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A Ranma ½ story
by Wun Wong

Disclaimer:  I certainly do not own Ranma ½ or its characters. They belong to Rumiko Takahashi and Shogakukan in Japan, Viz Video in the USA.  I do not, and will not profit monetarily from this work.  Thank you.

Thanks to my pre-reader, Cannibal Who Snacks, and the people who offered web space to archive my fic.

Chapter 1: The Maternal Factor

Ranma pondered his main predicament-- the how of getting to China-- with all of his somewhat addled mental faculty, while completely ignoring his current predicament of flying in Low Earth Orbit.  Arms crossed and legs in the lotus position, Ranma seemed like he was meditating-- if one discounted the fact that he was upside down and falling through the air at about 50 mph.  Admittedly, flying and subsequently falling through the air was much more urgent, but since he faced it practically every day-- or in some weeks, every five hours or so-- it really didn't bother him anymore.  While Ranma felt pretty good about ending his engagement to Shampoo, he really didn't want to leave Akane and the Tendos behind.

Akane and Shampoo were both really upset at him as well, judging by the force of their combined “Ranma no Baka” uppercut.  On the bright side, he would be away from Happosai, his good-for-nothing father, and the Kuno family… a definite plus.  Ranma's face broke open into a smile as he thought of a place with no school, no Akane's cooking, and no Mousse attacks.   Besides, there couldn't really be that many random weirdo martial artists (that he hadn't met) in China waiting to challenge him, right?

Before Ranma could get down to serious rejoicing, however, he landed headfirst on the Ucchan's roof.  The unusually powerful uppercut had sent him higher, thus he’d landed harder, with the expected results on his thought process.  'It seems to be quite a bit stronger than the public bathhouse roof.  Hmm, maybe Konatsu added additional support.'

Ranma had gotten quite used to sitting upside down on his head after one of these impromptu flights, thus he continued to philosophize on the sturdiness of the Ucchan's roof.  It generally took a few seconds for him to have real thoughts after such a landing, but it was a pretty impressive impact and so it took longer than usual.  Ranma's chain of thought would have meandered on even further off topic if not for a giant spatula knocking him off the roof.

"Get out of here!  Damn burglars!" yelled Ukyou as she climbed back down to her window. She cursed the rudeness of night prowlers, and did not realize that in the darkness she had just sent her beloved into LEO once again.

The first thing that Kasumi saw when she woke up was Nabiki's face.  She was lying down on a pillow in the hallway next to the living room.

"Are you okay, Sis?" Nabiki's worried expression softened when she saw Kasumi smile faintly.

"I will be all right… I think."  Kasumi tried to rise, but Nabiki nudged her back down.

"You should rest, considering it looks like you fainted from exhaustion."

Kasumi held up her hand, "I will be fine, I promise.  Now, tell me what went on while I was out."  Kasumi gently moved Nabiki's hand out of the way, and sat up.  The argument over Ranma's decision was apparently still going on, Kasumi concluded; if her ears were working properly, that is.  Whatever feelings possessed Kasumi from before seemed to have faded away, leaving only a slight emptiness inside of her. Suddenly Kasumi felt a need to do something and take her mind from what happened, so she decided that she should see to the comfort of the guests.  'I must make sure they have tea.' Waving away Nabiki's protests, Kasumi moved toward the kitchen with surprisingly steady steps.  "Let's get back to them, Nabiki.  I am sure you don't want to miss their talk."

Nabiki lagged behind Kasumi, her feelings mixed.  On one hand, she wanted very much to hear what was going on with Cologne; on the other hand, she worried about Kasumi.  She would have much preferred to get Ranma or Akane to put Kasumi to bed.

Unfortunately, it took less than 5 seconds before Ranma was sent flying by Akane and Shampoo.  Then Akane was too engrossed in her little tiff with Shampoo to pay any attention.  Her father and Genma were both too focused on arguing with Cologne to even notice that Kasumi fainted. She could have asked that other Amazon girl, Nabiki supposed, but it was hard to trust a stranger.  So Nabiki had done her best to move Kasumi away from the noise and placed a cushion under her head.  Fortunately, Kasumi had woken up with no apparent problems, but Nabiki is still uneasy about the unexplained fainting spell.  'I wonder if they even noticed that I moved Kasumi out here at all?'

As she entered the living room, Soun let out a Demon Head Attack at the Amazon Elder.  A quick glance told Nabiki that Akane and Shampoo were still in a glaring/ growling/ gesturing rudely at each other contest.  'One thing at a time,' Nabiki told herself as she settled into her spot by the table.

One thing that Ranma had learned in Nerima was that when something bad or weird happened, almost always another bad or weird thing would happen, usually very soon after the first.  There were patterns, of course, which allowed one to make certain predictions about the “next bad thing”.  Ranma was rather unhappy about it, since he was almost always right about those things, and the feeling that he would be landing on the roof of the Kuno Estate simply wouldn't go away…

It was not that Nabiki minded the bickering; it usually meant profit and entertainment.  But in this case, after three hours of nonstop arguing and twenty Soun-Demon-Head-Attacks, Nabiki was getting rather sick of the whole affair.  It didn't help that SHE was actually involved in the process this time, since her father ordered her to negotiate for him; something rarely done due to the hefty amount she charged.  'If only daddy's head-thingy worked on Cologne like it does on Ranma,' thought Nabiki as she rubbed her head.

"Let's get this straight, Cologne!  My daughter is going!! They are getting married and that's final!" Demon-Head-Attack #21 was almost as frightening as Demon-Head-Attack #20, but even Soun would have to agree that he was running out of energy for another.

Cologne remained unfazed by his display. Genma was unconscious after a particularly dismal failure at trying to convince the Amazon elder by bribery (a bowl of ramen and a piece of chicken was her counteroffer; Genma nearly said yes before Soun knocked him out).  Soun was almost ready to throw in the towel.  Cologne simply wouldn't budge on the issue of Akane's presence.  She seemed perfectly content to let him rant while she sipped Kasumi's tea and examined the jade in her hand, occasionally tossing out a refusal at Soun and Nabiki.  She also idly glanced at Kasumi once in a while, wondering about her condition.

Kasumi was making the next batch of tea.  She had long since noticed that the jade was no longer in her hands, but instead rested in Cologne's palm.  Ever since her return, she had felt a NEED to be in contact with the jewel.  It took much of her self-control to avoid reaching for the jade, so she busied herself and tried to think of other things.  Thus Kasumi paid only half her attention to the tea, while the other half of her mind tried not to go over her strange experience with the jade.

She was rather startled when Cologne raised her voice slightly, "Enough!  I do not have all night to bargain with you over this.  Akane is not allowed to come to study with Ranma and me."

"Well, it’s not exactly settled-- the issue of Ranma going in the first place," Nabiki countered, trying to stall for time while she went over previous arguments, searching for a weakness in Cologne.  Unlike her father, Nabiki realized the futility of using Ranma's ‘impending’ marriage to Akane as an argument with someone who didn’t recognize such a union in the first place.  Instead, she focused on the possibility of keeping him there, where he could fulfill his multitude of 'duties' and entertain/profit her.  Briefly she glanced over at Akane and Shampoo, who had been glaring at each other nonstop after Ranma exited the building by air.  Nabiki wondered if either of them realized that there was no point fighting over it when they both wanted Ranma to refuse in the first place.  It was not as if Ranma was choosing his bride by this decision; both would have plenty of chances in the future.  Moreover, she wished Nodoka were back from Ladies’ Kendo Camp and Social.  Ranma's mother should have a say in the matter, and would probably side with the Tendos in Nabiki's opinion.

Cologne's next set of words brought her full attention back to the proceedings.

"I would say it’s settled after all. Ranma wants to go, and the Panda does not object… at this stage," Cologne said with satisfaction, as she prodded Genma's unconscious form with her staff.  "No one else has the right to impede Ranma's movements, and no one can really stop him by force.  So how can there be a problem?"

"It is not that simple, you know.  He has so many obligations here that he has to deal with.  Not to mention the fact that he has yet to settle accounts with me."  It was not the first time Nabiki used this particular thread of argument, but the Tendo position was pretty thin, and that was one of the few arguments she could use without sounding like an idiot… or Genma. "He is still a minor, and Uncle Saotome can keep him here… if and when he's conscious.  You can't keep Uncle Saotome… asleep… long enough to get Ranma out of the country.  Let's speak frankly, Elder Cologne.  There's no way we are letting Ranma go just like that.  You will either have to take Akane along, or something, else Daddy and Uncle Saotome will keep him from leaving.  You can be sure of it."

Nabiki fervently hoped that the bluff would work.   After all, there was no telling how Ranma would react to the two old men trying to stop him if he really wanted to leave.  The biggest obstacle for his escape was Akane, but that was really chancy.  She would still bet on him staying, but the odds were too close for comfort.  'Cologne seems to be betting the other side, and she's no fool.  Something is up!'  Nabiki thought to herself as she stared at the elder's face, searching for any clue to Cologne's thoughts.

"Ah. That’s where you’re wrong, Nabiki.  I am perfectly capable of transporting myself and several other people out of this country very quickly.  While there could be quite a few interlopers, Ranma and I could easily deal with them in a matter of minutes if we worked together.  Then we would only need about an hour to leave Japanese soil."  Nabiki did not doubt the first part.  Cologne and Ranma were formidable martial artists in their own rights, and working together they would have no apparent weaknesses.  Cologne could probably get Shampoo, and Mousse to help, and maybe even Ryoga if she could convince him that he had a chance with Akane after Ranma left.  It did seem foolproof… IF Cologne really had a way out ready.  "Furthermore, if you continue to pressure Ranma about his 'duties', Genma is not the only one who can give Ranma permission to leave."

"How do you intend to get Mrs. Saotome to let you take her son away?"  Nabiki blurted out before she remembered who let Genma take her son for a 10-year-long training trip.  Soun made that connection as well, and began denying that possibility with ill-concealed misgivings.  "She would still want her son to stay with her for a while.  It has been many years, and she missed Ranma pretty badly."  Nabiki tried to recover from her earlier blunder.

Cologne merely smiled, and said, "I will offer to take her along if she wishes.  It will be a vacation with her son, and a chance for her to relax while being waited on by my servants."  Soun began to wail that the schools would never be joined.

Nabiki's eyes narrowed at this line of attack, as her thoughts turned inward once again in search of some weakness to Cologne's arguments.  Then it struck her.  If Cologne really could just take Ranma, she would simply do that, instead of wasting time convincing them the inevitability of Ranma's departure.  There must be something else that Cologne wanted!

Nabiki's realization was well concealed with her well-used poker face, but a slight widening of her eyes gave it away to Cologne.  Before she could point out that flaw, Cologne grinned at her, effectively freezing Nabiki's brain and sending her body into a 'dodge' position.  It took any normal human brain at least 10 seconds to assimilate the sight of someone as wrinkled and tiny as Cologne grinning with what seemed to be real teeth.  After all, it made her head seems twice as big… almost all teeth.  Nabiki had a stronger mind than most, as well as a fast mental recovery time, but she was still paralyzed by the horrifyingly ridiculous sight long enough for Cologne to press her advantage.

"There is, of course, one thing I can give you in consolation.  You can send another daughter along to watch over Ranma.  Someone levelheaded, who can stay for the summer and protect him from Amazon girls if you wish." Cologne turned to Soun-- like a shark smelling blood, from Nabiki's viewpoint.

Helplessly, Nabiki worked her mouth while she watched her mentally battered father jump on any chance to salvage something from this seemingly hopeless position.  By the time Nabiki could make a sound, Soun Tendo had already volunteered Nabiki to 'watch over' Ranma for the summer.  The image of herself living in a dirty hovel, trying to fend off armed Amazons with nothing but a stick while Ranma droned on about the greatness of martial arts for THREE MONTHS filled Nabiki's veins with ice. Unable to help herself, Nabiki expressed her horror with all the strength possessed by her healthy pair of lungs.

Ryoga usually would have finished with setting up camp by this time of the day.  However, the streets were so familiar that he had hoped to find his way to the Tendo Dojo and spend the night there.  As usual, his hopes were dashed by the harsh reality of his direction sense-- or his lack of.  He was ready to call it quits, and settle for the night in an alleyway, when a terrible scream of despair gave him a start.  He shivered at the sounds of its echoes as they bounced off the alley walls a second after the scream ended.  'That better not be another ghost!  This place is weird enough without the undead wandering everywhere.  It's probably Ranma's fault.' Ryoga grumbled in his mind as he began unloading his backpack.  'Wait. If it's Ranma's fault, then if I follow the scream, I will either reach the Tendo Dojo or wherever Ranma is!!'  With that thought, he quickly repacked his things and started off in the opposite direction of where the scream had come from.

Linfa was frightened.  It wasn't because she was walking in the darkened streets of Nerima, since she was tougher than any mugger in Japan.  It wasn't because Shampoo was in a bad mood; that she could deal with.  It was the fact that Cologne was acting 'cheerful'.  Amazon Elders were generally reserved, calm, and serious, and tended to use phrases like 'for the good of the tribe' or 'you have earned latrine duty for the next five months'.  The only times an Amazon was supposed to see emotion on an Elder's face was during battle or when she was your immediate family member.  Thus, Linfa was quite surprised-- maybe even dismayed-- by Cologne's smile and her light gloating about her joke on the middle Tendo daughter.  But worse was the fact that Shampoo was in such a bad mood that she could easily ruin Cologne's good mood, and an Elder whose good mood was ruined was very dangerous indeed.

"The real triumph in that encounter was that Nabiki did not even realize that I intended to take Kasumi all along!  She's the gentlest and oldest Tendo daughter.  She is likely to have the least interest in Ranma, so she is the best choice in my view."  Cologne mumbled happily at Shampoo as they slowly made their way back to the Nekohanten.  "Not that I blame Nabiki for losing this match.  I do have quite a few years on the child, and the game she plays at is a matter of course for me." Cologne glanced over at the brooding Shampoo. "Are you listening, great-granddaughter?"

"Yes."  The terse reply didn't quite conceal Shampoo's dissatisfaction, but it did manage to sound civil.  She was quite unhappy about the concessions Cologne gave to Ranma and the Tendos.  No more Kiss of Marriage or 'casual' visits by Shampoo, and a Tendo daughter on site to ensure that Shampoo or other Amazon girls wouldn't be alone with Ranma.

Shampoo would have cared a great deal more about Cologne's manipulation of Nabiki if she only knew what Cologne was going to say next.  Cologne seemed to calm herself at Shampoo's reply.

"I didn't have a chance to explain it all to you when we rushed out of the restaurant earlier-- how this would improve your chances with son-in-law.  Perhaps I should have.  You might have paid more attention to the 'social techniques' I am trying to teach you right now if I had."  She made sure that Shampoo was listening and continued.  "Son-in-law is how old, Shampoo?"

"Seventeen, Great-grandmother." Shampoo turned her puzzled expression toward Cologne.

"I mean mentally, child."  Cologne smiled broadly. Shampoo shivered at the sight, even though she had seen it before. "He's really only about eight years old in terms of social skills, and twelve years old, at best, in logic skills."

"But Ranma great martial artist!  He learn techniques faster than anyone!  Husband is not an idiot…" Shampoo's protest shrank to a murmur when Cologne's grin got even wider.

"Of course Son-in-law is not stupid.  We don't need more Mousses in the tribe, after all!"  Shampoo relaxed at Cologne's attempt at humor, just as Cologne intended.  "He is, in fact, quite smart, though he is very ignorant.  His father has taught him nothing of life outside of martial arts, and he made sure to keep Ranma from any prolonged contact with people.  I have taken the opportunity presented in the last month or so to probe his personality deeper.  I concluded that the Ranma you know is shaped by an unquenchable desire to master the Art, and to be as different from his father in personality as possible.  He is well on his way with the first goal, and has enjoyed some minor success with the second."  Noting that she now has the full attention of Shampoo, and even Linfa, Cologne went into her Lecturing Mode.

"You see, many factors determine a person's development in life, making it a difficult task to even guess at some of its aspects correctly.  In Ranma's case, it was simplified by his isolation.  He knew no one at all well, save his father.  Even his best friend from childhood, Ukyo, was really a stranger to him, considering how little he really knew about her.  The factor that dominates his life, then, is Genma Saotome.  Genma put many notions of martial arts and honor into his head during his early years, while he was more impressionable and still had respect for his father.  Like most children, being 'good' meant obeying his parents.  From conversations I have had with Ranma, he was no different, and he was 'good'.  As time passed, Genma's behavior must have gradually disillusioned Ranma.  Oh, he still believed in the things he was taught while he was still a child, but Genma no longer seemed to him as the paragon of virtue as he once was."  Cologne chuckled at the thought of a virtuous Genma.  "I don't know what caused it, but somewhere Ranma made a choice to become honorable instead of becoming like his father.  Maybe it was a sense of guilt that Genma doesn't seem to have, but Ranma got in abundance.   The problem was that Ranma had no examples of human behavior besides his father.  Just trying to be his opposite wouldn't work, since even Genma makes reasonable decisions once in a while.  Moreover, Genma always asked his son to obey and to imitate, and never taught him how to think, or use logic to solve a problem.  You see how this helps his martial arts?"  Cologne stopped abruptly at the back entrance to the Nekohanten, and faced the young Amazons.

"I don't quite understand…" Linfa would have continued, if not for the expression of comprehension on Shampoo's face.

"Aiyah!!  Shampoo got it!  Ranma always pay attention to what others do, and became a great mimic!" Shampoo's clapped her hands together as the truth dawned on her.

"Yes. Son-in-law developed his fast learning ability through his practice mimicking his father.  His pattern of behavior, trained into him from a young age, is to observe, then repeat what works.  Since not all situations are the same, he started to memorize when and where a technique will work."  Absentmindedly, Cologne moved into the kitchen area and made a routine check to ensure that Mousse had properly cleaned it up after he returned from his earlier flight.  "When Ranma sees a new technique, he really LOOKS, and if it’s to his advantage, he mimics it.  It is incredibly useful in learning kata and the like, and for eliminating errors in his style when he spars.  It’s sort of like he's constantly revising his style.   More than that, it means that he is very reactive, so that he’s developed a level of adaptivity that's very rare.  I doubt that he’s put much thought into it all.  That's the other advantage.  He doesn't think about what he's doing when he mimics, so he can focus on fighting and trying to figure out counter-techniques.  The only time he has any problems is when his senses do not tell him enough information for him to mimic a move, or he's physically not capable of it yet.  Then he spends an obsessive amount of time trying to figure it out by logic, or train his physique.  Son-in-law is quite intelligent and strong, so it doesn't take him too long to learn a technique that way.  Better than that, his mind works even harder to formulate a counter."   Satisfied that the roof repairs are done, and the rubble cleaned out, Cologne moved into the restaurant proper and sat down on one of the chairs.  "Unfortunately for Son-in-law, the same method does not work for social interactions at the same speed.  Emotions, etiquette, motives, and just life in general are too complex for a thought process based on combat decisions and tactics.  He's so ignorant of the how’s and why's that he reverts to the most basic human instincts to do most of his reacting: use force against force, reply kindness with kindness, and speak one’s mind out loud.  Most importantly in your case, Shampoo; PANIC when no mode of behavior seems appropriate."

"Make sense now!!!  Ranma supposed to be reserved with womans since he Japanese.  So no can hug Shampoo back when Shampoo show him love!!!  Aiyah!"

"Yes.  Ranma doesn't dislike you, I think.  But he doesn't love you yet.  Every time you show your affections, he has had no appropriate way to respond, and getting hit by the youngest Tendo regardless of his actions only reinforces panic as his choice of reaction.  The same applies for most things outside of martial arts.   He doesn't have many ways to deal with most things or people, so he panics, ignores them, or mimics their actions right back.  Its part of the reason he's constantly at odds with his rivals and fiancées, you know.  The only time when he can deal with things is when they ARE related to martial arts-- to competition, in some way.  Then his interest perks up, and his mind starts focusing and he begins working things out a little." Cologne scrutinized Shampoo's face, trying to see if she was following the train of thought.  She could tell that Linfa was already losing interest by her fidgeting.  "He is basically a grown-up child, with the power and skill of an adult, but the mental conditioning of an infant.  Yet he is growing up in spite of himself."  Cologne nodded in satisfaction at Shampoo's comprehension.  "Yes, he's starting to acquire social skills, to think for himself outside of a battle, to become less immature than he is.  It is slow, but it is inevitable that he will become as mature mentally as he is physically.  When he catches up with the rest of you young people, he will choose a wife for himself.  Not to satisfy Saotome honor, which has already been squandered away by his father, nor our traditions; but for himself."

"He will choose Shampoo, yes?!  If Ranma is mature, then he will realize Shampoo best!" Shampoo glowed with joy at that thought, until Cologne's word brought her down to earth once more.

"Maybe."  Cologne held Shampoo's gaze, then said with total seriousness.  "There is no way to tell how Ranma will turn out, or what type of woman he will love in a few years… unless one has a hand in his mental development."  Shampoo nodded in agreement.  "Son-in-law can be molded into someone who appreciates a fine Amazon wife.  Since relative isolation is required for our studies, we will have many hours alone when I can influence him.  Very few people will visit us, save those who bring us necessities-- which will consist of a few male Amazon servants, his mother, Kasumi Tendo, and yourself. So you will be one of the few people of his age he can interact with.  More than that, if you deal with him in a more formal capacity, with clear, easy to understand rules of conduct, he won't panic so often.   There's a very good chance that he will fall in love with you then.  We won't even have to push him… he will do it himself.  Now, here are some things you will need to do when you return.  You can't try to seduce Ranma all the time, so you will need to learn more about administrative duties.  You will be assigned to the village accountant and work on these…"

As Cologne and Shampoo planned their activities in China, Linfa left for her bed upstairs.  She was glad that as a tracker-hunter, she wouldn’t have to deal with all that complicated business with accounting and husband hunting at the same time.  Passing Mousse's closet of a room, Linfa turned in to her own tiny room and flopped down for a night of rest.

Ranma sped along the rooftops as though his life depended on it, and perhaps it did.  Especially in view of the fact that both of the Kuno siblings were chasing him, there was really little doubt of it.   His landing in the Kuno Estate’s pond was surprisingly soft, though very wet.  Overall, it wasn't a bad landing considering the other places he could have ended up in, such as Kodachi's bedroom.  However, the resident alligator had been of a different opinion entirely, and Ranma had beaten a hasty retreat.  The splash had gotten the attention of the human inhabitants there, but fortunately Ranma was already on her way out when said inhabitants converged at the pond.  With any luck, he could lose them and get back to the Tendo Dojo for some much needed sleep. Little did he know that a greater terror than the Kunos by far awaited him at home.

Akane was not pleased at all.  First Ranma agreed to go to China for some undetermined number of years.  Then she was forbidden to go with him-- not that she really wanted to.  The worst was when her stupid father decided to send Kasumi there.  Saddened by Kasumi's plight, Akane resolved to do her part while Kasumi is gone.  'Poor Kasumi,' sighed Akane.  'She will have to deal with that jerk for god knows how long.'

Akane walked into the kitchen, and began taking out ingredients for a fish stew. 'I can't believe Nabiki, pushing duty aside like that.  She could've just said yes.  It would have only been for the summer.' Akane fired up the grill, and proceeded to make a pancake with said ingredients.  'Kasumi doesn't have school, so she can stay longer, and we won't know when she will even be back.'  Unsurprisingly, Akane used motor oil instead of corn oil. 'I guess I will just have to do the cooking while she's gone.  I hope this practice omelet turns out well.'  The flattened mess turned purple and green and hard as Akane pressed it onto the pan.  'Oh, Ranma, why do you want to go?  You could have just studied martial arts here too!'  Growing somewhat depressed, Akane's arms relaxed.  Trying to shake herself out of the depression, she focused on her other emotions. She placed the ‘pancake’ on a plate, and then started on another one.  The more she thought about the whole thing, the more it made her angry.  'That baka!  Does he really want to leave that badly?'  As Akane's mood turned ugly, she also pushed harder on the new ‘pancake’. This time it didn't even harden. It melted through the pan with a sizzling sound.

Kasumi did her best to ignore the tortured noises coming from her kitchen as she packed.  'It won't be my kitchen anymore when I get back.  Akane will make sure of that.'  Kasumi tried to stop the unkind thought, but gave in to it after the fourth scream from metal being warped by strange compounds.  It was surprising to Kasumi that she didn't mind leaving at all, despite the loss of her kitchen.  'Maybe I can hold the jade again.'  That thought had crossed her mind repeatedly ever since her father made the arrangement with Cologne.  If she could get that jade, she could…

"Kasumi?"  Nabiki's voice was tentative, almost shy.

"Yes, Little Sister?"  Kasumi smiled at her, trying to relax Nabiki with just the strength of its warmth.  It usually worked well.

"I’m sorry I got you into this mess. I shouldn't have let it get to me, but I didn't want to spend an entire summer babysitting Ranma. I have so many plans and my friends wanted to go to… Ah, heck. I am just plain sorry, Kasumi," Nabiki floundered as she tried to make a sincere apology.

"It's all right, Nabiki.  I think it may be time for me to go on a vacation anyway.  I just hope you have enough money saved for lots of takeout."

Nabiki was grateful that Kasumi accepted her apology.  Sitting down on her sister's bed, she looked around the room.  Kasumi seemed to be almost done with packing, an amazing feat considering how little time had passed since Cologne's departure.

"I’ll try to get this sorted out.  I never would have expected Ranma to say yes so fast.  I was completely caught off guard this time.  By tomorrow, I’ll probably have a plan, so don't get too ready to go just yet."  Nabiki had hoped to reassure Kasumi, but there seemed to be little need.  In fact, to Nabiki's surprise, Kasumi seemed almost… eager.  "Besides, Mrs. Saotome is coming back tomorrow, I think.  Maybe I should pick her up at the train station and get a head start on putting her on our side."  Nabiki's eyes went over Kasumi's room once more, this time taking care to note the mess produced only by someone packing in a hurry.  The things that Kasumi packed were mostly the essentials, but some were of enough sentimental value that Nabiki doubted she would have taken them unless it was for a very long stay.  Watching Kasumi finish her packing and start on cleaning up her room, Nabiki could have almost sworn that Kasumi wanted to go…

"What a haul!!" Happosai declared to the world as he hopped from rooftop to rooftop, searching for those silky darlings who needed his tender care and attention.  In his mind he was the benevolent protector of undergarments, equivalent to Mother Theresa, Gandhi, and staunch supporters of orphanages.  In everyone else's minds, he was just a panty thief… Admittedly, a powerful and skilled martial-arts panty thief; perhaps even THE panty thief.  Nevertheless, it did not provide Happosai the respect that he felt he deserved.

More importantly, it did not provide Ranma with a reason to not kick Happosai out of the way as he made his way across the rooftops.  The Kunos were being unusually persistent that night, and Ranma was taking no chances.

"I will get you for this, Ranma!"  Recovering at a speed many would find remarkable, or what the populace of Nerima often called ‘disgusting’, Happosai began to carpet bomb the area with his personal stash of explosives.  That night, very few people got the sleep that they needed.

The next morning:

"If the Umisenken wasn't sealed, I would go back right now and switch the old perv's collection with their male counterparts.  Let's see him swimming in a pile of men's underwear!  Stupid old pervert."  Ranma trudged along side the railroad tracks as she made her way back towards Nerima.  Normally, she would have just ran across the rooftops, or shelled out the yen to buy a ticket.  Unfortunately, Happosai's stash of bombs-- combined with one of Kodachi's more interesting gas attacks-- mixed in a most surprising and unpleasant manner.  Happosai, who was at ground zero, would probably require a month of hospital stay, and would lose his sense of smell permanently if there were any justice in this world.  Kodachi, who was in the process of trying to hit Ranma-chan with her 'Ultimate Man-Repelling Stink Bomb', would likely be very embarrassed when she woke up; partly due to her smell, but mostly due to the fact that the explosion removed most of her eyebrows, fifty percent of her hair, and all of her leotard.  Tatewaki Kuno, by one of those rare cosmic accidents, would not be humiliated by the manner of his awakening, since no one beside himself would witness the event.  However, he would experience some difficulties, since the Sea of Japan can be quite rough during that season.  Ranma was fortunate in that he landed on the same landmass as Nerima, though it would be rough trip home… all fifty miles of it

Nodoka Saotome is a very traditional woman.  There are a number of rules of conduct that she felt were essential to the perfection of one's soul, and Nodoka followed them very carefully.  One of those rules involved being dignified in the face of adversity, and for the most part she succeeded in keeping it.  However, the insanity at the Tendo home was just a little too much for her to maintain calm for very long.  So she decided to take a vacation with other housewives like herself, who were interested in Kendo, traditions, and katana maintenance.  Overall, it was enjoyable and relaxing. They spent much of their time chatting about their families, practicing Kendo, sharpening their katana, and discussing the role of the married woman in modern times. The return trip was peaceful, especially since all of the ladies were armed with very real heirloom katana, which discouraged the all the perverts on the train who might otherwise have molested them.  Nodoka might have even fallen asleep in that relaxed environment if she hadn't happened to be looking out of the window when Ranma decided to hitchhike.

Normally, sitting on the edge of the roof of a moving rail car is fairly dangerous.  In Ranma's perspective, it didn't matter where on the roof she was sitting, as long as she didn't have to walk the whole way.  She more or less lay back and enjoyed the combination of the morning sun and the wind, keeping just warm enough to be comfortable.  Ranma did fell asleep a couple of times, though she woke every time the train stopped or made a sharper turn.  When the train finally arrived at the Nerima stop, she hopped off the train and began making her way toward the Tendo dojo…

That is, she would have if a familiar voice hadn’t stopped her in her tracks.

Nabiki hated waking up early if she didn't have to.  Too bad she had to.  Getting up was hard.  Not falling asleep while brushing her teeth was mildly difficult.  Making her way past Akane’s cooking practice/experiments from the previous night was a chore in and of itself.  In fact, it was very difficult because a very unhappy Akane was mumbling something about how Ranma didn't come home to taste her cooking last night.  Realizing the danger she was in, but unwilling to risk setting off her little sister's temper, Nabiki spent much more time placating Akane then she had originally planned.  Add the fact that Akane wanted to accompany her to the train station, but had yet to put on suitable clothing, getting to the train station on time was impossible.

After catching Ranma's attention, Nodoka took them both to a nearby cafe, where they could find both hot water and a place to talk.  Since she demanded a full explanation of everything that lead up to the train ride, it took four orders of snacks and close to half an hour before Ranma managed to backtrack the story all the way to his decision to leave for China.

During that time, Nodoka sipped her tea and ordered snacks to share with Ranma.  Nodoka was proud to note that Ranma always left about half of the dish for her. 'My son may be a bit crude, but he cares.'  She was therefore in a pretty good mood when Ranma finally mentioned that he was leaving for China soon.  She almost replied with a 'that's nice dear' before the subject registered in her mind.

"China?  Ranma, you should not leave Japan so soon after your training trip."  Nodoka's shoulder slumped, and she began wiping the corner of her eyes with the sleeves of her kimono, causing Ranma to fall to pieces. "Don't you want to stay with your mother just a little longer?"

"Aw, Mom… I don't want to leave you, but I can't be the best martial artist in the world if I don't train!  Believe me, if I could, I would stay with you all the time."  Ranma tried his best to comfort his mother, which involved patting her shoulders and looking both scared and embarrassed.

Nodoka was mostly faking her reaction, so while Ranma thought she was crying, she was actually looking at him out of the corner of her eyes.  Coming to the conclusion that he meant what he said, Nodoka decided that he was being 'manly'.  Though she was saddened that he might soon leave, it was as he said: something necessary. She straightened up a little bit. "Very well.  I suppose you will have to go.  But you have to promise me; don't be acting like your father.  Remember to write every week so your mother won't get too worried."  Ranma nodded to that.

"So, how long before you leave again, Son?" Nodoka had wiped away the last of her fake tears, and had her tea in her hand again.  "I think we should spend some quality time together before you go."

"I don't know, Mom.  I will have to talk to Cologne about that.  I flew out of there pretty fast after I told the Tendos." Ranma took a sip of his drink, and sat back. "I hope Pops and Mr. Tendo won't come up with some stupid scheme to keep me here.  I have enough trouble with everyone else as it is; I really don't want more trouble from them too. Maybe you could do something?"

"Hmm. Perhaps. Let's find out what's going on first before making plans, Ranma."  Nodoka said thoughtfully as she signaled the waiter for the bill.  In the process, she spotted a couple of familiar faces outside the cafe.

Akane was getting more impatient by the minute.  She was fairly unhappy when Ranma didn't come home early enough to try her new recipes.  She was more upset when he didn't come home at all.  She was even more upset that she couldn't find Mrs. Saotome despite half an hour of searching, and convince her to keep Ranma from leaving.  She realized how tense she was when she 'accidentally' crushed the railings on the side of the stairs leading up to the train station.  Nabiki was apparently as frustrated as she was, and they both agreed to take a break before they start back home.   That's when they spotted Nodoka in a cafe, apparently having tea with Ranma.  'NOOooooo!  He's gotten to her first!!'

As a counter-argument against anyone who ever doubted that those two, so different in personality, could be blood-related sisters, Nabiki and Akane had exactly the same expression while they thought exactly the same thought.


To be continued.

Author's notes: (8/11/01)  I am doing my best to work on Chapter 4 currently, so if this chapter is a little rough, I apologize.  Please C&C so that I know if anyone's reading, and perhaps get some tips on writing better.  I am particularly interested in how my characters interact: do they 'work' as they are?  Let me know at wunwong@hotmail.com.  Thank you

Chapter 2
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