Genma Saotome was not a happy camper.
That expression was somewhat more literal than usual -- he was not particularly happy, and he had in fact broken up camp earlier that day. You see, Genma Saotome had a pretty good reason to not be happy. He had, years ago, made an agreement with his old friend Soun Tendou, that his son would marry one of Tendou's daughters.
At the time his wife had only just been three weeks pregnant, while Soun already had two little daughters in his house. Though marrying his beloved Nodoka was one of his better choices, as was locking his old master in a cave with a lit bundle of dynamite, Genma Saotome was wrong quite often in his life. Presuming his unborn child was a boy was just one more notch on the belt of his mistakes.
It's understandable then that Genma Saotome became somewhat depressed when his daughter was born. He couldn't very well let his school join Tendou's if they both only had daughters, and he'd already heard the news about little Akane. At least little Ranma had a fierce interest in the martial arts. She was a tomboy through and through, it seemed at times. It was, in fact, his wife who suggested he take their daughter with him on a training journey, with her blessing, to make her the best martial artist he could manage. She reasoned that would take her husband's mind off of his old friend's school.
Nodoka Saotome was also not exactly the brightest bulb. Not as bad as her husband but hey, she married the guy. Willingly.
And so it was, several years later, that the Saotomes found themselves at the Cursed Springs of Jusenkyou.
When Genma reacted to what had happened to his daughter, by his own hand, by being happier than she'd ever seen him in her entire life, the guide could not disagree with the absolute beating she gave the damn panda.
"And that's the jist of it, my daughters. He'll be around with his son today, so one of you can marry and our schools can be joined," Soun Tendou wrapped up, explaining to his three daughters what the postcard he'd gotten earlier that day was all about.
"So what's this Ranma like, Daddy? Is he cute?" Nabiki asked.
"I don't know."
"You don't know," Kasumi echoed in mild disbelief.
"I never met the guy!" Soun laughed.
As his daughters each took this vague news each in their own way -- Kasumi in bemusement, Nabiki in annoyance, and Akane just generally not well at all -- there was a noise from the front gate.
"I just don't see why ya gotta push this, old man," a faint but boyish voice spoke in the distance. "Besides, don't ya think you'd scare ‘em comin' in lookin' like that?"
"That must be Ranma," Soun happily exclaimed, then broke out in a sprint to meet the visitors. Nabiki managed to keep up even though she was wearing a nice formal kimono for the occasion, Kasumi following behind in an elegant quasi-run, and Akane lingered.
Indeed, there stood a tall (but not too tall), handsome black-haired young man in what seemed to be a hoodie, the front open to reveal a Chinese silk shirt befitting a martial warrior in much the same ways the hoodie did not.
"You must be..."
"I'm Ranma Saotome. Sorry ‘bout this," the youth introduced himself.
("Oh my god he is cute." "Eugh, boys...")
"Ah, it's so good you came! But sorry about what, my boy?" Soun asked, not noticing Ranma's mild cringe. Ranma stopped to ponder for a second, then pointed at the giant mess of black and white fur behind him.
"For that. Say hi, Pops."
To Soun's surprise, the panda bear produced a sign: Hi, Soun.
"Genma? Is that you? How are you a panda?!"
"It's a long story that you'll probably have a hard time believin' without a kettle of hot water."
"Well, please. Come in regardless," Soun offered.
When Soun woke up from his fainting spell after watching the panda turn into his old friend, he figured it was about time they'd discuss what had been on his mind ever since that postcard came. Which of his daughters would be engaged to Ranma Saotome, to eventually marry him and join their schools.
His money was on Akane, because while Soun Tendou was certainly a master of his art, he was not the sharpest crayon in the box by far. That dubious honor went to Nabiki, or perhaps Kasumi. It was probably a good thing then that Nabiki did all the household finances.
That Akane had stormed off in a huff halfway through the explanation she'd heard before anyway to work off her frustration at (potentially) having to marry some boy barely registered in his mind.
"Marry one of ‘em, Mr. Tendou?" Ranma spoke up. "I... I barely know ‘em! Shouldn't we at least get to know each other a bit before talkin' about somethin' like engagement and marriage?"
Ranma felt rather horrible disguising the truth like she'd done, listening to the two fathers consider her words, shrugging and nodding in concession to the misleading point. She was only playing along with the idea because her father had almost pleaded with him to do so, invoking duty and family honor. Now, Ranma knew Genma and honor had a troublesome relationship but she felt she could and should do better. So she pulled the groveling man up from the street and agreed to play along. Sooner or later, though...
Of course, the rain basically forced the issue not even halfway down the street.
Before Ranma could decide her sense of honor had enough of the charade, Kasumi tapped her on the shoulder. "Yeah?"
"Would you like to take a bath before dinner?" Kasumi suggested. "You just came in from the rain, after all."
So did Genma, but she wasn't going to argue with Kasumi. There was something about her that said do not argue with me.
"I guess I should," Ranma agreed, pulling a bit of her shirt off her (broad, flat) chest that was until then stuck to her from the rainwater.
A few minutes later, when Ranma was long gone towards the bathroom, Akane finally came back from the dojo, her hands covered in concrete dust and the rest of her in sweat. She nodded at her sisters in passing, then went straight on in the general direction of the bathroom.
"Ah, Akane?" Kasumi called out, "you might not want to... oh, she's already gone."
"This is gonna hurt," Nabiki observed. "Maybe I should go after her, make sure she doesn't..."
"Doesn't kill him?"
"Yeah, that seems likely."
"Ah, maaan... what should I do?" Ranma asked herself, looking at her fingers, slender yet hiding a strength you wouldn't expect, and wisps of steam rising from the tips. "Ah well, they were gonna find out sooner or later anyway. After all, they already know ‘bout Pops. Might as well go out and face the music."
The moment she got up from the bath and made to get out, the door slid open revealing Akane with only a towel to protect her modesty. The two girls spotted each other and held a mutual gaze for a few tense seconds, before Akane took a step back and closed the door again.
Who's that girl? She looks kinda like Ranma but that couldn't... then again his dad turned into a panda. She couldn't possibly be him, right? No, she could. Amazing as the panda thing is, if that's Ranma then he barely changes at all when you stop and think about it. He's still the same species and everything, he looks basically the same... he's just a girl now. And if that was as hot as I think it was, and it takes cold water to change Mr. Saotome into a panda, that means...
Ranma's not a boy?
...Wow, I'm actually kinda relieved.
"Hey sis, you look like you saw something shocking," Nabiki said, snapping Akane out of her dazed thoughts and completely ignoring that her sister was naked and slumped against the wall.
"Yeah... I did," Akane confirmed, staring blankly at or perhaps past her sister's feet. "I guess... I guess there's not gonna be an engagement after all."
"Why, did the sight of him naked make you want to skip the formalities and find the nearest priest today?"
"Heh... no, no... I mean... We should probably leave," Akane evaded as she grabbed the top part of her training gi and wore it like an impromptu bathrobe.
Moments after the sisters did so, Ranma emerged from the bathroom, put her clothes back on, and retraced her steps to the living room.
Everyone but Genma and to some degree Akane was surprised to find a short, shy girl in a somewhat loose Chinese silks, most of her red hair covered by her hoodie. For some reason, the hood had decorative cat ears on it. Cute, but nobody seemed to care too much about that.
"Hi... I'm Ranma Saotome. Sorry ‘bout all this."