Ch.1 - Cinnamon

Ranma Saotome was not known to rise particularly early on his own accord. An uninformed observer might think differently as he could regularly be seen sparring with his father in the early morning, but they likely wouldn't know that it was this same father who woke him up in the first place. At which time exactly this happened also varied from one day to the next -- Genma called it "being ready to face an opponent at any time," but Ranma preferred "how does the old man wake up so early," one of his life's minor mysteries.

Today was not such a day, for today Ranma Saotome was awake before the crack of dawn, and his father was not.

Stealthily, he crept around the house, looking for something to do. He could've gone to the dojo and practice, but considering his usual morning that felt like defeating the purpose. Ranma very much liked defeating, but the purpose was one of those things a wiser man might not wish to mess with.

Though he knew Kasumi woke up early, Ranma didn't expect her to already be there in the kitchen, making preparations for breakfast (or so he'd guess). He certainly didn't expect her to already be fully dressed, considering he was still only in his boxers and shirt.

Spotting the newcomer, Kasumi turned and smiled her usual smile at him. "Oh, Ranma. You're up early."

"I could say the same to you," Ranma replied at a respectfully low volume. "I thought I was up early but here ya are, dressed 'n everything..."

Kasumi nodded. "Someone has to. Did you have trouble sleeping, Ranma?"

"I dunno," Ranma shrugged. "Not sure why I got up, but it don't matter now. Hey, you want some help with this?"

"That's very nice of you to offer, but I..."

"Nah, really. Ain't like I got anything better to do at this hour," Ranma gently insisted.

"I suppose you could help cut the vegetables," Kasumi considered, eying the cutting board she'd put in its usual spot on the counter earlier, a kitchen knife and some veggies awaiting their ultimate fate surrounding it.

Experienced as Kasumi was, she was impressed at how quickly yet neatly Ranma went at his assigned task. Clearly, he loved the breakfasts Kasumi prepared as he knew exactly how thick the slices should be. Meanwhile, Kasumi was free to work on the rest of the meal.

"It's so nice to have someone else helping out in the kitchen, to talk with."

"Ain't it? Doesn't Nabiki sometimes hang out here?".

"Well... yes, but that's usually all she does, just stand there and talk. She rarely offers to help. She's a dear but it just doesn't seem to occur to her, I think."

"What about Akane?"

Kasumi paused her stirring for a second or two in thought. "Akane might be even worse," she admitted. "She usually only comes here to rant or to try and cook."

"I think we all know how that ends," Ranma scoffed.

"What did you mean, Ranma? The rant or the cooking?"

"Both, I guess," he shrugged. Kasumi couldn't help but giggle in her free hand.

It wasn't long before Ranma finished and handed the chopped-up veggies over for Kasumi to use. "Could you set the table for me, Ranma?" Kasumi almost dared not ask.

"Yeah sure, no problem," he replied with a casual shrug and a nod of his head, much to Kasumi's personal relief, then turned away to set the table, matching the placements as close as he could recall to how Kasumi always had them. This too he did with an almost ruthless efficiency, tempered only by what little drowsiness remained.

Kasumi, having just about finished her own preparations, put down the little spoon she taste-tested with and took a moment to reflect on how nice it was to have an extra pair of skilled hands around. She smiled at the thought, but her gentle smile fell into a near-frown as she realized it had been and likely always would be a rarity to not prepare the family meals alone.

As perceptive as Ranma could be in a fight, the frown didn't register to him nearly as well as a nearby knocking sound just when he had placed the last little bowl. He looked up to find Nabiki standing in the door, clearly just having dragged herself out of bed; her hair was still frazzled and unkempt, and her normally sharp eyes looked somewhat dull. Clearly, this was a young lady who really needed a cup of coffee in the morning. Nabiki and Ranma stared at each other for all of five seconds, one feeling as if caught with his hand in the cookie jar, the other as if something had gone very wrong with the world.

"I can explain...?" Ranma half-whispered with a painful smile.

"Can it, buddy," Nabiki mumbled. "Coffee first, ezzanation later. Mebbe coffee 'n breakfuzz first."

As if on cue, Kasumi came in with a mug of hot coffee for her beloved middle sister. "Here you go, Nabiki."

Nabiki impressively downed her coffee in only three firm swigs, mumbling that it was "too early for this shit" in between, returned the mug, and went back upstairs, though she looked much better going away than she did coming in.

"Okay, that just happened," Ranma pondered out loud. "So what else is left, Kasumi?"

"Nothing. You might want to go wake up your father before he notices you're gone," Kasumi suggested. Sure enough, she just barely finished speaking when said father's voice bellowed out from upstairs, "Ranma, where're you hiding boy?"

Ranma shrugged at Kasumi, who gave him a smile and head tilt back. The two of them took their usual seats at the table and waited for the others to come down. Over a few minutes, the seats slowly filled, Soun coming in first, newspaper in hand, followed closely by Nabiki, now combed and dressed, Akane, who took a second to notice Ranma wasn't fighting his dad, and finally said dad, who immediately grinned and moved to strike. Unfortunately for the big guy, Ranma had quickly flipped into a standing position and roundhoused his father into the yard.

"Alright Ranma," Akane started, the distrust evident in her voice. "How come you're already here?" The question had just gotten out when Akane reached the obvious conclusion. "You weren't doing anything perverted with my sister, right?"

"Oy, oy, as if anyone could! Have you seen her?"

Kasumi lightly blushed as she realized how Ranma's defense could be understood. She for one took it to be meant positively, but then again she was Kasumi Tendou.

"Are you saying Kasumi isn't attractive enough for you?" Akane near-shouted, for she was Akane first and foremost.

"No, of course she's attractive! More than a certain un-cute tomboy I could name. I mean look at her! She's not even doing anything, just sitting there with a smile and holy crap 'good and pure' jus' don't cut it! Ya don't mess around with 'good and pure', 'Kane!"

"Oh my. Ooh my." Kasumi's facade almost cracked at Ranma's passionate words. Much to no one's surprise, Akane punched Ranma in the face almost immediately. To most onlookers' surprise, Ranma didn't dodge or block the strike at all and let himself get flung clear over the breakfast table, into the furry mass of the giant panda who'd been sitting in the koi pond, watching it all happen. Which did mean that for once Ranma didn't change into a girl.

At least not until gravity decided to join them at breakfast and had Ranma slide down and into the pond proper.

When the newly changed Ranma stood up again, his father gave him a dirty look as if to say "why didn't you dodge, boy," though the only sound that came out of his mouth was an annoyed "paho." Ranma adjusted his outfit and shook his head to get the worst of the pond water out of his face, which incidentally meant smacking Genma in the face with his braid. An ursine growl was all the warning Ranma got that morning practice was most certainly not on hold that day, and the boy-turned-girl would've been surprised at the sudden clawed swipes and kicks if he wasn't so utterly used to them.

Now, Genma had a fair amount of raw physical power at his disposal as a panda but he lacked the agility of his human form, much like how Ranma often felt like his girl form was measurably weaker than his male form. Pride had a way of making this power difference look worse than it really was, but in truth Ranma's girl form was not that much weaker. He easily dodged the swipes -- those claws could easily tear open his shirt and though he was loathe to admit it, Ranma had developed a bit of this so-called "feminine modesty" -- and returned the favor with some fierce punches. But not too fierce, as holding back was one of the surefire ways to piss off the giant panda that was his father and that sort of thing made the big oaf clumsy, trading power for tactics.

After a few back-and-forths of claws and fists, having lead Genma out of the pond with his back towards the edge, Ranma decided to end it and put a bit of extra speed in his next salvo of punches. The near-amaguriken strikes, concentrated on the panda's stomach, staggered him back onto the edge of the pond, and the final power strike to the chest toppled him over backwards.

Ranma smirked in victory and turned around. "You're gettin' sloppy, Pops. I hardly slept and still beat yer furry ass," he boasted, unaware that the sloppy one had risen again, his beady eyes squinted into almost mere lines and hefting one of the large rocks that made up the edge of the pond in his paws. "'Tween you and the guys, somebody oughta report me for animal cruelt--EEAGH!"

Genma barked and produced a sign, "now who's sloppy," and watched his dazed son stumble back into the house, little chunks of rock falling out of his red hair. All three Tendou sisters had stood up in alarm as the red-haired martial artist danced a drunken path towards them. Soun on the other hand seemed content to remain seated, a little angry at Genma for messing up his koi pond.

For a few tense seconds, Ranma twirled in front of the sisters. For a moment, he seemed ready to fall over in Akane's already reaching out arms, when he suddenly veered off and firmly planted himself into a surprised Kasumi's talents. The older sister, instead of reacting in any degree of shock beyond the initial surprise, embraced the dazed Ranma and held him there until he might recover, brushing away the rest of the rocks.

"...there there..."

Akane on the other hand, took all that way differently. Surely, the pervert was just faking all that! She'd seen him do the Drunken Monkey form, and from what she could recall his stumbling around was just like that. So instead of finding a new respect for whoever developed the form, or wondering how a drunken stumble and a dazed one were so similar (they weren't particularly similar at all but hey), she decided on something else entirely.

"You utter pervert! Stop groping my sister!" Akane cried out, completely ignoring how Ranma's arms limply hung to the ground, touching nothing. She reached out and firmly yanked on Ranma's braid, pulling him out of Kasumi's embrace.

The sudden and somewhat literal pain in the neck did happen to snap him out of his daze, though.

"What the hell, Akane? What'd I do?" Ranma asked as the only slightly larger girl held him by his poor abused shirt.

"You were groping Kasumi, you... you..."

Much to everyone's surprise, Kasumi pulled Ranma back to her, also by the braid though much gentler, and protectively held the tiny female warrior against her, still facing away from her.

"That is really no way to treat your fiance, Akane," Kasumi scolded. It was ever so hard to see, but there was a bit of metaphorical fire in her eyes. The angry eyebrows were much clearer and ever so rare a sight since Ranma and Genma had arrived. "Are you really so blind to events?"

Nabiki glanced at her father and shared a subtle nod, both of them having seen it all quite clearly.

"Really Akane, the way you treat the poor gi--guy sometimes, I have to wonder if it was such a good idea when Nabiki and I picked you."

"Come to think of it, sis," Nabiki interjected, "wasn't that not our choice to make in the first place?"

"Well if you like the little pervert so much," Akane shot back, utterly ignoring the middle sister, "you can have him! The engagement is over!"

If Soun hadn't finished his tea earlier and wasn't intently watching, he'd have spat it out.

"Perhaps that might be better," Kasumi softly accepted as she held her new fiance a little tighter against her.

"What the fuck is happeniiing," Ranma softly cried out from within Kasumi's warm embrace.


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