As Ranma and Nabiki quietly made out in the latter's room, Nodoka Saotome, watching her husband and his friend play sh?gi in the living room, had a realization. She turned to Genma, interrupting his game.
"Dear, it just occurred to me that I haven't had a good bath since we returned from China."
"Don't let me stop you, darling," Genma replied in acceptance.
"Me neither, ma'am," Soun agreed. "I'm sure you can find the bathroom yourself?"
"I wouldn't worry about that, Tendou-san. Thank you for your hospitality," Nodoka said with a bow, then shuffled off to a well-deserved soak.
As he watched his wife leave the room, Genma sighed. Noticing the changes Soun had made to their game, he sighed again. Such was the deal when they "played".
"What's the matter, old friend?"
"It's her, Tendou," Genma wistfully started to explain. "Ever since we had Ranma, I've rarely had a moment together with just her. I love my darling Nodoka dearly, ever since she rescued me from the old master's teachings, but I simply don't get much of a chance to show it any more."
The two men faced each other, stern-faced and crying soundlessly for a moment.
"You know, Saotome, your daughter is a nearly full-grown young woman now, and she's otherwise occupied with one of mine," Soun argued softly, a hint of a smile on his face near the end. "Your wife is preparing to take a bath."
"I think I know what you're saying, Tendou..."
"You could join her there. It's well within your right as her husband."
"You're a good man, Soun Tendou," Genma approved as he stood and turned. "Let no one claim otherwise."
Meanwhile, in the bathroom, Nodoka was just finishing preparations to wash up before her soak in the tub. Softly humming to herself, she took the showerhead in hand and steeled herself.
Okay, here we go...
Mere seconds after Nodoka had plunged herself under the cold water, Genma popped his smiling head into the room.
"Nodoka darling, don't you think it'd be nice if we had a good sss... oh..."
[Nodoka Saotome cancels take bath: Interrupted by husband.]
Nodoka sighed in defeat as Genma slowly removed himself from the room.
Straightening his gi in absolute silence, Genma staggered against the far wall of the laundry room. What he'd just seen had shocked him almost as much as when he held a kitty in his arms that had, mere seconds before, been his beloved daughter.
Nodoka also has a curse. She'd been cursed just like Ranma all along. She must've been so ashamed of it all, to never have told me about it. That's gotta be it.
For once, it was.
Genma took a deep breath and ran back into the living room, face stricken with panic.
"Tendou," he wailed. "I thought the guide was only joking, Tendooow!"
"Why? What happened? What did you see, Genma-kun?"
Soun Tendou very rarely called Genma by his first name. It snapped the latter out of his panic very well.
"Remember when I told you yesterday how Ranma got her curse?"
"When Nodoka nearly fainted and I caught her before she fell into one of those springs, the guide said... I almost had two daughters."
Realization struck Soun like thunder. "You don't... Saotomeeeh!"
The two grown adult men bawled their eyes out, tightly clinging to each other like scared children.
Upstairs, Nabiki and Ranma uncoupled.
"Geez, what set them off to wail like that?"
"I don't know and frankly, Biki-chan, I don't care right now."
Seconds later, as their daughters did the exact opposite, the men released their grips. They sat up straight, and faced each other sternly again.
"So... your wife is..."
Before Soun could finish, a young girl with dark reddish-brown hair and a kimono several sizes too large for her tiny frame shuffled into the living room. The men turned and faced her as she dropped into a very formal bow..
"I am truly very sorry about this."
Genma and Soun continued to look at her, their faces stern but clearly saddened.
"With all the trouble of Ranma's curse, I didn't want to bother you with this," Nodoka excused.
"When did this happen, though?" asked Genma in a soft voice.
"Shortly after the rain stopped..."
In the evening, Nodoka sat up in the tent she shared with her recently-cursed daughter. Replaying the events in her mind, she realized they'd forgotten about one particular thing. Ranma was hardly a martial artist without her gi, and they'd left it floating around in that twice-damned Spring of the Immersed Cat or whatever it was called.
Careful not to wake up her daughter, still not quite used to her current state and squirming every so often in her sleeping bag, Nodoka got up and looked out of the tent. Genma was visiting the guide in his hut, it seemed, hopefully to gain more information.
Taking a pole from the ground, Nodoka made her way to the springs. She found her target easily, with the missing outfit in clear sight, and picked up the pace, unwilling to spend too much time around the springs.
"But that's the thing about rain, isn't it? The ground can get a little slick afterwards."
The men slowly nodded in silent understanding.
Nodoka slipped on a muddy patch and fell. Without Genma to catch her, she did break the surface of a spring. She gasped, but didn't scream. The last thing on her mind before the world turned blue was that by some cruel twist of fate, it was the same damned spring as before. Nodoka could feel her body shrink, but didn't panic -- she was raised better than that. Getting her bearings straight, she quickly surfaced and pulled herself up out of the spring, then carefully turned around and looked at her reflection as the ripples on the surface died down.
She always said Ranma looked just like her when she was younger. This just confirmed it.
As soon as she finished processing what had happened to her, she got up, retrieved the missing outfit, and snuck back to camp. Confirming that Ranma was still asleep, Nodoka looked around for a source of hot water. The campfire was still lit, but she reckoned that would take too long. They'd packed a little camping stove for emergencies, Nodoka remembered, even though Genma preferred to do what he called "the only right way". That would suffice for a single cup in minutes without making a mess.
She'd only just dried off and went back into her sleeping bag when Genma returned. From then on, the most difficult part would be to hide her curse until a more opportune moment, whenever that might be.
Nodoka felt a little bad for her daughter, the way she maneuvered things such that it'd be Ranma who got splashed instead of herself. And the closer to home they got, the more regularly it seemed to happen... but never to Nodoka. At least for rain she carried an umbrella, and nobody cared about a lady having an umbrella on hand while clearly on the road.
She was quite good at hiding her curse, and felt even worse about tricking Genma.
At least she was still fully human.
Genma hummed to himself. "I think the most impressive part is that nobody noticed."
Soun chuckled softly. "High praise, coming from a reformed burglar."
"Shut up, Tendou. You followed the old master as well as I did. Anyway, I guess Ranma did use to say she wanted a sister. Guess she got one," Genma quipped.
Nodoka smiled, rose, and adjusted her garments. "At any rate, I'll take my bath. Genma, you're welcome to join me... if you knock first."
And there we go. One Chekhov's Gun has been fired, one other is next. Next chapter, we go back to one of the parts I'd written earlier, and back to near-canon.
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