Ranma sighed as she made her way down to the kitchen in need of a glass of cold water. Working entirely in the dark of night without any thought of turning on the kitchen's light, she reached for a glass and held it under the tap.
To Ranma's credit, she didn't drop the glass when she turned around to see Shampoo's eyes shining brightly, reflecting what little ambient illumination was there.
"Shampoo, why're you here?" Ranma asked as she watched the cat hop onto the counter.
"Saw you get up an' leave," she answered, then worked the faucet knob to lap up a steady trickle of water.
When Shampoo was done, Ranma reached over to twist it back to the 'closed' position for her. "Yeah, so?"
"Wanna talk 'boud it?"
Ranma stood and considered Shampoo's offer, leaning against the counter. "I guess... You followed along with what went down with Kuno, right?"
"Mosely," Shampoo admitted.
"I've been having these dreams lately, since like three or four weeks ago. I'd be my old, male self and I'd turn out to be... I dunno, dressed like a girl. I'd protest it, then see my reflection or something and it turns out I am a girl all of a sudden. All sorts of reactions. Then the basics of the dreams started changing a little more every so often."
"Wha change?" Shampoo asked as she sat next to Ranma, still on the counter.
"At first I didn't scream or nuffin', at seeing my girl form reflection. Then I'd start the dream already a girl or I'd be a guy and clearly not feeling okay about it, and when I'd see myself, as a girl, I'd be... I dunno, happier? More content. I think it's getting more frequent."
Shampoo nuzzled into Ranma's side for comfort. "But tonight...?"
"Completely new one. Kuno was there."
"I know, right? He kept saying those words, 'I l'.., I can't even say it, it's worse than that time I dreamed I married my old friend from school and bore his kids. So yeah. You can understand, maybe, that this is a particularly horrible night to have a curse."
"Myeah," the warrior cat agreed. "Got kinda same thing, wi' dreams."
"Yeah? How's that?"
"Use to dream of... us, togeder, me hyuman an' you man. Lovers, friens, married couple..."
"That could've been nice, I guess. Any of those," Ranma agreed half-heartedly. Certainly, if circumstances were different, if Ranma hadn't gotten cursed to be a girl. If he had walked into the village and beaten Shampoo in the competition, they probably would be married already. Genma might've complained, he might even try to take Ranma away and bring him to the Tendou family so he could marry one of the sisters. But those weren't the circumstances. She was a girl, Shampoo was a cat, and Shampoo's great-grandmother made her Ranma's responsibility. Which was fair, she'd suppose, being that Shampoo was only in that situation because of her.
"No happen now tho," Shampoo sighed. "Shanpu just pet now."
"Who said you can't be a friend?" Ranma asked in support.
"Dreams do. Like Ranma dream of being happy wife, Shanpu dream of... well..."
"Being someone's pet cat?"
Shampoo nodded. "No warrior, no marshal arts... no honor, no tribe. Just lay 'round, sleep, an' get pet. And Shanpu..." She paused for a full-body shiver. "Shanpu liked it."
"So. I'm afraid of losin' my manliness... and you your humanity?"
Just when Shampoo nodded again, the light went on to reveal Akane in the doorway, hand on the light switch.
"'Kane, what's up?" Ranma greeted.
Akane stifled a yawn. "Turns out your voices carry better than you'd think. Especially Shampoo's."
"Ah, sorry 'bout that," Ranma apologized with a quick bow, cutely mirrored by the cat on the counter. "How much'd you hear?"
"Hardly anything I could understand, your voices don't carry that well," Akane admitted. "Nabiki and Kasumi are probably wide awake too by now, but daddy might still sleep through all this. But yeah, all I got was something about Shampoo's humanity. So what's this all about?"
Ranma opened her mouth to reply, but stopped. She wasn't sure if she trusted Akane enough to tell her the whole story. She glanced to her tiny friend and exchanged a determined look. Shampoo nodded at Ranma, Ranma returned the nod. They both faced Akane.
This was something their pride normally wouldn't let them do.
At the same time, the girl and cat proclaimed, "We're afraid."
"Afraid?" Akane asked to confirm, knowing full well how serious an admission that must've been, even if she wasn't quite conscious of it.
"I'm afraid a' losing my masculinity. Pops raised me to be a man among men, and I was fully prepared to lose my very life in pursuit of the Art... but not my manhood. Now, I'm stuck like this, practically a head shorter than I used ta be, it took practically until we got back in Japan 'fore I found ma center of balance again, and I... I keep having these dreams of bein' a..." She paused to shift her voice into a ditzy mockery. "A happy married wife with a strong handsome husband and two or three daaarling children~"
Shampoo retched. Akane seemed a little green in the face herself.
"Don't ever do that again, please."
"Gladly," Ranma agreed in her normal tone. Well, her new normal. She turned her head towards Shampoo. "You wanna tell her or should I?"
Shampoo shrugged. "Meh, is basically same thing. Am fierce Mewjiezu warrior, not lazy pet with mouth full of kibble!"
Ranma held back a giggle. "You might want to practice your speech some more." At Shampoo's confused look, she continued. "You said mew-cheezu."
Shampoo covered her eyes with her paws and dove into the sink with a cry of shame.
"Don't worry, Shampoo. I get it. It's hard enough for a cat to talk at all so nobody would mind if ya mess up."
"What'd she mean to say?" Akane asked.
"Th' name of her tribe. Nyuchietsu I think?" Ranma attempted, butchering the name only slightly less than the actual Chinese warrior had. "I call 'em Joketsuzoku."
Akane pondered the words. "Joketsu... yeah, I can see how she'd be a 'fierce warrior' then."
"Best in the village 'til I came 'round," Ranma boast-bragged as she held one of Shampoo's paws up like she'd just won a match.
"So... if you two are so afraid of losing what you were," Akane pondered out loud, "why not... y'know, hold on tight to what's left and don't let go?" She clenched a fist. "You joked about dykes before, right? You take what manhood you got left and hold on tight!"
"Do we nyot do phrasing anymore?"
Ignoring Shampoo's interruption, Akane continued, shaking that fist in dramatic but inspiring defiance. "Sure, you're cute and small, but you can still be the butchest cute martial artist!"
"Did you say bitchiest?" Ranma confirmed.
"No, butchest. Be as manly as you want or can, and only play up how cute you are when you want to!" Akane clarified as her knuckles turned a bit white.
"I'm not sure you used that word right but fuck yeah! No schoolgirl skirts for Ranma Motherfucking Saotome!" Ranma agreed as she held up her own clenched fist and bonked it against Akane's.
"And you, Shampoo..."
"Myeah?" Shampoo acknowledged as she got out of the sink.
"How'd it feel to wear clothes when you were in school earlier?"
Shampoo stopped to consider. "Comfy. Safe, maybe."
"And you want to be the fierce warrior you used to be?"
"Then tomorrow, no, today we go see Kasumi about some kitty-sized outfits and you'll... You're gonna be a proud and fierce Mewcheezu warrior!"
"Ah jeez, 'Kane. Way to be inspiring," Ranma chuckled.
True to form, the next school day saw the two Tendou Sisters walk to school accompanied by a short figure who was as cute as she was imposing; Ranma Saotome, former Man among Men, still dressed in her usual Chinese silks, her gait clearly distinct from that of the girls walking next to her.
The fact she was actually walking on the street instead of running on fences was of course all planned by Nabiki after she was informed of the kitchen talk. She'd suggested it as a way to make an impression on Furinkan High as a whole.
Shampoo was not riding in Ranma's bookbag, as she stayed home to practice her moves.
Ranma stood back to watch Akane beat up the boys, pretending she timed the slaughter with a stopwatch. She waded through them to catch up, until Kuno stepped up to bat.
"Beauteous Akane Tendou. My pigtailed tigress. Surely today shall be the day I shall defeat you both," the swordsman recited, "and we shall date."
"He's actually serious about that, ain't he?" Ranma stage-whispered at Akane.
"As if. You want this?" Akane offered. Smiling, Ranma came forth.
Nabiki had come first, so Ranma had to make do with a toaster.
"Upperclassman," Ranma sang with her fake cutesy voice, a matching expression on her face.
"My pigtailed--" Kuno tried to reply before Ranma dropped the act harder than a dated reference.
"Do I look like I'd let a dick anywhere near me, jackass?"
"Tis but a date, my--"
"And we all know what comes after," Ranma retorted, figuring that explaining she'd meant that Kuno himself was a dick would be superfluous.
She didn't even know the meaning of the word anyway.
The idea of having sex, of "making love" in the modern sense, had temporarily robbed Kuno of his motor functions at any rate, so Ranma and Akane were free to move past him.
"Guess you weren't quite wrong about me bein' a fag though~"
The rest of the school day went surprisingly smooth.
"Excuse me, do you know where I can find Furinkan High?"
The confused student pointed at the sign on the gate he'd just walked through.
"Oh... Thank you."
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