~~~~~ Chapter 1: Housing ~~~~~
A horse should be kept in a sheltered stall with exercise facilities nearby... The stall should be free of drafts and well away from sources of disturbance... Even the best-tempered animal can take some time to recover from changes in its accustomed housing or companions.
The Taming of the Horse: An Equestrian's Guide
It was a day long-awaited by some and secretly dreaded by others: Ranma and Genma were moving back to the Saotome house to live with Nodoka. Once again, Ranma and Nodoka were lined up on one side of the Tendo front gate, facing Soun, Kasumi, and Nabiki. This time, however, Akane wasn't sulking up in her room; she was standing next to Ranma, carrying a bundle. This time, Genma was standing behind Nodoka, kicking moodily at an innocent pebble.
"Thank you all again for taking such good care of my son and husband," Nodoka said brightly, bowing to the Tendos.
"Oh, it was no trouble at all," Kasumi said graciously.
"Remember, you're welcome to visit any time," Soun chimed in. Nabiki just stood there with her arms crossed, trying not to look too bored.
"Thanks for everything," Ranma said, looking mostly at Kasumi.
Nodoka turned, caught the elbow of Genma's threadbare gi, and said, "Come on, dear." They started down the street. Ranma settled his pack straps, glanced at Akane, and followed. Akane fell into step beside him.
"So, just couldn't stand to let me out of your sight, eh?" Ranma said, not looking at Akane.
Akane, determined to avoid the week-long snit that had ensued the last time Ranma had moved out, suppressed her initial response. "Well, you're going to find it harder to protect me night and day now, Ranma," she said instead. Boy, he has me pegged.
Ranma flinched and looked at her sidelong. Jeez, she has me pegged.
Akane smiled a little when he didn't even try to deny it. They walked on without speaking, listening to Nodoka talking at her husband.
The Saotome house was considerably smaller than the Tendo house, a little older, and less well furnished, but the damage that Shampoo, Ukyo, and Kodachi had inflicted in the pursuit of a non-existent engagement ring had all been repaired. Akane followed Ranma upstairs into a small room, unfurnished save for a chest of drawers and a desk-lamp. Ranma swung his heavy pack down and stretched. Akane put down her bundle. "So, this is your room, then?"
"Yup." Ranma slid open the old-style window and looked out into the small back yard. "It ain't much, but at least I don't have to share it with a panda." His expression was faintly sad, until he looked back at Akane.
"Ranma, I..." "Akane, I..." they began simultaneously. They blushed and looked down.
"What?" "You go ahead...."
Ranma looked annoyed, mimed zipping his lips, and bowed exaggeratedly to Akane.
Akane giggled. "Well, Father meant it about 'visit any time'," she said. "Since your family doesn't have a dojo, you can use ours... if you want to...."
Ranma, who had begun to frown around the middle of her sentence, brightened. "Yeah, I guess I could."
"And our place isn't far from your way to school," she continued, heartened. "We could still walk to school together...."
"An excellent idea," Nodoka said from the doorway. Ranma and Akane jumped. "I'll see to it that he leaves here in time to meet you at your door, Akane-chan," she continued benevolently.
"Jeez, Momma," Ranma protested, but so weakly that it was obvious even to Akane that it was a token.
"Thanks, Oba-sama," Akane said. She glanced at Ranma. "I'd better be going, you have settling-in to do...."
"Thank you for coming along, Akane-chan," Nodoka said. "By all means, come visit any time; I'll be glad to see you and so will Ranma." She smiled and left.
Akane followed Ranma to the door. "I could walk you home," Ranma offered diffidently.
Akane smiled, but shook her head. "No, you have things to do. Thanks, though. See you tomorrow morning?"
"Don't be late!" She waved and left.
Ranma went upstairs, sighed, and opened his pack. Loading his meager wardrobe into the dresser took ten minutes. Unrolling his futon took ten seconds. He sat on his futon, looked in the general direction of the Tendo Dojo, and wished he were somewhere else.
"I'm home!" Akane called, removing her shoes.
Kasumi came into the front hall. "Oh, Akane," she said. "How did it go?"
"Fine," Akane said. "Um... where are Father and Nabiki?"
"Father's in his room. Nabiki's out," Kasumi said patiently. "And I haven't noticed any ninjas around lately."
Akane half smiled. "Sorry. It went much better this time. He cracked wise before we were even out of sight, but I managed not to get mad at him, and it paid off big-time. He was almost nice. He's going to walk me to school and back!"
"I'm so worried about the other girls, though. Now that he's not living here, who knows what'll happen? They'll visit, and be all nice to him, and I won't be there to clobber him, and he'll... and they'll...." Akane stopped, appalled by her own imagination.
Kasumi rescued a mug from her sister's death-grip. "Now, Akane, I'm sure it's not as bad as you fear. Don't forget, they were doing that when he was living here, too, and it doesn't seem to have swayed Ranma-kun at all. My goodness, remember the time we found Shampoo in bed with him in the morning?"
Akane turned distraught eyes on her sister. "Aaaa!" she wailed.
Kasumi winced. "What I mean," she continued hastily, "is that if Ranma-kun can remain decent through that, I hardly think he's in any danger where he is now."
"'Decent' is not the word for that pervert," Akane said darkly, but she calmed down. "I miss him," she said eventually. "He's only been gone an hour, and I miss him already."
"Well, I'm sure he misses you too," Kasumi told her confidently.
Ranma awoke the next morning, and wondered why. No buckets of water... no sudden attacks... no clock-crazed schoolgirls... jeez, this is boring. He yawned, got up, picked up his towel and bucket of toiletries, and went silently downstairs.
His mother and father were seated at the table in the main room when he came in. "Mornin', Momma, Pops," he greeted them. "Say, Pops, we trainin' before breakfast, or what?"
Genma folded his arms and looked inscrutable. "Your mother has persuaded me that a change in your routine is called for," he told Ranma.
Nodoka took over. "Yes, Ranma." She regarded him seriously. "Your father has had all these years to train you, and has fulfilled his promise to make you a man among men. Therefore, I suggested that his task was done, and that it now fell to me to complete your training, and he eventually agreed."
Ranma raised his eyebrows. So that's what all that noise was, he thought. "What're ya trainin' me in, Momma?" he asked.
Nodoka glanced sidelong at her husband. "Your father, while he has certainly made you a fine martial artist, has neglected to teach you many aspects of civilized behavior," she said. "I will correct these... deficiencies."
Ranma's jaw dropped. "Uh... like what?" he asked cautiously.
Nodoka frowned slightly. "Well, to begin with, your vocabulary, grammar, and diction," she said. "Also, your grades indicate that you need to study more. I will introduce you to classical arts such as poetry, and guide your moral development. Your father does not appear to have been the best of examples."
Ranma was speechless. "What, no sparring?" he croaked finally.
Genma looked uncomfortable. "Your mother has argued convincingly" his eyes slid towards the katana mounted in the alcove "that since she had you for so few years, and I kept you away from her influence for so many, she is entitled to whatever years remain before your maturity, and that I should not interfere with her training of you during that time." He got up, shuffled outside, and dumped a bucket of water over his head. The panda blinked sadly at Ranma and turned away.
"Now that that's settled," Nodoka finished brightly, "I'll just get breakfast, shall I?" She rose and went into the kitchen. Ranma stayed where he was, stunned.
Ranma entered his home and removed his shoes. It didn't feel like his home. Akane lived in his real home. He shook his head, called "I'm home!" just in case anyone was listening, and went up the stairs to his room.
Ranma came back down the stairs and went into the main room. Nodoka was drinking tea behind several stacks of books. "Yeah, Momma?" He eyed the stacks. "What's with the books?"
"This is your reading list. I want you to read all of these," Nodoka clarified, adding another book to one stack.
Ranma picked up a book and flipped through it. No pictures, lotsa kanji, no furigana, tiny print.... Something in him snapped. "You want. Dammit, everybody wants! My life is fulla people who want me to do somethin' all the others don't want me to do! You want me to read a zillion books! You want me to move outa the Tendos'! You want me to be a 'man among men'! Pops and Tendo-san want me to marry Akane! Shampoo 'n' Cologne want to drag me back to China! Ukyo wants me to marry HER! Akane wants hell, I wish I knew what Akane wants but nobody cares what I want!"
Nodoka waited patiently until she was sure that her son was through ranting. "And what do you want, dear?"
Ranma paled and suddenly found the finish of the table intensely interesting. "Well, I... um. If Aka... er, that is, I, uh.... The thing is, I, ah, well, maybe.... hm."
Again Nodoka waited until it appeared that Ranma was more likely to twiddle his fingers than say anything useful. "Well, when you do decide what you want, Ranma-chan, be sure to tell Mother all about it." She took a sip from her cup and gazed blandly at Ranma over its rim.
Ranma didn't hear her say "...and until then, stop complaining," but he was sure she was thinking it. "Yes, Momma," he managed, abashed. "Say, where's Pops?"
"Out," Nodoka said coldly. She thawed a bit. "I suggested that he look for work. If you didn't see him at the Tendos', there is a small chance that that is what he is doing." Ranma doubted it, but it didn't surprise him that Genma wasn't home. He'd walked by his parents' room once when the door was open and seen the two futons on opposite sides of the room with a katana between them.
Ranma snapped awake in the middle of the night. Something was in his room with him. Something was rummaging through his chest of drawers and muttering. Something small....
"Y'old fart! What the hell ya doin'?!"
Happosai turned. "Oh, hello, Ranma." He waved at the pillaged dresser. "Hasn't your mother bought you any new bras or panties yet?"
"Whaaa...?! You sonofabitch, I oughta"
"No?" The old man shook his wizened head disgustedly. "She must have become as cheap as Genma. What a shame, what a shame." He deftly avoided Ranma's elbow. "Well, my boy, there's only one thing for it." He rubbed his hands together briskly. "We'll go raid some for you."
Ranma facefaulted, but was up in a flash. "I tol' ya before, I'm not gonna do that!" he raged.
"But they'll sag if you don't"
Happosai looked down at Ranma, laid out flat on the floor wearing boxer shorts, and sighed. "You're no fun at all any more." He brightened suddenly. "Ah, but with you here, that means darling Akane-chan is completely unguarded!"
Ranma froze. Happosai leapt to the window sill and turned. "Bye for now!" He jumped out.
Ranma unfroze. "YOU BASTARD!" He sprang from the floor, cleared the windowframe, and landed in the garden, looking around wildly for Happosai. He spotted the master of Musabetsu Kakuto perched on the wall, regarding him with mild interest.
"Decided to go on a raid with me after all, eh?"
"Stay away from Akane, ya little shit!"
"Why should I?" Happosai asked reasonably. "More to the point, who's going to stop me?"
Ranma fumed. He has a point there.... A sudden breath of breeze cooled his bare chest, and the desperate plan struck him.
"Why would ya want ta molest an unsexy, no-figure girl like that?" He scooped up the bucket under the downspout, upended it over his head, and struck a provocative pose.
'Drip'? What happened to 'splash'? He looked up. The bucket had been empty. Gaah. The one time I want cold water, and I get 'drip'. Figures.
"Here you go." Happosai handed him a bucket. Ranma seized it gladly and upended it over his head.
Splash! Ranma dropped the bucket, gritted her teeth, and struck the pose again.
"Sweeto!" Happosai leapt for her exposed bosom. Glomp. Nuzzle-nuzzle.
"EEYAA!" Ranma smacked Happosai into the ground and backed up fast.
"Now that's more like it!" Happosai crowed, rising from the wreckage of two buckets. "Hotcha!" He sprang at Ranma, fingers wriggling. She bounced over the rooftop and away. The noise dwindled in the distance.
Ranma dragged himself into the main room the next morning and sat at the table, looking decidedly worn. "G'mornin', Momma."
"Good morning, Ranma," Nodoka said brightly, bringing out the soup, rice, and pickles. Ranma started to shovel it in.
"I won't ask if you slept well, dear," she continued.
Ranma looked up and swallowed hastily. "Uh?"
"Don't grunt, dear, it's not polite. Yes, I was awakened in the middle of the night by a commotion in the garden, and when I went to see what it was, I was amazed."
Ranma twitched nervously and surreptitiously checked the room for katanas.
"At first I thought... well, you can imagine what I thought."
"Eep!" Ranma prepared to disappear under the tatami.
"But after you and Happosai had gone, I realized that that was a very selfless thing you did, sacrificing your dignity for your fiancee's honor."
"It was? I mean, yeah, sure it was." Ranma inflated a little.
Nodoka lifted an eyebrow at her son and shook her head. "Every time I think I know what manliness is, Ranma, you redefine it."
"Um, is that good?" Ranma asked cautiously.
"I'm not sure yet."
Ranma looked unsettled. When Nodoka didn't say any more and started her breakfast, he resumed his, glancing at her occasionally.
Ranma dredged himself up from the depths of sleep. Something was in his room with him. Something tall, slim, and curvy....
Suddenly Ranma was all the way awake and sitting plastered against the wall. "Kodachi!"
"Sssh, dear Ranma-sama. We don't want to disturb your parents." The streetlights outside provided enough light for Ranma to watch her drop gracefully to kneel beside him. To his slight relief, she was wearing her usual leotard. For the moment. Oh, ya just HAD ta think that....
"We deee" Ranma cleared his throat and started over. "We don't?"
She giggled softly, a sound far removed from her usual over- the-top laugh, but at the moment seeming even more threatening. "No, no, darling, that would be so discourteous." She paused. "It was very kind of you to leave your window open for our tryst."
"Uh," Ranma managed. He cursed his inability to hold up his end of the conversation; it might have bought him some time.
Kodachi sighed romantically. "Oh, Ranma-sama, you are a girl's most torrid fantasies made flesh. To see you here like this is almost more than my poor heart can stand." She reached out in the dimness and ran her slim hand over Ranma's bare left pectoral.
"Yaah!" Ranma shot upward out of his sitting position and wedged himself into the corner of the ceiling, quivering.
Kodachi flowed to her feet. "No need to be so shy, my sweet man." Ranma realized with dismay that either Kodachi wasn't short enough or the ceiling wasn't high enough or both.
Kodachi looked down at her bosom. Happosai grinned toothlessly back at her and threw in an extra grope. "Ranma- sama," she said sharply, "what is this vile creature?"
Whap! Kodachi batted Happosai off her chest and dove for the window. Happosai bounced off floor and wall and was after her like a shot. Ranma dropped from the ceiling and darted to the window. He paused there, sorely tempted to just slam it and go back to bed.
"Ah, hell," he muttered, and leapt outside.
Kodachi and Happosai were squared off in the yard. The gymnast had her ribbon out and twirling. The lecher had his fingers out and wriggling. Before Ranma could intervene, Happosai sprang. The ribbon flicked.
"Wha-ha-ha!" chortled Happosai, swinging head down from a tree branch, wrapped from neck to toe in ribbon. "Bondage! Discipline me, sweet cheeks! Woo-hoo!"
Kodachi ignored him and turned to Ranma. "Alas, my paramour, the mood has been broken. Au revoir!" She blew him a kiss and vaulted to the neighbor's roof. Black rose petals scented the night air. "Oh-ho-ho-ho-ho!"
Ranma watched her go. I knew she was a loon, but now she's talkin' gibberish. He looked at Happosai, still swinging gaily to and fro, and considered thanking him for his timely intervention. "Nah."
Ranma jumped back through the window, slammed it shut, latched it, and nailed boards across it.
It took him over an hour to get back to sleep.
Ranma was awakened the next morning by a tapping at his door. "Ranma? It's time for you to get up, dear."
"Yeah, Momma, I'm up...." He sat up and scrubbed his face with his hands. The door opened.
"Is everything all right, Ranma? You don't usually oversleep oh, my goodness!" Ranma looked where Nodoka was looking. His heart sank. On top of his dresser was a bouquet of black roses.
"Ack! I, I can explain those!"
"So can I." She smiled proudly at him as she came in and picked the bouquet up. "I'll just go put these in water."
He groaned and sank his face in his hands. I'm dead.
Nodoka put her face back around the door and added, "I knew Kodachi-chan had been here last night, but I never dreamed she would be so pleased with you!"
Dead, dead, dead.
Akane was waiting impatiently outside the Tendos' front gate when Ranma came running up. "I was about to leave without you," she said crossly. "Come on, let's go."
Akane snatched glances at Ranma while they ran. "You look terrible," she said after they'd safely passed the place where the little old lady lurked with her ladle.
"What happened? Happosai again?" Her voice was sympathetic. Ranma was tired. The result was predictable.
"Yeah, him and Kodachi."
Akane screeched to a stop. "WHAT?!"
"Wait! It's not whatcha think, Akane!"
"Well, how do you know what I'm thinking?! If you know what I'm thinking, it's because it's what anyone would think! And that means it must be true!" Slap!
Ranma shook his head, dazed as much by Akane's inarguable logic as by her powerful hand, and then ran after her.
"Wait up! Ya got it all wrong!"
"Get AWAY from me, you pervert!" She tried in vain to outrun him.
Ranma got mad. "Look, I left my window open 'cause it was hot! I didn't think Kodachi was gonna sneak in! Kodachi groped me, Happosai groped her, she tied him up in a ribbon and left! NOTHING HAPPENED!"
Akane stopped. Ranma stopped, breathing heavily, but not from running. Her eyes searched his face. "You know," she said finally, "that's so stupid I almost have to believe you."
Ranma crossed his arms and looked disgusted. "It's the truth."
"You promise? You didn't lay a finger on her?"
Akane looked relieved. "Well... okay." She smiled shyly. "Um.... Sorry about the slap."
Ranma recovered from the smile and remembered an important detail. "Uh, there's just one thing...."
Akane's eyes narrowed. "What?"
"Well, my momma... uh... you know how she is about my being 'manly', right? Well, Kodachi left a big buncha those damn roses of hers in my room, and now Momma thinks... uh...."
Akane's eyes and mouth opened wide in shock. She covered her mouth with her hand. "...that you were, ah, 'manly' with Kodachi?!"
"Yeah," Ranma said sheepishly. "But I wasn't! I swear!"
Akane giggled. "I won't tell her you weren't."
Ranma was deeply asleep when the boards nailed over his window exploded inward, bounced off the far wall, and clattered to the floor. He rolled sideways on reflex, fetched up against the wall with a thump, and blinked. Something was in his room with him. Something incredibly violent....
"Wo da airen," it said softly.
Ranma groaned. "Shampoo."
"You sick?" Shampoo asked. "You no sound good." Her hand touched his forehead. "No fever.... You leave window open, no sleep in stuffy room." Her teeth gleamed in the dimness. "That way no noise when wife come visit, too."
"Look, Shampoo, ya gotta go," Ranma pleaded. "I need ta sleep."
"Good!" Shampoo said, sounding pleased. "You sleep. I sleep too."
Ranma sighed in relief. "Great. Now" He stopped suddenly. Fabric whispered in the dark and fell softly on the floor. He caught a glimpse of smooth pale skin as Shampoo lay down on his futon and pulled his quilt over her. Sweat sprang out on his forehead, and he cursed silently. "No, I mean you go home and go to sleep an' I stay here and go to sleep," he said, knowing it was useless.
"What you talking, airen? You come here. You sleep number- one good." Shampoo patted the futon beside her.
"No way." Ranma overpowered the temptation to crawl in with her and tried to think of a plan. Happosai? Nah, he only shows when ya don't want him. Kick her out? She'd just come back in, they don't make windows that'll stop her, or doors neither, or even walls. Go downstairs and ask to sleep with my parents? Yeah, right. Momma'd make me slit my belly for not stayin' here and bein' 'manly'. "Eeep!"
Shampoo had gotten impatient while he was thinking and had crept up and glomped him. "What this 'eep', airen?" she whispered in his ear. "I no learn all Japanese love word yet you teach?"
Ranma decided talk was futile and started unwinding the amazon, trying not to think about what he was grabbing. Shampoo took it as an invitation to wrestle and started emitting delighted squeals as he touched sensitive bits by accident. Finally Ranma unleashed a masterful move which left Shampoo glomping herself, snatched up his quilt in the fraction of a second before she recaptured him, and jumped out the window.
Shampoo leapt after him, but suddenly reversed direction, dove back into Ranma's room, and came out a second later carrying her clothes. She paused on the roof and looked around for Ranma while dressing hastily. She spotted him six rooftops away and receding rapidly, still carrying his quilt. "Ranma! You wait!"
"I know, I look terrible," Ranma said to Akane as they met at the Tendos' the next morning. "Let's just get this over with quick. Shampoo came by last night."
Akane blinked. "What?"
Ranma cheered up a bit. Hey, whaddaya know, she's listening. "Shampoo got inta my room last night. She kicked the window in and grabbed me, I pried her off and ran for it jeez, I think one of her ancestors was an octopus that fell into the Nyannichuan led her back to the Nekohanten, crashed inta Mousse's room with her chasin' me, and got away while she was still tangled up with Mousse. Other than that, nothin' happened. I can't exactly say I didn't lay a finger on her, but I didn't touch her any more than I had ta, sorry." He stopped, panting, and waited for the pain.
"Why are you telling me this?" Akane asked. Her voice was strange.
"So you can hit me, and we can go to school," Ranma explained as if it were the most reasonable thing in the world.
"I'm still not following you," Akane said.
"Look, I know you're goin' ta find out sooner or later, so I might as well just tell ya up front, take my lumps, and get going, right? Come on, pound me already, it's gettin' late."
"Oh." Akane looked up at Ranma and shifted her bag to her other hand. Ranma screwed his eyes shut and waited. He felt a soft slap on his cheek, and heard Akane whisper "Bad Ranma."
He opened his eyes, astonished. Akane was already walking away. He stared at her retreating back, listened to the muffled laughter, muttered "I ain't never gonna understand girls," and followed her.
"I'm home!" Ranma pelted into his room to drop his schoolbag. Moving at a more sedate pace, he found his mother in the main room.
Nodoka looked up from her handicraft and the faintest of frowns crossed her face. "Ranma, would you go change, please?"
"Huh?" Ranma swiftly checked his clothing. Nothing seemed amiss. "What's wrong with these?"
Nodoka looked slightly uncomfortable. "No, dear, not your clothes. I'd like to speak to... well... my daughter."
Ranma's jaw dropped. She's flipped. Then a little bulb lit. "Oh. Sure, Momma. Be right back." He left the room. A faint splash was heard. Ranma came back in, drying her hair. She dropped to sit cross-legged across from Nodoka.
Nodoka frowned again, less faintly. "Ranma-chan, that's not how young ladies sit."
"But... I'm not a 'young lady'! I'm a man! I'm sittin' like a man sits!"
"Ranma, don't shout at your mother. And please, just do as I say." Ranma looked rebellious, but obeyed, shifting to sit on her shins with her knees together.
Nodoka relaxed and smiled at her child. "Thank you, Ranma. I know this is difficult for you." She took a breath, then continued. "I've been thinking about your condition since I learned of it, and I realized something."
Ranma's expression shifted from rebellious to apprehensive.
"I... I want you to be my daughter as well as my son."
Ranma fell over sideways. She returned to the vertical in time to hear Nodoka say, "I miss Ranko. I know you don't like being a girl, but it looks as though you'll be... both... or either... whichever it is... for a while to come, and I always wanted a daughter, and it doesn't look like your father and I will have any more children, so...."
Ranma wanted to start with "Hell, no!" and continue from there, but she couldn't. Her mother was wringing her hands, and was plainly near tears. Her shoulders slumped and she bowed her head. "All right, Momma," she said weakly. "I'll do whatever ya want." I think I'd rather slit my belly.
Nodoka was around the table and hugging her in an instant. "Thank you so much, Ranma-chan. You've made your mother very happy." She held Ranma at arm's length and gazed at her proudly. "Your father made you a man among men. I promise, I'll make you a woman among women as well!"
Ranma stared at her, horrified. "Don't knock yourself out, Momma," she managed finally.
Nodoka misunderstood. "Oh, no, Ranma, it will be no trouble at all. It'll even be fun! You'll see, being a woman isn't nearly as bad as you think! Why, if we...."
Ranma tuned her mother's voice out and slowly began to pound her head on the table.
~~~~~ end of Housing ~~~~~
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