Chapter Twenty Four – Confirmations

Akane

Akane straightened out her gi and walked into the dojo, breathless after a warmup run, to prepare for their classes later that afternoon. With more than an hour to spare, she had katas to do – she had to train, she had-

Her thoughts crashed to a halt. Ranma stood in the center of the dojo in her girl form – no, her normal body, now – wearing the gi they taught classes in, patiently waiting for Akane to arrive. The light that flooded in the dojo caught her brilliant red hair. She looked up and gave Akane a wide grin. "Are ya ready?"

"Ranma?" Akane stuttered. "Are you- I thought you only taught classes as a guy?"

Ranma shrugged, meeting her eyes. "Figured I ought to change that up," she said. "I ain't about to stop practicing the art cause I'm not gonna be using that old body anymore, right? If I'm gonna take over the schools, I gotta be able to teach."

Akane smiled, walking over to offer Ranma a hand up. Ranma took it, coming to her feet within arms reach of Akane, and Akane, feeling adventurous, darted in and gave Ranma a quick kiss. "You look great," she said, still holding Ranma's hand. Ranma blushed – she had a light dusting of freckles, which stood out against her darkened skin. Akane was taller than her, too. "The kids are going to love this; they probably won't think twice about it."

"You think?" Ranma asked. She ducked her head self-consciously, scratching at the back of her neck.

"I know."

It was a strange scene, two girls making out in the Tendo Dojo. If she were looking on from the outside, from another life where Ranma hadn't bowled over all her preconceptions like a freight train, Akane suspected she wouldn't have taken it so kindly. How deep in denial had she been? This was what she wanted – the softness of Ranma's lips as she rose up on the balls of her feet, the way Akane could scoop her up with one arm and draw her to her body, how they lingered close together after they broke apart, sharing the late autumn air, warming each other up against the chilly November air.

Certain things made more sense now, for Akane. She understood why she had always felt so uncomfortable around the Hentai Horde (aside from the fact that they were fighting to sexually assault her) and why she'd never felt quite right hanging out with the girls when the subject went to boys. But it was right that it was Ranma, not some random girl, because Ranma was- She got it. The difference between guys and girls. She didn't have to… explain herself – there was no question of whether she'd ever, she didn't know, tried a guy before, since Ranma had no shortage of masculinity. Maybe.

All those thoughts were rather muddled, anyways, by the warm pleasant glow of being kissed and her happiness that she and Ranma were finally together together.

"Wanna spar?" Ranma asked.

Akane grinned, rolling her shoulders and popping her knuckles. "You bet."

She'd been practicing, hard, and after a few months under Ranma's tutelage, she'd gotten good. Not as good as Ranma or Ryoga, no, but she'd surpassed the level anyone might consider normal. She could dip into her ki and move faster than ought to have been possible and keep up with Ranma in midair, executing all matter of fancy flips and maneuvers. Ranma didn't shy away from striking her, now – and when she landed a hit, it was triumphant.

Ranma flew back, twisting to stop her momentum against a stack of targets, and landed on her feet, clutching her side with an ironic smile. "You got me there," she coughed as Akane landed on the balls of her feet, grinning like a madwoman.

"Want to keep going?"

"Actually, um…" Ranma pressed her lips together. "If I gotta tell you something, can you promise not to get angry with me? Cause I don't know exactly how to say it and I'd really like to spit it out before you rip me a new one."

That's not a great start. Akane resisted her old impulse to be mad at Ranma on principle – breathe, let it go – and gave him a flat look. "I'll try."

"Look, I've been holding out on you," Ranma said, biting her lip. Her eyes were searching, nervous; Akane could tell Ranma was already bracing for her to blow up. "I… I used to have this dumb thing where I wouldn't fight girls cause I thought they were weaker, right? But I- I never turned ya down, 'Kane, cause I really wanted you to like me, I guess. Waking up from the coma, I ain't never felt so vulnerable before. And even though you hit me and everything I guess I wanted, or needed, you to be my friend. Cause my curse really shook me and I couldn't- I don't know. It just felt different, I guess."

"You wouldn't have sparred with me? Before?" Akane's tone was hushed, but her mind spun. Sparring with Ranma was one of the fundamental elements of their relationship. Without that… It was hard to imagine.

"No," Ranma said, looking down in shame. "I was stupid. But I- I never let it change us right? So that's not what I wanna apologize for. But I still haven't been taking ya seriously. Or, uh, it's not that, so much as I'm treating you like an opponent, not an… equal. A partner. I ain't trying to make you better – you've done that all yourself, and I'm proud of you, but it's no thanks to me."

Akane crossed her arms, leaning onto one leg. "I've never asked you to teach me," she pointed out. "I know you're better than me, Ranma – the Art is your life, you don't have to apologize for that."

Ranma frowned. "But I do," she protested. "I do, 'Kane. Cause I've been all stuck up on being a man and all that, being the best, which was always the same as being a man-among-men to me. It's… I thought in a relationship that if I was gonna run a dojo I had to be better than you, I guess? We're joining the schools but I don't want it to be my school. It's gonna be our school, no matter what Pops says, and I don't want you to be left behind anymore. But I guess I kind of did before. Cause teaching you to be on my level would've been like saying I ain't really as much a man as I said, if a girl, my fiancee, is on my level. Which, now that I'm a girl, I realize is kind of dumb. I'm sorry."

"It's not a bad thing to be the best, Ranma," Akane said. She stepped in and pulled Ranma into a hug, letting her ease into her embrace. "Thinking you have to be the best or you're not good enough, that's what's silly. That's your stupid panda of a father's fault. Being the best doesn't make you a man. I accept your apology for thinking you had to be better than me cause I'm a girl."

"But I-"

Ranma broke off, slipping out of Akane's hug, and went to the dojo door. She leaned against the frame, shadowed by the light, staring into the depths of the koi pond. Sighing, Akane followed.

"You've been thinking a lot lately."

"It ain't good for me, I know, but-"

"You can't help it."

"Yeah. I get like that."

"I know," Akane soothed. She laid a hand on Ranma's shoulder. "It's not all bad, is it? You're smart, Ranma, smarter than you give yourself credit for."

"I know that too." Heaving another sigh, Ranma's eyes dropped further to the tatami mat beneath her bare feet. "I know. Pops really loaded me up full of shit, didn't he?"

"He did."

Akane gave him a half-smile, earning a tiny smile in return from Ranma. "Least you're figuring yourself out. That counts for a lot, I think. The Ranma I knew a few months ago wouldn't have apologized for anything."

"It's not even about being the best anymore," Ranma murmured, reaching out to brush Akane's cheek. "Giving the Art my all, that's part of who I am, and if my all's better than the next, then I ain't complaining. But I wanna be more than that, I guess. I never got a chance to think about who I was before I met you. I guess… what I'm trying to say is, if we're really gonna do this – be together – and we wanna be serious about what my Pops and your dad've been planning, I don't want to be lonely at the top. This was your dojo before it was mine, right? I couldn't see this clearly when I was trying to be a guy but I see it now – I want to master Anything Goes with you, Akane."

"Wh- what do you mean?" Akane stammered.

Ranma gave her a look that sent chills down her back, a fire alight in her strange eyes, captivating her with its promise. "You make me a better martial artist," she said. "I know you can be as good as I am, if you wanted to, and I think you do. If we're really gonna be…" Ranma floundered for the right word. "Partners. I want you to be able to keep up, y'know? I guess this is an offer. I'm offering you that, oh, um, not to be a student, say, but I want you right there with me. So it can be our school."

Catching her breath, Akane stared at Ranma in bewildered happiness. "You mean it?"

"Yeah. Techniques, forms, all of it." Ranma shrugged. "You don't have to say yes right away. Or ever, I guess, if you don't want to. But long as I'm around, it stands." The stiffness that came from nerves and anxiety melted into something softer. "There's nobody else I'd rather share this with than you."

"Yes. Yes!" Akane flung her arms around Ranma's shoulder, hugging her fiancee tight, beaming from ear to ear. Ranma sagged in relief and laughed, the tension easing from her shoulders. Pecking her on the cheek, Akane leaned in and whispered, "Thank you."

Ranma blushed. "Course."

"Still," Akane said, giving Ranma a deadpan glare. "You should know that I would want this regardless of whether you're a guy or a girl, you idiot."

"Can't I blame Pops?" Ranma asked with a coy smirk.

Rolling her eyes, Akane flicked Ranma on the forehead. "I don't think so," she said, leaning in to steal another kiss. "This one? It's all on you."

Ranma hummed and kissed her back.

Ranma

Sayuri Sugiyama was an easy person to overlook; she was quiet, shy, and rarely spent time with anyone outside their immediate friend group without the company of Yuka or Akane. In fact, Ranma barely knew anything about Sayuri, save a few bits of information he'd picked up here and there – he spend a ton of time with the other girl, but none of it alone with her. She wasn't a friend of a friend, persay – that would be doing her a disservice – but Ranma was ashamed to say she didn't know Sayuri half as well as she might want.

Well, Ranma's problems were more extensive. She was unstable and emotionally off-kilter, trying to slog through years of repressed gender issues to get her head clear enough to come out to her father. But in that self-exploration, Ranma had taken her friendships under scrutiny – and she hadn't liked what she found.

She and Ryoga were on rocky terms, at best. She'd been keeping massive secrets from Ukyo until a few weeks ago; now Ranma would call Ukyo her best friend. Akane was her rock, but what they had was more intimate than a friendship; she couldn't count.

So, by that calculus, Ranma had Ukyo. Maybe Ryoga. And Yuka and Sayuri were her friends, but she didn't know them very well at all.

It's not going to stay that way, not if I have anything to say about it.

It astounded Ranma, in those days after she came out to her friends, how perceptive Sayuri was. Sayuri had noticed things about Ranma that Ranma hadn't even been remotely aware of, details, observations, patterns, a million little things about her behavior that had helped Ranma put her thoughts in order. Ranma knew she wasn't the most observant, but seeing Sayuri put that difference in perception into stark clarity, she'd vowed to give Yuka and Sayuri more of her attention – to make an effort to be a better friend. So, when Sayuri invited the five of them and Nabiki over to her apartment to talk strategy, Ranma came with her eyes open.

The Sugiyamas were rich. Ranma had already understood that implicitly, given how Sayuri was more liberal than Yuka at the mall, despite Yuka being far more brash about her tastes. But her apartment stood in a nice high rise overlooking the river, spanning half of the floor. The living room was bigger than the dojo – Sayuri, Yuka, and Ukyo were already inside, chatting away at a fancy kotatsu that looked hilariously out of place between the pristine new kitchen and the nouveau living room, which came complete with leather couches and a television set. Akane skipped ahead at their greetings, comfortable with the apartment, while Ranma and Nabiki hung back together, taking in the apartment. Nabiki whistled.

"Now this is the kind of place I'd like to live someday," she said under her breath.

Not me, Ranma thought. His idea of comfort looked a lot like the Tendo Dojo.

"Come on!" Yuka exclaimed, waving from the kotatsu. "It's warmer under here!"

Sayuri gave Ranma an encouraging smile; steeling herself, Ranma walked over and sat not next to Akane, but in between Sayuri and Ukyo, slipping her legs under the quilted blanket. Ukyo grinned and bumped Ranma's shoulder. "Hey there, Ranchan. Nice walk?"

"S'alright." Ranma shrugged, yawning and leaned back in the wooden seatback. "A little cold, I guess, but I don't mind."

"She almost walked out of the dojo without her coat," Akane said. "We had to throw it at her for her to put it on."

Ukyo rolled her eyes.

"Don't give me that, Ucchan! I'm still not used to having a coat, that's all," Ranma protested.

The good-natured amusement died in Ukyo's eyes; suddenly she, Akane, and Nabiki all looked distinctly angry, leaving a confused Ranma trying to figure out what she said wrong. Is it cause I'm the only one who has training resisting the cold? Ranma had to bite back a sigh – she was trying to reign back her arrogance but it was hard when she didn't think she was being a cocky jerk. Swallowing, she pulled her coat tighter around her shoulders.

Yuka shifted uncomfortably.

"It's a very nice coat, Ranma," Sayuri murmured, reaching over to touch her hand.

Ranma beamed at Sayuri, her confusion washing away in the face of her objective. "Thanks, Sayuri," she said brightly. "Nabs over there helped pick it, so really you should compliment her. The place is way nice. You've lived here a long time?"

"All my life. Yuka and I have been going to school together since elementary school." Sayuri gave a quiet smile, glancing at Yuka, who was restless. "The three of us, with Akane, we used to have sleepovers here all the time. Maybe we could start that up again with you and Ukyo – it could be fun."

A sleepover? "So, what, you come over and you sleep?" Ranma asked. "I don't get it."

Sayuri paused, as if to defer to somebody else, but everyone else was distracted and she pressed on. "No, no, it's way more fun than that. We stay up late and watch bad movies and eat mochi – it's great, I promise. Sometimes you have to stay up until three o'clock in the morning to talk about girl stuff, y'know?"

Ranma didn't know. "Yeah, right, totally."

"That settles it; we're definitely having one," Sayuri declared. "You need to be initiated."

A loud click came across the table as Nabiki set her nail file down on the table and gave the other girls a bored look. "As much as I love hearing about social events I'm not invited to, I don't have all day," she drawled, kicking back in her seatback. "I have an appointment in an hour and a half downtown and I have to catch a bus. Can we talk business before you hammer out the details?"

"Yes!" From under the kotatsu, Yuka whipped out a gray army commander's hat and smacked her hands down on the table, wearing a shit-eating grin. Akane jumped where she sat in surprise, tumbling off the side of her seat. "Alright, girls, it's war room time!"

"Yuka!" Akane complained.

Ukyo laughed, shaking her head. "Were you hiding that under the table the whole time?"

Yuka saluted Ukyo and stuck her tongue out. "Yup! Our order of business today – figure out how to help Ranma be a girl full-time!"

All eyes turned to Ranma, who laughed nervously and flashed a peace sign. "This is so we got a plan before we tell Pops, right?" she asked, looking to Akane, who nodded. "Right. Well, uh, I figure I'll just stay in this form all the time – I mean, I've been doing that already, mostly…"

"Well, you're now legally Ranko Saotome, twin sister to Ranma Saotome," Nabiki listed off, tossing a pile of documents onto the table.

Ranma picked up her certificate of acceptance and ogled it – the neatly printed kanji on the name line and the name of her parents: one 'Nodoka Saotome.' That's funny, Ranma thought. Don't I know a Nodoka?

Wait a second…

It hit her like a freight train. "My mother's name is Nodoka?" she whispered, running her finger over the name. "She's alive? What the hell?"

"What was that, Ranchan?" Ukyo asked, peering over her shoulder at the official document.

"Nothing…"

Ranma canvased for something to change the subject. She dug through the documents, and there were a lot of them – passports, residence cards, health records. The deeper she got into the pile, filled with records of a life she hadn't lived, the more wound up she became. In some other world maybe Ranma would have had a twin sister Ranko, who got to stay with her mother and go to school and travel back and forth from China by legal means. Or, rather, Ranma could have been Ranko and lived a normal childhood without all the crazy shit she'd gone thought and she would never be that little girl in the tax records Genma definitely hadn't payed from 1974 and even if she lived as a woman now she would never get the childhood her father had taken away from her back and-

Somebody was holding her. "Breathe, Ranma. Just breathe," Sayuri murmured as Ukyo hugged her tight. Ranma blinked, wondering why her breathing was so short, and uncurled from the ball she found herself in, glancing at Akane again. Akane reached across the table and grabbed her hand, squeezing, which was what she needed to calm down.

"Sorry," she mumbled. "This is overwhelming."

Nabiki's gaze fell, and she looked away in shame. "I'm sorry," she murmured. "I went overboard, didn't I? I wanted to be thorough, so there wouldn't a chance of you getting deported to China in case one of your martial arts stunts landed you in jail or something."

"Right."

"Here's what I don't get, sis," Akane said, pushing the pile away from her. "All this is well and fine. But it doesn't change the fact that 'Ranko' isn't on her family registry. She's not technically…" Nabiki raised her eyebrow. "Oh, God. You didn't. Please tell me you didn't."

"I was very thorough."

"That's so illegal, Nabiki!" Akane shouted. She got to her feet, glaring down at Nabiki. "Do you even know what you're playing with? Do you want to go to jail for the rest of your life? I thought the photos and the gambling was bad enough but this-"

"Is for family," Nabiki said hotly. "I only ever break the law for our family. I'm not the selfish bitch you think I am, little sister."

"Nabs, 'Kane, please stop," Ranma said, cutting off their argument. She leveled a deadly serious look at Nabiki. "Did you alter the Saotome family registry?"

Nabiki bit her lip. "I did."

Taking a deep breath, Ranma closed her eyes and tried to think. She hadn't known her family registry was still around – she hadn't even known her mother was alive until a few minutes earlier, and she had assumed her father had lost it along with everyone else. Nabiki wanted to protect her, she knew that. How could Ranma resent her for anticipating something she hadn't known was a factor? But even deeper in her self was her honor – and her honor screamed at the thought of a non-Saotome, even her fiancee's family, touching her family's registry. The curse was her shame, Ranma's shame. It couldn't be written into existence.

Could it?

Was she the same person? Was she even Ranma Saotome? Was Ranma Saotome even a name she deserved to bear, when she'd completely and utterly failed the central tenant of his existence: become a man-among-men? She was still the daughter of her parents. In a way, they had gained a whole new child. Ranma couldn't even bring herself to say that Nabiki was wrong to add her to the ledger. It was an extrajudicial correction of a very complicated clerical error.

Writing an entire person into existence.

Her head hurt. Ranma didn't have the answers. She looked at Nabiki, whose cold facade was rock solid, and quietly said, "You should have asked."

"You would have said no," Nabiki responded in a quiet voice. "When you first started going as a girl, you would have said no. But she's existed since you fell into that spring. She deserves to be recognized."

Ranma fought to keep her lip from trembling. She let out a sharp exhale, slumping down in her chair, and met Nabiki's eyes. Nabiki was waiting for something. Behind her manicured expression, Ranma could see a hint of fear.

"You named me," Ranma murmured. "I thought you would use the generic 'ko' but you didn't."

Nabiki gave a short, curt nod. "Wild love," she said, flipping the certificate of acceptance around. "Like passion. You give everything your all with such a raw intensity, and you always fight with a passion, no matter what you're up against." Her voice grew small. "I thought it suited you."

Wild love. Ranko. It resonated in her chest, because before it had just been a fake name but now it had meaning; because Nabiki had kept the first kanji of her birth name and given her something that was both feminine and masculine, a name she could accept as her own. She wasn't only a female Ranma Saotome. She could be something more. She could be better.

Ranma got up from where she sat, walked around the table, and pulled Nabiki into a tight hug.

Nabiki softened up, and hugged her back, pulling her in to rest at the crook of her neck. Her short brown hair smelled nice, like Akane's, but a little less floral.

"If you ever touch my family registry again," Ranma whispered into Nabiki's ear, quietly enough that she knew not even Akane would hear, "I won't care that you aren't a martial artist or my sister-in-law. I will avenge my family's honor. Do you understand?"

"Yes," Nabiki whispered back. "Thank you, Ranko."

Ranma squeezed and let her go. Raising her voice so the others could hear, she said, "I don't suppose that means you know where my mother is, then?"

"No." Nabiki frowned. "I would never be clumsy enough to implicate myself by actually doing the forgery. I don't even know who pulled it off – I know a guy, and he uses a go between, so that's three degrees of separation. I know she lives in Tokyo, and I'm positive I could track her down if you wanted me too, but I wouldn't do that without asking first. Sorry, Ranma."

"Oh, now she's worried about boundaries?" Yuka muttered to Sayuri, who stifled a giggle.

"Do you want to find her?" Akane asked.

Ranma opened his mouth, then closed it. He didn't even remember the woman. And the last time she had seen him, she must have been entirely certain she had a son – not a daughter. Not her. Not Ranma.

"I don't know."

Akane nodded, accepting that. "Okay."

For some reason, that casual acceptance irritated Ranma. "No, I don't know," she repeated, insistent.

"Hey, Ranchan, it's cool," Ukyo called from across the table, holding up her hands. "You don't have to rush into it, right? You've been on the road for a decade; what difference will another few months make? Nabiki said she can find her whenever, so all you have to do is ask."

"Right." Sighing, Ranma sank to the ground, leaning on Akane's side. "Right."

"Maybe we should move on?" Sayuri said.

"Is there much else to discuss?" Nabiki asked. "Ranma is already a girl at school. She's also almost always a girl at home, and the only reason she isn't all the time is because of her father – once she tells the panda, that'll be moot."

"There is one thing," Ukyo said, looking to Ranma. "What happens if Ranma gets splashed again at school? We got lucky last time, but…"

"I ain't gonna get splashed," Ranma sniffed, crossing her arms. "The only reason I slipped up was cause I was angry at 'Kane and cause I feel comfortable around you, Ucchan. I let my guard down. It's not gonna happen again."

Ukyo looked taken aback, but pleased. Yuka was having none of it. "C'mon, Ranma, you're good but even you can't get lucky all the time, and you're not exactly a lucky person. What if somebody spills their tea on you? What if a pipe bursts? You might be good at dodging, but we've got to at least consider it."

"She has a point," Akane said.

All of the emotion Ranma had been working through the entire conversation came spilling out as anger. "It's a curse!" she exclaimed, jumping to her feet. "Have you all forgotten that? I'm cursed. It's not supposed to be safe, it's not supposed to be easy, and just because I've flip-flopped from one side of it to the other doesn't mean my problems have gone away! You can't plan around magic, it doesn't make sense. There's nothing we can do to make it better- all I can do is hope it doesn't keep messing my life up."

"Do you know that?" Yuka challenged. "Have you researched Jusenkyo?"

"Research? The hell d'ya mean, research?"

"Yuka, leave it," Akane cautioned.

"Enough."

Everyone turned to look at Sayuri, who was the only one who hadn't moved during the conversation. She sat at her place at the kotatsu, hands folded in her lap, the lacy white folds of her winter dress framing her intent eyes as she stared directly at Ranma.

"Sayuri?" Yuka asked.

"We've done enough today," Sayuri said. "Ranma may be right. We don't have a way to control the curse – so worrying about it can only make things worse. But Yuka is also right. We don't understand how the curse works, so we should try to research it. But I think we've said everything there is to say today. Ranma?"

Ranma stared at Sayuri, and slowly nodded. The tension leaking out of her shoulders, she sank back on her haunches.

Nabiki hummed, tilting her head in consideration.

"It doesn't matter," Ukyo declared. "I found out and we dealt with it, because you're you, not the curse. Who you were born as or how you became who you are is irrelevant – all that matters is that you're a girl and if people at school find out, then they're just going to have to deal with that. We'll cross that bridge if we come to it, together."

There was a murmur of assent.

"Yeah." Ranma managed a small smile for Ukyo. She pushed her fears and doubts down, in that oily place she hid things she wasn't ready to feel. "Together."

[A/N] Woo I have lots of feelings about this one

First off I did a ton of research for this chapter (as I do with most) since I've never lived in the eighties and I've only spent about two weeks in Japan (none in Nerima, although I spent some time in Tokyo). Trying to figure out what documents Nabiki would have procured was a headache, considering how weird Japanese citizenship is – it took me about an hour to realize that social security numbers are a purely American thing which ruined a nice joke about Nabiki having Ranma's SSN. Although the Japanese did basically adopt a SSNesque system in 2015 but that's its own can of worms. Worldbuilding is fun lol.

Second there's a lot going on in Ranma's head right now. I think this is a part of transitioning that doesn't get talked about much – that moment right after coming out where you spend time trying to distance yourself from 'before,' trying to build yourself a new identity. It's confusing and messy and Ranma's just doing her best. It's not 'I'm gonna flip the girl switch now; nice.'

I'm super happy with my work here, especially on the second scene.

What Nabiki did is very illegal and very problematic. Nodoka comes in and hits Ranma like a freight train because she hadn't even considered her mother was still alive. And everybody's got more going on beneath the surface. Yuka and Sayuri are more or less tabula rasa, given how little they do in canon, and developing them is a lot of fun.

Thank you to elusivetruth, Katt1848, Fuyukazehime, Compucles, Beedok, Hannahtheseeker, The Keeper of Worlds, Noies, Lukkai, Ergoemoes, and a guest for reviewing! Also, big woo for 200 favorites! This community is as lovely and helpful as always.

I'll be starting college this fall (crazy, I know) so I'll probably have less time to write, but I've been fairly consistent on monthly updates since I came off of my original work hiatus this spring, so hopefully I'll get an update out in September~ Remember to tell me what you think!

Much love, Allie