Fools Rush In…

By JSB and Weebee.

Hey guys, Weebee here. So, confession time, I wasn't paying much attention when I went through the submission process and took about 5 seconds thinking about this fic's rating, if that. Turns out rating a fic that goes over the plot of an M rated game T is a stupid thing to do. I'll be bumping the fic's rating to M shortly after this chapter goes up. I'd do it before but am unsure how alerts and such would react to that.

There aren't any scenes in this chapter specifically that really warrant the change, it's more dealing with Persona 5's general themes, especially since JSB and I are planning to delve a little more deeply into some of them that the game just sort of ignored after bringing up.

I'm going to be doing this same thing with Unlimited Bandanna Works later. Seriously, WHY did I rate that one T given what it's based on?

Anyhow, sorry for the ranting. I hope you enjoy the chapter.

Chapter 5: Tonal Shift.

Ranma - [SO WERE ARE WE MEETING?]

Ann - [Is he… okay? Why is he yelling at us? (#`Д´) ]

Ryuji - [Yeah, that's just what he does.]

Ranma - [WORKING ON IT]

Ryuji - [Big Bang burger at the mall?]

Ann - [K, works for me.]

Ranma - [OKAY]

HR.

By the time Ranma got to the restaurant, Ann and Ryuji were already there, a flash of black from the blonde girl's bag revealing Morgana hidden within. After ordering a couple of burgers and a large fry, the pigtailed boy made his way over and shuffled into the booth next to Ryuji.

Cool, everyone's here," Ryuji said, setting down his cola. "So, we goin' back in to get Kamoshida today?"

"I'd really love that," Ann said, before frowning. "But Shiho's family are finally letting her see visitors today, and I promised I'd be there."

"How's she doin'?" Ranma asked, nervously.

"I'm not sure," Ann sighed. "The one who called me was her Mom. Apparently Shiho's locked herself in her room and isn't talking to anyone. She thought maybe I could get in."

"So probably not good," Ryuji offered. "Damn."

"We probably shouldn't go in, regardless," Morgana's muffled voice came from under the table. "Gah, couldn't you guys have met someplace where I didn't have to stay in this stupid bag?"

"Cats ain't exactly common anywhere," Ranma shrugged.

"Never mind that," Ryuji interrupted. "Why couldn't we go in today?"

"Because we're completely unprepared," The hidden animal huffed. "We don't have enough weapons, medicine, two of us don't even have codenames yet."

"You're still on about that?" Ryuji snorted. "I'll just call ya 'cat' like I always Gah! How'd you get claws through that thing?!"

"Nothin' ta do with cats," Ranma objected, fixedly staring into the street out the window and ignoring any under-table shenanigans.

"Hmm... " Ann said, "Well if he's determined… He's our source for information on this shadow world place, right? How about Oracle?" The two boys stared at her blankly. "You know, like the comic character?"

"Comic?" Ryuji continued to stare blankly.

"Never mind," Ann sighed.

"Fine, what about Bandit?" Ryuji asked. "You're the only one of us here who's in for the treasure, right?"

"Hey! There's a very important reason why I need that treasure!" The bagged cat yelled angrily.

"I kind of like Bandit too," Ann nodded. "You've got that bandanna around your neck in the shadow world, right?"

"Ah, well, if Lady Ann likes it, I suppose I can deal with it," Morgana said reluctantly.

"So the most obvious one for me's off the table with the no cats rule," Ann continued after a few seconds of silence.

"Domina-"

"Finish that and I will hurt you," the blonde growled, glaring at Ryuji.

"Not helpin' your case," The boy grinned.

"How about a name that's appropriate for her, like Goddess?" Morgana's muffled voice contributed.

"Well, there's not much other than the cat thing," The former blond shrugged, ignoring the previous suggestion entirely. "Why do you hate them so much, anyway?" He looked over to Ranma, who had returned to eating.

"'S a long story," the pigtailed martial artist said, after swallowing. "Short form is that my ol' man threw me into a starving pit of 'em in the name of training." The group went dead silent for several seconds. "So, about Takamaki's nickname?"

"Right… no cats," Ann croaked.

"Scarlet?" Ryuji asked, only slightly mangling the english word.

"I'm drawing a blank on anything non-cat related," Ann admitted. "Scarlet sounds pretty cool, though. Let's go with that."

"Now that we've gotten the most important part out of the way," Ranma said, sarcastically. "What's this about medicine?"

"Simple, so that we can heal in the palace," Morgana answered.

"Most medicine don't work that fast," Ranma disagreed.

"I know that's the case normally," Morgana explained. "But it works differently in the palace."

"Is this like that whole thing with fake guns working?" Ann asked.

"That's exactly right, lady Ann!" The bagged cat said, excitedly. "I knew someone around here had to be intelligent."

"Heard that one before," Ranma muttered. Louder, he continued, "I've got some painkillers for my arm, but takin' too many of them would be a pretty bad idea even if they did heal you in the palace."

"Those will probably do for now," Morgana said, thoughtfully. "But we'll need to find a more steady supply at some point."

"I know a place we can get weapons," Ryuji offered. "It's pretty cool, I've been there a few times before."

"How much we lookin' at?" Ranma asked, checking his wallet.

"Don't worry about it, I got a bit of extra cash," the former blond waved it off.

"Okay, then you guys get the weapons today and we can try the palace again tomorrow?" Ann asked.

"Not tomorrow," Ranma shook his head. "Guardian cracked down on me after the window thing. I've gotta work for him three nights a week."

"Does he own the shop you mentioned?" Ryuji asked.

"Yeah," Ranma nodded. "A coffee shop near the station in Yongen-Jaya."

"We can at least meet for lunch," Ann offered. "I'll let you know if I manage to talk to Shiho."

The two boys nodded as the girl stood, slinging her bag over her shoulder and getting a muffled protest from its contents.

"We should probably get to that weapon place," Ranma said, standing and gathering his meal rappers.

"Yeah, it's pretty close to here, c'mon," Ryuji said, leading the way out of the restaurant.

HR.

When they entered the store, the hairs on the back of Ranma's neck were already raised. The place was pretty suspicious, stuck down an alley that itself was off of a narrow side street, but the atmosphere inside was also unusually oppressive. Ryuji made his way almost directly for the counter, but for his part, the pigtailed martial artist ambled slowly along the shelves on the other side of the room, one eye on his friend while the other ranged over an eclectic mix of camouflage patterned clothing and helmets, survival supplies, weapons and hobby magazines.

As the formerly blond boy leaned up against the counter, Ranma grabbed a magazine from a rack and pretended to leaf through it.

"Hey," Ryuji said, trying to sound casual. "I'm looking to buy a few toy guns."

The attendant behind the counter, a slumped man with a cap that hid his eyes, grunted. "What exactly are you lookin' for, kid?"

Ryuji stopped for a moment, and then glanced over to Ranma. "At least one pistol, a Colt or something? Maybe one where you can eject the clip?"

"You should probably get out of here, kid," the man grumbled.

"Huh? Why?" Ryuji demanded.

"First," The man started, leaning a bit over the counter and holding up a finger. "It's a magazine, not a clip, which many colt weapons don't take. Second, I sell models, not toys. And third? Making a model realistic enough to have a working, ejectable magazine would be extremely illegal."

"But you could do it…" Ryuji said slowly, and the book Ranma was holding twitched as he restrained himself from facepalming.

"Get… out…" The man behind the counter said, irritably. Ryuji looked from him, to Ranma and back before rapidly making his escape. "Aren't you goin' with your friend?"

"Huh?" Ranma looked up. "Don't got any idea who that guy is."

"...sure," the attendant said, giving Ranma a long, dubious look. Checking the title of the magazine he'd been reading, he nodded and decided to keep it before taking note of a couple of other things he could find useful.

"Hey, are these from before the last revision?" He asked, holding up a pack of JSDF marked rations.

"After," the counter guy grunted with a raised eyebrow, and Ranma hurriedly put them back. Picking up a dull aluminum machete with a muted sheen, the pigtailed boy gave it a few gentle test swings before nodding.

"Think I'll go with this stuff," the teenager said, laying his finds out on the counter. The attendant looked them over, and then raised an eyebrow at the magazine, pulling it out from under a box of matches. "Sure about this?"

The back of the thing had said something about basic firearms facts and maintenance instructions, but on the front was the title "This is my Raifu," and a picture of a blonde haired woman drawn in anime style, wearing a generic military uniform with a very short skirt and stockings, rifle leaned against her shoulder.

"Uh…" The boy muttered, sliding the book out and rather thankful that no one else had noticed. "Alright, I'll admit that. That's a mistake."

"You'll probably want this one," The man said, sliding over a different issue of the same magazine, this one showing another cute anime girl, this time with braided ash blonde hair, wearing a white shirt, brown frilly skirt dress and holding some type of rifle. She also had chocolate in her mouth.

"Those Otaku have surprising attention to detail sometimes. Just don't listen to anyone's opinion on what actually makes a good weapon."

"For real?" Ranma asked.

"Depends," The man shrugged. "But I wouldn't be carryin' this one if it said anything too stupid. Honestly, they have good reviews, and I've sold more models since they started releasing." Ranma nodded a little dubiously, but tossed the book on the pile.

"Thanks," The martial artist smiled, thumbing through his wallet as the man pointed at the cash register's display. The other only responded with yet another grunt.

HR.

"Huh, you actually managed to buy somethin'?" Ryuji asked, as Ranma met up with him back on the main street, near the corner.

"Got a weapon that should work better for ya than a lead pipe, but no guns," Ranma explained. "Got something that might help me know what to get next time, though."

The former blond snorted. "Eff, man, I don't know why he didn't just help me get something. Guy's a jerk."

Ranma shrugged. "I get the feeling he's got enough going on that he can afford to tell some customers to get lost. What're you doin' down here, anyway?"

"Nothing," Ryuji shook his head. "There was just this old politician guy making a speech on the corner for a while. Actually sounded like he didn't have his head shoved up his ass, either, but some guys came along and heckled him so he ditched."

"I'll take your word for it," Ranma said, neutrally. "Anything else we need?"

"The cat didn't mention anything else," Ryuji shrugged. "I've got a model SMG that should work for Ann next time we go into the dungeon so I can get my shotgun back."

"Yeah… not sure that's gunna happen," Ranma shook his head trying not to grin. "I guess I'll see you in school tomorrow, then."

"Yeah, see you then," Ryuji agreed, before the two parted ways.

HR.

Ranma stood back, studying the items arranged on the side of his cluttered desk. A pocket knife, set of matches, and small aluminum cooking set, along with an uncomfortably thin tarp. It wasn't much, but at least he now had some approximation of camping gear, and a slight itching at the back of his mind was easier to ignore. Given how confidently he'd declared that he'd have just left a few days ago, and how close he'd actually come, imagining trying to survive in the wild without at least something made him twitch.

Turning away from the meager assemblage of gear, he picked up his journal, flipping through it. He found the next empty page and picked up the pen nearby, beginning to write.

"04/17. Met up with some friends, made up nicknames, went shopping, and got some camping supplies."

He paused for a moment, and then blinked, scribbling one more note on the page. "Got to see what my work uniform looks like." turning back to the desk, he grabbed a couple of things off of it and headed downstairs, flicking the lights in the kitchen on. Spotting the closet next to the supply room, he tested the knob and found it locked.

"Yeah, you're not springin' this on me," he muttered, having flashbacks of a certain other restaurant job. Taking the tools he'd grabbed off of the table, he started carefully working on the lock. About thirty seconds later, it clicked open and he pulled the door open. Inside of the cramped little closet, several aprons were hung in various different colors, along with a heavy grey overcoat, various hats, and the only thing that looked remotely like a 'uniform.'

"Why am I not surprised?" The pigtailed martial artist grumbled irritably, pulling the fairly conservative black and white maid dress out from behind the overcoat. He held it up, turning it around a few times and inspecting it. "At least the skirt's not that bad…" He caught himself, and shook his head. When had that become a normal thought? Still, "...This thing's gunna need some work."

Turning, he closed the door and headed back upstairs, uniform in tow.

HR.

"No, it was weird, he just showed up like nothing happened on Saturday," One girl said, as Ranma restrained the urge to tap her on the shoulder and comment that he was standing right behind them.

"After what I heard happened friday?" Her friend asked incredulously. "I mean, he got headbutted into the ground!"

The first girl giggled. "Well, he is the spike canceler, after all. That was just a really unusual serve."

"Yuka, that's… in really poor taste," her friend shook her head slowly.

"Oh come on, you saw Kamoshida's face on thursday, right?" Her friend asked, giggling.

"That's not why it's… oh…" The loud girl's friend frantically grabbed her arm and made a motion with her head. Ranma followed the gesture himself, noting the tall black haired teacher standing next to the school gate, arms crossed and expression neutral.

"Uh…. ah…" Yuka giggled nervously, shuffling a bit away from the teacher as she and her friend climbed the school's front steps.

Ranma was about to follow, when Kamoshida put out a hand. "Mr. Saotome," he said, his neutral expression breaking into a slightly forced smile. "I wanted to talk to you."

"Yeah?" Ranma asked, coming to a stop and turning to him.

"It's about your lack of participation in gym class," the older man explained. "It's important that our students stay happy and healthy. I'd like to have a meeting with you after class today."

Ranma cursed internally but did his best to keep the annoyance off of his face. There was almost certainly something going on here, but he had no idea what. Still, he had an out, at least for the time being. "Can't do that, sir."

"This isn't optional, Mr. Saotome," the teacher said, his voice now somewhat tense as well.

"I know," Ranma nodded. "But I can't do it tonight. Got work at my guardian's place."

"I see," the teacher said, seeming to calm down a little. "Then I'll need to see you tomorrow, before classes."

"Yeah, sure," Ranma agreed. "Anything I should bring?"

"No, that will be fine," the taller man said, stepping aside. "Now you should get to class."

HR.

"The effsh ey want wiff you?!" Ryuji asked through a mouthful of lunch bread. He, Ann, and Ranma were sitting at the desks on the roof eating their lunch together.

"That's disgusting…" Ann muttered, raising a hand to shield her eyes from the former blond's eating habits.

Ryuji just rolled his eyes, and then raised one hand before gulping massively. "I thought you already had the principal's permission for the whole gym skipping thing?"

"I don't really get it either," Ranma admitted.

"Think maybe he's still mad at you completely humiliating him on thursday?" Ann asked, her tone indicating that she wasn't really asking a question.

"C'mon, that was pretty great," Ryuji chipped in.

"I'm not denying that," the girl smiled a bit before her expression became serious again. "That's also why he's probably not letting it go."

"Okay, so I'm gunna get yelled at, made to run track or somethin'," Ranma dismissed.

"Good luck with that," Ryuji scowled. "'Course he could get you to do something that needs actual strength, then you're screwed."

"Huh?" Ann blinked, as Ranma winced.

"I've kinda noticed that Ranma's avoided liftin' any more than a few pounds, and always got me or Morgana to do anything that needed any real power," the punk explained.

"Yeah," Ranma frowned. "That would be a problem."

The other boy looked expectant for a moment, and then sighed. "So…. not gunna tell us why that's a thing? I mean, you're some backflipping martial arts master, but you've never thrown a punch. Well, I mean, you did once, and that fake Kamoshida didn't even move his head."

Ranma took a quick look around. He knew it was stupid, they were on the roof, but he couldn't help it. He blinked when he actually did spot someone, though they were standing at the other side of the building, tending several flower beds, and weren't close enough to hear.

"It's kinda part of why I'm here," he began reluctantly. "I pissed off my old martial arts master, this little troll named Happosai. He used a special moxibustion point that sealed away my strength, and I was out lookin' for a cure when I stumbled across that guy I told you about before."

"Guy?" Ann asked, puzzled.

"I'll explain later," Ryuji waved her question off. "So wait, you've got some magic martial arts thing keeping you from using your strength? But you smashed through a window on friday. "

"It's… kinda hard to explain," Ranma shrugged. "I did some experimentation, and it only seems to kick in when I'm thinking about doing something that requires more than a certain amount of strength. I did the window thing by just ignorin' the fact that my jump would hit the window in the middle."

"That… doesn't make any sense…" Ann had her eyes scrunched up in confusion.

"I know," Ranma admitted. "The thing works off my chi, somehow, so I think intent's got a lot to do with it."

"Your Ki? Like, dragonball stuff?" Ryuji asked incredulously.

"No, not like Dragonball stuff," Ranma said, obviously annoyed. "But I ain't explaining chi manipulation to you. I barely understand half of it."

"Wait, so you're going to see Kamoshida, and you're literally weaker than a child," Ann said, eyes narrowed. "I… don't think I like this idea."

"There's not really much I can do about it," Ranma responded. "If I don't show up to a meeting requested by a teacher I'm gunna get detention with him, at best."

"I guess…" the blonde said, reluctantly. "Just be careful, alright?"

"Yeah, I'll be fine," Ranma waved the girl's concern off as the bell rang loudly from nearby. "We should probably get back to class."

"Crap, already?" Ryuji squawked, picking up the half eaten bread in front of him and stuffing it in his mouth as the other two packed up to head off.

HR.

"Where the hell is the kid?" Sojiro muttered to himself, watching as two patrons left the cafe. Ranma had returned home about fifteen minutes earlier, and when the older man had asked if he was ready for his shift, he'd said that he just had to get changed first. "How long does it take to change out of your school uniform? Freaking slacker…"

"I am sorry for the delay, master."

"Huh?" Sojiro blinked, looking up from the glass he'd started washing while he was muttering. Before him, a short red haired girl was standing, hands clasped in front of her stomach over a frilled white apron, eyes cast slightly down. "Wh… what?" He choked, glass falling to the counter with a clatter. The girl's hand suddenly lashed out, catching the item before it could roll off of the edge and setting it down gently, before she returned to her previous stance.

"Is something wrong, master?" the girl tilted her head, the white headdress she wore shifting with the motion. "I am wearing the uniform correctly, am I not?"

"R-Ranma?" Why wasn't his voice rising above a croak? The girl in front of him looked like his houseguest's female form in every way save the unusual uniform, but her attitude was completely different, and something in the back of his mind rebelled at associating the two.

"Yes, master," the girl nodded.

"Kid… stop calling me that, please!"

"Had ya goin there, huh?" The transformation was so abrupt that it almost gave the bearded man whiplash. Nothing physically changed, but the downcast look, slight forward lean and demurely held hands were gone, replaced with a shit eating grin and a slight lean to the side.

"What… why?!" Sojiro growled, one hand landing hard on the counter.

"You did say this was my uniform, right?" Ranma asked. "It was the only thing other than aprons and a few coats I found in that closet."

"I… Uh…" The cafe owner dug through his rather vague memory of the night Ranma had told him his life story. "That… that was a joke!" He was honestly a bit surprised that he'd remembered the maid uniform was there, given his mental state at the time. It'd been a leftover from some students' ill-fated class project a couple of years earlier that he'd just never bothered getting rid of.

Ranma frowned and raised an eyebrow suspiciously. "So… this isn't the uniform?"

"No," Sojiro shook his head. "The uniform here's just an apron to keep your clothes clean and a name badge. In fact, could you go change out of that?"

The redhead put her hands on her hips, frown getting deeper. "Y'know, I spent two and a half hours alterin' this thing so it'd fit last night."

"What?! Why?" Sojiro asked, bringing his hand up to rub his eyebrows. He still had customers here, and this was not a conversation he ever wanted to have in front of them.

"Because if I didn't I'd have looked like a kid playing dress-up," the redhead returned. "So, I'm gonna wear it anyways. It'll probably help bring you more customers."

"That's not the kind of customers I'd be interested in," Sojiro growled, eyes narrowing.

"Excuse me," a firm voice interrupted before Ranma could respond. The two glanced over to one of the tables near the window, where a dark haired woman in a white coat sat holding up an empty coffee cup. "I'd like another cup."

"Hai Hai!" Sojiro really wished that the kid would stop doing that. In less than a second she'd turned away from him, bouncing cheerfully towards the table. "What would you like in your coffee, Ms. Doctor?"

The woman lifted her other hand to her mouth, covering it for a moment before delivering her order with obvious traces of amusement still in her tone. "We're talking about this later!" The cafe's owner snapped, getting a cheerful salute from his new employee. She was doing this to mess with him now. He knew it.

HR.

Sojiro really wished that he had something to complain about. Well, he did. His houseguest was gliding around his coffee shop in a maid's outfit, gently flirting with customers, but the biggest problem he had was how damned good at it she was. She'd dropped the extremely formal speech patterns she'd started with, but was still playing the part of a bubbly, cheerful, eager-to-please waitress. Meanwhile, she'd taken each order with perfect precision and memory, delivered cups of coffee and plates of food quickly and without spilling, and despite her enthusiasm been unfailingly polite.

"Who are you and what did you do to that punk kid?" He muttered, too low for anyone to hear or at least he thought.

"This ain't my first time doin' this," Ranma replied softly as she picked up a cup of prepared coffee next to him. "And you don't wanna meet the ol' ghoul who trained me."

The older man was interrupted from his response when the dark haired woman who'd been sitting near the window walked up to the counter, fiddling with her wallet. "How much do I owe you, Sojiro?"

He rattled off her total, and she nodded before producing the money. "Quite the interesting new addition you've got here," she nodded at Ranma. "The atmosphere's a lot more cheerful and energetic."

"Thank you, Miss Doctor!" Ranma said cutely, before bowing slightly.

"I'll keep that in mind, Ms. Takemi," Sojiro grumbled. Why did he think that someone, somewhere, was laughing their ass off at him.

HR.

04/18. First day of work. Strangely it was fun. Gym teacher still isn't a fan.

HR.

The sound of water dripping off of pipes and hitting the floor roused Ranma from his sleep on his uncomfortable cot. Wait, cot? "Crap, not this again…" he muttered, as his eyes opened and he gazed up at the ceiling of his tiny cell.

"Inmate! Get up!" Righty barked, before taking her baton to the bars as if she were the world's worst drummer.

"Your sister's way less annoying…" the pigtailed boy muttered as he dragged himself to his feet and over to the bars.

"Thank you, inmate," the other girl spoke. "But flattery will not assist in your rehabilitation."

"You guys are still on about that?" Ranma asked, irritated. "I mean, I sorta get the thief bit now, but it kinda would've helped if you'd been a little less cryptic."

"It is important that you take certain steps for yourself," the Nose's deep voice came from where he was slouching at his desk, as usual. "However, now that you have we may-"

"Wow, something's seriously wrong with your voice. Get a case of nasal congestion out there?" Ranma blinked. That hadn't been his voice, but at the same time it had. It'd sounded sort of like his female form, and had come from a cell a bit to his left. Craning his neck and trying to get a better angle, he still couldn't see anything of the cell next to his.

"Who's that?" He asked,confused.

"Me? I'm Pixie!" The voice chirped. "I'm the Persona you've been using for the past few days. By the way, the maid thing? Genius!" She giggled.

"Uh… thanks?" Ranma returned, uncertainly.

"The other prisoners will be silent!" Righty snapped, now banging on Pixie's cell.

"Bleeeeh!" Pixie responded, and Ranma could practically see her pulling down a lower eyelid with a stuck out tongue.

Righty's uncovered eye twitched, but she resisted the urge to respond to that and ignored her, stepping back in front of Ranma's cell.

"Yes, well…" The Nose said, clearing his throat. "As I was saying, I am prepared to allow you use of one of the Velvet Room's services, namely the fusion of Personas."

"Fusion?" Ranma asked, a certain comment of Ryuji's coming to mind, though he refused to think about it.

"Yes," The man behind the desk nodded. "It is a method of combining two Personas in order to gain a new one of a different Arcana, with much more power. Girls, prepare the demonstration."

"You know what they're talking about?" Ranma asked, aiming his question to his apparently talkative new neighbor.

"It's pretty much as he said," she answered. "I'll- Ack, hey! Not so rough! Watch the wings!"

Ranma looked puzzled, as Righty dragged the squirming little fairy from her cell. He blinked as he caught sight of her. She looked almost as she had when he'd met her in Kamoshida's palace, save her hair lightening to match his own female form's, a little pigtail hanging down her back, and her leotard changing from blue to red.

"Why do you look like that now?" Ranma asked.

"Not really sure," The Pixie responded, trying to wave dismissively. "Would you let me… hey!" She yelped as the quiet warden girl wheeled a large wooden stand into the room, a sharp blade suspended over a hole where the Persona's head was supposed to go.

"A guillotine? Seriously?!" Pixie squawked.

"Hey, uh… the hell are you guys doin?" Ranma demanded.

"This is how fusion is done," The Nose said, as Pixie was secured into her stocks.

"Yeah, if you're really creepy," She chipped in.

"Don't fear, my friend." A new voice, this one sounding calm and dignified came from Ranma's other side as the figure of d'Éon walked behind Lefty.

"The hell with that!" Ranma barked. "I don't know why you're suddenly bein' talkative, but you're supposed to be part of my… personality or whatever, right? Havin' your head chopped off seems like a terrible idea."

The Persona in the blue fancy hat tilted its head. "I simply had very little to say to you before," they answered. "And I do admit that the method is personally a bit distasteful."

"Yeah," Ranma decided. "This ain't happening."

"Excuse me?" The Nose asked, his voice raised slightly in surprise.

"These are my Personas, yeah?" Ranma asked. "I don't want 'em fused, or whatever."

"Are you an idiot, Inmate? You're going to need to fuse in order to create stronger Personas!" Righty yelled.

"Or I can just train," Ranma said condescendingly.

"This may not be the wisest course," d'Éon advised.

Ranma rolled his eyes. "Story of my life." Seeing the dubious looks on almost everyone's faces, he continued. "Look, even if chopping the heads off of bits of my mind didn't seem like a terrible idea, it's also the quick and easy way. That almost never works, and even if it does, I ain't too keen on growing a mustache."

"A… mustache?" Righty asked, blinking at him.

Ranma waved a hand. "Long story."

"I follow your logic. It may be counterproductive to your Rehabilitation to…" Lefty looked at the guillotines briefly as she spoke. "Fast track the process."

The Nose seemed almost to tremble for a moment, before sighing. "Your decision is foolish, and virtually guarantees the failure of your rehabilitation, however it is your decision to make. Caroline, Justine, return those Personas to their cells."

"Yes, Master." The two girls said in unison, each leading one of the two Personas back to their cells. As Pixie was locked in, she stuck a tongue out at Righty, who slammed the door a bit more firmly than was necessary.

"Inmate," Lefty said. "We are still responsible for helping in your Rehabilitation. It may take us a short time, but we will come up with a new method of doing so."

"Uh… thanks?" Ranma asked, uncertainly.

"Because that isn't ominous or anything…" Pixie muttered.

"It's time for you to go, Inmate! I hope you realize how much extra work you've made for us!" Righty crossed her arms, glaring at Ranma as he began to fade out. He was about to respond when everything went black.

HR.

"...huh…" Ranma said, as he approached the school the next morning. He'd actually done his best to get there early, if only because dodging a meeting with a teacher would probably be more trouble than it would be worth, so the sight of Ann Takamaki standing there, a gym bag held in her hands surprised him. "Hey," he called, approaching her.

"Hey," she returned, following him as he stepped into the building. A few steps on, she offered her bag. "Take this."

"Huh?" Ranma repeated, but stretched out a hand. Fortunately, the bag wasn't big enough to be an issue. Curiously, he tugged it open, only to be greeted by the face of a rather annoyed looking cat glaring up at him. "Morgana?" He asked, glancing back at Ann in confusion.

"I don't want you going in there alone," she explained.

"Ain't much he can really do, is there?" the pigtailed martial artist asked, twitching as a paw poked out of the bag and took a swipe at his hand.

"Maybe not," the blonde girl shook her head. "Just… please. I'm really not a fan of you going in there by yourself, especially after what you told us yesterday."

"You're… really shaken up about this, huh?" Ranma stopped, shifting the bag over his shoulder so that it rested against his side. "Don't worry, it'll be fine."

"I know it probably will," Ann's shoulders slumped. "It's just… I've gotten ONE text message from Shiho since saturday, and that was… not great. I just…" She grunted in frustration.

Ranma raised his arms, palms out. "Yeah, I got it." He turned, heading for the athletic building, but then stopped and turned back. "Thanks."

Ann smiled at him and turned to go her own way.

"Man, it's cramped in here.." he heard Morgana mutter, and gave the bag a slight nudge as he zipped it back up.

HR -

Finding Mr. Kamoshida's office wasn't that hard, as it was one of very few normal rooms in the athletics building. Walking up to it, Ranma knocked firmly on the door and waited for a moment before the teacher's confident voice called him in. Opening the door, he stepped through into a fairly disorganized room, a couple of desks on one side with a large open space in the middle. Kamoshida was sitting at one of the desks against the wall, next to a small minifridge, and was just putting a pen and sheet of paper down.

"Ah, Saotome-kun," he said with a warm smile. It was actually a bit scary how genuine it looked, given what Ranma had seen of the man's personality previously. "Why don't you sit down over there?" The tall man gestured at another desk, this one covered in papers and with a laptop on it.

Ranma did so slowly, but kept the bag over a shoulder, resting it in his lap. "You wanted to talk to me about missin' gym?" he asked, hoping to get the meeting over quickly.

"Indeed," the teacher nodded. "Exercise is important for a student's healthy school life, and I've done a little reading into your past scholastic performance. I actually found it a little strange that you're exempt from gym, given it was one of the few areas you seemed to excel in before."

"Yeah, well," Ranma winced. "They figured some stuff would be a bit more of a problem here."

"Yes," Kamoshida nodded, swigging from a bottle on his desk before shuffling through his papers. "I've read that changing with the other students could cause you problems. Still, exercise is important. Have you considered an extracurricular club? You could change on your own beforehand."

"I ain't sure that'd be a good idea either," Ranma shifted uncomfortably. He wasn't sure what the older man was getting at, though he was sure he was getting at something. "The school doesn't really have any sports teams I'm interested in."

"It's a shame to hear that," Kamoshida said, standing and glancing at several photos pinned to a board near the door. "Though given the situation you're in, I feel that it might be necessary to insist."

"You're… forcin' me to join a club?" Ranma asked, incredulously.

"It would merely be a replacement for your physical education credit," the teacher explained.

"And you got one in mind." The pigtailed boy's eyes narrowed. He'd seen this sort of thing before. From this teacher, as a matter of fact. For a moment, his thoughts flicked back to the confrontation between Ann and the older man in the hallway.

"I do," the taller man nodded. "Given your performance in the game on thursday, I was thinking about the volleyball team."

"The wha…" Ranma's eyes widened. He hadn't been expecting that one. "You didn't seem too thrilled when I was given' advice to one of the players before."

"Not that Volleyball team," Kamoshida answered, flicking the bottle he was holding in one hand in a quick arc. Ranma tried to dodge, but given his usual luck he ended up failing, the strap of his bag catching on a chair arm and jerking him back downward as the liquid hit, causing a shift in gender.

"You gotta be kidding me," Ranma said flatly, brushing some of the red hair out of her eyes.

"Well, one of our key members did recently have to leave the school," Kamoshida replied. As he spoke, Ranma started to notice something. The way the man was speaking and moving had gradually changed, and not in a way she was too thrilled with. His eyes roamed up and down her body hungrily, and he stepped a little closer, his smile changing slightly.

"Y-you can't be serious." Ranma knew that she was repeating herself, but couldn't really help it. "First off, I ain't even really a girl."

"You look enough like one to me," the teacher responded, his eyes now focussing in on the most visible evidence of that fact in the il-fitting boys school uniform. "You'd make a great addition to the club," he continued in a slightly softer tone than he'd used before.

"You've more than demonstrated your athletic abilities, and the girls' team has been lagging behind this year. A member like you would really boost their performance. Of course, given your… previous issues, you would have to prove to me that you were committed to the team's success."

Ranma wanted to repeat herself once more, as her skin began to crawl, and she heard a soft shifting and slight muttering from her pack. "And if I refuse?" She asked, glaring at the older man, a treacherous part of her mind popping up that urged her to ask if she'd have to prove her commitment the same way Shiho had.

"Well," the teacher said, slowly, shrugging. "Then I'd have to express my concerns about your situation, and note that you had refused to take steps to remedy it."

"So I'd be expelled," Ranma said, flatly.

The taller man didn't respond, just crossing his arms.

"I don't think…" Ranma started, carefully untangling her bag and standing. She'd intended to head for the door, but abruptly realized that the gym teacher was now between her and it. "I… I gotta think about this," she finally said, trying to ignore the tension building in her neck and shoulders. "Can I let ya know later?"

"I don't see how this is such a hard decision," Kamoshida answered, as he casually stepped a little bit to the left. The tension in Ranma's neck abruptly exploded into a cold shiver. He'd just shifted to keep himself between her and the door, and his leering expression wasn't going anywhere. Ann's worried expression abruptly came to mind, as did the fact that, given their positions and her strength, there was no way she was getting past Mr. Kamoshida.

Her eyes flicked to the window. Yes, she could get out that way, the same way she had on friday, but smashing through a teacher's office window for no reason was as sure a road to expulsion as any other, and it'd already been pretty clearly demonstrated that the school wasn't going to take a student's word against Kamoshida's.

"Saotome-kun?" The teacher asked, his look slightly impatient.

"I… I've gotta go to class," Ranma croaked, her mouth dry, knowing that the excuse probably wasn't going to work.

"I'll write you a note, if necessary," the teacher countered, before reaching a hand out to clasp around her shoulder. "Are you-"

Ranma leapt back across the room, actually landing on the other side of the desk. If he got a grip on her, she would be basically stuck. "As I was saying, is something wrong?"

'I'll say somethin's wrong,' Ranma thought, her mind running around in circles, before something clicked. "No, nothing's wrong," she said, slowly, trying to do her best to enter a calm state, even with how her heart was racing. "I really do gotta go, though." As she spoke, she pushed all of the frustration and mounting terror she was feeling outward, imagining it as a wave of energy emanating from her body. She hadn't actually used the technique she was trying to perform before, but she had seen it done.

Continuing to concentrate, the pigtailed martial artist stepped forward. "I need to leave." Another step, and this time Kamoshida seemed to flinch. Again, this time she felt another shifting from her bag and heard a soft mewling noise. "Get out of my way." Another step.

"R-right…" Kamoshida's face was now noticeably pale and sweating, the hand he raised in a conciliatory motion shaking slightly. The man was still smiling, but it seemed to be far more strained than the confident one he wore only moments ago.

"W-well" the teacher's voice cracked slightly as he started. "I will end this meeting for now. But think about it! You'll have to make up that credit sometime, and if I don't see action soon I'm going to have to bring it up at the next teacher's meeting."

Ranma nodded, but also stepped forward again. This time the teacher's resolve seemed to break, and he rapidly shuffled to the side. The redhead immediately moved to the door, keeping a wary eye on her opponent the whole time, before stepping through and slamming it behind her.

She only got about ten feet down the hall before her legs gave out underneath her. "Damn, the old freak makes that look way easier," she panted.

"Dude!" Ranma heard two sets of rapidly moving footsteps, before a hand landed on her shoulder. She flinched, head whipping up, only to sigh in relief when she saw Ryuji's concerned face. "What the eff happened to you?!"

"I, uh-" She wasn't sure how to answer. What had actually happened? Mr. Kamoshida had tried to blackmail and intimidate her into joining the girls' volleyball team, and probably into sleeping with him too. Abruptly she felt even more tired. "Nothin'," she said, slowly, struggling to her feet.

"Nothing?!" The outraged yell didn't come from either of them, but rather from the pigtailed girl's bag. "That wasn't nothing!"

"Morgana…" Ranma muttered, before unzipping the bag. The irate cat's head poked out of it, whiskers twitching.

"Were you trying to kill me? I thought I was gonna die!" The cat complained, rubbing his face.

"Oh, uh… sorry," Ranma shook her head, a little sluggish. "I didn't really know how to target it."

"What did you do, exactly?" The animal demanded.

"It was… one of my school's old master's techniques," Ranma explained. "He used a sorta intimidation aura, but I wasn't feelin' all that intimidating at the time, so I used what I had."

"Wait, so…" Morgana said, his voice trailing slightly. "Th-that was how you were feeling?"

"Okay, what happened?" Ann asked, her tone demanding an answer, from where she was standing next to Ryuji. "Why are you a girl now?"

"I… I think he wanted me to replace Shiho," Ranma said in a quiet voice.

"I'm going to kill him." Ann flatly stated, taking a step towards the P.E. Office.

Ryuji's arm lashed out, grasping Ann's wrist firmly, and he ducked out of the way of the punch she tried to follow up with to his face. "Takamaki, calm down! You know that ain't gunna work! Believe me I've tried!"

"Yeah," The blonde agreed, seeming to deflate like a balloon. "God… This palace thing had better work."

"Oh, it will," Morgana assured. "But now I think we've got a time limit."

"Huh?" Ryuji asked.

"Kamoshida said something about taking action by the next teacher's meeting," the cat explained.

"Crap, that's only a bit over a week away!" Ryuji growled. "We're gunna go back in there again today!"

"Don't think I can, sorry," Ranma shook her head. "I never actually tried that trick before. Still feelin' kinda light-headed."

"You look it, too," Ann agreed. "You're barely staying on your feet."

Ranma shook her head again. "I can try sleepin' through a couple classes, but I'm not sure that'll be enough to fight in a palace."

"Well, you could try sleeping in the nurses' office, but given that the Nurse probably doesn't really care, it is probably best to go home." Ann noted.

"Nah, Sojiro'll kill me if I do that, I'll be…" Ranma stepped forward, and then had to brace herself on a wall.

"Look, I'm taking you home," The blonde decided. She took Ranma's free arm and wrapped it over her shoulder to help support the exhausted girl. "Ryuji, can you cover for us? Ms. Kawakami won't need much convincing."

"I can go," Ryuji offered. "I'm already the school delinquent."

"And you've already missed enough classes," Ann shot back. "I've got this."

"Got'cha," Ryuji nodded, before clasping Ranma's free shoulder. "Rest up, okay?"

"Yeah," the redhead nodded before the two girls started down the hall.

"So, are you going to carry me now?" Morgana asked from the bag on the floor. Ryuji just sighed, zipped the bag up, and threw it over his shoulder. He chose to ignore the squeal of pain and complaints as he headed towards the second year classrooms.

HR.

Sojiro looked up as he heard the bell over the door of Café Le Blanc chiming. It'd been a slow day, the only ones he'd had in so far had been the old couple who stopped on their way to the bath house and Doc Takemi, so he welcomed any customers he could get. His enthusiasm abruptly died, however, when he spotted his current houseguest, in female form, walking through the door, being helped along by a tall blonde girl in the school's girls uniform. "The hell?" He muttered, dropping the cloth he'd been rubbing down the counter with. "Kid?"

"Uh… hey," Ranma said, slowly, glancing over at him with heavy eyes.

"Yeah, just to be clear, is this really where Ranma lives?" The other girl asked.

"Yeah, this is the place," Sojiro answered, stepping out from behind the counter. "What happened?"

"It's kind of hard to explain," the unknown girl said, a little uncertain.

"He knows mosta what's goin' on," Ranma offered.

"Oh," the other sighed in relief. "There was… a confrontation with someone. Ranma used some strange martial arts technique to get away, but he's never done it before so it tired him out."

"So, you got into a fight?" Sojiro's eyes narrowed.

"No, no!" The blonde girl said, hurriedly. "It wasn't Ranma's fault!"

"I'm gunna need a better explanation than that," The older man growled.

"Look, I understand this is kind of suspicious," The more coherent girl explained. "Just give her some space for a few hours, please."

Sojiro paused for a few moments, noting a certain choice of words, and then sighed. "Fine," he grunted eventually. "But you'd better get out of here and back to class."

"Right," The girl agreed. Ranma took her arm off of the other's shoulder, heading tiredly up to her room, before her friend turned to the door.

"Oh, and… you… Flip the sign when you leave," Sojiro ordered.

"It's Ann," the girl said, throwing him an annoyed glare. When she got to the door, however, she blinked. "Wait, you want it closed?"

"Yeah, I know what I said," Sojiro waved her off. When she'd left the store and the bell stopped jingling, he opened the fridge, taking a specific bottle from it and pouring a carefully measured amount from it before putting it back.

"Great job, Sakura," he muttered, taking a gulp from the glass. "You knew better. You KNEW better." He slumped down in one of the booths.

"Just had to take in the kid, huh? He'll be well behaved, he just wants to finish the year." He took another gulp. "Well, I mean he HAS been fairly well behaved… for a punk, shit just keeps happening to him. I mean, I've done such a great job with... nevermind. And now, I'm talking to myself."

He managed to make it a full forty-five minutes before he snapped. He hadn't even gotten anymore booze, though he had made three cups of coffee. "Kid, I'm comin' up!" He yelled, knocking loudly on the wall next to the stairwell.

When he got to the top of the stairs, he spotted the kid laying on the futon in the corner of the room, curled up in a ball facing the wall. "Kid?"

"Yeah, I'm here," Ranma said, gradually uncurling and sitting up. She rubbed at her eyes, which Sojiro now realized were slightly red and puffy. He was about to dismiss that as tiredness when he noticed some faded tracks down her cheeks. "Have you been crying?"

"Pathetic, ain't it?" Ranma asked quietly, leaning forward and gripping her knees with her hands.

"I got some hot water?" It was more a question than anything else, as Sojiro offered the glass in his left hand. Ranma didn't bother moving to take it, just continuing to stare down at her knees.

The room fell into an awkward silence for a few moments, during which Sojiro set the water down on the shelf next to Ranma's journal. "You wanna tell me what happened?" This was a lot less of a demanding growl than he'd expected when he first came up the stairs.

"I got my hopes up," Ranma replied, quietly. "I let myself figure somethin about this situation wasn't total shit, so the world reminded me what was up."

"Alright… but can we get a bit less abstract?" Sojiro asked, resisting the urge to add any other snide commentary.

"Right," Ranma started, "So I was called to the P.E. teacher's office..."

HR.

"So, we go back in the second Ranma's up for it," Ryuji muttered, restlessly fidgeting with his hands as he and Ann sat in the courtyard eating lunch.

"I'd like to go in before that," the girl admitted, "But it would be stupid to run in under powered, and Ranma seems like the only one of us who really knows what he's doing."

"Hey, what am I?" Morgana objected from within the bag that Ryuji had given back to Ann as soon as she'd returned to school. "Still, I can see why it would be a good idea for all of us to go."

"I… Hey, what's that?" Ryuji changed topics, standing up and glancing over to where several students near the door to the school were glancing in at the hall and chatting nervously. "Huh, who's that guy?"

"That guy?" Ann asked, following the former punk's gaze, spotting an older man in a white fedora striding quickly down the hall towards the faculty offices. "Wait, is that…"

"Huh?" Ryuji asked, but Ann didn't respond, scooping up her lunch and Morgana's bag before jogging away. "Hey, wait!"

The two got out into the hall just as the man turned into the principal's office. The secretary yelled something at him that he apparently ignored, as a loud knock could be heard even as far away as they were. There was some slightly more muffled conversation, before the sound of a door slamming.

"What was that about?" Ryuji asked, looking oddly at Ann.

"That was Ranma's guardian," the blonde girl said, a little shaken. "I guess Ranma told him what happened."

"Damn. Too bad it won't work," Ryuji sighed. "Mom basically tried the same thing."

"She did?" Ann asked, surprised.

Ryuji nodded. "Over what happened with me and the track team. Basically got told that Kamoshida's untouchable and it was my fault for pickin' a fight."

"Sounds about right," the girl sighed as the students around them slowly began drifting back to their prior activities, several whispering to each other as they went.

"I effin' hate this," Ryuji grumbled as he turned as well. "Look, if Ranma ain't ready tomorrow, I'm goin' in anyways."

"Ryuji, that's insane!" Ann objected. "You said it yourself, remember?"

"Yeah, well, if I don't I think I'm gunna try and deal with things out here," the boy replied, darkly, one fist clenched at his side. "I… gotta get back to class. Talk to ya later."

"Yeah, see you later," Ann agreed. "Just… call me if you plan on doing anything stupid, alright?"

Ryuji nodded, and the two parted ways.

END.

...Why have mobile phone game references become a running gag in this fic? Because it's easy! And we play too many of them. Yes, the magazine in the surplus store was a GFL joke. We don't know why, it just sorta happened.

We hope you enjoyed the chapter and eagerly await feedback. Thanks for reading!