Genma stared down his ignominious son. "State your terms."
"A'ight, Pops. You 'n me, in the Tend? dojo. You win, I'll be as manly a man you ever saw. Marry Kas right there on the spot, knock her up tonight and we'll leave on a training journey the next day and be back in time for the birth."
Genma swallowed. The boy was way too on the nose with that suggestion. Kasumi on the other hand would have gasped or muttered an "oh my", but she had to admit it did sound like something Genma would've had in mind and, more importantly, she trusted Ranma to win, so she calmly sat and watched the challenge being laid down as she finished her meal.
"And if you win, boy?"
Ranma held up a frilly dress and a long brown wig that the others recognized as coming from his disguise kit. "You wear these for a week," he challenged with a smile.
"Boy, if you can't take this serious we might as--"
"Pops, I'm taking this dead fucking serious. We're only doing this cos you think I've gone soft and un-manly," Ranma argued with a hand on his generous talent, "but let's be honest. I just need a good excuse to humiliate you, and this seems nice and karmic. Besides, I've no intention to lose."
Ranma walked -- no, sashayed past her flummoxed father, putting extra swing in his hips. "Best thing I learned from you, Father... Ranma Saotome don't lose."
The whole crowd was gathered at the dojo. Soun, Kasumi, Nabiki, Akane, Ukyo. Even Ryoga, Shampoo, and Konatsu were there, seated along the far wall.
"Y'know," Ukyo said as she watched Ranma and his father do some stretches, "as much as I wanna see Ranma-honey kick the bastard's ass... I don't think I can stand the idea of him in a frilly dress and wig like that."
"I hear ya," Ryoga agreed. "I've seen some shit but that gave me chills."
"Y'know, he's dressed up like an old lady before," Akane reminded. "Back when Ranma succumbed to the Neko-ken?"
Akane nodded. "With a gray wig and all that, cos the first time it happened Ranma was calmed down by this old lady who lived nearby, but she died some time afterwards."
"Can't imagine that plan worked, Sugar."
"It didn't. He ended up on my lap though. That worked," Akane recalled with a blush.
"Why the blush, Sugar? Somethin' you're not tellin' us?"
"He kissed me. Just like that. Kitty kiss on the cheek. That was my first kiss and he wasn't even himself at the time."
"It would've been cute if it hadn't angered you so much," Kasumi interjected.
Ryoga stopped in realization. "Hold up, was that when I found the creepy little shit nailing a photo of you two onto a tree and me 'n Kun? beat the crap outta Ranma for it?"
"You assholes still owe us for repairs," Nabiki called out. "Bursting out the floor like that."
"I'll get my ledger after the fight."
Shampoo perked up. "Came back from China then! Found ai-- Ranma and Akane arguing at healer's about kissing!"
"You were there?" Akane asked in surprise.
Shampoo nodded with a smile. "Was just delivered to T?fu in cardboard box. Saw it all from top of cabinet. Something about Ranma kissing Akane, get in fight, and Akane splash Ranma."
"Oh yeah. Ranma'd tricked you into thinking he was a girl who turned in to a boy, right?" Akane recalled.
"To save your life, no less," Ryoga leaned in.
"Then Shampoo get curse, know cold water makes cursed form, and know be tricked! Find Ranma in bathroom, confirm truth. So happy."
"Yeah, real fuckin' happy alright."
"Now, Akane?" Kasumi said with a comforting hand on Akane's shoulder. "Try to put yourself in her place for a bit. If you thought the man you loved wasn't a man at all, and then found out he was after all, wouldn't you be happy? Especially if you'd have to kill him if he wasn't?"
Normally, Akane would've thrown a fit. But then again, she'd been trying to get better. "I guess maybe? Let's just watch Mr. Saotome eat floor, okay? I think they're almost ready."
Indeed, the two fighters stood up straight, adjusted their belts, and went through the customary pre-fight ceremony -- stand facing each other, bow, take a few steps back. Soun stood up and raised one arm.
"Gentlemen, are you ready?"
"Yes," father and son chorused in reply.
They dropped into their fighting stances. Genma's was fierce and aggressive, Ranma's relaxed but determined. Within seconds, Genma was right in front of his son to try and catch him with a leg sweep, which Ranma had seen coming and jumped over, only to turn that jump into a spinning kick aimed for his father's head. Genma in turn ducked, judging a prone position better than getting nailed, and flipped back up as Ranma landed, just barely dodging his own sweep.
Ranma jumped, trying again to nail Genma in the face, and Genma dutifully dodged only to discover he'd been tricked when Ranma landed behind him. Before Genma realized that Ranma only pretended to kick him in the face, he felt the sting of a thousand punches in his back.
Genma considered the implications as he staggered. No calling the attack, huh?
The old man turned around and tried to punch his son, but found his fist deflected. He tried again, but hit nothing. It was a stupid idea on the face of it, to try and punch someone who was fast enough to deflect such a thing. But Genma was mostly just stalling for time.
Time that he used to hide his presence. Most of Ranma's and indeed his own techniques were dependant on ki, not senses like vision, so if he slipped into the Umi-sen-ken, Ranma shouldn't be able to intercept his strikes, or so Genma's working theory went. Indeed, some punches went through even as his audience could still see him, but not see him.
In total, he landed ten hits. Then, to Genma's despair, he found himself deflected again. He had no time to realize it was because his punches had a distinct rhythm to them, and Ranma didn't actually need to see him in any sense. Coming back out of the Umi-sen-ken, Genma stepped back to find himself winded and Ranma noticeably breathing somewhat heavy. Sustained use of the Amaguriken wore him out, it seemed.
Slowly, the fighters started circling each other.
"You're good, boy... but are you good enough?"
"Trash talkin' me ain't gonna help you, Pops."
In the audience, Ukyo and Shampoo realized what was happening and nodded. Shampoo quickly got up and slid open the door to the garden. They knew what it meant when Ranma got circle-like movement patterns involved and didn't rise to any taunts -- Ukyo knew from being there when Ranma first learned the move, and Shampoo knew because it was one of her tribe's moves. Soon enough they wouldn't be circling at all, but going in a spiral. Genma would be the one who rose to Ranma's taunts. Fortunately for the red in Nabiki's ledger, they also knew the result didn't have to go up.
"Y'know Pops, I think long brown hair would suit ya."
Genma growled as he paced around his pest of a son. "I don't intend to wear it, boy."
"What, ya gonna ignore the stakes of a challenge just like that? Typical, Pops," Ranma sighed. "For a man who's all about honor, you sure seem like you don't give much of a damn about it in practice."
Genma was many things. He was a thief, a scoundrel, a drunkard, and very much a raging hypocrite insofar as he talked a lotta talk but didn't walk the walk much at all concerning such concepts like honor. This was of course mostly because he was in the first place a scoundrel of the highest order. Still, he did not like being reminded of this simple fact.
"What do you know of honor, boy? Gallivanting around with a half dozen lovers. Some of them are even men! You have no shame, boy."
Ryoga could outright feel the smirking gaze of the girls sitting right next to him.
"Might I remind you that at least half again of those are entirely your fault?" Ranma retorted as he led his dad into the spiral. "You dishonored yourself and the man you call your lifelong friend when you engaged me to Ucchan," he continued to hammer, all without raising his voice, "and then you dishonored her and her dad when you stole their cart."
"Face it, Pops. The only way you know honor is by how you're the exact..."
Ranma side-stepped the lunge and clenched his fist.
"Opposite! Hiry? Sh?ten Ha!"
The last thing that went through Genma's thick skull before he found himself thrown very violently out the door into the garden was a simple "oh now he called it."
Then he crashed into the garden wall and lost consciousness.
"Dumbass panda helped me learn that move, there's really no excuse," Ranma muttered as the girls and two men in the audience applauded the win. "Mr. Tend?? Call it, please?"
"Nope, no movin' the goalposts on this, Pops. You're wearin' the dress and wig and that's final. I'm already showing mercy by not insisting you go out in public like this but that's as far as I'll go," Ranma insisted as he brushed his hair. Kasumi had offered to do it for him, but he'd declined as surely she had better things to do than watch Genma squirm.
Genma, for his part, couldn't fathom how he fit in the frilly dress. He was at least twice the size of his son, after all! He considered asking, but expected nothing but an infuriating smirk for a reply.
It had become quite tricky to tell if Ranma was male or female lately. He did things like brush his hair like a girl, fight like a guy, wear somewhat (but not too) girly outfits in private, only matching his bodily form to his dress when going out, be it by changing one or the other. He didn't seem bothered when people called him a girl -- usually when he was in his female form and people called him such, he'd quickly defend himself with the almost catchphrase-like "I'm a man, dammit." But recently, Genma noticed, he didn't react to such a thing at all.
Of course, he wasn't there when Ukyo and Kasumi discussed something quite like it the day before, but he too felt that as long as his... son still used the 'ore' pronoun, it couldn't be that bad. Could it?
But damn did that wig itch. Genma didn't know if it was his bald scalp, Ranma's experience, or perhaps itching powder, but that thing was the very definition of uncomfortable. Right after that dress.
"Y'know, I have just one regret about this challenge."
"What's that, boy?" Genma asked. He figured that one regret better be good or he would tear into the boy.
"You look like shit warmed over in that outfit. I shoulda picked something better."
With a roar, Genma threw himself at this insolent child, only to miss as Ranma ducked and rolled away, ready to go downstairs and eat.
"Ranma, I just don't get it. How can you claim to be a man when you waltz around like that?" Genma asked, exasperation on his face as he indicated the breezy, short dress that his son wore as if it was a tunic, over his usual silken pants. At least it didn't have any flower patterns on it -- dragons were much preferred.
Before Ranma could respond, Kasumi did it for him. "Mr. Saotome? I think I can speak from personal experience when I say that no matter what he wears, or what form he's in, Ranma is perfectly manly."
Akane flinched. "Siiis!"
"Coulda been all yours, but nooo..." Nabiki teased. "Speaking of, can I borrow your beau for a couple hours, Kasumi?"
"Whatever for, Nabiki?"
"I have an... acquaintance who owes me a whole lotta money and it's high time I collected. Problem is, the slippery asshole lives in a pretty bad neighborhood and I think we can all agree that a pretty young thing shouldn't go out there alone."
"So you want me along for protection?" Ranma gathered.
"Exactly. Once we're there it should go well enough but it's the getting there that'd get Daddy to get the armor out."
"Fuck it, I'm game. Kasumi?"
"Five hundred yen per hour," Kasumi deadpanned. "Now, Ranma filled me in on a certain thing that happened a while back that I think ought to put the question of his manliness to rest."
"Ah jeez Kas, do we gotta?" Ranma grumbled.
"I don't know, airen. I'd think having people call you 'the Godkiller' would be worth enough manly points to afford wearing a dress like that."
Ranma sighed. "They'd be wrong though. Saffron ain't a god, and he ain't dead. I'll admit, I didn't sleep all too well when we got back, thinkin' I'd killed a guy. When I got word that the feathery asshole'd reborn, that was one hell of a relief."
"Not a god?" Akane asked. "This so-called 'feathery asshole' grew back limbs you'd cut off. He literally came back from the dead!"
"Well, that still don't make him a god, though I can get how people would think he is. Dude wasn't omnipotent, wasn't omniscient, and thank actual god he wasn't omnipresent."
"That's a lotta big words from you, Saotome," Nabiki teased.
"Suck it, Biki," Ranma retorted with a humored smile as he gestured at his crotch.
"No thanks, I know who's been there."
"But yeah," Ranma continued, "I think Kasumi's got it about right on the money. You... defeat a guy like Saffron, noone gets to call you unmanly. Especially you, Pops."
"I think we should all go out for a nice bit of ice cream or something later today," Kasumi offered. "Just... all of us girls, sit around, talk, and enjoy each other's company."
Nabiki nodded. "All of us? Want me to call Shampoo and Ukyo?"
"All of us, yes."
"Does that include Ranma?" Akane asked.
"Why wouldn't it? Ranma's one of us girls too, isn't she?"
Nabiki shrugged as Ranma sat and processed what he'd just heard. "After that whole thing about being a 120% manly godkiller, that's a really weird thing to say, Sis. Only you could do such a thing."
"Thank you," Kasumi said with a smile. "Oh, maybe we can have a sleepover afterwards! It's been too long since I've had one! We'll use the dojo, if that's alright with Father."
"Geez. Six girls having a night in a dojo?" Ranma chuckled. "Ya sure you don't wanna invite Sayuri and Yuka, make that eight?"
The fact that Ranma, despite everything but the dress, counted himself among the girls didn't escape a single one of them.
Akane clapped her hands together. "Y'know what? It's been a while since I've properly hung around with those. We totally should invite them!"
"Could be fun, could at the very worst be an amusing trainwreck," Ranma agreed. "And hey, Nabiki? That's 150% at the minimum."
"Not in that little black number it ain't, China-boy."
Ranma shrugged and, to everyone's surprise, threw off the dress revealing his well-defined bare chest, littered with little faded scars, and an toned abdomen that wasn't exactly a six-pack but everyone in the room knew that it could take a gut punch like the best of them -- perhaps only Ryoga could take it harder.
Akane and Nabiki were a little too busy literally navel gazing to notice Kasumi was bleeding in her apron.