This story owes its inspiration to a couple of other fanfics; which ones these are will be revealed in the end notes, as it would give away spoilers to tell you now. You don't need to have read these stories to understand this story; all you need is a basic familiarity with Ranma 1/2 canon.

Some of you may find this a bit dark. Some of you may find it more than a bit dark. You have been warned.

Many thanks are due to pre-readers Thomas Schmidt, Donny Cheng, Krista Perry, Megane 6.7, and Cindy Toler. I also thank the members of the FFML and FFIRC for their helpful comments and suggestions. As always, reader feedback is welcome and greatly appreciated. I do recommend you read the whole story before responding, as some things that might seem out of character get explained later.

"Damn it, Ranma, enough is enough."

Akane glared from her desk chair at her fiance, who lay sprawled across the rug in front of her bed. She glanced over at the alarm clock on the shelf. 8:30 PM. Every time he had been in this state before, he'd come out of it in less than half an hour. Now it had been well over an entire day, and there was still no change.

"I suppose you think this is funny. Well, I don't!"

"Mmm?" Ranma lazily turned his head. Innocent eyes gazed quizzically at Akane. His face held the blank, vaguely smiling expression of one who had no idea why he was being scolded.

Heaving an exasperated sigh, she swiveled her chair around and returned to her math homework. She couldn't do anything about Ranma except wait for him to come back to normal on his own. Maybe it would happen any minute. Maybe he just needed another night's sleep, and he'd wake up his old self in the morning, wondering what he was doing in Akane's room and whether he could get back to his own without getting a good pounding. Maybe...

*Maybe not.* The thought sent a chill resonating through her body. *Maybe he'll be this way for the rest of his life.* She pushed the thought out of her head. There was no reason to assume the worst. Not yet, anyway.

"Ranma." She got up off her chair and knelt near him, moving her face close to his, speaking sharply. "You are a person. Do you understand? A human being! So act like one, for gods' sake!"

He looked up at her and spoke. "Myoww?"


Ranma 1/2 manga fanfiction
by Gary Kleppe

The characters of Ranma 1/2 are the creation of and rightful property of Rumiko Takahashi. They are used here without permission. This story may be freely redistributed, but it should not be altered substantially or used for profit in any way.

Akane looked out her window. The lonely chirpings of a few scarce insects or birds echoed through the darkness. Evening's dull gray had already given way to the black void of night. The days were getting shorter and shorter as winter approached. Autumn always made Akane think about all the beach trips and other warm-weather things that she could've done during the summer. She never seemed to think about them until it was already fall.

The clock read 9:00 PM. Akane decided to try to forget about Ranma, at least long enough to finish her homework. She read the first question. *Give five examples of invalid logical deduction, and explain the error in each.*

She glanced over her shoulder at Ranma, then turned back to her desk and wrote. *All martial artists cause trouble. Ranma is a martial artist. Therefore I --* She quickly flipped her pencil over and erased the last part of what she had wrote. Whatever random thought had been in her head just then, it wasn't something she wanted to share with her teacher. *Therefore the sky is green,* she finished. It was a pretty easy assignment so far.

The door opened and Kasumi's head poked into the room."Are you all right, Akane? Would you like me to bring you up some food?"

"I'm fine. Thanks." At least she hadn't asked whether there had been any change in Ranma's condition. Of course, he was cleaning the backs of his hands with his tongue, which made the answer to that question pretty obvious. Good thing, because Akane was getting pretty tired of answering it.

"Akane, I hate to ask this, but..."

"What?" Whatever it was, Akane doubted it could make her feel any worse.

"Do you.... Oh dear, how can I say this... Ranma is a cat now. Do you know if he's been... trained?"

"Trained? What do you mean?"

"I mean litter box trained." Her face immediately reddened. "Oh my, I'm sorry."

"Don't be. It's not your fault." Whose fault it was, Akane wasn't at all sure. "Um, he still knows how to use the bathroom, yeah. He's not good at opening and closing doors, though. We need to be careful not to walk in on him. Though he probably wouldn't care."

Kasumi smiled in a way that was probably intended to be reassuring. "Don't worry, Akane. I'm sure he'll be all right soon."

Akane closed her eyes for a moment and shook her head to try to clear it. If past experiences were anything to go by, then Kasumi was right -- Ranma *would* be back to normal. That's the way their lives seemed to work. Once they reached a steady pattern, they *never* changed.

So why did she feel an emptiness in the pit of her stomach? Why was there a sense of grim foreboding, as if some line had been crossed and life would never be the same again? Just tiredness, she decided. That had to be it. She was exhausted, and that was letting her imagination run away with Ranma's humanity. Come morning, they'd both be all right.

She looked up at her sister and forced onto her face the most genuine smile she could come up with. "Thanks, Kasumi. I'm sure you're right."

*This is ridiculous,* she said to herself. *Of course Kasumi's right! Ranma's always come out of the cat fist on his own before. So he will this time, and that's all there is to it!*

With a slightly shaky hand, Akane copied the words she had just thought onto her homework paper.


It began one day earlier, around noon. Ranma and Akane emerged from Furinkan High School for the lunch hour. The sun peeked through a cloudy autumn sky, casting shadows from the trees to the leaf-strewn grounds below.

Akane carried a plain-looking box. Inside was a noodles and sauce dish that she had cooked last night, with Kasumi's help. It was the best thing she had ever cooked; Kasumi had said so upon tasting it. Though she couldn't quite understand why, Akane felt excited about having finally made something that Ranma might actually like. Now all she needed to do was to find someplace where they could eat it without being interrupted.

"Ran-chan!" A familiar okonomiyaki chef came around the corner, smiling radiantly at Ranma. "What a surprise to meet you here!"

"Oh, hi, Ucchan," Ranma said. "What's up with you?"

"Just fixin' to open up my restaurant for the day, sugar. Why don't you come along, and I'll give you a special on the house!"

"Huh? Uh, sure, I guess."

Akane forced her way in between the two of them. "Actually, Ukyo, Ranma and I were planning to...."

"I understand, Ran-chan." Ukyo pouted at Ranma, who was vacillating between the two women. "If my okonomiyaki isn't good enough for you, that's all right."

"Huh? What the heck are you talking about? Your food's great!"

"You mean it?" Ukyo took hold of Ranma's arm. "Let's go, then, sugar. I don't want to keep the customers waiting!"

"Um, sorry Akane," Ranma said as Ukyo dragged him down the block. "You and I can do something some other time!"

"Tough luck, sugar." Ukyo grinned at Akane, then turned back to Ranma. "It's nice to have a fiancee who can cook, right Ran-chan?"

Ranma looked back with an innocent expression as the two receded down the street. The man who just couldn't say no to a woman -- especially not one offering free food.

"DAMN IT!" Akane's foot slammed into a garbage can, sending it crashing into the side of a nearby building, picturing Ranma in its place. "Why must he be such a stupid jerk all the time?!"

Except that it wasn't all the time. Every time Akane had been fed up and ready to just end her relationship with Ranma, he would go and surprise her by doing something nice. And every once in a while, a different side of him would show through, some little hint that he really cared for her more than he could ever admit.

And it wasn't all his fault, either, as much as Akane liked to tell herself that it was. In her mind, she knew that Ranma didn't want to hurt her. Still, she could never stop herself from assuming the worst every time it looked as if something might be his fault.

"Damn!" she yelled again, as her fist flattened another garbage can to lid size. It was a blow directed not only at Ranma, but at herself, at their fathers, at whoever and whatever was responsible for the ridiculous life she was stuck in -- a life where her most important relationship was permanently stuck in a rut of insults and mallet strikes.

The other students coming out of Furinkan walked past Akane with their heads turned deliberately away, as if not wanting anything to do with the violent maniac in front of them. Probably a smart decision. In the school courtyard, Upperclassman Kuno fought against his father in a bokken-versus-scissors battle. Akane was glad that the Principal had chosen someone else to bother; she had little patience for his kind of foolishness at the moment. If he were to harass her today, she was likely to end up showing dat kahuna a new place to be stickin' his Ukelele.

"Damn it, Ranma..." she said in a quieter voice, with more frustration than anger. "Why?"

"Maybe he's afraid."

Akane turned. "Oh! Nabiki!" She saw her sister standing with arms folded across her chest, half-smirking , the noonday glare reflecting off her sunglasses. "What did you--"

"I mean, maybe the reason Ranma can't admit his true feelings for you, even to himself, is that he's afraid. Afraid of how you might answer him back. Have you ever told him *your* feelings, Akane?"

"My feelings?" Akane paused, feeling self-conscious. "That- that jerk knows what I think!"

"I'll take that as a 'no'. How is he supposed to know that you won't reject him, maybe even laugh at him?" It was more of a taunt than a question.

"I-- We-- What business is it of yours, anyway?"

Unperturbed, Nabiki's lips curved into a predatory smile. "As it happens, I have a plan. I can get Ranma to open up to you. I can get rid of his inhibitions and defenses, get him to show you what he really feels deep down."

Akane stared at the sidewalk, trying to figure out what her sister's angle was in all this. It sounded like another con game. "And what's the price?"

"Won't cost you a yen. All you have to do is promise me that if I do as I said I would, and if it does turn out that Ranma truly loves you, then you'll marry him."

Akane felt as if she were being forced into a corner. "I don't see how my marriage is any of your business!" It was true that she and Ranma were going to be pushed together by their parents eventually, anyway; and there was no denying that marriage would be a lot more enjoyable without all of the stupid little conflicts and misunderstandings. Still, there was something going on that Nabiki wasn't telling her, and she wasn't going to agree without knowing what the catch was.

"It's perfectly fine with me if you're not interested," Nabiki said. "Just keep doing what you're doing. A lifetime of arguments and violence. That'll be fun, won't it?"

"Who asked you?" Involuntarily, Akane's hands balled up into fists.

"Look on the bright side. Maybe Ranma'll get tired of all the yelling and hitting, and decide to run away with Shampoo."

"Shut up!" Akane shouted. She wished Nabiki were a martial artist, so she could clobber her with a clear conscience.

"Well?" Nabiki moved in closer. Akane stared at her reflection in her sister's sunglasses. "What'll it be? Yes or no?"

"Okay, I agree," Akane said in a faint voice. "If you can do what you said, I'll marry Ran--" She turned toward where Nabiki had been, but no one was there.

She walked off to find somewhere to eat, wondering just what in the world she had just gotten herself into.


Akane trudged down the sidewalk toward her home. The cool breeze blowing past her did nothing to help her temper.

Ranma hadn't even bothered to come back for afternoon classes. A certain upperclassman had taken this as a sign that Akane was available, and fending him off a little too loudly had gotten her a taste of Ms. Hinako's ki-draining attack. Later, she had found her gym locker empty except for a note signed by the "Unknown Pervert." Certainly was a tough job trying to imagine who that could've possibly been.

All in all, to say that she had been having a bad day would've been like calling the Kuno family a little eccentric. She wanted nothing more than to get home, change out of her uniform, and exercise away her tensions.

"Akane." Ukyo jumped down from the roof of a nearby building, landing in Akane's path.

"Oh. It's you," Akane said with disdain as she casually walked in a path that would take her around Ukyo. She didn't want to listen to the chef brag about how her "Ran-chan" had spent the afternoon with her.

"Have you seen Ran-chan?" Ukyo's tone betrayed a touch of annoyance.

"I thought Ranma was with you."

"He came with me to my place for lunch. I cooked him my best okonomiyaki, and he just picked it up and walked out! He didn't say thanks, or even goodbye! I'm gonna find him and give him a piece of my mind!"

Akane suppressed an urge to laugh. A piece of her mind? Of her spatula, more likely. "Calm down, Ukyo." For some reason, seeing the chef's anger made it easier to be even-headed. "Maybe some emergency came up, and he had to run off."

"Think so?"

Akane shrugged. It sounded pretty dubious when she thought about it. "I don't know. Let's go find him and ask."

"Okay." Ukyo paused, looking around the area. "Where do you suppose he went?"

"Dunno." Akane tried to remember some of Ranma's favorite places to hang out, and came up blank. "Let's check at my place first. If he's not there, someone might at least have heard something."

Ukyo broke into a sprint, headed toward the Tendo dojo. Akane followed, running down the leaf-covered sidewalks at top speed to keep up.

A few blocks later, Ukyo abruptly slowed to a halt, crouching behind the outer wall of some estate. Akane stopped behind her as a voice was heard from around the corner.

"Airen, what you do?!"

Akane and Ukyo moved toward the sound. Ahead of them, Shampoo stared in puzzlement at Ranma, who squatted off to the side of the street next to a trash receptacle. His head moved up and down slowly, inspecting the garbage can as if it were the most interesting thing in the world.

Ukyo walked up to them. "Ran-chan? What are you..."

Ranma glanced in her direction, let out a "Mmmyow!" and quickly turned back to the trash can.

"The cat fist!" Akane turned, glaring angrily. "What did you do to him, Shampoo?"

Shampoo hmphed. "I no do anything. Ranma like this when I find."

Ranma's head turned towards Akane, and his eyes perked up with excitement. He sprang into the air, and before she could react he was curled up at her feet, smiling and purring contentedly.

Akane was about to punt her fiance through the tropopause, when she noticed the scowls she was getting from the other two women. *Well, well,* she thought. *Jealous, are they? Serves them right.* She looked down and beamed a coy smile as she scratched his head. "Why, Ranma! Are you trying to tell me that you like me better than these girls?"

Shampoo and Ukyo seethed with anger. Hands reached toward weapons. Akane flinched at the thought of the pounding she was about to receive. Still, if it made them feel half as bad as she did every time Ranma went off with one of them, then it was worth it.

"Why, hello, Akane!"

Akane turned to look. "Oh, hi, Sis!" Kasumi came strolling down the sidewalk, a grocery bag in each hand. She smiled brightly at Shampoo and Ukyo, and they seemed to calm down, like winds in the eye of a hurricane.

"Good afternoon, Ranma!" Kasumi looked down at Ranma, whose head was nuzzled against Akane's thigh. "I see you two are getting along!" The others' angry expressions began to return.

"Uh, Kasumi, Ranma's not quite himself at the moment. Remember his neko-ken? He's a cat right now."

Kasumi stared curiously at Ranma. "Goodness!"

"No big deal. It'll wear off. This thing never lasts long. Let's get him home." Akane began walking and motioned for Ranma to come with her. "C'mon, baka-neko."

Shampoo and Ukyo followed close behind as the group headed for the Tendo dojo.


In the courtyard of the Tendo home stood a small post. Atop the post was a log that had been split lengthwise, and on the log rested a bird house that Soun Tendo had built several years ago. From inside the wooden structure echoed the desperate squeals of a bird in fear for its life.

"Ranma! No!" Akane held her fiance back as he reached toward the bird house, his mouth slavering. "Stop it!"

Dr. Tofu knelt next to Ranma. The boy-turned-cat looked at the doctor, then backed away shyly, maneuvering so that the post stayed between the two of them.

Akane heaved an exasperated sigh as she held onto Ranma's pigtail. "Just let the doctor examine you. He's trying to help you!"

Tofu peered in closer, and examined Ranma's head by touch. "Everything looks normal, Akane. No sign of a head injury, or any other kind."

"Then why hasn't he changed back yet?" The question was directed more towards Ranma than Tofu. "It's been two hours. Maybe twice that. He's never stayed a cat for this long before!"

Tofu paused, as if searching for something to say. "Let me take him down to my clinic for some tests. Maybe there's some sort of drug or pathogen in his bloodstream."

"Get him a distemper shot while you're at it," Nabiki quipped from the porch.

"Nabiki!" Akane spun her head around and shot an icy glare at her sister.

"Oh, stop worrying. He'll be okay. Just trigger his sex change. Isn't that what usually brings him back from cat-hood?"

Akane grabbed Ranma by the chest and tossed him into the air, sending him plunging headlong into the pond. A moment later he leapt back out of the water and onto the grass, his body female. He stood with his back arched, gyrating vigorously from side to side to spray the water from himself, all the while meowing in an annoyed tone.

"We tried that," Akane said. "It didn't work."

Kasumi stepped out onto the porch. "Doctor, is there anything you can do to help Ranma?"

"K-- Kasumi?" Tofu tried to stand up. His head banged loudly on the wooden log under the bird house, and he collapsed back down.

"Well, *now* there's a head injury." Nabiki picked up one of the many first aid kits that lay around the Tendo home and walked out into the yard.

Akane glared at her sister as she walked casually over to the doctor. How could she be joking around at a time like this, when something could be seriously wrong with Ranma?

"Ranma, no!" Akane called to her fiance, whose hands were poised above the pond in strike position. "Those fish aren't for you to eat!"

Shampoo spoke up. "I know what wrong with Ranma. It Akane fault."

"Huh?" Akane's head whirled around. "What do you *mean,* my fault?"

"It obvious," the Amazon said in a voice that dripped acid. "You use some magic on Ranma. That why he not can change back. Ranma always close to you when he in neko-ken. You do this so you have all him for yourself."

"And you're mad because you didn't think of it first?" Nabiki said uninterestedly as she inspected the lump on Tofu's head.

"Is it true, Akane?" Ukyo's eyes narrowed as her fingers tightened on her battle spatula. "If you did something to Ran-chan, you'd better tell us."

Akane put her hands to her hips, meeting the two women's angry stares with a matching one of her own. "Spells and charms are your thing, Shampoo -- not mine. And it so happens that *you* were the last one with him, Ukyo. If anyone has any explaining to do, I'd say it's you, hm? Nabiki and I saw you drag Ranma away from school to lunch; or at least you *said* that it was to lunch."

"Huh?" Nabiki looked up. "I wasn't with you at school today, Sis."

"What are you talking about?" Akane turned around, confused. "Of course you were! We talked about me and Ranma, Remember?"

"Akane, listen to me." Nabiki's tone sounded genuinely concerned as she looked Akane in the eyes. " I wasn't anywhere near school today. I was off taking college entrance exams. Whoever it was you talked to, it wasn't me."

Akane's head felt like it was swimming -- or rather, drowning. "What do you-- how could-- not you?! Don't you think I can recognize my own sister? Of course it was you!" She had to be lying. It had to be some scheme of hers for making money.

"Nope," Nabiki said coolly. "I don't know who it was yet, but someone is going to have to be taught the error of her ways. Or his. Never can be too sure around here."

"You're lying, Akane." Ukyo moved forward very slowly as she glared at Akane with enough force to stop a truck. "I think Shampoo was right. You did something to get Ran-chan to like you, and because of it, he's stuck with the mind of a cat."

"You not fool us, Akane." Shampoo also began to advance menacingly. "Tell truth!"

"I don't have to explain anything to you! It's none of your damn business who I talk to!" Akane saw spatula and bonbori rose simultaneously into attack positions, and wondered if she should've answered a little more diplomatically. She backed up to gain maneuvering room, raising her arms. It was clear that talking wasn't going to help. The best she could do would be to try to block the attacks, and even if she did, they were still going to hurt.

A shrill yowl resonated through the courtyard. Ranma, perched on all four limbs, bared his teeth at Ukyo and Shampoo.

"Aiya! Airen?" Shampoo began to back away.

"Butt out, Ran-chan!" Ukyo shouted. "This is a c-- I mean, this is a fight between us girls!"

"Uh, Ukyo... don't," Akane said. "Not while he's like this."

"Oh, I'm supposed to just let you get away with stealing my fiance? What the hell do you take me for, Akane?" She raised her weapon high, in position to pound Akane into a greasy spot.

"Myrowr!" Ranma sprang into the air. Ukyo ducked slightly as the leap carried him above her head, right to the end of her giant spatula.

Ranma's arms were a blur as they moved back and forth in three different directions. Fingers ripped into steel as if it were paper, instantly shredding the weapon into metallic confetti that sprayed into the air.

Ranma landed in front of Akane. He stared at Ukyo and hissed. Akane grabbed onto his arm. "Ranma, no!"

Ukyo stared dumbfounded at the stick in her hands, the stub that used to be the handle of her weapon. Her eyes gaped wide with shock, as if one of her arms had been torn off.

Shampoo didn't move either; she just stared disbelievingly. "Ranma? You no would hurt Shampoo, would you?"

"I wouldn't put that to the test!" Akane yelled, as she held onto Ranma. "Just go!" Ranma's aspect made it clear that he would not be butting out. His cold, hard eyes said that he'd do what he had to to protect Akane, and that any feelings he might have for Shampoo and Ukyo wouldn't be getting in the way.

Shampoo pulled the stunned Ukyo by the arm. With eyes downcast, the pair faded lifelessly from the estate. Akane felt truly sorry for them, for the pain that they had to be going through.

She looked back at her fiance. "Ranma, no! Leave that mouse alone!"


That night, Akane changed into her pajamas in the bathroom. Coming back to her room, she found Ranma curled up at the foot of her bed. She stepped over him and slid her body between the covers.

Faint voices resonated through the closed door. "Nabiki, do you think it's right for him to be sleeping in her room like that?"

"I don't know, Kasumi. But under the circumstances, I don't think I could get him to move."

Akane laughed a bit in spite of herself. *Where does Ranma sleep when he's under the influence of neko-ken? Anywhere he wants to.*

A light knocking resounded on the door. "Come in," Akane said.

The door opened. "Hi, Sis." Nabiki's voice. "Mind if I turn on the light for a moment?"

"That's okay." Akane squinted as the room went from dark to bright. She sat up in bed.

Nabiki sat at the desk chair. "Just wanted to let you know that all of my contacts are keeping a lookout for the fake Nabiki. Everybody has instructions that if they see me, they're to report it to me immediately."

"Okay." Akane's eyes adjusted to the light, and she opened them fully to look at her sister. "Anything else?"

"Yeah." Nabiki hesitated, and looked away for a moment. "I also wanted to say that I'm sorry."

"Really?" The admission took Akane by surprise. She couldn't remember Nabiki apologizing for anything before, if only because she never seemed to make mistakes. "What for?"

"For making fun of Ranma today. I didn't realize that there might be something seriously wrong with him." There was genuine sympathy in Nabiki's expression -- which only made Akane more worried. "I've always laughed at things like magic and curses. Always thought of them as just goofy, annoying things. Always had trouble getting it through my thick head that those things are real, and they can really hurt people."

"Yeah. I guess you aren't the only one." Akane stared at her sister's face. "I can't get over how easily your impersonator fooled me. I was sure it was you. You think she might have something to do with Ranma's condition?"

"I sure do. Two mysteries at a time is too much of a coincidence. I'm betting that when we find her, we'll know how to bring Ranma back to normal, if he hasn't just recovered on his own by then."

Akane nodded. "That makes sense."

"Maybe you can help. What did the two of you talk about? Might give us a clue as to who we're dealing with."

"We talked about... nothing much." The truth was too unpleasant to admit, and it was none of Nabiki's business anyway.

"Are you sure?" Nabiki stared into her sister's eyes. "Akane, if she said anything at all, I need to know what it was. Helping Ranma might depend on it."

"She said..." Akane sighed. "She said she had a plan to fix things up between me and Ranma. Not that there is anything between us that needs fixing, or that it's any of her concern, or..."

"Akane, you should've known that it wasn't me when she offered to fix things up between you and Ranma. I wouldn't do something like that."

"How was I supposed to know that?"

"Because I had plenty of chances before, and never did." A hint of frustration colored Nabiki's voice, as if she were a teacher speaking to a particularly dim student. "If I'd wanted to, I could've gotten you and Ranma married off long ago. Manipulating people is my business, Akane. In my own way, I'm as good at it as the rest of you are at fighting. If I'd worked at it, I could've had Ranma happily married off to Kodachi, and you to Mousse."

Akane shuddered a bit. The implication that she was that easy to control was frightening -- and probably true. The other Nabiki had certainly pushed her buttons easily enough. "So why didn't you? I'm sure someone would've paid you to do it." The remark was uncalled for, and she knew it as soon as the words had left her mouth.

"Why should I, Akane?" Nabiki shot back defensively. "You're capable of solving your own problems. Seems to me you could've made things a lot better at any time just by being a little more honest with yourself."

The words sliced through Akane like cold steel as she looked down at Ranma. "So what happened to Ranma was my fault."

Nabiki sighed. "No, that's not what I meant. I only... I only mean that for something genuinely good to come between you and Ranma, it has to be because of the two of you. If you got together because I conned you into it, it wouldn't mean anything. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

"Yes. You're saying that what happened to Ranma was my fault." Akane rolled over to face the wall. "And you're right."

"Sorry, Akane." The lights went off. "Good night."

She pushed her face into the pillow. Nabiki had tried. Akane respected her for that. Nabiki wanted to make her feel better. But at that moment, she didn't want to feel better.


Moonlight poked through the crack between the curtains, casting a sliver of illumination across the darkened ceiling. The alarm clock glowed a dim blue-green, standing out in the blackness like a ghostly eye. 2:27 AM. Akane shut her eyes and shifted position on the bed, trying to get comfortable. Though she felt dead tired, still sleep refused to take her.

From below, Ranma's steady breathing could barely be heard. Any other time Akane would've been worried about sleeping in the same room with him, human nature being what it was. But human nature wasn't something that described Ranma Saotome at that moment.

She wondered what it felt like to become a cat-person -- a human being with the mind of a housepet. Was there some part of Ranma that remembered what he had been, that retained some dim understanding of what it was that he had lost? Conscious thought. Self-awareness. Things like that were, more than anything else, what made Akane Tendo who she was. Losing them had to be like dying.

She thought back to one night the year before. She and Ranma had been invited to a party at an acquaintance's apartment. The people who lived in the building offered her some sake. Just one little drink, they said; couldn't be any harm in that, could there? Ranma suggested that she shouldn't drink because she wouldn't be able to handle it. There was no way she could back down after that. She finished the drink, and they gave her another, and another, and soon she wasn't quite aware of where she was or what she was doing. It served them right that she had ended up doing major damage to the apartment before passing out.

Waking up the next morning, her head felt as if it had been used as a martial arts practice dummy -- but it also felt wonderful to be able to think again. That day, she wrote a poem for her creative writing class, about a songbird leaving its cage, free to spread its wings and soar through the vast open sky. She didn't tell anyone, but she had meant the bird to represent her mind; the wings were reason and intelligence, and the skies were imagination.

Now it seemed Ranma's bird couldn't escape from its cage. Or maybe it was worse than that. Fear gripped her as she remembered a simple biological fact. Cats *ate* birds.

She rolled over onto her side, knowing she wouldn't be getting much sleep that night.


The sun finally rose, flooding light into the room through the window. Akane carefully stepped over Ranma to get to her dresser. If there was any chance that sleep would cure him, then she didn't want to take any chances by disturbing him before he woke on his own.

She put on an old T-shirt and a pair of nylon shorts. The house was quiet; even Kasumi wasn't up yet. Akane had plenty of time for a little exercise before breakfast. She slipped quietly out of the house and began jogging down the street.

The streets of Nerima were empty except for a car or two driving by now and then. The sun shone bright yellow in a vibrant blue sky, with only trace wisps of clouds. A chilly wind from the west cut through Akane's bones, making her wish she'd worn something a little warmer.

Houses became blurs as mile after mile of road passed beneath Akane's feet. Sweat dripped down the back and sides of her shirt. The muscles in her legs throbbed. Her breath became heavy, burning in her throat as she forced it in and out of her lungs.

Her route finally carried her back home. She came inside just in time to be greeted by Kasumi, who was setting the table for breakfast. Akane pushed her exhausted body up the stairs.

The door to her room still stood closed. She stood outside her room, for some reason unable to bring herself to turn the knob. What if Ranma were still a cat? If a night's sleep didn't cure him, what would? If she didn't open the door, she wouldn't have to find out. Maybe she would just take a quick shower before checking on Ranma. A shower, then breakfast, then school, and...

She mentally kicked herself for being so ridiculous. Not knowing wasn't going to make things any better. She gripped the doorknob and turned it gradually, careful not to make any noise in case Ranma was still sleeping. Slowly, the door swung open, as Akane's heart pounded harder than it had during her run.

Ranma stood in the room, next to the door. He was standing! He looked at Akane with a smile of happy recognition. She stared at him with wide eyes, barely daring to hope. "Ranma?" She was ready to hug him right then and there, regardless of what he or anyone else watching might think.

Ranma nudged past her into the hall. He walked up to the bathroom door, pointing. "Mmyow!"

"It's just a stupid doorknob! You've got hands, you idiot!" Akane opened the door, letting Ranma happily scamper inside before she could give in to the urge to pound him.


After a shower, Akane sat down to breakfast. Ranma ate without using his hands; he simply bent his head into the bowl that Kasumi had handed him and scooped food into his mouth using his teeth and tongue. Akane tried not to watch.

While Kasumi cleared away the dishes, Akane phoned Sayuri. She explained that Ranma was sick, and that she would be home taking care of him, so neither of them would be in school that day, and she'd be grateful if Sayuri would let her know what the day's homework
assignments were. Was he contagious? She didn't think so. Would he be better soon? She certainly hoped he would.

She left Ranma behind at the house, and went out. She had to find the other Nabiki. She had to be involved in some way, and finding her was the only lead Akane had toward finding a cure for Ranma. Of course, finding the impostor might be nigh impossible; all she would need to do would be to get rid of her disguise, and Akane would never know when she saw her.

If not that, maybe Akane would find something else... anything that would tell her what to do. There had to be some way to free Ranma from the grip of the cat-fist. A secret scroll. A potion that they would have to fight someone to get. Whatever it would be, there was always something like that. That was the way these things always worked, wasn't it?

After a day of searching, Akane came back home, tired and empty.


By 9:25 PM, Akane had finished the last question on her math homework. She wrote her name at the top of the paper, and inserted it neatly into her school folder.

She turned to Ranma. "Um... do you want to watch TV or something?"

Ranma lay flat on the floor, stretching his arms and legs out, and lifting his stomach up slightly.

"You have *got* to be kidding!" Akane rolled her eyes as Ranma mewed pathetically. "Oh, all right." She leaned over in her chair and rubbed his belly. He began to hum contentedly while gyrating about on the floor.

The bedroom door crept open. Akane jerked her chair back up to the desk, opening her schoolbook in front of her to a random page. "This homework takes a long time to do, doesn't it, Ranma!" Her gaze tracked down to the bottom of the door, where she saw a familiar black snout. "P-chan!" The piglet scampered inside, its eyes scanning across the room.

"Rrrrowl!" Ranma sprang up to all fours, hissing angrily at P-chan. The piglet began to slowly move back.

"What is the matter with you, Ranma?" Akane scolded. "This is P-chan! He's just a pet, for gods' sake! Nothing for you to be jealous of at all! A simple housepet, nothing more!"

P-chan's eyes met with Akane's for the briefest of moments. Then the piglet bolted out the door.

"P-chan, wait! Come back!" Akane stepped out into the hall, but her pet was nowhere to be seen.

"Myow!" Ranma stretched out on the floor again.

Akane sighed as she pushed the door closed, then returned to petting Ranma's stomach. She wondered whether he'd be chasing away her other friends, too.

He smiled happily, rolling back and forth on the floor, as she massaged his tummy. They would probably be married. She was marrying a man with the mind of a feline. Why had it come to this? What was it about him, or about her, that made their lives so insane?

She remembered what Nabiki's double had told her. *Maybe he's afraid.*

Afraid of what? Afraid that nothing would ever change? Afraid that once he got back to normal, once Akane wasn't feeling sorry for him anymore, all the old arguing and hitting would be back?

*Have you ever told him *your* feelings, Akane?*

Maybe that was it. Maybe Nabiki's double hadn't been responsible for Ranma being trapped in the cat fist. Maybe she had been trying to give Akane a clue -- a hint on how to rescue him.

The thought terrified Akane. She herself didn't really even know what her feelings were. She did know that exposing herself would make he r vulnerable. Someone who knew her from the inside out could hurt her in ways that she couldn't imagine. If she had had to fight Happosai to the death in order to save Ranma, it would have been easier than this. But she had to try.

She stepped over to the door and made sure it was shut tightly. She didn't want anyone else to hear what she was about to say. She didn't really want Ranma to hear it either, but it wouldn't work unless he did.

"Ranma, I..." She sat on the floor next to him. "I've got something to tell you. Ranma, I..." Her voice lowered to a whisper as she forced the words from her mouth. "I love you."

Ranma stared at her, as if he hadn't heard.

"Did you hear me, Ranma?" she said at normal conversation volume. "I said 'I love you.'" Akane mouthed the words without thinking about their meaning, as if they were a magical incantation that might bring him back to normal.

Ranma continued to gaze curiously at Akane.

"Damn it!" she shouted into his ear, grabbing onto his shoulders and shaking him. "Are you listening? I just told you I loved you! So stop all of this cat idiocy already and talk to me like a person!"

Ranma cringed away, backing into a corner. His eyes stared back with pain and helplessness.

"No! I... I didn't mean...." *Good job, Akane,* she told herself. *Looks like he *really* believed you. When something doesn't go your way, yell at it. That's a real good strategy you have. You should be a parent.*

What right did she have to say that she loved him, anyway? Was it love to say that the other person had to shape up or else? The wishy-washiness around other women, the cooking jokes and tomboy insults, all of them were part of Ranma, as much as anything else. How could she claim that she loved him if she wasn't willing to accept him as he was? And if they had a problem, it had to be his fault, didn't it. For all her demands on Ranma, Akane hadn't been willing to change herself one bit.

"I-- I'm sorry, Ranma. Really." She extended a hand forward, speaking from somewhere deeper inside her now. "It's not your fault. I-- I guess I didn't understand that until now. I know you'd go back to being a human if you could."

Ranma looked up. Was that a smile beginning on his lips?

"I don't know what it's worth, but... I meant what I said. I do love you. I still will even if you have to stay a cat forever." The words came easily now. Being vulnerable no longer frightened Akane. What did was the thought that Ranma might never know.

Ranma sprang forward into Akane's waiting arms, purring as he pressed his head against her chest. Another time, it would've bothered her to have him do that. Another time, she would've called him a pervert and knocked him across the room. Another time.

She hummed a pleasant, soothing melody as she caressed her fingers through his hair. In his own way, he was telling her that he had understood her, and that he felt the same way. The warmth of his embrace said that better than any words could have.

And she remembered.

*I can get rid of his inhibitions and defenses, get him to show you what he really feels deep down.*

As she looked at the fiancee nuzzling against her and purring, she knew that that was exactly what he was doing.

Her fist clenched in anger. She finally knew what Nabiki's impostor had meant, and what she had done to Ranma.


Akane burst out of her bedroom, jacket in hand. She could put it on once she got outside; for now, there was no time to lose.

A voice from behind startled her. "Where are you going, Akane?"

She turned around. "Oh! Mr. Saotome! I'm going out to find the person who impersonated Nabiki. She's the one who locked him into cat form!"

Genma showed no sign of surprise. "It's dark out, Akane. How are you going to find this person?"

"I-- I just will, that's all! Because I have to!"

"You do realize that this person you're looking for could be disguised as anyone else?"

"Yes, but... I..." She paused and stared. Something about Genma wasn't right. His tone was unconcerned, almost derisive and mocking. Didn't he care what happened to his son? And his eyes... she couldn't see them. His glasses reflected the light, just like...

"Come now, my dear." He grinned maliciously. "Surely you've deduced the truth by now?"

"It's-- it's you!"

"Correct. It's a simple trick, really, to make myself look like someone else. It does have its uses."

Akane tensed, falling into a battle stance. "What have you done to Ranma? Bring him back to normal, or..." She stopped, uncertain of what to do. She considered yelling for Ranma or her Dad to help her, but that might make the man decide to run, and she'd be back where she started. She had to get him to tell her how to cure Ranma.

"Empty threats, dear lady. The Ranma you knew is gone. Forever."

"Who..." Akane stared at the man who looked like her father-in-law, but wasn't. "Who... are you?"

"Ah, but you know me, Akane." He reached a hand up to his glasses. "Remember when you were a little girl? How you were afraid to go to sleep at night? How you wanted your parents to leave the lights on, because you knew that there was something waiting in the darkness, ready to pounce on you?"

He pulled off his glasses, revealing inhumanly huge greenish eyes -- eyes that were featureless except for long, narrow vertical slits in their centers.

"That was me, Akane. All children know me. I'm the Shadowcat. I'm the power behind the neko-ken. Ranma's father unwittingly summoned me by experimenting with the technique. You know the story of how Ranma was locked into a pit with a horde of hungry cats?"

Akane nodded, half-hypnotized by the Cat's eyes and his voice.

"Imagine what it must have been like for him. A helpless child, unable to escape as hundreds of monsters mauled him. In his mind, that child pleaded for someone, anyone, to come and take him away. I answered. From that day on, every time Ranma's fear of cats becomes unbearable, something inside him calls for me, and I take him away."

Akane glared defiantly at the cat-man. "I don't care who you are! Free Ranma, or I swear I'll kill you. I don't care what I'll have to do or how long it will take."

The Cat smiled, his expression exuding a confident superiority. "You can't, my dear. My essence doesn't even exist in this dimension. What you see is merely a projection, a minor manifestation of my true self. Were we to meet on the Kami plane, you could try to kill me, but frankly I wouldn't be optimistic about your chances of succeeding. Meanwhile, Ranma is mine."

"No!" Akane's fist lunged forward, but struck only empty air as the Genma-lookalike stepped nimbly clear of her attack. "You have no right!"

"Actually, I do. I've had the right to take him ever since I rescued him from the cats. I could've taken him permanently at any time since then."

"Then why didn't you?" Akane wanted to knock the self-assured smile right off the Cat's face. Just one opening, that's all it would take.

"Because I'm a greedy little kitty, Akane. I didn't want to settle for only Ranma. Not when two is better than one."

"What do you mean?"

"Remember the promise you made to me? You agreed that if I got Ranma to lower his inhibitions and show his true feelings, you'd marry him."

"Uh huh. There's one little problem with that, isn't there. Ranma and I can't get married like this. You see, he's a cat, and I'm a person. Inter-species marriages don't generally work out." She looked at him with a triumphant smirk. He'd have to change Ranma back now.

"You're absolutely right, Akane." The Cat's tongue brushed quickly across his upper lip. "So what are we going to do about that, hm?"

Akane tensed, as some sixth sense set off alarms in her head. "What do you mean...." Then, suddenly it was all too clear. "No! You... you can't!"

"I can." The Cat took a single step forward. "You expressed implied consent. You said it yourself, Akane. Ranma needs someone who's the same as he is."

"NO!" Akane drew her arms up into strike position. She'd have to try a last desperate attack, even though he was obviously ready for her. He'd been ready for her all along. Did he *want* her to come charging at him? Would she be playing right into his hands, just as she had all along? And where was her father? He should've been woken up by the noise. Had the Cat dealt with him already?

Before Akane was completely aware of it, she was outside, running down the dark sidewalks as fast as her feet would carry her.


Streetlights illuminated a narrow path that cut through the darkness. Akane ignored the hammering in her chest and kept running. She had to get to the Nekohanten. Cologne would have wards that would be able to keep the Shadowcat away. She'd be able to find a way to deal with it, to rid Ranma of its influence, once Akane could let her know what they were up against.

She remembered all the times she'd made fun of Ranma and Genma for their "Saotome Secret Technique." Too late, she now knew that there were times when there was nothing else you could do. Just get away, and hope that you'll be able to fight later -- if there's still anything left to fight for.

Around a corner she ran, without slowing down. Her legs were trained for endurance rather than speed, and it took all the effort she could muster to keep up her pace as block after block of sidewalk sped by under her feet. She had no idea how close behind the Cat was. There was no sound or any other sign of pursuit. Of course, there wouldn't be -- not until it was too late.

She crossed onto the block on which the Nekohanten stood. She could see the restaurant ahead, and she caught a glimpse of a small figure standing outside near it. As she got closer, she could see long, white hair, swaying slightly with the cold night breeze.

"Cologne!" Akane gasped for breath. She had made it. She never would have believed it possible, but she had gotten away. "The Shadowcat! A demon-- it's taken over Ranma's mind! It's after me! It's--"

The diminutive old woman smiled, saying nothing. Her bright greenish eyes stared at Akane, eyes with narrow vertical slits. The eyes of the Cat.

Then the world disappeared, leaving only darkness.

Akane screamed as she felt claws rake across her skin. A cat's yowl was heard. Another attack grazed her arm, and another ripped into her leg. She tried to run but there was no ground beneath her feet, and the unseen talons came from every direction, slashing into her again and again, and she screamed, and there was no blood, but it felt as if she were being torn to shreds bit by bit, and she screamed for someone, anyone, to help her, and the howling noises became louder, and louder...

Then she stopped screaming. The words no longer meant anything.


Akane woke. She yawned, lazily stretching her body. She had slept well, and felt refreshed.

A sunbeam shone through the window, falling onto a patch of floor. Akane moved over to it and sat, letting the light caress her face. She felt her mate lying beside her, and she playfully pressed her face into his. He always made her feel as happy and warm as sunlight, and she wanted to show it.

She looked up, and noticed some people staring at her, and making strange noises.

"Noooo! Not Akane too! My daughter!"

"Oh my. Oh my. How could this happen, Father?"

"Classic case of guilt-induced transference. Oh gods, my poor, unstable little sister...."

Something tickled at the back of Akane's mind as she listened to the sounds. They were a puzzle to be put together, a key to something that should have been, but wasn't, and left a great and terrible emptiness inside her.

Then the feeling was gone, and the noises didn't mean anything. She turned away and began to lick herself clean. She was with her mate, and that was all that mattered. As long as they were together, she would be happy. And when the time was right, she would bear him litter after litter of young.

Meanwhile, a songbird lay dead, its wings clawed off.


AUTHOR'S SCRATCHING POST: The idea for this story came from reading Richard Lawson's "The Thought That Counts," in which Nabiki triggers Ranma's neko-ken as a birthday present for Akane. That struck me as a bit cruel of her, as conscious thought is something I prize rather highly -- and she wasn't even making any profit on the deal. :-) I started thinking about doing a much darker take on the concept. I then remembered the Shadowcat from Krista Perry's mega-epic Hearts of Ice, and the way in which that story treated the Cat Fist -- and decided to put the two ideas together.

In case anyone doesn't know, the Shadowcat is Krista's character, which I'm using with her permission. Any mangling of the character is my fault. :) Thanks for reading, and if you've gotten this far I'd like to know any thoughts you had on this story, good or bad.