AM I SMART? RANMA'S DECLARATION OF WOMANHOOD

Akane nearly wept with relief as the redheaded girl's eyelids began to flutter. As mad as she had been at her fiancé, she had never wanted to hurt him like that. When she closed her eyes, she could still hear the sickening crack as his head hit one of the ornamental stones around the Koi pond. Akane shuddered.

When Akane opened her eyes, she saw Ranma staring past her, face blank. A chill passed through the youngest Tendo. The smaller girl's eyes were fixed on something over Akane's shoulder. Looking behind her, Akane noted a curious Nabiki peering in through the doorway. Turning back to her fiancé, Akane relaxed as the redhead's features showed some animation, although she was slightly concerned to see Ranma look — crafty?

The three male members of the household spilled into the room past Nabiki, kneeling before Ranma in a neat line. Akane decided she had better make sure Ranma was all right and began questioning the redhead. "Ranma, do you know who you are?"

"Sure, I'm Ranma Saotome." The boy-turned-girl's voice sounded a bit different, amused and with a slight lilt to it.

"Do you remember who I am?" Akane continued.

Rolling her eyes, Ranma responded, "You're Akane Tendo, my fiancée," she said making air quotes with her fingers. Frowning, Akane pointed at her father. "Tendo-san," answered the redhead, boredom beginning to replace the amusement in her voice. The youngest Tendo shifted her focus towards Genma. Ranma smiled as she replied, "The freeloader-in-chief." The elder Saotome looked startled. Akane's finger moved to indicate Happosai. "The perverted freeloader," answered Ranma smugly.

The redhead got smoothly to her feet and looked down at herself in disgust. "I think I'm going to change," she said, beginning to unfasten the ties on her shirt. Pausing, she looked over to the three kneeling men. "Unless you gentlemen want to cough up ten thousand yen each for the show, may I suggest you let me have some privacy?" Genma, Soun and even Happosai scrambled to vacate the room.

"Ranma, what's wrong? You're acting weird," Akane declared, beginning to get angry. Ranma fixed the youngest Tendo with a half-lidded glare that seemed very familiar.

"Look, Tendo, I'm willing to overlook the punch to the face, since it did me a world of good. Opened my eyes, as it were. But if you try to hit me again, I'll make sure you appear on Kuno's doorstep in your Sunday best for a marriage meeting. You get me?" Now clad only in her boxers, Ranma turned towards the closet muttering, "These things are horrible." She snapped the waistband and then began rummaging in her closet. "Don't I own anything with any style?"

"What do you think you're doing, Ranma? Don't ignore me! And don't try to threaten me, you don't have the guts!" screamed a livid Akane.

The redhead turned that half-lidded gaze back on the taller girl. With a smirk, Ranma said, "So you like Kuno that much, Tendo?" The lilt in her voice increased slightly. Akane changed the focus of her anger.

"And why are you talking in that stupid voice, it's creeping me out! You sound like a girl!"

Ranma sighed theatrically. Shaking her head, she replied, "Tendo, Tendo, Tendo. If I sound like a girl, it's because I AM a girl. A smart girl. Get used to it."

Akane felt a wash of fear replace her anger. "What do you mean by that, Ranma? You're a boy!"

Ranma's eyes got a distant look to them as she murmured, "I remember thinking I was a boy, but it's like a dream now." Her gaze sharpened and she met Akane's eyes. "Or a nightmare." The redhead shook her self and continued to root around in her small closet. With a triumphant cry, she held aloft a plain cotton bra and panty set. HoldingDonning them in front of Akane, she crowed, "This is a step in the right direction!"

Akane just watched as her fiancé bustled about the room, a forlorn expression on the black-haired girl's face. As Ranma finished putting on the lingerie, Akane finally asked, "Maybe you should go see Doctor Tofu?"

"Why? I feel great! I don't even have a headache." Ranma grinned at her fiancée. "You may be the strongest girl I know, but it wasn't that hard a hit." She dove back into her closet. "Damn it, everything is either super-girly tasteless or looks like a boy picked it out."

"A boy DID pick it out, Ranma. You!" Akane had regained a little of her fire.

"Then all I can say is I had no taste. Bleh!" The redhead walked over to the wall, studied it for moment, and then rapped the wall hard, about three feet above the floor. There was a muffled yelp from the other side. "Yo, Nabs, how much to rent a decent outfit for the day?"

The sound of light footsteps preceded the middle Tendo into the room. "Saotome! What's the big idea? I thought you ruptured my eardrum!"

"The life of an eavesdropper is filled with peril, Nabs. So, how about 500 yen for an outfit with some class?" Ranma smirked at her victim.

"You've got to be kidding, Saotome. Anything I lend you will get ruined. Why do you want girl's clothes, anyway?" Nabiki demanded.

"Ranma thinks he's a girl," muttered Akane. Nabiki raised an eyebrow, but did not seem shocked.

"A smart girl," corrected Ranma. "Not as smart as you Nabs, but I figure the whole martial-arts thing closes the gap. Okay, how about 500 yen and I replace any damaged clothing two-for-one. Deal?"

"All right, Saotome, deal. I can use two new outfits. Come on into my room."

Akane listlessly watched as Ranma picked out slacks, top and jacket from among Nabiki's older clothes. Although Nabiki's preferred browns and creams did not entirely suit the newly declared girl, she seemed happy with her choices.

"Well, now that that's taken care of, I'm off. Just want to talk to big sister Kasumi before I leave," Ranma declared grabbing her gym bag. The two younger Tendo daughters followed her to the kitchen.

Giving the startled Kasumi a one handed hug as the redhead entered the kitchen, Ranma explained, "I just wanted to stop by and let you know I won't be around for lunch, but I plan on being home in time to help with dinner, Kasumi-chan."

The red-faced eldest Tendo protested before turning around, "You don't have to do that, Ranma-kun. You're a guest!" She turned to face the redhead, her eyes going wide as she took in Ranma's clothing.

"Please, Kasumi-chan, I want to help. I'm tired of being a freeloader and I want to pull my weight, at least a little bit," pleaded Ranma. "I mean guests stay for a week, not a year." She examined the floor in detail. "I was kind of hoping I was more family than a guest by now, and family should help."

Kasumi swept the newly declared girl into a tight hug. "Of course you are! I would appreciate your help with dinner tonight, Ranma-chan." Kasumi pulled away to look at the neo-girl. "That's a nice outfit, Ranma-chan, you look good, but brown isn't really your color." Akane and Nabiki stared at their older sister in bemusement.

With a grin, Ranma nodded. "I plan on doing a little shopping today. On that note, I better get going! I have a lot to do today. See you tonight, big sis!" Kasumi beamed as the redhead left.

All three Tendo girls watched as Ranma left, her movements slightly provocative as she walked down the path. Finally, Akane turned a distraught face to her sisters. "What are we going to do? Ranma thinks he's a girl!"

Kasumi blinked in bewilderment. "Oh my! But surely Ranma WAS a girl just now?"

Akane snorted with exasperation. "I don't mean he looks like a girl, he thinks he really is a girl! A girl who turns into a boy!" As she stomped about, the youngest Tendo missed the little smirk that graced her oldest sister's lips.

"I don't know, Akane," drawled Nabiki, meeting her older sister's gaze. "I think it's an improvement." The younger girl gave the mercenary a cold look.

"Very funny, Nabiki, but I'm supposed to marry the jerk. How can we get married if Ranma's a girl?" Akane shouted.

Kasumi looked puzzled and then tried to sooth her younger sister. "I'm sure she would turn back into a boy for the ceremony. Ranma can be quite thoughtful about those sorts of things."

"Or maybe you could both wear wedding dresses," chimed in Nabiki. "Hey, that's a thought! If Ranma is the bride, we could keep the dojo. In fact, the Panda would owe us a dowry!"

Akane looked ready to explode. With an inarticulate cry of rage, Akane took one step towards her older sister, who crossed her arms and looked at her with a half-lidded gaze. The youngest Tendo froze as all the anger leaked out of her. "Oh my god! Ranma doesn't just think he's a girl — he thinks he's Nabiki ! He gave me that exact look not twenty minutes ago. He's even talking a bit like you!"

Clapping her hands, Kasumi suggested, "Well, that's not bad, then. Nabiki gets very good grades. Maybe Ranma will do better in school." Akane sighed heavily.

Holding her pose for a second, Nabiki began to chuckle and then laugh. "Oh you two are too easy! Can't you see what Saotome is doing, Akane? It's a brilliant plan. He must have been working on this for weeks! He waits until you thump him into the pond and out pops Ranbiki. He can tell you off, scam you and the whole time you're believing he's got amnesia or something, so he's in the clear!" The short-haired girl started laughing harder. "This is beautiful, I think I'm going write off a third of his debt if he pulls it off, just as a reward for thinking like—" sobering up, Nabiki imitated Ranma talking like Nabiki. "A smart girl!"

Relieved rather than angry, Akane asked, "Do you really think so, Nabiki? I mean I didn't think Ranma was nearly that good an actor."

Nabiki paused, but then shook her head. "Come on, it's gotta be a scam. People just don't hit their head and think they're someone else." She trailed off uncertainly.

With a beatific smile, Kasumi said, "Normally people don't change gender." She shot a look at the two fathers playing Shoji. "Or into animals." The two younger sisters exchanged worried glances, before staring at the door Ranma had exited.

The afternoon had passed with excruciating slowness. By five-thirty, only Kasumi was getting anything constructive done. The two younger Tendos were ostensibly watching television, but it was doubtful that they were interested in the competitive sewing show that was currently playing. The fathers sat before a Shoji board, but the position of the pieces had not changed in twenty minutes. The only sound was the faint clink of cutlery from the kitchen and the tick of the clock.

At 5:34 the outside door slid open and a tired but cheerful "I'm home!" rang through though the house. Four bodies hurled themselves into the entry way, only to come up short at the sight of what appeared to be a large pile of boxes and bags supported by two shapely legs.

"Big sis Kasumi, could you give me hand? I think I overdid it a bit," came Ranma's now lilting voice from the bag pile. Kasumi bustled in.

"Oh my! That's an awful lot of shopping, Ranma-chan!" Kasumi observed, as she began relieving the burdened neo-girl of bags. Eventually, the redhead's smiling face became visible.

The other four inhabitants watched in disbelief as Kasumi and Ranma unloaded boxes and bags. Finally, Ranma was left with just one flat box of modest proportions. Grinning, Ranma handed it to Kasumi, saying, "The last time I was in the kitchen, I noticed the knives were getting a bit worn. So I got you — us — these. I hope you like them."

The eldest Tendo gingerly opened the box and gasped. "R-Ranma, this is a full set of Mashiro knives!"

"Yeah, they're kasumi-style, so they cost a bit more, but I think it's worth it," Ranma said, exuding smugness.

"I don't know what to say, Ranma." Kasumi collected herself. "Thank you." The redhead just rubbed the back of her head and blushed.

"I know what to say!" Nabiki said angrily. "Where did you get the money for all this? You still owe me, you know."

"Yeah, about that, Nabs, I'll talk to you after dinner. As for where I got the cash, well, let's just say that very few hotshot basketball players believe that someone shorter than 160 centimeters can dunk a basketball. I had a very profitable day," Ranma explained. The middle Tendo's anger faded as her interest piqued.

"You expect me to believe that you spent the whole day playing basketball for money?" ground out Akane.

"Of course not, Tendo," replied Ranma coolly. "I did a lot of shopping and visited the library, as well."

"The library?" asked Akane incredulously.

"Yeah. Had to do a bit of research for my meeting with Nabs tonight," Ranma said in an offhand tone. "Big sis? Let me just put this stuff away upstairs and then I'll be down to help out." Kasumi nodded absently, her eyes never leaving the gleaming cutlery.

Their jaws hanging open, Soun and Genma just stared at the neo-girl as she began ferrying the fruits of her labor up to her room. On her last trip, Ranma gently pushed her father's chin, closing his mouth. "Don't worry, Daddy, I rigged a sheet up in our room so we can have some privacy."

"What? What did you just call me? What are you wearing? Ranma, you're acting like a weak girl!" Genma shouted. Ranma appeared unfazed.

"No, Daddy, a smart girl, get it right. A smart girl with a decent wardrobe, I might add," the redhead answered in a satisfied tone. Soun collapsed quietly, in tears.

"Boy, you will stop this nonsense before I beat it out of you!" Genma roared.

Ranma crossed her arms and gave her father a half-lidded stare that stopped him in his tracks. The elder Saotome took an involuntary step backwards and turned his head to look at Nabiki. The middle Tendo exactly imitated the pose as Akane bustled up to Genma's side, whispering a frantic, semi-coherent explanation. Genma froze.

"Thanks, Akane!" chirped Ranma. "I don't know what you told him, but good job!" The redhead slipped past the group and into the kitchen. Akane watched her go with worried eyes.

"You see what I mean, Uncle Saotome? Ranma thinks he's a girl. Nabiki thinks he's pulling some kind of trick, but Ranma isn't that good an actor." Akane explained plaintively. "I just hope Kasumi can persuade him to see Doctor Tofu."

"Actually, Akane, I'm beginning to agree with you and Kasumi," Nabiki said quietly. "As crazy as it sounds, I think that crack on the noggin made Ranma believe he's a girl." Akane led the elder Saotome to a seat by the low table.

After a long period of silence, broken only by the quiet sounds from the kitchen, Genma finally roused from his stupor. "M-my son thinks he's a g-girl?"

"A smart girl," confirmed Nabiki. Smiling, she continued, "Actually, Ranma does appear to be pretty smart now, so maybe the change is for the better …" the middle Tendo trailed off as Genma gave her a look of unabashed horror. "Um, maybe not."

The silence resumed, until Genma smacked his fist into his palm. "Of course! The boy still changes with hot water, right? We'll just splash him, turn him back into a boy and he'll snap out of it!"

Akane and Nabiki exchanged looks and shrugs. "Can't hurt, I guess," said Akane

A few minutes later, Kasumi and Ranma emerged from the kitchen and began bustling about the room, both wearing frilly aprons. As Ranma set the table, Kasumi served tea to the family. Picking up his cup, Genma looked at his son-turned-daughter and muttered, "It's for your own good, boy," and flicked the hot beverage at his unsuspecting child, catching her full in the face. Ranma yelped and she became a he.

"What did you do that for, Daddy?" screeched the now male Ranma. "If I wasn't wearing a sports bra, that could have been a disaster! And right when we were serving dinner, too!" Ranma put his hands on his hips in a most feminine manner.

In spite of the scolding, Genma beamed at his son. "There now, boy! Don't you feel better?" The older man's grin faded as he took in Ranma's body language. The boy sighed with irritation.

"No Father, I don't feel better. I am not fond of hot tea in the face and I don't see any reason to be a boy right now," Ranma growled. Producing a water bottle from his apron, he poured a little water over his head, making a small noise of satisfaction as she became female. "Please don't do that again, Father. It's very annoying and if you continue, you WILL receive a bill that WILL be paid, one way or another."

As Ranma went to help Kasumi bring out the last of the food, Genma sputtered, "Y-you still think you're a girl?"

Rolling her eyes, the redhead replied with exaggerated patience, "Yes, Daddy, I'm still a girl. Changing into a boy doesn't really change who I am. Never mind, let's just eat dinner, all right?" With hesitant nods all around, the group began eating.

The meal progressed in silence until Kasumi turned to Ranma and said, "Remember what I said, Ranma-chan. I want you to see Doctor Tofu tomorrow. Head injuries can be tricky! Even if you feel fine, you were knocked unconscious."

"Sure, sure, big sis, no problem. I said I would go visit the Doc and I will," Ranma replied amiably, either not noticing or ignoring the relief and hope on Akane's, Soun's and Genma's faces.

The rest of meal was finished quietly, until Ranma got up, plate in hand. "Big sis, I hope it's okay if I don't help with the dishes, Nabiki and I need to take a meeting. It's very important."

"Of course, Ranma-chan. Thank you for helping with dinner and for the new knives. They're wonderful!" Kasumi exclaimed as she began clearing the table.

"All right, Saotome, lets talk," Nabiki ordered curtly. "We'll use my room." Nabiki met her younger sister's worried gaze, trying to give her a reassuring wink. The two went up to Nabiki's room.

Once Nabiki settled herself in her desk chair, she turned to the redhead who perched on the bed. "All right, Saotome, what did you want to talk to me about?" The brunette still had some small hope that this was an elaborate joke on Ranma's part.

"A lot of things, Nabiki." The redhead passed over several sheets of paper. "I know when I thought I was a clueless boy you took advantage of him, er, me — but I don't blame you." Ranma grinned. "I probably would have done the same thing. Anyway, it's stupid for the two smartest girls in the household to fight. We can make a lot more money working together."

Nabiki leafed through the papers Ranma had handed her, her eyebrow creeping up as she read. "Ranma, this is a manager's contract, backdated to when you first arrived. Pretty well-written, too," she added grudgingly, while she read the contract through. "So summarizing this," The brunette said as she slapped the paper, "I'm your manager and have the right to sign contracts in your name. Your debt is written off as payment to you and we start all square. I will receive twenty percent of your gross income."

"Nothing slips by you Nabs," Ranma said comfortably. Nabiki's eyes narrowed.

"So why should I sign this? You still owe me 73,000 yen and you want me to write that off for some future considerations?" Nabiki asked coolly.

"Well, it takes care of your legal liability, you know? Those photos of me you sold were using my image without my permission, I looked it up. In theory, I could claim all of your income from those photos, although since I didn't object at the time, it could get complicated," The redhead finished, rubbing the back of her neck. Nabiki's jaw dropped.

"How — when did you find that out?" Nabiki managed to get out.

"I looked it up after I remembered seeing something about that law on TV. Anyway, that's chump change, we could make that in an hour. I figure with your brains and contacts, and my looks and martial arts prowess, the sky is the limit! Modeling, idol singer, acting in action films or just movie stunt work, we could be rolling in yen." Ranma grinned. "Heck, with this curse I could play both leads in a film."

Nabiki stared at the grinning redhead, and slowly her expression changed from shocked to a matching grin. "You'd do that, Ranma? I thought all you cared about was martial arts."

"The Art is important to me, but it won't pay the bills for the way I want to live," Ranma said, shrugging. "I'll still work at it as my primary skill, but there are other things in life, you know?" The redhead looked slyly at Nabiki. "Unless my manager thinks I should change my focus a bit."

Glancing at the contract, the middle Tendo had a brief vision of swimming through 100 yen coins, ala Scrooge McDuck. How much money would the next Jackie Chan be worth? Rereading the contract, she shivered slightly. Picking up a pen, she paused as she was about to sign. "Why me, Ranma? I mean, we aren't friends or anything," Nabiki asked.

"I don't know, I guess I feel a connection. We're both smart and we both like money, you more than me in both cases," explained Ranma, "I figure you're smart enough to see your own self-interest and keep me happy," she said with a smile.

Nodding, the brunette signed and passed the contract to Ranma who also signed, then sighed. "Thanks, Nabs. I think we're going to have some fun with this as well as get rich," Reaching into her pocket, the redhead pulled out her wallet and extracted a thick wad of yen. "Here you go, Manager, this should take care of the formalities. This is your commission from today."

With numb fingers, the brunette accepted the cash and automatically counted it. "Ranma, this is 93,000 yen."

"Like I said before, nothing slips by the ol' Nabster." Ranma replied, crossing her arms.

"But you could have just paid off your debt and been 20,000 ahead!" Nabiki almost screamed.

"This cleared up all of the legal issues, Nabs," the redhead said firmly. "Anyway, I still think this is chump change compared to what we can make working together."

"You really made almost 500,000 yen playing basketball?"

"Sure!" came the jovial reply. "I remembered a few things you pulled and used them, so you even earned your commission. I kind of rolled people up. I bet one guy all my money, 10,000 yen, that I could dunk a basketball after we got into an argument about girls' basketball. If I had come at him cold, he would have smelled a rat, but once he got angry, he took the bet."

"Then I had him take me to meet a few of his friends and we played one-on-one for twenty grand a game. After five or six games, when they were ready to quit, because I slaughtered them, I told them how they could make their money back. We played against a few street hustler teams and that's where I made some real money." Ranma finished, looking pleased with her self.

Nabiki managed to disguise her shock. "That's pretty slick, Ranma." Passing the redhead her copy of the contract, the brunette decided to change the subject. "So now that we're officially partners, what's next?"

"Well, I heard one of your sister's friends talking about something called 'clubbing.' It sounds like fun, and I can't think of a better way to launch our partnership than a night on the town."

The mid-morning sun awoke a reluctant Nabiki Tendo. Her body ached and a quick sniff convinced her that a bath was needed. Then coffee. Maybe coffee, then a bath. The disheveled brunette made her way down to the kitchen. As she entered, Kasumi looked up from the romance novel she was reading with a smile and turned on the coffee maker.

"Ranma-chan set aside some breakfast for you, it's keeping warm in the oven. She also set up the coffee maker while she was helping me in the kitchen. She said something about her manager needing to be alert after she woke up," Kasumi explained sweetly. "You two were out very late last night and what did Ranma-chan mean by her manager?" The sweetness of her tone gained a slight edge.

"Last night?" Nabiki slurred. Her bleary expression slowly sharpened into a grin. "Well, last night Ma-chan and I did a little clubbing to celebrate our new partnership. Man, can that girl party!" The brunette's grin widened. "We didn't get drunk or anything, but we danced and flirted and I can't remember when I had that good a time."

As Kasumi set her sister's breakfast and coffee in front of her, the eldest Tendo's mouth was set in a disapproving line. "A partnership? You aren't taking advantage of Ranma again, are you, little sister?"

"No, no, no, no!" protested Nabiki. "This was all Ma-chan's idea. She put together the contract and made the proposal. She really is a smart girl. Just with some of the ideas we talked about, we'll be rolling in Yen!" Nabiki paused before continuing in a quieter voice. "Ranma really is a girl now. She's still Ranma, but totally a girl." The brunette lowered her eyes before whispering, "And I really like that girl."

"I'm glad you and Ranma are getting along, Nabiki," Kasumi said and then sighed. "Ranma and Akane went over to Doctor Tofu's clinic directly after breakfast. Ranma's femininity could be temporary. The old Ranma could be back before lunch, so I hope you don't become too attached to her new persona, as much as we both may like it."

As Kasumi turned back to the counter, she missed Nabiki's stricken look and her whispered reply. "Too late for that."

The waiting room at the Tofu clinic was empty save for the redhead intently studying an out-of-date entertainment magazine and a worried brunette studying the redhead. Finally, Akane broke her silence after overhearing Ranma mutter to herself, "I am going to have to learn English really well."

"Why, Ranma? And why are you reading that magazine?" The youngest Tendo asked with a slight tremor in her voice.

"Research," was the redhead's curt reply before setting the magazine aside and closing her eyes. A gently smiling Ono Tofu made his entrance.

"So, what's the problem, Ranma? Oh, would you like some hot water?"

"Hiya Doc! Nah, I don't see any need to be a boy right now, I'm fine in my regular body." Ranma ignored Tofu's double take. "Tendo here slugged me into pond yesterday and I hit my head on one of the rocks. Knocked me out for a bit, but I feel fine. It's going take more than a Tendo tantrum to keep this girl down for long." The redhead put both hands behind her head and shrugged. "Big sis Kasumi was worried, though, so I promised to come in for a check-up. Tendo decided to tag along."

"All right, Ranma, why don't you go sit down in the treatment room. I need to talk to Akane about what happened."

Ranma shrugged and silently made her way to the examination room after a detour to retrieve her magazine. Once the door was closed, the good doctor turned to Akane. "All right, Akane, I want you to tell me everything you can remember about what happened to Ranma. You're probably not aware of it, but Ranma's aura is female and I wager that when I examine her Ki, it will be female as well."

With a convulsive swallow, Akane began, "I didn't mean to hurt —"

"So you hit him again, didn't you, Akane?" At the black-haired girl's reluctant nod, Tofu continued, "I told you, no matter how tough or skilled Ranma is, this continuing abuse could lead to problems. Now tell me exactly what happened."

In a monotone voice, Akane related what had occurred, starting with Ranma waking up in the bedroom to his father dousing him with hot tea and Kasumi talking him into seeing Tofu.

"This is not good, Akane. I'll have to run some tests and examine Ranma's Ki, but this could be a permanent condition. It's likely that Ranma suffered a major brain trauma just as he changed gender. It seems that Ranma's memories were unchanged, but her gender identity changed to match her body. I'll know more once I examine her. This may take some time, so you may want to return home and I'll call you when I'm done."

Shaking her head, Akane settled down in the waiting room, bringing out a book. With a faint smile and a shrug, Tofu entered the examination room.

Ranma was playing with a stethoscope as the doctor entered, but she put it aside and fixed the older man with a bitter gaze. "So are you going to enter the battle to try and make Ranma a stupid boy again?"

"You heard?" the doctor asked mildly.

"Every word, Doc. I know I used to think I was a boy, I don't have amnesia or anything. I just know that I'm a girl, simple as that. I'm not surprised Daddy and Tendo-san and the Tomboy want me to be that stupid boy, but it kind of hurts that big sis wants me to lose myself."

"You were never stupid, Ranma," Tofu replied, "just unhappy. You know I would never do anything to harm you. Let me take a look at you."

"I remember a pat on the tush and my legs going numb, forcing me to ask for help from Akane to get home," the redhead growled.

Tofu lowered his hands and looked ashamed. "You're right, Ranma. Whatever I thought about you and Akane, that was unethical of me. I really had no right to meddle. I hope you can forgive a wrong-headed romantic." He raised his eyes to look at his patient and was surprised at the slight grin on her face.

"Thanks, Doc, apology accepted. I don't expect people to be perfect, I'm sure not, but any apology, especially a sincere one, is welcome." She hopped on to the examining table. "So let's get this show on the road. Nabs and I have money to make!"

With a grateful smile, Tofu began his examination, paying particular attention to Ranma's cranium and her Ki flows. Humming to himself, the older man completed his examination. "If I didn't know your history, Ranma, I would say you're a normal girl, although one in phenomenal condition. Your aura and Ki flows are female and I see no signs of any abnormalities."

"So that should clear up some people's confusion. Thanks, Doc." The redhead stretched, which brought a little color to Tofu's cheeks and a small smile to Ranma's lips. "Then I'll just be on my way."

"Just a moment, Ranma. I would like a CAT scan done on you to check for any swelling or bruising. I acknowledge that you're currently a girl, but that could change. You could revert to a male identity if your current self-image is due to the trauma you incurred."

"So me, the real me, the girl who's standing before you, could disappear at anytime?" Ranma said softly, her eyes meeting Tofu's. Suddenly, she relaxed. "No, I don't think you really believe that, you're just being cautious and giving the dumb-boy lovers hope."

Tofu sighed as he took off his glasses and cleaned them with a handkerchief. "I have to admit, you do seem smarter, Ranma. The CAT scan is just a precaution. As I said, you appear to be your incredibly healthy self." He sighed again. "I give you my word as a physician and a martial artist that I respect your identity as a woman. However, since you have all your memories, I hope you will agree that many people are going to have a hard time accepting your gender. They have too much invested in you as a male. So try to be understanding, even if they are unreasonable."

"I don't promise anything, Doc, but thanks for accepting me." The redhead stretched on tiptoes and gave the startled doctor a quick kiss on the cheek. "I'll just collect Tendo and be on my way." The two reentered the waiting room.

"Tendo? Do you mean Akane?" The redhead nodded. "Actually, I need to speak to her privately, so if you don't mind waiting …" Tofu inquired with a raised eyebrow.

"No, that's all right, Doc. I'm going to the Peach Blossom bookstore; Tendo can meet me there. You two can plot in private."

"Ranma, I gave you my word that I wouldn't work against your interests," Tofu said in a hurt tone, holding his right hand up, palm outwards.

"I know, silly, I was teasing you," Ranma giggled and swept out of the office, leaving a bemused doctor and a fretting fiancée.

Doctor Tofu paused as he waited for Ranma to get of hearing range and then turned his attention to the youngest Tendo. "I warned about the constant violence, Akane," he began sternly. "What you were doing was far more dangerous than training, and there are plenty of accidents during training. Well, now you're going to have to live with the consequences."

"How can you say that?" Akane shot back angrily. "It's Ranma's fault! He always makes me so mad!"

"I can't tell you how often I've heard abusive husbands and boyfriends say the same thing," Tofu said with a sigh. Akane's anger was blown out like a match in a storm. "Ranma may make you angry, but how you deal with it is your decision. Ah well, of no matter now. I doubt Ranma will let you strike her anymore."

"Let me strike him?" Akane asked scornfully, regaining a little spirit.

"Yes, Akane, let you strike her," the physician replied with another sigh. "A martial artist of even moderate standing could tell that Ranma let you hit her. Probably some foolish notion taught to her by her father."

Shaking her head, the brunette stared intently at Tofu. "That's not important. Can you fix Ranma?"

Tofu chuckled without humor. "I don't know right now, but I doubt it. I doubt anyone could change Ranma. I don't know for sure, but I think what happened was a one-in-a-million occurrence. I'll know more after the tests that Ranma has agreed to,"

"So there's no hope? Ranma is stuck as a girl forever?" Akane wailed, her voice breaking on the last syllable.

"Possibly. As I said, I'll know more after the tests." Tofu paused to clean his glasses before resuming. "I strongly suggest you treat Ranma as the girl she is. She remembers everything, but her gender identity is now female. If you challenge her or try to force her to act as a boy, she will feel threatened. I don't know how she'll react."

Akane's look of incomprehension made the doctor sigh for a third time. "You better get going, Akane, and remember what I said." He shooed the girl out of his office and closed the door. Turning, he shook his head and smiled wryly. Someone standing next to him would have heard the doctor mutter, "Maybe this is best for Ranma."

The dejected Tendo heir made her way to the Peach Blossom bookstore, an establishment of modest size. It was no surprise to Akane that she instantly spotted Ranma upon entering. What shocked the brunette was the sight of her fiancé intently studying the magazine rack with a half-dozen magazine already chosen.

"Um, what are you doing, Ranma?" Akane asked hesitantly.

"Like I said before, research," came the good humored reply, as the redhead spread the magazines like a poker hand. They were evenly divided between fashion and entertainment. Choosing one more entertainment magazine, Ranma took a step towards the cashier but stopped. "You want to look around for anything, Akane?"

When the taller girl shook her head no, Ranma shrugged and headed to the cashier. "Nabs and I have plans to make. I figure idol singer is the easiest, I have a good voice and I'm pretty enough, but that might be a dead end."

"Prettier than me," muttered Akane morosely. Ranma started to laugh. "What's so funny?" demanded the brunette.

"Tendo, you are, without a doubt, the most certain girl I have ever met, who manages to be wrong about her certainties," the redhead explained. Akane looked thoughtful as she tried to work it out. "You think you can cook just because you're a girl, but think being a girl doesn't affect your martial arts at all. You think I'm prettier than you, when I only have one weirdo at school chasing me. You had enough to start a soccer league."

Akane stared at her now female fiancé. The redhead shrugged and kept walking. After a moment, the brunette followed. They completed the walk home in silence.

"We're home," rang out in Ranma's lilting soprano. In hindsight, that was an ill-advised action. The two fathers immediately crowded into the doorway.

"Ranma, how can you do this to your fiancé? Pretending to be a girl just to hurt her, aren't you ashamed?" wailed the elder Tendo.

"What have I ever done to deserve such a weak and worthless son? Boy, go change yourself and your clothes!" the elder Saotome bellowed. "Then you're going to throw away all of those frilly rags and apologize to your fiancé."

"Are you two through?" Ranma asked coolly. "Good. I. Am. A. Girl. Deal with it. Daddy, if you touch my clothes you'll be eating through a straw for a month, and then you'll replace them. Tendo-san, ask your daughters if you think I'm pretending. You can ask Doctor Tofu."

"The schools must be joined," Soun insisted.

"And that's so important to you that you'll make your youngest daughter marry another woman?" Ranma inquired, her voice now icy.

"That's hogwash, boy! You're my son, you're a man among men." Genma insisted, panic creeping in under the anger.

"And you're going to marry my baby girl! It's a matter of honor!" Soun yelled.

"And Ukyo, is her engagement a matter of honor, Tendo-san?" Ranma inquired sweetly. "Or are you going to ignore that arrangement and all the others in favor of your own? That's not honor, that's your own desires using honor as an excuse to get what you want. I see why you need me to be stupid." Both men fumed at the redhead.

"Dad, Ranma is telling the truth. I spoke to Doctor Tofu, Ranma really does believe he's a girl," Akane said sadly. "If I hadn't hit him, this wouldn't be happening. It's all my fault!" She ran up the stairs to her room, trailing a sparkle of tears behind her.

"Akane, don't beat yourself up, it's okay." Ranma called after the black-haired girl. She fixed the two older men with a frosty gaze. "Now if you'll excuse me?" She stalked off towards the kitchen. Soun's emotions got the better of him as he retreated to the dining room. Genma, made of sterner stuff, followed his child.

Kasumi had stuck her head out to observe the commotion, shaking her head at the fathers' antics. As Ranma headed to the kitchen, Kasumi met the redhead's eyes and quailed at the hurt and anger she saw there. Ranma stopped in front of her.

"Why, big sis? Why do you want me to go away? I can understand those two," Ranma waved a hand at the fathers, tears in her eyes. "They need the stupid boy to complete their stupid uniting of the schools. But I thought you understood, I thought you loved me. I thought you were my big sister." The redhead closed her eyes as tears continued to leak out.

"Crying like a little girl! Boy, you break your father's heart," Genma exclaimed dramatically. Both girls ignored him.

"I'm sorry, Ranma-chan," Kasumi apologized, tearing up as well. "I don't know what I did to hurt you, little sister, but whatever it is, I wish I hadn't done it. Could you tell me what I did wrong?" Genma retreated from the crying women.

"Y-you sent me to Tofu's so he could make me go away, make me think I was a boy again, a stupid boy." Two strong, slender arms encircled the redhead.

"Shhh, it's okay, shhhh," Kasumi comforted Ranma. "I swear to you that I sent you to Doctor Tofu for the reason I told you, head injuries are dangerous. I want what's best for you, Ranma-chan."

"Really?"

"I swear on Mother's grave," Kasumi whispered solemnly. The two sniffled for a minute, then Ranma moved away slightly and bowed to the tall girl. Kasumi was having none of that and enveloped the smaller girl in another hug.

"I'm sorry that I jumped to conclusions, Kasumi-chan. I was as bad as the Tomboy. It just seems everybody wants the stupid boy instead of the smart girl. It hurts to know what they think of me."

"Don't worry about that, Ranma-chan. You just be who you need to be," Kasumi whispered. "So, would you like to help me with dinner — little sister?"

"I think I'd like that, big sister," replied a beaming redhead.

Dinner that night was a strange affair, half tense, half relaxed. Genma and Soun muttered to each other while throwing baleful looks at Ranma. Akane sat miserably next to Ranma as the redhead and Nabiki engaged in an animated discussion about their partnership and debated what career path to take.

Kasumi seemed the only one unchanged by Ranma's newfound femininity, her placid smile illuminating her face like the rising sun. However, someone who knew her very well would have noticed the slight frown marring her features as she glanced from Ranma to Nabiki, then to Akane.

Finally, Genma couldn't take it anymore. "All these fancy plans don't mean anything, boy. You're going to marry Akane and carry on the Schools." The elder Saotome reddened as Ranma ignored him, and conitnued her discussion with her manager. They had decided to first break into modeling, but Ranma was for going directly into acting, while Nabiki thought using an idol career as a stepping stone into acting was the way to go.

Roughly grabbing his currently female child, Genma spun the redhead around, his livid face within inches of Ranma's. "Did you hear me boy? I said—"

"I heard you Father," the younger Saotome interrupted, "but since I'm a girl, I knew you weren't referring to me." Genma's face turned an interesting shade of puce.

"Genma's right, Ranma. It's a matter of honor, family honor. You must deal with these … women who have attached themselves to you and then marry Akane," Soun insisted. Genma nodded, still very red.

For the first time since her "birth," Ranma looked angry. "Except for Shampoo, they didn't 'attach' themselves to me, Father engaged me to them when I thought I was boy."

"That doesn't matter, Ranma!" Genma yelled. "They're your responsibility, you have to settle the matter with them and then marry Akane!"

Ranma opened her mouth, but bit off the hot retort before she uttered a sound. Tilting her head to one side, she looked at the two older men. "It's my responsibility, Daddy? Then you are ceding me the authority over any agreements with Shampoo and Ukyo?"

"What?" blurted a confused Genma. "You just have to deal with them!" Ranma nodded firmly while Nabiki gave a shark-like smile.

"Nicely played, Ma-chan," the middle Tendo approved, "It'll be good to wrap those two up anyway and get them out of our hair. Idol singers don't need even small scandals, and those two wouldn't be small. Any idea who we should tackle first?"

As both fathers stared at the redhead, she tapped her lips with one finger before replying, "Shampoo and Cologne, I think. With the Kiss of Death hanging over me, I think that's my first priority."

"How are you going to make them back off?" inquired a skeptical Nabiki. Ranma sidled over to her manager and whispered in her ear. The brunette started laughing. "That's brilliant. Simple and direct."

Soun and Genma were also whispering. "The Amazons! Saotome, they want Ranma as a male more than we do! They're sure to cure him!"

"I don't know, Tendo. What if they force him to marry the Chinese girl for the cure?"

"Nonsense, Ranma loves my little girl. Everything will turn out okay!"

The two young women stood outside the Cat Cafe sporting identical smirks. They were dressed to kill, the redhead in green leather and satin, the brunette in creams and browns. They sashayed into the restaurant.

"Welcome to Cat Cafe," chirped the buxom, lavender-haired waitress, "You want to sit at— oh it you, Mercenary Girl," grumbled Shampoo. "You want table like always?"

"Of course, Shampoo. Come on, Ma-chan," the brunette ordered breezily. The redhead followed, grinning at Shampoo, who did a double take, to the amusement of the two Japanese girls.

"B-beloved? Why you wear woman's clothes?" Shampoo stuttered.

"Because my dear Sham-chan, I'm a woman. Pretty simple, huh?" the redhead replied with a toss of her head.

"Oh no, trick won't work second time. Shampoo say bad Japanese, but is no stupid! Ranma is boy!" the lavender-haired girl yelled.

"Can't say I blame you, Shamps, hell, I thought I was a boy too. Luckily, I outgrew that notion," Ranma said complacently.

"What's going on out here?" demanded a gravelly alto. The tiny form of Cologne hopped over the counter. "Ah, son-in-law, come to take Shampoo on a date? Nice outfit, by the way."

"No Great Grandmother, Ranma think Shampoo is stupid, try trick Shampoo that Ranma is girl. Shampoo not stupid!" ranted the Chinese girl.

"I'm not trying to trick you, Shampoo," the redhead sighed. "I really am a girl. A girl who turns into a boy, to the detriment of my wardrobe, I'm afraid." Cologne froze at that last statement and peered at Ranma intently. The old woman abruptly sat down.

"What wrong, Great Grandmother?" Shampoo asked.

"I think the Elder Cologne just discovered that Ma-chan — er, Ranma is telling the truth," Nabiki told her smugly.

It took a moment for Nabiki's words to percolate through Shampoo's anger. When they did, the lavender-haired girl turned to look at her great-grandmother. Cologne would not meet her eyes. The young Amazon turned back to look at Ranma, who nodded slightly. Shampoo's look of shock crumpled into grief, pain and utter loss. Nabiki shuddered slightly. She hoped she would never see that happen to another human face as long as she lived.

As Shampoo fell into a chair, Cologne approached the two Japanese girls. In a hard voice, she asked simply, "How did this happen?" Shampoo lowered her head to the table and began to cry quietly.

"Does is matter, Elder? I'm 100% girl now and I'm taking control of my life," Ranma answered quietly. "Maybe I even have a shot at happiness."

"Of course it matters, son— Ranma! I need to know everything that happened if I'm going to fix this!" Cologne barked. Ranma looked angry for a moment, before a tide of tired resignation swept across her face.

"So even the freaking Amazons want the stupid boy back," the redhead muttered. Cologne flinched. Nabiki decided to twist the knife a bit.

"I don't think there's anything you can do about it, Elder," Nabiki sweetly informed the old woman. "Doctor Tofu thinks it was a one-in-a-million chance that changed Ma-chan when she hit her head at the same time she changed into a girl when Akane hit her into the pond."

Cologne's eyes narrowed, and Shampoo's head snapped up. "It all Kitchen Destroyer's fault? Shampoo knowed Violent Pervert Girl do this. Shampoo kill!"

"You'll do no such thing, Shampoo! Leave Tendo alone!" Ranma shouted, while glaring at Nabiki, who had the grace to blush. "I'm here to offer you a deal, so that you'll forget about the Kiss of Death." Shampoo stared at the redhead, tears trickling down her cheeks again.

"Shampoo no kill Beloved," she whispered and then winced as the Elder's staff rapped her soundly on the head.

"You will have to if we can't restore son-in-law, silly girl. Amazon law requires it," grated out Cologne.

"A few points, Elder," Ranma drawled while Nabiki beamed. "First, your laws must have a fair bit of flexibility. I mean, lets face it, you could have knocked him out at any time and dragged the stupid boy back to China. I'm good, but boy or girl, I'm nowhere near as good as you, Elder." The old woman's face was a mask, but Shampoo's spoke volumes.

"You know, Ma-chan, it occurs to me that we have done the Amazons a disservice," Nabiki said thoughtfully. "Their laws state that if an outsider male defeats an Amazon, she must marry him. That really says nothing about force. In fact, think about it — if a man can defeat an Amazon, how is she going to force him?"

"Sometimes, Tendo-san, you amaze me," Cologne replied.

"So Nabs is right as usual," Ranma noted with satisfaction. "Second point is that Sham-chan is the last of your family. She's your heir and she's what, sixteen or seventeen? That must mean anyone older is unsuitable or has … become an ancestor. She's all you have left."

"In the main line," grumbled Cologne.

"Just so you know, I'm not just a girl, I'm a smart girl," the redhead declared. "I have nothing against Shampoo, but if comes down to me or her, you know which way I'm going to decide — and she can't take me."

"So what is your proposal?" the old woman asked, a crack in her mask revealing a hint of desperation.

"How about this, Elder? Shamp's mission is complete. Because the redheaded girl she was sent out to kill is dead. That girl was just a boy in a girl's body. HE doesn't exist anymore." Ranma said slyly. Cologne looked shocked and then started to laugh, a dry wheezing sound that filled the restaurant.

"An elegant solution, clever girl, but I think Shampoo deserves something more after all of her pain," Cologne pressed, still chuckling. The lavender-haired girl just looked depressed. Ranma sat down opposite her.

"I'd like to tell you I'm sorry, Shampoo-chan, but I'm not going to lie to you." The redhead grabbed the taller girl's hand in both of hers. "Since I woke up after Akane hit me and I realized I was a girl, I've been getting my life together. Nabs and I have plans, we're going places. I am sorry it hurts you so much."

Shampoo brushed away tears, and fixed the redhead with an intense gaze. "Did Shampoo ever have chance?"

Ranma sighed. "I'm sorry, Shampoo, but no, not really. I don't really remember too well from when I thought I was a boy, at least it seems all of the emotions are gone. I'm pretty sure that I would have ended up marrying Tendo."

"Why?" Shampoo asked tearfully. "Kitchen Destroyer no love you like Shampoo, or even Spatula Girl do."

"Honor mostly, I guess. He may not be worth much, but he is my father, and Daddy wanted me to marry Tendo. Heh, Kitchen Destroyer. You got that right! Nabs probably would have made a fortune buying stock in an antacid factory if that wedding happened." Shampoo giggled slightly through her tears.

"This is all very sweet, clever girl, but what can you offer Shampoo?" Cologne asked.

"How about this?" the redhead said after a few moments' thought. "I'll become your ally. Your fights will be my fights."

"A strong ally that can pose as a man, if need be," mused the old woman, rubbing her chin. She locked stares with the middle Tendo. "Would that offer include your … what, new fiancée, partner, friend? Would that include Nabiki Tendo-san?"

"I'm honored, Elder," Nabiki laughed. "If you need a sweetener to close the deal, I'll throw in my services, as long as it's thinking or planning, not fighting."

"Hmmm, the sharpest mind and the sharpest body that I know of in the service of the Amazons. Not a bad offer, my girl," Cologne chortled, but the redhead was shaking her head.

"You misunderstand, or I did not make myself clear, Elder. My — our alliance will be with you and your family personally, not with the Amazons as a people," Ranma explained. "Maybe give you little more leverage? Especially in making sure Shampoo doesn't suffer any … consequences," she added innocently.

Shampoo gasped while Cologne started laughing again. "That would be more than acceptable, my girl. I'm glad you put some thought into safeguarding Shampoo."

"Don't get me wrong, Elder," Ranma said calmly. "I'm not a big fan of Shampoo, her trying to kill me really put a crimp in the relationship. I don't want to see her hurt, though."

Nodding, the Elder looked shrewdly at her two newest allies. "Later this summer, I would need you two to come to the village, to be presented to the council. At our expense, of course. Perhaps a layover in Hong Kong …" Both girls' eyes lit up.

"That sounds fair, Elder," Nabiki enthused. "Ma-chan and I will draw up a contract and be back by tomorrow. We'll see you then." The older Amazon nodded, while Shampoo continued to practice her lost and forlorn look. The door to the kitchen swung open.

"I finished the deliveries, old mummy, what's next?" Mousse called out as he entered the dining area. With a delighted cry, he jumped forward and hugged Ranma, the other women noting the male Amazon's glasses perched on top of his head. "Shampoo! I'm so glad to see you!" The Chinese girl snorted in disgust.

"Shamps is right, you do have beautiful eyes, Mousse, but I'm afraid this glomp is going to cost you 2,000 yen," Ranma said, voice lilting in amusement. Freeing her hands, the redhead lowered the boy's glasses to where they would do him some good, while deftly extracting his wallet. "But nice eyes or no, I think we would all prefer you being able to see."

"Nabiki Tendo?" Mousse asked, confused and then got a good look at the girl he held. "Saotome!"

"That's right, good-looking," the redhead chirped. "This is the happiest day of your life, Mousse. Sham-chan is free of the Kiss of Marriage. She's all yours, if she'll have you." Ranma grinned. "Anyway, I think Nabs and I have to be off. You know, things to do, wallets to drain." The two Japanese girls departed the restaurant, Nabiki blowing Mousse a kiss, while Ranma flipped the Chinese boy's now somewhat lighter wallet back to him.

The three Amazons stood silent for a time, Cologne in contemplation, the two teenagers just dumbfounded. Mousse was the first to find his voice. "W-what was Saotome doing? And what did he mean, Shampoo is free? Is it true?"

Cologne chuckled. "It means that somehow, my ex-son-in-law has become a woman, a real woman, not just cursed. She did not tell us how, exactly, but Nabiki intimated that Akane Tendo and violence were involved, no surprise there. Given that it was Ranma, some strange circumstances were involved as well."

"[Great Grandma, please, can you not restore my Beloved? I beg of you.]" Shampoo pleaded in Mandarin, drawing scowls from both of the other Amazons.

"Shampoo, speak Japanese! You must learn to speak properly, now more than ever," Cologne commanded. She paused, then continued thoughtfully "We must also see to it that our two new allies learn Mandarin."

"Is it true, then, Ol— Elder? Saotome is a woman, and she and Nabiki Tendo are our allies?" Mouse inquired, affecting a posture of respect.

"You tell me, boy," Cologne said, not unkindly. "With your poor eyesight, you've learned to pick up on nuances of voice and gesture. Was that a girl flirting with you, or a boy?"

"It was — a girl," Mousse said slowly, staring at Shampoo with a grin wider than a human face should be able to achieve. "Oh, by the way, Nabiki Tendo speaks fluent Mandarin," he remarked absently.

"What!" both Amazon females shouted. Cologne recovered first, "And you never mentioned this because?"

"You never asked," Mousse replied. "I obey you, but I don't owe you my loyalty. You know of my love for Shampoo, but you supported Saotome." He paused to savor the notion that he could say that in the past tense. "Nabiki Tendo and I have been allies for a while. We both want — wanted the same thing."

"Please, Great Grandmother, can you no do something to fix Beloved? Please," Shampoo begged again, this time in her broken Japanese. The old matriarch looked sternly at her heir.

"You would have me destroy an ally of the Amazons?" Her demeanor softened. "It's for the best, child. This way you can return to the village in honor, having recruited two formidable allies, allies of our family. They will be of great assistance to you when the time comes for you to join the council."

"But — but I love him, Great Grandmother," Shampoo whispered as tears rolled down her cheeks.

"I know, child, I know," Cologne said, comforting the young warrior. "I hate to say this, but I don't think the Saotome would ever have turned to you. The Kiss of Death, your curse and my mistakes were too great an obstacle." Patting Shampoo's hand, the old woman became brisk once more. "I will talk to the Tendos and the healer Tofu. Perhaps this is temporary." Shampoo nodded and fled to her room. Mousse took a step to follow her, but was stopped by Cologne's staff.

"Let her go, boy," she advised. "She really did care for Ranma, and unrequited love is the hardest to lose." Cologne sighed. "I know we have never gotten along, Mousse, but a bit of advice. Give her some space. She pursued Ranma, the same way you pursue her and you saw how well that worked. Let her be for a bit." The near-sighted boy nodded but continued staring at the stairs.

The air of gloom around the Tendo household was palpable. Soun and Genma listlessly played Go, although Soun repeated his hope that the Amazons would get the boy straightened out. Neither looked up when the gate bell rang, or when Kasumi went out to answer it. A few moments later, the eldest Tendo girl reentered, followed by a grinning and hopeful looking Ukyo Kuonji, who was carrying a take-out box. The two made their way to Soun.

"Father, I think it would be only fair to explain to Ukyo-san what happened to Ranma," Kasumi informed her father firmly. Ukyo's smile evaporated.

"What happened to Ran-chan?" the girl chef asked worriedly.

"Er, the boy's gotten some strange notions in his head after, um, a training accident — yes, a training accident," Genma answered brightly and unconvincingly. "Nothing to worry yourself about, Ukyo-chan."

"You don't have the right to call me that, and what do you mean strange notions, Saotome?" Ukyo objected hotly.

"Uncle Saotome," Kasumi chided the burly martial artist.

"It's all my fault, Ukyo," a forlorn voice informed them. Akane came down the stairs. "I punched Ranma after he ruined the breakfast I made and he hit his head and now …" the distraught girl was unable to continue.

"What, WHAT!?" Ukyo yelled wildly. "Is Ran-chan … hurt?"

"No, Ukyo-san, in some ways she's better than ever," Kasumi said gently.

"She?" Ukyo inquired. "Ranma's a boy, even if he does have as much trouble as I do in that department." Kasumi sighed and shook her head.

"Ranma believes he — she — is a girl." Kasumi put her index finger to her chin in thought. "Perhaps that's poorly worded. Ranma IS a girl now, Ukyo-san. Doctor Tofu believes the condition is probably permanent."

Misery and satisfaction warred across Ukyo's face. After a few moments, she muttered, "At least he's not forced to be with the violent Tomboy." In her agitation, the teenage chef said this loudly enough for all to hear. The fathers scowled and Kasumi frowned slightly, but a teary eyed Akane nodded.

"I'm so sorry, Ukyo," the youngest Tendo sobbed. "He was your fiancé too, and now he's gone." The miserable girl clutched at Ukyo's top as she cried into the chef's shoulder. Ukyo's expression softened as she comforted the crying girl.

"It's not like Ranma's dead, Akane," Kasumi protested, exasperated. "She's a girl, but still Ranma."

"You said that Tofu said that Ran-chan thinking he was a girl was probably permanent?" Ukyo asked, meeting Kasumi's eyes. The taller girl nodded.

"That's what Akane-chan told us," she replied.

"Then we need to talk to Doctor Tofu right away!" Ukyo shouted. "Why are you sitting around playing games, why aren't you helping Ran-chan?" The tall chef grabbed Akane by the shoulders, giving her a little shake. "Don't you want to help Ranma, Akane?"

A bit of spirit crept back into the muscular brunette. "You're right, Ukyo! Doctor Tofu has to help us get Ranma back to normal — Ranma's a boy!"

"Then let's go to Tofu's clinic," Ukyo declared, "and see what he has to say. After all, we are Ran-chan's fiancées. I'm sure he'll help us get our fiancé cured." Kasumi shook her head and frowned slightly, while Akane looked uncertain.

"I, um, hope so, Ukyo. Doctor Tofu was saying that he would support Ranma," Akane offered. Ukyo waved the notion away.

"Of course he would say that to Ran-chan, he's a doctor. Come on, let's go."

By this time the fathers were in full agreement. As the small parade left the house, Akane turned to her older sister. "Big sister Kasumi, could you stay here? Doctor Tofu gets kind of strange when you're around. Thanks!"

She didn't hear the tall girl whisper, "I wouldn't hurt Ranma-chan like that again."

The troop entered Tofu's clinic as the doctor was bowing a patient out of the establishment. The physician's good-natured smile seemed unchanged but a careful observer would have noted a slight narrowing of Tofu's eyes as he greeted his latest guests. "Tendo-san, Saotome-san, Akane-chan, Ukyo-chan, what brings you here?"

"Is it true, Doctor, does Ran-chan really think he's a girl?" Ukyo blurted out. Nodding slightly to himself, Tofu smiled at her.

"It's more than that, Ukyo-chan. Ranma's aura and Ki flows are female. Ranma IS a girl, a girl who turns into a boy with the application of hot water. I have scheduled some tests for Ranma at Nerima General, but I doubt they'll tell us anything other than that Ranma is healthy." Tofu took off his glasses and began cleaning them.

"Y-you don't know what's wrong with Ran-chan, Doctor?" quavered Ukyo. Akane slipped a comforting arm around the taller girl's shoulders, getting a bit misty-eyed.

"This is ridiculous, Tofu, you have to know how to cure my worthless son!" Genma bellowed.

Tofu leveled a neutral stare at the older Saotome. "As far as I can tell, there is nothing to cure, Saotome-san. Your child has a firm sense of self, it's just that now that self is female. It was an improbable chance. When Ranma struck her head on that rock, the result was considerable cranial trauma at the exact moment she transformed. From Akane's description, Ranma's brain 'rebooted'. Luckily, all of her memories were intact, but her brain was female, so her sexual identity reset to female. She seemed to have imprinted on Nabiki-chan as her 'model.' "

"Isn't there anything you can do or recommend, Doctor Tofu?" Ukyo pleaded. Tofu shook his had firmly.

"I'm sorry Ukyo-san, but this is beyond current medical science. Our understanding of the human brain is limited and when magic is thrown into the equation, it becomes a matter of doing no harm — not making the situation worse. It's possible that Ranma may one day revert to a male identity, but that day may be years in the future, if it ever comes." Tofu sighed. "I would strongly suggest not attacking Ranma's sexuality, she will almost certainly react with hostility."

The two girls hugged each other, Akane whispering apologies, but Genma looked thoughtful. He bowed to Tofu. "Thank you, Doctor, we shouldn't take up any more of your time." The stout martial artist herded his three companions out of the clinic. Tofu watched them go, before speaking to the apparently empty room.

"You can come out now, Cologne-sama. I take it you came to ask the same thing as Tendo and Saotome?"

The ancient Amazon appeared from behind a potted plant that should not have been able to hide her. "Alert as always, Healer. However, I do not have the same interest in my clever girl as those four. I can read auras as well as you can. Ranma is a woman now, for whatever reason. She and Nabiki Tendo have allied themselves to my family, the best young fighter I have seen in Japan and as good a mind as I have seen in a while. No, I am content, more than content, for matters to fall out this way."

"What do you mean, Elder?" Tofu asked mildly.

"Our chances of ever getting Ranma to choose Shampoo willingly were slim, at best. Too many mistakes, too much bad feeling. This way, Shampoo's honor is satisfied and she gains two powerful allies who will help her enormously when she enters the political arena." The old woman cackled. "On a different matter, do you think those two old fools will let Ranma to live in peace as a girl?"

"No, Elder, I'm afraid not," the physician said tiredly. "Ranma-chan's desires or happiness mean little to them. I don't know what dangerous or addled scheme they will attempt, but I'm sure Ranma will bear the brunt of it."

"In that case, it is my duty to warn my new ally, don't you think so, Healer?" Cologne inquired innocently. At the doctor's nod, the ancient woman left the clinic.

Soun, Genma and Akane made their way back to the Tendo homestead, Genma talking animatedly in low tones to Soun while Akane trailed listlessly. Ukyo had to return to her restaurant for the lunch rush, insisting that she be contacted if there was any change in Ranma's condition.

As they entered the house and doffed their shoes, Soun asked worriedly, "Do you think this will work, Saotome? Tofu said it was very small chance that led to Ranma's condition. Do you really think we can recreate it?"

"Of course, Tendo!" the balding martial artist responded heartily. "As martial arts masters, this is nothing to us. Kasumi!" he shouted. "We need a lot of hot water!"

"Of course, Uncle Saotome," the eldest Tendo girl responded, coming out of the kitchen. "What do you need it for?"

"We're going to cure Ranma, Kasumi-chan," her father explained. "Saotome and I are going to hit Ranma in the head at the same time we turn him back into a boy. By recreating the accident, we should fix him right up."

"Oh my, Father, do you think that's wise, inflicting another head trauma on Ranma-chan so soon after the first? Do you really think it will work?" Kasumi remonstrated gently, echoing her father's previous misgivings.

"Not to worry, Kasumi," Genma assured her. "My boy is tough. And I'm sure it will work, you see it all the time in movies and they wouldn't show that if it wasn't true." Kasumi closed her eyes briefly, then turned to her sister.

"Akane, what do you think about this?"

"If it will get Ranma back to normal …" the younger girl answered, trailing off.

"I see," Kasumi said briskly. "I'll get the water heating on the stove. I do need to do the shopping for dinner, if that is all right, Father."

"Of course, Kasumi-chan," the Tendo patriarch assured her. "I don't expect Ranma and Nabiki until dinner time." He stopped as a thought struck him. "Saotome, we should contact the Amazons and Ukyo. Cologne is almost as good as us and could probably pull the technique off, and Ukyo could take the boy totally by surprise." Nobody paid Kasumi any attention as she slipped out, basket over her arm.

The girls walked down the street giggling and talking. The taller brunette carried a camera bag while the shorter redhead had several garment bags slung over one shoulder and a cosmetic case on the other. "So what else do we need for the portfolio, Nabs?" Ranma asked her taller companion.

"I'd like some evening wear shots with you in full make-up and some beach shots. You'll look great in a bikini, Ma-chan."

"Yes, I think so as well, my girls," a harsh voice interrupted them. The two girls turned to see an amused Cologne and a frowning Kasumi.

Four eyebrows, two red and two brown, silently interrogated the ancient Amazon as they climbed to their owners' hairlines.

"I found Kasumi-san looking for you two. She was in quite a state," Cologne confided. Kasumi gulped.

"Ranma-chan, our fathers are going to start hitting you on the head and splashing you with hot water to try and recreate the accident and turn you back into a boy," the tall girl said in one breath. Nabiki looked annoyed, while Ranma covered her eyes. "Ranma?"

Lowering her hand, the redhead met the Elder's steady gaze. "They're never going to stop trying to kill me, are they?" Kasumi looked horrified, while Nabiki grabbed her free hand.

"No, they aren't, my clever girl. You know that as well as I do. Their whole reason for living is tied up in uniting their so-called schools." Cologne chuckled mirthlessly. "They're not going to let a little thing like your femininity interfere with their plans. The question is — what are you going to do about it?"

Ranma sighed. "I don't know, Cologne, not yet. Let's see how bad it is." Shaking her head, the redhead hugged Kasumi. "Don't worry big sister, I'll think of something. You get on home, I don't want you in trouble too. Come on, Nabs, I need a snack to tide me over until dinner. Let's stop at Uc-chan's."

"You do know that models aren't supposed to eat that much, right Ma-chan?" Nabiki said with a smirk.

"Well, whoever makes these rules is just going to have to learn to live with disappointment," Ranma retorted, seeming to cheer up.

Ukyo looked up as the bell above the door tinkled. Her professional greeting caught in her throat as she looked closely at her two customers. Nabiki looked uncommonly smug, but the brunette's companion was breaking her heart. Ukyo's fiancé was outfitted in an ensemble that resembled Nabiki's, save for its vibrant green and light yellow colors. Light make-up enhanced the redhead's features.

"A special with the works and a pot of tea for the two us, Uc-chan," Ranma ordered cheerfully, pulling out a 10,000-yen note.

The ponytailed chef just stared at her erstwhile fiancé. "So it's true," she said tightly. "You're a girl." Her voice rose in pitch. "Akane did this to you, I'll kill—"

"Stop right there, Ukyo," Nabiki cut her off. "There'll be no talk of killing anyone, especially my little sister." Ukyo ignored the brunette. Quick as a viper, she splashed hot tea towards Ranma and swung her outsized spatula at the girl's head. Rolling off her seat, Ranma avoided both. Bouncing to her feet, she fixed the chef with a furious glare.

"Damn it, Ukyo, out of all of them, I thought you'd understand. You lived as a boy yourself for ten years and now you're a girl again! I don't know if Tendo woke me up or if it just happened, but I thought you'd understand! I thought you were better than that, but you want the stupid boy too." Ukyo flinched at the bitter tone.

"Ran-chan this isn't who you are, you're a boy, you're my fiancé!" she cried hopelessly, shame reddening her cheeks.

"So you know what's best for Ma-chan, whether she agrees or not, eh Kuonji?" Nabiki snapped. "The gods know, I wasn't very nice to her, but even I avoided that."

"Ukyo, I'm not your fiancé, and I never really was," Ranma told the ponytailed girl roughly. "My father is a thief and a con artist, and he broke the agreement hours after he made it." She left the yen on the counter. "Come on, Nabs, I've lost my appetite." Ukyo picked up the money, trying to hand it back to Ranma.

"Keep it, Ukyo. Unlike my father, I pay my debts. I figure I owe you about 40,000 yen for all the Okonomiyaki. I'll send you the remainder. As for your food cart, I suggest you bill my father — it's his debt." The redhead stomped out the door.

Nabiki bit her lip as she saw Ukyo's face crumple as Shampoo's had done. Clearing her throat, the brunette offered some advice. "Kuonji, Ranma is a girl, a great girl. You can be her friend or make her your enemy. Fiancé is out of the picture. Think about it." The middle Tendo hurried after her friend.

Nabiki quickly caught up with Ranma, as the redhead moped along, her eyes bright with unshed tears. Putting a companionable arm around the shorter girl's shoulders, the brunette asked in low tones, "Are you okay, girlfriend?" Ranma smiled through her tears.

"I'll be okay, Nabs, it's just that I thought Ukyo would understand."

"She does, Ma-chan, maybe better than you know. Her femininity is tied up in marrying you, just like Shampoo's Amazon honor was at stake. I agree she was over the line, but desperate women do desperate things," Nabiki offered. Ranma nodded, the tears still threatening. "Well, this looks like a chocolate fudge sundae emergency to me. Come on, my treat."

"Thanks, Nabs, I'm glad you're my best friend as well as my manager," the redhead told her companion, cheering up a bit. Nabiki shook her head.

"I guess I am your friend, Ma-chan, but after all I did to you, I'm surprised you're mine."

"Aw, that was the stupid boy, Nabs. I can remember a lot of the stuff you pulled on him, but it doesn't feel like it was done to me. Frankly, looking back on some of the pranks you pulled, they were hilarious." Both girls giggled as they entered the ice cream shop.

A council of war had convened inside the Tendo home, the membership consisting of Genma Saotome and Soun Tendo, both of whom were trying to appear noble and resolute, and Akane, who looked guilty and anxious.

"So the Master will not aid us in restoring Ranma?" Soun asked plaintively. Genma shook his head.

"He said we had no business meddling in karma and he was not going to defy fate," the balding man grumbled. "He also muttered something about his sweet Ranma-chan." The trio ignored Kasumi as she put a fresh pot of tea and a plate of rice crackers on the table, so they missed her satisfied little smile.

"What can we do, Saotome?" Soun wailed.

"This changes nothing, Tendo. We are masters — Ranma is a student. Akane will distract Ranma, you douse him with hot water, and I will administer the blow. The timing must be perfect, but we've accomplished much harder tasks." Both Tendos nodded. "Akane, why don't you keep watch for your fiancé? Alert us as soon as he returns." The youngest Tendo nodded again and left the family room.

Nibbling on rice crackers, the two older men set up the Shoji board and began a game. From time to time Kasumi would silently enter and replenish tea and crackers. Genma would check to see if the hot water was prepared and Kasumi would assure him all was in readiness.

After two games, Akane pelted breathlessly into the room. "Ranma and Nabiki are just at the gate," she reported, rubbing her hands together anxiously.

Both men quickly stood up from the gaming table. "All right!" Genma barked harshly. "Everyone knows what to do, so let's begin Operation Restore Ranma!" Soun jogged into the kitchen, emerging a moment later with a steaming pot. He took up his position opposite Genma, on either side of the entrance way, as Akane stood in the middle of the hall.

As the two partners entered the Tendo home with a cheerful cry of "We're back!" Akane moved to confront her fiancé. "Ranma, you idiot, what do you think you're doing with my sister, you pervert!" Both Nabiki and Ranma looked at the youngest Tendo in perplexity. Akane's tirade had lacked its usual vehemence.

At that moment, the two older men made their move. Soun dashed the duo with uncomfortably hot water while a second later, Genma clipped his now black-haired son across the back of his head.

Ranma rolled with the blow as Nabiki shrieked in outrage. Bouncing to his feet, Ranma went nose to nose with a hopeful Genma. The first words out of his son's mouth dashed those hopes. "Daddy! Why did you do that? Is this some stupid practical joke? If so, you're going to pay!"

As the two older men looked crestfallen and Akane was positively downcast, Kasumi glided into the entry hall. Handing each of the sopping duo a fresh towel, Kasumi smiled pleasantly. "Oh my, no, Ranma-chan. Our fathers are trying to re-create the accident you had to turn you back into a boy, mentally speaking. I'm sure Doctor Tofu informed them of how unlikely that is, but they persisted."

Ranma could only stare at his father, but Nabiki was not so limited. After glaring at Genma and her sister, the middle Tendo rounded on her father. "I thought I was selfish, Daddy, but you take the cake. You're willing to risk Ranma suffering brain damage, maybe even crippling her, on the off-chance that you might make Ma-chan think she's a boy again? Did you check with Doctor Tofu or even ask the one person in this house who has any medical knowledge?" she finished pointedly staring at Kasumi.

"Oh my, no, Nabiki-chan, all they wanted me to do is keep water hot all day. If Father had asked, I would have told him what a stupid course of action it would be to try to deliberately injure someone who has already suffered cranial trauma," the tall girl replied innocently.

"That's absurd, my son is tougher than that. It shames me that such a little blow to head has made him forget who he his," Genma blustered. He subtly nodded to Soun, who pulled out a water bottle. As the two men made eye contact, Soun doused Ranma with the cold water, then pivoted, grabbing the pot with the remnants of the hot water. As he threw the warm liquid at the redheaded girl, Ranma dropped, avoiding the water, and swept her father's legs out from under him.

"One try is all you get," she growled, bouncing to her feet. Glaring at all three of her antagonists, Ranma asked, "Is it all right if I sleep in your room tonight, Nabiki? I don't trust these idiots." Akane was shocked out of her guilt as her sister nodded.

"Sure, Ma-chan, that's probably a good idea," the shorthaired brunette affirmed.

"Nabiki!" Akane yelled. "You can't let this pervert sleep in your room! Who knows what he'll do?"

"Get a peaceful night's sleep," Nabiki muttered. Ranma was not so blasé.

"I AM A GIRL!" the redhead shouted, then visibly calmed herself. "Anything Nabs and I do is our business, Tendo. I'm going to cool off in the dojo. I'll be in to help with dinner later, big sis." All five residents of the Tendo home watched the pigtailed martial artist stalk off to the training hall.

The kata was expertly performed, although done with more force than was strictly needed. The fathers had made a third attempt at "knocking Ranma back to his senses" shortly after the redhead began her workout. Ranma ended the hard-style kata she had been practicing and moved to the graceful, slow movements of Tai Chi. Her back to the entrance, she spoke for the first time since beginning her workout.

"What do you want, Tendo?" she inquired, without turning to look at Akane.

The black-haired girl walked around into Ranma's field of vision. She looked both hurt and angry. "Why are you doing this to me, Ranma? You're a boy, you're my fiancé."

"I'm not doing anything to you, Tendo. For whatever reason, your punch, hitting the rock, maybe the rice I ate that morning, I realized I'm a girl." The redhead continued her kata. "I have no more control over that than you do. Can you decide to be a boy if you want to? No? Neither can I."

"That's stupid, Ranma! I can't decide I'm a boy, because I'm a girl, but you're a boy!" Akane half-shouted, her expression growing angrier. Ranma stopped her kata, looking at her fiancée. "You're just holding on to this girl thing to embarrass me, to teach me a lesson." Akane said the last with angry scorn. "All right, you win, I won't hit you any more," she promised, her voice softening. "Just go back to being a boy."

"Well, you got that right, Tendo, you aren't going to hit any more. You think I have a selector switch in my brain, just turn the dial to think I'm a boy?" The redhead began to gently maneuver herself. "Face it, Tendo, the Ranma you knew is gone, the stupid boy who traded insults with you, that you hit, doesn't exist anymore. There's just me, Ranma Saotome, martial artist, high-school student and most importantly, a girl!"

In a new household record, Akane broke her promise as she struck the redhead squarely on the chin, screaming, "Fine, then be a girl for all I care!" The redhead flew out of the dojo into the yard. There was a splash and a crack that startled Akane out of her anger. Rushing to the door, she saw the splayed form of her fiancé mostly in the Koi pond, her head resting on the cracked rock that had begun the whole odyssey.

The scene was eerily reminiscent of Ranma-the-girl's awakening less than a week ago. There were differences though, major differences. Akane sat huddled in a corner, scared and ashamed. Doctor Tofu's look of cool contempt towards her after Nabiki explained what had happened hurt her more than she thought possible. The fact that the physician was controlling himself in Kasumi's presence underlined the seriousness of matters.

The rest of the household reacted in typical fashion, save for Nabiki. The middle Tendo alternated between teeth-grinding anger whenever she looked at Akane or Ranma's father and intense worry when she helped Kasumi tend the fallen martial artist. Kasumi allowed a hint of concern to trickle through her normal serenity. Soun looked both apprehensive and hopeful while Genma was almost jovial, sure that his son was now restored. At the elder Saotome's insistence, Ranma was now male and dressed in fully male clothing.

As Doctor Tofu finished his examination, a slight aura could be seen encompassing the physician. However, it was with his normal placid demeanor that Tofu addressed the group. "Well, I don't think Ranma was badly injured. However, I cannot stress the danger of what you did, Akane-san. Inflicting further cranial trauma on someone who has already shown a personality change is criminally reckless." Akane nodded, subdued. Genma dismissed the doctor's concern.

"No need to worry about the boy, Doctor. I'm sure Akane's loving concern has restored Ranma," the burly martial artist pontificated.

Tofu said nothing for a long moment, although the aura was again visible. Pausing to clean his glasses, Tofu stared at the part-time panda. "Saotome-san, I regret this is not the United States where I could call child services and get Ranma out of this abusive situation. As it is, I will take steps—"

"I'm sorry, Doctor," Akane interrupted him. "I know I have a problem and I want you to help me, maybe see a psychiatrist? I promised Ranma I wouldn't hit her again and I broke that promise in minutes. I need to control my anger." Tofu's visage softened.

"I'm glad you can ask for help, Akane. A few anger-management classes would probably help you immensely. But you're not the only problem in this household," he said, looking at the fathers and Nabiki significantly.

"Hey! I wouldn't hurt Ma-chan," Nabiki protested. "She's my partner and best friend!" Tofu shook his head sadly.

"I hope you still feel that way if Ranma-chan wakes up male, Nabiki." The doctor looked faintly disgusted as both fathers looked gleeful.

"The best way to solve this is if Ranma marries Akane as soon as he wakes up, then," Genma said authoritatively. The tall physician shook his head firmly.

"No Saotome-san. Akane will seek professional help, but I want this so-called arranged marriage to unite the families to be voluntary. If Ranma and Akane do not wish to be wed, then the obligation will pass on to the next generation. Your dreams are not worth all of the pain and turmoil. This is non-negotiable. Give the kids some breathing space or I WILL go to the authorities."

As Genma looked outraged, Soun whispered, "Don't worry Saotome, Ranma loves Akane. We can go along with this to avoid scandal." The burly martial artist looked rebellious but nodded in acquiescence. The staring match between the two men was interrupted by a groan from Ranma.

Immediately, everyone was gathered around the younger Saotome's futon. Ranma sat up, rubbing his head. "Jeez, Akane, you didn't have to hit me so hard," he muttered. He started self-consciously as he looked at the small crowd around him. "Um, what's going on?"

"How are you feeling, Ranma-chan?" Kasumi gently asked, feeling a little sad at Ranma's wince at her use of the –chan suffix. Genma broke in excitedly.

"Ranma, are you a boy or a girl?" the balding man demanded. Ranma looked at his father as he had grown a second head.

"I'm a guy, Pop, come on what kind of question is that to ask," the pigtailed boy objected. "Just 'cause I'm cursed ain't any reason to call my manhood into question."

"T-then you're a boy again, Ranma?" Akane asked, voice tremulous with hope.

"Whaddaya mean, again, you uncute tomboy?" Ranma roared, outraged, which immediately turned to confusion as Akane hugged him and the fathers began dancing, singing "Ranma's a boy again!"

Amid the jubilation, only Kasumi seemed to notice Nabiki's heartbroken expression or her tears as she fled from the room.

Several hours had passed since Ranma as boy had returned. Nabiki had dried her tears and gave thought to resuming her role as Ice Queen, but that ship had sailed. As she gathered up the photos that were to be Ranma's portfolio, the brunette found herself examining each picture, smiling as they evoked memories of her too short time with her best friend.

The middle Tendo had decided to trash the photos, the memories and the lost opportunity and go back to the way she was, but almost as if Ma-chan were sitting beside her, Nabiki could hear that soprano voice telling her "Life's too short, girlfriend. Money AND fun."

She shook her head. She thought she would have been bitter, but the anger was gone. All that was left were good memories and the faint hope that somewhere in that clueless jock, her best friend was ready to make a comeback. In honor of her memory, Nabiki decided to be a bit nicer to the pigtailed boy. A knock on the door broke her reverie. Shaking her head, she called out, "Come on in, Kasumi."

The door remained closed as a nervous tenor told her, "Um, sorry, Nabiki, it's me." The brunette sighed, but smiled lopsidedly.

"Come on in, Saotome."

The anxious boy entered the room, closing the door behind him. He stared at the short-haired girl for a minute before beginning. "Um, Nabiki, I was talking to everyone and I guess I thought I was a girl and kind of got to be friends with you. I hope I didn't, you know, do anything to hurt you."

"Don't sweat it, Ranma, it was fun while it lasted. I'm not mad at you," Nabiki said, surprised to discover she was telling the truth. The boy smiled in relief.

"Kasumi was telling me I thought I was smart or something," he remarked, relaxing. Nabiki laughed.

"You were smarter, Ranma, no joke. It was a pleasure to hang with Ma-chan."

Ranma began wandering about the room, looking at the few items of interest Nabiki kept out in the open. "Yeah, I guess Kasumi said the same thing. A smart girl, who would have thought it?" Ranma seemed to looking into the middle distance, as he pondered out loud. "You know, a smart girl probably would have realized that our fathers would never give up. Neither would Akane."

Nabiki stared at the boy as his body language shifted subtly. "I bet she would come up with some plan to get all the pressure off her, so that things could go back to normal for a while." Ranma was now looking right into Nabiki's eyes. "Something to convince people who got their medical knowledge from movies and TV shows that she thought she was a boy again."

Now the middle Tendo was holding her breath as her complete attention was fixed on the pig-tailed boy, who was moving in a more and more feminine manner. "Maybe something on the order of the old cliché where one blow to the head is fixed by a second one. She knew that the stupid-boy lovers would want to believe it, only she probably thought her partner would immediately see through that flimsy notion." Ranma's mannerisms were now totally female. "I'm sure she never thought she would hurt her best friend and that she'd be really sorry."

"Ma-chan?" Nabiki whispered. "MA-CHAN!" she shouted, enveloping her friend in a bone crushing hug. "You beast, how could do that to me?"

"I guess we're even, huh Nabs? Seriously, I thought you'd spot my con game straight away. I guess I'm a better actor than I knew," he finished.

"Who else knows?" Nabiki asked, ending the hug.

"Well, if you mean, who have I told, you're the only one. Kasumi must suspect and I'm sure Tofu knows. The fact that he backed me up out there bodes well. Cologne will know almost immediately."

"So what do we do?" Nabiki settled down happily in planning mode. "If you want to go through with our plans, I can easily 'blackmail' you into girl clothes and modeling. From there we can see how the rest of them react." Ranma nodded.

"Sounds good. I figure you can 'borrow' my wardrobe and keep it safe. I don't mind you wearing it, but don't bogart all the best stuff, okay?"

"Fair enough," Nabiki smirked. Her smile dimmed a little. "What about Akane?"

"I don't know, Nabs," the black-haired boy sighed. "I'll probably end up marrying her. Could be okay, especially if she gets that temper of hers under control." Nabiki looked shocked.

"But you're a girl."

"Yeah, but I still don't seem to have any preference. Maybe that knock to the noggin shorted out my libido. Anyway, I figure Akane's gay or least bi, not that I blame her, so I'll probably tell her sometime."

"How do you figure that, Ma-chan?" Nabiki wondered. Ranma shrugged.

"Look at the two men who've piqued her interest. Tofu, who's kind and gentle, and above all safe, because she can never have him. The other is me, a boy who turns into a girl from her point of view. If you were the heir from a traditional family, but you happened to be a lesbian, wouldn't someone like me be a godsend? And if he was a macho jerk, that would really knot your underwear, because you want him to be more girly."

"Not a bad scenario," Nabiki allowed, "but then why was she so put out by you actually becoming a girl?" Ranma shrugged again.

"Maybe she's in denial, maybe it would blow her cover, I don't know."

"Well, what I know is that I'm going to announce to the family about the contract before dinner. Then I'm informing them that you're going to make it up to me for turning back into a boy by taking me out to help me forget," Nabiki announced.

"So, you want to go clubbing, Nabs?" Both girls — one male, the other female — grinned.