Strained Harmony


A Ranma Sailor Moon fic thingy.


By Sunshine Temple and Trimatter

Regrettably there was difficulty in contacting Trimatter for much of this chapter. Time and other RL issues have made co-writing not as feasible. I have tried my best with the story.


Naturally, We own neither Sailor Moon nor Ranma. So here's the disclaimer

Ranma 1/2 and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video. Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon belongs to Naoko Takeuchi, Koudansha, TV Asahi, and Toei Douga, and DIC.


Previous chapters and other works can be found at our fanfiction websites.

http://home.austin.rr.com/trimatter/

http://www.fanfiction.net/u/553057/Trimatter

 

 http://jtemple.florestica.com/

 http://www.fanfiction.net/u/90308/Sunshine-Temple

 

Other website Temple of Ranma's Senshi Seifuku

http://fukufics.com


C&C as always is wanted.

 


Chapter 5 Softening Expectations

 

 
            Kimiko rubbed her hands together as Kikuko Ayanami circled around the salon chair. Running a finger down the length of a comb, stylist inspected the redheaded woman sitting in the salon chair. Kikuko lifted up one of the pseudo-bunny ears and let if flutter back down. The stylist wore a powder blue vest with pockets for combs, scissors, clips and other odds and ends over a plain black dress.

 
            Padding around in white hose, Kimiko was dressed a bit more "upscale". She wore a crisp white blouse with purple trim and purple knee-skirt with a blue diamond pattern sewn on the left side.

 
            Fancier still was Ranma's green silk gown. Bearing a padded quilted sky-blue bodice that ran from the hips to the chest, it was trimmed in silver ruffles at the neck, sleeves, and calf-length hem. At the shoulders the ruffles were actually gathered and double tiered. It was also hanging on a padded hanger from a hook on the opposite wall. On another hanger was a flounced pale green petticoat. The lacy and fluffed garment could have been a fancy skirt all by itself, if one that was a bit too short and transparently risque for Ranma's tastes.

 
            However, the redhead was not wearing the gown. At the moment she was in one of the salon's robes. She knew the gown would fit; Setsuna had made sure of it.

 
            "How long have you been doing this?" Kikuko asked eyeing the nanny. She thought she had seen some buildup on the redhead's last couple monthly visits but...

 
            Ranma cleared her throat. "We started it a few months ago, but that was for special occasions."

 
            "Things like tonight's special dinner," Kimiko said mischievously.

 
            Kikuko raised an eyebrow. There was more buildup, and she would have noticed if the redhead had been doing her hair this way for that long.

 
            "Well... at first, but I've been doing them this way more frequently... in the last month or so."
           

 
            "Yes, I can tell," Kikuko said as she patted the redhead on the shoulder.

 
            The nanny gave a soft pout. "It should be a nice girl's night out. The others will be here soon right?"

 
            Kimiko nodded. "After you we've got Nami coming in for her hair."

 
            "And then you? Or is Hotaru next?"

 
            Kikuko tapped a comb against her wrist. "I hadn't thought of that. She could use a trim, I suppose." The stylist was more than happy to get more work, especially from the Meiou household.

 
            "We'll have to see if we have enough time. It depends on when Nami and Hotaru get here, and if Hotaru can get back from the restaurant in time." Kimiko paused for a little bit and looked to Kikuko. "But yes, we'll see about me but first you and Nami have priority."

 
            "Right, Ranma, then Nami, then you then Hotaru if possible."

 
            The two glasses-wearing girls nodded.

 
            "Good. Now Ranma, you've been doing your hair with these ponytails for two months off and on?" Kikuko asked, all business. "Well, explains the buildup I saw the last time you visited," the stylist eyed Kimiko.

 
            The black haired girl swallowed.

 
            "And when did you start doing this daily?" the stylist asked going back to her work counter.

 
            "Well..." Ranma looked down and fidgeted with her hands, causing a jangling from her bracelets. "Just a couple weeks or so."

 
            Kikuko exhaled. "You should have told me sooner."

 
            "I'm sorry. I'm sorry if I ruined her perm," Kimiko bowed.

 
            The stylist laughed. "Don't be so melodramatic." She returned to the chair and picked up one of the lop ears. "It's a cute look."

 
            Kimiko's heart rose, only to be dashed by the stylist's next line.

 
            "But the product you have her using isn't the best. And if we're going to keep this look we'll have to switch the type of perm."

 
            Ranma blinked. "What?"

 
            Kikuko leaned in and pulled at one of Ranma's spiraled bangs. "There's no point in making all of your hair into nice springy curves if you're just going to use half of it to make yourself look like a bunny."

 
            The nanny blushed. "I kind of like... having both you know." She clasped her hands before her chest and looked at the hanging dress. Setsuna was right, the gown would look better with a quilted slip underneath it. She nibbled on a glossy lip, distantly realizing the absurdity of the situation she was in.

 
            "I think you made up your mind when you started wearing the bunny ears every day," Kikuko gave out a little sigh. "At least it'll be easier to just perm your bangs."

 
            Kimiko steeled herself. "But Kiku-san, why can't she have both?"

 
            Turning, Kikuko blinked.

 
            Ranma also blinked. Though she was wondering what Tatewaki would make of her. Or if Kuno would even recognize her. Nabiki did not, but Tatewaki's crazy focus might be enough.

 
            "What's your idea?" Kikuko asked.

 
            "It's silly but..." Kimiko looked down.

 
            "Yeah, tell us, it can't be worse than your last surprise hair style." Ranma added.

 
            A smirk began to form as Kimiko lifted her head to meet the nanny's eyes. "Oh ho ho, a surprise then?" she continued her little chuckle.

 
            "Now I've got to know," Kikuko said as she took Kimiko's arm and dragged the girl to the far side of the little salon.

 
            Ranma turned and watched as Kimiko began to explain. The black haired girl's gestures becoming more wild as the stylist's skeptical curiosity was replaced with a manic eagerness.

 
            The two women returned; both wearing broad grins. Kikuko opened up a drawer and pulled out a set of swimming goggles with the lenses painted pink. She removed the redhead's glasses and slipped the goggles in their place. Instead of bothering with the strap, she pulled out a bottle of spirit gum, and using the liquid costume adhesive she stuck the goggles into place.

 
            It took Ranma a moment to protest. "Hey! What if I don't want to be experimented on?"

 
            Kikuko laughed. "You wanted us to give you both."

 
            "Really, are you going to say no?" Kimiko asked before she leaned in and hugged her friend. "Please trust me, I think Kikuko's impressed and I could learn a lot from her," she whispered into Ranma's ear.

 
            Before the nanny could finish nodding she felt her chair back flip back as Kikuko deposited her head in the wash sink. Her ponytails were undone, the faucet was turned on, and the pair began to work over her hair. The nanny let her mind drift. She had gotten used to the perm process and could feel the differences.

 
            First her vision was reduced to a fuzzy pink light, which made the chemical smells seem even harsher bringing the pulling at her hair to the forefront of her mind.

 
            Most of the time two hands worked at her hair, often three, frequently four. She heard the snip of the scissors and winced as some of her hair was clipped away. She smelled something like hair dye as her head went back to the sink for some more work.

 
            Then came the weight of the curlers. There seemed to be more pulling at her, heavier ones, light ones, tight ones, and for two sections on either side of her head there were long wavy curlers.

 
            The nanny drifted off for a bit and awoke to find the blow drier had been wheeled over and placed over her head. Her hand automatically went up to her glasses. Instead she found pink goggles, and one of the stylists gently pushed it away and made sure they stayed in place. The blowing hot air did not help stave off the returning drowsiness.

 
            Her mind slipped away and when it came back she found a more gentle brushing and tugging feeling on her scalp. There were also blasts of cold as various sprays were aimed at her hair.

 
            It all felt a bit heavier, and when she tried to adjust her neck, the same gentle hands kept it from moving, while also ensuring her goggles stayed on. She heard the clack of the crystal sphere ornaments on the end of her ponytail ties being picked up. As they were tied back into her hair, the nanny heard the scissors give a couple snips.

 
            Then silence. There was then the sound of pacing shoes followed by a hushed argument. The brushes and scissors, and hair spray came out for another quick session. Then came another agonizing silence followed by the unmistakable sound of a high five.

 
            The nanny felt her chair spin 180 degrees and the goggles were pulled out by one set of hands while another cleared out the spirit gum and replaced her glasses. It took her a moment to adjust to the brighter light. Then she stared at the reflection. The nanny noticed the flowery scent that had been added to her hair, something like a mix of sakura, lily and just a hint of orange and mint. It pushed aside the chemical smells from earlier in the process and meshed well with her perfume.

 
            Once again her hair only fell to soft jaw line, a little above her rounded chin. For a second she thought she had once again lost all the hair she had grown since that day she got gum in her hair. Then she noticed the thickness of her hair. Rows of solid, almost tube-like, curls marched back on either side of her head. Atop those were thinner more spirally curls that filled in between the big curls and were themselves capped by springy delicate little coils.

 
            Without losing any weight, her hair had gotten shorter. What had once gone down to mid back with her old perm had now been pulled up into a heavily styled pageboy. It was also tinted and conditioned into a gloss that in the right light had a seemingly mirror shine that made the curls look cut from dark rubies.

 
            However, Ranma's attention shifted from the mass of curls atop her head to the pair of rabbit ears that arced out from between the coils and spirals. Naturally, her ears, her real ears were completely concealed by the layers of curls.

 
            Unlike the rest of her hair, the bunny lop ears just had a gentle rippling wave along their length. And while they had the same intense gloss effect, her "ears" had been dyed a pastel-shade of red that reminded the nanny of cherry blossoms.

 
            As she tilted her head, they swayed and held together, but unlike her old "ears" these moved more naturally and with far less stiffness. The double crystal sphere ornaments were still tied to the top of her ears where they first came out from between her curls. They were matched by a pair of rich green ribbons and bows that were tied near the base of her ears, giving them a bit more structure.

 
            Reaching up and giving her ears, and then her curls a pet, the nanny gave a cooing giggle. Her bangs had even been preserved and her favorite little curl was still there, only now it had many, many more friends. Despite the product required to keep them in one shape her lop ears still felt soft and... fluffy.

 
            "I think our bunny likes them," Kimiko smiled. She then took out her phone and left Nami a message telling her to come over.

 
            "That she does," Kikuko bowed to her. "Excellent work. Now let's get her dressed." The stylist then took the redhead by the arm with one hand and picked up the green gown by the hanger with the other.

 
            Rising to stocking-clad feet, the nanny stepped forward and followed Kikuko to a changing room in back where she slipped out of the robe. The under skirting of the petticoat was easy enough, but the gown required some assistance. Especially in pulling over the shoulders and tightening the stays to the quilted bright blue bodice.

 
            The stylist led her back out and positioned Ranma in front of a mirror while she took out a comb and did some final adjustments to the nanny's hair. The nanny was rapt at her attention. The gown bustled out around her hips and backside while it drew in around her waist in a silk bodice quilted with silver thread that also shaped and contained her bosom. It felt like she was wearing a fleet of fluffy clouds, or at least sculpted silken feather pillows.

 
            Grinning, Ranma waited until Kikuko had finished to pull her and Kimiko into a big hug. Both Kimiko and Kikuko gasped as the redhead's generousness pressed against them.

 
            "Still complaining about experimenting on you?" Kikuko asked as she ran a hand down one of the long lop ears that had fallen in front of Ranma's face.

 
            The nanny released the hug.

 
            Kikuko gasped. "Quite a grip you've got there."

 
            She looked again at her reflection and gave a big smile. No one from her old life would recognize her. No one could. She was Hotaru Meiou's nanny, Setsuna Meiou's servant, member of the Meiou family, Sailor Hestia, and, apparently, a very strong, very voluptuous bunny girl. She felt a slight gurgle and put her hand to her soft middle.

 
            "What do you have planned for Nami?" Ranma asked.

 
            Kimiko smirked. "That's another surprise."

 
            Kikuko raised an eyebrow. "Now, I've given Kimiko some pointers on the best products to use with your hair. It'll be a bit more involved than your normal regimen but I think you'll agree it's worth the effort," she picked up Ranma's shiny green clutch purse and slipped a handwritten list into it.

 
            Ranma accepted the little purse and slipped its thin strap over her head and past her epic curls, under her left lop ear, and settled it down to just above the rounded flare of her right hip.

 
            Kikuko then handed a big periwinkle bag to the nanny. While waiting for the curls to set she had made the list and filled the bag full of supplies and chemicals and ribbons of different colors. The Meiou account was already one of Kikuko's most profitable, and with this new style, she could increase her margins even more.

 
            The stylist then took Ranma's free hand. She glanced down and made a note to ask about upping the nail work next time, which reminded her. She gave the hand a little squeeze. "Now Ranma, I'll have to stress. This is a fabulous design, your friend really has a great imagination but... it will require much work."

 
            Clutching the bag, the redhead nibbled on her lip. "Well... maybe... could I come in more often?"

 
            Kikuko restrained her smile. "I don't know. Doing a perm too frequently is bad for your hair but..." she looked into the bunny girl's round, youthfully soft face. "If it will make you feel better I'll move around my schedule to have you come in every other week." She gave another squeeze. "Will that make you feel better?"

 
            "You're the best!" Ranma gushed as she bounced forward and kissed her stylist once on each cheek.

 
            Now Kikuko let herself grin. "Now off you go. We've got to get ready for your friend."

 
            "Yeah, I'm sure the boys will love your new hairdo," Kimiko added.

 
            For a moment worry crossed the nanny's face, then Kimiko took her hand and a cocky smile formed on the redhead's face.

 
             "I dare say, you'll have to beat the guys off with a stick," Kikuko added.

 
            "Well I do have a new big stick. I'm sure it'd work," Ranma absently said still looking at her reflection. Her face looked so... soft and curvy. It fitted in with the rest of her.

 
            "Oh? You'll bring that for tonight?" Kikuko asked.

 
            The redhead blinked. "What? What about tonight?" She narrowed her eyes at Kimiko. "We're celebrating the end of term right?" Ranma asked.

 
            "Of course," Kimiko smiled.

 
            "So... what else is going on for tonight?"

 
            "A surprise," the black-haired girl said as neutrally as she could.

 
            "We're not going to some dance club are we?"

 
            Kimiko laughed. "In a dress like that?" She poked Ranma in the shoulder. "Heaven forbid. So, this new stick you haven't had a chance to use it have you?" she asked giving a big wink

 
            Ranma looked nervous "No... what do you mean?"

 
             "Nothing." Kimiko scratched her chin. Her friend seemed nervous about something, and not the dinner as she first suspected. "Is this something for Hotaru's physical therapy?"

 
            Relief crossed Ranma's face. "Yes, that's exactly what it is."

 
            "Well, I'm pretty sure you won't need that stick tonight," Kimiko eyed Kikuko. "Despite what your stylist says."

 
            "And what is going on tonight?" Ranma crossed her arms, her bracelets jingling.

 
            "You caught me." Kimiko grinned. "It starts with a big dinner at- " Her phone rang. "Sorry one sec!"

 
            Ranma nodded.

 
            "Oh, hi Nami!" Kimiko said into her phone. "Where are you two? Really? Great! You stay at the fountain and have Hotaru go ahead of you."

 
            "You don't want her to see me?" Ranma guessed.

 
            "And her, don't forget she's got her dress on too." Kimiko nodded.

 
            Checking her own phone, Ranma shook her head. "You're taking this surprise stuff a bit seriously." She frowned. She had tried to call Akane earlier in the day, but had been forced to leave a message.

 
            "One sec," Kimiko put a hand over the microphone. "Ran-chan Honey, we've been organizing this for weeks. The scheduling alone..." Kimiko returned to the call. "Yeah, send her over, I'll call you once Hotaru and Ranma have left."

 
            Ranma watched Kimiko put her phone back into her purse. "They're waiting at that little park the next block over aren't they?"

 
            "I couldn't have you two actually run into each other."
 
            Ranma turned to her stylist. "She's taking this way too seriously, isn't she?"

 
            Kikuko looked up from the scissors, combs, and other styling implements she was cleaning. "You have looked into the mirror, yes?"

 
            The nanny with crimson lop ears smiled. "It does go with my gown."

 
            "I hope it'll go well with your school uniform," Kimiko smirked.

 
            Ranma nodded

 
            Kikuko shook her head and returned to her work.

 
            "Now who's taking it too serious?"

 
            Ranma tore her eyes from the mirror. "Well..."

 
            Kimiko reached out and "Hair like this doesn't just happen."

 
            There was a chime as the door opened. Ranma looked up. Holding a large flat box, Hotaru stood at the threshold. Their eyes locked.

 
            The diminutive girl froze. Then with a cry of "Bunny Curls!" she charged right at the redhead and flung her arms around her nanny.

 
            "I take it she likes the hairdo," Kikuko said with professional pride.

 
            Kimiko smiled as the two embraced. "It's pretty cute isn't it?"

 
            The stylist gave a slight nod.

 
            "How's it going, squirt?" Ranma asked looking her ward over. Hotaru wore a purple sun dress with a matching bow with trailing ribbons atop her fine obsidian tresses. A large pale purple purse was slung over one shoulder.

 
            "Great! I love your hair," Hotaru added nuzzling the redhead.

 
            Ranma laughed. "How'd I guess." She then looked at the shiny grey box Hotaru was holding.

 
            Hotaru blushed. "It's for later."

 
            "After tonight's fancy dinner?"

 
            "That's what Setsuna-Mamma said."

 
            "Oh? Is she coming?" Ranma asked hope welling in her voice.

 
            Hotaru shook he head.

 
            "Ah," Ranma patted her hair. "So, it's just us girls?"

 
            Hotaru grinned.

 
            Shaking her head, Ranma turned to Kikuko and bowed and thanked her. She then gave Kimiko a quick kiss on the cheek and a hug. "Now I hope you've saved some creativity for Nami."

 
            "Don't worry," Kimiko gave a tight smile. "You two have fun, and just don't spoil your appetite."

 
            The redhead pouted.

 
            Hotaru took her hand and gently tugged.

 
            "Really? Hungry already. You've got to pace yourself," Kimiko gently chastised.

 
            Adjusting her glasses, Ranma blushed fiercely as she turned away. Walking to the front of the store, she tried to hide it further by facing away from the two stylists as she bent over to pull on a pair of three and a half inch silver pumps with strappy toes adorned with emerald green bows.

 
            Kikuko's confusion at the redhead's choice in footwear vanished when she saw her take a step. The steeper angle pushed her thighs and angled her hips and when she walked her long dress swished. She moved with fluid gracefulness and only a slight ringing from the little gold anklets above her shoes.

 
            The professional stylist gave an approving clap. Whoever designed the dress had found a way to make a ruffled design that looked demure and, despite showing no cleavage and very little leg, still managed to flatter her figure.

 
            Before working on her shoes, Ranma had put down the bag full of haircare supplies. Hotaru had snagged the bag and carried it with her left hand while she held the box under her right arm.

 
            Stepping outside, Ranma took Hotaru's hand and started leading them down the sidewalk. "Where to next? I know we can't go to the park. But we've got some time before dinner... wherever that is." The redhead said as she opened her glossy green purse and checked the time on her phone. She also checked her messages. Still nothing from Akane; worry gnawed at her stomach.

 
            Tilting her head, Hotaru looked up at her nanny. "You've got new glasses to pickup."

 
            "Oh, yes. That's –um- at Three-Women GeoGlass?" Ranma looked down the street. "It's only a couple blocks away."

 
            Hotaru waited until after the light had changed and they crossed the street. "You forgot didn't you?"

 
            Blushing, the nanny lowered her head, causing her heavy curls to swing forward and momentarily cover the sides of her face. "It's been a busy day."

 
            Hotaru giggled as they walked side by side.

 
            Ranma would occasionally stop and give her head a tiny, almost twitching shake. She'd then use her free hand to pat a curl before running it down the length of a lop ear, first the left one, then the right, then back again.

 
            At first Hotaru was concerned, but as her nanny led them towards Three-Women she realized that the redhead was just getting used to the shifted weight of her hair. Afterwards she became more amused at the reactions to her nanny's antics from those on the street. Most politely ignored her, but she caught the eyes of more than a few curious people.

 
            Stepping into Three-Women GeoGlass, the pair was greeted by an almost empty-looking shop made of burnished steel accents and softly glowing white wall and ceiling panels. There were a few glass display cases on pillars in the center of the deeply carpeted showroom. Each only contained a bare handful of glasses. There were a couple of chairs on the edges of the room and a large desk made out of a thick plate of glass mounted on a pair of even thicker glass panes. Atop the desk, a pair of thin tablet computers, a clipboard, notes, and some other paperwork appeared to hang in the air.

 
            Several women were working in the shop. All wore white lab coats over blue blouses and black skirts. Several were helping customers while one was working at the desk across from the entrance.

 
            A tall woman with short blonde hair and a diamond shaped beauty mark below her left eye rose from the nearly translucent desk and greeted the pair. "Miss Ranma, Miss Hotaru, how wonderful to see you," Miss Akagi greeted, giving a broad smile.

 
            After slipping off her shoes, Ranma bowed in return. Part of her wondered why Akagi was being so happy, but she had found most merchants acted that way around her.

 
            "Your glasses are ready, and I must compliment you on exquisite taste," Akagi assured as she led them to a pair of trim leather seats. She then spun on her heel, and white coat flapping behind her went to one of the walls.

 
            There she put a key in a corner of a white panel, unlocked and swung it aside, revealing shelving full of glasses cases. The lower shelves held displays of individual glasses frames while the upper held boxes of glasses where the frames had already been fit to lenses.

 
             However one shelf near the top was empty save for one case. Akagi took this polished case off the shelf and carried it back to the redhead. Made out of polished steel, the case had rounded corners and looked like a giant lozenge. As she handed the case over, blonde optician forced her smile. Looking at her customer's hair and clothes, she could finally understand the custom order she had been given.

 
            Ranma opened the box; her hands shook. A bit annoyed at the ringing from her bracelets, she stopped herself. She then looked again. The glasses were the same as they were before. She slowly lifted them out of the box.

 
            "Is something wrong?" Miss Akagi the optician asked

 
            "Give them a try!" Hotaru cheered leaning on Ranma. The box of salon supplies and the still unopened grey box rested at her feet and she looked down at it with a satisfied smirk.

 
            "It's... not what I expected." Unlike her current glasses with their thin metal frames, these were rounded silver with matching backs and ear pieces. And based on their heft made Ranma wonder if they were solid silver. There was also a bit of spiraling gold scrollwork on the corners of the frames.

 
            She also frowned at the teardrop shaped oval lenses. They were wider over her eyes and towards her nose with the points arcing back towards her ears. The glass itself was faintly tinted teal over the center shifting to a slightly more apparent lavender at the corners. "Hotaru... how much did these cost?"

 
            "Less than your other gift," Hotaru answered with a mischievous grin.

 
            Ranma blushed. "That' doesn't really help...."

 
            The optician cleared her throat. "They're worth a try, Miss."

 
            The nanny looked up. "They're not too much?"
 
            The older woman looked down at the nervous young woman in her ruffled dress, shiny ruby red curls, and be-bowed bunny ears. "I think this pair is..." The long-haired brunette warmly smiled as she patted the redhead's poofy shoulders. "Most appropriate for you. But please indulge your elder for a moment." Then behind her own pair of slim bifocals, she gave a warm wink and slipped off the redhead's current, and understated pair.

 
            Still sitting, Hotaru then took the new pair from Ranma's unresisting hands and slipped them onto her face. The arms and ear pieces of the glasses disappearing under the redhead's tubular curls.

 
            "Now let's see if you approve," the older woman said, with an undercut of worry beneath her gentle tones. She knew Miss Meiou was good for this purchase, but if the servant was displeased with her new glasses getting her to indulge in another such pair would be next to impossible.

 
            The redhead gave a little gasp. While the weight was more than she was used to, it was the lenses that shocked her. This pair brought her vision into even sharper focus and the tinting gave everything a slight pastel gradient.

 
            From her seat, Hotaru opened her purse and pulled out two items. Both were purple. One was a pastel, somewhat clunky, metallic instant camera, the other was a darker little leather-bound album.

 
            Giggling, she snapped a picture. After a couple seconds, there was a whirring noise as the camera spat out a little picture. She slipped the camera back into the purse. Running a finger over the cover she opened the album and looked at the collection of photos. A cold feeling spiked in her stomach as she flipped to a blank page, peeled off the back of the new photo, and affixed it in place.

 
            Looking at the pictures helped. Almost all were of her nanny, often but not always they included Hotaru or Setsuna. Paging backwards though the mostly chronological pictures a smile grew and her nervousness eased.

 
            Hotaru giggled as a cool voice reassured her. It was a good thing that Chibi-Usa was willing to play courier. These pictures of her nanny, or her before she came into Hotaru's life were proper. Closing the album, she lifted her gaze and caught her Nanny's reaction to her new look.

 
            Folding her arms in front of her, the redhead walked to the full-length mirror. There was a brief stumble, in bare feet no less, and anger crossed her face as she recovered amid chimes from her jewelry. She reflexively put raised her hand to her glasses but found that this pair, despite its greater weight, had stayed in place.

 
            "These are custom fitted. Not only are the nose pads specific to your nose, but the temples and earpieces are sized to your ears," the optician noted.

 
            "Good thing too!" Hotaru said, closing her purse. She got up and playfully pulled one of Ranma's lop ears.

 
            Smiling, Ranma looked down at her ward before returning to gaze at her reflection. Between the thicker frames and larger lenses her nose had become almost pixyish, though not as tiny as Hotaru's, while her eyes looked larger and glossier.

 
            Her bangs and curled hair also crowded in her face with the heavy framing contrasting with her rounded cheeks and chin. She swallowed and briefly licked her lips. Her hand clenched and she found that Hotaru was holding her hand.

 
            Giving another swallow, she took in her full figure. Her glasses, the new glasses, were over the top and overly rich, but compared with the rest of her look.... She watched as a big broad smile grew into place.

 
            "I told you you'd love them," Miss Akagi assured. As a piece of costuming, she could see the glasses being a nice complement with the... rest, but considered personal style secondary. If the customer was happy, that was what counted.

 
            "It really does help tie in my look," Ranma admitted as she idly pushed the silver frames a bit higher up her nose. "You think Puu will like 'em?"

 
            Hotaru nodded.

 
            "And Michiru?" Ranma smiled at her reflection. "Though... Haruka may think they're a bit much," she noted with a tiny blush.

 
            "One more thing!" Hotaru said as she returned with the big box held under one arm.

 
            "Really?" Blushing, Ranma found the grey box being pressed into her arms. It reminded her of the wide and long boxes that dresses came in, but this was thicker. "But you've given me so much."

 
            "When Setsuna-mamma heard about the glasses, she just had to find her own gift," Hotaru said.

 
            "Isn't it for after the dinner?"

 
            Hotaru looked to the side. "I'm thinking it'd be better now." She pressed the box towards her nanny.

 
            Raising an eyebrow, Ranma used one of her lacquered emerald green nails to slice through the tape holding the box's lid in place. Once opened, all three oohed and awed at the sight within. They were accompanied by another salesperson in the store and two other customers.

 
            Once again, Ranma's arms shook as she lifted a fluffy fur coat out of the box. She briefly lifted her glasses to confirm that the pelt was pure white and then paused to run a hand over the soft, soft fur.

 
            "Try it on!" Hotaru automatically said.

 
            "What is it?" Ranma asked as she slipped the coat on. Going down to just past her hips, it felt just as soft on the inside and seemed to be cut just for Ranma. The redhead gave a smile at her reflection, seeing that the coat helped frame her dress, especially the soft sky blue bodice, like how her hair and "ears" framed her face. She did wonder how the coat would fit in with a dress that was less... hippy. As it was her hips rounded out nearly as much as her chest curved out. It all made her look... soft, almost pillowy.

 
            Her dreamy diversion was cut off by giggling coming from Hotaru, and strangely enough the optician. Both seemed to be looking at Ranma's lower back.

 
            "I know what kind of fur this is!" Hotaru reached over and gave something big and fluffy a squeeze. Surprised by the tug, Ranma gasped in shock.

 
            Twisting her back and looking down, Ranma's face turned crimson. There on the back of her white coat was a big and cottony.... rabbit's tail.

 
            "Oh, I'm going to have to have words with Puu about this," Ranma hissed though her lips were curled into a mischievous smirk.

 
            She then turned to the optician and gave a deep bow. After rising back up, she found that the glasses had not slipped down her nose and her smile grew. "Thank you, these glasses are most lovely."

 
            Carrying the bag of hair care products from Kikuko's salon, Hotaru slipped Ranma's purse over one shoulder. The shiny green clutch purse shone like a beacon on the white fur flowing over Ranma's side and hip. Hotaru then buttoned the middle three buttons of the coat pulling it in tight around the nanny's middle while still leaving the ruffles of her dress exposed up top and the skirting free to flare out below.

 
            "It looks like I'm being readied to leave," Ranma gave another smile. She took Miss Akagi's hand in both of hers and gave another little bow. "It's been wonderful." She picked up the empty coat box and handed it to the older woman. "Can you do me a huge favor and dispose of this for me?"

 
            Miss Akagi blinked. Between the dress, the drill-like curls that almost reached her shoulders, the silver and teal glasses, and even the bunny ears this level of well.. grace was expected. "Of course," the older woman assured, holding the empty box to her side.

 
            She then watched as the redhead hugged the younger woman to her side and glided to the door. There they slipped on their shoes, and Miss Akagi raised her eyebrow at the bunny-woman's footwear. It was impressive that she could be so graceful in heels like that.

 
            The wind picked up, as Ranma stepped outside, but with her new hair, her new coat, and Hotaru at her side, she hardly felt it. Even the sunlight felt less harsh, bright but somehow soft. Feeling warm and contented, she focused on keeping an even pace and walking heel-toe, heel-toe. She could feel the chimes of her mother's gifts fading as she got into the right rhythm.

 
            Though when Hotaru hugged her again, and snagged the salon bag over her tail, she nearly stumbled and had to take a couple short and loud little mincing steps to regain her balance. Hotaru gave a bashful frown.

 
            "Let's just hold hands for the rest of the way, okay?" Ranma suggested as she took Hotaru's hand and resumed their walk.

 
            The younger girl nodded.

 
            Looking at her reflection in a restaurant's window, Ranma idly fluffed a couple curls and then ran her free hand down a coat sleeve. In the reflection, a voluptuous, confident young woman in an elegant gown smiled back. "You know, Squirt. I can get celebrating the end of the school term with a fancy dress, and even dolling up with a special hair do, but new glasses?."

 
            Hotaru looked up to her nanny and smirked.

 
            Ranma frowned.

 
            Hotaru reached into her pocket and pulled out a bag of candies.

 
            The redhead took one of the minty green coated chocolates and bit into one. Chewing, she murmured happily as Hotaru took her hand and started leading her down the sidewalk.

 
            Swallowing, she smiled and looked around. Everyone was polite, but many stole a second glance at her as she and Hotaru walked past. The young daughter of one family actually stopped on her tracks and nearly pointed, only to have her hand gently put down by the mother, who also glared at her husband. Ranma gave a warm but reserved smile to each of them and excused herself and Hotaru as they passed on the busy sidewalk.

 
            Then a pair of young, nearly teenage, girls came up and asked Hotaru to take a picture with them and the "great cosplayer". That was enough to get Ranma to laugh and strike a pose with the two girls.

 
             Hotaru giggled and offered another candy. "I think they like your new hair."

 
            "I like my new hair," Ranma said a tiny bit defensively, she had gotten used to people looking at her. Especially when she wore her hair "lop ear style". Waiting at a corner she stole another glance at herself reflected in a window.

 
            Savoring the candy she patted her hair, first the smooth and wavy dark pastel sakura of her "ears", then the richer darker red of the layers of curls that grew from her head in a dense and glossy pageboy.

 
             A tug at her hand caught her attention and she began to cross the street with Hotaru at the lead.

 
            "Where are we eating?" the redhead asked, putting her free hand to the soft and befurred curve of her middle.

 
            Hotaru giggled. "Don't worry, you'll love it." She leaned over and looked down the corner to the side street they had just crossed. Pausing, she stopped walking.

 
            The nanny blinked in confusion.

 
            Hotaru turned and looked her nanny up and down. With a critical eye, she adjusted the fall of her coat and straightened one of the green bows at the top of the nanny's left lop ear.

 
          With both free, Ranma had clasped her hands in front of her and felt her belly give a soft gurgle. "Is something wrong? Are we there?" she lifted up her glasses and frowned. The area looked very familiar.

 
            Hotaru used the opportunity to scrutinize the redhead's eye makeup. Nodding she put a hand around the nanny's waist and nudged her forward.

 
            "Hotaru?" Ranma asked, her voice becoming slightly cross.

 
            "We're just going a side way," Hotaru assured. "We need to keep the surprise."

 
            Ranma frowned briefly but decided to allow it.

 
            They went past several businesses, including one that specialized in various exotic fruit wines and another that was a gentleman's suit store complete with an attached haberdashery. Ranma eyed some of the ties on display. Including a dark crimson pair that seemed suitable for Haruka. She made a note to tell Michiru about this place.

 
            "I wonder how Nami's hairdo is going," Ranma idly asked as they went down a spotlessly clean alleyway that ran between an apartment building and a tea shop. The alley broadened and a narrow garden with trimmed hedges started on one side.

 
            Ranma blinked in recognition as the wall opposite the hedge changed from one building to the next. "We're at the Green Mountain?"

 
            Instead of answering, the eleven year old girl led the redhead a few more steps to a discrete green doorway mounted in the grey stone wall.

 
            Reading the small brass sign, Ranma smiled and gently knocked on the door.

 
            The door immediately opened. Ranma blushed and almost took a step back. Then she noticed the camera placed well above the door discretely hidden behind a hanging lantern.

 
            "Ah, Miss Ranma, how wonderful to see you," the hostess, wearing a Green Mountain pattern kimono, bowed.

 
            Ranma immediately brightened. "Keiko-san!"

 
            Keiko stepped back and took Ranma's hand drawing her across the threshold. They were inside a roofed walkway that faced a long courtyard that contained a garden and a sprawling pool being fed by a stream that tumbled down a series of worn stones

 
            "My, you look lovely," she assured as she took Hotaru and Ranma down the length of the courtyard.

 
            At the far end was a stone bench under the shade of a lanky willow. Part of the garden's pool curled to the table next to the bench. A brunette in a pale green full-length evening dress sat at the bench. The dress was asymmetrical, being shoulderless on the left side and having a small gauzy sleeve on the right. This continued with the pale sapphire ribbons on the right side of her chest, and right cuffs. Even the blue ribbons around her waist was biased a little bit to one side.

 
            She was busy watching the schools of koi glide by in the pond. It was only when Keiko cleared her throat did she look up. "Miss Nami, Miss Hotaru and Miss Ranma are here. Would you like any refreshments while we wait for the rest of your party to arrive?"

 
            Ranma perked up at that but was distracted when she got a clear look at her friend's hair. Instead of her normal double braid where only the pony tails were woven, she had gone for the full French braid style where all of her hair had been braided.

 
            However that was only the start. Twisted into each other Nami's twin ponytails were then looped back up to above her left ear where they were braided in place forming swirling pattern, complete with braids that simulated petals and centered with a bit of crystal in the shape of a blooming rose. The floral pattern was continued by having the remainder of her hair fall down in front of her left shoulder in curly little tendrils.

 
            For several seconds the glasses wearing girls simply stared at each other.

 
            Hotaru turned to Keiko. "Just some water for now. We don't want to ruin the meal," she then bowed and Keiko left.

 
            "I love your hair!" Ranma and Nami cried nearly simultaneously as they rushed towards each other and held their hands before embracing.

 
            "You look great!" Hotaru added once the hug broke up.

 
            "Thanks." Sitting back down, Nami ran a hand through her hair. "You girls really went all out for tonight."

 
            "That they did." Ranma followed Nami's lead and sat down on the bench.

 
            Nodding, Nami looked towards the courtyard's pond for a moment.

 
            Peering over, the redhead caught Nami's profile. "Are those new glasses?"

 
            "Yeah," Nami turned back. She lifted her glasses and showed them to Ranma.

 
            The redhead examined them. They had the same slim black frames but Ranma guessed that the oval-lenses were a bit thinner.

 
            "I –uh- just got them yesterday, and they're really just new lenses."

 
            "They look good, much lighter," Ranma said handing them back.

 
            "Yeah, it's a lot better."

 
           "Tell me about it." Ranma absently moved to push her glasses up her nose, but found that they were still held in place.

 
            "Yeah... I didn't know if I should mention it..." Nami coughed. She then noticed that Hotaru had left the table.

 
            "Oh, blame Hotaru for this." Ranma carefully removed her glasses.

 
            Feeling the heft, Nami studied the detailed golden scrollwork on the metal frames. They looked silver to her, but she was not sure. That seemed too much, even by the expensive standards of the rest of Ranma's custom jewelry. "Wow. Uh... these are something else."

 
            "Yeah." Ranma blinked. She expected things to be fuzzier and less sharp, but the color shift really surprised her. Everything had a slight salmon cast.

 
            Nami looked at the silver-framed glasses thoughtfully. "So, Hotaru decided to spice up your glasses." Seeing the redhead blink, she gave the glasses back. "You just got these?"

 
            After wiping down the frames and putting her glasses back on, Ranma nodded. "Yeah the squirt insisted that I get them." She looked around. "And where did she go?"

 
            "They're planning something."

 
            "Of course they are." Ranma spotted Keiko and waved the hostess down. "Big end of term party."

 
            Nami raised an eyebrow. "You really think so?"

 
            "It's Winter Holiday; we won't have school until the start of the new year."

 
            The brunette looked down. "Hard to believe we've just got one term of High School left."

 
            Ranma also lowered her gaze in contemplation. By the time she'll have graduated she'll have spend the better part of two years at Juuban High. Where she spent only a bit over one year at Furinkan.

 
            "Are you worried about ex-" Nami cut her question short with a blush.

 
            Ranma smiled. "No, Nami-chan I'm not worried about entrance exams."

 
            Slightly envious, Nami nodded. Her family was pushing her towards higher education, which seemed a bit silly given they also wanted her to get married.

 
            "It was at Miss Meiou's insistence that I'm even bothering with school."

 
            "I think it'll really help you in the future."

 
            Ranma shrugged.

 
            Carrying a platter bearing two squat ceramic tea cups, Keiko walked over to the pair. "Yes, Miss Ranma?"

 
            "Have you seen Hotaru?"

 
            "Of course," Keiko assured as she deposited the cups onto the table. "She ordered your tea and had to meet the rest of your party."

 
            Ranma looked to Nami "Kimiko must be here. Keiko how is the suimono?"

 
            "It's very lovely today, the chef got some shrimp in he's most pleased with. We also have some other soups you might like, perhaps something savory?"

 
            The redhead nodded. "I'll keep that in mind, this is, apparently, a special event I'm thinking I'll sample some chinmi tonight, maybe the Matsumaezuke and Ankimo."

 
            "I'll talk with the chef," Keiko smoothly assured with a slightly worried smile.

 
            "Might as well indulge yourself?" Nami asked.

 
            Ranma grinned. "Kimiko knew what she was getting into when she came up with this scheme."

 
            Putting the metal platter under one arm, Keiko nodded. "The young woman with the lovely black hair?"

 
            Ranma and Nami nodded.

 
            "Yes, she arrived with another young lady with blonde hair done in twin ponytails."

 
            "Usagi? Here?" Ranma asked. She felt she should be pleasantly surprised but she found herself frowning.

 
            "Oh don't worry Miss Ranma; your hair is far more lovely than hers," Keiko quietly assured. "And while she's got a lovely cocktail dress on, both of you carry yours with far more grace."

 
            Ranma blushed.

 
            Absorbing the compliments, Nami held her chin. "Anyone else with them?"

 
            "No, but the blonde was on her phone. She seemed a bit impatient."

 
            "Ah."

 
            Ranma looked between her friend and the hostess. "What're you thinking Nami-chan?"

 
            "I think we've got more than a girls' night out." Nami looked Keiko in the eye. "How many seats were reserved for us tonight?"

 
            "Two tables. One for two one for six," the hostess replied.

 
            "Two?" Ranma tugged at one of her lop-ears. "That doesn't make sense."

 
            "Drat." The brunette nodded with resignation.

 
            "Nami?" Ranma asked her voice a bit more insistent.

 
            "I don't think Usagi's waiting for just her fiance to get here. I think this is a setup."

 
            "No way," Ranma shook her head. "Okay I can see the table for two for you and Kazuo, but if we were gonna set you up on a date I'd have known about it."

 
            Nami gave a pitying smile. "Uh, Ranma... I'm not the only one dressed up am I?" she asked as she ran a hand down Ranma's coat sleeve.

 
            "I'm sorry but I have pressing business," Keiko apologized. "But I will be right back," the hostess assured.

 
            "But the table for two..."

 
            "Hotaru and Kimiko maybe? The two people who don't have dates for tonight. The two people I'm betting aren't all fancily dressed."

 
            Ranma shook her head. "You're just guessing."

 
            "I am, but with all the matchmaking talk we've been doing it's pretty suspicious for the three of us to be dressed to the nines isn't it?"

 
            "But Kimiko's having her hair done too!"

 
            "I'm sure she is, but I'll bet you it won't be as fancy as our hairdos."

 
            Ranma frowned but she then shook her head, unconvinced.

 
            "Remember how Kimiko was dressed?"

 
            "White blouse, purple trim. Purple skirt, blue diamond pattern accent," the redhead automatically replied.

 
            Nami then pointing to Ranma, herself, and then towards the front of the restaurant where Usagi was. "Gown, evening dress, cocktail dress. Not quite the same caliber as a skirt and blouse?"

 
            The redhead stared. "Those.... little... sneaks. I should have known Hotaru'd be in on this."

 
            "Right." Nami agreed. "Seems like quite the conspiracy. At least your boss isn't involved," she added with a laugh.

 
            Ranma looked to the water as she thought. "No... I don't think Puu would set me up on a date. Not like this...." Her voice turned wistful and a bit sad.

 
            "Haven't you had surprise dinners here before?" Nami asked.

 
            Ranma blushed. "Fine. It was actually exactly like this.... but that was different."

 
            "Of course, she's your boss," Nami said with a tiny pause before the last word.

 
            The redhead gave a hesitant, unsure nod.

 
            "The important thing is that, clearly, Kimiko's over her Ex and is willing to start dating again."

 
            "Damn straight!" Ranma gave a rueful laugh. "I should have expected this. What with all the talk we had about setting you up."

 
            "Yes you should." Nami snickered. "My guess this is some sort of double date. Well, blind date for you."

 
            "Blind date?" Ranma felt her legs tense and she rose up before Nami put her hand on her arm.

 
            "Well, did you tell Usagi or Kimiko about anyone you were interested in? Hotaru?" Nami added as she picked up the cup and sniffed the tea.

 
            Ranma shook her head. There was someone she was interested in but...

 
            "Blind date then."

 
            The redhead bit a glossy lip. She looked down the side of the courtyard. To the side door she and Hotaru had entered through. Her eyes darted back to the pond and across it the restaurant itself. Brushing back one of the heavy spiraled curls her hair had become, she unsnapped her shiny green purse and slowly reached inside.

 
            "Ranma?"

 
            The redhead looked apologetic "I've gotta call. Call it off... This isn't..."

 
            Seeing a flash of black and blue anodized titanium, Nami saw her friend begin to withdraw a rounded phone. Her arm shot out and clamped down on Ranma's wrist, causing her gold bracelets to jangle about.

 
            For a second the redhead's arm went taut and softness gave way to hard muscle as the larger redhead simply drew the brunette's arm along. Blushing, Ranma relaxed her arm and let her phone drop back into her purse.

 
            The redhead turned away from Nami and shifted her legs as she straightened the way her heels rested on the ground. Her right arm still held by Nami, she picked up the tea cup left handed and smoothly took a sip. "It's good, but it always is here. You should have a good time."

 
            Swallowing, Nami let go. "Ranma... please."

 
            The redhead shifted to holding the cup two handed.

 
            "I know you're angry about being tricked. I am too but..."

 
            "But you know your date, it should be easier for you."

 
            "Really now?" Lowering her gaze, Nami looked over her glasses. "Easier? For a first date? In a place like this? Dressed up like this?"

 
            "What about the festival?"

 
            "That doesn't count! That wasn't a real date. This definitely is. It's a lot of pressure. At least your date isn't someone you... you really like." Nami reached out towards the redhead but pulled back.

 
            "I..." Ranma clenched her hands and slowly lowered the cup when she started to hear the porcelain creak. "I... just don't know."

 
            "Is there someone you like? Someone you wish you'd be going on a date with instead?"

 
            Ranma looked down.

 
            Nami took her hand. "I understand. You think you'd be betraying him to go on a different date?
 
            The redhead gave a wan smile. "Not exactly."

 
            "Still... if you're not comfortable. I'd be scared too."

 
            "I'm not scared," the redhead's tone was flat.

 
            Averting her gaze Nami looked away. "Well, I am."

 
            Ranma blinked.

 
            "Please," Nami gently placed her hand on Ranma's wrist.

 
            This time the redhead did not tense up.

 
            "If I'm right you'll be the only one I know at the table."

 
            Ranma took Nami's hand and gave a squeeze.

 
            "I might be wrong. Hell, I'm not sure how they would have roped Kazuo into this. He's gotta be feeling the pressure too..."

 
            "Unless he wasn't told where he was going and how you were dressing," Ranma grumbled her expression souring into a spoiled petulant pout..

 
            "Yeah, I can see them tricking him." Nami held her tongue and did not voice her guess that Ranma's own date had been similarly manipulated.

 
            The redhead looked back to the tables and the restaurant. Her stomach gurgled. She had a light breakfast and the salon had interrupted her lunch but... "Damn plots. I thought... I can see Usagi but she's... " She closed her eyes. "And Hotaru too."
 
            "They care about you." Still holding the nanny's hand, Nami squeezed back. "And don't get so high and mighty. You've been plotting to set me up."

 
            "But you have someone you want to go out with. I don't want to date anyone."

 
            "You don't?" Nami asked.

 
            Ranma blushed. "Well..."

 
            "Oh! I'm sorry," Nami apologized. "We didn't know! We thought..."

 
            "No, it's not like that, Ranma assured, looking a bit sad. "You didn't know."

 
            "But I still plotted. We've all plotted. Yeah trying to break Kimiko up with Kenusuke was different but..."

 
            "He was a pervert." The redhead cracked a smile. "At least that worked out for her."

 
            "And if your date's a pervert I promise. I'll walk out with you. We can leave together."

 
            "What about Kazuo?"

 
            Nami shrugged. "He'll understand."
 
            Ranma looked out at the flashing koi.

 
            "And if he doesn't well... that's a big mark against him." Nami then took Ranma's hand with both of hers.

 
            "We can use a code phrase. Mention that you left your..." the brunette looked the nanny up and down. "Yes! If things go bad, you mention that you left your old pair of glasses at my house and that I'll need to bring them in at school."

 
            Curious Ranma looked up. "And then?"

 
            "And then you excuse yourself to the bathroom. I follow. I call Hotaru and tell her to meet us at the front door And-" Nami smirked. "You call Usagi and Kimiko and yell at them for their poor taste."

 
            "You'll leave with me? For me?"

 
            Patting Ranma's soft and fluffy coat, Nami nodded.

 
            Smiling, Ranma drew her unto a hug and embraced her. "But what if I don't want to use a code phrase?"

 
            Hugging back, Nami giggled. "Ran-chan honey you can throw your wine in his face for all I care," she assured after breaking the embrace.

 
            Ranma blinked as she mulled over Nami's choice in pronouns.

 
            "Besides, who knows. Maybe Usagi found someone you'll like," Nami offered.

 
            Absently fluffing one of her curls, the redhead scanned the restaurant again. Her gaze glossed over the side door and instead she focused on the tables and the restaurant itself. "Okay," she bowed her head. "For you, Nami."

 
            "Oh Ran-chan honey, you're the best!" Leaning in so that she brushed aside some of Ranma's curls, Nami kissed the redhead on both cheeks.

 
            The nanny blushed.

 
            Nami took both of Ranma's hands in hers. "Don't you worry. No matter what happens tonight we're going to get Kimiko back. Blind date, hair, gown, the works."

 
            Ranma grinned. "I like it."

 
            "Good!" Nami tried her tea.

 
            "It's good isn't it?"

 
            Nami put the cup down and shook her head. "We're at the Green Mountain. Of course it's good."

 
            Ranma blushed.

 
            Nami looked out across the courtyard. "You nervous?"

 
            "Well..." The redhead shrugged.

 
            "So... not your first date?"

 
            "Not by a long shot." The nanny gave a sad laugh.

 
            Nami winced. "Sorry."

 
            "Don't worry, this is still less trickery than normal." Ranma patted her on the shoulder. "And so far it's going better than those, too."

 
            "It's still early." Nami stood up and bowed to Keiko as she approached.

 
            "Miss Ranma, Miss Nami, the rest of your party has arrived." Keiko smiled and led the way with a grand sweep of her arm.

 
            Standing, the redhead and the brunette followed the hostess down the courtyard corridor took a corner around the koi pond and walked across the polished wood floor of the restaurant. A heavenly blend of scents passed before Ranma's nose. The redhead could not help but glance at the artistic creations adorning the tables.

 
            A bewildering array of dishes and meals passed to either side of the curvy bunny and her stomach grumbled. Catching a small plate of ankimo she smiled at the savory, delicately prepared morsel of monkfish liver. A small bowl of matsumaezuke tantalized her. The aroma of ginger sake, soy sauce and mirin marinate of the squid dish helped dampen her nervousness. If she had to be surprised like this, she was going to enjoy herself.

 
            The tables drew to the sides as they passed through a set of painted screens. The trio stood at the top of a short flight of stairs. The dark lacquered walls and plush chairs of restaurant's hushed entranceway spilled out before them. "Here you are," Keiko said as she stepped off to the side.

 
            Both the brunette and the redhead stopped. Two groups stood in the entrance. They had already had their footwear taken care of by the staff that manned the alcove off to one side. To the left were Kimiko, Hotaru and Usagi, while to the right stood Mamoru, Kazuo, and, Ranma supposed, her date.
 
            Shrieking a happy greeting, Usagi merrily waved at the pair. At her side Mamoru wore a Prince Albert Frock with a double row of buttons down the font. The velvet collar and coordinating velvet-covered buttons gave a degree of luxuriousness that was matched by his rich blue tie, which complimented Usagi's dress. And the sober silver silk of his vest, broadness of the suit shoulders, and stiff pleats of his trousers gave a solid and regal bearing.

 
            "Oh my." Nami said, her voice catching when she caught sight of her presumed date.

 
            Wearing a black overcoat, dark charcoal suit, grey vest, and a deep purple tie, Kazuo stood, nervously. He had a rakish mop of black hair and deep blue eyes. Spotting Nami he smiled and his anxiety seemed to stop.

 
            Ranma noted the black great coat complete with sweeping mantel. It went down to Kazuo's knees and drew her eye to his glossed loafers. It all combined with the wool charcoal suit coat, and grey brocade patterned vest, and rich purple tie to give the young poet a greater presence. Especially when he straightened his shoulders and nodded to Nami.

 
            However, the redhead's attention shifted to the final party member: a short haired lithe-figured blonde wearing an elegant black coat over a crimson waistcoat and crimson-trimmed, green silk cravat.

 
            "Haruka?" Ranma blinked in confusion Glancing between the blonde and Mamoru she shook her head: too short. Haruka was almost Mamoru's height. Her date was a fair bit shorter than that. She found herself descending the stairs.

 
            Eyeing the suit, Ranma gave an appreciative nod. The style was older, deliberately so, but it was consistent and the blonde had the figure to pull it off. Both the long pinstripe pants and coat were obviously tailored, sleek, and fitted. The effort yielded clothes that were far less bulky than a normal suit coat and pants

 
            The blonde looked positively demure compared to the double-breasted Prince Albert frock Mamoru wore and the Coburn great coat Kazuo had on. Dredging up some of Setsuna's reference sheets Ranma guessed that it was a Swallowtail or Cutaway coat. It had just one button in front that helped draw the eye towards the center. Even the coat lapels were small and sleek.

 
            The deep red of the waistcoat with its pewter buttons gave a bold contrast to the black wool of the coat and the glossy black silk of the cravat. The blouse, or shirt, Ranma corrected had an old fashioned, very small collar. She smiled wondering if demure was the right word. While all three wore older suit styles each was going for a different angle on masculinity.

 
            The brunette caught up to her. "Oh, he's pretty," Nami whispered into Ranma's ear.

 
            Despite herself, Ranma nodded. As she closed in she could spot other differences. For one thing this blonde had a rounder and less harsh face than Haruka, especially around the chin and nose. Stopping just above the last step she leaned in whispered back: "Yes, but I'm not so sure on the 'he' part."

 
            Eyeing the blonde, Nami had to nod.

 
            Ranma found herself smiling. At least she had an interesting little mystery to solve. She had been fooled before. By Haruka herself, and Ukyou of course. And Konastu and Tsubasa were representatives that it could go the other way.

 
            "You ready?" Nami asked catching Ranma's eye.

 
            The nanny nodded.

 
            "Great," the brunette exhaled. Before marching down the stairs and walking right towards Usagi and Kimiko. "Kimi-chan! Usagi-chan! How wonderful to see you!" she beamed as Ranma almost had to hop to keep up with her.

 
            "Hi." Kimiko took a step back.

 
            Nami made a point to slowly turn and look at Kazuo. "Kaz-kun what a surprise to see you here." Her smile grew larger. "What a wonderful coincidence. Are you here to celebrate the end of term as well?"

 
            For a moment Kazuo's own smile slipped as he glared at Kimiko. "Yeah... it is the winter holiday."

 
            "Of course it is," Nami took his arm and pulled him forward and gave his arm a reassuring pat. "Could you please introduce your friend?" the brunette asked before looking back to make sure the redhead was still at her heel. "I'm sure my friend Ranma would love to meet him."
 
            "Well... he's more uh... Mamoru's friend."

 
            Coughing, Mamoru nodded, and motioned for the red-vested blonde to step forward. "Ittou Asanuma, Miss Ranma of the Meiou Household. Ranma.... Ittou Asanuma is a dear friend of mine."

 
            Ittou bowed and then held out his arm offering to take the redhead's. "Pleasure to make your acquaintance." Asanuma assured in a smooth almost musical voice.

 
            Still confounded by the androgyny, Ranma let her hand be taken and was surprised by the blonde's gentle but strong grip.

 
            Drawing her hand up, Ittou kissed the back of Ranma's hand. For her part the redhead was staring. This close she could see that her earlier confusion with Haruka was rather silly. For one Ittou had a prettier face with longer eyelashes and eyes that were a deeper blue.

 
            Usagi clapped her hands and gave a little hop. "Yay! This should be fun!"

 
            Blushing, Ranma pulled her hand back and glared at the Princess.

 
            "You're just mad you weren't in on this scheme." Kimiko stuck out her tongue.

 
            Nami took Kazou's arm and the two of them went to the other side of the entranceway and were quietly talking. Hotaru for her part giggled and took out a phone and started taking pictures.

 
            Ranma noted Ittou surreptitiously tugging at his collar and chuckled. "Sorry about all this."

 

***************

 

 
            Looking around the bedroom, Akane frowned. It was not her room. It was not her house. She lowered her suitcase. It hit the floor with a hollow klunk, wobbled, and started to topple. She caught it just as it hit the open-top box next to the case. The cardboard rattled and one of Kasumi's notebooks slipped out.

 
            It flipped open revealing a page full of dense neat writing opposite a sketch. Akane picked up the book and studied the sparse drawing. Business-like, it lacked artistry and was more of a schematic, down to having notations in the margin for cutting and assembly.

 
            She closed the book and placed it back atop a handful of similar spiral notebooks. Under them was a clear plastic container full of spools and a selection of scissors, sheathed razor knives, pins, packets and other little tools.

 
            "Are you well?" a soft voice asked.

 
            Turning Akane, nodded to her sister. She stepped aside and Kasumi entered the room. The older girl placed a suitcase next to Akane's. It was more evenly loaded and did not wobble.

 
            In her other hand, Kasumi held a glossy grey sewing machine. The sides were scratched and the top handle had been replaced. The eldest Tendo daughter walked to the desk that faced the window. She looked out at the yard and the dark street beyond it.

 
            A distant frown similar to the one Akane bore crossed Kasumi's face. She gently placed the machine on the desk and patted it.

 
            Akane stepped up to the window. The machine had been a birthday gift from Kasumi's club. It had been used, but it had given Kasumi several years of good service. The label was gibberish to Akane - too many Fs - but it looked German, and the machine obviously was built to last. Kasumi had loved it.

 
            "There should be good light here.... when the sun's up I mean," Kasumi added with a blush.

 
            "Yeah... it's not a bad place." Akane ran a finger over the desk. It was easier to think of this as an empty room, a guest room. Dwelling on who had originally used this room was... Akane shook her head.

 
            "Auntie Saotome was very generous in inviting us." Kasumi slipped an arm around Akane's shoulder.

 
            "I feel like we've run away, that we're hiding out," Akane leaned on her sister.

 
            "Oh, Akane, of course we're not hiding out," Kasumi smiled.

 
            Akane blinked.

 
            "This is Auntie Saotome's house. This is one of the first places someone would come looking for us."

 
            Akane coughed. "That's not very reassuring. At least we're not running away."

 
            Kasumi's gentle smile returned. "Oh, we are certainly doing that. Which is fitting as we're in Ranma-chan's old room."

 
            Akane laughed. "Saotome Secret Technique."

 
            Kasumi nodded. She ran a finger over the edge of the desk then turned and looked around the bare room. "Such a shame that this room never got the chance. How many years did Nodoka have Ranma? Four?"

 
            "Five," Akane absently said.

 
            Kasumi looked at the few cases and boxes in the room. They were the bulk of their possessions. Everything that had been left behind... could be abandoned.

 
            "It's just sad," Akane slumped down on a low bed. The one on her side of the room. "If Ranma could have gone here..." Akane pulled her vibrating phone out of her pants pocket. She tossed it on the bed with a frown. She could see everything that Nodoka would have done... if she had been able to raise her child. Akane even knew what school Nodoka would have sent Ranma to... if Ranma had been born a girl that is.
 
            "She would have been found out. If it's obvious where we are," Kasumi pointedly looked at Akane's phone. "It'd be even moreso if Ranma were here."

 
            "She?"

 
            Kasumi's warm smile returned. "Pardon me. I should never assume that Ranma's made some... life changes. That couldn't possibly be why you're ignoring her phone calls."

 
            "That last call was from Nabiki," Akane lamely countered.

 
            The curls of Kasumi's smile sharpened, giving her a ghost of smirking triumph. "Do tell?"

 
            Akane nodded.

 
            "You can't just ignore her," Kasumi gently chided.

 
            "Why not? We moved out. Not that Nabiki couldn't figure out where we went."

 
            "I meant Ranma."

 
            Akane looked away. After a moment she sighed. "I'm starting to understand what she went through. Well, I don't have some kid to take care of."

 
            Kasumi blinked. Pausing to compose herself, she then pushed her sewing machine further from the edge of the desk. The brunette looked back up. "I'm sorry, but Ranma's been gone... well..."

 
            "Longer than she's been in Nerima," Akane admitted.

 
            Kasumi silently noted the pronoun. "Then it has been long enough for her to... Oh my is that why she ran away? Or did it happen she left? She could have a young toddler by now. Maybe even another child."

 
            As Kasumi's musings continued Akane's face reddened. "No! Nothing like that!" she eventually gasped out.

 
            A little frown floated over Kasumi's face. "Then what?"

 
            "Well -uh- she's a nanny," Akane admitted in a quiet voice.

 
            "Isn't that lovely," Kasumi smiled. "Ranma is a very spirited young woman, and she always cared for children. Remember that ghost girl and that poor sick boy she helped."

 
            "She does seem to really love the job," Akane's voice was still low, hardly above a whisper.

 
            "How many? How old are the kids?'

 
            "Well there's one but..." Akane glanced at the phone. "I don't know how old she is."

 
            "You never saw her?"

 
            Akane slumped down on the bed; the phone was to her left. "Ranma was afraid of me learning too much."

 
            Kasumi's face paled. "You think Mr. Huang's men would..."

 
            Akane shook her head. "No! Well, I guess that could happen. But the worry was Shampoo or Cologne. Some sort of Amazon mind magic."

 
            Kasumi sat down to the right of Akane. "That's not much better."

 
            "I guess I shouldn't be telling you all this," Akane said.

 
            Kasumi put her arm around Akane's waist. "It's okay." Her voice lowered. "Does Auntie Nodoka know?"

 
            "Auntie Nodoka knows about 'Ranko' being a nanny."

 
            "And that Ranko had to flee from a very bad situation?" Kasumi guessed.

 
            "She did invite us here."

 
            Kasumi nodded. "She knows Mr. Saotome is culpable," she stated; it was not a question.

 
            Akane shrugged. "It's hard to tell with her. With us gone... who's left at the Tendo dojo?"

 
            Kasumi frowned. "She's giving us sanctuary, letting her husband twist in the wind?"

 
            "Maybe she thinks as a man he can handle himself. I'm not sure what-" The phone rang, and Akane stopped. She picked it up.

 
            "That's not Nabiki," Kasumi noted leaning in to catch a glimpse of the name on the screen. "Usagi? New friend."

 
            "Uh, that's the alias I hid Ranma's number under..." Akane blushed. "Just in case Nabiki took my phone."

 
            "She might wonder about this new friend. Think she's a way to Ranma."

 
            Laughing, Akane recalled Nabiki's reaction to seeing a photo of herself and "Usagi". It was when Ranma's friends had done up their hair, bunny style for Ranma, kitty for Akane. She wiped at the corner of her eyes. "Oh, I'm not too worried about that."

 
            "Oh?" Kasumi made a thoughtful noise. "Are you going to answer her?"

 
            Akane let the phone drop back onto the bed. "Later."

 
            "I see." Kasumi put a finger to her lip.

 
            "We're talking right now!" Akane defended. "And besides I'm sure it's just Ranma complaining about her friends' guy troubles, or gushing over some new clo-" she caught herself. "Some new restaurant."

 
            Kasumi nodded. "Right, so when you complained about me using female pronouns for Ranma, this was while you yourself had picked a female alias for her."

 
            "Well..."
 
            "Not to mention that Ranma's apparently got some girl friends who talk to her about boy trouble."

 
            "At least, Ranma doesn't like it either," Akane sighed. "Nami and Kimiko are nice, but they're -well- normal girls."

 
            "Nothing wrong with having normal friends."

 
            Akane blinked. It sounded like Kasumi was jealous.

 
            "What are you going to tell Yuka and
Sayuri?" Kasumi asked.

 
            "That I'm finishing out this year in a different school."

 
            Kasumi turned to her sister. "And?"

 
            "They're not dumb. They can't have ignored the past year and a half."

 
            "It's been longer than that," Kasumi murmured.

 
            Once again Akane paused. "Er... yeah. Heck, Nabiki's been spying on them too."

 
            "It's good that Auntie was able to help you transfer. She certainly made it easy," Again a whiff of jealousy entered Kasumi's voice.

 
            "I'm not sure why she insisted on some fancy girls' school."

 
            "Because she wanted to help you. And if I remember it's where she went," Kasumi reminded.

 
            "Yeah, Auntie really did seem... at home there."

 
            "Oh?"

 
            "Our visit yesterday? Surreal..."

 
            'It couldn't have gone that bad. You got accepted, and quick too." Kasumi gave an overly innocent grin."

 
            "Well, there's Auntie in that charcoal and pinstripe suit. And she goes straight to the vice principal of Thomas Aquinas Private Girls School, some blonde woman." Akane blushed. "I should really have remembered her name. Anyway, she's wearing a suit that, other than being navy blue, is exactly identical to Auntie's.

 
            "And they start going on like they're old friends."

 
            "They probably are," Kasumi interjected.

 
            "And meanwhile I'm wearing some silly skirt and blouse."

 
            "The maroon skirt with the pleats? And the double breasted cream top? That looked very cute on you."
 
            "Well, get used to it. Because that getup was suspiciously close to the school uniform."

 
            "Auntie Saotome wasn't being subtle was she?"

 
            Akane snorted. "Not in the least. Oh we went on a tour. But the blonde vice-principal had less interest in showing me the facilities and more in showing Auntie all the galleries murals and paintings the school had."

 
            "It sounds like a lovely school."
 
            "Sure," Akane shrugged. "Just doesn't feel like I deserve some fancy private escalator school. Not that I want the pain of an entrance exam."

 
            "It is very nice." Kasumi nodded. TA girls offered classes from middle school to college. As long as Akane could manage her course-load she would automatically be enrolled into university. That she was allowed to transfer for the very last high school term was unusual... to say the least.

 
            "The worst part was when the blonde took us to a fountain in this little courtyard. On one end was a gleaming statue of some monk reading a book.

 
            "And all of a sudden the vice principal thanked Auntie for her generosity in contributing to the restoration fund and then, almost as an afterthought, congratulated me."

 
            Kasumi gave a knowing nod.

 
            Akane flexed her fingers. "She assured me that the entry tests and my academic records would be 'fully weighted' with the extra-circular skills that I brought to their academy. Though I would have to meet the 'high standards of conduct' expected of every other TA Girls Academy student ."

 
            "You don't like Auntie's help?" Kasumi quietly asked.

 
            "I'm not stupid. If anything the vice principal was making sure I knew what was going on."

 
            "The nepotism?"

 
            "Well... it's not just that is it?"

 
            Kasumi took Akane's hand. "Auntie Saotome's doing her best to help us, to help you. Now, you don't have to go to this girl's school. Juuban High's also in this area right?"

 
            Akane shook her head.

 
            "It's not?"

 
            "Oh it is, but I can't go there."

 
            "Why?" Kasumi then held up her other hand. "Ah, that's where Ranma's going, isn't it?"

 
            "I don't want to lead Nabiki right towards Ranma's locker now do I?"

 
            Kasumi laughed, and squeezed Akane's hand. "Well, I guess you'll just have to make the most of this. Though it's a shame. I'm sure Ranma would have loved you going to school with her."

 
            Akane squeezed back. "Maybe when this is all sorted out."

 
            Kasumi shook her head. "Not after all Auntie's done to get you into this Academy."

 
            Akane sighed. "Yeah, Auntie seemed pretty insistent that I attend TA, she said it would be better for my future."

 
            "Juuban doesn't offer college courses does it?"

 
            "Nope," Akane shook her head. "Meaning I'd have to face entrance exams for university. That's a big plus for TA."

 
            Kasumi grinned. "Maybe it's for the best. Going to school with Ranma could be distracting. After all it sounds like Ranma's quite the little fashion bug," Kasumi noted as she glanced towards her box of sketches.

 
            "Nothing little about her," Akane grumbled.

 
            "Little?" Kasumi asked. She then made a thoughtful noise.

 
            Akane glanced at her phone. "I guess I'll have to buy some uniforms."

 
            Kasumi frowned. "You will be real busy once school's started."

 
            Akane caught Kasumi's hesitant expression. "I can still help you. I won't be that busy."

 
            "I would like that." Kasumi's smile was charitable. "But I'll be busy too."

 
            Akane nodded. "The interview Auntie Saotome's lined up for you?"

 
            "I'm sure it'll be as challenging as the interview you faced," Kasumi noted as she glanced at her notebooks.

 
            "It's not like that-"

 
            Kasumi held up a hand. "I'm not rejecting Auntie Saotome's help."

 
            "It'll be good experience," Akane ventured.

 
            "You would know," Kasumi teased. "You know my new boss better than I do."

 
            "I've only met her a couple times!" Akane cried. "Wait... new boss?"

 
            Kasumi laughed. "I suppose Auntie's mentor could decline to take me in, but would she be so willing to disappoint her protege?"

 
           

***************

 

 
            After placing her glasses on the counter next to the sink, Ranma opened her shiny green clutch purse. Removing an eyelash brush from its tube, she placed it next to her glasses. Next came a glossy black rectangular eye shadow compact full of little pastel squares. Finally she took out lavender colored circular, foundation compact. Nodding at the cosmetics, the nanny went to work.

 
            At the next sink over Nami finished with her lipstick. The tube dropped in the purse. She then pressed her lips and primped in front of the mirror. Eying the ribbons that adorned her evening dress and braided hair.

 
            The redhead had finished touching up her soft rounded cheeks. She leaned forward until the ruffles at the front of her padded bodice brushed against the mirror and began to critical examining her eyes.

 
            Glossy nails went up as Nami gingerly checked her brunette tresses. She put special focus on the braids above her left ear which, with the help of crystal accents, simulated a blooming rose.

 
            "I'm actually kinda jealous, you know." Ranma put the rest of her makeup away and fished out her lipstick.

 
            Smiling, Nami blushed. Both at the compliment and that Ranma had chose to emulate her makeup habits. Kimiko, for her part, started with lipstick and ended with eye makeup, and Akane hardly wore any.

 
            "Oh?"

 
            Ranma nodded as she daubed a tiny bit on her lips. They hardly needed it, but she felt... comfortable with the habit. She capped her lipstick and dropped it into her purse. The clasp was snapped shut and she swung the clutch purse over a shoulder.

 
            "What about your hair? It's adorable!" Nami said as she helped Ranma get the purse strap around her dark ruby spiraled curls. Withdrawing her arm, the brunette flexed her fingers, she must have gotten a static shock from the heavier girl's gown.

 
            "It is," Ranma blushed idly petting one of her pastel bunny-ears. "But your hair's something else, you know?" she asked, slipping on her glasses.

 
            Nami nervously blushed.

 
            Ranma took her friend's hand. She made sure to give a gentle squeeze. "It works really well. You're a serious, beautiful, dare I say sensual, lady going on a fancy date with her..."

 
            "Stop!" Nami's blush and smile grew. Her friend's warmth was almost infectious.

 
            "It's true. Especially with that dress you got, where did you get it? Asymmetric designs are challenging to pull off."

 
            "Kikuko suggested it." Nami said as she clasped her hands in front of her. "She had the idea for a hairstyle that needed a complementary dress."

 
            "She does do good work," Ranma said, taking a moment to admire her hair. "Though Kimiko came up with this."

 
            "And the your dress?"
 
            "Meiou-San made it for me." Mirroring her friend, Ranma clasped her hands before her. However, given the redhead's curvaceous figure and the gown's blue bodice the effect was a bit less demure.

 
            Seeing the big nanny start to frown, Nami leaned over and wrapped an arm around her. "You look great! The gown's totally you, and your hair's perfect."

 
            "It is me," the redhead thoughtfully said.

 
            "Is this about being jealous of my hair?"

 
            Ranma's smooth cheeks reddened. "A bit."

 
            "Oh? I thought you didn't want to go on a date?"

 
            "Ittou's nice, very bishonen, very gentle but..." Ranma looked between herself and the slimmer girl. If she were honest it was not Ittou who she was thinking of when she saw Nami and Kazou or even Usagi and Mamoru.

 
            Though she had to admit, looking like a prettier Haruka was novel in and of itself. Giving a lazy smile, the nanny let her mind drift. Haruka was... nice. At that thought, her body began to feel a bit flush and the sides of her neck started to pinken.

 
            "Feeling better?" Nami knowingly asked.

 
            Nodding, Ranma hugged her arms to herself. Dreamily, she pursed her lips and rubbed her upper shoulders. Her imagination shifted from a blonde woman to someone with darker hair.

 
            "You okay?"

 
            Still in the midst of her fantasy. the nanny smiled happily.

 
            There was a sharp slap, as Nami paddled the back of her hand against the padded backside of Ranma's gown.

 
           Gasping, the redhead shook her head. "Oh sorry! Lost my head." She gave a little giggle and winked at her reflection. "I'm just thinking of the soup. Think it'll be ready?'

 
            Giggling back, Nami gave her friend another warming hug. Hotaru was right, her friend was very cuddly. "Oh, I was worried you were still angry at them being out of those dishes you wanted.
 
            "Disappointed," Ranma sighed. "I can understand the Matsumaezuke, that dish has to marinate for a week after being prepared."
           

 
            Nami shook her head. "If only this hadn't been a surprise party..."

 
            "I could have ordered ahead of time?" Ranam chuckled. "The chef makes an extra order or two but..."

 
            The brunette patted her friend's hand. "Still they'll be able to make most everything you wanted."

 
            "It's the Ankimo that gets me? What kind of place runs out of monkfish liver?"

 
            Nami blinked and tilted her head.
 
            "Okay, I know the chef didn't like the monkfish selection at the market today but still..." The redhead sighed and looked at her coifed reflection and shimmery gown. "I suppose that's a silly complaint."

 
            Nami snickered.

 
            "Especially since that soup should be really good tonight!"
 
            The brunette's laughter grew. "You and your Suimono. Come on let's go back out. Maybe we'll find out where Usagi wandered off to."

 
            Giggling back, Nami gave her friend another hug. "I think she's with Kimiko."

 
            "Oh?" Ranma asked as they stepped out of the bathroom. "So, she's with Hotaru then?" She hesitated. "Plotting then?"

 
            As they walked down the wood-paneled hallway Nami smiled. The evening still had something of the fantastical about it "I wouldn't say plotting, exactly."

 
            "Plotting?" Ranma stopped and tapped the jeweled flower pinned to the side of the brunette's asymmetrical updo. "I didn't realize this was a natural look for you."

 
            "It certainly is for you." Nami stuck out her tongue and ran a hand along one of Ranma's "ears".

 
            Blushing, the redhead pulled up the edges of her skirts in a little curtsy.

 
            "Come on, let's get back out," Nami said, taking Ranma's hand.

 
            The curvy redhead let herself be pulled and the pair crossed the hushed dining room. Soft beams of indirect light played off them as they wove between tables and towards a larger off to one side with a view of the restaurant's courtyard garden.

 
            As they neared their seats, Ranma spotted Kimiko and Hotaru sitting at a little table against a nearby wall. The young girl watched her nanny pass with a mischievous grin. She opened her purse and took out her camera. Soon, another picture of the begowned nanny entered the leather-bound album.

 
            Forcing a smile, Ranma strode up to the table. She smirked as Nami's date jumped to his feet, followed by the prettyboy blond. With deep blue eyes, a brooding purple tie, and a wild mop of black hair Kazuo looked the part of a tortured, but pretty, artist. As long as one ignored his somewhat nervous smile.

 
            Smoothing his grey vest he pulled out Nami's chair and held out a hand. Grinning, the brunette minced over and took it.

 
            Next too that, the blond in thin pinstripe pants and sleek red waistcoat gave a bemused grin, stepped towards the redhead in the green gown, and lazily offered his arm

 
            Ranma paused and for a second saw Haruka's cocky grin on the bishonen figure. Shaking her head, she lifted her arm and let Ittou wrap his around hers. The two then approached the table much to Usagi's clapping delight and Mamoru's vague embarrassment.

 
            Usagi wore a sleek blue cocktail dress with a slit up the left side of her knee length skit. At her left, Mamoru wore a matching blue tie under a sober silver vest. Like the other men he had shed his jacket and coat and the tall man's shoulders were not quite as imposingly wide.

 
             Blinking, Ranma looked down and noticed that the blond had neither grabbed her wrist or taken her hand.

 
            Ittou leaned in, his face brushing against her hair. "I didn't want to be too forward."

 
            "Smart man," Ranma muttered as they watched Kazou seat Nami and give her a little kiss before taking his own seat. "But why this then?" she whispered back.

 
            Flashing a smile, Ittou pulled back Ranma's padded seat. The redhead slowly descended as her skirts fell around the chair.

 
            Ittou leaned down over her poofy shoulder. "We're all playing dressup for our scheming friends, might as well give them something for it."

 
            Chuckling, Ranma turned. At this distance the resemblance fell apart, this boy was much prettier than Haruka. Smirking, she leaned forward and slowly, gingerly brushed her lips against his cheek.

 
            Withdrawing, she turned, faced the table, and slowly, demurely, folded in her arms. To keep her bracelets from jangling, her limbs moved in a pair of looping arcs that avoided straight translation and came to a bobbing deceleration as she placed her hands in her lap.

 
            Blinking, Ittou hardly missed a beat, pushed her chair in, and sat down, his own cheeks only slightly flustered.

 
            "Yay! And I was worried you wouldn't be having fun," Usagi cheered.

 
            "I can hardly turn down a good meal," Ranma grandly said as she inhaled the scents wafting from the soup bowls before them.
She picked up a spoon and began to savor the delicate and subtle herbal flavors of the clear soup.

 
            "Me too!" Usagi cried as she speared a slab of sashimi from a platter that had been placed in near the center of the circular table.

 
            Kazou gave a glassy smile at her antics ant turned to Nami. The brunette for her part spared a glance at the redhead to her right, but the nanny had closed her eyes and was happily murmuring as she enjoyed her soup. Without having to look she spooned in the shrimp, decoratively trimmed carrot, sliced snow peapod and fragrant broth.

 
            Giving a soft sigh, Ranma opened her eyes. She glanced around the table. Nearly everyone else was still enjoying the soup. She looked down at her empty little bowl, and her ears nearly drooped.

 
            The one exception sat to her right and was enjoying some thinly sliced mackerel sashimi.

  
            "You really should try the suimono," Ranma recommended, covetously eying her date's untouched bowl.

 
            Ittou coughed. "I'm not actually a fan of
yuzu rind. Too... savory."

 
            Ranma frowned. "But they got a crate of the fruits, fresh. And then there's the shrimp and the mistuba leaf and mushrooms. You think shiitake like this just grow on trees! And when was the last time you saw matsutake this delicate!"

 
            "I'm sure they were just harvested from the forest this morning," Ittou assured, a bit taken back by the curvy girl's outburst

 
            "Knowing this place..." Kazou muttered looking around the opulent dining room.

 
            "It's okay," Nami assured patting his arm.

 
            Eyes wide, Ranma's lip quivered and her right arm had started to creep forward.

 
            Ittou's eyes darted to the side and spotted the redhead's slow almost drifting movements. He then cupped his little lacquer bowl. "You can have mine if you-"

 
            "Thanks!" Ranma cried as she snatched the soup.

 
            The table hushed. Based on their experience with Usagi, both Mamoru and Ittou expected the redhead to noisily devour her prize. Instead she delicacy placed it in front of her and dreamily savored the soup. After spooning out another star-cut carrot, she smiled to her right and her hand along the inside of Ittou's forearm.

 
            The blond put his chopsticks down and turned to his date.

 
            Blissful, the nanny leaned forward and pressed her lips against his other cheek. Enjoying his stunned expression, she spooned the last of the delicate clear soup into her mouth. Swallowing, she gave a contented sigh and gently squeezed his wrist. "It's no matsumaezuke, but delicious nonetheless."

 
            Ittou made a thoughtful noise. "I'm glad; you'll enjoy it more than me anyway," he said after a moment's contemplation.

 
            After savoring some of her own suit, Nami put her spoon down. "So Ittou, how do you know Usagi and Mamoru?"

 
            Ittou nodded to the larger, older man. "We met when back he was in Moto Azabu High. I was just starting out."

 
            Nami glanced between the slight blonde and the larger more square-jawed Mamoru. "And you ended up friends?"

 
            Half-listening, Ranma was focused on her fish.

 
            "Well not at first. We were in the same computer club, but that was about it." Ittou nervously chuckled smoothing his black silk cravat. "In fact, Usagi thought I was a 'suspicious guy'."

 
            "You kept knocking on his door!" Usagi pointed with a chopstick.

 
            Mamoru gently pushed her arm down. "That's because I'd missed a big meeting."

 
            Ranma's eyebrow went up and she glanced at Mamoru who gave a curt nod.

 
            "But after that, we became good friends."

 
            "Computer club?" Kazou looked at the young men across from him.

 
            "It wasn't the only suspicious thing," Usagi muttered.

 
            "PC Networks. A bunch of hardware stuff, mostly above my head," Mamoru confessed, squeezing his fiance's hand a bit.

 
            "Ittou also carried those binoculars," Usagi added with a pout.

 
            "My friends in the Sci-Fi Club got me into it, and they're why I had those binoculars," Ittou added.

 
            "What where the binoculars for?" Ranma asked.

 
            "Plane spotting," Ittou promptly replied.

 
            Kazou and Nami nodded. "How did you two meet?" the brunette asked Usagi and Mamoru.

 
            Mamoru laughed. "Oh, that's a long story."

 
            "He ran into me at a jewelry store my friend's mom owns. Literally. I fell down. He mocked me a bit. Then he dated one of my best friends, a different friend, for a while. Then we got together... then we fought again... We went to the moon. Then we got back together.. Or was the moon first. We broke up... and I think you dated my friend again," Usagi sedately babbled like a meandering brook.

 
            "That didn't happen," Mamoru gently corrected.

 
            "You did to date Rei!" Usagi cried

 
            "Only a few dates and she took is more serious than I did."

 
            Usagi crossed her arms. "That's not any better."

 
            "Sounds like you're more jealous that he got to her first," Ranma absently noted as she vacillated between the smoked trout and the eel.

 
            "Ranma!" Usagi blushed.

 
            "Wait, you object to the 'I dated her friend part' but not going to the moon?" Kazuo asked.

 
            Nami gave him a patronizing pat on the shoulder. "Because Ka-kun, that's obviously just Usagi being Usagi."

 
            Kazuo exhaled. "She was trying to make a pun based on her name wasn't she?"

 
            "You should like that, it's very literary."

 
            "Puns don't count," Kazou grumbled.

 
            Usagi, Mamoru, and, to Ranma's surprise, Ittou laughed nervously at that.

 
            "Yeah, if anyone would be talking, about space travel its Ittou," Mamoru patted the back of his friend at his left.

 
            "Because of the sci-fi club?" Ranma ate a slice of fatty tuna and looked up. "So you're a plane fan, into computers, and into science fiction."

 
            "Yeah... I'm a bit of a geek," Ittou coughed, glad his other hobbies had not come up... so far.

 
            "Least you're pretty," Ranma joked.

 
            Ittou blushed. "Uh, thanks."

 
            "It's not all geek stuff; he's into dance," Mamoru offered.

 
            "That can be kinda geeky." Ittou shook his head.

 
            "Not really," Nami said as she shot Kazou a meaningful glance.

 
            "It is when you see these two dance." Ittou pointed to Usagi and Mamoru. "It's like they're all left feet."

 
            "Maybe next time," Mamoru offered.

 
            Ittou laughed .

 
            "It's good you have an artistic passion. There's nothing wrong with liking the technical, but it's not exactly spiritual," Kazou grandly said with a playful smirk.

 
            "Well, I'm no poet, and I'm not going to debate the literary merits of science fiction with you."

 
            "A shame," Kazou pouted. "But even that goes beyond the mundane. Yes, spaceships landing on the moon is one thing but where's the spirit? The magic?"

 
            Eyes wide, Usagi perked up. And, once again, Ranma noticed that both Mamoru and Ittou were wincing. "Oh but that's not true! Ittou's into all sorts of spiritual and paranormal stuff"

 
            The blond's face contorted and he ran a hand over a temple. "Well... yes," he admitted stress showing on his face.

 
            "Do tell," Kazou leaned forward. "What were you really looking for with those binoculars?"

 
            "UFO's." Ittou sipped his tea. He sighed. "We had a lot of potentials. The club that is. You know how it was a couple years back. Strange lights, explosions. It was a big time for those that... well... thought the paranormal could be real. Why not?"

 
            Nami and Kazou nodded things had been strange, even for Juuban back in those days.

 
            Ittou shrugged. "I was the one tracking events in the sky. In the end they were just planes, helicopters, a gaudy advertising scheme, stuff like that. Meanwhile the espers and sorcerers the other guys had found turned out to be frauds or worse."

 
            "You no longer believe?" Kazou asked a hint of disappointment in his voice.

 
            Ittou ran a finger over the side of his cup. "Let's just say, based on my personal experience, the question's settled."

 
            Ranma raised an eyebrow and looked across the table at Mamoru. The large dark-haired man caught her eye and nodded. The redhead's eyes widened slightly. Did the blond boy really know about the Senshi? If so, small wonder he was Mamoru's friend.

 

***************

 

 
            Taking off her dark blue jacket, Setsuna smoothed her charcoal suit-skirt and sat down on near the corner piece of the leather sectional couch.

 
            In front of her was a bank of windows and beyond that a panoramic view of the city. Haruka and Michiru's apartment did not face downtown, the bay, or the mountains, but it was pretty enough. However, the decor was a bit too clinical for Setsuna's tastes. Though that might have been Ranma's influence at work. Her penthouse suite had been far more "modern" in styling before Hotaru's nanny had moved in.

 
            Graciously accepting the crystal glass of port Haruka offered, Setsuna took a sip and thought back. Before Hotaru her apartment had been even more sparse and cold. She looked around the open sitting, dining, and kitchen combination room that took up the bulk of Haruka and Michiru's apartment. Yes, back when she lived alone, Setsuna had even more burnished steel and cold glass furniture than even these two.

 
            Placing the bottle of 25 year Colheita port on the thick steel-framed square glass- top table, Haruka sat down at the corner section of the couch and crossed her legs. "It's been a while hasn't it?"

 
            "At least a year," Michiru said, placing a dark lacquer platter down onto the table. It bore sweeping sample of crumby cheese, wafer-thin crackers, slices of baguette, bits of preserved meat and artisnal sausages, and fine slices of candied fruit. She wore a black dress with aqua trim ad the collar, sleeves, and hem of the severe skirt.

 
            "A year?" Setsuna raised an eyebrow. "We entertain each other all the time." She savored some of the sweet dessert wine. It was the same deep red as her eyes... or Ranma's hair.

 
            "Sure, but it's never just the three of us," Haruka said as she poured Michiru a glass.

 
            "I do have obligations," Setsuna admitted as she took up some of the brie on a piece of bread.

 
            "Yes, that little girl you took in is adorable."

 
            "Hotaru too," Haruka joked, before helping herself to a couple crackers with a variety of cheese chunks.

 
            "Still, it is nice to have just the three of us, like old times."

 
            Setsuna smirked. With her, that was a loaded term.

 
            "Though it's best that we're doing it here," Michiru confessed.

 
            "Oh could you imagine Puu hosting a party?"

 
            "I've hosted several successful parties."

 
            "You've had Ranma play hostess," Haruka teased, nibbling on some of the smoked beef.

 
            "She is the better cook," Michiru said, almost apologetically.

 
            "I'm a perfectly fine cook," Setsuna bristled.

 
            "Oh yes, you're technically adept." Michiru savored some of her port and leaned onto Haruka. "You can follow a recipe but you've got no flare."

 
            Patting her lover, Haruka nodded. "Worse you'll overcompensate and get too creative when making the overall presentation. Mixing steak with miso or cake followed by soup."

 
            "I mean the miso tasted good, but it seemed a waste of that grilled steak," Michiru said.

 
            "You're exaggerating," Setsuna said.

 
            "Not by much," Haruka pointed, taking a bit of the caramel drizzled apple sliver. "Okay, the second didn't happen but still.."

 
            "You did tell us about those 'welcome to the family' and 'welcome to the Senshi' dinners you threw for Ranma."

 
            Blushing, Setsuna busied herself by taking some apricot-wood smoked lamb sausage from the platter.

 
            "To be fair Dear, those weren't quite parties in the social sense. It's not like Setsuna was hosting and entertaining guests. And they certainly fall under overcompensation."

 
            "I suppose." Haruka nodded and gave Michiru a hug. She turned to the green-haired woman. "Speaking of things that aren't quite parties, what do you think of your girls' little Green Mountain adventure?"

 
            Setsuna neatly folded her hand in her lap and took a long sip from her glass. "Hotaru told you, I presume?"

 
            "She was very excited," Michiru said.

 
            "The squirt did seem a bit a bit too eager about running a scheme."

 
            Michiru silently raised an eyebrow at Setsuna using Ranma's nickname for Hotaru.

 
            "Still you have to wonder...' Haruka raised her glass questioningly as she trailed off.

 
            "Wonder what?"

 
            "How the date is going. This is Ranma's first one, not counting all the ones you took her on," Haruka winked.

 
            "Those were family outings," Michiru corrected, while also giving Setsuna a soft smile and knowing wink of her own. Haruka then fed her a piece of Stilton on mesquite boar.

 
            "I suppose, still if I were in Puu's place..."

 
            "You'd commission a fancy gown for her?" Michiru eyed Setsuna.

 
            "Hotaru had asked and..."

 
            "And you were already working on something with that Estuko woman," Michiru completed.

 
            Setsuna nodded and sipped her wine.

 
            "And a little blonde bunny told me you've been visiting the Osa-P."

 
            "Do tell," Setsuna murmured.

 
            "Well, that's not what I'd be doing," Haruka shook her head.

 
            "No, you'd already be exploiting that sweet nanny's little crush on you," Michiru said.

 
            Smirking, Haruka leaned down to kiss Michiru.

 
            Setsuna had some of the candied orange slices until the pair finished.

 
            "As I was saying," Haruka straightened her tie. "It's great that the redhead likes all the fancy pretties you're getting her but that's not enough. You actually have to make the move."

 
            "You haven't seen the sketches of what she's commissioned at the White Crane have you?" Michiru asked.

 
            Haruka shrugged. "How much more can it be than the gown the girl's wearing right now?"

 
            Setsuna gave a little smile behind her glass.

 
            The blonde continued. "If I were in your place, I'd be a bit... well my eyes might be as green as my hair."

 
            "Why would I be jealous of Ranma going out with friends?" Setsuna coolly asked.

 
            Haruka's smirk returned. "That doesn't answer my question Puu."

 
            Michiru lifted her head of the blonde's chest and looked towards Setsuna. "And if you were jealous, I hardly think it's because you're secretly wishing we set you up on blind date."

 
            "Hardly." Setsuna emptied her glass and waited while Haruka obligingly refilled it.

 
            Michiru took Haruka's hand. "I don't think she's jealous. I think Puu's got everything she could ever want with her little family."

 
            Setsuna sipped her wine with a smile

 
            "Oh, you're not worried your lovely nanny'll hook up with someone else?" Haruka asked. "You've had her for what, a year and a half? She won't wait forever."

 
            "Longer, but yes. And as you two have noted, I am far from... idle." Setsuna's smile evaporated as she put her glass down on the table and folded her hands in her lap. "However, I am not jealous of the fellow the Princess and her consort picked to be Ranma's date."

 
            Michiru shook her head. "Careful with that pride Puu, even you can be caught off guard."

 

***************

 

 
            Ranma glided down the length of the courtyard behind the restaurant's central pool and garden. She managed to keep her anklets from jangling but her bracelets were a more difficult task.

 
            "You don't have to drag us," Mamoru mildly said, he had long since given up trying to shake out of her iron grip.

 
            Ittou for his part was more confused, though her strength was... familiar.

 
            "It's not my fault you're slow," Ranma said as she stopped in front of a stone bench under a willow tree. "I'm wearing a gown. What's your excuse?"

 
            "What's this about?" Mamoru glanced across the pond and into the restaurant, where he could see his fiancee chatting with Ranma's friend and her date.

 
            "Privacy," Ranma said as she looked around the secluded corner of the garden. Satisfied she turned to the blond. "Mamoru seems to really trust you."

 
            Ittou exhaled, but Mamoru simply nodded.

 
            "Is this about Usagi's little club?" the blond boy asked.

 
            Letting go of Mamoru, Ranma rolled out her hand and waved from Ittou to Mamoru.

 
            Mamoru rubbed his wrist, but found there was no soreness and no abrasions. Possessing his own healing powers, he merely gave a little nod at the effect.

 
            Rapt Ittou watched her arm. The redhead's movements were smooth and circuitous, almost floaty.

 
            Nodding again, Mamoru patted Ittou on the back. "He knows about her, yes."

 
            Now it was Ittou who was thoughtful. "She knows about it too?"

 
            Mamoru smiled. "I'll leave you two to it." And, taking the opportunity, he began to make his way back towards the restaurant.

 
            "Well?" Ranma asked, finally letting go of his hand.

 
            Flexing his fingers, Ittou turned and watched the tumbling waterfall that fed the courtyard's central pond. He sat down on the stone bench. "Usagi's Sailor Moon."

 
            "I know that, how do you know?"

 
            "Mamoru's more than my friend... I look up to him. Stuff kept adding up."

 
            "Like?"

 
            Looking into the pool, Ittou adjusted his red waistcoat. "You know Makoto?"

 
            Ranma nodded.

 
            "One time she got a fever at school so I helped her get home. I get this big static shock from her and she starts going on about 'having the power to manipulate thunder and lightning'."

 
            "You didn't think she was delirious?"

 
            Ittou laughed. "Oh she probably was, but before that I saw Usagi talk to her cat and saw the cat... talking back." he added before Ranma could interrupt. "Though what started it all was seeing Mamoru heal a cut on his hand. Just like that, can you imagine?"

 
            "I think I could," Ranma said with a little smile.

 
            Ittou glanced back at the water. "From there everything came out. Makoto told me about the Senshi, about the her friends working for Usagi. I talked with Mamoru."

 
            "And that's why the paranormal question is settled for you?"

 
            "Dating a magical girl will do that to you."

 
            "You and Makoto?" Ranma skeptically asked.

 
            "It didn't last. Turns out I'm not her type," Ittou gave a sigh. "What about you? How'd you find out."

 
            Ranma glanced down at her bodice. She flexed her hands. "Similar to you. I just stumbled into finding out some of my friends were magical girls. You have enough mysterious disappearances and secret trips to observatories and things add up."

 
            Ittou nodded. "What about Nami and Kazuo?"

 
            "They don't know about Usagi." Ranma said, wondering how much Makoto and Mamoru told him. Did he know about all the Senshi, or just Usagi and the Inners?

 
            Ittou played with his tie. "It's a shame about Makoto..."

 
            Ranma raised an eyebrow.

 
            "I do hope she finds someone, but she seems to have such bad luck. Not even counting the guys that ended up being monsters." He flexed his hands. "It's a hell of a thing those girls do, you know? You have to respect the things they do. Can you imagine the power? The responsibility."

 
            Ranma allowed a smile. "Man... and I was worried you were bemoaning your breakup, about how she doesn't know what she's missing."

 
            "Nah, Mako-chan's a girl that knows what she wants, and I'm... not it." Ittou shook his head.

 
            Ranma gave a pang of sympathy. She could relate to what it meant to be a guy and be too pretty. Though her case did have some key differences. Really Konatsu's situation was more analogous.

 
            "Though I do regret that we never got to take her dancing."

 
            "You're a sweet guy." Ranma leaned forward and kissed Ittou on the forehead before helping him up.

 
            As they walked back, Ittou's spirits lifted. However, he remembered Makoto doing the exact same thing. He offered his arm, and the redhead slid hers over his wrist and stepped closer. Feeling her skirts brushing against his leg, he pondered.

 
            For her part, Ranma smiled as she glided among the finery. She wondered if this was how Michiru felt: being elegantly coifed and led around by a dashing blonde. She giggled. Haruka was dashing. Ittou was too pretty for that.

 
            Back among the tables, Ranma stopped and slipped her arm from Ittou's. She looked the small table and smiled at the two occupants. "I'll catch up in a bit," she told Ittou patting him on the shoulder.

 
            "Right, I've got something I need to take care of too," Ittou nodded as he walked off.

 
            "Look at you two," Ranma clapped her hands eyeing the two dark-haired girls. The younger one wore an adorable purple sun dress with matching bows atop her head. The older wore a white blouse with purple trim over a purple skirt with blue diamond pattern accents. And both were smiling over a little photo album.

 
            "Hi Ranma!" Hotaru cheered snapping the album in her hands closed. "Are you having a good date!"

 
            Ranma smiled and drew her ward into a soft hug. "And how much of this was your idea?"

 
            Hotaru simply nuzzled her nanny.

 
            Laughing, Ranma released the girl. "Kimi... what's the deal with this?"

 
            Kimiko glanced from the table with the others, minus Ittou then back to Ranma. "Usagi and I thought it would be fun. And you're so shy..." Kimiko bit her lip. "We were only trying to help." She looked at the album with a tiny frown. Hotaru was possessive with it, then again Hotaru seemed possessive of anything dealing with her nanny.

 
            "It took my by surprise. I'm not too... fond of surprises."

 
            "I'm sorry," Kimiko bowed her head. "If you don't like Ittou. Next time I could go with him."

 
            "Oh, he's nice enough." Ranma waved off.

 
            "Have you tried today's Ton-jiru?" Hotaru asked offering a spoon of her soup.

 
            "I can't say no to a good pork dish," Ranma playfully said as she bent at the waist to lower her mouth closer to the waiting utensil. Giggling, Hotaru began to feed her nanny.

 
            "You do like him?" Kimiko asked.

 
            Ranma paused, though Hotaru's spoon began to waggle impatiently. "He's pretty enough. Nice guy, but not my type."

 
            "Naughty nanny," Hotaru said as she slipped the spoon into the redhead's mouth. "If you've got someone else in mind then this is cheating."

 
            Ranma blushed. "Hey! This date was sprung on me."

 
            Hotaru giggled. "It's okay. I know you're just having fun."

 
            The nanny huffed and straightened herself up. "You two stay out of trouble!" she said giving Hotaru a final hug before returning to her table.

 
            Kimiko watched the curvy girl float away in her gown. "Hey Hotaru... who is it that Ran-chan thinks she's cheating on?"

 
            Hotaru gave a secret smile.

 
            Kimiko grumped. "Fine don't say."
 
            The younger girl's mirth evaporated after a couple seconds. "I'll be right back. Watch my stuff."

 
            "I really don't think we have to worry about that here," Kimiko said, but Hotaru had already made her way to the bathroom.

 
            Kimiko shook her head and resumed her meal. After taking a few sips of her soup she glanced over at the items Hotaru had left behind. The purple purse and leather-bound album.

 
            Temped, Kimiko lowered her spoon and opened the album. The familiar flashes of Ranma's domestic life made her smile. There were pictures of the redhead cleaning, cooking, helping Hotaru with her homework, tutoring the girl with martial arts. Some where stickers from that instant camera of Hotaru's. Others were professional photographs, notably one of the trio in formal clothes watching cherry blossoms fall. A good number were trimmed paper printouts from camera phones.

 
            Kimiko actually recognized a couple that she had taken and given to Ranma back in August. Going back the images got older and Kimiko watched the redhead's growth wind back. Hair grew shorter and changed color.

 
            Kimiko had passed the first half of the album, the part that Hotaru seemed reluctant to show off. The black-haired teen could understand. Ranma was not the only one who grew up; Hotaru had experienced growth as well. The willowy girl took on a noticeably frail cast and looked almost emancipated.

 
            Nearing the start Kimiko smiled at the image before her: a girl with thick glasses and awkwardly dyed auburn hair pulled into a tight French braid fidgeted with the skirt of the Jubban High uniform she wore.

 
            Kimiko savored the memory of Ranma's first day at Jubban. It had seemed so long that the redheaded nanny had entered her life. There was still so much she did not know about her shy friend. The issues with "Aunty" Saotome. The engagements and stalkers. Their mutual, and just as secretive, friend Akane and her engagement with the other Ranma.

 
            Shaking her head, Kimiko realized that this was not the first page in the album. Curiosity getting the better of her, she flipped the page over and caught the actual fist page.

 
            Her eyes widened at the three photographs. They were unmistakably Ranma, and they were unmistakably before the girl came to Juuban. She had said photos were like a window to the past, and at this moment she felt like she was literally gazing through time.

 
            There were still plenty of mysteries as to exactly why Ranma had left Nerima, but if the picture of the soaking-wet braided redhead was anything to go by... it was not a happy place. Neither was the more recent one of her sourly munching on a meager rice ball while wearing a grubby gi. Though the eldest picture at least had the girl giving a broad innocent smile.

 
            Reluctantly closing the album, Kimiko sighed. No wonder Akane was so tight lipped about her and Ranma's past.

 
            She looked over to the table her friends were at and smiled. At least things were looking up for her curvy friend.

 

***************

 

 
            As Ranma approached the table heavenly scents drifted towards her. This was the normal course of things at Green Mountain, but these particular scents caused her to stop in her tracks, causing her anklets to jangle.

 
            At her place on the table were a pair of delicate, shallow bowls, one had ankimo, the other matsumaezuke. On a platter in the center of the table was a displace of thin slices of karasumi and a bottle of sake and a set of cups.

 
            "How?" Ranma asked staring at the table.

 
            "Ittou figured it out!" Usagi cheered as she downed a little glass.

 
            The blond man stood and pulled back Ranma's seat.

 
            "It took some doing," he confessed. "I had to talk with a hostess. It was awkward at first but once I said it was for you, Keiko was more than willing to help."

 
            Ranma absently nodded, her attention on the dish of sake-rinsed monkfish liver and the other of squid and herring roe,

 
            "From there Keiko-san directed me to a Mr. Kato, the man who ordered the last of the matsumaezuke." Ittou discretely pointed a few tables over to an older gentleman in a dark blue suit with a trimmed white beard. He sat alone at his table, but on catching Ranma's eye he smiled and gave a little wave.

 
            Giving a shy smile, Ranma waved back.

 
            Ittou continued. "Once I explained to Mr. Kato that a lovely young woman had her heart set on this dish, but alas was unable to place an order ahead of time-"

 
            "Because this was a surprise party."

 
            Ittou nodded. "Because of that, he gallantly offered to let you have the last order."

 
            "It didn't hurt that you're a lovely young woman," Nami added.

 
            Ranma gave Nami's shoulder a playful swat. "And the ankimo?"

 
            " Mr. Kato is a man of exquisite tastes; not only was he going to have the matsumaezuke, but he was also about to tuck into last order of Ankimo and..."

 
            "Upon learning the dear girl's heart's desire was to partake of that as well, he felt the need to make another offering." Ranma chuckled. "Ittou, I need to take you out for ice-cream one of these days. Be back in a second!"

 
            "Uh.... it's a date?" Ittou asked to Ranma's retreating backside. He watched as the redhead went over to the older gentlemen. She exchanged a few words bowed deeply, then blushing gave him a quick hug before retreating back to their table.

 
            "Mr. Kato seems like a nice man." Ranma said as she took Ittou's arm and pulled him closer to her. "You're right he's got good taste. You should have seen the swordfish steak he was eating."

 
            The redhead gave the blond a funny smile, leaned up and pulled him into a hug. As she squeezed she gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Thanks!" the nanny said as she lowered herself into the waiting chair.

 
            "My pleasure," Ittou assured his face a bit flush and his neck feeling warm. He slid her up to the table and took his own seat.

 
            Nodding, Ranma focused intently on the two dishes before her.

 
            "Now the sake and karasumi were provided by Keiko as a way of apology."

 
            Ranma looked up at the slices of salted and cured mullet roe then at the bottle of sake. It was cloudy, almost milky looking. "Oh, Nigori!" she said eying the label.

 
            Nami shook her head. "You're shameless."

 
            "It works out for her, she gets the food she kept talking about, and an old man gets to be nice to a young woman," Kazou said as he poured a class of sake for Nami. The liquor had a sweet, almost fruity smell, and tasted quite mild.

 
            "What? It's not like I begged for this." The redhead's pout was cut short as she tucked into the matsumaezuke. She closed her eyes and savored the spices and textures and flavors. The dish's signature trait of aging for a week in a cool place served to marinate and mingle the ingredients lending them a rich blended flavor.

 
            Opening her eyes, she took the glass of sweet unfiltered sake. Smiling, the nanny switched to the Ankimo and took a nibble of the treated monkfish liver. The ponzu sauce, enriched scallion slices and grated, chili-infused white radish brought the rich savory flavors to new heights that made the nanny murmur with delight.

 
            As the others noshed on the karasumi and waited for the next course, the redhead was lost in her own world of epicurean bliss.

 
            Despite the small bites and multiple breaks, including having some of the delightful karasumi and sweet nigori, the redhead, all too soon, found two empty dishes before her.

 
            Rolling her shoulders and arching her back, the nanny murmured happily. Cheeks pinking, she glanced over at the pretty blond. Full of happy food, she smiled and scooted her chair to the right.

 
            Turning to the side and leaning forward she draped her arms over Ittou's shoulders. "What a lovely gesture," she purred tightening the embrace. Her head darted forward and her lips met his.

 
            As suddenly as it began the kiss broke. Ranma looked at the blond's face. Her lips curled into a smirk. Part of her wondered if this was how Michiru felt, or if Haruka was different. "For luck!" she said before plunging in again. This time she lingered for a second then slowly pressed her lips out as she pushed away.

 
            Feeling warm and tingly, Ittou's eyes unfocused slightly but he kept his composure.

 
            Ranma smugly straightened herself back up and absently nibbled on some karasumi. She glanced at the shocked faces. "What? The dishes really are that good."

 
            "How come you don't get me fancy stuff like that!" Usagi pouted to Mamoru.

 
            Mamoru simply put his arm around Usagi's shoulder. "Dear... I'm the one who brought you here."

 

***************

 

 
            Ittou leaned on the railing and watched the fish swim by. He looked back into the restaurant and caught a glimpse of the table. He saw Mamoru and Usagi laughing, nearly in each others arms. Next to them was the other couple. Nami was laughing while Kazou gestured as he animatedly told a story.

 
            The blond young man shook his head and returned to the fish. At least they were having fun. He chuckled; he really shouldn't have a place to complain about his date. Especially, with Mamoru handling the bill and had helped get a very good deal on the suit as well.

 
            And it had been a wonderful time. It was the best meal he had ever had and, on a perhaps slightly depressing note, the best date he had ever had. He sighed. There was still dessert, and he was certain that Ranma would insist on staying for that.

 
            He straightened his vest, and went back to the fish. He wondered how the others could handle it. Mamoru, as always, was utterly poised and despite her clumsy nature, Usagi had her spirited charm. They made such a well-oiled couple that they belonged together, klutz or no klutz.

 
            And Ranma was a natural connoisseur, utterly in her element, totally at ease. Neither the fancy dress, the expense, nor the atmosphere seemed to effect her, she was here to savor and enjoy. Her pace was slow, but constant. Ittou smiled, despite her high standards she still seemed to love food for food's sake.

 
            Ittou continued to watch the fish. Even this new couple, Ranma's friends, had each other to keep themselves from being overwhelmed. He wondered how they handled it. At least he had an idea how Mamoru and Usagi did. Once you faced down monsters with magical powers, a fancy dinner party had to be child's play.

 
            There was a whisper of silk and suddenly a soft, cool hand had taken his wrist. Despite the coolness of the soft skin the contact itself felt warmth. There was a gentle jangle from a gold bracelet as his arm was pulled down. Ittou's arm tensed but he might as well have been pushing against a hydraulic ram.

 
            Taken in, his hand was pressed against a quilted bodice. The blond's date stepped closer. The skirts of her green silk gown pressed against his leg and the silver ruffles on her sleeves and shoulders spilled over his arm and side.

 
            Massive crimson curls brushed against the lapels of his dark suit coat and a floral perfume tickled his nose. The girl was diminutive. The arched brows on her rounded, delicately made up face barely reached his shoulder. However, her figure more than made up for this.

 
            It became blatantly obvious the further she pressed her gown towards him, especially when she tilted her torso to the side. The redhead's dress had no cleavage but that was a largely academic point, especially with her chest crossing over the blond's captured arm.

 
            Ittou's face flushed and his fingers flexed open and closed. His blush grew when he realized what the silken softness he was holding was: the rounded little bulge of his date's midsection.

 
            "Now, now it's just a first date," the redhead assured with her pastel lips curled into a smirk. "Otherwise you'd be holding here." Pressing in even closer, she took his hand, twisted it, at the wrist and raised it up until it cupped the underside of her chest.

 
            As the blond's heart began to race, the redhead's breath caught and she snaked her other hand around the back of the blond's vest. She took a moment to marvel at his thin frame before wrapping her hand around the point of his opposite hip. Even Haruka was broader than this, Ranma thought to herself with a bit of shock

 
            Holding their position, the redhead looked down at the fish. A smile touched her lips and she let go of her date's hand. She put it onto the railing, and smirked when he kept his in place. "I have had worse dates..." She blushed and shook her head. Her curls waved back and forth and the heavy rabbit-ear like ponytails flailed.

 
            Despite himself, Ittou laughed and his heartbeat began to slow. The warmth remained but it was almost... relaxing, like luxuriating in a warm bath. It was obvious why this girl was one of Usagi's friends.

 
            "Sorry," the redhead turned a bit more and pressed closer to where she was actively leaning on him. "I was impolite." She looked down at how they were holding each other. "And I suppose a bit forward," she added with a giggle.

 
            "Well... no." Ittou looked down at the ruffles and décolletage adorning the front of her dress. The lack of exposed skin was only a minor impediment.

 
            "Such a gentlemen. All my other dates have been... grabby," her expression soured.

 
            Ittou laughed. It was impossible to resist. The redheaded bunny-girl's pout mixed with the irony of what he was holding was too much. He tried to lift his hand but found that it was held fast.

 
            Holding his hand, the nanny tiled her head. "You don't like?"

 
            "Uh... I don't want to offend."

 
            The nanny frowned; Haruka would not be nervous. She would be more assertive. The redhead paused and had to admit she didn't know for sure. Her frown deepened. Why hadn't Haruka done more? Eyeing the blond, the nanny let her imagination run wild: Haruka definitely would be more assertive.

 
            The redhead glanced back at the table. She eyed the two couples and huffed. Kuno was assertive, and he was a clueless jerk. Maybe this was better. "Or maybe you deserve a reward." Her cocky smirk returned.

 
            Gasping, Ittou found himself pulled down by the redhead's hands pulling at his shoulders. Her eyes closed and he had a moment to marvel at the detailed coloration of her eyelids and fluffy lashes before their lips met.

 
            The two rotated until they faced each other. Pressure was lessened from his leg and side, but grew on his lower chest. Ruffles and softness pushed aside his tie and jacket.

 
            Their lips met, and briefly parted. Ittou felt her warm breath against his own. The blond's arms slipped out and one reached around her back to cup the side of her chest while the other slipped down to the ribbons at the base of her spine.

 
            With almost an electric jolt, the embrace broke and the two pulled apart and, once again, faced the pond.

 
            "I suppose that was a bit forward," Ittou remarked, licking his tingling lips.

 
            The redhead had slipped her arms out and had opened her shiny green purse. She paused on inspecting her lips with a mirror in one hand and a tube of lipstick in the other. A nervous smile was quickly covered up with a cocky grin as she dropped the two items back into the purse and blew the blond a kiss. "I don't see you complaining."

 
             He looked down to see he still had an arm wrapped around her back and cupping the side of her chest.

 
            Ranma ran her hand against the elegant blonde's torso. "I can see what she saw in you," she murmured.

 
            "There's something about magical girls," Ittou shrugged. "It's a shame things went the way they did."

 
            The nanny eyed the blonde's delicate face. It was easy to pretend. The resemblance was uncanny... "Oh, Mi-chan doesn't appreciate you?" the nanny asked pressing against the blonde's chest. Deep under ruby curls, her ears reddened as the fantasy grew in her mind: Haruka and Michiru broken up? And she was here to console the blonde?

 
            "Mako-chan?" Ittou asked. But his confusion was rapidly overwhelmed, as were his lips.

 
            Reveling in the fantastical kiss, her hips rolled back and forth. After a few seconds the blonde's resistance sublimated and soft lips parted. Their tongues met and darted back retreating.

 
            Arms snaked under the blonde's jacket and over pants. Cradling the curl of the blonde's butt, the nanny fell deeper and murmured blissfully when her own curves were embraced. The kiss continued and their tongues caressed and seesawed back and forth.

 
            Happy puffs filled the nanny's head the kiss broke apart and she leaned on the blonde's chest. She smiled and nuzzled a bit. It was surprising, she had almost expected the blonde would have some sort of binding like Ukyou did. Instead she found nothing.

 
            "Now, I'd consider that too forward," the blonde gasped.

 
            The nanny giggled and wriggled in the slightly slackening embrace. "But wasn't it lovely Haruka?" she murmured as she ran her hands over the lean chest. Confusion grew.

 
            "Haruka?"

 
            Her fantasy crumbling, the nanny's eyes shot open. No binder, no bra, no chest... Haruka was not that flat. Her cheeks burning crimson she straightened herself up and effortlessly slipped out of the blond's arms. "I'm so sorry!" she gushed and sling her purse over a shoulder and ran off, her heels clanking on the wooden decking.

 
             "What happened?" Ittou blinked.

 
            Suddenly, he bunny ran back to him. "It's not your fault." She pulled herself up and awkwardly kissed him on the cheek. "You're actually a good kisser, there's just someone else!" she rushed out before running back off.

 

***************

 

 
            Coat folded over her arm, Ranma starred at her reflection. Her purse was on the counter, the contents spilled out with an open compact, an extended mascara brush, and a tube of lipstick that had rolled into the sink, next to a discarded tissue.

 
            Breathing in and out, she was transfixed by pendulous the motion of her quilted bodice and the swaying of her heavy curls. The door slid open and the redhead turned. Apprehension spiked, she did not want to see Hotaru or even the Queen to see her... not like this. Not with how her... fantasy fell apart. Slight relief came when she saw it was a brunette in an asymmetric green evening dress with sapphire ribbons and a hairstyle almost as intricate as hers.

 
            Nami gave the nervous nanny a smile and held out a hand. "I promised you we could go home if you wanted."

 
            Ranma looked down and handed her fur coat over.

 
            Taking the soft white garment, Nami stepped closer. She patted Ranma on the shoulder, her hand sinking into the gathered silver ruffles. "You don't even have to say anything, I'll talk to Usagi before we go and..." Noticing the spilled cosmetics brunette frowned.

 
            She stepped closer and studied the redhead's reflection. Nami turned and peered into her friend's eyes. "You weren't crying."

 
            Ranma blushed and looked down.

 
            "They're not puffy or red, and there's no tracks in your eye makeup, and even you're not that fast." Nami reached into the dry sink and fished out the lipstick tube. It nearly fell from her hands when she noticed the tissue next to it. She picked up the tissue. It was stained the same glossy shade as the redhead's lips.

 
            "You blotted? You came in her redid your lipstick and then blotted it?"

 
            The redhead's blush grew, and the brunette noticed that her friend's lips had been freshly redone.

 
            "You manage to get very... friendly, on your first date, no less with a very stylish young man. And right in the middle you run off and hide in the bathroom... to redo your lipstick?" Nami shook her head; she had some idea, there was something the nanny had said. Something that should have shot down this whole scheme of Kimiko's and Usagi's.

 
            "You don't understand," Ranma whispered as she started putting her cosmetics back into her purse.

 
            The brunette took Ranma's hand and squeezed it. "No, I don't, but I want to help."
 
            "I wasn't thinking of Ittou," Ranma squeezed back. "I wasn't kissing... him." She blushed. "I took advantage of him, used him for my fantasies."

 
            "He doesn't feel taken advantage of..."

 
            The redhead gave a snort totally at odds with her tone. "That's because he's a boy," she giggled just as incongruently. She rolled her hips and looked at her reflection. "Of course he'd want to kiss me," she added, with a spark of confidence. "Thing is I didn't want to..."

 
            "There's someone else." Nami murmured.

 
            Ranma's cocky little smile wilted. "He told you?"

 
            "He told me that before Mamoru managed to corral him." Nami leaned in. "So, who were you really thinking of?"
 
            "Haruka," the nanny admitted, her neck starting to flush.

 
            Nami blinked. "Uh that... handsome blonde girl who's friends with Usagi and Mamoru? The one who's with..."

 
            "Who's with a very lovely aqua-haired woman."

 
            Blinking, Nami took a moment to process the genders involved. Then the penny dropped. "Oh! That's why you're so guy shy! And didn't want a boyfriend."

 
            Blushing slightly, the nanny nodded.

 
            "So you're..."

 
            The nanny nodded.

 
            The brunette paused. "Well... how exotic?"

 
            Her body tensing, Ranma chuckled.
           

 
            Nami's face turned serious. "And I twisted your arm into coming here. I'm so sorry," the brunette hugged the redhead.

 
            The redhead relaxed.

 
            "Oh, Ranma..." Nami patted the redhead's back.

 
            "It's okay, you told me I didn't have to do this, you even said you'd leave with me, besides you couldn't' have known my date would happen to look a lot like a crush of mine."

 
            "I've been there. It'll end in tears."

 
            The redhead blinked. "Uh... you've fantasized kissing a fairly butch lesbian while making out with a very pretty young man?"

 
            Now, Nami blushed. "Well... I meant the part about crushing after an unavailable woman."

 
            "Woman?" Ranma raised an eyebrow.

 
            "Man!" The brunette's blush grew.

 
            "Is there something you want to tell me?" Ranma took Nami's hands and gave a pat. "I've been telling you secrets," the redhead's tease was bittersweet. She had not told her friend all of her secrets, not by a long shot.

 
            "I'm not into girls." Nami shook her head. "I like guys! I'm on a date with one."
 
            Ranma crossed her arms. "Me too. And if we're keeping score, I've got a comfortable lead."

 
           "I didn't freak out and hide in the bathroom." Seeing Ranma's reaction, Nami winced and wanted to recall her words. The nanny's shoulders rolled in and even her bunny ears seemed to droop.

 
            "And you didn't have to pretend you were kissing a girl."

 
            Nami put an arm around Ranma's waist and hugged. "I can help you deal with this crush. And give Kimiko a word... now that we know why you're not into boys."
 
            Ranma smiled and leaned on the brunette. "Thanks... but it's not Haruka I've got the crush on."

 
            The brunette blinked, then realization struck. "Oh! That's why you're in here. You feel guilty!"

 
            The redhead pouted a bit at Nami's triumphant decree. "Amazing deduction Na-chan."

 
            "Okay, you're thinking about Haruka, but she's not who you have the crush on?"

 
            "Well... Haruka is very nice, but she's with Michiru."

 
            Nami nodded.

 
            Ranma continued "The date's bad enough... but then the kissing... and my fantasy wasn't even about P-" she closed her mouth biting off the word.

 
            "What? You feel like it's double cheating?"

 
            Ranma's pout grew. "Don't make it sound that silly."

 
            Nami gave her another hug. "I'm not sure it's really Haruka you're thinking of."

 
            The redhead exhaled and leaned onto her friend. "The resemblance is pretty hard to mistake. I was thinking about Haruka, and kissing a guy I'd just met."

 
            Nami gave the nanny a whack across the back of her upper thigh.

 
            The redhead gave a squeak-like eep of surprise.

 
            "Now listen to me," Nami demanded leaning into the shorter girl. "You're thinking about this all wrong."

 
            Frowning, the nanny lowered her head in embarrassment and rocked her hips.

 
            "See, it's not Haruka that you have a crush on."

 
            "She's elegant, poised, responsible, and makes such a lovely couple... er with Michiru."

 
            Grinning, Nami held the nanny and nodded over her shoulder. "Do you have a crush on Haruka or on the idea of being with Haruka... or someone like her?"

 
            The nanny blushed.

 
            "Could it be this other girl. Maybe someone you're very close too?

 
            Ranma's hands tightened on her purse. Her bracelet, even her anklets, jangled.

 
            "I can't hear you," Nami playfully said before giving her friend another smack.

 
            The bunny eeped as her purse fell from her hands. "Nami!"

 
            Nami shook her head and let lose with the palm of her hand again.

 
            The nanny lowered her head and sighed. "Nami..." her voice was frustrated but pleading. "Fine. It's someone I'm... close to. I wonder if we could be... more."

 
            "Oh, Ranma," Nami embraced her. "You poor girl! Thank you so much."

 
            "What?"

 
            "I should never have forced you to go through with this."
 
            "I wanted to help... "Ranma blushed. "And I wanted a meal."

 
            Nami took Ranma's hand. "Thank you again. And it's a relief that Ittou didn't do anything bad."

 
            "He did get me those lovely dishes."

 
            "See, no damage, we'll get things squared away, and then deal with your.. crush," Nami assured as she led Ranma out of the bathroom. "Right after your apology."

 
            "Apology?" Ranma's heartbeat slowed. Her eyes widened after Nami's arm reached out and cuffed the side of her hip.
 
            "You did make out with him by the koi pond, and then run away," Nami added as if that was the worst part. She then resumed leading the nanny through the restaurant.

 
            Her blush growing, Ranma found her gown wobbling hips swinging out due to her unsteady gait.

 
            She found herself being led to the coatroom where Nami took her coat and returned it too its hanger, then past the seating area and back to the familiar decking above the koi pond. Spotting the blond learning on the railing, her blush bloomed anew. The pressure on her hand increased slightly as Nami tugged her forward.

 
            The brunette let go once the nanny was a few paces in front of her date. Fighting down her embarrassment, the redhead waited for the skirts of her gown to stop swishing before she slowly, gently lowered her hands until they clasped before her.

 
            After giving a short little exhale, she bowed deeply. "I'm sorry for being too forward. That was too much and... I'm sorry for running off."

 
            Ittou returned the bow. "There's no need for apology."

 
            Nami cleared her throat.

 
            "But it's accepted." Ittou hastily added.

 
            Slipping back to Ranma's side, Nami led the nanny up to the railing and nudged her next to the blond.

 
            Feeling her skirts brush against his leg, the bunny felt a little smile reform as she rolled her hips. It would be easy to slip just a bit closer. She closed her eyes. This was just a substitute for what she really wanted. She opened her eyes and looked down at the fish below her.

 
            "You're a good kisser too," Ittou noted.

 
            Ranma frowned, only detecting a bit of regret in his voice.

 
            "The person you're in love is very lucky."

 
            Ranma blinked her eyes. "I'd like to hope so."

 
           "Then you shouldn't wait." Ittou gripped the railing and stared at the fish gliding past. "There's nothing quite like regret. Acting is scary... asking questions, the fear of rejection, but it ends. Regret lingers." He laughed. "We don't get many second chances in life."

 
            Ranma's smile grew and she put an arm around the blond. She paused, but this time there was no fantasy. Ittou stiffened slightly, unsure of what the redhead's intention was. It felt nice, but he had the feeling that she always felt nice. Then her other hand took his neck and her too strong arm gently pulled him down and she kissed him on the forehead.

 
            Ittou gave a tiny laugh after she released him.

 
            "If there's one thing you take from tonight, it's take the risk." Ittou smiled. "Things didn't work out between Makoto and I, but I'm glad I risked it." He looked over to Ranma. "I'm glad I told her the truth."

 
            The redhead nodded at the subtext.

 
            Nami walked up to Ranma's right side, opposite Ittou. "Look at me and Kazou. Remember how I kept mooning over him, but was too afraid to ask."

 
            Ranma nodded.

 
            "You need to do that with your special lady," Nami assured.
 
            "Lady?" Ittou blinked. He coughed. "Figures. It wouldn't be the first time."

 
            Ranma's head swiveled back to her date.

 
            Ittou coughed again and cleared his throat. "A bit after Makoto and I broke it off, Mamoru took me to this club with two of his friends, cute couple. And uh... interesting place."

 
            The redhead made a thoughtful noise. Apparently, he did know some of the Outers; though it was still unclear if he actually knew they were Senshi.

 
            "Anyway this tall green-eyed girl with nice curly chestnut hair talked to me and we were hitting it off until..."

 
            Ranma winced and patted his back.

 
            "Hey, look at it from her perspective. If she didn't talk to me she'd be living with the regret of the cute blonde girl that she didn't have the guts to talk with."

 
            The redhead frowned. "It's not that simple. We've already got a relationship. We're really close. And I'm... worried that... she's not interested too, that I'm not." Ranma closed her eyes. "I know we're like family, but..."

 
            "She might think of herself as more of an aunt?" Ittou asked, guessing that the redhead's object of affection was an older woman.

 
            "Can't say I've dealt with that situation, though before Makoto there was this girl that... well let's just say the good news at least it was 'daddy' issues that she had and not the other parental figure."

 
            Ranma sighed and squeezed his hand. "Man, you really need to catch a break."

 
            "Least, I'm trying. A lot of my friends aren't even doing that much." He frowned at the fish.

 
            "Well, there is our friend Kimiko," Nami offered.

 
            "Oh that's fitting!" Ranma laughed. "I'd say we spring a surprise date on her but... maybe it'll be better if we just ask."

 
            Smiling, Ittou shook his head. "Sure, why not."

 
            "She did ask if I was really interested..." Ranma mused.

 
            "I'll go ask her," Nami said as she left the courtyard and headed back to the table.

 
            "Maybe I'll be getting another chance," Ittou looked up and caught Ranma's eye.

 
            The redhead tilted her head.

 
            "How about you?" he asked.

 
            Ranma let go of his hand. "It's not that simple."

 
            "It never is," Ittou said, his voice thoughtful again. "Things can be more complicated than they appear."

 
            "It's not just that, I... well..."

 
            Ittou lifted his hand and took Ranma's hand. "It's okay. You don't have to say anything to me."

 
            "We did just met," Ranma admitted, embarrassment creeping up her cheeks. She slipped her hand out of his.

 
            "It's funny?" He shook his head. "What I miss most of all, I never got to take her dancing. Not even as friends. Heck most of the dance pairs I know aren't... compatible, let alone romantic. Heck just look at the head of my dance school."

 
            Ranma shrugged. "I don't know who that is."

 
            "Older fellow, silvering hair. Anyway, I can guarantee that Mashuu Sensei doesn't see his dance partner Miss Ikari that way, or any other woman for that matter."

 
            "He doesn't?" After her question, Ranma slowly nodded with comprehension. After-all, she was friends with Haruka and Michiru, not to mention... Setsuna.

 
            Returning her nod, Ittou went back to gazing at the pond. "I've said it before, but... allow me to repeat myself." Ittou ran his hands along the railing and looked over at her. "I've got the utmost respect for the Senshi."

 
            Ranma shifted her gaze to the pond. "Yeah, they are pretty great."

 
            "That they are." Ittou nodded and stood up. "I think we've kept the others waiting on dessert long enough. Shall we?" he asked offering his hand.

 
            Ranma hesitated, she pouted.

 
            Ittou started to lower his arm.

 
            "Eh, why not," the redhead strode forward and took Ittou's hand. "It's not like I'm the one that has to worry about you."

 
            Ittou laughed. "That's an upside I suppose."

 
            Ranma gave a nervous titter. "I'll behave."

 
            Nodding, Ittou led her back towards their table. "You know, sometimes I wonder what It'd be like to have Senshi powers, what I'd do with them."

 
            Looking the blond over, the redhead cracked a smile. "Oh yeah, you've definitely got the legs for it."

 
            "So, I've been told." Ittou smiled thinly. "What about you? Do you ever wonder?" he asked in a wispier.

 
            A few meters before their table, Ranma's stride faltered. "Oh... not really.

 
            Ittou gave a single nod. "No I suppose you wouldn't." He smiled and leaned in again. "I told you, I've always respected she Senshi," Ittou assured before letting go of Ranma's hand and pulling out her seat.

 

***************

 

 
            Michiru ferried the depleted platter from the coffee table to the kitchen counter. Behind her, Haruka came up carrying some glasses and an empty bottle of wine.

 
            "I think that went well." Haruka deposited the bottle in the trash.

 
            "It's good for Puu to get out of the house," Michiru admitted before taking out a couple of storage containers and sorting out the leftovers on the platter.

 
            "She's plenty social," Haruka said as she rummaged through the cabinetry.

 
            "Not counting fashion parties for work?

 
            "Or Ranma and Hotaru. She's holding herself back."

 
            The aqua haired girl rolled her eyes. "We know that, but try telling Puu that. You know how stubborn she is." Michiru gently pushed the blonde aside. "And what are you doing?"

 
            Haruka's smile turned a bit sheepish. "Just looking for a little dessert."

 
            Sighing, Michiru nudged Haruka out of the kitchen. "I'll make you up a plate," she said with a forced smile.

 
            "Thanks," Haruka gave Michiru a kiss before turning on her heel.

 
            Michiru watched the blonde leave the room. Shaking her head, she returned to the counter and resumed putting away the food.

 
            After a bit she pulled out another plate and started filling it with some of the leftovers, as well as a few of the more "common" snacks that she knew Haruka liked.

 
            As she worked, there was a ringing near the couch. Frowning, Michiru went over to one of the end tables flanking the couch and picked up her phone. Her perplexity grew when she saw the name and number of the caller.

 
            "Ranma?" Michiru asked placing the phone to her ear.

 
            For a moment the line was silent, and Haruka could hear faint voices in the background as well as the sound of metal on china. There was also a muffled, almost chewing noise followed by some breathing.

 
            "Hello?"

 
            "Hi," Ranma's voice eventually cut in. "Uh, sorry if I'm interrupting you and... Haruka."

 
            "Oh no interruption at all, Setsuna just left," Haruka said as she returned to the kitchen.

 
            "She what?" Ranma asked.

 
            "We just had her for a little nosh and some wine, with you and Hotaru out of the house we invited her over."

 
            There was another pause, and Michiru could swear she heard more metallic clinking.

 
            Michiru's frown returned. "Ranma dear? Is everything okay?" The aqua-haired girl began to pace There had to be a reason why Ranma didn't call Setsuna. It could not be a real emergency because Ranma and Hotaru were Senshi.

 
            But... it could be something else, something embarrassing. Michiru pulled the phone away from her mouth to clear her throat. "Do you need one of us to come pick you and Hotaru up? Did something happen at your dinner party?"

 
            "What? No! Nothing!" Ranma gasped. "Who told you about that?"

 
            "Hotaru was very happy about the whole thing. Michiru's brow furrowed. She could definitely hear the hushed tones of a restaurant in the background.

 
            "That little sneak," Ranma sighed.

 
            "She though it would cheer you up."

 
            Again Michiru was met with quiet. Though this time the clinking and chewing sounds had returned.

 
            She waited until the sounds had passed. "Ranma... dear, what is wrong then? We're friends and all, but you're not the type of girl to call and chat with her girlfriends after a date... let alone during a date."

 
            There was a tiny sigh on the other end of the line.

 
            "It's about Setsuna?" Michiru shook her head. "Oh what a pair of fools you two make."

 
            The redhead gasped. "How did..."

 
            "Because Setsuna's jealousy was palatable. She's the one that wanted to take you on a date. And here you are calling me while you... what are you eating?"

 
            "They had a really good caramel layer cake. Keiko gave me a slice out here in the courtyard..."

 
            This time Michiru could not fully suppress her laugh. "Oh Ranma. Are you that nervous?"

 
            The redhead's silence returned. "She's... interested in me?" the nanny eventually asked.

 
            "It's as obvious as you eyeing Michiru," Michiru teased.

 
            Ranma quietly ate another forkful of cake

 
            "Does that answer your question?" Michiru playfully asked.

 
            "Uh... yes, yes it does," Ranma said her voice a shocked, but hopeful.

 
            "Now that we've bantered about Puu, what's wrong? I can have Haruka pick up you and Hotaru no problem."

 
            "Well... you actually told me what..." The nanny exhaled. "What I wanted to hear."

 
            Now, Michiru fell silent.

 
            "Oh wow, you really were calling to ask if Puu was into you?

 
            Ranma whispered out a yes.

 
            "Geeze, you are as bad as her." Michiru's voice softened. "Yes, yes she is."

 
            "But if she has... it's been over a year..." Fear crept into the bunny's voice.

 
            "More like a year and a half."

 
            Ranma sighed.
 
            "Look, you're both scared. Do you know how hard it is for Puu to open up?"

 
            The redhead nodded. "Uh, yeah, I know," Ranma said, blushing.

 
            "And I'm guessing you've had some really bad relationships."

 
            "Things never got that far but there was a lot of... pain," Ranma closed her eyes remembering how easily things would get out of hand in Nerima.

 
            "You poor girl," Michiru looked down at the counter.

 
            Ranma gave a bitter laugh. "But what about Puu?"

 
             Again, Michiru paused as she tried to frame her thoughts

 
            "Michiru? Are you okay? Or should I get more cake?"
 
            "Sorry," Michiru sighed. "It's that Puu... I don't know what it was like for her, I don't know the details of her... past. But I do know she was alone. For a long time. Now she's not. She's afraid-"

 
            "-afraid of losing what she has," Ranma completed.
 
            "How did..." Michiru exhaled. "Ah I see."

 
            The nanny took another bite of her cake.

 
            "Oh what a pair you make," Michiru laughed.

 
            "Mi-chan!" Ranma cried.

 
            "I'm sorry. It's really very sweet." Smiling, Michiru leaned back on the counter. "So now you know, what are you going to do?"

 
            Grinning, Ranma put her fork down. "I think I'll make her breakfast."

 
            "Really?" Michiru blinked. "Some breakfast."

 

***************

 

 
            Waking up early, Ranma found even the bit of confidence Michiru had given her was absent. One thing forced her forward and into the kitchen: last night she had told Setsuna to expect a morning surprise.

 
            She opened the drawer by the stove and pulled out a bound notebook. The ingredients list from last night stared back at her. The nanny then studied the times listed on the recipes she had copied. The redhead exhaled and glanced at the oven clock. It would have to do.

 
            The nanny clapped her hands and went to work. The longest part would be the pastry. Ranma focused on mixing up the dough and putting in the right crushed almond and hint of red bean paste. There was nothing revolutionary in the recipe itself, but the extra touches were new.

 
            The work kept her hands busy and focused her mind. Layered with butter, the dough was rolled and folded several times in succession. This laminating process would result in a flakey texture, similar to a puff pastry.

 
            As the dough rested, so did she. Her mind drifted and fear crept in. She was upsetting things; she might take things too far; she might lose...

 
            The nanny exhaled.

 
            She then went to the refrigerator and started pulling out the ingredients for the other parts of the meal: eggs, shrimp, tuna steak, daiko, leeks, and herbs. Glancing at the time, she went back to the dough and began splitting and rolling it into individual half-moon shaped pastries.

 
            A honey-butter glaze was dabbed on them before they were slipped into the oven. After setting the timer, she slipped off her apron and rushed to the bathroom. A quick wash, change of clothes, and session before the vanity later a fresh and primped nanny returned.

 
            Her curls and "ears" had been brushed and sprayed. She wore lacy pale purple stockings, a semi-sheer powder-blue slip, and carried a pair of white opera-length gloves. She folded the gloves onto a far corner of the counter and slipped on her frilliest apron. Smoothing down the ruffles she took a moment to collect herself before checking on the oven.

 
            Satisfied, she took out a cast-iron pan. As it pre-heated she began slicing the tuna steak, cracking eggs over a bowl and mixing them in with the herbs, and dicing the daikon and other vegetables.

 
            Keeping her hands busy and mind focused, she setup Setsuna's French press and decanted a bottle of mead.

 
            A splash of the honey-wine was used to make a quick marinade for the shrimp that was then added to lightly saute with the tuna. Before she could start on the omelet proper, the oven timer chimed.

 
            Humming and in full stride, she opened the oven and smiled at the rack of croissants. Smiling at the scent, she pulled out the rack and let them rest on a cleared spot while she returned to the stovetop.

 
            As the omelet began to form, she went to the fridge and rustled up a couple of melons, some oranges, a couple peaches and a box of strawberries. A pair of sugar-dusted fruit bowls seemed to appear before her hands.

 
            Now in the full swing, the nanny divided up the omelets and transferred the bulk of the pastries to a basket to keep them warm. Pots of butter, jams, and preserves came out. Drizzles of sauces and bits of garnish were added to the tuna and shrimp omelets. The coffee was transferred to a carafe and a crystal decanter was filled with mead

 
            The nanny took out a pair of rimmed large lacquer platters with side-folding legs and began to fill them. There was some arrangement as she had to get all the plates and accoutrements and cups in place.

 
            Finally satisfied, she checked the stovetop and oven, made sure her apron was clean, slipped on her gloves, and checked her reflection. Stepping out of the kitchen, the redhead looked down at the two overburdened platters she carried.

 
            A tiny tremor caused the glassware to rattle. She closed her eyes and her arms stilled. Part of her wanted to turn back. Part of her wanted to simply deposit the platters in the dining room.

 
            Instead, the nanny steeled herself and went down the hallway straight to the apartment's master suite. She stared at the closed door. Uncertainty gnawed at her. Exhaling, she carefully set one of the platters on the floor and opened the door a crack. Retrieving the platter, she used her stockinged foot to open it all the way and brazenly strode into the bedroom.

 
            Ranma's hopes of completely surprising her mistress faulted when she saw that the green-haired woman was already awake and reclining in her bed reading.

 
            "Oh what a lovely surprise!" Setsuna closed the photo album and placed it on her nightstand. "It smells delightful."

 
            Blushing, Ranma placed one of the platters in front of Setsuna, such that its legs straggled the woman's thighs. She then placed the other platter on a dresser next to the bed. Ranma then unfolded a silk napkin and draped it over Setsuna's chest.

 
            "You didn't have to do this," Setsuna said as the nanny placed silver utensils in her hands.

 
            Ranma's blush grew as she stepped aside and clasped her hands before her.

 
            Setsuna raised an eyebrow and sampled one of buttery croissants. "Oh," her eyes widened and she went to the omelet and even took in some of the mead.

 
            The redhead's pride grew as she watched her mistress savor the meal. Her nerves settled, but only partially. This was only the start.

 
            With some reluctance, Setsuna put down her fork. Though she did nibble on a strawberry. "It seems someone had a good time at their date. Do you wish to share?"

 
            Blushing even more, Ranma nodded. "Wonderful food, great company but...

 
            Setsuna sipped some of her coffee. "But not your type." She leaned forward. "Not what you were looking for?"

 
            "I was surprised, he turned out nice enough but... I got ahead of myself. I mean the first time I have a... nice date. I mean nothing goes crazy and it happens to be with a guy, and I end up being the grabby one? It's too much!" Ranma babbled, and for once was glad that her hairstyle concealed her ears, doubtless they were furiously blushing. Her ears and the sides of her neck certainly felt hot enough.

 
            "Oh?" Setsuna took in the nanny. The new hair suited her, not to mention the collection of silk, lace, and ruffles she wore. She leaned back with an appreciative smile.

 
            Ranma gasped. "You're right, he's not what I wanted, not even Haruka is."

 
            "And here you are." Setsuna smiled

 
            "I talked with Michiru..." the redhead bit her lip.

 
            Nodding Setsuna, briefly closed her eyes. An unguarded moment among friends. A servant who wanted more. An employer who... Setsuna opened her eyes.

 
            Inwardly she sighed. She had wanted things to be perfect, and it seemed the nanny had beat her to the punch. Her own plans were far from ready. Getting the custom fabrics to Etsuko had taken long enough. Not to mention the jewelry pieces she had commissioned from Mayumi Osaka.

 
            Ranma was now standing by the dresser. "I think..." she reached out for the second platter, but hesitated. "I..."

 
            Seeing the younger woman tremble, Setsuna's pulse sped. The nanny was trying; she honestly was putting her whole heart into it. Setsuna's sense of guilt rose. Here she was the eternal Senshi of time and she had shown less courage than a scared young nanny.

 
            She hid behind the dream of perfect clothes, a perfect moment, a grand gesture. Haruka was right, any dress would have worked for Ranma, so would any restaurant. The older woman exhaled; Ranma wanted more; Setsuna wanted more. She would have to take charge.

 
             "I really love what you've done," Setsuna assured. "This is wonderful."

 
            Flush, Ranma nodded.

 
            "Why don't you had breakfast with me?" Setsuna asked.

 
            Visibly relieved, the redhead picked up her platter and turned to face the bed. Her smile faulted and the anxiety reappeared.

 
            Setsuna kept herself from frowning. Instead she gave a warm smile and "Ranma, come to bed. Now." She ordered pointed the empty left half of the large bed.

 
            Visibly relaxing, Ranma happily rounded the edge of the bed, placed the platter down, propped up its legs, and gingerly slipped underneath.

 
            After helping position the platter over her legs, Setsuna pulled the nanny closer to her. Feeding the redhead a strawberry, she adjusted the hem of the redhead's slip.

 
           Giving a smile of pure trusting bliss, Ranma leaned onto the woman and scooted as close as their platters could allow.

 
            "Now, this wonderful meal will keep us entertained for a while, but what about after that?" Setsuna asked. Feeling flush and warm, she leaned in and kissed the curvy redhead.

 

***************

 

 
            Carrying a black messenger bag, Nabiki stepped out of her room, the door pulled shut behind her. Her feet echoing on the floor, she went down the empty hall and rounded a corner. Standing near the stairs she adjusted her skirt and looked back.

 
            She sighed. The nameplate has been pulled off Kasumi's door. She glanced at what had, once, been the guest room. She could just make out Mr. Saotome's snoring within. She went down the stairs and rounded the corner and went to the kitchen. The room was clean, almost sterile.

 
            The woman Huang's lieutenant, Mr. Amin, had hired was capable enough and it kept Nabiki from having to cook and clean for those idiots but the message Miss Xi's presence sent was blatant enough. They were not just indebted to Mr. Huang's organization, they were dependent on it. The Tendo girl fingered the phone she'd stuffed in her blouse pocket.

 
            Akane was ignoring her calls, but Kasumi would answer... sometimes. And with Akane out of the house... maybe her guard would be down. Maybe she would be more open to meeting with Ranma. Nabiki looked around the cold, empty kitchen. That assumed that Akane had not moved on. That Akane still cared about Ranma, and not that Usagi girl or that brunette with the twin braids. Usagi made a poor decoy but given the jewelry she wore it was obvious she came from wealth and Nabiki could readily see the advantages of having a connected friend. Especially for a girl in Akane's situation. However, Akane had been avoiding Usagi too, but she was protective of her friends, and worried about Nabiki's own... desperation.

 
            Sighing, Nabiki ran a hand over the counter. It was clean. If anything, Xi was more ordered and anal retentive than Kasumi. The faint smell of harsh cleaners marked that. As for her cooking, Nabiki sighed. It was better than anything she could make, but it was just as clinical as her housekeeping. There was no creative flare, no joy and sometimes there was a metallic aftertaste that Nabiki found disquieting, especially since neither her father nor Genma seemed to notice.

 
            The Tendo girl went back to the front door and slipped her suit-coat out of the hall closet. She inspected its creases, seams, and fabric with a critical eye. Despite just being off-the-rack, she could ill-afford to get a replacement.

 
            She paused as she slipped it on. That was strictly not true but.... Shaking her head, Nabiki finished getting dressed, slipped on a pair of low open-toe heels, slung her messenger bag over her shoulder, and opened the front door. The cool morning air greeted her as she walked down the path that ran from the front door to the main gate.

 
            The trees had grown ragged and the grass was uneven with bare spots and high clumps. Her heels crushed the occasional weed that pushed up through the seams of the walkway. Frowning at the poor landscaping, she glanced at her watch. There was still a half hour before Miss Xi came in.

 
            Nabiki's problem was not that the servant looked down on how the property was kept, it was her not so subtle offers that her father accept more of Mr. Amin's "generosity". Closing the gate door behind her, Tendo girl sighed. Her father's pride had one advantage, it kept him from blindly accepting every bit of Huang's help.

 
            "It's a real shame. To see a family fallen on such hard times," an deep voice smoothly said.

 
            Nabiki straightened her back and turned. Before her stood a middle-aged man in a somewhat battered suit, that was still worth more than Nabiki's combo. He had a thin salt-and-pepper beard and short-cropped hair that was graying at the temples. Despite his sincere sounding voice, his grey eyes were completely cold.

 
            "Inspector Hayashi," Nabiki bowed just enough to be polite.

 
            "Miss Tendo," Assistant Police Inspector Hayashi glanced at the gateway and made a point of trying to look through the doors. "It's a real shame," he repeated as if he could look through the planks of wood.

 
            "Is this the latest police intimidation? Mocking my family's gardening skills?"

 
            "Far be it for me to criticize you and your father's skills," the detective blandly said.

 
            Nabiki sniffed and began to walk down the street. Of course they knew Akane and Kasumi had left. The police had put, not so subtle, agents all in the neighborhood. The Tendo girl glanced back and even saw the Inspector giving a little salute to a young, muscular street-sweeper with unusually short hair and guarded stance.

 
            After greeting Jiro, Hayashi chuckled and caught back up until he was half a pace behind and just to the left of the Tendo girl.

 
            "I'm just surprised. I would think your... father's associates would have taken better care of you." Hayashi smiled. "It's the least they could do. A nice garden would bring many happy memories, late in life."

 
            "Is this a threat?"

 
            Smile vanishing, Hayashi stopped walking. "Miss Tendo you misunderstand."
 
            Nabiki stopped. "Well, enlighten me. You fellows from the Criminal Investigation Bureau seem to be so interested in my life. Why I recall you were even at my high school graduation. And yet here I am, outside. And not waiting in an interrogation room with a pre-filled out confession form and a pen."

 
            "We do like to be thorough."

 
            "And how long has your investigation gone?"

 
            "Not quite as long as yours." Hayashi's smile returned. "Allegedly."

 
            Nabiki rolled her eyes.

 
            "Miss Tendo. You're a bright girl. A bit... lacking in self discipline and work ethic, but you're making good progress. Despite... issues your college application is going forward. And you have an office job, one that you, happily, go to early."

 
            "Not if this conversation takes much longer."

 
            "Oh, I'll put in a good word with your supervisor," Hayashi assured.

 
            Nabiki froze.

 
            "Ah, Miss Tendo you understand." Hayashi looked up at the early morning sky. He exhaled. "See, this is police intimidation. This is me threatening you. There's no need for us to scoop you off the street and leave you in an interrogation room for a couple days.

 
            "You're already in one. You could have a future. Yes we might not be able to get a confession out of you, and my superiors might not risk a trial especially against a minor but..."
 
            "But you'll ruin my life? You can't-"

 
            Still looking at the sky, Hayashi raised a hand. "Nothing of the sort Miss Tendo. It is hardly my fault that neither your employer, nor the university admittance office would look kindly at your... associates."

 
            "And this is where you offer me a way out?"
 
            Hayashi lowered his head his gaze was still cold, but there was a spark of mirth in his eyes. "Ah, I did say you were a bright girl."

 

***************

 

 
            The door to the White Crane opened. A young redheaded woman in a emerald green silk skirt, lavender blouse, and white fur coat stepped in. Stiff cotton, her blouse had jade buttons and green accents around her bosom and the collar that rode high on her neck. Pinned under the collar was a large jade broach.

 
            Pale stockings with just a tint of green peeked out from the calf-long fluted skirt and ran into sleek and glossy high heeled boots. Her hair was permed into dark red, curls on either side of her head that went down to her shoulders and stuck out almost as far. A pair of almost pink ponytails also hung from her temples to where they draped over the curl of her chest.

 
            A brunette woman slightly older than the customer stood behind the counter. She wore a burgundy komon. Bearing a dark almost silver green obi, the kimono had a fine repeating maple-leaf pattern in shades of orange. Subtly, there were a bare handful of crane silhouettes snuck into the komon's leaf pattern. An obsidian clip pulled her long hair over one shoulder.

 
            The brunette looked up from the counter. "Welcome to the White Crane; how may I help you?" she asked. The young brunette paused and tilted her head.

 
            The young woman in the white coat froze. Her eyes widened behind their silver-framed glasses, and a shiny clutch purse and long suit-bag nearly fell from manicured hands. "Kasumi?"

 
            Studying the voluptuous redhead, the brunette behind the counter blinked. "Oh my... Ranma?"

 
            Stepping up to the counter, the redhead gave a shy smile. "When did you start working here?"

 
            "A bit over a week. I'm just starting... Aunty Saotome heard about my hobby and..." Kasumi blushed.

 
            The redhead's smile turned nervous before jealousy crossed her face. It was then overwhelmed by guilt and anxiety. "Oh, how.... how are things going. With mo- Aunty Saotome."

 
            "Getting out of that house was for the best," Kasumi admitted in a quiet voice. "Akane seems happier. She's still settling in at her new school, but she's doing well."

 
            "I know, she's gotten really lively the last few times I've called. TA's club scene seems to be very competitive." Ranma gingerly placed her purse on the counter. And hung the suit bag on a hook that hung from a pole that came out of the counter for that exact reason.

 
            Kasumi noticed the little white crane logo on the right side of the big zippered bag. It was good that Akane and Ranma were talking but... "It's a shame you two haven't been able to meet up."

 
            Ranma's expression briefly soured. "Our schedules have been difficult, especially with the move."

 
            Spotting the obvious lie, Kasumi nodded. Akane and herself had already settled into Miss Saotome's place, and, if anything, it should be easier for Akane to meet Ranma, especially now that the Akane no longer lived under the same roof as Nabiki.

 
            The brunette frowned. No, there was something amiss between Akane and Ranma. And looking over the redhead, it was something Kasumi was beginning to understand.

 
            Sensing the disquiet, Ranma coughed into her hand. "How is the job? It's great that you can help someone."

 
            Kasumi winced, wondering if that was a dig at her idleness in the Mr. Huang disaster. "Uh, yes."

 
            "And it's great that Aunty Saotome took you in."

 
            Kasumi would have winced again, but she was unsure if the redhead was being sincere or dryly jealous.

 
            In the absence of a response, Ranma tried a different avenue. "That's a great hair ornament!" she exclaimed with genuine joy.

 
            "Suzuki-san gave it to me." Kasumi blushed. "And it's been going good. I'm learning a lot about fitting and adjustments."

 
            Now the redhead blushed in return. "Oh... well that's...."

 
            "I take it you'll need some fitting work on one of your kimonos?" Kasumi gently asked eyeing the hanging bag.

 
            Hesitantly, the redhead nodded.

 
            "You look wonderful! I'm sure we can get something setup," Kasumi smoothly said as she looked over the bound schedule book that had been discretely placed behind the counter.

 
            An elderly woman in another burgundy kimono stepped out from the back room of the narrow store. "Now, now Kasumi-chan," she gently chided. "Members of the Meiou family are special clients. We always have time for their custom requests."

 
            Etsuko Suzuki bowed to the redhead. "And how are we today Miss Ranma? Is Lady Hotaru doing well?" she asked looking over the redhead. Miss Meiou was right, getting an updated fitting on the redhead was paramount. She had already made allowances but...

 
            Ranma's smile turned glassy and her eyes went from Etsuko to Kasumi.

 
            The elderly woman caught the signal and laughed. "Don't worry Dear, while I trust No-chan's judgment I have my own ways of verifying people," she stepped up behind the counter and patted Kasumi on the shoulder. "Besides, this is one of the good Tendo girls."

 
            Kasumi gave a strained, almost ashamed, smile.

 
            "Hotaru's doing well. We had her audition for ballet."

 
            "Oh wonderful, I always thought she was such a graceful little girl. You've done such wonderful work with her physical therapy." Etsuko said as she unzipped the suit bag. Inside was deep red to bright yellow homongi with cloud patterns over a over light blue, snowflake adorned nagajuban. She smiled. "Such a lovely gift Setsuna-san and Lady Hotaru got you."

 
           Etsuko looked from the kimono to the redhead. "Ah a little resizing? I'm sure we can help you," the woman promised. Inwardly she wondered if there was enough material for that or if a new kimono might have to be specially made instead. That is in addition to Miss Meiou's surprise.

 
            Made-up cheeks turned a bit pinker as the curly and coifed redhead nodded. It had been a while since Setsuna had bought it for her, about a year if she recalled correctly.

 
            Zipping up the bag, Etsuko gave the redhead a kind smile. "I'll just put this in the back room. Is this a rush order? Perhaps a special dinner you need this for?" she asked lightly teasing.

 
            This time the circular green clutch purse tumbled from Ranma's hands. Cheeks flush, her hand darted. Thumb and forefinger pinched down onto the leather strap, catching the purse inches before it could hit the floor.

 
            "No, no, nothing like that. No rush. The size problem just happened so the fix can be whenever," Ranma assured as she slung the purse over one shoulder.

 
            Etsuko looked over the girl's figure . "Of course Dearie, I'll just put this back, and then we can discuss when you'll be free for a custom fitting."

 
            Blinking Kasumi turned to her new boss.

 
            "It'll help make sure I don't make a mistake," Etsuko patted Kasumi on the shoulder. "I'm getting forgetful in my old age, and I want to make sure I have the right numbers."

 
            Kasumi forced herself to nod. Something was up. Suzuki-san had an encyclopedic knowledge of her stocks and seemed to have an inexhaustible memory for customer orders and sizes. It was unthinkable for Etsuko to forget the sizes of such an important, repeat customer.

 
            Catching Kasumi's eye, Etsuko gave a warm smile with guarded eyes. Taking the kimono, she then went through the curtain separating the back room from the rest of the narrow shop.

 
            Nervously rolling her hips, Ranma looked out the window.

 
            "Aunty Saotome is very proud of you. You've grown into quite the young lady," Kasumi carefully said, testing the waters. Looking at the curvy redhead, she could understand things. Etsuko remembering Ranma's measurements became moot if the measurements kept changing...

 
            "Grown? Oh," the redhead blushed, tugging at her fur coat, as if trying to hide within it.

 
            Applying a critical eye, Kasumi noted that a garment that could fasten around Ranma's middle would be sorely pressed to even come close around her bust-line. It seemed the coat's designer knew that too, as it was cut back at the bottom over her bust with lapels that arced back to the shoulders.

 
            The coat was also longer in the back with angling sides that fell along the outer edge of the girl's flared hips. Now that Kasumi examined it, the garment was clearly tailored to emphasize the redhead's top and bottom.

 
            Kasumi made a thoughtful noise. The redhead's blouse and skirt were also similarly tailored and yet both covered much of the curvy young woman's body. "You're not offended at being quite the young lady?"

 
            Ranma's blush grew but her expression turned prideful. "Should I be?" she asked idly fluffing one of her drill-like curls.

 
            Kasumi held her tongue unsure how to proceed. If Ranma was not offended at becoming a young lady then her offense had to be at....

 
            Etsuko's return interrupted the brunette's thoughts. Turning to Ranma, Etsuko gave a warm smile. "If you've got the time Dearie, I'd be more than happy to do a fitting right now." She glanced at Kasumi and gave the brunette a meaningful look. Etsuko had specifically carved out time in her schedule for this, it was why Miss Meiou had sent Ranma over with her homongi. "Especially since I've got some new blood to help me."

 
            Kasumi nodded.

 
            "Come on then," Etsuko picked up Ranma's coat and sighed happily petting the fur. "Lovely work. Too few people appreciate good rabbit pelt."

 
            Clutching her purse, Ranma followed Etsuko towards the back of the store.

 
            Etsuko then motioned for Kasumi to come along, and the brunette joined the others. Ranma had already stepped onto the small platform in front of a trio of angled mirrors. Removed from its storage bag, the nagajuban and homongi of Ranma's kimono had been and hung over one of the mirrors.

 
            "How is Miss Meiou doing? I heard she came up with a new skirt design?" Etsuko asked as she picked up a measure tape and eyed the redhead's generous chest. Such endowments would be a challenge given the way a kimono draped over body.

 
            The older woman made a little sigh. Perhaps Meiou's ideas on foundation garments were right.

 
            "Where did you hear that?" Ranma innocently asked.

 
            "Oh we get to talking, fashion conventions, meet ups, things like that." Etsuko paused. "I don't go out often myself, but my friends do of course," she confessed, concealing the truth. She learned about Setsuna's designs the last time the green-haired woman had visited for her lessons in musubi and assembly.

 
            "Of course," Ranma nodded.

 
            "A bit too Western for my taste but that's girl's these days, and it is a lovely design."

 
            The redhead nodded. "Uh... well... it's part of a collection she's working on for the fall."

 
            Kasumi stared; her attention split. Part of her was fixated on the measurements that Etsuko was coming up with. The other part was on what Etsuko had said. Kasumi's heart fluttered; Aunty Saotome had confided in her about Ranma's boss' business but...

 
            "Oh, Kasumi," Etsuko sweetly said. "Can you go take out that fabric sample."

 
            Blinking, Kasumi obliged and went to the wall covered with wooden pigeonholes, each one filled with a different bolt of silk.

 
            "No, two up. Ah one over. No the left. Yes that's it!"

 
            Kasumi then took the bolt of warm, soft yellow fabric and following Etsuko's directions draped it over Ranma's outstretched arm.

 
            Making a thoughtful noise, Etsuko glanced between the redhead and the hanging garments.

 
            "Uh Aunty, I just wanted a fitting adjustment," Ranma blushed.

 
            "Oh, you'll deny an old woman her fantasies?" Etsuko sighed. "Besides you were more fun the last time you were here with all your little friends. And you're becoming such a polished young lady."

 
            The redhead's blush deepened, this time with embarrassment.

 
            "That'll be enough Kasumi," Etsuko caught the brunette's eyes and then gestured towards the front of the store.

 
            Kasumi bowed, returned the silk to its cubby-hole, and returned to behind the counter. She looked out the windows, and the conversation in the back resumed. This time about the mysterious young Hotaru.

 
            It took some coaxing on Etsuko's part but the redhead soon opened up and gushed about the girl's achievements.

 
            Kasumi adjusted her kimono's obi. Few of Etsuko's customers undressed to get their measurements taken. However most of those that went for custom fitting did. She wondered if Ranma was normally that shy or if it was because she was present.

 
            Exhaling, Kasumi looked down at the polished wooden counter. Once again she was standing aside. It was a familiar feeling, and not one she enjoyed.

 
            She stood aside and watched Nabiki, her father, and Mr. Saotome ruin Ranma's life. Akane helped, even Aunty Saotome helped... in a roundabout way. But Kasumi?

 
            From the back of the store, the redhead giggled.

 
            Despite herself, Kasumi leaned forward and tried to catch a glimpse of the redhead.

 
            The brunette flexed her hands. Ranma was family. She was as much her family as Akane, especially given Nodoka took them in. Kasumi doubted she could fix the issues between Ranma and her mother let alone the looming disaster of Mr. Huang and her father and Nabiki's legal problems.

 
            Kasumi pulled herself back and exhaled again. Those things were too big for her, but... but maybe she could help her little sister and her little sister's best friend. At the very least she could talk to Aunty Etsuko and Aunty Saotome, maybe even talk with this Miss Meiou or perhaps Akane and Ranma's mutual friends.

 
            Either way, Kasumi Tendo didn't want to stand aside anymore.

 

***************

 

 
            Slipping on a pair of black pumps, Ranma turned back to face Setsuna. "You know, you can tag along."

 
            The green-haired woman strode up to the curly-redhead and adjusted the ruffles adorning the chest of her pale rose-red dress. Her hand lingered before she drew the shorter woman into a hug.

 
            Relaxing, Ranma leaned onto the taller woman. "I'd be fun."

 
            "You should enjoy yourself with your friends," Setsuna broke the hug and then ran her hands down the length of Ranma's dress, pausing at the black bustier she wore over the dress and the encircling ruffles at the bottom hem just below her knees.

 
            Setsuna gave the redhead a critical, almost hungry eye.

 
            Giggling, Ranma did a slow twirl and cocked her flared hips. She then opened up the hall closet and slipped on her white rabbit fur coat.

 
            "You sure?" Ranma pushed her glasses back up her nose as she pouted and pulled the coat tight around her dress. Looking past the older woman and down the hall she suppressed a giggle.

 
            "I'll be a fifth wheel," Setsuna reminded. She also planned to stop by the White Crane tonight.

 
            The redhead's pout grew as she tapped her lips. "Well, I suppose you could dance with Mamoru. Usagi's too clumsy anyway. She can just sit on the side and look pretty."

 
            Setsuna smirked. "Leaving you with Ittou?"

 
            The nanny blushed. "Oh? Feeling jealous," she teased.

 
            The green-haired woman's smirk grew and she swept up the curvy nanny. Their lips met and the redhead happily curled into Setsuna's arms.

 
            Still embracing the nanny, Setsuna broke the kiss. "Jealous? Why?"

 
            Grinning, Ranma leaned onto her mistress. "You're definitely the better kisser."

 
            "Oh? Comparing notes?" Setsuna asked as her hand moved down Ranma's spine.

 
            The nanny's eyes widened slightly and her hips swayed. "Well... Ittou and Kimiko have been dating and I..." her blush grew. "And I wanted to make sure she liked him!" she blurted out.

 
            "Too easy to tease," Laughing, Setsuna patted Ranma's backside and leaned in for another kiss.

 
            Afterwards, the redhead gave a halfhearted pout.

 
            Setsuna looked over the redhead's lips. "You should probably do a bit of touchup."

 
            "You're the one that kissed me before I left!" Ranma reluctantly slipped out of Setsuna's arms and walked up to the mirror that hung near the front door. She looked behind and flashed a smile at Setsuna, and caught a glimpse of the kitchen.

 
            "It's your fault for being so delectable," Setsuna remarked slipping up behind the nanny. Her hand ran down the soft fur of the redhead's coat and gave the puffy cottony tail a light squeeze.

 
            "Guilty," Ranma purred as she fished a lipstick tube out of her purse.

 
            Setsuna gave a little sigh. "I think we're turning into the type of saccharin couple Haruka and Michiru fear."

 
            "There's a reason they don't like to go out dancing with Usagi and Mamoru."

 
            Setsuna nodded. "Is that the same reason Kimiko isn't?"

 
            "Dinner with her family," Ranma explained as she inspected her lips.

 
            Softly cupping a hip, Setsuna and rested her chin on the redhead's shoulder. "And last week's lesson?"

 
            "She grew bored," Ranma admitted. "She likes going out to dance but..."

 
            "She just doesn't like the classes." Setsuna kissed Ranma on the cheek. "I can sympathize."

 
            "You know, you're going to be the only one in this family that doesn't like to take dance lessons," Ranma teased.

 
            Setsuna simply smiled at their reflection. It had been a long time, a very long time since she had had a family. Glancing down towards the kitchen, she then stood up and smoothed her suit skirt. "You've decided?"

 
            Ranma nodded. "Hotaru has a natural talent for ballet. She'll need to catch-up before she'll really be ready for the rest of her school's team."

 
            "I'm sure you've got a training regimen drafted up," Setsuna joked.

 
            "Of course," the nanny nodded.

 
            Setsuna smoothly smiled. "Of course. And is she ready.. physically?"

 
            Concern washed over the redhead's face. She exhaled. "She's come a long way. I can give her a real leg up but." Ranma exhaled and swallowed her pride. "But professional help would be useful too."

 
            Smiling, Setsuna took Ranma's hand and gave a squeeze. "We'll start looking for a tutor tomorrow."

 
            "Yay!" Hotaru cheered as she scrambled out of the kitchen and wrapped her arms around her two guardians. "You're the best!"

 
            "Oh my, it looks like someone was spying on us," Setsuna said with mock gravity.

 
            "Yes, our very own little spy." Ranma ruffled Hotaru's hair and returned the hug.

 
            Giving a sly grin, Hotaru slipped between and, nearly vanishing, relished the group hug.

 
            Leaning over her daughter, Setsuna gently kissed Ranma and her lips lingered just barely brushing against the redhead's. "Now you're going to be late," Setsuna moved her arms to encircle Hotaru and pulled back from the nanny.

 
            Ranma gave a little pout.

 
            Giggling, Hotaru leaned on the redhead's soft dress for a couple more seconds before being pulled back by Setsuna.

 
            "Go have fun, and we'll pick you up afterwards." Setsuna gave a thin smile. "I'm sure you'll be quite hungry after the class is done."

 

***************

 

 
            Sitting in a booth, Nabiki paged through two sets of photos underlings had sent her. A burger sat half-eaten next to her tablet computer. Sanko had sent her a collection of photos from a martial arts tournament being held at a ski lodge a few hours out of the city.

 
            Nabiki sighed. It had been a fair expense but the tournament had a reputation. She paged back through the list of photos until she got to Ryoga's confused, snow-covered, face peeking out from the crowd. The next photo showed an empty spot. The third photo was on a lower angle and showed an angry piglet squirming out of a pile of clothes.

 
            The Tendo girl went back to the write-up Sanko had provided. She was impressed with her subordinate's work. A bit of hot water, some, not so feigned, flirting, and a few kind words had yielded a lovely interview.

 
            With a flick of the finger, she closed the interview transcript. The goon had run into Akane a few times, even Ukyou once or twice, but had not seen Ranma at all in either form.

 
            Nabiki then turned to Eri's album. The report was nothing special just a list of locations, summary of events, and highlight of participants. The photos were more interesting. Taken at that mall in Juuban Akane seemed to like, they were of Akane's little brunette friend, not so little bunny friend, and their dates.

 
            The two girls were in pretty dresses while their two male friends, one a prettyboy blond and the other a tortured artist type were wearing sport-coats and ties. The four of them were then going into a swanky nightclub, seemingly due to the flirtations of the girl with the twin ponytails done up bunny-style.

 
            Nabiki smirked. Akane had really chosen poorly with her decoy plan. Not only was this "Usagi's" face all wrong but her hair was the wrong shade of red, not to mention that Ranma would never go for such effeminate curls.

 
            Though the final nail came in the next picture. In it the big bunny-girl, wearing a swishing shimmering pink dress that went from neck to knee, had leaned her head on the chest of the blond prettyboy as the two shared a slow dance. In the background a thin black haired girl with twin braids was laughing while a brunette seemed vaguely worried and confused.

 
            Zooming in on the girl's face, Nabiki could just make out that the shy-girl's eyes were blissfully closed behind her glasses. Despite it all, Nabiki felt a pang of regret. She knew her sister was... friends with Usagi. And she knew that Akane had stopped meeting with her full-figured friend. It might not be fear that was causing Akane to avoid her redheaded friend. It might be jealousy.

 
            "Such a lovely couple," a smooth, warm voice said.

 
            Nabiki glanced up. Thin rectangular glasses shone as the man adjusted his shark-skin suit. He slid into the booth opposite her. His head was shaved ball and glossy topping the rest of his sleek, compact musculature. Long, almost delicate, fingers snatched the tablet computer and rotated it around.

 
            He zoomed back out to the full picture of the couple. "She's not exactly Huang's tastes. Too much meat on her. Besides, he likes more spirit. Maybe the two in the back with the glasses..." He hummed thoughtfully. "Now the blond..." the man gave a thoughtful nod. "He could work. Well, maybe after a few adjustments. Good work Tendo." He pushed the tablet back to Nabiki.

 
            "Mr. Amin," Nabiki crisply stated, as she bowed a tiny bit with her head.

 
            Amin smiled, flashing bright teeth. "Oh? You're not working your failure off by finding consolation... prizes?"
 
            "This is part of the search for Ranko," Nabiki said tapping the lock button on her tablet.

 
            "Forget the bunny, but contact the blond." Amin frowned at the now blank screen. "I'll send you a list of what Huang wants."

 
            Nabiki exhaled. "I don't think so."

 
            "You're actually right." Amin's teeth flashed again. He pulled Nabiki's tray a bit closer and then with the roll of his wrist flicked a matte-black handle into his palm. There was a click and a blade popped out. He then used it to poke at Nabiki's burger inspecting the toppings and sauces.

 
            The blade vanished back into his palm. "Operations are scaling back. The boss is worried."

 
            Nabiki nodded.

 
            "I'll be honest. I'm recommending a full pull out." Sighing, Amin's blade reappeared and he cut the burger in half and pulled the unbitten portion over. "We've indulged the boss for long enough; we're going home."

 
            "Well as much as I'll miss Miss Xi, its probably for the best," Nabiki stated as she watched Amin dice up the burger and pop the little chunks into his mouth.

 
            Amin stopped. He leveled his gaze onto the teenage girl. "You misunderstand Miss Tendo. We're going home. All of us."

 
            Nabiki forced her face to remain neutral.

 
            "What? Did you think that the boss would abandon his employees with outstanding... debts." Amin shook his head. "No, our organization, our family, endures because we take care of our own."

 
            "But I'm-"
 
            "One of us?" Amin asked with another flashing smile. "You do want to do more with your life than shuffle papers for some construction company? You're not just some desperate little girl looking to run to the nice policemen for a pat on the head are you? "

 
            Nabiki forced a snort. "Please, you're talking about the men who have threatened to ruin my life. The same men who pussyfoot around for over a year because they're more concerned with nabbing your boss than anything I'm doing."

 
            Smiling thinly, the mobster tapped the tablet computer. "You've got good instincts. You just had some bad luck. How would you like to go to the home office?"

 
            "What would I do there?" Nabiki then took a sip of her soft-drink, her mouth feeling dry.

 
            "Successfully doing what you've been failing at here. You might not be able to sate Mr. Huang's... personal tastes but clearly you can manage an informant network to find a wide variety of pretty young girls. Hong Kong does have a number of Japanese ex-pats though we will insist you learn the language."

 
            "It's common courtesy," Nabiki allowed. Part of her seized on the offer and began rationalizing it. What she would be doing would be no worse than what she was doing for Ranma, and she could guess that if she did not find fresh "recruits", she would be the next one in line.

 
            Taking a final bit of burger, Amin stood. "I'm glad we're in agreement. It'll be some time before everyone will get out, and things may get... bumpy, but keep your mouth shut and we'll get you home."

 
            Nabiki nodded.

 
            "And don't you worry about your family." Amin's toothy grin returned. "Play your cards right and Miss Xi will get to stay with them."

 
            "Father will like that," Nabiki flatly said. The unstated threat loomed over the table.

 
            "Buck up Tendo, you're being given a second chance." Amin patted her shoulder as he began to walk away. "Don't blow this one too."

 
            Nabiki stared at the remains of her meal. Any desire to finish had vanished. Slipping her computer into her black messenger bag, she stood up. She shrugged and simply walked out of the fast food place, leaving the remains of her and Amin's meal on the table.

 
            Walking down the sidewalk, she made her way back towards the offices of Gombe Heavy Construction. Nabiki's fingers flexed. The choice was stark. Inspector Hayashi was a prick more than willing to ruin her life, but he was not going to kidnap her.

 
            Crossing in an alleyway, she sighed. The problem was the Inspector's threats were not as... pointed as Amin's. Pain flared on her side and Nabiki's neck flipped as her view snapped between sidewalk, wall, and sky.

 
            She was yanked in a tumbling heap down the alleyway and her shoulder slammed into a doorframe as she was pulled across the threshold. The steel door slammed shut behind her.

 
            Gasping on a bare patch of concrete Nabiki looked down at her torn suitcoat and swore.
            Suddenly, Nabiki found her neck being wrenched up.

 
            Standing above her was a woman in a black-velvet cape and cowl. In one dark cobalt blue gloved hand she held a long whip that spilled across the floor and spread behind Nabiki. In her other hand was a tiny glossy green orb.

 
            A smaller flail-like weapon was slid through a black sash that ran across her dark sable bodice. Jagged purple crystals studded the ends of the flail. The woman's shimmering skirt was a similarly shadowy black that seemed to repel even the room's meager light.

 
            Nabiki tried moving her arms and was rewarded with a screaming pain in her shoulder and wrists that were bound with a tight cord that threatened to dig into her skin. Nabiki stared as the cobalt bow that adorned the woman's chest.

 
            Nabiki blinked away a couple tears of pain. "A magical girl?" she gasped.

 
            The shadowy woman paused. Cobalt lips curled into a smile and she nodded.

 
            "I am Countess Nemesis, Senshi of Themis" the mysterious woman regally declared. "And you, Nabiki of the Tendo Family and Huang Family, owe the Queen a debt."

 
            "I don't know what you're talking about." Nabiki winced as her elbow was pulled up wrenching her shoulder.

 
            A cruel smile blooming, the dark woman leaned over the teen. "No you don't. But that's not my problem."
 
            "Ranma right?" Nabiki's eyes widened. "It's always about him! What is he engaged to the queen?"

 
            The green orb rolled between the countess' fingers as she began to chuckle.

 
            "Is... is she the queen?"

 
            "How is it that one so ignorant can cause so much pain?" The countess' smirk vanished and with a sigh she pushed a lock of glossy black hair back behind her ear, beneath her cowl.

 
            "Is that how Ranma got away from me? Is she now sending her goons after me? Why won't she come and-" Nabiki screamed as her body was once again yanked to the side. The black cords holding her body tensed and slammed her into the closed door with a heavy thud.

 
           Blinking tears, Nabiki shook as pain flared anew in her shoulder and her wrists burned as the cords abraded her skin. There was a swish of fabric and a click of high heeled boots.

 
            Lifting her gaze, Nabiki could make out the dark woman's approach. She could also see the long hair spilling out from the countess' cloak and pooling beneath her.

 
            The countess knelt down before the teen. "Take solace in this. No one has sent me. Neither my queen nor her king consort are the one you so tormented." Her smile returned. "We are warriors of love and justice. And today you face the latter."

 
            Nabiki laughed, then cried in pain.

 
            From under the hood, a dark blue eyebrow raised.

 
            "Oh this is rich! I can understand the police taking their sweet-ass time! Mustn't screw up that near perfect conviction record. And Huang's too damn obsessed to give up, but I didn't realize magical girls had to deal with bureaucracy."

 
            As Nabiki gave a rasping laugh the countess, stone-faced, stood. The tendrils holding her wrists gave way. Nabiki pulled her arms forward and rubbed her wrists

 
            "Why didn't you stop me a year ago? If I'm so bad why didn't your queen act? It sounds like she really dropped the ball." Nabiki demanded as the tendrils took hold of her left hand. "What you didn't get the your precious queen to sign the ri-"

 
            The countess' boot stomped down; Nabiki screamed; bones broke. "I acted today, because they acted," Nemesis said as she rolled her heel on the back of Nabiki's left hand. She daintily lifted her boot and strode in front of the girl.

 
            "You bitch! You broke my hand!"

 
            The Countess tilted her head. "I came because Nemesis always follows Hubris." Again, she knelt before the crying girl. "Today you face three choices. Three punishments."

 
            "You can go with the police." She tightened her grip on her whip. "You can go with the mobsters." The crystals on her flail sparkled. "Or... you can go with me." The countess held the little green orb in front of Nabiki's face."

 
            The teen stared. She blinked some tears and stared again. Up close, the green ball looked like a jawbreaker. "Go to hell, you loon" Nabiki gasped.

 
            Nemesis stood. "It is your choice." The orb was slipped into her sash. "But I'd recommend taking the first two. At the very least, they'll delay the third."

 
            The countess used the toe of her boot to roll the bound girl over. She slowly draped her whip over Nabiki's face while her free hand took Nabiki's pinky. "Oh, and one bit of advice. Do not mock my queen," Nemesis hissed before snapping the girl's finger.

 
            Smiling, Nemesis loosened the bonds and walked away. Her hair trailed behind her in an obsidian train.

 
            Cradling her hand, Nabiki watched as the figure drifted off into the shadows of the darkened room and vanish.

 

***************

 

 
            A redhead in a high-necked purple blouse and ankle-length glossy blue skirt walked on the right side of a blond man in a white sport coat and grey slacks. Purple high heels peeked out of the hem of fluted her skirt, and he wore a black button-down shirt with a lavender tie the same color as her blouse.

 
            He carried a black gym bag over his left shoulder and held one strap of a large glossy leather travel-bag with his other hand. The redhead daintily held the other strap, her casual grip belling the case's heavy load. Her heels clicked in the sidewalk and her curls and "bunny ear" style ponytails swayed.

 
            "I'm kind of surprised you like the International Standard dances," Ittou admitted.

 
            "Oh? Assumed it was too cultured for me?" Ranma coyly asked brining her free hand up to her chest and brushing her nails against the Meiou broach she wore around her neck.

 
            Ittou laughed. "Far from it. It's all rather Western. Though your clothing style is very modern."

 
            "I have plenty of kimonos," Ranma winked.

 
            "Still, it's hard to find someone into this stuff," Ittou's voice had an edge of sadness.

 
            Ranma reached over and patted his right hand. "Well, the Waltz is fun. "

 
            Ittou grinned. "You do have a knack for recalling the moves."

 
            The nanny snorted, but, blushing, caught herself. "It's only sixteen moves."

 
            "That's the only the bronze level. Gold's got twice that."

 
            "I can handle plenty more than that," the nanny assured with a confident smirk.

 
            "I can tell. I'm worried you'll leave me behind and then
Mashuu Sensei'd have to assign you a new partner."

 
            Ranma lifted her hand up to pat his arm. "Then you've got plenty of motivation. Especially since you're supposed to be in the lead."

 
            "I'm a bit surprised you're okay with that... given your preference."

 
            Recalling how her most recent dates had gone, the redhead blushed. She withdrew her right arm and coughed. "Oh no, you can have the stuffy suits," Ranma said, after regaining her composure.

 
            "And here I'd think you'd say I had the legs for a nice eveningdress."

 
            Quickinging, her pace, the redhead stepped ahead of the blonde and gave a triwl so that she faced him. "Oh you do." Ranma theatriacaly looked the slim, pretty blond up and down. "But Kimiko wouldn't be too happy, and neither would you. And I can sympathize."

 
            "Small favor." Ittou blinked. He shifted his own clothes bag and looked at his... dance partner. "Impromptu practice?" he glanced around the street, several eyes were being drawn to her little manuver.

 
            The redhead smiled. "Well... this doesn't seem like the right place, but... the contra body movement is interesting."

 
            "Oh? It's just a trick to mask the shift from going in a straight line to a rotational movement: twist your torso and step forward with the oppostie leg."

 
            "You're not thinking like a martial artist."

 
            The blond blinked. "I'm a dancer."

 
            "Well, I'm both." The redhead blinked before shaking her head. "Trust me. I've seen it in other arts; stepping in opposition to your turn to allow your partner a tighter rotation."

 
            She let go of her bag and Ittou grunted at having to carry the entire load. "Now watch my legs." She glance back before her right leg moved backwards as the left side of her body also retreated, causing her body to begin a rotation to the left. Her arms went up and mimmed blocking a blow.

 
            "Okay..." Ittou frowned.

 
            "Now put down your bag and take my hands."

 
            Ittou complied the pair stepped forward then backward then Ittou found himself stepping back and rotaging his body to the left while her left leg went foward with the right side of her torso spinning hte both of them in a tight rotation to the left.

 
            "See, it's the same move as your leading motions. Though this is a bit extra," Ranma said as she rolled her torso to the side and arched her back.

 
            Still holding her hands, Ittou leaned forward, paused and then liefted up his hands as if he were drawing the redhead back up. "There are some dodges that are similar this but..." Ranma blushed as she smoothly rolled her torso back up. "They're not so flashy. Nor as slow."

 
            "You're very graceful coming in and out of sway." Ittou said as she gave her another triwrl. By now a crowd had formed, politely watching the pair. He lifted her arm up and the pair gave a bow to a collection of camera flashes.

 
            Blushing, Ranma waited for Ittou to retreive his bag and pick up hers. She blew the crowd another kiss and, smiling, posed for the cameras, basking in the attention. Once she had gotten over the initial fears of being spotted by Mr. Huang, the redhead's ego and vanity had reasserted with a vengeance.

 
            Why shouldn't she take pride in her looks? Especially when Akane had confirmed that Nabiki was fooled by her... "disguise". Even her school uniform was special now, thanks to Hotaru's suggestions and Setsuna's indulging smile.

 
             "It takes a lot of abdominal strength and control to roll your torso without just bending at the waist," Ittou said as the resumed hteir walk.

 
            "I know," Ranma tried not to roll her eyes as they waited to cross the street. She looked down the next block and spotted the icecream parlor

 
            "It's still a shame Kimiko isn't interested, maybe if we get more... serious," Ittou shifted his stride to try to carry both bags.

 
            Ranma's left arm went out and lifted his right wrist some. "Maybe, but don't get depressed if she doesn't. I know Puu's not too interested. Especially in this fancy stuff. She says she's spent more than enough time preparing for balls."

 
            "Oh?" Ittou looked thoughtful. "Well, I know Mamoru's disappointed, but maybe it's for the best that Usagi gave up. She was starting to turn Mashuu Sensei's hair white."

 
            "He's already going grey at the temples," Ranma pointed out as they neared the ice-cream shop. "Besides, she was getting better last week."

 
            "Sure, she only fell over twice."

 
            "That is better! And it's not like Mamoru was showing great talent himself. Not like you."

 
            Ittou opened his mouth. He then frowned.

 
            As the pair stopped, Ranma giggled. "You know I'm right."

 
            "Just because dancing with her is a tedious, worrying chore, while dancing with you is a refreshing breath of fresh air." Ittou shrugged, practicing with Ranma was uniformly pleasant and enriching. The young woman's bottomless energy was downright infectious.

 
            The nanny blushed. "Careful, you might not want your girlfriend to hear that."

 
            "Eh, Kimiko knows we won't get up to any mischief.

 
            Ranma raised an eyebrow.

 
            "I've seen your lady friend, getting Miss Meiou upset seems like an easy way to earn a short but painful life."

 
            "Not to mention Kimiko's wrath." The nanny giggled. "Or Usagi's. Not to mention how disappointed Mamoru would be..."

 
            "Yeah, I've known Mamoru and Usagi for along time and..."

 
            "And?" the redhead playfully asked the sun glinting off her glasses.

 
            Ittou slumped his shoulders in defeat. "And last week was the most graceful I've seen her."

 
            "See, was that so hard?" Ranma patted him on the shoulder. "Though I have seen her be more graceful."

 
            Ittou pointedly raised an eyebrow at her. "See, when you say things like that..."

 
            The redhead waved him off. She glanced at her watch then looked over his shoulder at the shop they stood in front of. "Thanks for the help," she said giving him a big soft hug. "Give Kimiko my best!" she added kissing him on the cheek.

 
            Smiling and adding a bit more of a sway to her step, she gathered her bag and slipped into the ice-cream parlor. A quick glance revealed a certain brunette sitting in one of the far booths. However, the nanny patted the front of her straining blouse and went to the counter and placed an order.

 
            After the detour she approached the booth. One hand held her bag, the other held a tray bearing two heavy milkshakes. One was a frothy mango and French vanilla blend with bits of shaved coconut. The other was caramel cream with shaved mint flakes and fudge chips.

 
            Kasumi eyed the redhead's figure as the nanny approached. She gaze seemed to linger on the redhead's hair and hips. The voluptuous young woman placed her bag on the far side of the booth's seat and gently deposited the tray on the table. Smoothing her shiny skirt, she then gingerly sat down across from the eldest Tendo.

 
            "How's Etsuko treating you at the White Crane?" Ranma asked, pleased to see that Kasumi already had a sherbet bowl. The redhead picked up both milkshakes and drew them a bit closer and took out a spoon.

 
            "Quite well, I'm learning a lot," Kasumi said watching the redhead enjoy first one shake, then the other.

 
            Savoring the rich fudge, Ranma nodded.

 
            "Pardon me, but I couldn't help but noticing..."

 
            Ranma's spoon stopped.

 
            Kasumi cleared her throat. "Was that a lovely young woman or a... handsome young man who was just escorting you? I don't want to presume and with your friends it can be hard to tell."

 
            "Ittou's a guy."
 
            "Oh my."

 
            "No, it's just dancing. Nothing more."
 
            "If you say so," Kasumi took a little bit of sorbet.

 
            Ranma blushed. "Look, we did date... but there wasn't anything there."

 
            Kasumi nodded.

 
            "Just the one time! Besides he's with someone else; I'm with someone else!"

 
            Kasumi reached out and held the nanny's hand. "It's okay, that's not why I wanted to talk."

 
            The nanny stiffened as her shoulders squared and she glanced around the parlor. "Why did you want to talk?" she then sweetly asked.

 
            Kasumi's eyes went from the redhead's bulging blouse to her drill-like curls and bunny-lop like ponytails. "You haven't seen Akane since you got your hair redone?"

 
            "Not for a while. Not since you two moved out, actually," Ranma confessed.

 
            "But you've talked," Kasumi pointed. Unstated was where she and Akane had moved to.

 
            "Of course! She couldn't stop bragging about the fancy school she got into," Ranma shook her head, a tinge of jealousy coloring her face.

 
            "It took her a while to get used to it," Kasumi mildly said. "At first she was embarrassed at all the help Auntie Nodoka was giving us."

 
            Ranma spooned some of her vanilla milkshake. "You know, I've got another friend who goes to TA girls. I think she and Akane could have a lot in common."

 
            "Ranma?"

 
            The redhead smiled. "Kasumi, I've got plenty of... issues with Mother, but I'm glad that she's able to be there and help you both."

 
            Kasumi noted the regret creeping into the redhead's voice. Again, she took Ranma's hand. "So, that's not why you're avoiding Akane?"

 
            The nanny shook her head. "Besides, she's avoiding me."

 
            "It takes two to tango, Ranma."
 
            The redhead giggled.

 
            Kasumi blinked.

 
            "Sorry, sorry. Mashuu Sensei had us go through a demonstration run of the tango today." She leaned in towards Kasumi. "Personally, I like the waltz better, but with the right partner the tango could be quite fun." The redhead then sucked at the straw to her caramel milkshake.

 
            "My," Kasumi laughed. "But no. I meant that you're all that's keeping you from seeing Akane."

 
            Ranma looked down. "She says she's really busy."

 
            "She is, but you've never been one to let others push you around," Kasumi squeezed Ranma's hand.

 
            The redhead raised her eyes and pushed up her glasses. "I ran away."

 
            "The Saotome Secret technique: a tactical retreat to buy more time and space to come up with a solution."

 
            The nanny exhaled. "I'm aware."

 
            Kasumi nodded. "I'd say you've used it to... considerable advantage."

 
            "Pardon?" Curls swaying, Ranma tilted her head. Sniffing, she tilted her head.

 
            A grinning waitress carried an immense lidless ceramic tureen overloaded with ice-cream, chocolate sauce, diced fruit, and sprinkles.

 
            "Oh look," Kasumi gave a lopsided, conspiratorial smile. "I actually ordered for you."

 
            With a heavy klunk, the waitress placed the sundae on the table. She then, to Ranma's flushing embarrassment, pushed the double milkshakes aside. "I'll leave you with two spoons, just in case," the waitress added after giving the redhead a meaningful look.

 
            "Well... at least it didn't come with sparklers," Ranma admitted, picking up a spare spoon.

 
            "I thought some restraint would be appropriate," Kasumi teased.

 
            "Oh, they do have the best stuff here," Ranma cooed as she dug into the sundae.

 
            "It is lovely to see you so comfortable and... content."

 
            Ranma murmured happily.

 
            "You've really grown into quite the woman." Kasumi's secret little smile returned.

 
            "Flatterer." the redhead's ears began to turn pink.

 
            "You do look wonderful," the brunette repeated. "So elegant, so poised, so ladylike."

 
            A thin crimson eyebrow arched and the corners of glossy, pastel lips quirked up. "Do tell," she dryly remarked.

 
            "The time you must spend on that hair alone..." Kasumi's cheeks began to flush. "I can see why Akane's jealous."

 
            "She's jealous?" Ranma lowered her spoon and switched to one of her milkshakes.

 
            She then gave a little sway in front of Kasumi and rolled her torso. "Of this?" Ranma asked, her hand sweeping her curvy expanse.

 
            "You're strong but feminine. You have a job but are independent. You're bookish and demure but...."

 
            "But?"

 
            Now fully blushing, Kasumi gestured to the redhead's chest.

 
            "Yeah, they're something," Ranma said, her words prideful but cautious.

 
            'You must have put a lot of love and care into..." Kasumi coughed. "Into your development."

 
            Perplexed, the redhead tilted her head causing her "ears" to flop from side to side.

 
            "Please, you're not that dumb," Kasumi stated, the gentle teasing gone from her voice..

 
            The redhead froze. Those harsh words were as jarring as if the eldest Tendo girl had snorted and slapped the table with her palm.

 
            Kasumi shook her head. "If I know one thing about Ranma, it is that Ranma does not lack self control. If your-" Kasumi blushed again. "If your... figure is like this it's because you wanted to be this way."

 
            Ranma blushed.

 
            "It's okay," Kasumi leaned across the table and patted the nanny's shoulder, her hand pausing to run along the spiraled curls and ruffles on the front of her blouse.

 
            "It was just so nice. The fancy dinners, the fancy dress. Being with them. It just happened." Ranma adjusted her glasses.

 
            Kasumi reached out and gave another pat. "I doubt they tied you down and force-fed you."

 
            The redhead giggled.

 
            "And even if they could... it's not like they could keep it up. You didn't... mature overnight did you, Dear?"

 
            Ranma pulled Kasumi's hand to her chest.

 
            Kasumi found herself tugged forwards. There was no resistance. Her eyes widened when she saw the musculature pop up when the redhead's forearms flexed. Gold bracelets chimed and rattled. Kasumi swallowed. She had a hunch, and her arm was still trapped.

 
            "Ranma, Aunty Etsuko mentioned physical therapy for Hotaru."

 
            "Yes, that's a major part of my job. She... she had development problems. But she's made great progress. It's really amazing," the redhead added her voice happy and proud.

 
            "And weight training?"

 
            "To built up muscle of course."

 
            "And your own training?" Kasumi gave a weak smile and looked at her immobilized hand.

 
            "Of course! I'd never abandon that." Ranma's gaze slipped to the side slightly. "I did adapt but that's part of it."

 
            Kasumi's smile turned kind almost matronly. "Ranma..."

 
            The redhead flushed and her hands held onto Kasumi. The older girl gave a gasp until Ranma lessened her grip.

 
             "What? What do you want me to say?"

 
            "Well, I'm happy that you actually noticed your changes." Kasumi smiled. "I was worried you'd simply order another sundae. I was afraid you didn't even notice it."

 
            Ranma blushed. "I'm not that dumb."

 
            "Silly big bunny," Kasumi teased. "No, but were you... ignoring it? All the fancy dinners, all the fancy clothes. Does that really 'just happen'?"

 
            The nanny's hand shook and she slowly reached out to the caramel milkshake. She closed her eyes and took a long drink. "I know I'm gaining weight. And I don't really care what other people think... actually most want to take pictures and pose with me," the nanny smiled and squared her shoulders.

 
            "There are parts I enjoy," she shifted her blouse slightly. "And it isn't something I had to deal with immediately, so I moved onto moves on to what's really important to me."

 
            "Hotaru?"
 
            Ranma nodded.

 
            "So, there was no need to confront things? It didn't interfere with her life." Kasumi looked thoughtful. "In fact I'd bet it enhanced things. Or at least it was encouraged by all those dinners and fancy clothes."

 
            The redhead took Kasumi's hand again.

 
            Kasumi squeezed back. It was like holding rock. "I want you to say that this has been your choice. That you picked this life for you, that you're happy with who you are. That you're a beautiful young woman. That you're proud of your body." Kasumi looked the nanny in the eye.

 
            Ranma looked down at the hand she held to her chest. She had come a long way from the scared desperate little redhead that had arrived at Setsuna's door; she had come even further from the soaking wet pigtailed girl that had stumbled at the Tendo's door.

 
            "It happened so slowly... and by the time I realized who I was becoming, I preferred it over who I was."

 
            "That's sweet." Kasumi's motherly smiled returned. "I can see why you're Akane's best friend. It also explains the jealousy she's got."

 
            Ranma blushed.

 
            "And I hope I'm still be your friend. It sounds like we have a lot in common. We both had the responsibilities of... mother hood thrust upon us."
 
            Still blushing, Ranma nodded. "I only took care of one girl."

 
            "It's okay; I had two and had... mixed luck." With her free hand Kasumi reached out and patted Ranma's shoulder. "If you want to make... adjustment that you can. You have people who love and support you."

 

***************

 

 
            Smaller than the grand apartment Ranma lived in, Nami's apartment was a bit bigger than Kimiko's. Unlike the black-haired girl, Nami actually had a bedroom to herself. However it was a rather small affair, especially with three girls laying in the beds they had unrolled.

 
            Wearing a ruffled-edged gauzy nightgown that shifted between beige and pale blue depending on the angle of the light Ranma lay to one side and nibbled on the contents of one of the takeaway boxes from the earlier day's trip to Sweets Paradise

 
            Wearing a pale green negligee Kimiko sat with her legs crossed and sipped from a can of Sangaria.

 
            Near the door Nami picked a bit self consciously at the shoulder of the purple pajamas she wore. "I didn't realize our bedroom wear would be so fancy." she muttered as she snuck a morsel of flan out of one of the spare cake-boxes.

 
            Kimiko simply flourished her hand and pointed to the luxuriously lounging luscious nanny.

 
             "What?" the curly redhead paused and licked her spoon.

 
            "Ranma doesn't count," Nami said.

 
            Pouting, the nanny lowered her head and let her dangling curls conceal her face.

 
            "It's not like that," Nami rolled over to hug the nanny. "It's just I don't think you know how to dress casually."

 
            With her head still down, Ranma gave a hidden little smirk.

 
            "The most casual thing she wears is her school uniform," Kimiko reminded.

 
            "Which she got custom tailored for the new term."

 
            "I only lengthened the skirt!" Ranma cried before sipping some of her milk.

 
            "Oh really?" Kimiko stood up and slid open the door to her closet. The tiny storage space was filled with hanger rods mounted on inset channels that allowed them to be hinged back. The lower half of the closet was full of rows of stackable plastic boxes.

 
            Kimiko fiddled with the hangers and pulled out three zippered suit-bags. She then unwrapped them and hung each from a row of hooks on the room's opposite wall.

 
            "That's is pretty obsessive Kimi-chan." Nami said.

 
            "Yeah, this is more involved than Puu's organizational ability," Ranma noted.

 
            "Given your special-someone does for a living I'll take that as a compliment," Kimiko said as Ranma blushed.

 
            "I was more concerned that she didn't have to sort, hang, and bag all our clothes right after we got here and changed into our nightwear," Nami stated again adjusting her pajamas.

 
            "Maybe we should have spilled a bit of cake at Sweets Paradise. That way we could have found out if they'd be cleaned and pressed by morning," Ranma playfully suggested.

 
            "Very funny," The black-haired girl said, setting up the three sets of clothes. Eash set consisted of a white blouse with blue sailor-style collars, red chest bow and blue pleated skits. They were all Jubban High girls' uniforms. Two had standard skirts that ended a bit below the knee, while the third had one that was a dozen centimeters longer.

 
            Looking between the uniforms, Ranma blushed and picked up her glass and drank some milk.

 
            "Well, the longer skirt is just the start," Kimiko said as she picked up a hair brush and used it as a pointer. "Note how the bow is bigger and a shinier almost pink, color."

 
            "It's cinnamon with fuchsia flecks," Ranma grumbled.

 
            "Not to mention the ruffles on the collar," Nami said.

 
            Kimiko's hairbrush went to the collar. Instead of the double row of white piping like the other two uniforms, Ranma's uniform collar was edged in twin overlapping rows of white ruffles that edged the blue material.

 
            "And the upgrades to the cuffs," Kimiko said as she lifted up a sleeve. Instead of blue cuffs with white piping, Ranma's uniform had white ribbons threaded though the cuffs and tied off into floppy little bows.

 
            "Well what do you expect, with those shimmering sleeves or that 'belt' of hers," Nami laughed.

 
            Blushing Ranma watched as Kimiko first pointed to the blouse's glossy sleeves. then to the shiny pink sash tied atop her skirt, and finally flipped the garment around to reveal the puffy bow knotted in back.

 
            "Yes Ranma, you just lengthened your skirt," Kimiko teased.

 
            "That was the major change," the redhead admitted.

 
            "Ah you just forgot a few little details, like when you lengthened the skirt you added lacy applique scrollwork." Kimiko said as she pulled up the bottom of the elongated skirt to reveal the delicate white curving accents adorning the left side.

 
            "Don't forget the shoulders!" Nami added.

 
            "How could I?" Kimiko nodded prodding shoulders that despite being on a hanger were still noticeably puffier and bigger than those on the other uniforms.

 
            "I wanted something special for my last term," Ranma said, her cheeks still flush. She took a bit of her cake and downed some of the milk before her.

 
            "It is very special," Kimiko sincerely said. She watched as the redhead took comfort in the leftover cake and milk. The black-haired girl wondered if she had bought a large enough bottle. She hardly drank the stuff, and no one else in her family touched the stuff..

 
            Nami's voice turned gentle. "And since you were getting a custom uniform anyway..."

 
            Ranma nodded. She could see the changes that her friends had, pointedly, avoided mentioning. Such as the size of the blouse, or that in addition to being longer, her skirt was also wider.

 
            "It really is very lovely," Kimiko assured. "I'm just pointing out that this..." she gestured with her hair brush. "Is about as casual as you get."

 
            "We do love that you've gotten out of your shell but..."

 
            "But?

 
            "Well, sometimes it looks like you're dressing to troll the Ginza district."

 
            Slowly blinking her long lashes, the redhead gave her friends a flat look. "Yes? We were just there. You wanted to look for a new dress," she pointed to Nami. "And you wanted to check out a coffee house and pick up some brushes for Kikuko," she told Kimiko.

 
            "At least the two of us didn't get mobbed by fans," Nami countered.

 
            "And you wanted to try out Sweets Paradise next door in Shibuya," Kimuko added.

 
            "And you also got people taking your photos there too."

 
            "You would have if you'd kept your 'Green Mountain' hairstyle," Kimiko told the brunette.

 
            Nami blushed. "That's for special occasions."

 
            "Everyday is special," Ranma promised as she fluffed her hair.

 
            Kimiko lifted the redhead's rounded chin. "And that's the thing isn't it? You're not afraid. You're busy celebrating your life."

 
            "I don't want to hide anymore," the nanny admitted.

 
            "Well, giant curls, fancy clothes, and a full figure tend to stand out."

 
            The redhead giggled and rose up striking a lounging pose. "Far from the scared little tomboy you two took in, eh?"

 
            "You're twice the girl she was," Kimiko teased, but her tone had a probing, pointed undercurrent.

 
            Nami blinked, and noted at the blushing nanny. "Your girlishness crept up so fast we hardly noticed until you had suddenly eclipsed us in femininity."

 
            "It helps that Setsuna can get me custom clothes. Whatever I want..." Ranma's blush grew.

 
            "An unlimited wardrobe..." Nami shook her head.

 
            "And that's why you always get new dresses and don't wear your old ones," Kimiko said with the same probing undercurrent.

 
            The redhead obliviously nodded. "Dresses, skirts, kiminos, sleepwear," she gestured to her negligee, "uniforms both work and school. It's not much more to get something... special."

 
            Feeling a tinge of jealousy, Kimiko nodded. Of course Ranma's "mistress" was moneyed. The redhead was still, technically, a live-in servant. She also noted the absence of pants in that list. Though it had been a long time since she had seen the nanny wear pants, and had her own suspicions why the redhead had dropped them.

 
            The jealousy was temped by what she knew about Ranma's childhood. Kimiko had loving parents who supported her. Ranma.... did not have that luxury. From what Kimiko could glean from Ranma's, and Akane's, unguarded moments plus the scraps from Hotaru's photo album it was clear that the redhead had been forced to conform to certain... expectations.

 
            "It's also very sweet that you got fitted uniforms for Makoto, poor girl's spent too long without a proper uniform," Nami went back to her flan.

 
            "It is hard when you're too tall for normal clothes," Kimiko said, sitting back down.

 
            "She did insist on none of my 'extras' be added to her uniform," Ranma said with a giggle.

 
            "Makoto does seem more practically minded," Nami admitted.

 
            "She's a hopeless romantic," Ranma corrected.

 
            "Emphasis on the hopeless," Kimiko said sympathetically.

 
            "Hey! You and Ittou seem to be doing well," Ranma cheered.

 
            "Thanks." Kimiko stole a bit of Nami's flan. "But I was talking about the boy before him. The one you two warned me about."

 
            Ranma and Nami nodded. They had warned Kimiko about Kenusuke but it took finding out he was cheating on her to break the spell.

 
            "Better than the girl Ittou saw before you," Nami joked.

 
            "It was only one date!" Ranma blushed. "And she's the one that set me up with him!"

 
            Kimiko coughed. "Well, yes, I'll admit that was a... mistake." She glanced at the redhead. She thought the nanny protested her lack of interest in boys a bit much but the curvy girl clearly did prefer women.

 
            "But, I never would have thought we'd get boyf-" Kimiko nervously glanced at Ranma "get into relationships before she did. I mean Makoto's so athletic and tall."
 
            "And a good cook," the redhead said her attention back to her cake.

 
            "Though I do feel that Ittou and me have just been 'paired off'."

 
            Nami scooted forward and nibbled on the remaining flan. "Oh? Why's that?"

 
            "Because it's got an element of truth?" Ranma gently suggested.

 
            Kimiko glanced down.

 
            Ranma took her friend's hand. "Both Nami and I have had our crushes for a while and now..." she looked to Nami and the pair shared a pair of mushy smiles that made Kimiko's brow furrowed.

 
            "Right, and I'm with what's basically a blind date."
           

 
            "Why does that sound so familiar?" the redhead innocently asked.

 
            "True, true." Nami nodded at the hanging uniforms. "And that was a wonderful distraction from your choice in bedtime eveningwear Kimi-chan."

 
            "It was!" Ranma leaned forward. "So... was it a gift from Ittou-kun?"

 
            "If it was, wouldn't you know?" Kimiko smirked.

 
            The redhead blushed. "I don't know what you're talking about."

 
            "Oh? So it's just coincidence that he knew where to take me for our month anniversary, what movie I wanted to see, or what my favorite flowers were?"

 
            "Flowers are pretty," Ranma weakly defended. "We're not doing anything."

 
            "I know." Kimiko hugged the curvier girl. "It's okay, I know you're not into guys."

 
            Nami was suddenly very focused on her flan.

 
            "And besides, you're with Miss Meiou."

 
            "Really it's kind of cute that you and Ittou can talk about your girlfriends."

 
            "Don't forget Mamoru," Nami added. "Doesn't he go out with you two?"

 
            "Sometimes, not as much after Usagi got frustrated with dance class."

 
            "I can't blame her," Nami sighed.

 
            "You don't like dancing?" Ranma asked.

 
            "I like having fun. What you and Ittou do is too much like work."

 
            Ranma pouted.

 
            "Miss Meiou agrees with me doesn't she?"

 
            The nanny's pout grew.

 
            "So... a couple things." Nami held up a finger. "One: how is your relationship going. And two: is Miss Meiou really the 'girlfriend' in this relationship?."

 
            Ranma looked from her beribboned and bowed, ruffled and laced school uniform to at her powder blue shear nightgown. Frowning she lifted her head, causing her heavy curls to sway about. "Well..."

 
            "Yes?" Kimiko eagerly asked.

 
            Ranma looked away. "After I made her breakfast in bed..."

 
            "Now you're being a tease."

 
            The nanny gave a shy smile.

 
             "Tell us," Nami eagerly leaned forward.

 
            "Well..." Shifting how she knelt, Ranma pressed her knees together. "I wouldn't say she's the... girlfriend," she added with a blush.

 
            "Oh?" Nami asked as realization dawned.

 
            "How assertive is she?" Kimiko gave a naughty smirk. "I bet Meiou's actually very gentle."

 
            "She does have experience." The redhead's blush grew.

 
            "Wait! You're telling me Miss 'I'm too shy to date' beat us in the bedroom?" Nami asked.

 
            "I think it was the breakfast in bed." Ranma gave a nervous giggle.

 
            "It's actually pretty sweet."

 
            Kimiko nodded. "In that case I'd think we've beyond merely Meiou not being the 'girl' of the relationship."

 
            The redhead's gaze averted again.

 
            Kimiko gently lifted the nanny's soft chin. "Please, Miss Meiou's the breadwinner, meanwhile you're looking forward to becoming a homemaker. She literally wears the pants in your relationship."

 
            "Puu prefers suit-skirts," Ranma mumbled.

 
            "Do you even own any pants?" Kimiko asked.

 
            "I've got a couple pairs in the closet!"

 
            "Do they fit? Unless you bought them this school term-" Seeing the redhead's flushed face Kimiko stopped.

 
            The redhead froze. Her jaw worked. She looked down at the rolling curves of her lounging form.

 
            "I'm sorry," Kimiko gasped
           

 
            "It's okay Honey," Nami hugged the larger girl.

 
            "I... we know," Kimiko assured. She knew Nami had not seen the photos, but the brunette had come to basically the same conclusion.

 
            "You do?"

 
            "You came to Jubban on the run, starved... abused," Nami's voice lowered as she stroked the girl's hair.

 
            "We could tell people were after you, that your family was trying to make you into something you weren't. It's no wonder you had body issues," Kimiko slipped to the other side and joined in a group hug.

 
            She recalled the photos at the start of Hotaru's album. As the start they told a sad story both for Ranma and for Hotaru. For the latter it was of a little girl being teased for physical frailty and for the former....

 
            The album's first picture was of a eight year girl with bright-eyes behind her glasses and plenty of baby-fat wearing a teal school jumper happily waving at the camera. Her dark red hair was in twin ponytails held up with little black rabbit barrettes.

 
            The second was of a chubby fourteen year old girl sitting in a koi pond, shock on her soft features. Her hair was done in twin braids that came from behind each ear, one of which was starting to fall apart. The girl's ample figure pushed out her black blouse and her red skirt was soaked. Her glasses had fallen off and were caught on a button near the top of her blouse. Blue eyes radiated hurt and confusion and she looked off to the side at an equally young Akane who simply looked at the ground.

 
            The third picture was the most recent and could not have had her younger than fifteen, though Kimiko guessed it could have been taken anytime between then and Ranma's escape to Juuban. In it the redhead was reduced to a single pigtail, and she wore a grubby gi that hung off a thin figure. In the picture the barefoot girl morosely picked at a riceball.

 
            After that was the same thin girl but now she wore a Juuban high school uniform, glasses and was once again smiling.

 
            Kimiko sighed. It was still scant information, but it matched close enough with what little Akane, Ranma, and "Aunty" Saotome had said. She had surmised that Ranma had been forced to become more "appealing" because of the engagement. Either by her fiance or by her parents.

 
            Nami was not so certain, but agreed that such changes in addition to all the other stresses she had fled from were not a good sign.

 
            Kimiko hugged her friend again. In a way it could be a good thing that the nanny was letting herself get more... comfortable. In another way... it could be a sad legacy of the abuse she escaped.

 
            "It's no wonder it's taken you so long to return to who you really are," Nami assured.

 
            The redhead basked in the affection. A bit of her felt guilty for leading on her friends... for letting them assume lies. A larger part countered with: how much of what they think is a lie? Both parts were ignorant as to what her friends really thought.
 
            "You think I'm..." Ranma waved at her hips. "Return?"

 
            "I've seen the work you put Hotaru though; I've seen how much self control you have," Kimiko stated.

 
            The redhead's blush dwindled. That is what Kasumi had said. "Was it ever a secret?"

 
            "Please," Kimiko snorted. "You know how competitive we girls are. Don't you remember when you figured out Misaki had started wearing cheaters?"

 
            "Of course her bust started to get bigger but the rest of her...." Ranma's eyes widened. "Oh."

 
            "Silly bunny," Nami hugged.

 
            "But return?" the redhead asked.

 
            "Well back to the happy... little girl you were," Kimiko stumbled, not wanting to blurt it out. "You know before Nerima happened, before the other Ranma, before the engagement, before you were... forced."

 
            "Before things got bad," Nami completed.

 
            Nodding, Ranma soaked in the affection. Her guilt grew a bit. Of course they thought she was a girl and had always had been one. Gender change curses were far harder to believe than having two people in two different families with the same name.

 
            "Wait... you said you had two things to say?" Ranma asked, blinking back to earlier in the conversation.

 
            "Ah yes the second thing," Nami blushed as she collected her thoughts. She held up her hand lowered all her fingers but two. "Kimiko still hasn't told us where she got her negligee from."

 
            "I'm actually surprised Ranma hasn't guessed." Kimiko smirked.

 
            The redhead blinked.

 
            "You visit her every week, in order to keep those luscious locks," Kimiko said as she ran a hand down one of Ranma's bunny ears.

 
            Blushing, the redhead murmured happily.

 
            "Kikuko gave it to you? Why?" Nami asked.

 
            "I didn't think, Kiku-chan's interests went that way," Ranma distractedly noted.

 
            "No! It was a gift. She's hoping I'll come work for her while I go to Junior college."

 
            "A bit personal," Nami skeptically noted.

 
            "You thinking of working for her after school?

 
            "At least until you're married," Nami muttered. Ranma not going to college was no surprise, but that Kimiko going to junior college made the brunette feel a bit empty. Both of her closest friends seemed happy enough to settle for a domestic life.

 
            "Kikuko would like me to get credentialed, and it's not like it'll be hard to find a place with beautician courses and a small business curriculum."

 
            Ranma nodded. "Makes sense, it's not like you'd need the full four years to learn what you'd need."

 
            Nami shook her head.

 
            "I'm actually surprised Miss Meiou didn't insist you apply too. There's plenty of Junior Colleges that offer courses in home economics, teaching, daycare, and nursing."

 
            "Do I look like I need to take classes in home economics?" Ranma haughty asked, despite her cheeks pinking slightly.

 
            "Well, you are a nanny."

 
            "And I've taken courses in physical therapy," Ranma shrugged. "I suppose I could take more cooking lessons but..."

 
            "That's not exactly a classroom thing for you?"
 
            "It's not like I want to be a professional chef. Running a restaurant," the redhead shivered. "that's a lot of work, and you have to worry about the staff. Sometimes they can be really crazy."

 
            "Personal experience?" Nami asked.

 
            The redhead looked at her carrot cake and nodded as she cut a piece.

 
            "Ah," Nami leaned over and hugged the bigger girl. The redhead seemed to think less and less of her past, but it still opened wounds whenever she did. As the nanny returned the embrace, the brunette reflected on how easy it was to forget the scared little waif of a tomboy her friend once was.

 
            "Cheer up!" Ranma said returning the hug. "I really love your pajamas!"

 
            "You do?" Nami asked.

 
            "Sure, silk's a great material. Feels wonderful too," Ranma ran her arm over Nami's shoulder.

 
            The brunette blushed and pushed her glasses up. "It is very comfortable."

 
            "Comfortable very important," Ranma vigorously nodded.

 
            Nami smiled and slipped out of the hug. "So... Kimiko, has Ittou seen Kikuko's gift for you?"

 
            "Well, he's not that forward of a guy," Kimiko coughed.

 
            "Ain't that the truth," Ranma said.

 
            Blushing, Kimiko crossed her arms over her chest.

 
            "Oh, don't worry about Miss 'I go to second base on a first date," Nami assured patting the redhead on the shoulder.

 
            "It was the one time! And that was our only real date!" Ranma wailed.

 
            "In other words, on a hundred percent of dates you'll eagerly fondle whatever cute guy gives you a fancy meal?" Kimiko leaned forward on her elbows and smirked.

 
            "Well... not every date." Ranma's cheeks burned crimson. "If we count the ones before..."
 
            Seeing the redhead's shoulders shake, Nami gave the nanny another hug. "Sorry, it's okay; we're just having fun."

 
            Ranma nodded.

 
            "But no, Ittou hasn't seen this." Kimiko's expressions softened and she winked at Ranma. "Do you think he'll like it?"

 
            "Definitely."
 
            "Good," Kimiko giggled. "Now, Ranma has your special friend seen your nightgown."

 
            Confused, the redhead blinked and tilted her head. "Of course she has."

 
            "Oh, she bought it for you?" Nami asked.

 
            "Commissioned," Ranma stood and gave a little twirl before striking a pose. "A beauty like this doesn't come off the rack," the redhead proudly said as her well-filled gauzy lingerie to loomed over the other two girls.

 

***************

 

 
            A young woman with heavy red curls stood by the side of an open steel gate. The words "Mugen Gakuen" were cast into a plaque that was mounted into the brick wall that served to anchor the gate.

 
            Students in their red and plaid green uniforms passed through the gateway in intermittent dribs and drabs, singles and various clusters and groups. Classes had let out over an hour ago, but many had stayed behind for various clubs. Some waved and smiled at the redhead. More eyed her.

 
            The male Mugen Academy students eyed the way the girl's pinkish cinnamon chest ribbon was thrust out and the way her shimmery blouse was filled, and the way her lace-accented skirt swayed as she rolled her hips.

 
            The female students eyed the same curves but most of them with a hint of jealousy. The real covetousness came from the uniform itself. Even the girls that found the extra ruffles on her collar and ribbons on her cuffs found the overall colors much better. Blue skirt, white blouse, blue collar and red bow was a far more pleasing composition than plaid green skirt, red blouse, black collar, and plaid blue bow of the Mugen Academy uniform.

 
            A dainty, willowy little eleven year old girl with fine glossy black hair and a delicate nose stopped as she neared the gate. She carried a gym bag in addition to her school bag.

 
            The cluster of mostly slender girls around her also carried gym bags. Bemusement crossed their faces as they watched their companion's purple eyes light up and the little girl sprint down to the path.

 
            Turning, the redhead brightly smiled and crouched down. Dropping her bags, the smaller girl leapt into the older girl's waiting arms. There redhead stood up and lifted the purple-eyed girl up and with a twirl flipped her into the air.

 
            Laughing the slight girl spun as she came down and landed, gracefully bending her knees and then folding over her waist. With a flourish she stood back up, straightened her shoulder, gave a slow bow, and picked up the book bag and gym bag that were right in front of her feet.

 
            There was a smattering of applause from the stream of exiting students. The clique Hotaru had just run from seemed the most vocal in the cheering.

 
            "You're showing off," Ranma whispered, as she took the gym bag out of Hotaru's hands and slung it over her shoulder with own bag. She hardly noticed the weight.

 
            "I know," Hotaru whispered back with a grin. She turned to her classmates and gave another bow. "See you girls tomorrow!"

 
            Hotaru flounced back to her nanny and the pair exited the school grounds.

 
            Ranma put an arm around the girl's shoulder. "Any problems with the girls?" she asked once they had gone most of the way down the block and the amount of plaid and red uniforms had thinned.

 
            "Oh the older girls think I'm spooky but cute. Like a gothic mascot," Hotaru giggled.

 
            "I suppose we could by your an appropriate dress."

 
            "That's not exactly right for ballet," Hotaru gently chided.

 
            "And the girls your age?"

 
            Hotaru rolled her head from side to side. " Well... they're torn between being jealous of how fast I'm learning and wanting me to show them some tricks."

 
            The nanny glanced down. "Tricks? You've only just started with your tutor." A frown fluttered across her face. " What are you showing them?"

 
            Hotaru giggled. "Just some of the aerial moves you taught me."

 
            The redhead looked wistful for a second before smiling. "That's good, but you've got to be careful about the landings."

 
            "I was fine just now!" Hotaru pouted.

 
            "Honey, it's great that you're getting confident but," Ranma's voice grew gentle as she hugged the girl a bit tighter with the arm she had around Hotaru's shoulder Their pace slowed "All it takes is one slip and...."

 
            "You can just heal me," Hotaru said a touch petulantly.

 
            "I can't always be with you." Ranma hugged tighter. "You're making great progress; you can't throw that away."

 
            Hotaru exhaled. The small girl slowly nodded. "I won't," she promised.

 
            Ranma smiled as the two resumed their normal walking speed. "That's what I want to hear. Things are dangerous enough without you scaring Setsuna and I."

 
            Nodding, Hotaru held out her arm and clasped hands with her nanny as they waited to cross the intersection. She exhaled and smiled feeling lucky to have them, and feeling lucky that they had found each other.

 
            Hotaru's purple eyes twinkled as she though about what Setsuna-mama had planed for tonight. "Why do I have a tutor anyway? You're far more dedicated than Miss Hyuga. Haven't you spent your whole life training?"

 
            Eying the traffic light, the redhead adjusted her glasses and looked down at her ruffled uniform. "At martial arts. Miss Hyuga knows far more ballet than I do. She's spent her whole life working on that one area."

 
            The light changed; the pair resumed walking. "She's a specialist."
 
            Ranma nodded.

 
            "Which makes you a generalist?"

 
            The redhead blinked. "Guess so kiddo," she eventually laughed.

 
            "Still... I'm practicing with the club, and with you... do I need a third type of practice?"

 
            "Is there something wrong with Miss Hyuga?" Ranma softly squeezed Hotaru's hand.

 
            "No she seems great."

 
            "Well? Is it too much time? Catching up will take a lot of practice."

 
            Hotaru shook her head. "It's not that. I'll put in the work. It's just... "

 
            The nanny tilted her head and half of her face fell behind her heavy curls. "Just?"

 
            "It's just me and Miss Hyuga. Shouldn't I be with rest of the club."

 
            The redhead was about to point out all the solo aspects of ballet. Her head straightened as she made a thoughtful noise. "Maybe we should cut down on our one on one lessons," she suggested, half-hiding a playful smirk.

 
            Blushing, Hotaru slowed causing her arm to tug on her nanny's. "There's no need for that."

 
            "I see." Ranma chuckled as they rounded a corner. "Instead of going to Miss Hyuga would you rather spend more time with the club?"

 
            "Well..." Hotaru's eyes darted downward. "They wouldn't be meeting so..."
 
            "So you'd have to train with me." Laughing, the redhead ruffled Hotaru's hair. "You're pretty devious, Squirt."

 
            Hotaru giggled. "But I'll be training with three groups"

 
            Ranma shook her head. "I've got my reasons. The club will emphasize group coordination. How to match the tempo with others and how to play your part. Miss Hyuga will specialize in stylistic details and showing you the exact moves."

 
            "And you'll teach me?"

 
            "We'll work on is the foundation of strength, flexibility, and grace. We'll build your fundamentals so you'll know how to learn and be able to pick up other stuff that much quicker."

 
            "Like you and your training!"

 
            "Right we worked from the basics of my... powers." Ranma nodded Though, I would prefer if we knew more about how they... work. I've only now got a really strong warding spell."

 
            "Silly nanny." Hotaru gave a sly expression then giggled.

 
            "What?"

 
            "I was talking about your dance training. You really need a big poofy gown!"

 
            "Didn't you get me one for that big blind date over a month ago?"

 
            "That's a day to day gown."

 
            "Day to day gown?" Ranma blinked and shook her head, ignoring the changes to her own uniform.

 
            "If you want to dress all plain."

 
            Ranma giggled at the idea of a dress like that being "plain".

 
            "I suppose you could force yourself into it, Hotaru reluctantly admitted. 
           

 
            "Hey! It still fits!"

 
            "If it didn't you could get a real ball-gown!" Hotaru insisted with a smile. She did not want to spoil the surprise waiting for her nanny, and technically it was not a new ball-gown that was waiting for her at the apartment.

 
            "It's not that kind of dancing," Ranma weakly counted.

 
            Hotaru patted her nanny's hand. "What kind is it?"
 
            "Well, it's ballroom dance..." the redhead blushed.

 
            Hotaru fished out a bag of green candies and handed her one.

 
            Ranma nibbled then swallowed the minty chocolate. "But hardly anyone really wears ballgowns to the dances. Evening dresses are much more common."

 
            The two walked for a couple paces. Then Hotaru poked the beribboned and bowed cuff to Ranma's uniform sleeve.

 
            The redhead blushed.

 
            "It's adorable," Hotaru's voice lowered. "Especially now that you school uniform is more like your Senshi one."

 
            Ranma laughed as they resumed their pace; they were almost home. "It just needs the apron."

 
            "You wore one at the last festival."

 
            "That's because I was helping Nami cook at her club's booth."

 
            Hotaru eagerly nodded.

 
            "You're funny, kiddo." Ranma squeezed back the hand she held. "Least I'm not as bad as Uasgi. According to Ami, her Senshi getup basically was her school uniform, just with bigger bows and a shorter skirt. Same colors and everything."

 
            Hotaru giggled at that.

 
            "At least her uniform's not like that anymore. Too plain."

 
            "Too plain?" Hotaru asked. She then nodded thoughtfully.

 
            "I guess it's not as silly as Sailor Maid," Ranma admitted.

 
            The two girls crossed another street and rounded a corner.

 
            Ranma looked up with a smile. Their apartment building was now in view down a couple blocks. Adjusting her glasses, she could just make out the patio and windows of their penthouse suite.

 
            Hotaru looked up. "So.... at the next festival can I help you at the Poetry club booth."

 
            Ranma shrugged. "I'll have to ask Nami, I'm sure she and Kauzo will get roped into it again."

 
            Pursing her lips and stroking her chin, Hotaru gave a theatrically overdone nod. "Of course, of course. And what are the odds of that happening again?"

 
            Looking ahead, Ranma missed the performance. "And there's if I'll even be asked to help.

 
             "Your sweet buns were a huge hit!" Hotaru cheered, trying a different tactic.

 
            Warmly smiling, the nanny crossed the last intersection between the pair and their apartment building. "Everyone does seem to like the recipe."

 
            "Mamma-Setsuna too! That's why I know you'll help your friends next time." Hotaru grinned. "Oh! You should have a special uniform."

 
            Ranma rolled her head. "I dunno..."

 
            "True! You've already got one, and you can just wear an apron over your uniform like you did last time. You'd look great." Hotaru then happily waved at Togusa the doorman.

 
            Wearing a dark grey greatcoat with gold trim Togusa nodded to the pair as
he opened the lobby door. Tall and with a barrel-chest the man had bushy muttonchops and wild hair that was barley contained by his crisp silver cap. "Lovely to see you two today,

 
            "Is Setsuna in?" Ranma asked with a warm smile looking up at the big-framed man. It was nice to see someone who had wider hips than she did, even if it was accomplished by being much taller than her.
 
            "Miss Meiou arrived a couple hours ago, Ma'am." The older man respectfully said. "I'm certain she's looking forward to seeing you two."

 
            Blushing slightly, Ranma nodded to the uniformed gentleman and allowed Hotaru lead her to the elevators.

 
            Hotaru lightly hopped from foot to foot.

 
            Ranma smiled. "You seem eager?"

 
            Grinning, Hotaru turned away.

 
            A bit of anxiety fluttered in the redhead's stomach. "Is this another surprise party?"

 
            The pre-teen girl turned and gave a little chuckle as the elevator lifted the pair.

 
            "It's not another blind date is it?" the nanny asked.

 
            Hotaru stared then shook her head muttering.

 
            Ranma could almost head the words silly, bunny, and the phrase: just like Usagi.

 
            The dark-haired girl reached out and patted Ranma's side. "It's okay, I know you'll like it."

 
            The nanny's ears heated. "Something is being planned then?"

 
            The doors opened with a chime.

 
            Hotaru grabbed the nanny's wrist and gave a tug. For a moment the redhead stood there, her arm resisting the motion. The nanny's face softened and she obligingly followed her ward down the plush corridor.

 
            The door unlocked and the pair crossed the threshold. Entering the apartment, Hotaru happily announced that they were home.

 
            Looking slightly harried, Setsuna strode down the hallway that lead off to the bedrooms. Seeing the two girls her face warmed and her stance relaxed. "And how was practice?" she asked taking Hotaru's bags, and to Ranma's surprise hers as well.

 
            Ranma eyed her mistress' still-damp hair tied in a loose green ponytail. "You're planning something aren't-cha?"

 
            Patting the nanny's hip, Setsuna laughed. She then leaned in and kissed the redhead. "Always my love, always," she whispered before giving another kiss that lingered just as their lips broke apart.

 
            Cheeks flush, the redhead let Setsuna take her down the corridor.

 
            Setsuna opened the door to Hotaru's bedroom and placed the pre-teen girl's bags inside. Hotaru followed and gave her nanny a happy wave before going to her desk.

 
            The next door was to Ranma's room. The nanny watched as Setsuna deposited her bag. The redhead then noticed a few white boxes stacked on her vanity, but the green-haired woman had hustled her past the door and down the hallway.

 
            They came upon the corridor's last pair of doors. One went to a long narrow spare room used for storage and training. The other to the master suite. Ranma's heartbeat sped as Setsuna opened the door and arm over her shoulder pulled her in.

 
            The green-haired woman went straight to her walk-in closet and started pulling out boxes and hanging garment-bags. "Strip please."

 
            Blushing the redhead sharply exhaled. Looking at the red logos on the white boxes Setsuna was unpacking helped focus her mind. She took a moment to compose herself. "Right now? Making up for lost time?" she tried to coyly ask, though the nervous, and eager, tremble in her voice betrayed her cool.

 
            "I suppose." Setsuna placed a long box emblazoned with the White Crane logo on the bed. She looked meaningfully between the large fluffy four-posted western-style bed and the pile of several boxes and hanging garment bag. "Its your choice."

 
            Biting her lip, Ranma looked down.
            Her hands fumbled as she tried to untie ribbons to loosen cuffs to her blouse. She looked over and noticed that Setsuna had thrown a blanket over the room's standing mirror.

 
            Setsuna stepped closer to the redhead, and started unbuttoning her blouse. "Either way... we'll have to get you out of these clothes."

 
            Brightening, the redhead nodded.

 
           "Now... I have put a lot of planning into tonight. And not just me," her eyes went to the White Crane logo on the box.

 
            "Oh?" Ranma asked.

 
            "Oh yes, reservations, special orders, custom work. Even lessons." She helped the nanny out of her blouse. "Why don't I show you?"

 
            The green-haired woman opened the largest of the boxes and the redhead gasped at the emerald silk creation within.

 
            Setsuna slipped up and hugged the nanny from behind. Arms encircling the shorter girl's chest she rested her head on Ranma's shoulders. "You see why I needed you to get out of your street clothes?"

 
            The redhead absently nodded. Though her blush did grow as Setsuna took it upon herself to help remove the rest of her uniform. Ranma had been dressed in enough kimonos to have the next part be familiar enough.

 
            However this time there was an extra level of intimacy and care as Setsuna personally dressed her and layered the garments, including some that the redhead was certain Etsuko would not approve of.

 
             However the leggings and foundation garments were quickly covered up by a lavender nagajuban. Itself supplanted by the green furisod.

 
            Circling the redhead one last time, Setsuna adjusted the large knot she had tied Ranma's sky-blue obi into. The redhead nodded as the older women went on about the special lessons Etsuko had given her on how to tie this special Fukura-suzume knot.

 
            It was not the subdued box-like Taiko musubi that Setsuna used for her own kimonos, nor was it the butterfly Asagao musubi Hotaru normally wore with her yukata.

 
            It was not the plain butterfly style Chocho musubi that Ranma normally had. The redhead blushed as she looked at the puffed almost spread-wing shape of the obi knot on her back.

 
            Seeing that, Setsuna confessed that the plainer arrow-like Tateya musubi was technically the most proper knot for a furisode but she felt that the "puffed sparrow" fit her plans for the night better. Etsuko had taken the time to train Setsuna how to tie the Fukura-suzume musubi.

 
            The green-haired woman gave some more inspections, including kneeling down and lifting up the silken layers to check how they feel over the redhead's legs. Finally satisfied, Setsuna checked the knot again and some of the other ties and gave the snow-white fur accents stole.

 
            The redhead's eyes went to the covered mirror.

 
            "You're not quite done," Setsuna teased.

 
            "You still have to do my makeup?" Ranma asked.

 
            "You have to do your makeup," the older woman corrected.

 
            The redhead pouted.

 
            "You're better at it," Setsuna assured as she led Ranma out of the master suite and back to the nanny's room. She took a moment to run a hand over the kimino's long dangling sleeves.

 
            Ranma blushed.

 
            "Such a lovely young lady," Setsuna cooed. "I've also got a couple other surprises for you on your vanity. Including a purse I know you'll love."

 
            Catching her reflection in the mirror hanging over her closet door, the redhead nodded absently.

 
            "That's why I covered my mirror up," Setsuna whispered into the redhead's ear before pulling back her curls and kissing the nanny's neck.

 
            The redhead made a happy murmur while she looked at her reflection.

 
            "I'll be back after I get dressed and do my hair and makeup," Setsuna promised as she left, closing the door behind her.

 
            The redhead stepped towards her mirror and met her reflection straight on. A curvy little woman in a forest green furisode softly smiled back. The kimono's draping swinging sleeves hung far past bright bunny lop-style ponytails and nearly brushed against the floor.

 
           Rich pastel patterns of mountain meadows, snow capped peaks and blooms of flowers wrapped around the garment. Hidden among the meadows were buries of silver bunnies.

 
            Giving a giggle she leaned forward and to the side and nuzzled the snow-white fur stole that encircled her neck and draped over her generous chest. The fur was attached to the kimono's collar around the back and sides, allowing for a tight wrap of the robe without having to conceal the rabbit fur itself.

 
            Almost completely invisible was the lavender nagajuban under the furisode. Only hints of purple where the layers were folded and flashes when she moved her legs revealed the garment.

 
            The redhead giggled running a hand down the side of her thigh and then just below her belly button. Only herself, Setsuna, and Etsuko would know about the elegant mural of a pair of silver rabbits nestling in the lee of a tiny green maple tree. Her eyes twinkled at the secret details and her hand went further up.

 
            Over it all was a wide obi was bright sky-blue with flowing purple leaved-willows was tied over her torso. A silver obiage was tucked under the top of the obi and peeked out as a bit of trim. Matching silver cords were tied around the middle of the obi.

 
            She ran a hand over the slight rise of her belly under the obi, then up to the bulge of her chest. Ranma exhaled and watched her torso rise and fall. The whole thing constricted her, especially around the wide obi around her torso.

 
            There would be no waltzing in this getup. Let alone a dip or sway.

 
            Still the limits felt... comfortable, almost safe. Setsuna had been right, Western-style foundation garments were not traditional, but being laced into a bustier first made things more... manageable.

 
             Grinning at herself, the redhead then put her hand on the bump of her hip and turned. It was amusing that compared to the luxurious detailing of her kimono her hair seemed almost plain. Her face certainly did, but she would fix that in due time.

 
            She idly wondered how Etsuko would feel at having an hourglass figure in a kimono. It was hardly traditional, but as the redhead looked down at the swell of her posterior and the thrust of her chest it seemed inevitable.

 
            Still smiling, the redhead swung her hips and shoulders to look at the extra puffy musubi Setsuna had used to tie her obi.

 
            Ranma blushed as she ran her hands over the smooth sky-blu obi. That Puu had taken the time to learn something like that made the nanny feel warm and fluttery. As she continued to eye the knot. she made a promise to return the favor.

 
            With a little sigh, she tore herself away from the full-length mirror and delicately glided to her vanity. Slowly raising her arms, she frowned at the gentle chiming.

 
            The extra long sleeves would require her to move with more care and grace, and that was before she took her bracelets into account. Exhaling, she tried again, this time managing to keep her sleeves off the floor as she slowly lowered herself into the waiting chair.

 
            Giving a bright smile she set to work on her curls. Coiling, evening, spraying, and brushing, she made sure the heavy dark-red "drills" evenly hung to either side of her head. She then worked on her spiraled bangs, especially the longer center one that hung over her nose. Finally, she brushed out her long ponytails to give them more volume and fluff.

 
            Turning the lights around the vanity's mirror to full, she took off her silver-framed glasses and started to pull out makeup kits. She also opened one of the three boxes on the side of the vanity.

 
            She withdrew an emerald green drawstring bag with a repeating gold crescent moon and silver Caduceus patterns. The nanny idly patted her circular clutch purse. It had more space, but Puu had bought her the kinchaku special.

 
            The redhead primped, using soft pastels to smooth her features and make her face more inviting and idealized. As she worked, she could drop her tools into the emerald bag: mascara, eyeshadow, foundation compact, lipstick tube, eyelash curler.

 
            Satisfied, she slipped her glasses back on and opened the second box. Inside were a pair of high-heeled sandals. Pulling one out she giggled at the incongruity. It had the symmetric thong straps of a zori sandal. It also had the detailed brocade pattern of a formal zori both on the shoe itself (opening flowers and little bunnies on a green field) and on the hanao straps (purple stars over silver).

 
            Ranma knew enough that truly flat zori were a rarity. Even Etsuko sold mostly ones with a slight wedge heel. However, these had a platform inch-high toe box that swept back to rudder-like lacquered black four-inch high heels.

 
            She pulled up some of the silk folds and looked at her glossy powder pink leggings adorned with little golden bunny designs. She ran a hand down the slick smooth curves around the bulge of her calf. The nanny knew Etsuko would have a fit over these. There were special socks, complete with sections for toes, that were supposed to be worn with zori.

 
            Giving a light giggle she sat the sandals down on the side next to her drawstring purse and wondered if Puu intended for her to be unbalanced tonight. The redhead idly wondered how much she should lean on the older woman's arm for support.

 
            She then opened the last box and her eyes lit up. Inside was a combination bouquet and hair ornament. Picking it up the nanny thought back to Nami's hair style back at green mountain. She looked into the box and saw a neatly folded bit of cardstock. Printed on it were stylized instructions on how to emplace and secure the kanzashi atop her head.

 
            The foundation was a broad lacquered comb inlaid with mother of pearl. Atop the comb were several pin-mounted jeweled accessories. Ranma ran her fingers over the familiar jade and gold broach now clipped into one of the decorations. There were others, colored beads and butterflies and tiny little fans, and, most prominent, two raised prongs that held rows of silver streamers.

 
            Blossoming between it all were splashes of actual flowers. Sprinkled over a bed of tiny periwinkle hydrangea and little white cherry blossoms, were yellow-edged pink hibiscus flowers, pink pansies and a single big blooming purple iris.

 
            Glancing at the basic instructions on the card at the bottom of the box, she took a moment to let her hands steady. The nanny then gently eased the hair ornament into place. The comb bit into her hair just above the curls and the pins went in to secure the rest.

 
            Looking at her reflection the redhead giggled. The ornamentation dominated right side of her head from her temple on back. It looked almost gaudy with all the blossoms and ornaments. As she turned her head, she heard a new chiming. The silver streamers in her headdress made musical notes when they hit each other.

 
            Still giggling, she turned off the extra lights on her vanity. Then with a mischievous smile she slipped on her high heeled sandals and stood up. Her first couple steps had more chiming than she would have preferred, both from her anklet's and from her headdress.

 
            Once she became comfortable, she silently minced over to the full-length mirror over her closet door. She gasped but managed to keep her arms clasped over her obi. The colorful luxuriant patterns over her kimono, the brocade over her sandals, the giant elegant knot her obi was tied in, her voluptuous figures softly pushing curves, the rich pastel makeup, her coifed and curled hair, and now the indulgent headdress.

 
            It all built her up, made her complete. She looked at the Meiou family crest in the center of her headdress. Her knees wobbled for a second as she licked her lips. The uncertainty passed and Ranma, nanny to the house of Meiou silently strode out of her room to seek out her mistress.

 
            Carrying her shoes and purse, the redhead glided down the hallway. Sweeping into the dining room she stopped. Her family was waiting for her. Holding a cut crystal hi-ball glass, Setsuna's eyes sparkled as her lips curled into a satisfied smile. Giving a delighted squeal, Hotaru took a quick picture before running towards her nanny.

 
            Setsuna wore a severe charcoal suit coat with dark grey trim, padded shoulders, slim, sleek lapels and a matching pin-stripped pencil-skit. Under the coat she wore a dark crimson blouse with an silver and emerald clasp at the neck and a folded dark green, scarlet-trimmed pocket square in her coat lapel pocket.

 
            Dark green hair cascaded down her back, tumbling from a tight bun held with a pair of lacquered pins tipped with ruby studs. Brown liquor swirled within the glass as she slipped the phone in her other hand into a coat pocket

 
            Wearing a purple blouse and a long black skirt, Hotaru was torn between nuzzling her nanny and pulling away to get a look at the redhead's ornamentation.

 
            Taking a sip, Setsuna circled the plush nanny. Her free hand went out and ran over the redhead's luxurious curves. She straightened the ties around the bunny's obi, flicked the chimes in the nanny's hair ornaments leaned in to smell the fresh flowers.

 
            Lowering her lips she leaned in closer and whispered over the bunny's ears. "Mine," she purred. "Anything you want, everything you wish for is mine to offer," she quietly promised.

 
            Straightening up, Setsuna took the nanny's elbow. Leading the redhead, she took a step forward then paused. French-tip manicured nail gently placed the heady-bottomed cut-crystal glass back atop the oak sideboard.

 
            Ranma frowned a bit and leaned over to slip a lacquered coaster under the glass.

 
            "So fussy; that could have waited until we got back," Setsuna teased as she smacked the nanny a bit below the puffy knot of her obi.

 
            There was a flash as Hotaru took a picture using her, somewhat bulky, instant camera.

 
            The redhead gasped and tottered a bit closer to her mistress. The high heeled sandals nearly slipping from her hands as her hips rolled as she stabilized herself.

 
            Moving to hold the nanny's left elbow with her left arm, Setsuna pulled the nanny close to her right side as her right hand went out and cupped the rounded swell of the redhead's buttocks.

 
            Ranma gave another gasp and moved to nuzzle the taller woman, mirroring Hotaru's earlier actions.

 
            Setsuna gazed down at her lover. "And we haven't even left the house."

 
            "You two are gonna have a lot of fun tonight!" Hotaru cheered, taking another picture. She then slipped the camera and the twin photo stickers into a dark purple overnight bag and slung it over a shoulder.

 
            "That is the idea," Setsuna smiled and leaned in to give the redhead a lingering kiss. She pulled up and gave a dreamy smile. "Are you ready?" she asked, inches from the other woman.

 
            Ranma fluttered her eyelashes. "Whatever pleases you," she said in a breathy whisper.

 
            "Oh?" Setsuna's hand lifted and gave the nanny's hip another tap. "My love this is your night," Setsuna said as she pulled the nanny along and towards the front door.

 
            The nanny's cheeks flushed.

 
            "You've also done a wonderful job with your hair, lovely work with all the ornaments," Setsuna said her attention lingering on Ranma's jewelry. The nanny had done a wonderful job, but it was not complete. Reaching the apartment door, Setsuna paused to slip on a pair of black two-inch pumps.

 
            "It's not too much?" Ranma quietly asked as Setsuna helped slip on her sandals.

 
            Inspecting the nanny's accoutrements and generous curves as she slowly rose up, the green-haired woman gave the bunny a sideways look. She simply reached out and gave the hanging chimes that adorning the redhead's hair a gentle flick.

 
            The nanny gave a soft giggle and bent over to help Hotaru with her amethyst colored Mary-Janes. She made sure to position herself so that the knot in the back of her obi caught Setsuna's eye.

 
            "It's great!" Hotaru assured as she wriggled her feet into the shiny shoes.

 
            Setsuna gave the two another look over. "Now we're ready," she concluded opening the door.

 
            The trio walked down the hallway. Setsuna leading Ranma with Hotaru at the nanny's generous flank. The green-haired woman summoned the elevator, and as they waited, Hotaru pulled out a bag of green chocolate-mint candies and offered some to the redhead.

 
            Happily nibbling, Ranma leaned on the taller woman as the elevator took them down to the lobby. As she calmed, some of the bright blush drained from her cheeks, though the still had a pinkish tinge.

 
            Still on his shift, Togusa gaped when the trio swept into the lobby. 
            The barrel-chested doorman quickly regained his composure. Excessive outfits were to be expected from these tenants.

 
            It was to be expected. Miss Meiou was in the fashion industry after all. But this collection of patterned silks, shining jewelry, glossy fur, and sparkling ornamentation was decadently luxurious.

 
            However, as Miss Meiou brought the softly smiling curvaceous young woman closer Togusa could see, and almost feel, the ease, grace, and rolling sway with which the coifed and curled redhead moved. Her sleeves swung in time, but in opposition to the pendulous motions of her hips.

 
            Buoyed by her presence, he smiled and tapped his hat before bowing and opening the door.

 
            Giving a brilliant smile, the redhead bowed her head and patted her free arm as Setsuna took her across the threshold. A rich floral scent filled the older man's nose as the warm, gentle redhead's presence pressed against him.

 
            Just before she slipped past her hips rocked a bit harder and a swinging posterior gravidly pressing against its silken encasement brushed past the front of Togusa's trousers.

 
            As Miss Meiou led the nanny by the elbow, the redhead turned her head back and her big blue eyes sparkled with mirth behind her silver glasses. Feeling flush, and just a bit tingly, Togusa gave another bow, wished them a pleasant night and gently closed the door.

 
            A sharp tug on the elbow brought the redhead out of her fluffy reverie. Blinking and blushing with a bit of embarrassment, she looked and saw that Setsuna had brought her to the curb where a sleek silver sedan waited for them.

 
            Hotaru skipped over to the car and helped herself to the front passenger seat door. She sat down placing the bag in front of her.

 
            The driver's side door opened and a blonde in a black suit with a silver-blue tie stepped out and opened the passenger door behind the driver's door. She took the nanny's hand and pulled it up for a kiss. "Lovely simply lovely." Haruka ran her fingers over Ranma's and before tracing them up the swinging sleeves of her kimono and running them over the furred collar.

 
            Cheeks flush, the redhead's eyes darted down.

 
            Chuckling, Haruka leaned in to sniff the nanny's bouquet and put an arm around the taunt obi. Then taking the nanny's hand, she helped the heavier girl into the waiting back-row seat.

 
            Giving playfully roguish leer, she turned to Setsuna who was bending down to sliding in after Ranma. "Maybe having us swap for would be fun. For only a night," she assured.

 
            "Where do you get such ideas?" Setsuna primly said. However her eyes sparkled and tapping her coat pocket she gave a half-smile.

 
            Meanwhile Ranma's deep blush contrasted with her thoughtful expression and the squirming of her thighs. Despite the soft leather upholstery, she found it a bit difficult to get comfortable, it was as if the seat was too small.

 
            "I don't know what you're talking about," Haruka said as she returned to the driver's seat.

 
            "Really? We Outers have enough of a reputation," Setsuna sighed taking Ranma's hand.

 
            "I see. So, your only concern is gossip from the Guardian Senshi?" Haruka asked.

 
            "Well..." Ranma blushed.

 
            Laughing, the blonde pulled away from the hotel's driveway as she accelerated the car.

 
            Setsuna put her fingers over the little hands Ranma had folded in her lap.

 
            "It's okay," the older woman assured as she ran her other hand over the nanny's long pinkish rabbit ear.

 
            "Looking down over her fluffy clothes, Ranma gave a soft smile and nodded.

 
            "She's just teasing; like this," Setsuna said as she switched to tugging one of Ranma's ruby curls.

 
            Rolling her head, the nanny found it hard to concentrate as her Mistress slowly tugged out a hair drill and let it curl around a finger. Giving a happy murmur, she relished having her hands patted and squeezed.

 
            Hotaru twisted in her seat and stole a glance at her nanny. Giggling, she opened her purse and pulled out a familiar bag of chocolates. Halting just before she popped one into her mouth, she gave a contemplative nod as she appraised the older girl.

 
            "She looks like a proper bunny!" Hotaru cheered.

 
            "Does she?" Michiru glanced up at the review mirror. "Oh she does; very delicious."

 
            Ranma blushed demurely.

 
            "I think Miss Bunbun wants some candy!" Hotaru shook her candy bag.

 
            "That's name's rather embarrassing," Setsuna said, with a smile on her lips.

 
            The redhead looked down at her hands. "May I have some candy?" she asked glancing at Setsuna.

 
            "Oh?" Looking down, the older woman noticed she was still immobilizing the redhead's hands. Lifting her hand, Setsuna smiled as Hotaru leaned over her seat to pour half a dozen of the mint-chocolate candies into the nanny's cupped hands.

 
            Nibbling on the chocolates, Ranma looked out the window. The passing buildings looked vaguely familiar, and grew more so when the car slowed and went through an intersection.. Once her hands emptied, she reached out and smiled when Setsuna took her hands again.

 
            Shifting her hips, Ranma tried to enjoy the comfort of the drive for a few more minutes. Just before she finally got a handle on the seemingly too-small seating the car slowed and pulled to a stop.

 
            Putting the vehicle into park, Haruka stepped out. She first opened Setsuna's door then after helping the green-haired woman up, went to Ranma's.

 
            The redhead's door opened with a flourish and a bow from the blonde.

 
            Smiling, Ranma found Setsuna took her hand again and pulled her to her heels. Smoothing out the layers, Ranma looked up and gave a happy squeal at seeing the front entrance of Green Mountain. As the redhead relished her stomach's happy gurgle, Haruka closed the door behind the nanny and then gave her a hard rap.

 
            Eyes widening Ranma cooed, wriggled her bottom and rubs her tingling backside against Haruka's thigh before landing the back of her kimono into the blonde's hand.

 
            "It was a lovely drive," Ranma coyly said as she shifted her stance a bit. She held her drawstring purse clasped before her in both hands.

 
            Lowering a window, Hotaru cheered.

 
            "Oh? You're thanking me," Haruka asked looking down and clenching her hand a bit.

 
            The curvaceous redhead fluttered her eyes and turned to her mistress. "Miss Meiou, may I have permission to beg Miss Tenoh for a kiss in thanks?" she asked, in a demure, almost pleading voice.

 
            Watching with amusement, Setsuna nodded.

 
            "Please, may I have a kiss?' Ranma asked leaning up and fluttering her eyes.

 
            Taking the nanny by her snow-white fur stole, Haruka leaned in and kissed Ranma on the cheek.

 
            "No like you mean it," Setsuna demeaned as she pinched Ranma on the backside

 
            Haruka's arm went down Ranma's back and, eliciting a little squeal from the bunny, pulled her in. Their lips met and slowly parted with a linger.

 
            Slipping over the puffy knot of the nanny's obi, Haruka put her hands on the dangling ribbons of flounced knot. Feeling the pressure on the layers of furisode and nagajuban the redhead altered her stance.

 
            Feeling warmth from the soft nanny, Haruka shifted the ribbons with one hand while she fluffed up and tightened the fur stole trim and tightened the green furisode.

 
            Looming over the nanny, Haruka's hands continued to wander as she gave the nanny a "proper inspection," including trailing her fingers down the redhead's long draping sleeves and playing with the ornaments of her headdress. After giving the kimono a final shift, Haruka pulled back and gave a warm smile. Smiling, satisfied with the situation, she glanced over to Hotaru. "I think you're right; your nanny has become quite the 'Miss Bunbun'."

 
            Giving a soft grin, the redhead indulged in a bit of fantasy regarding Haruka's strong arms. Letting the daydream drift ways she looked to Setsuna and nibbled her lip. Straightening her back she minced over, and relished the tingle racing down her spine from where Haruka had... helped. Her smile grew at seeing Setsuna; by her guess, fantasies seemed superfluous, tonight.

 
            With a merry spring in her step, Haruka returned to the car. Closing the back doors as she loped around the back of the vehicle and slipped into the driver's seat.

 
            Swinging her hips, the nanny watched Haruka leave with a bit of reluctance.

 
            Setsuna slipped up next to her, and shifted the obi that Haruka had pulled up a bit. "Don't pout, we can go out with her and Michiru later."

 
            Hotaru gave a wave as Haruka put the car into gear and drove away.

 
            Shaking her butt to get the pain of the pinch to pass, the ornamented bunny let Setsuna lead her towards the doors to the Green Mountain.

 
            Twisting her torso the bunny looked down behind her. Adjusting her glasses, a snicker came out when she noticed that Haruka had pulled the trailing ribbons from her obi so they had fallen more in the... cleft of her backside.

 
            Doormen pulled the doors open with a bow and let the pair enter. The redhead, for her pat, was still focused on the way the various furs and silks were stretched against the flared swell of her thighs and hips. The warm tight feeling seemed to increase as she crossed the threshold, as did the sway in her walk.

 
            Thanks to Haruka's work a little "shelf" had formed in the folds of the obi, a prefect place for Setsuna to put her hand. The redhead took a step closer to her mistress and pouting when the older woman lifted her fingers, accidentally brushed her hips into a couple of people also entering the restaurant.

 
            Taking pride in all the... hungry eyes as they stepped into the lobby, the nanny gave a demure smile and the older woman in the stark dark suit gave a tiny smirk.

 
            A hostess with a slight blush and an elegant if comparatively plain kimono bowed to the couple. "Oh wow," Keiko gushed before regaining her composure. From the fancy sandals to the over-indulgent headdress, complete with family crest, the nanny before her was something else. "My complements on a wonderful ensemble," she said with a bow.

 
            Nodding to the hostess who seems pinked at the cheeks and rather energetic, the nanny blushed softly as she ran one shin against the other and thought of her special leggings.

 
            Catching how people looked at her as Keiko escorted her and Setsuna, the redhead shifted her legs and unconsciously pushed out her rear and hips as she walked to the shoe check to the side of the lobby. It did help that she was trying to maintain contact with Setsuna's hand. The nanny also gave her head a bit of an extra toss to get her drills, ears, and hair ornaments moving.

 
            Once to the discrete alcove, filled with many hardwood cubby holes, to the side of the lobby, Keiko and another kimono-clad hostess knelt down before the redhead and the green-haired woman. The nanny gave a bit of a pout at the idea of another servant working on her... mistress but that slid when Keiko helped her into a plush chair and took a foot and slipped off the heel.

 
            "Oh how lovely!" Keiko said, her composure slipping again. "Bunnies and moons, adorable," Keiko quietly said as she rubbed one foot then another. In addition tot he leggings she noticed. the fluffy hemlines of nanny's kimono underneath the outer layers.

 
            "A moment, if you please," Keiko apologized a she slipped to the back of the alcove

 
            Bare of foot, the nanny stood and made a couple careful, delicate steps using the tips of her toes and frowned as she gingerly let her heels touch the ground. She looked around the lobby and was amazed at the difference a few inches made. Being so short again seemed almost scandalous.

 
            The nanny quietly waited as the other hostess took off Setsuna's shoes and gave her a pair of slippers. Long ears bouncing, the redhead became ecstatic when Keiko presented her with a pair of high heeled slippers.

 
            Making a happy noise, the nanny allowed Keiko to lower her into one of the soft chairs edging the lobby and slip the soft footwear into place, one slipper at a time.

 
            Made out of a soft chocolate brown fur facing inside and with a crown of fur near the mouth, she took a moment to luxuriate in the extra high wedge heels. Standing on her tip-toes was a surprising amount of work, and these were more like what she was used to.

 
            Acutely feeling a lack of her mistress' pressure on her backside, the redhead slid forward on her platform slippers until her rolling rear is once again being cupped by Setsuna's hand.

 
            Relishing the intense, almost covetous, look her mistress gives her, the nanny looked down at the fur trim edging the front of her kimono. Climbing up the stairs at the front of the lobby in little hops, the ornamented redhead giggled behind a manicured hand.

 
            Taking them across the polished wood tables , and soft lights of the restaurant proper, Keiko lead them to their private room. A hush fell over the restaurant as the pair crossed.

 
            Daintily walking forward the nanny caught her reflection in a tiger-maple framed mirror that hung over a pillar and lingered a bit at the swaying luxurious silks and furs, the sparkling ornaments, the shimmering curled hair, and the rich indulgent curves on display.

 
            The luxuriant woman in the mirror gave a familiar soft smile. Lips were licked as she twisted her backside to look at her puffed and pushed up obi bow and ran a hand down the great swell her butt was presented into.

 
            Permed and curled head filling with thoughts of the awaiting meal and treats that will come... later in the night, the nanny's fingers went out and found Setsuna's.

 
            There was a gentle tug from that very hand, followed by a not so gentle smack on her butt. Giving a disappointed little noise, the bunny let herself be pulled along after her mistress.

 
            Keiko took them down a hallway and pulled open a door. She stepped back to the side of the threshold and waited for Miss Meiou and her companion to enter first.

 
            Even without the constricting pressure of her clothes, the hunger in her tummy, and the tingling on her backside the redhead found it hard to put her reaction of the room into words.

 
            Intimate was what first hit her. Small enough for one gleaming ebony oval table, room was covered in carved polished woods. And had a pair of folding screens on one wall that complemented a mural of made out of different colored pieces of oak that dominated the ceiling.

 
            Candles flickered in wall sconces, on antler-like racks of silver chimes that sprouted from tall brass stands, and from delicate cut-crystal boat-shaped holders that floated in lacquered porcelain bowl that had been filed with water, rosewater, and buoyant petals and flowers.

 
            Following behind, Keiko guided them to a large padded piece of furniture that sat before the table. Wider than a chair, but narrower than a couch, it was clearly designed for two people.

 
            Keiko flicked a lever discreetly hidden in the back of the frame and pulled the love-seat back on a set of casters built into the legs.

 
            Taking her servant by the hand and hip, Setsuna guided the voluptuously woman down onto the velvety soft cousins.

 
            Smoothing the many layers of her garments, the nanny crossed her legs and scooted her hips backwards. Her accented eyes widened and she made a pleasant little noise as she relished the comfort.

 
            "Miss Meiou's seating request was quite specific," Keiko smiled.

 
            "It's perfect," the redhead returned the smile then shifted towards Setsuna. "All of it is."

 
            Taking seat to the redhead's left, Setsuna put an arm around her companion's shoulder. "Wonderful, and we're just getting started."

 
            "On that," Keiko clasped her hands before her. "I'll be out with your drinks in a moment, followed shortly by a.. creative aperitif," the hostess said giving special emphasis to the foreign word.

 
            "Oh?" the nanny asked.

 
            "Yes," Setsuna allowed a grin, and lowered her hand.. "It's a bit of Italian, something from one of our earlier... dates."

 
            The redhead beamed and let her hair fall over the taller woman as she nuzzled her.

 
            "I'll give you some privacy," Keiko paused. "And I'll make sure your waitress knocks first," she quietly assured before bowing and leaving the room.

 
            The door slid shut. "Mistress..." the redhead said pressing her generous backside so Setsuna's hand stays clenched to its "shelf"

 
            "Mistress?" Setsuna slowly asked, as if she were savoring the taste of the word.

 
            Fluttering her eyes, Ranma leaned forward. "Well, if I'm Miss Bunbun, then that would make you my Mistress, no?" she asked, her lips parting.

 
            "I think that's an acceptable deal, at least for tonight," Setsuna said before lowering her head and meeting the redhead's lips. Moving her hands, the green-haired woman relished the kiss and only with some reluctance broke away.

 
            The nanny happily murmured and snuggled up to the taller woman.

 
            Setsuna put an arm around the redhead and with her other hand patted her coat. She exhaled. This was the moment. All her preparations were for this.

 
            "Ranma." Setsuna's arm went into her coat. "I love you. Hotaru loves you. I want you-"

 
            Despite herself, the redhead laughed.

 
            "That is I want to spend my live with you," Setsuna corrected. She pulled out her hand and placed a black box on the table in front of the nanny.

 
            Shifting in the loveseat, Ranma leaned forward.

 
            The older woman flipped the lid open and the redhead gasped and shivered.

 
            "I know it's not exactly traditional, and some girls don't want to flaunt their engagement rings but I hardly think that's a problem for us." Long fingers lifted the silver ring out of its velvet bed and Setsuna presented it to Ranma.

 
             A heart-cut pale blue diamond was held in a raised setting that allowed the gem to be lit from below giving it a sharp luminous cast. Flanking the center gem were a pair of a pair of deep green thick trilliant cut emeralds. Encircling the rest of the ring were half a dozen narrow little baguette-cut rubies inset around the rest of the band in flashes of deep crimson.

 
            Heart racing, clothes constricting, Ranma worked her jaw and blinked her eyes. Feeling tears coming she closed her eyelids and slowly exhaled.

 
            Her eyes opened. She was still in the room, still wearing the kimono, still being embraced by her love, and the ring... was still in front of her.

 
            She lifted her arm. There was a jangle as her bracelet rattled. Ranma concentrated and the motion became smooth, silent. Her fingers brushed against the cool surface. "Yes!" she cried as Setsuna lifted the arm she had draped around her fiancee's torso and took the redhead's hand.

 
            With a triumphant little smile, Setsuna slipped the ring on and suddenly found her arms full of an eagerly embracing Ranma.

 
           

 

 

End Chapter 5

 

 

Interestingly enough, Ittou Asanuma actually is a minor character in Sailor Moon. He actually does look like a shorter, younger Haruka and he was friends with Mamoru and figured out Makoto was a Senshi. What I added was that he and Makoto dated for a bit, and added dance to his list of hobbies.

 

I'd like to thank the prereaders for their help in this project: Milanda Anza, Mahou Sensou, J St C Patrick, Crimson Vixen, DCG, Pale Wolf and Kevin Hammel.

Special thanks to Milanda for suggesting adding the ring to the end of the chapter.