Hidden in Plain Sight

Disclaimer: Ranma ½ is owned by Rumiko Takahashi. It's a fictional story, so please don't try to jump off roofs or pour hot water on random animals.

In many ways, 14-year-old Kaoru Saotome had a good life. She had a loving family, a comfortable home, and plenty of friends. She had brilliant red hair said to run in her father's side of the family and was told that her brilliant blue eyes were just like her father's. Her face and especially her smile more closely resembled her mother.

Her mother, Akane Saotome, was known as the best martial artist in Japan. She was the long-running national women's champion, and some of the men's champions had gone on record admitting that they wouldn't stand a chance against her. Kaoru loved attending and watching these tournaments, as it was the closest she ever got to seeing her mother's true skill level. Although, she still had never seen her mother's most powerful technique, the Hiryu Shoten Ha, as she had never witnessed her mother being threatened to the point where she would be able to use it.

At 33 years old, her mother was still a very beautiful woman. Last year, an American magazine called "Sports Illustrated" had asked her to model in their Swimsuit Edition, to which she had politely declined.

Her success had caused their family dojo to become the most popular in all of Tokyo, which provided a good amount of income in addition to the tournament prizes. She had also gained quite a bit of fame and popularity from her success, although the martial arts fan community was small enough that she would usually go unrecognized in public. She used her sister Nabiki as her agent, who would carefully control what was published about her, especially when it came to some of the more outlandish aspects of her past.

Coming as little surprise considering who her parents were, Kaoru was a martial arts prodigy herself and would one day inherit the dojo and her family's unusual school of martial arts. She had recently mastered one of her mother's favorite advanced techniques, the Kachu Tenshin Amaguriken. She was currently training in an unusual dining technique called Parlay du Fois Gras, which her mother said would come in handy if she was ever approached by a French boy with the surname of Chardin, due to a mistake her father had once made.

She also lived with two of her grandparents, her paternal grandmother Nodoka Saotome and her maternal grandfather Soun Tendo. They were both somewhat eccentric, but she was happy to have them, especially when they spoiled her rotten whenever they could get away with it.

The only thing really missing in her life was her father, Ranma Saotome, whom she had never met. Although her parents had been forced together in an arranged marriage, they had fallen in love anyway. Due to some powerful enemies her father had made, particularly a group of Chinese Amazons, he had married her mother in secret when they were both 18. For a few months they were able to keep the secret, helped by the fact that her parents had already been living together as part of the arrangement between their families. However, they were no longer able to keep up the charade when her mother had become pregnant. Her father, along with his father, had been forced to go into hiding for their own safety as well as the safety of his family. He would occasionally send letters and gifts for their birthdays and other important holidays, but he could never come home.

It was obvious that her mother was still in love with him and deeply missed him from the way she talked about him. She claimed he was an even better martial artist than she was and would tell her some incredible stories about his exploits, which she assumed must be exaggerated from what had really happened. She had always hoped she would be able to meet him someday.

There was one last member of their household, her live-in nanny, a woman she knew only as Auntie Haruka. Although she was technically just a domestic servant, she was considered a genuine member of the family, and she cared for Kaoru as if she was her own daughter. She was about her mother's age and had lived with them ever since she was born or maybe even longer. She had long strawberry blond hair down to her waist, which she admitted was dyed from its natural color, and she always wore sunglasses due to what she said was some kind of medical condition with her eyes.

Auntie Haruka was a strange woman in many ways. For one thing, she refused to talk about her past, only saying that she was an old friend of her mother's. In fact, it had been drilled into Kaoru at an early age that she was never to mention to anyone outside her family that she had a nanny and to let anyone who saw them together in public assume she was her mother. (She was also told never to talk to anyone Chinese with a name that sounded like the English word for a hygiene product, particularly a woman named Shampoo, a man named Mousse, and an old woman named Cologne.) For her part, Auntie Haruka made sure never to be seen whenever they had guests, almost seeming to disappear into thin air at times.

When they went out together, Auntie Haruka had a weird act she would put on. First, she would dress very femininely in pleated miniskirts, practical yet stylish women's shoes, and provocative blouses that would do a good job of highlighting her very prominent assets and making her seem younger than she really was. She would then act like an air-headed bimbo including the use of a strange style of speech that included referring to herself in the third person and dropping several words from correct Japanese grammar. She would also flirt with various vendors for free food, although she would turn down the advances of any of the men that were interested in her.

In the privacy of her home, she let her true self show. She was actually quite a tomboy with few feminine traits who would dress in modest Chinese style shirts and pants and had an extreme appetite rivaling her mother's and her own. She also tended to speak rather roughly with a bunch of slang. She said she put on the act because she liked to mess with people's minds and had borrowed the speech pattern from a foreigner she once knew who had some trouble with Japanese, but Kaoru sometimes wondered if there was more to it than that.

Auntie Haruka had no interest in dating and was instead very affectionate with her mother, sometimes even teasing her with good-natured insults that her mother would then return. A couple of years ago, she had asked her about this, at which point Auntie Haruka had made a confession. She was actually a closet lesbian who had fallen in love with her mother a long time ago. Her mother was aware of this, and they had both accepted the facts that her mother was not attracted to other women that way, and she wouldn't betray her husband even if she was.

Auntie Haruka was actually an accomplished martial artist herself according to her mother. She said she was good enough to teach in the dojo if she wanted and was the only person she trusted as a sparring partner to keep her in shape. Every Saturday evening, Kaoru would be left in the care of her grandparents while her mother and Auntie Haruka left on private training trips. They would return on Monday morning, both of them relaxed and in good moods. Kaoru had long ago learned that if she wanted something, she was more likely to get it if she waited to ask her mother until Monday morning before school. The reason for the pleated miniskirts Auntie Haruka wore was because she wanted something feminine that she could still fight in if needed. Kaoru wondered how good her nanny actually was, as the only time she had seen her fight was a month ago when Auntie Haruka protected her from a delusional man who had run at her shouting about her being a lost love he called the "pig-tailed girl," which was especially weird considering she didn't wear her hair in a pigtail.

Auntie Haruka had a couple of other strange quirks, but Kaoru really didn't care. Everyone is allowed a few eccentricities as long as they don't bother other people. She only bathed with a personal supply of imported soap from some company called "Jusenkyo Products." Even more strange was that she would have it ordered and personally delivered by a family friend named Akari Hibiki.

Her favorite place to visit was the zoo, where she always made sure to stop by the pen of a panda named "Pop." When no one else was in earshot, she would then proceed to talk to him about how their family was doing as if he could actually understand her. She said it was a coping mechanism she had, as for some reason the panda reminded her of her father, something Kaoru could understand considering her own missing father.

Kaoru's life was now taking a twist, as something strange was going on. Last week, she had gone downstairs in the middle of the night for a glass of water and had discovered Auntie Haruka in the tea room. It had taken only a second for her to be noticed, but she had been thoughtfully writing on a sheet of paper only to hide it when Kaoru appeared and had refused to say what she was writing.

The next day, her suspicions were aroused when her mom showed her a new letter from her dad. Was this the same letter that had actually been written by Auntie Haruka the night before? If it was, why was she impersonating her dad? Could it be that he was dead and she had never been told?

She had first asked Auntie Haruka about her suspicions and noticed how nervous she became. She denied doing any such thing but still refused to tell her what she had been writing. When she mentioned it to her mom, she said she was worrying about nothing and that her dad was indeed still alive and well.

Tonight, when her mother had asked Auntie Haruka to speak privately in her room, Kaoru suspected something was up and took an empty glass with her upstairs to listen. Her Auntie Nabiki had taught her a few things about how to eavesdrop without getting caught, and those lesson paid off now. She easily heard the voices of her mom and Auntie Haruka through the door.

"Are you sure ya want to do this, Akane?" asked Haruka.

"Yes, I'm sure," replied her mother. "It's time. Kaoru is well old enough to know the truth. She's already beginning to suspect something. I wanted to tell her years ago, but you said she would be better off not knowing."

"I still think that's true," said Haruka. "but I won't argue if this is what ya really want. Don't forget that cha need ta tell your father, as well. It's amazing how oblivious that man can be, something I guess you inherited when it came to a certain pet you used ta have."

"Oh, shut up about that. It all worked out in the end." replied Akane. "Anyway, it's been so long. I really want this new addition to our family."

Kaoru could listen no longer. Careful to sneak away without being detected, she escaped to the safety of her room and collapsed on her bed in tears. It was true. Her dad really was gone and had been for years. He may have even been killed back when her mom claimed he had disappeared. On top of that, her mom had fallen in love and wanted to marry another man. She couldn't begrudge her mom for moving on and knew she needed to give the man a chance once they met, but it hurt so much to finally know that she would never be able to meet her dad and would right away be seeing her mom with another man.

The next day was Saturday, and Akane and Haruka left on their usual training trip. This time, however, they announced that they would be away for over a week and wouldn't return until a week from Monday. Kaoru suspected that this unusual extended trip must have something to do with her upcoming step-father. Her grandparents noticed her depressed mood, but they couldn't figure out what was wrong with her. She was surprised when they returned as they always did, without bringing home a strange new man for her to meet, causing her spirits to rise a little.

For three weeks, life continued as normal for the Saotomes, but then one day everything changed. Her mom and Auntie Haruka were both positively beaming when they returned from an afternoon visit to Auntie Kasumi and her family. They first talked to her grandparents in private for a few minutes, and then all four of them came to talk to her. Her grandfather was crying up a storm. 'This must be it,' she thought.

"Kaoru dear," began her mom, "I know this is sudden, but Auntie Haruka and I need to take you on a trip as soon as we can leave."

Auntie Haruka brought in two suitcases and a large backpack. She added, "Pack as many of your belongings as you can. This'll be a long trip, and we don't know when we'll be able ta come back."

Kaoru wasn't expecting this. "But what about school?" she complained.

Her mom answered, "I'll help with your studies while we're away, and we'll work something out when we come home, but right now our top priority is to get away from Nerima."

Kaoru accepted that her mother knew what was best and packed as quickly as she could. Within a hour, the three of them were roof-hopping away with Auntie Haruka not even bothering to change into her normal public wear, although if she had she would've given quite the show to anybody who happened to look up at the right time.

A few hours later, they arrived at their destination: the Hibiki farm. Kaoru was exhausted from the roof-hopping and hiking. She wished they could've taken the subway, but she was told they could be tracked too easily that way.

They had visited a few times before, so she knew what to expect. She was pretty good friends with the oldest Hibiki child, a girl named Keiko, even though she was a couple of years younger than she was. She had thought that the infamous Hibiki family sense of direction, or lack thereof, was a joke until she had gone shopping one time with Keiko. She couldn't believe had hard it was for her to get around and had barely managed to get through the afternoon without losing her.

Ryoga welcomed them at the door and brought them into the house. "It's good to see all of you again, Akane, Kaoru, -chuckle- Haruka." Kaoru had deduced that Ryoga and Auntie Haruka had some kind of past connection. They just couldn't resist teasing and trying to one-up each other whenever they got together.

"The same to you, P-Chan," replied Auntie Haruka with a smile. Kaoru didn't know where that nickname came from, but Ryoga never liked it Auntie Haruka used it.

After a few minutes of pleasantries with the occasional insult, Auntie Haruka got down to business. "Akane gave you a call to give you a heads-up, so ya know why we're here."

"Yes, and you can stay as long as you need to," said Akari. "Kaoru can stay with Keiko, while the two of you can share the guestroom." Kaoru frowned at this. Did they not know about Auntie Haruka's sexual preference? Strangely, neither her mom nor Auntie Nodoka argued the point.

Her mom finally turned to her daughter and placed her hands on her shoulders as she said, "Kaoru, we have a couple of important things to tell you." This was finally it. Kaoru's stomach began to churn.

"I'll get the hot water," said Akari. Kaoru didn't know what hot water had to do with anything, so she instead focused on what her mom was about to say.

"First of all, I'm pregnant," she told her. "You're going to be a big sister."

"WHAT?!" shouted Kaoru in disbelief. "Even if Dad is dead, why would you sleep with some guy you've never bothered to bring home, without getting married?! Or did you secretly marry him?"

Haruka began laughing, only to stop at a vicious glare from Kaoru. "I'm sorry, but you'll understand in a minute. Your mom should've told ja the other secret first."

About a minute later, Akari stepped back into the room with a tea kettle. "Here you go," she said politely.

Haruka smiled. "I suppose the easiest way to tell ya is simply to show ya. Watch me carefully." Kaoru did as she was told as Haruka raised the kettle and poured it over her head. Kaoru gasped as Haruka underwent a strange transformation. Among other things, she suddenly grew several centimeters, and her hair color shifted to that of a dirty blond. When the transformation was complete, Haruka removed the sunglasses revealing deep blue eyes similar to Kaoru's own. The strangest part was the fact that she was now clearly looking at a man. Was Auntie Haruka not a lesbian tomboy but actually a straight man? He spoke to her in his male voice for the first time. "You asked me if your father was dead, but no, I am your father. Sorry 'bout this." Kaoru fainted. "Awww," complained the newly revealed Ranma Saotome. "I was hopin' she'd come back with 'No! It's not true! That's impossible!'"

When Kaoru woke up to discover it was not a dream, her parents explained everything. They told her about Jusenkyo and the curses that could be received there (Ryoga showing off his own cursed form). They told her Ranma had been stuck with multiple engagements and how his marriage to Akane had led to bad relations with the Chinese Amazons, forcing him and his father to go into hiding in plain sight. They revealed that the panda named "Pop" at the zoo was actually her grandfather Genma in his cursed form (although they decided not to go get him right away). They explained how the special soap was actually a waterproof soap that kept "Haruka" from accidentally transforming most of the time. They explained how their weekend trips were not just training trips but romantic getaways when Ranma could spend some time as a man and spend some "quality time" with his wife. They explained how they had recently received word that the troublesome Amazon Elder Cologne had passed away, leading to their decision to have another child and attempt to make peace with the Amazons. During their recent extended trip, they had spent a lot of time in their hotel room doing their best to get pregnant. (Kaoru covered her ears at this point.) Now that the pregnancy had been confirmed, they had gone into hiding while Nodoka made the trip to China to negotiate with Shampoo.

Finally after finishing the story and giving Kaoru a few moments to take everything in, Ranma looked down at his shocked daughter and sighed. "I'm sorry I deceived you all these years, but this was the only way to keep everyone safe while remaining a big part of your lives. Can you forgive me?"

Kaoru began to cry as she ran to embrace her father. "Of course I can. A lesser man would've simply abandoned us, but you stayed in the only way you could despite how much it must've hurt to be with me but unable to act as my father. I loved Haruka, and...I love you, Dad."

"I love you too, Kaoru." said Ranma.

For a couple months, they stayed at the Hibiki farm, getting accustomed to becoming a real family. Ranma cut his hair to the length and style it had been in during his teenage years. He also stopped dying his hair, revealing his natural hair color to be black, while his female form had the same red hair as his daughter.

Eventually, Nodoka returned to give the good news that they no longer had anything to fear from the Chinese Amazons. Shampoo had long ago forgiven Ranma and had eventually married and had children of her own. With Cologne no longer around, Nodoka and Shampoo had convinced the Elders to provide the Saotome family with an official pardon. Shampoo told Nodoka to tell them that she wished the best for her one-time Airen and his family and regretted that it had taken so long to settle things.

With their safety assured, they returned home to resume their normal lives. Ranma spread the word that he had "returned" while "Haruka" faded into oblivion. Ranma was now free to join his wife in teaching at the dojo, taking on more and more of the responsibilities as Akane's pregnancy advanced. Akane was unable to participate in that year's national championships due to her pregnancy, but Ranma continued the Saotome winning streak by taking over as the men's champion. He had wanted to take the women's title as well, but Akane and Kaoru convinced him that it wouldn't be fair or honorable.

Kaoru was finally able to see what her father (and by extension her mother) were truly capable of when a few of Ranma's old rivals popped up to challenge him once they heard he was back, plus Ryoga would show up every once in a while (courtesy of a GPS unit) to spar with him. She was simply amazed at the tornado that formed when he used the Hiryu Shoten Ha on that Pantyhose Taro guy.

Eventually, the Saotomes welcomed a baby boy into the family by the name of Kenshin. Kaoru loved taking care of her brother, even though it meant that she would one day have a rival to her title as heir of the dojo and school.

Life as a martial artist was never easy, but 15-year-old Kaoru Saotome now had everything she ever really wanted and wouldn't have it any other way.

Author's Notes: So here's my first attempt at a one-shot. Tell me what you think.

The Saotome children are of course named after the main characters in "Rurouni Kenshin." I've always liked the idea of Nodoka being their descendant and thought Ranma and Akane would like to honor such honorable ancestors in this way. Keiko Hibiki has no specific inspiration for her name. I just wanted a common Japanese girl's name other than the heavily overused Sakura. Haruka, meanwhile, comes from the lesbian tomboy of the same name in "Sailor Moon" (specifically Sailor Uranus). It's just a coincidence that there's also an Aunt Haruka in "Love Hina."