XXX

Story: [A child-genius]

Summary: Ryoga's success with age-mushrooms kind of snowballs into a mess. Don't worry Negi, the school nurse is just a year-or-so older than you. Physically, anyway.

Crossover: (Mahou Sensei Negima) / (Ranma½)

Genre: Humor

XXX

It had taken them days before they could narrow down the blame to Ryoga, and by then, he'd already burnt the other mushrooms.

Akane was furious, Ryoga was stubborn, and in the end, that was the end of it.

Ranma wandered around mostly in a daze, trying to think of some way of using chi and martial arts to force his body back into the age that it ought to be. Akane had finally given up on trying to reason with Ryoga, and instead tossed him out of the dojo on his nose.

Cologne was in a foul mood, Happosai was grumpy about being deprived of Ranma-chan's more generous assets, and most everyone was expecting the whole thing to blow over once either Ryoga gave in to Akane's blatant disapproval or Ranma figured out a way to circumvent the age-mushrooms on his own.

It didn't.

Four months later, with Ranma seemingly pushing for his sixth birthday, people finally started to give up on things returning to how they'd been.

The fiancees couldn't really bring themselves to marry a boy that looked to be less than half their age – even if they might've been able to convince the law that it was technically legal – so the attempts to seduce him had quickly tapered off. And partially as a direct response to that sudden lack of interest, outside of Tatewaki – who believed that Ranma had cursed 'the pigtailed girl' into her prepubescent age, and reacted with customary violence – most of the boys who'd been trying to kill him for one reason or another were wandering off to find other ways to pass the time.

Ukyo was focusing almost exclusively on her restaurant. Kodachi was doing the exact inverse of what her brother was doing, with more drugs and less swords. Shampoo was gloomily trying to figure out what she ought to be doing in regards to her village's laws. And Akane was mostly just bitterly resigned to it all.

It hurt a bit, whenever one of the girls that used to fawn over him now stared at him with pitying eyes. When it was so obvious that they were thinking of what could've been, and had already decided that there was no point in trying to fight for it.

Ryoga wasn't exactly welcome in Nerima anymore, and had sensibly gotten himself lost somewhere far far away. Mousse was mostly just waiting around until Cologne finally gave up on Shampoo catching her 'husband', and doing his best to not look too gleeful about the diminishing chance of that marriage ever happening. And most everyone else who showed up were immediately discouraged from picking a fight with an six-year-old.

Things were peaceful.

And Ranma hated it with every bone in his far-too-small body.

XXX

Graduation wasn't as wonderful as Ranma had imagined it to be.

Sure, there was a relief in having passed the final exams – done reasonably well on them too, actually – but all of that just further underlined one inescapable fact.

Nobody would hire someone who looked like they were barely seven years old.

Or, at least, nobody outside of Furinkan and Hinako-sensei, though even she only looked like a kid sometimes. And really, Ranma had known that he wouldn't be able to get any specifically glamorous kind of job with his regular grades, but realizing that he wouldn't be able to land even one of those unglamorous jobs until almost a decade later – when he'd finally look his current age – did more than grate a little bit on his nerves.

In the end, three options were spread out for him.

One, he went on a training-trip again and came back when he looked old enough to get a job. Even if that would mean that his grades would be about a decade out of date, and most likely everyone would assume he'd falsified them, and it'd probably end up becoming a huge mess. Though, it definitely sounded kind of nice to be able to wander off and learn martial arts again, and postpone the whole thing for as long as possible.

Two, he tried to get into a university with his current grades and found something that might be interesting to study until he was old enough that he could get a nice job from the get-go. It was an unpleasant option, since he hated studying, but it also meant that he wouldn't end up landing himself in a bigger mess by postponing things.

Three, he grabbed one of the very very rare jobs that wouldn't mind him being a seven-year-old. Which sounded great, until you realized that at least three-quarters of those were children-commercials. Commercials that were to-the-last all at least moderately humiliating.

'Three' technically also included grabbing the pity-employment under doctor Tofu, but Ranma was pretty sure he'd end up getting fired from that pretty early on simply because no matter how good he was at breaking things he wasn't well-versed enough in anatomy to fix things.

All in all, no matter how unpleasant the option was, of the three options, only one was something Ranma would be able to stomach choosing. Which, of course, left him one final question.

What was he supposed to study?

XXX

In hindsight, he really should've focused on PE, instead of doing the more challenging thing and getting into medicine. He would've breezed through PE whilst being bored out of his skull, and the only job he might get from it would've been to try to educate people who'd rather blatantly rather not learn anything at all.

He would've sentenced himself to a lifetime of being bored, of being disgusted with the lack of other people's work-ethic, of lowering his standards further and further until he would've applauded people for being able to do one single push-up.

It was a life which merely thinking of tended to land him with nightmares. But at least it wouldn't have been this.

Ranma placed his head in his hands with a groan of abject misery.

"Umm, Saotome-sensei? Are you alright?" Izumi Ako tilted her head, looking a little bit worried.

Ranma sighed. "Sorry, I just remembered that I'm hired as a 'nurse'." He made a disgusted face. "Stupid medicine-degree, always shitting on my gender."

Ako laughed awkwardly, clearly hearing his muttering, but also used enough to it by now not to worry overly much about it.

His supposed age right now was ten years old. And he was working as a high school nurse, at an all-girls school.

Ranma was kind of really glad that he'd mostly fallen out of contact with his mother, or else she might've decided to rescind that previous declaration of his 'manliness'. He had enough issues with juggling his identity between all the horrible things that had happened to his age, gender, and chosen career. He was a twenty-one-year-old ten-year-old, he was a boy that turned into a girl with the application of cold water, and he was a dedicated martial artist working in medicine in a role that was traditionally female.

To be honest, he wasn't even sure why he was the nurse of an all-girls school, considering how the girls in question would probably feel more comfortable coming to him with health-issues if he'd been the same genders as them. Both for any potential undressing-issues as well as the whole puberty-thing, since a woman would've likely been easier to turn to for advice.

Still, the job had been offered to him, and it hadn't been done out of pity. So, with a grudging shrug, he'd accepted the job and dodged out of spending the rest of his life trapped in Nerima with the pitying people he'd grown more and more distant from.

Shaking his head to dismiss his own annoyance, Ranma turned back to his assistant. "Did you need something, Izumi-san?"

"Ah, sorry. I was just wondering why Minamoto-sensei would stop being the nurse." Ako explained.

Ranma shrugged. "Apparently, in a school this big, the workload of 'guidance counselor', 'teacher's assistant', and 'nurse' is too much to handle by one person." He frowned thoughtfully. "Or maybe the dean just wanted Shizuna-san to have more free-time so he could call her to meetings more often."

Ako very carefully chose to ignore that he'd ended that sentence by silently muttering something about 'perverted old men who should just keel over dead'.

XXX

Of course Ranma knew that Mahora Academy was magical all the way up to its metaphorical eyeballs, but despite the things he'd experienced because of it, being in the presence of magic didn't really bother him anymore.

Once, he would've scuttled from safe corner to safe corner, desperately shying away from all the trouble-causing magic that was sure to pop up at any moment. But he'd been very thorough in researching a way to cure his age-problem, and – outside of taking his chances with dunking himself in some unknown pool in Jusenkyo – come to the annoying conclusion that a cure didn't exist.

Oh, certainly, there were magical disguises out there that could make it seem as if his body was older, but after having tried them, Ranma knew that it was a poor replacement indeed for actually looking his age. Not to mention how the only ones that actually did a half-decent job of disguising him – a type of weird candy – cost far too much for his wallet in comparison to how long they lasted. He'd have to be as rich as Kuno to be able to stick with it, and even if he did, that had run the risk of some destabilization-issues in regards to his chi-pathways and the like.

So, he'd given up on trying to find a magical cure to it, just as much as he'd given up on trying to find a chi-related cure. He was resigned to the fact that he'd have to wait another decade or so to actually look like the adult that he'd been for a while now, even if – considering his aptitude with chi – he'd probably look like he was barely out of his teens for another few decades after that.

Still, the sheer amount of magic that he'd researched had left him with experiencing the old adage of how it was a lot easier to hate things that one didn't understand. Ranma understood magic, mostly, so whilst he was wary enough of it to try and stay out of the way of the magical side of Mahora, he didn't exactly feel antagonistic towards it.

He was a nurse – no matter how much he hated the gender-associations of that title – and when someone wandered into his office with really shitty excuses about sticking things into wall-sockets to explain how they'd managed to acquire their wounds, Ranma rolled his eyes at them and didn't ask any questions. Though he reserved the right to sigh in exasperation at them if they showed up more than twice a week.

Beyond that, he sometimes helped out a bit with some of the martial art clubs. Usually by being asked to attend whenever someone wanted to try something a little bit more dangerous than usual, so that they could have a medic on hand in case something went wrong. But sometimes to have a few brief spars with some of the more skilled students.

Upon quite a bit of reflection, and a few episodes were he'd nearly managed to pull off a perfect Shishi Hokudan from the misery that had become his life, Ranma had learned that he was quite possibly the shittiest teacher in existence.

Too much pride in his abilities had led to him lording it over everyone who spent any time around him. It was the kind of arrogance that had led to his spars with Akane ending with her walking away in a huff.

He couldn't lose, so anyone who had the briefest chance of landing a hit on him must always be dealt with to the utmost of his abilities. He couldn't let there be a chance that Akane might land a hit on him, so he'd refused to acknowledge that – had he merely trained with her – she could've been almost as devastating as Ryoga.

Or, perhaps not. Then again, it was hard to measure how strong everyone else were, when Ranma had spent all his time desperately focusing on closing the gap between himself and the level of Cologne and Happosai.

Akane had a temper, and no matter how much he missed whatever-it-was that they'd had back then, Ranma could acknowledge that he probably hadn't been very good for her. Too obsessively prideful as he dedicated his entire life to becoming the Best, and too socially awkward to explain why he just couldn't take her seriously. She might as well have been asking him to admit to her that he'd spent ten years of his life only to prove that he couldn't even beat a girl who spent all of her time breaking bricks with her hands instead of actually learning martial arts.

He couldn't teach her, because the moment he tried to dumb things down to her level, was the point in time where he allowed himself to acknowledge that what he could do was easy. And his pride couldn't take that.

So Ranma was a shitty teacher, and as his life had come crashing down around him in the agonizingly slow train-crash that had been his surrender to the inevitable, that realization had just been another nail in the coffin.

The only reason he hadn't snapped completely and curled up in a corner somewhere was that he'd felt too detached from the whole thing to really work up the effort to be miserable about it. And then he'd been too busy studying medicine to really register that he was supposed to be depressed about his life.

By the time Mahora offered him a job, Ranma had changed. Sure, he still had some issues, and he'd probably never be able to entirely get over his water-related gender-issues, but he could at the very least lose gracefully nowadays.

Most of the time anyway.

That didn't mean that he wouldn't train himself half-to-death in order to find a counter to a move he'd seen someone use just the once, but that was part of what made him 'Ranma'. And besides, he no longer felt the need to harass people for a chance to try that specifically thought of counter out in a fight against them in order to 'redeem' himself as the Best.

Didn't mean he wouldn't wipe the floor with them using his newly invented counter next time they did spar, but he was a martial artist, so of course he'd always be trying to better himself.

So, whilst sparring with the members of the martial arts clubs was rare, it was something that happened, and apparently something that some of them actually looked forward to.

It was... peaceful.

And despite how he grumbled about his job-title, Ranma didn't mind it much at all.

XXX

"Yukihiro-san, if you're not ill, please vacate the bed." Ranma deadpanned as he continued to read.

He'd been hoping that he'd be done with studying upon graduation, but there was a certain need to stay on top of things in the medical world. After all, if he wasn't informed of things in the outside world, there was a chance he'd miss some kind of obscure symptom amongst his charges, and that would be bad.

So he read, and he studied, and it wasn't as if he had much better things to do with all of his time sitting around in his office. Generally, it boiled down to studying or doing paperwork, and Ranma had always kind of hated paperwork.

Still, just because he was bored enough to do that, didn't mean he was bored enough to welcome Yukihiro Ayaka into taking naps in the beds that were meant for people who actually needed them. It was bad enough that he needed to deal with her trying to hug him at random intervals without him inviting her into his office.

"But sensei!" Ayaka fanned herself. "My heart beats so quickly, and I feel warm all over!"

"That sounds an awful lot more like the symptoms of running all the way here at high speeds than anything actually serious." Ranma didn't look up from his reading.

"No, it only started when I thought of you, sensei!" Ayaka fluttered her eyelashes at him.

"I'm just a nurse, Yukihiro-san. So, if this apparent illness is mental in nature, it would be better for you to consult a licensed psychiatrist about it." Ranma pointed at the door, still not looking up.

Despite this helpful suggestion, Ayaka remained in the bed, lamenting over her fluttering heartbeat and randomly trying to undress 'because of the heat', all the while up until the moment when Ako showed back up.

Silently sending a brief prayer of thanks to the merciful timing of any gods who might be responsible for Ako's cooling effect on Ayaka's libido, Ranma went back to work.

XXX

The first time Ranma met Negi Springfield, he decided that the best course of action was to absolutely deny any attempt from the other boy to befriend him.

He might not look it, but he was closing in on being twenty-two years old, and he had no interest to be included in whatever childishly disastrous antics the actual child-genius was bound to land himself in.

Sure, Negi was polite and intelligent. But he was also socially awkward, desperately trying to help people around him, magically talented, and in possession of about as much common sense as a sack of bricks. This combination led to the inevitable fact that no matter how well-intentioned the boy was, he'd probably land everyone around him hip-deep in trouble within the first week.

Ranma might be used to a bit of chaos, and he might perhaps have been getting a little bit bored with sitting around in his office all day, but he sure as hell wasn't going to go around stirring up trouble.

No, much better to stay safe and carefully out of the magical side of thing's way. He had no interest in getting caught up in that mess.

So, outside of the necessary polite greetings of a person who was actually his own height, Ranma kept his distance. He kept his distance and he most certainly stayed the hell out of Ayaka's class whenever possible. For even more reasons than usual.

XXX

"Anemia." Ranma recited calmly to the frantic ten-year-old. "She's going to be fine with a bit of rest."

Negi didn't look at all convinced, but then he'd probably noticed the teeth marks next to the girl's neck. Ranma was very carefully not paying attention to those however, since he knew better than to go around throwing accusations at the resident vampire, no matter how true.

He could probably beat her up easily, even if she might've been able to drag out a bit of her actual magical power through the full moon and what-not, but Ranma had absolutely no interest in getting involved.

Evangeline AK McDowell was a sadistic kind of person, and the moment the dean figured out that Ranma would be willing to 'keep her in line' he'd immediately get stuck on permanent babysitting duty. Which would be absolutely awful, because no matter how sympathetic Ranma might be to the vampire being stuck in a child-like form indefinitely, he sure as hell wasn't going to draw that crazy person's attention to himself if he could help it.

Even outside of battle, there were a lot of ways a person could make another person miserable. And Evangeline was in the same class as Ayaka, so it probably wouldn't be difficult at all for the blonde to aim the creep his way with some odd turn of phrase or something.

She actually reminded him a lot of Nabiki, which – again – most definitely wasn't a reassuring thing to hear about anyone in one's vicinity.

At least Evangeline didn't have any blackmail on him, or any particular reason to actually begin to target him, so Ranma was keeping his mouth carefully shut on the whole 'feeding on her classmates'-thing. No matter how much he was supposed to be responsible for the health of the school's students.

He was supposed to heal them back up, not go around and disciplining people to prevent them from either biting – or being bitten – by their classmates. That was more to the teachers' side of things. And besides, it was just a bit of anemia.

Evangeline was old and experienced enough to know better than to truly hurt one of the students. The dean was a pervert and a wrinkly annoyance, but he sure as hell wouldn't let her get away with something like that.

So, Ranma kept his mouth shut, and let Negi deal with the whole vampire-thing on his own.

He was a martial artist and a nurse, not a mage.

Or an idiot.

XXX

"You could've helped him, you know." Takamichi commented as he took the seat next to him the day after Negi's final confrontation with Evangeline.

"Same to you." Ranma countered blandly, his attention on the plate in front of him. "And stop trying to feed me mushrooms Chao-san, it's not going to work!"

"But Saotome-sensei, mushrooms are healthy." The girl pouted at him. "And it's not as if you're allergic, right?"

Ranma glared at the girl. "I'm still not going to eat them!"

Takamichi quirked an eyebrow at him. "How did you even know that she put mushrooms in it? You haven't touched it."

"Saotome-sensei developed a scent-detecting-technique entirely designed around discovering the smell of mushrooms." Chao explained, looking torn between pouting at the nurse for finding her out again, and laughing at the absurd lengths he'd gone to in his hatred for mushrooms.

Ranma very carefully ignored them both as he dug into his mushroom-free replacement-meal. He knew it sounded ridiculous, but he'd gone through hell because of someone sneaking mushrooms into his food once in his life, and he'd be damned if he let those accursed things ruin his life even further.

No, he'd created that technique because even if he'd resigned himself to being forced to live through puberty a second time, he was sure as hell not going to have to live through it any more times than that.

Now all he needed to do was figure out a technique for detecting and repelling cats from a mile away, and he'd have all of his personal phobias covered.

Ranma sighed as he paid for his meal. He'd never be able to figure out how to pull that off, and even if he did manage it, someone would probably figure out that it was him that was doing it and then force him to stop.

To this day, Ranma would never understand why anyone with even the vaguest connection to sanity would keep a cat as a pet. Though perhaps the problem was simply that the world had too many crazy people in it.

XXX

After that, Ranma was mostly only peripherally aware of Negi's antics. A few students had been trapped in the ridiculously gigantic library, Negi had almost been forced to resign because the dean wanted him to perform miracles with the girls' grades, there'd been a class-trip where some crazy stuff had been happening – to the point where even Evangeline had gotten involved – and Negi had started to learn martial arts under Ku Fei.

It was all generally completely uninteresting things, except for one tiny little detail.

"Oh? Are you here to train under Master Ku too, Saotome-san?" Negi asked.

Ranma, who'd learnt and partially included Ku Fei's particular style into his own before he'd ever even entered Nerima, felt vaguely insulted at the insinuation that the fourteen-year-old could teach him much of anything at all.

Still, there was no reason to be rude about it. "Not really. I'm just stopping by for a spar."

"Oho?! Saotome-sensei!" Ku Fei waved happily as she made her way over. "It's been a while, aru."

"I've been busy with paperwork." Ranma said simply.

Ku Fei nodded, having heard the excuse many times before, and knowing that she was likely to hear it many times yet.

It was comfortable being in the martial arts club, surrounded by people who were – if not entirely dedicated to the Art – at least willing to train for the sake of self-defense. Ku Fei's accent also reminded him a bit of Shampoo's, and though he was pretty damn sure that Ku Fei was completely unrelated to the Amazons – he'd checked – there was a definite sense of nostalgia when listening to her voice.

He'd moved on, but that didn't mean he didn't have some fond memories of Nerima and its madness. And at least Ku Fei never ran him over with a bike, or tried to jump him in the middle of corridors, or much of anything at all like what Nerima had actually been like. So it was easy to simply allow himself to feel vaguely fond of the girl's accent, without having to worry about the implications of it.

Of course, considering Negi's presence, he should've guessed that he'd be asked to help the teacher out with practicing how to fight against someone his own size.

Ranma didn't particularly mind it, seeing as how despite the boy's inexperience, he was clearly skilled. A child-genius in both mind and body, apparently.

At least he got to shake off the rust on some techniques that required him to be roughly the same size as his opponent. He'd missed being able to use those.

XXX

"Saotome-san, why do you color your hair black?"

Ranma blinked, turning his attention away from what he was reading to focus on Negi. "Huh?"

"The roots of your hair are red." The child-genius explained.

"Ah." Ranma shrugged. "It's easier to explain it like that."

And thanks to his prepubescent body, it wasn't like there was that much difference between his cursed and non-cursed form. A difference in hair-color, and a slight variation in bone-structure that nobody would ever really think to notice.

So, as long as he colored his hair black, he didn't really need to worry about people noticing and causing a ruckus about his curse. It wasn't a perfect solution, and the masquerade would fall apart in a few years, but it was nice whilst it lasted.

Negi didn't know anything about that though, so he just looked at him funny. Possibly thinking that Ranma was ashamed of having foreign blood in him or something. It was a reasonable thing to think, considering Japanese culture, but Ranma hadn't ever been the type to simply bend over like that.

On some level, he was happy to have a tiny piece of his mother with him in the hair-color of his cursed form, even if he'd much rather not have a cursed form at all. It was just that he didn't want to go around explaining Jusenkyo every time someone – among the hundreds of students he was supposed to take care of – figured out that something weird was going on. So it was easier to simply pretend as if he was hiding his red hair and sometimes failing at it.

However, in hindsight, he really should've guessed that Negi – the natural redhead that he was – would decide to kick up some kind of fuss about it.

XXX

"Saotome-sensei!" Ayaka wrenched the door to his office open with a disturbing amount of vigor. "Is it true that you've been ruining your beautiful hair with substandard products?!"

"What." Ranma looked up from his work, feeling a strange and misplaced touch of vertigo all of a sudden.

"Your lustrous red hair! Why have you been trying to hide it from view?!" Ayaka elaborated on her rant.

Ranma frowned. "It's not lustrous." That was just ridiculous, it was red, not some kind of glowing sparkly thing that made people swoon. "And I don't see how it's any of your business what color it is, Yukihiro-san."

Ayaka's jaw dropped, her brain having in all likelihood grown far too used to Negi's usual pliability to have expected Ranma to reject her worries outright.

If it weren't for the fact that Ranma had several distinct memories of that kind of dissonance with reality ending badly for him, he might've laughed at her expression. Well, he'd also learned to show some tact when dealing with people over the years, so he even if that wasn't the case he at least wouldn't have laughed at her expression directly to her face. Probably.

"But sensei, you should stay true to yourself!" Ayaka tried to argue, obviously having come to the sensible conclusion that he was indeed ashamed of his natural hair-color.

"I am." Ranma turned back to his paperwork. "I like having black hair, so I dye it black."

Ayaka wobbled, resorting to clinging to the wall for support as her legs almost gave out, clearly horrified at having her argument so quickly turned back against her.

"What I think the idiot wants to say is that red hair is a pretty normal thing to have in this school." Kagurazaka Asuna said as she entered the office, grabbing her friend by her collar in a move clearly designed to give her good leverage for hauling the blonde back out. "And that dyeing it might cause damage."

"I'm aware of that, Kagurazaka-san." He agreed easily, before picking up a small cardboard box next to him and lobbing it at the redhead. "And do try to keep a closer track on the calendar in the future."

The girl caught the small box, blinking stupidly at it for a moment, before blushing heavily red and nearly bolting away, bodily dragging her old friend along with her for the ride.

Ranma nodded to himself as – with the mere flick of a wrist, and some very specifically applied chi-manipulation, born from a lot of practice – the door slid closed after them without him actually having to leave his seat.

Considering the initial confusion and the sudden realization, Asuna had likely not been expecting it quite yet, meaning that she'd likely begun syncing up with someone else's. Someone she hadn't been hanging around with before.

Not for the first time, and definitely not for the last, Ranma allowed himself to feel smugly satisfied at having strong-armed the dean into increasing his budget for this sort of thing.

Really, he was a nurse at an all-girls school. Who in the world was stupid enough to believe that he shouldn't be able to provide assistance for something as basic as a surprise visit from the all-dreaded 'period'?

Then again, he supposed that Shizuna hadn't quite been willing to demonstrate the gory details of it all to the man in charge of the budget. She'd started turning quite green halfway into his presentation after all, and had left the room somewhere around the time when Ranma had gleefully admitted to drugging the dean's tea with enough laxatives that he'd almost be able to 'fully experience' what it was like to be completely at the mercy of one's own body.

Ranma had experienced his period a handful of times since receiving his curse. And – perhaps thanks to his supernaturally high recovery-rate – it'd thankfully never lasted for all that long. Once a month, he spent somewhere around twelve hours crying on the toilet, screaming and cursing and sobbing and wishing he was dead, before his flow finally ended and he could simply clean up and pass out somewhere soft and warm where he could whimper pathetically in the peaceful aftershocks.

It sounded awful, until one realized that he was barely out of it for eighteen hours, no matter how humiliating and agony-inducing, in comparison to the regular several days. Sure, most of those days were supposed to be 'uncomfortable' rather than his quite literally torturous experiences, but they were also expected to be functional human beings rather than a gibbering wreck as it ran its course. All in all, Ranma much preferred his own body's approach to the matter.

Obviously, the safe spot necessary for that kind of approach had never been classified as 'around the Tendo-dojo'. But Ranma was willing to admit that – beyond the logical argument of suddenly-appearing rivals being bad – his reasons for hiding himself away during those times was that his pride wouldn't allow him to show such an obviously exploitable weakness. At least not to anyone who might be able to connect that weakness to his actual identity.

XXX

It was kind of interesting how out of whack things became with the festival approaching.

Not in the sense of the whole thing swamping him with work, as much as how the entire campus came alive in a way that no description would've done justice. There were people in very realistic monster-suits casually strolling down the street, there were tests being done with fireworks all over the place, and everyone was running everywhere in desperate attempts to prepare whatever they were preparing for the festival.

Ranma thankfully wasn't in charge of any clubs, meaning that he could mostly ignore the frantic cheer around him, but he was kind of getting the feeling that the dean was going to be leaning uncomfortably on him in an effort to get him to do something to contribute to the whole thing.

Negi was mostly in the clear, seeing as how he was helping out his students with their various tasks, but Ranma was probably more likely to get stuck in his office waiting for the inevitable festival-injuries to trickle in for treatment. And well... Ranma had the feeling that the dean felt that was far too dull.

Or perhaps the old man was just holding a grudge about being stuck with horrifically explosive diarrhea for the better part of three days.

It was always hard to tell with these things.

XXX

Ranma wasn't sure whether he ought to laugh or sigh. He hadn't been planning on entering any of the various tournaments that had been cropping up around the festival, but then someone had gone and turned all of those minor ones into a single huge one, with a grand price that was nothing to scoff at.

"It's an interesting kind of place, huh?" Genma grinned at him, eyes still sparkling at the prospect of landing the grand price.

Ranma gave in to the inevitable and sighed. "Pops, I'm pretty sure the actual tournament is supposed to be done on a stage surrounded by water."

Genma just laughed. "No problem, son!" And promptly turned into a panda, holding up a sign with great relish. [I'm just an innocent panda,] he flipped the sign [but I'm also a martial artist!]

Ranma dearly wanted to tell him that it would never work, that nobody would be stupid enough to fall for something like that. Then he remembered that this was Mahora. "Even if they'll see through it, they'll be too busy laughing to blow your cover." He agreed, groaning in misery over the state of the world.

True to his predictions, the one in charge of signing people up took one look at the panda, called his superior, and was quickly given a cheerful go-ahead.

The fact that said person's superior sounded an awful lot like a laughing Chao Lingshen just kind of proved Ranma's point.

XXX

Getting into the actual tournament wasn't difficult. Outside of some old people that were avoiding entering, there weren't exactly a lot of people in Mahora who could give Ranma a challenge.

Sure, Takamichi might cause some trouble, but Ranma already knew most of the man's moves by heart, and had long since thought up counters for them. Evangeline would've been scary, but without magic she was a bit too limited to really pose a threat, though the sneaky old vampire probably had some way around that should she ever need it. And Ranma didn't really know how strong Negi would be when magic was included, but those were all concerns for the actual tournament itself, not the entrance-part of it.

So no, getting into the tournament wasn't difficult by any stretch of the word.

More difficult was resisting the urge to simply turn and punt his father off the stage along with the rest of the opponents. It'd be no fun fighting the panda when they were in the middle of something else.

Still, all of that didn't make it any less embarrassing to end up with his first real opponent being the big lug. There was just something terribly frustrating in having to watch the stupid panda strike poses as the commentator gleefully latched on to the oddity that was having a panda participating in the tournament.

Eye twitching slightly, Ranma shifted into a ready stance. "Pops, if I win, you're not getting a single yen of the prize."

The panda twitched, freezing in the middle of a particularly silly pose, before pulling out a sign. [You'd so ruthlessly deny your own father his needs?!] He flipped the sign [Oh, what have I done to deserve having such an ungrateful son?!] The panda proceeded to pretend to cry in a very melodramatic way.

Ranma grinned, feeling just a tiny little bit bloodthirsty all of a sudden. "I can think of a few things, you shitty old man!"

Then they were off, trading punches and kicks.

The world was drowned out, and for the first time in what felt like an age, Ranma allowed himself to actually go all-out against an opponent. No holding back, no careful sparring, just him, his pops, and the Art.

He'd deny it in a heartbeat, but he loved every moment of it.

This was the reason he'd never blamed his father for any of the crazy stunts the old man had pulled, this was the reason he'd forgiven him for all the horrible things he'd put him through in the name of 'training'.

Genma knew the Art, and even if Ranma could probably win fairly easily nowadays, his father was experienced enough to spot the chinks in his armor well enough that he didn't need to hold back. Besides, Genma had all the resilience of a particularly talented cockroach, so there really wasn't much danger of him ever being able to land something deliberating on the man. And that meant that Ranma could dislodge all of the thoughts and worries about paperwork that needed to be done, about medicine that never seemed to stop finding ways to confuse him, or about the endless uncomfortable dissonance of his too-young body.

For a few moments, in the middle of a stadium, in front of an audience of hundreds, Ranma let go completely and simply was.

Then they broke apart again, catching their breaths on opposite sides of the stage.

"What's the matter, pops? You out of tricks?" He taunted, because insults had always been an integral part in the Saotome School of Anything Goes.

The panda scoffed. [I'd hoped it wouldn't come to this, but I suppose you leave me no choice!]

Genma's chi flooded the arena, and Ranma braced himself for whatever new technique his father had apparently been working on secretly on his own since the last time they'd fought. The man could get creative, so it was sure to be interesting.

Then Ranma's brain froze.

[Saotome School of Anything Goes: Cat throw!]

And then there was fur and claws and teeth, all latching onto his face as the demon from the deepest pits of hell showed the world its true colors.

Ranma screamed. There might've been words in there, but it was likely drowned out by the panic and the pain.

XXX

Negi's awe-struck expression at the two combatants' skill, morphed into one of horror as a blood-curling scream rose from the stage.

It sounded an awful lot like "get it off, get it off" being repeated time and again, in several different languages and interspersed with a lot of screaming.

Finally, Ranma collapsed to the floor, and another noise swept through the stadium.

"NYAAA!"

The panda nodded in satisfaction, and pulled out a fish from somewhere, before casually hurling it off the stage.

Ranma easily leapt after it, landing easily on both hands and feet, and in fact moving his entire body completely differently from before.

The panda flipped its sign, looking awfully smug as Asakura confusedly started the countdown. [Old age and deceit will always triumph over young age and enthusiasm!]

Negi gaped at the panda – that from what he understood was apparently Ranma's father in a panda-suit – and at how Ranma was now cheerfully gobbling down the fish whole.

There was something wrong with the boy's eyes, and definitely in how oddly his body moved. Not to mention how he'd apparently completely stopped caring about the tournament.

"What the hell is going on?" Asuna wondered, staring numbly at the bizarre sight.

"With a move from the panda, that is technically not against any of the rules, it seems as if contestant Saotome Ranma has completely lost his mind!" Asakura's voice echoed from the speakers.

The counter reached 'ten', and Ranma stretched languidly as if he was some kind of cat instead of a human, and apparently not at all interested in whatever the count might've signified.

"A bit of an anti-climax, considering the very promising start, but it looks like the victor is Saotome Genma, the panda!" Asakura declared the panda the victor.

The panda that was now hurriedly vacating the stage, as if he was expecting something to happen at any moment.

In hindsight, considering how Genma must've known what he was doing when developing that 'technique', they probably should've taken that as a good reason to ready themselves for something unpleasant happening.

Some person in charge of clean-up between matches tried to get Ranma to leave the corner he'd found himself in – the same corner which he'd claimed with all the authority of a house cat. And then all hell broke loose.

Clothes everywhere were being shredded beyond repair by invisible claws, and the cat-like Ranma was suddenly leaping between its many opponents with cheerful abandon.

Considering how those same claws were also slicing through reinforced concrete as if it was made of butter, it would only be a matter of time before someone got injured or worse. And Ranma was clearly not in his right mind.

So quite a number of people decided that it was their duty to step in and stop him.

Which led to quite a number of those same people having their clothes casually shredded by the cat-boy's claws as they were absently batted away into walls by his 'paws'.

In the confusion, magic flew haywire, chaos spread everywhere, a stampede nearly got underway in the stands, and the entire stage was absolutely annihilated by Ranma's chi-claws.

It was chaos and it was mayhem, and then-...

Then there was silence.

Negi – who'd recently been far too closely introduced to a nearby wall – shook the ringing out his ears and climbed back to his feet in order to get a better view of what was happening down in the arena.

And found a completely red-faced Ku Fei, with a lap full of Ranma. A lap full of smugly purring Ranma.

"What the actual fuck?" Asuna voiced the question on everyone's minds.

XXX

Ku Fei may have at some point developed just a tiny little bit of a crush on the easy-going boy who never lost.

No, that wasn't right. He'd lose some spars, but it wasn't-... He only lost because they were spars. There was absolutely no doubt in Ku Fei's mind that if she ever truly challenged Saotome Ranma to a fight, she'd lose ten times out of ten.

He sparred with her, and it was a lot more like a Master of the Art shaking off a bit of rust, than a a friendly rival dropping by to keep her on her toes. The skill-gap was just a little bit too wide for her to believe she'd ever really stand a chance against him.

Even so, she did win a few spars, a result of him granting her handicaps that she'd sometimes force him to surrender. She'd land hits, and he was more likely to look proud of her than he was to look annoyed at himself.

He taught her, even if it most certainly wasn't anything official. And on some level she was a bit annoyed by that, her pride stinging at the thought of someone younger than her already so far beyond her.

Except-... Ranma had an... 'air' about him. A kind of heavy, tired thing. And the only time he ever really seemed to brighten, to glow, was when he practiced the Art. He loved it with a passion that Ku Fei wasn't quite sure even she could match.

And yet, despite all of that, he was a nurse. Not a martial artist, or a master at some dojo, or even a PE-teacher. He was a nurse.

The oddness of it all made her think of him as a very complex kind of character, and a very strong one – Ku Fei would've given good odds on him being able to beat 'Death Glasses' in a fight.

All in all, it wasn't all that strange that she might've possibly developed the tiniest little bit of a crush on the boy. Had he been a few years older, it probably would've even been expected, right?

Yes, she was about three years older than him, and he was a certified nurse where she was still in middle school, but crushes weren't supposed to be reasonable and stuff, right? So having a bit of a crush on him was to be expected.

Of course, with all of the differences between them being included in the scenario, it wouldn't surprise anyone to learn that Ku Fei had made the logical decision to keep her mouth shut on the subject. She didn't really expect him to return her feelings, and she wasn't quite sure if she was even ready for the whole romance-thing yet, anyway.

A harmless crush, that would never see the light of day.

Then Ranma went berserk, almost as if he'd been possessed by a cat or something, and Ku Fei had done like a great many other fighters had done and moved in to stop the boy from hurting anyone.

Except, in the heat of the moment, she'd forgotten that he was kind of way out her league.

With a few lazy swipes, a bit of some very bizarre dodging, and with a headbutt to the side of her knee, Ku Fei found herself sitting down in the middle of the mayhem, feeling slightly dazed.

And then Ranma had smugly curled up in her lap, and started purring.

It was just so-... so unfair! How was she supposed to react to a cute boy curling up in her lap? She didn't know how to deal with cat-boys settling down and purring in her lap! Why couldn't he just have continued going berserk like a proper, sensible person? She knew how to deal with that!

And why did it have to feel so nice?! It was warm and heavy, and it was embarrassing beyond belief, but his hair felt really nice to pet, and the vibrations of his purring was kind of really too cute for words.

Ku Fei felt a bit like crying, because she was entirely convinced that Ayaka would most definitely have quite the number of envious complaints about this.

And it totally wasn't even her fault!

XXX

In hindsight, of course his cat-self had targeted Ku Fei.

It had always seemed to gravitate towards people he was fond of, people that were nice to him, people that made him feel comfortable and safe.

Which actually explained why his father had never managed to calm him down. He might love the man in his own semi-peculiar way, but he'd been attacked often enough in his sleep for the sake of training to ever trust the man as far as he could throw him.

Ku Fei on the other hand felt nostalgic and safe. Knowing that there weren't any strings attached, that she didn't hold any grudges for him winning their spars more often than not. Listening to her accent and being allowed to simply remember happier moments, without having to remember all of the generally unpleasant chaos that usually followed in Shampoo's footsteps. Seeing her smile at him, always happy to welcome him into the club's dojo, but never truly attached enough to try and force participation from him.

Sure, he couldn't really cut loose in their spars, he couldn't entirely drown himself in it. But he could shake off a bit of rust, and he could still be taken aback by her progress as a martial artist.

He liked her.

So the idea that his cat-self deciding to target her was really to be expected, even if he hadn't really expected anything cat-related before the annoying panda pulled one out of wherever he'd been hiding it.

He also knew – mostly from Akane's embarrassment – that having a boy you barely knew suddenly curl up in your lap wasn't exactly considered 'proper'.

So he wasn't surprised that Ku Fei's face had turned red at some point during his cat-nap in her lap. He was a bit mortified, true, but not actually surprised.

Still, instead of reacting like embarrassed girls usually did in his experience, the blush faded once she realized that he was awake, oddly replaced by a worried expression.

"Are you alright now, aru?"

Ranma blinked, a little bit confused by having someone actually seem to care about that overly much. Sure, he knew that the people around him generally did care, it was just that he'd gotten very used to that kind of thing going very specifically unsaid. As in, if anyone started saying things like that out loud, he should be either checking for some kind of scheme, mind-control, or a lethal injury.

Ku Fei didn't look at all hurt though, just a little bit awkward, and a bit concerned.

"Eh? Ah, yeah." He moved away from her lap, not sure if he ought to be running for the hills or just try to pretend that his cat-self had never happened. "It goes away after a while."

Ku Fei opened her mouth to say something, but was cut off by another girl's laughter.

"That's great!" Evangeline was clutching at her stomach, obviously having issues getting air into her lungs. "I didn't think I'd ever see it! But this is great!"

Negi was fretting around his student, looking innocent and confused, and shooting curious glances towards Ranma all the while. Asuna was glaring suspiciously at him, clearly wary.

"The cat-fist!" Evangeline choked out, laughing hysterically. "What kind of dumbass teaches someone the cat-fist?"

Ranma sighed, understanding why she thought it was funny. The girl was a sadist after all. "My pops." He answered, rolling his eyes.

Evangeline stared at him, eyes sparkling in obvious sadistic glee. "Your own-...?!" She burst out laughing again. "That's great!"

Ranma decided against glaring at the girl, knowing that it wouldn't really have any effect. "Yeah yeah, laugh it up."

"What's the cat-fist?" Asuna turned her glare towards the laughing Evangeline.

"It's the dumbest berserk-technique in existence!" The other girl responded, breathlessly wheezing from her laughter.

Ranma rather blatantly didn't deny that at all. It really was fantastically dumb, even if he'd found ways to make use of it from time to time.

Evangeline continued to laugh. "And your own father covered you in fish-guts and threw you into a pit of starving cats?! That's fantastic!"

Now everyone suddenly looked horrified, which Ranma thought was pushing it.

Sure, cats were evil monsters that should be banished to the pits of hell by all things that were decent in the world, but it wasn't as if the actual training method had been all that different from having raw meat tied to his back and being forced to outrun wolves.

And those runs had actually been kind of fun, once he'd figured out the trick to it.

XXX

It'd been kind of funny watching Genma dance rings around Ayaka when she decided to 'extract justice' for teaching him the cat-fist. Mostly because he was allowed a front-row seat to two people who annoyed him trying to beat the crap out of each other.

Sure, his father was winning easily, but he couldn't exactly hit back, not without risking provoking retaliation from the rest of the girl's classmates. Heck, even Ranma might be kind of contractually obliged to help her from getting beat into the ground, seeing as how he was a nurse and all that. So the panda couldn't really fight back, only dodge desperately from the enthusiastically violent girl's fists.

It was great fun to see.

Still, the idiot was still his pops, so he couldn't exactly leave him at the girl's mercy. He'd long since forgiven him for the cat-fist fiasco, and he didn't really think anyone else had any right to extract any 'justice' on his behalf.

Of course, he'd known that stepping in to stop the ridiculous farce of a fight would end with the panda using him as a human shield and legging it. But he was a Saotome, and so was his pops, and there was still a tournament to participate in.

And no Saotome ever backed out of a challenge.

Even so, watching the old man speed off as if a gaggle of cats were on his tail, and knowing very well that Negi wasn't the only person who'd adopted a face almost like tearful sympathy and a touch of admiration at his 'noble interference', Ranma couldn't help but sigh.

"Pops trained me in the Art since I could walk. He didn't always get it right, and he did a lot of stupid things, because he's an idiot." He turned to face what seemed to be almost half of Negi's class. "But he's my pops, and I wouldn't be who I am without him. I forgave him for breaking my leg when teaching me a throw, I forgave him for getting us into trouble with some really touchy monks, I forgave him for eating my desserts whenever he could trick me into leaving them unguarded, and I forgave him for tossing me into the Pit a long time ago."

Now there were definitely tears and admiration in their eyes, and it was creepier than Kuno on a good day.

"I mean, he forgave me for lighting him on fire, and for tossing him off a cliff, and for tattling about him stealing food, and for me eating all of our food without sharing, and for that one time when I shoved Akane's cooking down his throat-..." Ranma paused, suddenly thoughtful. "Actually, I'm not sure how he managed to survive eating that. Pretty sure it was still moving."

Ranma shuddered quietly to himself and very carefully didn't speak his suspicion that Akane had been trying to cook pasta, and ended up summoning a kraken. People who hadn't seen his ex-fiancee cook wouldn't believe that she'd be able to create a summoning-circle to some kind of hell-dimension simply by trying to boil some water.

XXX

Genma was completely defeated by the cloaked man with the weird name.

And if it wasn't for the fact that his defeat was technically a bit of a slight against the Saotome School of Anything Goes, Ranma would've been laughing.

As it was, he just snickered quietly to himself as the panda was hauled away from the stage after having been pried out of the hole his head had made in the floor.

Sure, he loved the man, but it was always fun to see someone beat him up. That, and Ranma – along with a sizable portion of the rest of the audience – had been completely drenched in cold water by one of his father's desperate attacks, and he was feeling grouchy.

Hopefully, that particular emotion didn't mean that he was closing in on when his period started, but was instead entirely related to being cold and wet. He'd always hated those eighteen hours every month, and it'd be a shame to be stuck with it in the middle of the festival.

XXX

Negi looked weird, all grown up.

Handsome and dashing in equal measures, and it was kind of creepy to know that he was actually a prepubescent little kid. It was the same but inverted for Ranma whenever he realized that he looked cute doing something. He was over twenty years old, he wasn't supposed to look small and adorably childlike.

"Pills?" He guessed as the teenage-looking brat nearly bowled him over rounding a corner.

Negi blinked at him, wide-eyed and startled. "How did you-?"

Ranma nodded, accepting that this particular illusion was temporary and again completely useless to allowing Ranma to return to his former self – even if the people around him had all long since moved on with their lives in his absence. It wasn't exactly disappointing, because he'd resigned himself to living his life this way a long time ago, more a sort of resigned acknowledgment of that fact.

"Looked into it once." He explained shortly, not lying and not explaining at the same time.

Negi was frowning now, curious and uncertain and possibly sympathetic, before he pulled something out of his pocket and placed it resolutely in Ranma's hand.

"Here."

Ranma blinked at him, before staring down at the thing in his palm that was indeed an age-pill.

Opening his mouth to reject the offer with a frown of his own, Ranma blinked as he realized that Negi had already disappeared.

Since when did that kid become so good at moving fast?

XXX

Ranma didn't look up as a person sat down next to him on the rooftop. He'd felt them coming, and he really couldn't be bothered to move at the moment.

"You looked very handsome." Chao hummed to herself. "I can see why they chased after you."

"Don't you have a tournament to take care of?" Ranma asked, not particularly happy with the reminder of those days.

"The tournament is only a front." Chao chuckled, not deterred. "Wouldn't a better question be 'don't you have complicated plans to orchestrate'?"

Ranma rolled his eyes. "I only cared about the tournament. And even that was barely worth looking into."

"Ah, but with magic revealed to the world, perhaps a cure could be found. For either of your problems?" Chao said, eyes sparkling.

Ranma scoffed. "I resigned myself to aging normally from here on out a long time ago. Nostalgia or no, I've made my peace with it." He turned to glare at the girl when she opened her mouth again. "And I can't really imagine life without my curse anymore. Not even sure if I want to."

Chao pouted, but nodded thoughtfully. "Fair enough. But at least with magic revealed you wouldn't have to hide it. The transformation, that is."

Ranma sighed and returned to staring at the giant glowing tree, shaking his head. "I'm not going to help you Chao-san. I'm not going to stop you either, but I ain't helping."

Chao laughed a bit. "That's all I ask, Saotome-sensei. It'd be scary to have to fight you along with the rest of them." Her eyes took in his illusion-made older form one more time, where he was sitting on the roof with all the lazy grace of a particularly lethal tiger, and she shivered in – not entirely exaggerated – apprehension. "Especially when you look like that."

XXX

"You're not even going to watch?" Evangeline looked at him, her regular sadistic smile playing across her lips.

"She wins, or she loses." Ranma shrugged, turning his attention back to his meal. "But at least she's gonna be too busy with that to try sneaking stuff into my food."

Evangeline stared at him for a long moment, before snorting a laugh and turning on her heel.

She probably saw through the weak excuse for what it was.

Ranma wasn't the kind of person who could really let people fight in front of him without trying to help, and since he didn't want to get involved, the sensible option was to not even risk catching a glimpse of a tempting opportunity to interfere.

He didn't dislike Negi, and he didn't dislike Chao, and he was contractually obligated to at least try to perform some degree of preventive measures in regards to injuries amongst the students of the school. But all of that just kept translating down to 'beat up both sides before they could beat up each other', which was a hilariously moronic way to solve the conflict.

Chao wanted to reveal magic, Negi wanted to protect the secret. If Chao won, Negi would likely be turned into an ermine as punishment – or at the very least suffer through a very thorough berating for 'taking responsibility' for his own students – and the world would change. If Negi won, all of Chao's plans would crash and burn – and if she didn't have an exit-strategy planned, it could turn more than a bit dangerous for her – and the world continued on as normal.

Ranma's decision on the matter was that he wouldn't touch the whole mess with a ten-foot pole.

No, much better to simply pretend as if the whole thing passed by without him even noticing. He could probably even make an argument that – since he wasn't a mage – he hadn't even been informed of what was happening, leaving him entirely in the clear should someone decide that they needed to point fingers anywhere.

Besides, he kind of really didn't want to see Chao go all out. She had something wonky in her chi, scrambling it all across her skin in a distinctly unsettling mess. And Ranma would guess that it wasn't exactly benign.

If he saw her push herself past that weird-chi-thing, he'd probably end up interfering no matter what, just to try and keep the girl from hurting herself.

XXX

"Was it really wise to simply leave him be?" Mana tilted her head at her employer, mildly curious to her reasoning.

"It's better to leave him be than to antagonize him. Saotome-sensei is the scariest member of Mahora Academy, after all." Chao informed her cheerfully.

Mana raised an eyebrow, not feeling very convinced by that statement. Which was quite understandable considering the Dark Evangel attended the school, and that there was at least one member of Ala Rubra on campus.

Chao picked up on her doubts, and grinned at her. "McDowell-san, Takahata-sensei, Negi-sensei, even Konoe-sensei. They're scary, powerful people. The kind of people who could bring down virtually any enemy with barely any effort at all." She paused, nodding to herself. "Saotome-sensei can't really measure up to them in pure power, but he's still the scariest of them all."

"He's that skilled?" Mana guessed, vaguely entertained.

Chao hummed. "Well, a bit of that. But mostly-... Saotome-sensei doesn't lose. Ever." She shivered, not entirely sure if she was excited or terrified at the prospect. "If the entirety of Mahora turned against him, he'd still win. He'd figure out a way to turn their attacks against themselves, he'd pit them against each other, he'd nudge and poke and be outclassed every step of the way-... And then suddenly he'd be the only one still standing."

Mana frowned, not entirely sure how serious the 'martian' was being. But then she remembered the nurse in question dealing with her duties with ruthless efficiency, oftentimes going above and beyond what could be expected from a simple school nurse. The way she'd browbeaten students and teachers and staff alike into submitting to her demands.

And with that kind of stubbornness, no longer channeled through the concept of 'keeping people healthy' but instead into 'winning by any means necessary'-...

Well, perhaps it was strange to consider a nurse to be the 'scariest' member of the staff, but the truly bizarre thing would probably be the idea that someone like Ranma Saotome had ever become a nurse in the first place.

After all, the title of 'scariest' actually suited him remarkably well.

XXX

Ranma rolled his eyes. "Sit down, Chao-san."

Chao – her clothes still a mess from her fight with Negi – pouted. "I'm fine, Saotome-sensei. Really."

"As if." Ranma scoffed, and motioned again towards the ground. "I can feel your chi-flow from here. Now sit down."

Chao pout crumbled into a resigned sigh, knowing better than to argue the point with him, and sat down.

"Eh? Saotome-san?" Negi hovered, looking a bit stunned at Ranma's casual interruption of whatever emotional stuff the child-teacher had been going on about.

Ranma clucked his tongue, carefully running his fingers across various pressure-points. "If you try using that thing again within the next two months, I'm going to smack you back into next week." He paused, considering the potential irony of that particular turn of phrase. "Or into last week, whichever is more painful really."

Chao chuckled weakly, a nervous edge to it showing that she clearly wasn't willing to dismiss his threat out of hand. "But I'm going back to my time after this." She tried to argue.

"So?" Ranma continued to locate the necessary pressure-points. "I'm probably not going to age a day past twenty until somewhere around the seventy-mark. And I'm not going to age any slower after that."

A few of the students that had shown up as well were staring at him in confusion now, but that was likely because they didn't know what a Master-level chi-user could truly do.

Ranma was a prodigy, always had been. But he'd only really figured out how to consciously work with chi during his time in Nerima, and he had been pretty restricted in how he accessed it at first. One technique worked one way, another worked another way. It was more that he'd learned to memorize certain paths until he could travel them in his sleep, than that he'd actually learned how to navigate with a proper map.

No, it'd taken him a few years after that before he'd ever really started to learn the details of it. Which would've put the time for his age beginning to slow down to be somewhere around his mid-twenties. To the point where he could've lasted for two or three centuries before finally dropping dead like a wrinkled old prune.

But then Ryoga had snuck age-mushrooms into his food and sent him back a decade in his aging. As in, sent him back to the point where the only reason Ranma was currently aging was because his body was still 'building itself up', meaning that it would continue doing that until it was finished. And instead of beginning to break down, it would simply stall for a very long time, before his body began breaking down at a greatly reduced pace.

If he were to give an estimate, Ranma would bet on his final 'deadline' being somewhere below five centuries. But it was unlikely for it to be by much.

"You'd wait all that time?" Chao wondered, sounding as if she wasn't sure if she ought to be amused at his dedication, or nervous that he'd make good on his threat.

"I have a good memory, and it's not that hard to keep track of a family-line." He shrugged, continuing his work with her messed up chi-network. "Besides, depending on how long until you're born, I might be bored half to death. That's easily enough motivation to knock some sense into you."

"Why wouldn't you age, Saotome-san?" Negi finally interjected, sounding worried.

Ranma gave the child-teacher a brief glance, before refocusing on his work. "I'm very good at martial arts." His lips twitched upwards, a slightly unholy gleam entering his eyes. "Hell, I'm the Best."

Chao blinked, and then seemed to have to fight down a full-body shiver. "Ah." She fidgeted awkwardly under his chi-laced fingertips, eyes suddenly a bit distant. "Haven't heard you say that in a while, sensei."

"It's rude." Ranma admitted easily. "No need to pick fights that'll just end with people getting hurt." He smirked. "Doesn't change the facts, though."

Chao mumbled something to herself that sounded a bit like 'scariest' and 'bar none', but she was quickly distracted from whatever train of thought she'd had by Ranma finishing her treatment.

Ranma shook his head, vaguely exasperated with the martian girl who was currently so much gooey whimpering mess in the grass. He knew that the pressure-points could cause a great deal of reactions, but he hadn't really considered the tenseness in her shoulders. She'd been in a bit of pain, then she was for brief moment in a lot of pain, before everything was pleasantly numb.

Yeah, it probably wasn't a good idea for the treatment method to such a self-dangerous technique to result in pleasure-overloads. No matter how pleased he was with the efficiency of it, there was the risk of something like that causing positive reinforcement.

Having considered this for a brief moment, Ranma kicked her in the leg. "Quit napping, brat."

Chao giggled a bit, possibly at his address in regards to their visual ages, possibly because she was just feeling giddy, but pushed herself into a sitting position. "Two months, was it?"

"At least." Ranma said, eyes narrowed.

Chao made a show of sighing in resignation. "Fine fine. Two months it is."

Exasperatedly amused, Ranma reached over and put his hand on the top of her head. "Take care, Chao-san." With a brief ruffling of her hair, he stretched in an exaggerated way and began to walk away. "And I better get souvenirs in your time." He called over his shoulder with a lazy wave. "And no goddamn mushrooms either!"

Chao just laughed.

XXX

"Saotome-san, how did you know Chao-san was from the future?" Negi asked, fidgeting slightly in his seat in the nurse's office.

Ranma tilted his head, considering that for a moment, before shrugging. "She's a martian, right? I don't think humans have colonized that place yet, so time-travel makes the most sense."

"B-But everyone else just assumed she was kidding!" Negi exclaimed, looking more than a bit stunned at Ranma's rather peculiar logic.

Ranma scoffed weakly, his attention on his paperwork. "I've seen weirder things. Met weirder people, too." He scribbled something in the margins. "And she's a really shitty liar."

To have gone back in time, she must've had a good reason for it. A reason for being willing to risk sacrificing not just death, but the possibility of living out the rest of her life without her loved ones. Not to mention the whole paradox-thing of going back into the past for the sake of altering the past so that a certain thing never happened.

Having a reason to return in time, would mean that the person couldn't actually succeed in their self-appointed task, without completely destroying the reason why their own past selves went back into the past in the first place. So, even if the time-line didn't somehow split, even if the world ticked on without physics breaking down from a suddenly very complicated relationship with cause and effect, there wasn't really any way for anyone to deliberately change the past. And though there was the theoretically possible chance for all of Chao's actions to be preordained. That she was part of a stable time-loop where she played a large part as a focal point in her own history – with her going back in time in order to simply inform her ancestor that something needed to be done – the girl really was too shitty a liar to be able to pull off that amount of subterfuge.

Ranma wasn't sure why Chao would go to the lengths she had in order to save another world from whatever had happened to her own, but he could guess. The first was that Chao didn't realize the futility of her efforts to save her own world until she'd already either developed the time-machine, or already activated it. The second was that Chao was trying to spare at least one world from whatever had befallen her own.

From what he knew of the girl, Ranma would put money on a combination of the two. Chao might be a genius, but Ranma had seen smart people not think things through before, and she was devious enough that she'd probably be trying to save 'her own world' into the last.

So, it was either assume that the girl had done something extremely intelligent and utterly idiotic, or assume that her own world was completely beyond help. And Chao never seemed anywhere near emotionally broken enough for that to really be an issue, which meant that she'd probably kind of just shrugged her shoulders and decided to help out another world since she had more or less stumbled across the ability to do so.

Wherever she'd come from, however she'd reached the conclusion to save the world by turning back the clock, Ranma was pretty sure she'd be fine. A bit lonely, perhaps, considering the friends she'd made during her stay at Mahora whom she'd left behind, but more-or-less fine.

Negi didn't seem to have reached the same conclusion, but then he probably hadn't spent a few years researching everything time-related that he could get his hands on in a desperate attempt to somehow return to the time before the person who might classify as his best friend turned him into a child in vengeance to some perceived slight.

Ranma really wished he could've said the same.

"I ain't gonna tell you not to worry about her reasons, but you don't need to worry about her." Ranma said absently as he frowned at the text. "She'll be fine."

Negi sighed, some of the tension seeping out of his posture, even as his face turned thoughtful. "And why did you call her a 'brat'?"

Ranma blinked stupidly at him for a moment. "Because she is one?"

Negi's thoughtful face turned suspicious. "How old are you really, Saotome-san?"

Ranma shrugged, returning to his paperwork. "Old enough to pass med-school. Now shoo." He waved his hands at the child-teacher.

Negi pouted, but left.

Ranma shook his head, a little bit creeped out at exactly how familiar that pout was.

"His descendant, indeed."

XXX

"I suppose I wasn't expecting it, but you're not going with them?" Takamichi took a deep drag on his cigarette.

Ranma shrugged. "Not really my business."

Takamichi nodded, accepting the statement for what it was.

"Besides, I was never really good at tracking people." Ranma grinned. "Never needed to figure out how. If I wanted to catch my pops, I'd just need a bit of bait."

Takamichi snorted a laugh, clearly remembering his own encounter with the panda. "A tournament with a cash prize?" He guessed.

Ranma shook his head, still grinning. "A decent stash of good booze."

Coughing through his cigarette, Takamichi laughed.

XXX

Ranma stared up at the sky, feeling a headache coming.

It'd been a perfectly normal day of the summer holidays, all bright sun and annoying mosquitoes, until another world showed up mirrored in the sky. Now it was definitely shaping up to being one of those obnoxiously long and bothersome days.

Then something that looked kind of space-shuttle-like crashed into the road, and Hakase was called to the scene. Apparently, someone had cut Chachamaru in half.

Ranma considered this, then took into account the way that the school's barriers had fallen. Or, at the very least suffered enough of a hit for Evangeline to take to the sky unaided, and he decided to wait this one out.

Sure, he might be able to help out, but Mahora Academy was shock-full with old war-veterans who'd probably be quite enthusiastic about dealing with the whole thing, and the last thing Ranma needed was for the Dark Evangel to decide that he'd been kill-stealing.

He was the school nurse, he wasn't so much supposed to prevent injury as he was to aid in recovery and lessen any potential complications that might arise. And most everyone seemed quite enthusiastic about helping out, treating it as an extension of the events surrounding the final stage of the Mahora Festival.

No, he wasn't touching this thing with a ten-foot-long pole.

One of the demon-creatures threw a blast of magical light in his general direction.

Ranma blinked, staring down at his suddenly naked body.

Ranma took a deep breath as he was forcefully reminded of the fact that apparently his hair was currently red underneath the black dye.

Ranma was remembered of this particular thing, because his current body-type was more closely reminiscent of Evangeline's than Negi's.

Ranma turned to face the demon-creature.

Ranma's vision descended into a red haze.

Things started breaking.

XXX

During his life, Ranma had never really managed to catch onto the concept of female modesty. As in, he didn't much care if someone caught him flashing them or not.

Sure, it definitely wasn't something he exactly went out of his way to do, and the idea of using it as a distraction in a fight kind of grated on his sense of honor. Anything Goes or no, Ranma had always preferred a straight-forward fist-fight to some elaborate scheme.

So it wasn't really that someone had left him naked in public that sparked his temper. Not entirely anyway.

Part of it was that he'd been holding onto a public persona of being male, and that having that so carelessly destroyed years before he'd be unable to hide it anymore-... well, that kind of pissed him off, true. But it wasn't just that either.

No small part of it was the memory of how difficult his clothes were to find. Namely, he was someone in a child's body, and it was really expensive to order proper 'adult'-quality clothes rather than the crap fabrics most places sold. Which meant that he'd just lost quite a substantial sum of money – and no small amount of effort had gone up in smoke – simply because someone had come up with the brilliant idea of using a clothes-stripping attack on him.

One part of it was that Ranma was perhaps a little bit sympathetically defensive over what other people kept hidden underneath their clothes. It'd taken himself a long time to get used to sometimes wandering around in a female body, and then an awful lot of self-reflection before he managed to accept that his 'resignation' to it had turned into 'apathy' somewhere along the road. He wasn't ashamed of being one gender or the other, it was simply how he was, but he knew that there were others who weren't quite so willing to adapt to things.

And it was really shitty to randomly strip someone in the middle of the street and expose that potential hidden shame to the world, because that was the kind of thing they should be allowed to decide to reveal or not reveal on their own.

And a bit of it was a sudden flashback to one particularly noteworthy incident regarding the Kuno siblings.

To be honest, that last part was probably almost entirely the reason why he'd decided to simply charge in and destroy everything that moved.

He'd never liked those two.

XXX

At the sound of the roar, a few eyes all around Mahora trailed away from their own opponents.

At the appearances of the tornadoes, a lot more eyes began to trail away from their fights.

When the ones in charge of the resistance started declaring half of the campus as 'danger zones', advising everyone in the vicinity to stay the hell away from them, most people listened.

Ayaka caught a glimpse the shape of a small naked girl with long dark hair on a computer-screen, and kind of froze in the middle of her own task to stare at it.

There were demon-creatures scattered all across the area, piling on top of each other until they'd created a mountain of bodies. And even now, more were being added on top as they were methodologically ripped to shreds by the small naked girl.

If it weren't for the fact that the demons in question didn't appear to actually bleed, Ayaka was fairly sure that that entire half of Mahora would be splattered with their blood. Painted with a layer of gore that would've been stomach-turning.

Instead, there were just a lot of bodies, and one girl. Also tornadoes, and fires, and icicles, and buildings either exploding or imploding.

All in all, it was still a pretty terrifying scene that Asakura's droids managed to capture.

Thankfully however, it seemed as if the girl in question was on their side, so it probably wasn't something they needed to worry about.

XXX

"It's your own fault." Takamichi chuckled.

"Shaddup." Ranma grumbled around the nails in his mouth.

"Why, I think even Rakan was impressed." Takamichi continued, pretending to be oblivious.

"Shaddup." Ranma continued with his repair-work.

Takamichi grinned at him, clearly amused at his misery. "And the sheer mass of repairs needing to be done is going to keep some of those building-firms in business for years."

"Shaddup." Ranma said again, trying to focus.

"The dean looked like he was having a heart-attack." Takamichi lit up a cigarette, still grinning.

"Shaddup." Ranma stretched the kinks out of his back, refusing to feel guilty.

"I think I saw a tear slip." Takamichi continued fondly, as if it was a memory he'd be treasuring for years.

"Shaddup." Ranma muttered again, moving towards the next spot that his rampage had damaged with the resigned air of someone who knew that they'd gone a bit too far.

Takamichi patted his back. "Don't worry Saotome-san. Even if the dean manages to fire you after this, Eishun-san will hire you on the spot." Takamichi shook his head, grin not fading the slightest. "He and his father-in-law don't get along, and he hasn't laughed that hard in years."

XXX

Life mostly went back to normal after that.

Negi was replaced as homeroom teacher on behalf of his new duties elsewhere, his replacement being a pale boy of the same visual age as the child-genius himself. Apparently, he'd been an enemy to whatever hijinks Negi and his group had been up to in Magicus Mundus, so his reception was notably hostile from his new class.

The dean mostly forgave Ranma for demolishing half the school. His forgiveness was likely heavily influenced by having caught a glimpse of the bombshell Ranma would grow up into becoming. The man had always been a pervert, even if he was decent enough that he didn't ogle people who were actually under the drinking age.

Ayaka made a huge deal of Ranma's gender being revealed, until Ranma finally took the time to properly demonstrate his Jusenkyo curse. He might've also told her that his gender was none of her business, but he hadn't really ever actually expected that that would've been enough to deter her from her path. Thankfully, she'd been going more for understandingly sympathetic in the face of a transgender individual, rather than any true degree of hostility.

Ranma might've even classified the girl's approach to matters as being 'noble', if he hadn't been well-aware of how she'd been drooling over herself at the idea of how cute Ranma would look in a dress.

Somewhere along the way, Ako also received a fearsome reputation about shoving needles into people, which Ranma in his professional capacity exploited to its fullest. But otherwise things went back to normal.

All the way until Ako dragged Ranma along to say goodbye to Asuna for her hundred-year-long nap, which was apparently necessary for some big plan to save the magical world from withering away into nothingness.

It was a bittersweet moment, with tears and smiles and laughs, and Negi managed to look utterly heartbroken.

And then she was gone.

There was a moment of solemn silence as everyone slowly began to realize that she was truly gone, that the loud redhead wouldn't be around anymore. Only for the moment to be interrupted when Chao suddenly showed up, carefree grin all over her face, as she dragged a tearful Asuna along with her.

"Hiya, Negi-sensei! I picked up a stray on the way back! Hope you don't mind!"

Ranma shook his head, amused at how quickly the air of solemnity went out the window as everyone tackled Asuna in a hug.

Chao spotted it and grinned at him, looking quite smug about her impact on the situation.

"Souvenirs?" Ranma asked.

Chao's grin stretched even wider. "Well, if Asuna-san's return isn't enough for you-..." She pulled out a piece of paper. "This is directly from your future self. Signed by him, too."

Feeling a little bit on edge at the idea of being anywhere near anything originating from his own future self – being probably a bit too on edge about time-paradoxes than most people – Ranma accepted the papers.

The papers that actually looked kind of-... familiar.

Ranma, his hands shaking a little bit, turned his head towards Chao, the movement lacking his usual lazy grace, falling instead into something clumsy and awkwardly mechanical.

"This-..." He held up the paper. "You-..."

"I paid future-you good booze for that deal." Chao nodded, gleefully smug about it.

Which actually made an awful lot of sense. The only way any version of Ranma would ever consider this to be an even remotely sensible idea would be to make sure he was really plastered before even suggesting it.

"There's an escape-clause." Ranma noted, not quite sure if he should be horrified at what the paper was implying, or relieved at having found something like that in it.

"Of course there is." Chao frowned at him. "I wouldn't force you into a corner, Saotome-sensei." She blinked, suddenly thoughtful. "Well, I suppose it'd be better if I at least called you Ranma-sensei, from now on."

Ranma made a small noise at the back of his throat. He wasn't sure if it was a whimper or a choked attempt at laughter.

"After all, we're going to share that name one day, right?" Chao's smile was softer this time, even if the mischief definitely hadn't faded from her eyes.

Ranma twitched, clutching the marriage-contract a little tighter in his hands, and feeling a slight blush start to spread across his face.

Finally, after a moment of silence, he opened his mouth again. "If you put mushrooms in our wedding-cake, I will end you."

Her laughter wasn't reassuring in the least.

XXX

Ku Fei stared at her old friend. "What."

Chao grinned at her, waving her own piece of paper at her. "Aren't I a good friend, Ku-chan? I made sure to get one for you as well."

Ku Fei turned her attention back to the paper that couldn't possible be saying what she thought it was saying. "What."

Chao nodded thoughtfully, as if a great deal of thought was needed to explain things. "Obviously, I had to make sure to include a citizenship in a country that allowed polygamy. But that's just common sense. It wouldn't do for legalities to get in the way, when both of the contracts clearly state that they can be fulfilled together."

Ku Fei turned back to her old friend, her voice cracking slightly as a very intense blush was rising to her cheeks. "What."

Chao smiled at her. "It'd be unfair if I went after him all on my own, wouldn't it?"

Ku Fei stared at the person who'd ruthlessly been willing to turn the world upside-down in order to fulfill her goals, and then she stared at the marriage-contract that was apparently her peace-offering for going after a boy that her friend already had a crush on. Frowning suddenly, she narrowed her eyes at the fine print in one of the margins.

"Why does this has a recipe for a mushroom-cake on it, aru?"

XXX

A/n: If the marriage-contracts weren't annulled, then I'm pretty sure Chao made two wedding-cakes. Because whilst mushroom-cake would be a great prank in the context, it would probably taste like shit.

And yeah, Ranma did a Genma. To himself.

Hopefully, this was at least half as fun to read as it was to write.