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Ranma sat lazily in the Tendo family room, watching whatever anime came on the TV. Or at least that was the outward appearance. The truth was that Ranma was waiting for Sailor Moon to come on, trying to make it look like laziness had led to her watching a shoujo anime, rather than it being intentional.

Sadly her parents had yet to get any laxer on letting her be feminine... well, at least her father hadn’t. She was still a bit too worried about the seppuku pact to try to push with her mother even slightly.

“Akane, dear, are you ready?” Nodoka called out from the genkan.

“Coming auntie! I’m just trying to find my wallet,” Akane shouted from the kitchen. “I swear it’s around-oh! There it is!”

Ranma hopped to her feet, curious where those two were going. Akane was still putting on her shoes when the redhead arrived.

“Where are you two off ta?” Ranma asked, the redhead leaning casually against the wall.

“Oh, it’s nothing for you to worry about Ranma. Just helping to teach Akane some bridal training today,” Nodoka replied with a gentle smile.

Akane gave Ranma a quick grimace. She wasn’t looking forward to the chastising she was going to receive.

“Uh, if ya need a guy ‘round ta carry stuff, I’d be happy ta help,” the redhead offered, scratching her neck nervously in the hopes her mom wouldn’t figure out her ulterior motives.

“No, no. Thank you for your very manly offer, but a young man such as yourself would be bored to tears,” Nodoka replied. “We'll mostly be doing some ikebana and a bit of shopping for kitchenware and formalwear.”

“I... yeah. I guess that’s true,” Ranma muttered, staring at the floor defeated.

* * *

Ranma’s mood had been thoroughly ruined by the reminder of what she was supposed to be. The redhead decided the best option was to go out bounding across the neighbourhood, trying to blow off a little steam. It was so annoying. She’d returned a ‘man among men’ after, what... at least ten years on the road with only her father’s questionable parenting.

Couldn’t she do what she wanted with her life now? She was a girl half the time, and it was fun. Wasn’t a martial artist supposed to explore every opportunity presented?

Coming down to a halt in an alleyway somewhere (she’d not really been paying attention to where she was going), Ranma shoved her hands in her pockets and pouted, slouching against a concrete wall that... maybe wasn’t the cleanest. Staring at the ground, she began to mutter half formed complaints about life and parents.

“Ranma? What are you doing here?” a soft voice asked.

Looking up, Ranma was surprised to see Konatsu poking her head out of a nearby dumpster and wearing her old ninja garb.

“I was just in a bad mood,” Ranma said, growing rather distracted by Konatsu’s current state.

Going up on her toes to look into the dumpster she saw Konatsu had gathered up a surprising amount of edible looking food (well, edible looking by Ranma’s standards... most people wouldn’t dare touch it).

“Whatcha doin’? Ucchan didn’t kick ya out, did she?”

“No, no. Ukyo-sama had to return home for the weekend. Her cousin is getting married, you see. And... well, there’s a food critic who’s been in the neighbourhood lately. Ukyo-sama couldn’t risk them visiting while I was alone, so told me to close up shop until she returns.”

Ranma nodded, that made sense. “Alright, but why are ya gatherin’ food out here? Ain’t she got a fridge full a stuff back at the restaurant?”

“Ukyo-sama told me not to eat too much of it. I hope that when she returns to see the food untouched she’ll be proud of me,” Konatsu announced, somehow suddenly lit dramatically as the sun passed out from behind a cloud.

Ranma never ceased to wonder at how Konatsu managed things like that.

“But enough about me. Ranma, what had you feeling down?”

Ranma blushed, and backed away a bit. Seemingly practicing thumb war techniques against herself for a moment, eventually the redhead glanced up guiltily at Konatsu. “C-can I ask ya never ta tell anyone?”

“Of course! I’ll swear on my family’s honour!” Konatsu declared, hopping out from the dumpster with impressive grace.

Ranma looked around the alleyway, suspicious that somehow someone else would be listening. Seeing no one, Ranma whispered her reply.

“Pardon?” Konatsu asked.

“I... Ma and Akane are goin’ out doin’ ‘how ta be a woman’ trainin’... an’ I kinda miss when ma brought ‘Ranko’ along too,” Ranma replied, barely any louder. “I know I ain’t supposed ta, but the idea of doin’ that sorta girly stuff without worryin’ about Ma findin’ out about my birth form sounds like fun. I’m a mess, ain’t I?”

Looking up, she saw Konatsu with tears in her eyes and her hands over her mouth. Then, before Ranma knew it, the small redhead was wrapped up in a tight embrace.

“I will support you, Ranma!”

“Whaddya mean ‘support’ me?” the redhead asked as she struggled out of the grip (hugs still weren’t her thing).

“On your effort to get more in touch with your femininity... that’s what you were saying your goals are, no?” Konatsu asked, now looking rather worried she’d misread the situation.

“Gettin’...” Ranma found herself about to protest. To insist she was a man, and... and what?

Was she a man when she looked over at the makeup displays and wanted to try on mascara in the hopes of looking pretty? And went to the ice cream parlour with Akane, acting as cute as could be? When... okay, to be honest there were a lot of times she could turn to. Maybe some of them could still fit with being a man, but... she didn’t feel like one when she was doing those things, that much she knew. And then there were all those times she’d helped out Konatsu with something for Ukyo’s sake, when being around the ninja waitress had caused Ranma to forget about being a boy herself.

Ranma blushed as she realised there was really only one response. Looking up at the tall and elegant ninja, Ranma smiled. “Yeah. Yer right... Thanks, Konatsu.”

* * *

Ranma sat with Konatsu in the small apartment above Ucchan’s. How the ninja-waitress was able to afford her quite impressive collection of makeup, Ranma wasn’t sure, but right now her focus was more on staying still. The various applicator brushes had certainly tickled, and Ranma couldn’t wait to see the end results.

“Now, don’t be disappointed if the first time you try this you can’t get things to look right,” Konatsu explained while adding some sharp red lipstick to Ranma. “It took me years to get any good at makeup.”

Konatsu realised Ranma wanted to say something, and so paused on the application a moment.

“When did ya start? I guess yer step family got ya doin’ it ta help business?”

Konatsu gave a quick giggle. “Oh no, not at all. I had a small picture of my mother done up for her wedding, and thought she looked so pretty. So I wanted to be like her. And my step family were very disorganised, it was easy to grab whatever I needed. They kept throwing out my collections, upset that everyone said I was so pretty compared to them... and they never realised where I got my makeup from.”

Ranma sat as patiently as she could while Konatsu added a few finishing touches.

“All done, and I really must thank you for letting me use my discretion. Ukyo-sama’s rule is always: lipstick and eyeliner at maximum, and only for emergencies.”

“Wait, ya didn’t do me up full geisha style or nuthin’, right?” Ranma asked nervously as she opened her eyes and looked for a mirror.

“No. Mostly just focused on contouring, though you really don’t need much. You’re so lucky, having such perfectly feminine features,” Konatsu sighed. “What I would give...”

As Ranma looked her face over in the well polished spatula she’d found, she couldn’t help but wonder at what Konatsu said. “Whaddya mean ‘what you would give’? I... don’t tell Shampoo this, ‘cause she’d be ticked, but most a’ the guys at Furinkan agree that you’re the prettiest girl in the area.”

“I... but I’m... and I don’t have, er, you know,” Konatsu replied, motioning to her flat chest.

“Yeah, that lost ya the ‘hottest girl’ title, but it was agreed pretty was different. For hot... Shampoo won that one, ‘cause apparently my legs are too short or somethin’,” Ranma explained, pouting as she did so. Only to have realisation dawn on her face as she burst out laughing. “Man, I just remembered how much I fought that. How on earth did I chalk that up ta just competitiveness?”

Konatsu was lost in her own little world, stunned to hear that the boys of Furinkan really thought of her as a cute girl. It didn’t make any sense to her, but then again, they did also include Ranma in the debate, and Ranma had been there in the locker room as it happened. So maybe they were more open with their definition of ‘girl’ than most she’d encountered, whenever she’d tried to runaway from her step family as a child.

Those dark memories left her shivering as they bubbled back to the surface. Especially the memory of Kei-chan, and how poorly her short friendship had ended. She worried the little bubble of Furinkan wouldn’t keep her safe forever.

“I’m glad I’ve met you, Ranma,” Konatsu said, trying to hold back tears as she smiled at the redhead. “You get to be a real girl, and I can train you the skills I’ve learned.”

Ranma blinked, her sorting through the clothing she kept stored at Ucchan’s being put on the back burner as she looked over at the beautiful ninja across from her. “Please, I ain’t real. One spilled cup a’ coffee and everything’s changed. I just getta play at one part-time. An’ only if my parents and the Tendos and mosta the guys at school ain’t around.”

“Most? Some of them are okay with it?”

Ranma sat down beside the trunk she’d been rifling through and nodded. “Yeah... one weekend this summer break, Hiroshi and Daisuke had bought tickets ta stay at the beach, but then Daisuke got sick, so Hiroshi invited me. But, well, it was a beach, so I was girl, like, right away. Dressed in a swimsuit, flirtin’ away with guys. Goin’ all in.”

“And then?” Konatsu asked nervously.

“Some dudes decided that buyin’ me a choco-banana meant they’d get ta hang around, and were sayin’ a bunch a rude stuff. I was about ta beat the snot out of ‘em, but then Hiroshi shows up and clocks one of ‘em. Ends up declaring that he’s my boyfriend and they shouldn’t harass another guy’s girl. When they ran off, he was kina shakin’ in the knees, but wanted ta check on me first. Normally I’d expect my pride ta feel insulted by someone intervenin’... but for whatever reason instead I asked if he wanted ta keep up the act for the weekend. Said it was ‘cause he’s a disaster with chicks’, but maybe I was likin’ havin’ someone who knew what I was still treat me like a girl?”

“Did he accept?” Konatsu asked, hanging on Ranma’s every word.

“Yeah. He said I was cuter than any girl he’d be able ta get ta talk ta him, and we did a buncha cutesy couples stuff. ‘Course, then the weekend ended, and I went back guy mode, and it was awkward. He kepts lookin’ over, like he was thinkin’ I’d still be a knockout redhead, only ta see me a guy again, watch me for a bit, and then look away actin’ all gloomy. He’s been kinda weird since, too. Guess I maybe ruined a friendship there,” Ranma sighed.

“Oh no,” Konatsu yelped, covering her mouth.

“I suppose I could maybe try offerin’ him another date, see if that helps, but then he might get the wrong impression, y’know? I like girls, I just... well, I guess I just liked him treatin’ me like one, and wanted more a’ that, but didn’t know how else ta get it.”

Konatsu lifted her knees to her body and hugged them close, as she nodded. That was her big issue too. “If only we could just start liking guys... then maybe the girls would think about accepting us.”

Seeing her friend look so defeated, Ranma was filled with determination as she hopped to her feet. “Well, who cares? We like girls, and we like bein’ girls, and if the world doesn’t have room for us, then we’re gonna make room! I’m a Saotome, and Saotomes don’t give up just because somethin’s impossible!”

“I-but,” Konatsu began, only to be shushed by a fired up Ranma.

“We’re going to go out, look cute, and show the world who we are! C’mon! Ucchan likes baggy clothes and barely wears some her girlier stuff, something will fit ya. And I got a couple dresses tucked away in here.”

“Oh no! I couldn’t possibly wear Ukyo-sama’s clothing!” Konatsu gasped.

“I claim full responsibility. She’ll probably just ask me ta put on a cute waitress outfit ta bring in some extra cash for a couple evenings as ‘punishment’,” Ranma replied confidently. “Well, extra cash and, I think she might like the view?”

* * *

Standing at in intersection not far from Ucchan’s, Ranma realised there was a major flaw with her plan.

“Uh, where’s a good place ta go ta show off that we’re cute and girly?” Ranma asked.

Konatsu brought a hand to her chin, extending a delicate finger along her cheek. “Hmm... Is there anywhere around that sells swords? I did pawn mine and could use a new one.”

“Er... that’s that mall up at Hikarigaoka station. They might have knives big enough ta work?”

“Oh, that could be good,” Konatsu replied, lifting an arm happily as the baggy sweater slid down to her elbow. “We might be able to find clothes that fit me better than Ukyo-sama’s as well... I still can’t believe I’m wearing one her of sweaters. It smells so good.”

* * *

Nodoka shook her head at the various Christmas decorations up as they walked through the white and semi-open air hallways of the Hikarigaoka Ima shopping centre. She supposed the children liked the colourful nature of it, but she prefered things more traditional.

She also had to admit she was maybe just a little irritated from her efforts to teach Akane about cookware and flower arranging. The fact that her future daughter-in-law’s choice of which knife was the best was based solely on self defense criteria was just one of the many things raising her blood pressure. (Akane’s ikebana efforts were best left forgotten.)

Now she was standing in the aisle between stores, waiting as Akane tried to find an obi at a more traditional clothing store. Fashion was one thing the girl was good at, so this might not go as poorly.

Nodoka used this moment of peace to relax, and watch the people who passed by. After a few minutes Nodoka’s eyes were drawn to a woman and a young girl. The girl’s dark black hair was pulled back in a short and efficient ponytail. Her grey-brown eyes were wide with wonder was they walked past the kimonos on display, her mother focused on some other destination.

“They’re so pretty. I can’t wait to be a grown up, so I can wear one whenever I want,” the girl said, turning happily to her mother.

Nodoka missed whatever the woman’s reply was, as she felt years drop away as a memory filled her mind.

She’d been in a small store with a mix between tradition and (at the time) modern fashion, a much younger woman that today. With her had been her own ponytailed child, who’d been looking up at the dresses and kimonos just wide eyed. Ranma had been a bit taken by a red dress, and was saying how lucky grown ups were to wear those sorts of things.

Nodoka had blushed awkwardly as the store attendant told her that she had such a cute daughter and encouraged Ranma to look forward to dresses as a woman. She’d been too flustered to correct them, and had been more than a little confused at the way Ranma hadn’t provided an objection either.

She had only just been starting to wonder what that and similar behaviour from Ranma had meant when Genma had decided on the training journey scheme. She’d been left confused and guilt stricken when her husband had claimed she was turning their son into a girl with her pampering. Her heart had ached for all those years they’d been gone, wondering what she could have done better.

Nodoka shook her head, not wanting to dwell on the past. She decided to go back to people watching, only to have her eyes land on a pair of particularly pretty and well dressed young girls, one of whom was a short redhead with a very familiar face...

Spotting Nodoka, Ranma began frantically searching for an escape route, feeling like a cornered animal as she worried what her mother would do, seeing her like this. Maybe if she booked it fast enough she could have plausible deniability later, say it was obviously just someone who looked like her... maybe call in Ryoga as a witness to say that loads of girls looked like Ranma.

Yeah, it was too late for that.

“Ranma, I must say, you look... pretty?” Nodoka offered, approaching the two girls. She noticed the taller one seemed nearly as tense as Ranma. “I’m very sorry, but I’m not sure I recognise you? I do hope Ranma hasn’t stumbled into another engagement. Not that you don’t seem like you would be an excellent wife.”

Konatsu froze like a deer in the headlights. She’d heard about the seppuku pledge (who around Ranma hadn’t?), and feared how a woman so traditional might respond to herself.

Ranma on the other hand was convinced she was already dead. Her mother, calling her pretty? No attempt being made to paper over it, or anything?

Nodoka, for her part, was waiting for a response. Looking back and forth between the two young women, she was sure they’d explain to her what was going on. Afterall, it wasn’t like Ranma still had those desires that had so upset Genma? Surely without her influence the issue was solved?

“Auntie, I think I’m done he-Ranma? Konatsu? W-what are you two doing? Is this some kind of scheme for Ukyo’s restaurant?” Akane asked, hoping to help Ranma get an excuse that would let her get out of this alive.

“No,” Konatsu replied, wondering if she should disappear. That was definitely something she was good at, through and through. “We, well... we-”

“Konatsu wanted someone to be a girl with, and I thought I’d help out,” Ranma blurted, stepping forward to shield Konatsu.

“Do you not have a mother around to help you, dear?” Nodoka asked Konatsu.

“I am an orphan, unfortunately,” the ninja replied, trying to visually check Nodoka for any blades.

“You poor thing! Ranma, I must say, it’s very admirable of you to assist your friend in this. I do, however, think it best you let an adult take over. What do you say, Konatsu, dear, to joining myself and Akane on our day out?”

Akane paled. She was worried how Nodoka might respond to finding out the truth about Konatsu, and... to her dismay, she still felt a little uncomfortable around the ninja. Perhaps because she’d spent so much effort trying to see Ranma as a boy at all times (for her own peace of heart), that she both struggled to see Konatsu as anything else and felt awkward with how feminine Ranma tended to behave when left around Konatsu for long.

“I... I would love to,” Konatsu replied nervously. If it went well... it could be one of the best days of her life. If it went poorly, well, she was excellent as disappearing.

“Very good. Now then, why don’t we get you some better fitting clothing as well?” Nodoka replied, turning back towards the traditionally focused store she’d had Akane shopping at.

Konatsu hurried after nervously, as did Akane. Meanwhile a small redhead began to feel even smaller. Sure, she’d survived this encounter, but Ranma wasn’t sure her mother was going to be quite so forgiving this evening. And, what was she to do now? Dolled up, alone, and likely to run into school friends?

“Dear, aren’t you coming?” Nodoka asked.

Ranma turned and stared at her mother, feeling like her heart was about to jump up her throat and out her mouth. It was almost as bad as being surrounded by cats. “P-pardon?”

“If you’re going to be trying to help your friend out, then some lessons are in order for you as well. As boring as you might find them... and, I do believe Akane would be happy for some support from her future husband,” Nodoka replied.

“Oh. Yep! Yes, coming!” Ranma replied, trying not to smile too much.

* * *

She hadn’t been sure at first, but, watching Konatsu’s nervous excitement, it felt somehow familiar. Then she noticed how the ninja girl was so secretive in changerooms, and afraid to look around. The last piece was the way Akane and Ranma were both constantly shielding her. Nodoka just needed to make sure...

“Well, we’ve found you some decent clothing, but I have to ask: do you own any proper bras, dear?” the Saotome matriarch asked, attempting to appear perfectly innocent.

While Ranma and Konatsu froze in fear, Akane stepped forward.

“Auntie, Konatsu doesn’t need any. It’s just... well, there’s no... er, Konatsu’s a boy,” Akane ended up blurting.

Nodoka’s suspicions were right. The look of pain on the ninja’s face at this ‘truth’ being revealed informed Nodoka that it was time to make the reverse of a declaration she’d provided Ranma some time ago. “From what I have seen, I must disagree, Akane dear. That child is definitely a girl.”

“Sh-she wasn’t lying,” Konatsu added, feeling as if her soul was escaping her body as she admitted her most hated ‘truth’.

“No, my dear child. It’s the heart that matters. Just as Ranma can, at times, have the wild and untamed heart of a man whilst in the form of a woman, yours is clearly the heart of woman, whatever your form says,” Nodoka declared. She’d managed to wiggle her way out of the seppuku pledge with that creative thinking before, and she was certainly happy to keep up creative thinking to protect another child so lonely and in need of parental support.

As they processed what she’d said, Ranma and Akane nearly fainted. For her part, Konatsu in fact did faint. Ranma caught her, and was left in a very awkward position, trying to hold up a girl so much taller than herself.

“Wow, ma. That’s... that’s real kind of ya.”

“I am merely stating the facts,” Nodoka replied in a motherly tone. “And, while it’s true that you can have the heart of a man whilst in the form of a woman, I must admit, after today, to wondering if your heart varies as much as your form, Ranma.”

It was Ranma’s turn to faint, causing Akane to rush over and try to catch both girls. Instead, the three tumbled into a small pile.

“Auntie, maybe tell folks to sit down first next time?” Akane said while trying to extract herself from below the other two.

“Oh my, yes. I suppose that is a good idea,” Nodoka replied.

* * *

Konatsu sat beside Ranma, watching the television intently. Both girls were firmly hooked on the latest Sailor Moon adventure, watching the (surprisingly relevant to them) arc of the Sailor Starlights. While Akane insisted the show had gone downhill since season 3, the other two didn’t really care (still being a bit in awe of the marvel of television in general).

As the credits rolled, Ranma stretched as she sat up. “Well, I guess you’ll have to head over to Ucchan’s now, eh?”

Konatsu nodded. “Oh yes. The dinner rush isn’t too far off.”

The tall ninja girl hopped to her feet gracefully, and began to head towards the exterior hallway when Nodoka and Genma entered the room from the other side. Genma looked like he was doing his best to pout in a dignified manner, while Nodoka was smiling and doing her best to ignore her husband’s bad mood.

“Ah, Konatsu dear, my husband and I have been discussing an offer we would like to make you. Perhaps it would be best to sit down before we start though.”

“Oh, yes, of course Aunt Saotome,” Konatsu replied, slipping into a formal seiza position.

Ranma muted the tv and turned to watch the conversation, waiting to see if she’d be shooed out as her parents sat down. Akane likewise looked over nervously, wondering if she should leave. Nodoka turned and gave the two of them a warm smile, encouraging them to stay, before looking back towards Konatsu.

“Now, Konatsu dear, you’ve been around so often lately, Genma and I have agreed that you almost feel like part of the family,” Nodoka began.

“If I have been overstaying my welcome, I apologise deeply,” Konatsu offered quickly, sliding into a bow.

“Oh my, no! Dear, that’s not the direction we’re going at all. We like you being around,” Nodoka replied, giving her best maternal tone and feeling better when she saw Konatsu’s relieved expression. “No, we were discussing about how we’d actually like you around more. You’ve become almost like a daughter to me and...”

Realising he wasn’t taking his cue, Nodoka lightly elbowed her husband.

“Erm, yes. You’ve also got some definite martial arts chops,” Genma added. “I have a few techniques that I’d like to teach you, but are family only. And some of your techniques would certainly be helpful for the Saotome school.”

“Mhm,” Nodoka said, taking the lead again. “As such, we would like to make you an offer of adoption.”

“A-adoption... I,” Konatsu paused, as tears of joy began to flow down her cheeks. A new family that actually cared for her? It was a hope she’d scarcely dared to have. (Not to say she didn’t appreciate the care her friends gave, but, somehow, the idea of a family meant so much.) “I must be dreaming. Ranma, please! Hit me with something so I can know for sure!”

Before Nodoka could interrupt, Ranma had already flung the remote control, happy to help Konatsu out. As the angular chunk of plastic bounced off Konatsu’s forehead, she lit up.

“I’m not dreaming! This is real! Oh, yes! Thank you! Thank you!” Konatsu replied, managing to gracefully catch the remote despite her rush of emotions.

Nodoka smiled gently while Ranma rushed over and pulled Konatsu into a tight hug.

“Welcome to the family sis!” the redhead declared.

Konatsu returned the hug with all her might. The two had been helping each other out so much lately, the idea of being family felt so perfect. They were set to be siblings bounded by more than law, but a shared journey that they’d helped each other with as well.