Author note: As you can tell I am making slight changes to the story to help it's stability and counter some of the errors that were made in the past, I will be working diligently on the other chapters soon as possible gonna start revamping chapter:3 sometime today.
Ranma groaned as she rolled over, slowly awakening and finding her futon particularly hard and uncomfortable this morning. Sitting up drowsily, she began to stretch out some kinks, yawning, and brought a hand up to her face to rub the sleep from her eyes. The sensation of fur rubbing against her face was Ranma's first real indicator that something was seriously off. Cracking open her eyes, she stared blearily at her hand, trying to bring it into focus. 'Why's my hand so...white and...fuzzy?' she mused silently. Then her hand actually came into focus... 'What the..?!'
Panic that she'd somehow been hit with yet another curse had just begun to start up, as she frantically looked and felt herself over, before she realized that she was actually wearing some kind of costume and calmed back down. Mostly. A dull ache, at both the back and front of her head, provided a clue as to how she'd come to be wearing said costume, along with her last conscious memories before waking...wherever she was. 'Ryoga!' she mentally growled, taking note that she was in some kind of elaborate cage or display case. 'Oooh, just you wait, Pig-Boy... I think it's well past time that Akane took her precious 'P-Chan' to the vet to make sure all his 'shots' are up to date...'
Looking out of her cage, Ranma blanched at the sight that greeted her. It was some kind of...well, trophy room, she supposed. In fact, there actually were a few 'trophies' in a display case against the far wall of the large room. Everywhere she looked, though, there were display cases holding what, she assumed, could be considered 'cute' things. And along the neon pink walls were more display cases/cages similar to her own, although they all appeared to be empty save for one other. She wasn't entirely sure what it contained, it may have been a dog of some kind...if one were being rather loose in their interpretation of what a dog was, as whatever it was looked as if Quasimodo had decided to breed with a Bulldog that had already crossbred with a Saint Bernard...and maybe a Chihuahua...and possibly several other creatures, not all of them native to the mortal plane of existence. That thing just did NOT look right and gave her the heebie-jeebies just looking at it. And the bright pink collar, large bow and nail-polish that had been applied to its large claws did NOTHING to improve its looks, whatsoever.
Turning her attention away from the room's seemingly only other living occupant with a shudder, Ranma focused on her own cage and escape. The base was elevated about a foot from the main floor and seemed to be made of a heavily-enameled steel plate with rounded corners and measured about five by eight feet in dimension. It was set flush with the wall and was wrapped in a clear glass-like material that may have been a thick Plexiglas or acrylic material, which appeared to be inset into the floor and extended upwards into the ceiling. There was a slot-like opening, about six-inches high and maybe a foot-and-a-half wide, with a securely latched covering at one end of the cage, no doubt to allow for food and water to be placed inside. Ranma would be able to easily reach through the opening once the cover was opened, but there was no way she'd be able to get out or pull anyone in through it. There was a small drain in the center of the floor and what she assumed were water sprinklers in the ceiling, and tapping against the back wall of the cage showed it to be more enameled steel plate. There WAS, however, a covered vent inset into the wall that appeared to be large enough for her to squeeze through...if she removed the bulky costume she was wearing. Even then, it looked like it was going to be a tight fit.
'How the heck did they even get me in here?!' Ranma wondered, not having found anything even remotely resembling a doorway, hidden or otherwise. Not really expecting to have any success, Ranma punched the clear 'wall' of her cage to see if she could shatter it or simply knock it loose. As she'd expected, it simply absorbed the force of her blow. A powerful kick had no better results.
"Oh, Antoinette, you're awake! This makes Azusa so happy!" Azusa exclaimed, emerging from behind some of the clutter in the room.
Ranma, hearing Azusa's voice, ceased kicking at the wall as she focused her attention on the ditzy little klepto. 'Great, out of the frying pan and into the fire,' she thought. "Lemme outta here! You can't hold me in here, I'm a human being, damn it!"
"Aww, silly Antoinette, polar bears are not human," Azusa giggled. Then, in an overly-cute and cheerful tone of voice, she asked, "Is Antoinette hungry?"
Ranma growled, "My name is RANMA! Not 'Antoinette', or Fifi, or Francoise, or any other cute and stupid little French-sounding name that pops into that empty little head of yours! NOW LEMME OUTTA HERE!"
"Don't be angry, Antoinette," Azusa pleaded, looking sad. Then she seemed to brighten, which set alarms going off in Ranma's head, before cheerfully stating, "That must be it! Antoinette is hungry and is cranky because she has not eaten breakfast yet! Little Azusa will get you something to eat right away! But what do polar bears eat? Hmm...I KNOW! FISH!" And with that, Azusa sped from the room, leaving Ranma with an impending sense of doom. Knowing her luck as she did, Ranma could easily imagine her cage suddenly being filled with a metric ton of raw fish and other oceanic organisms up to her neck...if not over her head. She HAD to get out of here! NOW!
Akane exited her bedroom, dressed for her morning jog, and headed over to the guest room to make sure Ranma would be up and awake for their 'spar' when she returned. "Ranma! Wake up! I don't want to hear any..." Akane's voice trailed off once she'd opened the guest room door and flicked on the light. Uncle Saotome, in panda form, was sprawled out on his futon, still asleep and snoring away, but...there was no sign of Ranma in the room. In fact, Ranma's futon appeared to have already been rolled up and put away. "Where is that idiot?" Akane grumbled, surprised that he was apparently already awake and up. 'I swear, if Ranma's trying to stand me up again...'
Heading downstairs, Akane stopped by the kitchen to see if Ranma may, as had occurred on occasion, be helping Kasumi out with preparing breakfast...but Kasumi was the only occupant of the room. "Kasumi, have you seen Ranma?"
"Not this morning, Akane-chan," Kasumi responded. "He took a bath last night, before I did, and I assumed he went to bed right after. Although, there was all that noise while I was upstairs getting my bathing things... He wasn't in his room?"
"No, he wasn't," Akane sighed, having dismissed Azusa's presence in her home the previous evening as a figment of her imagination and therefore not making the connection. Moving on into the living room, she was mildly surprised to see Ryoga at the table with a still half-asleep Nabiki, drinking coffee. "Hey guys, have you seen Ranma anywhere this morning?" she asked.
Nabiki just gave a negative grunt as she slowly shook her head and took another sip of her coffee, barely even acknowledging the question.
"What about you, Ryoga, surely you've seen him?" Akane asked, sounding hopeful.
Ryoga grinned, remembering the events from last night and imagining what Azusa could be doing to Ranma right now. "Nope, haven't seen him. But he's probably just out practicing the Art somewhere; you know him, always training. Heheheh..." Ryoga's nervous laughter trailed off as he noticed Nabiki gazing steadily at him with a raised eyebrow, all but announcing that she knew he was lying.
It had been surprisingly easy to pry the cover off of the ventilation duct, but squeezing through the small opening would be an entirely different matter. It was as Ranma stripped off the polar bear costume that she discovered the collar about her slender neck. It fit snugly about her neck and felt like it may have been covered in silk or something similar, being fairly thick, and had what felt like a large bow at the back, probably centered over the clasp and making it difficult if not impossible to get to. No doubt, judging from the dog-thing's collar in the other cage, it was 'pink' and had been placed on her by Azusa. She was barely able to get her slender fingers about it, but when she jerked strongly against it, intending to rip it off...she was sent crashing to the floor of her cage, convulsing uncontrollably, as electricity was sent into her from the collar.
"Oh, come on! This is cruelty to animals!" she cried out, once the shock passed and she'd regained control of her body. 'Deal with it later,' she told herself, jumping up and beginning to squeeze through the small opening in the wall and into the ventilation shaft itself; doing her best to ignore the way her breasts and hips were being scraped raw as she squeezed through.
Shuddering as her bare and abused skin came into contact with the cold metal of the ventilation shaft itself, Ranma rolled onto her hands and knees and took stock of her situation. The shaft itself was barely large enough to crawl through without continually rubbing against the sides, and dark with the only illumination coming from the vent ducts of the cages along one side. Not really able to turn around without some extreme contortions on her part, Ranma began crawling forward, pausing to check every outlet, looking for one that exited out somewhere other than yet another cage.
She had to turn two tight corners and was on the other side of the room when her progress was halted by the ventilation shaft abruptly turning upwards. So far, every outlet she'd found had only let into yet another cage and she was reasonably convinced that the room itself was the basement of wherever she was being held. Staring up into the pitch blackness of the vertical shaft, Ranma sighed and began the slow process of shinnying her way up to, hopefully, the next level and freedom.
Ranma's vertical ascent in the darkened shaft was again halted after a time when her head struck the top. Feeling around, however, left her confused as there didn't appear to be any horizontal branches of the shaft from that point. Belatedly, Ranma realized that she had been minimizing bodily contact with the cold walls of the shaft to her hands and feet and must have missed other shafts branching off from the vertical one. With a resigned sigh, Ranma reversed directions and began descending back down the vertical shaft, this time pausing every few feet to feel about for a horizontal branch. Moments later she found one and crawled into it, feeling her way in the darkness until she felt a duct cover. A hard shove pushed the cover off and she once again forced her body through a painfully tight hole and into a darkened room.
As Ranma carefully rose to her feet, she could feel cloth brushing against one arm and then something small tapped against her face. Reaching up to brush it aside, she found what felt like a slender chain suspended from the ceiling and pulled it. There was a click and light suddenly blinded her for a moment.
"Eww, I may have been better off in the cage," she muttered, looking about herself once her eyes adjusted to the light, finding herself in what appeared to be a closet. Judging from the sickeningly cute amounts of satin and lace, in pink and other pastel colors, of the collection of frilly dresses...Ranma rightly assumed that she'd stumbled into Azusa's personal closet. Almost, Ranma chose to exit the closet and make her escape while still nude rather than wear anything she might find therein. Fortunately, before she did so, she stumbled across a tolerable peasant dress tucked away in the back. It would have been small even on Azusa, and the bustier severely squeezed Ranma's chest and pinched her waist, with the white top, which should have been loose and ruffled, stretched taut across her substantial bosom with the shoulder straps framing and forcing them together and outwards, but it covered the basics with the forest green skirt covering her to mid-thigh. She still didn't have any undergarments, and a stiff breeze would be likely to blow up the still fairly loose skirt of the dress, exposing her nether regions to one and all, but she wasn't about to raid Azusa's bedroom for such items. She had the basics covered and it was time to leave.
Cautiously opening the closet door, Ranma peeked out and, seeing no one in the garishly girly bedroom, that had security bars over the windows (whether to prevent break-ins or escape was subject to debate), quickly made her way across the room and out the door...onto a balcony overlooking a much larger room. Apparently, as she'd climbed up the ventilation shaft, she'd missed an entire floor. Noting a stairway leading down to her left, Ranma quickly made her way over to it and descended, hoping she could make it across the large room and to the double-doors she could see to one side, which hopefully would let her escape the house, without anyone noticing her.
"Excuse me, Miss, but may I inquire as to whom you are and what you are doing here?" a male voice suddenly spoke up as Ranma was rushing across the room towards the doors. Looking to her right, Ranma noted what appeared to be a butler standing in another doorway beneath the balcony.
"Uhhh...just, um...I...I'm, uh...Ran-...Ranko! Yeah, I'm Ranko, and, uh...Azusa...she, uh...she..." Ranma stammered, searching desperately for some reasonable excuse to explain her presence.
"Another one," the butler sighed, having long experience with his mistress's tendencies to bring various 'cute' items back to the residence...which, occasionally, DID include individuals she'd found particularly cute. Releasing another long-suffering sigh, the butler explained, "Breakfast will be served shortly in the main dining room, through those doors, Miss Ranko," he indicated the double-doors Ranma had been making for, "and the front doors of the manse are down the hallway behind you...when you are ready to depart."
"Uhh, thanks. Bye," Ranma quickly chirped and wasted no time turning about and making for the exit, her bare feet slapping loudly against the marble tile of the floor as she struggled not to break into a full-out sprint.
"Polite girl," the butler murmured to himself, before sighing yet again. 'Whatever are we going to do about the Mistress's habits?' he questioned himself. 'That's the third girl she's kidnapped this week. Oh well, at least this one wasn't swearing to bring charges...' Then he shuddered with revulsion, recalling that it was time to feed the...THING downstairs. How his mistress had managed to capture it, let alone what she could possibly find 'cute' about the abomination, was utterly beyond his understanding. 'The life of a manservant is fraught with peril...but I really should get my resume updated. I don't know how much more of the insanity around here I can take...'
Akane was jogging her way through the park, making good time on her morning run and fuming at how Ranma appeared to be trying to skip out on the promised sparring match, when she was forced to come to an abrupt stop as a cry of "PERVERT!" rang out and some guy in a track suit flew right in front of her to land in the bushes to one side of the path. Looking to where the guy had come from, Akane's eyes grew wide as she saw Ranma in a scandalously small dress stomping down the path towards her and looking as if she were about to kill, or at least seriously maim, the next person who so much as looked at her funny.
"Um...Ranma? Why are you dressed in that getup? And what's with the pink collar?" Akane hesitantly asked, as Ranma trudged past her without any apparent notice that she was even there. "You know it's going to attract every pervert around, don't you?"
Ranma spun on her like a rabid dog, snarling, and snapped, "You think I don't know that?! I've already had to beat off half a dozen perverts this morning! It ain't like I wanted to wear this dress, but it was the only thing I could find! And what do you care for, huh? You and everybody else are always trying to get me in a dress or other girly outfits all the time at the slightest excuse! Sometimes I think you all WANT me to be a girl it happens so often!" Needless to say, Ranma was in a particularly foul mood and not just because of the most recent situation, although it was definitely a contributing factor.
"Well, excuse me for being curious," Akane growled back, her own ire returning to the fore. "Don't you think I have a right to know why my 'fiancé' would be dressed up like a trollop trolling through the park for dates? And where did you run off to so early this morning? You're not trying to get out of our sparring match this morning, are you?"
"I didn't run off anywhere!" Ranma growled, and made a visible effort to rein in her anger. "Ryoga was being chased by Azusa last night and tried to hide in the bath while I was taking one. He knocked me out and dressed me up in a cute costume for Azusa to find, and she hauled me back to her place. I've spent the morning escaping and fighting off every perverted male in Nerima."
"A likely story, I'm sure." Akane paused, as she recalled the memory of Azusa carrying someone dressed in a polar bear costume out of the house the previous evening. Still, she wasn't about to let Ranma off the hook and lay the blame at her friend's feet. "I'll bet you were just trying to trick poor Ryoga again, just like you always do. Only this time, he saw through your disguise and knocked you out for Azusa to find. Humph! Serves you right!"
"Grrr, believe what you want," Ranma growled through clenched teeth, "you always do, regardless of the facts. Just don't get in my way the next time I see Ryoga, I owe him a world of hurt!"
"Whatever," Akane snorted, dismissing Ranma's comments as just blustering bravado, as she stepped up closer to Ranma and reached out to get a good grip to remove the collar from about Ranma's neck.
"No! Don't." Ranma began to shout, realizing what Akane intended to do, but was abruptly cut off as Akane yanked hard on the collar...and then was unable to release it as they were both shocked into unconsciousness.
Just moments later, Nodoka Saotome, enjoying a leisurely walk through the park on her way to the Tendo Dojo that morning, stumbled across the two girls passed out on the path. Tsking in shocked embarrassment, Nodoka quickly adjusted Ranko's skirt to conceal that she wasn't currently wearing panties, and knelt down beside the two girls to try and rouse them.
"Ranko? Wake up, dear," Nodoka softly called, lightly slapping the girl's cheeks and wondering curiously at the way the two girls' hair seemed to be standing on end. Then, even more curious, 'Now why would Ranko be wearing a pet collar, I wonder?' Thinking that the collar may be interfering with Ranko's ability to breathe, she tried to remove it...and experienced a 'shocking' discovery of her own, before collapsing alongside the other two girls.
"Ooooh, my head..." Ranma groaned, rousing from her forced slumber, yet again, to slowly sit upright. There was an oddly metallic taste in her mouth...and her entire body ached, like that time she'd... Ranma frantically looked around, searching for any signs of Kodachi's pet alligator. Fortunately, she realized that she was still in the park. Unfortunately, Ranma also realized that Akane and her mother were both passed out on the ground beside her.
"Mom!" Ranma cried out, spinning about to kneel beside the older woman, gently trying to rouse her. "Mom, wake up! Are you okay?"
"Nnngh... Ranko, dear..." Nodoka woozily began, slowly waking and sitting up. "Just why are you wearing a collar that gives such strong electrical shocks?"
"Heh heh...long story," Ranma chuckled nervously, turning her attention to rousing Akane now that her mother appeared to be alright. "So...what brings you to the park this early, Auntie?"
'It may have been my imagination before, but I distinctly heard her call me 'Mom' that time. I wonder...could it be... Could Ranko really be my son?' Nodoka thought, recalling how she had seen that Ryoga boy transform into a small pig with a splash of water; and his explanation of how Jusenkyo curses worked when she had pressed him for an explanation later on. And recalling how Ranko was frequently soaking wet whenever she made her surprise visits to the Dojo in search of her husband and son. 'Best not to rush things, or jump to conclusions too quickly,' she decided, before responding to Ranko's question. "I was just enjoying a stroll through the park on my way to the Dojo, dear. I was hoping we could continue our talk from last night."
"Oh, um...sure," Ranma said, carefully getting to her feet, still twitching a little, before turning to help Akane upright as well.
"Here you go, Auntie," Akane said, handing over Nodoka's purse that she'd picked up while getting to her feet.
"Thank you, dear," Nodoka said, taking the proffered item before turning her attention back to Ranko. "Ranko...could you explain to me just why you're dressed that way, going 'commando', and wearing a collar? I can understand your doing so, if one of those boys you described to me is interested in such...games...and you're hoping to attract his attention, but it's really unbecoming of a young lady to play such games so...publicly. And I thought you didn't want to rush into anything? Such intimate 'games' should really not be played until after you're married, dear."
Ranma just stood there, wide-eyed, her mouth opening and closing like a fish, shocked that her mother would think she was doing...THAT! At least she was until Akane snickered in amusement, trying to suppress her need to laugh aloud. "Not a word, Tendo," Ranma growled softly, glaring at her, before turning back to face her mother. "Mo-...Auntie, I didn't have any real choice 'bout what I'm wearin'. I don't wanna go into any of the details, but I ain't wearin' it to 'attract' the attention of any boys. Just like I didn't have any say in wearin' this damn collar. I just wanna go back to the Dojo and get into my regular clothes and get this stuff off!"
"Of course, dear," Nodoka agreed, smiling and turning to lead the way out of the park.
Ranma's mood didn't improve all that much during the short walk out of the park, although there was now a large dose of anxiety mixed into the whole. She had slipped again and called her mother 'Mom', instead of 'Auntie', and despite her mother's teasing as to the way she was currently dressed...Ranma had not missed the speculative and contemplative looks her mother was still occasionally shooting her. 'Could she suspect the truth?' she wondered. 'Or could she be thinking about 'adopting' me as her 'daughter'? After all, I'm supposed to be Ranko 'Tendo', a distant cousin of Akane's and an orphan...'
"We really need to get that collar off of you, Ranko," Akane spoke up, interrupting Ranma's thoughts as they walked along.
"Yeah, well, if ya got any bright ideas of how to do so, without trying to yank it off and getting shocked again, I'm all ears," Ranma responded dejectedly.
"Hmm," Nodoka spoke up, peering closely at the collar about Ranma's neck. "I think I've seen similar collars before...on large dogs. Perhaps a pet shop would know how to remove it."
"That's a great idea, Auntie," Akane chimed in happily. "Let's go, Ranko! There's a pet shop just around this next corner."
"Arf arf," Ranma barked sarcastically, but followed along. 'This is going to be sooo embarrassing,' she thought glumly.
Nodoka shook her head with a grin at Ranko's sarcastic response, and said, "You asked for suggestions, dear; I merely gave one."
"Sorry, Auntie, just having a bad day," Ranma said apologetically.
Ranma slowed as Akane and her mother stepped into "Nerima's Exotic Pets, Inc.", and then kept her gaze focused exclusively on the floor as she timidly followed after them. This was the kind of place where they sold...THOSE things, and the last thing she needed or wanted was to see one. It was bad enough that she could hear one nearby.
"Excuse me, Miss, can you help us?" Nodoka asked, stepping up to the counter and addressing the salesclerk who'd been stocking the shelves.
The salesclerk turned about, and immediately recognized two of her customers. "Hi, Akane! Hey, Ranma."
"Yuka!" Akane interrupted hastily. "I didn't know you worked here! 'Ranko' and I thought you were working at the bookstore?"
"I was," Yuka responded, giving Akane a puzzled look as the girl darted her eyes towards the elder woman. "But I changed jobs and started working here last week. So...what can I help you with?"
"Well, my niece," Nodoka began, turning to indicate the shorter redhead and thus missing the puzzled expression that crossed Yuka's face, "Ranko, could use some help in removing that collar about her neck. And we were hoping that you may know of a way to do so."
As Yuka turned to Ranma, she started to snicker at the sight of the large pink bow about Ranma's neck, but Akane's brief shake of her head and nod toward the elder woman stopped her. Stepping out from behind the counter, Yuka took a closer look at the collar. "Ah, a Shiratori Special. Yes, I can help you get this off of Ran...ko. I'll just take her into the back where I have the proper tools. We'll just be a moment."
Ranma kept her gaze on the floor as she was led into the back room of the pet shop and to a seat at a table. "Sit here, Ranma. And don't look around. We keep some of the excess...pets back here."
Ranma took Yuka's word for it and kept her gaze fixed on the table as Yuka retrieved a large toolbox and set it on the table before her. "So, why didn't Akane want me calling you by name, and who's the woman calling you her 'niece'?" Yuka asked, as she rummaged around in the toolbox.
Ranma let off a deep sigh, "My mom. She doesn't know about the curse and...it could be bad if she found out about it in the wrong way, so...as far as she knows, I'm Akane's cousin, Ranko."
"Bad how?" Yuka asked, finally finding what she was looking for and pulling the items from the toolbox.
"Damn," Yuka gasped, pulling on some thick rubber gloves. "Your life really is screwed up. I'll have to get the full story from Akane, later."
"So, you have any idea on how to get this collar offa me?"
"Oh, sure. Getting the collar off is easy, but..." Yuka said, and Ranma felt something cold and metallic slipping into place between the collar and the back of her neck.
"You're not gonna like it."
Before Ranma could ask what Yuka meant by that, there was a loud metallic snap and her world exploded in a brief moment of intense pain before everything went dark.
Yuka chuckled as she held up the large tin-snips in one hand, the now severed collar in the other. "Well, Ranma, looks like your good to go. But first..." Yuka quickly replaced the now harmless collar about Ranma's neck and rushed over to where her purse was stored, pulling her cell phone out and snapping a few quick pictures of Ranma in her too-small dress and cute pink collar. "No way Sayuri'd believe me about this without evidence." Then, making sure that everything had been put away, she called out, "Akane! Can you come back here and get Ranko? She's in no condition to walk home right now."
"Thanks, Yuka," Akane said, stepping into the back room. With the shortness of the dress Ranma was wearing, as well as her current lack of undergarments, carrying Ranma piggyback was definitely not an option. And it was too far back to the Dojo to carry her 'bridal' style, so...Akane tossed the smaller girl over her shoulder like a bag of rice, and was thus able to hold her skirt down in the process and protect what little modesty Ranma may have possessed.
"So, how much do we owe you?" Nodoka asked, digging into her purse as the two younger girls emerged from the back room, with an unconscious Ranko over Akane's shoulder.
"Don't worry about it, Ma'am. Ranko can pay me back later with a favor. You will inform her of that, won't you, Akane?"
"Sure, no problem, Yuka," Akane said, carrying Ranma out of the shop.
"Please, I insist that you take something for helping Ranko out," Nodoka stated, handing Yuka 500 yen. "I'm certain the poor dear is going to be embarrassed enough over all this, without being reminded of it."
Yuka pocketed the coinage and smiled. "No problem, Mrs. Saotome. I don't intend to ask for a large favor or anything...and I won't tease her too much about this." 'Just mercilessly until I get ALL the little details out of him!'
Ranma sat at his desk, his head down on his forearms, with a book propped open before him in a halfhearted attempt to conceal the fact that he was once again sleeping in class. The last two weeks had been pure hell for the young martial artist. Akane had wasted little time in relating the embarrassing incident to the rest of her family, and by extension his father, and Genma had taken it, as always, as an excuse to step up his son's training, in both duration and intensity. Then, to make matters even worse, Yuka had taken pictures of him after removing that damned collar and they were circulating throughout the school. He was continually being teased and laughed at, and Nabiki was hounding him to do a photo-shoot while dressed as some girls named "Heidi" and "Pippi". As a result of all that, Ranma hadn't gotten a decent night's sleep since and was fairly exhausted.
Akane looked over at Ranma from her own desk, where she'd been taking notes for the both of them, and frowned. 'I swear, you'd think he could be at least a little grateful that I do these things while he sleeps through class,' she thought, hoping that he would try the cookies she planned to make in Home-Ec class today. Then she caught sight of the teacher looking over the class out of the corner of her eye and returned her attention to the front of the class.
"Saotome, wake up! This is a classroom, not a rest stop!" the teacher barked out. Not getting a response, the teacher shook his head wearily and began walking over towards the sink in the corner of the room.
Akane quickly tried to wake Ranma before the teacher turned back around, but to no avail. 'Damn, he must be really worn out,' she thought, turning back to the front of the class and watching the teacher approach, glass of cold water now in hand.
Ukyo just looked on, shaking her head sadly at the inevitable, 'Mr. Aiyama warned Ranma of what he'd do if he was caught sleeping in his class again.'
The teacher picked up the book on Ranma's desk and slammed it down onto it, and when that elicited no response the sleeping boy he upended the glass of cold water onto his head.
Ranma awoke sputtering and looking wildly around. "What's the big idea?!" she yelled, wiping excess water from her face, and finally taking note of the scowling teacher and the now empty glass in his hand.
"I warned you, Mister Saotome. You sleep in my class and I'm going to start pouring water on you to keep you awake," the teacher stated firmly, before turning to address the entire class. "And that goes for the rest of you, as well. In fact, I believe I'll bring a cooler tomorrow, stocked with ice and bottled water, just to ensure that the water is nice and cold. Saotome is hardly the only student I've caught sleeping in class...isn't that right, Mister Higurashi? Perhaps you'd get more sleep at home, in bed, if you saved watching those hentai anime you love so much for the weekends."
Daisuke just slouched lower in his seat as the class laughed at his embarrassment.
"And just where do you think you're going, Saotome?" Mr. Aiyama demanded, when Ranma stood up from her desk.
"The hall, where else?" she muttered. "I imagine you want me to get some buckets filled with water, too."
"Oh no, Saotome. No. I think I'll let Ranma-'chan' remain in class this time. Maybe now she'll actually stay awake and learn something," the teacher stated, snarkily, before turning and walking back to the front of the classroom, accompanied by a few chuckles and giggles from the students.
Ranma fumed as she plopped back down into her seat, angrily wiping away the excess water covering it and opening her textbook to the appropriate chapter as indicated on the chalkboard. 'I hate school, and I hate that jerk!' she thought, giving the teacher a menacing glare; she hadn't missed the appreciative glances that he'd been giving to the way her now water-soaked silk shirt clung to her breasts.
Akane shook her head, then leaned over to whisper, "I told you he was serious, but nooo, you didn't want to believe me.." Akane was interrupted as chalkboard eraser bounced off her head.
"No distracting your fellow students, Miss Tendo. If you do so again, I'll have you stand in the hall," Mr. Aiyama instructed as he began making some notes in his class planner.
Akane sighed as she picked up the eraser and set it on the corner of her desk. She contemplated throwing it back at the teacher, but thought better of it.
Ranma, male once more, peeked around the side of the tool shed he was hiding behind, carefully surveying the schoolyard as other students went about eating their lunches. He'd been quietly eating from his own bento when he'd overheard some girl offering to let another student try some cookies she'd just baked in Home-Ec class, which reminded him that Akane had Home-Ec just before lunch as well. And if one girl had baked cookies today, then Akane... Ranma had finished off his bento in a flash and then hightailed it for someplace to hide.
"What'cha lookin' for?" a voice softly whispered into his ear.
"Akane. They were baking in Home-Ec today and..." Ranma trailed off, a feeling of impending doom settling over him, as he realized just who was whispering into his ear. He'd barely begun to make a break for it when a small hand latched onto his shirt collar, yanking him back, and slamming him into the side of the tool shed.
"Hey Ranma, I know you're not trying to avoid me," Akane said calmly, a soft smile on her face, before her tone grew harsh and her expression turned into a frown, "are you?"
"Wh-what? No...of course not," Ranma chuckled nervously, eying the small paper bag in Akane's hands warily. "I-I was l-looking for you...yeah, that's right. I heard you were looking for me, so I was looking for you, yeah."
"Uh-huh," Akane grunted, clearly not believing a word of it, before holding the small paper bag up, threateningly, against his chest, daring him to move with her eyes. "I baked you some cookies in class today...won't you try them? Please?" she asked, her hard gaze softening into an imploring one.
'Ahh, jeez...not the 'kicked puppy' look,' Ranma thought, already in the process of subconsciously taking hold of the paper bag. "Um...what... What kind of cookies are they?" he hesitantly asked, cautiously holding the bag away from his face and carefully opening it, just in case there were any noxious fumes or it exploded on contact with the outside air.
"We made sugar cookies, but...I felt those would be kind of bland, so I spiced them up a little."
"Uh-huh..." Ranma responded, warily reaching into the bag and withdrawing...a cookie. Well, he supposed it was a cookie...looked more like a dried-out slug, though; same coloring and everything. He felt nauseous just looking at it. "So, um...have you tried them yourself, yet?"
"Of course not, I made them for you," Akane said, starting to fume at his obvious reluctance to eat her cookies. "Are you saying they're no good? You haven't even tried them yet."
Ranma held a hand up in warding. "I was just askin', no need to get mad or anything. I...I'll try one, okay?"
"Please do," Akane gushed, smiling pleasantly.
Ranma eyed the...cookie in his hand warily for a minute, then just as Akane's frown began to reappear he popped it into his mouth and quickly chewed, trying desperately not to taste anything and keep his face blank of all expression. 'Ugh...too much salt...and it's bitter, and...is that wasabi?' Ranma thought, feeling beads of sweat break out on his forehead. After several more minutes of chewing, and detecting nothing even remotely 'sugary', Ranma forced himself to swallow and smile at Akane. "Not too bad, Akane. You're definitely improving," he said. 'I haven't passed out yet; I guess that qualifies as improving...'
"Really? I'm so glad you like them," Akane gushed, pleased as could be. "Please, have some more! In fact, eat them all if you like!"
'I never said I liked them, I said they weren't too bad...' Ranma thought, struggling to maintain his smile and not grimace. Knowing that Akane's patience was virtually nonexistent, however, Ranma took a deep breath and braced himself. 'I am sooo going to regret this...I just know it,' he thought, and began scooping the offensive things into his mouth, doing his best to just get it over with as quickly as possible. Shortly, but not nearly soon enough for Ranma, and with the aid of a bottle of water provided by a smiling Akane, Ranma managed to choke down Akane's cookies.
Finishing off the bottled water, and rinsing the lingering foul taste from his mouth, he sighed in relief that his ordeal was over. "Thanks for the cookies, Akane, I...found them really...interesting. Not too sweet, though; maybe next time you can just try to make them according to the recipe," Ranma said, trying to curtail Akane's eagerness to experiment. Then, without warning, Ranma's stomach lurched. "Ahh...Igottago!" Ranma gasped and jumped up to sprint for the restrooms.
Minutes later, Ranma was rinsing his mouth out again over a restroom sink. 'One of these day's I'll learn to just take the beating and get it over with... Continuing to eat the stuff Akane cooks is going to kill me otherwise,' he mused wearily, before feeling his stomach lurch in warning, yet again, and rushing back into a stall to lean over the commode.
After school, Ranma slowly made his way through the local park, still suffering from Akane's cookies and not wanting to deal with anyone at the Dojo until he was feeling a bit better. Unfortunately, only a few moments into the park, Ranma began to feel as if he was being watched. 'Oh man, not again,' he silently groaned as he suddenly sensed the harmful intent surge up behind him with an all-too-familiar "Ranma, prepare to die!" Spinning around on his heel, he jumped backwards just as the ground beneath his feet cratered explosively thanks to Ryoga's umbrella.
Ranma, trying not to upset his still volatile stomach, looked at Ryoga and sighed tiredly. "Can we do this another time, Pork-butt? I ain't feeling too good."
"Awww, is widdle Wanma feeling puny? Do you want me to call your mommy so she can make it all better?" Ryoga jeered.
Ranma growled in annoyance at the obvious taunting. "Fine, P-Chan, have it your way! But don't complain to me about not feeling well after I kick your flabby ass all over the park!"
"How dare you insult me, like that!" Ryoga raged, charging forward and attempting to crush Ranma with his umbrella. "My ass is NOT 'flabby'!"
"Okay, okay," Ranma sighed dramatically as he dodged Ryoga's attempts to squash him, "I lied. Your butt is small and tight and rock-hard, and just draws girls to want to grab hold and give those buns of steel a good squeeze..."
"Really?" Ryoga asked, suddenly pausing in his attack as he considered that Ranma WAS a girl part of the time...
"Well," Ranma began, grinning evilly, "it's certainly not the size of your dick that's going to attract the girls..."
"SAY WHAT!?" Ryoga roared indignantly.
"Aw, what'sa matter, Porky?" Ranma asked with a sneer. "You can attack MY masculinity on a whim, but you don't like it when YOURS is brought into question? Aww...want I should call your mommy?"
"DIE!" Ryoga roared and renewed his assault with even greater vigor...if substantially less skill.
'Heh, I should have done this long ago,' Ranma thought, finding it much easier to dodge Ryoga's wild, but powerful, attacks now. 'He always taunts me with how 'girly' I am and stuff, but he's even more insecure about his masculinity than I am.' He spun around and delivered a brutal spinning roundhouse kick to Ryoga's stomach, sending the Lost Boy flying backwards to crash hard against a tree. "Had enough, Porky?" he taunted.
Ryoga simply growled in response as he got back to his feet, none the worse for wear, and launched himself at Ranma again. As before, Ranma was having little difficulty in dodging Ryoga's attacks...until his stomach suddenly clenched up, trying to expel something that was no longer there. Ryoga, despite his berserker rage, noted Ranma's slight distraction and quickly delivered a powerful uppercut that lifted Ranma off his feet and sent him flying back to land with a loud splash in a nearby water fountain.
Just instants after landing in the fountain, Ranma-chan erupted from the water and rocketed back to Ryoga to return the favor. Unfortunately, there was no fountain behind Ryoga and he simply crashed into the ground. "Round two, Porky!" she taunted.
Nearby, but far enough away for relative safety, an older gentleman with steel-gray hair leaned upon a cane and watched the fight impassively as it progressed. He was a distinguished looking gentleman, the fine quality of his kimono showing that he was a man of means, while his bearing hinted at one of the nobility, and the katana at his side was a clear indication of samurai heritage.
At the man's side was a woman, appearing a bit older but no less bowed by time than the man, with dark auburn hair streaked through with gray. Unlike her husband beside her, however, she visibly frowned in displeasure when a petite yet curvaceous red-haired girl emerged from the fountain in which the black-haired boy had fallen.
The elderly gentleman reached into his kimono and withdrew a set of photographs, comparing the red-haired girl with one of the photos. 'So, the rumors are true, Ranma has a Jusenkyo curse. Disconcerting, but not truly surprising.'
"Young women should not be fighting boys," the elderly woman said softly to her husband.
"True," the elderly man replied, just as softly. "However, she, is also a he and still quite young and inexperienced. Still, you are correct; when in girl form, our grandchild should not be fighting like this."
"And a shameful lack of modesty, as well," the elderly woman complained, watching Ranma rip open her blouse to flash her bare breasts at her opponent. "That's a disgraceful and dangerous tactic to utilize, which could lead to serious consequences."
"I seem to recall you employing a very similar 'tactic' against myself back in the day," the man grinned. "And still use upon occasion."
"Ah, but I was fully aware of the consequences," the woman told her husband, smiling mischievously herself, "and more than willing to see it through as the existence of our daughter proves. If what we suspect of the way our grandchild was raised is accurate, however, she has little knowledge of what she risks by such 'displays'."
"In that, at least, we are in agreement," the man said. "If not on the means of correcting such behavior."
Back to the fight still in progress, Ranma and Ryoga were charging each other in a flurry of punches and kicks, which left Ranma wobbly on her feet and looking on the verge of collapse as they separated again; not that Ryoga was in much better condition. Still, Ryoga was widely known for his inhuman endurance and stamina, so Ranma wasn't greatly surprised when he charged towards her once more.
Bracing herself, Ranma struggled to focus her vision on her rapidly approaching opponent and drew upon the last of her chi reserves for one last special technique. "Kachu Tenshin Amaguriken!" she cried out just before Ryoga stepped into her range, and then jack-hammered her fists up, through his guard, to deliver nearly a hundred uppercuts to Ryoga's chin with all of the power she had left, stopping him in his tracks before she stumbled back away from him.
Ryoga wobbled, looking as if his knees had suddenly become double-jointed, his arms seeming about to fall to his sides before abruptly rising back up in a guard position several times, and it looked as if his eyes wanted to cross as he tried to focus on where Ranma swayed before him.
"Had...'nuff yet...Porky?" Ranma taunted, her voice slurring badly. "Or d'ya wanna...try fer round...three?"
Ryoga snarled in response, shook his head violently and seemed to regain his focus and strength for just a moment. Then, he started to take a bold step towards her...and promptly fell forward onto his face like a felled tree, completely out cold.
"Thas wha I thought!" Ranma snorted, before dropping to her knees and placing her hands upon her thighs to hold herself upright as she tried to regain her breath.
"So, you must be Ranma Saotome...my grandson," an elderly gentleman said as he, and what Ranma assumed was the man's wife, walked up to carefully scrutinize Ranma's battered and exhausted form. "Or, I suppose, 'granddaughter' would be more apt at the moment."
Ranma lurched to her feet, staring wide-eyed at the elderly couple before her, just KNOWING that her life was about to be thrown into the blender yet again, especially as she noted the strong resemblance between the elderly woman and her own mother...as well as her own current form. "Um...uhh..."
"Well? Nothing to say to us, Granddaughter?" the elderly woman asked, sounding slightly irritated.
"Umm...hiiiii..." Ranma slurred with a small wave of one hand and a sickly smile, before surrendering to her exhaustion and stress and collapsing back to the ground where she softly began to snore.
The elderly couple merely looked at her for several long moments, contemplating the situation.
"Well, we found our grandchild and confirmed our daughter's suspicions about the curse, as well as some of what we suspected of Genma's parenting skills," the grandfather said. "Should we continue as planned?"
"We have no choice," the grandmother responded. "Nodoka can step in, temporarily, if needed, but she lacks the necessary skills and drive to do it for very long, and she's never had any interest in learning. And Ranma is the only family member young and malleable enough to begin training to fill the position. We just don't have the time to find anyone else. As it is, thanks to all of the problems Genma created, it's going to be difficult if not impossible, and that's not even taking our grandchild's getting cursed at such a young age into account."
Ranma's grandfather nodded, handing his walking cane to his wife as he knelt down to gently lift his sleeping grandchild into his arms. Rising back to his feet, he carefully shifted Ranma to rest more comfortably in his arms, her head lolling to rest against his broad chest. "You still wish to proceed straight to the Tendo Dojo?"
"I believe it would be more productive if our grandchild is formally introduced to us, and is reunited with his mother, amid familiar surroundings," the woman stated, to which her husband nodded. The woman, reaching over to pull Ranma's blouse closed, then continued, "It will also allow us the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the situation Genma has created. The reports we received from the investigators were more than a little vague in a number of areas, not least of which was our grandchild's curse…and the apparent lack of any attempts to come to terms with it, properly."
Reinji, Ranma's grandfather, frowned. "The reports DID make it quite clear, however, that Ranma would not react well to being 'forced' into anything. He can be tricked and manipulated into doing things, with unnerving ease, but attempts to force his compliance to the wishes of others has never ended well for anyone involved. And while you intend to offer him 'choices'…. Neji, this could backfire on you, with disastrous results. And not just for you."
"I understand that, quite well, Husband," Neji responded, her facial expression hardening. "Yet again, we have no choice. If the Saotome Clan is to maintain the respect and trust we've worked so hard to attain over the generations, despite our family's curse and the many obstacles that have been placed in our path, then our grandchild MUST be made to follow the proper path. The Saotome Clan prospers or suffers based on its 'reputation'…and the reputations of its individual members."
Reinji's frown deepened, recalling how his grandchild was viewed by the majority of Nerima residents…Ranma's 'reputation' was less than exemplary and, for the most part, was likely due to the manipulations and actions of others, but…. Reinji sighed, heavily. Ranma's unwillingness, or inability, to 'adapt' to his Jusenkyo curse, in conjunction with blindly following the teachings of his father, easily demonstrated that Ranma was not without fault in the matter. Like it or not, if the Saotome Clan was to maintain their prominent position within the hierarchy of Japan, maintain the respect and trust they had earned over the generations, then Neji's seemingly draconian intentions for their grandchild were necessary. He just wished that they had more time, so that things could be handled in a way that did not risk destroying all that they had worked and hoped for.
"What of this boy?" Neji asked, pointing at the unconscious Ryoga. "Should we just leave him to lay there?"
Reinji appraised the boy, dispassionately, before grunting and turning away to begin walking back to where their vehicle waited. "Leave him. As you heard, he chose the time and place for their battle, and insisted on it even when Ranma claimed illness. The consequences of his loss are on his own head. And judging from the way they fought against each other, as well as what they said, this was hardly their first battle…nor likely will it be their last," he stated indifferently.
"Well our 'granddaughter' will no longer engage in such undignified and 'unladylike' behavior if I have anything to say about it," Neji stated in no uncertain terms, turning to follow her husband and grandchild. "And if that boy has any honor at all, he will cease fighting with our 'grandson' when he becomes our 'granddaughter' and act like a proper gentleman should toward a lady."
"Heh, some 'lady'," Reinji chuckled, before looking meaningfully at his wife. "Reminds me more of a certain 'tomboy' I knew long ago…before she took an interest in a rather roguish and uncivilized young man and began putting on airs of being a 'lady' in order to impress his parents. Got into quite a few scrapes herself as I recall…and possessed a rather impressive right hook."
"Only with other girls, as you well know…baka," Neji responded, pulling out a cell phone from her own kimono. "And SHE deserved every one of those blows, being an even bigger and more irritating tomboy than I ever was. The kami know how long it took for me to 'civilize' her so that she could at least APPEAR to be a lady in public.
"Now be quiet, Dear, while I call Nodoka to meet us at the Tendos," Neji continued. "It's well passed time that our daughter was reunited with her child."