen had really knocked him for a loop. "Okay, so...I'm listenin'."
"Ranma-niichan, please don't be mad at us for hiding things from you. Please? And don't be afraid of us." Sasami's eyes shimmered; the girl was near tears.
Ranma softened and reached out to pat her head. "Hey, I can take some weirdness. It's just...this is a whole new kind'a weird for me, is all."
"Alright then, where to begin," Katsuhito mused. "With the exception of yourself, my son-in-law, and Tenchi, none of the people in this house were born here on Earth."
Ranma's eyes widened. "Y'mean...you're all ALIENS!?"
"That's right, Ranma," Kiyone said. "We're all from a long way away from this solar system."
"But...but...you guys're all human..."
"Not exactly," Ayeka said. "You see, Ranma-san, many races in the galaxy are similar in appearance and anatomy to the people of this world. Nobody is exactly sure why, but humanoid beings are fairly prevalent."
"Yes," the old priest said. "Myself, Ayeka, and Sasami are from a planet called Jurai, which is the throne world of a vast empire in the stars. Ayeka is the First Princess of Jurai. Sasami, her sister, is also a princess."
"And you?" Ranma asked.
"Oh, I'm just an old knight, long since retired from service to my people. I've been on Earth for the last seven hundred years."
"Seven...HUNDRED...years?" Ranma asked.
"Juraian nobility are rather long-lived, Ranma-san," Ayeka said. "Though my dear half-brother here would not have aged so gracelessly had he remained on our homeworld."
"It's the royal trees of Jurai," Sasami said cheerfully. "Anyone with the Power of Jurai lives a really long time because of the trees."
"The Power of Jurai?" Ranma asked.
"That's a story for later, I think," Katsuhito said.
"Fair enough. So uhh...the rest of you?"
"Oh, I've been around for over 20,000 years," Washuu said. "I'm not Juraian, but I've been alive so long I don't even remember where I was born in the first place." She smirked. "Ryoko here is my daughter. I created her using my own ova...she's quite a nice piece of work, if I do say so myself!"
Ryoko scowled, looked like she was about to say something, then snapped her mouth shut, settling for a glare at her 'mother'.
"And you two?" Ranma asked Mihoshi and Kiyone.
"We're detectives with the Galaxy Police," Kiyone said. "Though neither of us can claim the lifespans of these others. Our people actually have a lifespan similar to yours. I'm from Funazaki, one of Jurai's colony worlds..."
"You're from the Wifeworld, Kiyone?" Sasami asked. "I didn't know that!"
"Wifeworld?" Ranma asked.
"My planet was named in tribute to the two wives of the Emperor of Jurai," the teal-haired detective said. "Funaho and Misaki...therefore, Funazaki. It's nicknamed the 'Wifeworld'."
"Ah. That makes sense. And you, Mihoshi?"
"I'm from Canis Prime," the blonde said. "It's a nice planet, though I haven't been back there in ages..." She paused, frowning. "I hope Mom is feeding Snibby every day, maybe I should write her and remind her?"
Ayeka cleared her throat. "In any case, Ranma-san, that's everything." She paused. "Except for the fact that Tenchi is also of Jurai royal blood."
"I figured that out already," Ranma said with a shrug. "I mean, if ojiisan here is his grandpa—you are, right?" As the priest nodded, Ranma continued, "Then Tenchi can't be fully human." He eyed the boy. "You are just seventeen, though, right?"
"Yep, just seventeen," Tenchi said. He paused. "You seem to be taking this awfully well, Ranma."
The cursed boy shrugged. "Hey, I've been engaged multiple times, seen just about every kind'a weird martial arts trick in th' world, water turns me inta a GIRL, I know people who turn inta animals, I've met an ancient Chinese Amazon, an ancient pervert, ghost c-c-c-cats...demons, vengeful spirits, more screwed-up magic than I like t' think about, time-travel mirrors, noodles that make ya strong as Superman, I've been in fights where everythin' up to an' includin' mountains got trashed, an' I killed a guy who was damn close t' bein' a freakin' god." He paused for breath, looking around the table, and smirked. "A house full'a aliens ain't that much of a stretch."
Tenchi rubbed the back of his head and laughed. "When you put it that way, I guess not, huh?"
"So you're not mad at us? You don't wanna leave now that you know?" Sasami asked, lip quivering.
"Heck no, Sasami-chan," Ranma said with a smile. "What, an' miss your cookin'?"
"Ranma-niichan..." Sasami suddenly burst forth and latched herself onto the pigtailed boy in a fierce hug. She looked up at him, eyes shining, and smiled. "I'm so glad..."
He gently returned her hug. "Don't worry about it, Sasami-chan."
Katsuhito adjusted his glasses. "Naturally, we can count on you to help keep our secret, right Ranma-kun?"
"'Course. Heck, who'd believe me anyway?" He grinned. "But two conditions."
"One, I wanna know more about this Power of Jurai you mentioned. Two, now that I know, I wanna know everythin' you can teach me about th' martial arts of other worlds."
"That shouldn't be a problem," the old priest said with a smile. "Of course, many things you won't be able to duplicate, but we'll all be willing to show you what we're capable of."
* * * * *
"Hey Akane, there's a letter for you." Even as Nabiki said so, she was in the process of sliding one well-manicured nail through the seal.
Akane growled at her. "Mind letting me open my own mail once in a while?" she snapped as she snatched the letter from her sister. She frowned at the lack of a return address. "I wonder..."
Saw him in Okayama.
Don't know if he's still there.
Didn't get a chance to talk to him.
He wasn't alone.
Akane looked up from the letter, eyes brimming with unshed tears. "Ryouga found Ranma. He's..." She re-read the letter, and her expression dropped to a scowl. "He's not alone...so who's he with?" She glanced up at her sister. "If that pervert's...I swear I'll kill him..."
"Calm down, Akane." Nabiki took the letter and read it. "Okayama, huh?"
Ranma 1/2 is the intellectual property of Takahashi Rumiko, Shogakukan, and Viz Media. Tenchi Muyou! is the intellectual property of AIC. This intellectual property is used without permission with no intent to profit from said use. The unique content contained on this page is the property of Mythril Moth, and redistribution of this content without express permission is strongly discouraged.