"Two sodas, and a cup of tea." The waitress smiled as she set the drinks down on the table. "Would you ladies care to order, or do you need a few more moments to look at the menu?"

"I think we're ready." Ranma's mother took a sip from her cup, and looked across the table to him and Akane. He wondered how she could stand to drink hot tea on such a scorcher of a summer day. "Ranko, would you like to order?"

Ranma continued to idly study the menu, until he felt Akane's elbow poke him below the ribs. "Oh yeah. Me. Right." After two days, he still wasn't used to his new alias.

"Go ahead and order anything you like, dear," his mother said. "It's on me. Even if I can't meet my son, it's so nice to be able to meet his fiancee and her cousin."

"Oh, thank you, Mrs. Saotome!" Ranma gave a smile and a bubbly laugh, though inwardly he wanted to scream. Until two days ago, he hadn't even known that he had a mother. Not that he'd believed Pop's story about him having been cloned; but he'd always figured that his mom was dead or something. He'd certainly never guessed that she'd been waiting around for more than ten years for Pop to bring him home to her.

And now here he was, together with his mother. But thanks to some stupid promise Pop had made, he couldn't tell her that he was her son. He had to pretend to be 'Ranko' so that she didn't kill him for being unmanly. Maybe she wasn't really serious about making him honor that agreement. But if he took a chance and was wrong, he wouldn't live to take any other chances. So he had to keep up the act. For so many years he'd had no idea what it was like to have a mother; now, he was so close, and yet so far.

Akane handed her copy of the menu to the waitress. "I'll have the beefbowl."

"Figures a tomboy like you would order something like that, Akane," Ranma teased.

Akane waved a fist at him menacingly. The waitress turned to Ranma. "And for you, ma'am?"

"I'll have the same thing. Make it a double order."

His mother pointed to something on the menu. "I'll have this noodle dish, please." She gave her menu to the waitress, who then walked off. "I wonder what kind of food Ranma likes." She briefly stared off into space. "The two of you have eaten with him, haven't you?" Though she'd supposedly invited Akane and 'Ranko' to lunch to get to know them, she only seemed interested in asking about her son. Ranma might have been offended if he and 'Ranko' hadn't been the same person.

"Yes, we did," Akane said. "I think... um... he likes the same foods that Ranko likes."

"Did I tell you that I haven't seen him since he was a baby? That it's been more than ten years?"

"Yes, you did," Ranma said. Several times, actually.

"I'm so sorry." Pulling out a handkerchief, she wiped a single tear from her eye. "It seems as if I can't stop asking about Ranma. It's just that... I miss him so much. Oh, how I wish my manly son were here!"

Ranma, instantly male, dove quickly under the table.

"Ranko?" his mother said. Ranma felt her tug on his pigtail. "Whatever are you doing down there?"

"I—" He shifted to a higher tone, trying to imitate his female voice. "I, um, I dropped a contact lens, Mrs. Saotome!"

"Ranko, don't bump the table," Akane said in an exaggerated voice. "You'll spill something!" She tipped one of the glasses, letting a little soda pour onto him. He changed back into his genie form, complete with costume.

"Oh dear. Could I help?" His mother stood up, looking over the table at him.

"Ranma," Akane frantically whispered in his ear, "I wish you were back in your usual clothes." And he was.

"It's all right." He slid up and sat back in the seat. "Got it back in. Whew. I hate it when that happens."

"I don't understand, Ranko." His mother stared at him with puzzled eyes. "For a moment, I saw... you were wearing some strange costume."

"Er... you see, Mrs. Saotome...." Ranma fumbled for something to say. "I wear special contact lenses. When I lose one of them, it's other people who can't see me very well." Akane rolled her eyes. Okay, so it wasn't a very good excuse; but it was the best he could think of.

"Oh dear." Ranma's mother pointed to his shoulder. There was a big, sticky stain on the front of his shirt where Akane had poured the soda. "Oh dear. Ranko, please let me buy you a new outfit after lunch."

"Why, Mrs. Saotome, you don't have to...." Ranma looked into her eyes, and realized she wasn't about to take no for an answer. This, he supposed, was part of what it meant to have a mother.


Lunch over, the three people stepped out of the restaurant onto the sidewalk.

"There's a ladies' wear shop three blocks over." Akane pointed down the street. "It's my favorite place to shop for clothes."

Ranma scratched his head. "Ladies' wear?"

"Thank you, Akane," his mother said. "I'm sure Ranko will find a nice dress there."

"Dress?" Ranma repeated dumbly.

"Yes, dress. What did you think she was going to buy you, 'Ranko?' A clown suit?" Akane turned to Ranma's mother. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Saotome. Ranko is kind of a tomboy."

"That's all right, Akane dear. Ranko, I'll help you pick out some nice things to wear."

Ranma felt sickened. His mother was going to dress him up in girl's clothes. Worse yet, Akane would see him that way. Then she'd probably make fun of him for the rest of his life.

"The Pig-Tailed Girl a tomboy?!" A voice from behind made the three turn around. "Nay, I say! She is the very flower of feminine grace!"

"Go away, Kuno, ya jerk!" Ranma spat.

"Oh, Pig-Tailed Girl! How I wish to da—" Kuno's speech ended abruptly as Ranma clamped a hand over his mouth, then punted him down the street.

"Ranko, it isn't proper for a young lady to brawl." Ranma's mother turned to Akane. "Do you have time to come with us?" she asked. "You said that you wanted to visit the library after lunch."

Please say no, Ranma thought. The genie costume was bad enough; he didn't want her seeing him in a dress.

"Um... sure, I can come with you," Akane answered. "I can look up those books some other time."

"Don't worry about it, Akane," Ranma said. "We'll be all right by ourselves."

"Like you were all right back at the restaurant?" Lowering her voice, she stared at him incredulously. "Ranma, if I hadn't been there, she would've—"

"Hey! I can take care of myself, y'know." He had to learn to get along by himself sooner or later, genie magic or no. He didn't want some girl following him around all the time like he was some kind of invalid.

"Fine!" Her voice became loud again. "If that's what you want, then fine!" She began to walk off in a huff.

Kuno popped up next to her. "Pig-tailed girl! I wish to da—" Akane kicked him into the fence that ran alongside the road, not breaking her stride as she stormed away.

Ranma glanced at his mother's sword and imagined it cutting through his neck. He hoped he hadn't just screwed up big time.


Akane receded into the distance. Hikaru Gosunkugi stood watching her, hypnotized by the beauty of her form and the grace of her movements. His eyes were riveted to her image, unable to move until she turned a corner and was out of sight, leaving behind one slightly disheveled kendoist.

Kuno pushed himself away from the fence, his body peeling off it like the skin of an orange. Indentations in the shape of chain links zig-zagged across his face. "Clearly Akane Tendo disapproves of the Pig-Tailed Girl sharing my affections," he said to himself. "Perhaps I should offer to date with her on the weekend."

"No matter how strong she is... every woman has a secret desire," Hikaru said from behind Kuno. "Find it... and the pig-tailed girl's yours."

Kuno's head spun around. "Who are you?"

"Hikaru Gosunkugi," he replied. "You wouldn't know me. No one does." His characteristic tagline was supposed to make him sound like a man of mystery, though he had his doubts as to how well it worked. "But I can help you get to know the pig-tailed girl."

"Why should you wish to assist me in this?" Kuno rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Unless...."

Hikaru braced himself for a beating. The reason he was trying to get Kuno and this 'pig-tailed girl' together was obvious; he wanted Kuno kept away from Akane. Until recently, he hadn't seen any need to intervene. Akane had always treated Kuno like something to be scraped off from the bottom of her shoes. But two days ago, Kuno and Akane had dated, and even skipped school to do it. Drastic measures were called for in order to keep them apart. Fortunately, the next day Kuno had seen this 'pig-tailed girl' and had become interested in her.

"Unless you have come to realize the righteousness of my cause," Kuno finished. "Though I need no assistance, I shall listen to what you propose. Provided that you are brief, of course."

"Ah... I... well...." Hikaru found himself momentarily tongue-tied, then returned to what he had mentally rehearsed earlier. "I can help you get to know the pig-tailed girl. Shall I discover her secrets for you?"

"Hmmm...." Kuno's eyes narrowed. "Very well. How much time will it take you to accomplish this?"

Hikaru thought for a moment about how long he'd been collecting information on Akane. "Um... five years?"

Suddenly, he found himself flying through the air, courtesy of Kuno's bokken. "I expect to see results this afternoon!" the kendoist called at him.


The changing room was an elevator-sized cubicle. Three of its walls were cloth curtains, and a mirror hung on the fourth. Ranma stared at his image. Bleah. He didn't recognize much. The hair was his, but that was about it. Underneath that... a girl in a dress. A sweet, young, precious flower. Why, how lovely you look, my dear. May I have the pleasure of this dance? Double and triple bleah.

At least he'd found a dress that wasn't too bad. Well, they were all bad. But at least compared to the others, this was one he could tolerate wearing if he absolutely had to — which, unfortunately, he did. A lot of the ones on the rack had had pictures of flowers (or worse yet, cutesy animals) on them. This one was a solid blue, and not too bright. The kind of thing that he could wear and not draw too much attention to himself. It was also a heavy enough material so that his underwear wouldn't show through. The last thing he wanted was for his mom to start buying him girls' undies.

"Does it fit?" his mother called from the other side of the changing room curtain.

"Yeah." It was a little loose, actually, but that was definitely better than too tight.

"Would it be all right for me to come in and see?"

"Uh, yeah, sure, why not." There wasn't any way to refuse without making her suspicious. Might as well get it over with.

She stepped through the curtain. "It looks very nice on you, Ranko." Her smile could only be described as motherly.

"Uh... thank you, Mrs. Saotome! I'll change back into my other clothes so we can get home."

"Oh, you don't have to do that, dear. I'll pay the saleslady, and you can wear your new dress home."

Oh great, Ranma thought. His luck was absolutely batting a thousand today. How the heck would he be able to get home without anyone seeing him in a dress?

On the other hand, the Tendos had all seen him in the genie costume — which was worse than a dress anyway. So maybe it didn't matter. He sighed. If they were going to make fun of him, they certainly had enough ammunition already, dress or no dress.

He followed his mother out of the changing stall. She handed some money to the clerk, and got a paper receipt in return. He was beginning to seriously doubt whether she was really serious about making him and Pop follow through on that promise. She seemed way too nice for that. How would she react if she knew that he was a genie? She certainly didn't seem to be the greedy type like Nabiki.

On the other hand, she probably would wish to see her son, and that was a wish that he might not survive. The safest thing would be not to tell her. But would he be able to keep her from finding out, with all the idiots around making careless wishes?

The sale completed, Ranma and his mother stood in front of the elevator. He could see his reflection in the polished metal of the doors. Still a girl in a dress.

He looked over at his mother, and decided to test the waters just a little. "Mrs. Saotome, could I ask you something?"

"Yes, of course, Ranko dear."

"Do you know anything about genies? Y'know, the ones that grant wishes?"

"Genies? Ranko, those are just legend. Old stories. Honestly, this is the twentieth century. I can't understand how people can still believe in such creatures."

Ranma nodded.

"No, what you're thinking of are oni. Oni are evil spirits who assume human form in order to lead unsuspecting humans into misfortune. That's what your 'genies' really are."

"Human form? So, um, any random person you saw on the street could be one of these oni?"

"Well, it's possible, yes."

Sweat trickled down the sides of Ranma's head. "So, um, if you met an oni, what would you do?"

"Kill it, of course," she said. Her eyes told Ranma that she wasn't kidding. "Oni aren't really alive anyway. They're evil creatures sent to cause trouble for humankind and lead us into temptation."

Ranma laughed nervously. "I, um, don't suppose there's any way you can tell one of those things when you see one?"

"I'm afraid not, dear. I only wish an oni had some sort of distinctive feature that could be seen, but it's not that simple."

Ranma felt a pricking on each side of his forehead. He watched his reflection as a pair of horns, each about the size of his little finger, poked out from under his hair.

"You seem to be quite interested in oni, Ranko." She began to turn toward him. "Why—"

Visions of his head cut through Ranma's mind. He reached out, desperately grabbing the nearest thing he could find.

"Ranko?" She stared at him as if he'd gone crazy. "Why did you just put on that hat?"

"Why?" he repeated. The hat wobbled back and forth a bit on his female body's small head.

"Yes, why?"

"Why what?"

"Why did you put on that hat? It doesn't go with your dress, and it's too large a size for your head anyway."

"Oh! You're asking why I have a hat on my head. Right?"

"Yes, I am, Ranko." Her impatient glare told Ranma that he had just run out of stall time.

"Well, actually, it's because... it's a new fashion. A very new fashion. Just started actually, which is why you don't see a whole lot of people wearing too-large hats. Yet."

She sighed. "Ranko, there are three other shops I need to visit this afternoon. Put that down and let's go. All right?"

"Put it...."

"Down. Is something wrong, Ranko?"

"Yes, actually there is something wrong. What's wrong is... is...."


"Is that I have to go to the bathroom!" He made a mad dash for the ladies' room, leaving the hat on a shelf.


I'm dead, Ranma thought as he stared at his image in the bathroom mirror. The horns on his head marked him as a dead man. Woman. Whatever. As soon as his mother saw them, she'd kill him for being an oni. He wanted to scream. Couldn't he ever catch a break?

He turned around and saw a pair of girls standing behind him. They looked to be about twelve years old. "Omigod!" The one in a Sailor Moon t-shirt pointed at him. "Look at her head!"

"Are you dressed up for a play or something?" the other said. She had on a sleeveless, pink dress.

"Hey, you wanna see a neat trick?" Ranma said to the girls. "I can make these things disappear."

The one in the dress rolled her eyes. "Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. All you have to do is say, 'I wish you didn't have horns.'"

The T-shirt-wearing girl giggled. "I wish I didn't have horns."

"No! Say that you wish I didn't have horns!"

"You wish I didn't have horns." Both girls laughed.

"ARG!" Ranma took a breath to avoid blowing up. He had to keep his cool if this was going to work. "Look, if you don't cooperate, I'm not going to show you the trick."

"We don't care," the one in the dress said snottily, an impish smile on her face.

"Let me try it," the other girl said. "I wish you... were horny." A storm of giggles erupted.

The girls pulled open the door and scooted out, as if they expected Ranma to hit them. He wouldn't have, though he had been tempted.

What the heck could he do now? He should've let Akane come along. He could just picture her standing right next to him, her full, red lips parting as she breathed the words, I wish your horns would disappear. Then their eyes would lock as they moved closer, ever closer together; and her lips would lock with his; and....

"Aaagh!" He took several breaths to try to calm down. The wish that girl in the Sailor Moon shirt had made had seriously messed him up. He had to think of something, anything else; like the fact that his mother was waiting for him outside, probably losing her patience. Like the fact that she was going to run him through with that sword of hers for being an oni. That thought shocked him to full awareness, like a splash of cold water across the face.

Then he remembered something he'd just seen, and an idea came. Not a good one, but he was desperate. His hands flashed into action with lightning speed, untying the braid in his hair and working it into another shape....


Ranma came out of the bathroom. His mother gaped at him. "Ranko... What—"

"Do you like it?" Ranma pointed at his hair, which was now rolled up into balls that covered up the horns. "It's the Sailor Moon look!"

She began to say something, then closed her mouth and pushed the button to call the elevator.


Hikaru listened to the sounds of conversation as he entered his home. Kuno, who had arranged to meet him, was talking. "Of course, by the next match, I had devised yet another series of brilliantly-conceived training exercises for the kendo club." He stepped into the family room and saw his parents, nodding and not getting in a word edgewise as the kendoist spoke.

He reached into his pocket to pull out the photos he'd just taken. To save time, he'd used the instant self-developing camera that he'd gotten for his birthday. That camera's pictures weren't as high-quality as the one he usually used, but Kuno had insisted on immediate results. Fortunately, it looked like the photos from the dress shop had come out quite clearly.

Kuno turned and noticed him. "Ah, Gosunkugi. What have you to tell me of the mysterious pig-tailed girl?"

"Er, I think her name's 'Ranko.'" He handed over the pictures. "That's what that lady called her. She said Akane was her cousin."

"Ah, the lovely Ranko. Surely it is a name to be sung by the angels." Kuno flipped through the photos. He stopped on a particular one, and his eyes bulged. "What is this?! Seek you to deceive me by showing me retouched photographs?"

"Huh? I didn't retouch them. I used an instant camera." Hikaru looked closely at the picture; it appeared that Ranko had horns on her head. Strangely, they weren't there in the other shots.

"This is most unusual." Kuno stared ponderously at the floor, then looked up. "The beauteous Ranko, it seems, has fallen victim to foul enchantment of some sort. I, the Blue Thunder, shall rescue her and smite whatever villain has subjected her to this fate! But first the nature and source of the evil must be determined."

"Well, if you ask me, the horns probably mean that...."

"Silence, wretch!" Kuno gave Hikaru a look of disdain. "Think that I, Tatewaki Kuno, would sink so low as to depend on your advice? There are far better sources of knowledge upon which I may call!"

Reaching into his kendo gi, he pulled out a cellular phone and dialed a number.

"Greetings," he said into the phone. "I seek information of a particular nature." He paused to listen. "Yes, I am prepared to offer your usual fee." Another pause. "Recently, an innocent young woman has been beset by a pair of horns on her head. I wish to know what sort of affliction would cause this, and what might cure it. Yes, I shall hold."

With nothing to do but wait, Hikaru stared anxiously at the wall until his mother nudged him. "Hikaru? There's a phone call for you."

He nodded and walked into the kitchen, where his father handed him the receiver. "Hello?"

"Ah, Gosunkugi." Nabiki Tendo's voice. "Just a friendly reminder about a certain payment due by the end of the week."

His chest tightened. "I— I don't know if I'll have the money by then. Would... would it be possible to extend—"

"Of course you may have an extension. After all, we're schoolmates, aren't we? We're here to help each other out. I do something for you, you do something for me."

"What— what do you want?" His heart pounded in his chest.

"Just the answer to one little question. It's not even anything personal."

"What question?"

"If a pair of horns appear on someone's head, what does it mean?"

Hikaru let out a relieved breath. That was easy. "I read a magazine article about that. It probably means that the person is possessed by an oni."

"An oni, eh? How would someone like that be un-possessed?"

He thought back to what the magazine had said. "According to what I read, all you have to do is hit them on the head. Oni can't stand physical pain."

"I see. Thank you for the info, Gosunkugi. I'll be in touch with you later about your payment."

Hikaru thanked her, and hung up the phone. When he got back to the family room, Kuno was still on his cellular.

"Yes. Yes. I understand. I shall deliver payment to you at my earliest opportunity. Goodbye."

He hung up and put the phone back inside his gi.

"According to the information I have uncovered, it seems the comely Ranko is possessed by a spirit known as an oni. Though it will pain me to do so, I shall free her by striking her on the head. She shall then no doubt be so grateful that she will immediately demand to date with me." He eyed Hikaru with an expression of superiority. "Perhaps now you are able to appreciate the value of a reliable source of information."


By late afternoon, Ranma was bored out of his skull. His mother had taken him to a jewelers where she had gotten her watch fixed, then to a fabric store and to another one that sold embroidery kits. What was worse yet, he'd had to pretend to be interested in all of this. He hoped he'd run into a rampaging martial artist or whatever; at least that would give him something to do.

Worse yet, he'd had to look away from all of the female sales clerks, because of the thoughts that stupid wish kept putting in his head. He tried keeping his mind on other things, but that didn't help. Even running through martial arts attacks in his mind only made him think of ways they could be adapted for other purposes.

Behind his mother, he stepped out of the sewing goods store, and heard a familiar voice. "Ranko Tendo!"

Ranma spotted Kuno and bounded into the air towards him, intending to clamp his mouth shut before he could manage to say 'Ranko, I wish to date with you.' At least, Ranma noted, Kuno had learned his name, or rather his alias.

Kuno's bokken suddenly flashed out. Ranma jerked his head to the side, narrowly avoiding the strike.

"What the heck?"

"Forgive me, Ranko Tendo, but I do what I must!" Kuno raised his bokken for a second strike.

For a moment Ranma stopped to think. His usual response to Kuno was to boot him down the street and walk away. But Kuno was acting different now. Instead of making advances on his 'pig-tailed girl,' he was getting violent. This was a totally different situation.

Ranma booted Kuno down the street and walked away.


A furtive glance up the stairs told Ranma that the hallway was clear. His mother had gone into the kitchen; from there, he could hear the sounds of food frying, sizzling like high-voltage power lines. Kasumi would be cooking too. Pop and Mr. Tendo were absorbed in a game of shogi, and Akane wasn't back from the library yet. his was the perfect time.

He bounded up the stairs, arriving at the top just as Nabiki came out of her room. Her t-shirt and shorts hugged her shapely body tightly; it took all of Ranma's will-power not to stare.

Nabiki took one look at him and sniggered loudly, eyes gaping in disbelief.

Ranma sighed in resignation. Of course with his luck it was too much to ask to get changed before anyone saw him. "Oh, laugh it up, why don't ya."

"Don't mind if I do, thank you," she said. "Sailor Ranma! WAHAHAHAHAHAHA! You... you didn't even get it right. The 'dumplings' are supposed to be further back."

"Yeah, whatever."

"Why'd you change your hair, Ranma? You wouldn't be hiding something, would you?"

"Of course not! I just...." Ranma stepped past her towards his room's door, not bothering to finish what would be a lame excuse. He knew that he was never going to hear the end of this now. Cute little Sailor Ranma. The toughest martial artist ever to wear a dress in Japan. Whatever. At the moment, all he wanted was to change his clothes and undo all the wishes that had been inflicted on him.

"If you've got a problem, Ranma, I'd be only too happy to help you out."

He turned his head just enough to see her face. "For a price, right?"

"Here's the deal." Her thin smile was both predatory and patronizing. "Every time I help you out of trouble, you owe me a wish. And you don't turn back into a boy until my wish is through."

"Oh yeah, right. I'll end up stuck as a girl my whole life."

"No longer than a day per wish," she answered without missing any time, "unless we agree to a longer time beforehand. How's that sound?"

"Forget it." He didn't know what her game was, but she had obviously thought it out in detail. The only safe thing for him to do was not to play. "I'll just go use hot water."

"Let me know if you change your mind," she said, sounding not the least bit disappointed. "The offer's always open!"


In his bedroom, Ranma quickly fixed his hair back to normal, then took off his dress and hung it in the back of his closet. Throwing on one of his regular outfits, he headed quickly over to the bathroom, where he stripped naked. Without bothering to rinse with cold water first, he dove straight for the tub, not wanting to know what perverted thoughts that girl's wish would make him have about his own female body.

"Ahhhh." For a few moments, Ranma sat back, savoring the warmth of the water. He was male, he had no horns (running a hand through his hair confirmed this), and the perverted impulses had died down to a low ebb. He was content.

Of course, it couldn't last. As long as his mother was around, he had to be 'Ranko.' He stood, letting the water drip from his body as he dried himself with a towel. Then, reaching over to the sink, he turned on the water and splashed himself in the face. The genie costume appeared on his now-female body; he removed it and put his own clothes back on, throwing the costume into the laundry basket.

The bathroom door swung closed behind him as he walked out into the hall. Akane came walking up the steps. "Ranma? How was your shopping trip?"

"Um, fine," he said, aware that he wasn't sounding too convincing but not caring all that much. "No problem." Well, there had been problems, of course, but they were solved. And he had solved them on his own, without needing help.

"Ask Ranma about the new hairdo he had a little while ago, Akane," Nabiki called from her room. "He wouldn't tell me why he was wearing it. I think he might've been on the horns of a dilemma this afternoon."

"Whaddaya mean by that?!" It sounded like she knew. But how could she?

"A new hairstyle?" Akane smirked slightly. "Was it cute, Ranma?"

"No, it wasn't, Akane. I'm a guy! I ain't supposed to be cute!"

"Awww, I bet it was adorable," she teased. "I wish I could see what it looked like."

"Aarrgh!" Ranma reached up and confirmed that his hair was back into Sailor Moon mode. "You knew that was gonna happen!"

"Oh, calm down, Ranma." Akane giggled. "It does look cute!"

Ranma opened his mouth, but all that came out was an unintelligible grumbling. Annoyance and frustration left him momentarily at a loss for words.

"All right, already," she said as she opened the door to her bedroom. "I wish you were back the way you were earlier." Ranma glanced to the side and saw his usual pigtail. "There. Happy now?"

He just snorted as he pushed quickly past, tromping down the stairs.


Ranma entered the kitchen. His mother was chopping meat up into little chunks with a cleaver. Kasumi stood over the stove, stirring the contents of a fry pan.

"Hey, Kasumi." Ranma opened up the refrigerator. "Got anything to drink in here?"

"You're in luck, Ranm— Ranko," she said. "I made some lemonade this afternoon. There's half a pitcher left."

"Cool." Ranma spotted the pitcher in question and brought it out. Taking a glass from the cupboard, he poured himself some lemonade, then drank.

Kasumi turned towards him, and her eyes widened into a puzzled stare. "What's that on your head?"

His hand reached up to where she was looking and felt. The horns were back. Lemonade sprayed from his mouth. His mother stopped cutting and began to turn towards him.

Ranma's arm reached out in desperation, grabbing the first thing he found and covering his head with it.

"This? This is a pot, Kasumi. Normally used for cooking, it also serves a useful function in the area of martial arts training."

"Goodness, I didn't know that!" She sounded genuinely surprised.

"Ranko," Ranma's mother said, "what are you—"

"That's right, Kasumi." Ranma moved, trying to remember where the exit was, as the pot blocked his eyes. "You see, one never knows whether an opponent will place a pot on one's head during combat. Therefore, one must practice fighting with a pot on the head in order to cover that eventuality."

"How interesting," Kasumi said. "But don't you want the rest of your lemonade?"

"No time! A martial artist's training is never finished!" Ranma collided with a wall. He reached out with his hands and found the doorway to the living room.

"Oh dear," Kasumi said. "I was going to cook tonight's rice in that."

"There's something very odd about that girl," Ranma heard his mother say as he left the kitchen.


Ranma heard a familiar voice. "Ranko Tendo!"

The shrill whistle of bokken slicing through air alerted him, and he jumped aside. "Not again! Just go away, you jerk!" He punctuated his sentence by taking the pot from his head and banging it into Kuno's; it rang like a gong.

"Forgive me, Ranko Tendo!" Kuno raised his bokken. "I only do what I must, as an expression of my undying affection and devotion!" Behind him, Nabiki watched with an expression of mild curiosity.

"That's how you express your affection?" Ranma had heard about people like that, who were into... what did they call it? Bandage? M and S? "You sicko!"

The bokken came down. Ranma grabbed it and jerked it out of Kuno's hand, then snapped it in half like a twig. He was fed up. There had to be something he could do to get Kuno to stop pestering him.

"Look here, Kuno." He pointed to his horns. "See these? Know what they mean? I'm an oni."

Nabiki's eyes drifted over to stare at something behind Ranma. He wondered what she was up to for a moment, then decided it didn't matter. He was going to convince Kuno to stay away from him.

"Get it?" He advanced, bending his head down so Kuno would be looking right at the horns. "I'm one of those evil spirits who assume human form in order to lead people into temptation and stuff."

A voice came from behind him. "Ranko?!"

Ranma whirled around to see his mother, sword in hand. "Aaaaaa! It's— it's not what it—" He backed away from her.

Nabiki stopped Ranma with a hand on the shoulder. "Don't worry, Mrs. Saotome, there's a simple explanation for this. Isn't there, 'Ranko?'"

Ranma sighed. "One day?" he whispered. Nabiki nodded, and he nodded back.

"It's quite simple," she said to Ranma's mother. "I'll show you." Suddenly, she grabbed onto Ranma's arm, twisting it behind his back.

"Huh?! What the heck you doing?!"

"Now, Kuno-chan!" she shouted. "Let her have it!"

Before Ranma could react, Kuno's bokken smacked him in the head. At the same time, Nabiki whispered in his ear. "I wish your horns would disappear."

"Victory is mine!" Kuno raised his stick triumphantly. "I, Tatewaki Kuno, have cast out the malevolent spirit which had possessed the beauteous Ranko!"

"She was possessed?!" Ranma's mother gaped with astonishment. "I never realized...."

"Ranko Tendo, be not angry," Kuno said. "I struck you only to free you from the demon that had taken you over."

"Um, that's okay, man...." Ranma couldn't find it in himself to be mad. Kuno was an idiot, but it seemed like he was genuinely trying to help. His heart was in the right place, even if his brain wasn't. "Don't worry about it."

"Please know that I bear you no ill will. On the contrary, my fondest wish is to date with you."

Ranma's surroundings faded.


Soft violin music drifted across candle-lit tables at the Cafe Hiyo. The unusual clothing worn by one particular couple attracted stares from the other patrons, but no one was impolite enough to remark on it.

"The kendo club turned to me before the match against Makeru High, seeking another of my brilliant strategic inventions. I was, of course, capable of winning the match on my own, but one must take pity on the lower classes in life. So thusly did I create a series of ingenious training exercises that would have the effect of...."

Ugh... Ranma thought as he tried to mentally tune out Kuno's blather. Kill me now.